Tag Archives: multicultural children

Disability, Different-ability, Difference, and Determination, Oh My!

14 Aug

Despite everyone’s reassurances to the contrary, I’d had my suspicions that something was “wrong” with my kid for a few months by the time I was able to get him properly evaluated. Nobody likes to think that their kid is different in a way that’s going to make their child’s life more difficult or hurt them, in the present and/or the future, so your self-denial can work against you. Sometimes other folks even spend lots of energy to convince you that your kid is “normal,” either because they don’t want you to feel bad, or they don’t believe someone could have a problem that they can’t see themselves, or because people just love comparisons as much as they love giving advice. “Well, look at Tomas’s son! He can barely talk and he’s four.” Which is less than ideal, thanks. “My grandmother gave him parrot crumbs, and after that he started talking.” Ummm, I guess I could try that? Not holding my breath for results, though.

My two year old had been able to understand everything for quite a while, and had started talking, but he wasn’t really making progress. He was adding a new word maybe every couple of weeks or every month instead of every day. He wasn’t even putting two words together. All of that is potentially fine. And in Mexico, especially, nobody worries about kids who are slow to talk; it’s practically the norm. “Boys are slower,” people said, or, “Bilingual kids take longer to talk.” Even I sometimes thought, “It’s because he doesn’t need to talk yet; he makes his needs understood just fine with his few words, gesticulations and sounds.” I would try to motivate him to talk, but he absolutely wouldn’t even try to say anything that wasn’t something he could already say. He would suddenly pop up with a new word or new animal noise, and then that would be all his verbal progress for an extended amount of time. The whole, “He’ll talk when he’s ready” theory had started to not make sense to me, because I could see that he wanted to talk. He would try to tell big, complex stories about something that happened, using only sounds and motions. He was starting to get really frustrated with not being able to express himself enough, despite the great lengths he’d go to in order to get his point across. So I worried a bit and then set my worry aside, because there was nothing I could do about in in my small town in Oaxaca.  (I wrote this in January of this year about him, still trying not to worry about his speech: Bilingual Baby Speak, Take Two)

Less than a week after arriving to the US, though, I consulted the blessed (easy to access) internet and found a place for him to get his hearing checked for free. The screening was every Thursday and I found the info on a Wednesday; it couldn’t have been more convenient. The internet also informed me that the same place did speech screenings for free a different Thursday of the month. Truly, the universe has smiled upon us in this whole process. Let me tell you.

His hearing, as I suspected, was fine. That was just something to rule that out as being the cause of any potential speech problem. I asked about the speech screenings and the receptionist informed me that I needed to schedule an appointment for that. And then she actually scheduled me an appointment for twenty minutes later! I was elated. I was going to know something about Khalil’s speech in that very same day.

Needless to say, once I had access to these kinds of services, I was hoping that the speech therapist here in Savannah, Georgia, would tell me to just be patient; that maybe he just prefers animal sounds to words and he’ll grow out of it eventually. Or that I should go ahead and give him parrot crumbs and relax. That is not what the speech therapist told me, however.

“He has Apraxia of Speech,” she told me matter-of-factly, gently but to the point. I took out my pen and notebook and started scribbling, but she quickly handed me her notepad instead, and assured me she’d also give me a bunch of printed information in a moment. She explained that it’s a neurological problem where people can’t connect the word in their brain with the movements in their mouth in order to say the word. The brain has problems planning and coordinating that movement, but it’s not because of a weakness in the muscles. Some people have apraxia due to a severe accident, but in most cases the cause is not known. Most importantly, it is not something that kids just grow out of on their own. It requires frequent, one-on-one speech therapy specifically designed for apraxia.

“But it’s treatable?” I wanted to confirm. “Yes. It’s very treatable. But don’t Google it. I’ve even seen college professors say, ‘There’s nothing we can do for these kids,’ and that’s absolutely not true. I know because I’ve worked with these cases for years, and they do progress. It’s amazing, but they do.This is actually my passion. I am always careful not to over diagnose apraxia, because it is my specialty.”

