A Short Story Every Day
It all seemed very innocent. A relaxing evening, a cup of chamomile tea, a TED talk. But leave it to Matt Cutts and his 30 day challenge. Pick anything and try it for 30 days. Perfect for my addictive personality and short attention span. Our first challenge will be to Write Down a Story Every Day. All those old stories that we have been meaning to put pen to paper to record before our deteriorating memories digest them forever.
How We Met
I still remember the events clearly, they are pretty fresh in my mind - but maybe that just means that now is the time to write it down before I lose something. Pamela and I met quite a while ago now, at the 'turn of the century'! I was in my second year of teaching at Schutz American School in Alexandria, Egypt. Pamela had just moved to Alexandria after three years teaching in Cairo.
Pamela taught at another American school just on the outskirts of town, so it was not often that our two schools joined together in any shape or form. Our school did however often host rooftop parties, and we usually did a great Hallowe'en party each year at the end of October. Pamela almost did not come, her roomate barely convinced her to go. I was dressed up as Fred Flintstone for the party - so no doubt my handsome costume and character was an attractive feature.
We were introduced by someone at the party, and we quickly hit it off - talking about travel among other topics. I was planning a safari trip to South Africa with another teacher and we just had our third member bail out on the trip at the last minute. Pamela was very keen (I think she wanted to test out a new camera that she had bought). The rest ... is history as they say - we fell in love over the trip and started dating.
I can remember very strongly my first impressions of this independent, positive, creative soul as we got to know each other. We collaborated on artistic endeavors such as painting walls together in each of our apartments, working on school newsletters (the beginning of my technology prowess contributing to our relationship!) and how awe-struck I was with her artistic abilities. I remember strongly her 'Beatles' portrait sketch, her determination to seek out unique coffee mugs throughout Cairo and Alexandria, and her attention to detail with much of what she did in her work and 'play'. She certainly made a strong impression on me.
Coming Home from School
Walking in the front door after school is like walking into the eye of a storm. You have to brace yourself for anything as the door creeks open. The kids have always been working on or creating something that they can't wait to share. What I love about them is that they are never ever bored. Even right after we moved here and hardly had any toys they have a knack for finding ways to entertain themselves for hours and hours on end. Now Theo is currently recovering from an earache and yells every single thing he says. So imagine all this in a very loud volume. Today after school...
- They had made the little 'hole in the wall shop' featured above.
- Theo was dressed like a boy which is a little unusual recently. He has been dressing like a princess a lot lately and the day we came home to him wearing makeup was hilarious.
- Kaia has found some packing foam on the way home from school. She made it into binoculars quite cleverly. She cut it into two pieces. She wrapped one to make a cylindar and put a small piece of tape to hole it together. Then she put a long piece of tape along the length of the overlap to hold it together firmly. She did the same for the other side. Then she made a few tape circles to hold them together, and then she again used long thick pieces to hold the gaps together firmly. What I love is the detail in the story. That she loves to share each step and is proud of her clever method.
- They had a little mystery (quite a mouthful for Theo) for us so we could be detectives (another mouthful) and solve it... they had found a scrap, maybe one square inch, outside of the window. It had a sketch on it, of a little boy, obviously drawn by a child. It was balanced on the window sill and they mystery was how it got there. After all we live on the sixth floor of an apartment building! (Hint: there are four kids that live above us). You can see this small scrap of cardboard taped to the door between them. Kaia even made it a label which you can see above it.
- Kaia made a balloon into a little boy. He is her boyfriend and she even kissed him! She also danced with him while Theo made music on his piano. He is the blue balloon in the shop. I hope he isn't for sale!!
- Theo uber excitedly packed his backpack for T-day at school tomorrow. Each week they do a letter and on thursday they bring things for show and tell that start with that letter. This week it is T (for Theo) and he is SO excited for his letter day!! He packed a towel, toilet paper, truck, train, toothbrush, toothpaste, and of coarse... Theo will bring Theo. He is holding the truck in the photo.
- On a side note I have been informed thatTheo carried his own bag to and from school today. He counted 11 volkswagons for Daddy.
Cats and the Corniche
Every weekend we make a point of getting out to the beautiful walk that is the Corniche here in Kuwait. The Corniche is a road/path that runs along the Gulf for the entirety of the city stretch. Some parts are more beautiful (and taken care of) than others but it is almost always a gorgeous view and a nice breeze. It is a regular highlight of our weekend.
