Confessions of a Housewife and Stay-at-Home Mom

I really wish someone would debunk the modern feminist notion that the roles of homemaker and mother are degrading, so I guess I'll take a whack at it.
I worked until shortly before my son was born. I enjoyed my work and took great pride in a job well done. Leaving the professional world as I prepared for the arrival of our firstborn was bittersweet. But I haven't looked back once since little Samuel came into our lives.
As with anything worthwhile, being a full-time wife and mother requires sacrifice. It means putting the needs of my family before my own, being on-call 24 hours a day, and having less time to pursue personal interests. But to say that these sacrifices are degrading or personally impoverishing is a lie.
As I was feeding lunch to my adorable 13-month-old today, the laughter and smiles we exchanged gave me such fulfillment that I thought I would burst with joy, and I had an epiphany. Although Samuel can be trying at times, although he requires constant monitoring except when he's in bed, and despite the fatigue that comes from almost never getting a night of uninterrupted sleep, there is nothing I would rather be doing than pouring my life into him. And this means being present for all his waking moments, being the one to applaud all his significant "firsts," and constantly teaching him, through my words and example, how to be the best version of himself that he can be. How grateful I am to have the privilege of being a full-time mother!
And for the record, the argument that stay-at-home moms stop developing intellectually and otherwise for as long as they focus on rearing their children does not have to be true. I find that with a bit of determination and creativity, I can make time at least weekly to read enriching books, play musical instruments, and write. So take that, feminist myth!

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Baby Joys Inspiration

More Than Fun

Today I am twenty-seven weeks pregnant and have officially entered the third trimester. This is the first pregnancy that I have ever carried past the first trimester, and it is the first time that I have ever looked pregnant or been able to feel the movements of the little life inside me. I feel lavishly blessed.
My sisters-in-law all have very difficult pregnancies with severe nausea and vomiting throughout much or all of the nine months. My mother-in-law says that she could never understand women who claimed to gain a wonderful sense of satisfaction and fulfillment from being pregnant. “I always thought I was going to die when I was pregnant,” she says. “I did it for the baby.”
I find it unfortunate that pregnancy must be such a trial for some women, because I’m learning that it can be a uniquely magical and enjoyable time of life. I’ve been blessed with an easy pregnancy. Except for bedrest and debilitating fatigue during the first trimester, I’ve had little about which to complain. Of course, there are the usual inconveniences (back problems, muscle cramps, heartburn, intestinal upset, clumsiness, poor memory, and so on) but they all pale in comparison to the miracle taking place in my womb.
I never feel alone anymore, because the baby is right with me—making his presence felt most of the time! I can talk with him, sing to him, dance around the room with him, and even give him a loving massage that I’ve read he can actually feel. My changing shape alerts everyone to my special condition, and suddenly I find that complete strangers are kind and considerate toward me! This is a welcome change after nearly four years of rough treatment at the hands of strangers. It is true that the whole world is nice to pregnant women, even in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Beyond these advantages, I find that pregnancy has another, more profound, aspect, that of motherhood. Although people call me “an expectant mother,” in so many ways I have already become a mother. There will never be another time when I will be as connected to this child. Never again in his life will he be so dependent upon me to meet all his needs. We share a bond now that nothing else will ever fully imitate. So I look forward to those times when my decreased stamina demands that I put my feet up and take a break, because then it’s just me and Baby as I contemplate the new and growing joys of motherhood.

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Inspiration Kitchen Joys

A New Hobby

I have recently discovered the joys of baking bread. Ever since I was old enough to contemplate bread baking, I've regarded it as an arduous task requiring the better part of a day to complete. My grandmother taught me to bake when I was in junior high school, and anytime I needed a break from studying, I'd go to the kitchen, where I happily turned out cookies, pies, and brownies. But bread intimidated me.

Since I got married, I've frequently told myself that I should start baking bread, but somehow I never managed to find the time. That's not surprising, given that keeping house, my editing job, and church commitments kept me busy enough that I never had the six or so hours free that I thought were necessary for baking bread. But recent changes in my job have lightened my work load, and last week I found myself with a whole day free of pressing obligations.
In my opinion, the French make the best bread in the world. It's been difficult for me to find comparable bread in Ukraine (although the bread here is far superior to the American Wonder Bread variety). So, I decided to make French bread. Contrary to my expectations, the process was not at all arduous. It only took about three hours (not the six I had imagined), and it only required about thirty minutes of labor on my part. The rest of the time the dough was rising on its own or baking in the oven. Halfway through the baking time, the apartment filled with a wonderful aroma. The loaves turned out picture perfect with beautiful golden crusts, and the taste of fresh-baked bread hot from the oven was enough to get me hooked!
This afternoon I made onion-herb bread, and it was even better than last week's French bread. Of course, for those experienced bread bakers reading this, my former misconceptions about the process are probably humorous. You already knew that the effort was minimal compared to the rewards, and that the rewards included far more than a delicious treat. For the rest of you: there is something intensely satisfying in working with the dough, shaping it, and seeing the amazing metamorphosis of yeast, flour, and water (plus a few other ingredients, depending on the recipe) into wholesome loaves of bread. It gives one a tremendous sense of satisfaction and delight. If you enjoy doing things in the kitchen but have never baked bread, do yourself a favor and give it a try!

