Dealing with MORE Crap (literally)

It is Sunday afternoon.  Daughter is napping, and I’m about to make a quick run to the grocery store.  All of a sudden, I hear “Mommy!  I need new underwear because I did a poo-poo!”

Sigh.  My son.

I come into the bathroom and see that he has pulled down his underwear and shorts and that there’s a great big mess in there.  I put him quickly on the toilet and see that the poop has gotten onto his foot and leg.  I mutter under my breath as I put the underwear and shorts into the washing machine.  I thought I was done with laundry for the day!  And now I have to deal with this shit.  I hate dealing with shit!

After my son is finished with what seems to be a very unpleasant #2 (may be in the territory of #3), I stick him in the bath to wash off his feet and leg.  Except I didn’t wipe his butt first so a little piece of poop drops into the bath.  Ugh!  I’m so not ready to potty-train my daughter and deal with more of this crap.  Then I see that there’s poop on the outside of the toilet as well as the bathmat where he took off his underwear and shorts.  And I still have to clean the poop off my son.  UGH!

Did I mention that I hate dealing with shit?!

I curse and moan as I wash my son off roughly with a washcloth, while he keeps saying “Sorry!” over and over again.  I bark at him for getting his disgusting paws near my head when I take him out of the bath.  I order him to wash his hands really well at the sink as I clean up the poop from the bathtub, bleach it down, wipe the toilet with Lysol, roll up the bathmat, and stick the washcloth into the washing machine along with his soiled clothes.  All of a sudden, I feel exhausted.  I don’t think I have the energy to go to the grocery anymore.  I yell at my son to put on new clothes as I go lie on my bed.

“Mommy! Mommy!”

“It’s quiet time!  Let me rest!” I yell back.

He comes into my room and hands me a piece of paper.  It’s a page ripped out from his coloring book of Dora and Boots on a train.  It’s colored green, I suppose because that’s the only color crayon he could find in his room.

“I made this for you.”

And just like that, all is forgiven.  I gush as I thank him and tell him how sweet he is.

The thing with having children is that there will definitely be stinky times, but sometimes those stinky times lead to sweet moments.  And after all is said and done, dealing with poop is temporary.  A child’s love is forever.

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Aside

Potty Training vs. Elimination Communication (or dealing with more crap than I can handle)

Spring has arrived, as has that time in our household.  I’m not talking about spring cleaning, although there will be a lot of that in the coming weeks.  It is time to buckle down, stay focused on the goal, and….potty-train.

I feel like I just went through this yesterday, but it was exactly one year ago that I was potty-training my son.  He was one-month shy of his 3rd birthday, and I ignored all the advice around me to wait until my temperamental toddler was ready.  I figured if I put all my energy and focus to getting my son potty-trained, it will happen.  I armed myself with two types of potty seats, M&Ms as reward, and Thomas the Train underwear that I thought my son would be thrilled to wear.  I knew that if I went all in, eventually he would get it.

Three weeks of potty training later, with almost daily accidents, I was chasing my son to get him to use the potty before we left the house.  I was frustrated that he wasn’t cooperating with me fully on this potty-training thing.  As I nagged him one more time to pee in the potty before we left, he stopped in the hallway, looked at me with an evil grin on his face, and peed right there on the floor.  I so wanted to smack him at that moment.  Instead, I admitted defeat.  I gave up on the potty training.

I tried again about a month later, just a week after he turned 3.  After one day, he was potty-trained.  It was a miracle!  No nagging, no chasing, no bribing.  There were only a handful of accidents from there, but within 3 months he was even out of nighttime diapers.  He was officially potty-trained and it was the easiest thing (that time around).

My daughter turned 2 a couple of months ago, and now it’s time for her to get on the potty train.  I heard that girls train earlier than boys do, and I know some of my mom friends who trained their daughters by the time they were two.  I think my daughter will be much easier to train than my son since she’s already pooping in the potty 4 times out of 5 and is generally good at following directions.

