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!

This summer, on August the 4th to be exact, my parents will celebrate 50 years of marriage. My brother’s family and our family will celebrate with them by doing something that is their favorite: we will go to their favorite lake and spend a week in a cabin together. My brother and I are really quite glad because neither one of us are very good at planning parties. My sister-in-law is probably even gladder because, while she is great at planning parties, would have had to have planned one without a lot of useful help.

Fifty years, to me, is a very impressive number. If you can be married to someone for fifty consecutive years without at least developing some sort of twitch in your body, it’s incredible.

I love my husband more than my very own self and I am totally cool with fifty years with him, but there are some things I am definitely going to have to overlook.

Like the storytelling in Spanish that is SO FAST I have to ask him to repeat it in English and then I have to ask him to repeat it in Spanish again.

Like him estimating he’ll be done in about an hour when he’s facing a three hour job. And then taking five.

Like me explaining that we are taking an Air Canada flight, having him ask me five minutes later what airline we are taking, and then turning to the lady at the airport help desk and asking about the American Airlines flights.

Of course, on the flip side, he will have to put up with all of my little idiosyncrasies for the next forty-one years as well, but I’m sure that none of you are interested in hearing about those, as they are probably too trivial to be concerned about.  Or because they are probably too embarrassing for me to tell you about.

But my parents have done it, and it’s an amazing accomplishment. The most amazing part is that they have modeled what it takes to live a successful marriage, and they continue to do so. So much of who I am as a person is because of my parents. And so much of what I now invest into my personal relationships is due to their daily commitment to their marriage and their family. Like:

Fifty years of understanding that marriage isn’t 50/50. That raising a happy family isn’t a mathematical equation. That some days it takes all the efforts one person, and some days it takes the other, and most days it’s both. That the only acceptable number is 100% of yourself, no matter what the other person has to give.

Fifty years of respecting the other, especially when the children are watching. Never giving in to frustration and calling the other out in front of the kids. Never humiliating the person who has committed to walking down this road with you, no matter how bumpy it gets.

Fifty years of parenting together, one parent walking the floor with a fevered baby all night, the other giving morning baking soda baths during chicken pox season.

Ironically, I think I finally understood what it took to be a spouse when I walked away from my first marriage, in which I had failed so spectacularly it was almost a visible explosion. I had been very young when I had married my college sweetheart. But I hadn’t been younger than my own parents had been and thus I figured I would do quite well.

But I hadn’t figured in the fact that I was very selfish, and hadn’t experienced anything in life that would equip me for giving 100% of myself to anyone. So I failed badly, and called my parents while sitting in the midst of all these broken pieces of a marriage that I had mostly smashed all by myself.

They got on two phone extensions and gently picked me up and dusted me off across a million miles and a billion tears. I’m sure they didn’t necessarily agree on everything, because my dad was just desperate to make it better for his girl, and my mom wanted me to look into the mirror and learn something. But somehow they linked their hands underneath me and lifted me back up. They did it in a way that only a pair of people could do who really knew what it meant to be married.

At the time, all I cared about was that they were on the other end of the phone and that I was still alive. But eventually, as I built a new relationship with Gilberto, this model became the foundation of what I now understood about marriage.

Marriage isn’t a compromise. Marriage isn’t just agreeing so you can live in peace. Marriage isn’t about the romance.

Marriage is about building a family. Marriage is about coming together when it counts. Marriage is wading, hand in hand, through the good times, the hard times, the worst times, and never letting go.

And that is something worth celebrating.

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Stages of Family Travel

There are many stages in the life of a parent. There’s the Diaper Stage and the Potty Training Stage and the Big Boy Underwear Stage. There’s the Baby, Toddler, Preschooler and School-Aged continuum. There’s the Pre-Xbox and the My Kid’s Eyeballs are Falling Out phases.

And then there are the stages of Traveling with Kids. Our family likes to travel a lot. We aren’t always able to travel due to my husband’s musical work constraints and financial-due-to-no-work constraints, but when we can get away, we are very happy to do so.

