Gas Shortage

I’m not going to feed into any of the rumors or try to interpret the news media regarding the gasoline and propane gas shortages that Mexico has been experiencing. That’s because I would probably get some of it wrong, and then my editor at the Tribune would have to wade through the Annoyed Reader letters. She already seems to keep herself busy, so I won’t add to her workload.

I’ll just say that my husband would greatly appreciate it if the propane gas could please be more abundant now, because his wife has had the household on the level of Super High Alert. That means that each person has been ordered to be prepared, at any moment of the day or night, to launch him/herself out the door and run down the sidewalk, arms waving desperately, should a gas truck turn down our street. Even if we just put some gas in the roof tank last week. Even if it’s not her favorite company (I’m not naming names, but orange, blue and white are my people).

Perhaps you wonder why I am so concerned about the gas shortage. Some folks were pretty relaxed about a crackers and cheese Christmas dinner. Others wrote about the joy of trying a new restaurant every day. Still others said they really wished for a warm shower, but were just waiting it out. Because hey! We are in Puerto Vallarta and it’s 29 degrees Celsius every day!

Ok, but no. Guys, everyone has a list of Dealbreakers In Life. Everyone’s list is different, and at the tippy top of mine it says: I MUST NEVER BE COLD AGAIN.

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Camping in Canada and waking up to 9 degrees. I thought I made myself clear.

I can’t bear cold water. There, I said it. Please don’t tell Canada or they will revoke my passport (probably). The very idea of waking up in the dark to get ready for work, turn on the shower and have freezing cold needles of water hitting my poor skin, well that just makes me want to put on a pair of fleece pajamas and sit on the beach.

During the Vallarta “winters” (for lack of a better term for a place that is never colder than sixteen degrees Celsius), I rarely go in a pool. We went on a Day Pass to the Holiday Inn Express last week and I almost wept real tears over the Jacuzzi. Everyone else took a dip in the pool, but my hands couldn’t be pried from the sides of that little tub of balmy bliss (they tried).

Yes, I suffered when I lived in Canada. During the months of November until about May, I couldn’t warm up. I was cold outside, certainly, but even inside my warm home I was cold. When I was offered a job in Vallarta, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I could conceivably be warm all year round.

And in case you’re wondering, my kids don’t mind being chilly as much as I do. However, they are very attached to their hoodies all “winter” and only enter the Costco freezers on a dare. They have only been to Canada in summer, but spend chilly evenings in Winnipeg bundled up in blankets and jackets while their Canadian cousins sit around in shorts and t-shirts, trying to enjoy the fleeting season they refer to as “summer” (even though the nights can go into the single digits).

The only person who embraces the chill is my Mexican husband, who doesn’t understand my deep dismay over the possibility of running out of gas. Warm showers are nice, but not essential to him. His idea of bundling up is a toque with his tank top and shorts.

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But he loves me, so he’s chased a gas truck or two this month. He does it for me and he does it for his children and he does it for all of us who coexist alongside these teenaged children (if they don’t shower, what will become of us all).

I hope you are all doing well despite the gas shortage, although I am sure the end is in sight. I am impressed with the kind, patient, and good-humored spirit of everyone here who has experienced this challenge. Most of all I’m grateful for this wonderful place, where we can just step outside and warm ourselves in the beautiful, bright, Mexican sun.


Holiday in Vallarta

Most people think it must be fun to live in Puerto Vallarta year round. They often comment that we probably enjoy our holidays more than most, because all we have to do is go outside and swing a stick, and we will hit the ocean or a Vallarta Adventure tour bus.

I can tell you that this is assumption is not entirely realistic, and not only because the people from Vallarta Adventure would not appreciate having their vehicles hit with swinging sticks. It’s not realistic because, when you try to have a relaxing holiday in the city in which you reside, you suddenly become mired in All of the Stuff You’ve Been Avoiding. And that stick you’re swinging no longer has the reach to smack upon anything fun.