Most often when we take our walks, Mommy and Kaia go on a bit ahead and do some roller-blading. Theo and I hang back and just do a regular walk. Theo likes the walk because;
- we can chit chat
- we can look for fish, birds, boats in the water
- and we can look for cats in the rocks
The picture above is what we see, and how close we are, from the sidewalk running along the water. We are very close and these big rocks buffer the water from the sidewalk. It is also a bit fun to see what is in between the rocks as we walk along - unfortunatley more often than not it is bits of garbage!
We often see cats, 'mummy' and 'daddy' cats and many many kitties. They are a highlight for many in town and the locals will often stop their walk and take pictures of their children with these stray cats. We're not sure where they all came from, the country does have a rather bad reputation for families getting animals as pets - finding them cute for a few weeks and then getting fed up and releasing them into the city. Nevertheless, there are many cats. Every 20 feet or so you'll see another family of cats or a stray kitty or two. People also seem to bring dry cat food and leave it along the sidewalk for the cats to eat. Our kids of course love seeing them, though we never get too close ...
We did have a rather unfortunate incident about 2 months back with these strays - we found one in between the rocks and it looked like it was on death's door. The date of occurrence was following a rather intense period of rain in the country and we wondered if maybe some of these strays had been soaked, or even fell into the Gulf and almost drowned. Thanks to Pamela and Kaia (especially) - we took the kitty to a cafe and made some calls about taking care of it. We got some good advice from a woman who specialized in finding and rehabilitating stray animals. We took it home, gave it a nice warm bed/towel, tried administering some medicine, giving it some food and of course 'round the clock' attention and love. Sadly the kitty passed away that night, but it certainly wasn't for lack of trying or for a lack of care - we all decided as a family that, sad as it was that it died, it died knowing it was loved and cared for. It was a wonderful life lesson for our kids.
Kaia is born
I should have known you would be a cuddle munch... given that you stayed inside for an extra 12 days after the due date. Twelve of the longest days of my life. I had been on maternity leave almost 4 weeks by the time you finally came. Four weeks of sitting on the couch, too huge to move, watching the second hand slowly tick its way round and round.
I had been having regular but painless contractions on and off for a week or so. So on Monday when they started again it wasn’t unusual. By about 230 in the afternoon though they started to get painful enough to notice and time. They were 5 minutes apart. Exactly. Finally!!!
Throughout waiting for the birth I had been dying to call your father with ‘the call’. But now that it actually might be time I couldn’t get myself to get his hopes up. I did text him though and ask where he was. When he got home I was in the shower but he saw the list of contraction times on the table and got excited. Carl got home from work around 5 and we took Laika out for a walk. The contractions quickly changed to 1-2 minutes apart and it was difficult to walk during them. We still weren’t sure, I had been pregnant so long that we really tried never to get our hopes up anymore, but we did suspect this was finally it! So we called a few friends and the dog sitter to put them all on alert.
Then we relaxed. We packed, ate dinner, watched some television. By about 9pm the contractions were getting strong. We aimed to work through them for a few more hours before going to the hospital. By 12 it was clearly time to go so we called for a taxi. But May 1 is a holiday here in Finland. And April 30th is the drinking night of the year!! The taxi numbers were perpetually busy, we couldn’t even get them on the line, much less get a taxi to come to the house!! So we called the dog sitter and he and his wife were kind enough to get up in the middle of the night to bring us to the hospital.
The drive was surreal. I had 4 or 5 contractions in the car. I had never met his wife before and remember trying to be polite. The streets were caked with drunks, some in funny clothes and costumes. I remember so clearly during one contraction a guy with horns walking slowly past the car as we were stopped for a light and thinking it was the perfect night to have a baby.
We arrived at the hospital around 1am. Midwife Kirsi was on duty. An older Finnish speaking midwife with an expressionless face and monotone voice. As she was checking me my water broke…yea!! I was at 3cm. But, there was meconium stool (i.e. you’d pooped) in the water which is never great. The concern is that you will breathe it in your lungs. The consequence was that I couldn’t go in the birthing pool and she wanted me to keep the monitors on all the time. This also meant no showers until she could get an internal monitor on. Showers were proving to by my biggest ally during contractions.
So for the next six hours we laboured. Almost exclusively on the birth ball and in the shower. Lying down or sitting in a chair was impossibly painful for me. Carl was amazing. I don’t really remember what he did or what he said, but concentrating on his voice, the warmth of his hands, and his calm slow breathing is what I remember about labour.
By 7am I was at 5cm and getting very discouraged. My contractions had been one on top of the other for a while and I just didn’t seem to be opening up. Upon seeing the disappointment on my face Kirsi generously said that maybe I was a 6 and that the last 5 cm go faster than the first. But she was hardly convincing and I didn’t buy it. That was when we decided to do the epidural.
