Modern Technology!

3D ultrasound of Baby Lencho #2

I just wanted to post a recent picture; a 3D ultrasound actually, of our little sweetie at about 17 weeks. It’s amazing what modern technology can do! I have a check up tomorrow and will post the ultrasound of that to compare the two and see how much baby has grown over a 2 week period.

Round 2

I wish I could adequately put into words the huge sigh I just released as I stared at the blank space of this blog entry before me, but you’ll just have to use your imagination. To do that, you’d have to picture yourself almost 42 years old, at the end of summer break, 18 weeks pregnant with your second little girl whose existence was a HUGE, MASSIVE, ENORMOUSLY unplanned and mysterious surprise. I will wait while you sit and ponder that, but not for too long…
I have a couple of reasons for picking up this blog again. The first is that I envision these blogs someday made into a hardbound book I can leave for my daughters so they can someday read in their mother’s words how life was as I anticipated their births, and what our days together were like for a period of time after they arrived. Secondly, I think I need this as a psychological study of myself. A place to vent my feelings and work out the kinks in my emotions. Maybe some other 40-something mom to be who is looking for some kind of shared experience will read these posts and not feel completely crazy for starting over (or for the first time) with a new baby at the age I am today. If you read my first series of blogs back in the summer of 2006, you’d know that I was thinking and writing about our first daughter, Zofia almost from the moment of conception. Her entire life has been chronicled in pictures and words. I had so much energy! I was so…uninformed. Uninformed about how much time, energy, love, self, EVERYTHING would go into raising a child. I wonder, do I have it in me to do it all again? I’ve waited until now to even ponder writing a blog again because this in and of itself is a kind of energy and time commitment and if I do this, won’t I feel obligated to do IT ALL again? CAN I do it all again? I feel baby girl #2 rolling around inside of me right now as if she’s cheering me on and letting me know that she, for one, knows I can. And I want to try for her and for myself to once again be the very best mom I know how to be. Maybe this blog will be more about my own journey than about our child. I never really know what’s going to roll out onto the page before it happens. I think Kurt Vonnegut (via Mark) would describe me as a slasher that way. Hold your breath because none of us knows what’s coming next!

Slovak in America: Week I

Ahoj Slovakia took on new meaning last Wednesday, when I greeted Tomaš Trnovec at the international arrivals gate A at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.  LOT 1 from Warsaw had arrived at 3:30 PM, but it wasn’t until 6:30 PM that Tomaš emerged from customs, wearing a black “I Love NY” T-shirt, and new blue Nike Airs basketball sneakers. He was carrying only one suitcase, but apparently the customs official had examined its items piece by piece, trying to determine the larger context of Tomas’s trip, from these bits of circumstantial evidence. It seems like a critical discussion point was an explanation of Tomas’s contacts in the US, and as a result my name made it into the documents included in his passport.  On Friday, when we went out to by some work shoes, Tomas explained to me his reason for traveling light: work related clothes would make the customs officer suspicious of this 20 year old Slovak with modest English skills traveling alone to the US without a work permit.

So the first week has been spent outfitting Tomas with the essentials: including a cell phone, toiletries, insurance so he can drive our cars . . . . Tomas’s first discretionary purchases have included a California Angels baseball cap, UW-Whitewater shorts and shirt for working out at the University weight room, cigarettes, (yes, an apparent non-sequiter that I have been trying to get to the bottom of)  and a case for holding his I-pod.

I bought Tomas a summer membership to our University fitness facility so he could work out.  We have already worked out three times during this our first week, and so far Tomas has been for the most part a diligent student in following my directions of how to systematically move through the various muscle groups.  Our only disagreement is on the necessity of exercising legs and stomach, which I am a big proponent of.

It looks like crucifixion, but it's actually University fitness

Our work outs have quickly taken a practical dimension in my hurry to give Tomas situations where he could help-out.  We spent our second full day together raking, tilling, and then spading a plot of land that we hope to turn into a little family garden. The raking was the result of our late start: grass had already established itself before we laid tarp down last month to mark off a garden;  tilling was an exercise in futility because the roots of the grass made the surface impenetrable, so we shoveled by hand the entire garden, aerating it to a depth of almost one foot. The dirt, however, was too wet to crumble and spread, so our little plot is awaiting some dry weather in order that we may return with the tiller.

Building a garden late in the season

Dry weather has been somewhat elusive.  We have had more rainy days than dry since Tomas has arrived.  We are thinking now, a week after making our first attempt at the garden, that we will need to rake what we spaded before a second attempt at tilling, which may not come until the weekend.

