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Those Things You Learn the Hard Way When You Have Your First Child

This isn’t my typical blog post, but this past year so many things have been swirling around in my mind that I feel the need to write them out (and yes it has taken me well over a year to do so). Maybe what I’ve learned the hard way will help someone else; and please I would love to hear from other parents or care givers what shocked you, surprised you or melted your heart in a way you never thought possible. So here goes… Those things I learned the hard way.

Did you know that after you have a baby your hair can literally falls out in clumps for weeks? That is a fun one. Thankfully, it is temporary as your hormones attempt to balance out. Something called BPA (which you may have never even heard of before) suddenly seems important, but you are not even sure why. Did you know that it is actually possible to be allergic to your own child? I didn’t (google Pups rash—so not cool). Thankfully, this too is temporary and due (yet again) to an overload of hormones.

When you have a baby, you quickly discover that some people have an irresistible urge to give you advice on EVERYTHING from how your baby should be dressed, to when to feed solid food, how often your baby needs to bathe, when you should sleep, how often to cut finger nails and on and on and on. Frankly, it’s exhausting. And speaking of exhausting, I think the thing that has been the hardest for me as a new parent was the discovery that some babies (no matter what you do) just don’t sleep well at night. Welcome to motherhood. As my dad told a young, overwhelmed mom at church; “if it was easy, guys would do it.”

I vividly remember one night during that first month getting up—for was it the fifth or six time—(I’d lost count) and thinking, “It’s a wonder any of us survived to adulthood. Needless to say, I have a new appreciation for my mom (and she had twins! God bless her).

I don’t remember how old I was when I first started to babysit, maybe twelve. My first regular babysitting job was watching a three month old when I was 15. For five months, I worked as a nanny (best job ever). Then, I had the immense privilege of being an aunty/parent for ten months to 19 of the most amazing children in Kenya. So, when it came to having my own little guy, I guess I expected things to be—well—a little bit easier. I had experience, right?

Needless to say, I got the biggest wake up call of my life. It is scary, to be honest. You are responsible. A little life is in your hands and the pressure of that can be daunting. I learned this the hard way during those first few hours when I went to feed Trevor for the first time and, instead of a sweet bonding moment, he was whisked off to be put on oxygen (read The Story I Couldn’t Write part one and two for more on that experience). The fear is real, but you cannot give into the fear because that only brings unneeded stress. I’m learning that you have to choose to focus on doing the best job that you can over worry knowing you are an imperfect parent living in an imperfect world where disease and tragedy are a very real reality. Thankfully, as tiny and vulnerable as babies are, it amazes me how tough they can be as well—a calming grace for my often over-worried soul.

As a nanny, you join a family who has a specific way of taking care of their children. You’re responsible for looking after the kids during a specific amount of time. There might be some light housework included in your duties, but mainly your focus is 100 percent on the kids. As a parent, you are responsible for the kids, grocery shopping, teaching proper ways to behavior in society, education, health, financial needs and the list goes on. Instead of following someone else’s methods and preferences, suddenly you have to make the decision on everything from car seats, vaccines, and tummy sleeping to how best to discipline and whether or not to co-sleep, sleep train, or do a mix of everything. It is on you and the choices are daunting. Opinions on both sides of every argument seem so strong. For example, take the vaccine debate. Mom A will say, “if you have your children vaccinated and something goes wrong they could die.” Mom B will point out, “if you don’t vaccinate your children and they get sick they could die.” Then there is tummy sleeping. Mom A, “back is best due to the risk of SIDS.” Mom B, “My friend’s baby died in her sleep from choking while sleeping on her back.” What is a mom to do?

I have learned the hard way that you have to do your own research and make the decision that works best for you and your child. There is no one perfect or even right way to raise your little guy or gal. There is a reason there is no baby manual. Each child, family, and situation is different. So, instead of stressing about decisions, focus on learning your baby and what works best in your particular situation. I’ve learned the hard way that no matter what route you choose, someone will think you are making the wrong decision. That is all right. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your child. So when it comes to all the opinions, options, and advice learn to sort through it. Pick out the helpful stuff, don’t waste your breath with debates, and just change the subject if someone gets hostile. You are not going to change their mind, so just move on to lighter topics.

