Archive | August, 2016

My Oaxacan Reality Show

30 Aug

Have you ever approached the mirror expecting to see a cockroach, because things are so bad you’re sure you’re living out a Kafka novel? I started my Monday timidly glancing towards the mirror, convinced someone had come along in the night and boofed-up my hair, maybe wiped excessive blush and three layers of mascara on me, because I undoubtedly am living some bad reality TV. Or perhaps the previous days were supposed to be motivation for me to write about my life for The Onion, everyone’s favorite satirical paper. I knew my life wasn’t a sitcom because it was too preposterous to be made-up.

 

This was my reality show script this past weekend:

 

Friday: The Absurd Car Saga Continues

 

We’re driving down the coastal “highway” (a highway covered in topes, aka speed bumps), cruising along nicely because we’ve already stopped twice since leaving our house to put water in and cool down the car. That’s the state of our car currently- the motor’s been totally rebuilt now, along with about 15 other things, but anything that we haven’t put in new in the 2 years that we’ve owned it is just waiting for its moment to break down. I could write 3 different blog posts about this lemon of a car and all the idiot/liar mechanics and how every time we fix something they break something else or something else breaks right afterwards. I could write about how it tricked us by not breaking down for a couple of months, and so we decided to do some more major repairs on it to make it last us, and it hasn’t lasted a full week since then. But Conan’s made me promise not to blog about the car. “It’s bad enough I have to live this experience;” he explained, “I really don’t want to read about it.” But the car was the start of this mad-house weekend, so, sorry, Conan, but I’ve got to tell a little bit.

 

So we’re driving to Lucia’s school to pick her up. Now, luckily, we haven’t had to make the trek to take Lucia to school and back every day, thanks to a super nice lady, J’s mom, who lives a couple miles from us. Lucia’s new school, which is fabulous for her, is like light years away from us. It’s as far as you could possibly get from our house and still be in the same small town. Taking a taxi there is prohibitively expensive. It takes two buses and a good amount of walking on both ends just to get there without a car, and then there’s the trip back for Conan and Khalil. So all the days when our car doesn’t work (usually, thus far), Conan takes Lucia down the road to J’s mom’s house. J’s mom takes her and brings her back to there in the afternoon.

 

Three weeks in, Lucia is used to going with J’s mom. She showed me the other day how she and Papi speed-walk down the street to the collectivo stop in the mornings. Conan showed me the video that he showed Lucia to stop her complaining, a video of some kids who scale a cliff to get to school and back. This is good, I thought. My kids in no danger of growing up too privileged for her own good. But J’s mom now has to start taking her older kids to school as well, which means she needs to leave an hour earlier. I refuse to think about the problem till Monday, though, because our life is a twelve-step program and we’re already dealing with this tricky moment.

 

We’re driving in our radically unreliable car because the plan changed too much in one day. Lucia was supposed to be getting a ride with a different mom because she was going to her new bestie’s house to play after school. Unfortunately, there was a problem on the other mom’s end and she had to reschedule. We’d already cancelled Lucia’s normal ride with J’s mom, and I knew Lucia was going to be madly disappointed. Thus, I thought it might soften the blow if I went to get her. I told Conan I was going to take the buses and such to get her, but he convinced me it’d be better to all go in the car- we’d just put water in along the way. So here we are.

 

The car makes it all the way to the school! J’s mom had had car trouble herself earlier in the day, so she arrives in a borrowed car. The borrowed car gets a flat tire right on the corner by school, so Conan tries to fix it. The car’s spare needs air and our spare doesn’t fit. J’s mom calls the flat-tire car’s owner and he comes quickly in J’s mom’s now-fixed car (how’d she get a mechanic to work so quickly!? I gasp). She has to go pick up more kids, so we take the flat-tire-car-owner to the gas station to get air in his spare. When we arrive at the gas station, we hear a big pop! from our car. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I yell, about to pull my hair out.

 

It’s not a flat tire, at least. Conan opens the hood. Some belt has snapped. But not completely- only part of it is torn. Conan gets out the dirty steak knife he apparently keeps handy and cuts off the busted part. We take off back down the road to the school where the other car is. We make a deal with the flat-tire-car-owner that he’ll pick up me and the kids off the side of the road if he sees us there on the way back to our side of town. With only a couple of stops to cool the car down- one of those stops to buy quick food, we make it home just in time for me to go back to work. Well, I’m late for the 8th time this week, but I get there.

 

Speaking of late, Conan’s going to be late to an important prayer service. The babysitter calls while we’re on the road, saying she can’t watch the kids that afternoon. That means Conan can’t leave as planned for Pinotepa, a coastal town a few hours down the road where his stepdad Arturo is from.

 

Here in Oaxaca, when somebody dies, there are nine days of evening prayer services for the deceased, with the ninth one culminating in an all-night sort of wake/prayer service. They repeat the process a year later, and this is the year anniversary. We already missed the original service for Arturo’s mom, so it’s important that we go. But I couldn’t even handle the mental images of a weekend purgatory with my insomniac children, all sleep-deprived and exhausted and expected to sleep on straw bedrolls when there’s an exciting wake going on around them. Plus we are all in the throes of a cold, just to exacerbate the potential misery. Conan was going to go alone, but this is like another sign from the universe. He decides to stay home and try to figure out the car situation.