So of course after the formal evaluation the next day, in which he was diagnosed with severe apraxia of speech, I questioned how sure she was about her diagnosis. “Well,” she started, “I’m very sure, since we can pretty much rule out everything else.” He’s not autistic. There are no other cognitive problems. There’s no muscle weakness, since he’s eating fine. It’s not a lack of wanting to speak. She listed off some other things that most certainly don’t fit the bill for my kid. OK. Convinced. And regardless, I figured, having a special type of speech therapy is surely not going to hurt him. If it doesn’t help then we can reevaluate.

She also recommended that we start signing with him, and she gave me a giant laminated foldout with a bunch of basic American Sign Language (ASL) signs for kids. I’d already learned a few signs before this and thought about learning more before the diagnosis, so her recommendation seemed like another positive.

The best part, though, was that she told me that it could be treated right there, by her, a specialist and passionate teacher. She was taken aback when I told her we’d only be in town a month, but said that at least we could try to do twice a week for that month. Not only was she accommodating and positive, but also the administrative staff was FABULOUS to us. They figured out a way to get around needing an official referral from a US doctor, and then they made sure that we received a major scholarship for his treatment and formal evaluation. Everyone in that building has been so welcoming and helpful to us from the moment that we walked in the door. I feel like the universe put us in exactly the right place at the right time to do what needs to be done for my family.

We headed up to my hometown for a two week visit after that, even though that meant delaying the start of my son’s speech therapy. It was a trip that had been long planned, and something I really needed to recharge my spirit’s batteries. So I got started learning ASL with the kids, and we all started having a good time with that. ASL is a fascinating and very intuitive language. The coolest part was realizing that two of my son’s self-invented signs were actually the official ASL signs for that word. (His sign for little and his sign for eat, in case you’re wondering).

Not only did he like being able to express more things with ASL, he also started trying to produce more words verbally. It was a really cool and unexpected (to me) effect. When he signs “help,” for example, he says something that sounds like “houp”; not very clear to others, but at least he’s trying to produce words beyond his small verbal vocabulary. Signing also helped me worry less and treat him more like I do my other kid; armed with ASL, he, too, has to “say” please and thank you. He has to show me his “yes” rather than say “ha.” He can tell me what color cup he wants without me having to show him every single one in the cupboard. And as much as he feels he can, he tries to say the word, too- like his second favorite color, “boo.”

How do I know it’s his second favorite color if he can barely talk and barely sign, you may wonder? For one, apraxia doesn’t necessarily mean you have any other cognitive problems, although that happens in some cases. It also doesn’t mean you have fewer words than other kids; his receptive language is impressive, and he has the word in his head, he just can’t make his mouth do what it needs to do to pronounce it. On top of that all, my kid just loves to communicate. With the color situation, I knew he recognized all the colors since a while back, even though he couldn’t say them. He knew everyone in the family’s favorite color. When he saw that color, he would say the person’s name. His favorite color is green (“mah” he says when he sees green, palm on chest). But lately he started saying “mah” and pointing to blue, too. So I asked, “Ok, which one is your favorite color?” And he said, “Two! Two!” showing me two fingers in case I was still confused. (Two is one of his newer words- before this he always said “doh” for “dos”.) He can answer any questions as long as I can make I a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, or he can show his answer or use one of his words or signs to answer. There is lots and lots of communication going on, despite his apraxia.

One of the coolest moments in the short time since this diagnosis was at the library. The librarians had found us several cool books about trucks (one of his current obsessions), and once it was time to go, I told him, “Let’s go ask how many we can check out at a time.” He said “mah, mah” and “mama no” and walked confidently up to the librarian. I held my breath, wondering how in the world he was going to ask. (We have not yet learned a sign for “how many,” and even if we had, what are the chances that the librarian would know ASL?) He walked up and stood there for a minute, I’m sure thinking the words in his head, and finally made a noise that sounded like that way your voice goes up at the end of the question. Luckily, the librarian had heard me tell him what we were going to ask, so she answered him, which made him proud and confident, as you can imagine.