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I’ll Be Home for Christmas

"I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams." What a nostalgic phrasing of the Christmas spirit. But what if one's situation makes it more accurate to say, "I'll be home this year, but Christmas is only in my dreams"? That's how I feel right now.
Although Ukraine has a long Christian heritage, seventy years under an atheistic dictatorship destroyed much of what once was. I'm told that Ukrainians have rich traditions for the celebration of Christmas, and while I'm sure that's true, I have to say that all I've seen of Christmas in nearly three years of living here is commercial. All of Kyiv's shopping centers put up Christmas decorations and begin to sell Christmas cards and wrapping paper early in December, but sadly, most of the city's inhabitants see all of this pageantry as preparation for the New Year, not as a celebration of Christ's birth.
Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. When I try to define what it is about Christmas that touches me so deeply, all I can say is "atmosphere." Even though the majority of Westerners have also lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas, enough of the message of, "Peace on earth, good will toward men," has remained to make it a special time for believers and non-believers alike. We've all noticed how people tend to smile more easily and be more considerate in the weeks preceding Christmas (unless, of course, they're trying to find a parking space at the mall). The spirit of giving our best to bring joy to those we love–just as God sent His Son to give salvation to the world He loved–is infectious, and it makes the whole Christmas season warmer and brighter than any other time of year. I miss this general spirit of good will. If I'm honest, I also miss many other things, but in my mind, they all combine to create the Christmas atmosphere that has always been so dear to me. I miss Christmas caroling, hot apple cider, people dressed in festive clothing, Christmas music everywhere you go, Christmas parties with friends, houses decorated with lights, the smell of Christmas baking, gift exchanges (white elephant and otherwise), the cozy ambiance of homes lit only by the glow of the Christmas tree, and–what goes along with each of these things–the laughter and special times shared with loved ones. I know that none of these signs of Christmas is directly related to the true reason for the season, and many Christians feel that they actually detract from it. But somehow, without them, I feel like I'm skipping Christmas. The birth of Jesus was such a momentous event that I feel it deserves all this celebration. Although most people may not remember Him in the midst of the festivities, I always have, making the signs of the season that much more precious to me.
A friend of mine in the States recently told me that she is planning a Christmas party and expressed regret that I wouldn't be able to come. The sudden force of my desire to be there surprised me. I couldn't explain it away by the fact that I miss her and my other loved ones in the States. After all, I just saw them six months ago. I also knew that my response was not because I wanted to "be home for Christmas." I've lived in so many different places that if someone were to ask me where I considered to be home, I wouldn't know how to answer them. No, what I was missing and wanting so desperately was this Christmas atmosphere that I've been describing.
My husband and I decided to move our life to Ukraine, so by choice, this is home. Neither of us wants to be anywhere else for Christmas. But at the same time, I feel that Christmas doesn't really come to Kyiv. So what am I to do? I will work to make our home a place filled with enough Christmas atmosphere to give us all we need for the whole season. And since people are so central to the celebration of Christmas, I will fill our home with family and friends during this time. Maybe I'll even throw a Christmas party for our closest friends–who are all Ukrainians–and, despite the seeming cultural inappropriateness, work in many of the traditions that are so dear to me. This year, I'll be home for Christmas–much more than I ever dreamed!

