Simply Complicated
30th April
2015
written by Michelle


When we were in the states a few weeks ago, a sweet mom, whose own kids are earning drivers’ licenses’ and college degrees, pulled me aside one afternoon after seeing how much Elena talked about “Frozen.” (which she affectionately calls, “Oafen” and may or may not have watched a total  of 27 times while driving from CA up to WA)

“I got something for her, but you I wanted to show it to you first to make sure you’re ok with it.” 

I thought that was super kind and thoughtful of her.

She proceeded to pull out a blue sparkly, Elsa Barbie doll. “And look, if you push here. She sings.” Let It Go, Let It Goooooooooo.”

I know all of you parents of young ones right now, are like, Noooooooooo.

I smiled, ignoring all of my anti-princess-no-Barbie-doll-feminist-leaning tendencies.

“She will love it.” I said.

And she did.

Elena’s big eyes and curious fingers, wasted no time in figuring out that blue button. Elena was tiptoeing around the kitchen with her singing Elsa, who she calls “ah-chay,” twirling high above her head.

She was mesmerized. And I was kinda dreading the next 6 days our trip. 

I wouldn’t exactly say I am anti-Disney princesses, but I am definitely not for them. I don’t like the message they portray to young girls. The whole princess-culture, that says your worth is based on your external beauty. It seems to only reinforce what so many woman and girls grow up fighting against.

I was explaining all of this to my husband on one of our 4-hour car rides. His eyes were focused straight ahead, but I knew he was listening. “It’s just, I don’t want our little girl growing-up thinking some prince will come and rescue her, you know? I want her to know that women are made for so much more. I want her to be brave and confident and full of compassion and gratitude. I want her to be strong and smart and know that her outer beauty is only a reflection of her inner beauty.”

I sighed loudly, expecting him to nod along and agree with me, but he didn’t.

“Michelle, she’s not even two.

“ok. You’re right. She’s not even two.” I repeated to myself as I imagined her singing ‘Let it go’ for the next 10 years.

. . .

We got home last week and while un-packing my suitcase, I came across the singing Elsa doll. I was tempted to hide it. She won’t remember if Elsa just “disappears,” I thought.

But something stopped me.

I don’t want my personal preferences to get in the way of paying attention to what my daughter likes. And right now, she likes Frozen. So I will play with Elsa and talk about Anna and Olaf and buy her Frozen pajamas and underwear because she likes it. I will enter her world because that’s the only way I know how to really understand someone. Sure, as the parent I will set boundaries. We will not watch Frozen every day.

But I will care about Frozen, because she cares about Frozen.

And if in five years she starts caring about inch-worms and frogs and beetles, I want her to know I will do my best to care about those things too.

If in nine years she comes home from school crying because she didn’t get invited a friend’s birthday, you better believe I will provide hugs and empathetic nods. I will care because she cares. Feeling left out of a birthday party is sad and hard at any age, but especially when you’re nine.

And maybe in twelve years, if she starts caring about a silly boy band, I will care about that silly boy band, too. I will listen with her and try to remember their names and let her put up posters in her room.

And if in seventeen years, her interests move on from a boy band to an actual boy, I will tell her he’s welcome to come over. I will place my hand on her daddy’s arm for reassurance, and show her that if she cares about someone we will, too.

If in twenty-one years she comes bouncing in talking about an internship where she gets to study malaria prevention, but all I hear is “gone” “whole summer” and “not-deadly,”  I will keep my thoughts to myself and congratulate her. I  will hug her and ask her to tell me more. Because if something makes her this excited, I will want to understand why.

And if in twenty-five years she says she wants to move to another country, one where I don’t speak the language or understand the culture, my heart might sink for a second, but I will buy a plane ticket to visit and see her life. I will pray for her protection and growth, not that she changes her mind. I will sit awkwardly waiting when I don’t understand what’s being said and watch as she lights up, explaining to the taxi driver where we’re going.

Because loving someone means caring about what they care about.

It’s easy as parents to see our children for who we want them to become, but I think it’s sometimes all too easy to miss who they are right now. That’s why we need other people, a spouse, a friend and an observant older mom, who may see interests that we may not.  You know, a fresh pair of eyes to notice how much a certain little one loves singing ‘Let it go.’  The truth is I can introduce my daughter all day to books, and climbing and colors and picking flowers. And I can hope that one day she’ll learn how to play the piano or join a soccer team, but for now she loves putting her baby dolls “nigh nigh” and singing with Elsa and Princess Anna. And that is just ok.

Gerber and I talk a lot about how in community development work, before people care what you know, they want to know that you care. And I think the same in true in parenting. Of course I want to teach our little girl all kinds of things, but I know before she is ever going to care about what I know, she has to know that I care.

So I will start by caring about the singing Elsa Doll.

14th March
2015
written by Michelle

 

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Last December as we cruised down 101 freeway, enjoying the rare moment with Elena asleep in her car seat and one of not signing wheels-on-the-bus, I started talking. Gerber drove and started listening. A usual pattern we find ourselves in; the talker and the listener.

