About mommyinmexico

I'm a Canadian teacher who has been living in Mexico since 2000... I fell in love with the country in general and one of its citizens in particular. We have two kids, two dogs and a full life!

Time To Be a Tourist

When you live in a beautiful tropical paradise, it can be really fun to pretend you are a tourist for a few days. I mean, as long as you can go without the sunburn and dehydration issues. Also without the hotel buffet, because I have already gained at least three pounds based almost entirely on my current obsession with mint chocolate cookies.

We decided that during our Christmas vacation, we would enjoy some of what Vallarta has to offer our visitors. For one thing, my parents arrived on December 18th for their annual visit. To add to the fun, my brother and his wife found last minute flight deals which enabled them to come down for the first time in fifteen years and, for their three children, their first time ever.

I was determined that we would pack as much activity into one week as possible so that my nephews and niece could tell all their friends that their aunt was the coolest instead of the weirdest, which is what they normally tell people. We booked two trips ahead of time: a Vallarta Adventures tour to Las Marietas, and a zipline tour with Canopy Playa Grande.

The Vallarta Adventures tour company is probably the best known company in Vallarta. They have a wide variety of tour options for absolutely every type of traveler. As locals, we can request a locals price list, which ranges from around 25% to 30% off the original price, depending on the time of year. This is not a cheap tour, but it is incredibly professional and well worth the price.

We chose the Las Marietas tour because my brother’s family wanted to snorkel and experience a boat tour on the ocean. My own family and I have experienced boat tours many times, and my son and I have experienced seasickness exactly that many times. We avoided the misery with some Dramamine and kept them handy for my prairie-dwelling relatives.

The hosts of our boat were wonderfully friendly, casual and knowledgeable.  We had a chance to paddle board, snorkel and kayak while we were at Las Marietas, and we had a great tour of the islands, which collectively are a national park and bird preserve. The best part was spending time as an entire family with no distractions from cell phones or outside obligations of any kind.

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Two days later we were bumping along in a covered truck to Playa Grande Ecopark, a beautiful natural park along the river in the Ejido Playa Grande, where they are involved in conservation projects as well as tours. We were greeted by an enthusiastic staff with a lot of energy and passion for their work.

I have some personal issues with ziplines. The issue I have is that I despise being hundreds of feet off the ground, connected to a small pulley that is positively screaming along the metal cable,  hanging on with knuckles so white they could probably glow in the dark. But it’s not dark, so I can see exactly at what speed I’m definitely going to hit the tree at the end of my run.

I am happy to report, however, that I didn’t hit any tree, because there was always a confident staff member there to let me know when to slow down and, when I panicked slightly, to catch me before the tree abruptly interrupted my trip down the cable.

I highly recommend this new little company. If you join the website xplorapv.com, you can often find a coupon there that includes a canopy tour with transportation and a tequila tasting experience at the end of your tour. They offer lunch at their picturesque little restaurant, and there’s a beautiful river beach area where you can cool off in the crystal clear water.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you my mother. I am white-knuckling it the entire time, my mom is flying upside down.

Dear Vallartans, I’m so proud of you. Spending the week as a tourist I had the chance to understand again why our city is such a jewel. The spirit of Vallarta shines most brightly through all of her citizens. Thank you for spreading that passion, joy and goodwill to all who come to visit. Thank you for showing my family so clearly why, for so many of us, Vallarta is our cherished home.

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My beautiful crew

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Holiday Wishes

I feel like there’s a lot of pressure around the holidays. Things are Expected, like traditions and presents and happiness. I am here to tell you that, if you are feeling that extra load of responsibility, you are not alone. I am here to tell you that there are others around you, possibly me, who are attempting to do what you are doing and failing quite spectacularly. In my case, let’s just say things haven’t been going exactly as planned:

  • My festively decorated cookies look more like there was a tragic fire at the North Pole
  • My children caught a cold on the last day of school from the last kid to go home
  • I am supposed to be showing my family around Vallarta and I keep getting lost (I love Versalles almost the best out of all the neighborhoods, but tell me how the streets don’t all look exactly the same and also explain how they haven’t moved the Organic Select Store from Roma to Francia and back). My kids just roll their eyes and say “Ladies and Gentleman, I give you….. my mother!”
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It’s a gingerbread shack. What.