This last year I’ve also learned the hard way that the name of the game is change. Just as you get a rhythm or a schedule it changes. I remember one morning cooking breakfast while my son sat on the floor happily playing with a toy. I thought to myself, “ this is a nice stage.” He had his balance to the point where he could sit by himself and not fall over. I could actually focus on what I was doing. It was heavenly. Well, that didn’t last long. Next thing I knew he was crawling, so much for concentration. Change can also be a good thing though. It does get easier and harder, easier and harder as your little one hits growth spurts, developmental milestones, and pops out those little pearly whites. Each little stage has its joys and challenges. So on the hard days remember, it will change sometimes the best medicine is deciding to have a positive attitude.

Another thing you learn quickly as a new parent is that naptime is never long enough. Part of this might be more of a personality thing, but the minute those tiny eyes close; I start thinking of all the things I want to do: the dishes, laundry, blog, finally get a shower, sit down in peace and read my Bible. The floors need to be mopped. There are emails to answer. The bathroom could really use a good cleaning. Of course, it is unrealistic to do all of this. When my little guy wakes up and I have not even gotten through an 1/8th of the things I wanted to do, I end up feeling so frustrated. This, of course, does not help anyone. I’ve learned the hard way that I have to lower my expectations (keep that naptime to do list to one or two items), prioritize, and if I really want to get something done either stay up late or get up early.

That being said, another hard lesson I have had to learn is—ask for help. This one is a constant struggle for me. I want to do it all, handle it well, and be there whenever my son needs me. As a result, I often find myself overwhelmed, overtired, and easily frustrated. Then I get extra frustrated at myself for being frustrated. I should be able to handle this right? Well, I can’t and that is OK because my son needs more then just me. Not having immediate family close by has been a real challenge this past year. Part of the year we do live near my husband’s family and that makes a huge difference, but there are a lot of times that it is just us and our absolutely adorable bundle of joy is a ball full of ENERGY. I have learned the hard way that it makes a huge difference to ask a responsible teenager to come with to the coffee shop so that you can actually get some Internet work done (and not just be frustrated by the entire experience). Sometimes it takes swallowing your pride and admitting that, no, you can’t handle it. Other times it takes knowing your limits and admitting that you need some peace and quiet and time to recharge yourself in order to be a better parent.

And finally, remember to have fun. It is easy to get so caught up in the caretaking side of being a mom that you forget to just enjoy and play with your child. I was reminded of this on my birthday. My husband very thoughtfully booked a couple of nights for us at a guesthouse. There weren’t any distracting dishes staring at me, so at one point Trevor and I just played with a little tennis ball that I had brought along to keep him amused. I remember sitting there on the floor listening to my little guy laugh and thinking I need to do this more often. In the midst of the challenges and the huge learning curve there are so many joyful moments. Embrace that.

What did you learned the hard way as a new parent? Were there things that really surprised you? What advice would you give new parents expecting their own little bundle of joy?

Trevor and his daddy checking out how much his tree has grown over the past year.

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The Story I couldn’t Write (Part II)

It’s indescribably hard to trust strangers with your child. But, he needed the medicine, the care that I was unable to give. So, with struggling hearts, we left. The nurses told us visiting hours started at 7 a.m.

Back across the road we went to the private hospital where I had given birth and was yet to be discharged. The evening is mostly a blur. Two friends from church stopped by with some bags of fruit. Trevor’s first official visitors, except Trevor wasn’t there. Later, Rachael, one of the widows we work with came with her daughter and ten month old granddaughter Mya. They brought a delicious dinner for us. I just held on to little Mya. God knew I needed a baby to hug right then since I couldn’t hug mine. Rachael told us that Mya also had to stay for a few days in that same intensive care unit—calming news to my anxious heart.

I slept. The first real sleep I’d had in three days. Simon slept on a mattress on the floor next to my hospital bed. At 4 a.m. I woke up. I couldn’t think about anything but Trevor. I got myself ready and packed up a few things to take over to my little guy. As soon as the sun started to peek up, we headed back across the road. It wasn’t visiting hours yet. The nurse allowed Simon just a few minutes to look in on Trevor before saying that only the mother was allowed in the intensive care unit in order to protect all the sick babies there.