Tomaš has worked now on two sites, both at a modest distance from home, weeding, mulching and planting.  The commute has given Tomaš the opportunity to practice driving, as have our trips to the fitness center (I prefer to go by bicycle, so Tomaš is using the car on his own).  

Tomaš learns how to drive the family car.

As my niece told my mother, it can’t be too appealing thinking about spending the summer with a 50 year old guy and his three-year old toddler. . . So far, Tomaš has not had much time to relax with others his age.  He has met both my sons, but so far there haven’t been any arrangements to hang out. He did have a chance to talk a couple of days to a college-age student, Laura, who is seeking to get a little Slovak before spending some of the summer teaching English in Slovakia.   The both seemed to enjoy their conversations, but now several days have gone by without follow-up.

Tomaš teaches Laura something about Slovak

So far Tomaš has been spending his free time in his room, watching American movies with Slovak dubbing and facebooking and skyping friends and family.  These outlets are very double-edged: the isolating effect of culture shock can be quite profound, yet the electronic umbilical cord that the computer provides Tomaš with his Slovak home deflects him from valuable opportunities to make connections in his new home.  Moving to a different country where you have neither language, friends, nor regular employment is a daunting task, and I look forward with both compassion and concern to the difficult road ahead.  Living in a foreign country is not an easy task in even much more favorable situations.  There is a special skill-set that is animated by the willingness to be open minded about things and a willingness to play the fool, which small kids can do so well and which accounts for their impressive feats of learning. Tomaš is a soft-spoken young man–which is a temperament that will put him at a little bit of a disadvantage. To his credit, he has shown every willingness to eat all of the nutritious, low-calorie, fruit and vegetable oriented cuisine that constitutes the daily diet of the Lima Center Lenchos.  Whether or not Tomaš will succeed in developing a truly nurturing routine here, so that he can give of himself fully, is something that remains to been seen.  Meanwhile we walk the line of offering aid and comfort while making every effort to foster Tomaš’s independence and sense of personal responsibility.

An Overnight Adventure

            I can’t believe I’m writing this blog so early in the month.  As you must have noticed by now I’ve been procrastinating on these things, often waiting until the very end of the month (sometimes starting at 9 pm on the last day!) to get an entry in by deadline.  Mark is the cracker of the whip.  Thank God for him.  Poor Zofka would probably have just one year of postings to read about if it wasn’t for my Type-A personality motivator!

            I have much to write about and will start with our first night away from Zofia since her birth two years and five months ago.  I finally summoned up the courage to leave her for more than 24 hours and could only do so knowing she was in the care of some dear and very responsible friends of ours, Jackie Brahmstadt, her husband Steve, and their two children, Morgan and Cole.  Jackie is Mark and my hairstylist and we’ve known her for about five years.  She accompanied me to Las Vegas when I competed in the Mrs. United States pageant back in 2004.  Jackie was the one who really encouraged me to make a plan for Mark and I to do something fun as a couple.  She must have felt the tension in my scalp the last time she washed my hair!  We plotted out the getaway as my gray hairs sat soaking in the hair dye.  Jackie and her family would stay at our house in Fort Atkinson and watch Zofia while Mark and I were at a play at the American Players Theater in Spring Green.  According to Jackie, her family could feel as if they were on a getaway, too.  Steve and Cole would go fishing in the river right behind the house and take the canoe for a ride.  She sold the idea like a pro (or maybe I was a desperate buyer), so I cleaned like a madwoman, stocked up the fridge and cupboards, put some flowers in the vase and left Jackie and Steve with champagne, chocolates, and oh yeah, a two and a half year old!

            Mark and I had so much fun.  We went to dinner at a little bar and grill in Spring Green and listened to a local musician play in an outdoor venue kind of like a beer garden.  After dinner we headed on the play, “A Comedy of Errors” which was perfect because it was so lighthearted and didn’t require the firing of all that many neurons to follow as some Shakespeare stuff does.  After the show we retired to the Bessinger House B&B in nearby Plain, WI.  We slept like two dead people in our quaint little basement suite and woke to a truly lovely Wisconsin summer morning.  I lounged around in bed for a bit longer while Mark went for a run around the town.  We then met the other couple staying there: a 93 year old retired biochemist from UW-Madison, and his wife, the former head of the League of Women Voters in Madison.  The proprietors of the B&B are an older retired farm couple who entertained us all with a geography quiz and background lessons as we devoured our breakfast of elderberry flower fritters, eggs, homemade apple and rhubarb sauce and cup after cup of soul-reviving coffee.  We checked out and were on the road by eleven stopping only for gas and a tour of the local cheese factory to buy some gifts for folks back home.