People may think 2 or even 3 is too early an age to potty-train, with perhaps the exception of EC’ing parents.  EC, or Elimination Communication (aka Diaper-Free Baby, potty whispering or natural infant hygiene), is potty-training for babies before the age of 18 months. I saw a video of the method when I considered it briefly after having my daughter.   EC requires a lot of attention to your baby’s expressions, holding the baby over the bathtub or toilet, and cueing.  A lot of people are skeptical about this practice or may think it’s reserved for hippie-types in order to avoid using diapers.  However, this method is used by several different cultures around the world (just without the fancy name for it), and in developing countries most babies are trained by the time they turn 1.

I know that this practice is not a crock, because I’ve seen it in action.  When I worked in the refugee camps in Thailand, one of our community health educators had a baby under a year old (she couldn’t walk yet).  The mother held her baby over a basin and made the noise, Shhhh shhhh, to signal her to pee.  And she peed.  I saw accidents as well, but the mothers never seemed bothered by it.  Perhaps because their floors are made of dirt (where it can be covered up) or bamboo slats (where it can fall through or be evaporated quickly) so clean-up is minimal.  Once the babies become mobile, they just go pantless and learn to relieve themselves in the ditch or to squat in the latrine.  It was the same way in Sudan, where the kids are taught early to go “into the bush” to do their business.  It just makes sense for them since they live in places where they spend most of their time outdoors and don’t have disposable (or even decent cloth) diapers available to them.

For us, however, in the typical American world of overly-clean-and-sanitized indoor spaces, this method just isn’t practical.  It makes more sense to wait until our children are ready (around 3 years old), so that we as parents aren’t terribly inconvenienced.  We set aside a block of time to stay close to home and mentally prepare ourselves to deal with all the crap (pun intended) involved in potty training.  Potty-training becomes a battle as we deal with uncooperative children and messy clean-ups.  We constantly ask our kids if they have to use the potty and then rush them to the bathroom so they don’t have accidents on the living room rug.  When they do have accidents, we scream in exasperation (at least I do).  It’s no wonder that some parents put it off and put it off, until one day their kid is 4 years old and still in diapers.  Plus, with a billion-dollar diaper industry making disposable diapers easily accessible and relatively cheap, it’s easy to keep kids in diapers for as long as possible.   Those diapers (and Pull-Ups) are just so darn convenient, especially when leaving the house to any overly-clean-and-sanitized public place where it would be an embarrassment for our kid to have an accident.

In theory, Elimination Communication is an ideal solution to get kids potty-trained early and avoid diapers altogether.  Believe me, I hate using disposable diapers and feel guilty every time I throw away a bag of dirty, heavy diapers that I know will sit in the landfill for years and years.  I admire the American parents who choose to EC their babies as I’m sure it takes a tremendous amount of dedication and patience.  However, in most cases it’s just not practical or convenient for us.

Okay, now I’m off to potty-train my daughter…tomorrow.

My Facebook posts were a lot more interesting before I became a mom

I first heard about Facebook while living in Thailand, by a Canadian girl who worked in the refugee camps with me.  I was nearing the end of my contract and Amy, who also lived across the street (it was a very small town), introduced me to the site as a way to keep in touch after I left the country.  She had asked me “Are you on Facebook?”  to which I replied “What the heck is Facebook?”

That was in 2007.  Now it seems that everyone and their father (including mine) is on Facebook.  When I joined, I “friended” family members, old friends, and classmates, as well as my coworkers at ARC and colleagues in Thailand working for other organizations that helped Burmese refugees.  I even became Facebook friends with people I met at a two-week training in Paris before leaving for my mission in South Sudan.  Although we had just met, an immediate bond forms when working for the same non-profit organization, and even among humanitarian aid workers in general.  Facebook was a convenient way to keep in touch with these colleagues, not only to be updated with their whereabouts and the projects they were involved in, but also for the likelihood that we could run into each other in the field (happens quite a bit).  Facebook was also a good way to offer a glimpse of our lives without a lengthy mass e-mail.  Some of my posts while working and living in South Sudan:

“I’m afraid a rat will crawl onto my bed while I’m sleeping, gnaw its way through my mosquito net, and eat my face off.”