So, I figure it’s time to scrap the idea of perfection and look ahead to the future. A perfect way to do that is through some of the Mexican traditions on New Year’s Eve. For example, apparently there’s a New Year’s Eve underwear tradition. People who want love and passion in the next year wear red underwear. If they want happiness and prosperity they wear yellow. For health and well-being it’s green underwear. If you want love and friendship, wear pink. And if you are a good person and wish for hope and peace, wear white.  All I need to do is find myself a rainbow pair and I should be covered.

Also, I plan to take part in the tradition of eating twelve grapes as the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve, and making a wish as I eat each one. This is absolutely amazing, although as a rule a good preschool teacher would not be so foolish as to shove a lot of uncut grapes in her mouth (choking hazard, folks), but I’m sure I’ll be ok as long as I remember to buy seedless ones.

I’ve already figured out my wishes too:

  • That milk chocolate becomes calorie-free
  • Better make that milk chocolate and Nutella
  • Throw in some of that peanut brittle you can get in the Thursday Night Marina Market
  • That they invent bathroom doors into which children’s voices cannot penetrate
  • That the Vallarta winter forgets to turn into summer again
  • That the party place across the street gets so loud that they finally break the sound barrier and I can get a decent night’s sleep one time this holiday season
  • That my husband gets a Pinterest account and suddenly becomes obsessed with packing our kids a perfect Bento Box lunch for school every day for the remaining eight years they have in their pre-med-school years
  • That my son will apply his video gaming skill and dexterity to other fun activities like keeping a clothing item or two folded and put away in his closet
  • That my daughter will suddenly find me unbelievably wise and not at all cringe-worthy, even when I dance in public
  • That I will be able to find my way to my dentist’s office on Francia without consulting Google Maps
  • That I won’t wear a single clothing item inside out to work this year
  • That love will always warm my heart, even when the dog jumps on the table and eats my homemade Christmas mint cookies that looked like melted witches. That I will always, always find a way to laugh about it.column, new year 2018

Christmas Cansancio

I’m a little bit tired, dear ones. There’s a lot I love about the holiday season: the music, the lights, the friendly Mexican Santa at Galerias who tries to speak English to the gueras of Vallarta. But there’s a few things that threaten to drag me down; such as Christmas parties until 3am directly across the street, the traffic, the extra sugar coursing through my body, and my eye twitching in traffic. To name a few things.

Thanks to the parties, to which I am not invited but still reap the sound benefits of, I have not been sleeping well, and thus my parenting is less than top notch. Currently I have a zero tolerance policy on critical problems such as speaking above an indoor voice and arguing over the last half cup of milk. I have an earlier than usual bedtime curfew and my school lunch packing is becoming a little erratic.

Because I am a teacher, I am also able to enjoy large groups of students who wake up each morning to a mischievous Elf on the Shelf who reminds them that it’s almost Christmas and Santa is coming and now let’s go see Miss Leza to do some math. I’m sure you can imagine the rest.

On top of it all, my son is thirteen and very wise and urgently needs my daughter to know that Santa isn’t real. He is indignant that we continue to deceive his sister, and plus, why should she enjoy living in a dream world if he no longer has that luxury?

This isn’t what I signed up for, and it wasn’t covered in the manual that comes with each child when the stork lays them lovingly into their cribs for the first time.

My husband is racing from one gig to the next, and if I needed his help I should have asked for it about three months ago. I’m actually pretty certain that he isn’t even sure what Santa is bringing on Christmas Eve, because Santa and he haven’t had time to even stop for a second under the mistletoe, let alone have a conversation. And Santa has had a few seriously stressful moments when she found out that most of the stuff she was bringing on her sleigh might have trouble getting imported down the chimney.

