Tag Archives: family

Back and Forth and Homes Galore

8 Jan

We’re back! To bare feet on concrete floors. To the happy Jehovah’s Witness’ music pouring in our windows all day on Sunday. To salt tacos, because the handmade tortillas hot off the comal can’t wait for the breakfast to be ready. To coconut water straight from the coconut tree. To trucks that drive by selling oranges or propane or tortillas or drinking water. To men that come to your door with machetes to cut the overgrown weeds in the yard. To dirt roads where dogs and children roam free. To iguanas and crowing roosters and herds of goats for neighbors. To lighting the stove with matches and the absence of a microwave. To clothes hanging from the line. To only cold water in the shower. To not needing lights during daytime because the sun streams in through the over-sized windows that take up nearly half of each wall. To tank tops and cut-off shorts and walking around dancing from all the energy the heat gives me.

All this, less than twenty four hours since our return to the alternate universe that is our life in Puerto Escondido. We’re just two days and three airplanes away from the alien world called Savannah, Georgia- the one we grew accustomed to after six months. One day back here, though, and it’s hard to believe that we were just living in the United States. You can tell, though, by the fancy toothbrushes the kids have now (the electric kind Lucia begged me for, which I justified when Khalil’s speech therapist suggested it), and “whatever that thing is that you’re charging,” said Conan. I have a hair product for the first time in my life (to minimize the frizz, y’all). The kids have their own Kindle (there’s not much access to books here). The kids have a bunch of clothes that are not hand-me-downs (we don’t know that many people in Savannah yet). We might have slightly fancier stuff than when we left, but I’m sure we are not too fancy, even if I might have hollered a little at the slightly chilly water this morning.

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Air travel, by Lucia and Papi

There will be some adapting to do, though. The most obvious of which will be language for the kids. Keeping up with their Spanish proved harder than I thought. My plan was to speak it with them daily, for at least an hour a day, and slowly switch over to speaking 90% Spanish with them. However, between working part-time, homeschooling Lucia/being a stay-at-home parent with them both during the day, learning sign language, taking Khalil to speech therapy three times a week and practicing at home, and all the other important survival things for the three of us, I was not a rock star at maintaining their Spanish language skills.

In fairness to my rock star parenting (haha), Lucia did not have the best attitude about Spanish for a good bit of our US life. “Why are you speaking Spanish to me?” she’d ask like I just peed in the bathtub. I know; it’s hard for me to switch languages with some people, but she was seriously resistant for a while. I enrolled her in a kids’ Spanish class to try to make it more fun than just talking with Mommy. It helped, but by the time she liked it she’d already lost a giant portion of her expressive language. Lucia left Puerto speaking a fabulous version of Spanglish; her English strong from speaking it with both parents at home, her Spanish strong from school and all the other play with kids in Spanish. She still understands Spanish pretty well, but it’s going to cost her some time to get back to where she was. She’s nervous about seeing all her friends and not being able to communicate with them as well as she’d like to. There’s nothing to do but keep showing up, though. Like so many times in life.

With Khalil, I’m completely intrigued as to how the language struggle will go. He left here totally bilingual in his understanding, and with a few words in Spanish and a few words in English. I couldn’t be more pleased to announce that he’s totally fluent in English now! Khalil was most honorably discharged from speech therapy back in mid-December. He is a talking fool; “I can say everything now, Mommy; I’m not a baby anymore.” (Ok, there are a couple consonants he can’t do still, but it’s age-level error.) He can say a couple of things in Spanish from our occasional practice time at home, but I’m not sure how difficult his Apraxia of Speech will make it to get fluent. I’m not sure if the sound sequences will have to be practiced in the same Apraxia-specific way the English ones were, or if it’ll be similar enough for him to work it out on his own with time. We shall see!

At least my kids will not suffer the same fate as my Nonna. She had forgotten all her English when she went back to the US from Italy at one point as a child. The nuns at her school would send her home every day, with a message to not bring her back until she could speak English. Her mother, of course, kept sending her back anyway, because, as she finally pleaded her case, “Where do they think she’s going to learn English if they keep sending her home from school?!” My mom told Lucia this story when she started worrying about going back to her “old school.” My children are happily returning to their school tomorrow, where I am sure that no one will send them home, where the teachers will be patient and understanding, where the other kids will rapidly reintegrate them into the circle, because that’s the kind of wonderful environment that exists there. Their school is definitely one of the things we’ve been pining for. The kids are looking forward to a fun place to play with a lovely group of other kids, and I can’t wait to have some place to send them five days a week. I suspect that readapting to school will be a joy for us all.

I do remember all my Spanish, but I still have my adapting work cut out for me. I have to find a new job and transition into this next phase of life in Puerto. I have to figure out what our next life transition looks like, and how to make it happen. I’m constantly evaluating what home means.
On the one hand, Puerto Escondido feels more like home than Savannah, from all the time, sweat and tears of making it home from scratch. On the other hand, being in Savannah gets us so much closer to so many of the people that we love. But it’s unclear if and when Conan would be able to move there. (That’s a topic for another time.) So I’m constantly thinking about the privilege of being able to decide where I live, and the emotional weight of that decision, especially when one is making decisions for their children. I debate with myself constantly about our most important needs in life and how to make that happen. What are the things and relationships that we each most need in life to grow and be healthy and, at least some of the time, happy? I have more heartache than answers.

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Lucia obsessively draws houses these days. My little artist searching for answers in her way. 

“When you have many homes, and many people who love you,” I tell Lucia when she’s missing someone, “You get to feel very, very happy, but not always all at once.” I hold her and let her cry. “It means we’ll always be missing someone, always longing for some other piece of home. But it also means we’re really luck. We have so much family in different places! Not everyone gets to have different homes.” I console myself right along with her.

And on the hardest days, I listen to my favorite Ani DiFranco song:
“Do you prefer the easy way? No? Well then, ok, don’t cry….. I do it for the joy it brings. Because I am a joyful girl. Because the world owes us nothing. We owe each other the world.”

Home, maybe, is not a place at all, but just a state of mind.

