Influenza Season

I am not going to try to point the finger here. But if you are a tourist and you were sick with the flu when you got on the plane, then I don’t need to try. I’m not mad at you, because I can understand that you wanted to recover from your illness in the warmth of the Mexican sun rather than under five comforters on your couch next to the base heater. I just need you to know that I was felled by a flu virus nearly ten days ago and I still feel like the gum under the tire of my Chevrolet Tracker: boneless, flattened and possibly a little sticky.

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The good thing is that I always had at least one Constant Sympathizer.

My children blame me for the fact that they got it after me. This is the beauty of combining the flu virus with motherhood. You get sick, you feel like death hot out of the oven, you start to recover, and then you get to nurse those you contaminate.

I like to think of our family as the most finely tuned Rolex watch. The children began to feel better about three days ago. My daughter had her last dose of paracetemol at the precise moment when her other parent began to sniffle. This parent happens to be my husband. He is the kind of person who does not like to miss gigs. He is the kind of person who would need a stick to the knees to even grab a chair and sit down if he feels unwell. So off he went to El Rio BBQ to play his two hour set with Bob. He sat.

Finally, the virus really got to work on him and he went to bed the day before yesterday. We haven’t seen him emerge once for the last two days. I’ve been doing the driving, cooking, brow-washing and juice-fetching since then. Which is ok, because that’s all part of what we do as parents no matter how badly we feel. And now I have two kids who are older and theoretically more helpful, so I expect them to do a bit more fetching.

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I obtained verbal permission to use this photo. Otherwise I wouldn’t have. Perhaps.

We went to Wal-Mart so they could help me gather supplies. I wasn’t feeling very energetic, so I thought I’d use the Divide and Conquer method and get out as soon as possible. Once we arrived in the parking lot, however, my son told me that he really didn’t feel very well and wanted to stay in the car. I sighed heavily, because I also wanted to stay in the car. But I figured with his sister we could still get the stuff we needed and get out so we could all go home and have a nap.

We left the car running but locked the doors. As we started to walk away, my son called out to me. Feeling guilty, he got out of the car, locked the door and followed after me. I ran back to the car, suddenly able to move more quickly than I had in a week. I asked him very very softly if he had just locked the car door, and he said he had. I asked him, in almost a whisper this time, if he happened to have shut the car off and brought the keys with him. He said that he had not.

My daughter asked me if I had a bobby pin.

My son asked me if he could get a rock to smash a window.

I wondered if it would look weird if I lay down and curled up beside my car.

The happy part of the ending here is that I accidentally took the extra set of keys in my bag, something that is of endless frustration to my husband when he wants to drive the other car.

The funny part of this whole thing is that my son’s absentmindedness caused the whole stressful scenario, and mine actually saved us, so now I don’t even know what to tell him for next time (and let’s face it, there will be a next time).

We’re looking into getting flu shot for next season, so at least the next time we lock ourselves out of the car, we’ll be strong enough to use that rock.



Garza Blanca Getaway

Every once in awhile, my husband and I take a weekend away to be alone with each other and enjoy the silence. Our children don’t understand why we need a break from them, because they are absolutely no trouble at all. And they are far cooler and more knowledgeable than we are. And not annoying, ever.

We try to explain that married people should be alone sometimes because it’s good for their relationship to have time to talk and have fun and maybe sleep for a few hours without interruption. They still don’t get it. However, they do accept it once they understand that they will be with their grandparents who buy them pizza and bake them brownies when we leave them alone for even a minute.

This year, we decided to stay in Vallarta and find a hotel room where we could relax and enjoy our time together. I’ve always wanted to try Garza Blanca Resort and Spa. It’s a beautiful resort located about seven kilometers from Old Town Vallarta on the highway leading to Barra de Navidad. It’s nestled into a lush, jungly setting on both sides of the highway. We booked a night during a great room sale on (we later found out that booking through Garza Blanca’s website would have gotten us the same deal, as they say they will match the lowest price you find listed).

We chose a Junior Panoramic Suite, which in layman’s terms means The Nicest Place You Will Ever Stay in Your Entire Lives. After checking in and being transported to our building by friendly, helpful staff (as it turned out, one of the smiling staff members was ONE OF MY FORMER KINDERGARTEN STUDENTS… how old even AM I?), we stepped out onto the terrace and there was the breath-taking Banderas Bay, twinkling and rippling before us. We had a view of beautiful Vallarta on one side and coast and jungle on the other.

If that wasn’t enough (besides the two person hammock, which may not have actually been a two person hammock until we arrived), there was a free-standing bathtub right beside a floor to ceiling glass wall overlooking the bay. Now folks, if you don’t live in Mexico, you may not understand what a bathtub means to me. If you do, then you will know how long I spent in that beautiful piece of plumbing furniture. You will be able to imagine how pruny my fingers got. And you will understand why I can’t describe much of the rest of the incredible suite.

