Friday, August 7, 2015

An Apology to the Woman Who Cut in Front of Me at Meijer

This morning while in the checkout line at Meijer I experienced a lack of basic human courtesy that shocked me.  There was a crowd there this morning and only a few checkout lines were open.  I was waiting in a long line at one lane, and about ten lanes down there was an older woman waiting in another long line.  I was struggling to control my girls at this point  — we had been at the store longer than any of us were comfortable with, even though I had provided snacks and diversions in the pet department and promises of a chance to stretch their legs very soon.  Still, at this point my five year old was under two throw pillows in the cart and my two year old was trying to throw herself out of my arms onto the ground screaming “Down!  Out!  Down!!”  I was already considering just abandoning the cart and making a run for it, when a sign of hope appeared.

Hi, my name is Riley.  I like sitting on the backs of chairs,
couches, and grocery carts.  I love the feeling of falling!
A store employee came out from a lane two lanes from mine, and, turning directly toward me, asked me if I wanted to step over to his lane because he was going to open up.  I said thank you, and yes I would.  Actually, I said “Oh my God thank you so much, YES!”  Behind the store clerk I saw the woman watching us.  She frowned at me, and as I struggled to pull my cart out of the lane and turn it toward the newly opened lane, she whipped her cart around and strode quickly past the eight closed lanes toward us.  She looked right at me and her frown deepened as she pushed her fully loaded cart into the free lane and started unloading.

Well, I wish I could say I was gracious.  But in reality I barely stopped myself from throwing a full on adult tantrum.  I barely stopped myself from yelling “Mother Fucker!” and storming with screaming kids right past her and out of the store.  I didn’t behave much better than that, but I didn’t make a public scene.  Well, I didn’t.  Riley probably qualifies as a public scene wherever we go.

In any case, I didn’t think about her, or her life.  I didn’t consider what circumstances would lead her to ignore the struggle I was having and put herself first.  I didn’t think about whether she had an ailing spouse or child at home and needed to get back, or whether she had an appointment to keep or person to meet.  I didn’t think about her at all except with the term “bitch” attached.  

And so, Woman Who Cut in Front of Me at Meijer, I want to apologize.

I want to apologize for the open mouthed bitch face I gave you.  I know you were frowning at me before, but I straight up gaped at you.  People talk about Resting Bitch Face (RBF) as a joke, but I gave some straight up Active Bitch Face.  

I apologize for loudly exclaiming “You have GOT to be kidding me!”  I don’t usually comment in awkward social situations like that.  I was raised Episcopalian, and even though I have converted to Catholicism, a religion steeped in pointed commentary, it is in my nature to suffer such a lack of courtesy in silence.  I am more of a silent believer in Karma, more apt to glare, breathe deeply while counting to ten, and pray that your evil ways do not catch up with you before you mend them.  I embrace my British ancestry while secretly thinking of the things my Apache ancestors would have done.  But you extend my stay at a grocery store by 20 minutes while I was already hanging on to my sanity and my toddler by the tips of my fingers.  That was my breaking point.  Who knew?!

I apologize for aggressively trying to initiate eye contact with you the entire time we stood in the check out line together.  I couldn’t understand why you were suddenly so hesitant to look at me.  You seemed to be fine glaring at my daughters every time they moved, breathed, or made a sound.  But you would not meet my eyes anymore.

Hi, my name is Lucy.  I know there are two throw
pillows, but I will fight you for both of them.
I apologize for all of the times my toddler touched or played with an item of yours on the conveyor belt as we waited for you to finish directing the clerk which items to place into which bags.  To be fair, your bananas would never have been molested had you not stolen our place in line.  And, when you think about it, its really miracle she didn’t bite right into them.  Furthermore, if I am being totally honest, I could have tried harder to prevent her from touching your things.  But I was really tired of holding her while she tried to kick me, and her interest in your groceries was keeping her from riding on the edge of the cart like a horse.  I was selfish, and I am sorry.  

Further along those lines, I apologize for the fact that I had absolutely no control over my toddler whatsoever.  Grocery carts cannot contain her.  She laughs at restraining belts.  She leaps from moving carts.  She pitches herself forward or backward out of my arms in total disregard for anyone’s mental or physical wellbeing, including her own.  She is 22 months.  She is a force of nature.  She is a compilation of curiosity, desires, and emotions in a harness of blood and bone and completely devoid of any rationale or temperance.  She is glorious and she might actually kill me one day and I love her.

