Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Hell of a Vacation

I just got back from a hell of a vacation in a tropical paradise.

Hell, of course, refers to how a first-time parent (and therefore, a rookie/weenie in such matters) experiences a child's week-long sickness away from home. 

It all began two days before our flight with the salmon at lunch. 

"Don't give her the salmon," JC warned me. "She threw up twice from eating salmon, remember?"

"Coincidence," I said airily. "This will prove it. And besides, I'm just giving her tiny bits of salmon with mostly rice."

Later that night, JC and I were cleaning vomit off the bed and mopping the spattered trail off the floor en route to the bathroom. Time after time that night -- at 10, at midnight, at 2 in the morning -- I would be supporting her in my arms while her tiny hands gripped the edge of the sink and she retched up every last bit of liquid in her stomach until it was just water and drops of bile, and then painful, empty heaving. Then Olivia would just slump in my arms, as exhausted as a pummeled boxer leaving the ring, and fall asleep. 

We didn't sleep a wink... we were just waiting for the telltale sounds of a little mouth smacking and then the gurgling and choking. 

There was one night with several snippets of half an hour of sleep. 

The next night was the same, except we had to get up at 4 in the morning to take a bus to Veracruz, then board a flight to Cancun. Olivia was exhausted and cranky, so we did our best to make her comfortable. But once we got to the hotel along with JC's mother and our niece Karlita, Olivia made a public statement that she had had ENOUGH. It was a full-on cry session, complete with the reproachful look of "Mommy, why are you torturing me this way?  Can't you see that I want to be laying in bed? Why are we just sitting here?"

Later on that afternoon, Olivia perked up so I took her down to the beach. She seemed to enjoy herself, so I thought, "We're done! We left the virus back in rainy Xalapa!" but later that day at dinner, Olivia spilled her guts all over herself... and it all began again. The next day was the same. My mother was also there to play with Olivia... but she only got to play with her once or twice. 

On our first day in Cancun, I also threw up twice -- once after lunch and once in the evening, all over the floor in front of a member of the cleaning staff. I couldn't get to a bathroom in time and all of my extremities went numb. So there it was. She probably thought I was wasted. (My mom also got sick on her plane ride home.)

Meanwhile, the situation with Olivia was getting alarming, so we took her to a pediatrician, who diagnosed a double ear infection, which explained the ongoing vomiting. We came home with a bag full of medicines, including antiobiotics. She threw up as soon as she took them and cried pitifully when we tried to give them to her. "Ma ma ma ma maaaaaa!" Then the explosive diarrhea began as a result of the antiobiotics... five or six soupy diapers a day, often leaking around the edges and staining her clothes, which we handwashed in the sink and tried to dry in the humid air.   

My mother rolled with the situation, bless her heart. So did my mother-in-law. A week in the sun and sand ended up being a week of watching the rain fall outside the window, sitting in our hotel room with Olivia in bed, and trying unsuccessfully to get her to eat something, anything. She hadn't eaten in about 5 or 6 days... just a little bit of milk and water here and there.

Since she had an ear infection, the doctor said it was unwise to fly with her, since the pressure change would pop her inner ear membrane. So we canceled our flight and stayed another two days in Cancun. Our hotel reservation ran out, so I had the bright idea of finding a good deal on Priceline (yeah!) -- a 5 star hotel for $93 bucks a night. Yes... it rocked. 

Here is the hotel room: 
Pleased with our room.
And here was the view outside the window: 

Night view.

So things started looking up. Olivia was no longer vomiting, although the diarrhea was in full force and she was still only picking at her food. But as the days went by -- and we ended up postponing our return yet again because her ears were still plugged up the second time we saw the doctor -- she began chowing down like a champion. 

Since JC and I are hedonists at heart, we took advantage of the spa, which was spectacular. I got an 80-minute massage that began with "hydrotherapy": it began with a steam room with minty-smelling steam where I sweat my brains out, then I took a shower, then I went into another hot room with a little pot of "silver and gold clay," which I was supposed to smear all over my body. Then another shower, then a typical sauna, which I don't particularly enjoy because I feel like I'm suffocating from the heat; and then an "ice room," where I and two other women sat shivering in our bathing suits and applying little bits of ice to our face and body. We were glad to get out of that one.

