Our Vallarta

For me, it’s either really hard or really easy to write with a broken heart. If I have all the information I need, even it’s devastating, then it’s easy. Writing becomes my medium, my channel to connect my pain to some sort of release. But if there’s confusion or chaos, then it’s like my feelings have nowhere to go from the pain. And it’s hard to put them to paper.

Last night, I went to bed to the sound of the trees being buffeted by the wind. If you live in Vallarta, you know that most places don’t experience more than a pleasant sea breeze for much of the year. So wind lashing our trees around is not something to which I fall asleep. Sheets of rain pelted our skylight all evening, and our lights flashed off and on about ten times.

Around 4:30pm, August 28
Around 4:50pm, August 28
After the eye had passed over us, later that night

But I fell asleep easily, because the storm was starting to abate, and I was safe and warm. More importantly, I had just spent my evening surrounded by my family, who all instinctively camped out in our living room while Nora spun her circles outside. We watched the storm and listened to music while chatting and drinking tea. It was a mother’s cozy dream. I looked around me with gratitude at one point, watching my dogs tumbling over my kids while my husband played guitar. That was last night.

Now it’s today. I’ve just gotten up the morning after Hurricane Nora churned her way through the town of my heart, Puerto Vallarta, and I don’t know much. But here’s what I DO know:

  • Rivers burst their banks, hurtling themselves all over places they don’t belong
  • People’s homes are damaged or destroyed
  • Rivers continue to rise
  • There are missing people
  • I haven’t heard from all the people who are very important to me

And so, writing this is difficult. I’ll write it up and send it in to my editor, and I imagine next week when you read this, so much will have changed. What I’m hoping is, it will have changed for the better, because this is pretty bad. Every time I open my newsfeed, it gets a little worse, but I keep opening it, because I have to know.

I can hear sirens come and go on the street beside mine and I send up my prayers with the passing of each. All I can do is what the authorities have asked, which is to stay home and keep checking on the people who are part of my community. I am gathering information to make sense of what’s happened, and to know how to direct the help I’m able to offer.

My heart is broken, because Vallarta has been my home for twenty-one years. If you’ve been here then you know how this city gets right inside your soul. She’s a special lady, quaint and old-fashioned on one hand, but sassy and beautiful on the other. She doesn’t sleep because she’s haciendo la fiesta all night long. Her skirts are sandy beaches, where the party’s still going in the morning.

So if my Vallarta is hurting, then so am I. So are we all who call this place home. The good news is that I know we have an amazing Civil Protection team who work tirelessly and organize with incredible efficiency. I know that we’ve got emergency response teams who are the most astonishingly hard-working and compassionate group of people, and who have seen us through so many disastrous moments.

And I know this community, because I was here during Hurricane Kenna and I saw what a community can do when disaster strikes (in the form of a category five hurricane). We come together and we brush each other off. We link arms and we stand up. And, as we rise, Vallarta rises with us.

Because we ARE Vallarta, and we will stand again.

My Quinceañera

In my HEAD, I have always known that parents aren’t supposed to try to force our kids to live our unrequited dreams. But in my HEART, I have always known that I would have been so cute in a tutu, had I had the opportunity to try ballet lessons. And that’s why I was thrilled when my three-year-old told me that she would be a ballet princess. I was so excited to buy the leotard, the tutu, THE TINY BALLET SLIPPERS. I mean, come ON.

She went willingly to her class at the Biblioteca Los Mangos twice a week. I’d drop her off and wait among the book stacks, convinced that she was on her way to childhood ballet greatness. I wondered if she’d add some jazz dance along the way or if she’d be a ballet  purist and I’d have to actually master the pristine hair bun. 

The dream.

A few weeks ago, she and I found some old videos of her very first and very last dance recital, because she refused to go after her debut season. It was an amazing window into her developing personality. Spinning when everyone else was standing still. Attempting a pirouette when everyone else was doing a plie. Waving her arms in the air and sticking out her tongue when everyone else was, well, NOT doing that.

