Archive | January, 2015

Just Keep Breathing

25 Jan

The year that I was pregnant with Lucia- my first pregnancy- two children I knew died in completely separate incidents. First, a friend and coworker’s only child, a ten year old girl who was charismatic, smart and super caring, died in a car accident. Then my best friend’s second child, a beautiful baby boy, died of SIDS. They were different kinds of deaths, but what they had in common most in my mind was the suddenness, and the total injustice. Their parents in both cases were doing everything right. Ruby, the little girl, was wearing her seatbelt, in a car with both her parents, in the back seat. Neither her father’s caution in driving nor her seatbelt saved her. Likewise, Charlie’s parents could practically be poster children for doing all the things we know reduce the risk of SIDS- putting your baby to sleep on their back and all those other tips that I don’t even remember, but that they always did. And it didn’t matter. He still died, suddenly and unexplainably. Unfairly.

I got pregnant for the second time over the summer, and a month or two later another baby I knew died. (Is me being pregnant causing children’s deaths? Jeez, there’s some negative thinking….) It was the son of a really nice lady who, with her three sons, was renting a room from my mother-in-law. The lady had become a good friend of Paulina’s, often sharing meals and conversation as well as space. We had gone to visit and gotten to know her and her kids as well, including Chuy, her adorable, totally easy-going baby. He was sick part of the time we were visiting, with some kind of cold-like illness. Then he was sick off and on for a while. His mother took him to various doctors, and they gave him various medicines, and he seemed to get better, and then suddenly he was really, super sick and in the hospital. And they couldn’t help him by then.

Part of me can’t help but wonder if his death could have been prevented with better medical care. Certainly, Chuy’s mother did everything she could and used every resource and suggestion she had available. I absolutely don’t think it was her fault in any way, shape, or form, and I hope she doesn’t think that either, even in her darkest moments. Babies die in the U.S., too, despite some of the best medical advances out there. But how can you not question yourself, question all the events and circumstances, dwell on the what ifs and whys and why nots when life takes away someone you love that much, someone who’s not “supposed to” die until after you? How can I not imagine myself in Chuy’s mom’s place, with the same lack of options that I feel confident about when it comes to my child’s (and soon to be my children’s) health? Even while I do not believe it was her fault, I wonder if me finding more and possibly better options here could potentially prevent my child’s death in the future. 

Mostly, though, through all of these deaths, I cried and mourned for the child and their parents, and I stubbornly refused to consciously think about the implications and possibilities for loss in my life. “It’s not gonna happen to you,” my best friend tried to reassure me, even in the midst of all her grief and sorrow. But I think you can only fool yourself into believing that if you think that you are somehow fundamentally different from the person experiencing loss, or if you find a way to blame them and can therefore convince yourself that it can’t happen to you because you won’t do x, y, or z. But of course I knew that it wasn’t their fault, and that I was no different, and that it could happen to me. It can. SIDS or a car wreck or cancer or a million billion other things. So I promised myself, I decided resolutely, in the aftermath of those two great losses during my first pregnancy, while inhaling and exhaling grief for what seemed like weeks on end, that I wouldn’t- couldn’t- let fear run my life. That instead I had to try to just be grateful for my child’s existence the days that she exists in my life.

So Lucia’s entire first year of life, no matter how exhausted and sleep-deprived-delusion and burnt out I felt, I thanked the universe profusely every time she woke up, even as I gritted my teeth and wondered how much sleep deprivation might kill me. She is no longer at risk for SIDS, but it doesn’t mean a kajillion other things can’t happen to her. I think that I am prepared, I think that I can deal with (some) bad things that might happen to her, but thinking about her dying from one of them, thinking of her not existing in my life, is so tremendously painful that occasionally I start to panic.

My angst and anxiety mostly only flare up when she’s having a health problem that’s not a normal cold, which thankfully is not very often. When it does happen, though, I get alternately angry and scared. I get angry imagining that if I lived in Louisville still, I would have the answers. I already had our perfect pediatrician there. When I needed a gynecologist, I told my friends what kinds of attitude/practice I was looking for, and they recommended me someone fabulous. My life was full of information and options to make informed choices about the health of myself and my child (and to recommend about the health of my partner). Here it’s just not.

