One Dad’s Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Guess what.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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Great Expectations

When you move to the beach after life on a very flat, cold surface, and fall in love with a new country and a wonderful new person, it’s hard to see very far into the future. All you know is that you want to stay forever in this lovely rose-colored bubble that you have created.

I believe that I am a relatively intelligent being. And yet, I love to lead with all my feelings first, because I am a true romantic at heart. In this case, it worked out pretty well. Except for the fact that I thought that I’d continue to live a block from Los Muertos Beach and would have every evening and weekend to enjoy the sand and stars with my wonderful family at my side, hand in hand with my true love. I didn’t think much about the school age children they would become after the tiny, cute part, but I had kind of sketched out the following:

  • They would adore surfing because they live on the coast.
  • They would have brown hair that would be streaked with blonde because.
  • They would always be respectful and any undesirable behavior would be easily redirected thanks to their easy temperaments and my parenting skills that I had somehow acquired without needing to practice because I definitely knew a lot more than any parent I’d ever met.

So you might see how I had set myself up for disappointment, especially with the hair. As it happens, all the free time I had set aside for sunset watching and star gazing has been quickly gobbled up by extra-curricular activities and reading log requirements. My husband is still my true love, but it’s hard to hold hands when I’m putting together yet another school lunch while he is trying to shout fractions into The Boy.

I had always assumed that we could live close to the beach forever, because on our daily beach walks before children, we often saw a Canadian lady who screamed obscenities at all the passersby from her ocean front condo terrace. I figured if she could live ocean front, surely a soft-spoken, experienced educator deserved to do the same.

I think we’ve all learned in the last two weeks that being soft-spoken and having experience isn’t necessarily going to get you what you deserve. More importantly, loud, vulgar, rude behavior also doesn’t get what it deserves either, unfortunately. Certainly we have a lovely home, but we aren’t watching the sun set over the water most days, mainly because the water isn’t on the way to tae kwon do class.

My daughter is part fish. She loves the water. My son is an excellent swimmer and enjoys being in the waves from time to time. But the truth is, they don’t particularly want to surf. Which isn’t really weird because I hate surfing and my husband has never tried it. So I’m not sure why I had that expectation, or why it came as a surprise that it didn’t turn out.

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Tell me they don’t have surfer hair, highlights or no.

We are told regularly that our children are very respectful and polite. I have had many comments on how kind my children are to those who need a friend. I love these comments and, while I pretend to be humble and self-deprecating about it, I wish just ONCE the person saying it was holding a live microphone or a small bullhorn by accident.

But I think I speak for their father when I say that we mainly had no idea what we were doing, and all the things we thought we knew were absolutely wrong, and that all the marvelous behavior is not always on full display in our own home. Let’s just leave it at that.

So, some of the expectations I held when I was in my twenties and deeply in love weren’t exactly realistic. No matter where you live, parenting is always an eye-opener, and it’s always more exhausting than you thought it would be. It involves a lot more time in a car which will be more littered with wrappers and empty water bottles than you thought possible.

But the truth is, my reality far exceeds the expectations I had. And I wouldn’t give my busy, chaotic, wonderful life for all the sand on Los Muertos. Anyhow, if one day I change my mind about the whole soft-spoken approach, I can shout at passersby from any terrace in town.

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Loving Imperfect Expat Life

I have become acquainted with a whole community of expats who live in Vallarta. It’s an eclectic bunch of people who have adopted Mexico as their home because they love not only the geography, but the people and the culture. Some enjoy a higher standard of living at a much lower cost than their home country. Some expats like the fact that they can live far, far away from certain bothersome relatives who refuse to visit because they can’t abide spicy food.

I moved to Mexico because I wanted a new experience and a place by the beach. I stayed because of the Mexican people. Well, sort of one particular Mexican person.

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artistic rendering of me meeting said Mexican person

This country isn’t perfect, in a multitude of ways. I could list those ways, but if you live here you probably already know them. If you don’t know them, I think you should have to experience them for yourselves, just like I did when I opened a box of Corn Flakes one day at 6am and discovered that lizards enjoy setting up housekeeping in packages of breakfast foods.

But we accept that, when we move to a new country, things aren’t going to be exactly like they were in our home country. In Winnipeg, for example, I knew when the city bus was going to come to my bus stop because there was a schedule posted at each one. And if the bus did not arrive at that time (on the minute), it meant that there was a white-out blizzard, a serious accident, or the apocalypse.