Then we went into the next "round" of special treatments, with four pools: first was a nice warm jacuzzi with bubbles, then a warm pool without any special bubbles, then an ice cold pool which I plunged into, stifling a scream, and then hurried out of; and then a walking pool paved with stones. The walking pool was basically like a 3-foot-deep pathway filled with hot water and loose smooth stones. You walk along the pathway, which doubles back on itself like a S, then climb a little ledge, and then step into an identical walking pool filled with cold water that blasts your calves with mega circulation. Then off to the main pool, which is about 50 by 100 feet long, with all different types of jets and bubbles and fun stuff to massage your back and neck and thighs and feet. 

After that, the massage... 80 minutes of pure relaxation. I would have enjoyed it totally, but I was thinking about Olivia the whole time and hoping she wasn't missing me. I wonder if mothers ever really relax when they're not with their children?

We also got to visit La Isla mall, which is a fun outdoor mall similar to the ones in Florida. This is me and Olivia at the table just prior to her dinner tantrum. The calm before the storm, if you will.

I have to say, though, that one of the details that made this "hell" of a vacation a bit more palatable was breakfast at the hotel. I've become one of those people who doesn't eat much if the food doesn't look good. But if it's good... baby, I'm there. 

A picture from the hotel website.

The croissants. To die for. Warm and flaky, a limitless supply, and the table was set with those little glass pots of gourmet jams in flavors like apricot and cherry and orange marmalade and raspberry. And the coffee... dear God, the coffee... and the grapefruit juice!  Heaven, I mean it. And Olivia was miraculously good, happily coloring and chowing down and making eyes at babies at nearby tables. For me, those breakfasts, watching the sun light up the water with that azure glow, feeling the warm sun and the breeze at our table outside, were all I really needed. 

Because all I really need -- and I don't ask for much -- is to live at a 5-star hotel with waiters who rush to bring me a second cup of coffee and who answer my thanks with "It's a pleasure." All I need are my croissants and pots of jam and my view of the ocean... and people to make the bed for me and clean up after me and open doors for me and leave chocolates on my night stand. And limitless funds to pay for it all. 

But if I can't have all that, I'll take a healthy, happy family. Any day of the week. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Less is More

There is something about crisp autumn nights with a sliver of crescent moon that ushers nostalgia in the door.

And there is something about being a toddler's mother that makes nostalgia a fleeting friend, quickly replaced by the realization that the genius idea that kept Destructo-Toddler happy in the carseat--three powdered sugar donut holes--has generated other problems...
To vacuum or not to vacuum? 

Trails of crumbs aside, there are still moments when a wider horizon peeks through days thickly populated with a thousand potential disasters. And those moments make me step back and wonder if I'm doing this right.

These are times when many women can be free from the 9 to 5 grind and customize our lives, especially the elusive work-and-motherhood balance. I guess I'm one of those women. I work from home as a freelancer, so I make my own schedule and struggle to get it all done before my little Hurricane wakes up. Generally it works, but something always slides into the background. A ball always drops and rolls away in my juggling act. For me, that "something" is the leisure time for reflection and prayer.

I've become a much more practical, hands-on person than I used to be. I think it's inevitable. You can't be a dreamer when someone is tugging on you, needing the love-made-undivided-attention that only you can give. But that's only part of the picture. The underside is the fact that I find myself so driven to achieve in my work--partly the quest for financial freedom and party the quest to achieve that ephemeral thing called success--that I find myself slowly pressing on the accelerator, packing in the pendings on my to do list. My dreams always outpace my reality, so I am always running to keep up. And in the meantime, I get the impression that I am like the greyhound on a racetrack, stupidly chasing the prize that dangles just out of reach around and around the track.