I feel like I’m not being a good enough mother, because after a year in Puerto we still don’t have a doctor here that we can trust, that we have any confidence in. Lots of people, ourselves included, for convenience and price, go to the “pharmacy doctor”- a doctor who works in a pharmacy and sees patients on an acute basis. But pharmacy doctors have prescribed me an antibiotic that is dangerous during pregnancy even though I told them that I’m pregnant. They’ve given Lucia medicine that I’ve read isn’t used anymore for that kind of infection. For these and other reasons, I don’t think they’re a good option. But I don’t know what the good option is.

Many of our friends with kids go to the public health clinic, either because they’re happy enough with it or because they don’t have any other options economically. I was not happy enough with it, but neither were we impressed the one time we shelled out half a day’s pay for a pediatrician. Charging a lot doesn’t always mean they have qualities that you’re looking for. I also haven’t even bothered to sign her up on my insurance, because it’s a toss-up on them being more or less useless than most of these pharmacy doctors.

Thus, I feel like all health problems are on our shoulders, as parents practically acting as her doctor. I feel this immense stress that we have to figure it all out and advocate and push and prod for what we hope is the right kind of treatment. It’s a lot of pressure, to say the least. Not knowing where to go for health problems makes me feel ignorant and helpless and full of indecision. I am terrified that I’m going to make the wrong (uninformed) decision and it could be life or death.

I don’t think I realized just how badly I was handling the situation, emotionally, until the other night when I put myself into a panic imagining that Lucia was having an allergic reaction to a medicine we were giving her for a urinary tract infection. Her breathing seemed too labored, and I just felt like something else was wrong. She was getting worse instead of better, despite a couple doses of antibiotic she’d already taken. Her fever wasn’t going away even with fever reducer and cool compresses, and I just had a feeling that she needed a better doctor than the stupid pharmacy doctor we’d taken her to. Although she was sleeping, I wanted to take her to this expensive private 24 hour clinic right then and there. Conan wanted to wait until morning. I insisted. Well, to put it outright, I said, “I’m taking her whether you want to or not because if anything happens to her I’m going to kill myself.”

Whoa. Where did that come from? I had most definitely not been sitting around contemplating suicide because of her health problems, but I sounded eerily decided and sure of myself when I said it. Perhaps I was just trying to shock Conan into action? (I’m gonna go with that explanation, thanks.) I even kind of freaked myself out at that point, but I was too focused on getting her to what I hoped would be a better doctor to worry about it.

The doctor there certainly seemed more competent. She prescribed her a different antibiotic. We talked about allergic reactions (Lucia was not having one). I calmed down. Lucia’s fever went down a little more in the night air on the way there (she still had one, though). We couldn’t actually acquire the antibiotic until the next day, though, so yes, it probably really could have waited till morning (although points for my team, we probably waited less time at the clinic because it was late at night, and the price was the same). Days later, lab results showed that her infection was indeed resistant to the antibiotic that the pharmacy doctor had prescribed her, so I was right that it wasn’t helping.

By far the best things, for me, that came out of our nighttime trip to the doctor / my little panic attack were 1) knowing there is someplace decent to take her for emergencies, 2) calming myself down enough to get through the night, and 3) convincing myself to keep trying other doctors and pediatricians. I decided that even if we spend a whole month’s salary trying out doctors, I have to find a doctor that I feel is knowledgable and a good fit for my child. Even if we have to go to other towns to find it. I can’t take the pressure I’m putting on myself for her health. I can read lots of books and internet articles, I can take care of my kid in general and be a great advocate, but I’m not and I can’t be her doctor. If we have to go into debt to have a good doctor for her, it’ll still be worth it, better than late night panic attacks and suicide threats.*   

Meanwhile, I’m trying to wrap my heart around this lack of control, still. Intellectually I know that my kid can have the perfect doctor, that I can “do everything right” and there’s still zero guarantee of her safety. Intellectually, I know that bad things happen to “good” and “bad” people alike, and that life isn’t some cheesy movie where things turn out fairly.

