Tag Archives: gratitude

Adaptation, Take 957… Action!

23 Jan

Our first week back I kind of wanted to poke my eyeballs out from all the stress and upheaval. Who signed me up for all this moving? Who thought it was a good idea to be multinational? This is too overwhelming! And then I remembered, oops! It was me that made those decisions. Alas.

By the second week back I still kind of wanted to go ahead and pour myself a drink at 10am, but I resisted, remembering that I am a billionaire rock star when it comes to adaptation (minus the billions). So I did what I do best and cranked out an even longer-than-normal list of things to be grateful for. I won’t bore you with the whole thing (you don’t need to know just how happy it makes me to never watch TV, for example), but here are some highlights for you.

Family and Feeding Time!
Finally, Conan can share the joy of being woken up early in the morning to somebody crawling on him or attempting to pull him out of bed with a crane truck. “It’s morning time, Papi. Let’s get up!” says Khalil as I laugh diabolically over my coffee cup.

Conan’s mom, the famous “Abia” (Lucia’s early mispronunciation of Abuela), spent a week in town with us, with promises of more time soon. The kids also have access to cousins, aunts and uncles galore. Mostly this means everyone is overfeeding us and the kids are running around barefoot without folks giving them dirty looks. I can’t complain. In the first two weeks we’ve already had most of our favorite local foods: mole, tamales, chepiles, all the best salsas, gaujes, chilaquiles, and like a million kilos of fresh tortillas. Now just to bide our time until mangos are practically free.

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Papi Time

My future engineer/construction worker
Khalil’s first day back here, he took one look at our dirt road and started questioning his papa about it. “Why is it so bumpy? They didn’t do a good job.” He is relentless in his incredulity over the state of our roads. Everywhere he goes he lets us know about it. He gets out his trucks and insists he’s gonna “fix all the roads.”  “This is not a good road. I’m going to move all the rocks. I need to flatten this road.” All the time. Every day. With all the road repairs in the works for the upcoming elections (repairs which cause road blocks and won’t be done for months, if ever), I am praying that Khalil’s trucks and his ingenuity can actually do the trick. Regardless, his determination makes me happy consistently.

My five year old socialite
It’s been all socializing, all the time since we landed. Our first week back the kids were already invited to a kid’s birthday party (a pool party, no less). They’ve had cousins over and gone to cousins’ houses. Lucia, particularly, is invited to two different neighbors’ houses to play pretty much on the daily. She’s had friends over from school, and of course invited the neighbors to her house. She’s especially thrilled with her bestie Alin, the slightly older girl across the street. Lucia’s making up for lost social time all those months when she wasn’t in school and there were no other kids in the apartment complex outside playing. At last, she has to pencil in her introvert time on the agenda instead of having an over-abundance of alone time!

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warm ocean water year round: yay!!!

 

The School Sent from Heaven
The kids’ first day back at their dream school, we met the new teachers for this year. The principal/director of the school made sure to send me pictures of the kids playing happily and let me know a few details of their adjustment. (How cool is that? Are you jealous yet?) When I went to pick them up, the teachers filled me in on the rest. “Don’t send any more diapers,” the lead teacher told me. “He went on the potty today. Just send some extra shorts or underwear instead.” I hesitated, and admitted, “Well, he always asks to poop on the potty, but he’s not totally potty trained about pee.”
“It’s fine,” she waved me off. “If he pees we can just clean it up. It’s too hot to be in diapers if they don’t need to be.” Where else do you get that kind of attitude about potty training at school?

Two weeks later, Khalil is potty trained. Plus, my kids are well taken care of, having a blast, and most importantly, out of my hair, for several hours a day!

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Khalil in hog heaven at school 

 

And me? Just Here Taking All the Vitamin D
Don’t tell the immigration officials around here, but I am here to soak up ALL Y’ALL’S sunshine, dear Puerto natives.

Did I mention that immigration officials here are about the nicest people ever to have worked in a position of bureaucracy? Seriously. They are soooo nice and understanding, I am thinking about learning to bake just to go thank them.

But back to my sunshine. Not having an all-day full-time job means I get to run errands on my bicycle! Being back in Puerto means riding on the back of my friend’s scooter. It means rocking out to my CDs in the car with all the windows down, with a backseat full of small children on carpool days. It means sunglasses are my most prized daily possession. It doesn’t even matter that my fancy hair product is no match against the humidity and the breeze!

Most of all, I have proved to myself once again how necessary it is to have community, and to maintain my gratitude practice. The first week back of constant chaos and doubts, plus the lack of set plans for both short and long term future, just about crushed my little soul for a second there. But damn was the sunshine great! Damned if I didn’t take advantage of my unemployment to walk around by the beach while the kids were at school one afternoon. Damned if I didn’t find a way to get some moments of peace and joy and appreciation for so many things, amidst the chaos and doubt and indecision and scarcity. Because I’m supported by the best folks in the world. Because gratitude is work that’s always worth it. Because the sun in Puerto is always shining for me.

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A surprise, too-short visit from my favorite resident of Oaxaca City!!!!! The love! The joy! The gratitude! 

Our Mexerican Christmas Spirit

8 Jan

 

“But Santa didn’t come to my house!” one of my students jokingly complained when I told her my new shoes (“princess shoes” as Lucia calls them) were from Santa Claus. “Sometimes, especially when you’re an adult,” I replied, “you just have to make your own magic.” I told her how I even took the time to wrap them up, even though I’d bought them for myself. I acted like it was a surprising gift when I opened it- not to trick my kids, but rather to enjoy myself.