 

 

Saturday: Blood and Gore and Electrical Outlets

 

Our most trusted and honest mechanic is unavailable. Sadly, this guy is slower than molasses in January AND the least experienced and least knowledgeable of the dozen mechanics we know down here, but at least we’re sure he’s not trying to rip us off, ever. We wait, as usual.

 

We decide on a family field trip to the library before our weekly venture to buy fruit and vegetables at the market. At the library, Khalil’s pulling books off the shelf with glee. I look at Lucia for a second and when I look back at Khalil he’s got his finger on an electrical socket and is trying to shove it in there. WTF? Who puts an electrical outlet in the children’s books? Or who puts the small kids’ books where the outlet is? Geez, Mexico, Geez!!! I know that safety is a joke here, but it’s a library, which really should be a universal safe space, don’t you think? Sure, they don’t have those convenient plastic outlet-cover things with that specific purpose down here, but this is a land of genius inventions!  Put some duct tape over that shit like I do, people! No wonder a kid’s third birthday is such a big deal here: if your kid survives that long, it’s obviously a miracle.

 

The rest of our outing is blissfully uneventful, not including Lucia’s meltdown in the taxi because I told her I’d buy her a treat “later” and then later never happened. “I wanted ice cream, too, but I bought fruit for you little people instead!” I want to scream, if only I could have my own meltdown. Instead I limit myself to furtive eye-rolling while I console her. Life is really hard.

 

Tensions remain high at home due to hunger and exhaustion. Voracious snacking happens while I prepare official lunch. Later Conan and I get in a fight over who is supposed to rinse Khalil’s poopy diapers. Conan escapes outside to do yard work. I attempt to put Khalil down for a nap.

 

I’m lying in the bed with Khalil when Conan comes up and asks if we have peroxide. I look up at him and there’s blood all over his shoulder and on one side of his chest. It’s coming from his head and it’s still flowing out swimmingly.

 

“What happened!” I shriek at him. “Do. We. Have. Peroxide.” He repeats. Then Calm Julia starts a wrestling match with Hysterical Julia. “Go in the bathroom,” I tell him, breathing deeply while my hands shake. “Bring some ice,” he says. I grab peroxide, ice, and the small, worn white “Él” (His) towel that was a wedding present, which just happens to be in the kitchen. I douse his head in soap and water and try to guess how bad it is. He holds the towel with ice in it on his head. The bleeding continues.

 

I’m flapping around like a chicken, trying to get things together to schlep him and the kids to a clinic. “Get your shoes on,” I tell Lucia. “Because we’re going to the hospital?” she asks, having overheard me tell Conan that I’m taking him. “Yes,” I confirm, and she is remarkably obedient. “I’m ready, Mommy,” she says, stunningly cool and calm.

 

Of course our car is not working. I am also out of minutes on my phone, and in my agitated state I appear to be unable to use Conan’s phone to call a taxi. Conan feels dizzy, which puts me almost over the edge. “Don’t pass out on me!” I tell him sternly.

 

“The neighbor,” Conan says, reminding me that we have a helpful neighbor. I try to call him instead of a taxi but my phone hasn’t miraculously gotten a top-up on minutes in the past 30 seconds. I can’t work Conan’s contact list still, either, and as I’m trying to push in the buttons and becoming less and less dexterous and sharp-witted (you’d think I got my head busted open, too), Conan says, “Go.To.The.Neighbor’s.House.” OH, right! I snatch the baby and go.

 

Luckily, the neighbors are home. The papá, Sergio, comes over to help. “It doesn’t look too bad,” he says, and Conan says, “Yeah, I don’t feel so dizzy now,” as if to say “Let’s just forget about all this.” I’m on the verge of screaming, “Your head got busted open by a heavy wooden beam! Have you already lost your mind?!” Instead I limit myself to a determined, “We’re getting you checked out.” The neighbor offers to give us a ride to the worthless pharmacy doctor down the street. That’s better than nothing, so we get in the car. Lucia stays with the mamá neighbor and their three kids to play, thankfully.

 

conan pole

Conan demonstrates how the beam was (we recently did some construction on the house and this beam was stuck extra tight until this moment)

conan pole down

This is how the beam fell, except Conan was kneeling down to pick up the bucket right there. He has some amazingly bad luck. But better him than the kids, we agreed.

 

The pharmacy doctor is closed at the pharmacy in our neighborhood. The less-busy one downtown is also closed. We get out of the car at the next one, pleased because it looks like there’s no line. We tell the neighbor we’ll catch a taxi back and thanks for the ride. Turns out there’s no line because the doctor has just gone to lunch and won’t be back for an hour. Ooops. Now what?

 

The Red Cross is just a couple blocks away, so we start walking. I’m carrying the sleeping Khalil in my arms and Conan is shirtless and still messy with blood, holding the bloodied white towel with ice in it over his head. He says he feels “fine.” I am not assured.

