The (language) Struggle is Real

Living in a country where you are still learning the language is kind of like experiencing life with a huge cotton ball on your head.

Today I took Adela to an appointment for something called a Tac Torax.  Her doctor had explained to me that it was some type of chest scan, which made sense given her ongoing cough.  What I couldn’t understand was all the talk around sleep.  First, when I called to schedule the scan, I was told she needed to be awake 5 hours before the exam.  When I expressed my confusion over this (she is 6 months old and has probably never been awake for 5 hours in a row), the annoyed phone operator repeated the bizarre request slower and louder, obviously frustrated to have the bad luck to be helping such a moron.  Upon arriving for the scan, I was told that Adela needed to be asleep before the exam and stay sleep for 10 minutes during the exam.  Again, I was confused at how this was practically going to play out (she was tired but doesn’t sleep on command).  And then, as it turned out, she didn’t need to sleep at all but just needed to be relaxed enough for the loud whirring mystery machine to do its magic.   After what felt like seconds, the lab tech returned to the room and congratulated us on how well she had done.  Well, OK then, great, I thought, we’re done.  But then two of the medical professionals told me that the results were ready now.  What I didn’t understand was whether or not a doctor was going to discuss them with me.  First I thought they said yes, right now.  Then I understood that I had to go to pediatrician’s office.  But I didn’t have an appointment scheduled, so I asked how this worked, only to finally understand that the exam was ready in the system, but in order to talk to the doctor about it, I needed to schedule another appointment.  Ah, yes.  Obviously.

This is my life.  I try very hard to understand what the heck I’m being told, and then usually settle for getting the gist.  I don’t know what kind of chest exam Adela had today.  I’m sure it’s a great one.  But unless I took an hour to dig and research and translate, I’m going to remain partly in the dark.

Last week, I accidentally asked my friend if she could do dinner “this night” instead of “that night”.  As she rushed to change her schedule in order to join us for dinner that same night, she texted me updates and told me how she’d rearranged things to make “this night” work.  I, meanwhile, ignored my phone and enjoyed a relaxed afternoon until my friend finally called to figure out where we were going to dinner.  I was completely confused because it was Thursday and I’d asked if she wanted to get dinner on Tuesday…and because I’m often confused when speaking Spanish on the phone.  I apologized, befuddled by the whole conversation, but upon finally seeing her messages, I realized my mistake.

And then there are the preschool emails.  They are frequent, they are typically requesting something, and they are often so new-vocab heavy that I have to read them multiple times with the help of google translate.  The kids started studying something called “chanchitos de la tierra” this week.  I was pretty sure they wouldn’t be doing a whole unit on little pigs of the land (which is the direct translation) so I looked it up and conferred with my fellow English-speaking mom.  Turns out, they are in fact doing a whole unit on an insect that seems akin to a roly-poly.  Thank goodness this announcement came via an email rather than in person because there is basically zero chance I would have figured that out via context clues.  So now the question is, do I talk to Rayna about roly-polys or chanchitos de la tierra?

I’m constantly confused about what the sweet teachers/tias want from us and my eyes glaze over when a message seems to be about paperwork or pre-school certifications.  Normally the tias are gracious when I have no idea what is going on, though I did get a little lecture recently when I showed up with a photo of Jeff instead of a poster board presentation of his life.  Turns out the nuance between a picture and a project still eludes me in Spanish, and as a result, there was no artsy ode to Jeff hung on the jardin wall this month.  I hope Rayna doesn’t notice how out of step I often am or how I consistently do the bare minimum on her school projects (because, while it’s sometimes a language thing, it is just as often a protest because it is preschool for crying out loud!).  Let’s be honest, I’m not really trying to blend in, I’m just aiming to get her there on time and with brushed teeth (both her teeth and mine:).

The struggle is real, but it’s not all bad.  For example, I do understand when the elderly woman on the corner, the businessman crossing the street, and the gal in line at the bread shop swoon over Adela (this was just today).  My range of sweet things to say to babies is nice and wide, which is probably more important than medical terminology anyways;).  Love!