The reality

We laughed a LOT because it was adorable to see her, pristine little hair bun (her father’s work), frothy pink tutu (often found in her mouth), and gorgeously tiny ballet slippers (pounding like a pair of tap dance shoes on the stage). But it also made me laugh because she has never been anyone except her own beautiful self, parental dreams or not.

This week, she turned fifteen, and she is more herself than ever. She loves My Chemical Romance, anime, and wearing black. She hates crowds and noisy parties. Sure, she’s been blessed with some of her parents’ finer qualities. 

From her father she got: 

  • an incredibly discriminating (outrageously picky) palate that resulted in a year or two of eating only yogurt, Cheerios and applesauce
  • a killer combination of perfectionism and creativity that has resulted in a talented sketch artist
  • a persistence that works very well when she needs to get a job done, but doesn’t work well when it’s really really REALLY time for bed and the sketch she’s working on isn’t quite right.

From her mama she got:

  • The overthinking gene, bless her heart. Those 4am internal alarm clocks that wake her to worry over something she said to someone three years ago – that’s all me.
  • The slightly atypical sense of humor – yeah, well at least we each have someone to laugh at our jokes now.
  • A life in song – yes I sing a bit. Mostly in the shower nowadays, but it helps me get my frustrations out, and it’s far better than screaming. She has found the same pleasure, and her voice is so lovely.

But she’s also her very own person with so many unique qualities. She sees injustice in the world in a way I never did at the same age. She understands and empathizes with people’s pain in a way that seems beyond her years. She has an intuitive way with animals that’s been there  before she could walk, and they seem to gravitate toward her like she’s magnetized for fur.

She has this incredible sense of rhythm, which most CERTAINLY didn’t come from my Canadian genes (thankfully), and could always be found front and center in the folkloric dances performed at school.

She doesn’t do ballet anymore, and she wouldn’t wear a pink tutu unless it was ironically. And of course, I wouldn’t be able to tell, so I’d tell her she looked amazing and then she’d laugh right out loud like she does.

She’s fifteen and she has grown well beyond my own little unrequited dreams. She’s got her own dreams, because what she’s capable of surpasses what I could possibly imagine. She’s strong, and kind, and so so good. She still spins when others stand still, and pirouettes when the others plie. She amazes me, my girl, and I am so glad she’s still dancing to her own beautiful song.

My Dad

I am one of those people who was fortunate to have a dad who was present throughout my life. And by present, I mean that he has always been there for me on a daily basis. And by involved, I mean that he would absolutely not think twice about driving around town at 3am when I was in high school and missed my curfew (long story, don’t tell my kids).  

But when I say he is present in my life, I also mean that he and I still have a continuous conversation on text that we can pick up at any time during the week and not miss a beat. He has made a point to have a relationship with people who matter to me, and loves his grandkids and son-in-law dearly. 

He wasn’t the kind of dad who would come home after a long day of teaching and flop on the couch, even though he sure must have felt like it. I can still remember the excitement of my dad arriving home, because he was always ready with a funny, unlikely story or a cozy cuddle in front of the TV.

My dad put the time in and entertained my childish ideas. When my twelve-year-old friends said they’d be holding tryouts for a super-exclusive cheerleader squad, he spent hours in the backyard with me, perfecting my routine. I could not even do a cartwheel, which was part of the basic criteria, so he decided I’d learn how to do one. I still cannot do a cartwheel, and definitely shouldn’t nowadays, but boy, it wasn’t because he didn’t want it badly enough. 

My dad never judged me, even though he tried very hard to help me become a kind, caring person. I can’t say I never let him down. I did. A few (more than a few) times. But I always knew that, no matter how badly I messed it up, he’d always stick around. And that his love for me wouldn’t change a bit.

