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.

Sayulita Memories

Is there a particular place that is special to your family and sends you into a state of permanent nostalgia until you leave it? It doesn’t have to be an exotic location, or famous, or even that remarkable at all.

I’m just talking about a place where you may have made some memories. They may not have even been remarkable memories, but suddenly, when you step foot in just that one place, you’d give anything for a whirl in a Dr. Who-style time machine for a second or two.

For us, that place is a little town just north of Puerto Vallarta named Sayulita. If you don’t know Sayulita, you really should. It’s a small town with a surf break and a vibe that has drawn a distinct, counter-culture kinda crowd. The locals are friendly, the food is delicious, and there’s a laid-back atmosphere that you probably wouldn’t appreciate if you were waiting for your turn at the bank, but which lends itself quite nicely to vacation mode.

We started spending time in Sayulita when our children were very young. We were lying around our house during a particularly sweaty Vallarta summer and realized that if we didn’t go somewhere else, we would probably not survive.

The challenge was that our children were toddlers, and in a stage where they were quite sure that their car seats were trying to kill them. So we didn’t want to go far, because after about an hour of listening to panicked young children wrestling vigorously with their seatbelts, we would reach the conclusion that a restful vacation was not within our grasp at this time in our lives.

Sayulita is close to Vallarta, but it is not Vallarta, and that was good enough for us. So I did some research on sayulitalife.com and booked five days at Casa Higuera, a beachfront suite hotel with full kitchens, A/C, a terrace, and A/C. Also, A/C. The owner, an American with a long family history of loving Sayulita in particular and Mexico in general, was one of the loveliest people we’ve ever met through email.

I will tell you that if you are in Sayulita in the off-season, renting a beautiful place is very economical and very much worth a bit of legwork online.

We did the following things on this trip:

  • Ate a lot of ice cream
  • Helped our daughter learn to walk
  • Realized that our son could throw a spectacular temper tantrum if motivated
  • Played dinosaurs on the beach
  • Kept a strict, full-family siesta regimen
  • Picked flowers
  • Allowed the children to run on the beach without the encumbrance of clothing
  • Drank a glass or two of wine on the terrace when the babies fell asleep, wiped out from the running and the dinosaurs

After that trip we went back, year after year, usually to a new place, sometimes with grandparents, where we did some other things with our kids like:

  • Taught them to swim
  • Learned to boogie board
  • Found a place that makes the best cinnamon rolls
  • Bought jewelry from our favorite artists
  • Swam in the ocean
  • Saved the lives of several butterflies
  • Adopted a dog
  • Ate pasta, tacos, falafel, quesadillas, pizza, etc.
  • Slept like Robinson Crusoe
  • Made friends with people’s dogs
  • Watched the sunset
  • Watched the stars
  • Watched our babies sleep

Gilberto and I just celebrated our ninth anniversary. We decided to spend two nights in Sayulita, at a brand new little hotel called Villa Los Corales, on the hill overlooking the town. It was a marvelous place, with (once again) genuinely lovely people for hosts. We sat out every night star-gazing and spent time on the rooftop in the refreshing pool during the day.

But everywhere we went, we’d remember something else, like the time I shared a dripping chocolate cone with our boy, and how a certain miniature Miss Tyrant demanded to be carried everywhere we went (and how her daddy secretly enjoyed every second). We reminisced about trying to keep two babies from eating their weight in sand, and how we stuck to the nap schedule so strictly even on vacation (and what a supremely brilliant move that was).

Simple memories, for sure, in a simple town along a stretch of jungly coast. But they are the ones that have nestled deep within the fabric of our family, and ones that have become the most precious of all.

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Heart in Her Hand

I think we never realize how our actions as children affect our parents until we have children of our own and we get the first call from the principal. Suddenly all you can visualize is your heart, freshly ripped from your chest, dripping messily all over a plate she’s holding casually (which sounds really weird when I say it out loud). And there, on a toothpick at the center of the aorta is a tiny white flag and two words: “be gentle”.