 

A New Round of Culture-Induced Confusion

2 Aug

The cultural “surprises” this year were all fun and games up until the grilled cheese sandwiches.

Before that it was all questions like, “Why does it have these things on the window?” (They’re a different form of curtains called blinds.)

“What are these boxes? Can I see what’s inside all of them?” (They’re mailboxes and don’t touch them unless you want us to get arrested.) Followed by, “What’s mail?”

“Why do you put the bread in there?” (It heats it on both sides much faster than the comal.)

“Are these for climbing?” (They’re fire hydrants and you can climb them as long as you move if the fire truck comes.)

“How come they have videos at the library?” (Because some libraries have lots of different things, and activities, too!) We were very impressed with the small library by Nonna and Dee’s new house, with it’s table of Legos and tables covered in butcher paper to let kids color on the table. I had totally forgotten how much this country caters to children. On our first dinner out, in which I planned to have long talks with my Aunt Julia and Uncle Terry, I brought my usual backpack full of tricks for the kids so they could keep themselves entertained. But lo and behold, the restaurant provided them with paper menus and crayons! Such a thing would never be provided where we live- both because of a lack of resources in our area and because people just don’t center their lives around children in the same way we do here.

Despite all this indulging the children, of course there had been a couple of complaints even before the grilled cheese.

“Why do we have to wear seat belts every time? Why can’t we switch seats?” (Mandatory seat belt laws and fast driving that require effectual kid seating and restraints, my dears.)

“Why do we have to wear shoes everywhere?” (Ummm, because we’re not on the coast of Oaxaca. People here think it’s important to wear shoes.)

“But it’s taking a long time to get there!” (Well, that’s the price you pay to live in the city.)

“Why is it so cold?” (I fluctuate between a simple, ‘air conditioning’ and a disapproving head shake with, ‘who understands these people, baby’- depending on how much I’m suffering from the air conditioning cold.

So we’re on the kids’ first ever car-based road trip inside the 48 contiguous states, and it all starts out lovely. Approximately every 27 seconds, Khalil (age 2) shouts, “Mamaaaa! Mamaaaa! Mamaaaa!” Mommy looks around to see what Khalil is pointing at. “Yes, Khalil, it’s another semi-truck. Yes, it’s yellow, Lucia’s color. Yes, Khalil, a bulldozer. Yes, you’re a bulldozer. Yes, another semi-truck. Papi’s color? Now his favorite color is blue? Okay, yes, I’ll tell him his new favorite color is blue.” Meanwhile, Lucia is playing this incredibly annoying, repetitive circus music that is a button on her doll, but we’ve started using reverse psychology very effectively. “Oh, it’s our favorite song!” My mom and I exclaim. We invent lyrics to go with it which annoys Lucia. So now she only plays it for a couple of seconds before she sees how much we’re enjoying it and turns it off.

Then we found ourselves inside the old people’s home of the highway, also known as Cracker Barrel. My mom, who knows about these road trip things, reluctantly assured me that it did actually have more options than just about any place on the highway. And it’s true; they have a very extensive menu that includes lots of veggies. All of which are either breaded and deep fried or cooked with ham hocks. Welcome to the USA, folks.

Because in Oaxaca we live in a place where kids just eat food, not special kid food, I normally either share my plate with them or we order them a regular dish to share between the two of them. But, “What the hell,” I thought! When in Rome, order the kids some food from the kids’ menu!

“Mommy, I don’t really like the bread,” said Lucia after a couple bites. “And the cheese isn’t very good, either.” She whined. Lest you believe I have not acculturated my children to the wonders of my country’s childhood comfort food, let me assert that my kids have grown up with grilled cheese sandwiches. We almost always have them with our cream of beet soup. But they are always on wheat bread (well, that cheap ass soft wheat bread, because there aren’t many bread options to begin with in Puerto, and even less on our budget). And they are typically made with Gouda cheese, since that is the only decent melting cheese I can find. (Neither queso fresco nor quesillo, the two types of local cheese, work well for melting in a sandwich.) Long story short, though- I got zero thanks for what I thought was going to be an exciting change of routine.

They also didn’t like the cornbread as much as my version (which kind of thrilled me). And my big pasta-obsessed kiddo wouldn’t touch Mac n cheese. (This so-called American cheese- are you guys sure it’s actually cheese? Or is it “cheese food product”?) I was kind of pleased but also kind of appalled that my kids were so not into this type of convenience food.

 

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So they are more used to statues of strange animals than alive strange animals. And they were unimpressed with the petting zoo full of goats, since there’s a whole yard full of goats down the street from our house in Puerto. Despite the cultural obstacles, they had a great time at the zoo.

This trip back to the US, I had more or less refrained from complaining about my home country until we spent two days driving through it. By day two of our journey, after Waffle House, after pizza, after gas station tuna sandwich, after Cracker Barrel, I couldn’t shut my mouth. “Did you see the size of that large coffee they gave me?” I asked my mom. “It was like 4 coffees! I had no idea!” I was incredulous, even as I continued guzzling, so it wouldn’t go to waste. “And when I asked for sweetener, the waiter brought me like 5 packets! Five! I only use a half of one! Although it did take a whole one for this monster-sized coffee! No wonder we have an obesity problem! They are determined to give gobs and gobs and giant-sized everything, and to make it free or crazy low-cost. It’s disgusting!” Even as I give in to it myself, drinking coffee till my stomach hurts, I rant and rave about it.

In Oaxaca, we are accustomed to road food meaning more or less home cooked fare. Okay, not the quantity of veggies that I might cook at home, but definitely from-scratch kind of fare. Where are the beans, and perhaps a quesadilla on the road here? When I got to my first stop back home, that’s exactly what I made- an Americanized version, albeit- beans from a can that I fried up and a quesadilla made with flour tortilla and processed cheese. Both my kids turned up their noses at the quesadilla (although maybe if I called it by another name they’d be into it), but all three of us relished those deliciously-fried beans. See “Authentic” Mexican Recipes- Southern Oaxaca Style

Seafood here in Georgia (perhaps in the whole country?) is also all deep-fried like the veggies, apparently. Dee was taken aback when I tried oysters breaded and fried for the first time. I’d only ever had them raw before, and I had no idea that it wasn’t the norm. Also in the food news, the kids are in hog heaven over ketchup; Khalil dipped everything in it and I caught Lucia eating it by itself with her finger. (“What is this called?” She keeps asking me while dipping her finger in it.) These kids are still certainly Mexican, though; they both prefer mayonnaise rather than butter on their corn on the cob.

