The Plot Thickens, As Usual

2 Nov

We were supposed to go to Juquila for Day of the Dead, but the baby got dengue instead. Granted, the odds were already stacked against us because our car broke down two weeks ago and still isn’t fixed. Welcome to Oaxaca, land of twists and turns and surprises, where the only thing you can count on is the unpredictability of it all.

My little pumpkin suffering his first mosquito-bourne illness. Watching your kid suffer is nooooo fun.

My little pumpkin suffering his first mosquito-bourne illness. Watching your kid suffer is nooooo fun.

If this were me three years ago, I’d be anxiously shoveling sweet bread into my mouth, wringing my hands and longing wistfully for the days when I could have a drink and smoke a cigarette to make it all better. Nowadays, though, it mostly reminds me of that Chinese parable about what’s “good” and “bad”- see here for a version of this: Don’t get me wrong- I was still bummed on Friday, when we were scheduled to be packing for Juquila and instead I was consoling the baby with cuddles and pacifier-style nursing and Conan was off fighting the good fight with mechanics. We were 90% sure we weren’t going to make it to Juquila.

I had been really looking forward to our trip, because I love celebrating Day of the Dead. I cherish the idea that our loved ones come to visit. I love that there’s a special day to honor and appreciate family who have passed away- and that it’s a joyous occasion, not a sad one. (you can see my first post on the holiday here: This year in particular, I was desperately needing the time to celebrate and commune with my dad, who just passed in April. Conan’s favorite uncle passed in July, so it’s an important year for him as well. And for Paulina, this is always her big, important family holiday. It was important to her that we be there. Plus, when we visit Juquila, I am pretty much on vacation; I don’t have to do much cooking or cleaning or even quite as much parenting. I always get some me-time, and I figured that was the only way I’d get time to “talk to” and reflect about my dad.

Conan made a stellar effort to get the car fixed, wasting his entire day on Saturday going back and forth and waiting around for the electrical mechanic. Like I said, we’d already been 2 weeks carless. Our car had started making a weird noise 2 weeks before, and when it turned out to be something that required taking the engine out to fix, our mechanic suggested we bite the bullet and go ahead and do some much-needed engine repair work. It took him over a week, because there were some complicated procedures, AND he is the slowest mechanic I’ve ever met. But he’s cheap and he agreed to our payment plan, and supposedly he knew what he was doing on this one.

Really, though, here in Puerto, there aren’t good mechanics. There are especially no good mechanics for our (foolishly purchased) automatic, made-in-the-USA car. Plus, mechanics and electrical mechanics are completely separate jobs, so sometimes you need two different people to fix your car, or you don’t know which kind of problem it is, so you double the money and the time it takes to fix your transportation. Then they come and tell you, “It’s this piece,” and you have to go out and buy the piece. Half the time they’re wrong; I can’t tell you how many times we’ve replaced something that was not broken. And that’s when the mechanic actually shows up, which is iffy even when they promise that they will.

“Our” mechanic (who often doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing and is slower than molasses in January- but did I mention that he’s cheap? And more reliable than most?) had had our car for 10 days when he finally finished. And then the car wouldn’t start. “I knew it! He put it back together wrong, didn’t he?” I asked Conan, but with zero satisfaction in having been right in my dismal prediction. About 6 different electrical mechanics were called in, but only 3 of them went to see the car. None of them knew what was wrong (business as usual down here). On Saturday, the best electrico we know was supposed to go see the car at 8:30 AM. So Conan sat around at the mechanic’s house (where our car is parked) all morning. Eight thirty turned out to mean 11:30. Then there was lots more waiting and back and forth until finally Conan had wasted his entire day only to be told that it’s a mechanical not an electrical problem- something that our mechanic, who’s now out of town until Monday, will have to fix. Welcome to Oaxaca, pues.

