28 January 2014

Our Little Pre-Miracle Miracle

I'm taking a brief break from the Happiness Series to update you all on a little rejoicing that is going on in our house today.

This pregnancy has, in general, been pretty easy.  Everything has seemed perfectly normal and I've had peace throughout the pregnancy.  I have two other American missionary friends in the area, both of whom are pregnant, and, although they're expecting their third and second babies respectively, neither of them has given birth in Africa, so they have had some very understandable nerves.  I have not had those same nerves.  Of course I credit the Holy Spirit for the peace I've been feeling, and, on a very practical level, I am helped by the fact that "this ain't my first rodeo."  I'd probably be feeling more nervous if I were in the States right now, because I wouldn't know what to expect.  I have the kind of personality which, if I can envision some idea of what to expect, I feel pretty confident to deal with whatever comes, even if it's different from my expectation.

Our "birth plan" is the same as it was with Wesley.  We're going up to Kijabe Hospital near Nairobi, Kenya, where we will park in the oh-so-familiar guest house and wait for the baby to start moving.  The hospital is about 200 yards from the guest house, and we'll make arrangements to check into a private room there when labor starts.  We will be traveling up with our house help, Adera, so that she can help us with Wesley and with cooking and all that stuff.  Everything was lining up pretty much the same as it was before...until...

About ten days ago I went over to the hospital to have my friend, Yvonne, a Dutch OB/GYN do an ultrasound for me.  A nurse friend had examined me manually a few days before and was of the opinion that the baby's head had advanced far down into my pelvis, which could mean the baby would come early.  I decided to go see Yvonne and find out if we should, indeed, plan to go to Kenya early.  I had also been increasingly uncomfortable, so I wanted to just be sure that this wasn't signs of the baby getting ready to come.  She examined me and had a funny look on her face, then did an ultrasound to confirm her suspicion, which was indeed correct: it wasn't the baby's head sticking so far down, it was her buttocks, and I was so uncomfortable because her head was jammed up under my ribs.  She was breech.

This was a bit of a blow.  Every other ultrasound had shown the baby very properly head down, and at 37 weeks, it was very unusual for her to have turned herself all the way around like that.  Also, my only fear regarding giving birth is that I might need a cesarean section, because having major surgery, even in a great hospital, carries risk, and in the States, a c-section is very highly recommended for a breech baby because of potential complications.  In Holland, my doctor and her doctor husband assured me, mothers often deliver vaginally, it just carries more risk than a regular cephalic birth.  I did a lot of research and reading testimonials and talking to a midwife friend to see if there was any exercises or procedures we could do to encourage the baby to turn back.  The consensus was that it was too late.  For her to be breech at 37 weeks meant the likelihood of anything being able to turn her back was highly unlikely.  Through the research process, Fred grew increasingly nervous, even as I grew increasingly resigned that there was nothing to do but wait and pray.  "It's just a different kind of normal," I repeated to him (and myself).  We decided not to make the news public, because we didn't want other people worrying or pressuring us toward a c-section.

Fred left on Sunday for one last seminar before the baby is born.  He gets back on Saturday, and we'll leave on Sunday the 2nd, one week away from my due date, for Kijabe.  I told him I would get one more ultrasound so that we could really know how the baby was lying and be prepared, in case she had her feet down or one foot down or anything like that.  I went in today, and Fred sent me this message on my way: "Say hi to Yvonne and ask her if she can do magics to turn the baby...am nervous."  Yvonne and I laughed about her magical abilities as I climbed on the exam table.  I told her I'd felt a lot more comfortable the past few days, and her face lightened as she felt my abdomen.   She put the wand on my lower abdomen and beamed at me.  I looked at the screen and saw...a head...most definitely the top of the baby's head!  Against all odds, she has independently turned herself back around!

As unusual as it was for her to have turned around breech so late in the term, it's even more unusual that she turned herself back again, especially without any external "assistance," except from Wesley pouncing on her each morning.  It's seriously an answer to prayer and at least a small miracle.  We're delighted and relieved.  I told Yvonne that this must have been the baby's way of making sure I hadn't taken this pregnancy too casually, by throwing in a little drama right at the end.  That's a girl for you!  Now we're just packing and doing last minute cleaning and praying that she keeps her head down and comes on time (not too early and please, please, please not as late as her brother was!).