I know all this, but internalizing it emotionally, especially in the context of your child, is a horse of a different color. I mean, starting in pregnancy there’s such a fine, weird line of being totally responsible for them and yet still not being in control of what happens to them. Like you can wash their hands after they use the restroom and before they eat, and breastfeed, and give them only healthy food (for a while, anyway), but it doesn’t mean they won’t get sick. When you’re pregnant you can give up coffee and medium-rare steak and follow all the other rules, but it doesn’t guarantee you won’t have a miscarriage or a stillbirth. And then there are all the women who don’t follow the rules, to whatever extent (like my mom who smoked cigarettes throughout her pregnancy- gasp!), and who still have perfectly healthy babies. So what’s the point? Why even bother to act like it matters what we do, if it doesn’t give us the desired outcome?

Intellectually, I know that it’s a good idea to do the best you can because at least you’re more likely to keep your kids safe and healthy. But where do you draw the line? Up to what point can we pat ourselves on the back for having healthy kids and/or blame ourselves when our kids are not healthy, or when something bad happens to them? I mean, who are we kidding? I don’t even have all that much control over my own life and what happens to me, so how could I possibly really control what happens to my kid?

I don’t have the answers. I doubt you have answers, either, dear reader, parent extraordinaire though you may be. I don’t think there are real, solid answers. So before this new baby arrives and I stay up half the night watching him or her breathe, I’m trying to re-learn how to breathe myself. I’m trying to get more comfortable acknowledging my life in this gray, indefinite, uncertain universe. I’m not trying to prepare myself for the worst. I don’t think “the worst” will ever be anything but unbelievably, excruciatingly painful, and I don’t think having imagined it or practicing for it would make it any easier. I suspect it just makes us have more fear.

Instead I want to embrace my joy. I want to be able to nod at my fear, and let it go. Inhale it, and exhale it back out. I want to appreciate this great privilege (and great trial!) that is being a parent. I want to be able to emotionally internalize this knowledge that I don’t “deserve” this- be it a positive this or a negative this- any more or less than anyone else, that I can’t control what happens in life, period. Of course I want to strive to do my best, to be my best, as a person, as a parent, just because I want to. But I want to live knowing that I get to mess up and not be perfect and not do everything perfectly, and that it doesn’t make me more or less responsible for what happens. And when in doubt, I’ll try to keep breathing. Inhaling and exhaling, hopefully more joy and pleasure than guilt and fear. Breathing. And hope that my kids will, too. 

*I’m pleased to report that we’ve since been to a pediatrician that we all feel good about- even Lucia felt comfortable in the doctor’s office for the first time ever! The doctor charges quite a bit more than these cheap (and crappy) pharmacy doctors, but she’s trilingual, and experienced, and nice, and totally, totally worth it for our piece of mind. Thank you, universe!

Being 30-something: Bring It On!

19 Jan

This last week I finished up this first year of my third decade on the planet. I’m totally in my 30s now, no doubt about it. But I have to say, I believe I’m the red-wine type; I’m getting better and better with age, and I’m not the least bit ashamed or worried about my age. Since my birthday is when I tend to reflect, much more so than on New Year’s Eve, I’ve been analyzing the results of the year I was 30. It mostly felt chaotic and busy, with too many ups and downs to count, and lots of big and dramatic events. I don’t know if it was more of a “good” year or a “bad” year, but it was surely another adventure.

Celebrating this birthday- not my most glamorous moment on the planet, but definitely a good one.

Celebrating this birthday- not my most glamorous moment on the planet, but definitely a good one.

Some HIghlights:

We’ve gone from having a skeleton of a house to having a very livable and in many ways wonderful house, complete with kitchen sink, two bathrooms, screens on the windows and much, much more. We’re even supposed to be getting electricity in the “near future” (whatever that means, Oaxaca), which will make for quite a positive change if/when it happens.

Conan and I officially got married this year, in a perfectly imperfect but lovely ceremony with many close friends and family members. (And we now have a beautiful album of photos to prove it. Thanks, Mama.) We have managed to not kill each other and sometimes enjoy each other’s company in the midst of all the chaos and constant growing pains.

