Archive | December, 2015

Double Trouble, My Two Mini Forces to Be Reckoned With

28 Dec

“I think this one will be more obedient for you than Lucia,” Arturo suggested about Khalil, my nine month old baby. I laughed maniacally in response.

Not that Lucia is particularly disobedient, but she is one determined child. She is pretty clear about what she wants in any given moment. At 3, she’s capable of sitting and working on something over and over and over and over and over again until she’s got it totally down, preferably in one day if possible. Like when someone gave her an alphabet puzzle at age 2, she made someone sit down with her about 15 times a day to do it every single day until the pieces were torn up, just because she was interested, even though the alphabet still meant nothing to her.

She’s also willing to do just about anything to get her way if you are keeping her from doing something by herself that she’s sure she can do, even if you’re sure she can’t yet, or if it’s too dangerous to risk. Going down steep stairs in Juquila this week, for example, she screams, “You don’t go! You don’t help me!” Sorry, kiddo, you’re gonna keep losing this battle for a while. Or we come up with elaborate compromises, like, “You can brush your teeth by yourself first, and then I’ll do it for you at night. And you can do it by yourself in the morning.”

Then there are all the things that she theoretically wants to do by herself but it’s still a bit too overwhelming for her. She wants to pick out her own clothes, but there are often just too many options in the drawer for her to manage. Thus I go and pick out her clothes, or I pick out maybe two options for her to chose from so she still feels all autonomous and such. But then half the time she doesn’t want either of the options I’ve picked. “Not that one!” she yells, as if I’ve just kicked a helpless puppy. “Okay, but you asked me to pick out your clothes today, nena,” I remind her, trying to maintain my own calm, grown-up voice. “But you don’t pick that one!” she responds. “Okay, if you don’t like what I picked out, why don’t you pick out your clothes?” I suggest. “No!” she screams. “You pick out my clothes!” Like I’m totally shirking my mommy duties by suggesting she do something she normally likes to do herself. Crazy three year old logic!

Payback’s a mother, as my dad would say, if he weren’t using some other colorful word to describe it. The best and worst thing about having kids is all the ways in which they are just like you. I was a fiercely determined and independent child, adolescent, and… well, surprise! I am still a fiercely determined and independent adult, although thank goodness I’ve learned a bit of tact and tactics to compromise since my teen years.

Lucia is fierce, and thus far there is zero indication that Lucia’s little brother will be any different in his fierceness of will. If anything, he is looking like he’s going to be even more of a firecracker than my raging, shooting star of three year old willpower. Geez. Am I grateful? I suppose.

Being both grateful and frustrated, I have to say, I have been getting a kick out of seeing little Khalil go up against his grandmother and aunts here in Juquila. I don’t even have to put up any resistance to their demands, because Khalil does it all for me. They put a hat on his head and in .3 seconds he rips it back off, over and over again. “Don’t let him crawl around on that cold, hard floor!” they gasped at first. But there is no keeping Khalil in your arms when he is ready to get on the floor and play. He screams like a banshee and twists and turns and pushes off from you until you finally put him down, fearing that otherwise he’ll slip down for all his resistance.

His necessity to do what he wants is on par with a cat in heat’s level of necessity- it is a biological imperative; he wants to go, and he wants to go NOW. He is working on walking, and there is no stopping him from exploring and pulling up on everything. So then the women of Juquila changed their demand to, “Put him on the petate,” the straw bedmat. Bwahahaha, I laughed to myself maniacally, as he immediately crawled away from it, time and time again. He refuses to dress warmly enough for them, either. Last night he managed to get his socks off while sleeping, no less. He is his own smiling, clapping, adorable hurricane of determination.