The Bed & Breakfast

The Bed & Breakfast

 

 

 

 

 

           

           In Madison we shopped around for a birthday gift for Carrie who turned 52 on July 3rd.  After shopping we ate lunch at The Great Dane and then saw Woody Allen’s new film, Whatever Works—lots of laughs there!  Mark and I saw a few parallels in the main characters, though discussing that might be better fodder for the shrink’s office.  Finally, it was on to Fort Atkinson.  I was really starting to miss Zofka by then.  This parenting thing is so queer. How can it be that I can feel so excited for a break from stay-at-home momming and then miss her like crazy after only being away for a day?

            The toddler exchange went quickly.  We had to be in Delevan for Carrie’s birthday dinner, pronto!  After a brief summary of how things went for everyone while we were away, Daddy, Zofka, and I jumped in the car and headed for Hernandez’ Mexican Restaurant.  Everything went like clockwork for Jackie’s family and for Zofka during our getaway. I still need to get all the fun details from Jackie, but everyone seemed happy and Jackie offered to do it again sometime.  That’s gotta be a good thing, right? 

            So off we went to help Carrie celebrate her birthday.  Everyone was there, and besides the fact that Zofka peed on the floor of the restaurant bathroom (she got half of it in the toilet!), everything went smoothly.  Peyton, Laura, and Kyle were all there, too.  After we stuffed ourselves with the requisite amount of chips & salsa, and mowed down mountains of Mexican food, we sang Happy Birthday and dug into the carrot cake that Jackie and Zofka made for the special occasion. 

 

Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday!

            Zofia was thrilled to be on the sidelines for the big 4th of July parade in Whitewater.  She gathered a huge bag of candy and graciously shared it with all of us big people.  Later, we all went to the carnival.  She had a blast riding the merry-go-round, the cars, and even went on her first “roller coaster”-a dragon comprised of multiple cars which zipped speedily around a circular track.  She was talking about the “crazy dragon” for many days afterwards.
Mala Americanka a Slovenka!

Mala Americanka a Slovenka!

           

 

 

 

 

 

          We’ve been working on potty training (half-heartedly) for a couple of months.  Zofka does well during certain periods of time and then falls off the wagon at others.  Sounds normal, right?  My inclination is to let her take the lead in this since she is such a strong-willed independent little girl.  She’s also quite sensitive and gets really upset when she has accidents.  I really don’t mind the diapering thing.  I think it’s probably one of the only areas of parenting in which I’m fairly easy-going.

Granola Girl

Granola Girl

Strike a pose!

Strike a pose!

        

            I’ve had no luck with the job search.  After two failed interviews my ego is starting to show some wear and tear, though Mark reminds me lovingly that my job as a domestic executive is one that is both highly necessary and highly valued!  I’m grateful for his support and understanding.

            Perhaps the biggest news is that we signed a one-year lease on a great house which we’ll be moving into in a couple of months.  It’s out in the middle of the country on 3 acres of land which skirts up against DNR land.  There’s not much to see but nature all around us.  The owners remodeled the place and tried to sell it, but decided to rent because the market is so bad right now.  Lucky us.  I’ll be sure to include a pictorial tour on a near future blog posting.  

             Last night Mark and I went to see the movie, “Bruno” in Madison.  I won’t go into details about that except to say not to spend your money if you are thinking about seeing it.  We loved “Borat” which was the first feature-length film by Cohen, but this one didn’t really measure up to it in our opinion.  The best part about last night was that Zofka’s big brother (19 years old) babysat Zofka for a couple of hours while Carrie was busy mowing her lawn.  She took over when she was done, but Kyle did a great job.  He even got paid for the gig!  Now we have one more baby sitter to add to our list of people allowed to watch over the little princess.

            I’ll end with some pictures of us out cherry-picking in a local orchard from this morning.  Mark rides by the orchard on his bike commute to school and though it would be a nice thing for the family to do on a perfect Sunday morning.  The temperature was in the 70’s with an open sunny blue sky.  We picked a bucket (Zofka ate a few!), washed them in a big tank, and watched as the pitting machine did its work.  After Z wakes from her nap we’ll make cherry crisp together for the cookout we’re hosting tonight. 

 

Like Mother, Like Daughter (Cherry-picking genetics!)

Like Mother, Like Daughter (Cherry-picking genetics!)

 

           

 

 

 

 

Washing the bounty

Washing the bounty

 

            It has been a busy, as usual and pleasant month of July so far for us. We’re looking forward to visits from our friend Robert Stern and his two boys Hugo and Leo whom we got close to during our time living in Hawaii, and from Mark’s friend Jeff whom I’ve yet to meet.  He and Jeff have gotten to know one another during their shared time working for the Educational Testing Service the past couple of summers.  Both visits promise to be great fun.

