How-to Tuesday: Five Minutes’ Peace

I’m experimenting with obligating myself to post more regularly by committing to posting on a theme for different days of the week. This began with Small Style Thursdays. Herewith begins my foray into How-to Tuesdays.

Five minutes of peace is an elusive goal for many new parents, and perhaps some not-so-new moms and dads as well. Here’s my favored procedure:

-Baby on hip, put the kettle on to boil and drop some Ginseng Oolong Tea* in a teapot.

-Set baby on the kitchen floor. Distract with measuring cups while you slice and plate a piece of the Pumpkin Pie with Apricot Preserves you managed to bake last night after the little one went to sleep.

-Before the water boils and gets too hot, pour a bit of (purified!) water into a bottle with some oatmeal cereal. Put the kettle back on. Settle the little one with her bottle. Pour tea.

-Waste precious moments of quiet time arranging tea and pie to photograph for posterity. Grab a spoon and mess with the whipped cream from a bottle so it looks like it might possibly be freshly whipped.

-Sit down to enjoy tea and pie. Realize that the tea is too weak, but the pie is heavenly. That’s OK, the tea is really just an excuse to eat pie in the morning. Get Spotify going for some mood music. Polish off slice of pie.

-Pour second round of hot water over tea leaves. Chase after escaped baby and re-settle her with her half-finished bottle while tea steeps.

-Savor second cup. Be sure to exhale slowly after each sip to appreciate the naturally sweet aftertaste.

-Aaaahhhhhh.

-Share pretend sips of tea with baby and groove to Spotify choices to distract the little one from “helping” you type up this post. Nobody promised five *consecutive* minutes of peace.

*It’s worth noting that the über-Chinese Ginseng Oolong Tea and classic American Pumpkin Pie make a great pair. The sweetness of the ginseng, only apparent in the aftertaste, complements rather than overpowers the sugary spiciness of the pie. I discovered Ginseng Oolong (人参乌龙茶) at a tiny dim sum joint in Guangzhou and it quickly became one of my favorite teas. It’s a great introductory tea for novice drinkers of loose-leaf tea…a stage I haven’t moved beyond myself.

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GPS and Prenatal Care

It seems that while I was navigating my way around subway systems abroad, a GPS service became de rigueur back in the US of A. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

See, I’m kind of a map fiend. I love maps. Love them. I don’t care if the map is of a place I’ve never been, or don’t particularly want to visit. I don’t even care if they’re accurate or not. Some of my favorite maps ever are the ones from the 18th and 19th centuries. Apparently the continents looked different back then. Nothing pains me more than throwing away a perfectly good map, as my better half will attest. He’s learning to live with all sorts of clutter.

The thing is, though, I’m really good at reading a maps. I think that being able to intuitively feel which way is north is a very important lifeskill, one that everyone should acquire if at all possible. Couple this instinct with a decent map, and you’ll never be lost for long. Even the time you spend a bit turned around is time well spent, as it helps fix those streets, landmarks, what have you, in their relative position in your mental map of a city.

I digress. GPS services. I kind of hate them, and even though I do recognize their usefulness in some situations, like figuring out how the heck to get on the West Seattle Bridge from downtown since they closed the Spokane Street onramp and neglected to change the signs, I confess to (often) talking back to the woman with the grating voice and to thinking myself wiser than she. My major objection to most GPS services is their assumption that I will just blindly, with complete disregard for the bigger picture, follow their commands as to what I ought to do next. It reminds me of my prenatal care experience in China.

There are lots of babies born in China every day. This means there are lots of pregnant women, which in turn means that even hospitals that specialize in prenatal care and birth are very crowded places. The administration of these hospitals deals with the issue by instituting policies that take expectant mothers through doctors’ visits that vaguely resemble circuit training. You check in with Registration so they know you’re there and are issued some sort of a number that will be important later. Then you go to Area A, take a number, wait your turn, get your blood pressure checked. Go to Area B, take a number, wait your turn, get a little test tube, go down the hallway and give a urine sample. Then you head on over to Area C, or sometimes back to Area A or maybe even up to Area D, to take another number and have some other test done. When you’re done with all your tests for the day, that first number gets you in to see your doctor, who looks at all your results, tells you to eat the blandest food humanly possible, and asks you to teach him two new medical terms in English.