I want to write more, I began.  I have so many ideas about articles and books. But everything gets stuck in my head. I feel like there’s not enough time or there’s always other stuff to get done.

Blah, Blah. I have heard myself say versions of this same thing before. It’s been on shuffle, coming up in conversations for years.

We all know these are just excuses. But the feelings are real. Life in this season IS full. I write for work, a lot. I respond to questions and make schedules and draft project proposals. I write emails to dear friends who live far away and thumb tap Instagram novel length posts. Sometimes at the end of the day my words-for-writing tank is empty. I once went to a conference where one of my favorite writing teachers said the best thing you can do as a writer is use your first words for the most important thing.

. . .

We keep driving, as the freeway hugs the cliffs on one side and the ocean sparkles in the reflection out the window on the other.

He looks at me, “So, what do you need to write?”

His questions are simple, so direct. They take the hundreds of feelings and thoughts swimming around inside and get to the essence.

Space, I answer, thinking more about figurative space, like space during the day to set-aside for writing.  

We drive on in silence, both staring straight ahead.

I used to think oh, great. thaaaat conversation ended well, interrupting his silence for an ending. But a few years of marriage has taught me to respect the silence. Usually, it just means he’s thinking.

It’s not an ending, but an invitation to pause.

“What about if we divide the space in the office, so you can have a desk.”

It wasn’t really a question. More of a solution.

When we moved back into our newly remodeled house last year, I had the idea of using the kitchen as my work/writing space. We even got a special bar stool because I was convinced this is where I wanted to write, in the middle of cutting up grapes and making phone calls and picking up those ridiculous letter magnets that never seem to stay on the fridge. I imagined writing between life at the table and the high chair and the kitchen sink.

And I do spend a lot of time in between those places. And I enjoy most of them. But I cannot write there. I have tried.

I tried to set-up my laptop at the kitchen table, after the dishes were cleaned off and the dreaded high-chair tray wiped down and the baby in bed. I grabbed my tea and something sweet and aimlessly meandered through work emails and checking facebook and starting blog drafts. But there was no place to leave my post-it notes with scribbled down ideas or pin-up pictures and quotes for inspiration. There wasn’t any space for consistency.

The other thing that writing teacher said was, writers need to create a place to do their work.

She was right.

Physical space for me is deeply connected to figurative space. I needed an actual location, a desk, a work place to call my own, to take my writing and my time seriously. Of course there is nothing wrong with working from couches with babies nestled next you and kitchen tables and stolen moments in-between nap time and dinner time. That works, and for some seasons, that may be all you get. So dear writer, take it. Make it yours and write with whatever time and space you have.

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But I was ready for a desk.

Last week, Gerber spent a Thursday night re-assembling the corner desk piece he had bought for himself. He separated it, installed an extra base and set up a work space for me, next to the window because he knows I love the sun. He made room. He gave me a physical space to write, and maybe equally significant the encouragement that he values what I want to do.  I sometimes think in marriage the most loving thing we can do is create space for your what matters most to your spouse.

So I am now typing this at my desk, my space.

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I love how the afternoon sun bounces off one of my favorite pictures from our wedding. We are dancing. You can only see a small corner of Gerber’s mouth, but his eyes are smiling. My nose is scrunched because sometimes just looking at him brings me joy. Elena’s little face is framed in a gold rectangle that I bought for Q10 at a store called Buen Precio. She is my arms and about to laugh. Of course, I love it when she sleeps and takes extra long naps like she is right now, but my heart leaps when I see that girl smile. Probably, because she has her Daddy’s smile.

I am not one for lots of tradition. I didn’t do anything like something old, something new and something blue for my wedding. But I did kind of by accident for my desk. My favorite blue anthro candle sits in the corner. It smells like Santa Barbara at summer time. I don’t even light it that often, I just like to smell it.

I guess that is my something blue.

I have never been a fan of tequila, but one summer in Santa Barbara I went around to bars and asked if I could have their empty Patron bottles after they poured the last shot. Bartenders always were a bit surprised by my request, especially because I was in my gym clothes and never offered to buy any tequila. I explained that I thought they made lovely vases and I wanted to use them at my wedding one day. I collected eight empty Patron bottles that summer. And I did in fact bring them down to Guatemala for our wedding. They were set on tables and by the fountain, filled with white and yellow daisies and wisps of eucalyptus leaves. I never got them all back, but I did save one. And now that one mini-patron bottle sits on my desk to hold the flowers that Elena often picks and hands to me saying, “fo mama.”

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After my Grandma died 3 years ago, my mom and aunts invited us to go through some of her things. My Grandma was a German immigrant who became a doctor. She re-used envelopes and washed out yogurt containers to use in place of Tupperware. I think of her with fondness because of her love for reading and letter writing and general resourcefulness. When we were going through her things I told myself I could only bring things back what I could actually use. In my suitcase back to Guatemala I packed this heavy-duty Swingline stapler, which I am pretty sure is older than I am. And a pair of black handled scissors that have the letters “Steel no.28″ engraved on the edge. They’re the heaviest, sturdiest scissors I have ever owned. I use them often, imagining my Grandma nodding approvingly because her things are being put to good use.