 

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My princess shoes from Santa Claus

This year was by far my best Christmas as a grown up. It was very much not USA-style and also not Mexican-style. It was very much ours, a lovely mix of traditions and inventions and doing what feels good and makes people happy. (Satisfied Sigh.)

 

As Christmas neared here in Puerto, I remained blissfully isolated from all the consumerist, excessively capitalist culture that overwhelms the holiday season in the US. Plus the temperature is in the 80s every day, so it’s easy to feel blissful, or at least generous and optimistic.

 

I was excessively lucky in the capitalism department this Christmas, so I tried to spread the wealth-based joy around (nope, wealth and joy are not the same thing, but sometimes a thoughtfully purchased thing can bring great joy). I got my Christmas bonus from work (Thank you, Mexico!) I got money from family to spend on Christmas (a shit-pot-full when you convert those dollars into pesos!! Thank you, family!) I immediately went out and got WILD AND CRAZY! I was a spending machine. I bought all three of the books I liked for the kids instead of deciding on two! I bought a tree-topper star that cost 1/3 of what the tree cost, just because it was the best and I knew Lucia would love it. It was a major shopping extravaganza, at least compared to my usual non-spending, thrifty self.

 

When it came time to open presents, it didn’t seem like I had been on a wild and savage shopping binge. The kids each got six presents, plus two stocking stuffers from the elves. Six presents is a lot around here, although it’s practically nothing in the US. Some of their presents were items that they needed anyway, like a new towel for Khalil, and new shoes for Lucia. They each got two new books, because, you know, priorities. Khalil got a new puzzle, with an easy part he can do himself and a harder part that Lucia has to help him with (I patted myself on the back extra on that one). The elves brought us new mugs, including mini-sized mugs (delicate glass, says Lucia) for the kiddos. I immediately made hot chocolate to break them in, of course. The elves also brought us new bath sponges, with different colored squares meshed into the loufa part- and that continues to totally thrill the children, even days later.

 

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Our tree,  complete with presents (guitar is an old present)

Aha, I said to myself! This is what makes giving gifts so marvelous! When it makes somebody sincerely excited or pleased because of this useful or interesting thing that you thought of for them, gift-giving is utterly joyful. Sitting around drinking hot chocolate with our matching mugs was so surprisingly fulfilling. Watching Khalil be able to open presents for the first time, appreciating his rapture in tearing paper, was so gratifying. Even when Lucia cast aside the book I had ordered her off of Amazon for the more graphically-enticing one, it was okay. Days later, once she finally wanted to read it, she asked to read it about 7 times straight. It’s so endorphin-producing, this gifting thing done well. When giving gifts is obligatory, when you’re too strapped for cash or don’t have a clue about what someone would truly enjoy, that’s when gift-giving is a nightmare. But this having small children who are stoked about everything? Gift-giving nirvana.

 

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Khalil showing me how he’s going to drink from his new mug

So I’ve willingly spent more money on non-emergency items in the past two weeks than I have possibly in the past few years. But I’m not worrying about spoiling my kids. I have zero worries about my kids becoming thing-obsessed Me!Me!Me!Monsters. First and foremost because they don’t watch TV. No ads = less implanted desire for crap. Number two, because they aren’t surrounded by kids who have everything they want and another 82 billion things they might or might not even want. Number three, because I am their mother and Conan is their father and neither of us are especially materialistic. Number four, because they already have a room full of toys strewn about everywhere, thanks to birthday parties and grandparents and whatnot. We’ve probably bought about 10 of the 100 items currently being showcased on the bedroom floor. They have plenty, but they don’t get new stuff all the time; mostly only on their birthday, Christmas, and certain grandparent visits. I feel like it’s a pretty happy medium, and I’m grateful that my “village” is there to help make some of my kids’ material dreams happen.

 

So what else did I buy with my Christmas bonus money, besides these few gifts for the kids? I bought them a #$%^damn Christmas tree, for the first time, finally. Since it was the first Christmas we spent here, at our house with electricity and not in Juquila at my mother-in-law’s, I decided it was time. Well, maybe I bought it mostly because my four year old asked me relentlessly if we were going to decorate the Christmas tree yet, until finally I just had to make time to run out and buy one. Every single morning she’d ask, “Are we going to decorate the Christmas tree? Can we do it now? No? After school?” And every day I’d be like, “I still have to buy the Christmas tree. We can only decorate it on the weekend.” (Because we literally have about 10 minutes of time where all four of us are together and awake on week days.) So finally I made time to go select our permanent plastic tree.  A fake one, mind you, because there are not a lot of real pine trees around here, and they don’t cut them down and sell them for Christmas.

 

After I bought it, I still had to listen to a couple more days of whining about decorating it now, today, right now. “We can do it with Papi while you’re at work,” she reassured me on Friday morning, trying to convince me it didn’t require the whole family. (“I don’t think so, my darling. I want to do it with you.” I countered.)  “We don’t need to wait for Papi,” she insisted on Saturday morning, and I insisted that we could indeed wait a few more hours.

 

Once it was a reality, Lucia told me about 20 times that day some version of, “I’m so happy we decorated the Christmas tree!” Thankfully, Conan weighed down one side of our tree with a concrete block, which made it last several days longer than the 16 hours that I estimated before the nearly-two year-old destroyed it or got destroyed by it. It has zero breakable ornaments on it, so I’m also winning there. (Perhaps it’s a blessing that I can’t find the Xmas decorations I bought the first year we were in Mexico?)