 

At the Red Cross they clean and examine his injury and tell us he needs stitches, but they’ll have to charge us for the materials- a couple hundred pesos. They work off of donations, so that’s that. And they’re not doctors, so they explain that they can’t give us a prescription or any other care, so we might prefer to go to the Health Center (Centro de Salud). “They’re government run, so they don’t have any reason to charge you a peso,” the paramedic says. (I suppose he’s a paramedic. Whatever he is. Random guy who knows how to sew people up? Friendly apprentice to a Silence of the Lambs-style murderer? Who knows?)

 

We take a taxi to the Health Center and go in the Emergency doors. You remember the Centro de Salud, the one that was on strike for months? They’re not on strike anymore, thank goodness. Someone is in the exam room and there’s another couple waiting. The other guy’s having chest pains and he gets seen first. Conan tells the nurse he had an accident and got hit in the head. She glances in his direction. Analysis complete.

 

While we’re still waiting, the nurse comes over and asks, “Did you guys bring a vehicle?” I’m thinking “Did someone park illegally on the nearly-empty dirt road outside? Why are they asking this?” I give her a simple no, although I’m tempted to disclose too much information about the useless state of our vehicle.

 

“Well, it looks like we’re out of the thread for stitches, so you’re going to have to go to a pharmacy and buy it.” She informs us casually. The nearest pharmacy is something like 10 blocks away. I look slowly at Conan with his head injury and I look down at the sleeping baby in my arms. Do I go on this outing with the baby, which will take longer but be safer? Do I leave the baby with the head-injury patient? Do I send the injured party to buy his own medical supplies, with his bloody towel and topless, bloody chest, because our first walk-around wasn’t quite fun enough? IS THIS A SICK JOKE?

 

Of course it’s not a joke, though; it’s just how it is. This is not as bad as the time that a doctor sent us home during Lucia’s crisis asthma attack with her blood oxygen level still at a dangerous 89% and not responding to treatment. It’s not nearly as bad as my friend’s birth story. She’s a negative blood type and her baby’s positive, so you need a special shot, which you can get anytime between 28 weeks pregnancy to 72 hours after birth. Otherwise it’s dangerous if you might ever want to get pregnant again. The hospital where she gave birth (yep, those same scary fools that are my insurance company) kept telling her they’d get it for her soon, until her 72 hours were almost up and finally they admitted that they didn’t have it. Her husband had to drive hours away to go buy it and race back to get it to her in time. So, I think, this is not that bad.

 

Luck is on our side! The director finds a little bit stashed away in a closet somewhere. Hallelujah, amen.

 

The nurse won’t let me accompany Conan, probably because she doesn’t want anyone with non-injured heads to hear her inappropriate commentary or to be a witness to who-knows-what. “These glasses just don’t let me see right anymore,” is among her pertinent remarks. That was after she discussed with the other lady (nurse’s aide? Who knows?) this being her 2nd time giving stitches. When Conan asks, incredulously, “Really? Second time ever?” she explains that it was her second time with the other lady. Conan’s hoping that’s true, but it’s too late to back out of this anyway.

 

Meanwhile, the director, who’s the only doctor on site, takes me to a different room to complete some minimal paperwork. I give him basic info about Conan and what happened. He tells me he’s writing a prescription for an antibiotic and pain pills.

 

The doctor still hasn’t actually examined Conan, so I’m trying not to scoff about his antibiotics. When I ask him if antibiotics are necessary in this case, he assures me that they are, just like all the doctors here do, no matter the circumstances. They don’t even diagnose you; one doctor I saw limited herself to the question, “Injection or pills?” like they used to ask, “Paper or plastic?” in the grocery store. You have a cough? Antibiotics! Diarrhea? Antibiotics! It’s a miracle that there are still antibiotics that kill off actual bacterial infections here since they’re used for everything else instead. But I digress.

 

If I had known that my moment with the doctor would be the only moment for questions, I would have gotten it together to inquire a little more. If I had a peso for every time I thought “If I had known this sooner,” since we moved here, we would be filthy rich enough to improve doctors’ training in the entire state of Oaxaca. Although we’d only do that if we could ALSO buy a car that works.

 

Conan survives the dodgy nurse’s handiwork and we go to the reception/cashier area with a piece of paper. The receptionist charges us 85 pesos. I ask if that’s how much it costs despite his having this insurance- the Seguro Popular (insurance that covers you at this type of public health clinic). She’s like, “Oh, you have Seguro Popular?” Conan explains that he does but his paper is at home. Because that’s all it is- a printed piece of paper. It’s not like it’s something you carry around with you everywhere, or it’d be unreadable once you needed to use it. “Can’t you look him up in the system?” I ask, to which she probably should have burst out laughing. But instead she politely tells us that there’s no system like that; he just needs his scrappy piece of paper that anybody could print from a computer. I guess they’re counting on the fact that not enough poor people have the means to make their own ridiculous document for insurance coverage. Or they just don’t care.

 

“Welcome to Oaxaca!” I think, land where you better be at home with your shoddy print-out proof of insurance when anything happens or else it’s no use. What’s more of a joke, though, is that at no point did the doctor examine Conan’s injury, and no medical professional has given him any medical advice or instructions on follow-up care. No one has given us any idea of potential complications, what to watch for, tips on keeping it clean, or even when to get the stitches taken out. Nothing. I kind of assumed the nurse had told Conan some of that information. I must be somewhat in shock myself because I am not on my A-game with the demanding questions, and therefore we get zero information. At least he got seen, I guess.