For example, my husband and I discovered that we needed to buy a car. Because we haven’t purchased a new car in all the years that we have had children (this is not a coincidence by the way), we forgot that doing this requires all of your free time and all of your free pesos.

You can’t just walk up and buy the first one you like. No, you have to fall in love with the first one, and then give yourself a firm shake and tell yourself that no responsible adult would buy the first one they saw. Then you need to go around and see a lot of other cars that don’t nearly match up. A week into this, you must return to the original agency and meekly accept the first car in only color and transmission that remain in stock after your fruitless adventure into responsible adulthood.

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And that’s just one example of the Non-Fun that can be had when you both live and have your holidays in Puerto Vallarta. Other things you can do are:

  • Go to long-overdue orthodontist/vet/doctor appointments (or at least take the time to make some appointments)
  • Clean things that haven’t seen the backside of a broom since summer vacation
  • Move furniture around
  • Move furniture back
  • Go through old papers and throw out receipts that you thought would be useful ten years ago

Not only that, when you DO decide to do a fun thing, your children are not in the mood. My kids grew up playing on the beach, so now my announcement to go is met with what I term “The Long Eye Roll” and the aggravating sound of dragging flip-flopped feet. I can usually get them out of the house if there’s a movie offered, or very best friends, or something edible. My daughter wants to leave the house right now, in fact, because she would like to visit Sally Beauty Supply in Plaza Galerias.

If you also live in Puerto Vallarta and you are currently trying to stay positive, I can recommend a few things. On Sunday, we went to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle for a breakfast and the morning market. The offer of food and the possibility of buying more food to take home with us was enough to get their shoes and earbuds on and out the door.

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hey kids, look! We’re outside! And it’s ok!

El Rio BBQ is always fun, and kids love taking a dip in lovely, calm river. Mine tell me it’s too cold and then jump in anyway.

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about to jump

We spent New Year’s Eve with friends on the beach in front of the Grand Venetian. You’ll find a great sunset view and we had a beach bonfire there with no problem. It’s novel enough that even the most avid Fortnight fan will tear themselves away from the game console to hang out and have a s’more or two.

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Apparently NYE is the only time they’re cool with bonfires on this beach.

Cupocity has coupons for day passes once in awhile. We just purchased some for 180 pesos each with lunch included at the Holiday Inn Express. It can be both fun and relaxing, and your teens can easily ignore you on a pool chair while you pretend not to care.

For me, it’s important to give myself a break. Just because Vallarta is full of fun things to do doesn’t mean I have to do them all today. I have stuff to do, cars to buy, cockroaches to evict from a dresser drawer.

And I think living in paradise can happen anywhere. Sure, Vallarta is beautiful and full of fun, but so is my little house right on the edge of it. And inside you’ll find some great people, Netflix, and a pretty tasty Mexican Cab Sav. We’ll get out and have some adventures too, but right now I’m putting the dust cloth aside and enjoying the best part of the holiday – a few extra minutes of peace and quiet.

Christmas Hope

I was fortunate to have had a wonderful childhood. My parents always gave us memorable Christmases, with many traditions that we shared from year to year. When I look back and list all of the things we did as a family that I thought were absolutely non-negotiable in order to celebrate the holiday, it really is impressive:

-Real tree, never fake

– Turnips, not sweet potatoes

– Mincemeat mini pies, never full size

– Shortbread, not sugar cookie cutouts

-Christmas pudding with white sauce, not hard sauce, you monsters

My stocking with the white fuzzy border, the little angels turning around the chime candle holder, the Christmas story read from the Bible on Christmas morning – these were staples that we took for granted. Our parents held tightly to these things just as they held tightly to the idea of family and the love that bound us all together.

When I moved to Mexico, there was a year or two where I really missed being surrounded by family (my dad has ten siblings, so the gatherings were huge, loud, and hilarious) and a good ol’ white Christmas.

