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I was reading a post by author Sarah Thebarge a few months ago about working in a medical clinic in west Africa. It was a grueling experience. She lost more patients in one week than she’d lost in the past decade of working in the U.S. She said she felt a bit like Sisyphus, eternally pushing a boulder up a hill. Futile.

I have spent time in west Africa, too. It’s stuck with me – the open sewers, the diesel fumes, the trash piles. The leper begging on the roadside. The inability to call home because our phone could only receive incoming calls, and that only sporadically. Getting the last flight out on Ghana Air before London’s Heathrow airport grounded the plane for safety concerns.

The. Last. Flight.

It changed me to experience those things. I had entered a new country, and the world would never again be the safe, sanitary place I had known.

But there were other things too. Sitting on a tropical beach, looking up at the full moon. Tasting a fresh mango. Swimming in a warm rainstorm. Seeing the smiling faces of children.

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Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

In her post, Sarah went on to say that several commentators – Kafka and Camus – imagined Sisyphus to be happy. Happy because he was in love with the work.

I entered another new country about four years ago. A country where my body and my time are not my own. The culture shock was brutal, and this time there was no return flight home.

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He claps his hands with joy on his 10-month birthday.

Over the years I have learned to love the work of motherhood. I think that’s one of the big keys to happiness – you have to fall in love with your work, whatever it is. Sometimes this just looks like reframing our perspective, and looking for the good in our situation.

My 3-year-old can be frustrating. Here’s a typical exchange:

“Sweetie, please put your shoes on so we can go to school.”

Marie hides under her blanket. 30 seconds pass.

“Put your shoes on.”

“No.”

“Please put your shoes on!” Pause. “1, 2….3.”

Marie continues hiding under her blanket. I see that she is about to be late for school. I put her shoes on for her.

The battles over every little thing are difficult. The interrupted sleep is difficult. The constant neediness is draining. I was recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism, so now I know I’ve been battling an extra layer of fatigue plus frequent dizziness that is beyond normal.

I don’t want the physical, mental, and emotional fatigue to steal my joy. I need to remember self-care. And I need to remember that yes, motherhood really is hard work.

But I can be in love with the work.

Can you relate to doing hard work and loving it? Tell me about it in the comments below. I’m off to change a diaper…

 

 

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I was pretty nervous about the idea of flying with my daughter. The thought foremost in my mind was: What if she throws a tantrum and everyone else on the plane thinks I’m the worst person in the world for ruining their flight? Or, what if she has a poopy diaper on the flight? I couldn’t imagine trying to change a diaper in a tiny airplane bathroom.

For these reasons, I probably would not have chosen to fly with my toddler except that we were graciously given plane tickets to Palm Springs for Christmas. And, right under the two year age limit, Marie could sit on my lap for free. So, I had no choice!

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We made it to Palm Springs! She wants to be a golfer, like her Daddy.

Here are some tips I discovered for making flying with a toddler a positive experience:

1) Plan a short trip. Take as short a trip as possible (with a direct flight) to ensure the best experience for everyone involved. Maybe you can postpone the 10-hour flight to Paris until your child is older? Lucky for us, our flight was only slightly over 2 hours.

1) Bring a copy of the birth certificate. If your child could possibly pass for two by any stretch of the imagination, bring a birth certificate just in case the airline challenges you. If you don’t, they might make you pay for a seat for your child. Expensive!

2) Bring your stroller or Ergo carrier. Navigating your way through the airport with toddler and carry-ons can be challenging. Marie was napping when we arrived at the airport, so I just strapped her into my Ergo carrier and then had two hands available to pull our rolling suitcases. Even though I rarely use the Ergo now that she is so heavy, I was glad to have it for walking through the airport. It was also great during the security checkpoint — that can be a little scary for kids and I know she would have wanted to be held then anyway.

3) Give her something to drink during take-off and landing. Drinking or sucking on something helps relieve ear pressure during take-off and landing. Marie likes pureed fruit packets, so we gave her one of those and that seemed to do the trick. Also, if you’re still breastfeeding, don’t forget that’s an option as well. I didn’t really want to nurse her on the plane with so many strangers around, but she got fussy and I ended up doing it anyway. Ultimately, I figured people would rather I nurse her than listen to a huge tantrum from which there was no escape.