In Vallarta, there are no schedules that I’m aware of, so technically the buses never arrive late. And sometimes they never arrive at all. Being disgruntled about that will not faze the driver. Although I think that an apocalypse would also not faze the driver.

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At least there are alternative methods of transportation

If we cannot accept that we live in a new culture with traditions and laws that are not the same as the ones to which we are accustomed, then it may behoove us to either a) complain ourselves to an early grave or b) go back and live in a place where the locals think that – 25 degrees Celsius just means putting on an extra pair of socks before going to work.

Neither one of those options appeal to me personally. I’m not great at committing to something as time-consuming and physically draining as being red-faced and discontent all the time. And, after sixteen years in the tropics I really don’t like wearing even one pair of socks.

So what I did was I acculturated. That’s what people often do when they move to an entirely new country. They realize that they are not immediately the center of the whole Mexican Universe and that most of the locals don’t have the time to change their concept of “dinner” to accommodate the customary Canadian supper time of 5:30pm.

So now there are things that, if I really think about it, are more Mexican about me than Canadian. For example:

  • If you walk into a staff meeting after school, you will be able to easily distinguish the Mexican from the non-Mexican teachers simply by looking at the snack table. Mexican lunch time is the main meal of the day, and it’s eaten around 3-4pm. In order to stave off the hunger pangs, they have snacks for those who are used to having a meal at that time. You will find me at my own table, hoarding one entire bag of microwaveable Costco popcorn.
  • Manana – I have always loved procrastinating. I am absolutely in my zone if I’m skimming along the edge of a deadline. I am a master of a well-worded email that will get me at least two more days before something is due. The concept of telling someone “manana” (tomorrow) when they ask you when you will complete a task has put me right at ease in Mexico. Unless it involves a broken water pipe in my own home.

There are still many ways that I am a foreigner in my adopted country, and I always will be. Not only do I answer to my nickname “guera”, which means “blondie”, I will be two minutes early for everything, while everyone else is half an hour late. I require a fully operational A/C unit in my classroom at all times. I like ice in all my cold beverages. I have brutal indigestion if I eat dinner after 10pm.

You might hear me complain sometimes, because I’m human and because I hate always being the first one at a party. But I love Mexico for countless reasons, and I’ll stay as long as she’ll have me.

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Beating the Heat in PV

It’s hard being an active parent when it’s this hot. Living in Puerto Vallarta in September means that you are just trying to hold on to the basic tenets of human decency. Even the smallest movements need to be planned out and measured so as to not provoke the sweat glands that send rivulets coursing down one’s back and into one’s undergarments. Because once this happens, a person’s temperament, personality and very sense of self begin to spin dangerously out of control.

They say that crime rates go up in many cities around the world during a heat wave. People become short-tempered, easily irritated and impatient. They do things they wouldn’t normally do. I believe that we Vallartans are less affected by this statistic because summer in our part of the world isn’t a “heat wave”. It’s a state of existence for nearly five months of every year.

You might ask yourself, what kind of people would stick around a place where they know they will face soaring temperatures and average humidity of 80% during the summer months? I can answer this: the kind of people who can tough it out without turning to a life of crime, that’s who. The kind of people who know which grocery stores don’t skimp on the A/C. The kind of people who own little kiddie pools long after they are parents of little kiddies. The kind of people who can last for days on cold sandwiches and store-bought jello.  We are talking about a unique and tenacious group of very special human beings.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t get grumpy. That doesn’t mean that we have the energy to deal with the outside world, even one that contains the joy and wonder of Pokemon Go creatures. That doesn’t mean that we don’t spend hours pretending to look for an obscure bathroom fixture in Home Depot so that we don’t have to use the A/C in our own homes.column, heat1

Sure, I’d love to be on Pinterest with my daughter, making detailed plans about her room décor transition from purple to turquoise and giggling over our lopsided and quirky attempts at making tissue paper flowers, but I’m sort of busy trying not to scream at anyone when they skin touches mine by accident. From what I can gather by the way everyone is talking to one another (PLEASE get OUT of my ROOM), the other members of my family feel roughly the same way. Plus, if you find success with a craft that has anything to do with tissue paper in front of a fan turned on full blast, you are a better person than I. And I guarantee that you belong here in Vallarta. You are a survivor.

Here are some tips to being a nice, or at least decent, parent during the hot months of Vallarta summer.

