The Neighbors

10 Aug

Lucia, our two year old, had her first cup of coffee the other day, thanks to our new neighbors. But before you demonize them (or us) as evil child abusers, let me explain a little.

“It’s neighbors!!!!!” shouts Lucia when she hears a car on our street. We are no longer the only people living on our street; we do finally have neighbors. Sometimes the car is a visitor for us, or for the new neighbors, and occasionally we don’t know who it is- but often Lucia is right, and the car belongs to the neighbors.

We lucked out; they’re a youngish family, two teachers with three kids. Their youngest is a girl a little younger than Lucia, there’s a little boy a little older than Lucia, and a six or seven year old boy, who of course is Lucia’s favorite (she prefers to play with the big kids).

I’m about as pleased as Lucia is that we have neighbors- someone for her to play with, someone to borrow sugar from, people to complain about the kids with, to share in the struggle of bringing electricity to our block.

the neighbors' house

the neighbors’ house on a cloudy day


Sometimes we all stand around outside in the street and watch the kids play together. A couple of times Conan has gone inside their house with Lucia. A couple of times the little girl has come over here with her mom- which is nice, because if Lucia’s over there she mostly plays with the oldest boy. As soon as Lucia sees one of them outside she starts running up the road to their house (their house is across the street, but slightly uphill from our entrance). She’s started asking to go play with the neighbors- “It’s go see neighbors?” she asks hopefully. It’s a great situation, because we don’t have the time or the transportation for her to get out and play with other kids everyday and we don’t have visitors all the time, either.

But a few nights ago we crossed a new threshold. Lucia and I had gone outside to greet her Tia Chica and her teenaged cousin Brisa, who were swinging by running errands (including bringing us fresh tostadas- yum). Lucia spotted the neighbors outside and ran over to play. We chatted for a couple minutes outside and then I invited Chica in and sent Brisa over to get Lucia. By then Lucia had gone inside the neighbors’ house, and Brisa came back alone. “The lady said to let her stay for a while- she’s watching TV.” (The neighbors have a solar panel.)

“Well,” I thought, “at least it’s not like she’s going to be watching TV for hours on end, and she certainly doesn’t get any TV at our house.” So I didn’t worry, although we don’t really want her to watch much TV, andthus far we’ve never left her unsupervised with people that weren’t close family. But they’re our neighbors, and with three kids running around with her I figured not much bad would happen in half an hour or so. Conan and I relaxed and chatted with Chica and Brisa.

Finally Chica and Brisa left; I got in the shower and Conan went over to get Lucia. It was time for her to take a shower with me and get ready for bed. “Lucia, tell Mommy what you were drinking at the neighbors’ house,” Conan said when they came in.

“What was it?” I asked Lucia, who gingerly replied, “Coffee and pan!” (pan being sweet bread, in this case).

“Oh really?” I asked, eyebrows raised at Conan for confirmation.

“Yes, her own cup of coffee,” he confirmed.

“Do you think she’ll sleep?” I asked, still wide-eyed, but only a little worried. I already planned to convince Conan to stay up with her if she didn’t sleep, since he’s an insomniac anyway.

Now you should know that, first of all, coffee is usually made much weaker than we drink it in the U.S., brewed on the stove with sugar and often cinnamon, served with milk commonly. So it’s not like giving my kid a shot of espresso or something. Furthermore, coffee is a cultural mainstay that people usually have with sweet bread, for breakfast and again for dinner. I suspect that it comes from over-worked women who could only stand to make two large meals a day (down here it’s called almuerzo, around 10 AM and comida around 3 PM). Especially if you think about women who have to cook over a fire- go and collect their firewood, grind their corn for tortillas every meal, you can see that it’s definitely easier to light a small fire just for coffee and eat a piece of bread you dip into your coffee. So traditionally, you have some bread and coffee to tide you over in the morning until almuerzo, and you eat a big comida in the afternoon so you’re not too hungry before bed. While some people eat dinner, or maybe go out for tacos or tlayudas from time to time, dinner is not the big meal that it is in the U.S. And coffee is not something to wake you up- it’s just a warm and flavorful drink that’s a tradition.