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Baptism

After a long winter, the sunshine on Lake George was glorious.  We arrived late in the day, but it was still warm enough for a swim.  I revert back to a kid when I’m by the water so I was more interested in finding my bathing suit than in helping my family settle in.  Alas, the reality of our collective level of exhaustion and the needs of two tired, hungry kids did sink in and we spent our first evening unpacking and recounting the long, long day of travel we had just endured for my parents.  But in the morning, rested and delighted to be home, I suited up as soon as possible and ran down to the dock.  That water has always held something magical for me, as if by submerging in it I can wash away layers of bad and be surrounded by only good.  Diving in that day, I felt the weight of so much struggle wash off and the minute my body hit the water, my heart was full.  We had made it out of Chile, where sickness had strangled us for months, to New York where family was gathering at the lake.  My joy was complete.  As the days unfolded, I got to witness Rayna delighting in my favorite place with some of the same abandon I experience, building sand castles and floating to her heart’s content.  Jeff had to work, but when he was able to escape from his responsibilities, he reveled in scenic beauty and the water with the rest of us.  On the very first trip of her life, Della mostly just smiled and ate contentedly wherever arms happen to carry her and I wouldn’t say she really enjoyed getting her feet dipped in the water.  But for me, my baptism at Lake George was a renewal.  I was fortified, by the water, by the love of family, and by being home.

We spent three sweet weeks in the USA and were so glad to get to attend both a wedding and a special birthday party before we boarded our plane to fly back to Santiago.  Coming home (because Chile is a home of ours now too) went smoothly and though both girls had a cough within days, the weather was better and we were refreshed.  We also had Tia Lynn’s visit to look forward to, and when she finally arrived, we were all giddy.  Lynn has been a best friend of mine since the ripe old age of 10 and her presence in our home was comforting and fun.  She had little agenda besides hanging out with the kids, getting to know Jeff better, and resting a bit herself, and it was a glorious time.  We took a weekend trip to the coast where we indulged in great seafood and ice cream on the beach, but mostly we just drank wine and talked.  Though we got a few days of sun, springtime has started off cool and so we spent most of her visit bundled up.  I did run into the ocean for one quick dip, and there were plenty of Chileans doing the same, but no one in my family was interested.  The beauty of the ocean was really enough and the fiesta atmosphere of the coast was great.

Back in Santiago, we did touristy things and Lynn learned a lot about the history of Chile.  We even watched a movie about Salvador Allende’s final hours, and it came as no surprise that I learned as much during Lynn’s visit as she did.  We have that kind of friendship, having shared many firsts and learned so much together over the years.  On her very last day in town, we decided to join a small group of gals for a hike; after looking at the Andes for a week from our apartment, Lynn was ready to get into them.  With Jeff in charge of the home front, we were ready for adventure as we started our day on public transport, eventually bussing to the trailhead.  The way up was steep and challenging, but the wildflowers were showing off and the views were gorgeous.  Three hours in, the summit still seemed a way off and Lynn and I decided to head back down the mountain, as she had a plane to catch and Jeff was expecting us mid-afternoon.  We wished our fellow hikers good luck as they continued on to the summit and we started the slow walk down the mountain.  About half an hour after we split off from the group, an armed man with a covered face jumped out of the woods and demanded all of our belongings.  After taking in the gun, I realized what was happening and immediately complied, kneeling to the ground and handing him my pack.  At the same time, Lynn’s flight response kicked in and she screamed as she backed away from the robber.  This was the scariest moment, as he pointed the gun at her while yelling at her to be quiet and get down.  The idea of explaining to him that she didn’t speak Spanish crossed my mind just as she understood what he wanted and handed over all her things as he approached her.  He then told us to go and we ran the rest of the way down the mountain, stopping only to tell other hikers what had happened.  It was about half an hour before we reached the trail head, just enough time to figure out how we would get home with no phones or money.  By the time we’d gotten into a taxi, the adrenaline was ebbing and though we were still in shock, we were able to look at each other and be grateful that all we lost were things.  Crossing the threshold of our apartment, I started to cry as I asked Jeff to go pay the taxi.  Lynn hugged me and reminded me we were OK, and we were.  We had survived baptism by fire, experiencing a new level of fear and danger that one knows exists but hopes to never encounter.  Processing what had happened, we lamented the obvious desperation of the robber, the great economic inequality that exists in Chile, and the sadness of having a trek in the wilderness ruined in such a violent way.  Just hours after the robbery, Lynn was packed and on her way to the airport, soldiering on and promising to remember all the good moments of her vacation before the terrifying ones.