26 January 2014

Happier Parent = Happier Children

Another post in my series based on The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, this time dealing with increasing happiness in the area of parenting!  This is timely in our family, as we are now less than two weeks away from the due date for Baby Girl Otieno.  (Although, as you may remember from Baby Otieno #1, we may still be waiting a month from now!  Oh Lord, I hope not.)

Here are my three takeaway items from the Parenthood chapter:

1.  Sing in the morning.
This actually has less to do with literal singing during the morning routine, and more with an overall orientation toward being lighter in general.  Rubin found that many times during the morning rituals of getting her daughters up, clothed, fed and off to school, not to mention the dressing and feeding of her own self and her husband preparing for work at the same time, an attitude of tension developed.  As she writes "...mornings set the tone for everyone's days..." so the stress she was feeling of getting everyone sorted out in time for their various activities was rubbing off on her girls, leading to times of whining and tears over small things.  She determined that she could dramatically improve the atmosphere of the home and her family members' moods as they headed out the door by not allowing herself to communicate stress, but instead choosing to "lighten up," whether that meant a song or a silly joke or food-dye-tinted breakfast milk for holidays.  "The most effective way to lighten up--but also the most difficult, because a whining child sucks every particle of humor out of my head--is to make a joke."  Late term pregnancy plus the dramatic entrance into toddler-hood by my darling son has meant that...well...let's just say that "lightness" is not the word that defines our household these days!  I have noticed, however, that when I take a moment to make silly faces at Wesley or start a tickle fight with Inno, or play "Is Daddy up your nose?" for the hundredth time, it makes a tremendous difference in the whole household.  Maintaining silliness for the entire day is certainly not possible, but I've noticed that taking the extra effort in moments of stress to "lighten up" makes us all happier.

2.  Acknowledge the reality of people's feelings.
A few months ago a visitor who became a good friend gave me her copy of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, which Rubin references in this section of her book.  I haven't read the book quite yet, but I'm even more eager to after reading how helpful the book was for Rubin.  The point of acknowledging others' feelings is that when a person has their feelings articulated and acknowledged, they feel validated and can either move through negative emotions or savor positive emotions.  As Rubin (and I) learned, we often contradict our children's expressions of their feelings.  I don't know how many times Innocent has said something about food being spicy (which he doesn't like) and I say "It isn't spicy!" or he doesn't want to finish watching a movie because he feels scared, and my response is "This isn't scary, just finish watching it."  She found that just acknowledging her daughters' point of view was enough to increase the happiness of both the kids and the mom, since everyone appreciates a loving response rather than a contradictory or argumentative response.  Here's how she did it:
             Write it down.  Both her eight-year-old and her three-year-old appreciated their opinions being recorded for all of time.  I regret that I haven't had a chance to try this out yet, since Inno is back at school and Wesley doesn't yet appreciate the permanent nature of me writing down "Wesley does not want a bath yet."
              Don't feel as if I have to say anything.  Sometimes a snuggle is just as validating as words, especially when the tears are because Daddy left on yet another business trip.
              Don't say "no" or "stop".  My word, I do this all the time!  Apparently as much as 85% of all adult communication to children is negative...saying "no" or "stop" or "don't" and I am guilty.  It's amazing, though, how simple it is to rephrase things from "No, you can't have a popsicle" to "Sure, you can have one after lunch."
              Wave my magic wand.  I've been using this with Wesley, and it doesn't really mean anything to him, but it certainly makes me feel better!  When he's upset because Daddy isn't home, it helps me to say "I know you're missing Daddy, and I do too.  If I could bring him home right this moment, I would!"  I have no idea how effective this is with kids who understand the concept more thoroughly, but I think it is helpful to communicate that I strongly empathize, that I have the same desires or feelings.
              Admit that a task is difficult.  I have no idea where he got this, but one of Wesley's common sayings is "It's too hard" which he says when he's having trouble climbing or reaching or tearing something apart.  It makes it easy for me to agree and respond with "That is hard!  Can Mama help you?" or "Let's try doing it this way."