We will be gone for over a month to Canada this year. In previous visits, we usually stuck pretty close to my parents’ house, basing ourselves around a familiar place where we could make grumpy children take naps and where we could close ourselves into a safe room and hiss at them for embarrassing us in front of extended family members.

This time we are going to be doing a lot of traveling within Canada because we figure they can handle it. Because nothing says emotional control like the pre-teen years. Um. Hang on a sec, I may not have thought this through completely.

My children like to visit new places as well, as long as there is a souvenir shop. The only way we got through a whirlwind tour of practically every pyramid in the Yucatan is because a great number of the sacred sites sold mini-versions of themselves in air-conditioned comfort.

I present to you this set of stages for traveling parents, so you can refer to it before deciding whether you can take your child on a twenty-two hour cross country road trip. I kind of wish I made this before planning our own.

  1. No Concern For Public Shaming – In this phase, babies and toddlers don’t mind lying down on the floor and screaming while you are sweating and trying to drag them through the metal detector. With the Authorities watching. And all the other travelers who enjoy observing someone else lose their minds for once.
  2. The Tiny Window of Competency – Preschoolers can last way longer than toddlers when you want to see, say, the world’s smallest children’s museum or the toy section at a grocery store. Plus, they mostly walk (until they don’t). But beware the closure of the Window. Once it’s closed, it’s not opening again until you’ve ready twenty stories and fallen asleep beside them with your mouth agape. They will be ready for another outing at precisely that moment.
  3. Go All Day – The school agers can go, go, go and they will keep you walking long after you are no longer aware that you are still vertical. However, this only applies if they are doing stuff that they enjoy. Which is mostly stuff that you do not enjoy, like amusement park rides and lines of amusement park rides. If you want to do something interesting and educational, they will develop a rash and a stomach virus and a hoarse, unhappy voice that some people refer to as whining.
  4. Preteen Tedium – This is boring. Where’s my earphones? I can’t hear you, I have my earphones on. You told me this wouldn’t be boring.

 

That’s as far as I’ve gotten, but I’m really looking forward to the next two stages which I’ve tentatively named: Adolescent Airplane Angst, and Can’t I Stay Home as My Graduation Present?

 

All joking aside, I do enjoy traveling with my family. I think it’s most enjoyable if you come prepared. Insider’s tip: you can always stave off the worst characteristics of each stage by having a great sense of humor, lots of unhealthy snacks, and a decent set of ear plugs.

The Birthday Fairies

When I was a young mother I enjoyed creating new traditions for my children. I think I believed that the more exhausted you were every night, the less likely your children would have to be bailed out of prison some day. So every time my children had a birthday, they would wake up that morning and found that the “birthday fairies” had arrived sometime during the night and decorated the house with their favorite Disney characters.

So the birthday fairies are up way past my bedtime on every October 27th and June 22nd, and I am unwinding streamers and blowing up balloons as quietly as I can even though it HURTS my FINGERS to tie those dang things after the fifth one. It’s all about the love and the traditions and the remembering what your mother did for you so you’ll feel a bit guilty about asking for a loan just until payday.

The Boy’s birthday is easy. It’s almost Halloween, and nothing’s more wonderful than turning your home into a House of Horrors even if it’s not someone’s birthday. The birthday fairies are pretty twisted anyway, so they love stuffing Daddy’s clothing into life-like poses with a Jason mask perched on the tippy top of the whole mess. The Boy has a great collection of cool Halloween weaponry, so the whole scene pretty much makes itself.

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My Girly, on the other hand, has a fairly sophisticated sense of fashion and décor. She had a brief obsession with Shrek at the age of two, but since then she requests things like “how about pastels only this year” or “what about a garden tea party theme” or “think Pinkalicious”.

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She’s classy. She lets me hang out with her too.

Here’s the thing. No one has accused me (aka Head Birthday Fairy) of a lot of sophistication. But God bless me, every year on June 22nd you will find me hanging flowers from light fixtures and sprinkling glitter into tea cups and giving all the credit to the small winged creatures I made up because childhood should be magical, darn it.

