I’m eight and a half months pregnant. It’s the end of June and it’s hot. I alternate between sitting in our small 3rd floor apartment in front of a fan and driving to air-conditioned places. Lately these places have been stores…Target, malls. I am on a quest for a floppy, white, cotton, baby, sunhat. For some reason, this has become all-important. I can’t rest until I find this item. It’s my Holy Grail. Fear of the unknown and this huge upcoming change in our lives has morphed into the need for this little sunhat. It seems to be the one solid thing I can focus on right now. Making sure this little baby has a sun hat will make me a good mom; I’m convinced of this.
I have always wanted to travel to Africa. I find a volunteer organization that places people in Tanzania and send for information. Somehow this leads to me signing up for this trip! How did this happen? I’m so excited though. I find skirts and flip-flops and special heavy-duty bug spray. I plan and plan. I write out my boys’ schedules and have back up people for every eventuality. I am leaving things well-organized. The week before I am scheduled to leave for three weeks, I go grocery shopping. As I wander down the aisles, my eyes begin to tear. What the heck is going on here? I am holding back a big, messy cry. I end up at the meat display and begin filling my cart with burgers, pork chops, chicken, sausages and bacon. All of a sudden I feel that stocking my freezer with meat is the most important thing ever. What if I die? What if I never make it back from Africa? Well at least my family will have meat. This makes no sense what so ever but I feel a little bit less panicked now.
I did find the perfect sunhat and I’m sure it made all the difference in my parenting skills! I also did make it back from Africa safe and sound. The freezer was still stocked with meat.
1. I don’t ever empty the clean silverware from the dishwasher.
It’s just a pain and I figure people can just grab what they need out of the dishwasher. My husband finally noticed this practice of mine after years of never being able to find a clean knife in the silverware drawer.
2. Matching socks are overrated.
I don’t stress about having matching socks, but if for some crazy, cosmic alignment reason, my kids do have matching socks in the morning, it’s a party day. My husband recently got smart and bought 3 huge packs of the same white sport socks so it’s become a non-issue. Pretty brilliant if you ask me.
3. Sometimes the agreed upon “house rules” get broken when my husband is out of town for work.
For example, somehow the dogs are allowed on the couch now. And once in awhile a new pet such as a Bearded Dragon Lizard, Russian Tortoise or Guinea Pig shows up to join our family zoo. What can I say? When the cat’s away…
4. My house is messy.
I admit that housekeeping is not my strength and there are often piles of laundry on my dining room table. HOWEVER, I once decided to hire a housekeeper and she left me a note saying my house was too messy to clean. Her partner had allergies and she asked if we could vacuum more often before they came over because of the pet hair. WHAT?
5. Romance has changed and I’m cool with that.
The last time my husband and I went on a “romantic get-away” we ate junk food and curled up in bed, reading and sleeping for the whole weekend.
6. I don’t call home.
When I go away for a girls’ weekend, I do not call home. I figure, what can I do? If there’s an emergency there’s 911. If it’s a non-emergency, than it will be handled. That’s why I went away. NOT to handle it.
7. I really hate my kids’ school events.
Terrible I know, but there you go!
8. I watch reality TV.
I recently watched a couple of seasons of Dance Moms and Toddlers in Tiaras. At first I felt like a relatively superb mom, but then I just felt like I was enjoying someone else’s train wreck!
9. I keep a pretend therapy account open in my brain.
When I screw up with my kids I put money in their virtual therapy account and when I have a rockin’ good parenting moment I take some money out. I currently owe quite a bit!
10. I love traveling by myself.
I adore my family but I have traveled to Africa twice and there is something wonderful about stepping out of your roles for a little while. I was recently reading my journals from these trips and I wrote that I was experiencing “moments of pure happiness”. To go somewhere totally unfamiliar with people you don’t yet know is awesome. It’s a way to be a kid again and experience everything with fresh eyes.
On my trip to Tanzania in 2008 I felt that although I was volunteering at a school for students with disabilities, my main function turned out to be to provide unintentional comic relief for the people I met there. We all have skills!
