I didn't learn to be a mother in America, I learned to be a mother in Africa. My firstborn was only a few months old when we left the States, and those few months were a blur of sleepless nights, packing and sorting, goodbyes, trips, and everything that comes with such a major transition. TWO major transitions - the transition to motherhood and the transition to life overseas, both happening on top of each other. At first, my focus was on moving overseas, and not on learning to be a mother. As I look back on those days, I feel a little bit like my son was amost a year old before I adjusted to life in Africa enough to realize that I was really a mother.

That's not to say I wasn't caring for my son. I was . . . and it was stressful. He didn't sleep well, didn't eat well, had diarrhea for weeks at a time, and caused me no end of anxiety. I wasn't sure I knew how to take care of a baby, and I was definitely sure I didn't know how to take care of a baby in Africa. I was scared to death I would do something wrong and my son would suffer for it.

Two days before my firstborn turned two years old, my second son was born. His babyhood was a totally different experience . . . I was relaxed and enjoying being a mother, he was a happy, healthy baby, and I felt like I was finally figuring out this challenge called motherhood. And then we moved back to America when he was just over a year old . . . in December . . . and that winter he got every sickness that went around. Colds, flus, coughs, stomach bugs . . . he got them all. I was pregnant and stressed out and exhausted and anxious once again!

In the first couple weeks after we moved to West Africa, our field director's wife had me over for tea to share some tidbits of wisdom from her many years on the field. I wish I had taken notes that day . . . over four years later, I only remember two things she said. One of them related to marriage (maybe a topic for another post?) but the other one was this:

MOTHERHOOD IS HARD. It's hard in America. It's hard in Africa. When you find yourself exhausted and struggling as a mother, don't blame it on living in Africa. Being a mother is exhausting no matter where you live.

Some things are challenging about being a mother whether you're living overseas or living in your "home" country:

  • Sleepless nights - this is just part of the baby-package no matter where you live!
  • Sickness - my scariest time with a sick child was when my 18-mo-old became seriously dehydrated from the flu . . . in America.
  • Questions/anxiety - we don't know if we're making the right choices for our children
  • Guilt - a tool the enemy uses to cripple mothers everywhere
  • Sinful nature - your children's and your own!
  • Sacrificing your self, your time, your needs, your comfort - over and over again!

There are things about living in America that I've found more challenging than West Africa:

  • Potty training - my firstborn was potty-trained in a tiny apartment with tile floors and plastic chairs. It was a breeze. My second-born has yet to be potty-trained. My first attempt was a mess-on-the-carpet failure, and I haven't gotten brave enough to try again!
  • Snow clothes - I was a mom for 3.5 years before I had to deal with coats and hats and mittens and scarves and thermalwear and snow pants and boots and . . . I have always loved the snow, but as a mother, I'd be just as glad if I never had to bundle my kiddos up again!
  • Winter boredom - WHAT do you do with two energetic preschoolers when it's 14 degrees outside? No sandbox, no tricycle, no walks around the neighborhood . . . just a bad case of cabin fever for everyone.

Of course none of these are serious matters, but the struggle is real!! :-P  Yet I don't mean to take away from the very serious challenges of mothering overseas:

  • No family nearby - raising your children without the practical and emotional support of family is difficult. This is probably the single thing I struggled with the most while living in West Africa.
  • No "peers" - Maybe you have other mothers on your team who are in the same stage of parenting that you are. More likely, you don't. Or you rarely see each other. I remember many times wondering if what my boys were doing was normal for their stage - I simply had NO other children around to compare them to! It was such a relief to come back to the States and sit in the church nursery watching the other toddlers. I discovered that my boys are, in fact, quite normal! :-)
  • More exposure to more serious diseases. Yes, there are serious childhood sicknesses all over the world. But they tend to be more prevelant in the places we work. A lack of good medical care may also be a factor in this.
  • More pressure from the culture around us. Let's face it, there is tremendous pressure put on parents in the States! But mostly it's a pressure we understand and are used to. Most often when you live in another culture, your family is in a fishbowl and everything about the way you raise your children is open for critique. The pressure to conform to child-raising norms that you don't understand and/or don't agree with is a huge stress!

I'm sure I've missed some points, these are just a few that came to mind. The fact is, no matter where you are raising your children, motherhood is hard! Be encouraged - you are not alone in the struggle. That doesn't make it any easier, but maybe a little less lonely!

This article was written at 4:30am, after I had been awake for almost three hours in the middle of the night dealing with not one, not two, but THREE sick little boys! My purpose is not to complain, but to encourage my sisters in this challenging journey!  When we are in the middle of a difficult time, it feels like we're so alone and if we just had {a different living situation - you fill in the blank} it would be so much easier. The fact is, being a mother is just HARD no matter where you live and what your situation is!!

Well, some moms' days start at night, or never ended to begin with. Like this:   Little man woke 8 times in about as many hours. Then he wanted to get up at six instead of seven and while Daddy and I drooped bug-eyed on our bed gasping for breath from lack of sleep, he brought his toy box into our room and threw his balls around and bounced off the walls in happy boisterousness.