 

What else did I lavishly purchase, you ask? I got all the ingredients to make Christmas cookies, including sprinkles and glittery edible stuff and store-bought icing, because, sorry, Martha Stewart, some of your recipes are too damned hard. It took me (us?) about 4 days to make cookies this year, mostly because the little one is neither little enough for lots of nap time nor big enough to actually help. Mostly he wreaked his usual havoc upon the process, until I got smart and gave him and Lucia their own bowl of flour and measuring spoons and such to work with on their own, AWAY from the big-girl cookies. Even then, I only made two dozen cookies before I officially declared that they had done a great job, and we are finished now. I refrigerated the rest of the dough. I ended up making cookies late at night and early in the morning in the days that followed so that we’d have enough to give everyone. I let Lucia decorate enough for everyone to get one decorated one. That was all I could handle, since each cookie took about 7 minutes to decorate, all the while fighting off Khalil who immediately devoured the cookies I gave him to decorate. He is right at the perfect age of being big enough to understand that he is not supposed to eat the cookies (he’d point to his mouth and shake his head no) but unable to actually resist the impulse, shoveling the cookie into his mouth immediately after telling himself not to.

 

More than anything, it was important to me to make cookies so that the kids get excited about giving gifts almost as much as receiving. I don’t think they are capable of appreciating the giving quite as much as us adults can be, but at least if they get in the habit and have a good time doing it, it’s a start. “I’m going to give them the bag of cookies and they’re going to hug me and say, ‘Gracias,’” Lucia told me, smiling and giddy after we sorted them. It’s a start.

 

So what else, you ask, did I purchase on my rampage? I got gifts for the parents who have covered our butts by fearlessly, selflessly driven Lucia to school this whole school year so far. I donated to the White Helmets in Syria (Dear universe, it’s the least I could do). I determined what gift I plan to give when my buddy in the copy room has his (and his wife’s) twins in spring. I chipped in on the massage gifts for Lucia’s teachers (thanks, other parents, for organizing that business). I’ve spent almost all of my Xmas money on local vendors, carefully avoiding our two or three big-time department stores (yep, only a few in existence here).

 

I’m feeling pretty damned satisfied about my overall Christmas experience- perhaps for the first time in my adult life. Besides being excited about gift-giving, I was also feeling extra good this Christmas for various other reasons. For one, I made awesome lists and got a large portion of my shopping done in one day, even with Khalil strapped to me (high-five to myself!). Some other random good stuff happened, but mostly the thing is that this year I was pretty much thrilled with everything. I adopted the attitude of my children that everything is fabulous.

 

In part, it’s that I’m for-real in my 30s and I don’t have to wait around for someone else to give me permission to do something, or to join me in my joy. I know what my mission is and I will figure out how to accomplish it, mostly on my own, and still enjoy the hell out of it, thank you. So, for example, when the four year old won’t shut up about decorating a Christmas tree, but you don’t even have a tree to decorate? Go out and buy one on your lunch break. (Or do like we did last year and get a tree stub with various branches to decorate. It totally works.) Plastic trees even fit on the bus. Your coparent doesn’t like shopping? Great. Make your list and go. When there’s no one to ask, you can make yourself be more decisive in your purchases without anyone being upset about it. No one around who’s a brilliant gift-chooser and you don’t want to be disappointed? Buy it for yourself and wrap it. Or at least snap a photo of what you want and send it to someone who might buy you a gift. You are kind of a grinch but kind of a jolly old person? Figure out what traditions reflect your values and hopes, what things bring meaning and joy to your family’s life, and make a valiant effort to follow through with those. Throw the rest out the window. Don’t kill yourself doing even the things that you think are worthwhile. This year, just making cookies was so hectic that the craft-making/gifting I planned with Lucia was over the top. Maybe another time. All of this is my teensy-tiny tidbit of self-wisdom as I near my 33rd birthday. It was so helpful for me. (Who in the world really wants to go back in time? Ugh.)

 

Despite some of my concerns, I decided to do the whole Santa Claus thing with the kids, for now, while it can still be somewhat vague magic. Once Lucia starts asking intense questions (beyond the current, “What’s a chimney?”), I’m gonna have to give her a more-real explanation. But I’m already thinking about how to phrase it all, because we are not giving up on magic. Magic there will be- every Christmas and all kinds of days in between. Because sometimes, or maybe usually, when you’re a grown-up, you have to make it for yourself. You have to make it for other people, too. That is the magic. Sharing the joy. Sharing the power of our love. So better “late” than never, happy holidays and Happy, Happy Magic-making and Joy-sharing, from my Mexerican family to yours!

Reversing Course: Appreciation of Things I Used to Loathe

30 Dec

Now that I am almost completely acclimated and comfortable here in Puerto Escondido, I’m ready to start thinking about leaving. Go ahead and shake your head; it might be a little crazy. Apparently I equate comfort with stagnation, or so it would seem based on the course of my life thus far.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking lots about why I love it here now, and the multitude of things and people that I’ll miss when I move back to the states. I’ve been reflecting on all the things that I disliked when I first arrived in small-town Oaxaca that now make me feel kinda warm and fuzzy.* Here are a few of the things I’ve adapted to appreciate.

