Thursday, September 30, 2010

September 30, 2010 - Another One Bites the Dust

Ok, so that isn't exactly the nicest title for this blog...but, yesterday we fired our housekeeper Jonipher. It is never easy to end a person's livelihood, even when you honestly know that it is the best decision for your family. It was a sad and awkward conversation, but in the end we did it and are relieved to have done it.

Over the last few months we have noticed that Jonipher hasn't been working that hard. After she leaves I am often finding things to dust everywhere and realizing what she didn't do during the day. We have asked her, showed her, almost begged her to wash her hands with soap several times a day, but still she won't do that. She also hasn't respected the hours of our contract: she'll come late most days and then think it is OK to stay late in the evening, which we don't like at all. No matter how many times I have talked to her about being on time, she is never in a rush to get here and is unapologetic about it. So in the end, even though she cooks nice vegetarian food and does a good job with our laundry and is pleasant to have in the house, we decided that her slacking was stressing us out too much. She would be better off with a family who wasn't as concerned about some of these issues or maybe someone who isn't in the house most of the time to see what she is or isn't doing.

She seemed genuinely surprised and had explanations for each of our critiques; she asked to be put on a warning system and for us to reconsider, but the warning system didn't work with Ida and it is too awkward when the employer (me) is around all the time. We compensated her well (3 months severance, which is A LOT in Kenya) and provided her with a general reference letter because we do think she is a nice person and hope she can get another job that is maybe a better fit for her. As Jonipher was leaving she said to Kristoffer, "I hope you don't think I've been stealing," which is an indication to us that at some point she probably has stolen from us (and that is not a total surprise either...a couple of times something has mysteriously gone missing and we have wondered if she was responsible). Yikes.

In the end she went nicely and politely and said she would love to come back if we changed our mind. There was no screaming or drama or trying to take our things, as when we let Ida last year. And so now we are left to figure out what to do next. There are a few realities that we are dealing with:
  1. As expats, we are expected to employ Kenyans
  2. Kenya is very, very, very dusty (you can dust the whole house from top to bottom one day, and then the next day see the new layer of dust)
  3. We have a very big house
  4. I am increasingly pregnant with an active toddler who likes my attention 150% of the time, if possible, and will eventually not be pregnant but will have a newborn and that same active toddler
We have to figure out exactly what kind of help we need and what kind of schedule would actually be helpful for our family if someone works in our home. We are hoping to find someone young (in her 20s...unlike me, sad), because a lot of the attitude I have gotten from the women we've hired has seemed related to their age over mine. We are also going to interview more people this time than we have in the past and in the meantime, we'll be a bit busier with housework than we normally are.

After almost three years in Kenya, employing staff and having people work in our home is still the thing that we dislike the most and are probably the worst at. It is uncomfortable and awkward and stressful...because it is cultural, personal, emotional, and professional all at the same time. I feel we are learning each time and one day - some day! - like so many of the more experienced expats we know, we will get it right.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 28, 2010 - Two Weeks Later...

Two weeks ago we returned to Kenya after six weeks in Denmark (6 weeks for me and Grace; 3 weeks total, albeit broken up, for Kristoffer). It was a really bittersweet departure for us - we were happy to be coming back to Kenya as a family and to get used to being together again, but it was really, really hard to say goodbye.

Our trip was a real eye-opener for me in terms of: "Oh wow! We really do live in Kenya!" Everything is so easy in Denmark. You can walk or bike ride to the store in a few minutes and are quickly back home, instead of having to drive and wait (and sometimes haggle) for what you need. If you need to distract your toddler, you can just go for a walk to one of the (several) nearby playgrounds. Or if your toddler is having a hard time falling asleep for her nap, you can put her in the stroller and walk outside and within minutes she is sound asleep.

I also acutely realized a lot of the things that Grace is "missing" in her life. No, no, she does not have a difficult life at all. But we don't have access to a library, let alone one that offers not only books, but toys and activities/programs as well! She doesn't have access to many playgrounds, or "Mommy & Me" classes or activities. Our circle of "friends" is pretty small and logistical issues here (location, traffic, culture, people constantly moving away, etc) make it surprisingly not-that-easy to enlarge. These are "costs" of living here that make me sad from time to time, so I am working on changing things up a bit for sure (next blog, next blog).