At this point he’s only had 4 short sessions of speech therapy, but already he is stringing together 2 and 3 words at a time. “Moh apple juice,” he says. He wants to use his “new boo bowl,” making the sign for blue at the same time. The most interesting thing about apraxia to me is the way that sounds don’t automatically transfer when put in different combinations. Even though he can make the sound “oo” and the “t” or the “d” sound, he couldn’t put them together until now. So he could say “moo” and he could say “gato,” but he couldn’t say “two” and he can’t seem to say any other word that starts with that “g” sound. When he was a baby, he babbled the “goo” sound, but he can’t/doesn’t say it now. Funny, right? So apraxia requires lots and lots of practice with different sound combinations, in a structured way, often with visual and physical cues. I won’t try to go into any more detail on methods because I am still essentially clueless, although of course I’m investigating and observing as best as I can. If you’re interested, I recommend you check out this site in English or este sitio en español for more information.

He is adding new sound combinations on the daily now. It brings smiles of rapture to him and to me when he comes out with a new word now. Among the most important that he’s learned: dump, although he still can’t say truck. It is sure to be a whole new level of joy once he gets the word truck. And he wants to add other words to it, so now every dump truck we see on the street is a new dump. We’re practicing a specific set of nursery rhymes to focus on certain sounds, and suddenly he can say shoe. He can say home, which is huge. Tonight at bedtime he went through his list of who was at home and who wasn’t. “Papa no. Mama home. La (meaning Lucia, with the L sounding closish to a W) home. Nonna home. Hmm (makes sign for Dee) home.” He is getting closer to pronouncing this and that, although other folks probably wouldn’t understand him yet. He recognizes stop signs now in the street and if I give him the cue for the s sound or model it in an exaggerated way then he can say stop. If I don’t cue him or model it he just says top, but it’s still amazing progress. We both started jumping around in ecstasy and pride when a couple mornings ago he busted out with “shut da door.” Ok, so the r at the end isn’t very pronounced. But he went and said it to other people and they could understand what he was saying. So much learning! So much excitement, every single day!

He saw a riding lawnmower the other day and was so fascinated we had to follow it around the apartment complex for half an hour. He can say mow, so he says hmm-mow to mean lawnmower. He asks about it several times a day, pointing out the window, inquiring when it will arrive. (I just learned the sign for when, so we’re working on that.)

“If anybody was ever trying, he is,” our brilliant and wondrous speech therapist said. We call her his maestra. My son goes to his class that’s just for him, and he’s very proud about it. “Mama no,” he says, shaking his head emphatically, when I tell him we’re off to his class. “Nonna no,” “Hmm (signs for Uncle Greg) no,” “Hmm (signs for Dee) no,” “La no,” etc. “Mah,” he asserts. His class. He’s got this. I’m just following his lead- his and his teacher’s. She assures me that his brain is primed for this right now. That if we can keep this momentum going- his excitement and motivation, his brain’s elasticity- well, who knows where we’ll end up, if we just had some more time.

Hence our radical change in plans. We were supposed to be heading home to Papi and to our sweet little coast of Oaxaca at the end of this month, to our kids’ radical school, and instead we’re going back in January. Because my child will have no access to adequate services down there. I inquired and investigated and the only thing I found was a speech therapist who can only do group therapy, who’s an hour and a half away, who comes to my town every two weeks for group work, dealing with kids with a wide range of speech difficulties. There might be someone in Oaxaca City, which is seven hours away. I didn’t even inquire, because how could we pull that off?