We almost went to Juquila anyway, discussing different possible people who could give us rides, and the pros and cons of public transport. But Khalil kept on with his fever and his pain symptoms. I suspected, but until Saturday afternoon we hadn’t yet confirmed, that his problem was dengue (well, I was guessing that or Chikungunya). I knew my poor 7 month old had had a fever since Wednesday evening and was in a lot of pain. He didn’t want to crawl. He wasn’t even trying to break dishes (aka grab everything out of my hand and throw it on the floor)! He was whining and crying and lethargic like I’d never seen my happy little baby. A few days before, we’d had a babysitter out and she’d sat in the doorway to let Lucia play outside, opening up our mosquito-netted little haven of a house to all the insects. It’s our fault- we’d neglected to tell her to put repellant on the kids before going outside, and to keep the door closed at all costs. Lucia got about 6 mosquito bites which instantly turned into giant, itchy red welts on her body. Khalil didn’t have any obvious bites, but “just because his skin doesn’t react like Lucia’s doesn’t mean he’s immune to mosquitos,” I told Conan. And here’s the sad proof. Once again, with zero satisfaction in being right.

But here’s the thing: I’m neither bluesed out nor anxious about these turns of events right now. I’m thrilled to know for sure what’s wrong with my baby. For one, this is by far NOT the worst thing he could contract. It’s kinda like when Lucia was 5 months old and got chicken pox. I was in a panic about it because she’s just a little baby, but it turned out to be the mildest case of chicken pox in history, and essentially didn’t bother her at all. That’s not exactly the case with Khalil; he’s definitely suffering. But the good news is he has a “good” case of dengue. It’s not the type that causes hemorrhage AND his platelet count is so high that it’s extremely unlikely that it could become the dangerous type. By the time we found out, he was already on day 3, so the absolute worst of it had passed. And we know how to treat it- keeping his fever down with paracetamol, keeping him rested and hydrated and comfortable. (It’s times like these when I am more than happy- grateful, even- to be a human pacifier! Before you know it they’re too big for that little, easy comfort.) Additionally, we have the best pediatrician ever (finally, lucking out on a service here in Puerto Escondido!), so if anything else goes wrong or anything gets worse, we will get it taken care of. What more can you ask for, really?

And while it stinks that we’re not with more of the family in Juquila, it’s also nice that we get to stay home. I am just pretending that I’m out of town. Sure, I have to cook, because we have to eat, but I enjoy cooking, and I’m making all kinds of special yummies to celebrate. I’m not doing extra chores. I’m enjoying time with my family and making my own celebration of my loved ones. Some of Conan’s family here in Puerto came to visit us, too. We’re definitely making the best of it! I don’t have the correct type of wooden utensil to make good hot chocolate, but Lucia helped me stir it, and we enjoyed it just the two of us, curled up with books and the sound and smell of rare, precious rain outside. It was perfect. I don’t have the “right” kind of flowers for my altar, nor all the “right” kinds of food. We don’t have a picture of Conan’s abuelita. But it’s still our tribute to our folks, our invitation to our gente, our people, to come visit. Our reminder to ourselves that they’re not lost to us. I don’t have to be in Juquila for that. It’s perfect just like it is. And I enjoyed it with the family, and still found alone time to be with my Dad and my Nonna. Life is so good sometimes. And death is not the end!

This is what everyone uses to stir the chocolate into the milk. I don’t yet own one of these. Maybe next year.

The plot will always thicken here. There’s always something unforeseen, or something foreseen that’s just not what you hoped for. It still gets me down sometimes. I was pretty upset and overwhelmed for portions of this week. But that’s normal when your baby has dengue and your car’s busted, right? But I’m getting better at finally learning how to roll with the punches. To accept that I don’t control anything. To let up a little on my plans and my lists (but no, I’m not giving up on them, thank you very much- plans and hopes are still necessary and beloved!). And to teach my children that no matter what happens, we can adapt. It’s not always here nor there, just different. So bring on the plot twists. Goodness knows I never wanted to have a boring life!

Conan and Lucia make a flower trail to show the way to the ofrenda.

Conan and Lucia make a flower trail to show the way to the ofrenda.

Our first Palacios-Satterlee altar. Pure love!

Our first Palacios-Satterlee altar. Death is not the end! La muerte no es el final! Hot chocolate, coffee, and bourbon, oh my! Mole and pasta, too. Our dead folks surely enjoyed it.  

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