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Look. LOOK.

We had reservations at the hotel’s Japanese restaurant, Hiroshi, at 8pm. I took my third bath of the afternoon (I am not exaggerating), and we went up to the restaurant located in Hotel Mousai, also owned by Garza Blanca. I was excited to celebrate our anniversary dinner there, but I also figured that, like most restaurants, I would need to cobble together a dinner that a vegetarian could enjoy. I’m used it, but it does sometimes make dining out a little more challenging.

Not so with Hiroshi. First of all, let me say that the service in this little gem is impeccable. Not a single slip. It was attentive, warm, and efficient. They asked us immediately if there were any food considerations they should know about. When I told them I was vegetarian, they were quick to accommodate. Secondly, there were plenty of vegetarian items on the menu.

Thirdly, EVERYTHING WAS DELICIOUS. We ate rolls, dumplings, and main dishes; tofu steak for me and a seafood dish for Gilberto. We ate until we absolutely could not eat another bite. Except then they brought dessert, and suddenly we had a little more stomach room. We had to eat the delicate green tea ice cream and the crème brulee (oh the crème brulee).

Chef Carlos Leyva came out to greet us, and explained that it was very important to him that everyone who comes to his restaurant has a high quality experience, regardless of food sensitivities or special diets. He told us that the restaurant is open to the public, so even if you aren’t staying in Garza Blanca, you can go for a romantic evening of culinary goodness (and you should).

After dinner, we went on a walk around the lovely grounds, lit up at night to showcase all the greenery around the property. After a bit of exercise to encourage digestion, we returned to our room and slept on our cloud, disguised as the most comfortable mattress I’ve ever slept on.

Gil and I don’t get a night away very often. When we do, we like to make it count. If you are a parent and you want to enjoy every minute of one of your rare nights away, don’t hesitate to choose Garza Blanca Resort and Spa, with dinner at Hirohsi. Please say hello to Chef Leyva for me.


That Kind of Mom

Last week I noticed my son dragging himself around a bit. He had been low energy and reluctant to do much that didn’t involve speaking into a headset while playing video games. I truly envy the people he speaks to on the headset, because they are privy to an entire conversation. I am treated to the half that involves 1) grunting, 2) screaming for joy, and 3) screaming for frustration.

Now, he’s really only allowed to play video games on weekends. During the school week he is required to remove the headset and join family activities such as eating and saying goodnight. Normally he’s a chatty kid, and enjoys asking lots of questions and telling me interesting and almost certainly inaccurate factoids that he’s heard from dubious people on YouTube.

The reason why he can’t play many video games during the week is because we think it’s good to see your own children sometimes, and also because we want him to someday leave the couch and make a life of his own (with his own couch). For that, we’d like him to be successful in school, and it seems like most teachers don’t base their work assignments on Fortnight or Call of Duty.

I wouldn’t have been that worried, because The Boy is thirteen, which means he’s in the era of Sluggish Interludes at home. Also, he’s beginning to understand that his parents are a bit unenlightened, especially when it comes to PlayStation 4 knowledge. Not only that, he’s always loved videogames. If I allowed it, he would play them until the apocalypse finally hit and the zombies burst into our home in search of even the most game-fried brain.

However, he started looking kinda pale. He complained that he was itchy, and I realized he had a bunch of blotches on his back and chest. We took him to the doctor, who told us he was definitely allergic to something, and that he was dehydrated. He got some meds and asked us to keep an eye on what he was eating.

I felt horribly guilty. What kind of mother allows her child to get dehydrated to the point of being pale and dragged out? What kind of monster wouldn’t notice that her own offspring didn’t feel like going to taekwondo, his favorite after school class, or have any interest in asking twenty-five questions on what kind of fiction is classified as science fiction and what was distopyian, or that he WASN’T DRINKING ANY WATER? For heaven’s sake!

I can tell you what kind of mother does that. The kind of mom who works all day, attends meetings, drives to seven afterschool activities with two different kids, organizes sleepovers and playdates, checks homework, meets teachers, makes school lunches. She scaffolds her child’s responsibilities so s/he is becoming more independent while making sure that it’s not more work for her to teach them how to do it. She stays up late or wakes up in a cold sweat worrying about their report cards, their friendships, and the rest of their entire lives.

She gives out vitamins and hugs even when either or both are not asked for (or particularly welcome). She reads up on the best authors and she researches books that they might like to read. She makes sure they don’t watch stuff like “Rick and Morty” and experience brain rot and moral degeneration. She reads with them, she listens to them.

And sometimes she misses important things, at least for awhile. She doesn’t see them because they are little things that become big things, like sadness or loneliness or sickness.