Santa needs a massage and a pedicure.

Yes, I’m kind of tired. But my parents are arriving this week, and glory be. The feeling inside of me is probably like how George Washington felt during the Revolutionary War when he called in the cavalry; kind of like survival might be a possibility, at least for a few more days.

And the other great thing is that my brother and his family are arriving on Christmas Day, which means a full week of housefuls of people and food and deciding what eleven people will do all together, every day.

I love it because then there will be several other people to decide stuff, and to braid my daughter’s hair, and to send the kids to other rooms when they get too loud. I can sit back and relax and not worry about clean uniforms and fruit in lunches for appearance’s sake. I will sleep past 6am EVERY DAY and get up and drink three cups of coffee while setting out some donuts for the kids and call it breakfast.

It’s time for a break and a reset. It’s time for family and for a lot of belly laughs (it counts as an ab workout until January 8). It’s time to lay aside all the stress of the season and enjoy the very best parts of Christmas: family, love and gratitude.

And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, that’s ok. If you live in Vallarta, and your heart is open wide, the love and gratitude will find you (Well, perhaps not in the traffic. But quite possibly on the beach, and most definitely in Galerias while saying hola to the Mexican Santa).

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This happened years ago but it’s my favorite.

Looking For the Bright Side

I do genuinely try to be a positive person but I feel like it’s not my natural state of mind. However, it seems like kids constantly need to know that things are going to be okay. So I’ve tried to put a positive spin on situations from the time my children were very small:

“Wow, the electricity went off at 2am! Now we can have a cozy sleepover on mommy and daddy’s bed while telling desperate stories and sweating and praying for the fans to start up again!”

“Oh you spilled chocolate and ketchup and glue on your brand new t-shirt within the first ten minutes of putting it on? Well, you were going to grow out of it in six more months anyway!”

I don’t think this is my natural bent. I tend toward visualizing the very worst outcome of most things. Maybe my brain figures that if I visualize the worst and it happens, at least I won’t be surprised. And if something better happens, then it’s cool.

And the thing is, sometimes it seems like there’s no way to make things sound sunny. Like, at all. And that’s when you just have to zip it and wait out the chest pain that comes with severe stress.

My credit card information was stolen last week and somebody had about an hour of online bliss on my account. There’s definitely nothing good about that, because even if this somebody had exceptional taste in whatever they were purchasing, I’d almost certainly never benefit from it.

But it ended up that the experience kind of flipped over on its side and showed its silver underbelly.

  1. It was pretty easy to get the bank to cooperate with me, because I reported it immediately.
  2. I reported it immediately because a few months ago I let a bank employee talk me into getting a banking app on my cell phone, and thus I was notified of the charges on my account.
  3. I let the employee talk me into it because I didn’t have enough Spanish banking vocabulary to talk him out of it. However, by the time we went through the inexplicably long and intricate process of downloading and setting up the app, I had acquired the vocabulary I was missing.
  4. And that was pretty timely, because when I went on the phone to report the charges, I WAS COMPLETELY ABLE TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE CREDIT CARD COMPANY (don’t tell my husband. I have a near-phobic hatred of talking on the phone, and use my lack of Spanish as an excuse to have him make all my phone calls for me).

Do you see? It was a nasty situation, but there were things about it that were kind of ok. Certainly better than they could have been.

But I am still a struggling, somewhat dull student of optimism. Today we went to get the Christmas tree and as the store worker tied our brand new pine to our car roof, all I could visualize was our car stopped in the middle of the road by the airport, cars driving over our fallen tree and stamping it ever deeper into the asphalt. I was relieved when we arrived back at home. We unloaded the water jugs first that we had picked up at the same time (because multi-tasking was invented by parents of children who don’t like any of the same sports). The Boy carried in a jug and I followed, chuckling at my Negative Nelly self. He dropped the jug. It cracked. Water quickly spread itself all over my kitchen floor, burbling merrily from the crack at the bottom.