I expect that some day, when my daughter has her own child and has made the same foolish promises about fairies breaking into the house with princess birthday banners at 2am, she will remember what I did. She’ll maybe wonder how I managed to get the decorations at least twelve hours ahead of time and didn’t have to run out to Wal-Mart at 9pm with my eyeliner around my ankles (let’s just keep that to ourselves, how ‘bout).

She’ll be blowing up those balloons wondering why I spent over eleven years dedicating myself to an exhausting fabrication. She’ll think about a good way to break it to HER little girl about how the birthday fairies was a Lie Grandma Told, so she won’t have to keep up this charade, because it’s killing her, this birthday chaos that comes with a magical childhood.

But you know what? The next morning her little girl is going to be shaking her awake around some ungodly hour and asking her if They came. My daughter will go downstairs with her and there will be the result of the Fairies’ hard labor: a crooked banner that’s coming off the wall because gum doesn’t substitute packing tape, some half inflated balloons because those are easier to tie, and some glitter spread around her plate.

My daughter’s heart will sink and she’ll realize she should have done a better job and not been in such a hurry to sleep by midnight, but her little girl will interrupt that thought with a scream of pure joy and a clatter down the stairs with widespread arms in an attempt to physically take in all this wonder.

And then she’ll know something that I finally figured out too. We don’t create the magic of childhood.  It’s already there, in the eyes of a child who sees a crooked pink banner and knows for a fact that the fairies put it there.

That’s why I did it. And that’s why she’ll keep doing it, as long as her baby believes in magic.

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One Dad’s Language

Parenting is always a tough job, there’s no doubt about that. I have a lot of respect and admiration for people who do that on their own, because parenting with two people isn’t exactly a piece of cake. This is true especially when the parents speak different languages.

Maybe you wonder how two people who speak different languages actually get together to have children. Here’s where I need to explain that the language of love is an actual thing. Also, when one of the people plays the electric guitar and looks mysterious while playing this guitar, getting together doesn’t seem like an actual decision so much as an inevitable situation.

By the time you have children, most of the mystery is gone and all of the colossal cultural misunderstandings remain, which is probably why bicultural marriages have a slightly higher divorce rate than do mono-cultural ones. These are things you ponder as you wait outside the grocery store with a full cart and a toddler who is determined to run in front of a speeding motorcycle, waiting for your husband to arrive ten minutes ago.

But for all rapid twists and turns that life takes after children, and all the frustration of trying to learn two sets of vocabulary for baby equipment, I really am so appreciative the father of my children. He has absolutely dedicated himself in the raising of these two kids, and he is completely committed to doing this alongside me, the Canadian who insists on a regular bedtime and who is not really flexible about it.

I actually think there are some great benefits to a bicultural parenting approach. We tend to complement one other and provide a balance to the other’s extremes. What I admire in him are usually things that I lack in my own way of child-rearing, such as:

  • The ability to see the bright side to every single situation, and the security in knowing that everything is going to work out just fine. The Boy ate lunch alone at school for a couple of weeks straight back in first grade. My take: he is surely being bullied by his entire class and he will be traumatized forever. Gilberto’s take: he’s developing self-reliance, and he hasn’t met the right friend yet.

 

Guess what.

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  • The skill to drive, eat, speak, sleep, and generally exist in a busy environment of noisy, exuberant children without suddenly snapping and emptying the room in a series of short, barked commands. He is totally unfazed by a car full of chatty tween girls, and actually finds it kind of energizing. I find him smiling to himself amid the chaos and wish for that level of sound tolerance. I still think that a lifetime spent next to a guitar amp has equipped him with enough auditory damage to allow him to block out the highest decibels of giggling.
  • The stomach for any kind of crisis, especially of the medical variety. The kids go to him with any kind of physical complaint, and he responds with calm and a pair of nail clippers. I think he actually enjoys it.
  • The fortitude to let go when things don’t go the way we planned. We have spent every single family trip stuck in the rain somewhere, and he’s always the first one to make a joyful run for it. The rest of us always end up following him, laughing until we genuinely can’t breathe.