The problem with this very orderly system, as it pertained to me, was that I never knew where I was supposed to go next. My medical Chinese is, um, not very advanced, and I don’t do well in crowds, so these were very stressful occasions for me. I made the mistake once or twice of asking WHY I should go to a certain department. On every occasion, the staff were so flummoxed by this question that they would put down what they were doing and say, “OK. I’ll take you there myself.” I soon realized that I couldn’t possibly beat them. I had to join them. So every visit, I would go to my usual starting point, find the friendliest-looking orderly, hand her my little book and say, “Where do I go now?” Once that task was done, I’d ask the orderly on hand, “OK, where do I go next?” As a coping device, I gave up on the big picture.

By my eighth month of pregnancy, I had finally figured out the routine and had started preparing for each visit by looking up whichever handwritten characters were decipherable in the doctor’s instructions from the previous visit. This way, I was able to map out an approximation of what indignities I’d be subjecting myself to that day. Still, by not insisting on an explanation of the big picture I had wasted tons of time and caused myself more stress that I certainly didn’t need.

My concern here is that GPS, like many other demonstrations of modern technology, is nothing more than a coping device, and that in relying too heavily on it we are giving up our critical thinking skills. Why? is the most powerful and the most important question I know, and the answer to it lies somewhere in between the big picture and the next step.

Breakfast and cultural identity

So yesterday I’m following a one-armed used car salesman around the car lot with my fussy daughter on one hip. I’m speaking to her in Spanish, ’cause I’m pretentious like that, and we want to expose her to all the languages we speak, and ’cause when she’s understandably fussy my natural inclination is to speak to her in the most tender language I know. Plus, the salesman’s heavy accent reminds me that I ought to be speaking more Spanish to her. Sometimes I forget.

Anyway, he overhears me and asks where my husband is from, assuming he must be the reason this güera speaks passable Spanish. No, mi esposo es africano, I tell him. So how come you speak Spanish, he wants to know. En mi corazón soy mexa, I reply. Tapatía, de hecho. I explain that I spent five and a half years in Mexico, most of that time in Guadalajara, and really came to identify with that city. Turns out he’s from Guada, too. I would have called him paisa if I’d liked him more. Smarmy used-car sales guy.

I was thinking about that statement this morning as I made breakfast. For a long time I have asserted that what people choose to eat for the first meal of the day is a true indicator of their dominant culture. Your average North American might be a very adventurous eater when it comes to lunch or dinner, but we really tend to stick to what’s familiar when it comes to the most important meal of the day. Why is imported boxed cereal so outrageously expensive in stores that cater to expats? They know they’ve got us right where they want us.

The Better Half, incidentally, shoots down this theory. He couldn’t care less what he eats for breakfast. He has, in fact, developed an affinity — bordering on obsession — for maple syrup since our marriage. He’ll make French toast just so he can douse his plate in maple syrup. Still, there is no way anyone would claim that his dominant culture is North American. He believes himself physically incapable of eating a sandwich for lunch two days in a row. If he goes more than a week without some egwusi or ogbono and fufu, you can tell something’s wrong. It’s like his world is just slightly off-balance and he has trouble being his usual wonderful self.

Back to my breakfast. If you were to ask me what my favorite breakfast food is, I wouldn’t have to think about the answer for even a second.

Chilaquiles rojos, with queso fresco, a little bit of cremita, and un huevo estrellado. OK, the ones in the picture are verdes, but this photo looked the most appetizing. To my way of thinking, there can be no better breakfast food. Now, ask me when was the last time I partook of this soul-soothing dish that makes such a bold statement about how I view myself and who I think I am… I couldn’t even tell you. It’s not like it’s that hard to prepare, but in the mornings, I just can’t be bothered.

Sigh. Better finish off my English muffin…which I’m really enjoying, by the way. Those things were hard to come by in China, outside of McDonald’s.