One of the greatest things about my dad is that he has always been the puzzle piece that didn’t quite fit into the neat space called “dad”. When I was a kid he was weird, guys, but, like, a great kind of weird. He read us books from unconventional, funny people. He did unexpected things like start singing Happy Birthday in the middle of a crowded restaurant (it was never actually anybody’s birthday when he sang it). He dressed up for Halloween. He rode a unicycle. He juggled. He had a Smothers Brothers-esque routine he did with my uncle (another unique piece of the puzzle) at every family wedding.

Even now, he likes to dress up in his favorite masks (I forgot to mention his collection) and send us photos. He hides severed arm props around the house when we visit. Yeah, I have lived an entire lifetime thinking that no one could hold a candle to my dad. And who can blame me?

When I moved to Mexico and decided to stay, I knew it was hard for my dad. We have always been close, and it was obvious that this was going to make him sad. He wanted so many things for me; to be safe, to be close by, and to be happy. But how could I be anything other than his daughter, someone who didn’t always follow the regular rules in life? And how could his daughter be completely happy if she didn’t do a little singing in her own tune? 

And so I have raised my children the way my dad raised me. When they want to try something new, no matter how silly it may seem, I will help them give it a try. When I come home from work, I try to be ready with a story and a cuddle. And when they tell me their dreams, their mistakes, their sorrows, I listen and try not to judge them. 

And yeah, I tend to hover, worry and check up on them. They know I wouldn’t hesitate to jump in my car at 3am in order to find them, any day of the week.

My dad’s presence in my life has helped me become a caring parent. It has helped me become a person who follows her own path and listens to her own heart. And, lucky me, it’s given me one of the best friends I could ever have. Happy Father’s Day, dad.

Getting the Jab

It’s been a long, hard haul to get to the place where the teachers of Jalisco found themselves a few weeks ago. After over a year of closed campuses and online learning, we were scheduled for appointments for our one-dose vaccinations as part of a multi-step plan to get our students back in the classrooms of Mexico. 

I have been a teacher at the American School of Puerto Vallarta for almost twenty-one years, and this year has been, by far, the most challenging one. So I was ready for my vaccine if it meant taking one small step closer to the thing we knew as normalcy.

This was no small feat for me, personally. I have a certain level of syringe hesitation. In layman’s terms, I’m a scaredy cat when it comes to needles. HUGE. Also, I faint as easily as a thirties movie heroine. Except without the graceful part. 

And the sad part is, there’s no particular reason why, except that I don’t like when stuff hurts. Couple that with the bit of vanity in me that hates people seeing me swoon from the sight of a needle in my arm.

 Sigh. I know. And yet, I weighed the risks to me plus the risk to others plus my eagerness to return to the life I had pre-pandemic (except in my mind’s eye, it will be even cooler). I weighed them against the thought of me laying on the concrete floor among hundreds of my colleagues, passed out after witnessing injections in so many arms. There was no contest, though. I was going for it.

I want to share that our local health authority is a BOSS at organizing some vaccines. I arrived, a bit shaky, to La Lija, a large sportsplex in the colonia Lomas del Coapinole. I did not wait in a single line. People were wonderful, calling us all “maestra” with gentleness and respect. We were ushered inside and given clear, calm instructions and the utmost care. They played upbeat music, giving everyone (including the nurses) the urge to move to the beat.

Because we were all masked, you couldn’t truly tell if people were smiling. But you just knew that everyone was, because how could you not? I could feel the pull of my own grin, tugging at the sides of my mouth, because there was a certain joy in every person there.

I imagine there was a feeling among the medical team that finally their job included this preventative step that would save thousands, instead of simply trying to keep everyone alive.

You could almost hear a released breath among the teachers, who had just lived a tough professional year of change and uncertainty, while holding their students together as tightly as they would their own family (but mainly at a distance).

As it happens, joy can be more contagious than Covid-19.