However, because I had such positive experiences with Christmas and I wanted my own children to have the same, I quickly assimilated some of the Mexican traditions with my own Canadian ones. I love the carols in Spanish, the tamales, and the piñatas at a Mexican posada. My husband and I are bringing up our children in a bicultural home where Santa comes on Christmas Eve and the Reyes Magos during the night on January 5. We eat Pan de Reyes and sugar cookies (sorry mom, my shortbread game isn’t great). Christmas is a magical time for my kids, thanks to my upbringing and to Mexican culture.

A few years ago, however, we experienced a devastating loss at Christmas time. A dear family friend had a short, fierce battle with cancer that lasted from around Halloween until the day after Christmas. Our entire Christmas season was spent at hospitals and doctor’s appointments. My husband drove us to school Christmas concerts while I talked on the phone with people wanting to donate money to her care. We decorated our tree right before a meeting with a doctor who told us that our time with our friend was coming down to hours and minutes.

It was tough to keep up with all the traditions when we were saying good bye to someone who had once eaten at our Christmas table. It was hard emotionally and it was hard logistically. My husband and I did our very best, but when my parents arrived shortly before Christmas, I gladly handed them the reigns and let my mom fill the house with the smell of baking shortbread.

Every year since then, right around mid-December, I get a sinking feeling that I can only attribute to a new association with Christmas: loss. Sure, I still keep up with the Christmas traditions. My kids make lists. We decorate the tree and fill it with every ornament they have made since they were three years old. My daughter and I bake the cookies. We sing the songs. I smile and laugh and put on National Lampoon’s Christmas (cause if that isn’t your tradition, it certainly should be). But inside, there’s a space that hurts when I touch it, even gently. Even after three years.

Because I am surrounded by my family, I can still find the joy and magic in Christmas. But my own experience with pain around this time of the year has opened my eyes to the pain in others. Some are going through a divorce. Some have just experienced the loss of a child. Some are completely alone.

Christmas can be a beautiful time, but it can also be a desperately sad time for many people. Be kind to others and be kind to yourself. Just reach out. Make some magic for someone out there who needs it. If Christmas is a time for hope, then your family tradition should include gathering it up and sending it out to the rest of the world.

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The traditional Santa pic, currently barely tolerated by our super cool middle-schoolers

Date Night

I have many fond memories about being in my thirties and raising small children. One thing I recall is that a night out with my husband was a cherished activity that I looked forward to with so much anticipation. I could spend a couple of sleepless nights rocking teething children and still want to go out with my husband on the weekend. Not even WANT to go. More like NEED to go. I longed for that connection to my spouse without a drooling, uncomfortable baby between us, making conversation at appropriate decibels completely impossible.

But when you have babies, you can’t go anywhere without a babysitter. I would book ours at least a week in advance. I would plan my outfit all week and buy a new eye shadow for the occasion. I chose my jewelry and perfume carefully.

We would stay out late and not even mind that we would be up before the first light of dawn with our very own drooling alarm clock and the Orajel.

It’s actually kind of maddening, because nowadays I could go out every weekend if I wanted to and I rarely ever do. My son is fourteen and perfectly capable of staying with his sister for a couple of hours. He’s even been a babysitter for other people’s kids. Not only that, his sister, now twelve, is probably even more competent than he is, and ends up preparing most of the food they eat and even cleaning up afterwards.

But now I’m forty-five and I’m. Just. Tired. The full time job, the after school activities, the cooking seem to take their toll. So you can usually find me at home on Friday nights, hanging out with my kids and arguing over which movie we should watch (I bought the TV and I am not watching Deadpool OR Deadpool 2).

It was my husband’s birthday and I knew it was way past time to go out alone together. Just for fun, I tried to remember when was the last time we had been anywhere that either a) didn’t include our kids or b) didn’t include a really boring and tiresome chore like banking. I realized (with an electric-type shock) that the last time this had happened was on my birthday (my birthday is in May). Oops.

I made sure to get enough sleep the night before, because now that I have older children, I can actually sleep as long as I want and still get up before they do.

I put some extra effort into my appearance because I figured since it was his birthday and he really doesn’t ask for a lot, maybe he deserved to have a wife that used a bit of mascara and eyeliner once in awhile.