I’m fortunate that the educators in my children’s lives care deeply for them and want the best for them. So my tender heart has been safe in their hands. But it takes moments like these to understand that some of the happiest moments in my life may have been a little traumatizing for my own parents.

I can illustrate this with a fun story about my Mexican wedding. I look back fondly on Gil’s and my civil ceremony because it reflected my own personality so beautifully: disorganized and a bit of a disaster. We found out a week before our spiritual ceremony on the beach that the civil ceremony in Vallarta just wasn’t happening. It turns out that the Civil Registry here in town requires brand new birth certificates, even from non-Mexicans. I had one about ten years old, which was considered to be a useless sheet of antique paper here in Jalisco. They recommended that we check to see if folks in the state of Nayarit were more romantic and less concerned with the age of official papers.

The nearest Civil Registry in Nayarit is in a little place called Bahia de Banderas. If you know where Mezcales is, you can find Bahia de Banderas if you go through Mezcales onto very small, very confusing, very bumpy roads for about a really long time. The office itself is tiny in size but mighty in enthusiasm to marry people, and thus we held our ceremony right there.

From my point of view, the whole thing was both quirky and romantic, because the Justice of the Peace was an earnest, wonderful lady who was so happy for us in spite of just having met us. Gilberto bought me flowers, and I was surrounded by friends and family.

But let’s take a step back and look at it through my dad’s eyes. This perspective won’t give you a great view of the ceremony, unfortunately, because he was standing in the Justice’s personal bathroom as her miniscule office was overflowing with all six witnesses. He was holding my daughter, whom he loved more than all the tortillas in Mexico, although I imagine he never dreamed of holding his grandchild at his daughter’s wedding. He was in a town he’d never heard of, in a land where he was not a citizen, and he couldn’t for the life of him make out a single word of the ceremony. He was probably just going on the hope that someone would say at some point (and in a most legal fashion), “I pronounce you husband and wife.”

This must have been an out of body experience as a parent. Because what do you do when your child calls you up from a foreign country right before she’s about to come home forever, and tells you in a breathless, excited voice that she’s in LOVE and she’s going to STAY IN MEXICO and probably get married at some point? Do you wonder where you went wrong? Do you wrestle with questions about how your daughter’s life’s work could have taken her so far from you? Do you stay awake nights worrying over your precious child who is now inexplicably in love with someone whose values and culture are not yet known to you?

Let me tell you what my parents did. They came down to Mexico and stood as witness for their daughter. They held their baby grandchildren tightly in their arms so their parents could sign the marriage license. They hugged Gilberto and called him “son”.

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The wedding on the beach was a few days later. My dad held my hand and danced with me on the sand. He asked if I was happy. I said that I was. And then he said what I hope I’ll trust my own child enough to say as my heart dangles from her hand, “Then that’s enough for me.”

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Where I Belong

My favorite part of the day is hearing the keys in the lock of the front door at about midnight. That will sound odd unless you are married to a musician who works a schedule that is precisely opposite to your regular, 9 – 5 kind of day. I look forward to the tumble of latches because, of course, it means that our family is safe at home, and my long-haired foot warmer will soon slide in beside me, and life will be cozy and complete.

And I love my life. It isn’t perfect, but I love it. Do you want to know why? Because I live in Mexico, on the coast, amongst a people who, amid a plethora of bad press and a new angry foreign president, post jokes about preparing for life behind a wall designed to keep especially them outside of it. Certainly there are protests, and there is concern, but there is also laughter. If there’s anything I have learned about living in Mexico, it’s that happiness is something you can create out of very little. If there’s anything else, it’s that laughter is a great alternative to fear and uncertainty.

