Baby Journals

On a scale of one to truly taxing, last week was off the charts. You may not know this, but Jalisco’s government opened up the possibility fo more on campus opportunities for students after announcing just weeks before that we would remain closed until August. I bet a person could almost hear the creak, like that of a long unused pivoting knee joint, as every administrator, teacher and parent started to plan for these changes.

On Friday evening, the weekend before we were to begin, I schlepped myself home the way a parent of a household of teens brings home the bags of groceries for a week’s work of meals. I walked in the door feeling tearfully grateful for Ubereats, who had arrived minutes before me, allowing me a hero’s welcome.

I managed to make my way upstairs where I faceplanted into my mattress and decided this was as good a place as any to manage my pit crew (aka family) for the rest of the weekend. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. But that doesn’t change the fact that Friday night did not find me lacing up my dancing shoes. 

The room changed from afternoon light to evening dark, and I hadn’t moved much. My kids came in to ask me questions from time to time, and I tried to respond, but I truly hoped that this wasn’t the day that they wanted me to solve a Big Problem. When you have teens, Big Problems tend to crop up when you least expect them. 

When my daughter came in the room, my Mom Hackles went up slightly, because moms can sense a change in the energy field of each child, even at a distance. If your child is within texting distance, you know when something is amiss, even if the only text they send you is one. single. emoticon. You can fit a whole lot of angst into one crooked-smile emoji.

She approached the bed and snuggled up beside me. I pulled her in and did the hair pat, hoping that a wordless moment of solidarity would suffice, because my current brain level was still set on Drain. She told me that she had just read through the journal I had kept for her when she was a baby, and she wanted to talk about it.

It’s true, I kept a written journal for both kids when they were babies. I did it for about a year for each one. I did it because I wanted to remember all those moments that you always think you’d never forget, but you always do. I also did it because I knew they’d want to know more about themselves when they grew up. And, most of all, I did it because I was so in love with them, their father, and our family that I had to put it all to paper just to read it back to myself. Yes, I was That Mom. I wanted to wrap myself up in the words, to feel over and over again how wonderful it was to be the mother to these growing, changing, fascinating people.

I stopped because, after children start walking, there is no time and no energy for anything besides cleaning bits of food from your hair and trying to keep the children from caving in their own heads on the corners of everything. 

And now, whenever my daughter feels down, or needs a break from the current reality, she pulls out that journal and reads it over. She came in my room and let me know that the journal made her feel loved, and happy, and downright overwhelmed. She told me she could just feel how much I loved her in the way I celebrated everything she did (what’s the big deal about a baby rolling over from her back to her front, mom, I mean, really?).

Once I started a parenting column in the Tribune and then the Mirror, I continued adding my articles about my children to my personal blog. But those journals are love letters from a young mother to her miraculous, hilarious, amazing little babies, written in her own hopeful hand.

Before my daughter went back to her room, she asked me one more question: did I ever get sad about how fast she was growing up and leaving those baby days behind forever? I said yes, sometimes. But mostly I just feel proud, because, even though I have always been amazed by her, I am also so deeply impressed by the woman she is becoming. She hugged me again and left.

When you have things to say to your kids, but they aren’t around to hear them, or they are too young to understand, write them down. You will not regret it. I didn’t have a lot of coherent words for my daughter that night because I was tired after a long week. I’m grateful that I took the time to write down some important ones all those years ago. Now my children know how to find them and know they are loved.

Having a Laugh

I don’t know about you, but I find it suspect that somehow most moms hit their mid to late forties when their kids hit adolescence. I know, I know, math and all. But when I think about the multiple, hormonal storms gathering on the horizon during these times in our lives, doesn’t it seem like someone with a sense of humor planned this out?

 Consider this: at a time in life where my jeans get tighter around my waist whenever I look at a chocolate chip cookie, my teenaged son needs to have all the snacks available at all times. If he puts on a few extra pounds, he simply adds an extra salad to his meals for a week, and he’s back in action again. Meanwhile, I’m busy in the yard having a ritual bonfire where I throw in my entire wardrobe and sob.

Consider also: I am often searching for the word that I really need, and my teens don’t have the patience to stand around waiting for me to find it. Coincidentally, the word was “detour” in the context of “we can’t take a detour to stop at the Dairy Queen.” Because I was in a brain fog and couldn’t’ think of the word, we ended up going the long way home and stopping at the Dairy Queen.

