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.
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.
If you live abroad with your family, there’s almost no way to avoid one of the most exhausting expat experiences: long international flights with children. Even adults find these hauls grueling, so attempting them with small, smelly, stir-crazy little kids requires another level of stamina and some good preparation. First of all, if you are making that kind of journey with children for the first time, make sure you get advice from the right people. The experiences of your friends and co-workers who have traveled long flights without kids or who have taken their kids on short hops are useless to you. That is like taking advice about how to survive prison from someone who was stuck in driving school for an afternoon. Don’t worry: I am no such rookie. Some parents teach their kids to floss and tie their shoes. I teach my kids how to pack a tight carry-on and smile at the passport control officer. I have flown three of the top 10 longest flights in the world with children and have lived (sometimes barely) to tell the tale. I’ve had good flights and bad flights, and one flight from Johannesburg to Dubai with my toddler that was so terrible I turned around and went back to Africa rather than continue on any farther. So here are my top 10 tips to help you learn from my mistakes and survive the flight with your kids and your sanity intact:
Everyone can handle the expat lifestyle when it’s all famous international landmarks, breathtaking cultural experiences, and charming local children giving you presents. But what to do when your day hits the skids and you’re far from home? Last month I had the chance to find out (not once, but four times), which inspired me to come up with today’s list: the Top 10 Troubles you will face overseas and how to deal with them. I’ve faced every single one of them myself. 1. Car accidents I used to consider myself a good driver. Then I moved to Africa and promptly crashed my car into inanimate objects four different times in two years. My most recent crash involved a tree, a hungry preschooler in the backseat crying for pizza, and my least favorite gear: reverse. The quote to repair the bashed rear of the car seemed enough to cover the entire cost of a new car, but everything car-related is more expensive in Botswana and there aren’t many budget repair options.
We are back in Botswana after two glorious months in Cape Town, and I will admit that it is a mixed bag. While we were away, I missed: Our friends Our big house (the rental in Cape Town was a bit of a squeeze) How safe and quiet Botswana is (Sure, there are home invasions, but they are rarely violent.) I did not miss:
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 last time I was pregnant I was planning on a homebirth, so I never bothered to pack a hospital bag. That’s why, when I ended up in an ambulance speeding towards the hospital anyway in the last hour of labor, I didn’t even have a pair of shoes with me. This time around there is a different plan, involving a hospital room, midwives, and a back-up doctor just in case, and this plan requires the packing of a bag. What do you really need in a hospital bag?
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.
My mother died twenty-eight years ago today, in her sleep peacefully at home, after a three-year struggle with cancer. It was a Monday morning, just like today, and I was eleven years old, having hosted a birthday party with balloons, games and all my grade-school friends less than two weeks earlier. When my mom’s birthday comes around in December I like to get a colorful bouquet of flowers and display it in my house, picking out an assortment that I think she would have liked. Mother’s Day used to be a day I faced with dread, but it was reclaimed when I became a mother myself and it turned into a day of celebration again. But a death anniversary is different. It marks a terrible day: a day you don’t really want to remember.