Tag Archives: exile

Imperfect Paths

13 May

 

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Almost six years ago, we took this wonderful, less-than-artistic selfie of the three of us on a plane, flying off to our new life in Mexico. 

I have major news that I have to share. Weeks ago, I wrote a long, intimate draft about it and then became utterly incapable of publishing it. I edited and thought and edited and set it aside enough times that it was obviously time to scrap it entirely and start afresh. So here goes.

We’re moving to Savannah, Georgia, USA. Just me and the kids. Next month. For the long haul. (Don’t talk to me about forever; that isn’t much of a thing in my universe.) We’re leaving our tropical paradise. Conan can’t go with us yet, and we don’t know when he can.  Those are the facts.

In terms of our applications for Conan to immigrate to the states, we’re still in the process. It’s still a hope and plan for the longer-term future. We did get the first step approved! We still have the rest of the money that was donated to the fundraiser waiting for us in a special account when the time comes. (Thank you again, all!!) However, the next step is on hold, for many reasons.

Between the shocking US election results in 2016, the ever-worsening policies related to immigration, and the increasing hostility towards immigrants, it’s a less-than-ideal time to spend all of our donated money and go into debt to pay the rest, for an outcome that might or might not be favorable. There’s no legal reason why it shouldn’t be favorable, but that’s not as reassuring as it should be these days.

Trying to take the next steps with immigration now would also entail an indefinite amount of waiting and being unable to make any certain plans. It would further require a ton of problem-solving creativity in order to stay here and assure our family’s well-being- more creativity than we currently feel capable of. The pressing things standing in the way of waiting-it-out in Puerto include our son’s Apraxia of Speech diagnosis, our daughter’s lack of first grade options here, my need for a job that can sustain our family (in addition to what Conan earns), my desire for my kids and me to be closer to my mom and my US family, to name a few.

In short, all kinds of things have changed that make going to the states more important and urgent than ever for our family, as well as making the move less and less attainable for Conan.

Of course this was an extremely difficult decision for Conan and me to make. Conan, given other options, would never choose to live away from his family. But he and I both recognize that this is what needs to happen right now, for the well-being of our children. Being the wonderful father and person that he is, he’s willing to make this sacrifice at this time.   

When we started this wild life adventure, becoming parents and starting over in Mexico, I would have told you that, for me, the most important thing for my child’s well-being was keeping our family together. I was determined for us to live in the same geographical space at all costs. Now, almost six years into parenthood and our exile to Mexico, I recognize just how complex and uncertain raising children really is. There’s no guide book, and definitely no magic formula. Every family must decide what’s right for their children, and for themselves. “What’s right” can and does change with life’s circumstances. There are no perfect answers, and there’s no perfect route. We just keep trekking along, living out our dreams, with all the twists and turns and road blocks that come, walking our paths, living each day imperfectly and fully.

Much Love and Solidarity from our family to yours!

 

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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.)

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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.

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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

 

My Kentucky Heart, Sautéed, Not Fried

26 Jun

Kentucky Fried Chicken has ruined my state’s good name. I don’t actively despise KFC when I’m in my hometown; it’s just one of so many fast food joints, a place for mass-produced, cheap, low-quality, low-nutrition eats prepared and served to you by under-paid workers. It is not a place I typically eat (okay, pretty much never), but I understand it’s purpose and I don’t hold it against anyone who eats there. I would not, however, say it is any part of what I want people to know about my great state.

Unfortunately, outside of my state, and especially outside of my country, it’s the only damn thing anybody knows about where I’m from. In Italy, in Chile, and lots of other places in between, people bring up fried chicken like I’m supposed to be pleased and feel recognized. “Ah, como el pollo,” (Oh, like the chicken,) my students say when I tell them I’m from Kentucky. Luckily, the actual restaurant doesn’t even exist down here in Oaxaca, so people just know it as a style of cooking chicken- breaded and fried. That makes it less appalling for me, but it still wounds my Kentucky pride. We have all this amazing culture and incredible nature and wonderful people, but nobody knows about any of that. Instead they’re applauding a stupid fast food chain.