             If you happen to read this posting I’d be so grateful for your comments so that one day Zofka will know that others were tracking her adventures of baby and toddlerhood.  All the best to everyone! 

 

Summer in Fort Atkinson, WI, Photo by Mark Lencho-Come visit!

Summer in Fort Atkinson, WI, Photo by Mark Lencho-Come visit!

 

 

 

 

 

Attachment to Anniversary Post

Here are some pictures to accompany Mark’s thoughtful blog entry for the month.  I’m so proud to say that we’ve been traveling through this life together for 16 years (11 of them as husband and wife).  I hope that Zofia will get an idea just how much she is loved by us when she reads the words we’ve written over the past three years.  I love you, Hon.  I love you, Zofia.
Zofka sits in the garden guarding the rescued turtle

Zofka sits in the garden guarding the rescued turtle

 

 

 

 

 

Water baby

Water baby

My sister Kym, me, and my sister Janine during our sisters' retreat.  Our other sister, Suzie couldn't make it

My sister Kym, me, and my sister Janine during our sisters

Happy anniversary!

Happy anniversary!

Happy Anniversary!

 

This entry commemorates anniversaries: it is the third anniversary of the “birth” of this blog. Daddy and Žofka were alone together for the first extended period: 48 hours, during which time Mommy had a vacation escape with her two sisters, Janine and Kim, in the little resort town nearby of Lake Geneva.

 

Daddy, who has been preoccuppied lately with his work for Educational Testing Service in Kentucky, and before that with the end-of-semester avalanche of activity, cleared off the planner, took a deep breath, and , gazing into the mirror, put on his game face, looking to go one-on-one with his daughter, throwing himself into it fully, and seeing what could be made up, what could be discovered.

 

Mommy, in her meticulous way with her child, left a minute-by-minute schedule of the day’s routine, and had also left the house fully provisioned.  Daddy is familiar with the park and the pool routine, the going to bed routine and the getting up in the morning  routine.  These things went with the custormary clockwork, and although mommy wasn’t mentioned, her shaping hand behind the scenes was indirectly revealed in all the great competence in our two year old: her ability to sleep well, eat well, and play in the moment: the fearless hear-and-now attitude as she goes through the day.  Mommy was never lamented, not once, but always manifested in the spunk and brio of our little girl’s engagement with everything in her world.  What makes an impression is that the toddler seems so well-adjusted . . . at least as much as you can ask from someone with just  29 months of experience on the planet.   Even during a brief sick period (breathing fitfully, our baby woke in the evening feeling hot, running a temperature) and despite her discomfort, she snuggled with Daddy and allowed him to do his best to console her.

 

 

            Daddy: „Ako  sa citiš, moja tepla zlatička?“

            Žofka:  „I‘m happy, Daddy”

 

 

Daddy pushed the envelope  a little to discover that his baby COULD drink white milk as well as chocolate, COULD eat bread crust with a peanut butter sandwich, COULD eat daddy oatmeal with strawberries and honey.  Daddy and Žofka watched four episodes of Matko and Kubko, then read the stories, and, when Žofka heard a new CD in the car on the way to the pool, she amazingly identified the musicians as the same responsible for her nightly lullabies, her „uspávanky.“  We danced together, listening to Prši Prši and Kolo, Kolo Mlynské, and Kukučka Kde si bola.  Hanging with Daddy, her language slipped into Slovak, even when talking to Mommy on the phone.

 

            Žofka: Ahoj Mamička, mam sa dobre!

 

 

Žofka teaches us daily new things.  We have learned that having a child can mean actually becoming a child once again . . . as the world becomes a new adventure in discovery.

 

 

Somewhat coincidentally, this issue of the blog corresponds with Mommy and Daddy‘s anniversary as well.  June 25, 2009: now we have been married 11 years.  I let myself think about what our daughter has to tell us in her way about our marriage . . . we have our roles that we vary and repeat and enlarge, and we learn, we stumble sometimes, and we get hurt, but, in the face of all the apparent fragility and vulnerability of life, we are prepared too and we overcome. . . . and we continually seize opportunities to reaffirm our love.

Transitions

Transitioning from the crib to the...driveway?

Transitioning from the crib to the...driveway?