Finally, I am sorry that I bitched about you all day to anyone who would listen, and that I am still thinking about you now.  You did something unkind.  You had your reasons.  I hope they were good, but it is really not my position to judge them.  I did not answer you with kindness, I answered you with anger and sarcasm.  That was not a good model for my children, and it was not healthy for my heart.

I forgive you for your simple transgression.  Such a gesture is meaningless to you, you might not feel you did anything warranting forgiveness.  The gesture is for me, to purge the black flower of rage that blossomed in me when you steered your cart into lane 13, an emotion disproportionate to your actions.  I forgive myself for my day of wallowing in that rage from time to time without stopping to consider your humanity.

I only hope, were we ever to meet again face to face in the checkout lanes of Meijer, that I would be strong enough to act differently.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Lost in Translation

Note: This post was begun two weeks ago, and finished this morning.

We have been in Mirebalais over a full week now, and I am finally feeling settled in and comfortable.  This is largely due to our downstairs neighbors, the Philbrooks, who have taken us under their wing.  They have patiently and graciously fielded requests for help with everything from "Where do we get water?" to "Can I borrow your broom...again?" to "Can we catch a ride with you to the market/party/hospital?"  Lucy has become fast friends with their son, who is almost seven, and they can often be found together pouring over the ponds of tadpoles or building rock houses.

I have been trying to practice some Kreyol, although it goes against every instinct I have.  I am an introvert naturally, and can happily go the whole day without talking to anyone.  The fact that I have two little extroverts with me all day every day ensures that this never happens.  I can be mentally exhausted at the end of the day just from talking to my girls all day, let alone talking to all of the people that we meet with whom they strike up conversations.  Add on to that the embarrassment of having to communicate with most people in my own extremely poor Kreyol which usually comes out as my high school French (to be fair I was really good at French...when I studied it 15 years ago), and that makes talking to people quite daunting.

Today, however, necessity was the mother of boldness, if not invention.  We ran out of drinking water, propane, and the other night I broke the handle on our front door.  Don is working today at 8am, and helped me talk to Vladimir one of the security guards, this morning before he went to work.  However, that left the remainder of the negotiations up to me.

We also had a lovely lady, Maranatha, come over today to help me with our laundry.  I have been keeping by by washing things in the sink or in our trash can every other day or so, and it has come to my attention that my hand washing skills are woefully inadequate.  As in, the other day I washed a pair of Don's scrubs with some other things.  When I brought them in from the balcony where they were hanging to dry I noticed that the hems of the pants were still crusted with dirt.  Total fail.

So, with the help of our little Kreyol Made Easy book, Google Translate, and my four years of High School French, I did some language dégagé.

"Who is able to help us exchange our water bottles?  Are you able to exchange them?  Today?"
"Who is able to exchange the propane?  Is he able to do that today?"
"I am so sorry, but I broke the handle on our front door."
"Yes, I have cleaning things, they are here.  Yes I have detergent.  No, I don't have any bleach, Mistolene (a floor cleaner), or more detergent.  This Ajax bottle says 'bleach', is this it?"
"You cannot install the propane but the manager can, and he is coming?  Today?  OK."
"You can fix the door handle by switching them?  OK.  Do I have a screw driver?  Noooo, I don't have a screwdriver....but you will come back with one later to fix the door?  OK."
"What is it?  What is it for?  For laundry?  I don't have it?  You can go buy it?  OK.  How much is it?  OK I have that.  One minute.  This is all the money I have. It is enough?"

By the end of the day I was literally sweating every time I saw another human being.  Not because of the 95 degree heat or the 90% humidity.  It was fear sweat.

I can understand about 70% of what people say, if they are speaking slowly.  If I am not sure what they are talking about, I ask them to spell a word so I can translate it, or tell me what a thing is used for if they are asking for something.  It is the responding that is really hard for me.  My natural inclination is to respond in formal French.  And not even real French, like people here who are from Francophone countries.  High School classroom French.  Which I am sure sounds like nails on a chalkboard to people who speak French, let alone people who speak Kreyol.  So I really have to stop and think every time I say something.  Which makes for some reallllllly loooooooong conversation pauses.  Which are awkward.  Very uncomfortable.