 

conan busted head

It doesn’t look too bad after it’s all stitched up. Too bad it feels really bad still. We go out for ice cream down the street from the clinic before we get a taxi home. There’s the silver lining. 

 

Sunday: Dry like a Desert, No Oasis in Sight

 

Conan acts like he feels fine and starts to refill leaking fluids, add extra water, and beat on something to make the tail lights come on (oh, yeah, we have some electrical problems, too) so we can take the car out. We go to inquire about brand-new cars, because at this point I’m convinced that it will be cheaper than trying to maintain a car that never works. Unfortunately, the facts and numbers demonstrate my miscalculation. A new car is still unattainable. But my kids have fun playing hide and seek around the Volkswagon showroom and jumping on their couch. That’s what matters on a Sunday, right?

 

We drop the car off at the mechanic’s, who hopes to get to it today. He calls Conan right as we’re about to sit down to dinner that evening, because he’s about to get started working on it. Conan rushes off to the mechanic’s house. As soon as they start working, it starts pouring down rain and nothing can be done till the next day. (What, do you expect mechanics to have garages here? Bwahahaha.)

 

While Conan is out, we run out of drinking water. I still don’t have any minutes on my phone, so I can’t call him to bring some home. I’m worried that it’ll be too late to get any from the house on the corner by the time he gets back. I could leave the sleeping children alone in the house for a minute, but I’m scared of the dogs once it’s dark out and they get more aggressive. So I’m stuck, with my ragingly sore throat, and no water. I need tea now! Worse still, how will I get out of bed in the morning if there’s no coffee? I blow up a balloon for my imaginary pity party. For some reason, this small inconvenience feels like the worst thing yet.

 

Then I remember that it’s not my first day in the illustrious state of Oaxaca. It’s not even my first time with this particular problem. I get a big pot and put tap water on to boil. “It’ll be better coffee,” I think, “I’ll add some cinnamon to the pot!” I make my coffee the traditional way, letting the grinds sink to the bottom. It’s all ready for me to reheat when I get up the next day, thus assuring my 5AM wake up will be executed successfully. I make ginger tea with some of the boiled water, and it’s the perfect soother.

 

I plan the meals for the next day. Conan has a plan for Lucia’s school transportation for the next day. No further plans can be made. We’ve made it through this day. That is all. There’s no moral to the story, nothing special to be learned, because this is a REALITY show, folks. I go to sleep hoping for a better script and better hair tomorrow.

A Spike for the Ego

21 Aug

I gave up being a stellar young volleyball player when I was thirteen, because it no longer fit my budding rebel image. I’d been the hot-shot player on my team, because I loved it and therefore I practiced relentlessly. But I traded it in for tentative puffs of smoke, for dancing in the mosh pit, for spoken word poetry. Sports were for jocks and that wasn’t me, I declared, with all of my tentacles extended to speculate and conjecture about my identity. Little did I know that years later, volleyball would save my life, imparting me with a concrete expression of myself as a real human being, when nothing and no one else around me acknowledged me as a distinct and singular individual.

 
Volleyball as refuge for me started in the itty-bitty mountain town of Juquila, Oaxaca, during that year of my life when I was lost in the abyss. I was whisked away in the shock, in the wonder and delight, in the anguish and growing pains of becoming a mother. I was in semi-exile from my home, trying to clench my fist around some solid piece of myself. I was locked away in solitary confinement, with an infant who couldn’t talk, a very depressed partner who wasn’t talking to me, and a small town full of folks who acted like I was an alien species.

 
Then I found a place to play volleyball.

 
It was at the hospital, up one of Juquila’s many steep hills. Everyone else who played regularly was staff from the hospital, but a neighbor who worked at the hospital told me it wasn’t exclusive, and I leapt at the non-invitation as if it were a red carpet leading me to my very own party. They were mostly younger folks hired from other parts of the state, and they were mostly a little more open-minded than many of the locals in Juquila.

 
Usually Conan would come with me to bring baby Lucia- who refused to take a bottle- in case she needed to nurse. Even though I wasn’t 100% free of my mother role, at least I was somewhere in my own right. It was a place to go with a legitimate purpose all about me, as a person who played this sport, as opposed to being Conan’s partner, or Paulina’s daughter-in-law, or just “la gringa,” a strange specimen to inspect and marvel at. It was a respite from both being ignored and being a side-show freak.

 
Not that I found a new bestie or something from going to volleyball once a week. We never had deep or intimate or intellectual conversation, nor many other things that I was longing for. Nobody ever invited me for anything but volleyball- and there wasn’t really anything else to do in Juquila anyway, except perhaps have a drink. But I got to use my body for something besides walking to the market and nursing the baby, and I got to be  part of a team. Being accepted into the volleyball games was enough. I eventually even got invited to be on their team for a big tournament. That was the most recognized and autonomous I ever felt in Juquila.

 

IMG_1797

Proof of my existence: My shirt even had my name on it for the tournament! Thank you, hospital volleyball players of Juquila.