It’s funny how we love to celebrate the big transitional times in our lives, but we often fail to adequately recognize and deal with the darker side of these transitions.  I finally graduated with my master’s degree this month after eight long years, and so we celebrated. With that degree comes unemployment and a loss of a part of my personal identity.  I’ve been a student for so long, so now how do I define myself?  Obviously, I’m pleased to be done with all that work, but there is a big part of me that will miss the learning and the comaraderie and connectedness that goes along with being a graduate student.   I will no longer be connected with a school now that my internship is finished.  I’ve grown so accustomed to working with students, and that work, too, is very much a part of who I am as a person.  What now?  I am online daily scouring for job openings, but it’s a monotonous kind of busy and riddled with disappointments.  It’s not the same as putting my energies into something helpful for others, and it doesn’t do much in the way of making me a smarter person, but it’s a part of this whole transitional process that I have to learn to embrace.  It’s the dark side of moving on.

With my mentor and friend, Dr. Brenda Rust O'Beirne

With my mentor and friend, Dr. Brenda Rust O

Fully transitioned into middle age!

Fully transitioned into middle age!

At least Zofka looks happy!

At least Zofka looks happy!

I just got home from walking Zofka to her last day of school (daycare) until next fall.  She was a perfect little angel walking in with the brownies she made for her friends at there.  “Look, Miss Cathy, I made brownies for everyone!  I cracked the eggs and mixed it all up!”  Then she turned to me and said, “Bye, bye Mommy.  See you soon!”  It was the smoothest morning transition of the entire year.  It’s as if she sensed this was her final day for awhile.  Her intuition floors me!  What could possibly be the dark side of looking at an ENTIRE SUMMER spent with a toddler and with little to no downtime? 

Want some?

Want some?

Ready to go to the park (or climb Mt. Everest!)?

Ready to go to the park (or climb Mt. Everest!)?

Playing with her gift from Rado and Anna

Playing with her gift from Rado and Anna

First dental appointment

First dental appointment

As I sit here writing this I’ll tell you that I am a woman in turmoil. I’m thinking of a good friend I met during my internship.  She’s just finishing her degree in special education and is exactly my age, but with  three young children all under the age of ten.  Last month she was diagnosed with stage 4 brain and lung cancer.  I went out to dinner with her a few nights ago after not having seen her for a few weeks.  She had just completed her 18th radiation treatment.  Her thick, long blond hair is now gone.  Her face is red and swollen from the radiation.  Her prognosis is not good.  She talked a lot that about the joy of snuggling with her three children at night on the couch and about how so many of the things that used to bother her are now like rays of sunlight in her life:  kids arguing, dishes piling up at the sink, weeds in the garden.  Her perspective on life allows her to see lightness where most of us see dark.  I think of her and know that whatever darkness I face can be seen as joyful opportunities within a different frame of mind.  So I am still a student.  I am still learning after all.  I like that a lot.

Our little angel gets her first bike helmet.  Such a treasure to protect!

Our little angel gets her first bike helmet. Such a treasure to protect!

This has been a month of changes and celebrations.  Grandma Lencho and Uncle Bobby were here to help me celebrate my graduation, and we had a nice gathering at our house for Memorial Day.  Mark is done with school, but he’s still working, of course.  He heads down to Kentucky for nine days on the 3rd to grade essay exams for ETS.  He does it every year, and while it is hard work, I think part of him is looking forward to a little downtime after the grading is done each day.  I continue my job hunt each day.  I have a couple of prospects, but nothing air tight yet.  And Zofka continues growing in every way with each new day.  We are going to start potty training in earnest tomorrow since we are all done with school now and there are no major transitions coming up for a little while!

I love my grandma

I love my grandma

Just before Zofka fell off the chair (with Laura and Peyton)!

Just before Zofka fell off the chair (with Laura and Peyton)!

Local Chapter of Trekkie Nerds

Local Chapter of Trekkie Nerds

Until next time…

Just Pictures

I’m lame.  I am just totally, utterly, completely and unequivocally lame.  There is no excuse, or can’t think of one that would be clever enough, or convincing enough to make anyone out there who might read my entry this month believe that I really couldn’t find enough time to sit and write a fantastic piece for the month of April because as I said, I’m just plain old lame.   Really, I just want to apologize to Zofia for whom this blog exists.  I’ve let you down this month, my little Princess, my silly little jumping bean.  I just hope that some day, when you sit down to read these words, you aren’t in the frame of mind to measure blog quality with maternal love.  The latter I have in abundance.  But bug, YOUR MOMMY’S TIRED!

Because I happen to know for a fact there there are some readers out there that are really not all that big on reading at all (or at least reading anything plunked out by E.A. Lencho) I dedicate the remainder of this entry to you, my pictoral preference pals.  Read, er, LOOK on!