I yelled for Gil who was busy with the tree and couldn’t drop it because it had made it this far, and by Jorge, he wasn’t about to tempt fate. I yelled for my daughter to bring the mop and bucket and she said she didn’t know what that even was (and I registered this for later review under Ways I’m Failing as a Parent).

As we cleaned up the kitchen, all of us secretly fuming, I realized that sometimes the worst things we visualize might not come true, but then something else at least as bad probably would.

So I’m not cured of my pessimism quite yet. But at least life is amused by me. And at least we have a Christmas tree and two other water jugs.

How to Be Happy

Have you ever attended school meetings or parenting workshops where you were asked about goals you have for your children? As in, what’s the endgame here, folks? What are we getting out of all these sleepless nights and drastically reduced economic circumstances?

 

If it ever came around to me (and as an introvert I always prayed it wouldn’t) I would give the same answer as most people do, that my children are happy.

 

I never put a lot of thought into it because i just wanted someone else to talk, but reflecting later, I quickly abandoned this idea for two major reasons:

  1. I am very often (sometimes without even trying) the reason my children become unhappy
  2. I would rather not raise sociopaths who put their happiness over basic human decency.

 

This morning I was considering the way my husband and I parent our children. Although we’ve never made a physical list of our parenting goals, when I recalled any specific situaiton where we’ve had to guide our children through a problem, we’ve always used four basic tenets:

  1. Be kind
  2. Be brave
  3. Be forgiving
  4. Be smart

 

I remember this time I picked up my son from a birthday party. As I approached him, he locked eyes with me and stood up, muttered goodbye to the kids around him and rushed me away. I forced him back to say goodbye and thank you to the host, and although he managed to be friendly, I could tell it was costing him. We walked away and I waited for him to explain before unleashing the mama fury for his sullen attitude.

 

It turns out there was a new kid at the party who had rubbed him the wrong way. Like, way wrong. This boy was visiting from the U.S. and was trying to make an impression, and so when my son told him he had to leave because his mom was here, he told him not to listen to that b-word (edited for newspaper-friendliness).

 

Now I know that children all over the world are defensive about their mamas, but there’s something particular about insulting the mother of a man who has been raised by a Mexican papa. As in, you just don’t do it unless you like the feel of cold steel in your hand at dawn while you are pacing off to ten. So my boy was downright mad, but didn’t make a scene because he didn’t want to embarrass me in front of everyone.

 

It seems as though this same boy will be back for another visit and may actually move here. My son isn’t too excited and is basing this on his first impression of the kid. While my first instinct is maybe a little on the reactive side (I mean, dude, you don’t even KNOW me. I’m not saying you’re completely wrong, but REALLY), I know that I am not serving my child by telling him to judge everyone by the first impression.

 

So we’ve talked about being kind. We don’t know his home situation or the way he’s been parented. Because we don’t know this child, we don’t know if he says impulsive things when he wants to fit in to a new group.

 

 

 

We’ve discussed being brave. It’s commendable to want to defend someone you love. It’s also important that we speak up for ourselves and for others who need our help, but it takes courage.

 

We worked our way through the concept of forgiveness – you only hurt your own soul when you hang on to old anger. Forgiving is very often more about your own health than about the person who hurt you.

 

We finished it up with being smart. He may deserve a second chance, but you don’t need to go in with your heart exposed. If he insults the rest of your family, your intelligence and your personal appearance the next go ‘round, it’s ok, and probably a good idea, to walk away.

 

It’s wonderful if your children are happy. For the most part, I am blessed with happy kids. But focusing on their happiness only ensures that they will continue to pursue it single-mindedly for the rest of their lives. And in this world, happiness is so fleeting that they are sure to be disappointed over and over again.

Happiness is wonderful. I hope my children are happy. But what I hope even more is that they are kind, brave, forgiving and smart. When people are concerned about the happiness of others, they are much more likely to find it themselves.

