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!

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.

Advertisements

Reaching Out to Mexico

On September 18, there were Mexico City mothers who put their children to bed and kissed them goodnight, weary and hoping they could finish up their tasks and get some sleep themselves. They were thinking about work, or bills, or some other worry that always seems to catch a mother’s attention and stay there, wrapping itself around and around her mind as she finishes the nightly chores.

They woke up the next morning after a good sleep, or not enough sleep, or so much sleep that they had to shake their kids awake and rush them into their school uniforms so they would get to school on time. Because if they were late, the school might turn them away, and THEN what would they do?

Some mothers walked their little ones to school in uniforms clean and pressed, in neat braids and big red ribbons. Others made a mad dash to the bus, little boys running behind with breakfast stains on their shirts, spikes of hair sticking up in the back the way it always did even after being treated with a handful of gel.

All of them left their children at school with that feeling you get when you’ve accomplished something so early in the morning. They may have turned away from the door with a thought we’ve all had: make sure they learn something today, teacher, because just getting them to the door was enough to wear me out.

Their children probably got a kiss as they turned away to run inside. Some mothers would have had to stop them with a quick hug and That Look that says, I’m still your mother, now give me a kiss and tell me you’ll be good.

Some of them clung to their mamas longer because they didn’t want them to leave yet. Maybe one or two cried a little bit because they were still getting used to a new school. For those mothers, there was a tiny twinge of guilt at the gentle push they gave them, because it was time for work, and their children would be fine, but oh, they hated to see them cry.

I keep thinking about those things because those are the things moms do, and I do them every day. Except my children came home to me on the afternoon of September 19, and many of theirs did not.

I may be able to imagine what that last morning was like because I am a mother. I may be able to understand that last rush before the drop off and the frustration of dealing with children who take ten minutes to put a pair of socks on, but I can’t fathom the grief of these mothers today. I can’t because, when I try, my mind shrinks away from the thought like it’s a lit match. It won’t even turn toward it. It seems to be just too much for one heart to bear.

And if the thought is too much for me, then the reality must be truly excruciating. But that’s the reality of many mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, families all over central Mexico today.

The media has shown us multitudes of volunteers, concerned citizens and neighbors who have come out to help dig through the rubble, to support the families who are holding vigil over the schools and offices and houses, waiting to at least just know. That has touched our hearts, and it’s a beautiful thing. But what we don’t see are the empty beds, chairs, homes. And they must be empty indeed.

Perhaps we can’t even imagine. But we can join up with a reputable organization and ask what they need. We can gather the items that at least can help to heal some physical bodies and give someone a place to lay their heads tonight. We can be part of an effort that offers even a little bit of hope that there’s life after this. We can offer our hands to those whose hands are achingly empty today.

 

cropped-sayulita-2012-0512.jpgMexico City 037

Mexico’s Independence

This Friday, September 15, Mexico will begin her annual two day celebration of her independence as a nation. That’s because on September 15, 1810, it is believed that a priest, Miguel Hidalgo, called the people to rise up against their Spanish governors. Granted, it took eleven bloody years from that first cry until Spain finally came to the same grudging conclusion, but Mexico likes to celebrate the day when her people made the decision for themselves.

One reason I love Mexico so much is the positivity of people here in the direst of circumstances. There’s something pretty awe-inspiring in the optimism of deciding that one’s independence came eleven years before you finally rid yourself from your oppressors.

But I have a few questions about the actual revolution that maybe some historian could address. For example, how did people actually find the tenacity to fight in a war while dealing with thirty-three degrees that feels like forty-seven? Because I can’t even muster the motivation to deal with dishes in the drying rack these days.

Now, I do understand the way heat can create a certain amount of violence in people. I am certainly capable of throwing a carton of plastic wrap across the room after wrestling with it for seventeen minutes and managing to wrap exactly one slice of banana bread. But an entire war? For eleven years?

Regardless, that’s what happened, and it went on in spite of the fact that many of the original leaders of the war that led to independence never had the chance to see that dream realized. Miguel Hidalgo was executed along with Ignacio Allende, another leader in the movement.

