Thursday, April 22, 2010

Miraculous Super Cream!!!

Things have been advancing well with the dig. It’s very hot but we’re all in good spirits and working hard. I also am realizing how exhausting it is having a toddler with you when you’re in the field, even if you have a full-time nanny.

We get up at 7:00am, have breakfast quickly, say “good-bye” to Santi and are on the road with the four other members of the team by 7:45. We stop on the way to pick up some of the local farmers who are hired to help with the excavation. The site we’re working at is located on a series of basalt lava flows called a malpais (badlands), so it’s a jagged, rocky surface that extends for miles in each direction.

We get to the site at 8:00am, and after a steep and rocky 10 minute hike up to the top of the malpais (carrying all of the food, water, and equipment we need for the day), we’re at the site. We work till noon, break for lunch, then work until 3:30pm. After we hide the shovels and buckets and tool boxes (so none of the people who hunt or graze livestock on the malpais decide to help themselves while we’re gone), we hike back down the slope carrying out our samples collected that day. Then we drop off the workers, head back to town and the restaurant that we’ve contracted to feed the crew dinner each day at 4:30pm with just a brief stop to wash our filthy hands and faces (by the way, if you’re ever in Zacapu, Michoacan, eat at the “Deutsch Haus/Casa Alemana. It’s some of the best Mexican-German food you’ll ever taste. Ask for the owner, Martin, and tell him Michelle sent you). After dinner (around 5:30pm), Santi and his nanny usually show up, after a stroll around downtown Zacapu. Greg needs to keep working with the crew processing and cataloging samples at night. I work as much as a I can, but also need to look after Santi, so I’m not around much in the downstairs “laboratory” apartment where the rest of the crew is staying.

Yesterday was an awful day though because I got back from dinner to find Santi crying and his nanny a little worried because he had just vomited up everything he’d eaten that day. At first we thought it was just the heat (it’s in the high 80’s right now) and so I gave him a little water and he seemed find. But then he began heaving and vomiting up water and mucus every 30 minutes. After the second time I ran to the pharmacy and bought some electrolyte solution, which he drank happily from a spoon. But then he kept vomiting it all back up. Greg was back by now and we were getting pretty worried about dehydration since it’s so hot here. Greg ended up running back to Martin’s restaurant to ask him to recommend a pediatrician. Luckily there is a private urgent care clinic on the edge of town open 24 hours. After more vomiting, including the parking lot of the clinic, we were able to see a doctor.

Enter Dr. Quack, every parent’s nightmare! He seemed like a nice guy at first, but it quickly became apparent his medical degree came from the back of a cereal box. On hearing that we were foreigners only hear temporarily (in other words, we already have a regular doctor back in France) and about the vomiting he insisted on knowing if I was giving him the electrolytes from a bottle or a syringe. I told that I was using a spoon. Then he launched into a long speech about how Santi should never use a bottle now that he’s a year old and we needed to immediately go home, sit Santi down and have him watch us cut off all the nipples on his bottles with scissors and throw them in the trash. then explain to Santi (at 15 months) how he is too old for bottles. I was thinking, who cares??? And did you notice that we’re here because we’re worried about keeping him hydrated?

Next he told us it was probably a virus, which seemed reasonable. So he examined him, asking Greg to hola his arms and me his feet like some kind of medieval torture. He said his left ear was slightly inflamed but needed no antibiotics (after I told him he had been taking antibiotics just a week prior for a double ear infection that was still affecting his left ear when the doctor in France had checked him the day before we flew to Mexico). Then he suddenly opened up Santi’s diaper and began retracting the foreskin on his uncircumcised penis! If your son is circumcised, you might not know this, but that’s complete no-no because it can cause tearing and exposure to infection, as well as being extremely painful! A boy should be left alone until he can do it himself, usually by the time he reaches 3 or 4 years-old. So this nutcase tells me “Wow! It’s stuck! You need to pull it back all the way and scrub him with soap every day!” I was thinking, you jackass! It’s “stuck” because that’s how it grows and you’re the one who’s going to give him an infection. I just gave him a tight-lipped smile and a non-commital nod since he hadn’t told us how to treat the vomiting yet.

Next he weighed Santi, who came out to be 9.5 kilos. This worried us because before coming to Mexico he was 10.2 kilos, so the illness and now the vomiting had caused him to lose a good bit of weight. But the doctor was concerned because according to his american infant growth chart Santi is supposed to be 11 kilos. Actually, what the chart says is that 50% of 15 month old toddlers weigh less than 11 kilos and the other 50% more than 11 kilos. 11 kilos is the average, not the ideal weight. And since Greg and I are both small, and Santi is being raised in France (where their growth charts based on French populations shows that French babies are smaller than American babies of the same age) this is all nonsense. He told us to immediately stop feeding him Frosted Flakes, Chips Ahoy, and sugary yogurt. I kept my self control and told him calmly that it would never occur to me to feed those kinds foods to a one year-old child. That seemed to take some of the wind out of his pompous sails. He grudingly agreed that maybe the weight wasn’t a prime issue for the moment as long as he was eating well.