Consider finally: I am often a little snappish, and my two children are adolescents. Think about what this means when they ask me for water when they are closer to the fridge than I am. Think about what this means when they roll their eyes at me. Think about what this means when I stand before them with my hands full of their dirty dishes that they have left in their bedrooms again and they say (eyes firmly fixed to their cell phones which I myself purchased), “What?”

You see how often I think that Someone is up there, entertained by this absolute comedy of errors? And hey, I can’t lay blame, this is actually funny stuff. But it’s happening to me, so I’m not laughing.

Don’t get me wrong, these are good kids. I know every mom says that about their own kids, but truly they are good. They ask me how I’m doing, they wash dishes from time to time without being asked, they walk the dog. They give me random hugs. 

And that’s all fine and good, but they are still in a stage of life that is not conducive to parental relaxation. I don’t know if you know this, but teenagers have a brain that is literally under construction. Someone has given these people, taller than their mamas, a brain that isn’t fully equipped to MAKE GOOD CHOICES and control every base impulse.

Ha ha ha. Funny, isn’t it? So here I am, in my not-so-prime, having weird dreams at night and almost throwing out my back getting out of bed in the morning. The other day I arrived at my classroom and spent ten minutes looking for a book that I desperately needed to prepare for my online class. I was hampered in my search because one of my hands was occupied HOLDING THAT VERY BOOK (heaven help us all, it’s true).

I try to exercise, because I noticed that I am becoming short of breath climbing up some stairs. I try to eat the rainbow and no longer count skittles OR m&ms in that spectrum. I try to sleep well and not eat before I go to bed so I don’t wake up angry at my husband for trying to run me down with the car in my dreams. I try to take care of myself and read good books and listen to positive messages and not read the comments on people’s Facebook posts on politics.

I do all these things because I have two great kids who do their best to be grown up, sophisticated, smart and thoughtful. But they are still kids, and they need a mother who they can look back on and say, “she helped me become a decent person even though she called me by my dog’s name at least three times a week”.

They need a mother who cooks healthy food and lets them have dessert once in a while. They also need a mother who leaves the brownies for them and doesn’t stand in front of the pan at midnight trying to even out the last piece (cause she keeps cutting it crooked). 

So I’ll keep up the exercise, and I’ll try to keep eating only foods whose rainbow colors occur in nature. I’ll take the long road home every couple of weeks and order the mini Blizzard (because soon they won’t have the cookie dough flavor) and let them order whatever they want. When they forget to carry their dishes to the sink I’ll ask them almost kindly to look in my eyes and do that for me, please. 

Someone’s up there having a chuckle over this. So maybe I’ll try to laugh along a bit, too.

Thirteen Married Years

This week my husband and I celebrated thirteen years of wedded bliss. And by “celebrated”, I mean an early dinner on a Wednesday night in a nearly-empty restaurant with an outdoor patio. And by “bliss” I mean we are fully aware of each other’s hygiene customs and have agreed to stay together anyway.

I’m kidding mostly. And it probably sounds a little battle-weary for only thirteen years of marriage. Here is the unvarnished data: Gilberto and I met twenty years ago. We have been together for nearly nineteen years. We’ve been parents together for sixteen, and he’s been a dad for twenty-two. Let me also present the following evidence:

  • I thought our anniversary was on February 2nd. I asked my husband. It took him about a minute to say (hesitantly) that he wondered if it wasn’t actually the third (it was).
  • The most I’ve dressed up in the last ten months was for a pajama party at Christmas (we got family pajamas this year, so yeah, I’m fancy)
  • The last time we were alone was a week ago Saturday, when we went on an 8km walk as a way to try to get back into shape. The reason we were alone is because our kids refused to go. By the time we got home, I was sweating, exhausted and very sad about my physical condition. 

So things have been a little less than romantic lately. We chalk that up to a few different things. One is the fact that we have teenagers and they think every nice thing we say to each other is gross and cheesy. Any display of our physical affection is cause for dramatic retching noises. 