7am was also shift change time and Midwife Kristina took over. A young, strong, English speaking, natural birth supporting midwife. For the epidural I had to lie down for 20 minutes. I tried 3 times and jumped up in utter pain each time. But with Carl’s help I did it. We both got a chance to sleep and re-energize. I was hoping to do it without the meds, but it was a good decision at the time and I don’t regret it. The epidural wore off in about 2 hours, just as I was reaching 9cm. Perfect timing. I really wanted to be able to feel the end of labour and the pushing stage.
Carl got to watch. He held a mirror for me but honestly I was working so hard I didn’t care to see but I did feel your head as you started to crown. And WOW! Bumpy, mushy, I would have believed them if they said it was your butt. Kristina was fantastic. So calm yet strong. Whereas Carl helped me through the labour, Kristina helped me through the pushing. She kept me so focused and gave me an amazing sense of power and control.
After about 15 contractions you crowned and your head came out. Kristina had explained that because of the meconium in the fluid she would need to pump your lungs as your head came out. I didn’t see this but Carl said it was terrible to watch. But again, Kristina was so calm, we weren’t worried. The next contraction released your shoulders and during the next your body slithered out. I know it may sound crazy, but I loved the labour and the pushing stage. I have never felt so full of life, connected to the world and your father.
You lied on my chest and we all relaxed. You were quiet and calm. Carl and I marvelled. Kristina gave us some time. Carl cut your umbilical cord. We birthed the placenta. I got my stitches… and for such a big girl I was grateful to only have six. Then we got to feed you, you’d been inching your way over already. It was so beautiful. The sun was shining outside, which it rarely does here, and it couldn’t have been more perfect.
You were much bigger than expected. Predicted to be 3.5k, you popped out at 4.5k (9.9lbs)! Even Kristina gasped at your size. 53 cm long, bits of brown hair, radiantly blue beautiful eyes. All your fingers and toes. Such chubby pink little cheeks. Carl got to weigh you and they showed him how to clean you. They gave you a Vappu hat! Being a Vappu baby is very special!
Oh Nina. Where would we be today without our Nina. Nina is our house-nanny/worker and we love her to bits. She has been working with us for the last half year and all is very well in our household with many significant parts owing to Nina ... she;
- cleans our dirty kitchen (including our dirty pots no matter how sticky on the bottom and what concoctions we have tried)
- cleans our clothes and irons them - and we all wear alot of clothes - just ask Kaia how many outfits she has
- does occasional bit shopping for groceries and gets great prices (compared to how we fare)
- cooks for us the most fantastic meals, although not a lot of variety, she has worked with us when we say things like 'we only want fresh/natural ingredients', 'we don't want any artificial seasonings/salts', 'we don't want to eat alot of meat', etc., etc. - she accommodates all our requests and even makes the kids happy with her dishes - lately she even made a spicy sauce for me that I love and use on many dishes
- sometimes dresses and feeds our kids in the morning, and certainly takes them to school for us each day
- she picks them up again at 2.30 and lightly supervises them for 3 hours after school until Mommy and Daddy come home
- she even does occasional babysitting when asked
Nina is especially impressive given our strict criteria and high expectations. We are very very happy with her - yes, she is hard to understand most times (her English is okay but you have to concentrate), and yes she does occasionally sneak a bit of candy in to our boy when he is at home sick, yes - she does put things away in strange places sometimes never to be found again (where is that Nepal sweater?), and yes she does seem to be regularly sweaty even in the middle of Winter when the rest of us are oh so cold!!!! - what would we do without our Nina. We're very happy and lucky to have you Nina.
Our nights have been rather lively since the children have been born. Nearly as lively as our days. Kaia has been a cuddle-munch since the very beginning. Even though we swaddled her for the first year of her life she would still manage to wiggle and scootch her way into loving arms. Just cuddling wasn’t even enough for her, she liked to forage her way deep into your armpit for warmth and love. Not too much has changed over the years, other than short bouts of spreading eagle, she likes to cuddle close through the night. I can’t complain and have to confess that she gets it from me, so I don’t mind in the least and quite enjoy it. Theo, on the other hand, while enjoying cuddling on his own terms, mainly just likes to be around.
Our first attempt at regaining our bedroom was when Kaia turned three. We lured her to her brand new room with newly painted walls, warm carpeting, and hand sewn princess bedding and mosquito nets with matching doll beds. For all this work we didn’t even get one full night to ourselves. Not even one.