I share this not to further the notion that the world is a dangerous place, but only to record our experience.  To my knowledge, human depravity exists in every nation on this earth and guns can cause heart-stopping fear in any conflict.  We are thankful we made it off that mountain alive and are devastated for the victims of gun violence, whose numbers continue to mount at an alarming rate in the USA.  While we saw an ugly side of Santiago on that hike, there remains so much to love about this place and about this crazy, mixed-up, beautiful world.  Lessons will be learned, baptism may happen again and again, and that is life.  Love!

Now This Has Gotten Absurd

Here are some 2017 Freer Walters family stats, in case you’ve lost track.  100% of our family members have been to the emergency room.  75% of us have been hospitalized.  50% of us have worn hospital undies.  We have had around 30 visits with medical professionals in the last 6 weeks.  THIRTY.  These ranged from routine check-ups to cardiology screenings to ER visits to gallbladder surgery.  There have been exactly zero weeks since March where our entire family has been well.   There was a lot of barfing in January and February too, but we won’t even get into that.

Every time I think we are done, something else happens.  A fever leads to a seizure, a cough leads to kinesiology, a stomachache leads to a tiny, somewhat antiquated organ being removed.  It has felt relentless and hopelessness threatened to engulf me.  It has felt ridiculous, asking for prayer over and over, yearning for health amidst the joy and exhaustion a new baby brings.  It has felt like too much for one family to bear.

At one point, I told Jeff I couldn’t handle anymore.  I held my sick child and wanted to be home, in my own mother’s house, not struggling in some foreign country where the air quality and the winter were wrecking us.  This was before I got another cold, before Rayna got the stomach flu, (which thankfully only lasted 8 hours and Jeff handled single-handedly), before Della endured another uphill battle against the common cold.  It turns out, we can handle much more than we ever imagined.

Some of the lessons I have learned these last nine months have been hard, though simple ones.  Perhaps that makes them all the more important and valuable.  Life is not fair.  Choices can have consequences.  We are not in control.

Some of what I have learned this year fills my heart right up.  Our friends and family are with us, no matter how absurdly burdensome we may seem.  Being married to my best friend makes all the hard stuff easier because we’re in it together.  And God provides, even when I can’t be sure he hears me.  My faith has been tested, and through the power of Jesus, I am still standing.  We’re not through it yet.  But we’ll keep fighting, keep loving, keep living.  Pretty cheesy, but that’s what it’s come to.  Love!!!

In the Winter Weeds

It’s a gray winter day here in Santiago, and I’m stealing a few minutes while both kids are napping to write.  Lately, it feels like I do everything and nothing on any given day. I am in the weeds, as they say, in every area of my life.  There is always more stuff to clean, another meal to be prepared, someone who needs a snuggle or a lesson on kindness, clothes to be washed, naps to be coaxed, yoga to be done, emails to be answered, prayers to be said, etc.  All of this and the Coloradoesque weather of Santiago (we had snow last Saturday and then a week of gorgeous sunshine-warmed days) can have me bouncing from nearly depressed to elated within the span of a few hours. I hate to admit it, but my mood often hangs on how many ounces Adela eats and how willing Rayna is to use the potty.  Most days, I spend a decent amount of time just looking at and laughing with my precious family.  But I also have to put “take a shower” on my to-do list. The indignities and wonder of stay-at-home mom life continue to impress me.