Another is that we are getting older and extremely comfortable with the other. Probably another is that we are busy and stressed. Regular life is stressful. Pandemic life is over the top.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think romance is great. The heart-fluttery feelings are nice (as long as they are unrelated to the two cups of coffee I have in the morning, because then I know I have to cut back, and I really would rather not). But, even if the romance isn’t quite as frequent as it used to be, you do get some other things in return.

I get to shake his shoulder at 3am when the night is too dark to sit in all by yourself. And he will sit up and hold me close, telling me it’s going to be ok.

I get a partner who lets me cry when I’m scared or sad or furious. And he’ll just sit there with me and not once leave me by myself.

I get a co-parent who looks my children in the eye and tells them the truth about life.

I get to laugh with someone who gets the old jokes, the ones I don’t have to keep explaining like I would with a new friend.

I get someone who will always be outraged on my behalf.

I get a mirror held up to my face, even when it hurts. But somehow, since the mirror-holder loves me, it doesn’t seem so hard to face.

 I get to be the strong one sometimes, yoking up next to him so I can help with the heavy stuff.

So no, romance isn’t the big idea in our relationship the way it used to be. It’s still there, in the chocolate and the flowers and the helium balloons he favors (and which startle me every time I enter the room). It’s there in the looks we send across the room sometimes, in the silly notes we leave each other in the morning, in the quiet, rare moments we have alone.

But what we have, after nearly two decades of facing life together, is richly, deeply layered. It’s strong and sure. It’s comforting and steadfast. It absolutely never gives up.

Because what’s clear to me is that, even if there are days and weeks when I don’t see the romance, there’s never been a single day in all these years that I don’t see the love.

Thankful in 2020

Dear American friends, how are you this Thanksgiving? It’s been a challenging time for all human persons on planet Earth, but I must say that I think of all of the US citizenry quite often these days. I hope that Thanksgiving has been a time of reflection and self-care for all of you. I hope someone brought you a genuine and delicious pumpkin product. I hope you have a fluffy blanket and a loyal pet snuggled up against your legs.

 While I am not a citizen of the United States, I think this week has been a good time for me to think about why I am grateful (besides for the fact that I’m Canadian), right now, during this year that has been so challenging, and frightening, and endless. 

Let me start this by saying that I’m a pretty classic definition of an introvert. I recharge my battery with solitude and quiet. Pre-pandemic, I would enjoy socializing and the odd noisy party, but my comfort zone has been in the company of a few really great people who already know me so well we can skip past the small talk and dig into the stuff that really matters. I don’t really have a “tribe” so much as a scattering of individuals who love me as much as I love them.

So this social distancing, for my family, hasn’t had the impact that it has had on others who love the energy of a crowd. But I still miss the people who mean the world to me, and whose physical absence has made an impact. It feels less like a shock to the system as a slow, wearing away, like water over river rocks. 

And that’s where we arrive at the Introvert’s Guide To Things To Be Thankful For, 2020 Edition. Here we have a few things that help keep me going in these strange times:

  1. My friend Kathy, who swoops into my classroom while I’m working alone on my computer. She brings me little treats like organic honey and her Instapot to try out. She tells me (every time) that I look amazing. And suddenly I feel like I do.
  2. My friend Nancy, who sends me hilarious memes and fun gifts that seem to just lighten the load. We share the same regrettable sense of humor, one that tends to get funnier in inverse relation to how well life is going.
  3. The Messenger chat group that I share with Nancy and Kathy. If I need to laugh, or if I need to share a laugh, this is where I go. We named the group “I Laughed Out Loud” several years ago, and it has more than lived up to its name.
  4. My friend Ahime, whose kids have grown up with mine since they were in first grade. She and her family have just always shown up for us. We share a deep love and nostalgia for Halloween. This year could have been a bummer, but she and her crew showed up in costume (and face masks) with candy and Cards Against Humanity.
  5. My friends Evelyn and Maythe, who made a WhatsApp chat called Guera’s Team, and we speak almost exclusively in Spanish or melodramatic gifs. Most of the gifs are accompanied by the “crying laughing” emoji, and it’s absolutely accurate.
  6. My parents, who check in almost every day. No, they can’t come this year, and that’s about as sad as it gets in a year that hasn’t really been famous for happiness. But they know exactly what’s happening in our day to day lives down here.