So, I think now that a freelancer's "customized" life requires a high degree of discipline. Yes, there is a kind of discipline that drives me to get up at 5 a.m. to work in the quiet hours, focus on priorities like a ninja, and conquer small mountains with a silent "YEAH!" amidst the quiet tapping of a keyboard. That's one aspect.

But the deeper layer of discipline is not to let myself become a slave to this unexamined need to achieve. It's the discipline to say no. I can pull back from trying to do it all in one day. But once the day starts moving, I'm ready to sprint. And that's hard to control.

Underneath (deeper, deeper!), I think what's sometimes missing is gratitude and an ability to walk peacefully at God's pace. So I want another baby, and I want to get pregnant RIGHT NOW. Circumstances say NOT YET. And I am downcast. But at the same time, I know that walking in the spotlight of blessing, keeping step with God's pace for me, means slowing down and letting things unfold in their own time. Why am I in such a rush? Why do I need to cram myself full of every blessing right now? Isn't what I have enough?  What is driving me to fill up with more, more, more?

And I think that like many of us, I have transmuted that unspoken, unconscious, unarticulated desire for God onto a horizontal field, seeking "more" in too literal a way... when what I might need is less. When what I need are pockets of peace on a drive home, with Olivia munching on a donut hole and me watching that crescent moon following us above the highway. Or that crisp burst of cool air in my face that lifts my spirits when I step out of the car. The expansive quiet in the neighborhood during the five seconds of walking from the car to the front door. Those are tiny pockets of time, almost conspiratorial in their ordinary beauty, when I feel my heart touched by nostalgia and the longing for God.

I know that sensing the quiet presence of God is a gift that comes and goes, and that many people who actually have a spiritual life complain of weeks and even years of dryness. I don't think I really mind the dryness, which in my case is due to a total lack of prayer life. It's not the sudden glow of consolation that I'm looking for, primarily, but more the peace of knowing that I'm walking in step with the blessings I've received, walking in the circle of light and not trying to run after some elusive shadow that keeps egging me away from being satisfied. And I suppose, the joy of knowing I'm doing my part to keep up an old friendship that has been with me since college.

So here we have it. A moment of clarity. And human nature being what it is, I'm sure I will wake up tomorrow and forget all about the sliver of crescent moon and the call to silence, slowness, and peace...

Or maybe not. Because life really is customizable. We can change it at will. We are so free, even those whose lives are set within predetermined limits, even those whose range of choices are tightly circumscribed by factors outside of their control. We can choose to find that night sky of freedom and communion in the midst of whatever life deals out to us, and we can walk in that invisible circle of goodness no matter what happens externally. It's just a matter of choosing to. And that's the hard part.

For me, that's the next level of discipline. No one is standing over me, telling me what to do. I govern my own life and I control my actions and my attitudes, at least up to the point that my willpower allows. If I want to, I can streamline my inner life, make it more anchored in God, open again the inner ear of listening and faith.

Tomorrow is another day. My new motto: less is more!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fifteen Minutes

In the Spanish town of Borja's church of Our Lady of Mercy, there is a 19th century painting of Christ by Elías García Martínez that had been damaged by time and humidity. One of the parishioners, Cecilia Giménez, offered to restore it as a favor to the church. An octogenarian with sincere faith, good intentions, and a love for painting, she set to work with the pastor's permission.

The result:
Before... and after.
Obviously, it would be a severe stretch to apply the word "restoration" to Cecilia's work. The new version has become famous as "the worst restoration in history," with thousands of "pilgrims" and foreign media descending on Borja to see and photograph the painting. Since Borja is a tiny town of only 5,000 people, the sudden influx is unprecedented.

The local townspeople have rallied around Cecilia, defending her good intentions and her sincere love for the painting (and the free publicity for their town). They have pointed out that her life has been hard and filled with suffering, since she has had to care for her disabled son (he is now 60) during her entire adult life.