All the research indicates that apraxia needs frequent, one-on-one, apraxia-specific therapy in order to produce the most chance of success. And the earlier these little ones start treatment, the better the long-term outcome. So here we are. Living with my very generous and helpful family, but living without my kids’ father for much longer than we planned. A father who wants to be and has been involved every day, but who can’t come here yet, because of our immigration process. How do you decide between your kids having access to their dad or one of your kids possibly being able to talk well someday? If it turns out he needs years of speech therapy (which seems likely but not definite) then what are we supposed to do after January? Leave him in Puerto for a couple years without speech therapy until our immigration case goes through? There are many more difficult decisions for our family in the coming weeks, but for now my husband and I have just made this one decision: keeping our little one in speech for as long as we can in one pass, despite all the hardship and inconvenience on all other levels. No one can know where his progress will be in January, I just know that this way we’re giving him a bit more time without completely destroying our family and the life we’ve already built in our town. Their wonderful school is holding their spots for January, and the principal (a dear friend to boot) already promised me they’d learn some signs for him, too. We have to go back for so many reasons, most of all for Papi, but we also have to make our son’s needs a priority, because he so desperately wants to talk. Staying here longer, unexpectedly, is hurting all of us in some ways, but this is what life looks like- full of difficult and complex decisions. I try to chose to feel pleased to be alive and making decisions every day. Some days it’s harder than others.

(For more about our family immigration situation, you can read The Compass at our Crossroads and Ending our Exile )


“Comparisons are odious,” my mom used to say, quoting Shakespeare, I believe. My son’s mind doesn’t work the same as my daughter’s: they are radically different in some ways. My daughter was speaking in full and complex sentences early on. She is shy and introverted and loves to live in her story-world. My son, though, is outgoing through and through. He can Skype for ages with my family, while my daughter barely wants to say hi. He has to work so hard to express himself, but because of that he forces himself, and he has different skills. He is an expert in his semi-verbal version of circumlocution. He makes connections that other people might not. Like when we were talking about somebody’s name, Johnson, and my semi-verbal kiddo said, “Papa, hahaha,” which is a line from a dumb song they listen to on Bob the Train videos. I was like, “What is he talking about?” I started my guessing game. “Something funny with Papi?” No. “Something about Papi?” No. He keeps repeating “Papa, hahaha” until finally it clicks for me: Ah, Johnson and Johnny! “Like Johnny and Johnson? They’re similar?” I ask him. “Ha,” he says in place of yes. He’s probably thinking, “My slow Mommy finally got it! When will these people learn?” Discovering the complexities of his different mind is a major parenting joy that I am grateful to have everyday.

It can be really hard to think that your kid is different in some kind of scary, lifelong, will-never-have-a-good-life kind of way, whatever that may mean for you. To me, the idea of not being able to speak your mind sounded pretty awful to me- enough to keep me up crying a couple times since the diagnosis. Knowledge is power, though, and knowing what is going on with your kid, acknowledging differences and working with that is the name of the game, for me at least. While I’ve felt some panic and some despair, more than anything I’ve felt relief at knowing what the problem is, and hope that my baby will get what he needs. I have every hope that he will indeed be one of the cases who can speak effectively and understandably most of the time, at some point. But I also am coming to terms with the idea that he might be “different” forever, and that doesn’t actually scare me at all. I have friends who are deaf, and they’re awesome. I have friends and family who need wheelchairs, and they’re awesome. Life is not ruined just by having different abilities. It can be more difficult, or difficult in ways that aren’t the same as other people’s difficulties. I am going to do my damnedest to help my kid talk, and to try to do it in circumstances that don’t destroy our family. But I also know that if he never gets completely “cured” then that’s far from the end of the world. My kid could already talk complexly with just six words; I’m pretty sure he’s unstoppable. I know that in many ways this “disability” is just that: a difference, which is its own type of gift.


My determined child with a brilliant sense of humor. What else could I ask for?

Thanks, Universe!

P.S. We are still raising money for our immigration process, which is now more necessary than before. If you’re able to and so inclined, you can donate at this site.  Thanks for reading! Hugs!



No Need for Thanksgiving, but Thanks Anyway

28 Nov

The best thing that happened this past week was seeing Khalil’s feet lift off of the ground. Y’all, this child has been trying for months to imitate his sister in jumping. He would kind of bend his knees and then straighten them back out, raising his arms and grunting in a hilarious imitation of jumping. He even made it up onto his tippy toes after a while. Still wasn’t jumping, though. But now, folks, suddenly and certainly, he jumps! His feet go up in the air! If small children can’t make you see the miracles in everyday life, if you can’t feel the magic in absurdly simple things like rocks and bubbles and successfully pooping in a potty, you are missing out.