  • On the weekends, go out and do things first thing in the morning. It’s actually pretty decent outside at the time, and it’s not crowded. Plus, then you can spend the rest of the day on the couch, congratulating yourself because you already did something.
  • Tell the kids to bring their problems to you, wherever you are. I am usually lying on the floor, because the tile is cooler. Avoid moving at all costs. You need to save your movements for smiling, because that’s a nice parent quality.
  • Fill up a kiddie pool on the patio, or the front yard, or anywhere where you can supervise your family while sitting in water. If you already have a pool, then you are a step ahead. And you should probably invite me over.
  • Foster your sense of humor. You’re going to need it. I recommend pinterestfails.com.column, heat 3

How to Leave a Legacy

When I first arrived in Mexico, nearly sixteen years ago, it was a particularly sweaty August. My first impression was that it might be a good idea to turn around and go home. I didn’t understand how a person could sweat simply by moving an arm to brush the perspiration out of one’s eyes. Also, my hair had curled itself into something resembling my grandmother’s home perm, and I found this to be an unacceptable way to leave my new apartment.

Except that I had to leave my new apartment because it was about two thousand degrees inside. Also, I had to make an appearance at my new place of work so they knew that their new kindergarten teacher had survived the first night, even though I was pretty sure I’d be handing in my resignation once I got there.

I got onto the American School campus after some very wrong turns (can I get a “hey” from anyone who, on his/her first day in Vallarta, was humiliated by the locals for not using the lateral lanes correctly?). I was sweating, scared, and shaky. I was probably constantly touching my hair and frowning. I also probably did not look like a successful professional, ready to confidently take on a full class of energetic kindergartners. To be honest,  I did not look like I could confidently take on a plate of spaghetti even if the pasta was cut in half.

Immediately my elementary school principal, Kathy Selitzer, strode up to me, smiling. She introduced herself. She told me how glad she was that I had arrived. She even looked like she meant it. Quickly she guided me to the office of her husband, school director and founder Jerry Selitzer, who had recruited me at a job fair in Ontario earlier that year. Seeing him grinning at me from behind his desk was a very relief-inducing sight, and I breathed out just a little. This was the first time, but not even close to the last time, that these two people saved me from dropping everything and running for the nearest hill.

Over the years, Kathy and Jerry have become very important to me. Defintely I have grown professionally, mainly because they both have always believed in my ability and in my unshakeable philosophy of child-centered early childhood education. They have both mentored me carefully in the art of administration and in the art of demonstrating to others what is good education.

But it’s more than just our work at the American School, although our work as educators is so much a part of who we are. Since I arrived in Mexico, they have been present for every major milestone in my life.

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When I got a divorce, they would show up at my house and force to me to eat breakfast in a restaurant like a normal person.

When I got re-married to my very favorite Mexican, Kathy planned my wedding with me, designed my bouquet, and spent hours tying bouganvillia to tiki torches on the beach.

When I went into labor three weeks early and my parents couldn’t be there, Kathy showed up at the hospital with a copy of War and Peace, ready for the long haul. Twenty minutes later, she was the first person (after his stunned-looking parents) to hold my son.

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When my daughter was born twenty months later, and the nurses forbade me to use the air conditioner with my baby in the room, Jerry went to have a word at the nurse station. And returned with the A/C remote.

When my own children entered ASPV and I became That Mom, Kathy spent patient hours in her office assuring me that a) everything was going to be ok b) I wasn’t forever scarring my own children and c) everything was going to be ok.

These are my experiences with the Selitzers. If you ask anyone who has spent any amount of time at the ASPV, whether they are a student, parent, staff member or teacher, you will hear stories like mine.

In other words, they aren’t just directors, or bosses, or the hiring committee. They are guardians, mediators, community-builders, mentors, family.

 

And now, this month, they will retire and hand the reigns over to others. Happily, the new administration is ready and more than capable of taking on the task of leading our school. Not only that, Kathy and Jerry Selitzer are handing them a legacy of love for learning, for innovation, and for community. They aren’t just our administrators, they are our friends. They are our family.

That is the legacy they leave our community of ASPV: it is loving what you do without reservation, without hesitation and without regret. It is believing in those who will, in turn, do the best work they have ever done. It is letting someone else take the credit a lot of the time, and it is lifting up those who are losing the vision.

And, at last, it is entrusting it all to the family you have built, content now to watch it grow.

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