This whole Khalil versus the abuela and tias and their folk beliefs situation is really, really fun for me. Payback may be ugly, but vindication is sweet. People in Juquila have been trying to impose their parenting styles and cultural rules on me since we arrived with seven week old Lucia. I gave in on a lot of things, especially since I was not living in my own place. For instance, Lucia never learned to crawl, and I still think it’s because nobody would ever let me give her free rein on the floor. I spent many a night bitterly restricted to the bedroom, alone with Lucia, instead of being in the kitchen or the doorway (where all the social activity was happening, where the cold was sure to harm that poor baby, according to people’s beliefs). Lucia’s first year of life in Juquila was a very tricky experiment of testing wills and culture clashes.

But did I mention that I am intensely determined to do things the way I think is best? I slowly developed polite ways to ignore people’s demands, pulling my foreigner card left and right. Already some folks have had to face up to the fact that I’ve been right about some parenting things. Seeing how well Lucia speaks both English and Spanish, for example, has forced people to admit that, gee, it’s not detrimental for me to speak English to her.

Now, with baby number two, I’ve gotten a lot more expert about insisting on Conan’s and my parenting happening instead of all the things that helpful in-laws just know are correct. It helps that we have our own house, although autonomy is not particularly respected as such. It helps that I am much more sure of myself as a parent, and much more sure of my place here, as a foreigner who’s now very adapted to where I live. But more than anything we are “winning” this one because Khalil refuses to be restrained! Hats? Hell, no! Socks? Not for long, suckers! Staying in one place? In your dreams, tias!

Of course this also means that Khalil doesn’t let me impose a whole lot of my will on him, either, which is a bit trying. Trying to change the diaper of a child who refuses to lie down- without poop flying everywhere- is a daily adventure. Between him and Lucia, we have our hands full and our patience tried, over and over and over. But it’s worth it. They’re my sweet, lovely, fierce little hurricanes of will. In the end, I hope they’ll become two polite, kind, not over-imposing but independent, determined grown people, and my vindication will keep being sweet.

khalil cute hurricane

the cutest little hurricane you ever did see (well, okay, according to me. I might be biased.)

lucia pre pre pre teen

My pre pre pre pre pre teen (aka THREE year old). Getting her attitude ready for adolescence. `Khalil about to make himself fall out of the swing in the background, of course. 

Christmas Cheer, College-Style (in Puerto of course)

21 Dec

“Teacher, why are the other English teachers showing movies in class while we take a quiz?” My students whined. “Because I’m mean,” I grinned. I had a brief flashback to my mother telling me something similar when I’d whine about what other kids got to do and what other moms did/didn’t do/allowed. So I stuck to my guns and gave the quiz, even though I wanted to cancel it just as much as they did. I will learn from this lesson for next year, though. My boss warned me- December is pretty much a write-off. It was the day before their Christmas parade, and technically they still had a half day of classes the next day, but really their brains had been on vacation most of the week already. I couldn’t blame them; I’d also spent more of my planning time than I’d like to admit looking at cookie recipes and planning Christmas crafts for me and Lucia to do. Thank baby Jesus for this vacation! Students and teachers alike obviously needed it.

So on Friday we all had to be there, but nobody’s heart was in the academics. Even administration officials were on the cheerful side with the incredible breakfast provided for staff. This year the food included 5 different kinds of salad, plus some nicely spiced fish, chicken, and pork dishes. We got to sample all of it, and it was all delicious! I even decided to forego the cake in favor of more apple-cream-something salad. It was a big change from last years fried tacos or tamales. Best of all, after everyone was finished they handed out to-go boxes, which I certainly took advantage of to share the love with the family at home.

In the afternoon was the moment we’d all been waiting for (okay, well, some of us more than others): the university’s Christmas parade! In honor of the event (which was my first time since they’d canceled it last year), they were giving staff the option of staying for their regular schedule, till 7pm, or clocking out early and attending the parade. If you clock out early and don’t support students in the parade, they warned in their sternly worded official letter posted around the university, it will count as an unexcused absence!