Zofka and Mommy almost exactly one year ago (4/08)

Zofka and Mommy almost exactly one year ago (4/08)

Mommy and Zozo one year later.  Have we aged?  (4/09)

Mommy and Zozo one year later. Have we aged? (4/09)

Whoa.  Wait a minute.  I need to mention how nice Easter was this year in Sussex, WI at Laura’s family’s lovely home.  Peyton and Laura made a fantastic Easter egg hunt for Zofka outside.  She searched for eggs high and low.  She even found money in some!  Zofia ate ham for the first time.  That’s a testiment to Laura’s mom’s cooking!  Now back to the pictures.
Hey, where's the chicken?  What does a bunny have to do with it?

Hey, where

Now that's one good hiding place!

Now that

On the hunt at Laura's house

On the hunt at Laura

And this is one of her better mornings!

And this is one of her better mornings!

 

The Bathtub Quartet

The Bathtub Quartet

Be sure to check back next month for the first installment of, “Zofia Conquers the Potty” or possibly, “Dora vs. Elmo, Who Will Be the Ultimate Victor in the Battle of the Funky Underpants?”  That’s right folks, it’s Potty Training Central at the Lencho home.  Say a few prayers for us, OK?

Where is Spring?

The month of March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb, but this year it both came in and is going out like a disoriented and raging lion!  The weather has been all over the place.  We’ve had freezing temperatures, sleet, snow, rain, and high winds punctuated by a few mild days here and there.  Many of you recall that last year we had record rain fall which caused serious flooding in the area.  The home we are living in now experienced those floods and the water level is still quite high this year.  Each time it rains heavily we worry about more water damage.  Just a quarter mile from the house a good portion of the road is covered by the river and is impassible by car.  I learned that the hard way one morning when I went out for a run along my usual route which I found to be under water about a quarter mile in!

The first part of the month was anxiety packed as Mark burned the candle at both ends (and if there were three ends he’d have burned them all!) preparing for his trip to Slovakia in addition to meeting all of his university obligations.  Zofka and I became bachelorettes on Friday, March 20th, the day Mark left.  He was there for nine days, the first four of which were the equivalent of any parent’s nightmare.  Zofia came down with a terrible sickness that weekend.  The sleepless nights began on Sunday.  She was up every hour on the hour.  Finally, at about three in the morning she was able to tell me that her neck hurt.  That was a big clue that we needed to visit the doctor right away.  As it turned out she had a double ear infection with a blister on one eardrumb (OUCH!) with a sinus infection on top of that.  As you can imagine, we were both sleep deprived.  I ended up getting sick a couple of days later.  It was a real mess.  Mark, the good man that he is, offered to hop on a plane and come right home to help, but by Thurday Zofka was just about back to her old spunky, sweet self and I was starting to get the hang of parenting on my own…kind of.  The silver lining to the situation is that I now have a whole new appreciation for single moms and dads who have to do everything alone.  I was never really alone because Carrie was always a phone call away, and Mark pays all the expenses.  I can’t even imagine the immense stress of taking care of all of the family’s needs.  Wow.

The calm before the storm (the day before Daddy left!)

The calm before the storm (the day before Daddy left!)

You know, for as long as I’ve been with Mark he’s had to leave for a couple of weeks here and there for work and the separations have always been uncomfortable, but this time it was a lot more difficult.  I felt that as a parent, as I’ve already talked about, but also as a wife.  You know, this time around I just plain missed the hell out of him.  There were days when it physically hurt that he wasn’t in the house.  It probably sounds sophmoric and silly to some of you, but there was nothing silly about it to me.  Mark’s absense reminded me of how much I depend on him as a husband, father to Zofka, and as a friend.  OK, I love the guy-there, I said it!  This time around absense indeed made the heart grow fonder.

I won’t fill you in on all the details of Mark’s trip.  I think he should do that, and maybe he’ll find time this coming month to post an entry about his experiences in Slovakia, but just so you know, he was there to present his research findings on translating literature from Slovak to English as well as to visit old friends and family.  He came back with a suitcase filled with goodies for both Zofia and me.  Zofka just about jumped out of her crib when she finally got to see her daddy the morning after his return.  It feels really nice to have all three of us under the same roof again.

Now we all turn our attentions to finishing the school year.  Mark is in his final stretch of teaching for the year, I’m just about to the end of my internship and have already begun applying for counseling and teaching positions, and Zofka will finish her time at Miss Cathy’s daycare in June.  Mark turns 53 on April 7th, which we’ll celebrate this coming Sunday by taking an afternoon trip to Madison to watch a new Czech film at the Madison Film Festival while Zofia hangs out with Kelli and Bryan (sitter and fiance).  And then the next weekend is Easter.  Hopefully it will be nice enough to hide eggs outside for Z.  There are so many potentially wonderful hiding spots (in flower boxes, under the back porch, in the canoe, and in the vegetable garden!)  May 16th is graduation day for me and both my mom and Mark’s mom and Uncle Bob are coming in to help celebrate.  I can’t wait for all of them to see how much Zofka has grown.  All of her pants are now officially too short.  Time to visit Goodwill!