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My children’s father is the kindest man I know. He loves without reservation, he listens with limitless compassion, and he forgives freely. He doesn’t hold on to anger or allow it to build walls between him and his kids.

I have learned so much about what unconditional love is all about, just by watching him hold our children and tell them that it’s going to be ok. I have learned about letting go of my schedule when it’s time to play, and to laugh when our plans go completely sideways.

Because love is his native language, and he speaks it to us every day.

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Lucky Birthday

Last week I had a birthday. It was very enjoyable, as it always is when people say nice things to you and wish you good health even though your health is already pretty good. Also, because fiestas are an important part of the culture here, people are all about getting you cake, going out for dinner with all the other people you know, and buying you flowers.

I used to be obsessed with my birthday and reminded all my friends, colleagues, and passing strangers about it. But that was before I cared whether people would then ask me how old I was. It was also before I looked in the mirror and wondered what I did before under-eye concealer. And it was also before I considered a good Saturday night to be when I didn’t fall asleep in the middle of a brand new Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Since you are asking, I have turned forty-four. A sign that I am aging is that I thought I was turning forty-three for several weeks until was gently reminded by a “friend” that 1973 plus 43 is actually 2016. I was told in that same conversation that forty-four is lucky because it’s a double number. Considering that I lost an entire year of my life in a matter of seconds, it didn’t feel very lucky.

But I hope that she is right. I hope she’s a luck guru and she decided that I was in need of a bit of her expertise at that moment. I hope, as well, that this year is my lucky year in that my house mortgage is magically paid off.  If it is my lucky year, you are bound to notice that:

  • Every day at school my students will sit in a circle at carpet time and not ask me when is recess or snack time.
  • Also they will use Kleenex for their personal needs instead of my t-shirt.
  • I will start my car every day this summer, dripping with sweat, and not have the A/C refuse to come on.
  • They will invent an eye pencil that really is sweat-resistant.
  • Or, eye pencil worn on the cheek bone will become highly fashionable.
  • Anti-perspirant will start working in the tropics.
  • My son will suddenly really care about fractions and also help his sister with her math homework every afternoon.
  • My daughter will remember her daily reading by herself and will write it in her reading log without my knowledge and will become a professional parental signature forger.
  • Scratch the above item if you are one of her teachers.
  • The pineapple growing on my patio will be ready for me to eat before the guy down the street sees it and cuts it off the plant at 3am (although I almost feel sorry for him, because he’s clearly passionate about pineapple).
  • Cuates y Cuetes will always have a table beside the beach for our family, even at 2pm on a Sunday in January.
  • The sunset will be amazing only when I have my camera and only when I’m walking on the malecon
  • All the avocados I buy will be ready as soon as I’m hungry for guacamole.

As soon as I got home from work on my birthday, I arrived to a house full of flowers, tiramisu, and an outrageously large set of balloons bobbing around in the shape of, you guessed it, the number forty-four. My husband was so pleased with himself that I didn’t even frown. I decided it was a sign that my luck was already kicking in and it was using my husband’s sense of drama remind me.

Well, I’m off to enjoy a brand new year as a forty-four year old. There may be no need to wish me luck, but go ahead and do it anyway. I have a feeling I may need it.

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Thirteen Reasons

There’s been a lot of buzz lately around the new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”. Some people thought it was a great, eye-opening series. Others thought it was dangerous and irresponsible. Either way, I should provide you with the following message before I go on: There are spoilers galore in here, so if you haven’t watched it and you don’t want to know what happens… maybe come back and read this after you’ve seen it.

It’s about a girl named Hannah Baker who decides, after a period of intense bullying by her classmates, to kill herself. She leaves a series of cassette tapes in the hands of one of her friends, who passes them on to the thirteen people who she felt contributed in some way to her decision.

It’s not an easy series to watch, especially as a parent. Hannah’s parents were completely oblivious to her growing despair and downward emotional spiral, and that was pretty shocking, because her parents seemed to love her dearly and no less than any other moms and dads I know.