Some of my coworkers opted to stay until 7, and theoretically I should have stayed to grade more godawful quizzes and be done with it. But hell, no! I was actually thrilled about the Christmas parade, thanks to having an excitable three year old daughter. There was an event the same evening at her school, where kids were going to dance and sing and such. We were supposed to buy her a red felt skirt and other femenine-Santa crap, and so I was secretly thrilled when I asked her to choose which event she wanted to attend, and she chose the parade at my work! Especially because I was going to have to go regardless, or risk losing the afternoon’s pay. And I really wasn’t excited about her Mrs. Claus-or-whatever outfit.

Plus, the parade was really exciting! “Your students are going to throw out candy?” Lucia asked, since that had been part of the selling point, and I confirmed. She doesn’t even like non-chocolate candy that much, but she LOVES the idea of it. For me, the mere idea of getting off two hours early to spend time with my family was enough to have me over the moon. So I clocked out at 5:01 and strolled down to the parking lot to check out the progress on the floats and wait for the kiddos to get there with Conan.

And it was actually exciting! Granted, typical style for down here, nothing was ready at 5. We didn’t all get out of the parking lot till about 6:30, so I probably could have graded the rest of those pesky quizzes if I had known. But my heart wasn’t in it anyway. It was way more fun to see all the (grown-up) kids working so diligently on something.

Each major did their own float with its own theme. They’d been working on it for days, or weeks already in some cases. Since some of the Zootecnia (Animal Husbandry) kids live down the street from me, I’d seen them working on theirs for a couple weeks already. Mostly they used recycled materials, too. Like a “tree” made from plastic bottles that they cut and painted white, or another major’s tree made from used newspaper and cardboard boxes. My favorite, though, was the nursing students’ float with a tree that’s torn between autumn and winter. Not that we have autumn here. But it was really pretty. Here’s my excited but just-woke-up-from-nap grumpy three year old on top of that float.

umarela lu

Too groggy to be sleepy, Lucia doesn’t know how

Lots of students dressed up for it, with different themes. There were fairies and elves and Mrs. Clauses and mimes- and that was just the nursing students! The biology students dressed like animals. The Zootecnia students were mostly too cool to dress up, except for a couple Minnie and Mickey Mouses on their Disney-themed float. We didn’t get many pictures, because we got caught up in walking with the parade. We walked all the way to the end, with Lucia in the stroller and Khalil in the “backpack” with me.

umarela k

Khalil dressed up, too!


my favorite tree


the nursing float, PRESENTE!


They worked so hard on these adorable outfits! It made me feel young just watching them!

Lucia got some candy. I got some exercise. Khalil got more attention than he could stand, and worked a nap in there on my chest. Conan was very laid-back about it all. My students saw that I am in fact interested in what they do outside of class, and that I’m also a human outside of my mean old class (with a family and everything!). It was certainly an all-around success. There was more event happening at the end of the line, but by then it was everybody’s bedtime and we had to bow out. But we made it! We kicked off Christmas vacation in style! I’ll tell y’all about the rest of Christmas break later. Hope you’re having half as much fun as we are! Feliz Navidad!

My First Quince Años

13 Dec

I had always thought I might barf from disgust if I went to a quince años, but this one was unavoidable. A quince años is a birthday party for a fifteen year old girl, and it’s a really, really huge deal. It’s sort of like an old fashioned “coming out” party- you know, coming out into society, being presented to the world as marriage material- mixed with being princess for a day, mixed with enough ceremony to be its own pagan ritual almost. It’s long, it’s intense, and parts of it are precisely the melodramatic patriarchal moments I envisioned. But I not only refrained from throwing up, parts of it also made me tear up (What can I say? I’m sensitive. Don’t take me to the movies.)

On one hand, I emphatically and voraciously love the idea of celebrating a girl’s coming into womanhood, and a boy’s coming into manhood, for that matter. It’s a crucial, trying, and beautiful part of our lives and we need family and the rest of our close community to stand by us, to teach us, to bring us into the fold. It’s something that’s seriously lacking about US culture (and many other cultures these days). So I love this idea of officially saying goodbye to childhood and it being this giant celebration.

On the other hand, I hate the idea of presenting a girl as marriage material, as if she were a thing being put on offer. Not that it’s exactly saying, “cool, go get married tomorrow,” and definitely not, “you’re ready for sex now” (this is a Catholic country, after all). But that is where it comes from.