I got my first ever full-time job, with benefits and all. I’ve now had paid vacation twice, in just over six months, plus I’m entitled to paid maternity leave (yep, Mexico is on top of the US on this one, for sure). On top of the benefits, it’s a pretty sweet teaching job. I get paid for my planning time, I got to help invent and implement a new curriculum (which I love to do), and I’m officially a “Profesora” (even though most of my students call me “Teacher”). It’s a rough schedule to have with a small child at home, but we’re adapting and doing the best we can, and I know that me getting to go do work that I enjoy helps me be a better mother when I am home, in many ways.

We bought our first family car, a nice roomy sedan instead of the punch buggy we were looking at originally. I’m even learning how to drive around here, which is an entirely different scenario from driving in the U.S., what with the lack of rules and regulations, not to mention the lack of infrastructure (read: unpaved roads, giant potholes, speed bumps galore).

Lucia’s language has exploded in the past year. She talks up a storm now, in very complete sentences and often entertaining slang, and doesn’t cease to surprise us with her vocabulary in Spanish, too. She’s started to do small translations, adjustments where she converts her speech to the appropriate language based on the person she’s addressing. It’s pretty cool to watch. She does simple ones automatically now, like when I say, “Say ‘bye-bye’ to Tia Luz,” for example, she’ll say “Adios,” whereas before she would say “bye-bye.” Then the other day her Abuela was telling her, “Ask Mami if she wants some jamaica (hibiscus).” First she said it to me in Spanish, exactly like her Abuela had told her, but when I said “What?” she changed it and asked me in English! Which is why I’m not buying her act that she doesn’t understand Spanish when she hears her Papi and I speak it. She’ll say, “Mommy, what did Papi say?” Maybe she’s just confirming that her mental translation is correct. Whatever the case, it’s a lot of fun to watch her use of language grow along with her.

In all kinds of ways Lucia has somehow sprouted into this little girl, this wondrous child, where just a year ago she was still a baby, or maybe a toddler at most. She is a thoughtful, outrageous, articulate, demanding, independent, funny, tender-hearted little creature. I love her more all the time, even when I want to pull my hair out from the frustration. I continue to grow as a mama, and have lots of lists going for things I want to do differently/better/not at all with kid #2, although I wouldn’t change my stinky-butt Lucia for anything.

Lucia's such a big girl she can help prepare the food!

Lucia’s such a big girl she can help prepare the food!

My little girl, enjoying the fruits of her labors (guacamole).

My little girl, enjoying the fruits of her labors (guacamole).

Speaking of kid #2, he or she is en route to arrive outside of my gigantic belly sometime in February, which we are all pretty thrilled about. Lucia (on a good day) even says she is going to share her toys! She doesn’t really understand why the baby doesn’t just get out of my belly already so she can play with him or her, but you can’t understand everything at age two even if you claim to. I’m excited that in my 30th year we created another little human, even if it wasn’t the most planned event of the year. We definitely wanted another little creature to brighten our family and keep Lucia company “sooner or later” anyway. I suspect if we had waited, however, until we were “more prepared” for a second child we might be past our childbearing years! So here’s to the universe’s wisdom.

We also have another new addition, just arrived a little over a week ago from right outside my office. She’s a sweet little kitten, and even though I can’t take on any litter-box-cleaning duties for now, Conan still agreed to let me bring her home. Lucia was excited, but frustrated when she was forbidden to touch the cat for several days. The vet had put flea treatment on her, and was treating her for worms, and advised that neither Lucia nor her pregnant mama touch the cat at first. Lucia was very irritated but very obedient about the situation, thanks to constant repetition of the prohibition. Her Papi explained over and over to her that the cat felt sick and had bugs, so Lucia couldn’t touch her until the cat felt better. Instead, Lucia would lie down on the floor and stare at the cat, as close as she could get without actually touching the cat. At one point she told the cat, “Sorry, cat, I can’t touch the cat because the cat has ladybugs.” (She tends to call every kind of bug a ladybug.) This is how the cat ended up with the name Ladybug, even though Lucia rejected the name Pumpkin, saying, “No, it’s a kitty cat, not a pumpkin.” Apparently it’s all different with Ladybug. After not having a cat for many years it’s really cool to have a kitten and start teaching my kid how to be gentle with animals. 