I knew that a happy birthday for my man always includes a good dinner. He loves food and has very specific ideas on what constitutes a celebratory dinner (either tuna or salmon is acceptable, and there must be tiramisu for dessert. Not negotiable). We chose Toscana Mia in Bucerias. The moment we stepped into the warm, inviting little restaurant, I knew it was a good choice. His eyes lit up over the tuna on the menu. My eyes lit up over the massive wine list. And then our eyes met and we shared a mutual grin. There was tiramisu on the dessert menu.

Over a beautiful dinner of homemade deliciousness, we started to talk (with no interruptions by anybody asking when he can have a new videogame because he’s so TIRED of Fortnight now). We couldn’t stop talking, actually. We had constant, animated conversation in both English and Spanish and sometimes Spanglish when neither language would quite make our point. It was wonderful. It was enlightening. And it was absolutely necessary.

The restaurant is a treasure, and you have to go. We informed the owner that we would be back very soon, and I think it’s really going to happen. After dinner we decided to go hit a live music venue. We actually DANCED. I felt like I was thirty-two again, except when I got home there would a warm bed and a full night’s sleep waiting.

I don’t know what I was waiting for, but I definitely won’t be waiting for anyone’s birthday to ask my favorite person on another date.

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Surprised by Pride

The other day, my son got on stage with one of his buddies and sang “Creep” for the high school talent show. He practiced at home a lot before hand. When I say “a lot”, I mean that every member of the family now knows the lyrics better than Radiohead. Guys, it wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty great. Not only because he has a good voice with a really decent sense of pitch, but because that child stood up and walked on the stage and grabbed a microphone and just sang that song in front of every single person whose opinion matters more than mine at the moment. HE DID THAT.

(I didn’t get the whole vid, but you get the idea and can probably at least hum the rest yourself)

Then yesterday my daughter announced that it was time to begin baking Christmas cookies. Feeling particularly lazy, I mounted an argument on several fronts: 1) It’s only November 24 2) I don’t feel like it 3) I guarantee that I will eat most of the cookies before they even get to meet the Santa-shaped cookie cutter. She told me that she’d take care of it and proceeded to bake and decorate three batches of sugar cookies (lightly flavored with almond) all by herself. The only responsibility I had was controlling my sugar dough cookie consumption. SHE DID THAT.

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A disclaimer: this article is not for the people who really, truly believe that their kids are perfect. This is not meant for those parents whose children were born sleeping through the night and walking at nine months and potty trained at a year and five months. It’s not for people who talk about their children’s boundless talent at everything that requires talent, or for those whose offspring go around the table shaking everyone’s hand and making polite conversation at the tender age of three.

I wrote this for the parents who sometimes have to leave the restaurant with a red-faced, bellowing child under one arm and an apologizing spouse trailing behind. This is for the ones who have mastered the art of speaking through their teeth at the kid who refuses to say hello to their employers at the Christmas party. It’s for the ones who drag themselves to sleep every night after rocking their colicky babies to sleep against the advice of every other person (who all know better than they do).

I wrote it for those of you who believe that their children are completely capable, but are still astounded when they do independent, wonderful things. This is not because you don’t believe in your children, it’s because you had some doubts about yourselves as parents.

Maybe that’s because you make all sorts of grievous errors. You shout out consequences and then forget, or say the one thing that is bound to make a bad situation worse, or slam a door. And these kids of yours (THESE KIDS) don’t pick up their clothes or go to bed or even BATHE until you transform into the person you swore you never would become or say the things your parents said to you. They fight with their siblings and get sassy and leave the new toilet roll ON TOP of the dispenser (monsters!).

And then one day, they do things that many people applaud (people who aren’t even related to them through marriage), and you understand that you might have done some good in their upbringing. That makes you wonder which thing was the right one, and how can you repeat that several more times until they get to adulthood.

I don’t have that answer for you. But I am happy for you when you get to experience those moments of amazement. I always know when someone reaches that moment, because he or she is wearing this amazed, proud, and completely surprised smile that is unique to parenthood. I’ve felt it on my own face, and I see it regularly on my husband’s.