We had a wonderful time seeing a lot of family and friends, but very specifically it was incredible of Kirsten (Farmor) and Hans to house us for so long. Grace had a rare and large amount of precious time with one of her three sets of grandparents who adored and doted on her to no end; she is still talking about them everyday, still doing things they showed her how to do, still playing games they played with her, still asking about them and requesting to talk to them on skype. Both of us improved a lot in our "Danish" - both culture and language - and I certainly got the rest I needed to continue making a happy home for Rocky on the inside.

We are so, so grateful for the time we spent at the Schmidt home in Varde, and that Kirsten and Hans fully let us into their lives and to invade their home for so many weeks. It is something that neither of us will ever forget (ok, I shouldn't promise that Grace won't forget because she is only 19 months old, but I do promise to remind her of our Danish summer so that she knows what a special time it was!).

Two weeks later we still miss Denmark, but we are settled back into our Kenyan life again. It has been a jam packed two weeks, to be quite honest, which I promise to tell you about soon...I am slowly getting back to writing and think I'll save our new stories for my next blog.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

September 14, 2010 - "Rocky" Mountain High

Or at least I feel like I am carrying around a high mountain!

I am 20 weeks pregnant today - halfway there! - and flying back to Nairobi with Kristoffer and Grace after six wonderful weeks in Denmark (more on that in another blog coming soon). We are looking forward to an ultrasound scan and appointment with my doctor sometime this week to check on how the little one is doing. I am feeling well, despite still being tired all the time, and was very relieved to start feeling Rocky kicking around regularly three days ago (thought it would happen a lot earlier this time around so I was getting a bit nervous!).

Grace is usually very sweet to "the baby". She gives my belly kisses, says "nice nice, baby" and often places books and toys on my belly that she wants to share with the baby. This doesn't mean ANYTHING in the long term, I know, because the baby being on the inside is a very different situation than the baby being out in the world competing for Mama and Far's attention. BUT there were a few weeks where she was hitting my belly and saying "no, no baby" so at least we have moved on from there. Baby steps...naturally.

Cheers to a safe trip back to Nairobi with a much bigger Rocky in tow this time around!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September 12, 2010 -Hello, Jealousy

Hans' daughter Tina and her 8-month-old son Louis spent most of this week visiting us from Copenhagen. It was really nice to see them because we so rarely get to spend time with Tina when we are here and because Louis is just the sweetest baby ever. To prepare for their arrival, Grace enjoyed helping Hans bake some rye bread (rugbrød) last weekend.
When they arrived, Grace was pretty friendly to Louis at first. She learned to say his name right away and seemed very sweet.
The sweetness lasted until Mama or Farmor got too close to Louis or until he showed interest in something of hers. Then her true "I-don't-want-to-be-a-big-sister" colors started to show, complete with hitting, kicking, and throwing things at him. Of course this is typical of her age and you can't but understand why she would feel jealous, but we are hoping to work on changing her "anti-baby" attitude before Rocky's arrival in approximately 20 more weeks (or less)!

Luckily, Hans and some carrots were on call to provide some good distraction for Grace and Louis. They enjoyed looking at pictures and videos of themselves on Hans' computer! Hans said that overall it was a good day to be a grandfather!
Thank you, Tina and Louis, for a nice visit!

Friday, September 10, 2010

September 10, 2010 - Har du set min ynglingsbamse?

This little guy is Grace's "Bamse". Bamse means "teddy bear" in Danish, and that is what we named him when she got him as a Chrismas gift from her Bibi (our dear friend Jean in NYC). It didn't take long for Grace to fall in love with Bamse...for him to become her #1 "lovey". Sadly, though, on Wednesday afternoon we went for a walk with Far, who recently arrived from Nairobi. We went to a nearby shop and to the closest playground, and Grace brought Bamse along with us. At some point along the way Bamse got lost and I didn't notice (oh the guilt....). When it was time for bed that night, we had a slightly frantic Grace calling "Bamse! Bamse! Bamse" as we realized what happened.

Farmor's bike ride around our route on Thursday morning yielded no results in the search for Bamse. We went back to the store we were in and even the one next door, neither of which had seen Bamse. The store we didn't even go to felt so bad that they gave Kristoffer a free little Winnie-the-Pooh bear to be Grace's new Bamse. When he came out to the car with the new (pretty ugly) little bear and told Grace, "here is your new Bamse" she was happy for a short period of time and I proceeded to cry for 15 minutes. Call it pregnancy hormones or parental guilt or just me being crazy...but I felt so sad that we've lost Grace's comfort item.