As a permanent resident in Mexico, I am appalled at the world events that are unfolding hourly. As the mother and wife of Mexican people, I am about as angry as the Mama Jumbo in Disney’s Dumbo when her baby gets bullied. They had to lock her up, by the way, because Mamas of any species are not those with whom you want to mess, never mind the largest Mama Land Mammal in the entire known universe.

I am feeling similarly Mama Jumbo, because walls are not okay when they are designed to keep people I care about on the other side of them. They are not okay when they are designed to create suspicion and fear against my own true loves. And they are not okay when they are meant to shut out a country that brought me in with such wholehearted love and acceptance.

You see, I came in as a guera with no Spanish and no cultural clue. I stumbled around making all sorts of mistakes and spilling loads of tequila, and yet I was met with nothing but grace and good humor. I was given the chance at loving someone who was always late but always willing to meet me where I was linguistically, even though I thought that my initial Spanish word bank of “yo quiero Taco Bell” was a pretty good start.

When I was frustrated and confused in my attempts to assimilate or do my banking, I was met with friendly faces and attempts to communicate in English even though I was not in an English speaking country. No one told me to learn to speak Mexican if I was going to live in Mexico, and not just because they know that the language here is called Spanish.

I was given the gift of two precious Mexican citizens for children who have taught me every great thing I needed to know about myself and my capacity for love, which was so much deeper than I ever knew it could be.

And although this breath-taking country with her big-hearted citizens never had a single obligation to accept a blonde, awkward human being as one of their own, I have never been told I don’t belong.  I have never wondered if I could really make a life here. My life IS here, in the sound of a tumbling lock, in the moment where I know my life is complete, in a country that took me in and told me I was home.

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Expat Explanations

I love winter in Vallarta, mostly because saying the word “winter” while I’m sitting in warm sunshine makes me smile. But also I love watching all the people who fill our streets and beaches. Most of them are blissfully happy because they haven’t worn a mitten since they got off the plane. They don’t have to get up at 1:30am to check if they remembered to plug in the block heater so their car will start in the morning. They don’t even necessarily have to get up at all, because that’s how vacations work.

That’s a pretty nice vibe to live your life around, even though I indeed DO have to get up in the morning (although I don’t have to remember to plug in my block heater and I hope I never will).

Not all who arrive here from other countries are tourists, however. It seems to me that there are a few categories of foreigners who are currently residing in Puerto Vallarta:

  • Tourists that come for a week or two, have a great time, and talk about coming back for the rest of the year (we hope you do!). Some speak Spanish, many don’t, but nearly all do their best to communicate respectfully.
  • Residents who live here during the times when their home country isn’t being climatically agreeable and go back when it decides to cooperate. They get involved in the local community, usually help out in local charities, and in general think a lot about living here full time. They normally speak a bit of Spanish, and work on learning more.
  • Residents who live here all year round. Many rely on local economy, have married locally, and have at least one Mexican citizen in their family. Most have a decent handle on the Spanish language and don’t expect anyone to speak English to them anymore (although it’s never turned down).

I realize that there are more categories, such as those who DON’T have a great time, but I think that must be a very small sampling, and I haven’t actually met very many. To those who don’t, I recommend coming back and trying one more time.

I am in category 3. I live here all year round, I make pesos, and I speak Spanish (in a very broad sense of the term). My entire family has Mexican passports except for me, and they rarely let me forget it, because they feel I should work a lot harder at getting one. I enjoy sharing with them that I would have more time to work on my citizenship if other family members who enjoy that privilege would fold their own laundry.