That kind of mom should really give herself a break, I think. Because at the end of the day, she sees the things she missed and she takes care them too.

I bought a big bottle of grape Pedialyte and plunked down next to my lethargic boy, pressing the bottle into his hand. I wrapped my arms around him (despite his obvious discomfort and the fact that he is now a lot taller than I am). He finally settled against me and grinned half-heartedly.

Maybe I’m That Kind of Mom. Maybe I miss stuff when I shouldn’t. But I’m doing my best, and so are you. And they know it (deep down inside. Like, way way down there).


For Better, For Worse

This weekend my husband and I will celebrate ten years of marriage. It’s been nearly sixteen years of a committed relationship, but we keep February 3 as our celebration day. This is partly because the grandparents come in the winter, which means Gil and I can sneak away for a night or two without worrying about whether the babysitter will ever come back after an entire weekend with my children.

But it’s also because our wedding was one of our favorite days ever. We were surrounded by our family and friends at a beautiful hotel on the beach, right at sunset. We had our favorite food and music (two of the most important elements of a happy life) and we danced in the sand until we could hardly lift our legs. In a shared life of so many incredible moments, this night was one of the very best.

And it does seem right to celebrate a day where so many promises were made. Ten years ago it was so easy to promise “for better or for worse”. We were surrounded by family and by beauty, and everything felt like it would always be “for better”.  We loved each other like we were in a Nicolas Sparks novel. We were young and strong and could still eat a heavy meal without heartburn.

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pre-wedding, pre-kid, pre-heartburn, 2003

Besides, we already had our two kids, so it kind of felt like a little of “for worse” had already manifested itself in all the sleepless nights, high fevers and teething. What kind of couple couldn’t make it if they still loved each other after consecutive nights of tag teaming with a screaming baby?

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So it was easy to say “I do” when our pastor talked about sickness, health, better, worse, richer, poorer. We were healthy, we had full-time work, and we had our beautiful family. “For worse” just felt like words we said to get those rings on our fingers. Sure, I meant them. And I know Gil did too. But I think there’s no way to really understand “for worse” until it finally shows up.

For Gil and I “for worse” meant the death of a parent, a lost pregnancy, a loved one with a drug issue. It’s meant his medical crises and losing friends to cancer and to suicide. And in those times, it’s been a promise made again and again with every hour in a hospital waiting room, in the grip of two hands held tightly, in the words spoken softly so the children won’t hear.

Some of those times felt like waves on a rough day in the ocean. One would hit us and we’d roll, head over heels. We’d come up sputtering and shaken, only to be wiped out by another, this one just a little bigger and a little more menacing.

Sometimes I wondered when we’d get a break from the constant swells so we could finally get to shore and to sun again. I wondered if “for worse” would become “the worst” and we wouldn’t make it out at all.

But I never wondered if I should let go of the hand I was holding and try to head for shore on my own. The hand gripping mine has always been strong, steady and sure. Gil faced every tough moment with patience and love. He leaned on me when he was tired and hurt, but he never once swam away. If I have ever found any beauty or grace in a hard situation, it’s because he held it up to the light for me.

It was easy to say “for worse” at our ceremony when we couldn’t even imagine what it would mean. But I’m so grateful to have a partner who has faced “for worse” by my side. Maybe we haven’t seen the worst. But there’s no one with whom I’d rather face the waves.

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Spiral Thinking Strikes Again

I know people who like to clean. I don’t understand it, but they probably don’t understand why I like being a Kindergarten teacher and hanging out all day with large groups of five-year-olds.

Cleaning overwhelms me because my brain does not organize tasks in a linear fashion, and I end up with a far bigger job than the one with which I began. I call it Spiral Thinking, because that sounds pretty and a lot nicer than Splatter Thinking, which is closer to reality.

For example, I will decide the computer desk needs dusting, so I go downstairs to get dust rag and discover the shelf where I keep the rags is in disarray. So I start to take off the items on the shelf and find that I can’t wipe down that shelf because the rags aren’t there. I open a drawer where rags can be found when my husband puts them away, and lo and behold, it’s a wreck (and there are no rags).

I could go on, unfortunately, but for the sake of all that is good in this life, I will leave the rest to your imagination. I think you can agree that the spiral analogy holds, especially if you visualize it moving in a downward direction.

Being a non-linear thinker is amazing for almost anything that doesn’t involve organizing in any way. So it’s actually amazing for almost nothing except doing fun, impulsive things like going to the beach to avoid putting away all the clean laundry that are sitting in baskets in our bedrooms.

And these days, shouldn’t we all be at the beach? This morning it was twelve degrees Celsius, and it will top out around twenty-seven by this afternoon. There was a crisp, clear sunrise. Now it’s a gorgeously warm day where all you want to do is sit in the sun, drink cool beverages and eat chips with guacamole and chips.