And yet, at the same time, I couldn’t hold back a few tears, thinking about all that has happened to us over this historic year. I thought of those hundreds of thousands of Mexican people who would never have the chance to take steps to prevent this disease. I thought of my family, none of whom I have seen in over a year. I thought of many millions here in this country, hoping and waiting for their turn before the virus catches up with them.

And yeah, I thought of me. Little old me, about to get a sharp needle in the arm (scaredy cat). But the stars were aligned and I did not faint. Actually, I didn’t even flinch. Well. Not a lot, anyway.

I hesitated to share my story just a little. I respect everyone who shared their vaccine selfie, because it’s a shared moment in history, but I know that there are many here waiting for their own turn. I worry that these stories and pictures will amplify their anxiety and their impatience to get their own vaccine and move on with their lives.

But I wanted everyone to know that this process is happening, and I wanted to bring some hope to the day for anyone out there wondering if their children will ever do a spelling test in a location that is not their living room.

It’s happening, people. Keep the light on and don’t give up. We’re going to get through this, our children will get back into school again, and we will go on. And I hope that, when your turn comes, you’ll feel like dancing too.

Mother’s Day 2021

My son told me that I should start this article by saying, “Mother’s Day is special because I have amazing kids.” He provided this true and self-congratulatory sentence because I was having a bit of trouble finding my topic sentence. Also, he needed me to hurry up and finish my article because he needs help studying for a physics test.

 And so I AM starting it according to his suggestion because a) this article will be about Mother’s Day and b) this whole sentence and story behind it perfectly describes motherhood. Kids are amazing, and they are much better at helping out when they have something to gain from it (I love you, my boy, but you know this is truth).

To all the mamas in Mexico: we have done it. We have completed more than ONE YEAR with our children under our feet, in our fridges, and on our technological devices. We have helped these children stay healthy, become educated, and remain more or less socially appropriate.

 Many of us also held down a job or two that had nothing to do with our children. Some of us lost our jobs and we had to think of new and creative ways to keep these growing bodies in decent clothing. 

We have done this by ourselves, in our own homes, just like the pioneers. And, unlike the pioneers, WE NEVER ASKED FOR ANY OF THIS. But we have done it, just like mothers do and have done forever. 

All the while, we are missing our own mothers, who are far away from us now. It’s been fourteen months since I’ve laid eyes on the woman who raised me. I don’t know when I will see her actually, although now that the vaccination programs are taking on a bit of momentum, it’s becoming more likely that it could happen.

And I miss her. Yes, we talk multiple times a week, through texting and lots of emojis with hearts in them. Yes, she gives me advice about lots of things and tells me to drink a lot of water and talks about her neighbors in the condo complex (most of whom I have never met). So it’s a little bit like having her there with me. But we both know that’s not the same thing.

As a mother, I need my own mother more than ever. I am trying to get my children through this last bit of online learning, I am trying to lose the pandemic weight I’ve gained, I am trying to work full time. I am trying to make decisions about my kids so that they don’t become lonely hermits, while still respecting the fact that we are in a worldwide health crisis.I am trying to be a kind wife even when I am deeply annoyed. I am trying to keep friends even though I am keeping my distance. I am trying to keep the fear about the future at bay. 

And, as I find my way around the toughest time in the modern age to be an adult, I Just. Really. Need. My. Mom. I need her for many reasons. Allow me to outline the main ones:

  1. She is emotionally supportive and uses the teapot like a therapy couch.
  2. She is a fantastic Nana and takes over when I am in my room, doing breathing exercises
  3. She cooks all the things that make me remember why my childhood was so great.
  4. She doesn’t sit around and agree with my nonsense when it’s nonsense (and there’s nonsense, all right).
  5. She absolutely backs me up when there’s nonsense from anyone else.
  6. She constantly reminds me of my strengths and never lets me get down on myself.