Sometimes it’s nice when local people recognize permanent residents as locals because we love being part of that community. But we do understand that we physically resemble many of the tourists. We also know that Vallartans do genuinely appreciate their beloved tourists, so we generally don’t make a big deal about it. But in case anyone wants to know how they can distinguish a resident from a tourist, here is a handy list:

  • Many of us are not tanned, and we are almost never sunburned. This is because we know we have to do this long term, and we don’t want to one day be confused with a leather product.
  • We are currently wearing jeans and sweaters in the evenings.
  • In the mornings our hands and feet are freeeeezing.
  • We know where to find Pitillal.
  • We know how to get out of Pitillal.
  • We know where to fix our phone (and it’s in Pitillal).
  • We ride the bus standing, without flying into the laps of the seated passengers (um, most of us, anyway)
  • We use the pineapple habanero salsa at the local taco stand with full knowledge of what we will suffer (but we can’t help ourselves)
  • We continue to watch every single sunset with the same wonder as our first night in Vallarta. Because, just, wow. We get to live here.column-expat-explanation-1

So You’re Shy

I’ve always carried around a big, heavy label called “shy”. It’s a stone-like tag that usually gets hooked around your neck early on in life. And the problem is, once you’ve got it on, it’s nearly impossible to remove. You become “shy” when your parent’s aunt tries to give you a hug and you endure it by pretending you’ve turned into an inanimate object.  You’re “shy” when someone asks how old you are and you reply by turning a shade slightly brighter than the color of the maple leaf on your country’s flag.  You’re “shy” when you’ve never been on Santa’s lap because the last time your poor mother tried, you screamed and ran behind the Maytag appliances in the department store.

It doesn’t get much better, in case you’re wondering. But by the time you are in college, you can cover it up by getting to know about three or four people and being seen with them everywhere so it looks like you have a lot of friends. And then, once you reach adulthood and have children, you can use the little ones as an excuse to avoid large gatherings. I’m pretty sure most people think my kids are sickly. And I’m willing to let that ride.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I like people. I married one, and my parents are some, and my kids are (usually) people too. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a classic introvert. This basically means I want to be invited to things so that I won’t feel like an outcast, but then I make excuses about not going because I hate when people say “wow, you are so red right now” when I am embarrassed. And believe me, I am going to be embarrassed at least three times per outing.

Here’s the deal. If you are already an introvert who finds potentially embarrassing social situations to be the Worst Thing Ever, you might then try not to move to a place where these situations are more likely to happen. A place, say, where you do not speak the language or understand many of the cultural norms. A place where you may look different from most of the others. A place where you cannot understand or make yourself understood on the telephone to save your very arm or life.

Certainly Mexico is a wonderful place to live. I met my husband here and we fell in love. The ocean is fantastic, the mountains breathtaking. It’s also the place where I have humiliated myself to the point that I wished for a way to fold myself into a very tiny object that could be placed under a very tiny rock.

Consider the following:

  • Having a very desirable guitar player ask you in Spanish if you are a teacher (in order to make very basic conversation so you might stop the staring) and you just smile knowingly. So he asks you again and you wonder if he wants your phone number and your friend has to tell you what he said. So then you say yes, and then you both sit silently because is there any point in going on.
  • After eight months of Mexican living you finally screw up the courage to order your meal in Spanish after practicing inside your head while your more fluent companions go first. You say what you think is “Sopa de tortilla, por favor”, blushing a bit but proud because your friends approve. The waiter stops writing, begins to back away, then full-out runs to the kitchen to return with the only English-speaking staff member in the restaurant.
  • You have been in Mexico five years and can converse fairly well, but you often don’t need to at work because most of your colleagues speak English. But then you have to speak to a parent in Spanish because he doesn’t speak English and you do just fine. But then your colleague blurts out, “I’ve never heard you speak Spanish before, that was amazing!” and then the two of them kind of clap for you like you just used a spoon with your pureed peas for the first time. And then one of them asks, “Did you get a sunburn just now?”
  • You are trying to explain where you live to a taxi driver and you’re sweating and stumbling around because you forget how to say “around the corner from” in Spanish, and actually you don’t even do directions in English. Then your eight-year-old son chimes in. In exactly five seconds the taxi driver says “ahhh pues claro”, and your son rolls his eyes at you for the very first time in what may now be his short life.
  • You don’t know if people want to do the one cheek kiss, the two cheek kiss, a hug, or just a casual wave. So more than one evening ends with accidentally kissing acquaintances full on the lips, or the shoulder, or even the tops of their possibly hairless heads.