Finally we got to point, what treatment? Basically it was to give him Pedialyte every 10 minutes, and give him a anti-inflammatory medication. He suggested we bring him back the next day for some kind of injection if the vomiting continued, but I had no intention of letting Dr. Jackass inject Santi with anything. We were also supposed to put “Supercrema Milagro” (The Miraculous Supercream of the title) all over his butt and chest. It appears to be an organic version of Vick’s Vapo Rub, but the label says it can be used to treat everything from herpes to athlete’s foot to hemerrhoids to sciatica (see, miraculous).

The final kicker was he then insisted that we make another appointment with him to finish retracting Santi’s foreskin! He said he prefers to spread it out over three appointments because otherwise the child tends to scream a lot and it disturbs the parents (maybe a clue that you shouldn’t be doin it Dr. Jackass?). When he asked if Friday worked for us, I just responded “no”. He sat there for a minute waiting for a clarification or alternate date from me that was never coming. Finally Greg said something about Monday afternoon, but that we’d need to call to confirm first (a call that we both knew was never going to happen). Finally we escaped, deciding that if Santi didn’t get better, we’d find a different doctor, even if we had to go to Morelia (a couple of hours away).

Luckily, once we got home, Santi gulped down some Pedialyte and passed a vomit free night. Thanks to some homemade chicken soup at Martin’s “Casa Alemana”, and a visit to see the birds at the laguna park, he’s doing great today. And I also ask my scientific self if the “limpia” that his nanny did on him before we left for the clinic (it’s a Latin American folk cure where you rub an egg over a child’s body who’s sick from the “evil eye” to absorb the eye’s bad vibes and then throw the egg away over your shoulder to send the bad on it’s way) didn’t do some good as well. Well, whatever it was, I’m relieved that he’s better.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

More shameless promotion (but at least not really self-promotion this time)

I realized that you may be interested in the actual field project that Greg is running and I'm consulting on. So, here is the project blog link. Most of it is in French, but some of it is translated into English and/or Spanish. And photos are always universal!

Project Uacusecha

Traveling with a toddler, no es lo mismo los tres mosqueteros que 20 años después

We arrived safe and sound in Mexico, but it wasn't the easy ride I was hoping for. Traveling with an active, "spirited" toddler is not the same as traveling with a 6 month old baby! First Santi barfed all over him, me, and the taxi that took us to the airport. Luckily the driver was very nice and patient (and I tipped him pretty well). Then I discovered that all Santi wanted to do at the airport was run all over the place. And he did NOT want to hold my hand. That just made him annoyed. I finally distracted him by carrying him around to see the display windows at the Cartier and Swarovski stores (shiny things, you know).

On the plane, luckily the flight attendants got the woman next to me to take a different seat so that I could have hers for Santi. We were the window and middle seat of the bulkhead row and that worked out pretty well. The man sitting on the aisle was a grandfather and very patient with Santi constantly going up to him and flashing his most charming smile while offering him one of his toys for the hundreth time. Santi was very antsy and we ended up doing laps of the the aisles on both sides of the plane. He had a hard time sleeping on my lap (he's too big now), so I laid him down on pillows on the floor of our bulkhead aisle. I'm not looking forward to our flight back, especially if we're in a full row next time.

Mexico is great. Except for today, it has been nice and sunny. Santi has been charming the pants off of all of the students of the friend we are staying with (she's an artist and her workshop for teaching is in her house). He's annoying the hell out of her cats though. I'm afraid his ear infection may be making a come back, so I'm keeping an eye on that.

We leave for the field site tomorrow. Well, we hope so. Our car's battery is dead, so we'll have to see what we can do in the morning.

Monday, April 12, 2010

When will Wednesday get here?

Wednesday Santi and I head off to Mexico City on a direct flight! Heaven! We finally will be back with Greg. The weather will be sunny and HOT! Lots of great food and country where almost everyone loves children! And is willing to lend a hand even to a complete stranger. I can't wait.

Greg has been making progress on the excavation and I'll be arriving (hopefully) just in time to swoop in and start collecting my botanical samples. I love having a job where I don't spend all my time to doing the same thing. The mix of office research and fieldwork is great.

In the meantime, after having a good weekend and a great night's sleep, Santi was very fussy and tearful this morning. He also lost his appetite again yesterday. I really hope the antibiotics are doing their thing and he's not suffering a relapse of his double ear infection right before we leave. I don't know what I'll do if the doctor says she doesn't want him flying.

I'm also just exhausted and ready to be done with living in a tiny space, having a super fussy toddler who won't let me do anything without holding him in my arms (partially from being sick, partically from missing his dad, and partially from not being happy that Greg's mom is trying to take care of him), and dealing with grumpy old parisians on a daily basis.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Raising a child of the Fifth Republic

The reactions I've gotten to the school lunch post in Santi's blog have unanimously been "Wow! That's so great!. I wish it was like that here" (here being the US). I wondered why my gut reaction to that hasn't been, "Well of course! Come on over!". Instead I feel a bit of ambiguity about the insistent helpfulness of French government and society in the rearing of a French child.