I thought I was all big and tough having watched through several wrenching scenes in the show over the course of a couple of weeks. And then I watched her parents find her body in one of the final scenes, and all I can tell you is that I didn’t uncurl from the ball I was in until I could breathe again. It’s that painful if you have any empathy at all as a human being (and if you are a parent you are pretty much a walking empathy ball).

It’s gutting because we think we know our kids and we think those kids will come to us if they are being harassed or bullied or raped. We think we Will Just Know if something is really that wrong. As it happens, the author of this novel, the writers of this show, and many, many teenagers are telling us that we will not. Not necessarily.

So that’s pretty much like having a huge body-sized band aid ripped off, all at once. That’s some raw skin, right there.

But let’s set that aside for just a minute, right after you take a moment to go hug your kid and remind them that they can trust you and that you will believe them always, and they can come to you with any secret. Once they give you the Mom’s Really Lost It This Time look, come on back, because I have another box to unpack right here.

Let me be a teacher now, a teacher of young children who spends a great big chunk of their waking hours with them. Even at five years old, children know a word that has been tossed around so much these days that we don’t always remember what it means. That word is bullying. It’s super charged, and it’s very often poorly defined.

But that’s ok, because Merriam-Webster is online now, and they define bullying as: “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger and more powerful”.

That means that bullying isn’t an argument or a disagreement between two friends. Bullying isn’t a fistfight in the school yard over a soccer rule dispute. Bullying happens anytime someone vulnerable is abused by someone in a position of power.

We all have a picture that jumps to attention in our minds when we hear the word “bully”. We think of a bully as a huge, loud, angry kid with a big uni-brow who waits outside the school gate every day to torment those who are unfortunate enough to have been brought to his or her attention.

But guess what? Bullies aren’t always big. They usually don’t have uni-brows. They aren’t bullies all the time. They often don’t even know that they are bullying.

Bullies can physically harm other people. But most of the time they cause far more damage emotionally. Bullying is social isolation, it is online torment, it is jokes at someone’s expense who isn’t in a good position to defend him/herself.

Sometimes a bully is simply:

  • someone who hands out invitations to everyone in the class to his party, except that one kid who isn’t really, you know, part of the gang.
  • someone who tells everyone else not to friend the new kid on Facebook.
  • someone who says cruel things to that quiet girl in front of his friends, because, come on, it’s funny.

Because when you’re a kid, those things are not always simple things. They matter. Sometimes they are everything. And they can completely devastate you.

A bully can be anyone’s child. A bully’s victim can be anyone’s child. And, to make things more complex, the roles can change.

If we are honest, we are most afraid that our children will be victims. But if we really care about and truly receive the messages in 13 Reasons Why, we will protect everyone’s children from becoming Hannah Bakers.

We will do it by teaching our own how to never become one of Hannah’s thirteen reasons to die. We will do it by teaching them that everyone’s life is precious. We will do it by teaching them to be kind.

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A Mother’s Day Letter to My Kids

 

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Dear Kids,

Well it’s Mother’s Day again. Actually it’s Mother’s DAYS again, because we are a Mexican/Canadian family, so I get two. You might think this isn’t fair, but it means you’ll probably get to eat in a restaurant twice so I’m sure you’ll get over it.

I just wanted to justify all the fuss I’ll be expecting, because I’m probably not the best mom on the planet. Sometimes you may even wish you live in Never Land where there are no mothers and where a kindly fairy covers you in golden flying dust instead of insisting on a regular bedtime.

I will agree that I’m not the best mom on the planet. I’ve spent a bit of time on Pinterest, so I have plenty of evidence to support that. I’d give the award to the lady who painted an illustrated world’s map on their child’s bedroom wall, or the mom who created a natural wood bunk bed with real twig ladder for her twin sons. But perhaps I am not the worst. I said PERHAPS. And that’s what this letter is about, kids.

I may not always remember to cut the crusts off your sandwiches and put little notes in your lunch, but sometimes I sneak a mini chocolate bar in there. Because I don’t really like the Milky Way ones, so there are a few extra.

I may not pay the biggest allowance in town, but I make sure to pay you back when I “borrow” some out of your wallet. Almost always.

