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.

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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.

 

The Recital

Today my daughter is going to sing in her very first recital. She’s nervous about it, which is, of course, a normal feeling. I’m helping her by remaining very calm and distracting her from the ever-nearing moment by talking about other things and treating it like it’s not a big deal.

Well, that’s how I am probably dealing with it in a parallel universe where I’m a normal person.

In THIS universe, she keeps telling me to stop touching her hair and staring at her because it’s freaking her out. I keep wondering to myself (but maybe sometimes out loud) if she has all her songs completely memorized and if we should be going over them once more. Someone told her yesterday that when she gets on stage just to visualize the audience naked and now I am thinking about the lifelong trauma that may result from having her entire family, including her parents and grandparents, in the audience.

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Not only that, I am actually going to sing one song with her, as per teacher request, in a group song with other mothers. I suffer from tremendous stage fright, which means that, although I have probably practiced this song more than the original composer, I fear that I will Lose It and sing a completely different song that I didn’t practice even one time.

Not that I over think things. Except sometimes. Well, except maybe 87% of the time. I tend to think about things that will very possibly go wrong, like she forgets a lyric or two.  Once I’ve decided that these are no longer worries within my control, I move on to things that might go wrong, like she catches a cold. And when I’ve used up most of the day feeding her lemon tea, I’m imagining things that definitely won’t happen. Even so, wouldn’t it be awful if we were trying our best to get there on time but we are trapped in one of those dreams where we end up lost (in Vallarta) and no one we ask for directions speaks English or Spanish.

This will result in me wanting to leave the house around two and a half hours before we have to be there, just in case. Being married to a Mexican musician means that he will agree with me, smile, and then drag his heels until we are set to arrive about fifteen minutes after we are supposed to drop her off for a quick sound check. I doubt I have to describe our communal state of mind when we finally arrive.

The thing is, I’m so happy for her to have this opportunity, and so proud because she’s such a beautiful little songbird, and for me this translates into deep wells of anxiety for everything to be just right. I’m not normally a perfectionist (ask my kitchen floor), but when it comes to my kids I want every time to be The Time of Their Lives, which can create a bit of pressure with which most parents will be quite familiar. This is her moment to shine because she deserves it, and nothing better mess it up or it will have to deal with Mom.

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Maybe this means I’m officially a stage mom. The term kind of bothers me, because I never thought I was a stage mom, and I’ve never pushed my children to do things that I feel they wouldn’t enjoy. But then I found myself mouthing the words to her songs at her rehearsals, miming the little actions we put together for “Good Ship Lollipop” so she wouldn’t forget, and practicing putting on her “Annie” wig between sets. And I realized, every mom is a stage mom the minute her child hits the stage.

I imagine you are thinking that it would be a lot better for her if I just calmed down and let her enjoy it, because theoretically that’s the point. And honestly, I agree. Maybe we’ll try that. After the show.

Be Tween Years

I always thought that writing about my young, preschool children would be far more interesting than writing about my children as they approached their teen years. In some ways that’s true, because pre-teen children could actually sit in one place for entire days without moving as long as there was a digital product in their hands.

But if you remove the product and coax words out of their mouths, it can be fascinating. Plus, when they were preschoolers, they thought it was fun and cool to help  parents do chores, and now they find it overwhelming to lift a bag of groceries from the back of the car, so that’s always a topic for discussion.

They invented a new term for pre-teen children that is fun, called “tween”. It’s clever in that it’s a play on both “teen” and “between”. And it puts a cute label on the person sitting before you, incredulous that you don’t trust him with his own cell phone, but is still uncertain of how to make a peanut butter sandwich.

I have a twelve-year-old and a ten-year-old. They are twenty months apart, so any particular developmental phase is dealt with over about three years (giving everyone time to process) and then we can move on. Living in the diaper phase for nearly four years was a bit of a struggle, but mostly I’m grateful for the close age spread.

Currently we are dealing with the fact that the twelve-year-old is nearly eye level with his father and I. The Boy is enjoying this, and we are girding ourselves, because it’s a whole other skill, looking up to your child while really Speaking Down, if you know what I mean. The Girl, not to be outdone, shot up about two inches since Christmas, and is gangling around the house, complaining of joint pain.