Gettin' big!

Gettin big!

And as for our beautiful little princess, she continues to grow physically, emotionally, and intellectually at an amazing clip.  Each day she surprises us with some new knowledge, or shows us another aspect of her sweet and funny personality.  This morning before school she sat down on the kitchen floor wearing her new Matko and Kubko T-shirt that Daddy brought her from Slovakia while clutching her book of the same title in her little chubby hands.  Paging through the book she paused and looked up at us with those huge oreo cookie eyes and announced, “Oh!  This book is SO COOL!”  God, I love this little girl!

This book is SO COOL!

This book is SO COOL!

  Here are a few more random shots for your viewing pleasure.  Don’t forget to post a comment if you read this entry so I know I still have some followers out there.  Be well!

Dad, can I borrow the car?  I'm going out with the girls!

Dad, can I borrow the car? I

"What do you mean Elmo has me on hold?"
“What do you mean Elmo has me on hold??”

 

Life and Death

It was the third week in January; a typical midweek day:  me waiting for Mark to get home from his work so I could dash off to mine, and Zofka sound asleep for her afternoon nap.  The letter had arrived that morning.  It was the usual routine:  the mailwoman slipped the letter into the wooden slot next to our front door.  Zofka heard the ruckus and ran to the door to retrieve her daily prize.  She hopped into the kitchen as I was hastily throwing lunch together.  What was it that day, grilled cheese? chicken nuggets? PB&J’s?  She joyfully handed the letter to me, which I quickly eyeballed, noting the foreign stamp and that perfectly executed Slovak handwriting.  I wondered who it could be from since the name on the front was unfamiliar.  Preoccupied with the task at hand and with the minutes ticking off the clock, I casually tossed the letter on the counter making a mental note to bring it to Mark’s attention during our two-minute afternoon “hand off.”  I hate thinking that I was so nonchalant.

With Zofka safely in her crib and Mark standing in the kitchen still in his winter coat, all of us oblivious to the weighty news inside that envelope, I casually mentioned that there was a Slovak letter addressed to us as I headed out the door.  Something made me wait there for the minute it took him to open it.  I watched his eyes as he scanned the letter, noticing the change in his face as whatever he had read began to take its effect on him.  “Oh, no,” he said.  “Pani Romanovska died.”  Her daughter had taken the time to tell us the sad news.  She died peacefully at her home on January 27th.  That was exactly one week to the day after Zofka turned two. 

Babka Romanovska was 85 years old.  Since the time of his translation of the news to me until today, I’ve often thought about the meaning of my reaction that day.  I can honestly say that it felt like someone had sucked the air right out of me.  I just started sobbing.  I leaned into Mark and buried my face in his jacket and just shook and wept. We were silent there for several minutes.  I can’t speak for Mark, but in that stillness I felt Babka with us.  And then the reality of the moment came back to me.  We said our goodbyes and I ran out to the car and headed for work.  I called my mom on the way.  I always call my Mom when I’m feeling sad.  It’s almost like I regress and become a little girl again.  Hearing Mom’s voice somehow makes things feel more manageable.  I could hardly tell her about what had happened with such  a constricted throat and heavy heart.  She was a good listener, though and reminded me of the circle of life, that Babka lived to a ripe old age and that she was in a better place now.  All the same old cliches about death.  By the time I pulled into work I was feeling a little better. 

On the drive home that afternoon I wondered about my intense reaction to the news of her passing.  Was I just given to fits of drama?  I’d only known her for a year, and the two of us could never communicate well through spoken language.  What was it that affected me so?  Reflecting upon that question has brought me to a new appreciation and understanding of the ways in which we can know one another.  Our connection was below the surface and spiritual.  We spoke with eyes and with gestures, and with pauses and laughter between muttled, jumbled up words.  I loved Babka for the way she held Zofka, for the lilting sound of her Slovak cooing, and the protective shell she tried to construct around us, her neighbors, the sweet American family she was looking out for.  There are things that happened between us that will link us together forever, the memories as strong as human flesh and bone.   I want to immortalize those memories here.  I’m doing this for Mark, for me, and for Zofia, so she will know that she was loved by a saintly Slovak grandmother who watched her grow in person for the first six months of her life, and then wondered about her and observed her from a long distance through photographs and letters sent across the ocean thereafter.