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PV Family Life

There are many reasons why my husband, Gilberto and I decided to remain in Mexico after we had children. Once you fall in love in Puerto Vallarta, you kind of also fall in love WITH Puerto Vallarta. There’s something about watching sunsets over the ocean with the sand between your toes, mariachi music  floating by. It kind of whispers “stay right where you are” directly in your ear.

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I’m not even a good photographer, that’s how easy it is to take a sunset pic here

But not only were we in love in the most romantic place on earth, but we were experiencing a lifestyle that was almost ideal. I worked at an amazing school that believed in my abilities as a teacher, and allowed me to develop the program the way I knew how. They also believed in their teachers having a personal life and reasonable working hours. Gilberto was busy every night during the high season, it’s true, but spent the days preparing music and cooking food for me. What else could any woman want?

We felt like having children here would allow us to prioritize our family and have an easy, low-cost life next to the beach, which is a natural playground. Little by little it became apparent that we were fairly naïve about the “easy” part. Child-rearing is not easy, anywhere, anytime. Plus, the idea of kids being low-cost is absolutely hilarious.

  1. A) They eat a lot of food.
  2. B) They always want to do things.
  3. C) All things cost money. ALL THE THINGS.

I still want to believe we made the right decision to raise them here, even when I feel like we are living the same busy life we would have in Canada. But today I feel like I woke up from a dream, similar to the one I have where we are racing around in circles, in a clown car (it’s always a clown car), never getting to our destination.

I woke up with the “splat” sound the crepe made when the dog pulled it off the table and started to eat it when he thought I wasn’t looking. I made the crepes in a hurry, because we had to meet friends at the water park in an hour.  I didn’t have time to make any more because the batter was gone, so now we were short one.

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I’m sorry I got caught – Max

I fought off the probably insane urge to dust it off and cut off the tooth marks, and got out the pumpkin bread I made yesterday. I was also in a hurry when I made it, because we had to get to the Farmer’s Market downtown to buy a gift before it closed.

And if we were late to the water park, then… then… what? What exactly would happen if we were late to the beautiful water park where my kids would still certainly play for hours? What would happen if we missed the Farmer’s Market that takes place every week and is surrounded by artisans’ markets which are open every single day?

So I can answer these questions right now. Nothing would happen. I could slow down and throw my dog another pet-shaming stare from his safe space in the guest bedroom. I could take a shower and answer seven questions that my kids and my husband call to me from the other side of the bathroom door. I could eat pumpkin bread, which isn’t bad despite the fact that I didn’t bake it long enough in my hurry yesterday. I could put some black beans in the crock pot and give my husband instructions on how to make sure they don’t burn while I’m gone, which he’ll totally remember when the smoke creeps up the stairs in four hours.

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so glad we made it to the waterpark so I could stand in the hot sun watching my kid do this for over an hour

And I think I have an extra minute to give that man a squeeze. I’ll even throw in a backward glance and a smile as I head out the door, because now I remember why we decided to make our home here in sunny Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in the first place.

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Healthy Eating Heartache

It seems to me that trying to eat healthy is pretty much a lost cause around here. I figured that I’d give myself a little break from my plant-based, whole foods regimen (and when I say regimen, I mean a theoretical plan loosely based in low level motivation) when we went to Canada on vacation, because I know that my mother lives in Canada and she makes pie. Then we got back and I didn’t shop for groceries until I got a paycheck, so we ate quite a few meals at the taco stand across the street.

Then September was pretty good because nothing exciting happened besides Independence Day, and that holiday isn’t as food based as others. But now it’s October and there’s Canadian Thanksgiving (and I was in charge of the pies) and my son’s birthday (his favorite cake is red velvet for crying out loud).

After that we have Halloween. You can’t let your kids eat all that candy, because you are still paying the dental bills. You can’t let the ants find it, or they’ll stick around your kitchen cupboards for months, looking for all the sugar hidden in every food source in the kitchen. So you eat it, at least those mini chocolate bars.