I am a bit beside myself, I’ll be honest. I still think they say the cutest things, although I’m not sure if I should still put them on Facebook or not because it’s almost always politically controversial. That’s because they are both young, opinionated, and lead by their very current emotions, which could change dramatically by the time I hit “post”.

That being said, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least try to offer some advice on dealing with the tween years. A lot of people don’t really talk about it, because they aren’t even aware that such a stage exists. But if you have a child whose age ranges from about nine to about twelve, here are some ways you can deal with the drama and beauty of these children on the verge of something even more trying.

  • Don’t ask them “How was school?” In tween language, this means “What did you DO NOW?” and they will be offended (even though they probably DID do something now). Instead, try asking “What was the best/worst/annoying/hilarious part of your day?” They will still answer “nothing” but they won’t be suspicious.
  • They don’t want to do any chores and they will probably try to pull the “but I’m just a kid” card. That’s because they are smarter now, which means they are older, which means they can definitely do chores. Don’t fall for the “Oh, every time I do dishes I turn your floor into a sea of rinse water so I better not do the dishes” trick. Put the mop suggestively beside them and walk away.
  • They are trying out lingo that you don’t understand, solely for the purpose of you not understanding. It’s a slick move, but the internet is a wonderful learning tool. For example, my son says “noob” a lot, and I can tell you that this stands for “newbie” as in, someone who is inexperienced at something (in this case, usually a video game in which he is very experienced).
  • They still want that noob stuff like being cuddled and tucked into bed, but if they ask, they will look like noobs (Now I’m overusing the term, which is probably a noob move). So that’s where you step up as a parent and hug them as they grin and try to protest, and you enjoy the moment where the tween is still your little child for a while longer.
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Even the dog doesn’t quite understand. But we kinda like it anyway.

 

Vallarta Visitors

In early 2000, I attended a job fair in Kingston Ontario specifically for finding a teaching job overseas. I interviewed with several international schools around the world. I received a few job offers with hiring packages that looked pretty good to a young teacher, but none drew me in as much as did the American School of Puerto Vallarta. In relation to other schools around the world, it’s a fairly small school community, but what it offers in way of quality of life was nearly incomparable.

One of the biggest draws to me was the fact that it was easily accessible to family and friends who want to visit. I was concerned about being lonely for my homeland and didn’t want to go anywhere where it would be both too far and too costly for loved ones to come and spend a week or two.

I made a great choice with Vallarta, because it’s been pretty easy to convince people to shell out for the plane ticket to come see me next to a backdrop of palm trees and sandy beaches.

I categorize my visitors into two major groups. The first group would come and see me no matter where I lived. They love me, they miss me, and they would sit in a snow bank on the edge of the Arctic Circle with me, picking out ash from their Earl Grey tea because the water was heated over an open fire.

I spent two years as a teacher on a First Nations reservation in a fly-in only island in Northern Manitoba, and I had a few visitors who braved the slightly sketchy flight and isolating experience in order to see my face. They certainly didn’t come because of the constant activity, unless they were secretly addicted to the bingo at the local community center. It definitely was not the balmy weather, since it would reach -60 with the wind chill some nights. This is a very small, very tough group of people that has earned a permanent place in Casa Leza whenever they need a tropical getaway.

The other group is large, and wonderful, and quite glad I live in Vallarta. This group loves both Vallarta and me. They are so happy I live here, because they enjoy Mexico and think it’s great that I’m now part of the package. I don’t know how you feel about having visitors, but for me, watching people have a great time in your town kind of makes you remember why you chose to live there in the first place.

A great big bunch of my uncles and aunts rented a house two doors down from me this past month. My parents are currently living with us, and a couple of other friends came to visit too. Watching them troop home from the bus after a busy day of whale-watching, hiking near Casa Kimberly, or dancing to my husband’s music at El Rio BBQ, I feel a sense of satisfaction that my visitors have been so well-entertained in my beloved Banderas Bay.