 

Despite my years and my number of trips, there are still things that catch me off guard every year. I’ll never forget the time I was newly arrived from several months in South America (pre-children), hanging out with a friend who was just back from Central America, and we were convinced we had to buy the cans and not bottles of beer in the liquor store because we hadn’t brought any bottles to return. Ooops!

This trip I found myself buttering the kids’ bagels with a fork for I don’t know how many days before I remembered that butter knives exist precisely to spread butter on things. I keep forgetting that I could just put those leftovers in the microwave. But more than anything, I am crazy impressed with these talking phones.

My mom talks to her phone all the time, and her phone talks back. It gets us around town. It sends messages. It tells us what things are. It is some serious business that I sure as hell don’t have where I live. When we were on the highway, I delayed making a phone call because I assumed that there wouldn’t be cell phone signals on the highway. It took me the whole day on the road to really process that I could make phone calls and even surf the internet anywhere on the expressway! Y’all don’t have a clue about the magic and privilege of this world, far beyond the airport’s magic moving sidewalk even. Lucia, for her part, always feels the need to talk over and navigate over Nonna’s fancy phone. She says stuff like, “Turn left on Abapoopies street, Savannah, Georgia,” which makes me ridiculously content, for whatever reason. Everyone deals with culture shock in their own special way.

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What surprises and shocks you upon return from travel? Inquiring minds want to know!

 

 

Win/Win Kid Birthday Tricks, from a Still-Novice Non-Expert

19 Jun

Conan and I have officially been parents for half of a decade now! In other words, it was Lucia’s 5th birthday this week. Granted, we still don’t have much (any?) parenting wisdom, per se. And yet, we not only survived this birthday, it seems that we totally rocked it, despite the extra chaos on top of our normal mayhem this month. Here are our parenting hacks for birthday time, this time around. They might not work for you, and they might not even work for us again next time, but you’ve got to celebrate your victories.

Trick #1: Be Proactive. Talk them into the party of your dreams, not theirs.

Sure, it sounds mean, but if you ask them what they want to do for their birthday it’s destined to end in disappointment, unless you can actually produce unicorns and rocket-ship trips to space. If you have the means for that sort of thing, you’re reading the wrong list of tips right now. I, however, needed to get proactive.

Remembering a time my dad took me and a friend to Mammoth Cave for my birthday, I tried to talk Lucia into having some kind of adventure with a friend or two instead of a party. That was an instant negative, though, since a cake and a piñata are her number one birthday obsessions. For once, though, I outsmarted my little one and talked her out of a big Mexican-style party where you have to invite everyone you’ve ever met and give out five courses of party favors in addition to the meal, the cake and the multiple piñatas. We just couldn’t do it this year, not economically and not time-wise. So I cleverly talked her into having TWO parties instead this year- two very small parties. But that means TWO PARTIES, people, what’s not to love for a five year old?

I sent a cake to her school on her actual birthday, and then we had a teeny tiny, closest-family-only “party” at home on the weekend- complete with pasta (her favorite food), another cake, and just one piñata. Her papa even splurged on a giant bag of the decent candy for the piñata instead of like 5 pieces of good candy mixed in with the cheap-ass suckers we normally fill it with. It was a win-win situation for everybody.

 

Trick #2: Take advantage of all of your unique available resources.

If you have a cousin who works at Chuck E. Cheese and wants to give you a discount, go for it. If your best friend is a chef and will make an epic birthday cake for your kid, make that your billing point for their birthday gig.

For us it helped immensely that the birthday celebration at her school is awesome. It is a serious ceremony involving crowns and capes and classmate “angels” and a red carpet and everything. The teacher gives a hand-made gift (a really cool, small hand bag, in this case), and the other kids give the birthday kid a drawing each, which they then sew into a little book of sorts. It was so cute and so cool; she was thrilled. And all it required on our part was buying the cake and getting it there.

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Headed to school in a princess dress made by her aunt who’s an awesome seamstress. 

 

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Who wouldn’t be thrilled with this kind of celebration? 

Trick #3: Don’t let Mother Nature ruin your plans. Pray profusely to the universe, and clearly explain to the heavens that your kid will be emotionally destroyed for hours on end if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

In other words, you gotta think on your feet! Our little hiccup that could’ve been a two day tear-fest came when tropical storm number two of this year cancelled classes the day before her birthday. Conan was off work that day and was in charge of getting the cake to school, since it would be impossible for the babysitter to carry the cake along with the two kids on the walk to the bus stop, on the bus, transferring it then to the carpool where there are 6 children flopping around the car. Luckily the weather calmed and we worked things out just fine. Meanwhile, I had a minor panic attack and invented three ridiculously far-fetched schemes and plans to call in favors to make the cake at school happen, tropical storm or not.

Trick #4: Perspective is everything. Use all relevant comparisons from books and videos to sell your options.

I meant to make her a cake or cupcakes for our home party, since I like to bake for their birthdays when I can. But when we talked about what she’d like me to make, she never really decided on what she wanted, and recipe-searching time escaped me this year. (This month is kicking my butt, in case you can’t tell.) So instead we let her have the excitement of going to a bakery and picking out her own cake, just like Daniel Tiger. And then she got to go to another bakery and pick out another cake, just like Daniel Tiger again! It’s a wonderful life for 5 year old Lucia, folks, let me tell you. And for us, even buying 2 cakes, one and a half roasted chickens, two kilos of tortillas, and paper plates for us and our five guests was about eighty thousand times cheaper and easier than last year, when we completely lost our little parent minds and had big birthday parties for both of our children. (Yes, you read that right- we only had five guests to our house for this year’s “party.”) Cheaper, easier, and Lucia was just as pleased about it all.