I used to think I knew stuff…I knew how long it took to eat a yogurt and get dressed.  I knew how to fit a workout, a shower, and basic self-prep in before leaving for my day.  I knew how to avoid mountains of laundry and dressers exploding from being carelessly stuffed.  It turns out, I knew nothing.  Now, with two children, the breakfast time table can run from 5 to 50 minutes, and getting Rayna dressed requires the temptation of a TV show (something I “knew” I would NEVER do as a parent).  My self-care/level of frump ranges wildly from day to day.  Let’s just say the majority of my favorite clothes are either maternity or could be mistaken for pajamas.  Last Friday, when I went to pick up Rayna from school, I had clean hair, a little bit of makeup and a regular adulting outfit on.  The jardin director, who I have seen nearly every day for the past three months, did not recognize me.  I am not exaggerating.  As I stood outside the gate waiting to be buzzed in, I had to introduce myself (for the first time since I’ve been taking my kid to the school), and the director gasped and said “Oh Jessie, I didn’t recognize you!”.  Fair enough.

And let’s just talk about laundry.  Between a still-potty-training peach and a darling little ball of spit up, my kids create a lot of laundry.  I am running a load most days, and that part goes fine.  It is the putting it away that gets me.  I find myself looking for my phone under 17 small articles of clothing piled on our bed and there are typically stray socks on the floor in the hallway.  I am so so so thankful for a dryer (a luxury in a country that likes to pretend like winter is just one weekend a year, and thus they don’t need indoor heating nor dryers).  And I’m grateful for the gifted clothes and hand-me-downs that keep my kids from going out naked.  But seriously, the laundry could be my full-time job.

I am also more tired than I have ever been in my life.  In an effort to fatten up our teeny preemie, I have had to sacrifice any dreams of consistent sleep and instead focus on getting her all the calories possible.  Most days, a cup of coffee can lift the fog and Jeff encourages me to nap rather than meal prep, generously making dinner when he gets home or insisting we order take-out (side note: my husband is a saint).  How do I spend my days?  Sometimes, I have no idea.  What I do know is that I have had almost no time for my writing, have been a far less reliable friend than I like, and am often vacillating between a place of stuck and rushed.  Stuck nursing, rushing to get Rayna from school.  Stuck in an uber, rushing to get citizenship paperwork sent.  Stuck waiting for Adela to be asleep, rushing to take a shower before she cries.

A dear friend consoled me yesterday, as I lamented how I’m failing at life, and assured me that no one with 2 small kids feels like they’re doing awesome.  Managing life in Spanish adds to the challenge and being far from family continues to be hard.  We had to cancel our July USA trip because Della wasn’t medically cleared to fly and getting out of the house is still only happening when it is a necessity.  But despite all these things, I’m encouraged by the way we’re managing the trials we’ve faced this winter.  Rayna is thriving at school, dancing and singing her way through the days and fully bilingual at this point.  Adela is growing, slowly but surely, and it is so sweet to see her begin to engage with her world.  Jeff and I support each other in every way, which makes our home feel healthy even amidst the chaos, and we’re all pretty happy just to be together.  Our little corner of Santiago feels like a well-known friend at this point, so despite the weeds, there is plenty of sunshine.  Love!

My Three Dads

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I’m so grateful for the dads in my life.  First, to the one who raised me, who always encouraged me to try to reach my potential and taught me not to fear adventure.  My dad has spent his life serving, whether that be his country while in the military or his community while “retired” and I’m so inspired by his example.  He is the person I turn to when the world doesn’t make sense (i.e. on November 9th) and he never fails to help me see that there is hope when I look at the bigger picture.  From him, I inherited a love of learning and a glass-half-full perspective, and I’m so thankful for his impact on my life.

Then, six years ago, I became the daughter-in-law of another wonderful dad.  Tim makes me glad to be a Walters, and his love for and support of our family has been a constant throughout our marriage.  His example of generosity, commitment, and get-‘er-done style shaped my husband, and I am so grateful for that.  Following Tim’s lead, Jeff is able fix practically anything, cook better than most, and finish even the most trying of tasks.  I could not imagine a better father-in-law and having him as a bonus dad is such a gift.