3.  Be a treasure trove of happy memories.
"However, because people remember events better when they fit with their present mood, happy people remember happy events better, and depressed people remember sad events better.  Depressed people have as many nice experiences as other people--they just don't recall them as well."  I have been terrible about taking photos in the past, but I'm starting to realize how important photos are to my family, both immediate and extended.  Innocent and Wesley love looking at pictures of themselves and the rest of our family, and since our extended family members live so far away and Innocent is at school much of the year and Fred travels frequently, Wesley has become very attached to looking at pictures of the people he loves and saying their names.  It also helps the boys to see pictures of my family in the States, since neither of them knows (or remembers) those people, so seeing their cousins and grandparents is a great reminder of the huge number of people who love them.  Quality photo prints are difficult to get here, so I order prints from the States whenever we get mail and try to update the photos around the house.  Our family and supporters appreciate seeing photos of the kids as well, and these blog posts would probably be a lot more readable if they were broken up by some pictures, too.
Of course, I have to make the effort to take those pictures in order to have them to print.  (Fred took that one.)  I've also started trying to record a little snippet of what goes on in our lives every day, a kind of one-sentence journal, so that maybe someday I'll be able to go back and reconstruct our lives a bit.

This "treasure trove" is not going to happen unless I do it, but it's important enough for me to put the work in.  It would be easy to feel some resentment that "I'm the one who does all this work" (no gold stars!), but one of Rubin's tricks when she starts to feel that drag is to ask "if someone else volunteered to do this for me (take all our candid family photos, choose for prints, hang and organize photos, record our life as a family), would I want them to take it over?"  The truth is...no!  I enjoy being the chronicler of our family, so even if there were someone to take it over, that wouldn't make me happy.

On a personal note:
This is the last week before I go on maternity leave!  I'm wrapping up a lot of projects for both my work and some things for Fred as well.  Fred is on the road this week, at one last seminar before the baby's birth.  Our plan is to go up to Kijabe, Kenya for the birth of this baby, like we did with Wesley, but we have to wait for Fred to get back first.  He'll come home on Saturday, and our plan is to go up on Sunday.  We're taking Adera with us to help with Wesley and with cooking at the guest house.  Hopefully the baby will come close to her due date, so we're not all living out of the guest house for weeks, like last time!  I feel totally at peace about everything related to the birth, except for the possibility of sitting on my butt in Kenya for weeks like last time.  I'm going in tomorrow for one last check by my friend, the Dutch OB, then we'll be in a flurry of packing and cleaning in preparation for bringing our little girl home!

22 January 2014

Increasing Happiness at Work: Being Enthusiastic, Honest and Smart

I had some really great feedback from last week's post about happiness in marriage, so thanks for your positive response!  This week's post is about Work, and what I learned from Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project.  Three is the magic number for this series, so here are the 3 Tips for Increasing Happiness in Work!

1.  Enthusiasm > Innate Ability
Enthusiasm is more important to mastering a new skill than innate ability, because the most important thing is attitude, a willingness to practice.  "Therefore, career experts argue, you're better off pursuing a profession that comes easily and that you love, because that's where you'll be more eager to practice and thereby earn a competitive advantage."  I believe there's a balance here, because on the one hand, I really think there's been too much emphasis in our generation on finding a kind of "soul satisfaction" in your career.  I have definitely given advice to friends to stay in a stable job instead of throwing it all up to go start some creative, self-employment adventure, because "sometimes you just need to make money!"  It definitely depends on your season of life...I made a series of decisions motivated by a desire for work that was fulfilling (working for Lahash) over a need for stability, comfortable money, or, y'know...health insurance...(working in politics or insurance), but I was single then.  Now that I'm married with kids, I feel certain that I could not make those same decisions, so I'm certainly glad that I pursued my enthusiasm, especially since I wouldn't have my husband or kids without having come down this path!