Ladybug says, "Excuse me, did someone invite you to my clothes pile hideout?"

Ladybug says, “Excuse me, did someone invite you to my clothes pile hideout?”

On paper (or on the internet) it sounds like a pretty fantastic year. Of course this rendition doesn’t include all the tears shed, tantrums thrown, arguments had, all the frustrations and angst and panic-ridden phone calls to my mother. It doesn’t include the moments that I dreamed about (or screamed about) walking away from my (brand new) marriage because things got difficult. It doesn’t include the moments of nearly banging my head on the wall in frustration because it seems impossible (or at least impossibly slow and difficult) to improve our lives here. The moments I questioned moving here, to a house in hot hot Puerto where we can’t even have a fan, where my kid wakes up begging for water at night, where you step out of the cold shower and start to sweat again, where we spend half my salary on ice to keep our food and drinks cool while we dream of a refrigerator.The moments I waited for my kid to fall asleep so I could go cry on the toilet in peace, questioning my capacity to be a good mother. The moments when I got home from work and all I wanted to do was sleep out my exhaustion and forget about my husband and my daughter and the cooking and bath time and what? Quality time as a couple? Grown up time? When can we make that happen? Feeling like a failure as a partner, in turn. 

But those moments, too, make for part of a good life, I think, in their own special way. I mean, it definitely makes me human. And it is part of this process to learn and grow. And I didn’t walk away from my relationship, and it’s not gonna happen this week, either. And maybe we don’t actually spend a whole half of my salary on ice, and on my good days I know that this situation won’t last forever. And even if our house is not the absolute most ideal place, it’s our home and I want to be here. And parenting is the hardest job ever and it’s okay to doubt yourself as long as you don’t let yourself be convinced that you really are a terrible parent when you’re doing the best that you can. Relationships are a constant work in progress, and we will keep working, and keep progressing, as a couple, as a family, as individuals who love each other and live together, in whatever ways we can manage, through the exhaustion and frustration and mood swings and tantrums. And I’m excited about it. Bring on the coming year! 31 is here! It won’t all be amazing, it won’t all be positive, and I sure won’t write about it all. But it’ll be my life, and my challenges, and my obstacles, and my joys, and my off-key voice, and my open, open heart and mind. And this time next year I’ll have to look back and laugh and love it. I can’t wait. 

With no lack of wishes for the coming year....

With no lack of wishes for the coming year…. good thing Conan got me those trick candles! I got to make lots of wishes! 

The Quest for the Perfect Bilingual Baby Name

11 Jan

It’s hard to agree on baby names, period. But when the name has to work in 2 different languages, plus be okay with all the cultural connotations that go with it in 2 different cultures, naming your kid starts to feel like an impossible task. It’s added (self-imposed) difficulty, too, because we stubbornly refuse, again, to find out the baby’s sex. Thus we’re looking for not one but two perfectly apt and bilingual names (I repeat: this is due to not knowing the sex. I am not having twins, thank you very much.)

A close-up of my giant belly. Nope, really not twins. Don't even ask.

A close-up of my giant belly. Nope, really not twins. Don’t even ask.

Part of me wonders if I shouldn’t just give up on my attempt at making it work in both places. I mean, when we named our daughter, we were sure that Lucia was utterly perfect, spelled and pronounced the same in both languages. I must have gotten that impression from my Italian roots or something (although it’s pronounced Lu-chia in Italian), because we discovered at her first doctor’s appointment in the U.S. that other people from the U.S. believe this name to be pronounced Lu-sha. Seriously. I was shocked. Lu-see-uh isn’t the English pronunciation of Lucia??? How could this be? I consoled myself with the fact that we’d be living in another country, a country where they’d pronounce her name the way we’d intended, at least long enough for her to be old enough to correct people.

For baby number two, we’re looking for basically the same things as before. Criteria number one is a name that’s not so common that there’ll be 3 just the same in his or her classroom, but that’s not so outlandishly original that nobody knows what to make of it. We’ve ruled out Jasmine/Jasmin/Jazmin/Yasmin based on this; it’s way too common down here, and getting more common up there, too.