We moved house and tried again when Kaia was four and Theo two. This time they each got their own room. And they only had to go to bed in their own beds but could move to ours during the night. It was successful but short lived. There was an incident with a bee (worthy of its own short story) that scared Theo out of sleeping alone. We caved and laid a king and full sized bed next to one another on our bedroom floor. It was hard to argue when we had wall to wall mattress.
And the truth was that despite the wakeful nights of cuddling from both sides it only took a moment to remind myself that these days would be gone before I knew it. Each time I awoke I got to notice again how beautiful, precious, and perfect they are. I got to listen to them breath, I got to smell their hair.
Then we moved again and the stakes were higher because I was going back to work and needed my rest. This time Kaia was six and Theo almost four. Again they both got their own rooms. I took to hiding away on the couch to get a good night’s rest, but they are keen detectives and it didn’t take long before my cover was blown. As they get bigger the bed gets smaller but the rest remains the same. Last night… play by play…
- Theo goes to bed at 7pm with a hug and his flashlight, baby camel, lambie, and elmo.
- Kaia goes to bed at 730pm with a cuddle and her flashlight, huggie, and her unicorn.
- 10ish Carl heads off to bed and I remain hiding on the couch
- Theo joins Carl in bed
- Kaia joins Theo and Carl in bed
- Carl goes to Theo’s bed
- Kaia and Theo join me on the couch (pretty tight!)
- Kaia joins Carl in Theo’s bed
- I take Theo to our bed
- Kaia joins Theo and I in our bed
- The sun begins to dust the horizon
I lie quietly planning my exit. Kaia is my morning shadow. No matter how quietly I get up and creep to the door she is under my heels before I can turn the knob. Sometimes I wonder if we share a consciousness before dawn. After a minute or so I can feel her breathing change and her eyes on me. I smile. The day has officially begun. The men have fared a bit better and get a few more minutes of shut eye before letting the night slip away.
The Beautiful Syrian Lady
It was a few months into our life here in Kuwait. We started making a routine of walking along the Corniche for a weekend walk. It was one of the first times that Kaia had her roller blades and Carl was walking back with Theo. An elderly man (Kuwaiti) started walking close by to us and talking about stray cats. He told us he had a wife from Romania. His daughter was pianist. He wanted to show us his boat. He seemed to own or be a part owner of the Sharq Al Sooq mall area to the North of the city. We exchanged numbers and we made our first Kuwaiti friend. Kaia and Pamela went on further ahead and the elderly man had circled around and caught up to Carl and Theo again. He kept up with our pace and chatted away. As we were walking he started to mention gifts he had accumulated over the years from various merchants and business people he dealt with - 'all the time'. His wife had had enough of them and now he was storing them in his trunk of this car. He invited Carl over to his car in a nearby parking lot and insisted on giving us a gift. A Syrian carpet, and some nice paintings / art. Carl and Theo caught up to Kaia and Pamela at a park and Theo stayed. Carl kept on with the man with walking to his car. It was about another 15 min. walk further. We finally arrived and he showed Carl a few carpets in his trunk, along with a velvet portrait of a beautiful Syrian lady. A tapestry. He insisted on giving a carpet and this piece of art. So, Carl took both and was driven back to the park area by the man with the pieces. Carl wanted to leave the art piece at the park, it was awkward carrying everything. Pamela has grown strangely attached to the Syrian lady especially. Having left our life in Tanzania and giving up all our home momentos, it has taken a special place in her heart. The carpet was nice enough, about 2 meters long, and heavy - green and dark red and black colors - we used it as a front apartment welcome carpet after the elevators. The Syrian lady tapestry is up in our living room. Everyone asks about it and we tell the story. Think I have seen the man once since, but not close enough to say hi.
Back To North America
Back to North America - June 2013. Wow. Remember now, Theo was born in Tanzania and had not travelled all that much in his 3 plus years. Pamela clearly remembers the excited from our children as they got to the Toronto airport and used the electric walkways that were throughout the airport - amusing everyone around them with their excitement. Theo had never seen a train before. There were plenty in Cobourg to see. Arusha, Tanzania had 2 stop lights and they were a big focus of our day to day driving there - each and every traffic light in Cobourg was pointed our regularly, and oh boy - watch out if Daddy happened to drive through, they looked back and it was red - 'Daddy went through a red light!!!' was the running joke. Stores in North America had EVERYTHING/ALWAYS - a feast for the senses! We had an early meal after our arrival with Grandpa and Grandma at 'Subway' - Kaia noted ' Wow they served that food fast !' Many restaurants had coloring pages and crayons for kids. Wow, what a change.