Feeling happy or enthusiastic about work is not a replacement for hard work, though.  In fact, I've been reading a couple of books that speak directly to that: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and How Children Succeed by Paul Tough.  In Outliers, a book about how we understand or misunderstand success, Gladwell writes about how hard inordinately successful people have had to work to reach that level of success.  He also points out that, for example, most of the very successful New York lawyers of the last generation benefited from their parents' persistence in working menial jobs in order to give them opportunities.  In fact, a sociologist studied the generational occupations of immigrant families and found a remarkable number of families which followed this pattern: First generation (grandparents) is a tailor/garment maker in a large factory.  Second generation (parents, aunts, uncles) are garment makers, often self-employed or in a small family business, and third generation are doctors, lawyers and other educated professionals.  In How Children Succeed, Tough writes about the growing emphasis that psychologists, economists and other academics are placing on "grit," or the ability to stick with a task in the face of setbacks or disappointments.  Some say that grit is more important than intellect in determining how successful a child will be in finishing high school, finishing university, and pursuing a career.  All this together inspires me, as a parent, to demonstrate hard work and persistence even when facing setbacks, because I'm training my kids through my example.  This links back into having enthusiasm for my career and for tasks within my chosen career, even when innate ability fails me, because my attitude will increase my happiness in my work and set a good example for my children.

2.  Ask for help.
This may seem obvious, but often I find myself so invested in proving myself right or competent that I get overwhelmed or overburdened.  Sometimes this isn't about asking for help as much as it is about letting people know what I need to get something done.  Our work environment is very collaborative, even though my closest co-worker is over 300 miles away and the rest of them are 10 time zones away, so in order for us to be united in developing policies and plans, I have to be honest with them about my work load and my capacity to accomplish what's been set out for me in my job description.  I'm much happier when I have communicated my needs for feedback or guidance instead of just trying to go it alone, even if it makes me a little less Superwoman than I'd like to be perceived as.

3.  Work smart.
Since Rubin is a work-from-home mom, like me, I found her advice on working smarter really helpful.  She analyzed the way she uses her time to see if there were any wasted pockets of time, and found that she was really pretty efficient (the cultural touchstone of American work!).  What she did realize, though, was that her concept of productivity was based on a perception that it wasn't worth sitting down to write unless she could focus for three or four hours, which was difficult to arrange.  Then she realized that for her, 90 minutes was a more "optimally efficient" block of time..."long enough to get some real work done, but not so long that [she] started to goof off or lose concentration."  She completely reoriented her day around these 90 minute blocks of serious writing broken up by other tasks.  Additionally, she pushed herself to find an extra 15 minutes at some point in the day to do some stand-alone task that could be marked off the to-do list.  (This is similar to the "One Minute Rule" of boosting energy.)

Small children are pretty good disruptions to the work day, although having Adera around to interact with Wesley helps me tremendously in getting work done.  Adding a second little distraction in a few weeks will also affect my ability to get big blocks of time committed to work, but I think when I come back from maternity leave, I'll be implementing these two tips for increasing my own efficiency, and thus satisfaction and happiness, in work.

Finally, unrelated to happiness, or anything else for that matter...
My friend Karyn writes a great blog called Girl of Cardigan, and she's doing a series on fashion for mothers, and, weirdly, she interviewed me for her series!  (I'm like the anti-fashionista, just for contrast.)  The post is here: http://girlofcardigan.com/mom-jeans-notes-from-leisha/ or click the image.  Pop over there and read my thoughts on missionary mom fashion!
Mom Jeans: Notes from Leisha

14 January 2014

The Quest for Greater Happiness Continues: Marriage

I finished reading The Happiness Project yesterday during a bout of pregnancy-related insomnia.  It turns out when one has a pumpkin-sized stomach and sleeps with a little hotbox called Wesley curled up against one's back, it's not so easy to sleep...so I read.  I've read eight full books so far in 2014, some for work, some to improve my mind, and some just for fun.  The great thing about having a Kindle, aside from being able to download books as needed, is that it's self-lit, so I'm not disturbing anyone with a light, and also the highlight function means that when I'm reading something I want to remember, I don't have to get up and write it down: I can highlight it and come back to it later.