So Lucia had her first cup of coffee, which I’m sure she loved because it was served with sweet bread, if nothing else. (Our neighbor told me Lucia made a face when she drank it, so maybe she didn’t like it as much as she let on). She did go to sleep just fine, so either the caffeine was minimal and didn’t affect her, or we should be grateful she skipped her nap that day. The neighbors told her to come back the next night for more coffee and pan, although I did not let her accept the invitation this time.

We will let her go to the neighbors’ house to play, though. I know that Lucia is going to be exposed to things like coffee and suckers and TV somewhere or the other, so it might as well be at our neighbors’ house.

I remember, as a kid, going to my neighbors’ house all the time and being delighted with all the forbidden things and laxer rules than my house. I loved how our neighbors bought chocolate flavored Pop Tarts, and white bread, and could watch TV whenever they wanted (or at least it seemed that way to me). I’m glad now that my parents did what they did; I’m glad that I really do prefer the healthier wheat bread, for example, without forcing myself to like it the way people have to if they grew up with white bread. I’m glad I didn’t get to watch TV all afternoon, even if I was grumpy about it then sometimes.

And I’m determined to provide the same kind of household values and nutrition for Lucia- not as strict rules that can never be bent or broken. I don’t want her to feel like things that other people do or eat are forbidden, I just don’t want them to be a staple of her daily life. I’m not against coffee and sweet bread as a tradition, but I don’t want that to be part of her diet every day. While I’d prefer that she not have coffee again until she’s older, if that’s the worst thing she’s exposed to at someone else’s house, I’m pretty sure she’ll be okay. And I want her to know that what other people do or eat or believe isn’t wrong or bad, but that it’s just not how we do things in our house. Sweet bread continues to be a treat, and not a daily food group. We’ll probably never buy Pop Tarts or white bread, but I’m not going to worry if she gets ahold of it elsewhere. That’s what friends and family and neighbors are for, anyway- helping us raise our kids to know how to bend the rules and be flexible, helping us corrupt our kids in all the right ways and times and places, even though it’s not exactly what we’d do in the moment. So cheers to café and pan and neighbors, and learning to be flexible parents! 


4 Responses to “The Neighbors”

  1. Peg Leeco August 11, 2014 at 7:31 am #

    Italians have been giving babies and kids coffee for many years….and if you think of how ritalin works to calm children but acts like speed for adults, you may allow her to sip it again. It is theorized that children’s nerve synapses are not fully grown, so caffeine does not have the same effect at all on their brain. I was surprised as a first time mom to see my Sicilian in laws offering it to their grandkids….. just want to tell you I so enjoy your blog posts. it helps me to remember that folks live in very different ways in different cultures and places.

    • exiletomexico August 11, 2014 at 8:09 am #

      I didn’t realize that about the Italians. Although it doesn’t surprise me, with their love of coffee and some other similarities in their culture and Mexican culture.
      Wow, I hadn’t read that about their nerve synapses and caffeine! Sounds interesting- I definitely want to look it up. But truly, regardless of the official research, I see kids (and adults) here drink coffee before bed all the time and then they go off to bed (although again, they don’t make it very strong like I do)…
      Thanks for sharing your experience, and thanks so much for reading! Glad you’re enjoying the blog! It sure is fun to write…

  2. Julia Inman August 15, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    Great blog – as always. It brought back lots of memories of Elias’s childhood. Your word “values” hit the nail on me (even though that word now makes me think of Republicans…). I remember Elias, when he was little, once telling me, “You know I watch violent movies at other kids’ houses, so I should be allowed to at home.” After swallowing my bile, I said I wasn’t in charge at their houses – but I was responsible for the values in our house, so I would do what I thought was right for us as a family. That was my excuse from then on…”that’s not what we believe in (or do) as a family/in this house.” Of course, I asked Elias to tell me about the movies he saw at other kids’ house, which he did and set up a lifelong tradition of his spilling his guts. Don’t tell him I said that. 🙂 And thanks for the great trip down my memory lane. Lucia is so lucky to have you for a mama!

    • exiletomexico August 18, 2014 at 5:29 pm #

      Ha, my mom used to say “Well I’m not so-and-so’s mom, so that’s why we do (don’t do, etc.) that”… This kind of thing must run in the family! Glad you liked the post, I’m enjoying yours as well! And thanks for the encouragement on my mothering! Love.

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