Sense a theme? This is what I’m thankful for in this year of isolation and financial belt-tightening and literal belt-loosening. I am thankful for people who can throw open the door and let a little sun inside. I’m grateful for the people who know that grand gestures and big gifts can be wonderful, but what really saves our hearts and minds are the little things that take about five extra minutes of our time.

If anything, my list is a reminder that we can all be those people, just taking the time to check in with someone else and be sure they are ok. We can brighten the day of someone else by remembering something unique about them, or sending them a quick gift, or putting a cup of their favorite coffee on their desk. Tell them how fabulous they look. Compliment them on their hair. Don’t mention the obvious belt-loosening.

Be the reason they are thankful this year.

Our Dog Lucy

I’m going to share this with you because I need to and because, if it helps anyone else, it will be worth it. But it’s going to be sad, and I’m going to have to take some breaks. Stay with me, sit with me.

I want to tell you about Lucy, our curly-haired poodle/mystery-pup rescue. We had her since 2011, when MexPup Rescue called us and asked if we’d like to adopt a small, probably hypoallergenic-ish dog. We are a family of allergic people, but we are dog people, and we said yes. 

We met Lucy in Sayulita with her foster mom. She peeked out behind her shyly, wanting to come and say hi, but not familiar with many kind people besides this big-hearted lady who took her in when the local pound was going to euthanize her. The four of us surrounded her to say hello, talked to her softly and petted her soft fur so she could know that we would be good to her. By the time we opened our car door a couple of hours later, she hopped right in and got comfy.

From the start, Lucy saw her role in our lives as Security Guard, Protector of the House, and Mom at Large. She followed us around and laid her body between us and every possible perceived threat, including small car noises outside. As brave as she was, she was afraid of thunder and brooms. She welcomed long belly rubs and frequent walks to sniff every blade of grass. She was quiet and tender-hearted, with large eyes that seem to see completely through each and every one of us.

As the family dog in a house of young children, she was dressed up in frilly tutus, superhero capes and Halloween costumes. Her fur was often drizzled with childish tears and grownup mom tears. She paced anxiously around people when they were upset, and spent long hours on every sick bed. She stayed at the edge of the ocean, nervous as a young mother, as our kids screamed joyfully in the waves.

When we found little Max under a car one December day eight years ago, we brought him home to a concerned Lucy, who immediately sniffed him with her long tail waving in welcome. He was adopted as a pack member on the spot, and they were best mates ever since.

In the last year or so, Lucy began to fade. We noticed a cough starting to bother her, and she began to make frequent trips to the vet. She had some pills that help ease the wheezing that seemed to be provoked by excitement, or a humid night, or water going down the wrong tube. She had some bad episodes, with late night calls to her vet and new appointments. She would get tremors. She started to have trouble with the stairs. She slowed way down, taking long walks that only went about twenty feet from the house.

Dr. Paco told us gently, “Lucy is an abuelita.” It was natural that her body would begin to betray her, and, last Wednesday night, it finally gave up on her. Even as she fought to breathe that day, she struggled to her feet, tail waving, as I came through the door after work. I knew we were on borrowed time. Gil knew. The kids knew.

Her vet was on call with us all day and he gave us indications of when we would need to make an urgent call. The indications happened, but too quickly. Within minutes we were gathered around her one more time, hands in her fur, talking to her softly, saying goodbye the same way we said hello over nine years ago.

Wait, friends. I need a little break.

This is where we are right now. Our family is grieving deeply for someone who has left our pack. Our teenaged children are spend a lot of time sharing old pictures and little video clips with their friends. They come in for hugs often. They get angry easily..

My husband is trying to Get Things Done, solving every tiny problem that comes up with a determination that speaks to me of avoidance. He has some very quiet moments.

I am sleeping badly, crying often, hoisting myself through the days. Small remembrances cause sudden tears, no matter where I am. People’s kindnesses are overwhelming.

Our little terrier Max has stopped eating. When Lucy first passed and we were waiting for the pet cremation company to come for her, we put Max on his leash to take him outside. Immediately he ran to get his pack mate and nudged her as if to say “Come on, get up, time to go outside and do our thing!”. When she didn’t move, he backed away in confusion. These days he would lie under the couch all day if we let him (we don’t). 

It’s grief, my friends. It’s a hard, hard expression of the love we have for a small creature whose impact on our lives was lasting, constant and cherished. She is worthy of this grief, having dedicated every moment to our family as a gentle, caring friend.