According to Wikipedia (not the best source in the world, but I was curious what the interwebs had to say about it), “Quinceañeras originated from Aztec culture around 500 BC. At age fifteen boys became warriors and girls were viewed as mothers of future warriors, marking the age in which a girl became a woman.” While we don’t have Aztec warriors running around, it’s not at all uncommon for teenage girls to become mothers, or to “get married” in the unofficial way of going to live with their boyfriend. Here, if you run off to live at your boyfriends house (called robbing you, which also makes me want to vomit), you’re as good as married as far as society sees it. I certainly don’t think it’s morally wrong or any of that crap. The “problem” of teen pregnancy, for me, is not that you’re a teen who’s sexually active, or even that you’re not “grown up enough” to be a mother (who is?). For me the only problem is that it’s likely to drastically limit your options and your independence and mobility in life, and you are potentially more likely to get trapped in an abusive or otherwise awful relationship.  Becoming a mom in your 20s or 30s has a similar effect, you’ve just had a little more time to maybe get your act (and finances) together. But enough of that diatribe.

Wikipedia goes on to say that with the changes over time, the quinceañera is now a party for girls who “are honored for having maintained their virginity up to this point in their lives.” Ick. It’s 2015 and we’re still all about girls’ virginity? Enough said- you can see why I was hesitant about this whole quinceaños thing.

Down here, I think it’s also acknowledged that it’s the biggest celebration for them that they’ll ever get in their lives. Girls dream about it the way that some girls dream about their weddings. In a way, it’s cooler than a wedding, because it’s just about you. You’re not waiting around for Prince Charming or Mr. Perfect or whomever for your big day. Lots of girls know they might not get a big wedding (or any wedding at all, since when you move in with someone people say that you’re married), so if your family has enough money to give you a quince años party, this is as good as it gets.

Which brings me to my other drama with it: Part of me hates the idea that this is your crowing moment in life. I mean, if somebody told me that life at 15 was as good as it was going to get, I would have been fairly likely to go ahead and slit my wrists. Thank goodness, I wasn’t buying that bill of goods, and my life is leaps and bounds more enjoyable now than when I was 15.

Regardless, this type of celebration is definitely not anything anyone could have talked me into at 15. No, siree. I would have preferred more of a walking-over-hot-coals / vision-quest (preferably with drugs) / let’s-just-sit-around-and-drink-wine-with-my-womenfolk (and plot to change the world while laughing hysterically) kind of coming of age when I was 15 years old. You couldn’t have paid me to act out my goodbye to dolls and get lifted into the air numerous times by 8 teenage boys.

Not everybody gets a quinceaños, even if they haven’t shacked up with someone by then. It’s too outrageously expensive for many folks. But let me tell you about how this one went before I get distracted with more social commentary.

First, everyone got fed: barbacoa, which is like slow-cooked meat in a sauce that’s nothing like barbeque. Some waiting around, and then the elaborate, hours-long ceremony begins. There’s a crowning ceremony that the grandmothers do where they put a tiara on her. There’s a lot of dancing with the special boys called chambelanes. I especially liked one dance where they each bow and give her a rose, she bows and graciously accepts before tossing it aside carelessly for another boys’ rose. There’s a changing of the shoes where her cousin takes off her Chuck Taylors and puts some high heels on her. (I also loved that she wore this crazy princess dress with some Converse for most of the night.) There’s a weird doll dance where they give her her last doll. There was a thing with her dancing in front of a mirror. There were fireworks and confetti galore. A waltz with different family members, similar to the wedding waltz. I loved that at the end, she came back in a mini-skirt and did some fun dancing with one of the boys. And I loved the cake at the end, because her mama makes the best cakes.