So mamas, I applaud you with a ten minute standing ovation for the parenting you’ve done this year, the good, the bad, the hideously ugly (and I know there were all three kinds). You’ve had a tough year as a mom, but you have pulled it off and made it beautiful. You’ve done it all, wore all the hats and most of you have done it without your own mom.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of those who have lived in these trenches this year. And Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers who sat helplessly by as their adult children texted in some seriously concerning messages when the WiFi went out mid-math test. Soon we’ll be together again, and soon the math tests will happen in another location, in a place where we don’t have to know about them. And that might be the greatest Mother’s Day gift of 2021.

The Future is Here

My son talks a lot about the future these days. I don’t blame him one bit, because the present is still a little slow, to be honest. We spent two weeks of a spring break hanging around home, mainly, watching the Harry Potter series (again), going for ice cream, seeing some friends individually (#pandemiclife) and generally staying in pajamas. 

So he likes to talk about what the future holds (which will surely be more exciting than walking the dog to the Oxxo and back), and what he needs to do to get ready. My son, you see, is the eldest, which means he takes his responsibilities SERIOUSLY. 

I regularly remind him that he is not thirty-five with a mortgage and growing family, but this boy leaves nothing to chance. He gets the grades, studies hard and works on his side interests like they are his job. In seventh grade he started leading community service projects at school because a) he really enjoyed it, b) he agreed to do it and therefore had to live up to his commitment and c) it would be great for his college applications. He thought all of these things IN SEVENTH GRADE.

I am fascinated by him because I remember that as a teenager I wasn’t really concerned about what lay beyond high school until about three-quarters of the way through twelfth grade. My grades weren’t terrible but they weren’t blinding anyone’s eyes with their glory. I got into the program I wanted and into a great college dorm, but that had very much to do with my mom always being On Top of Things. So watching him take out his laptop on spring break to complete a math assignment and finish an English project was like watching a UFO land on my lawn – it’s unfamiliar, incomprehensible and a little frightening.

The good thing is that my daughter, the baby of the family like I was, balances things out. She spends her days in the quiet joy of avoiding homework until the last minute. When I ask her what she might be interested in studying in university some day she rolls her eyes (her particular gift) and says “MOM, I’m only FOURTEEN.” Yes, that’s my girl.

Regardless, I should be used to these conversations with my son by now. And yet. The other day we were in the car and he was talking about the possibility of doing a double major at my alma mater in Manitoba, when it hit me. And when I say it hit me, I am telling you that it was like the steering wheel expanded in three seconds and pinned me against the seat. It was instantaneous. This boy is sixteen and a half. He is taller than me, better at math than me, and he was planning his future that wasn’t at all theoretical. 

His voice kind of faded away in my head (which isn’t a small deal because he isn’t really a quiet talker), and I saw his life flashing before my eyes. Baby getting his first vaccination, wailing in his father’s arms (I cried), little guy with the most beautiful curly hair at his first haircut (I cried), school ager getting his blue belt in tae kwon do (I cried), young man climbing the stairs to get his president’s award for academic excellence (of course I cried). 

Suddenly my eyes welled up and tears started pouring down my face, much to my surprise and to my son’s horror. Considering all the other times I cried, it shouldn’t have surprised me in the least, but I understood my son’s horror, since I was driving at the time. 

He said, urgently, “Mom, are you sick?”  I replied that no, I was fine, just realizing that my days of trying to find him a sports interest was over. My days of choosing when to cut his hair or dragging him to get his vaccinations or even planning play dates for him are done. We are coming to a new threshold and I visualize an empty room, one less plate to set, a whole lot less food to prepare.

He said “I know mom, I’m scared too.” And that really woke me up. Because this is something I recognized – being strong for my child even when I’m scared. I have spent sixteen years teaching these kids how to face the unknown with a bit of grit even when I was absolutely cowering on the inside. He may be planning his future, but he still needs his mom to let him know that it’s going to be just fine. 