So now we’ll remember, and we’ll cry for her, and we’ll wish she was still with us. We’ll work our way through this because she was our friend, our pack mate, our guardian. We will be ok, because it was her goal in life to make sure we were. And we owe her that. 

I hope she closed her eyes with one more look around at the people she loved the best. I hope she heard me tell her, again and again, what a very good girl she was. I hope she felt our hands in her fur and knew comfort and love in her last moments. I hope we can care for her memory half as well as she cared for us.

Birthday Boy

Every year, when my oldest son has a birthday, I take a bit of time to get over the shock. How could it be that I have been a mother for so long? It’s surprising for a few reasons. I’m surprised because time has put a blindfold over my eyes and spun me around so fast I can’t quite breathe. I’m surprised because it’s been so long and I still feel like a beginner. I’m surprised because he’s standing here in front of me, doing new things and telling me other things that I didn’t know.

But now he’s turning sixteen, and my surprise is complex, and emotional, and frightening. This boy is not really a boy. Not anymore. But he’s not quite a man, either. And in this space between the two is where I find him today. 

He’s tall and strong, but he still needs to go to bed early or he can’t quite function the next day. 

He’s wise, so much wiser than I was at the same age, but he still takes pleasure in teasing his sister to distraction. 

He’s capable and independent, but says he can’t make his own quesadillas because mine taste better (did I mention he’s wise?).

He can drive, for heaven’s sake. HE CAN DRIVE A CAR. And yet, he doesn’t always make the choices that a fully grown human might make. None of us did when we were sixteen.

So now, I’m sort of re-imagining my role in his life. For people that say it’s so much easier when your kids are more independent and can feed themselves, I say that easy isn’t the word I’d use. 

Yes, I no longer feed my son with a spoon. I don’t spend my days trying to complete tasks with one teething baby riding on my hip. There are no potty lessons, or food to grind up, or grapes to cut into neat halves on his plate. 

I can’t call his friends’ moms and arrange a playdate when he’s lonely. I am forbidden from contacting his teachers when his grades take a dip. I can’t pick him up and whisk him away from danger. I can’t rear up on my momma bear hind legs and swat away everything that makes him sad. I can’t, and I shouldn’t, even if I want to (and I do want to). Because that’s no longer my job. And, as his mom, that’s a very scary thing to understand.

Because he’s going to be lonely. He will get disappointing grades. He will find himself in danger. He will be sad. And I can’t fix it for him. I can’t, because someday soon I will lift time’s blindfold from my eyes, and he’ll be walking out that door. If I’ve done it right, then he’ll walk away with the skills he needs to handle life on his own terms.

So now I’m his listening ear when someone breaks his heart. I’m a teacher who helps him organize his schedule and make a quesadilla that’s just as good as his mom’s. I’m a control group, where he can check out his wildest theories, test out his boundaries, and push the limits every. Single. Time.  I’m the enforcer when he breaks through a few.

I’m his safe place to fall. I’m his greatest fan. 

So here is this man-child standing in front of me, big ol grin lighting up his face, which means I’m going to hear about it from his sister in a minute. He’s brilliant, and wise, and absolutely the same boy who made me read aloud his Captain Underpants novels six times each. And someday, when he walks away, it’s going to take everything that I’ve got in me not to run after him and drag him back home.

So no, it’s not easier. I’m walking a line that’s right between parenting and partnering. I’m letting him go, bit by bit. And while that might have been true his whole life, it’s becoming more real every day.

It’s not easier now. But with this boy it’s also wonderful, and it’s worth every minute.

Mexican Independence Day, 2020

I don’t know about you, but I found this last week sort of difficult. There were my usual challenges: 

  • doing a job that’s quite a bit trickier to carry out in the “new normal”
  • helping my children complete assignments on the French Revolution while doing my tricky job 
  • wondering if throat is scratchy or if I just overused my voice in order to be heard through my mask

It’s hard enough being a hypochondriac when there isn’t a pandemic going on. I am always concerned about small changes in my health, and even more concerned about small changes in my family’s health. And it’s not great for hypochondriacs in the Information Age, when you can look up any ailment and found out how it will certainly kill you very soon.