All I can tell you it this: wear it big, and wear it well. You have absolutely earned it (even if you have no idea how).

Only Human

I am just a human being, like all the other mere mortals bumbling around and forgetting important things like deodorant and lit stove burners. I’m not like those extra-humans who can get up in the morning, get children to school, go to work, make dinner and then put on high heels and mascara for a fun evening with friends.  Somewhere around “make dinner” I find my mortality draped over me like a sound-canceling curtain.

There are other signs that I’m only human.

Sometimes I tell people I’ll call them right back once we know what are plans are and then I forget. Forever.

I start paying attention to my skincare regimen and actually create one that is more than one step, and then realize I haven’t exercised in six months.

My children ask me for advice and I literally can’t string a sentence together because I’ve worked for at least thirteen days in a row.

I try to give my children advice and they don’t want to listen because they are looking at the devices that I bought for them.

My husband tries to talk to me when I get home but I don’t hear him because I am making a mental list of what to tell him before he races off to work.

The theme of my humanity is obvious. I plug holes in my existence, only to have leaks spring in several other, crucial parts of the fabric of my life. In other words, I can’t keep it together.

If I were super human, I’d be faster. I’d have all the friends. I’d be wise and always available and a multi-tasker. I’d be at my ideal weight with great skin at the exact same time. I wouldn’t cry just because I’m tired, because I wouldn’t be tired. I’d have a dust-free house and all the surfaces would be clear. I’d eat more vegetables.

I’d be a better wife.

I’d be a better parent.

But just before I really wade into some self-pity and start pouring handfuls over myself, my son tells me about his favorite superhero. He says, “You know what kind of superheroes I like? The kind that don’t actually have any super powers. They have a disability, and they use it like a power.”

I have no idea what he means, because currently I don’t have the time to watch Netflix unless I’m sweeping under the couch in the living room while he’s got the TV on. He goes on to tell me about Daredevil, a guy who got radioactive material spilled on his eyes when he tried to save a blind man from getting hit by a truck. His blindness (and some radiation) heightened his other senses and made him a blind fighter for justice.

My son, who deals with a mild visual impairment, says “Daredevil is great because he shows people that they can be somebody even if they can’t see”.

In other words, maybe I’m a little more extra-human that I had first imagined. For example, my weaknesses abound, but most of all my energy reserves run dry at the slightest hint of a really long week. I get overwhelmed when my calendar gets packed.

But maybe that makes me compassionate. Maybe it helps me understand my teenagers, who want to sleep even in places where sleeping is socially inappropriate. Maybe it keeps me at home with my kids in the evenings, and it gives me a chance to listen to their book ideas and know who they are playing videogames with online. Maybe it helps my relationship with my husband, a total homebody every chance he gets.

Maybe my weaknesses help me feel my way through life, even in the dark. I hope so, because I’d love to put on that fleece cape tonight and get on my pajama Super Suit. I may even add a gel mask for tired eyes (to hide my True Identity, of course).

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Hurricane Willa

I was reminded of snow days a couple of weeks ago. If you’re from Manitoba, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The weather would call for a big dump of snow, and you’d just wait for it. All you could do was cross your fingers and hope it came on a Sunday night, or even a Thursday (but never a Friday).

When the flakes would start coming down, you’d just pray for a white out and -35 degrees Celsius so that MAYBE you wouldn’t have to go to school. The worst thing that could happen was if you were a town kid and they only canceled bus service. That meant all the farm kids could stay home with two marshmallows in their hot chocolate, and you’d be trudging to the high school against that biting, frostbite-bestowing wind.

I was reminded of this because last weekend we had a hurricane day. My kids reacted to the news of the possibility of a hurricane with one urgent question: will school be canceled? I was too busy engaged in frivolities such as buying batteries for flashlights and checking the drinking water supply to answer them, but I did check my cell phone for any messages from our school. Of course, as you know, the answer came back as a yes, and I shared the news with my children. The resulting fist pumps and shouts of YESSSSS brought me back to Manitoba, 1989 with a little nostalgic shiver.