“Had to dump a bucket of water over my head at 2:30 in the morning in order to get to sleep last night”

“Evacuated…again”

“Back in Malakal, where men marry goats and donkeys commit suicide!”

*I have to thank Facebook’s new timeline format for the ease in accessing these past posts!

Since I’ve settled back in the U.S. and had kids, my life and Facebook status updates have become pretty mundane.  When my kids were just babies, I often posted about their sleep issues while complaining about my lack of sleep.  Later on, I talked about their eating habits (as well as mine).  I posted about trips we took as a family.  On rare occasions I would mention a child-free outing (like an anniversary dinner, baseball game or rock concert), and once in a great while I’d comment about sports (New Orleans Saints winning the Superbowl) or politics (Obama winning the ’08 presidential election).

I am still in touch with my humanitarian aid friends via Facebook, and I love reading updates about their new missions, projects they are involved in, and cultural differences in their host countries.  I can live vicariously through their work and travels while I stay put in Arizona.  And even though the time we actually spent together was brief, I will always feel connected with them through the intense and unique experiences we shared abroad.  Also, having these friends all over the world makes me realize how small it really is, and I hold on to the hope that I will see them again (perhaps when I go back to the field someday?).  On the other hand, I have met a lot of wonderful people since moving to Tucson, most of them new moms with kids the same ages as mine.  Like in the humanitarian field, there is an instant bond that develops when you discover that you have one major thing in common.  It’s reassuring to know that there are others going through the same things as you, and Facebook has been a great way to share stories, tips, advice, or just plain sympathy with these other new moms.

Yes, the life of a humanitarian aid worker is more exciting and the Facebook status updates are more interesting to read (sorry moms).  And although working in the humanitarian field is meaningful and rewarding (sometimes), being a mom is even more so.  Sure, my day-to-day isn’t quite as exciting and my posts have become downright boring at times.  That’s my life right now.  And I’m okay with that.

The ubiquitous “Mommy Blog”

I have joined the ranks of the thousands of other moms out there who have started a blog.  I read somewhere that 1 in 3 blogs are written by moms.  Whoa.  How did blogging become so popular among moms?  My husband says it’s because moms have the time to blog.  I responded (somewhat bitterly) that although moms may have the time, we don’t have much of the opportunity, especially new moms with young kids.   I can barely sit down at the computer before my 3-year old comes in demanding to watch YouTube videos of the Fresh Beat Band and my 18-month old pulls on my pant leg.

The thing is that a lot of moms, especially stay-at-home moms (and dads, for that matter), often feel bored and isolated.  As a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), you crave that outside contact and adult conversation that doesn’t involve the potty, dinosaurs, and various threats.  Aside from playdates with other moms (which sometimes gets difficult with children’s varying schedules, the effort of taking the kids out, etc.), the easiest and most convenient way for that connection is the internet.  That’s why the worst Facebook offenders (the ones who update their statuses and comment on yours several times a day) tend to be SAHMs.   They crave that social interaction, an outlet/voice, and something meaningful to do.  Not that it’s not meaningful to take care of kids all day.  Naturally I think it’s the most important job in the world, but at the end of the day, after all the kids have been fed and bathed and put to bed, the laundry washed and folded, the dishes put in the dishwasher, and the house picked up, SAHMs still feel like they haven’t done anything.  We are way more likely to feel exhausted than accomplished (not to mention appreciated).  SAHMs need something else.  The blog is an easy way for us to channel the little energy we have left over to have a bit of “me time,” as well as share a little of our experiences in child-rearing (perhaps vent a little?), and hopefully find others who can sympathize.