But that hasn’t been the most challenging part of the week. I think the part that was hard for me was the fact that Mexico’s biggest day, Dia de la Independencia, happened this week and, for a good portion of us, it was celebrated in our homes.

Mexican’s Independence Day is a loud, colorful, crowded celebration. It’s everything great about Mexico, rolled into a couple of days of music, food, fireworks and the legendary “El Grito” in the main square at 11pm. This holiday signifies absolutely everything that doesn’t seem possible in 2020: people packed together, unified, joyful.

Let me be clear: I don’t much like crowds. I never have. Crowds are loud, hot and sweaty. They cause a ton of traffic and they don’t let you get close to the thing you are trying to see. If you DO get close, you feel completely hemmed in, unable to get a breath of fresh air. 

Mexico’s biggest fiesta is no exception. Our family rarely goes downtown to see the fireworks anymore, and we usually opt for a safe, quiet spot to view the fireworks. One year we attended the Mexican Fiesta at the Westin and enjoyed a buffet of national dishes, music and fireworks with a small group.

But it still seemed sad to celebrate this lively, vivid ode to freedom online. I love how much patriotism exists here, how much pride in the flag and in the traditions of this country. It goes against the very nature of Mexico and her people to decline the invitation of the biggest fiesta of the year. 

I turned on the TV for our family, because we were already all sitting in front of it watching the Nacho Libre. No, we weren’t watching Nacho Libre just because it’s set in Mexico and celebrates lucha libre, an integral part of Mexican culture. We decided to watch the movie (again) because a) we desperately needed a laugh b) Nacho’s wrestling partner, El Esqueleto, reminds us all so much of Gilberto that a) is covered.

When I switched over to the livestream of the Presidential Palace in the Zocalo of Mexico City, there was a bit of grumbling, because Nacho had just begun singing the Ramses song, and that’s just hilarious. But then we quieted as the solemnity of the moment started to settle around us all. The plaza was lit up, as always, but it was completely, utterly, still. And the impact felt like the stillness after a battle.

The president’s voice rang out and echoed as it ricocheted between buildings across the empty Zocalo. The military guards’ answers of “VIVA” sounded resolute, but lonely. It brought tears to my eyes. I imagined all the thousands who usually gather in the square, now separate in their homes, wondering if Lopez Obrador’s Call to Hope would have an answer sometime soon.

But, the fact is, we are still here. Maybe we can’t join together to answer El Grito, but we. are. still. here. And maybe the most united thing we could do, in the face of an illness that threatens the most vulnerable of our people, is stay apart. And as we stayed apart this year, perhaps next year we will come together with everyone who would have succumbed otherwise. Maybe the most patriotic thing to do was to cheer from our couches and rooftops and quiet patios.

Maybe that is how we answer Mexico’s Call to Hope.

Maybe next year, we will celebrate with even more pride, knowing we are a country who cares for our own. Mexico is a country that never gives up. Mexico is a place where the elderly population is revered for their wisdom, and protected with all our care.

Viva Mexico, and long may she live.

Lost Momma

I am pretty good at several things. For one thing, thanks to my Mennonite heritage, I know that pastry dough isn’t something you can learn how to make in one day. It takes about twenty-seven years and three buckets of tears and sixteen fake smiles while people attempt to fork through your leathery pie crust. In my forties, after two hit-or-miss decades of baking experience, I have achieved pastry goodness (probably with my eyes closed).

But there are areas where I could  improve. These are things that I have actively TRIED to improve, but haven’t achieved much success. I present to the reader my abysmal sense of direction, which includes my ability to follow directions, given painstakingly and repeatedly.

My children know this about me and find it, at times, kind of endearing. I can hear them talk to their friends and their friends’ parents about it in a kindly tone of voice; “We’re late because my mom got lost on the way to your house again. But don’t worry, she brought you pie.”

Other times they find it extremely irritating and infuriating. Especially when I take them to new places and tell them it will be fun, except we consistently get lost on the way to the places. During the last two weeks, for example, I thought it would be fun to take a couple of family hikes.

My husband loves to hike, but my kids aren’t really fans. They are teenagers and don’t enjoy a) sweaty walks in the woods and b) places without wifi. So hiking isn’t on their top list of fun activities at the moment.

column, lost momma 5

If these cows attack me, you’ll be sorry.