I said,  "I think our son has worms and wheat intolerance and milk allergy and ADHD and insomnia." Daddy  said, "There is nothing wrong with him." I said, "Then why has he been so wound up and grumpy the last couple weeks?" Daddy said, " Because he was wound up and grumpy." I said, "Why did he sleep the way he did last night? " And Daddy said, "Because he woke up so often. "   =) =)

(And lest you think that is an uncaring, unsympathetic husband, let me tell you that he is only very practical and wise, and the above conversation was
all in fun. =) We decided that the natural dewormer we were doing that week was what made for some interesting nights. We have some interesting nights
on a regular basis with our almost two year old who's pet peeve is sleeping, but we are working on it and we'll sleep better some day.

So....the day. It begins with all the normals in this house of three people- a daddy, a mama, and a little boy on top of this mountain in East Africa. Getting dressed, breakfast...and that may be porridge, which is the little boy's favorite, but not the daddy's, or it may be pancakes or biscuits, or eggs, which is the daddy's favorite. Then Bible time, which is beginning to include a younger version for our littler person. It may be interrupted, depending on the day or time, by a knock on the gate, which may be either the milk man or Mama Tuombe. They both come three days a week at about the same time.

If it is a Mama Tuombe day, she will begin by diligently sweeping the yard, every corner. We have lots of trees and flowers and grass and while it is the delight of my soul, it does make for more upkeep. Mama Tuombe does a good job. (She doesn't know that I don't do it the days she isn't here.) She stays about three hours, has just started helping me and we like each other so far, I think. Her name means "Let's pray". (Actually, that must be her oldest child's name. Here, that's what you go by.

Once the house is in order and dishes done, I begin laundry. If it is a laundry day. Mama Tuombe and I do it together so we have a chance to talk, so I have a chance to practice my slowly progressing language skills. In the meantime, Little Man thrills to the outdoors and the water and the dirt. We have chai together and then....school! Yes, fairly basic, but a good thing for a little man who needs the structure and direction. Coloring, counting, puzzles, stories, matching, practicing the sounds he knows.....We both enjoy it a lot.

It may be a no-Mama Tuombe day and hence a no-laundry day. Maybe it is shopping day. Market is far enough and my son heavy enough that I cannot just run when I need to. What is working very well for me is to do it once a week and keep a shopping list. I enjoy the challenge of using what I have on hand and seeing the fridge almost clean for the next batch of produce. Then Little Man will either stay with Daddy while I go all the way into town (.5 mile?) or they will both go along if Daddy has some business there or Little Man and I will go to a variety of nearby dukas to get what we need.

Lunch time...almost always leftovers from the night before. I just cook once a day. =) And naps! Mama's free time, right? Well, this mama is still in the language learning stage and is trying to discipline herself to use that valuable time to study. Sometimes that means going over to the neighbor girl to talk. Sometimes it means self study ....on the couch...with a pillow and blanket....and that usually means fall asleep a bit. =) Other times I cheat a bit and...maybe write a story for TCK mom. =)

At this time, with the Bible translation project barely beginning here, my sweetheart is still working some for a company in the US (he's a computer programmer), usually studying in the mornings and working in the afternoons. It is very much of a blessing to have him so much a part of our day.

Afternoons vary, obviously. They usually start when little guy wakes up with washing lunch dishes and then we may go outside. We actually have space for a garden and there are tiny little spinach and lettuce and onion and tomato and sweet corn and cilantro and mint plants shining green, and strawberries that are growing well....so fun!!  Little Man enjoys helping me water the garden. There may be other yard work - pulling weeds or just playing together in the dirt or throwing a ball. Or maybe going over to the elderly neighbor lady sitting on her porch, sewing...a place where ladies seem to gather a lot and a valuable place to make friends and practice language. Or there may be bread to bake or laundry to take care of... and of course supper to cook. Somewhere in there is a little quiet time when Mama gets to read her Bible and Little Man plays on a mat by himself, usually with a container of rice and some spoons or something, saved for the occasion.

This week we had one of 'those' evenings. You know, when the power is off. The kitchen is too dark to see in, and the mangos you are cutting up are very tasty, but slimy and stringy and your two year old very helpfully holds a flash light for you, shining...in your eyes. You were going to bake a delicious eggplant lasagna, but because the power is off you change your menu and run to the nearby duka for some last minute pasta. The sauce you made is chunky instead of blended, because, of course, you can't use the blender. Your little boy needs to go potty in the middle of the meal and it's too dark to see properly and it goes on your dress instead of the accepted normal place....and.....you finish your meal. And tell your husband, "Now wasn't this romantic? We just had a candlelight dinner!"  And you smile and go on. =)

Then dishes and floors and baths and bedtime for a little person, and maybe a few minutes for Mama to write while Daddy puts him down. (THAT has been a situation in itself for the past year and a half, the getting him to sleep.....and sometimes took an hour or two,  It's going better now.) And then...is he and me time! =) And if I am still sweeping the floor, my dear husband just may take the broom from me, put it away and steer me to the couch to begin our time together. =) "It's not necessary to work in the evening, " he says.

