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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Auckland, 1

Water is beading on the sun room windows. It is cold in this beautiful city of Auckland. Not freezing, but just cold enough to make you shiver and then to make things even chillier the homes are not heated, so that you can't leave the cold outside, it follows you. Little heaters buzz at angles in the middle of each room, trying valiantly to take away the chill.

Yesterday, it was so warm in the sun room, I sat in the sun like a cloudy version of my own being, desperate to be warmed up. I drank in the sunbeams, and in doing so, I drank in the past.

Nearly twenty years ago I lived in a house with a sun room. I remember discovering it the day we moved in. The windows were lined with thick white insulation, and the heat in the middle of the afternoon was delicious. From that room you could see the pond in our new backyard, the swing set, and an abandoned corner of the lawn where bushes curled over on themselves creating the perfect den for secret girls-only parties.

The yard outside this sunroom in Aukland is inviting in a similar way. From here I can see a little girl's playhouse, and through the large window on the side of the playhouse, I see that it is stocked with all the perfect little girl toys. A small table and chairs, a little cabinet for dishes, a broom, a sunny yellow rug.

Curled over one corner of the play house is an orange tree, which has dropped fruit like precious jems.

Yesterday, my twenty-month-old daughter, Noelle, toddled around the playhouse, grasping tiny oranges in her mittens. Like a trained reflex I bent over her, “Don’t pick that up!” but as soon as the words left my mouth I realized how absurd it sounded. I stopped for a moment, forced myself to unwind.

There aren’t many things, really any things, I will allow my daughter to pick off the ground around our townhouse in Los Angeles. Mostly, it’s trash or covered in oil trickling down driveways. It’s not safe for her to get dirty there.

But here, as I watched her rub dirt from an orange down the front of her tan coat, I breathe a steady sigh of relief. Harmless, it will wash off. This is a kind of dirt I’m used to, the kind of dirt I used to get into when we lived in the house with the sun room.

I was ten years old then. Quite a bit older than Noelle, but as is the case now, I wasn't in America. Our home with the sun room and the pond was in England.

Annie and I frequently raced along the backyard with our neighborhood friends, scrambling through homemade obstacle courses.  These courses included obstacles such as, scaling the stone wall that lined our back yard, jumping over the pond, swinging on the swing set twenty times and skidding for the home stretch to our den of bushes. 

No doubt we were covered in dirt by the end.  

Back then she had light brown curly hair and gaps in her smile from missing teeth.  She was only eight.  Now she is twenty-seven, and her teeth have all come in. :-)  And her hair is still curly, but high-lighted with pretty blond streaks. 

She is why I'm in Auckland, sitting in this sun room, sinking into my past. 

Annie has fallen in love with a New Zealander and will be married in two weeks.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Descent into Insanity

Today, we thought Noelle had dislocated one or both of her shoulders.

On our way out to the zoo with Grammy, Grandpa and Noelle, I walked out of the house to find Noelle draped from her father's shoulders by the wrists. The minute she saw me she began whimpering. Dwayne let her go and I took her. At which point she began crying.

I put her in her car seat thinking she was just having a fussy morning, and watched as she curled into a ball, her arms limp at her sides. Big tears rolling down her cheeks.

We barreled down the freeway and I pestered Noelle with silly games, trying to get her to lift her arms. An anxious knot was tying in my stomach.

"Noelle, where is your eye?" She wouldn't respond just cried. "Let's sing 'The Wheels on the Bus'." Still no movement. "We're going to the zoo. Guess what you're going to see?" Finally she calmed down and looked at me with big red eyes. "You're going to see Reggie the Alligator! What do Alligator's do?"

Really this was a dirty trick. It's a game Noelle and I play based on one of her favorite books. I ask her, "What do Alligator's do?" And then she raises her little hand and rubs her chubby fingers together in an effort to snap. "That's right they snap!" I say and show her with my own fingers.

But this time, Noelle tried to lift her little hand and immediately melted into a heap of tears, dropping her arm back down to her side.

"Dwayne, I'm really worried," I said.

"Well, lift up her arm," Dwayne instructed. I gritted my teeth and lifted Noelle's wrist.

She wailed.

We called the doctor, who told us to go to the ER, and then gave us faulty directions to the ER. I thought I was going to crawl out of my skin, as we waited at each stoplight, rolled behind slow drivers, and then back-tracked over wrong streets to get to the Hospital.

My mother-in-law and father-in-law were in no better shape. Grammy was tearing up and Grandpa kept turning around to hold Noelle's foot.

In the meantime, Noelle sunk into sleep, as if the pain was too much and it was just easier to drift away. She slept for about 15 minutes, until we finally reached the hospital. Dwayne pulled her out gingerly.

She cried some more, her arms hanging limp on either side, and buried her face into his shoulder.

"I think my daughter's shoulders or elbows are dislocated," I said, like a madwoman. Dwayne shuffled in behind me with Noelle, followed by Grammy and Grandpa. We filled out the papers and took our seat in the waiting room.

I knew that I couldn't sit and wait. My heart was pounding, my nerves were jumping. "I'm going to the bathroom." I said to Dwayne and marched down the hall.