As it turns out, the guitar player and I had a bit more to talk about, like the fact that he has also been accused of being shy. That made the awkward moments pretty much worth it. Sure, being shy and human can be hard. Being shy, human and in a foreign country can be harder. But, if you don’t mind getting out from under the rock, once in awhile it can also be really good for you.

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Goodbye Worries, Hello 2017

I think most people were happy to say goodbye to 2016. For many, it’s been a rough ride right to the bitter end. I’ve heard some criticism of this type of thinking, calling it “superstitious” to blame all misfortune on a calendar year number. I don’t think it’s superstitious so much as wanting a clean slate. Let’s just start over and ask Luke Skywalker and Han Solo to just please, please be careful for the sake of mankind.

I like to write New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of every year. Considering how this year went, I figure I can set the bar pretty low and still have things work out well for me in 2017.

One of my biggest resolutions every year is to stop worrying. You see, I come from a long line of furrow-browed prophets of doom. If something could go wrong, we could think of any number of ways that it might get even worse. My own nervous system’s favorite pastime is to prod me awake at 4:46 am to engage in a back and forth over things I usually can’t control. Or things I might control if only it wasn’t 4:46am.

So, I strongly resolve on New Year’s Day of almost every year that I won’t do that anymore. But, much to my surprise, I still wake up five minutes before my alarm on January 2 (and each day thereafter) to mull over the fact that my kitchen cupboard drawer that is only one year old is swelling due to humidity and can’t be quite closed so now we’ll probably never get the full value for our house when we one day want to sell which means our children will never go to college and we’ll all be living in mismatched cardboard boxes and living off the busking my husband and son will do together on violin and guitar which will sound ok as long as I keep reminding The Boy to practice which he hasn’t done in at least three days.

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You might be starting to realize the importance of tackling the Worry Wart Issue in my life. But I have finally figured out that I do need a real plan. My blueprint for this particular resolution is to make a list of the Big Nigglers, the ones that cause the most disruption in my lovely nighttime stream of consciousness (ie dreams about food). Then I will choose the ones that I can actually solve. Once I have written down a few steps for each one, the fact that I’ve put my feet on the path to resolving these issues should, in theory, make sleep come a little easier. So here you have a list of things I can probably tackle:

  • Saving money for the future instead of spending it on Haagen Daaz at La Isla Shopping Center (even though, have you TRIED the Praline flavor? I mean, do the children REALLY need to go to college?)
  • Exercising in the morning instead of lying in my bed awake, consuming fewer, yet not insignificant calories trying to think of reasons why I can’t work out today
  • Deciding once and for all if I care about the kitchen drawer situation or if it’s kind of handy (and even a selling point) to have one drawer slightly open at all times

That seems about enough to tackle for one year. Now I can neatly file the following worries under the label in brain called Out of My Control and Therefore Not Going to Impact My Sleep Tonight:

  • Gas prices (and let’s be honest, I can’t even TALK about this without a blood pressure hike)
  • Whether it rains freakishly out of season when my relatives come to visit this winter (and we all know it will anyway)
  • Whether my neighbors are going to think of a reason to have a party this weekend with their favorite music caressing my windows in a vibrating sort of manner (there’s always a reason for a party)

Now that I have freed my mind from worry, I will probably become some sort of creative genius. If you like to read my column, I have very little doubt this will be an inspiring year for you as well.  Unless, of course, I start worrying about something else that’s not on the list. Because I can’t remember now if my kids are up to date on their vaccinations.  You know, I think I saw some rust on that piece of metal my daughter scraped her leg on yesterday. And it’s probably too late for a tetanus shot now. Does anyone know anything about lockjaw symptoms?

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