Anti-Safety:

I don’t love the lack of safety, per-se. I do think that it’s nice to not need lids that caution you about hot coffee being hot. I appreciate that kids can be trusted to differentiate the chocolate in a chocolate egg from the plastic toy inside that is too big to choke on anyway. I love that nobody’s actions are based around whether or not they might get sued. It certainly makes a cliff more thrilling when there is no railing to prevent you or the cars from falling off the giant cliff into the abyss. I like the tremor of excitement from the occasional motorcycle ride, the breeze in my hair when I’m riding in the back of a pick-up truck. I’ll miss seeing folks holding on to a bar, riding the back bumper of a truck. Furthermore, I think that the safety measures in place in the US aren’t typically there to protect vulnerable people, and they don’t protect everyone equally. For example, they don’t want kids to have those chocolate eggs with toys in them, but they expect refugee kids to defend themselves in court (but that’s part of a whole ‘nuther rant, I guess).

While sometimes I think the lack of safety measures here is the opposite extreme, I’m no longer shocked by it. I might have gotten nervous watching the one year old I saw the other day, standing up and bouncing up and down on the moving motorcycle with his parents, no helmet for anyone. But I didn’t freak out at anyone. The electrical socket that my kid tried to stick his fingers in among the baby books in the library this year was a bit unreasonable, in my opinion, but I distracted my kid and kept my mouth shut. I still can’t quite appreciate the irony of not having soap in the bathroom of a hospital or clinic. But mostly I am able to laugh about it all. In the van to Juquila this trip, I was marveling at the seat belt situation. Even after years of being here, even though I’m not shocked- it’s still a little baffling. They took such pains to make sure that nobody ever uses the seat belts- folding them up neatly and putting plastic cuffs around them, just to be on the safe side (hahaha).

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Seatbelts? What are those things for?

I certainly appreciate this forcing me to go with the flow more, to just breathe my prayer into the wind and keep going, something I might never have learned to do raising kids in the US.

(Isn’t culture funny, though? This culture is not big on some kinds of safety, but people do vaccinate their kids, almost religiously- partially because it’s free. Women will totally wait in line for 3 hours, a few days postpartum, to diligently vaccinate their baby. It’s pretty impressive what public health campaigns could do if they put the resources into it. Imagine what things would look like if they gave out helmets for kids!)

Anti-Technological-Dependence:
When we first moved to Juquila, in 2012, that first month we ran out of everything. We spent a couple days with no water for washing (or flushing, etc. Yeah. Think about all the implications of no water). The electricity went out for a day and a half. We ran out of drinking water and the truck with the big jugs just wasn’t coming. Sometimes the cell phone wires were so saturated that you could’t make a phone call. The internet went down in the whole town for a week. I couldn’t imagine how all this lack of services and technology was possible. How can people live like this? I didn’t even realize then that that would be my “easy” life, compared to living in Puerto without electricity.

More than anything, living on little-to-no technology for all this time has reframed my ideas about necessity. We’ve now spent a year and a half in our house with electricity- the same amount of time we spent without it. I still feel grateful every morning that I plug in the coffee maker, every night that a fan blows on us, every time Khalil goes to flip the switch all by himself- a baby who can take electricity for granted. We’ve made so much progress, and I don’t really want to live without any of it. But I know that I can. Doing without has trained me to ask a lot of questions about what’s important in life.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Google. I love my National Public Radio news. I love the Hurricane preparedness website. I love exchanging morning emails with my mom while I’m at work. I dream of all the music I would have Youtube access to with home internet. Khalil and I just did a video call with my mom while visiting in Juquila, and it was so fun! It made me think that the whole feel of my life might be different with at-home internet. Publishing a blog every week would be less of a monumental challenge, among other things. I could read all of the interesting articles that my friends post on Facebook. I could convert celsius to fahrenheit when my kid has a fever without having to call my mom.

It would be helpful to have internet. But really, I don’t need to read all of the articles on Facebook. Even the fact that this year I got a cell phone with Facebook access was another good news/bad news scenario. It’s nice to be able to “keep in touch” like that, but some days it just makes me feel more alone and isolated. I can’t actually get together with most of the people I’m friends with- even the ones who live here, thanks to stressful schedules and whatnot. Thus, I also have my doubts about the true benefits of at-home internet, as much as I pine for it sometimes.

All in all, I’m still a technological dinosaur, a bit by choice and a bit by force. But I hope I keep myself in check despite having a smartphone. I hope I never read all the articles my friends post on Facebook, even though someday I will have home internet. I hope I keep asking myself what is really necessary and what is most important with the time and resources that I have.

Anti-Fashion:

If you know me, you know that I have loved thrift stores and other discount styles forever. Y’all know that I’m staunchly against the wastefulness, expense, and tedium of following fashion rules invented by anyone but yourself. That said, I’ve always had my own version of fashion rules. Like, if you wear some color, wear plenty of black, too. No flower prints. Those sort of rules I made for myself. I didn’t apply them to anyone else, and yet other sorts of rules had seeped into me from living in the states. So I was a bit taken aback by what, in my former life, would be labeled tackiness. When I saw a group of folks in matching spray-painted Jesus shirts, for example, I raised my eyebrows. Or when people wore a polka dot shirt with striped pants. What?!

Living in the land of fashion anarchy has slowly changed my patterns and liberated me from fashion judgment I wasn’t even particularly conscious of before. Granted, you will never convince this boot-obsessed, Tank-Girl type to run around in flip flops all the time like so many folks around here. I still have my own brand of fashion. But I sure have changed my ideas of appropriate attire. I love that there is complete and utter apathy and lack of consensus about what combinations are okay. Anything goes! Sweat pants and flip flops- cool. Prom-type dresses- whenever the mood strikes. A suit with sandals- absolutely correct. Yoga pants for class- very hip. There are no rules! I love this anti-fashion!

