The Whole-Family Honeymoon

29 Jun

It wasn’t supposed to be a honeymoon exactly, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled, either, when Conan invited his mom to go with us to the beach a couple months after we first moved to Juquila. She was sitting there with us when we started talking about going, and it didn’t occur to Conan to consult with me before suggesting she go with us. Not that I don’t enjoy her company; in fact, she and I get along fabulously, much better than she and Conan get along. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want her to go, particularly. And after pondering over it I realized it would’ve been extremely rude to not invite her. But I admit, if Conan hadn’t invited her I wouldn’t have; I don’t think it would’ve even occurred to me! Perhaps I was thinking that living together was already enough quality time and that Conan and Lucia and I needed some time to be alone as a little nuclear family. I am, after all, a product of that oh-so-individualist, privacy-obsessed, nuclear-family-making country called USA, where the only unity is in the name United States.

Sometimes Mexico feels like an alternate universe. There is no emphasis on individuals and individualism. Like in most other countries, many people live with their parents and often other extended family, usually until they are well beyond being “young adults”, and often until their parents pass away. It’s not about not growing up or just depending on your parents the way we would think of it in the U.S., but rather about an inter-dependency that goes on in families- because there’s a lot to do, because life is expensive, and because those are still the cultural values of most families around here.

Conan and I had agreed to live with his mom for at least a year, which was only fair since he hadn’t seen her in 10 years. And it was a huge help to us- having a place to live, totally furnished, totally free, with someone to help us out with all the things we didn’t understand or know, like where to get the cheap cleaning products, where the best tlayudas are, when to go get Conan’s ID.

Additionally, it was a fine and dandy situation because I really like his mom and we all help each other very well. I am eternally grateful that when Lucia was a baby I lived with someone (besides my partner) who loves and helped take care of my baby every day of the week. I could go exercise and shower without worrying about Lucia- big pot of gold luxuries that most moms in the U.S. don’t have. There was an extra person to share cooking and chores with, which was pretty fabulous as well. Conan and I, in turn, helped her with various other things around the house and in her store, in addition to just keeping each other company.

Mostly, it was a win-win situation. Occasionally, though, I wanted some “gringo” time- some time away from the family. I wanted to “get away from it all” on the beach. We had gone to the beach a week after we moved to Mexico, but it was a trip with my mom, and his mom, and his stepdad, and, well, it wasn’t exactly romantic.

My Dad and Karen (my stepmom) on another family vacation!

My Dad and Karen (my stepmom) talking with Paulina and Arturo (not pictured) on another family vacation!

My in-laws on another family vacation!

My in-laws on another family vacation!

Granted, with a four month old baby, nothing is very romantic for very long. But even beyond my longing for romance, there’s my longing for privacy. I got worried when Paulina mentioned those hotel rooms we had looked at with my mom, where you could put up to 3 people in a room for 250 pesos. I knew her idea was to be her extra-frugal self, not to invade my sense of privacy. But nonetheless I started plotting and planning for nice and polite ways to escape sharing a room with her. But how do you tell your well-meaning family to please go away? It is no easy task.

I still hadn’t figured it out by the time we got to Puerto. But I had enlisted Conan’s help and we were going to play it by ear (the only way to play anything down here, ever; even after a couple of months I was starting to learn that planning was a futile effort). Upon arriving in Puerto we went to visit Conan’s aunt Artemia who lives here. One of his cousins, Benja, his cousin’s wife, Luz, and their two kids also live there. Since Conan hadn’t seen them in 10 years, it was a big reunion, and also his first time meeting the wife and kids (and their first time meeting me and Lucia). They are lovely and wonderful people and I had a great time hanging out with them, that first time and a kajillion times since then.

But the gringo in me came out when they offered us a place to stay. I should have felt grateful for their generosity, which I’m sure would also include sacrifice of their own comfort (sharing beds to make room for us, sacrificing their privacy, etc.). But instead, I’m ashamed to say my immediate thought was “Shit! How can I communicate to Conan that I don’t want to stay here?! How can we get out of this politely?!”

See, I had this image of the 3 of us- me, Conan, and Lucia- in a little room or maybe a small cabin right by the beach. We’d wake up and walk on the beach. We’d lounge around together, enjoying the respite from washing diapers and cooking and cleaning, etc. We’d have dinner at some beachside restaurant, slowly, leisurely, enjoying our little nuclear family. We might even get to spend some adult time together after Lucia fell asleep.