Because, and forgive me if you have already noticed this, people are looking at you while you pause and try to compose a sentence.  They just stand there and look at you.  Waiting.  And when people stand and look at me, I tend to forget what I was supposed to be doing.  My brain switches off and the brain stem takes over and I start thinking about how I can get out of this situation instead of what sentence I was supposed to be translating.

This is why I am an introvert.  I like being around people, I like talking to people, I like being social.  Most of the time.  It is just that doing so takes up so much energy.  I need to be by myself in a quiet room after most social interactions in English, let alone in another language.

So by the end of the day, I was pretty exhausted.  Don came home around 4pm, and I am not sure exactly what he found.  I had accomplished all of the necessary tasks.  We had water and propane and clean clothes and a clean apartment and both girls were alive and Lucy and I had done school work together and I think there was probably some semblance of dinner occurring or about to occur (Full Disclosure: I am posting this more than two weeks later, and our door handle is still broken, but as long as we don't close our front door when we leave the apartment everything is fine).  But it is possible that I resembled Goldie Hawn in the scene in Overboard where the boys are throwing grapes at her face while she mutters incoherently.

But I did it.  And I am still trying.  I am still trying to talk to Vladimir and Micheler and Maranatha and go a few questions deeper than the usual "Good morning and how are you?" exchanges.  I am still saying hello to people on our walks.  I am trying to be better about buying my own things and not having Don and Julia ask everyone how much things cost for me (OK, could still be a lot better at that.  Every time I try to buy something by myself I basically pull out a wad of small bills like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman and look hopefully at the woman with the tomatoes/Maggi cubes/rice).  I am trying to puzzle out translations to questions that I have and not feel embarrassed to say things when 9/10 times I get a blank state in response to my Kreyol/French mix.

I am only defeated if I stop trying.

Unless we run out of diapers.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


We are deep into the packing process right now.  

Empty boxes of things.
I have lists.  I have lists of lists.  No, seriously.  I literally have a list detailing all of the lists that I need to make.  Lucy, Riley, Don, Toiletries, Kitchen, Medicine, Entertainment, School, Packing here, Grocery store in Port-au-Prince, to order online, to buy at the store, to do before we go, etc, etc.  Lists and lists and lists.

I have boxes and boxes of things.  I bought all of the things.  All of them.  Then I took them out of their boxes, and put them into gallon ziplock bags.  A lot of ziplock bags.

I sat on the guest bed last night surrounded by empty cardboard boxes and full ziplock baggies.  And then I had a panic attack.

Full ziplock baggies of cashew and clorox and dried fruit, oh my.
Oh my God.  I bought all of this stuff?  Do we need all of this stuff?  Do we really need to bring granola bars and apple sauce pouches and swim floats and 3 canisters of bug spray and 42 bottles of children’s tylenol and peanut butter new bottles of toiletries?  Why do we need all of this stuff?  We are going to a populated country!  There are people who live there, people who eat and love and get sick and take showers.  We can live for a month without Nutella for Christ’s sake!

I bought CVS.
I looked around again and my panic attack did not abate.  It intensified.  Because I tallied the cost and the weight of everything around in, in dollars and pounds and expectations, and I felt even less prepared than before I began.  I would forget something.  I had forgotten something.  I knew it.  I had made lists and lists of lists.  I had purchased ALL of the things.  And we would go to Haiti and pay extra baggage fees for our six pounds of peanut butter and we would get to our apartment (our own apartment!  amazing!) and we would unpack and someone would ask “Mom, where did you put the X, Y and Z?” and then my head would explode.

The best part about this panic attack was that it occurred while I was on the phone with American Airlines trying to get Riley added as a lap infant to our reservation.  I was on hold for 23 minutes, using that time to put more things from boxes into ziplock bags.  Riley, for her part, was communicating to us from her crib that she would not be taking a nap this afternoon, thank you very much, and the fact that we were trying to force her to do so was killing her.  Don walked into the room with a train of suitcases in which to pack the ziplock bags full of things from cardboard boxes.  A live human being finally came on and asked me how she could help.  And then the phone cut out.  

I put the phone down on the bed, gentler than I have ever handled anything in my life.  I took a deep breath.  I looked around at the sea of boxes and bags on the bed again.  A rising sound filled my ears.  My chest got tight.  I breathed in slowly again, but couldn’t seem to get any air.  I felt like a tea kettle left on the stove too long.  I wasn’t just going to boil, I was going to crack.