While I was pregnant, Babka would make little treats for me and tell me that I needed to eat these things and rest as much as possible.  I remember her putting her hand on my huge belly not long before I had Zofka and telling me that the baby was going to be beautiful and strong.  Not having my own mother close by, those words and that loving touch gave me comfort.

When we finally brought Zofia Zuzana back home from the hosptial, Babka Romanovska was one of the first to meet her.  She had heard us outside her apartment door and quickly came over to see our beautiful newborn daughter.  This picture says it all:

Babka holding Z just after we returned from the hospital

Babka holding Z just after we returned from the hospital

As Zofia grew those first three months I was having trouble letting her cry as I tried to guide her into some kind of sleeping routine.  Pani would sit on the couch with me and comfort me as we listened to Zofka fuss.  I’d want to go to her and Babka would wisely tell me that she was going to be fine, that I needed to let her learn to comfort herself a little bit at a time, and that if she truly needed me I’d know it.  I don’t think I could have tolerated that fussing without Babka there to support me.  Zofka is an amazing sleeper today and I know Babka helped us get to this point.  Her patience and wisdom as a mother was a tremendous source of strength and comfort for me.

Babka was always after us to close the windows of the apartment so that Zofka would not feel drafty breezes.  She was convinced that she might catch some kind of fatal illness.  Now this I think was a little bit of a wives tale, but I would always close the windows to make her feel better.

And there were all those times that I’d put Zofka into her little baby seat and set her on the floor outside Babka’s apartment doot, ring the buzzer and then run and hide in a place where I could watch her reaction when she’d open it.  I think I did that at least a dozen times.  She’s look around as if confused and then her eyes would settle on baby Zofia.  She’d squeal with delight and giggle as she said, “Oh, mala Zofinka, moia anjel.  “Oh, ti si krasna!”  She’d bend over to tickle and kiss her.  “Kde tvoj mamicka?”

We left Slovakia in the early morning hours of June 2007.  As we quietly closed the door to our apartment so as not to disturn our neighbors we heard the sound of another door opening.  There in her nightclothes and housecoat stood our Babka.  She had awakened extra early and stood by her door silently, waiting to hear us.  I remember her face like it was yesterday.  She told us she loved us and wished us health and good fortune in our lives.  She told us that she’d prayed for our safe trip and would continue to pray that day.  And she asked us to stay in touch with her, to let her know we’d arrived back to our American home safely.  Yes, I cried then, too.  It was hard to say goodbye then.  It’s even harder now.  I really thought we’d all see her again someday.

There is no question that during the short time we lived in Nitra we fell in love with Pani Romanovska.  She was a truly loving, kind, and gracious woman whose memory will live on in our hearts as long as we live.  We were blessed to have known her for the time that we did, fleeting as it was.  This blog entry is dedicated to our Babka in hopes that she will be immoralized, in some way, here.

January had it’s good memories, too.  Our little Zofia Zuzana, who is now not so little anymore, turned two on January 20th.  We celebrated with close friends and family.  She is still talking up a storm, knows her ABC’S, can count to 15, and knows the colors red, green, blue, white, black, yellow (lellow), purple, orange, brown, and pink.  She often uses short, but complete sentences such as “Come upstairs with me” and “Put the toy in the box.”  Mark says this is quite sophisticated for kids her age.  Most don’t use words like “with” or “the” yet.  Hmm…perhaps we have a little linguistic genius on our hands!  I’m sure Mark can’t wait to start teaching her chess, too!  Zofia typically speaks English when I’m around, but with Mark she uses mostly Slovak, though she does not speak in phrases or sentences in Slovak-just single words.

Zofka plays with friends at her birthday party

Zofka plays with friends at her birthday party

45 pm

5:45 pm

46 pm

5:46 pm

Mark has been crazy busy preparing for his presentation for a conference in Slovakia in three weeks while trying to keep up with all of his class preparations and grading.  We barely see one another, it seems.  We shuffle Zofka between the two of us when she’s not at daycare.  It’s not my idea of a great family situation, but since it will be short-lived I guess we’ll survive.  Mark has promised lots of time together once he returns from SK in March.  Man, I’m looking forward to that.

I’ve been busy myself finishing up my final semester at UWW and at my internship site at Whitewater Middle School.  I’m applying for counseling positions at some local school districts as I look forward to graduation day on May 16th.  It’s hard to believe that I won’t be a student anymore!

And that’s about it.  We’ve been getting more sunny days recently, though the cold still lingers.  Spring is just around the corner, and this year we’ve sure earned it. 

Until next time, all my readers be well and happy ‘almost’ spring!