Hurricane Willa didn’t bring a lot of damage to Vallarta. This meant that most families along the coast spent two days in our homes watching the drizzle for a couple of days. I know it was probably somewhat inconvenient to keep the kids home for two days, and (not probably) irritating sometimes. Not only were they not in school learning something useful, but they were under your feet, arguing over the flashlight that they didn’t need, asking for the one snack you actually forgot to buy (and rejecting the year’s supplies of the ones you did).

But here’s the thing. I was here when Hurricane Kenna whipped her tail at us in 2002. I cowered in my bedroom all alone, watching the palm tree getting a good lashing outside my tiny window. I am nothing except grateful to those who decided to err on the side of safety. I’m impressed with the local government’s quick planning and efficiency, and I’m so glad they prioritize the people under their care.

And here’s the other thing, and it’s a big one: Hurricane Willa wasn’t a no-show, as so many people are saying all over social media. She showed up in force just north of us, and in places where the infrastructure is much more basic. She poured herself into little towns that didn’t have a chance.

We might have seen Willa as a wasted day off, but to many others she was a total, unprecedented disaster. There were people trapped in towns like Tuxpan and Tecuala. Many of their roads were obliterated under the rivers that burst their banks.

We can certainly be grateful for our misfortune, and in that gratitude, we can reach out to help those whose school doors will most certainly be closed for longer than two days. We can lend a hand to people who wish their greatest inconvenience was a missing snack or a flashlight that needed AAA batteries when you bought only AA (true story).

Happily, we live in a place surrounded by helpers, so you can find one that would be happy to take donations. My friends Victor (singer of the much beloved Gecko Band) and his wife Rosy have an amazing grassroots program you can find more about on Facebook called Brigada de Mano en Mano (@helpinghandtohand). There will be a fundraiser at the Drunken Duck in Bucerias on November 5 at 5pm, and they are also collecting donations and supplies any time.

Let’s all lend a hand in gratitude to the people of this wonderful country. Together we can make things a little easier as families begin rebuilding their lives.

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Pictures used with permission from the Facebook page of Brigada de Mano en Mano PV/Bucerias

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Watching Him Grow

It’s a beautiful thing to watch a boy grow. I would know, as I have one growing uncontrollably in my house right now. Tomorrow he will be fourteen, which I feel will help me come to terms with the fact that I have to point up to make an emphatic point about the state of his room.

ELijah mom

He’s a teenager all right, in a state of perpetual hunger, tiredness, and pique. Sure, he goes through periods of energy and industry, where neither homework nor Fortnight foes stand a chance. He’s razor-focused during these moments, ready to take on the world or at least a nice steamy plate of pasta. He had a Geography project that he found interesting, so he did it twice. Two. Times.

He also tends to have more get-up-and-go when it involves something he dearly desires. This year his father and I decided he really could use a phone (so long as he promised to answer  when I called him on it). The depths he went to investigate the Iphone he wanted involved a history on the multimillionaire and Apple visionary Steve Jobs. This somehow led him to the conclusion that an Iphone 8 would be the appropriate model for his birthday gift (although he was intelligent enough to accept the Iphone 6 that was purchased).

And then there are days where he’s that typical teen dealing with the circadian shift in his body clock. In other words, you would need at least a fork lift to get him out of the house, because his bed would be attached. And then if he does come out with us, we then wish he would have stayed at home, because he only answers our forced cheer with a series of grunts and clicks.

Yet here I am telling you that it’s a beautiful thing to watch him grow. Incredibly, this statement is actually true. I’ve been in charge of guiding this life from the moment he came into existence, and yet he thrives. Miraculous! The Boy is so many things, not the least of which is hardy.

Elijah and mommy

I tend to get nostalgic, which he claims to find irritating, but he always says it with an almost imperceptible grin. I look back and remember all the great stuff about him as a little boy (and there was a lot of great stuff). I remember the time he told his baby sister that it was time for them to get part-time jobs and help out the family (he was seven, she was five), or the time he told me he wanted us to live in a hotel so I could relax and not have to cook anymore (but I knew he just wanted to eat room service deep-fried cheese sticks forever). I mean, good, adorable stuff, right? Wouldn’t it be great if they were little forever?

