Sunday, July 19, 2009

Why we stay

When people ask why we came to Argentina I give the standard reply - great food, architecture, cosmopolitan city, beautiful language, very dog friendly and of course a favorable exchange rate. But, when asked why we're still here and plan to stay I think of our friends. Carolina and I met on the playground about 3 months ago. It was the typical mommy pick up. Both of us pushing our baby girls on the swings, last ones at the playground as the sun set. We got to talking and realized we lived just two blocks away from each other. A few more playdates and we settled into a routine of seeing each other nearly every day during the week after the girls woke up from their late afternoon naps and before bedtime (usually 6-8pm). We drink mate while the girls play on the floor or stroll around the neighborhood. Some days we go big box shopping at Jumbo or to a cafe. Our spouses met and now we also have an occasional Sunday family outing with the 6 of us.

Carolina, Pablo and their 15 month old Isabela live with her parents in a two bedroom apartment smaller than ours. Carolina sleeps in the second bedroom next to the crib and her husband sleeps on the coach in the living room. They're saving money to buy their own place later this year. This is a typical familial arrangement. Her father has Alzheimers and leaves the house for one short walk a day around the block during which time the rest of the family fears for his safety and wonders whether he'll be able to find his way home. They eat dinner together every night around 10:30pm. When the baby goes to sleep (midnight usually), they sit together and drink tea. Although they don't have cars, take extravagant vacations, use handheld electronic devices or "twitter" they are happy and enjoying life. Pablo is a mid level manager for a waste managent company. Carolina's mother is a psychologist. They never work weekends or at night. We stay for this.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

On the move

Baby V started crawling last week. She'd been scooting around on her bum and revving backwards for a few months but she is now locomoting around the house with a deft cross-hatch. Its made for more active days as she near crashes down onto the tile kitchen floor, reaches for electrical outlets and the dog's tail.

The second photo is one of my favorites. She's discovered her hand and is frequently caught gazing in amazement with a "wow-look at this thing attached to my arm that moves!" expression. It's one of the unexpected delights of witnessing the daily developments. Rather than amaze at the wonders of my body's little triumphs and abilities, I marvel at its rapid deterioration. First the back injury (which has for the most part healed but still moans when I try to jog), then the other morning I awoke with what can only be described as a "sleeping injury". That is waking up and having no idea why or how you became injured. This time it was my knee. I woke with a tenderness in the joint and a dull pain that lasted all day. Then, suddenly it vanished as if to warn me....take it easy or you'll see more of this! As my birthday nears and I continue the downhill slide towards 40, I hang on to the one activity that still heals and strengthens - yoga.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Swine Flu

Anyone with a blog in Argentina has to address "the" news story of the season - El Gripe Porcina aka El Gripe H1N1 aka El Gripe A. Whatever the reference, its the flu. We're in our typical flu season - cold blustery days, arctic wind chill that slices through even the heaviest wool coat and a gray blanket over the city. About a month ago the panic over mosquito carrying Dengue Fever died down just in time for the swine flu to rev up. Then a few weeks ago it exploded. Suddenly everyone I knew, people on the street (taxi drivers and the butcher) and the newscasters were talking about it. Then I started hearing about people I knew personally that had it. Then Valentina came down with her first fever, cough and sore throat (turns out it was only a cold thank god).

Last week the government admitted they'd been lying (what a surprise, not! since they lie about everything else) about the numbers. Instead of the reported 6,000 cases - it was actually more than 100,000 infected. 60 dead. People are freaking out. The newspaper, TV and radio talk of nothing else. They've come at it from all angles; where to buy the most effective alcohol based hand gel, how to entertain your kids all day (since they've closed all schools for a month to limit contact), what to do if you work in a non-ventilated office with people that might bring it to work (wear a facemask, wash hands 10x day, don't touch your eyes, nose or mouth). Essentially they've recommended everyone stay home, avoid contact with others and don't panic. The more news coverage, the more people panic. I waiver between forgetting about it entirely and carrying about my day as usual and giving the guy in front of me in the grocery store who innocently coughs into his forearm a dirty "don't you dare infect me" look.

Here's what I know. All schools are closed for the month. The mommy groups I occasionally attend are on hiatus until this blows over. The movie theaters are only selling 50% of the seats (but who cares, no one is stupid enough to go). My closest girlfriend Carolina carries the alcohol gel in her purse wiping her daughter Isabela's hands (15 month old) every hour. A real estate agent and my doctor stopped kissing me hello (this is HUGE!). Traffic is horrible because they are trying to limit the number of people on the subway causing more panic and backups. Rosa couldn't get her root canal done yesterday because her insurer is postponing all dental work (too risky for the dentist) until the end of August.