Trevor’s neighbor to the right was incredibly tiny barely over a kilo. On his left was a little guy born the same day, but well before his due date. Across the room was a set of twin boys so thin that they reminded me of the pictures you see in National Geographic of severely malnourished children.

I looked down at my son lying there under those bright hospital lights. His face was all smushed up, and he had so many tubes connected to his tiny person. As I held him, I didn’t feel that instant connection. Maybe it was fear. Maybe it was the fact that this whole motherhood thing hadn’t had time to really sink in, but then Trevor looked up at me with those precious little eyes. The way he looked at me right then seem to say, “Mom, I need you.” In that instant, my heart melted. He was mine. There was that deep connection and it stuck stronger then any glue ever could.

Those five days of caring for Trevor felt like five weeks. To write down everything would take a small book, so highlights will have to suffice—the moments that stick most deeply in my mind.

I went to change Trevor for the first time and realized the diapers were still in the car. I asked the nurse for one and was told that diapers were available for sale in the hospital store. Buy enough, I was told, so that the nurses could change him when I was away.

I tried to feed Trevor for the first time holding him while he was still connected to oxygen and an IV. The oxygen tube kept falling out of his nose. I kept having to go and call someone to put it back in again. His little cheeks were chaffing red from the tape holding the tubes down.

Trevor’s first bath wasn’t exactly a proper one. A nurse handed me a silver bowl, a handful of cotton balls, and showed me where the sink was. Because he had been put on oxygen right away, Trevor never got a real bath after he was born. I tried my best to wash his hair out with that handful of cotton balls.

That first morning one of the nurse told me not to hold him for too long because they didn’t want him to get too used to being held all the time. That made me blink back tears. All I could think of was a study I had read about how babies in a Russian orphanage had a lower mortality rate after volunteers came in just to hold the babies. That little bit of physical love ended up saving some of those tiny lives. I told myself this was only for five days.

Scheduled feeding times were 4am, 6am, 8am, 10am, Noon, 2pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm, 10pm, and midnight. Nurses took care of the 2am feeding. We live about a half hour drive from the hospital. There was a place where the moms, who weren’t already staying in the hospital, could stay. Location was great—just one building over from the baby nursery. But, the rooms had no doors. They did have ceiling fans installed, but they didn’t all work. No men were allowed to stay in the building, so that meant that Simon wouldn’t be able to stay with me.

Thankfully, my parents were staying at a missionary guesthouse just down the road from the hospital. Originally, we had planned for them to stay at a guesthouse close to where we lived. But for the first part of their stay, that guesthouse was overbooked; so they ended up at the one near the hospital. Thankfully, that guesthouse also had a room free for us.

So we went back and forth, back and forth—hospital, guesthouse; guesthouse, hospital. We got to know the names of all the security guards that worked at the missionary guesthouse front gate. Although sometimes in our sleep deprived state we would call them by the wrong name.

By the third day, Trevor was off oxygen and the feeding tube. The nurses even let me take him out to the hall to spend a bit of time with his daddy. On the fourth day, he was moved out of the intensive care unit and into the recovery room. A clear Plexiglas window separated the two sections, so I could still wave to Trevor’s neighbor’s mom (the baby to the left of him). She came so faithfully every feeding. Her husband even started to join Simon in the hall. Their baby was their first child as well. The husband told Simon that they didn’t have a watch, but every time they saw us coming they knew it was time for a feeding. The husband had been sleeping outside the hospital at night. Simon actually ran into the couple and their little boy a few weeks ago while at the store. He is doing well and they asked how Trevor was. Sadly, the tiny baby to Trevor’s right passed away the second day we were there.

The twins moved over to the recovery side as well. Their mom was still in recovery herself. The nurse used to scoop them up and tell them, “Your mommy is doing better, but for now I’m your part-time mom.” The twins were still so, so tiny but starting to eat better. It made my heart happy to see them in the recovery room. When their mom was finally able to walk over and visit them, she held those tiny little boys both in the same arm and sang to them as she walked back and forth up and down the room.