But they didn’t die in vain, because now we have this Mexico that we know and love, a country that looks very little like a mini-Spain and very much like a country with a pretty solid self-identity.

The truth is, eleven years is a long time to fight against the odds, in the heat, against bigger, more sophisticated weaponry. But it’s probably good that it didn’t come easy. Because now Mexico is a country that is well-accustomed to the struggle, and when there’s trouble, the people dig in and fight for the long haul.

And even very recently, they’ve needed to fight. Two weeks ago, Tropical Storm Lidia hit Baja California, killing at least five and flooding the area, causing heaps of destruction.

Last week, southern Mexico was hit with the strongest earthquake it has experienced in over a century, with nearly one hundred people reported dead at this time, and devastation all over the region. The coast was placed on tsunami alert.

The very next day, Hurricane Katia made landfall in Veracruz, leaving more dead in mudslides, with more flooding and more destruction.

It’s been a bad month for Mexico and for her people, who have just begun to dig themselves up from under the rubble left by earthquakes and hurricanes.

But this is the country whose people pulled themselves up out of slavery in the mines of Guanajuato, who overturned a dictatorship in 1910 (which added on another ten years of revolutionary war, by the way), who decided eleven years of struggle was well worth the freedom of a nation.

So we will celebrate Mexico’s independence this week. But we also need to acknowledge that there are still tough battles ahead for her people as they grieve and begin to recover from these natural disasters. While we know they will rebuild, because that is who they are, the best way to celebrate Mexico this week is by pledging our own support today.

column, 2017

Back to School 2017

If I feel like being a normal kind of person, I make New Year’s resolutions on January 1rst, which I promptly ignore. However, most teachers don’t see much of a point in making a resolution when they are already halfway through what is, to them, the real year. Yes, teachers, like Ukrainians, find themselves referring to the beginning of the calendar on a date other than January 1.

I become a brand new person on August 24. I don’t even mean that in a professional sense. I completely reinvent myself at the end of every summer, thinking that somehow I will become super efficient, organized and full of energy in absolutely every part of my life as I begin the new school term. In other words, I will become the opposite of myself.

I don’t really know what it is that turns the little, rusty crank of motivation inside my brain.

Maybe it’s the fresh paint in my classroom, that clean layer that covers up all the crayon and marker stains that lurk just under the surface.

Maybe it’s the pristine reams of new paper, unmarked by a single, tiny, uncontrollably scribbling human hand.

Maybe it’s the time on my hands as we wait for after school activities to begin. Perhaps it’s though my body has forgotten how it feels at 9pm after a full day of work and hours of commute to swimming and tae kwon do classes.

I know it is NOT the enthusiasm of my children, because they are not doing a whole lot to contribute to the back to school effort. They claim that this is because

  1. It’s hot all the way from the house to the car and then the car to their air conditioned classroom
  2. Uniforms aren’t cool in any sense of the word
  3. They already know everything anyway

But I often visualize them sitting in their classrooms, participating in all of the wonderful math classes and science classes and all the things that keep them engaged and away from the Xbox. And then I know they will appreciate the education that we are providing for them. And, let’s face it, even if they don’t, it really doesn’t change anything.

Regardless, I’m a whole big ball of energy and motivation these days, and I mean that sincerely, because once again I am coming out of a summer of eating my mother’s pie and fruit crisps, so “big ball” just about sums it up.

Here you have my top New Year’s Resolutions. Happy New Year to all of my fired-up teacher friends. Happy New Year also to all the parents out there, who are the only ones popping the champagne on School Year’s Eve.