And then there is Jeff, the one I picked to be a dad to my kids.  I was old enough when I got married to know I needed to be sure I married a good dad-to-be, and Jeff’s silly, fun-loving side was sure to be a hit with our kids.  What I didn’t realize was how important it would be to share the work of parenting with a person who loved me well.  Because of Jeff’s encouragement and kindness, I am a better person and that helps me be a better mom.  With him as a partner, I have agreed to more adventure than I would have ever thought possible, and I am so glad to be sharing this wild ride with him.  Our girls are little, but I have no doubt that they will grow up to be enamored with their father, who loves them and their mama so well.

My heart is so full this Father’s Day, as I think of these three dads and the blessing that they are in my life.  The world needs more dads like the ones I love.  Though I don’t do a great job of being grateful for all that they do, this weekend I say ‘thank you’ to these men.  Love!

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Labor of Love

Sunday the world celebrated mothers and having recently given birth, I fully support this special day of acknowledgment.  Being a mom is a straight up labor of love.  It starts out hard and beautiful (no matter how long or what type of labor you have), and it doesn’t get easier (or is this just me?!).  Having just brought a preemie home, I can say unequivocally that the hardest thing about a new baby is having a toddler:).  But sister love is magical and I’m so happy that we’re all home together and as pretty much any mom will tell you, it is worth all the pain and exhaustion and trial.  It is a privilege and a gift and I am so thankful to be a mom, even when one of my children seems to periodically lose her entire vocabulary except for the word “NO!!!”.  As I start to settle into being the mom of two, I am in awe of mothers everywhere and I hope you all felt appreciated last weekend.

But let’s be honest.  One day of notice is not enough, not even close, when a mother gives herself every day of every year of her children’s lives.  Moms clean butts and feed finicky, messy tiny people.  Then they educate and transport and grow small curious still-messy people.  When those small people get bigger, a mother’s work is not less, just more complex and perhaps a bit more difficult.  Children grow up, but moms keep loving them beyond reason.

There is no better example of this crazy never-ending giving than my own mother. She made the decision to come to Chile for as long as we needed her, which ended up being two whole months.  She left the comfort of the USA for the chaos of life abroad; she dealt with no dishwasher, no dryer, no car, and no community for eight weeks.  She cooked and cleaned, snuggled and comforted, potty trained and prayed like a champion.  She is a mom of heroic proportions and we will never deserve all the love she poured on us during this hard season.

As she got ready to leave Chile, my mom took every single opportunity to help us, encouraging me to rest, watching Rayna so we could go on dates, and demonstrating how like her own saintly mother she really is.  I can only hope to one day love my daughters with such sacrifice and grace.  When I told her how thankful I was, her simple reply was “Anytime.” And I know she actually means that.  There is no bigger gift than the knowledge that no matter where I am in the world, my mom is ready to support me.  Even if it means learning how to use a crazy gas stove and manage the moods of a two-year-old who thinks she’s a threenager.  That is some serious love!

We survived a long season of hospitals and upheaval in large part because my mom stood with us in the mess.  It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t always pretty, but we made it through.  Adela gave us another big surprise when she was released from the hospital earlier than we’d expected and we are happily adapting to the sweetness and craziness of being a family of four.  And God’s perfect timing was evident as my mom got to be there when her new granddaughter came home (in an uber, of course;).  She got to enjoy little Adela just before she went back to NY and looking back, it’s pretty amazing how things worked out.  We are counting our many blessings and so thankful for all the prayers and love sent these last few weeks.  More baby pics to come when I’ve slept enough hours in a row to remember how to download them;).  Love!!!