Later in the afternoon, I discovered how to get a new, old-Bamse. For a $35 donation to Habitat for Humanity, the same bear will be delivered to our US address in 6-8 weeks. Another 2 weeks later we should have him in Kenya...but now I REALLY understand what they were talking about when several parents told me to have a back up of your child's favorite stuffed animal...just in case! (at least I donated to a good cause!)

In the meantime, Grace realized that new Bamse was not nearly as wonderful as old Bamse and was calling for him, searching the house, crying for him, asking everyone where he was! With some help from Tina (Hans' daughter who was visiting us with her sweet son Louis) we made a sign asking "Har du set min ynglingsbamse?" (Have you seen my favorite Bamse?) to place around the neighborhood just in case someone happened to pick up Bamse.

Kristoffer made fun of me A LOT (you are probably with him on this one) but he did come along as we went out in the cold rain with Grace to hang up some signs along the route we took that day.
The things you do for your children! We haven't received any phone calls yet, but at least I feel like we did all we could to find Bamse. Worst case scenario: in two months Grace will be reunited with Bamse again. Kristoffer insists that she'll have forgotten the whole thing by then, but I know that she'll be happy to see her dear friend.


Note: this story is dedicated to my sister, Meghan. Almost 30 years later, she still holds it against my father that one Halloween when they were trick-or-treating and she lost her witch's wig, he wouldn't go back out to find it for her. The holiday was practically ruined for her forever! I am hoping we are NOT in the same situation when Grace is in her 30s.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

September 4, 2010 - Grace's Love Life

On Thursday afternoon Grace had a play-date with Malde, the grandson of Kirsten and Hans' very good friends, who is just a couple of weeks older than Grace.

Meet Malde....
He is a very cute, sweet boy. My camera wasn't working well on Thursday so I couldn't capture how nicely they played together or how sweet it was when they kissed goodbye.

But then on Friday - the very next day - he called. We all know that a boy must really like a girl to call the day after their first date, so this was a big deal. And okay okay, so maybe it was his grandmother calling her grandmother, but still...he wanted another play-date as soon as possible!

So Grace and Malde had their second date today. She was talking about it all morning: "Malde come, Malde come, Malde come." When he arrived, they said hi to each other but played it a little bit shy to start.

They "rode" to the playground separately...
but they played on the swing together...
and they rode home from the playground together, happily sharing an apple...
and they played in the sandbox together...

and, most importantly for the romantics out there to note, they ate chocolate together and finished with a kiss!

I would say their second date was as sweet as their first. Keep your eyes open for a wedding invitation in your mailbox in about twenty five years from now!


Thursday, September 2, 2010

September 2, 2010 - "Own bag. Own bag. Own bag."

Kirsten signed us up for a baby music class at the library this morning. I was pretty excited because we don't really get such an opportunity in Nairobi. This morning after I packed up my bag with all the necessary paraphernalia, Grace was trying to carry it although it was way too big for her. Without really thinking about it I asked her if she wanted her own bag. She then repeated it a couple times: "Own bag. Own bag. Own bag."

Wanting to be prepared for such an occasion, I bought Grace a cute, small elephant bag in Nairobi many months ago. But of course I didn't bring it with us to Denmark! Lucky for me Kristoffer's mom recently discovered a backpack from when Kristoffer went to daycare and gave it to me last week. So I found Kristoffer's little bag, let Grace put one of her rubber ducks and a favorite book inside it (Jean and Jen - her Countdown Safari book has become a must-read, a couple times a day!), and put the bag on her. Of course we had to take it off in the car, but walking from the car to the library she said over and over and over and over again, "Own bag. Own bag. Own bag," with extreme pride. Kirsten and I couldn't help but notice that, as small as she is, she really looked like she was ready to go off to school!

I hoped to have more pictures and video from the music class, but my camera battery died just at the beginning. Grace was much older than the other babies (who were all actually babies!) except for one baby's big sister, but she did quite well. The teacher and the singing made her so relaxed that I couldn't believe how calm and still my little busy-body was for the whole hour.

Here is Grace wearing her "Own bag. Own bag. Own bag."
Cutest. Thing. Ever.