Speaking of poop… I know, who wants to talk about poop? Four year olds, apparently, because that is the number one topic of conversation for Lucia at the moment. Poop and princesses, but mostly poop. In both languages. This is a normal conversation for us:

Me: What did you do at school today, Lucia?

Lucia: Poopies!

Me: Did you play with so-and-so?

Lucia: No, just popo.

Sometimes I even know that they’ve done a certain activity- like they go on a walk every day. Every single day. Sometimes I’ve even seen pictures of them doing something, like making a lantern. So I’ll be like, Did you go on a walk today? And she’ll tell me no. Did you make lanterns? No. Did you do anything? No. Finally I asked her one day, So you just sat in the corner by yourself all day? Yeah, she said. That’s what I did. Smiling. We both know damn well  that is not what she did. But now that’s the game. Alas. That and poop. It’s a wonderful life, folks.

Lucia is also really into fashion these days. And I love her four year old fashion. She dresses up “really pretty” in shocking, eye-dazzling combinations of patterns and colors. She tells me, “My teacher’s gonna say I look so pretty today!” (I think she has some really awesome teachers, or else she has my outrageous self-assuredness. Perhaps both.) I try not to piss on her parade, although she does have to wear somewhat sensible shoes to school for their long walks. She’d prefer these crappy rubbery pink shoes or the Mary Janes “princess” shoes that are now too small for her.  Also, I did try to intervene the other day in the name of preventing excessive laundry. (As the sole laundry-doer in the house, this is a big problem.) She wanted to wear a tutu AND a dress. And you couldn’t even see the damn tutu under the dress. I tried to tell her that. We began a power struggle. I decided it was not a worthy battle and threw in the towel… And she ended up ditching the tutu and keeping the dress. Hopefully my tactics remain this effective when it’s time to discuss sex and consent and protection and whatnot instead of tutus and dresses.

In the moments when Lucia doesn’t want to be a goat (so she doesn’t have to clean up) or a grass-cutter (because those riding lawn mowers in Kentucky impressed the hell out of her), she’s now started saying that she’s going to be a teacher. “I’m going to go to work with you, Mommy!” As if it were all that simple. Of course she’d teach at the same place I currently teach. Of course I won’t ever change jobs and of course she’ll get hired there as well as soon as she’s a grown up and gets some magic fairy dust to turn into a teacher. I miss how small and intimate the world felt when I was her age and even older, when being able to go to the corner store a couple blocks away- without parents- was the biggest responsibility and privilege that you could imagine.

I love when she’s decided to play pretend and be a teacher. She walks by me and says, “Hi, student!” So that I say, “Hi, teacher!” Just like she’s seen my students do to me (for the record, I say their real names when I see them, not ‘hi, student.’) It’s like the way Khalil, who still prefers body language to words, will wave bye-bye to me for 3 minutes, in silence, until I notice and say “bye!” when he’s pretending to go bye bye in his plastic car or his broomstick horse or whatever. Sometimes my role seems like a bit part but a word or two is still a starring role to them.

Lucia is so much like me in her character. There was a little girl Lucia’s age at my volleyball game the other night, and she got mad about something and stomped off to sit down by herself. It was like the mildest tantrum I’ve ever seen. And another prof who always plays, who doesn’t have children, was like, “Does your little girl do that too?” I burst out laughing. “No, she’s way more demonstrative!” I told him. “She has your temper?” He asked me playfully, making fun of the fact that I get huffy and bossy when the boys start invading my territory and stealing the ball from me in volleyball. I wanted to tell him that he hadn’t seen nothing from me yet. And that Lucia could hold her own, too. She huffs and puffs and blows your whole damn house down. But instead I showed him my radiant smile and agreed. “Yep, definitely my character.” She gets hangry like me, too.

Khalil is his own force to be reckoned with as well. He hasn’t yet turned two, and he’s already training himself to eat spicy food. The other day I was seasoning my food with some medium-heat curry powder, and he insisted that I put some on his food. I told him and told him that it was spicy- pica, we say- but he kept pointing at the container and at his food. He beat on his chest like he does to say for me. I put a little bit on his food. He ate it. His eyes got very wide. He drank several gulps of water. And he ate some more. And more. He liked it! It was like the time I thought that my strong, bitter black coffee was going to cure Lucia of her desire to drink coffee, when instead she asked for more. Whoops. Remind me not to play chicken with these children.