The VERY NEXT DAY there’s Dia de los Muertos, and heaven help me, I found a recipe for Pan de Muerto. I thought it might be ok because it’s a vegan recipe, and that means plant-based, especially when I am trying to justify making it. Plus, I kind of had to make it because my children need to have cultural experiences, especially when I’m hungry for sweet, delicious, sugary bread (in other words, my kids have lots of cultural experiences).

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We were invited to a friend’s home to celebrate Diwali, a Hindu festival of lights, and the food is completely out of this world delicious. And they always have a dessert table.

Now we are on a slippery slope to American Thanksgiving which slides right into the beginning of Christmas festivities. If you live in Mexico, you will know that the first twelve days of December celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe with pilgrimages, reenactments, and food stands.

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crepes on a sidewalk. What’s better?

So after poring over the calendar to find a good time to work out my Road To Healthy Living, I started thinking that I might as well just put away most of my ambitions to live a cheese-free life until at least the middle of January. Of 2019.

Not only that, people tell you lies when you move to Mexico, such as:

  • You will sweat all the calories out
  • It’s probably so hot you’ll just lose your appetite
  • You’ll lose ten pounds right away because of Traveler’s Diarrhea

I have rarely lost my appetite here because the food is too good to miss out just because it’s 47 Celsius on the heat index. In fact, I tended to eat more during those times because if I’m going to die of heat exhaustion I may as well eat a lot of guacamole first.

I definitely have lost several pounds due to food borne illnesses in my first few years here. However, I then tucked into a larger serving of enchiladas once I was well in order to make up for lost time (and cheese).

And that’s the terrible conundrum we all experience when we move to this country. Mexico is such a delicious place, but I need to live long enough to fully enjoy it.  And I can. I really have to believe this.

And at least New Year’s Eve in Mexico is mainly healthy, with the traditional snack being twelve grapes. However, there is a fairly significant risk of choking on them as you try to eat them as fast as you can before the clock strikes midnight.

Maybe it’s better to stick to Pan de Muerto.

Day of the Dead

One of my favorite holidays in Mexico takes place on November 1rst. Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, found its roots in Mexico about 3,000 years ago. It is celebrated all over the country and especially in the central and southern regions.

Before the Spanish showed up in the sixteenth century, it was celebrated in the beginning of summer. Also, this holiday was a month long festival dedicated to the Lady of the Dead (who eventually became  known as La Calavera Catrina). But, like many festivals that are part of indigenous cultures all over the world, it was changed to fit into Christian holidays such as All Saints Eve.

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Lady Catrina

The main part of this holiday involves families and friends honoring the memory of loved ones who have passed on before them. At midnight on October 31, it is believed that the spirits of the children who died, los angelitos, come down to be reunited with their families for twenty-four hours. On November 2nd, the adults have the same opportunity. Many families go to the cemetery and spend time at their loved ones’ graves.

This sounds sad and solemn on paper and it’s hard to believe that Day of the Dead is one of the most lively, colorful celebrations you’ll see in Mexico. And that’s pretty impressive because, in Mexico, there is always a fiesta to be found.

The cemeteries, for example, are full of music, light, and chatter. Families are playing cards and cleaning up graves, reminiscing about family members. The streets are full of color, with dozens of altars and huge, decorated calaveras lining the streets posed in funny costumes and postures.

In many homes you will find ofrendas, or altars, dedicated to someone who has passed away. Some of the elements you may see on an ofrenda are:

  • Salt, a purifying element
  • Marigolds, (flor de cempasúchil), the scent of which will lead the deceased to the home
  • Photos of the deceased
  • Pan de muertos, a delicious, sugary sweet bread
  • Sugar skulls to decorate the altar and to represent the loved one
  • The favorite food of the deceased to feed them on their long journey
  • Candles to guide them on their way

Our family lost a dear friend to cancer nearly two years ago. She was very proud of her Mexican heritage and loved Dia de los Muertos most of all. She often spoke fondly of growing up in Mexico City and the magic of these special days. When she passed away, I knew our family would honor her memory in our home with an altar, because she would absolutely love that.

