I stole the title of this post from my friend Beth, and it’s probably from somewhere else but I love it so I’m using it.

Stop looking at me!

Charlotte is such a pleasure to be around, most of the time some of the time depending on her mood. For example, at a recent meal:

“So, Dada! How was your day today? What did you do at work? Tell us about it!” How can you resist such cuteness?

But when Charlotte decides she wants to do something, nothing can stop her. It could be that she suddenly wants chocolate milk, but snack time was 30 minutes ago and she didn’t finish her snack at the time. The rule is that she can eat as much as she wants during meals and snack times, but outside of those times I am pretty firm about no snacking. Keeping her from filling up on snacks is the only way she will eat a regular meal. “But I want chocolate milk!”

“No, Charlotte; remember, we eat during snack. You left the table and said you were finished, so now you have to wait (a grand total of about an hour) until dinner.”

“But I SAID, I WANT chocolate milk! ONLY chocolate milk!” During these little tantrums, she goes from well-behaved sweetheart to whiny baby in five seconds flat. “But I DO want it! I really DO!” As if I thought she was just joking. The tears are real. The crying is loud. The baby wakes up.

When she does something naughty, she is still incapable of lying, but she will offer alternative stories just to see what will happen.

“Mama, I ripped my book. I just ripped it.” She pauses, and then: “But… maybe Caroline did it?” Caroline is Beth’s three-year-old daughter, and usually Charlotte mentions her when she’s telling me all the great things Caroline has done for her. “Caroline gave me my favorite, Candy Land!” Thanks, Caroline. I think of you at least fifteen times a day now. “Caroline gave me my PURPLE My Little Pony! Wasn’t that nice of Caroline?” But every so often, Caroline becomes Charlotte’s naughty alter ego. It’s especially weird and adorable because Caroline lives 7,000 miles away, and therefore couldn’t have been the culprit.

I always keep photos on our fridge of our friends back home, which is why she knows who Caroline is and remembers her despite the distance. I realized this week that we don’t have photos of our South African friends on the fridge. I showed Charlotte a photo of Nwabisa, her best friend for the past few years (and daughter of Charlotte’s godparents). She stared at the photo for a moment. I could tell she was struggling to come up with her name. “Is it Noah?” I just about cried. Noah is Nwabisa’s baby brother. I know she remembers them, but the names weren’t coming to her. A photo of her godparents drew a total blank. I ordered prints of the photos so I can put them up in her bedroom. I am determined not to let her forget such dear friends.

Charlotte adores her new school.  When I come to pick her up at noon, she runs away from me and yells, “I’m not done yet Mama! I want to pick a center! I want to play! I have friends to talk to!” One day she ran towards me, and I expected a hug, but instead got a push. Today, I stood back to watch her on the playground while I chatted with her teacher. When Charlotte spotted me, she ran as fast as she could, and almost knocked me over with a big bear hug. I cherish these sweet moments while I can still get them. Soon enough, she will actually be a teenager, and I will long for the days of chocolate milk tantrums.

Willa is growing up too quickly, too. Today I was taking the above photo of Charlotte on the phone, and when I turned around, this is what I saw:

Too fast.
Too fast. 

I love watching these two. I feel so incredibly lucky to have this time with them. I don’t know if I will ever have another opportunity to stay home. Or maybe I’ll never work again (unlikely, given the student loans situation and the fact that we are aid workers). No matter what happens, I will always have this time in Addis Ababa with my babies. Long hours spent playing Candy Land. Napping with Willa while Charlotte’s at school. It is the happiest I’ve been in a long time. It didn’t start out that way. Just two months ago I wrote to my old office mate to tell her “staying at home is not for me.” But being settled here in Addis in our house, and having a routine (finally!), has given me a sense of peace and an ability to relax a bit. To all the mothers out there who don’t get to do this, who are maybe a little bit annoyed with me right now: I sincerely believe that the kids are better off when their parents are happy. It’s not about being at home with them all day. Whenever I return to work, I hope I can somehow hold onto the sense of peace I’m feeling now. I hope I can return to work on my own terms and focus more on the parts of my work that I do enjoy, instead of the bureaucratic frustrations. For now, I just want to be grateful for what I have.


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