I wanted to pass on what I've been learning about another area of happiness improvement: Marriage.  This conveniently coincides with my 2014 "resolution" to Connect with my husband, and I definitely learned some great things.  Here's my big takeaway:

3 Ways to Increase Happiness in Marriage 
(Summarized, recapped and re-framed from The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin)

1. Don't Expect Gold Stars
Rubin talks at length about her drive for recognition and admiration from her husband for the things she does to contribute to their family, and I completely relate.  It has been a significant lesson of the last almost-three years of marriage that I will not get pats on the head or gushing praise from my husband.  I have to say this was pretty disappointing to me initially, but in fairness, I don't appreciate all that he does for our family either.  In 1 Corinthians 13, the famous "Love" passage, it says "Love does not keep account of wrongs suffered."  That has been a resounding motto for "wife-hood" for me, as it is so tempting to keep a balance sheet of the debits I "suffer" (like not getting my gold stars), often without keeping track of the credit he deserves.  Rubin added that part of keeping this rule was to acknowledge that some things I say I'm doing for the family (updating photo albums, sewing baby clothes, making cookies) are really very satisfying for me, and reminding myself "I'm doing this for myself" reduces the desire for acknowledgement.

2. No Dumping.
"If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."  Household wisdom already tells us that how one family member is feeling has an effect on the other members of the family's moods as well, and this is particularly true of mothers.  Gretchen Rubin is a work-from-home mother, like me, and she said she found herself waiting for her husband to arrive home at the end of the day so that she could unload all her frustrations from the day.  Wow, I realized, I am so guilty of that as well.  I don't have much interaction with other adults during the course of my day, except for Adera, our house help, and our communication in Swahili is stumbling on my side and rapid-fire on hers.  Hardly an outlet for satisfying emotional release, so I found myself saving up small frustrations and news items from the day to dump (there's no better word) on Fred at the first opportunity.  On the rare occasions that I am full of good news and happy experiences, this is no problem, but when I have twelve hours of gripes and complaints...well, I can't imagine it's pleasant for Fred and it really isn't that relieving for me.  Apparently, research shows that expression of negative feelings doesn't actually help relieve those negative feelings, especially anger.  Acknowledging them, then moving on, seems to be the best way, so I'm trying to weed out the downer stuff on my own and give him only the fun stuff so that the emotional environment of our home is lighter and happier when he gets home from work.

3. Give Proofs of Love. Respond to Bids.
"There is no love; only proofs of love." --Pierre Reverdy
From time to time we hear people say things like "Oh, she knows I love her" as an excuse for harsh words, neglect, or other seemingly unfeeling behavior.  The truth is, as Reverdy says, the only way we can show each other that ethereal, indefinable thing called love is through proofs, through words and actions.  How sad it would be if all Fred had to rely on as a reminder of my love was the promise I made him on our wedding day.  Related to giving proofs of love is Respond to Bids, which basically means to be aware of my spouse asking for proofs of my love through attention and responding to those.  As Rubin says "The more readily you respond to a spouse's bids for attention, the stronger your marriage."  As I've been trying to be aware of Fred's bids, I realized that there is a big, fat detractor from my ability to do this, and that is technology.  Even though I know that I'm listening to Fred, I might also be playing Candy Crush or putting finishing touches on a blog post.  I need to set the tech aside and respond to his bid for attention wholeheartedly and (more importantly for me, the incorrigible multi-tasker) whole-mindedly.

The interesting thing about all three of these "rules" is that they require me to move out of myself, out of selfish motivations for appreciation, for expression, for inattention to others and to be more generous toward my husband.  Does a repression of selfishness make me happier?  Well, honestly, not always in the short-term, but surely an investment in my husband's happiness makes my life happier as well.  One of Rubin's "Secrets to Adulthood" is that "Happiness doesn't always make you feel happy."  Indeed, it might not make me feel happy in the moment to set aside my game or book in order to listen wholly to Fred when he wants to tell me something, but it is part of a larger lifestyle of happiness, not just for myself but also for my husband.