When I returned I found Noelle sitting on Dwayne's lap, bright as sunshine. She lifted and arm and grabbed the chair. Dwayne's head snapped up and we locked eyes.

"Noelle, where's your eye?" Dwayne asked. She lifted her little hand and pointed to her eye. A grin broke across her face.

We watched as Noelle proceeded to touch her eyes and her head with both arms. Dwayne suddenly laughed. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

A strange ball of emotion broke inside of me. First relief washed over me. Then confusion. The embarrassment. Then frustration. What was going on? Had this all been a mistake? Had I imagined it? Was I that over dramatic that I would drag my family to the ER for a few tears? "Lord," I thought, "I'm loosing it!"

We clamored back into the car, without seeing a doctor. "Did I imagine it?" I asked Grammy and Grandpa.

"No. No!" they chimed back. "No she was definitely in pain," my father-in-law responded.

Is this what motherhood feels like? The early onset of Alzheimer's? Reality slipping away from you? Your emotions whipping over things you don't know ever existed?

We went on to the Zoo, had a picnic, saw the bear, and the tiger, and the dragons of komodo.

We walked out of the lemur exhibit one at a time. Noelle tottered out holding Dwayne's hand and I straggled behind. I looked up just in time to watch as my daughter suddenly threw a tantrum. She arched her spine, and threw her head back with such force that she fell backwards from a standing position and landed on her head on the cement with a thump so loud everyone in the exhibit spun around.

I just about threw up.

Tonight, I'm laughing convulsively.

Tomorrow, I'll be in a white jacket.

Friday, June 05, 2009


Contributed by Annie Wright

*Note from Christin: Three years ago, my sister moved to New Zealand to work with Global Partners.  We poked and teased her that she would meet a man in New Zealand and fall in love - and she did.  On July 4th, she and Graeme Els will be married in Aukland, and we'll be there to help celebrate. * 

Two nights ago I enjoyed a nice meal of lamb-chops with mashed potatoes, green beans, squash and gravy.  Immediately following the meal my future mother-in-law began preparing for the following night's meal.  The aroma of which, I'm sorry to say, triggered my gag reflex.

But who am I to doubt her culinary skills?
Rewind a couple of days.  On the night of my arrival I was very gently and lovingly told that my presence in this household meant the absence of all things fish or seafood.  I was very grateful and made sure to thank my host for her accomodation of my appetite.
Fast forward.  The gag reflex was continually put to use yesterday as I made my way around the house, with the unknown ingredients simmering slowly in the crock-pot.  Attempting to be helpful, I stirred the contents to ensure that all would be well marinated, each time surpressing my desire to dispose of this concoction with its medicated meat smell.
What was this unusual smell?  I will call it "stew."
Finally, evening had arrived and with it an unfortunate dilemma.  The table was set and food was steaming, ready to be served and eaten.  Just as my future mother-in-law was heaping a hearty helping of "stew" onto my plate, I courageously asked for a smaller portion.  "I can only manage a little right now.  By the way, what is this that you have prepared?"
Then with three words I was silenced, thrown into sprialing darkness.
"Steak and Kidney..."
S   I   L   E   N   C   E
And here now was my dilemma:  Offend my future mother-in-law in one of two ways.  1. Eat the undesirable "stew" with the possibility of having it reappear on her dining room floor or 2. Eat everything around the "stew" but leave a significant amount of the main course on the plate.
"It's an English meal.  Phillip's favorite."
Again I wanted to vomit, not only was I dealing with the smell that was now penetrating my nose, stomach and gut, not only would I offend my future mother-in-law, but I had to face the horror of alienating myself from my favorite future father-in-law.
"I suppose I should have asked..."  Her words trailed off.  By this point the other three people at the table were face down guzzling the "stew" from their plates.
They ALL liked it.  Not one of them was completely disgusted by the "food."  Did they not know that the kidney is the organ that takes WASTE from BLOOD and turns it into urine?!?  
I was completely and utterly alone in my disgust.  Attempting one bite, the fork flung from my mouth, still loaded with food.
"It's hot."
Blink.  Blink.
M O R E   S I L E N C E
But the torture didn't end.  Because of my choice for dilemma option two, I was the first to be finished eating.  There sat my "stew" staring up at me devilishly.  Threatening to punch my gut if I even looked at the bare rice or peas sitting quietly across the table.  I was forced to stare in agony as the remaining four slopped up their fill greedily.
I fought hard the resentment I felt towards my future husband as he heaped a generous second helping onto his plate.  Knowing he would desire a good night kiss, kidney stained teeth and all. 
Didn't he see the agony I was in?!  Why wasn't he rescuing me?
Under his breath he said, "You alright?"
To which I could give him no words, just a very slight shake of the head.
Tears were sitting just behind the surface of my eyes waiting for anything to give.
Then, quietly, as quickly as my future mother-in-law had thrown me into this tail spin and agony, she gently reached out her hand toward my plate and said,
"Why don't you let me finish that for you, Annie?"
Humbly, I handed her my plate.
I vowed sliently to myself and later to Graeme that I would never be offended if he were to ask his mom to forever make him steak and kidney anything, because he would never receive such a meal from me.