I may not know what all the cool, popular songs are right now, but I always sing along when they come on the radio, extra loud so it makes up for not knowing all (any) of the lyrics.

I may not always be patient when you break the rules, but I rarely call you out in front of your friends (I have The Look that says it all anyhow, such as Wait Til Your Buddy Goes Home, My Man).

I may have forgotten more fifth grade math than I ever even knew, but I’ll sit at that kitchen table, calculator in hand, until we finish checking your homework. Even if I’m crying a little.

I may have no idea how to french braid, but I’ll watch seven YouTube tutorials and give it my best shot, sweating and muttering, until your father takes over.

I may forget that you asked me not to sing “The Goodnight Song” because you are too big and too legit nowadays, but I’ll tuck you in and hug you as long as you want and pretend I don’t notice that you still need your mama.

I may not be able to buy you the latest technology, or the name brand clothing, or the boots that I know you will wear exactly one time and then put them away until you grow out of them (because we LIVE AT THE BEACH, GIRLFRIEND). But I’ll stay by your side when you’re sad. And I’ll fight for you even when you don’t know it. And I’ll be your greatest fan when you get out there and do those gutsy things you do.

Someday, when you’re all grown up, you’ll have the worst day of your life because you will fail at something. Miserably. Spectacularly. And for a minute, you are going to feel more alone than you ever felt in your life. But then you’ll remember, and you’ll pick up the phone. And I’ll be there on the other end. Every. Single. Time. The Not-So-Cool Mom. The Not-Always-Together Mom. The Loud-Singer Mom. The Obsessed-With-Vegetables Mom. I’ll be there.

And while I’m probably never going to tattoo your name on my body and then pin it to my own “Super Mega Cool Mommy” Pinterest board (because pain), your names are tattooed forever on my heart.

Because I might not be the best mom on the planet, but I’m pretty good at loving the two of you.

 

Love,

Me (Your Mom/Madre/Mami)

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The good news: They still cuddle. The bad news: it just hurts more. The best news: Totally worth it.

Queen of the May

I had a bit of writer’s block this week. At first I didn’t really know why. Whenever I’d sit down at the computer to type, there seemed to be a wide selection of cute cat videos that would pop up on my Facebook feed all of a sudden. And my kids would say something across the house to their dad, who wouldn’t hear them, and then I’d have to facilitate their communication. Plus, I kept having to go downstairs and open the fridge and find nothing to eat.  Then I would need to close it and go back upstairs to read what I’d already typed. Which was this: I should get a cat.

This happens every May, and it’s worse this year because we just finished spring break, for crying out loud. It’s the time of year that causes a particular brand of lethargy in me and in many of my fellow parents and colleagues. You see, May is a month of both interruption and celebration. And that’s good in many many ways, but maybe not so good in a few other ways.

In May, there are several days off for some excellent reasons. We have Dia del Trabajo (known in English-speaking countries as Worker’s Day), which is a day off. We have Cinco de Mayo (known in English-speaking countries as Cinco de Mayo) and we have Teacher’s Day. We have Mother’s Day, and, best of all, we have My Birthday to cap it off (you’re welcome).

Picture May as a parade float where everyone’s dressed up like non-scary clowns, laughing and throwing fistfuls of the good candy to every kid who runs alongside. Heck, they even have clowns that jump off and run up to the kids who are too shy to join the crowd, so everyone is getting the Twix bars and oversized lollipops and decent sized jawbreakers. They’ve got music that’s actually kinda cool.

The other nine school months (well, except probably December and whichever got Easter this year) are the marching bands that sound like they haven’t practiced together in six months. They are the local politicians’ cars where the mayor is waving out the windows looking bored or the gas company trucks who throw out rock hard bubble gum. We all wave at them, ‘cause it’s still a parade, but where’s May for crying out loud?