I do my part to educate the public about Kentucky. Down here I take advantage of my job as a teacher to consistently plug facts about Kentucky wherever I can fit them in the curriculum. Like when we read an article about mammoths, I told the students about Mammoth Cave (the world’s largest known cave system, for those of you who don’t know). In the unit about pirates, when we’d discuss movies about pirates, I used to always mention that Johnny Depp is from my state (although he’s officially been cut out of my Kentucky pride spiels, now that I know he’s abusive). I am determined to leave the Oaxacan people with a better impression of my culture than some breaded fried foul.

This semester I taught a particularly sweet group of computer science kids in level one who were always asking questions about me and my life. For the most part students are a bit curious because they don’t get to have conversations with foreigners on a regular basis, so all of us on the English-teaching staff are a bit exotic and exciting. (You guys should see all the girls drooling on my Scottish, red-haired, blue-eyed coworker. Talk about exotic!) This group said they really wanted to hear more about Kentucky, so of course I had to oblige them. I sat down and wrote a list of my favorite things and turned it into a power point, which you can see here. Kentucky Home presentation

Granted, I had to put some things on the list which I don’t really care about or downright dislike, just for the sake of honesty. Despite my personal opinion, my state really is famous for the Kentucky Derby, also known as “the greatest two minutes in sports.” Although I think that horse racing is exploitative to the horses and the underpaid folks who train them, it is a big part of our economy and claim to fame. I also had to mention the 30 minute fireworks show, Thunder Over Louisville, even though I think fireworks are mostly absurd noise and air pollution, not to mention terrifying for some people and animals. I’d much rather have included festivities like KenDucky Derby or that race where servers see how fast they can open a bottle of wine and run with a tray full of wine glasses. But I had to put a limit on the amount of information to inundate the students with, so, you know, some of the more mainstream events won out over my preferences.

For the most part, though, I got to talk about things that I love. That my city, Louisville, is such a close-knit, friendly place. I tried to explain about the miles and miles of beautiful park space- not just a little playground and a bench, but so much green, right inside of a big(gish) city. I got to highlight the good food, the hundreds of restaurants which do not serve fried chicken. I explained about the injera at my favorite Ethiopian restaurant (injera bread is a not so foreign concept here in the land of corn tortillas with everything). I tried not to drool when I mentioned the avocado milkshakes at Vietnam Kitchen. I didn’t even mention the Japanese/Mexican fusion food at Dragon King’s Daughter, or about 15 other of my absolute favorites.

I got to talk about the best part of my city- that it’s full of beautiful immigrants and refugees, constantly adding to our culture. When I looked up the statistics, it said that the foreign-born population accounted for less than 5% of the total, although I am pretty sure that is an underestimate. Even if it’s not, the foreign-born population of Louisville, Kentucky, take up something like 70% of my Kentucky heart, so screw the official stats on this one. In Louisville, teaching English to the grown-up immigrant and refugee community, I learned that being a teacher means constant learning- on my part. I had the grand privilege of teaching professional folks from Mexico and Taiwan; brilliant, wise, multilingual yet illiterate women from Sudan; a father of 10 from the Democratic Republic of Congo; loving and tough mamas from Guatemala; a funny, adorable couple from Cuba, and so many others from so many cultures. And that was just my professional, English-teaching life! Aside from that I worked in restaurants with cooks from Senegal and various Mexican states. In my free time I hung out with generous, smart, nice, world-changing folks from Peru, Guatemala, and so many other places. Even though there is a foreign population in Puerto, being let in to the foreign-born community in Louisville is one of the things that I miss most.

In general, what I miss most is the intimacy of my community there. I sat in my office and cried watching all the outpourings of love in my city when Muhammed Ali died. I miss my family there- the ones I was born with and the ones I’ve chosen since then. I’m coming up on 4 years of living outside of Louisville, and luckily, I find myself feeling nostalgic and homesick less and less often. Especially now that my dad’s gone, the aunt I’m named for is always off on her boating adventures, and some of my other favorite people have moved away. My mind is less and less set on Louisville, because I know that it could never be the same place it was for me before. You can never go back to the past, so even if I went back tomorrow, it would be a readjustment and adaptation process all over again, even though it’s where I was born and raised. But big pieces of my heart still reside there, so creating and sharing my little Kentucky presentation was a good moment of catharsis for my eternally-divided little heart.