And then I looked up at Don.  He got it.  He knew exactly what was going on.  Because he had that look on his face.  He was Robert Redford in the Horse Whisperer.  He was in full de-escalation mode.  And I don’t even get mad at this anymore.  I love it.  I need it.  I was about to get totally crazy.  I was going to burrow into a cave of Cliff Bars and Crystal Light powder and diapers and sob.  I was about to cancel the trip.

But he knows.  After being together over ten years he knows.  I am on board for the adventure.  I am all in — but there is a caveat.  Every so often, I am going to totally lose my shit.  I am going to cancel the holiday/trip/dinner, pick the worst fight for no reason, get emotional and cry and make everything about me.  The best part about Don is that he knows this, and he knows exactly how to deal with it.  He wraps me in a mantle of patience and logic and a calm voice and he waits out my crazy.  

The best part about Don is that he knows my crazy, and he loves me.  Not in spite of it.  Not even because of it.  He just loves me.

Unpacked bags :(

Packed bags!

More bags...
Just too cute not to add in.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Noodles, Part One

And so it begins...the two day noodle extravaganza inspired by David Chang. Today is dashi day, or stock/broth day. Here is my exciting list of ingredients:
Kombi (dried seafood)
Pork neck bones (now added to butchers list for our next whole hog)
Dried shiitake mushrooms

Good thing I thought a little bit ahead and ordered a giant box of these...

I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

To Believe or Not To Believe?

“Mom, why don’t you ever believe in me?!”

I stood motionless, holding my 16 month old daughter while staring at my almost 5 year old daughter, mouth agape.  I couldn’t think of a single way to respond, because I had an entire lecture series of parenting articles, blog posts, and advice warring with a simple fact in my brain.  It went a little something like this:    

If I don’t believe in her now, if I don’t trust her to make her own mistakes and learn her own lessons (when safe) then she will never learn to believe in and trust herself.  If I always run in and fix the zipper or put the lunch in the backpack or set up the train set because it is taking too long, it is too hard, we are too late, then what?  I will make her insecure.  I will make her doubt herself.  I will make her dependent on her father and me and then friends and then boyfriends and then somebody else but never herself.

I will fail her.

I am failing her already!  She thinks I don’t believe in her!
How could I not believe this face?

But…but….her tennis shoes are not in her backpack!!!  Because they are on the floor in the pantry.  Where I can see them.  Right.  Now.  So I literally CANNOT believe in her.  Because she is just wrong!

<insert silent, primal, maternal scream of despair here>

So there I stood, mouth agape, paralyzed by this parenting crisis.  Do I just lay it out logically?

“Lucy, sweetheart, my strong, smart, brave darling.  I am so sorry that you feel that I do not believe in you.  However, the fact remains that I can see your tennis shoes on the floor in the pantry right now.  Ergo, if they are on the floor of the pantry, they cannot be in your backpack, as they cannot occupy two separate spaces at the same time.  Correct?”

Or do I just let it go (HAH!  Sing it all day now!) and allow her to make the inevitable discovery when she gets to school, and wear her snow boots in class all day?
“Lucy, sweetheart, my strong, smart, brave darling.  I am so sorry that you feel that I do not believe in you.  If you think that your shoes are already in your backpack, then I trust you.  You have an excellent memory, as I have often said.  Let’s just get your backpack and get to the car, ok?”

Well, as it happens, both of my imagined scenarios were off.  Here is how it played out.

Such innocence?
<Lucy enters the dining room walking toward the garage door, head thrown back, groaning in agony.  She has her backpack on, and is carrying her school folder, which I have asked her approximately 83 times to place in her backpack this morning.>
L: Ugghhhh…this backpack is SO heavy!
Me: I can see that it looks quite full.  What do you have in there?
L: I don’t knooooooow.  I didn’t look.  
M: Can you take it off so we can put your folder inside?
L: Fine.
M: <I open the backpack.  Inside are Lucy’s rain boots, which she wore to school yesterday instead of her snow boots>  I see that your rain boots are in your backpack Lucy.  Do you want to take these to wear at school today?  Or would you rather get some other shoes to take?
L: <laughs> Oh yeah!  I forgot I put those in there and wore my tennis shoes home yesterday!  I want other shoes.
M: <silently closing my eyes in victory, which is usually the same thing as defeat when it comes to these parenting moments> OK.

What would you have done?