The other day I found myself wearing blue shorts, a purple shirt with different colored polka dots, a red hairband, and pink shoes with orange laces. I glanced in the mirror before I walked out the door and decided that it totally worked, and walked out laughing at myself for ever having thought that I shouldn’t look like a rainbow all the time. I have branched out from mini-skirts to include shorts, especially cut-offs, in my out-on-the-town attire. For work, I have many different pants, including various capri-type things. I often wear jeans, a tank top, and tennis shoes to work, thrilled that this is my professional professor get-up. Only in paradise! (Somehow this is okay, women in cocktail dresses or with raging cleavage is fine, but they draw the line at male professors wearing shorts of any kind. Men showing their legs is offensive and unprofessionally. I will never understand.)

I am not looking forward to having to wear more professional clothing in the future. Also, I have really had to face the fact that using what you wear as a form of self-expression is a privilege that many, many people don’t have. It’s important food for thought.

Anti-Following-the-Guidelines and Comparing-Children:

The first time we tried to take Lucia to a doctor for a check-up, the doctor kept asking, “But what’s wrong with her? Why do you want me to see her?” There are no check-ups here. There are no guidelines about childhood development. It was very disappointing, at first. And I worried about one of Lucia’s cousins, who still wasn’t really talking at age three, when Lucia was already talking in whole paragraphs at age two. Nobody else was worried, though. Instead they proclaim, “Oh, so-and-so still couldn’t pronounce half his words correctly at 6 years old.” Big old shrug. But have they gotten him checked out for problems? Nope. He’ll be fine.

I am sure that sometimes kids do have actual health or developmental problems and it would be beneficial to be checked out by a doctor, and to have routine wellness check-ups. For example, we discovered that Khalil was anemic even though he didn’t seem to have any health problems- thanks to check-ups with our fabulous pediatrician. However, I love that there is zero competition for your kid being “advanced” in their development. There is no judgment if your kid doesn’t fall in the standard guidelines on walking/talking/getting teeth/etc. Moms may compare notes and say, “My kid only has four teeth and yours has 10 already!” But they aren’t implying that your kid is better because they have ten. If your kid already talks at a year, they might even be impressed for a split second, but nobody thinks it’s weird or wrong or bad that some other kid isn’t really talking at three. If your kid’s not walking well at a year and a half, people are like, “oh, she doesn’t want to walk yet.” And that’s it- on to the next topic.

A happy medium would be nicer, where people in small town Mexico have more access to routine check-ups and help if something actually is going wrong in the child’s development. Meanwhile, the US needs to chill out quite a bit on fitting everyone into the same developmental boxes. And parents in the US need to take a good hard look at how not to judge and compete about things that aren’t even reasonable competitions!

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my fearless little busy bee/social butterfly who’s not ready to talk at almost two

Anti-Convenience:

When we moved here, the fact that it could take days to complete a simple errand was heavily disheartening on a daily basis. The slow-lane lifestyle, of every day being completely filled just with carrying out the basic necessities of life was maddening and gut-wrenching. But I’ve adapted and learned how to make this pace more convenient now. Sure, it would still be nice to find decent frozen veggies or canned garbanzo beans that didn’t cost a day’s wage, but now I freeze my own everything for later convenience; I work with the pace of life in many ways. And there is convenience food here. I love that the only kind of “fast food” is the stuff women make at home and sling in the streets- delicious stuff like tamales, healthy stuff like cut-up fruit, and worth-the-calories treats like homemade donuts.

Also, I love the other type of conveniences that are here, especially the way that so much stuff comes right to your door. Our drinking water jugs, propane gas tanks, and sometimes even freshly made tortillas, all get delivered. People pass by selling ice cream in their little push cart, or buying your used aluminum in their beat-up truck. Women carry giant baskets of fresh bread on their heads, or someone drives around a motorcycle with fish fresh from the sea. It takes a lot of adapting, and at the end of the day it’s still not easy- but it isn’t easy anywhere, I don’t think.

This year was extra challenging because we’d gotten accustomed to having a car that worked most of the time. Then it became a car that only worked sometimes. And right after we started sending Lucia to school on the complete other side of town, our car went to transportation heaven.

Not having a car presented so many new challenges. Thanks to the good will of other parents, we were able to work out sending Lucia to school. Even then it wasn’t easy, although now I’ve learned to love my long walks with Khalil to go get the big sister. When it rained, I took my rainboots and my umbrella to work and got through it. When the clocks went back and it got dark before I left work, I faced my fears and biked home in the dark- a rock in hand for the over-aggressive dogs, flashlight in the other hand for that section with no lights- but I did it. I got sort of used to it. (I don’t think I’ll ever get used to people letting mean dogs wander the streets. It just doesn’t make sense to me. But whatever.) I learned how to tell taxi drivers, “That’s not what the price is” when they tried to charge me too much.

It’s another kind of adventure, the inconvenience of not having a car, and another opportunity for lots of thinking. You can think about how much harder other people have it, like the women and girls who walk miles for a bucket of water. You can actually notice flowers and cactus shapes and lizards and birds and the colors in the sky. You can count dump trucks (okay, this is probably only exciting if you’re with small children). You can appreciate the sunlight on your face. You can observe other people in the street- because lots of people are out walking, not just you. (Something so lacking in so many spots in the US) Riding a bus is a great chance to read- to yourself or to your kids. You can play games and really talk in a way that’s much harder when you’re driving. It’s an obligatory slowing-down of life, in some ways, although in other ways it makes you more stressed-out, because something simple like an errand or picking up a kid from school takes double the time. But it has been a good constant reminder for me that so many of life’s circumstances we don’t get to choose, but that we can choose how we react to them. It’s such a cliche on one hand, but it gets said all the time because it’s so valid, too. So I wouldn’t say I totally love all the inconveniences, especially not having a car, but I definitely appreciate it for what it is.