Speaking of Responding to Bids, my son is making a vociferous bid for attention right now, so I'll finish here.  Please comment if you're finding these posts interesting...we're at 199 comments in the lifetime of the blog, so major kudos to whoever brings number 200!

10 January 2014

Do I Need to be Happier? Well, no but also yes.

One of the my favorite people to read, both books and blog, is Gretchen Rubin.  She wrote The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun as well as Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life.  I read Happier at Home about a year ago, and again about three months ago, but I hadn't read The Happiness Project until now.  The next few blog posts will be my thoughts as I read through the book and how I see it impacting my life.  Hope you enjoy!

First of all, I love this kind of writing.  If I ever wrote a book, this is exactly the way I would want to write.  It's a combination of sociology, psychology, philosophy and other extensive research condensed down and applied to her personal life.  It's intimate, talking about her own struggles and shortcomings as a wife and mother, but not in such a way that is shaming of her husband, daughters or other family members.  Anyway, it surpasses straight memoir, because of all the knowledge she's dropping, but it is much more engaging that reading all that background data for myself.

So in reading this book, I feel like I have to explain (as indeed she wrestles with during the first chapter of the book) if I really need to increase happiness in my life.  Contrary to some of my whining and complaining about certain aspects of my life, I am very happy and have a great life, but hey! I could always be happier, and open my life and mind up to enjoy more.  I'm even willing to put in the work, because it does indeed take work.

After identifying twelve major concepts, Rubin assigns each month with a theme, planning to build on the themes as the year passes, rather than passing from one to the next.  She starts with Energy, which I keep thinking is such a great theme for this season of my life.  I keep reminiscing about this stage of pregnancy with Wesley when I was sleeping 10 hours a night and taking a nap almost every afternoon.  Not many naps and a bit of insomnia in my life this time round, so I'll take any tips I can get on boosting energy!

Each theme is broken down into several specific resolutions.  For Energy she resolved to:
     * Go to sleep earlier.
     * Exercise better.
     * Toss, restore, organize
     * Tackle a nagging task.
     * Act more energetic.
I'll spare you all the personal reflections and notes I've made from this chapter (because if you're really interested, you should just read the book!), but here are three things I've been inspired by.

"Do what ought to be done."
This has two basic applications for me.  Sometimes I need motivation to just get stuff done and crossed off my to-do list rather than sit on my bum watching "Deal or No Deal."  The other application is that "nothing is insurmountable if done little by little."  That is really encouraging to me at this moment, when I have three weeks until my maternity leave starts, and several major work projects to get to a good spot before I take off.  Rationing my time and attention between Lahash work, personal work, baby preparation, husband and son...all the while shaking my fist at the Tanzanian power company which turns off the power for several hours a day (usually during critical moments, like when Wesley is napping!).  Still, if I take small steps and celebrate those victories, I find that my energy and happiness are noticeably increased.

The One Minute Rule
Related to the small steps I just mentioned, I have noticed that my nesting instinct, paired with the pressures of preparation for the baby in the midst of mild chaos, I really value this new rule.  If it can be done in under a minute, do it now.  This has inspired me to invest a moment here and a moment there in things like clearing my desktop or putting away a stack of clothes or refilling my drinking water.  These are things that I might have viewed as time wasters in view of the larger tasks, but my overall clarity of mind and attention to the major task at hand is definitely benefited by following the One Minute Rule.

Act More Energetic
This one ties most closely to my interactions with the family, since I don't have loads of physical energy.  I really don't feel like taking my feet off my desk (weirdly, the most comfortable work position I've found to accommodate my giant belly) to build Wesley a blanket fort, but it increases both of our happiness levels if I pretend to have more energy than I really do.  This thought has also been motivating me first thing in the morning, when all I want is another hour of sleep, but if I act like I got enough sleep, my day seems more manageable.

I might embark on a "real" happiness project after the baby is born, but these small lessons, along with many others I'm picking up, are already having an effect on me.  Would any of these three rules help your energy and happiness?