And most of all, I did the world some good in showing students that bourbon, annual zombie walks, and a moonbow at Cumberland Falls are all way, way cooler than fried chicken. Take that, impersonal capitalism! My state will rise above Kentucky Friend Chicken! Click on the presentation for lots of pictures!

What Not To Do When You Move to Small Town Southern Mexico

9 Apr

My dad always said that opinions are like assholes; everybody’s got one. So true, and yet we all still think that ours is truly valid, that we can really help someone out with our hard-earned wisdom. So I’m here today, ladies and gentlemen, to share my opinions, my own stellar advice for all of you pondering a moving to the marvelous state of Oaxaca. For those of you already in Oaxaca, this is still superb advice, but you might already know it. You guys can go ahead and laugh with me, please and thank you.

This is advice that I would have appreciated, theoretically. I mean, okay, sometimes I love to jump headfirst into things, blindfolded and grinning. But often I would prefer to research things to make the most informed decision possible. Usually that means I seek as much advice and information as possible and then jump briskly off cliff number one anyway. Sigh.

So here you go- I present you the fruits of my experience, aka some advice that you can read, reject and ignore. (I’m practicing for the kids’ adolescence.)

The first tidbit of guidance I have for you is second-hand, but it is first-rate advice nonetheless.

Don’t change your country of residence immediately after having your first child.

“Don’t plan any major life changes for a while. Transitioning to parenthood is hard enough.” Our lovely doula, the birth assistant we hired for Lucia’s birth, tried to warn us. Truer words were never spoken. But, alas, the U.S. government did not appreciate this wisdom. And you know, there’s gotta be some benefit to starting your kid off really, really early with the globe-trotting.

But it’s not a great plan for adjusting to parenthood sanely. Abandoning your entire support system and general way of life while learning how to parent is a special kind of madness. I mean, leave the country, yes! I am so glad that we live here- now. If we could have waited a year, though, it would have saved us lots and lots of heartache. So while I don’t recommend jet-setting first thing postpartum, if you find yourself doing it, you’re a special kind of badass, and I want to be your friend.

Don’t buy an automatic car that needs work.

Contrary to popular belief down here in the land of stick shifts, automatics are not bad cars. In the U.S. I owned several over the years, and a couple of them were fabulous cars. They go up hills just fine, thank you very much, when they work. The problem here is, unless your automatic is more or less new (or at least in such condition that it never needs to be worked on by a mechanic), you are screwed, because nobody knows how to fix it properly.

This advice is spawned by my current frustration- the impetus for this blog post- which is a recurring soap opera. Every time our car breaks down (which is about bimonthly) it either takes a week (or longer) to fix it, or in the process of fixing it they cause some other problem. This month both things happened.

At first I thought this phenomenon was due to having bought a lemon of a car. Then I thought it was because the mechanic we often took it to (the cheapest option, a friend of a friend) was just a slow and inexperienced mechanic. But at one point we had a problem that required about ten different mechanics. Ten! They didn’t know if it was mechanical or electrical, so we took it to all the types of mechanics. They didn’t have a clue. They took apart our car, broke other things. It was absurd. And it just keeps happening!

It was nice to use an automatic to transition into learning to drive on these bumpy dirt roads with lots of drivers who don’t follow any rules. But now I have my teacher lined up to teach me how to drive a manual car, and I’ll hook you up, too. Just say no to automatics that might need mechanics. Buy yourself a nice little Tsuru, just like the taxis and half of the rest of the population own. That’s what we’ll be doing next, if I manage to follow my own advice. (Don’t hold your breath.)
Don’t build a house to live in when there is not yet electricity in the neighborhood.

“It’s just an overgrown lot right now, there’s no electricity or water,” my in-laws warned me when we came to visit the plot of land in Puerto that Conan owned. “Right, but we can get that stuff installed, right?” I asked, thinking it was just a matter of getting things hooked up, signing a contract, paying the bill. Little did I know….