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Cake #2: Just as thrilling as cake #1

She did have a brief moment of doubt at one point in the planning stages, however, when she had the sudden epiphany that fewer guests would mean fewer presents. “But Mommy, they don’t bring you presents at school. Only the teacher gives you a present.” She informed me with a suspicious tone, her eyes wide and worried. It’s almost a legit concern, too, because we tend to not give a lot of presents, and we rarely buy her stuff she doesn’t need except for birthdays and Christmas. (Don’t worry, though, this child is far from deprived; her numerous grandparents make sure both of these kids have ample toys and clothing.) I assured her, though, that she would end up with several presents anyway, including gifts from multiple grandparents. That appeased her sufficiently.

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Pleased with herself and her new bag

Trick #5: Give them “presents” that you were going to give them anyway. Everything’s amazing when it’s wrapped in pretty paper! 

Yes, I am totally that super mean mom who gives kids socks and underwear as presents. Only this year I talked her Abuela into giving that as a gift! I would put a bow on her morning Cheerios without thinking twice about it. Attitude is everything, after all.

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In this picture we are using the Cheerios box as storage for another present, but I’m not above giving them Cheerios as a present. 

She got plenty of other non-necessary presents, too, so don’t worry. She received a couple of new stuffed animals from aunts, a really cool jewelry-painting set that I bought with money her Nonna sent for her, and the coolest books ever from National Geographic- one about space, one about dinosaurs, and one about animals. Her Gamma sent those, after I asked her to look for a cool dinosaur book, since we hadn’t been able to find anything interesting and age-appropriate at the library here. Books here are not accessible and they’re insanely expensive. These books would have cost thousands of pesos here (according to Conan’s family), if you could even find them somewhere in the first place. I feel so incredibly privileged to have so much access to quality books for me and my children. But I digress, as usual.

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Everyone was impressed by the books.

I also pulled off a double win because I managed to clean out my office and give Lucia perfect presents for free. I had a couple of things sitting around my office for the past almost-three years, resources that an ex-coworker had given me that Lucia was way too young for. One is a phonics game- Zoo ABC Bingo!- and the other a book of poems for kids. So, like the crafty, thrifty mommy that I am, I wrapped it all up and gave it as a birthday gift. (Grown-up Lucia, if you’re reading this someday, just remember that money spent has no correlation to love and thought put into giving.)

Also in the realm of “attitude is everything,” you can talk up all the advantages of your plan vs anything they’ve had in the past or seen at their friend’s house. Like better quality candy, as I already mentioned.

 

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Serious Birthday Business

We broke the piñata with two of her little cousins and the neighbor kids across the street, so the amount of candy that both of my kids got ahold of wasn’t of epic, diabetes-producing proportions after all. I let them overdose on candy the day of the party and then the next day they took a decent portion of it to Lucia’s neighborhood bestie who’s been sick all week and couldn’t help break the piñata. Another parenting win: sharing and getting more candy out of our house.

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A piñata wouldn’t be a piñata without some help from your friends. 

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So obviously we’ve learned a lot in these five years. Apparently the half-decade mark is a moment in which you finally have more than just the basic survival skills as a parent. It seems that we may have a couple of parenting tricks up our sleeves now, at long last. Now if I could just get the recipe to make my kids go to sleep when I want, or to leave me alone in the bathroom, then I would declare myself a super parent. Maybe by our next half-decade? Or perhaps never. Sigh. You gotta take your victories when and where you can, folks, which might be the most important thing I’ve learned in these five years of parenting.

Mother’s Day Homage to my Feminist Bad-Ass Hombre

14 May

I’d like to thank my husband, first and foremost, for never, ever giving me Mother’s Day gifts related to cooking and cleaning. No new broom or Tupperware, and heaven forbid it- no iron for me, thanks. Probably he guessed that I would spend my life in jail for murder if he gave me housework-related things as a personal gift. So despite the hundreds of stores and street vendors hawking such appalling things for Mother’s Day each year, he has not once in these 4 years of my motherhood in Mexico fallen prey to such nonsense.

He also doesn’t mind that I insist on celebrating twice a year- both on May 10, the official day in Mexico, and again on the second Sunday of May. I mean, we’re a bicultural family, right, and this is what it’s all about. Double holidays for everyone!*

What I most love about my coparenting partner, though, is that he’s a total radical around these parts. Not only does he see my point on all of my culturally distinct ideas on gender and parenting, but he’s also right there with me and has my back about it. I suspect he actually cares even less than I do about what people say about us, our parenting, our family gender roles, and our children. Which means he has not one single turd of caca to give on the matter.

From the get go, he shrugged off people’s shock about baby Lucia not getting her ears pierced upon birth. “But it’ll hurt her later!” They said, as if the baby doesn’t feel it when she gets her ears pierced, and with the assumption that she’ll want to get her ears pierced later. “But people think she’s a boy! She doesn’t even have hair!” Folks complained, and he not only shrugged but started calling her Pablo on the days she wore “boy clothes.”

Then we did some big-time role switching. I went back to “El Norte” to work and save up some money, and he stayed down here to get our house built. That switch was more of a funny cultural thing, since it’s much more typical to have a young Mexican family in which the man goes off to the states to work and save money to improve the situation for the family and the woman stays home. So okay, I took our kid with us, but it still sounded funny compared to the normal narrative here.

It wasn’t quite as funny, though, when I got a full-time job here and Conan became an official stay-at-home dad. He was the only stay-at-home dad along the entire coast of Oaxaca, if not the entire state. You can read all about the peer pressure and shaming that he put up with for that brave endeavor, right up till last November (read about it here a bit). It was a situation that was really practical and beneficial for our family, especially for our children, and yet even other moms acted like he was being lazy, despite knowing how much work it is to raise a family, what it takes to stay home and care for small children. Through all the criticism and gossip, he just kept on doing the best he could for his family.