Those are my something old.

The small clock I splurged on and bought at Pottery Barn after we got married. It is one of those new-antique-looking things. Gerber never understood why I would buy something new to look old. I admit, it was probably over-priced, but now it sits on my desk and reminds me that I have time. Or better yet, that I can make time for what is important. My dad used to always tell me we all have the same amount of time each day. The number of minutes each day is fixed, but how we spend them is not. 

This is my something new.

In my blue Mason jar I have my favorite stabilo pens that I first found, 11 years ago in a German post-office while studying abroad. At the time I don’t think you could find them in the states. They felt special, something strictly European. Now you can get them on Amazon and at any little libreria, even here in Guatemala.  There is a cork board right above my desk with our most recent Christmas picture pinned up and a card from my mom, with the word Joy penned in pretty calligraphy. I like the word and the colors match my space with swirls of blue and grey and turquoise.

There are still a few things to add and organize. I need to buy a chair and I’d like this print or this one.

But I am writing.

My motto recently has been start with what you have, where you are.

So I am. I am writing from my desk. With the words and space I have, when I can.

I have been reading, Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and it is quickly becoming one of my favorite writing books. She is direct and wise and so cleaver. In her chapter titled, “Writing Is Not a McDonald’s’ Hamburger” she says:

“Give yourself some space before you decide to write those big volumes. Learn to trust the force of your own voice. Naturally, it will evolve… but it will come from a different place than your need to be an achiever. Writing is not a McDonald’s hamburger. The cooking is slow, and in the beginning you are not sure whether a roast or a banquet or a lamb chop will be the result.”

I am learning to trust my own voice. And to keep letting my writing evolve and accept that like fine cooking, it is a good, sometimes slow process. And that that is an ok thing, because we all know, I really don’t like McDonald’s hamburgers. And I am guessing you don’t either.

There is something powerful and even dare I say, transforming in writing down your stories. Giving words to the emotions and thoughts that swirl around inside. Somehow writing them down, creating space for them to be, helps me. And maybe, just maybe, whispers to someone else in the quietness, “it’s ok, me, too.”

. . .

 

P.S. There’s still a big open space between our two desks. Gerber and I want to find a big world map to hang in that shared wall space because we share a love of traveling and seeing the world and we would most likely not agree on any other kind of art. I would want inspirational words and lovely lettered quotes and he would want landscapes of far off mountains and oceans and motorcycles. A map seems like the perfect compromise, amiright?! Any recommendations for a finding a large (like 4 x 5 foot) world map print? Do share!

P.S.S. Thank you for reading my words, encouraging my writing and following along here! If you’re not following along on facebook would you do me favor and like this page. Thank you, from the bottom of my writers’ heart.

20th February
2015
written by Michelle

This one has been in my draft box for-ever. In fact, I would be embarrassed if you knew how many half-started  blog posts are sitting in my draft box right now. (ahem. maybe close to a 100). I figured maybe part of my goal for the year should be to publish some […] Continue Reading…

19th February
2015
written by Michelle

Sometimes it’s hard to write about things when you’re in the middle of it, like with marriage. I haven’t written much about our marriage recently because well…one, it’s not just my story to tell. Even though I am more of an open book and will gladly share what I’ve […] Continue Reading…

3rd February
2015
written by Michelle

I am so excited to be guest posting today over at Rachel Pieh Jones’ blog. I kind of think of Rachel as an expert in cross-cultural living, mothering & writing as an expat living in Djibouti. And if we’re ever in the same country I would jump on the chance to grab […] Continue Reading…

19th January
2015
written by Michelle

 

Yikes. It’s January 19th. My computer tells me I started this draft on January 6th– so, here we are 13 days later.

I remember well in my years before moving to Guatemala and becoming a mom that I would carve out a few hours at the end of each year […] Continue Reading…

3rd January
2015
written by Michelle

 On Monday night we boarded a redeye flight from California to Guatemala. We’ve done this numerous times before, the difference being this time the little baby we thought would sleep was wide awake. We sat on the runway for a while before being giving the clear to take off. […] Continue Reading…

20th October
2014
written by Michelle

I was talking to my Gerber on the phone tonight because he’s gone working for the week with a team from Canada. He asked, “Are you excited about your birthday?”

I am, I replied.

I could hear him smiling through the phone.
I know he loves me dearly, be he doesn’t totally understand […] Continue Reading…

16th October
2014
written by Michelle

 

Last week, Elena and I were on our way back from an afternoon errand. As soon as I pull up in front of our house, her little voice from the backseat both asks and exclaims, “Agua? Agua!”

I pull her out of the carseat, going over my mental to-do list that […] Continue Reading…

29th September
2014
written by Michelle

 

This is not a “how to get your kid to eat broccoli post” because the truth is, I just don’t know. Elena still won’t touch it. Just like I don’t think there is one way to raise kids, there is definitely not one way to feed kids. I feel fairly […] Continue Reading…

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