We got water hooked up just fine during the building process, thanks to some help from a family member. But with electricity, there was no “hooking up” because there was nothing to hook up to on our block. The electric company won’t set it up someplace new unless they’re paid to by the folks living in the neighborhood and/or government (and we’re talking thousands of dollars). So it was a lot of waiting and fighting and hoping and hopelessness. Perhaps someone tried to tell me beforehand, but I was too blinded by my desperation to get out of Juquila to really let it sink in. And really, if I had it to do over again? I suppose I would think about us renting a place while we waited for electricity. But would I stay in Juquila till the lights came on here? Hell, no. Hell, no. (Seriously. Double or triple hell, no.)

We got lucky that we only spent a year and a half (two years for Conan) living without electricity. I know people who spent years and years living “off the grid” by accident. So you just don’t know when you’ll get it. Don’t plan to live there unless you’re one of those amish-style hippy types who wants to go charge your iphone at someone else’s house and live without fans because your body odor just isn’t at its best in the A/C. And if that’s the case, bless your little heart, you’re made of sterner stuff than I.

Don’t start a business that you know nothing about.

When we lived in Juquila, we couldn’t find decent jobs. Everyone and their mother wanted me to teach their kid English, but nobody actually wanted to commit to regular classes, or pay more than 20 pesos an hour (less than 2 US dollars). Conan’s construction skills were not in demand, either, since everything they construct here is very different. He got a job at one point, but he was working about 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for next to nothing.

So we decided to sell cell phones, accessories, and recargas (prepaid minutes) out of his mom’s storefront in the front of the house. That’s right- we sold cell phones. Imagine me selling cell phones. Me- who refused to have a cell phone until I lived in Chile in 2007. Me- who then held on to the same flip phone for like 6 years. Me- who still had cassettes until I moved down here, just to give you an idea of how resistant I am to new technology. It was totally my dream job to sell cell phones- Not! (Haha, look how backwards I am! Still using kid quotes from the early 90s- that’s me.)

In fairness, Conan knew much more about cell phones and accessories than I did (and do; I’m still clueless). But neither of us had any idea what the people of Juquila would buy, really. It was a pretty uninformed business venture, which seems to be kind of the M.O. in Juquila. There are no corporations; it’s all small business. You don’t take any classes or write up a business plan. You either have experience because your family owns something or you just scrape together some money for a small investment and get started with your tiny business that you hope will do well so you can expand. It’s a respectable way to do things in the circumstances, but it did not make us a living. Now if we had invested in statues of saints instead….

It wasn’t a total waste of money. We sold most of it over time. We used some of the phones and accessories ourselves. We earned some money, slowly. It was certainly an interesting experience. And I certainly admire the tenacity of the neighborly small business owners who just open up the front room of their house and stock some snacks and sodas along with the most common of vegetables. I mean, why not? Who says you have to have a stupid business plan? Granted, bigger small businesses down here do still have a plan, I’m sure. And maybe a small business could still work for us someday. But not in Juquila. And not cell phones. This lesson was learned, for now.

Don’t let your small child sleep in the same bed with you “just for the transition.”

Don’t do this unless you want to sleep with them forever. There is no “just for the transition.” Once they worm their way in, you will never get him or her out of your bed again. The transition just keeps on keeping on. Just say no to bed-sharing, for the health of your grown-up relationship and the sake of your ribs, which will remain bruised throughout the duration from all that kicking and thrashing these mini-monsters do. ‘Nuff said.

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this is our near future…

The Moral of this story is…..

Well, nothing, really. As you can see, I don’t have any real advice. I don’t have a clue what you should do, but I have a wealth of savvy on what not to do. Not that you should listen to me. Counsel such as this probably would have saved me lots of heartache, but that doesn’t mean I would have taken it. My dad was always futilely trying to save me from making the same mistakes that he made, but heartache is ours to find, one way or another.

Furthermore, if I had known then what I know now, would I have done things differently? In general, probably not. For one, I love rollercoasters, and I am constantly learning to appreciate this roller coaster that is my life, no matter what. Also, I’m working on not judging myself harshly, and both Conan and I have done the best we could with what we were working with, and that just has to be good enough. Not to mention that I always figure these brilliant “mistakes” are good for my character. And I’m pretty damn cool on a good day. So if you find yourself by happenstance moving to small town Oaxaca, look me up and I’ll impart more thrilling opinions. Worthwhile? Well, that and a few cents will get you a stick of gum, as my dad would say. So on second thought, come on down and I’ll give you a cup of coffee instead.