One thing I have felt since moving to France is that Santi is my son, but he is also a son of this republic. In fact, my official status for all of my immigration proceedings is not only "Foreign spouse of French citizen" but also "Foreign parent of French Citizen". So I feel a double duty to learn my way around this country, not only for my sake, but for my son's. I don't want him to feel that he is an outsider in his own country because he wasn't offered the opportunities afforded to French children by their French parents.

This feeling is not just a philosophical stance, but has its practical side too. My progress towards permanent residency and eventually citizenship depends partially on my care of Santi. As an immigrant parent of a French citizen, I have to show that I am doing everything in my power to make sure he suffers no disadvantages by having a foreign mother. I was required to registered his French citizenship officially, to prove that he is being integrated in French society (at his age this means being in French daycare, later on it will mean he is in school), and also that I'm caring for his health (primarily that he is attending all of the national health plan's required check-ups and that he is being vaccinated for the more serious and highly contagious diseases. Not only for his own health, but also for the good of the population as a whole). It has become clear to me that I would have a very difficult time getting residency as a stay-at-home mom. But that also makes sense to me because I'm not French, have not lived here very long, and if Santi and I just stayed home the two of us all the time, neither of us would make much progress on learning the language, understanding the culture, the social services (which here are not stigmatized as only for poor people), local traditions, making friends and professional networking, etc.

All of that probably doesn't sound like much. And it isn't. I'm fine with doing all of those things and I would have done them even if they weren't required. I think what has been impressed on me more is the motivation behind it. Maybe natural-born French citizens don't feel this (or more likely don't notice it), but since I'm an immigrant and required to complete civic training, it gets drawn to my attention more explicitly. It's the sense of raising a child being a collective responsibility. It's not just about what his father and I want for him, but the larger goal of raising a French citizen who understands and respects his country. And it's not always an easy thing when I don't understand or necessarily agree with the beliefs and principles that are integral to the current French society.

It's hard to explain. An important difference between France and the US is that in the US the individual comes first, as long as they're not breaking the law. But in France, I find that the philosophy is the that good of society as a whole comes first, and then the rights of the individual (and I've been taught that explicitly in my civic training). That's one of the main reasons I think that the (partially) tax-funded national health care works here, and is so controversial in the US. Or why the French often think of Americans as overgrown children, who are always focused on testing the limits of individualism for its own sake, even when it becomes absurd or cruelly narcissistic, rather than using common sense and focusing on how their actions affect others around them. Whether you agree with that assessment or not, I think it's a pretty accurate portrayal of the perception of the differences. I find lots of points of French life and society that clash with my American ideals of the rights and responsibilities of the individual, and plenty of inconveniences that are very foreign to my personal experience and preferences. But I have to find a balance and present these to Santi in a way that allows him to form his own opinions and to like and dislike aspects his country and society for his own reasons, not mine. And I also find that many of my own ideas have changed since coming to France, and likely will continue to change and grow as I integrate (as best as I can) into this society.

Many times now since becoming a mom and moving to France, I think about my own mother, an immigrant to the US in her 20's. I think about my experience growing up and resenting some of the differences I saw in my upbringing versus that of my classmates with American-born parents. I now look back on that all in a new light and recognize the bittersweet charge of remaining who you are, while raising a child who will be something else. And I have an all new respect for the path that my own mother tread. I only hope I can do as well as she did.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Countdown to Mexico!

In six days Santi and I will be on a plane to Mexico! I am excited not only to have some sunny, warm weather, but also to get my husband back! Of course I miss him, but it's also to have someone share taking care of Santi with me. Greg's mom arrived yesterday afternoon to help with Santi, and she'll stay with us until we leave next Wednesday. I'm very grateful for that, but it's just not the same as having someone who knows the ins and outs of your routine without having to ask, and having that help come from someone your child knows and is used to. Santi is not comfortable being alone much with his grandmother because he doesn't see her on a regular basis. He clings to me while she is here and protests if she tries to help by holding him or playing with him. So I end up with a "velcro" baby as soon as I get home from work until he falls asleep. Which has been 9:30pm the last two days. Ugh! I really hope that stops tomorrow.

Of all of the big hurdles that lie between now and Wednesday's flight, the biggest is that Santi has a double ear infection and the doctor doesn't want him to fly if it's not cleared up by Tuesday afternoon. So I'm really hoping the antibiotics do their thing fast.

In more practical problems, I'm trying to sort out the mess of paperwork that arises when you are a tri-national family taking a trip that involves traveling between all three of those countries when momma and baby don't have the same last name, and papa isn't going to be on any of the flights. At this point, I don't think any of the countries any longer requires notarized permission from the absent parent for the child to travel with the other parent. And, in any case, Santi is a citizen of all three countries, so he can't be denied entry. I just need to bring proof of all of those nationalities and proof that I am his momma.