Dear Kids, There’s a story behind the candles on my cake tonight. Lopsided, mismatched, but clearly spelling out my age–41–even though I can barely believe I’m older than 25. Where did the time go? It was your nanny, Patricia, who frosted the chocolate cake today and fished the numbered candles out of the box that holds the birthday stuff: cute gift bags, rumpled tissue paper, a package of smashed bows. I have this box now because I have you two–because you two are invited to a parade of birthday parties that require me to wrap presents at the drop of a hat on any given weekend. Of course I didn’t wrap my own presents today. Your dad did that, with lots of “helping” from you guys. It was fun to see your faces, expectant and waiting, as I ripped into the paper to open my gifts. I never knew if I was going to have children.
Last year right before Christmas I hauled out my pair of headphones and did an interview with the Expat Chat podcast with host Tony Argyle. Tony lives in Australia, making the most difficult part of our interview trying to find a time that worked with our schedules and the eight hours of time difference. As usually happens when people start asking me about living overseas, our conversation drifted to Pakistan and stayed there for awhile: most people are curious about what it was like to live there and surprised when I say how much I enjoyed it. We also covered Botswana, life with kids overseas, my favorite things to eat in Botswana, and the “Big Five” animals you have to see on safari. Also how great my mother-in-law is (and not just because I knew at some point she would listen.)
After 43 glorious days, 516 daytime hours of splashy fun, six weekends touched with castle magic, and countless moments of almost free entertainment, the Jumpy Castle is gone. In the end it all happened so quickly. A short text message announcing the impending end of the castle’s Reign. The appearance of the delivery man, looking different than I had seen him last, in 2015, when he, like everyone else in town, was lit up from within by the joy of Christmas and his month of holiday bonus pay. Now he looked, as all of us do, like just a normal guy in the drudges of February, that bleak zone without celebration. (Presidents’ Day in Botswana is observed in July, and if you don’t get a day off from work, it doesn’t count as a real holiday, Valentine’s Day.) He quietly set about dismantling the fortress that for so long has stood sentry on our dirt patch of a lawn. My daughter asked him in a plaintive voice why he was taking the Jumpy Castle away while my son shot off a few pre-verbal reproachful glances and tried to stand on the deflated castle while it was being folded into a neat bundle. I’ll admit that it was time.
Jumpy Castle Watch: Day 14. What can you do to spice up the holidays on a hot, quiet December day before Christmas? Rent a jumpy castle: Gaborone’s answer to all your child-related entertainment needs. I suppose the term is actually “jumping castle” (or jumping house) but in the quick casual Motswana way of speaking, what I always hear is “jumpy castle,” so that’s what I’m going with. In America of course we would call it a “bouncy house.” Two days before Christmas I decided to get my daughter and her five friends who are visiting from Zimbabwe a jumpy castle for the day so they could squirt each other with water, play around on the slide, and work out some good sugar-induced energy in the inevitable sweets-laden week before the holiday.
At four months and change, our new little guy is going strong. He likes to smile at strangers, grab for toys, roll over from back to tummy, and remind mommy to turn on the hot water geyser before bathtime since we normally leave it off to save electricity. Unfortunately, he doesn’t do this last one. But he really should. When is he going to start pulling his own weight around here? I slipped into the babycare routine like you would an old shoe: the rhythm of interrupted sleep and constant breastfeeding came right back as if the last three years hadn’t passed. But of course I was far from home this time. When my daughter was born in 2011, I was living in crunchy Santa Barbara, California: land of organic food, hemp overalls, and a baby psychology clinic. if you didn’t tote your baby to the farmers’ market in a sling, you were the oddball. Things in South Africa are a little different. There are plenty of health food stores, and I was surprised how easy it was to find almond flour for my homemade nursing cookies or witch-y dried herbs for my after birth soothing bath. But there was one area where I immediately felt like the hippie outlier: nursing in public.
I think the low point was me in the courtyard of the mall trying to wrestle Denton under the nursing blanket when he peed out of his diaper, soaking both of our laps, while it simultaneously started raining and Lila darted out of the drugstore alone brandishing a roll of stolen Christmas wrapping paper like a triumphant warrior. (She’s been watching too much Mulan.) It is true what they say: the adjustment from one kid to two kids is nowhere near as earth shattering as the adjustment from zero kids to one. However, let’s be honest: it’s still an adjustment. Based on today I would say it’s one we’re still getting used to. The scene went down this afternoon in the open air courtyard of the Woolworths shopping mall in upscale Hout Bay, South Africa.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve slapped up a post here, but I will use that age-old, tired excuse: I just had a baby! And although a newborn in the house DOES grant you hours of isolation shut away from the rest of the world and its distractions, those hours are largely spent shushing, pacing, nursing, and theorizing as to the possible reasons why your infant is not sleeping. (“Is he allergic to the dog?” “Is the fan too blowy?” “Does he hate us?”) I’m mostly kidding: Denton has been a fairly decent sleeper but even if he wasn’t we would still love him to pieces. In the end all the hard work paid off.
The first time I got pregnant, I was living in Pakistan. This time I’m living in Botswana. The difference with baby #2 is that we’re not hightailing it back to America to have our child. We’re packing up the car with our toddler, our nanny and our dog, and driving 18 hours across the border to Cape Town in South Africa to have our son there instead (sadly, the pet tortoise doesn’t get to come). We’ll get there with a month to spare in case the little man decides to come early. Some Americans might say that the United States has the best healthcare in the world and that they would only feel comfortable going back home for such an event. I am not one of those people.
Like any pregnant woman will tell you, the second time around feels different. You’re a little more confident; you do a lot less research. That strange periodic burning sensation under the left ribcage? Had it last time so I know it’s no big deal. Feet feel tingly when you first get out of bed? Been there already. The words Moby, Beco, Baby K’Tan and Ergo? Know ’em all. I am very clear on what baby gear I need and what I don’t (I’m looking at you, Diaper Genie). In short, I feel like a pro. But being pregnant in a different country comes with its own surprises that you can’t predict, and this makes even the second time around feel like a new experience. First of all, I am in a strange and lonely category being pregnant here at 39.