Whew...I have a feeling that as the days grow longer and the sun brighter, the frenzy will shift back to a spring season pandemic but for now we are on high alert.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Doe a deer a female deer

Valen had a great time getting to know Grandma Lori and Grandma Theresa (also Grandma Bari - my mom's best friend of 35+ years who came for the visit too). From Grandma Lori, she learned how to play the recorder. Every day my mom would arrive with recorder and playbook in hand like the pied piper. From Grandma Theresa she learned how to make delicious Lebanese food - Kebbe, Baba Ganoush, Grape Leaves, Salad with Mint Garlic dressing. There were play sessions on her purple rubber floor, strolls through the parks and zoo, and quiet evenings of conversation and Blokus after Valen went to sleep. The enduring memory of the trip for me will be the afternoon Lori, Bari and Theresa sang to Valen from their repetoire of show tunes - Frere AH Shaka, the entire soundtrack from the Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof - acapella.


A few days at estancia La Candelaria was supposed to be a vacation, a break from the city and a chance to enjoy the country air with Baby V and the abuelas. Instead I ended the trip at Lobos (the nearest pueblo) emergency room.

The last time I visited La Candelaria was to host family and friends for Rachel and Rey’s wedding. A long weekend of friendly soccer matches, long walks along the grove of eucalyptus and fanciful meals with heartfelt toasts for the bride and groom. This trip had to be different but I had no idea how much so. The packing alone took half a day. Valentina of course had her own large duffle – in stuffed diapers, formula, outfits enough to last for 3 changes daily, blankets, toys, yoga mat to play on, pack n play crib, bathtime chair, bottles, jarred and dried food, special spoons and sippy cups, on and on. Utta also had her own bag – eating chair, dried food, bed, toys, chew bones. The last five minutes before we left, I threw a few pairs of jeans and sweaters for myself. We rented a car for us, the baby and the dog. We barely fit ourselves and our luggage (the stroller had to be shoved in with the abuelas). The abuelas traveled in a chauffered car aka “a remise”. The first conundrum upon arrival – where to set up the baby’s crib. At home she has her own room and we (parents, dog and child) have never ever shared sleeping quarters. How would the dog tolerate the intermittent sqwaks of sleeping V? How would V sleeping through the snoring or worse barking bulldog? How would we relax knowing that at any given second, both could wake the other and disturb the delicate balance? Our room had a main quarters and a side room with twin bed and a fireplace. You had to go through the small room to get to the main bedroom though at least there was a closeable door in between them. We decided to put the baby in the side room, I would sleep with her in the twin and Hugh would sleep with Utta in the main room (next to the bathroom). It wasn’t the brightest move but at the time it seemed best since the room with the fireplace was likely to remain toasty throughout the night and temperature was a main concern. Right before we started the baby nighttime routine, Hugh proudly piled on twenty or so pieces of wood into the fireplace, doused it with kerosene and then added his “secret sauce” a light blow of air into the fireplace aimed at the bottom of the stack. While I retired early with the baby, he left to play Blokus with the unstoppable abuelas. The fire roared on for hours. Until 1 or 2 in the morning it was so hot I was sweating and so was the baby. I had to cover the metal parts of the crib for fear she’d burn herself if she rolled and touched them in her sleep. I didn’t sleep until the fire died down and with it the temperature. Then I put a blanket on the baby and woke a few hours later with frostbite on my nose. The baby woke early too with her hands cold as ice. Not a restful start to the trip.