*(Nope, I still don’t love Juquila, though. That town seeps depression into my bone marrow upon arrival and it stays in my core until I’m safely back to the humidity of the coast. You just can’t love everything in life.)

Looking at the Road Ahead/Holding that Thought about Appreciation in the Midst of Adversity

We’re not planning a move back to the states because I dislike Mexico or the life we’ve made here. In fact, I like my life here now more than ever before. I have so many moments of joy and gratitude every day that I wake up in my imperfect “paradise.”

Partly, I know, though, that my joy and gratitude about my life here are because of my weight-lifting exercises in appreciation of life. My biggest “resolution” is to carry all this with me when I go back to the states. It won’t be too hard; I am a very different person than I was when I came here four and a half years ago. My gratitude/joy/appreciation muscles are much, much bigger than my anxiety and stress muscles these days. I still have anxiety. I still get overwhelmed in stress. I still need to complain some of the time. But I’m so much better at letting it go. And I’ll need that for the culture shock and adaptation that lies ahead.

Also planned for the coming year:

Goal #1- Read and write more in Spanish! I know it seems ridiculous, but my Spanish skills diminish every year that I’m here, thanks to being an English teacher and speaking to my children in English. My conversational Spanish is still decent, but my vocabulary is shrinking from not reading and writing in español. I’ve got to remedy that.

Goal #2- Find time for poetry! I managed to give myself an hour of free-writing time the other day, thanks to vacation. I played with words with no intention to publish them or keep the same train of thought. I let my creativity soar out and oh! I hadn’t even realized how sorely that was lacking in my life. I don’t know where or how I’m going to make time for more creative writing, but somehow I have to. Art and expression should not be luxuries; they are life.

What are your plans for the coming year? What are your big lessons you want to take with you from this year? What’s something you used to dislike that you’ve learned to appreciate?

 

A Gratitude Interlude

8 Nov

Lately I’ve pretty much been one giant ball of stress, chaos, and anxiety, so…. We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important announcement:

These things only happen to the living. (like my Nonna always said)

I write at least three things to be grateful for every morning as I drink my coffee. It’s a good way to start my day, and over time it’s augmented the fabulousness in my life tenfold. But sometimes the morning gratitudes are just not enough. I need a bit more focus on the gratitude. A bit less wallowing in my problems, pulling my hair out trying to find solutions that don’t exist. So here goes.

First off, our car is permanently dead-to-us (RIP Poderoso), despite all our valiant efforts. So I’m incredibly, madly grateful to the parents with functioning cars who are schlepping Lucia to school and back with their kids. (Thank you, thank you, thank you; it is the difference between our kid going to school or not.) I’m grateful that public transportation exists to get Lucia to the car pool pick-up spot so she can get a ride. I’m grateful that Lucia gets to go to a school that she is thrilled about every day of the week, and that it’s a school that’s also totally in-line with our parenting values (more on that to come). Even though sometimes I feel bad about needing help, I know that we would do the same for someone else, and that makes me feel better about it.

I’m grateful that Conan has a paying job outside of the house! It means more work and more stress for both of us, but the economic stress is already greatly lessoned. “Conan,” I said, “we’re halfway through my pay period and I haven’t had a panic attack about money! This is serious progress!!”

I’m insanely, intensely grateful that we’ve turned in the first step of our paperwork for immigration. That people threw a benefit karaoke potluck for us, and more folks keep donating, keep sending us their wishes and energy and hope and love. Can’t even tell you how awesome it is.

I’m majorly grateful that Arturo is lending us his truck for Conan to get to work and back. I’m grateful that there were no accidents in the week that Conan spent driving it with nearly non-existant brakes until we had enough money for repairs. I’m grateful that the bald tires are holding out so far (keep your fingers crossed for us- it’s next on the list).

I’m grateful for the obligatory quality time I have with Khalil every day that we go to pick up Lucia from the carpool drop-off spot. I used to spend a good portion of my lunch break getting lunch ready, but now Khalil and I go for a walk to catch a bus or a colectivo (shared taxi) and we have a big adventure to pick up the big sister. The whole ride there, he shouts about every big vehicle that he sees, which is approximately every three seconds. “Yes, dump truck,” I agree. “Yes, another big semi.” He barely says words- except more, his first and most important word- but he make a vroom vroom noise, and a buuuuhhhh deep rumbling in his throat noise that means ‘big.’ This child is determined to communicate. We continue our fun if Lucia’s not at the spot yet, playing with sticks or leaves, or throwing rocks or reading a book. It’s truly a pleasant time that I used to not have on a daily basis.

I’m grateful that at least the three of us still get to eat lunch together, and that I have a crock pot! It has rescued me in a big big way. Otherwise we might be eating tuna sandwiches every other day.