But that wasn’t the only reason.  Her sickness and eventual passing had been so shocking and so tragic for our family. We had known her for years, and she was an important person to all of us. After she passed away we would bring up some of the happy times we had with her, but they usually just made us feel badly that she was gone.

As we began to collect items for her altar, we were able to talk about her and feel good. We found the clay cup that she always used for her coffee. We dug up photos of her playing with our kids when they were tiny. We brought out the Spanish children’s books she gave them as gifts.

We thought of her favorite kinds of food (mole for sure). We bought marigolds and talked about her love for all kinds of plants and trees. We found sugar skulls and I told the children about how she laughed at the look on my face when she bought me one during my first year in Mexico.

Once we had all these items, we painted boxes and decorated them with the traditional papel picado (cut paper). We set them up and set out all the items we had gathered. We lit the candles and sat down in front of the ofrenda, silent for a moment. I realized then that we weren’t thinking about her loss so much as her memory.

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Our beloved friend came to us on Dia de los Muertos. She came to us in bright orange flowers, in chocolate, in delicious food, in laughter.

Mexico is a beautiful place with many fascinating secrets. If you listen closely, she will share one of her best: that death is never the end, and that our loved ones are never truly gone.

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My girl’s depiction of the way we remember our friend. Pretty lovely.

My Son’s Story

Every child has a story. Most of the time, it’s the story of his birth. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s a story that is told by someone who loves him most. And, little by little, it’s a story that lays itself on a child’s heart, and whispers itself in his ear when he needs to hear about family, and love, and belonging.

Both of my children know their story, because their dad and I have told it to each of them many times. Sometimes they ask for it, but they hear it at other times because I want to say it out loud and see them smile knowingly.

My son’s story begins with a lunar eclipse and ends the next morning with his (then) blue eyes staring up at me, squinting and calm but asking “Are you my mama?” and my answer “Yes, that’s me.”

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My boy’s story will be thirteen years old this month, and so I’m reliving this first scene where his life began. As a result, I’m getting sentimental and melancholy as opposed to feeling simply nostalgic like a normal person.

You see, I never pictured myself as a teenager’s mom. I was always comfortable in the role of harried, messy mom of toddlers and preschoolers. I must have spent hundreds of hours mixing up a million batches of playdough and picking the remnants out of the carpet at night. I knew all the songs. I had all the equipment. I finally learned how to work the seatbelts in the carseats. I read them all my favorite books from childhood, which became their favorite books too.

But I suspect that I might actually have a knack for being a teenager’s mom. For one thing, I am starting to look the part, with lines on places where I worry too much. For another, I have really taken to the sarcastic banter with The Boy, and don’t mind a bit of back talk as long as it’s successfully funny.

And here I am, ready or not, driving from school to home discussing politics with my nearly-adolescent son. He is full of opinions that seem to be forming faster than he can shock me with them. I don’t know where he gets all this information. I don’t know how he processes it into astonishingly inaccurate ideas.

He’s hilarious just like his grandfather (on my side, naturally), but unbelievably serious at the same time, and far too ready to take the weight of the world on his shoulders. He worries too much, and asks questions about the future, ones that keep me up at night, ones that show he beginning to understand what a responsibility this Life Thing is. He asked me the other day if his dad and I had a will, because we really should plan for the future.

In September, out of the blue, he decided to join the school musical, The Fiddler on the Roof, as a member of the stage crew. I assumed he and a buddy were joining together to try new and creative ways of slacking off. I asked him who else would be part of the stage crew, and he told me he didn’t know, that he just wanted to help out Mr. Dunger, the music teacher whose class he enjoys. The teacher asked him to be in the Bottle Dance and he said sure. He picked up his rehearsal schedules and didn’t miss a single one.