However, they are pretty good sports about trying out new activities with me, mostly because I don’t stop suggesting them until they try. So we took two hikes that were suggested by friends. One was a hike along the Rio Cuale that ended along a nice swimming spot in the hills, and the other was Monkey Mountain near Punta Mita.

I always research the hike beforehand. I ask my friends for directions, I check maps, I calculate distances. I am forever optimistic that my plans are fool-proof. And they may be, but they are not Leza-proof.

We have been on two hikes in the last two weeks, and we have been lost exactly two times. We found people on both hikes who attempted to give us concise directions. To be fair, my husband confirmed the directions IN SPANISH and we continued on our way, and continued to be lost. So I do not believe my shortcomings were entirely at fault, but they most definitely didn’t help.

My children, being teens, were less than amused. Being stuck in a very deep, very hot jungle at 1pm and being entirely unsure of where we were isn’t really hilarious AT THE TIME. Now, I look back and visualize the four of us standing on a rock-strewn path, sweating freely, and it’s actually a little funny: My kids, rolling their eyes so hard they could probably catch a glimpse of their underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes.  My husband, hacking a bit desperately at the underbrush to try to find the path. Me, trying to smile with all my teeth and probably coming across as increasingly unhinged.

We did not find the swimming spot on the Rio Cuale that my friend said was “super easy”. We did not find the incredible view from the top of Monkey Mountain (I’ve heard it’s breathtaking though).

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We DID find a bit of humor as we literally climbed what appeared to be an undiscovered, slippery rock face in sneakers, trying (and in my case, failing) not to grab onto fistfuls of a plant that a helpful local called “quemadora” (burning). We also chuckled, albeit nervously, over the cows and bulls whose curiosity led them right over to us as we invaded their grazing space.

 

We also had a laugh over this momma, whose famous lack of spatial skills had led us all, yet again, in uncharted territory. I hold onto hope that all these lost wanderings will find a happy place in our family’s collective memory. And that the memories will be shared with my grandchildren with fondness, laughter, and plenty of grandma’s pie.

She’s Fourteen

Today my daughter turned fourteen. It’s an exciting age, fourteen, in that you really can’t completely predict what’s going to happen to a kid. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s a good kid. She’s smart, funny, and super interesting. But I think you have to admit that these are the “hang on to your hat” kind of years in a child’s life.

 

Let’s all take a moment and reminisce about what we were like when we were fourteen. I’ll start. First of all, hormones pretty much wrecked what was already unfortunate hair for a self conscious teenager. I had naturally curly hair, and once I turned fourteen, it became uncontrollably frizzy. Also, mullets were in style (at least I kind of thought so). Also, I had a lot of misplaced confidence in a styling product called Hair Glue.

 

I’ll leave it to your imaginations. All I can really share to help you understand this situation is to tell you about the time in Grade 9 when my brother and I got off the school bus. One of his female friends took him aside and asked him, “Is that your sister?” He answered in the affirmative, and she said “poor girl.”

 

POOR GIRL. She wasn’t wrong.

 

So clearly I can understand that my daughter might go through some times that may seem a bit tricky. And I worry because, in many ways, we are very much alike. We care about current events, and get too loud when we are really worked up over them. We love animals and animals love us. We can’t go anywhere without finding one following along behind us, knowing somehow that they’ve found some very soft hearts. We crack each other up, as in falling-against-each-other, stumbling-around-laughing.

But she is a bit ahead of the person I was at the same age, in that she understands that styling products shouldn’t have to be removed the same way one removes gum from hair. She is also a lot funnier than I was at the same age, which bodes well for her future.

 

She’s super talented at drawing, and has that creative artist’s sensitive soul. She is far more athletic that I was, which means she can run without making her P.E. teacher laugh behind his hand when he thought I couldn’t see him. Ahem.

She already knows how to apply makeup, even though she doesn’t wear it out of the house quite yet. I was allowed to at the same age, and I really shouldn’t have been, considering the heavy hand I had with the hot pink eye shadow. But my girl follows her heart, not the crowd, and she’s still not interested in showing up in makeup or high heels.