4) Enjoy the magic of Disney. Yes, they say that children under age two shouldn’t be allowed to watch movies or television. We eventually had to lift that ban to avoid going insane — sometimes we just need a break. (Her exposure to media is still very limited, don’t worry). On the plane, do what it takes to make your child happy. For Marie that meant letting her watch Disney cartoons with no sound, because she refused to wear headphones. If you don’t want your child to watch movies, bring lots of books and toys for her to play with.

Luckily we didn’t need to do any emergency diaper changes and things went pretty smoothly for us on our flights to and from Palm Springs. Holding her in my lap was like snuggling with a warm teddy bear for two hours. My husband didn’t need to help much, and was able to spend most of the time chatting with other passengers. We even received some compliments on our wonderfully well-behaved toddler. So, success beyond my wildest dreams! Although the car rides to and from the airport were a different story altogether.

Have you flown with a toddler or lap infant? Do you have any additional tips that helped you through the experience? Did you have to do any awkward in-flight diaper changes?

It’s been almost ten years and still I can’t forget. Even on vacation at a gated golf course community in the Palm Desert, I have Africa on my mind.

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

I feel her in the unrelenting beating sun. I smell her in diesel fumes, a freshly cut mango. Memories return: Guard holds an AK-47 to his chest, tells me, “Why don’t you go back home obroni.” Beggarwoman breastfeeds twins. Leper holds misshapen hand outstretched, seeking coins of mercy.

I remember: My colleague at the newspaper walks me to the station, sees there is no tro-tro for me to ride home tonight. “Tonight we will have to suffer,” she says.

I shake my head. No. I will not suffer the African way, not tonight. I have white skin and a first-world passport. “I have money for a taxi.”

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

She looks surprised, then hails one and negotiates a fair price for me, not the obroni price I usually pay. I ride safely back to the house I’m renting with other American students, the big house with running water, a security guard and wall to keep Africans out.

Africa, I remember you, the thin space where the very air is electrified with the presence of God and I barely even notice. I see the tin shacks and open sewers, the child beggars surrounding me. I still visit you in my dreams, always searching, never satisfied.

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

Now that I’m a mommy, I sometimes wish that I had lived a more exciting life in my pre-mommy days. You know, now that it’s incredibly difficult even to leave the house to go to the grocery store. Sometimes I wish that Spencer and I had spent a year living in southern France like our friends Jay and Holly, or a year backpacking around the world like our friends Ted and Bethany.

But then I thought, I actually have had quite a few adventures in my day. I have:

Been booed off a karaoke stage in Ghana. My first time attempting public karaoke, and I was booed off. I didn’t even know this was possible! Apparently, people take their karaoke quite seriously in Ghana. Who knew? I felt like Simon Cowell was in the audience. If you have a trip to Ghana in your future, and you want to get your karaoke on, be sure to practice the song beforehand.

Climbed 10, 358 foot South Sister. The peak (ha!) of my mountain climbing career so far, I summited South Sister when I was just seven years old. I carried my stuffed kitty, Jennifer Snowball Husk, in my pink backpack. It was a slow climb, and when we reached the top, the late afternoon storm clouds were rolling in. Yes, we reached the top just in time for a lightning storm! After spending some time wedged under a giant boulder with my mom huddled against me to act as a human shield against the lightning, we eventually ran down the mountain, only to find our sleeping bags soaking wet because my parents had neglected to put up the rain fly. Exhausted, but glad to have survived, we packed up our gear and began the late drive across the Cascades, homeward to Eugene.

Swam with dolphins in the wild. Despite the fact that I’m not a great swimmer and I have an extreme phobia of sharks (stemming from too many childhood viewings of Jaws), I swam halfway across a Hawaiian bay to be in the midst of a dolphin pod. I had heard that dolphins sometimes protect people from sharks, so I decided I had nothing to fear. Watching the dolphins swim around me and hearing them talk to each other underwater was an amazing experience.

Appeared on a poster alongside Slick Rick. Need I say more? Okay, I was in a theater troupe in high school; we both had upcoming shows at the WOW Hall in Eugene.

Landed a double salchow. Perhaps the weirdest named of any figure skating jump, I nailed it the summer of 1998, before I quite skating. Fourteen years later, I still dream often of flying through the air above the ice.
So yes, I’ve had some adventures. And there are many more to come, now with my sweet Baby Bear in tow.

A few more memories:

Camping in the San Juan Islands.

Me (on the right) at Buckingham Palace.

With Spencer at the Dave Matthews Band concert in the Gorge.

Having the first dance with Spencer. (photo by TJ Cameron)