When I was there, it was the start of the short rainy season. Each morning, a van drove all of the volunteers to their placements. One morning it was pouring and the already rough dirt roads were becoming pretty challenging to drive on. At one point we got totally stuck in the mud. I jumped out with a couple of other brave, or crazy, souls to push. We braced our hands on the back of the van as we pushed it out. In the pouring rain and with mud flying from the spinning wheels, we finally felt the wheels find traction and the van rolled out of the mud. We were proud, we cheered, we high fived, and then we realized that the van was on the other side of the dirt road, which had become a river and we were left on the opposite side.
My friend Jean and I shrugged and hiked our long skirts up as we held hands to help steady ourselves as we crossed the rushing, knee deep, muddy water. About half way across my flip-flop washed off of my foot and went shooting away. I clambered out and ran along the river chasing my flip-flop. Another volunteer was able to rescue it and bring it back to me. We climbed back on the van, victorious! Across the road we could see some locals under the overhang of a building, cracking up at our show.
I made it to my school before any of the teachers and sat under the small concrete building’s little overhang, watching the pouring rain, looking at my wet, muddy skirt and flip-flops and thinking about what a fabulous time I was having.
We are standing at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro with our guide, Bakari. We’re all set for our day hike, or are we? He gives us a hiking pole and we start off. I’m wearing sneakers and low socks, which immediately sink down so blisters start to form. Luckily my friend Janice has packed extra, heavy socks, which I put on. I am not a hiker! But off we go, up and up. Bakari wears his iPod listening to Justin Timberlake and walking like this is just a spin around the block. Janice and I not so much! “Polepole,” (pronounced polay polay) Bakari reminds us, which means slowly slowly in Swahili. So we continue hiking bit-by-bit, so excited as we spot 2 blue monkeys who stare at us and follow up above from limb to limb wondering what strange creatures we are and why we’re so slow.
I revel in the quiet, and I’m sure it’s only partly because we’re too winded to talk. I smell the air, which is saturated with the scent of flowers and leaves and coffee. The coffee smell might just be my imagination though because although a lot of coffee is grown here, most people seem to drink tea and I am seriously dying for some dark roast. The look of the forest suddenly changes and the tall, dark green trees that surround us open suddenly to beautiful flowing silver-green grasses and bright flowers.
It takes us 4 hours to hike to the first base camp. I can’t even begin to imagine how people climb this whole mountain. Happy but so tired we sit and pull out our boxed lunches which turn out to be cold hamburgers with fried eggs on top and a piece of chicken. I’m so hungry that a seafood pasta dinner (my favorite) wouldn’t taste any better. A huge black bird soars down and takes a bite of my hamburger. Hey! As I move to defend my burger, the bird picks up my chicken and flies off with it. Isn’t that kind of like cannibalism. That’s just wrong!
We head back down the mountain to finish our 18 Kilometer hike. I’m freely using my walking pole to keep from sliding down any slippery parts. Bakari makes it clear that he is not promising to carry us out if we break an ankle. We’re kind of silly after our fortification of burger and egg. Janice stops to swing on a ropy, twisted vine as I take pictures. Our kind, funny and patient guide starts to become an annoyed parent trying to get silly toddlers to get a move on. “No more polepole!” he says. He doesn’t want us all stuck hiking in the dark. It takes us 2 1/2 hours to hike down with lots of, “No more polepole!” on the way.
We finally make it down. It may be getting a little tiny bit dark. Bakari is relieved. Janice and I are both so happy to have had this experience and both declare that we will never, ever do it again!
I sit in the seat of the plane, tired after hours and hours of travel but so excited as I watch the map on the screen that illustrates our descent into the Kilimanjaro International Airport. I don’t know anyone on the plane so I turn to the nun sitting next to me and, unable to stifle my excitement, tell her that this is my first trip to Africa. She smiles and says; “Now it will be in your heart. You will be back.”
I look out the window as we bump down on the runway. The lights of the plane flash on, off, on, off, creating a strobe effect. My eyes scan the ground. Grass, dark, trees, dark…are there lions roaming around, giraffes, and anaconda? I’m sure the nun would laugh if she knew what I was looking for.
Climbing down the stairs of the plane and onto the dirt, I stop as people rush by me to the path leading to the small airport building. I don’t move, trying to commit this scene to memory. I feel the solid ground under my sandals. I smell the night air, a combination of burning rubber and flowers. I look up at the bats flying around above my head. I feel the hot breeze on my face. I walk slowly forward, full of anticipation and joy, into the unknown…
Self Portrait in Tanzania