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Besides, what’s the big deal? The clean laundry isn’t going anywhere. In fact, at least half of it will remain in the basket all week as I pull out items to wear each day. I could definitely work with this system until at least late June, when the sun takes over the entire sky and determines to bake the brains inside the delicate cages of our heads.

In other words, WE HAVE NO CHOICE. Consider the following:

  • Dust is a natural occurrence. It’s probably organic, which is supposed to be in style anyway.
  • I have heard from a reliable source (my brother) that dishes should be air-dried for optimal health. Normally I take what my brother says with a kilo of salt, but in this case I think he’s onto something.
  • My cleaning lady will eventually come back (fingers crossed) and I don’t want her to stand around with nothing to do. In case you’re asking, I am almost certain she didn’t leave because of my Spiral Thinking approach to house organization. Like, 67% sure.
  • My kids need to know that their mother sacrificed impeccable organization so that I could take them fun places and tell them to amuse themselves while I closed my eyes in a sun chair. Imagine growing up understanding what your mom gave up so she could do this for you. The mind cannot comprehend.

Spiral Thinkers of PV: We have a duty to pass on this message to our loved ones. If you get out there and ignore the teetering piles of dishes and laundry in your houses, the Linear Ones will surely follow. Cause we’re fun. And we have all the snacks. See you at Los Muertos Pier.


Adventures at the River

Do you remember when your idea of adventure was doing something nuts, like jumping out of a plane or getting a neck tattoo? Yeah, me either. But I do remember a time when a significant event meant more than spending an afternoon looking for my son’s glasses at the bottom of a river.

Those days are past though, and that’s just what I did for hours last Friday afternoon because getting up at 5am five days in a row and working with five-year-olds all day wasn’t tiring enough.

Maybe you are wondering why my son’s glasses were at the bottom of a river. I wondered that too, because a) spectacles are very expensive items and b) my son’s visual needs mean he can’t go without them any longer than it would take for him to try, and fail, to see his own feet.

He lost them while we were hanging out at El Rio BBQ. This is a wonderful place where my husband Gilberto plays guitar on Fridays with another talented musician named Bob. He’s played there for several years now, which means that my children have grown up not only listening to their dad play “Honky Tonk Woman” every Friday but swimming in the river like otters.

As a mom I love this, because when I visualize a great childhood, I see kids in the river and I hear the Rolling Stones (or at least really good music). Plus, I can sit out and watch my handsome man play rock and roll while my children do wholesome things. I never could see the downside. Not until last Friday.

So there was The Boy, swinging from the rope swing. He had drawn quite a crowd, because a lot of the tourists that go to El Rio enjoy watching the local children swing from the rope and climb on the rocks. I was pretty amused, because my son was swinging around with his own signature style, as most locals don’t bring their own Swinging Gloves to avoid blisters (he’s the first born, so he tends to take things seriously even in situations where it doesn’t seem possible).

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I went back to my chair to chat with friends, satisfied in my child’s ability to keep it real at all times. My daughter joined me five minutes later, dripping wet and asking for goggles. This doesn’t seem odd, right? But mothers have this ability to hear alarm bells gonging in every benign request, and this was no different. I narrowed my eyes and asked why. She shuffled her feet and mumbled something about her brother and lost.

Neither of these words sat well with me, so I bolted down to the river. There was The Boy, perched on a rock, peering down myopically, while The Girly’s friend was shuffling around in the water, hoping to come upon the glasses bouncing around on the river bottom.

I sighed and rolled up the legs of my beige school pants, which I’ve kept around for about eight years exactly for this reason. Children don’t allow us to have nice things, in case you were thinking to have some.

Here are the basics: we didn’t find the glasses, despite the lazy current, despite the ABSOLUTE CLARITY of the water, despite the fact that we looked FOREVER and EVER. I remained completely calm because freaking out is more attractive when it’s done in your own home, and because my children were, as always, taking their emotional cues from the Least Likely To Keep it Together in a Crisis.

The El Rio crowd was dancing to “Brown-Eyed Girl” when I sludged past with a water line up to my thighs on my beige capris. My husband raised his eyebrows as I passed to the bathroom, but didn’t really look surprised. Even though he didn’t know what had happened yet, he is rarely surprised to see me in the middle of odd circumstances.

It’s clear that my adventuring days aren’t over. However, I may start wishing for that neck tattoo after all.

Time To Be a Tourist

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


My beautiful crew

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Holiday Wishes

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

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

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

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

I’ve already figured out my wishes too:

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

Christmas Cansancio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Santa needs a massage and a pedicure.

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

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

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

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

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

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This happened years ago but it’s my favorite.

Looking For the Bright Side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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