15 dance

a princess in all respects

15 dolls

part of the doll ceremony

15 dance2

ceremonial dance with her chambelanes, the boys who dance with her


And I really did almost cry a couple of times. It was sweet and touching to see this lovely girls’ parents publicly acknowledge that their baby isn’t a little girl anymore, even though she’ll always be their baby. The father of the non-bride shed a couple tears during his speech. The quinceañera balled on her mama’s shoulder during their dance. And in this case especially, I know just how much her fabulous mama worked to give this to her daughter. She stayed up all night making the fifteen cakes. She made ALL of the recuerdos by hand- fake flower arrangements made out of mostly recycled material, dolls with green dresses like the one her daughter was wearing, the dolls encased in glass (did I mention the parents are glass makers?). I can’t imagine all the lost sleep and the debt creation that went into this party.

15 mesa

Handmade table decorations that people take home as souvenirs

15 pastel

Fifteen cakes, made by her mama the night before (the best 3 leches cakes ever)

No matter what I would have wanted or not wanted,  I think it was worth it for everyone concerned. Even though the fifteen year old is still a fifteen year old, and had an angsty, pained, and/or self-conscious look on her face half the time- that’s par for the course when you’re 15, even when you’re getting something you desperately wanted. You guys know I’m already planning Lucia’s alternate version to welcome her to womanhood when the time comes. I’m crossing my fingers she won’t want princess dresses and dances with dolls, but no matter what I’ll shed the same bittersweet tears as these parents.

15 my nena

Me and my future 15 year old, all dressed up



Thanks, Christian Rich Folks (and Dee), for Sponsoring this Family Outing

6 Dec

I think Dee, my mom’s partner, might know more people in Puerto Escondido than we do. He’s fantastically sociable and when he’s here on vacation, he has more time than we do to find out about cool places and things to do. Thus, thanks to him and his excellent socializing in Puerto skills, we went to several new places during this visit, places not in our normal routine.

This particular place only he and Conan explored until yesterday. It’s now a new family hang out / get away spot. It’s more or less in the city limits and it’s totally free!

It’s a high-up spot in La Punta where you get a beautiful view of Puerto, the ocean, and the mountains. It’s a perfect spot for contemplation, or photographs, or a packed lunch with friends, or a romantic make-out session.

puerto view fam

The kids are eternally in action

puerto view papi

Papi and the kids

puerto view best

The view!

Obviously, the creators of this spot realized that it was perfect for accidental baby-making and other such shenanigans, since they felt it was necessary put up a special plaque asking you not to do so.

puerto view rules

FYI, kids! Not for fun!

This says that this spot is for considering the principle mysteries of our faith, and as such romantic dates and all that can cause disorder are prohibited. Which instantly makes me want to cause some havoc, but maybe that’s just the rebellious reflex in me. The choice of words “our faith” is interesting, too; does that mean it’s only for Christians? Or is it merely a reflection of the reality that most of this country is Christian (and mostly Catholic)?

Whatever the case, aside from the beautiful view, this is what the creators of this spot had in mind for you to ponder:

puerto view cross

Sorry, I took the picture from the back of it. But you get the idea. Lucia was thrilled to climb up the hill.

puerto view maryjesus

An intense image of mother and child. Definitely something to ponder over.

We didn’t stay and ponder long, though, because Khalil is in that point of babyhood when it’s really hard to go out with him for very much time. He’s not little and docile enough anymore to be happy in your arms all day, nor is he mobile enough to go around outside without being a danger to himself and others (imagine trying to go to the nice sandy beach with a baby who insists on crawling and putting everything in his mouth). So you have a little window of opportunity where you can expect to go out and keep him relatively happy. This was perfect, time-wise, for letting Lucia climb around without Khalil getting too pissed off about being detained.

puerto view lu cute

Just hanging out….

puerto view lu funny

On top of the sand pile- apparently there’s more construction in the works.

It was a perfect family outing, thanks to whoever made this semi-public spot. So thanks, Obama. Oh, no, wait, that’s not right…. Thanks, guys with money to spend on faith-inspired ponderings! We’ll be back, and I’ll keep trying to resist the urge to make out and cause a ruckus while I’m under the cross.