While some people thought his whole Lucia-as-Pablo joke was pretty cute, folks are much less forgiving about boys breaking out of gender roles. So I was nervous about what Conan would think when our little boy wanted to wear a dress on a family outing one day. Do you know what he said? The same thing he says on the days Khalil picks out shorts and a t-shirt. Nothing. I momentarily underestimated Conan’s rebel streak. I forgot that he is just as fierce as I am about living life outside of boxes (although he might be less belligerent about it than I am).

There are countless other examples of why Conan is a badass feminist partner and father. Every week there are new things that I realize about him, or things I see as the norm in other people that make me realize how distinctly cool my husband is. Just this week, a female coworker of Conan’s gave him a hard time the other day about the staple he keeps putting in his shirt to make up for the missing button. His coworker says to him, “Conan, your shirt is sad! We can see who’s the boss at your house.” Obviously, if he had a good wife, she would fix his shirt. (No, his coworker didn’t say that part out loud.)

When Conan repeated this to me I turned red- not from embarrassment, because I do not feel the slightest bit bad about not being an on-call button-sewer. I am already fulfilling my inordinate amount family responsibilities to the best of all my abilities, and I furthermore have full confidence in Conan’s ability to problem solve and figure out his own remedy to a missing button. Nope, I turned red from fury. Why? Why do other women buy into the patriarchy so much? Do they so desperately need validation that they think you need to put me down as a woman and further imply that my husband isn’t a real (aka bossy) man because he doesn’t force me to follow my assigned gender role thoroughly enough? Barf. “What did you say?” I asked him, appalled. “I didn’t say anything,” he replied- as usual, ignoring his way around ignorant and annoying people.

Not only does he not expect me to sew on his buttons, but he also believes that I am a full-fledged human being, deserving of personal time and even occasional social time that doesn’t include him. I wish that I didn’t even have to include this as part of what’s awesome about my partner, but compared to so many other people’s relationships, this belief system of ours as equals is akin to something like folks trying to build an igloo right on the beach.

Being the unconventional family that we are, what could be more perfect than appreciating my children’s father on Mother’s Day? I wouldn’t be the same mom that I am without his revolutionary beliefs and back-up. So thanks, Conan, and thanks to all the radical men and dads, to all the trans and gender-nonconforming folks and parents, everywhere. Let’s keep making this world a better place, and backing each other up, and, in honor of Conan, giving zero fucks about what other people have to say about it.

Happy Mother’s Day- to us, and you, too!

*I would like to point out that I think it’s sexist and crappy that Father’s Day here is always on a Sunday, just like it is in the US, and yet Mother’s Day falls any old day of the week, presumably because moms are not in the labor force, which is less and less the case all the time.

Two Little Arrows out in the Wide World: Musings on Children

1 May

I send our little boy out into the world with a pink and blue tutu, heedless of the consequences. I’m not concerned, although I suspect the babysitter is. Our son has very firm ideas about what he wants already, plus he loves to copy his big sister, and many of his life’s joys are the same as hers. This includes a passion for shoes and tutus, as well as an extraordinary ability to prolong bedtime by bringing more and more books to the bed with a pleading look in his eyes.

Mostly when he wears his tutu or his dress (things he has borrowed from Lucia and made all his own) strangers just assume that he’s a girl. Obviously, folks who know him know that he’s a boy, and reactions have been mixed. First folks are kind of taken aback. Some folks have a strong reaction of “WTF,” while others have a milder sort of head-shaking tsk-tsk version of it. LIke, “Why would they put a skirt on this poor boy? These strange people!” When people ask about it and I tell them he’s matching with his big sister, they seem to be a bit more understanding about it. I kind of resent having to give an explanation for my two year old’s style, but at least that keeps most people from freaking out that boys can’t wear that- at least in the presence of my children. I don’t want too many people contradicting our family values that all people can wear whatever they want.

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Protesting nap time, with Lucia’s shoes on, on the wrong feet, of course. 

People thought it was weird when we dressed Lucia in hand-me-down “boy clothes” when she was little, too. People were not ever shocked and appalled, however, in the same way that some people are about Khalil wearing a tutu. I could talk my feminist theory talk about why I think Khalil is more distressing for them, but that’s not my purpose today.

Partly, I’ve just been thinking about how easy it is for me to let my children be themselves- sometimes, and in some respects. And how hard it is to let my children be themselves in other ways.

Take, for instance, Lucia’s invented new hairstyle. I’m not the slightest bit worried about the other parents out there judging me or her because her hair is like a 4 year old version of some punk-rock hair cut (it kind of looks like someone was drunk while braiding her hair). I couldn’t care less about anyone reporting her to the fashion police for her favorite outfit, which involves pants, a tutu, and a shirt/skirt one-piece all at once. (YES! Wear all your favorite things at once! Yes!)

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Here you can kind of see one version of Lucia’s favorite outfit, as well as her badass hairstyle. 

It’s easy enough right now for us to plant and water these seeds in our kids’ heads- that they can wear whatever they want, that boys and girls can do anything, that girls can have boyfriends or girlfriends, and boys can have girlfriends or boyfriends. Since Lucia already has a “boyfriend” at her preschool, the who-can-be-your-partner conversation has already happened. I had to give her examples of friends of ours that are “novios con novios” or “novias con novias” so that she would believe that I wasn’t making it all up. I felt totally rewarded in the parenting department one day when one of her friends was over and I overheard her talking about how so-and-so at school could go with so-and-so, because you CAN have girlfriend with girlfriend, because her Mommy said so. Of course I worry a tiny bit about what will happen when her peers’ opinions hold more weight than mine, but I realize that all I get to do is plant and water seeds and see how they grow.

That part is easy for me. Based on my background, and my values, I have possibly too much confidence about being able to sow healthy and open ideas in my kids’ heads about many things. But I realized that there are certain other things about my kids that I just keep fighting against, and that it’s time to evaluate that.