IMG_1796

An action shot

When we moved to Puerto Escondido, I started from scratch again with my search for a social existence. There are a lot more people and options, as well as a different attitude, in Puerto. People are so much more open- it’s palpable. When I talk about Juquila, when I describe things and some people there, my shoulders hunch up, I shrink in on myself, fighting off the cold. But when I think about Puerto, my arms extend like wings, or like the surfer I’m not, out, open, free. What a difference.

I was invited to a volleyball team at the university where I work, too, but my existence in Puerto doesn’t start and end with volleyball. Granted, I still don’t have the incredibly fulfilling social life I pine for. But I am recognized in so many ways and spaces. I have a house that’s all ours, with electricity and everything, where I can be totally me and blast my music at 7AM. I’m not a novice Mommy-in-the-making anymore; I’m full-fledged, parenting with my eyes closed half the time. I’m a teacher with more than 5 years spent in classrooms, including two years under my belt using a curriculum that I helped invent. I get along royally with my students and I’m generally pleased to be at work, enjoying what I do. I have fabulous coworkers who I love to hang out with, at work and beyond. I know some other really cool folks who I almost never get to see because of this busy life- but at least I know really cool people! They know me. We exist in this social universe!

And I play volleyball, every Friday after work. I play to be outside of my Mommy role, outside of my Teacher role, to just be me, me and my body, little autonomous Julia. My muscles work hard and I feel sweaty and strong and glorious. My laughter erupts time and again, like yet another oil spill in the ocean, uncontainable, uncontrollable, its effects diffusing into all the realms of my being. I feel so alive, every single week. I feel like I belong, goofing off with staff and students and thesis candidates, other people shirking their normal roles to have a good time.

My volleyball skills are not what they used to be, although I’ve still got a surprisingly wicked underhand serve on a good day. More importantly, I feel legitimate and whole and right when I’m on the court: secure in my body, sure of my identity and place in the universe.

So I found myself getting pretty irritated with a small group of new students and their hot-shot egos who found their way to our games. See, in August and September, the university has a special introductory semester for new students while everyone else is on vacation. So right now there are just a few of us regulars and several enthusiastic new students. Bless their little hearts.

There is this group of those guys (almost always male, especially down here). We all know them: the guys who are confident that they’re more important than you. In volleyball, they are rampant, unapologetic ball-hogs. They’re flagrant court stealers, trying to play every position at once. They’re not only sexist (if you’re good, you’re good for a girl) because they also steal the ball from other men who aren’t as good/aggressive as they are- they’re equal opportunity in their discounting of all us “inferior” players.

They’re not amazing players in reality, though. At least half of these boys’ skill is brute force. They lose the point at least as much as they get it. Sometimes they blow the point because they hit it way too hard. Often they blow it because they’re so busy making sure some less-skilled player doesn’t mess up that they abandoned their own position and can get the ball when it lands there. And sometimes they just mess up, just because they’re human. But because they can spike, because they’ve got great hustle, because they’re overzealous, they’re really impressed with each other and uninspired by the rest of us. They’d like to think that it’s they’re game and we’re just there for show.

IMG_1794

Conan captured perfectly this ball-hog in Juquila stealing the ball from right in front of me. These guys are international, after all.

I am not there for show, however, thank you very much, chicos. I’m not a star volleyball player, but I’ve got thirty two years of budding and blooming personality under my belt, and no one can diminish that in me now. When I call the ball, I’m going to hit it, even if they get in my way. When they scoot in to my position before the ball’s even been served, I politely tell them to scoot on back out of my space. “I might miss it, but you might, too,” I told one of them this past week. Or when one of them tried to switch into the setter’s spot without asking me about it, I told him nicely, “Sorry, I like this position, too.”

I was feeling all irked about their presence, until I realized that those boys and I both have our egos all tied up in this game. Their stake is all about performing well for their buddies, whereas my stake is all about having a space to “perform” myself. I’m old enough now to not pen myself into a category. I can be an avid volleyball player and not worry about being a jock. I can be a devoted Mommy and still be a wild child rebel in my own ways and time. I can just be all of who I am now and most days I don’t give myself any complexes about it, thank the universe.

These poor boys, though, are not even having fun! They’re so busy trying to prove that they’re bad-asses that they can’t even laugh when they mess up. They either try to put the blame on someone else or they beat themselves up over it. Granted, it doesn’t make their behavior any more acceptable. They still need to learn that we all have a right to play, regardless of sex, regardless of skill level. But it does give me a little more  compassion for them. Here they are, many of them, separated from their old friends, out of their parents’ house, in a new town, for the first time in their lives. They’re trying to hang on to and continue recreating their own social identities. It’s hard. I get it. Maybe, with time, with more of us insisting that we all belong equally on the court, they’ll get that part, too. Maybe they’ll even learn to respect themselves more when they learn to respect others. Maybe they’ll even have fun during volleyball someday. We can only hope.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep holding space and pushing back at their infringement on my territory. For myself, for the other women who play, for the other not-so-aggressive players, and even for team macho themselves. It’s what my more-grown-up ego demands of me- to keep claiming my right to exist, to respect other people’s right to exist, on the volleyball court and elsewhere. Thank you, sports, and fellow players, for helping me rediscover my place.

