David has been in the States for 10 days now, back to shoot his first wedding since we left and dodging snow storms throughout the Southeast. I took the wise advice of a friend and took this as one of my vacation weeks so I could spend time with the girls and juggle the other side of life here. . .it has been an experiment, wonderful and complicated.
We know our family is a bit bizarre in the way that it works – with me at the hospital, David as a photographer, and our utterly shared responsibility with the girls (that David often takes the brunt of when the hospital demands more of me on its craziest days). We understand the nuances of it and love the craziness that it brings. I cannot imagine a more wonderful arrangement – or any other one for that matter – but it made the anticipation of 12 days with him gone a bit more disconcerting. The give and take was going to change . . .my first response when David got in the car with the driver to go to the airport is that my right arm had been tied behind my back. . .my equilibrium was off.
This week has been a wonderful amalgamation of trips up the hill to school 3 times a day, of sitting in the grass and watching the RVA version of baseball while my somewhat gangly girls steel their confidence and smile with glee as they run the bases, of daily intensive Swahili lessons to try to finally cement the pesky words in my brain, of 1000 practice questions as I study for my boards, and deepening friendships over tea in the morning and pesto pizza at dinner.
Last Monday, Annabelle and I got lost finding the side gate out of RVA for a good 20 minutes, but when we found our way out we walked to the Kijabe Hair Salon, a narrow shop with 2 chairs where we were greeted with big smiles. I nervously explained that I just need a trim and maybe a couple layers. (This from the girl who drove back to NC for 6 years before I got brave enough to cut my hair in Alabama.) I got my hair cut, and Belle got her nails painted in rainbow colors. As we made our way back up the dirt road, Belle gave me a huge hug with a beaming smile of quiet contentment that has been slower in coming to her in Kenya. “This was a fun mommy daughter date. . .” she said, almost to herself.
The girls and I have read lots of stories, rearranged their room, set up the office (which involved dismantling and reassembling a table and prompted Belle to call us the “amazing Shirk girls”), played 7 million games of bananagrams, and had silly and deep conversations walking to and from school and cuddling on the couch. They have tolerated my far inferior cooking without much complaining, and friends have rallied around us when I reached my tipping point (and sometimes before I knew I was there). It has been a precious time of almost imperceptible moments that have further cemented our life here.
But I miss the hospital, and we miss David. Madeline had a breakdown on Tuesday morning . . crying as she ate her breakfast. “I just miss Daddy” prompted an emergency phone call to the states and big hugs as my sensitive 9 year old processed that we were okay, but this was not our normal life. He brings a levity, a constancy, and a stability that is palpably gone when he is not here.
Last week was a really hard week at the hospital with a lot of new kids and a lot of death. My colleagues have shouldered that part of my life so that I could soak in this time with my girls -so I could keep their world a bit steadier. We went to the hospital with Annabelle to pick up files on Wednesday and there was a sick baby in the Emergency department and my friend at the bedside fighting for the patient’s life. I walked away, torn but trusting. I knew, this week my place was with the sweet brown eyed girl in pink standing by the desk.
Tomorrow, David will be back and we will share all the laughter and burdens again – I will move in and out of the hospital, juggling call and the ICU with couch cuddles and stories, sick patients and friends in crisis. David will wake up early to run and get the girls up and continue to tell the stories of the hospital’s work here to people around the world. We will balance and bound from place to place. We will deepen friendships and process dilemmas.
And this week, having been on the flip side of it, will make me even more grateful that we continue to walk this wonderfully complicated and epic adventure together.
(note the utter lack of new pictures, you will be glad David is back too. . .)