So I blinked back the tears and grinned. Then I started to laugh because honestly, Leza, get it together. Time to start taking the multivitamin again. My son’s concern melted away a bit and he smiled back, looking hopeful that perhaps his mother would be able to drive the car to our destination after all (which was ice cream). 

Sure, I’ll get us there. After that, the wheel’s all yours.

One Year Ago

If I could, I would hug you all. But I can’t, because we still aren’t hugging, but just understand that I am sending out all of my warmest hugging vibes. Why, you ask? I’m surprised you have to ask, seeing as how my children are currently completing their very first week on our school campus.  No, they didn’t go for full days. No, the classrooms weren’t full. But they had their feet in a physical SCHOOL. I call this progress. 

To be honest, this whole week has been pretty surreal. I tend to get nostalgic over anniversaries of things, and this week was the first anniversary of so many momentous events. First of all, one year ago marks the last day of in-person learning. One year ago we lived the final days of a pre-pandemic Mexico. One year ago our family got on a plane for the last trip we have taken.

Yep, that’s right. Last year on Wednesday, March 11, I spent a sleepless night wondering why I was ever in charge of anything. We had JUST heard the news that the novel coronavirus had arrived in Mexico City and there were rumors that Measures Would Be Taken. Our bags were sitting by the door and our boarding passes were issued. I had a substitute booked for Thursday afternoon.

And it gets better. We were not only going to Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, at the beginning of what looked to be a big ol’ health crisis. We were heading down to La Mole, one of the largest comic conventions in Latin America. Sounds as good an idea as a trip to the middle of Rio de Janeiro to lick hand rails, doesn’t it? 

We had been planning this trip since summer, 2019, as a family prize for reaching some goals. My kids love (LOVE) anything to do with Japanese animation and had been watching videos about Comic Con in San Francisco. When I heard about a Mexico City version, I knew this was just the parental carrot that Gil and I had been living for all these years. We dangled that carrot and the results were very satisfying.

So, even though the convention was going ahead and most people still weren’t that concerned, we got a little worried. We had really banked a lot on this trip, and we really couldn’t afford to have a virus shred that golden carrot. We had spent hard-earned money for the tickets, the flights and the Air Bnb.The kids were excited, and had worked incredibly hard to get on that plane and into their carefully planned cosplay outfits.

On the other hand, I tend toward germaphobia on a good day, and this was not a good day. So I was, indeed, tossing and turning the night before we left, wondering about the wisdom of this trip. But we did go, with very little knowledge of what was about to happen in the entire Western Hemisphere at the end of the weekend.

So. Many. Spideys.

As little as we knew about the virus at the time, we remembered the H1N1 epidemic and we stocked up on hand gels and sprays. We ate at our apartment, which had been, from the smell of it, completely sanitized with about three liters of clorox before our arrival. We went early to the convention and we left once crowds began to fill up the space (early afternoon, just like the beaches in Vallarta!).

Just our luck, face masks were already fashionable in manga culture

And I want to tell you something: in spite of all the worry and the surrealness of that weekend, the memory of that last family trip is keeping me so warm on its anniversary. My kids were as happy as I had seen them in a long time. They got to see and experience more things than their teen hearts could hold. We stayed up late, walking around Polanco and taking in the views. The kids got dressed up in cosplay and joined in the glorious weirdness that is the Comic Con Crowd. Their dad and I walked holding hands, away from the stress and pressure of our busy, every day lives.

Who knew so much happiness could be had beside a hideous beast like this one

Of course, knowing what we know now, we wouldn’t have gone to that convention one year ago. But we didn’t know, and we have those memories of an epic weekend filled with fun and family. Those memories have kept us going through a very long year, and have given us hope that those times will come again.

As we enter slowly back into a semblance of normal, we can look ahead to making new memories and having epic experiences again. We won’t be licking any hand rails or attending any massive conventions very soon, but we will find our way to adventure as we begin this new day.

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.