P.S.   Semi-related bonus story: Recently Conan found out how it felt to live in the shadow of someone else and I don’t think he cared much for it. Some students of mine came up to him and the baby outside of my work and asked, “Is this the teacher Julia’s son?” (in Spanish). He said it was and they smiled at each other, said something between themselves, and walked off. “It was like I didn’t exist,” he complained to me.

My ego is too mature these days (maybe) to gloat about something like that, although it was kind of nice to feel understood. Luckily for him that’s not his whole existence in this town, because it’s no way to live. Love and solidarity, folks. Take care of each other, and hold space for yourself, and for others. xoxoxo, Your Humble Gringuita in Oaxaca

Culture Clashes in the Bedroom

17 Aug

Theoretically, based on the title, this should be a racy blog about my Kentucky-bred self and my Oaxacan husband and something titilating in the bedroom. If only it were about that! When there are two small children constantly worming their way into your bed, your bed ceases to be the place for titillation.

Our household has four separate beds in it, but somehow the four of us humans are always in just one. (Thank the universe the cat sleeps elsewhere.) It’s a King-sized bed, but don’t be fooled, we’re sleeping like sardines more so than like royalty. There is always a child on either side of me, except when Conan successfully moves one over (while the child is asleep) so he can scoot in. Really, a child on either side of me is what happens on a good night. On bad nights the four year old is more on top of me than beside me, in her version of desperate puppy dog cuddling, and the baby is laying claim to my boobs for half the night, insisting that I really am still his pacifier after he’s already drained all the milk.

Imagine this but with a four year old added to the mix:

baby-sleep-positions

The other night, Lucia woke me up by rubbing her foot against my leg relentlessly. “Quit kicking me,” I told her.  “I have an ouchie,” (aka something irritating on her skin) she explained. “You still don’t have to kick me. Put some lotion on it and go to sleep.” I told her. Then she started whining louder. Then we couldn’t find the lotion for a brief moment, which made needing lotion a crisis equivalent to her hair being on fire. “I need lotion! Hurry, hurry! It’s hurting! My ouchie is hurting!” she’s screaming/crying. So of course Khalil woke up. He assumed it must be time to nurse- and if it’s not time to nurse, how about time to get up and play? Finally we calmed down both children and we’re all lying down again but I can’t sleep. I can’t even relax. I want to rise up and rebel! I want to scream back at my children. “Haven’t you ever heard of bodily autonomy?! How about boundaries?! Can I get some personal space around here?! Both of you people already lived inside my body for nearly 10 months! What more do you want from me!?” Like so many nights before, I dreamt of a whole bed, all for me.

co-sleeping-ecard

I seem to be the only one feeling like this around here, though. In Oaxaca, bed-sharing, co-sleeping, family cuddling- whatever you call it- is pretty much the norm. Often, dads are expected to sleep elsewhere for the first few weeks of a baby’s life, if not for longer, so that Mama and baby can safely share the bed. As time goes on, nothing changes. The baby stays in the bed (but Dad can move back in) till there’s another baby. The youngest in the family stays in the family bed until they get a girlfriend/ boyfriend and move to their bed together… just kidding. Kind of.

 

Seriously, though, bed sharing is not an “issue” here. In the same way that nobody cares or judges you for breastfeeding or formula feeding, nobody even talks about whether to share the bed or not. They just do whatever works in the moment. Nobody blogs about it. Nobody writes books about whether it’s good or bad. Nobody worries about how to put a stop to it, or what is the exact right age for getting your kid out of your bed. I’ve never, ever, ever heard the term “sleep training.” People don’t even talk about bedtime routines! It’s just not a thing. “No 18 year olds sleep with their parents still,” Conan reassures me regularly, shrugging, which pretty well sums up the attitude around here.

Not only is it not an issue here, but bed sharing is really practical and sometimes necessary. It’s perfect in households where you don’t have more than one bed, or where there’s not enough space in your house for real separation (like a cousin’s house where there are 3 beds but they’re all just pushed together). It’s just the way things are, at worst, and for many people it’s sweet and endearing to boot.

Not so where I come from. I’m from a culture where everything is an issue, and there’s a right side and a wrong side of every issue. Furthermore, your way is the right way and everyone who thinks differently is a jerk/idiot/fascist/child-abuser/etc. The co-sleeping hippies think the sleep trainers are heartless. The sleep training disciplinarians think the bed sharers are lax and lazy. And so on and so forth.

Here is how many people view it in the USA:

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Personally, I think that any way you survive, any way that the whole family can get some sleep and you avoid murdering your children is great. I have managed to evade that whole judging thing when it comes to other people’s parenting.

I want to be all laid back and/or charmed about bed sharing. I wish like hell that I was one of the parents I hear lamenting that their 8 year old wants to sleep alone. But alas, you can take the girl out of gringolandia, but you can’t take the gringa out of the girl. I don’t really want my kids all over me all night long. I want space! I want alone time with my partner in our own bed! I want to sleep through the night! I want to kiss my kids goodnight and leave them in a separate room, semi-forgotten till morning.

But I am a stereotypical Mexican mama all the way when it comes to babying my babies, coddling my sweet little angels. I want to be a drill sergeant who kisses the kids goodnight at the end of the bedtime routine and stoically marches out of the room till morning. But I’m the worst drill sergeant ever when it comes down to it, and not being a drill sergeant is really how I want to be.

