The Poison of Pancakes

The plane journey to Bali is surprisingly easy with Alex.  A timeless 26 hours of adventures through long hallways, lineups and watching movies on the airplane.  The snacks I brought from Canada last us all the way through Taiwan, and we are spared from airplane food until our last flight.  I’m able to find him plain rice at the airport without too much trouble.  I much on a strange noodle soup thing I couldn’t possibly pronounce but at least doesn’t have shredded cow intestine in it.

We arrive at the Bali airport, and it’s as gorgeous as I remember.  Our ride to Ubud has been arranged already, and I search the crowd of taxi drivers for one holding a paper with our name on it.  I stare out the window the whole drive there, taking in the sights, almost familiar.   As we get closer to Ubud I recognize some of the statues, and I feel the excitement bubbling through me.  It’s real, Alex and I are starting a new life together in Bali.  This could be our home.  This could be our new life.  Alex fidgets and wines about the heat, he’s not remotely interested in the wild landscape or endless rows of statues and temples outside the windows.  Weird and uncomfortable is more normal to him than anything an average Canadian kid would ever dream of, and so he eventually falls asleep in my lap as we drive.  We arrive at our new apartment and I’m so excited about our new life about to unfold.  The apartment I found on Facebook as a sublease from another woman who designs yoga clothes.  The landlords don’t speak English, but the taxi driver does, so he talks to them about getting keys and fills me in.  The apartment itself is a bit nicer than the pictures. Most importantly it’s cheap as dirt at $150/month, which is what I need it to be right now.  I could have rented a nicer spot closer to town for $3-400, but I spent the last of my cash on getting our flights here, and I’m just trusting that another client will show up before the little cash I have runs out.


What I hadn’t realized is that the appartment is also on a main roadway, and the sound of motorbikes starts at 5 am. I know they start that early because for that first week Alex wakes up at 3am every day. I’ve heard that jet lag can be brutal to the system, but when I arrived in Bail solo, I stayed up too late, slept weird for the first day, and then moved easily into a new rhythm. Not so with Alex, for the first week, every morning at 3 am I am awoken by an indignant, sweaty and fully awake child.  It is not pleasant, and I begin to regret my decision to move us to Bali.  I find myself staying in the house longer and longer each day, and by 1 pm its a sweltering 32 degrees in the house and there is nothing to be done about it, no amount of fans can rescue us from the heat.


Of course, we could just leave the building, but somehow leaving our apartment just seems like too much.  I’m still trying to find time to do my work, I can’t bring Alex to the co-working space, even if I could afford it.  Plus I’m struggling with re-adjusting to the challenges of being mom again.  After 3 months of being only responsible for myself, the feeling of providing for the needs of my child is so challenging. My newly independent self doesn’t want to bow to his will, and I find myself resisting helping him with simple things that I used to do all the time.  My healthy eating falls off the wagon, as I start eating his leftovers again. His uneaten pancakes go into my stomach instead of the garbage. “Don’t waste food Elena” my mom’s voice echos through my subconscious.  Even if they are disgusting, I still eat them instead of throwing them out.  The things I would never make for myself, and feel so guilty about making for him become the mainstay of my diet.


The delicious tropical fruit I’ve been reveling in is rejected by him. His only restaurant staple, white rice, and pancakes are fortunately available pretty much everywhere, but even then he sometimes doesn’t eat it.  Money is tight, and the experience of paying $5 for pancakes I don’t really want him to eat, which he then doesn’t eat, which I then eat because I spent $5 on them is soul-searingly painful every single time. Eating at the superfood restaurants becomes impossible, and I just become used to taking banana and cucumber with us everywhere we go so I can feed him even if he won’t eat from the menu.


I miss Daniel dearly, and I wake up early to speak to him every day. The emails that pour out of us are the sweetest poetry, and I live for the moment when he writes to me.

By the end of the first week, Alex and I are competlely toxic.  The healing of “this place of resentment I carried towards my son for stealing my life” is right back where it was when I left him in his dads (semi-capable) hands 3 months ago.  All the healing I did, completely reversed and I’m right back where I started.


I can’t leave the house, for fear of how he will yell at me in public for not meeting his needs NOW. I can’t truly pay attention to him, because my mind is consumed with the need for making ends meet, and completing the design work I have to do. And on top of all of it, I get an ear infection. Burning, screaming pain in my left ear. When I tell Daniel about it, he sends me a copy of a few pages from the Gut and Psychologyy book, as well as a suggestion of garlic in my ear, cutting dairy and flour, and a few other things to do to care for myself.

I’m so grateful that someone who understands the holistic has offered a deeper solution, and as I sit to read the pages of the GAPS book. It slowly dawns on me. The chronic ear infections of my childhood, linked with the binge eating sugars and flours in my teens, with the recurring ear infections as an adult, and the massive depression. All of them are linked.  The guilt around feeding Alex flour and milk pancakes crystalize as I realize that my mother poisoned me as a child. Not intentiontionally, not maliciously. But with her love and good intentions, of passing on traditions of baked goods, of lovingly cooked buns, flour based bread, and cookies, homemade muffins.  All of them now feel like poison in my mind, and I reel at the thoughts of the all of the pancakes that I have been feeding Alex. I am literaly posioning him.


My body collapses against the wall and I begin to sob. I am consumed with the guilt of having injured my child, the anger at my mom for doing the same, and my complete incapacity to do anything about it. I am bound by the bacteria which rule my sons gut. The same ones that make all the yummy nutritious things here delicious to me, make them repulsive to him, and he’s stuck that way. I think about a how we have lost a food every time we switch countries. I think about how his anger flares, and how much I’m in crisis and I can’t fucking handle it right now.


I start to think about escape plans. I can’t handle it.  How do I get out of here? I can’t abandon my kid, but I could get a nanny? Part of my body reels. Although this is actually part of why I came to Bali, it is a whole different ball game to actually do it. I think about the babysitter in Mexico, and how the baby boy was murdered. What if I am putting my sons life at risk? What can I do? I’m watching the free and independent woman who feels she can do anything, I’m watching her not so slowly, die under the burden and trauma of being with her child every day, day in and day out.  I love you Alex, but you’re killing me. I know I need to find help.  I put a message on the Ubud facebook page. I’m sweet, appropriate and choose a good loving picture of us.  Don’t let any of the desperation leek through.  We’re looknig for a caregiveer. I get two replies back, and my whole soul softens. The first woman comes, and I tearfully give Alex into her custody.  I go out to meet a friend, guilty that I’m not working, but I so desperately need a break.   When I come back, Alex gives me the biggest hug and says he misses me.  My heart softens a little more.  Maybe we’ll be okay.

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Elena Harder. Courage Catalyst, LifeStyle Artist and Joy Hacker. Elena created JoyGasm to heal her experience of postpartum depression, self sabotage, overworking, people pleasing, and an abusive alcoholic relationship. Since then she’s helped hundreds of others meet their JoyGasmic Self to heal broken hearts, remove negative self talk, eliminate stress, fear and depression, and bring immense joy into daily life. Her current personal records for longest standing greeting hug is 22 minutes, longest continuous solo laugh 26 minutes, and longest collaborative laugh at 1 hour 45 minutes!