On Monday we were told that once Trevor got get his last dose of antibiotics on Tuesday, he could come home with us. It felt so good to be on the recovery side one step closer to the door.

I sat on the white plastic chair that was provided feeding Trevor and chatting with one of the other moms. She was new and worried that her milk hadn’t come in yet. I told her mine took a few days too. That seemed to give her some comfort.

Through that Plexiglas window I saw one of my favorite nurses standing with one of the mothers. The mom’s face was twisted the saddest expression of pain that I have ever seen. She wasn’t crying, as if the pain was too much even for tears. The nurse swaddled the baby lying in the incubator in front of her in a fuzzy blue blanket with yellow flowers. But, this time she swaddled the child’s head as well. Right in front of me, a mother was having to say a final goodbye to her child. I felt utterly helpless. Tears welded up in my eyes. I wanted to go to her, say something, but what? Here I was holding a healthy baby about to be discharged.

That night I had terrible dreams. I woke up at 1am and felt an overwhelming need to go and check on Trevor. I woke Simon up and told him we had to go over to the hospital right now. We talked, prayed, and finally I felt settled enough to wait a few hours and go at the normal time.

I held my breath, as I always did, walking through the front door and turning the corner to go and see Trevor. A bright colored quilt that my grandma had sent lined his little basinet, so I could always pick out his little bed quickly even if he had been moved. There he was— fast asleep. The nurses told me he had a very peaceful night and could be discharged at 10am after his final dose of medicine and once the head nurse had a chance to clear him. Sweet words and even sweeter the feeling when we finally got to carry him out of the hospital and to the car.

I’m thankful for each one of those nurses. They work so tirelessly and really have a heart for what they do. Talking to one of the head nurses she said that they are often understaffed and the nurses work long hours on days that the nursery is especially full, which is frequent. They have a great need for more equipment, but do the best with what they have. Trevor’s care was completely free of charge.

It wasn’t an easy road to walk, but God was there each step of the way. I learned so much about trust, taking one moment at a time and finding strength within yourself when you feel like you have none.

Sometimes when he’s asleep, I just look at my little guy’s sweet little face and my heart wells up with a mixture of gratitude and joy. He’s here. He’s safe. He’s such a wonderful part of our little family. Every single day is a gift. A gift I can never take for granted.

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Hanging with Daddy in the hospital hallway

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The Story I Couldn’t Write (part I)

Exif_JPEG_420I lived each moment over and over in my head to the point where I told myself I would write it out so that I could have peace again. That thought gave me peace—the peace I needed to survive, but then I never brought myself to put pen to paper or (in this case) fingers to the keyboard.

It is still vivid—although parts have started blurring into the background as life moves on. It is still raw in places especially when I think about the fragility of life, the feeling of utter helplessness and the undeniable grace of God that gets you through.

My son was hours old when they took him. After over 20 hours of labor, the strongest feeling that overcame me wasn’t wonder or that instant bond of love mingled with joy (that all the birth stories talk about) it was relief—a pure flood of sweet relief. I survived. He was here. All was right with the world. My husband held him and Trevor peeked open one of his little eyes as if trying to decided if this new world he had joined was worth waking up for. He barely cried, gave a little cough and closed his eyes again.

When everything seemed stable, my husband left to go pick up my dad who had been anxiously waiting for news and the chance to see his first grandchild. My mom and the midwife took Trevor over to give him his first bath while I rested. Mom was a bit anxious that Trevor had barely cried when he was born. I told her not to worry saying the midwives knew what they were doing.

I laid back in bed and waited for them to bring my little guy back. No one came. I wanted to get up and take a shower before visitors arrived, but a feeling of light-headedness kept me from trying to stand while no one else was in the room.

It seemed like an eternity, but finally my mom came back. During delivery, Trevor had sucked junk into his lungs. His skin was turning blue. The doctor came around and put him on oxygen. The nurses had left my mom (an RN) to try and suction his lungs. After some time on oxygen his coloring started to look more normal.

Mom handed my little buddle of joy back to me, but as I got ready to feed him for the first time his skin started turning blue again. Back he went on oxygen and this time the midwives recommended transferring him over to the hospital across the street which was better equipped to care for sick babies. I had wanted to avoid that public hospital after learning that my brother and sister-in-law had lost their first child there.