But that’s the thing. May is fun, but she wears me out. If I’m not having a long weekend, then I’m getting up at 5:30 to pretend to exercise (but really listen to Stephen Colbert) and make school lunches. I’m either sitting on the beach at Cuates y Cuetes or I’m tying lots (and lots) of shoes at recess. I’m either the Queen of the May (and as a mother turning forty-four, I’ve earned this several times over) or Miss Leza who just caught you out of line and is giving you That Look. No wonder I don’t know what to write. I’m not even sure who I am right now.

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I don’t know where I am right now, but I think it’s somewhere nice

It doesn’t help that May is right beside June, and that means that we are reaching the end of a school cycle. So my motivation is starting to bottom out when it comes to listening to my children read aloud, driving to any kind of enriching after school activity, and spreading peanut butter on bread.

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Wonder if anyone will notice if I hire a stand-in…

But I have to admit that, as a teacher, I am fully expecting my students’ parents listen to them read each and every night. With enthusiasm. I’m sure that’s different somehow.

And really, I shouldn’t complain at all. I love these four day weeks and these cakes for being a teacher, a mother, and simply being born. Because, honestly, cake is delicious even when it isn’t really. And the good news is that there will finally be something in my refrigerator that will be sure to ease up this writer’s block.

 

Peace and Quiet

I like peace and quiet so much. This probably sounds like a tragic confession from a kindergarten teacher. Both peace and quiet are two things that are most elusive to someone in my line of work, and yet sometimes I crave them with my entire being.

You probably don’t have a lot of sympathy for me, because moving to a country like Mexico from one like Canada isn’t exactly a solitude-seeking life change. Mexico is a vibrant gal, she’s a mover and a shaker, she’s color and light, and she’s often planning a fiesta. Canada by comparison folds her hands in her lap, sits on her chesterfield (sofa) and doesn’t make a scene until the hockey game is on.

But I do need my quiet time every now and then, because it makes me feel less like slamming things and more like smiling gently at my children. And although my tweenager children are becoming more and more likely to go days without noticing me as long as food shows up regularly, I enjoy feeling like a benevolent motherly figure rather than a red-faced, twitchy one.

So I made myself a little to-do list for the spring break:

  • Make a bed angel every day (like a snow angel, but with pajamas and warm blankets)
  • Spend time sitting in the sun while the children find their own entertainment (that doesn’t involve asking me what they should DO when there’s NOTHING to DO)
  • Go somewhere where I rediscover the Sound of Silence

Finding a quiet place in the sun during Mexico’s celebrated Semana Santa is always going to be a challenge. Plus, we are saving money for our trip to Canada this summer, so we didn’t want to travel far.

But staying at home was not a silent option because, two days before Easter, our neighbor pulled up IN A TOURIST BUS with his entire extended family and probably several extra people who looked like they needed a vacation. They trooped out of the bus, set up two tents on the front yard, and packed roughly twenty-five people inside of their four bedroom home (which, unfortunately, shares a wall with our home).

Understand that I don’t begrudge our neighbor one bit of his family fun, because he’s so incredibly friendly and lends us his ladder whenever we ask for it. Also because I really do love that, in Mexico, family is always welcome, even if (especially if) there’s lots and lots of them.

And I’m actually grateful for this occurrence; because it became clear that it was time to put some effort into my search for silence. And I am here to tell you that silence can be had in an hour and a half drive out of town and into the mountains. It resides in a tiny, pop. 600 town called San Sebastian del Oeste.

Now, I’m not going to go into the history of this town because today that’s not my point. I LOVE history and I find Mexico’s history fascinating. And I think you should go to San Sebastian and discover its mining roots and colonial architecture. It’s going to knock your boots off.

But what I want to tell you is that, in San Sebastian, silence really does have a sound. It’s so quiet that my children were the loudest sound-producing items in the entire village. It’s so quiet that I heard the page turn in my e-reader.

We stayed at the Hotel Mansion Real. This mansion was originally built in 1750 and was renovated just over a decade ago, so the romance is real. It has a central patio where you can read or just enjoy the view of the mountains, surrounded by original eighteenth century architecture and citrus trees. Inside the rooms there is satellite TV, so once you hike for a couple of hours and take in a whole bunch of calories at the Café El Fortin in the plaza, you can plop the kids there and enjoy the tranquility on the patio for a sec.