I’m grateful that we’re not totally destitute. I’m grateful that we have nutritious food to eat and a safe and sturdy shelter. A man was working on a neighbor’s yard the other day, “cutting the grass” like they do here- by hand, with a machete, slowly wacking away, in the sweltering heat and humidity, for two days, at the tall weeds that had overtaken the landscape. While we talked, he inquired about the casita– the “little house” on our property. “This building?” I asked him, pointing again at our shed. Yep, he meant the shed- the tiny tin shack where Conan slept while the house was being built. He wanted to live there for a while with his family. “Got my perspective back in check,” I told my mom, “when I realized that we are ‘rich’ enough to have a garage that could be someone’s house.”

I’m grateful that we have a home- not just a shelter, but a refuge. It’s an appealing, spacious-enough-for-four, comfortable, comforting place that’s all our own. Even though it’s unfinished and might never be finished, even though we still don’t have doors separating rooms, even though half the time it’s a hurricane-style disaster of toys and clothes strewn about and dishes left undone, it’s ours and I love it.

I’m grateful for this past weekend’s few calm minutes to sit by the back door and look out at the world with my littler firecracker. For smoothies made of strawberries and Oaxacan chocolate, and a surprise afternoon storm.

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Khalil’s favorite spot- looking out the door… Normally he likes to sit in this little chair, but when I sat on the floor with him, he decided to sit on the floor, too.

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Cheers! To chocolate and children.

I’m grateful that thus far my rambunctious, determined, fiercely excited littler one hasn’t injured himself in any dire way yet (I’m pretty sure it’s going to be inevitable with this one). That so far we’ve managed to keep him from ingesting bleachy cleaning water; he only dumped a little bit on top of himself that one time. That the soapy dirty bath water he drinks on the sly sometimes doesn’t seem to do much damage (and let me remind you, tap water here is not drinking water to begin with). That just yesterday he only drank about 1ml of Lucia’s steroid dose that he grabbed off the table in the .2 seconds that I turned my back; glad it was not the whole thing (especially since it was right after he’d had his full dose). That despite several falls (off the bed, against the concrete wall from throwing himself in playful abandon, etc.) he seems to have avoided concussions so far. That he has so many moments of random tenderness and hugging and loving and smiling to make up for wrecking the entire house every 15 minutes of every single day.

I’m grateful that my wild thing older one has such a strong, unstoppable imagination. That she can play by herself and create an entire complex little world for sometimes hours at a time. I love that she’s never seen a whole princess movie and yet she proclaims herself an expert in princesses. I love the rules she makes up about them. “Princesses are always nice, right?” she says. Or she refuses to brush her hair because apparently that’s princess-style. Even though I thought I was anti-princess, I love the conversations we have thanks to this princess obsession. She puts on one of her fancy dresses and says how pretty she is, and we talk about how everyone’s pretty in different ways, for example. She told me the other day, “Mommy, you’re the prettiest, because your hair do like this,” and she fluffed out my hair and made little wispys like it does. “Your hair is the funnest,” she said, and my heart totally melted. Every other day, between bouts of screaming at her brother and throwing tantrums, she says fun and interesting and tender stuff that makes me glad to keep her. More love in my heart than I thought I could stand- thank you, universe, for this.

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Lucia’s make-believe time: always an elaborate affair

 

I’m so grateful that we’ve been able to buy a nebulizer to treat our kids’ asthma. That Khalil doesn’t mind wearing a mask over his face because we read so many books while we do it. That we have such a fabulous pediatrician, who’s very experienced in asthma treatments, and who doesn’t even get pissed at me for calling in the middle of the night in a panic. (Read more about how great she is here.) That both of our kids are now going to be on daily asthma preventative medication (WHAT did people do before all these treatments existed?). We just had a crazy week with the both of them with asthma attacks- even though Lucia already takes preventative medication, and it’s been so stressful and anxiety-inducing. But I’m so grateful that they’re okay, and they’re going to be okay.

I’m grateful that my kids are awesome, healthy eaters. It kind of makes up for them being such crappy sleepers. When Lucia practically begged me to share my broccoli snack the other day, and then Khalil ate a bunch later on, I laughed maniacally to myself, thinking, “Yes, I accept this sure-to-be-temporary victory!”

I’m grateful for about a kajillion other things, but this has been enough to stem the tide of chaos and woe for a bit. I’ll leave it at that and give you time to think about your own “gratitudes.” Thanks, universe, and thanks, friends. I’m happy to be here with you.

A Deluge of Generosity

20 Sep

Last Monday, my hands were shaking as I prepared to publish my weekly blog post. They trembled like the first few times I tried out my college Spanish on actual Spanish speakers. My heartbeat fluttered erratically like it does when I’ve gotten on a bus in a foreign country- sure I’m not doing it quite right and doubting I’ll end up where I was planning to go, but determined to go anyway.

I was scared because I knew this was important, and I wanted to get it right. I sensed that later I would recognize it as one of those moments that would separate major eras in my life. The same way there’s a before and after I got pregnant with Lucia, for example. There will be a “before” and “after” we announced our intentions to move back to the states. I knew this was monumental.

I was also nervous as hell because of fear and anxiety. I worried that our family and friends in Puerto would feel like we don’t care about them. I worried that people would say shame on me for wanting to leave after I’d spent four years building a life here. They’d say I was giving up on Oaxaca, or that I haven’t tried hard enough, that doing my best isn’t good enough. I was also feeling really guilty about asking people for financial help, because I know there are so many great causes and people who need funds as much as or more than we do. Because publicly stating that you need help, in our culture, is often mixed with all kinds of ugly, deep-rooted ideas about human worth and value- things I don’t believe, but they’re there, threatening me anyway.