It was late Friday afternoon. My regular doctor went home and the newly hired weekend doctor took over. He started giving Trevor antibiotics through an IV and told us he would need them for the next five days. Simon and my dad came back. They got an ambulance ready to take us across the street to the general hospital. My mom held Trevor while the midwife and I held on to the oxygen tank, which was apparently a faulty tank and if not held at just the right angle would stop working.

So there he was hours old, lying in a clear plastic basinet in a room full of other sick babies. An oxygen tube was taped to his little cheek and snaked into his nose. A yellow IV port was gingerly taped down around his tiny left hand. They told me he was too sick to nurse. They told me my mom was not allowed to stay with him. They told my husband only the mother is allowed to enter the intensive care unit.

We left. It was awful. I couldn’t think about it and blinked back tears as we walked to the car. Of course, a story I had read in the newspaper awhile back popped into my head. The story told of a biracial couple in South America who gave birth to a light skinned baby.  Shockingly, the baby was switched by hospital staff with a different baby and the couple was never able to recover their son. It was all I could do to push those thoughts and more from my mind.

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Cold tea

Everything has taken a back seat—blogging, sleep, the bread making ministry, answering emails and oh yeah did I mention SLEEP. I really miss it. I mean really, really miss it. The freedom to just take a nap or sleep in sounds so heavenly, but I guess that’s just not reality right now. Yeah, my little guy will sleep for fairly long periods at a time, sometimes. Other days not so much.

Some days I feel like I can handle it and other days I don’t handle it well at all. My brain feels like it’s in a constant state of fuzz and it takes everything in me to just perform basic tasks. Is it worth it? Of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I know it’s just a season. Someday, some glorious, blessed day my little guy will sleep through the night and I’ll be so shocked that I’ll probably get up five times anyway just to check on him. Life, what do you do? Seriously what do you do?

You hold on, I guess. Even if it’s just by your pinky finger—you hold on. You remember that even though life doesn’t seem fair at times, and it’s far from easy that this is it. And, when the fog does lift a little and your more normal state of mind returns it really is so wonderful. Those satisfied grins keep you going at 2am. Those little fingers wrapped around yours mean more then words can express. When he does fall asleep after crying, and crying, and crying there’s a beautiful, angelic peace and you ask yourself why were you so overwhelmed two seconds ago. He’s a perfect angel. You learn to be OK with stopping in the middle of projects. You learn not to plan so much. You learn to take five minute showers. You learn to write shorter blogs and drink cold tea. You learn to just hold on. What else can you do? It’s worth it. It’s a season, a season of learning that you’re not as strong as you thought you were and you learn to be ok with that.

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That Not so Innocent Green Eyed Monster

Two blog posts caught my attention this past week, and I can’t seem to get them out of my head. The first post was from a mom with a special needs child writing about how she is unable to like pictures posted on facebook of her friend’s children doing things that her own child will never be able to do. It was a touching, honest piece about the struggles of raising a child with unique challenges. But, while I felt for the author, her conclusions did not sit well with me.

The second piece was an equally honest post also by a mother. This mom wrote about her struggle with feelings of heartbrokenness when she saw her friends’ beautifully decorated nurseries while she raised her two kids in a cramped trailer. Due to a tough financial time, she and her husband were unable to give their kids the space and material comforts that they longed to be able to provide which left this young mom feeling inadequate and unable to rejoice with her friends who were blessed with more spacious accommodations.

I feel for these two ladies. Clearly, they love their kidos and long for them to have as “normal” lives as possible. What I cannot agree with is their conclusions that sometimes your own life is too painful to rejoice in other people’s happiness and that these feelings are some how ok. I just can’t agree. It’s good to be honest about struggles, pain and disappointments in life, but allowing a mindset of, “I can only be happy for you when things are going well for me,” is pure poison. Don’t swallow it.