Cecilia has since suffered an "anxiety attack" upon seeing the ridicule poured on her restorative attempt. Some have said the town should file a lawsuit against her for destroying the painting. But her defenders say that the original possessed little artistic merit and that Cecilia's mental health is more important than a painting. Although the town has already begun contacting restoration professionals to undo her work, some townspeople say they want the new version to stay.

The painting is now famous. But then there is that second level of notoriety that comes through the social media, as people pick up on what the news channels report and add their own commentary and interpretation. With all due respect to Our Lord and to the well-intentioned Cecilia, some of the "artistic commentary" has been downright hilarious, from the art scholars who defend her work as a form of "artistic appropriationalism" (how Tom Wolfe would have had a field day with that one!) to the jokesters who propose additional improvements on the restoration, such as this one:

Further improvements...

I think my favorite here is Chewbacca. 

A suggested restoration of Michelangelo's The Creation.

And finally, a suggestion to make the body match the head:

It must be said: the restoration is tragicomic. Some would see all the joking as a sad sacrilege, a modern-day mockery of Christ. Others see it simply as a rather humorous artistic failure that lends itself perfectly to parody.

There are those who sincerely like the painting. There are others (many more) who think it is a disgrace. And there are those who have laughed so hard at the whole debacle that it has made their day.

Another painter of dubious talent once said that we all have our fifteen minutes of fame. This is Borja's time. And poor Cecilia's. Let's hope she gets through it alive.

Prayers for Cecilia...

In the end, one person's life and soul is more important than a painting... we are the masterpieces that God created good, and sometimes our own attempts to "improve" God's work may end up just as badly. And our sincere gifts to Him probably look just as ridiculous, like a child's first unskilled art projects.

I imagine God hides a smile and accepts our gifts gratefully... and adds his own restorative genius behind the scenes, making them a bit less simian, a bit more human, a bit more divine.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Baby to Girl

One of the most wonderful things about being a mother is watching the day-to-day transformation of your baby into a child. The change is slow, like the shifting of the seasons. But there are also flashes of one mode followed by the other.

This morning, I wanted to capture some pictures of Olivia's frizzbomb "morning hair" (and I did-- see below) but there were also a few lovely moments of quiet when the camera caught her gazing and pondering God knows what in her little head.

At that moment, it was a flashback to the tiny, vulnerable baby who wanted nothing but to be held and nursed.

The face of a baby.
But after a quick game of peek-a-boo, the playful toddler personality emerged.
The face of a playful little girl.
And then there is also the matter of the morning frizz:
Little wisps...

Olivia's 'fro...
Good moooorning!
A few years down the road, the next step will be her transformation from a girl to a young woman. Now THAT will be amazing... but I'm not ready yet. Let me keep my little girl for at least a few more years...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Frolicking amidst the Flowers

Women fashion bloggers have a tone and a diction all their own:

"I'm so obsessed with stripes!"

"Loooooving the color blocking over at J.Crew right now!"

"Thank you, dear ladies, for all of your lovely comments!"

It makes me smile, honestly. I can picture them as butterflies congregating around Choice Flowers, fluttering happily from one brightly colored blossom to another, sharing finds, encouraging one another, excitedly discussing the merits of one variety of pollen over another.

Although I am not a fashion or style guru by any means (not by a long shot!), I find it somehow restful to browse a few fun blogs, mainly to drool over beautiful dresses and accessories that I could never afford, but also to pick up some tips and ideas on how to combine the things I already have.

Of course, my blog-browsing has another side effect. It makes me buy more things than I really need. I recently found myself "obsessed" with the need for coral shoes. I have a navy and white striped dress, and I thought coral shoes with a nice high heel would be the perfect "pop of color" to add spice to my neutrals.

What ever shall I wear with these beauties?
So I bought them, naturally. Via DSW, ordered online. They arrived in a box that said "Highly addictive contents inside." Fabulous.

Now I might have to buy more clothes that will work well with my new coral pumps. And once I buy more clothes, I might have to buy more shoes. And bags. Oh my.

You see, I am also frolicking among the flowers, butterfly style.