Yesterday I made pancakes in a pan that I’d reheated salsa in. For some reason, even though I’d washed it well with soap, the first pancake in the batch came out with a spicy aftertaste. I split the first one between the kids because, as ALWAYS, they were starving to death. Khalil had already devoured most of his half when Lucia tried hers and started complaining that it was “pica.” I tried it, and sure enough, it was fairly spicy! Khalil finished off all his water but he sure didn’t complain. He’s gonna take after his mommy on this, apparently. (Don’t kid yourself that Conan loves all things spicy because he is Mexican. He likes some, but I could kick his butt in a chile-eating contest.)

I’ve mentioned before Khalil’s obsession with the garafones– the big jugs of drinking water that we buy. He’s now started speaking his first two words in Spanish, motivated by his need to communicate with his future boss, the garafon vendor. He can now say both “uno” and “dos”- theoretically depending on how many bottles we need, although really he just says either uno or dos when he wants to refer to garafones in general. Like if we see a truck full of them go by, he points and says “uno!” It’s pretty endearing.

This child is the kid who wants to do ALL the grown up things already. He is so uninterested in the majority of his toys; he’s very interested in re-organizing everything in my kitchen, and “helping” me with every single thing I do. We went to a birthday party the other day, and there were a bunch of plastic chairs sitting out for the kids. Khalil spent the first hour of the birthday party stacking them up and then putting them back when I’d unstack them, only to stack them all back up again 30 seconds later. I am always asking myself if there’s some way he can actually help me, and if not, how can I make it appear that he’s being helpful by doing the thing that I want him to do? These monsters certainly force me to stay creative. Khalil was giving me a very hard time about taking his new inhaled asthma medicine, but finally I brought his stuffed cat into the mix. Now Khalil has to give medicine to the cat before he does his own medicine. It’s doing the trick so far! Score one for Mommy!


These are the chairs Khalil was stacking. And this is how he wanted to sit in the chair. All by himself. No help for him, thanks. 

While Khalil still refuses to use words to communicate most of the time, his big sister is a verbal giant. Her Spanish has exploded thanks to her new school, and her English continues to grow to astounding new heights. I love talking to this child about as much as she loves to talk. I am hoping, however, that she doesn’t suffer the same fate that I did, thinking that because she’s all verbal, she can’t be visually creative as well. I’m feeling extra hopeful about it after she wrote her first book yesterday! I also wrote my first “book” at four, but I dictated it to my mom and then drew pictures to go with the words. Lucia was much more autonomous about it. She got scrap paper from the pile of scrap paper. She drew a bunch of pictures. She asked me for glue. I suspiciously inquired about her intentions for the glue. She explained, and I got all excited and instead of gluing we sewed the pages together with cheap dental floss (thank you, punk rock traveler kids from the 90s for teaching me to sew with free dental floss). Within a couple hours her brother had crinkled one page and then she left it in some water that had leaked out from the washing machine. It survived, but while we were waiting to see if the sunlight streaming in the door could cure it she went ahead and made another one, just in case. I am raising some resilient babies, after all.

When she was reading me her first published work at bedtime tonight, she made up all kinds of fascinating details for her squiggly lines and circles. But the best was her showing me two connected circle-ish parts and saying, “This little one is Khalil’s house. Us three live in the big house, and he lives in the little house.” When I probed into the reason behind Khalil living separately from us, she thought for a second and said, “Because he’s little. He needs a little house. We’re big, so we need a big house.” Uh-huh. No underlying psychology about getting your little brother out of your hair there, kiddo. Sure thing.

Lucia presents her book:

They’re growing so much, and teaching me so much. Although I could do without the constant tornado damage that Khalil leaves in his wake, and I hope he learns to respect books instead of tearing them up so lovingly like he does now, he is more fun than should be legal. And while I’d appreciate a little less screaming and melodrama from Lucia over every single thing (e.g. “Khalil’s wasting the water!! I don’t want you, Khalil!!”), hanging with her is such a wonderful adventure.