Like the sleep thing. Lucia has had major sleep problems since she was pretty itty-bitty. She has a hard time falling asleep (my genes) and a hard time staying asleep (Conan’s genes). One night when I was putting her to bed late but happily, she told me, ever so wistfully, “I can’t wait for it to be morning.” And I thought, “Why do I begrudge her this so much?” This bright little heart never wants to go to sleep, so deeply and intrinsically, that even when she is to-the-bone-exhausted she still has an inherent resistance to sleep; she  just won’t give up on the waking world. There is too much excitement, too much to be lived. None of us should be sleeping! And that’s precisely how I used to feel- and how I still feel, sometimes. Having children taught me a new level of exhausted, one that gifted me the capacity to fall asleep nearly instantly as my head finally hits the pillow each night. And yet. Slithering my way out of depression, I find that more and more I resist sleep again. It’s like being 15 again, where I just want to stay up and smoke cigarettes and write poetry, or sneak out and drink coffee and have philosophical discussions at the all-night shitty diner at 2 in the morning. I want to discover myself, and discover the whole world, too! I want to love everything, to be enchanted and jaded at the same time, to hand out flowers to lonely-looking strangers on Valentines Day and get involved with a youth-run activist zine all over again! Except I don’t smoke anymore and no one is calling to sneak me out of the house. (I sit at the computer and smuggle myself a beer after the kids are in bed instead.) But I digress. Feeling her sleep resistance as a kindred spirit instead of as an inconvenience or a failure or something I’m supposed to fix, it finally clicked for me that my kids are going to be however they are.

Duh, right? It’s sounds so simple. Of course I’m going to keep influencing them, and doing the best parenting job I can. But that’s all I get to do. So what’s the point in fighting with them about other things? I don’t mean not setting boundaries or letting them run amok in all ways, but I do mean recognizing when they’re just not capable of meeting certain expectations, because they get to be unique human beings, too. I’ve been thinking about this extra because I’ve been reading this book about working with your kids to resolve problems, which also talks a lot about working with your child’s personality and strengths. So when Lucia told me how she couldn’t wait for the next day to happen, oh-so-longingly, pining for more moments of life, and I recognized little-girl-me in her, it finally hit me that no amount of bedtime routing is going to “cure” this child of her sleep issues. And there are going to be lots more things that I view as problems that maybe could be viewed from a different lens, for everyone’s benefit.

Like I’ve finally accepted that I don’t need to stress abut my kids’ eating habits. Yes, I still need to bust my butt to make sure there’s healthy food available for them to eat everyday. But I don’t need to stress if Lucia wants to eat just pasta for lunch, vehemently rejecting any vegetables involved. She’ll eat her vegetables for dinner. My kids are great eaters. This is not a real problem. Just because they don’t eat exactly like I do does not mean they are not healthy eaters. Khalil is not yet capable of resisting the urge to drink the bathwater when he’s pretending to have a tea party. Lucia is not capable of getting a good night’s sleep in a bed by herself. Some things I’d like for them, they’ll be capable of in the future. Some things they might never be able to do because that’s just how they are. And that’s okay, too.

It doesn’t mean I have infinite patience, either. It still makes me lose my mind when I’m running late and Khalil insists on buckling his own seat belt, which he can’t effectively do yet. It still ups my anxiety when Lucia has major panic attacks over non-emergencies. But I can deal with it all a lot better when I am compassionate about all of us being separate human beings, and doing the best that we can, being who we are. When I am kind and generous with them, and with myself, too.

I can be at my parenting best when I can keep the wise words of Kahlil Gibran in my heart. (And yes, my son is named for him! And yes, I am having a beer with myself and my writing as we speak, and delighting in every minute of it.) I’ll leave you with his words, since it’s way better than anything I could say.

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

A Flawless Foray into the Big City

17 Mar

 

Perhaps both children vomiting all over themselves in the car doesn’t sound like an auspicious beginning to an utterly delightful outing. Obviously, then, you’ve never voyaged upon the seven-plus hours of winding, two-lane “highway” between Puerto Escondido and Oaxaca City. You have no idea how bad it could have been.

Because Conan was scheduled to work on Saturday and Sunday, I originally decided I would go up in the public vans on Friday night. The last time we made this trek, when Khalil was two months old, we’d gone in a van at night and everyone had survived. Conan slept through it all that time (while I was covered in children, not sleeping), so I was sure I could do it alone. Apparently, however, I underestimated the chances of my kids waking up to vomit. So just imagine! I have been in the public vans plenty with puking children (mostly not my children), and let me tell you, half the time that driver doesn’t even slow down. It could have been so, so ugly.

But it wasn’t! Because Conan got someone to work for him on Sunday and we have a car that actually does car-like things, such as take you places. The miracles abound! So there we were, over four years in to living here, finally in our very own private transportation for this billionth trip to Oaxaca. We got baby vomit on our very own car seats at last!!!

Additionally in the “dodging bullets- aka winning” section of events, I narrowly avoided meeting a long-last family member of Conan’s when he realized we were in their neighborhood in Oaxaca City. Don’t get me wrong; meeting new in-laws is normally a rollercoaster I can ride. However, at midnight, when your eyes feel like they’re glued semi-shut and your mouth is dry like 3 day old tortillas and you’ve been in a car for 8 hours and you’re drowsy on Dramamine and your children still reek of vomit and darling, these relatives are not even expecting us– that’s not even a rollercoaster, it’s just a train wreck tale in the making.

So we continued on to our dear friends’ house, where they were totally expecting sleepy, confused, slightly smelly guests at midnight. We are so lucky to have adoring friends-turned-family who graciously accept us and our pukey children at any hour of the night with open arms and smiles. We are so ridiculously privileged to live in Oaxaca, where guests are synonymous with royalty. Our hosts greeted us lovingly, chatted for a few minutes, and left us to rest in their comfy bed. These folks are the reason I always rule out doing our bureaucratic business in Mexico City. Even as I washed vomit out of car seats the next day, I thought, “Airplanes are fun, but there’s no Argelia and Magaly in Mexico City. Totally not worth it.”