We are also not sadists enough to give our child a name that they are likely to be ruthlessly teased for forever. For example, I love the name Penelope, and it’s similar and pretty in both languages. But Conan keeps nixing it because the first four letters spell penis in Spanish, and he says we’re bound to be giving her a difficult childhood if we name her that. I questioned one of my students, who happens to be named Penelope, about it the other day, though, and she says that as long as you don’t let people give you a nickname, it’s fine. She says she really likes her name and has no malice towards her parents about it, so I refuse to cross it off of my list, although I do see Conan’s point.

Then we have a “no Brian” rule. Brian has become a popular name down here (bless globalization), but spelled like that, people would pronounce it “Bree-an.” So instead people spell it “Brayan” or some such variation that, in Spanish pronunciation, makes it sound like the English Brian. But of course, in the U.S., Brayan would definitely not be assumed to be Brian when our kid goes to the U.S. Thus, any name where the pronunciation and spelling can’t more or less work together in both languages and countries is out of the question; I don’t want people in one country or the other to never get it.

Granted, the pronunciation doesn’t have to be exactly the same. Conan, for instance, was really intended to be Conán, stress on the an (sorry, Conan, I think I’ve just outed you to the world that you’re not really Irish). But Conan’s not bothered by either pronunciation. The pronunciation of my name is considerably different between the two languages, thanks to the lovely letter J, but it’s recognizable in both, and more importantly, I like it either way.

Liking it in both pronunciations is another must, and thus I ruled out some of my favorites due to a dislike of one sound. Like Leo, which I adore the sound of in English (Lee-oh), but which sounds much duller in Spanish (Lay-oh). I could change the name Leo to Lio, so that people here pronounce it the way I like better (I have already seen this with the name Leah turning into Lia), but then people in the U.S. will be trying to call him lie-oh or something like that (I’d be violating the “no Brian” rule). Plus a lio means a big mess in Spanish- probably not a nice thing to throw on my kid.

We could, of course, just go with a distinctly Spanish or English name and make people deal with it. Brian is not the only popular U.S.-style name around, by any stretch. I was laughing with my friend’s sister here the other day, whose six month old is named Margaret. We were joking about how we both did things backwards because I named my kid a nice Spanish name and she named her kid a nice English name, instead of the other way around. She named her kid after her grandmother, who was named Margarita, but they wanted to change it slightly, hence the Margaret (although people call her Maggie anyway, which I’m sure is spelled Magi or Magy, for the record). So people here would surely adapt nicely to many English-sounding names, as long as the spelling can work with the pronunciation. That leaves us a decent amount of options.

Likewise, people in the U.S. can deal pretty well with some Spanish/Italian/Latin-based names these days. Maybe they can’t yet say Horacio (pronounced Or-ass-ee-oh) instead of Horatio, but I wasn’t going to go with Horacio anyway. Most people can even handle “difficult” Italian names, like, say, Guido or something (also not on my list, however). At least I have the impression that this is true. Part of me wonders if perhaps I think that’s true just because my family can pronounce it, so I’m not ready to totally blow off my thoughtful consideration on this part (which, as we saw with the whole Lucia/Lusha thing, is not an unfounded concern).  But I was running with this borrowing-from-Italian thing, and I got an idea from one of my students the other day- for the name Lorenzo. To me it sounds like an Italian name, which (like my idea of Lucia) qualifies it as “American”ish enough in my universe. It’s pronounced and spelled the same in both Spanish and English, plus I think it’s really pretty and strong. But just when you I was sure I found the perfect name, Conan announced that he hates it, and refuses to be convinced. Just my luck.

Another exciting possibility full of potential are Arabic-based names. They’re a good pick because they mostly work with Spanish spelling and pronunciation (and did you know that Arabic had a giant influence on the Spanish language anyway? Fascinating history there). Common names down here, like Miriam and Fatima, are good examples of the Arab influence. And their pronunciation is the same in English. Plus they’re often really pretty names, especially for boys. But Conan also ruled out my #1 boy name, Khalil. He said Ali was okay if we’re going to pick an Arabic-based name. It would be fun because we could also reference Mohammed Ali the boxer from my city (whose birth name was Cassius Clay, not a name we’re enthralled with, unfortunately).  But I’m not in love with Ali as my kid’s name. It’s a great name, but you can’t really substitute it for Khalil. I mean, Ali the boxer is awesome, but Khalil Gibran the writer is way cooler in my book. So we can’t agree on that one, either.