As for me, this is not my first blog.  I had a blog in 2007-2008 while living and working in South Sudan (which I’ve since taken down due to an overzealous country director.  Long story).   Even though my actual job required a lot of writing (and not the fun kind, either – reports, grants proposals, e-mails, etc.), I still managed to write a blog in my limited free time (first on MS Word running on my computer’s battery while the generator/internet was out and later posted online).  Though I had regular readers in my friends, family, and international public health classmates/colleagues, the blog was mainly to record my experiences and thoughts during my time in South Sudan.  The other thing is that I need to write.  Even before blogs were around, I’d kept a journal for years, ever since I received two Hello Kitty diaries at my 8th birthday party.   If I step away from it too long, it nags at me and urges me to get something down on paper (or screen).

Now that I don’t keep a journal, this blog is a way for me to write down the thoughts in my head – whether it’s a phase my kids are going through, a news story I heard or read, or something that triggers a memory of my time abroad.  Plus, writing a blog gives me something else to do and think about aside from my kids.  For the past three or so years, I have been consumed by my kids’ lives.  Except for an occasional entry (that I never got to post), I have been knee-deep in cloth diapers, pureed organic baby food, grocery lists and receipts, and memberships to the Children’s Museum and zoo.  Now that my kids are 1 and 3 and a bit more independent, I have a little more time to focus on something I want to do for myself (gasp!).  So although writing a blog is more for myself than anything, I’d also love the chance to connect with others and share experiences and viewpoints.  Even though we may do things differently, there is something grand that we share: the responsibility of raising children.  After all, it takes a village.

I heart COFFEE

I love my coffee.  There’s nothing in the world that makes me happier upon waking than a hot cup of coffee.  Not my kids’ smiling faces, the fresh Arizona morning air, or the beautiful day that lies ahead of me.  I love it so much that after having my first baby (who was born on my birthday), I bought myself one of those Keurig single-serve brewers along with a bunch of  environmentally-unfriendly coffee-filled k-cups.  Every morning, I look forward to (and desperately need) that steaming cup of Keurig-brewed joe to perk myself up and prepare me for the day ahead (I’m not the type to bound out of bed in the morning ready to start the day).

I started drinking coffee in college and my habit reached its height in my late 20s while working full-time in Chicago.  I drank about 4 cups per day at the time before realizing that my intake had to be curtailed, not only for my daily caffeine consumption (which didn’t really affect me so much anymore), but the fact that the fancy coffee drinks were making a serious dent in my wallet.  I reluctantly decreased my trips to the café from a few times a week to once a week.

By the time I entered the Peace Corps, I was a full-blown coffee addict.  The problem was that coffee wasn’t readily available in Kazakhstan (tea is the customary drink).  A couple of days of withdrawal and a serious headache later, I had to settle for the only coffee available – Nescafe.  Yes, a travesty to true coffee drinkers.  At first I shunned it, not only because Nescafe IS nastiness packaged in granules (coffee should NOT be instant), but that it’s made by the evil corporation Nestle (a rant for another time).  However, after realizing there was no coffeemaker in sight, not to mention actual coffee, I gave in and started to drink the dreaded stuff.  Believe me, for a coffee addict stuck in a land devoid of coffee, Nescafe became a godsend (eventually as a seasoned Peace Corps volunteer, I was privy to passed-down French presses and coffee percolators along with ground coffee sent in care packages by former PCVs – a true godsend).

The only time I gave up coffee for an extended period of time was when I was pregnant with my firstborn baby.  After 8 long months without coffee, I missed it more than any other food or drink I had given up, including sushi (my favorite food) and margaritas (my favorite drink).  I looked forward to the day my baby was born so that I could send the husband out to Dunkin’ Donuts, which was just down the street from the hospital.  I resumed my coffee drinking after my baby was born and continued through my second pregnancy.  I couldn’t imagine giving it up again during my second pregnancy (I needed even more with an active toddler) and figured that caffeine can’t be that bad for your unborn baby (I must add that my second baby was a much better sleeper than my first.  Perhaps because she was a “coffee baby” while my first wasn’t accustomed to the caffeine in my breastmilk).