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When we asked Lucia later what she liked the best about the trip, she replied, “When we ate the broccoli at Arge’s house.” Since we eat broccoli once a week at our house, and I cooked the broccoli like I do at home regularly, I have no idea why this was wondrous for her. Children are a mysterious species. Apparently Oaxaca City made a serious impression on her this time, though, because she nonchalantly told my mother-in-law later that she’s planning to move to Oaxaca. She refrained from specifying a date, so I can only speculate about her intentions.

My favorite part of the trip, in contrast, was when we did something novel. I liked it when we went to an actual park with more than three trees, and with a gorgeous view of the valley that is Oaxaca City. I loved the swings hanging from trees, swings made out of slats of wood. I loved our easy feast of quesadillas, cucumber, and watermelon.

I loved that the non-parent-people in our group didn’t get mad or upset when we didn’t do the two mile hike that we originally mentioned (ummm that was never, ever going to come to fruition with the little people). I loved that when my about-to-turn-two-year-old resolutely and rapidly took off his diaper and shook his two year old penis at the sky before peeing, all the other families thought it was funny and endearing. Nobody called the police or child protective services on my child and his rebelliously naked butt. (Granted, it was temporary nudity, but still.)

I loved loved loved fulfilling my new self-imposed obligation to seize all interesting opportunities, to try all the new things. (I’d like to thank the current political climate and brilliant author Shonda Rhimes!) It helps that our friends are so open-spirited, too. “What’s that?” I asked when I saw the zipline, “And how much does it cost?” Instantly, Argelia was already grabbing me by the elbow and leading me to the action. Magaly agreed to be the fearless distraction expert for the little ones. Arge volunteered to be our fearless leader and slide herself over the cliff first, since she’d done it before somewhere else. She wasn’t actually fearless, though; it took a little coaxing to get her to push herself out into the abyss. Even when you’ve decided to be fearless, that shit just creeps back up on you. I had to hold my breath and close my eyes, too, to convince myself. It was, in fact, really fun, and I’ll absolutely be doing it again the next chance I get!

Here we go:

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You can just barely see Arge zipping across there.

To top off a perfectly fabulous day, we finished things off by drinking beers (those of us who drink) and (gasp) playing cards! More of my favorite things!!!! Can life get any better? I suspect not.

While playing cards, we discussed the fact that this kind of fun doesn’t happen among women in small towns. Argelia is certainly not a small town girl in spirit. She’s petite but packed with a giant personality that couldn’t really fit into her tiny mountain town. Now Argelia plays cards and drinks beer, and can even play a little pool, but only thanks to all these years in Oaxaca City and Magaly’s wonderful influence and big-city girl privilege. Magaly is from Mexico City originally. I knows she’s from a big city because she knows how to do all the things the girls from small towns almost never learn. Magaly knows how to play pool. She knows how to play cards. She knows how to drive a car. She knows how to drive a motorcycle. She knows how to ride a bicycle. She likes to drink beer for fun. She was allowed to have all kinds of fun in life. I’d bet money that she knows how to play a musical instrument, too, although I forgot to ask her. Granted, it’s not that all of those things are expressly forbidden to girls in small towns. They just tend to not happen, if you want to put it in apolitical terms.

The next day was dedicated to bureaucracy and travel (aka destined for disaster). And yet it was nowhere near as disastrous as it has been in the past. I didn’t spend hours crying and agonizing over how to “forge” my own signature, for starters. Our friends whisked my mischievous two year old away to have fun outside of the consular office. The (woman) security guard was ridiculously nice, telling me that I did, indeed, have time to hurry and guzzle a coffee downstairs, just when my caffeine downer threatened to knock me out right there in the back row of hard plastic chairs. Once our turn came, it turned out that we had successfully brought the right-sized photo and all the other correct paperwork. There were no excessive questions, not even dirty looks. When the in-charge person asked about one document that looked slightly dodgy, and I shrugged and affirmed that that’s precisely how it came from the dodgy organization known as my insurance company, she accepted it without further ado. It was, by far, the least stressful passport situation we’ve dealt with thus far, considering our ridiculous number of visits and renewals and such for this multi-nationality family.

The adults in our group had started having mini-meltdowns  from hunger by the time we were finished with our obligations, but we made it to a restaurant before any violence broke out. We forgot the childrens’ balloons that Arge and Magaly bought them, but there was only a small panic attack on Lucia’s part, and we hoped that some other kids found them later.

For the trip home, I got smart and got the Dramamine for Kids. Khalil vomited his dose about 10 seconds after taking it, which was totally best case scenario! I had zero doubts about re-dosing him, plus the puke was only on his pajamas and Arge’s floor, allowing for relatively easy clean-up. Another win for our trip! Additionally, nobody puked in the car. Our car delivered us to our door without breaking down or even making new, worrisome noises (thank you, Conan, for being the fearless driver)! A good time was had by all!

May all our future outings, and yours, be as optimal as this one!

Decision-Making for Dummies

22 Feb

Is paper/rock/scissors a valid decision-making method? Since I’m trying to make a gigantic, life-altering decision, obviously I would do best two out of three. Or perhaps I need a Tarot card reading. Or I could pose the question to all my Facebook friends, and go by whatever option gets the most votes. I might write each decision on opposite sides of the room, spin around until dizzy, and then point with my eyes still closed. Similarly, I continue to contemplate getting wasted drunk and writing a note to myself about what feels the most right, with all the hidden insight that excessive alcohol might bring out.

And these are just my better ideas.

Seriously, I cannot make this decision. I won’t do it and you can’t make me! I want to shout at the universe, complete with a stern pout and possible foot-stomping or middle-finger-flying. It’s too big a decision, it affects other important people too much, and it’s all on my shoulders, for better or for worse. I’m not gonna! (I’m sticking my tongue out at y’all, now, too, moon and stars and everybody.) The recovering perfectionist in me is pissed because there is no “right” answer. The anxiety monster in me is terrified because there are major negative consequences on both sides, but which negative consequences will be worse- and for whom? If I make this decision and the worst happens, it’ll be all my fault and no one will ever forgive me and I won’t even be able to live with myself- assuming I’m still alive after the worst. Oh, hell, no, y’all, I am not taking responsibility for this. No, siree. I’ll just wait for a definitive sign from the heavens first, thanks.