While the abuelas dozed until late morning – I woke at 5 or 6 am with the baby, gave her a bottle and tried to get her back to sleep for a bit longer. Usually only until 7 or 7:30. It was a new and foreign environment to her – different sounds and smells. She was edgy and excitable. I’d stumble (still in pj’s) to the shared dining hall carrying Valentina on one arm and pushing the stroller with the other (which I had to use as a high chair). The staff would always remark “que madrugada es ella!” basically “what a frightfully early riser she is” and offer a half smile of pity. The kitchen staff was helpful cleaning and sterilizing bottles and heating up baked pieces of sweet potato, once steaming a small piece of chicken breast but it wasn’t my kitchen and it wasn’t four feet from the bedroom. During the day Valen and I kept to our usual routine of morning play, nap, lunch, more play, nap, dinner, play, bath, bed. During play sessions the abuelas joined us in our makeshift romperroom on the yoga mat in front of the fire. For the hour or so mid day when the sun was strongest, we bundled up and took the toys out to the lawn. But no one could help with the hardest part – naps and sleepy time. Valen struggled with me at every turn. Each time we settled down to get her to nap (3 times a day) the effort took no less than 20 minutes and every ounce of energy (mental and physical) I had – especially after less than 3 hours sleep. She was not at home and knew it. The second night I swore off the fireplace room and moved us into the main room (which actually had a wall heater). We decided that Utta was too much of a risk so banished her to sleep with Abuela Theresa – really not a banishment at all since Theresa adores all living creatures and easily coaxed Utta into a spooning position the first night. Valen tossed, turned and woke up four times – crying to be held, soothed, given a bottle. I tried it all but it just seemed she was uncomfortable. The next day was not a pretty one for me. Two days without sleep – the beauty and serenity of a relaxing country resort but no way to enjoy it was worse than torture. The grandmas took pity after lunch and demanded we leave Valentina with them for a few hours – they would “handle it”. Utta trotted off after them realizing without pause that they needed more supervision with this task than we did. We took a short walk and played pool with a nice couple in for a day only on a 10 year anniversary trip from Miami. Adult talk for a half hour. They left their 6 and 8 year old girls with her parents for a week. It was their first vacation without the kids in 8 years. Bleak but I could see it for us too….

Valen wouldn’t nap – big surprise even though they tried putting her in the stroller, giving a bottle etc. Finally she collapsed on my mom’s shoulder and shrieked with the slightest movement so they had to stay for 30 minutes laying on a lounge chair with the baby slung over her shoulder until she woke up. When I went to find them (after an unsuccessful attempt at a nap – outside the wood cutter chopping the hundreds of logs for the coming frosty evening), Valen was asleep on abuela Theresa’s chest in her room. An exhausting effort on all parts. Bari looked stunned and scarred “she just wanted her momma and nothing would make her stop crying”.

The third and final day I woke up, fed and dressed the baby and decided I would do something for me – even for half an hour. Something that I wanted to do. Something that I always loved to do coming to La Candelaria in the past. I wanted to go horseback riding. Not just riding. I wanted to gallop. I wanted to become one with natures saddle, feel the wind whip my hair, touch the treetops with my outstretched arms, and suck as much fresh air as humanly possible. It was I thought a reasonable want.

At 9:30am I left Valen happy and in Hugh’s care, walked over to the stables and asked the stablehand to saddle up the horse that loved to gallop. I was explicit. With a cigarette flopping in the corner of his mouth, he saddled her up and helped me on. We started walking away from the stable and towards a row of trees. Ahhhhhh, this is what I’ve been waiting for I thought. I am on a horse, enjoying nature, doing what I used to be able to do pre-pregnancy and finally on vacation. A second or two passed after the thought and the horse suddenly bolted forward into a race-like gallop. True, I’d asked for a galloper but I assumed (falsely in this case) that I’d be the one to decide when and if we’d gallop. With the first thundering down of the horses front hooves, I felt a crunch of verterbra in my spine and a pinch of seering pain in my low back. Owwwww. Not good. I pulled back on the reins as hard as I could and the horse started slowly to trot, then walk. I breathed again and thought foolishly, Ok. That sucked, but…..maybe I can save this. We’ll just walk around the property. I’ll enjoy that even though something really really messed up just happened back there with my back. The pain disappeared for a few minutes as we walked around the lush lawns. We came to a clearing – a field of soft dry grass that again I foolishly assumed we could gently walk through. The horse stepped into the field and took off like a circus monkey darting left, right, straight ahead at lightning speed, galloping, running , trotting – everything but not walking. My back screaming in agony and I desperately tried first to control the horse (didn’t work – she owned me) and then just slow her the fuck down. Eventully after a near throw, bucking incident, she slowed to a walk and we headed gingerly back to the stable. I considered dismounting on the way there in case she tried for another gallop but opted to just bare it until we got to safety. I slithered meekly off my mount and went immediately to my mom’s room. I did something to my back. Falling onto the bed face down. The deeper more acute spasms set in. I couldn’t walk, put weight on my feet, bend. We called in the estancia manager and he asked if I could feel my legs – yes, was I seeing ok, yes. I asked if there was a chiropractor in Lobos (the nearest town) and he looked at me hesitantly before replying “I’ll see what I can do”. 10 minutes later the door opened and two paramedics wheeled me out in a stretcher and down the road 15 miles in an ambulencia. They took a few x-rays, gave me a shot of anti-inflammatory and sent me back to the estancia. “stay off your feet as much as possible and don’t bend over!” yeah, right.