  • My children will have beautifully presented, nutritionally sound packed lunches every single day this year. Or at least half of the days this year. Or at least either beautifully presented OR nutritionally sound, half the days of this year. Or they will learn early on to make their own gosh darn lunches.
  • I will wake up each morning at 5am to exercise, by which I mean, hit the snooze button from 5am to 5:45. Then search the YouTube video that says “full body workout in ten minutes” but click on Stephen Colbert’s monologue instead.
  • I will plan our after school meals and meal prep on the weekends. Or at least make sure we order pizza only one night a week, and think a lot about the meal prep when I’m sitting at the beach on Sunday afternoon.
  • I will be in a fantastic mood every day after school, and be completely unaffected by the six hours I just spent with five-year-olds who need to know urgent things at all times. My children will come in my classroom door at 2:30 and be greeted by their mother who will want to immediately know exactly what injustices were committed against their persons that day.
  • I will keep my bed a calm, welcoming place with lots of soft pillows into which I will dive every day at 3pm until such time as I am mentally capable of helping with math homework.
back to school 2017

I can feel the excitement

Camping in the North-ish Country

This past July we went to Canada and enjoyed the summer with my family. They are located in Manitoba, which is a sparsely populated province located in the middle of the country. Manitoba is lots of fun with tons of activities and friendly people in summer. It’s impossible to describe what it’s like in winter. Besides, no one wants to talk about it, and it’s hard to understand through all the layers of wool anyway.

My brother and I grew up with camping parents, and we both came away from these experiences with different thoughts on the subject. He decided that he was an avid camper and outdoors-person, and I decided to stay in places where there were bathrooms under the same roof as me.

He and his family spend a lot of time camping around Canada once the weather warms up, because they believe that summer is the only time you can go outside and have a bit of faith that Mother Nature isn’t trying to kill you.

When my husband and I began planning our trip to Canada, we mentioned to my brother that we would like to go to Toronto to see my husband’s two older children. My brother and sister-in-law were immediately enthusiastic, because they also wanted to DRIVE to Toronto, camping along the way.

Gil and I tried recalling the time where we mentioned our desire to drive for twenty-four hours in the same car as our children. Also, Gil is not familiar with camping, as he grew up in Mexico City and didn’t really do a lot of nature activities as a child. So we would be depending on my own rather sparse camping knowledge. This seemed to make my parents quite concerned when we told them our plans. Apparently I hadn’t been all that helpful or shown much interest as a child when our family camped, and they wondered about their grandchildren’s safety, sleeping in a tent that I had been in charge of pitching.

Thankfully they still had some gear and, once we arrived in Winnipeg, they spent time showing us how to set it all up.

We rented a car and followed my brother and his family through the Canadian Shield from Winnipeg to Toronto on an epic ten day adventure.

camping 6

Enter a caption

Things That Were Challenging:

  • Cultural hiccups. For example, my brother, like many Canadian road trippers, likes to keep a strict driving schedule; therefore we ate packed lunches at the side of the road without the benefit of most utensils. Gil, like many Mexican road trippers, likes to stop and eat lunch at a table like a civilized human being. If you have to stand up to eat, it better be beside a big, dripping trompo for tacos de pastor.
  • If you are setting up a tent at 11pm and its 10 degrees Celsius, and you are with someone who is setting up his first tent ever, it can be a little disheartening to realize you forgot to bring a flashlight.
  • No one can possibly like outhouses. And yet, inexplicably, outhouses continue to be a camping thing.
  • Pre-teen kids in cars can be ok because technology lends itself nicely to confined situations. However. Once they are done with road life, they are truly finished in a way that is impossible to ignore.
  • Sometimes coffee isn’t readily available and you actually have to DWU to the nearest convenience store (Drive Whilst Uncaffeinated). So dangerous .

So sometimes things were a bit tense. And sometimes we were all tired of listening to the children argue over the position of their legs in the backseat. And a lot of times Gil and I decided that we weren’t Camping Material.

column, camping

Camping with my Mexican husband means that when you don’t have the proper tools, there’s always a way to rig one.

camping 3

The last night we were like a well-oiled machine. The. Last. Night.