The hotel is located just behind the central plaza, backed against a walking trail that leads you through these little orchards and parts of the village itself, winding around the white bricked homes and cobbled streets. You will need a floppy straw hat, a flowery journal and flowing cotton clothing in order to fully fantasize that you are living inside an eighteenth century novel.

Gil and I plan to go back there without kids one day, because it’s hard to do the eighteenth century romance when the kids keep asking where to charge their IPods. But I’m glad we took them to do some exploring and to enjoy some family time far from the busy Easter crowds. And making bed angels in an eighteenth century mansion makes it an almost dignified holiday pastime.

Living Dangerously

Last Friday my daughter went to a friend’s house to sleep over.  It was a day off from school and, because she spends only six and a half hours a day with her friend during a normal week (seven and a half since they are in swimming lessons together twice a week), it seems that they had much to discuss.

I went to work, because, in spite of common belief, teachers have to actually go to school and work on professional development days. No, we don’t sit around drinking coffee and laughing about how we hide all the pencil sharpeners during tests (at least not all day). We actually have a scheduled day of meetings and workshops.

From there I went to meet up with my parents and my son’s friend’s family at El Rio BBQ, where my husband plays guitar on Fridays and where I discovered that guacamole and fries (together) are the best way for an introvert to recover from a communication styles workshop.

My boy went into the river with his buddy, but I wasn’t concerned. He’s grown up in this part of the river, jumping rocks and catching tadpoles for several years now. He’s also my cautious child, careful to let me know where he is and asking me if I’m going anywhere. His risk-taking takes place on paper, where he writes absolutely the weirdest, most brilliant stories ever.

The Boy has always been somehow aware that he has only one physical body, and he doesn’t want to waste it in one reckless act of danger. He was never the kid who ran directly in the pool before knowing how to swim.

He doesn’t like anyone else taking chances either. He was the one who raised the alarm (at the age of two) when his sister climbed the stairs for the first time before she could even walk. He then stood behind her protectively as she did her victory dance at the top, hanging haphazardly onto the bars like an overnight guest in the drunk tank.

So I wasn’t all that concerned about him being in the river. He’s twelve, a great swimmer, and currently the water level is at its lowest and laziest. But after a while, I thought I’d check on him. I walked over to the stairs that led down to the river.

There was my son, not very high up mind you, but still crouching casually against the cliff side of the river, hanging on by his toes. There was a local Mexican kid throwing him the rope on one side, and on the other side his buddy, shaking his head with a grin.

column, dangerously

The Boy looked up, saw his mother gaping at him, and got a big ol’ grin on his face that kind of concerned me. He grabbed the rope from his new pal and immediately kicked out from the cliff, swinging out over the river and dropping down with a slightly scared, yet totally thrilled victory yell.

I smiled and clapped, because if I didn’t I thought he might go higher next time. But apparently he was in it for the win, (ie to terrify the woman who gave him life), because he climbed one rock higher for his next turn with the rope. I called out that that was fine but no higher.

A voice behind me in Spanish asked me “Why not higher?” It was the father of the boy who was handing my child the rope. He wanted to know (and he seemed genuinely curious) what I thought might happen if he tried to go higher. I told him politely, and in my best Spanish, that I was concerned about my son’s face and how it was likely to lose in a fight with a rock at high speeds. The father was kind and said “You can trust him. He won’t go higher than he can.”

I want to be that cool. I do. But I saw how high his kids were going and I knew that I could never even aspire to that level of parental coolness.

And yet. I looked at my boy, twelve going on sixty-two some days, but today just twelve. He was yelling and smiling with his whole face, doing something he knew didn’t have The Full Stamp of Parental Approval and absolutely no guard rails. And he loved it.

He took one more step up and shot me that devilish grin. I pretended to disapprove but didn’t say a word. He swung out on the rope one more time. My heart stopped just a little. He splashed into the water with a whoop. The other kids’ father nodded at me approvingly.

I’m not a cool parent. But yesterday I got to pretend that I was. And my boy got to live dangerously, just a little.