I don’t need any Thanksgiving holiday to be grateful for these monsters. (And no, nobody down here celebrates Thanksgiving.) Every day is Thanksgiving in my house, minus the brutally oppressive history and the consumerist free-for-all the next day.

I’m so grateful for these kids that even when I am pulling my hair out and losing my temper, even when it’s my turn for bedtime and they refuse to sleep, I valiantly resist all urges to sell them on ebay… Oh, wait, that’s just called parenting. Whatever. The point is, I love my pumpkin (Khalil) and my sunshine (Lucia) more than even real pumpkins and real sunshine. That is true love.

Thanks, Obama. (Did I utilize the meme right, Conan? No? I never get it right. Bwahahaha.)


Trading Out Halloween

2 Nov

“Look at this sweet baby, 100% Mexican now” my father-in-law, Arturo, would say about Lucia soon after our arrival. Although even then, despite my hormones still raging, I suspected that his intentions were not malicious, it was still difficult not to let the steam shoot from my ears in offended rage. “Nope, she’s still just 50% Mexican,” I had to insist every time. Because it felt like I was being written off in that equation- my half of the genes, my more than half of the work of bringing her into this world, not to mention whatever unquantifiable portion of raising her that I am responsible for. It felt painful and malicious, even if my vague sense of rational brain 2 months postpartum could theoretically not take it personally. I think I can assert now, 2 years later, that Arturo was mostly just excited to have Lucia here (mostly, though, because he does have a bit of a nationalist streak, too).

I can’t predict exactly how Lucia will feel about or choose to represent and explain her “50/50” identity when she’s older. I imagine that it will change tremendously at different points in her life, just like everyone’s identity does. All of us, of course, no matter where we grow up, are a giant mix of influences. I doubt anyone thinks of themselves as exactly 50% like their father and 50% like their mother. So what does it mean to have parents from two different countries? What does it mean to have dual nationality? What does it mean for my “half” of the heritage that she grows up in her father’s land, in this culture? And when my half is a weird mix of a mix of cultures anyway, thanks to the strong Italian influences on my mom’s side of the family?

All parents want their kids to be like them in the good ways, and hopefully not follow in their footsteps in their faults or weaknesses. If only life were that neat and tidy, right? Similarly, I would like Lucia (and her future brother or sister) to have only the best of both (all) cultures, please and thank you.

I hope she appreciates all the fabulous parts of Oaxacan culture, and can reject some of those nasty sides, or that we can minimize their impact at least. For instance, I hope she shares her bag of chips or cookies with those around her without needing to be asked, the way people automatically do here (such a small gesture,but poignantly important). I hope she can learn how to rely on friends and family for help without having a complex about it, just knowing that we all have to help each other to get by in life. But we’re gonna have to figure out some alternative educational situation, because the public school system down here is a famously poor and corrupt one. (Although her Papi went to public schools and still managed to have enough outside influences in his education to actually learn things, so there is hope.) I’m sure her Papi could give a much bigger list of things he hopes to impart to her from his childhood culture, and pitfalls he wants to avoid. But that’s his part to tell, not mine.

For my part, for her Kentucky (and Italian-American!) half, I’d like Lucia to have some fabulous corn bread and greens recipes, for example. I’d like for her to avoid entirely that whole “the U.S. is the biggest-baddest-bestest place on Earth that should control the rest of the world because it’s really the only place God approves of” sort of mentality. I hope she can appreciate a good bourbon with her mama (and her papá) when the time is right. I hope that she can spend enough time in the U.S. or somewhere else with more racial and ethnic diversity than here. That she can learn first-hand about many people’s customs and heritage that are different from hers (and not just different because she’s the weirdo half-gringa)- something possible in Louisville, Kentucky, but not too likely here. I want her to be able to appreciate the importance of a good stoop or porch, to sit out on in the evening and be social with the neighbors, perhaps with some iced tea (or bourbon!). I hope that despite the distance she can have some equally strong bond and pleasant associations of her grandparents in the U.S., the way I think about my Nonna getting together with my mom and my aunt, eating Doritos and Diet Coke, salami and really good quality whole wheat bread that my Nonna would buy.