I’ve run out of ideas, especially if we end up having a boy. I’ve got my favorite girl name picked out, which I think I can talk Conan into (at least he hasn’t said no to it). But we’ve got zilch that we agree on for a boy. I’m getting nervous about having this baby and not being able to name him (if it’s a boy). Luckily, here in Mexico you don’t have to name your kid right away just to take him or her home, so I’m the only one pressuring myself on the name thing. But I’ve seen the nicknames that kids end up with when their parents don’t name them for weeks or months (Caramelo, Panfilo, for example), and I don’t want to go there. Plus I feel like babies already look enough like strange alien creatures when they first come out, and somehow naming them ASAP makes them much more human and real. So please help! We are taking suggestions on this second mission impossible!

This face is a plea for help! We need baby boy name ideas! Or convince Conan to let me use Lorenzo! Or cross your fingers that we have a girl!

This face is a plea for help! We need baby boy name ideas! Or convince Conan to let me use Lorenzo! Or cross your fingers that we have a girl!

Goal #1 for 2015: Have a Convivio (not to be confused with a fiesta)

4 Jan

As a child-free adult in the U.S., I used to throw parties at my house on a regular basis. In part, it was an excuse to get the whole house clean for at least a few hours. It was a reason to cook up some food to share- a double batch of 3 or 4 little dishes or casseroles, and when that ran out, that was that. It was an excuse to go check out the beers on clearance at Scheller’s liquor store or try out a new cocktail recipe. And most of all, it was a reason to get together with friends, relax and be silly. Sometimes my roommates and I would throw theme-parties or dress-up parties- like the 80s party, the drag party, the princess party, zombie prom, fancy cocktail hour, to name a few. Sometimes we called it a celebration of the season- the “time to take the plastic off the windows for spring” party or the “summer solstice / come sweat your pants off” party or the “we turned the heat up two degrees for you guys” party. Sometimes we had big potlucks, occasionally with a regional theme- Slavic dishes, or South American. Sometimes it had just been a few months since I’d had a party and I needed to clean my house and go on a cooking spree. There was usually dancing, and good conversation, and cards and / or dice and potentially other games (the occasional chess board, or sometimes a drinking game).

Having a party was medicinal for my soul, despite all the prep work and all the clean-up afterwards (maybe that was good for me, too, somehow). I loved it when lots of folks would stay the night (too drunk to drive) and I’d wake up and make chilaquiles or some other hangover food and strong coffee. These parties, whether there were 7 people or 47 popping in and out of the house, were a big piece of joy in my life. They are one of the things that I miss the most about my life in the U.S., and my life before Lucia.

In our 2 and a half years here so far, I’ve neither been to nor had a party anything like this. Not to say that people don’t party. In fact, parties here are supposedly more frequent than in any other Latin American country (or so my Spanish book said back in university). There are parties for all things Catholic, like you could never imagine. There’s the day for the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Virgin of Juquila, the Virgin of who-knows-what-else, even though it’s all the same Mary essentially. There are parties for a saint that a neighborhood is named after. Even in the barrio de Jesus (the neighborhood named after Jesus), they figured out how to make it another day of celebration in early January by calling it “Tata Chu,” the chatina (regional indigenous language) way of saying “heart of Jesus.” There are parties to celebrate the town (in Puerto Escondido there’s a whole month’s worth of activities and festivities to celebrate in November), parties for political reasons, parties to celebrate Mexico (Flag Day, Independence Day, the start of the Revolution, and much more), not to mention other events and private parties. So there is plenty of celebration happening here; that can’t be disputed.