But there were things that were great. And the greatest thing about them was experiencing them through the eyes of Gilberto, a visitor to this beautiful country. We would round the corner of the never ending highway and he would see something for the first time ever, like a lonely lake so glassy the pine trees looked like they were hanging upside down in it. Like a collection of stony inukshuks placed by other travelers marking the way. Like a giant, solitary moose munching quietly in a tree-ringed meadow.

I’d look over at him and watch his eyes, shiny with emotion. I’d forget that I was DWU and I’d remember why my birth country is so great. I’d remind myself that these are moments you experience when you get on the road with a tent and some sandwiches. And I’d promise myself to do it again soon (but next time, with a flashlight).

Homecoming woes

Our family has been home in Vallarta for two weeks and in that time we have accomplished very little. In general, we came back from Canada feeling sort of spent. This is because we spent the entire summer engaged in constant activity and interaction with friends and family, and quite frankly we don’t usually speak to that many people in an average day.

Another reason for the inertia is because we had to catch a 6:30am flight from Winnipeg, which meant we were up at 3:30am in order to get ourselves to the airport on time.

Finally, the second we got off the flight we were hit with a wall of tropical humidity that rendered us almost immediately immobile. I had forgotten what back sweat felt like, but the last thing it feels like is invigorating.

The other thing that stopped us from getting anything done this week besides the lack of energy is that our daughter fell down the stairs at my brother’s house the second to last day we were in Canada. It happened at midnight when she, as most children do when they want to cause irreparable trauma to their sleeping parents, decided she needed to tell me something.

She was at the top of a bunk bed and up three flights of stairs at the time of this great necessity. She made it halfway down all these dark stairs to my bed in the basement, but missed an important one and attempted to fly the rest of the way. This was unsuccessful. The good news is that she landed on one foot. The bad news is that her foot did not hold her up but instead crumpled under her weight.

I am bad in a crisis. Whatever. We all know that. Well, probably you didn’t know that until now, but this has always been fairly obvious to the rest of my family. In my defense, I was half asleep and afraid of the suddenly noisy dark. When I heard the crash and then the moaning sound in the pitch black, my first reaction was to mostly accidentally elbow my husband in the stomach.

Then I realized that the crashing and moaning wasn’t the sound of an unholy creature dragging itself from the depths of the earth to retrieve me, but my daughter weeping in terror and pain. So I flew up the basement stairs, flicking on lights and ramming into immovable objects and finally pulling her to me. I saw her ankle morphing quickly from ankle to horrifying purple globe. Right then I had to lie down because everything around me was rapidly returning to black.

  • Yes, I was losing consciousness because my daughter hurt her ankle. Sorry people, but it looked really gross and it hurt all the way to MY ankle.
  • Yes, I was the only person (including my daughter) to lose consciousness because she hurt her ankle.

To my credit, I held her hand while my husband iced her poor ankle for the rest of the night. I had to remain horizontal or with my head between my knees while I did so. I choose to see it not as weakness but as deep-seated empathy that I’ve carried with me all my life when I see the suffering of the world, and even more so when it is my very own child.

And ok, probably a bit of weakness.

Or a lot.

rhythm crutches 3

Luckily our family and friends don’t mind picking up my slack.

Her ankle was not broken, thanks be. It was severely sprained and she couldn’t walk from her bed to an Ipad, so you know it was bad. That meant wheelchair assistance all the way in the airports and a BREEZE through immigration, because she was adorable AND injured. This isn’t a bad combination when you’ve been up since 3am and you just want to be home already.

rhythm crutches 2

Who wouldn’t want to help this wounded little bird with the fabulous smile?

So this week’s been a bit of a wash. And that’s ok, because next week school starts and all the madness begins. Well, at least the NEW madness begins.

Oh, and P.S. I will probably never know what my girl needed to tell me so badly that she went airborne down the stairs. She can’t remember now. Maybe it will come to her someday around midnight.

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.

mom and dadmom and dad 2mom and dad 3mom and dad 4

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.

column, fairies

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”.

may to july 2014 172

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.

column, faires 3

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.

column, gil love 8

  • 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.

column, gil love

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.

column, gil love 2