The other day I picked him up from a six hour rehearsal on a Saturday. He had missed a classmate’s birthday party because, as he said, he had this rehearsal and could not miss it. I took him to Starbucks for a treat and he sank into a comfy chair gratefully, long legs splayed out in front of him.

It was like he had just grown an entire foot in front of my very eyes (which I actually think has happened at some point this year). Finally I think I really understood that my boy is this separate person, living parts of his life that I don’t really know much about. I couldn’t stop staring at him, which apparently isn’t really a cool thing for a mom to do. Oh well, it’s not like I’ve done a lot of cool mom things in his lifetime anyway, so why start now.

He’s not a blue-eyed baby or a brash, curly-haired toddler. He’s not a sticky, noisy preschooler. He’s a teenager, one who has his own thoughts, his own opinions, his own nature.  One who was now rubbing his cap over his eyes, waiting for a milkshake.

He’s not a baby anymore. But I’m still his mama. His story is still being written. And I’m so grateful for this extraordinary boy’s life.

Elijah 13 a

Feeding My Family

So I don’t know how many of you are going through this same problem right now, but I just realized that if we don’t stop spending money on groceries, we won’t be able to live in a house anymore. I have done the numbers and our grocery bills are roughly four times what we spent ten years ago.

Perplexing Thought Number One: my salary has not quadrupled in the last ten years.

Perplexing Thought Number Two: Neither has Gilberto’s.

Perplexing Thought Number Three: The children cannot get full time jobs yet and they don’t seem eager to strike out on their own.

Now, you might say that the food prices in Mexico have really gone up significantly lately. I would definitely agree with that. We are now paying at least fifteen pesos (on a good day) for a liter of milk. Ten years ago we were paying about ten pesos if I remember correctly (and that’s also on a good day).

But I present to you the following: my children used to use about seven liters of milk per week. That’s about seventy pesos a week. Now, they use about twelve liters a week, and I am buying a case of the stuff at 175 pesos a case, per week.

Yes, we understand what’s happening here, of course. The grocery bills grow in direct relation to the size of our children. I am actually dismayed at the size of The Boy, whose rate of growth in the last year has had me really worried. I looked at pictures of him one year ago and I wondered if this is what Andre the Giant’s parents went through when he was almost thirteen.

My Girly isn’t exactly slacking off in the growth department either. I can’t buy clothing fast enough to keep her decent. And the problem is, she really doesn’t notice that all her shorts are becoming “short” shorts and infuriating her father and brother because she’s only eleven.

Coupled with these worrisome growth spurts is the insatiable hunger for all of the food in the house which needs to be prepared constantly. Gil and I have tried our all-mightiest to get these children to know their way around the kitchen. The thing is we also have nightmares about kids and gas stoves. There’s a limit to what is okay and what is flirting with permanent oblivion for our entire street.

Financially and logistically we are a bit tired. But I have been brainstorming and I think we are very close to finding some strategies to making life a bit easier in the food department. The list is still in rough form, but there are some solid ideas in there:

  • Send them to friends’ houses to eat. “Talk up” how fun sleepovers are when they are not at our house.
  • Never miss another birthday party and get there early before the food runs out.
  • Get creative with cereal. Note: should have used water since they were little, ‘cause now they don’t seem very open to change.
  • Make as much as I can from scratch that doesn’t require the use of stoves or ovens because it’s October and I sweat when I use the can opener.
  • Google “microwave cooking – health hazard?”
  • Google “a week of meals with a kilo of tortillas”

 

I know, I know. Food prices in Mexico compared to places like the U.S. or Canada, well, let’s just say I don’t have much to complain about. But feeding two growing kids isn’t always easy on a budget of both time and money.

And yet, there’s something special about watching a boy tuck into a big breakfast of “Huevos Rancheros” and knowing he’ll tell his wife someday that his mom’s recipe was the best. Kind of makes up for the fact that he’s eating a portion that’s roughly as big as the rest of his family, combined.

column, food 2

This oughta keep them ’til we get home maybe.