Friday, October 12, 2012

Meeting the Wind


I was overwhelmed with gratitude today. Standing by the Patuxent River on a gorgeous October evening, I looked out across the water. Golden light filtered down to the opposite shore, showing off the early autumn colors. I held my 4 month old daughter close to my heart and just delighted in what I heard. She was laughing.

Laughing is a new and growing part of her small world right now. She's just discovered it within the last few weeks. Yet, there she was this evening, laughing at the wind. I realized that it was probably the first time she had ever felt real wind. It delighted her. She threw her head back, opened her mouth and tasted it. And then she laughed from a deep place in her belly and just reveled. Every time the wind picked up...even though it brought a chill in the air...she just chuckled. And then she looked at me with those amazing blue eyes and full face smile (she gets it from her Dad,) as if to say, 'Isn't it perfect, Mamma?'

It's true that this still continues to be one of the most challenging times of my life. New and exciting job...less sleep...less time for myself...less time with my husband. Yet, in that moment, I felt the full blessing of what it is to be a parent. I felt deep joy...from a well that I didn't even know existed. I felt gratitude for my husband, my family and friends, my job, my home, and especially for our Ellie. And I felt amazement that it had been so very long since I last laughed at the wind myself.

So, I just want to say thank you. Thank you, God, for having given me such abundance. Thank you, Mark, for having brought such love and friendship into my life. And thank you, Baby Girl, for having taught me how to find magic in the wind yet again.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hard to be a Working Mom

Photographed by Beth Caldwell, bethcaldwell.blogspot.com 

Everyone acknowledges that it’s hard to be a working mom. In fact, just the title mom clearly states that you are a hard worker…whether you get paid for it or not. I happen to be one of those moms who is now starting to transition back to office work as well as home work. And everyone acknowledges how hard this transition is…having to juggle so many hats and responsibilities and breast pumps all at once.

It is one of my first days in my soon to be new full-time job. I am sitting on the metro train, finally out of the house after a grueling 3 hour tour of getting both me and baby girl ready, and let me just say this: I…Am…Tired. My back hurts. My neck hurts. My big toe which I cut the other day is sore, my knee and shoulder are sore and loosy goosy, I’m guessing from relaxin hormones that haven’t gotten the memo that we’re no longer pregnant. I’m hauling around this huge backpack with my computer and lunch and a multitude of documents that I should have read already. I’m also transporting back and forth my portable breast pump and pumping supplies. And don’t get me wrong. I am sooooo thankful to have this job, this baby, and this breast pump. All three are top of the line! I could just really use a nap…and a vacation…and a massage. And did I mention a nap would be nice?

This is a critical crossroads in my life. You see, I’ve just gotten my dream job: Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs at Women Thrive Worldwide, a women’s international development and human rights policy organization here in Washington, DC. And the women who work there are amazing…intelligent, thoughtful, funny, eloquent, practical, visionary. Yet, I feel torn in two…my heart staying with Baby Girl when I have to leave her…my mind staying with the job when I have to leave it. Train rides to and from work can therefore be very confusing! Should I maximize potential work time? Should I go through my home to do list of all the things I need to get ready for Eliana for tomorrow? Should I pray? Breathe? Meditate? 

Today, I chose to write, hoping that the process would be cathartic and remind me yet again of how blessed I am to have so many choices. This is the difference between the haves and the have nots, isn’t it? Life is hard all around…for every woman out there. But the haves have a choice as to how hard to work and where to work and who to leave their child with and where and how to live. The have nots do not. It is indeed hard to be a working mom…whether this means that you’re working to get your family out of a tent camp in Haiti…working to sell your goods at the market place in Benin…working to feed and clothe your family in Philly…or working to balance office life and home life here in DC. So, here is a prayer for every mother out there worldwide: never ever forget that you are a valuable asset who deserves to have choice. You have worked too damn hard for it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Waiting for Strength

I'm sitting here in my sun room, watching the sun slowly rise in the early morning hours. It is Sunday, four days after my due date, and I can't go back to sleep. Yet, all is calm...peaceful...as it should be somehow. Birds are welcoming the new day, not questioning if four hours of sleep is enough to get them through it. I almost skipped this moment...sitting here and soaking it in and basking in the quiet. Maybe, because I'm eager to get to the next step. I'm eager to go back to sleep, to finish one last work project, to try and naturally induce labor. But thankfully I picked up my devotional instead. Hence, an old, familiar verse met me at the crossroads once again.

"Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40: 30-31

How fitting. As if someone were trying to tell me something.

I've done a good job in the last week of letting go of things to prepare myself to wait. I stopped working on Thursday. I finished up my to do list and refused to put more things on it. I slowed way down and let go. This is the great irony of labor and birthing: total surrender. It is a very counter-intuitive action for someone so used to proactively leading the way. Yet labor...kind of like a baby...kind of like God...isn't really concerned so much with my proactive good intentions. I cannot control this. Just like I cannot control how quickly I will heal after birth, how and when Baby Girl and I will bond or how I will feel about my new work-life balance.