A Blessing and a Curse

Our baby is in the NICU.  That has taken a little while to settle in.  Adela Grace Freer Walters was born on Tuesday morning, May 2nd, weighing in at 4 pounds 7 ounces, or 2.15 kilos.  Her birth came as a surprise, even though we knew my risk for premature delivery was high.  I was expecting labor to be exhausting and difficult, but it was a completely different experience from the birth with Rayna.  In most ways, it was much easier.  The contractions were spread apart and gentle (for birthing contractions) and I spent the first hour of labor preparing myself for a long road ahead.  When my doctor told me the baby was ready to come out, I really didn’t believe her, because I wasn’t even sure I was in labor.  She assured me my daughter would be delivered soon, but I was in shock, trying to comprehend how she could be ready so quickly.  We were moved to the birthing room and I had Jeff turn on some music because if this baby was going to just cruise on out, I wanted to enjoy it.  The midwife and my doctor patiently waited between contractions followed by a period of pushing that lasted maybe half an hour.  And then, Adela was here.  She was precious and tiny and purple, and after a minute they swept her out of my arms and onto a table to receive oxygen.  Her little lungs weren’t quite ready to handle the environment, and so she was placed in an incubator that held in O2 and kept her warm and snuggly.  She had a feeding tube placed and was tested for all sorts of maladies, and from those tests, we learned she had an infection that was likely the reason I went into labor.

Everything happened so fast, it was hard to take it all in.  Suddenly, I wasn’t pregnant and our child was being taken care of down the hallway.  The experience of having a preemie is something I had read about (especially during my weeks on bedrest) but didn’t really understand.  To me, Adela looks like a tiny version of a perfect baby.  From the outside, I couldn’t see how underdeveloped she was and so it has been hard to accept how much help she has needed to thrive.  Her systems, from her brain to her digestion to her lungs, all struggled at first to adapt to life outside of the womb.  But though she was born 6 weeks early, the doctors and nurses have said only positive things about how she is doing.  And so we count our blessings, that she is being so well cared for, that she is making progress in gaining weight and in eating, that she is being treated for the infection she was born with, and that she made it through her jaundice treatment.  These are all enormous gifts, on top of the simple beautiful fact that we have a new daughter.  And so we are thankful.

But it also feels like a curse, to have our daughter in the NICU.  I want to tell everyone I encounter that I am missing something, that what you see is not all there is to me, to my family.  We are not complete, one of our people is in the hospital, and this is so hard.  When we go to visit Adela, we have to follow norms that sometimes feel ridiculous (moms are encouraged to do skin to skin but dads are not) and other times are simply annoying (like not being able to hold her for an hour after a feeding, just in case it makes her barf).  We have to wait for the nurses to hand her to us and it feels, at times, as though she belongs more to the hospital staff than to us.  She eats on a schedule and so I was chastised for letting her nurse, which sounds absurd except her professional team is more concerned with conserving her energy than establishing nursing.  I get it.  I get all the precautions and the limits and the protectiveness; the babies in the NICU need every opportunity to grow and God forbid something avoidable causes them to struggle.

And with a preemie, setbacks are to be expected.  Yesterday, Adela was out of her incubator and in a crib, bundled up as though she were headed to the Artic.  Even with multiple layers of clothing, a hat, socks and mittens, she wasn’t able to keep her temperature at a good level, and so today she is back in the incubator.  I know in my head that this is not a big deal because temp regulation is a typical challenge for babies born at 34 weeks.  But my heart hurts as this will add days on to Adela’s NICU stay, and so I’ll have a good cry and pray to feel more content about God’s plan with all this.

I know we are so fortunate to have excellent medical care, a baby that is doing well given her age, and especially to have the love and support of our families and friends.  But this sucks.  We are aching for naps with our newborn, the fun of watching her change, and even welcome the sleepless nights a new baby brings.  The limbo that a NICU baby creates is uncomfortable and exhausting: we have a child, but she isn’t with us; Rayna has a sister, but she hasn’t met her; and we have to wait and see just how long we will remain in this trying place.  While we are enamored with our new little girl, we are so done with hospitals and so anxiously await our NICU story being over.  Love!