Celebrations here, for me, however, are not places to let loose and be silly and chat with lots of folks. It is fine for men (and sometimes women) to get drunk, so maybe that’s fun for them. And some people manage to let loose by dancing with a million people all night long, and they certainly look like they’re having fun. But it does not give me the kind of social interaction I crave from parties. Maybe it’s just because I’m a foreigner, but there never seems to be any good conversation happening if you are not magically sitting at a table with interesting folks you already like or know. People don’t just walk around and mingle. The only way to get up and do anything is to dance, so hopefully you like the music. There are definitely no games, unless it’s a kid party (and then it’s mostly just breaking open piñatas). As a guest at parties, I always feel like I’m just sitting awkwardly at the table waiting to be served, staring at strangers and getting stared at. 

Parties here are (by my standards) outrageously large and lavish affairs that I never, ever want to try to produce. We were just at a wedding, for instance, where we didn’t even know the bride or groom. Conan is good friends with the padrinos of the wedding, which is how we got invited. There were hundreds of people there, before other random acquaintances started showing up for the night time dancing, and that was a “private” party. Even a “small” private party requires either hired help or lots of family members with spare time. The hosts are constantly running around refilling drinks, serving this, serving that, handing out the first round of party favors, cutting the cake, etc. etc. etc. There never seems to be a moment for them to sit with their guests, relax, chat, enjoy the party that they’re throwing.

Lucia and her abuela at the wedding. Notice on the table there are pots of fresh flowers for people to take home,

Lucia and her abuela at the wedding. Notice on the table there are pots of fresh flowers for people to take home and napkin holder things with the bride and groom’s names on them. In the background you can see their wedding cake, which is about 7 or 8 large cakes. 

Here you can see

Here you can see the barbie dolls in wedding dresses- another gift for the guests. Of course, people help pay for and do the work on these lavish parties, but still! It’s madness to me. 

Then there are public parties, something that’s produced every year for the whole town, but whose host changes yearly. This year we went to the celebration of the birth of Jesus (aka Christmas for serious Catholics) which our good friend Argelia’s family was hosting. When Arge was younger and suffering from lots of respiratory problems, aside from going to the doctor and also getting lots of home remedies, her mother made a promise to the Virgin that if Arge got better they would someday host this party (welcome to Mexican Catholicism). Something like this requires years of savings and months of preparation.

At this particular celebration, over the course of two days there are hundreds of people in and out of the house, people that expect certain things- a dish of pozole (a kind of chicken and pork and corn soup) on the 23rd, tamales for brunch on the 24th, traditional ponche (fruit and cinnamon and cane sugar based punch, served warm)- the evening of the 24th, and much more. There are piñatas and other treats for the kids. There are multiple bands. Kids come and recite poetry about the birth of Jesus. There’s a play-like event related to the birth. There are multiple long masses at the church and long processions back up to the house. A week later there is more celebrating, taking the fake baby Jesus to the host family for the next year. “Please, let’s never throw a party like this,” I told Conan after we only got to talk to Arge for approximately 2 minutes.

But I do desperately want a party- Kentucky-style, like in all those Old Louisville apartments I had, before we were parents. What I want is called a “convivio” here, a get-together (because geez, you wouldn’t want people expecting that giant kind of party). Our wedding, compared to most weddings around here, was a tiny convivio, although we invited 100 people. What I want is way smaller than our wedding. I want maybe 10 people, 20 at the most, to stop by our house, have a drink, play some cards, chat. I want to cook for people, but not have the food be elaborate nor be the main attraction. I want to play different kinds of music, so people feel like dancing, perhaps. I want to make a cocktail for someone. I want a reason for our whole house to be clean at once (instead of our usual, one room at a time). I want to sit out on the porch and laugh in good company. Maybe we can bust out the cards, too. I know it won’t be the same as when we were single folks in Kentucky. We’re not in Kentucky, we’re not single, and we’re not even the same as we used to be. But we have some friends here and some lovely acquaintances that we could potentially nurture into friendships. And we’re still fun (at least if I can stay awake)! And I’ve decided to make this a priority, a goal for this budding new year. Bringing this type of joy back into my life is surely a valid resolution. Even if it only happens once this year (twice would be better, though), I will have a get-together. Although it might not be the raging blast that some of our parties were in my early twenties, it’ll certainly be better than a resolution to lose weight!

Happy New Year! May you find joy in many little moments throughout every day!