They have converted the front patio of the normally empty house into a lawnchair-littered, friendly party terrace, and their laughter drifts into our windows every evening. It makes me smile, because I remember being a little girl in pink footy pajamas, hearing the same laughter around the campfire at night as I lay tucked into bed in our camper trailer, cousins in a deep sleep beside me, after a long day of getting into as much mischief as could be managed.

Nowadays the mischief isn’t mine, because I’ll be getting up early to get ready for work, and the uncles will still be sleeping until it’s time to wake up for the San Sebastian tour bus. But it’s nice to know that they’ll be here when I get home, laughing the way they did around a campfire in another time and place.

It’s marvelous to have visitors when they are important parts of your life no matter where you live. And it’s wonderful to watch them come to love Vallarta for all the reasons you love it too.

The De-evolution of Parenthood

We start out as parents in a sort of boot camp situation, where we find ourselves performing incredible feats of physical endurance in a state of sleep deprived confusion. Just ask my husband, who spent the first five years of our family life wrestling our babies in and out of those confounded one-sie pajamas after playing guitar until 4am and getting up at 7:15am, when I left for work.

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Parenting on three hours of sleep a day

But I think we can all agree that parenting evolves over time. If we actually survive the boot camp phase, things start becoming a certain kind of normal, and we start growing into our roles as Family Dictators, Sock Scrubbers, and Bread Crust Cutters. We begin to know what to answer when the six thousandth “why?” is asked (ask your father), what to say when they keep calling you long after bedtime (the monsters moved from under your bed to mine, I can’t get up anymore), and what to make for lunch (something involving melted cheese).

But in some cases, I do believe that parenthood also involves a de-evolution of sorts. Like, as though the creature that was crawling around in the primordial muck had its legs suck themselves back in and all the cells morphed back into a single cell, and it just had to lay there and wish it was back in college without any responsibilities.

I had this epiphany as I stood in line on February 13 at 8pm, standing behind about 1,300 other parents who forgot about Valentine’s Day altogether until a good friend mentioned to them at tae kwon do class that they had finally gotten all their child’s treats together for the class party the next day.

When my children were in preschool, I remembered THE YEAR BEFORE to ask family and friends in Canada to buy those cute themed Valentines and bring them down so that THE FOLLOWING YEAR we would be ready for the big day. Then, practically the day after New Year’s, we’d begin carefully choosing a Valentine for each special child in their class and filling out their names. The night before, a homemade heart-shaped cookie would be attached to the personalized card and we would deliver them in a kid-decorated box to the classroom, all smiles and self-deprecating “oh, it wasn’t much work at all!” or “it makes the kids so happy, and that’s what it’s all about!”  What a line.

Fast forward seven years and I’m playing tug of war with the other tired moms in the grocery store for the last bag of heart-shaped ring pops. I finally managed to grab three bags, did the quick math to make sure I bought enough for both kids’ classes, spent another fifteen minutes in line with the other shame-faced parents, and got myself home in time to realize that I had done the math wrong. I COULDN’T ADD TWO CLASS GROUPS TOGETHER. And apparently I am the one who insists that I have given birth to two college-bound human beings.

So then it was nearly 9pm and I found myself standing in the aisle of our local pharmacy, wondering if the extra kids would be satisfied with a special Valentine chewable vitamin, reflecting on the fact that I’ve been a mother for twelve years now and am still unable to get my act together. Not only that, my act is decaying significantly with each passing Valentine’s Day.

Of course, in order to keep my self-esteem balanced so I am able to get up in the morning, I have to examine ways in which I have, indeed, evolved into a mother who sometimes knows what she’s doing. So I made a little mental list of these things:

I can:

  • make macaroni and cheese without a recipe and for any amount of people under the age of 13
  • drive my children and their friends across town with one hand, the other removing digital devices from grabby fingers and gum from any length of hair
  • get kids out of bed, fed, and dressed for school presentably in about twenty-five minutes while simultaneously making lunches and drinking three cups of coffee
  • wake up in the middle of the night without screaming, despite opening my eyes to a face roughly three centimeters from my own, and calmly lead a still-sleeping child back to bed

When I really think about it, we never really leave Parent Boot Camp. We just start having a little fun with it, making it our own, and calling it life.