So that's a brief glimpse of what a normalish day may be like, in this season of life with just one little TCK. I love being a wife and a mama and though it has it's unique challenge in a different culture and away from family and friends, I am very blessed and thank the Lord for his faithfulness.

Mangos are quite possibly my favorite fruit. I always looked forward to mango season in West Africa, and they are one of the things I really miss since moving to the States. But a couple weeks ago I got a whole crate of mangos for free! They were past their prime - I cut out a bunch of bad spots - but I was able to get several bowls of delicious fresh fruit . . . and a few pictures. If you've never cut a mango, here's how:

cutmango

Notice that the seed is long and flat. Depending on how you're planning to use your mango, you can continue by cutting it into chunks like this:

mangopieces

 

In West Africa we had two types of mango . . . the "agric" mangos, which are smooth and firm like the photos above, and the "local" mangos which are smaller, juicier and very stringy. They're hard to cut into chunks, and hard to eat without getting tons of fibers stuck in your teeth. We had a giant, spreading "local" mango tree that yeilded about two bushels of mangos a day for three weeks straight. WHAT in the world should I do with all those mangos? Of course we gave most of them away. :-) But I also came up with the idea of making "mango butter" . . . like apple butter, which is one of my favorite toppings ever. It was a grand success and I was quite pleased!

 

The biggest challenge was figuring out how to strain out the fibers without a Victoria strainer or any sort of food mill. With a little experimenting, I figured out that it worked to use a colander with a wooden pestle. In this way, I ended up with a smooth sauce that worked great for mango butter. Excuse the blurry cell phone picture!

IMG 20140421 172108

 I just followed an apple butter recipe, like the one here. If you already have a family favorite, I'm sure it would be great! I canned it in small jars for easy storage, but freezing would work well too.

I have canned cut mangos just like peaches . . . but we like them better frozen. They're great dropped into a blender with milk and bananas for a smoothie! Mango and avacado are also great together.

 

The possibilities with mangos are endless. Check out a few of these delicious-looking recipes I found online:

Rice Pudding with Mangos

Mango Chicken Curry

Mango-Pineapple Salsa

Carmelized Mangos

 

What do you like to do with mangos? Do you have a favorite recipe to share?

I am returning, yet again, to our reader's question from several weeks ago. How do we raise our children in a setting where no one around us shares our values? How do we help them develop and adopt the same convictions that are important to us? I sent this question to a vetran mother of nine, who has spent over 20 years raising her children on the field. Following is the advice she so graciously gave me to share with you.

Let us look at some of the advantages of being on a foreign field.
    1) Family (siblings and parents) become best friends. (That is if you take care to keep relationships strong and healthy!)
     2) Children are not facing constant peer pressure from other children/youth from their own culture because of living in a different culture.
     3) Children grow up with "being different" because they grow up in a culture different from their own..........this can aid them in being different for Christ!

It seems highly important to give much teaching to our children and impress upon our children to have a right attitude toward authority. This is something that has been trodden down sooo much in our day!
 
Above all we must pray for our children everyday! We can't keep our children but God can and will!!

Here are some things to teach our children while still young --
1) Teach the importance of obeying authority whether the child understands why or not. Help them understand the promises and blessings of obeying as stated in Eph. 6:1-3
*This is soo important! Parents have so much more wisdom since they have lived long enough to see the results of choices made. 

2) Be serious to teach the principles of Scripture that never change, though practical outworking may vary to some extent.
3) Teach the importance of " Daring to be a Daniel" or standing alone! Admit that we do some things differently than other Christians (one has this on the home front as well) but that is OK! II Cor. 10:12 What others do sometimes -- under God we cannot! This does not make us better than others...absolutely not! We believe that we are quite accountable before God for the values we have been taught by Godly parents and we may not lightly throw them aside! Others may not have had this advantage. Children can be helped to understand that there are reasons for the things we require of them and as they get older they can be taught the real reasons.

****For one example-- We simply want to keep away from all the distractions that this world has to offer to keep our feet on the holy highway and/or to have a single eye on the Lord and His Kingdom! Fathers are to teach their children under God and will stand accountable for this!

***God had a special blessing for the Rechabites in the OT. for their obedience to their father! This shows how important this is to God! Ross preached a message on our last furlough and he mentioned some about authority. He mentioned the blessing of God on the Rechabites! One of our daughters gave this testimony that really put a stamp on what he said. She mentioned that her Daddy gave them a "Rechabite law" to stop playing volley ball every Sun. and she is so glad! If he had not, she is not sure where she would be today?! Unknown to her Daddy, she was so taken up with sports....... but this "law" kept her.

Here is the story .... Our children/youth were playing volley ball regularly with the church and neighborhood youth on Sunday afternoons. It became a big deal every Sun.! Ross came to sense that he needs to put a stop to this...sensed it was taking our children's hearts and was not the best. It was a "big pill" for our youth to chew but they did bow their hearts to Daddy! PTL!
It seems like fathers sometimes sense the need to make "a law" and can not always explain all the reasons why?! God can and does lead an authority in this way at times as He seeks God's heart for the welfare of his family. It works out best if the subjects submit to this for their own spiritual well being.