But then I see him now and realize I’d never give up this part of his life, either. Because I love how we now share an appreciation for Stephen King, not only his collected work but also his salty Twitter feed.

I love how he likes both nineties grunge rock and nineties rap music (Green Day AND Eminem?  I mean, c’mon).

I love how he (without mentioning it to me) went out and signed up to lead sustainability projects at our school, being one of the youngest youth leaders in the program.

I love how he dreams big and says he’ll write something/invent something/do something that is going to Change Things.

I love how he sometimes sneaks up and wraps an arm around me and says (not without a little irony, but he’s nearly fourteen so he gets to), “I love you mommy.”

And I love how he’s still young enough to feel like he wants his parents to live with him someday in his mansion (I hope he looks back in thirty years and feels the same way).

I may not have perfect kid, just as he doesn’t have a perfect mom. But watching him grow has been an amazing ride, one that continues to be surprising, and stressful, and transformative. My front row seat is one of the greatest gifts in my life.

Happy Birthday, Bub.

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Marriage in Tourist Town

The wild thing about being married to my musician husband during high season is that we live in the same house, but at different times of the day. It’s sort of like living with a ghost because things are all moved around when I get home from work, but no one is there. Like, I could have sworn I left a sink full of dirty cereal bowls as I ran out the door this morning, but there they are at 3:30 pm, shiny clean and lined up in the dish rack (I admit that I really like this ghost).

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pic for the milk carton

During the off season, we spend every day together. He makes food, does the laundry, and splits the various parenting duties with me. He also practices a LOT of guitar. And when I say a lot, I mean that I am not sure if there’s a song from any rock era that he hasn’t tinkered over. I never thought I’d get tired of listening to “The Way You Look Tonight”, but here we are.

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but cute, no?

He obsesses over the garden in a very telling, I Wish I Was Making a Living sort of way. He would cut the grass with scissors (I know this because it’s happened), but I pay our neighbor to cut it with his weed whacker.

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He tends to like the wild and free look anyway

September arrives and he begins teaching his after school students once again. In October, when the tourists start filtering back and slowly fill the air with the sweet smells of Coppertone, My Man is ready for them with their favorite tunes. He’s got the car serviced for travel all over the bay, he’s got his equipment fixed and cleaned up. Once he gets the call, he is gone and we are back on opposite schedules once again.

It gets a little lonesome. I miss the school uniforms folded and put into the closets (although they still make it to the laundry basket in some paranormal way). I miss the fussing over the avocado seedlings and the hedge flowers. I even miss how he cooks; a constant combination of beans, tortillas and cheese done in a variety of ways that the children prefer (and like to mention).

Sure, part of my problem is that Mom is now ON at all times. I work, I drive, I provide counsel, I prepare food and I do it all over again at least five days a week. I’m tired by 7pm and yet there are (as Robert Frost so eloquently put it) “miles to go before I sleep”, because there are no clean uniforms. We’ve looked in the dryer and the clean clothes basket, so now I’m going to check the dirty clothes basket and hope we can get by for one more day with no obvious stains.

But the biggest part is that I just want to catch my partner’s eyes and hide a smile as The Boy asks the tough questions (How many countries have had women presidents? What is the difference between a MacBook and a MacBook Pro? Why won’t you buy me either one?). It’s not as though he’ll have better answers than I do (Google it, Google it, and because no thirteen-year-old should have better technology than his parents), it’s just nice to have the solidarity.

I want to sit down and have a meal with all four of us, so that we can talk about everyone’s grades with his simple, calm take on a low grade (again) in Mexican history.

I want to talk to him about our daily life when we are both sitting down and one of us is not yelling at the other through the door.

Being a realistic person some of the time, I understand that this is our life, one that we chose over sixteen years ago, and that these challenges are common in many families. I think it’s pretty great that we miss each other, and that we’ve got a connection that lasts in the midst of the chaos called life with kids.