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. 

Thanksgiving Enchiladas

29 Nov

Mexican style Thanksgiving means it is a Thursday in November and we are in Mexico. That is all.
Or I guess I could say, My mama and her partner Dee are in town, just to share Thanksgiving with us. Not! (Remember when saying “Not!” after everything was a thing? That was my childhood. Explains a lot, right?)
My mom, on Facebook, made it sound like this, though- like they were down here celebrating Turkey Day with us, perhaps with a Mexican guajalote instead of our factory-produced bird. She said she was, “enjoying Mexican style Thanksgiving” with us. So I wanted to give you a little picture of what that looks like.
No stores close. Nobody is off work. Nobody eats turkey. Nothing special happens. There aren’t even any special Mexican dishes for the day- no Thanksgiving enchiladas, no special Thanksgiving salsas, nada. Let me add, too, that if there was a holiday happening on a Thursday, it would be celebrated on a Monday anyway so that people could have a three day weekend. Nobody here in my town would be mauling people to buy crap the next day, either, because there aren’t enough people with lots of expendable income for them to fight over the goods at our two department stores.
Maybe you were led to believe that because some of my family are down here we’d have our own little Thanksgiving celebration. You’d be wrong. Sounds good, in theory, but in reality not one of us is that committed to Thanksgiving as a holiday. Honestly, I completely forgot that it was Thanksgiving until late that night. (This is what happens when you don’t have constant access to Facebook.) And did I mention that no one is off of work or school? So on my ever-rushed lunch break, we had some pasta with canned cream of mushroom soup and stir-fried vegetables. For dinner we had take out pizza. We were almost all seated at the same table for 10 minutes for dinner, if that counts for anything. Except Lucia seated herself at her own private kid table and Khalil’s need to crawl prevented him from remaining seated. Alas and alack. Maybe next year.
Seriously, let me be clear about what Thanksgiving, the holiday, is here in Mexico. It is nothing, at least here in Oaxaca. Yes, Mexico was also inhabited by advanced civilizations when invading colonizers from Europe arrived. But Mexico doesn’t have a holiday to celebrate the invasion and attempted genocide of their first peoples. Well, okay, there’s Columbus Day, which here is called Dia de la Raza (Day of the Race), and is about the blending of cultures that resulted after colonization. Somehow that is slightly more palatable to me than a feast that happened with two cultures sharing nicely before a near-total genocide of one of them.
I know, I know, you’re thinking we must be super anti-Thanksgiving grinches. That’s not totally true, either. I am all about the ideas behind Thanksgiving- celebrating with family and the act of giving thanks. I miss my family in Kentucky on a daily basis. I intentionally acknowledge my gratitude for what I have, daily. And my nuclear family is already its own daily celebration of the intermingling and sharing of cultures. So I think I’m all about Thanksgiving. Minus the turkey, the over-stuffing myself (unless someone gives me access to unlimited chocolate), and the rabid consumerism that appears to be part of the whole shebang these days.
So there you have it, folks. The true story of our Mexican style Thanksgiving this year. This year, this glorious visit from Dee and my mom, I am extra grateful. I am extra grateful to still have one living parent. I’m grateful to have two “bonus” parents, in my mom’s partner and my dad’s wife. I’m grateful for my fabulous in-laws. I am grateful for my two children and their relative health (meaning they’re sick all the damn time since my three year old started preschool, but they keep getting better, too, so we’re all good). I am grateful for my husband. I’m grateful for all my Kentucky family, including my wild traveling Aunt Julia and Uncle Terry.
I’m grateful that this visit, I am learning more than ever to appreciate each moment and accept it for what it is. To accept that, for large portions of the visit, I am going to feel like a zombie, because I have two small children and a full-time job. That I’m going to have to still do chores and take kids to the doctor and pat baby backs and find a moment to write. That I can’t “take advantage of each moment” the way I dreamed about, because I still have a crazy daily life to deal with. But my family knows this. We know the time’s going to go too fast no matter what, so we’ll just do the best we can, and give thanks that we have this moment, now, whatever it is. We can give thanks for the hope that there will be more time to share in the future. That is my Mexican Thanksgiving. So keep your turkey, thanks.