So bed-sharing is still an issue for me, and I’m stuck in the middle. I’m like a wanna-be authoritarian granola mom. I’ve tried the in-between, no-tears, gentle and kind drill sergeant routine, too. It didn’t phase my troupe. They’re still both in my bed every night.

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The real culture clash for me is that judgmental attitude towards myself: Am I doing the right thing? Am I creating a monster by allowing this? Am I really heartless if I do this other thing? Why couldn’t I just luck into kids who are good sleepers?

I didn’t start out being a bed-sharer. But we all try to work some kind of balance between your needs and your kids’ needs, usually with theirs tipping the scale. There was a period of Lucia’s life when she fell asleep alone in her bed and stayed there (almost) all night. Then we moved to Puerto and slept in a tent for months (mostly inside our house- it’s a long story), and all the sleep training went to hell in a hand basket, and has stayed there ever since.

I’ve tried all kinds of stuff since then to make my dreams of solo sleep come true, and the bigger kiddo especially just doesn’t respond to it. She has an unending hunger for Mommy companionship. She’s a horrible sleeper who physically needs to feel somebody’s presence to feel okay.  I used to think it was all my fault for not doing the sleep training thing a second time, or for moving too much, or for that Diet Coke I drank during pregnancy, or whatever other reason we use to blame moms when kids don’t do what we’d like. Now I blame her Papi’s insomniac genes instead. Or better yet, I write it all down to save for her future therapist. Bwahahaha.

Meanwhile, I continue my back and forth, wishy-washy culture clash battle with myself. Inevitably, in the mornings I resolve to change things! We’re going to get this family in shape! And inevitably, at night, when my babies need me, I give in. “I’m gonna wait till I’m five to sleep in my own bed” Lucia told me decidedly with my last valiant effort. Five would certainly be better than 18. But I’m not holding my breath yet.

So please accept my rain check on the racy blog post. Someday, my bed and my body will be more mine again. Someday.

The Oaxaca-Kentucky Culture Jolt Extravaganza, Take Four

8 Aug

 

You know you’ve been living in small-town Southern Mexico for four years when your two-week-long visit to your hometown in the USA means….

You’re in the airport and…

-Your four year old is totally baffled as to why there are moving vehicles allowed INSIDE a building. We do love the “magic” moving sidewalk, though.

-Same four year old giggles her butt off because everyone is taking off their shoes (aka going through US security).  You try to make her calm down because you remember that these people take themselves very, very seriously. You watch them take away a lady’s new fancy, unopened lotions that she just bought in the other airport, and you turn away so that you can roll your eyes at how incredible safe that makes us all.

-You can’t figure out how to get one of those handy baggage carts out of their slot because there are no instructions on it. Why are there no instructions? Are you just given the gene of knowing how to work airport carts when you are born in the US?! You look around frantically for an appropriate person to ask, but people just keep walking by, averting their eyes at your pleading face. You start to question whether this really is your home country or if you are actually a foreigner now, and they’ve taken away your knowing-how-to-work-convenient-machines gene.

You’re at the grocery store and…

-You’re children are jumping up and down with joy about a grocery cart with a toy car attached to it. Seven minutes later they become overwhelmed with all the excitement and the 537 kinds of yogurt, and demand to be held instead. (Oh, wait, maybe that was the grown-up overwhelmed by all the products- but the kids most certainly did get overwhelmed by something and demand to be held.)

-It’s now part of  your homecoming routine to be in awe about the access to asparagus, brussell sprouts, “stinky” cheese, and blueberries.

-The almond milk and other things you can never afford where you live are a reasonable price, possibly because they are no longer considered fancy imports.

-Your children eat their first ever chicken nuggets because they are in total hunger/exhaustion meltdown mode and that is the best option in the deli section.

-You can’t drive this giant, stupid car cart. Who thought this was a good idea, anyway?

-You and your children are putting on hoodies even though it’s the middle of summer because it’s FREEZING in there.

Here are the monsters, having happy moments in the car cart before the meltdown:

You’re at your family’s house and….

-You’re wrapped up in heavy blankets because it’s FREEZING in there, too. It’s the same temperature as the average in your town’s “winter” weather, which seems to be shorts and t-shirts temperature for everyone else.

– It’s 95 degrees (F) outside and yet your four year old asks you, “Mommy, why is it cold in Kentucky?”

(Really, I cannot overstate how much of a shock to our little systems all the air conditioning was. It was nice to not be sweaty all the time, but if we had air conditioning at our house, we would probably keep it at around 82- certainly not in the 70s like everyone else in Louisville.)

louisville trip 2016 lu

complaining about the cold, so they gave her a bathrobe : )

-Your kid starts talking to another kid in Spanish- because that’s the language she speaks with all the kids at home. It takes her a beat to realize the other kid doesn’t understand and to then translate herself.

-Your kid says “Daddy” instead of “Papi” for the first time ever in reference to her father.

You’re in the car and….

-The baby is pounding on your chest to be nursed. He’s thinking, “If you’re in the back seat with us, you’re not driving. Why can’t you get me out of my carseat already?!”