None of that was going to happen if we stayed at his aunt’s house. But the offer was on the table, his mom and his aunt and everyone else all looking at us, awaiting our answer. Conan read my mumbled “I don’t know, what do you think?” correctly. “It’s just that we had talked about staying in a hotel room together.” He explained. “I’ve always wanted to stay in one of those places on the beach. Gotta take advantage while we have the money. It’s kind of like our honeymoon.” He added. Granted we were not married at this point, so I’m not sure where the honeymoon part came in, but it worked.

And everything else fell into place, like these things usually do. Paulina accepted the invitation to stay the night at their house, so she wasn’t bunking with us. And while it might’ve made us seem just a little snobby, rejecting their hospitality to stay in a hotel, at least we bowed out somewhat gracefully.

At the time, it wasn’t that I turned my nose up at their hospitality, but I was not thrilled at the prospects, either, of spending the night with the outside toilet you had to pour water down to “flush,” or the shower that was just a half-concrete, half-tin tiny rectangle at the entrance to their property, where you filled up the bucket to pour water over yourself. I was concerned, of course, about the ratio of beds-to-people and the amount of air that could circulate with a little floor fan in each of the two little rooms. I was worried about the mosquitos that had already started devouring my baby, and the lack of screens on the windows. Although it didn’t seem like a bad place by any means, and I had stayed in much less-luxurious circumstances before, it felt like “roughing it” too much with Lucia in tow, although her one-year-older cousin lived there. Plus, I really, really wanted a night or two of privacy, an after-baby, post-moving “honeymoon,” as Conan had put it.

So we got our hotel room “honeymoon,” which was neither the private nuclear-family-centered time I had envisioned nor the all-family-all-the-time affair that it would’ve been if we’d stayed at his aunts house, or shared a hotel room with Paulina.

We rejected his aunt’s hospitality that first visit, nicely and graciously, we hoped, without knowing that a year later we’d be living in a tent on their patio for weeks while we worked on our house. I didn’t realize then how much we would continue to depend on family and how they’d come to be the center of our social circle as well. I didn’t realize that depending on people doesn’t make you a dependent or needy person, but rather it helps you keep life in perspective and become a more dependable person yourself. It means you can’t say no when a cousin’s kid needs help with some homework because they’ve been recharging your lamps for months. It means you are racing to do the dishes when you’re invited over because they never let you do the dishes when they come to your house. It taught me to accept help without feeling like a failure, without looking for ways to pay it back, just knowing that the time and place will arise.

But at first, my appreciation was sometimes more theoretical than practical. Sometimes I felt grateful for what I had while simultaneously pining for a different situation. At the time, for example, I recognized how lucky I was to have my mother-in-law’s unconditional hospitality, good conversation and company, and her constant contribution to our child-rearing and childcare. But my independence-obsessed roots didn’t die, and sometimes I thought I’d lose my mind if I didn’t get my own space, if I couldn’t have a few days of throwing off my clothes and leaving them where they fell, of ignoring the dishes without worrying that I’d be judged lazy. Sometimes I went to our bedroom and fumed and stewed and cried and wrote my little heart out about the frustration of other people telling me what was best for my baby. I found a note in my journal the other day, something I wrote Conan and never gave him, about refusing to be kicked out of the kitchen, because I’d been told it was too cold for Lucia up there with the wind coming through. I remembered my bitterness, how some days our promised year in Juquila couldn’t go by fast enough, even though we had no definite plans for the future, nowhere to go afterwards.

But while you U.S. readers might be appalled at that kind of “meddling,” folks down here are shocked and appalled by what they see as the callousness and uncaring of families in the U.S., the lack of meddling that they see as indifference. For example, when a woman has a baby here, most of the time, someone or several people take care of the mother for 40 days after she gives birth, making sure she doesn’t have to do any washing or any other strenuous activity, making sure she gets enough rest and can focus on her baby and her recovery. Imagine what that kind of help is like! But of course there’s a trade-off. Life’s full of trade-offs, and I think we all just have to find the balance in whatever situations we have to work with. And yes, when we actually did get married we had some of that balance- a night in a hotel room that my awesome gringo side of the family sponsored us for, and the big after party the next afternoon, where everyone came to our house. While I was reeling from exhaustion and a bit taken aback at having guests the day after the wedding, it all worked out beautifully, with all the food prepped for us and almost all the cleanup taken care of for us by Conan’s family. And so continues the adventure in multi-cultural family building, a relationship in progress for the whole family on both sides.

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