The truth of the matter is that I will have to wait on all of this. I mean, to really wait. I'll have to trust that Baby Girl will come at the exact perfect moment and in the exact perfect way. I'll have to trust that I'll know the right day to return to work, that I'll know how to balance the new role of mother in the middle of everything else and with the right timing. It's hard to let go and be patient when thinking on these things. Yet, this promise has always been fulfilled in my life: that if I wait for the divine, it will come. And better yet, when it comes, it will strengthen me much more than I ever could.

And so, I think I'm finally ready to go back to bed...to wait a little longer and to just enjoy the moment. Somehow I believe that although I might be exhausted right now, strength is on the horizon.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A 10 Year Anniversary Ode to My Daughter

10 years. Has it really been that long? 10 years today since I fell off my bicycle, on the road from Natitingou to Bakoumbe. 10 years since I remember being in Benin as a Peace Corps Volunteer. 10 years of healing, of letting go, of starting again. 10 years of creating this new life…both my own and the little one growing inside me now.

It seems so fitting somehow, that I’m in Haiti on this 10 year anniversary…sitting outside in the warm cool night after a hot day, listening to the sounds of children playing, dogs barking, old men laughing, radios blaring. I could almost be in Benin. Life seems so simple in this moment…beautifully uncomplicated in a country with so many complications. Just a simple Sunday evening of Haitian families spending time together in a Port-au-Prince neighborhood, looking up at the same stars, telling the same old stories, laughing at the same jokes.
I had two moments of true joy today that seemed tailor made for both Benin and Haiti. I didn’t even realize that it had been 10 years until I started writing this blog. And so, maybe these 2 moments were an anniversary present of sorts.

The first gift was a classical music concert by the Haiti Philharmonic Orchestra and the Petit Chanteurs (little singers) Haitian Boys Choir. My friend Alexis came and picked me up at my hotel, Le Jardin, and we went with another friend of hers from Mercy Corps to the St. Louis Garangue School Chapel. It was there that Haiti surprised me yet again. Of course they have a Philharmonic Orchestra and can deliver an amazing rendition of Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons. Why not?! It was a wonderful reminder that each country I encounter in the world has strengths and weaknesses, is over ‘developed’ and under ‘developed,’ is both national and global, has ugly spots and embarrassments and yet deep, overflowing beauty and promise. This is true about both Haiti and Benin. This is something that I didn’t fully know and understand 10 years ago.

The second gift today was a soak in the hotel pool as I watched the sun set behind the mountains, juxtaposed against a great big Haitian tree reflecting over the pool. The sky turned deep orange and the tree’s reflection over the water glowed in the ethereal light. It was a perfect moment. Just me and God and the sunset-filled tree…and our daughter, who was enthusiastically kicking away. It was a moment that doesn’t happen in normal, everyday life…a moment where the world melts into itself and Haiti and America and Heaven all merge into one. And my daughter, not even born yet, was in the middle of all of it. I kept whispering to her…things like ‘this is Haiti…isn’t it beautiful? Never be afraid of places and people, just because you don’t know them yet.’

I believe I had a moment like that on the road to Bakoumbe 10 years ago, when I stopped to take a picture of the countryside. A moment where nationality no longer mattered and I realized what a beautiful, timeless world it is that God has created and encouraged us to explore. Somehow, this is true. And yet, it’s also true that I am an outsider in both countries who will never truly understand. I will never fully comprehend Haiti’s pain, Haiti’s strength, Haiti’s hope. I love it, though. I love it as much as I loved Benin 10 years ago. Haiti, just like Benin, is not under developed, is not 3rd world. It has deep rivers of wisdom in it, of solidarity, of integrity and beauty. These strengths could help teach and empower the world, if people would let it. And yet, it has great poverty and injustice too. Why is it, though, that more often than not, the world only chooses to see the latter?

My prayer of thankfulness and gratitude on this 10 year anniversary is that I have been able to heal and grow and see more parts of this world for what it really is: the making of our choosing. We can choose to see the beauty…choose to search for the goodness and kindness in people who are different from us…choose to work for justice and celebrate the steps along the way. We can choose life…again and again, in small and big ways, in different countries and with different cultures and at times when it feels oh so difficult. This is my prayer for my daughter: that she may grow up to seek and find beauty, and hope and God in the people and places that she encounters. That she might continue to ride bicycles even after the great falls in her life. That she will stay open minded and believe that even Haiti can have a great Philharmonic Orchestra. And that she will take time to sit in the middle of the water, watch the sun set over a foreign mountainside and know that she is safe to be and love in this world.