Although I am still going strong with a 2-cup-a-day habit, I mostly drink it at home.  However, one of the things I really missed while I was pregnant and while living abroad (not simultaneously) was going to a cafe.  I’m talking about the cafes you find here in the U.S. where they serve a thousand different kinds of coffee drinks, are open at any time of day, and where you can sit for hours without anyone bothering you.  In my single and childless days, I loved going to relax and enjoy a vanilla latte, most of the time by myself and a book or laptop, sometimes with a friend.  This is a luxury I first took for granted when I lived abroad.  The cafes abroad (at least in the countries I lived, not places like Paris) weren’t actual coffee shops – they were more like casual restaurants where they served food and drink.  They didn’t specialize in coffee, much less SERVE it (or if they did, it was of the Nescafe variety).  Also, the cafes in developing countries weren’t open at all hours.  In grad school, I used to go to the cafe after 10pm to study or write papers (back then it was perfectly normal for me to drink coffee at that time).  When I moved to Thailand shortly after grad school, I missed those late-night cafe excursions so much I would dream about it.  One time I dreamt about going to a cafe at midnight!

I still think of going to a cafe as a luxury.  Nowadays the problem isn’t supply, since I live in a college-town with several 24-hour cafes, not to mention a Starbucks every half mile (this is the U.S. after all).  I just don’t have the opportunity anymore with two kids who are with me all the time.  So during those infrequent times I hire a babysitter to watch the kids while my husband is away for work, I go to a cafe by myself like I used to.  I order a cup of coffee and enjoy some much-needed and desired quiet and solitude.  Sometimes I write, sometimes I read, sometimes I just relax, look around, and enjoy being alone with my thoughts.  Aaaaahhh.  There’s nothing like having children and living abroad to appreciate the little things in life.

From international aid worker to stay-at-home mom

I still can’t believe I’m a mom sometimes. Just last night I was sitting on the couch with my 2-year old next to me and my 2-month old in my arms. I looked down at them and it suddenly hit me – holy crap, I have two kids! It’s not so strange considering that I’ve always wanted children and thought that eventually I would. It’s strange considering that three years ago I was living quite a different life than the one I have now – single with no kids and working as a development/aid worker in Africa (the two usually go hand-in-hand). At the time, having children seemed like a far-off and intangible dream that I preferred to keep in the back of my mind. I was 35, though, and I couldn’t help but think about the fact that I was not yet married or had children. However, doing so set alarm bells ringing, a panicky knot in my gut and the big question looming in my head “WILL IT HAPPEN FOR ME?”

Well, a lot can happen in three years (even in one year!). Looking at my life now – with two kids, a husband, and a house outside the city – my stint as an international aid worker seems like a lifetime ago. And even though the lifestyle of an aid worker is dichotomous with the one I have now, I enjoyed it immensely at the time. I was living my dream (one of them, at least). Sure, the living and working conditions were horrid at times. I was living in developing (i.e. poor) countries, staying in tents or compounds with my colleagues, taking bucket baths, using pit latrines, battling the elements (no a/c) and working 60 plus hour weeks.  However, I was doing something that was truly meaningful to me, and I never once had to question or quantify my life or career.

Now that I’m a mom, it’s easy for me to live in the sheltered and isolated bubble of stay-at-home motherhood. I definitely have been guilty of it since my son was born two years ago (and it’s even worse now since my daughter was born earlier this year). Whereas three years ago my main concerns were whether Sudan would break out in a civil war or how to convince the locals not to drink water directly from the river, my main concerns now are my toddler’s food allergies or getting my baby to sleep through the night. Although as each day passes and I get further and further away from my former life, it’s never too far away from my mind. I am constantly thinking about my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan or development worker in Thailand and South Sudan. I guess the point in writing this blog is to take those experiences and somehow connect them to my life now. I’m not sure if I’ll have anything worldly or wise to say, but it’s a chance for me to reflect on my experiences and perhaps open my eyes back up to global issues and impart some life lessons to my children. For now, though, I’ll see if I can actually get a blog going (even that seems impossible to do with two young kids!).