With a lot of encouragement from some key folks, though, I hit “publish” on my blog. I posted to Facebook. Holly posted the GoFundMe campaign to Facebook. And there was no going back, no matter what people might think about my worth.

The fundraising campaign netted over $400 in the first hour after publishing- enough to retain our lawyer. Within 24 hours, the fund- you guys- raised enough for the whole first step in our immigration process- lawyer fee and immigration fee. Woo hoo! We’re already starting the process! We have a contract in hand and hope to have our first file sent in to US Immigration by early October. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone for that, first of all.

More importantly, though, I was astounded by the seemingly limitless support. In addition to all the folks who were able to donate, people sent so much love and encouragement our way. People talked about being happy and excited to have us come back. People said our family deserves support. (Oh how marvelous it is to be called worthy, right? We are all worthy. An important note.) Folks assured us that we will make this happen! Some people shared details of their own migration process, and expressed their solidarity. People reminded us of something good we’d done for someone else at some point, which was a really helpful reminder that receiving help is part of the same beautiful cycle that is giving help. Folks called us out as part of their family- “Conan, my brother!” or “One of my favorite people, Julia”. One of my two favorite sociology profs from college publicly called me “an awesome sociologist.”

People shared my blog post like nobody’s business- and complimented my writing. My mouth was hanging open as I looked at stats from hundreds of readers, including folks in like 10 different countries, reading my blog. People I don’t even know shared my blog, and called me names like “amazing writer.” I didn’t even really believe that people who don’t know me actually read my blog, before this. I got all teary eyed thinking how proud my Nonna, the great storyteller, would be, when a friend publicly invited people to read some of my “incredible storytelling.”

I was Floored. Shocked. Almost speechless. Overwhelmed with gratitude. My cup was all runneth-over-style with love and joy. I almost woke up the kids that first night, running/dancing around the house, trying to “whisper-scream” to Conan, something that sounded like : “So!Many!People!F*#/ing!Love!Us!We!Are!So!F*/#ing!Lucky!”

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Imagine: Me, shouting for joy “really quietly” just like this little girl.

I am not very good at shouting in a soft and quiet voice, for the record. Not shouting was out of the question, however, because I was jubilant, EXPLODING with cheer. Gratitude and glee were radiating out of my pores.

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This was me, all last week.

It turned the tides for me in terms of my feelings about this process, too. If you read Ending our Exile you can probably feel the angst and anxiety broadcasting from my very words. I was already giving myself panic attacks before we’d even begun. I debated with myself about cancelling everything and living in Mexico forever, because it just felt like too much struggle for something that is no guarantee.

After we shared our dreams with all you lovely people, though, after we asked for help, you guys produced such a storm of support that  y’all lifted some of the burden from  our shoulders. Now my attitude and energy are more like: “Of course we can do this! Look at everyone who has our back! This has to happen. That’s all there is to it. Take that, bureaucracy! We got a whole lotta love!”

My community-induced endorphins were so intense that when I woke up to cat poop on the kids’ toys the next morning, I took it in stride. I washed Khalil’s diapers with a smile on my face all week. Lucia threw her typical irrational dictator tantrum about seating arrangements in the kitchen and I didn’t even groan. I was on a love high like I haven’t been on since Conan and I first got together.

I admit, I faltered a bit in my joy-fest when the baby had his first serious asthma attack towards the end of the week. I might have cursed our car as more punishment than transportation when it broke down AGAIN yesterday. And okay, I reverted back to the crying-in-my-office thing when faced with more evidence of state-sanctioned genocide happening in my country- wondering how many more Black lives are going to be lost before it’s enough evidence to change the system, feeling an enormous dread as I worry about my loved ones who are not only living with discrimination (as if that were a small thing) but also knowing that they and their beautiful, precious children are likely to be killed just for existing. In my country. The one I’m dying to go back to.

And yet I am dying to go back. For those very friends I’m worrying about, and loving and missing from afar. For all of you folks who are worrying about me and Conan, and sending so much love from afar. Because I have support. Because I give support. Generosity is a cycle. We have to continue to support and love on each other- not even just to make positive change, but also just because that’s what makes life really worth living.

And now I’m hungry for more; I want to do more! Your all’s gifts have made me more determined than ever to be exactly where I am and trust that it’s right. Even if it seems we’re always short on time and money, I can still find more ways to give. I can give a few pesos to that guy by the market with his drum and his eery voice. I can give more understanding to my students when they can’t get it together to study. I can keep trying to make my classes a rich and welcoming learning environment for all my students. I can bake an extra loaf of corn bread every time I bake, to have some extra for sharing. (Because maybe my dad was right about food being love.) I can be nice, amable, because it doesn’t cost a thing and it makes such a big difference sometimes. I’ll keep my eyes and heart open for more and more opportunities to do right by the world. Every day I can learn more, I can work more towards being the person that I dream of being- a person overflowing with love and generosity.

So the euphoric effects of everyone’s well-wishes, encouragement and assistance haven’t disappeared just because I’m not explosively elated 24/7. I’ve incorporated your energy into my being. Life is hard and unfair, true. There is so much suffering happening all the time. So much hardship in any given day. Days like today, when the negative seems overwhelming, I am somber but more sure than ever about my place in the world. I am more sure than ever of the world’s beauty, too. That I’ll get through this. That we’ll get through this- all of this hard and wonderful and important stuff- together.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am eternally grateful.

Love,

Julia

As an extra note, I want to share with you my reminder to myself, that I’ve posted in my office to keep me from crying excessively (or at least too loudly) when I read the news:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” – from the Talmud