-You’re driving and get on the expressway. Suddenly you realize that you are not wearing a seatbelt. Yikes! You and everyone else are driving about 40mph faster than you ever drive at home and you have zero protection happening. Whoops! You forget that most cars have seatbelts in each seat, not like in your car where only the kids’ seats are secure.

-Your four year old keeps excitedly insisting that the rental car, the fanciest car you’ve ever driven in your life, is the family’s new car. You try to break the news to her that it’s not, but you don’t really want to believe it, either.

-You are momentarily frightened by the speed with which you are supposed to drive, until you remember that 60mph is not so scary when drivers know that there are rules and try to follow them. You are impressed by what a smooth experience it is to, say, approach an intersection and know who has the right-of-way, all the while with other drivers also being informed on these matters. You are also happily shocked by the lack of speed bumps, rocks, ditches, and potholes all around you on the road.

-You let the car cool down by blasting the air conditioning before you even put the kids in it. You don’t even think about the environment, since you know it’s only for this short, little vacation before you go back to the reality of your busted car without A/C, which is always like an oven in the eternal summer that is your adopted town. The car seems to be the one place your four year old appreciates air conditioning, especially since it prevents the wind blowing hair in her face. “What the hell,” you think, “they’ll believe it was all a dream later.”

You’re here and there out in the big city and….

-You realize it might not be the norm to wear cut-off shorts and tank tops everywhere. You check to see if you brought any non-cut-off shorts, or shirts with sleeves. One outfit. It’s something until you make it to Goodwill.

-You spend three and a half hours at the thrift store to buy your year’s wardrobe. You are tempted to worship at the workers’ feet, in thanks for organizing everything so beautifully- NOT just thrown into one giant bin- separated by sizes and all. Then you decide it might put your clothing and accessory selection in jeopardy, in case they misinterpret your intentions, and so you pay for your clothes like a normal resident.

-Your four year old starts saying, “Well,” before everything. You’re surprised because at home she only picks up English speaking habits from her parents, and “well” doesn’t happen to be one of our habits. (“WTF” on the other hand, I absolutely take the blame for.)

-You buy all kinds of junky things in the dollar bins because it’ll be so useful! Or because another nephew of your husband’s will just love it! And it’s only a dollar! And even the junky dollar stuff is better quality than the junky ten pesos crap you get in your adopted town, for some reason. Then you take all your prizes to check out and realize you’ve racked up more than a hundred dollars on one- and five- dollar random things. You’re pleased as punch that you can pay with fake money! A credit card! Then you remember you still have to use real money to pay your credit card someday, and you return half the crap. Because they take returns, too! It’s like an alternate universe.

-You can’t stop staring at all the people. There are so many people! A wealth of different people! So many different skin shades! People of varying religious backgrounds! People who speak different languages!  And there are so many different fashion styles! Shoes that aren’t sandals!  You had forgotten what this was like- to see people from many varying backgrounds in one place. It feels so energizing, to be surrounded by such variation. You think of all the interesting conversations you could have if you could talk to all of these people here in the park. You realize that you might have a condition- something like Extroverts Trapped in a Small Town Syndrome. You fail to stop staring, despite reminding yourself not to everyday.

-You take your kids to their first ever protest! You’re so stoked to see community getting together in support of each other- and against racism- that you almost pee your pants. (But thank goodness for unlimited bathroom access in the USA!!! I can’t tell you how great that is- constantly.) Your four year old looks worried about the shouting till you shout-dance-smile it out, then she’s stoked, too, and trying to repeat the words.

-You go with some family members to scatter some of your father’s ashes, and you realize that closure doesn’t ever happen when someone you love dies. It’s just a long series of different kinds of goodbyes, of different adjustments to life without them.

-You visit with certain old friends and pick up the conversation like it ended yesterday. You get one-on-one time with certain family members. You speak openly, honestly, knowingly, powerfully- because you know each other, deeply, lovingly. These moments are are a feast after a famine. These moments- the kid-free ones especially, when you get to be totally you and not just Mommy with a side order of You- are the nutrients to replinish your malnourished soul. These people and the beautiful intimacy they share with you are the kindling for all of your chispa, your inner spark. This limited but glorious vacation social life- this basic necessity of conversation and recognition- is sustenance for your spirit. It’s medicine to eradicate the distance, and you soak it all up, hoping to store it away like vitamin D.

louisville trip 2016

Grown-up time with my dear Aunt Julia- the locally brewed beers were an added bonus.

……..

Going back and forth annually is not so much of a culture shock anymore. It’s more like a little jolt, like that sudden sensation after a shot of liquor- sometimes sweet and warming, sometimes sending you directly to the toilet bowl.

All in all, I think I’m becoming relatively adept at taking it in stride these days, in both parts of the continent.  (Thank goodness for that. Sorry to all my friends who remember me being heart-wrenchingly awkward and desubicada after long trips to other places.)

There’s plenty more I’m leaving out from this year’s stories- other fascinating experiences that can only come from leaving home and coming back.  Four years being more away than there gives such ample perspective. And I hope for even more next trip.

Till next time, my dear home country! Thank goodness we don’t have car carts and dollar bins down here!

xoxox