Every meal together is thanksgiving in my world.

Every meal together is thanksgiving in my world.

Today I Freely Choose To Be Here Now

30 Aug

We didn’t have much of a choice when we moved to the southern state of Oaxaca, Mexico, three years ago this month. A ridiculous immigration system was kicking my partner out of his home of 10 years, and effectively taking me and our 7 week old daughter with him. Of course I could have stayed behind, but that wasn’t an option I was interested in. So I was going, but it felt like I was forced, like we were forced, like our life was all totally out of our control. If there’s any time in life when you’re aware of your total lack of control over your life, it’s when you first become a parent. Add being uprooted from your home to the mix and it’s a recipe for personal crises (yes, crisis plural).

When we arrived we had nothing but 5 bulging suitcases, a newborn, and a whole lot of faith in our love. We were lucky enough to have a home to arrive to, going to live with Conan’s mom, but it was still not quite our own home. Lots of things have greatly improved in our lives since then. We’ve far outgrown our 5 suitcases. Our newborn has turned into a preschooler who has a baby brother to boot. We have a car. We have our very own house. We finally have electricity in our house, complete with a refrigerator and washing machine. I have a full-time job that I enjoy. We don’t live with anyone’s parents, and we don’t live in a tiny town that we both hate. If that’s not progress, what is?

So we’ve moved up in the world and everything should be perfect now. Except it’s not. This week in particular I had a personal crisis that made me totally rethink and question where I want to be. And boy, was I pissed about it. How could I think about being somewhere else when finally our life is put together here? How could things be falling apart if everything’s finally great? I have a washing machine, for cripe’s sake! What could I be unhappy about now?

The problem is, progress isn’t what actually sustains us, right? “Moving up” in life can only mean so much, since life doesn’t appear to be some vertical venture. Despite having all the things I was sure would make my life great (and our car didn’t even break down this week), I was terribly, profoundly unhappy.

Partly I was unhappy because this whole time I’ve held onto my anger and helplessness at the injustice of us being forced to move down here at that moment. I’ve spent too much time visiting if-only land. If only we hadn’t moved here, we wouldn’t have this problem. If only x, life would be better. If only y, I’d be happy. Partly it’s that this time of year, full of anniversaries (our move, our first kiss, Lucia’s conception), makes me nostalgic and frustrated. I was clinging on to some happy, joyful memories, trying to cut and paste them into the present.

Five years ago, in the steaming hot months of August and September, Conan and I converted our friendship to something more. We went out for bike rides through Louisville’s beautiful parks. We went out for beers at all the microbreweries. We posted up on the back porch of my charming, cheap Victorian apartment and talked, for hours and hours and hours. We held hands at WorldFest, the fabulous festival of world cultures. We went to the farmers’ market, and I cooked us elaborate, local, vegetarian dishes that he devoured appreciatively. We went to friends’ parties and weddings and birthday celebrations. We ate Mexican fusion sushi and drank Vietnamese avocado milkshakes and decided on our favorite Indian buffet, among other culinary delights. We sipped bourbon on the front porch. We fell in love. Those places and activities epitomize what I love about my city, about my culture, about what I left behind. They remind me of moments, too, when my love for Conan was so uncomplicated, so easy, so perfect.

Nowadays nothing ever seems to be simple or easy. In theory I know that nothing stays the same, that you can’t return to the past. That love is a lot of work to maintain. That nothing is ever perfect. That the past wasn’t as easy breezy as it seems in hindsight. That Louisville is not utopia, and we’d just have a different set of problems there. I never did and never would love everything about my city and my culture. And while in the beginning of any relationship it can seem that everything is perfect about the other person and they way that you interact, that illusion of perfect can’t last, either. I know all these things, I do. And yet it doesn’t stop me from torturing myself, wondering how our lives would be if we could just go back. If we could have stayed. If we could return.