Then Lent begins to cast its long shadow over my liturgical calendar, and I wonder what to do this year, since I was a turd last year and did absolutely nothing. I forgot. I was busy being a new mom.

At first, I thought maybe I should do something like a special consecration to Mary this year. But when I looked over the St. Louis de Montfort prayers, there was a text saying, "This prayer is not to be done lightly" and I felt that my frolicking among the flowers disqualified me from even beginning it. I already see that I would have to change so many things, and instead of spending extra mental energy and money looking for the right shoes to wear with a dress, I will have to do something substantial like serve the poor or pray. Or something.

Back to frolicking.

I thought, maybe I should give up Facebook for a while. After all, I could live with a little less narcissism. But the reality is, I hardly have time for it anyway. Giving it up would not be that hard.

X-nay the typical food resolutions like no chocolate or soda. I don't think God cares about what I eat, as long as I'm reasonably healthy. And I think diets mess up women's psychologies, creating a kind of obsession with food and calories that is counterproductive in the end. That's a no-go zone.

Then it hit me: give up shopping. Give up the thrill of the chase, the pursuit of color and shape and design and self-indulgence. Oh... that hurts.

And since restraining myself from buying things is only half of the picture, then I have to think about what to do with the money I am not spending on myself.

 Frolicking is on hold till Easter.
Oh God... here comes the big B word. Budget... agh. It has been looming on my horizon for a while now and I've been denying its existence. I have no debt and I pay $320 for my share of the rent. No car payments. No tuition payments (yet). Can't I live in this nice little bubble where future retirement, house, and college expenses don't exist yet? And then there is the question of contributing to charities.

So this year's Lenten resolution will be an education in money management. I don't like it. Not one bit. It's going to hurt, and it's going to imply a change. Self-denial is going to become very quantitative, uncomfortably so. No more frolicking.

I'm sure the flowers will return... but not until Easter Sunday.

The New Cash Cow

You wanna get rich quick?  I got a plan for you. I cut you a deal. Just for a few special friends like you. A special deal.

Only for you.

But first you need a camel. Maybe two camel. But don't worry. I have friend who sell you camels for cheap. More about that later.

You been to the zoo?  You know, with all the animals?

You ever ride the camel at the zoo with your little kiddie?  Maybe with your husband or wife too?

The zoo camel ride, it cost just $5 per person.  Five bucks and two minutes for them, but it make you rich for a lifetime.

Think about it. And I tell you this because I like you, because you my friend:

Each camel holds 3 people. That's $15.

Each camel ride is 2 minutes, long enough for them to imagine themselves like Lawrence of Arabia, short enough for you to get rich quick.

You and your partner, you have two camels going back and forth, back and forth. Keeps the line moving, keeps people happy, especially when hot.

So the people go back and forth, and your pockets get bigger and bigger:

In 10 minutes, you made $150.
In 30 minutes, you made $450
In 1 hour, you made $900.
In 8 hours, you made $7200.

It's honest money, my friend. No strings attached.

Not every day so rich, of course. Camels gotta eat, you gotta rest. People don't always ride in threes. No one wants to ride a camel in the off season heat or in the rain.

So let's say you make $20,000 per week with the good times and the bad times. My friend, at that rate you make over a million dollars a year.

This is you during the day:
Walking your way to riches, my friend!
But then you come home to this:

Not so bad, eh?

All you have to do is buy a few dromedaries, which you can do from my friend here. They cost about $5000, which is peanuts for you. And you have to make an arrangement with the zoo. It'll cost you something, but I gotta friend inside.

You may also have to divide profits with a partner because remember, you want two camels. But you'll still be making over $500,000 per year.

You see? I tell you, I make you rich. No catch, no strings. It's just cause I like you. Make sure you give my friend a call. He sell dromedaries very cheap. Quality dromedaries all the way from Arabia. The very best.

No monkey business here. Just good money from the very best cash cow. And only for you. Because I like you. You have nice smile.

Almost as nice as mine:

Remember, it's because I like you.