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Most of all, she’s so very brave. We once had a mouse in our kitchen, and while I do love animals, I don’t do rodents in my cooking space. My husband was at work, and I was alone with the kids, so I put on my best tough face and got to work trying to catch it in a box so I could release it. But every time it would pop out from behind an appliance, I would begin to scream in a manner that was quite out of my control and run into the bathroom across the hall. It was frustrating, and more than a bit embarrassing in front of the kids (who have that healthy sense of humor).

 

Finally my son went back upstairs, since the entertainment was getting repetitive. My daughter looked over at me, red-faced and sweating from anxiety. She took my hand and sat me down. Then she went back into the kitchen and picked up the box I had just thrown in hysteria. She said “Mom, I got this. Just stay there. The screaming scares it back behind the oven.”

 

I stayed. And I watched this realist, this brave human that somehow descended from my gene pool. I couldn’t imagine anyone more beautiful than this capable, valiant, tender-hearted human being.

 

Happy birthday to my fourteen-year-old girl. You are one tough cookie, and I am proud to be your mom.

 

Our Dad’s Day

Hey Dads! Sunday, June 21 is your day. You may already know that because your significant other has been planning this day ever since you failed to remember Mother’s Day on May 10. You might think that this is a very odd vengeance; to celebrate you with a dinner filled with your favorite foods and a big bow-wrapped box sitting on your chest, just waiting for your eyes to open in the morning.

 

But it really isn’t odd at all. You underestimate your partner’s capacity to commit passive aggressive acts designed to inflict guilt and a tendency to overcompensate on the next special holiday such as Christmas, a birthday, or the soon-to-be-traditional Just Because.

 

Or maybe you DID make a big deal on Mother’s Day, with the flowers and the breakfast in bed and the online shopping. If you did that, then I salute you and say that I am sure you will be treated in kind. Because your partner feels valued, they will then want to be sure you feel the same value. At least, that’s part of the reasoning behind it.

 

My husband is a wonderful father. He is kind, compassionate and fun, and I celebrate him on Father’s Day for those reasons. But also:

 

  • He tells terrible jokes, and they lighten the mood anyway. For those Dads who think you are actually very clever, your jokes are still terrible. They make us laugh because they are terrible, because you are trying, and because we love you.
  • He does a lot of things around the house. He does things that I really didn’t think of doing. He does things that I sometimes wish he’d set aside so that he could change the lightbulb in our bedroom that’s been dark for six weeks. But still, he does so many things.
  • He eats the food I cook, whether it’s his favorite dish or if it’s veggie tacos, which is not necessarily his favorite. He even eats my special cranberry and goat cheese spinach salad. He probably eats it without complaining because he doesn’t feel like cooking most of the time. But still.
  • He loves our kids with everything he has in his being. And these are teenagers. He lights up when they walk into a room, no matter how much their eyes are rolling when they enter. He chats them up no matter how palpable is the adolescent silence. He sits with them in their worst moments, and celebrates with them in the best of times. They know they are loved, and this is going to pay off. Some day. I am pretty sure.
  • He ignores so much of what we do that is downright annoying. He doesn’t say a word when I mutter to myself and slam things in the kitchen after a bad day. He picks up my laundry that I leave on the bathroom floor without a word. He bring the kids their forgotten homework with a smile.

 

There are so many reasons why my husband is such a very mighty father. But I think the best way to explain it is through this very true story:

 

Our family likes to play volleyball together. None of us are professional, and I am actually downright poor (it’s ok, it’s totally true). My husband is by far the strongest player, and he loves the game. The interesting thing is that he is almost never on the winning team, no matter with whom he plays.

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The kids haven’t quite caught on, but I have been with man nearly twenty years, so I’m onto him. The thing is, whoever is teamed up with him is going to get the chance to really play. He is going to make sure we get a chance to hit it over the net. He sets it up so that we can’t miss.

 

But we do miss. A lot. He keeps smiling as we lose points for him and let him down time and time again. He offers a few pointers and then lobs us the ball again instead of just spiking it over the net and getting the easy points. Over and over he gives us chances, and over and over we fail him.

 

Once in awhile, we get one over, and he lights up like a candle. He cheers us on. He lets us shine. And if that’s not a Dad who deserves to celebrate Fathers Day this Sunday, I don’t know who should.

 

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads who cheer on their children every day. Thanks for setting it up for us. We’ll do our best shine for you.

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