I did just return to Louisville for a visit, and I had to face the fact that our relationship to a city evolves while we’re away. Some things disappear, like our favorite Indian buffet. Some people who were central to your life there move away or pass on. Other things remain, but they’re not what they once were to you. Like Big Rock, my favorite spot in Cherokee Park. It used to be my spot to climb around and sit by the creek to think or talk. But this trip I could barely tear Lucia away from the playground area long enough to notice the creek, and we didn’t even climb up anything. My charming beloved apartment is still there, with the same weird neighbor who plays guitar horrendously. (Yep, I even have nostalgia for that.) But I don’t actually want to live in that apartment anymore. We payed a fortune to nearly freeze to death every winter! We had recurring mice attacks! All kinds of things were wrong with it, and, more importantly, it just wouldn’t suit me anymore. It’s not part of who I am now, even though for a good while it was the “perfect” place for me. My city’s changed, but I have changed, too.

So I know. We can’t go back to before. We can’t know what would have happened if we’d stayed. And we can’t know what will happen in the future, even if we’ve got it all planned out. We don’t have control, even if we think we do. I know. But living this knowledge, breathing it, feeling it when I’m stuck in an emotional crisis, is quite a different matter.

But today, suddenly, after days of walking around in a funk, in a daze of depression, I woke up and remembered who I am. I am a badass Kentucky girl, living in Mexico, raising children, trying to make some kind of tiny positive difference in the world, trying to find laughter and love in all kinds of places, rebelling from the system like always, albeit in different ways than before. I am my brave, wild-spirited, fiercely-loving Nonna’s granddaughter. I am my mama’s daughter. I am my dad’s daughter. (Two amazing spirits). I don’t need to freak out about what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go in the future, because regardless, I’ll make it work. I don’t need to worry about what other disasters will happen, because I’ll just deal with it. There will be good things and bad things and struggles and joys, and it’ll all be okay. Repeat after me: I am a badass, and I will be okay no matter what happens.

I woke up this morning and drank my lovely Oaxaca coffee and wrote my three “gratitudes” for the day, even though and especially because I had not been feeling so blessed. I did some yoga, and actually focused on my body, and noticed how wonderful and strong my body felt. I chose not to get upset or yell when Lucia woke up grumpy and freaking out about Cheerios and everything else possible. I put on Paul Simon, a makes-me-happy-from-lots-of-good-memories CD I inherited from my dad, and danced around my kitchen while I made breakfast, singing loudly and off-key. I decided to be happy. I decided to know that I am worthy and good just because. To feel it and breathe it in. To just be here, for now.

Because I know now that I can be here and have a good life. Or I could be in Louisville and have a good life. Or I could be in Timbuktu or somewhere, and somehow I will have a good life. It’s always going be a struggle of some sort or another. No place is perfect. Getting established, in terms of getting your physical and social needs met, finding furniture and friendships, is a process. But even if we started over again somewhere else, I now have a much better idea of how to incorporate and appreciate the things- the moments- that make life so worthwhile. I know, suddenly, finally, that I always have choices.

Even if the options don’t seem plausible, even though none of the options are ideal, I do have options. Of course they’re not ideal! Life’s really hard. And it’s also really great. It’s taken me three years of this exile with my partner to come to terms with it. To finally decide that this is my choice. We weren’t just victims of a messed up system. That’s only a partial truth. We did have other (less appealing, more difficult) options, and we chose this. I chose this. I’m here, so I might as well own it as my choice. Because the alternative is to keep resisting it. The alternative is to keep feeling angry, bitter, cheated. To wistfully romanticize the alternate life we could have had theoretically. And I don’t want that anymore.

Feeling free! If freedom's just another word for accepting that I don't have control over anything, but I can face every day head-on.

Feeling free! If freedom’s just another word for accepting that I don’t have control over anything, but I can face every day head-on.

Today, I made the choice to be here, just for now. Today, I decided not to ponder the effects of now on my future. Today, I decided not to lament what could have been. Today, I decided to trust myself and my feelings and my choices. Three years later, this is my true “progress.” Even though I don’t have control over all kinds of things in life, that doesn’t mean I’m a victim. This is my freedom- accepting my lack of control while acknowledging my inherent, universal worth as a human and my personal power over my life perspective. I won’t be happy all the time because of it, but I sure won’t be sad all the time, either. I am a badass, and I’ll be okay no matter what happens. Today I actively choose to be here, just for today. Tomorrow I can choose all over again.