Last month marks 20 years since my beautiful twin sister Allison passed away. The hurt is still so real that I often find it hard to even talk about her without tearing up. It will probably always be this way, but interestingly enough, I’ve often found healing through allowing myself to be friends with other twins. Yes, there are moments that my heart simply aches when I see twins interacting because I miss that special closeness in my own life, but I’m happy for them. My story also adds a perspective to the lives of twins that I’m privileged to meet because in a way it serves as a reminder for them to be extra thankful for their twin which some have taken for granted.

We are all asked to walk different walks and of course most people would not choose the hard path if given a choice. So many couples passionately declare the vows, “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health,” but do we really mean it? When financial struggles actually hit or one partner’s health mars the dream of a perfect happy-ever-after, too many times divorce follows. The vows were empty syllables. Someone leaves, seeking their happiness elsewhere, claiming that this wasn’t the life they signed up for even though they had previously vowed to stick it out.

Hard times are a reality. It’s unrealistic to expect a fairytale life in a world that is broken by sin. This is why we need people to walk through life with us and not alienate ourselves when things didn’t turn out as expected. The wisest king in history wrote there is, “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Be there for the tears as well as the celebrations even when it’s not your celebration. We need to stop entertaining the lie that we deserve certain things in life like healthy kids, a picture perfect house, and the perfect marriage.

Each day is a gift. Each life is different from the next, so live yours not someone else’s. Sometimes the best way to work through pain is to take the focus off yourself and be there for someone else. Cry with them in their pain but also be big enough to rejoice with them when something good is happening in their life even if that same thing isn’t happening in yours. Comparison often leads to jealousy and jealousy can lead to hatred of other people’s lives or even your own life. That tenth commandment about not coveting is there for a reason. God doesn’t want us looking around at other people’s things whether that be a well developing child or a perfectly decorated nursery and wish that it was ours. He gives daily grace to handle what life brings and that should be the focus, not alienating people from your life because they have what you wish you could.

Not to say that life is easy or that pain does not cut deeply. It does, so deeply sometimes. But, it’s not healthy to stay too long in that place of pain. Of course, it’s harder for someone who is struggling with infertility to rejoice with a friend who announces her third pregnancy, but what love when the person is able to do so. There aren’t easy answers at times. Of course we all wish for healthy children and financially secure lives, but Jesus said in John 16:33, “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have over come the world.” The first part of the verse says, “I have told you these things so that you may have peace.” Maybe those trouble will come now, or maybe they will come later down the road. The question is how will you handle it—with grace and peace or with bitterness? What will you learn from the painful times? Will your response inspire others up or push them way? The enemy wants us to think that we are in this alone. No one else can possible understand our pain, but that’s not true. When one part of the body of Christ is in pain the whole body feels it even down to the tiniest toe. That’s why we need each other. That’s why it’s important to weep together and also to laugh together.

Each situation is unique. Each special needs child has something to teach the world that only he or she can teach. Every financial struggle is a building block for later in life. Honestly, your children will remember your love and time spent together more then they will a cutely painted nursery decked out in pinterest’s latest.

Be YOU and let your friends be them. Your story, especially those painful parts, is unique. Live your life not someone else’s. Laugh through the fun parts and cry through the hard times. Let people cry with you and be open to rejoicing with them as well. It’s a way to heal your own heart. Don’t let the green eyed monster of jealousy take your eyes off the good things that your life has to offer which includes having the grace to rejoice with those around you.

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Hard Wooden Benches

 

Wooden Benches

I purposely left the house at 2pm—the time that the meeting was supposed to start. Even though I got to the school half an hour late, I was still one of the first parents there. The teachers were crowded around the chalkboard carefully using a ruler and colored chalk to draw out a chart cluttered with numbers. I sat down on one of the wooden benches, lamented the fact that I had forgotten a pen, and tried several times to load facebook’s news feed. Yup, no signal. This was going to be a loooong meeting.

Forty-five minutes after the meeting was supposed to start, the teachers finally called the parents’ meeting to order. I’m sure parents’ meetings in the US aren’t fun, but ones in Kenya seem especially excruciating. All the parents of class seven kids were required to come due to the fact that the class had scored 18/19 in the district on the recent midterm exams. Hard to do worse then that. The teachers spent the majority of the meeting blaming the parents for not properly motivation and providing for their children. How many parents had bought some type of story books for our kids? In a classroom packed with parents only four of us raised our hands. Why weren’t the kids bringing lunches to school? Why weren’t all of the parents present? The kids whose parents hadn’t graced the school with their presence were pulled to one side of the room to serve as an example of what not to do.