Except I have to decide. Even if I pick the default option of doing nothing, that’s still a decision that I will then have to live with, with all the positive and negative consequences that entails. And there are consequences for my whole family. Ugh! Part of me, of course, recognizes that I am ridiculously privileged to even have options, despite them not being exactly the options I’d like. Who the hell gets all the options they want in life? Nobody I know, and probably nobody I care to know. So I think about other folks with trickier and much more dire choices- or lack of choices- and I shame myself for bemoaning the fact that I have to / get to make a decision in life. Unfortunately, the shame doesn’t actually change anybody’s situation or help me make a decision. So here we are.

I have a deadline. It’s almost here. I don’t want to say the date out loud, because then it will be more real. But it’s very, very soon. (Shiver and shake!)

Because apparently, life requires some modicum of planning, and institutions like schools and jobs and banks always want to know whether you will be utilizing their services or not in the coming cycle. Those nosy bastards. Then there are the other folks, close friends and family, who also insist that your most major life choices affect them. They’d like to plan accordingly, they say. And yet they refuse to take the decision off of your hands. Selfish, selfish, selfish!

Instead of deciding for me, loved ones give me sage advice. For example, a dear friend encouraged me to listen to my heart. The problems with that are that a) my heart is divided in multiple directions, and b) my heart usually leads me down the most difficult and dangerous path available. That certainly hasn’t been exclusively awful; as a matter of fact, I’m pretty damn pleased about many of the outrageous decisions I’ve made. Once I’ve made a decision, once I’ve survived some of the results, I get very zen about it all, magically. This is forming and growing me as a person, and all that. Even the decisions I made that, in hindsight, were excessively foolhardy and ill-advised, I can shrug my shoulders and toss it into the pile of “makes for a great story fodder.” I am the main character in my life’s novel, right?

(Joyful Girl, by Ani DiFranco, is one of my anthems since adolecense that encourages this philosophy for me: “The bathroom mirror has not budged. The woman who lives there can tell the truth from the stuff they say. She looks me in the eye, says, Do you prefer the easy way? No? Well then, okay, don’t cry.”)

But I feel a distinct lack of zen now that there are small children involved. These little humans are counting on me to not ruin their lives. So the question then becomes, which path will ruin their lives less? (They’re gonna need therapy either way, as my dad would say.) But how can I calculate the least-harm scenario? There are short-term and long-term effects for them, but most of the long-term effects are potential effects. There’s a whole bundle of maybes in all my equations, which is yet another reason why I’m not a great mathematician nor decision-maker.

So if the short term effects for them are fairly negative, and then the hopefully excellent long term effects go all awry, then I will have made the wrong decision, right? Alternately, if the short term effects are mostly positive, and the long-term effects don’t have much room for astounding but might not be abysmal, either, does that mean that’s the right choice? Either way, super-duper disasterous things can happen! And where do my needs and desires, and my life partner’s needs and desires, all fit into this? What about the If Mama Ain’t Happy Ain’t Nobody Happy effect? How much and in what way does that count in this? Where is my text book? Where is my tutor? It’s like you just learned to do division and then they throw some complicated thing into mix, something like, I don’t know, exponential numbers. And the teacher doesn’t explain worth a damn in the first place; they’re just throwing random numbers crap at you, so how can anyone expect you to ever solve this problem?!

My perceptive and astute therapist mother reminded me to “use wise mind” as my guide. Wise mind, theoretically, is that brilliant and perhaps fictional combo of emotional mind and rational mind.

Here’s a little visual about “wise mind” for all you visual learners out there. I acquired this image from this site.

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Does wise mind exist in me? Hmmmph! Sure, I guess it’s in there somewhere, since I can do both rational or emotional exceptionally well. But blending them? Quieting my anxiety and ceasing to analyze long enough to listen to the deeper part of my being? Ha. When? Between my full-time paying job and my full-time mother job and my full-time housekeeper/cook job, I’m pretty booked. Ain’t no space left in my calendar for an appointment with wise mind.

Maybe that’s an excuse, though. I mean, really I know what path I want to walk. I already know, because I know exactly who I am and what I want to do with myself in this one little life. I know what my values are. I know what I have to contribute to a community. I know what decision I think will put me in a position to live more in line with those values and let me contribute to the universe best. I already know.

But as soon as I say that, my raging, roaring bear named Anxiety rears up on its haunches and yells, “What if you’re wrong, though? How do you know that you’ll be able to live your purpose in life on this path? Maybe you can find your purpose on this other path just as well. You just need to look harder.”  Then I get new information that kicks rational mind back in to gear, like a know-it-all-doctor from the 50s calmly blowing smoke in my face, telling me I need this treatment for my hysteria. “Look at these facts,” that jerk says.  “This is a bad time. All of the evidence points to disaster.”

Back and forth I go, several times a day. Every day I debate and deliberate, tying my stomach in viscious knots, winding myself up like wind-up doll, and waiting to see what decision I’ll have made when the coil stretches. Every day I dream of somebody coming to take this weight off my shoulders, of someone telling me the decisively “right” thing to do. Except I’d probably STILL find some reason to keep arguing about it. “But read this study first!” I imagine I’d say.

I suspect that either way, it’s gonna be ugly and it’s gonna be lovely. No matter which path I take, I’m doing somebody wrong. All concerned parties are going to have some negative consequences. No matter which path I take, there will be some negatives and some positives and ultimately I cannot predict what they will be or how wonderfully joyous or horrendously grave life might be in the future. Which is probably a truth about the Whole of Life every single day, we’re just not usually as hyper-conscious of it as I am right now with this blasted decision.

Meanwhile, the deadline looms. Weigh in on your decision-making advice, before it’s too late and I decide to just flip a coin!! Seriously, folks, I don’t ask for advice every day; now is your chance to give me your best decision-making guide.