Last Saturday I told him that I needed to go to Costco. He said he’d like to come, and we left our son in charge at home for a couple of hours. We talked in the car, and we laughed. We spent more than we normally would on groceries, because we threw in a bottle of wine and some strawberries so we could share them when he got home around midnight.

As we hauled our groceries into our house and grinned at each other over what was probably history’s least romantic date, I realized that marriage very often looks exactly like this. It’s messy, and busy, and sometimes not as much fun as we’d like. But it’s love.

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Loving the Expat Life

So the other night I woke up around 2am, when my musician husband got home from work. I like to wake up, see that he’s home, grunt at him lovingly, and then go back to sleep. I wish it always worked that way. Unfortunately, many times my brain uses the quiet night as an opportunity to flip through the pages of my collective work I like to call The Greatest Fears in My Whole Life.

So there I lay, frozen between the articles on Dumb Things I Said To People Yesterday  and My Child’s Paltry College Fund , when my mind glitched a bit and suddenly realized something interesting and shocking: I have been an adult twice as long in Mexico than in my home country of Canada.

This seems kind of obvious and probably not really earth-shattering to you, but just think of it: I have basically learned to navigate the road to responsibility in a language that I speak at about an eight-year-old level. Just consider the implications of competently buying a car and a house for the first time (well, the competently part is a bit of a stretch), or giving birth, or even opening a bank account in a place where you struggle to communicate clearly.

I know that this process has enriched me greatly, and it has given me a deep empathy for immigrants and refugees who move to a brand new country with nothing, not a job offer (as I had), or even the clothes on their backs (as I did, and which I promptly removed and replaced with beach wear). It’s HARD, people.

Because I have lived here for so long, I have become very much used to many of what expatriates consider to be the idiosyncrasies they find in Mexico. Sometimes I forget about all the things that people from other countries might find unsettling or odd. So I did a bit of research (otherwise known as reading notifications on all my PV Facebook groups), and came to some conclusions about the PV expats.

First of all, you generally see two groups of expats. There is plenty of grey area between the groups, so don’t get excited if you don’t see yourself in either one (and sorry about the need to polarize in the interest of brevity).

One of them loves Mexico and everything about it. They see the lizards, cockroaches and quick-growing mold as part of the whole experience. Sure, the paperwork is tricky and the process is long, but life in Mexico is wonderful and the beaches are beautiful and they look really good in big floppy hats.

The other group is culturally shocked in a big way. They are totally bewildered. They thought they would love it here because the housing prices are so low (compared to where they came from), and they can walk to the ocean to watch the sun set. But they didn’t know about the buses not actively trying to avoid them on the street, or the rain flooding into their condo in August, or the chirping creatures trying to live in the soap dish in their shower. They heard that most people here speak some English and they are finding themselves speaking Spanglish and getting absolutely nowhere.

Sometimes these two groups meet up on these chats, and that’s when things can get a bit ugly. The Mexico-lovers are way too happy to be believed; because there’s no way that any one place on earth can be perfect. The Culture-Shockers have a deep need to be heard about the fact that the A/C repairman SAID he was coming YESTERDAY and he didn’t show UP.

Here’s the thing, everyone: you are both right. I know that it seems like it can’t be true, but it is. Some days I am really mad because no one uses signal lights and I’m expected to sit back and enjoy the guessing game that is my driving experience in Mexico. Other days I am driving into a beautiful sunset and I can’t remember why I was so mad (and also I forget to use my right turn signal).

Someday, when you’ve been here eighteen years like I have, you won’t even hear the geckos chirping on your walls. You won’t be annoyed OR thrilled with the novelty of it. You’ll speak your eight-year-old level Spanish with all the grace of a seasoned expat, and a kind local will tell you how good it is.

There are things you’ll never get used to, thanks to the hard-wiring in your brain that took place in your home country. But lucky you, you’ll never take this beautiful place for granted. And that’s why you’re here in the first place.

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