Three hours into the meeting my head began to pound. Concentrating so hard on understanding Swahili, seeing kids marched in front of me while their midterm scores were read in front of everyone, heads down staring at their shoes (which were in various stages of disrepair) did a number to my head.

The class teacher with her multi-colored braids and black and white poka-dotted earrings kept saying, “these are good children,” but would then belittle the child for something he or she did in class or for the fact that their parents where absent. The audience chucked at the teacher’s stories of the kids antics, but I couldn’t. One little girl looked like she wished the floor would swallow her—tattered royal blue sweater and all.

Three out of my four kids were in the top 5 of their class with one of my girls scoring the highest score in her section. I was told to buy her a present, and they called her a Muzungu (an English speaking foreigner). My fourth child didn’t fair as well coming in number 14. I was told that he could do better. I nodded and watched him march in line with all the other students who hadn’t quite made the cut.

Each teacher took a turn defending his or her teaching methods. The clock kept ticking. The chief stood up and told a story about how he gives his son money when he scores well on his tests. Then it was the parents’ turn. They mostly blamed the teachers. The teachers turned it back on the parents saying there was only so much that they could do. I saw no end in sight so finally I apologized and ducked out of the dark class room between parental complaints.

The air felt light on my face and my headache slowly started to subside. It seems hopeless at times. Sure, I can do what I can to help the kids who live at the children’s home where I volunteer, but what kind of future do the rest of these kids have? I’ve offered to help out at the school once a week helping with English or composition. The headmaster appreciated my request but has never taken me up on the offer. I’m afraid that he thinks the English teacher would feel threatened by my presence. So I wait. I go to three hour parent meetings, try to show that I do care, and wonder what to do next. How do you help when help is needed but not wanted? How do you help when the teachers care more about defending themselves then they do about educating children?

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Let Me Be

Everyone is an expert, or at least it seems that way sometimes. It doesn’t seem to matter what you’re doing taking a picture, raising a child, running a business someone (often a complete stranger) will have an opinion on how you should go about your task. Of course they mean well, but in my head I’m thinking, “I didn’t ask for your help. You don’t understand what’s involved here. Please just let me be.”

Please don’t get the wrong idea. I’m often very grateful for advice especially from someone in the field who knows what they are talking about or from someone who knows me and understands the situation, but those people who just like to point out mistakes and put in well over their allotted two cents really get on what’s left of my nerves.

I’m sure you’ve meet some doozies. Most of us have like the elderly lady I made the mistake of sitting in front of last weekend while covering a local graduation. Every time I took a picture she looked over my shoulder and told me I needed to get closer. I thanked her for her advice and tried to explain to her that I was happy with the picture and planned on cropping it later on the computer, but that didn’t stop her. She continued to tell me who she thought I should take pictures of and when. The frustrating part was that her prattle made me lose my concentration and almost miss an important shot. Note to self- if there is a beautiful open seat in the front row next to a slightly exocentric looking lady there is probably a good reason no one else chose to sit there. Find a different spot.

Friends of mine who have kids tell me they run into these “experts” all the time. Even through a stranger, or sometimes a well meaning friend, barely knows the situation they think they have the right to give all kinds of advice on pregnancy or how to properly raise a child. My advice, spend at least a month with someone before you start telling giving them advice and even then- do it sparingly.

What happened to the freedom for a little trial and error? Maybe I should have gotten closer to take that picture, I don’t know. Let me figure that out on my own. It will mean more in the long run. It is important to keep in mind that people have varying styles and approaches to life, and that’s a good thing. Just because I’m not doing something the way you would do it doesn’t make my way wrong.

I love photography because you can play with angles and distance to come up with your own style. The same thing is true with writing and even parenting, I think. If you don’t like my style that’s fine write your own book, take your own pictures, but please leave mine alone. I want the freedom to experiment.

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Filed under Contemplations, Humor, Photography