Life among the pagodas
Dear little one,
Here in Yangon, they call you ka-lei-lei (“kalei” means child, and the extra “lei” means small, or baby). I ate so much watermelon when I first got here that the locals said you must be a boy. Someone saw me eating a whole avocado and asserted that you were going to be a white baby. (Shocking, considering your parentage, eh?) I’ve been told to stay inside night and day, to wear a thick shirt, to stay off my bike (much to the chagrin of the neighbors, I haven’t taken that advice), to avoid anything hot, cold, spicy, or salty. For all the well-intentioned advice that I’ve rejected, I’ve been grateful for one thing: there seems to be a general consensus among people here that pregnancy is a time of rest, and it’s not good to be too busy. I’m more than happy to concede that this seems a much healthier way of things than the North American way of working full-time till the last minute.
A few months ago, I spent about 45 minutes perusing a few blogs for some practical mothering wisdom. I needed twice that time to recover from the mini-depression I incurred; women were admonishing one another on what kind of going away outfit to pack along to the hospital (and heaven forbid that I forget a matching headband, if you are a girl!), all the nursery “must haves” (matching again, please) and stroller reviews. And let’s not forget the warnings and lamentations on the clothes and shoes that will never fit again, coupled with the woes of being great with child—though one author did concede that a full term belly, with all its nuisances, does make a great TV tray of sorts. (Wait, a minute, I thought some things weren’t meant to be flat? Would giving birth to a paper doll be preferable?)
I don’t know if I ever was so disenchanted with my North American female counterparts and their obsession with controlling so many uncontrollable and frivolous details. Sometimes I’m ashamed to be a woman, and wonder why there is so much silliness accompanying the XX chromosome. I’d like to add my voice to Henry Higgins’ exasperated query: “why can’t a woman be more like a man?”
As wonderful as you are, I’m sure there won’t be paparazzi surrounding the hospital foyer awaiting your debut, so you’ll likely be carried home diapered and decently swaddled, sans outfit with floral headband (even if you are a girl). Road conditions here mean we won’t be getting a stroller, either; my main transportation objective as a mother is to sharpen my skills in discerning a drunk taxi driver before getting into the cab. Up until a month ago, my biggest nursery-related dilemma was what we ought to do with the creepy, Narnia-wardrobe-sized Buddhist shrine that dwarfed your future quarters, and how to prevent bloodthirsty mosquitoes from inflicting you with dengue or malaria.
One birth book chastised me for living around other humans, saying that I ought to have been playing nature soundtracks to you 4 months ago, and that all the irregularities of city noise are sure to adversely affect your developing personality. (And all the while I’ve been hoping that the motorcycles, honking taxis, and airplanes roaring past are cultivating you into a world-class napper—foolish hope, I guess.)
All this to say, I’ve long since ditched most of the mothering resources available to my naïve eyeballs. When we moved overseas, I didn’t even expect we’d have a crib for you. Now, I’m absolutely thrilled to be bringing you home to a relatively vermin-free apartment with cleanable floors and no shrine in sight, and no ill-fitting favorite clothes or lack of matching nursery accessories can take away my joy.
No things need to match, most things don’t have to be brand name, and some things weren’t meant to be flat.
Here’s to you, baby-lei, and all the ways you’re already changing and coloring our life.