Saturday, November 26, 2016

Four Weeks a Mother.

Today marks four weeks of motherhood. My world has been shaken up, in the best way possible. It has been four weeks of small triumphs and a lot of learning as I go. Even though it’s only been four weeks, D’Assise and I are slowly settling in to our routine. He still calls me Claire-ay or Mahoro most of the time rather than Mama, which the nuns scold him for, but since he’s called me that his entire life, I don’t really mind. I figure that if Jem and Scout called their Daddy “Atticus”, it’s ok for D’Assise to stick to my other names. 

We’ve had two adoption parties, the first to say goodbye to my Peace Corps village and the convent where he lived, and the second to welcome him to his new community where we now live, about three hours up the lake. 

At the goodbye to his village, I gave the nuns a cow to thank them for raising D’Assise, and two of my friends dressed up like a cow and a cow herder, complete with sound effects. I wore a traditional umushanana, D’Assise wore his little three piece suit, and I tried hard not to cry as our friends and neighbors sang a “Goodbye D’Assise” song.
D'Assise was clearly more interested in his Fanta than picture-taking
The nuns and I packed up all of D’Assise’s belongings from the convent, from the little room that he shared with three other people, and all of his belongings fit in two small suitcases: a five shirts, and two pairs of pants and two shorts, his suit for church on Sundays, four pairs of shoes, some socks and underwear, his medicine and tooth brush, and the books and games he’d been given over the last four years. He gave each of the nuns a hug, got in the pickup truck, and we headed to our new home along Lake Kivu.

The following weekend we had an adoption party to welcome D’Assise to our new community. We shared some Rwandan buffet, my friend Justin served as the MC, and several people made speeches (including a hilarious one by D’Assise) and gave us gifts (including some avocados, cassava flour, and pineapples). I tried to make a speech and ended up crying through half of it (Motherhood has made me into even more of a sap, which I didn’t think was possible). D’Assise and I wore matching kitenge outfits, and he played with the balls and bubbles that he got as gifts. After that party, when I finally took D’Assise back to our new little house to go to bed after the day of dancing and playing, I felt then that I’d really become a parent.

D'Assise making a speech at the adoption party
We’ve had some fantastic times so far, and some not so great ones (D’Assise getting diarrhea, a three hour car trip at night in which we nearly ran out of gas, and me accidentally slamming the car door on his finger on the same day were involved), but it has been exactly what I hoped for. In many ways, it’s easier than I thought it would be. In the month before D’Assise came to live with me full time, I had a lot of anxiety about what I was about to do. How would I know how to parent? Was I crazy for doing this? What if he hated it and wanted to go back to living with the nuns in the convent? Since then, I’ve realized that most of the time, parents are making it all up as they go along.

Overall, the past few weeks have been what I dreamed of doing: the messy, joyful, exhausting job of being a full-time parent. Last week, D’Assise had a morning meltdown, screaming and crying and hyperventilating, while I was supposed to have a meeting at work. I held his little wriggling body and felt his chest heaving amidst the sobs rolling down his cheeks, and even though I was on my very last nerve, I thought to myself, “This is what I signed up for.” In the past year and a half, when I was going through the adoption process but not yet Mama D’Assise, I felt that I was cheating in a way. I would appear on weekends or stop by the convent for a midweek dinner, and I would reap the rewards of a short-term appearance, but I never had to endure the hard parts of being a real parent. I got the hugs and the dance parties and got to give him presents, without the long, sleepless nights when D’Assise is afraid of the thunder, the sullen faces when I say no to his third helping of French fries for dinner, or the tears when I finally have to pull him away from trying to jump on the bed with muddy shoes. Even though having all of those things in my life isn’t easy, it all feels more real this way.

Our first Thanksgiving together as family
The hardest parts so far have been the sleep deprivation (I love sleep more than any other person I know, as anyone who has ever lived with me can attest), worrying about D’Assise’s health constantly, and missing “down time” to catch up on things like responding to friends’ messages or the bits of work that don’t always fit neatly into a 9-5 workday. I try to fit things in where I can—doing some writing on a Saturday morning when D’Assise’s playing soccer with kids in the front yard, or waking up before he wakes up to finish something for work.

It’s not always easy being a single working mom, but I’m trying to remind myself that I’m doing the very best that I can. It’s non-stop activity from when D’Assise wakes up (normally around 5, although I’ve been trying to keep him up later in the hopes that he’ll sleep until at least 6) until we’ve read our last story around 10:30 or 11 pm, and then sometimes night wake-ups if he’s scared from the dark or the thunder (it’s rainy season in Rwanda). My single person bedtime routine used to be something like: take a hot shower until the water runs cold, get into my pajamas, spritz some lavender spray on my pillow, surf the internet or read a book for a couple hours, sleep a good 8, preferably 9, hours.  My bedtime routine now looks like: try not to fall asleep while reading D’Assise Goodnight Moon for the thousandth time, shower for 5 minutes as soon as D’Assise goes to bed, tiptoe out of the bathroom so he doesn’t wake up, fall asleep before my head hits the pillow.

But being able to create a childhood is an exciting thing. In some ways, having a kid is like giving yourself a second childhood. D’Assise and I can built forts out of bed sheets, re-read all my favorite children’s books, have morning dance parties when we wake up, and watch all the classic Disney movies. In the past two weeks, I took D’Assise to swim in his first swimming pool (he was cautiously optimistic at first, but quickly became addicted) and attempted to take him to his first movie in a real movie theater (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I was a rookie Mom and didn’t check the ratings of beforehand and it turned out to be way too scary for a 7 year old. We left after 20 minutes or so. Which was nearly as bad as my Dad taking all four of his young kids to see Rabbit Proof Fence, thinking it was about Peter Rabbit. Seems to run in the family…).

I was reading some old posts on my blog, and how badly I wished to be exactly where I am right now. Wishing that I could have more of a life together than just the bits and pieces of D’Assise’s childhood that I got to glimpse when I visited, feeling that it was never enough, and having a pit in my stomach whenever the car pulled away from the convent. Now I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, and for that I am extremely grateful.