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“You Can’t!” — Culture Shock, Ukrainian Style

It seems to me that "culture shock" is an expression that many people use far too casually without understanding what it actually means. I used to be one of them.
Earlier this evening I was a dramatic and alarming picture of culture shock. When my husband found me, I was sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor beside a voltage transformer (our big one that I never bother to lift onto the counter when I need to use it because it weighs about forty pounds). I had my American-made electric beater plugged into it; the cord is too short to reach up onto the counter without coming unplugged from the transformer on the floor, which was why I was sitting on the floor. My left hand held the electric beater, on high, in the middle of a pot of fudge that I had just finished cooking that was sitting on the floor in front of me. My right my hand covered my eyes, supporting the full weight of my head as my elbow rested on my knee. The steady whir of the electric beater nearly drowned out the sobs that shook my body. I say "nearly drowned out" because George must have heard something to make him come to the kitchen at just that moment.
I was aware of his presence but was too distraught to respond. He knelt awkwardly on the other side of the pot of fudge and took the beater from me. I just cried harder. I needed to scream, but as a rational adult, I kept telling myself that was out of the question. But my mind felt as if it was about to shatter if I didn't do something quickly, so I shrieked. George jumped, but he managed to hold the beater, still on high, steady in the pot of fudge. I continued to cry, now with the pathetic, gasping breaths that afflict small children when they can't get control of themselves. I felt the need to vomit from the force of my sobs, and the rational part of my mind interrupted again to suggest that if I didn't get a hold of myself quickly, I would start to hyperventilate. That did the trick, and I gradually forced myself to regain control. Within a few minutes, I was frosting a tray of freshly baked brownies with the fudge frosting I had just made.
An outburst of this nature could only have been provoked by something earth shattering like the sudden death of a young child, a rape, or a murdered husband. Right? Not if you're a woman suffering from chronic culture shock and something jarring happens to you at the wrong time of the month.
What happened to me? Not much.
Earlier today I went grocery shopping. I started to enter the store, but then I realized that I needed a shopping cart, which I could only get outside of the store. So I turned on my heel to walk out and grab a cart from the row sitting conveniently about three feet from the entrance. Before I could get out, however, a security guard, who had been standing there watching me, blocked my path and said, "Nilzya!" a Russian obscenity that literally means you can't. (It's not actually an obscenity, but I've come to perceive it as such, because 85% of the time, the tone and spirit in which it is used makes you feel as if you're being cussed out.)
Baffled by his incomprehension, I pointed at the row of shopping carts and stuttered in Ukrainian, "But I need … I need …" Since shopping cart doesn't frequently come up in conversational speech, I didn't actually know the Ukrainian word for it, so I stumbled to a halt, frustrated and helpless.
"Go around through the cash register line," he told me, still in Russian.
I know what going through the cash register line is like, because once I had the misfortune to enter this same store looking for one item only. When I failed to find it, I had to choose between waiting ten minutes in line behind customers who were checking out or forcing my way past them. I chose the latter. The cash register aisles are very narrow, and if I carried a few more inches on my hips, it would have been physically impossible for me to squeeze past a loaded shopping cart. Other customers were paranoid that I might be trying to cut in front of them, because cutting in line is as natural as breathing for about 25% of the population. On top of all this, the cashier was suspicious that I might be trying to sneak out with stolen goods. All this flashed through my mind as I faced off with the surly security guard. But what could I do? I briefly contemplated either speaking a mixture of Ukrainian and French, trying to reason with him in English, or shoving him as hard as I could so I could get to one of the carts that were within arm's reach.
In the end, I simply growled at him, an inarticulate, animal noise, and spun around to find the closest cash register line . . . and then I came home and shrieked while making fudge frosting.
This sort of drama is not an everyday part of life in Ukraine for me. In fact, in nearly three years of living here, this is only the fourth such incident. The other three were prompted by minor slights like the one that set me off today. But culture shock is like a succession of time bombs. The steady ticking that colors all the seconds and minutes of your days sounds innocuous enough, but it's propelled forward by an unending series of small shocks until the inevitable, but unexpected, explosion occurs. And then the process begins all over again.
Today was the worst explosion yet. Hours later, my mind still feels brittle. I shan't go mad, at least not tonight. I'm sure of that. In fact, I'm reasonably sure that I will survive the interminable culture shock stage with my sanity intact. But at what cost? In order to survive, must I become an insensitive, unfeeling brute like the people who keep pushing me over the edge? I refuse.
As George gently pointed out after my second explosion after moving here, the reason we've chosen to live in this country is to make a positive difference. We want to see the love of Jesus transform lives and change the society. And one of the ways to pursue our goal is to display this love in all our actions. How should I have responded to the security guard today? I honestly don't know, but I'm sure that growling at him was not the best thing I could have done. So I take a deep breath, say a prayer of repentance, and ask God to help me do better next time.

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A Beginning

This is my first blog. I decided to start one because I’m entering a phase of my life where I would like to write more. This seems like a logical place to start, especially since I haven’t done a very good job of keeping in touch with many of my friends in the States since my move to Ukraine two years and eight months ago. So this is for all of you who are dear to me and for anyone else who cares to read, but mostly, it’s for me. There’ll be more soon, I promise, but for now, this is just a beginning, as the title says.