We can already see some of this working itself out. Conan and I, thus far, are her biggest influences, and she mostly does what we do. She eats her vegetables and tries chorizo with her Papi. She devours tamales and al dente pasta with equal gusto. She speaks English and Spanish. She says please and thank you and washes her hands before meals, because that’s what we’ve taught her, mostly by example. Most of the things from my upbringing and heritage that I want for her I can (attempt to) instill in her myself. I can cook her cornbread. We can listen to Hank Williams (Sr.) together. We can even catch fireflies and sit out on the porch.

But there are some things that I loved as a child, some things that I still hold dear, that I probably won’t be able to provide. I can’t teach her to lick honeysuckle. She’ll probably never know about snow days, and getting off school and going sledding. And sadly, tragically perhaps, I don’t get to share my joy of Halloween with her.

Missing Halloween is a really big deal to me. Bigger than all the other U.S. holidays that we’re not there for. (About as heartbreaking as missing WorldFest, the yearly festival of cultures in Louisville) I adore Halloween. Starting with costumes and the whole idea of dress-up. When I was a kid, I loved deciding on a costume, which usually my parents would put together (not those store-bought costumes). I dressed up as things like a camera, a 3-headed alien, and Catwoman (with homemade “boots,” shiny plastic-ish material with holes cut for laces to put on my shins). As I teen I had fun with ironic dress-up, going as Barbie one year, helping my mom dress up as a punk rocker. I still love seeing what my outlandish friends can come up with, too, although perhaps the trio that one year that did the twin towers with airplane costume crossed the line.

As a kid, we would trick or treat for hours on end, my friends and my sister and I complaining that we were ready to go home, my mom and her friend denying us, telling us we were crazy to give up on the candy so early. They’d convince us to go a while longer, and sure enough, it was always worth it in the end. My dad would go crazy in competition with the neighbors to have the scariest, most creative Halloween decorations on the block, adding new stuff every year- a skeleton hanging from a noose, a stuffed Jason-like character sitting on the porch swing.

I love the idea of Halloween as a night when the veil between the worlds of the dead and the living is thin. I love the scariness of it all, the horror film reruns, the possibilities that come with invoking something beyond the day-to-day. I love that it is a day (a night, really) of fun and magic and sweets, and not the sort of high-pressure let’s-hope-the-family-can-get-along holiday like Christmas. It’s not a shady celebration of colonization like Thanksgiving, nor a holiday based on a religion that I have lots of issues with. It’s the U.S. holiday I most want to share with Lucia. And it’s not celebrated where we live.

But there is Day of the Dead, a two-day long celebration which is equally fabulous, although different from Halloween (I wrote about it in detail two years ago- https://exiletomexico.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/a-visit-from-the-dead-multi-cultural-style/) It’s something her Papi grew up with and loves, and it’s a holiday for the whole family. I have to accept that I can’t give her all the same good things from my childhood, but there’s lots of good stuff from Conan’s childhood, too. There is plenty of joy to be shared, from here and from there, adding things we make up all our own as a family. So I’ll keep cooking pasta al dente for the Day of the Dead altar, to honor my Italian grandmother alongside the mole for Conan’s grandmother. We’ll have to appreciate all the good stuff no matter where it comes from, take some bad with the good, just like everyone else. And Lucia will be 100% Lucia, Mexican and Kentuckian and Italian and whatever other bits and pieces of identity get thrown into the mix. Perhaps the most important thing is just to instill in her that her identity is perfect and right just how it is, no matter how different from everyone else’s around her. I hope that she can learn to appreciate all the parts of herself, without having to put anyone else’s identity down, still knowing that everyone else’s culture and identity is just as unique and wonderful as hers, in their own way. If we can pull that off, then I can deal with not sharing Halloween with her. After all, parenting is always an exercise in compromise.