Teacher Appreciation

Today, May 15, is Teacher’s Day, which is of special interest to me as a teacher. It is compelling for reasons such as:

  • I never experienced so much teacher appreciation as I have since I moved to Mexico.
  • I have the day off, and what can be more interesting than that, really?

I am glad that Mexico finds it necessary to appreciate the work we do with her youngest citizens, because, I will tell you honestly, teachers sometimes don’t feel we are as valued as maybe we ought to be. It can be truly challenging to consider yourself appreciated when people are putting their feet on top of your new Kirkland Signature pants because they want their shoes tied and they don’t feel like asking just now.

It’s hard to know if people really see what you do as important when they are throwing up on you, or using your shirt as a tissue, or asking you what they should do when you just said it at least three times. It’s difficult to feel appreciated when the people with whom you spend your time tell you they want to go home, or lie down in the middle of the most exciting part of the story, or leave their half eaten grapes on the floor so you can take an exciting ride across the tile when you least expect it.

But, oddly enough, I don’t really spend a lot of time considering it, I truly don’t. Being a teacher means that you do not have the time or the energy to spend on a lot of deep philosophical questions such as “does anyone even care” because you are too busy eating your lunch with one hand while the other is making photocopies, or handing out real Kleenex, or wiping up grape juice.

More importantly, you are occupied with re-planning tomorrow’s lesson because your students aren’t interested in wild animals, they want to know why their pets die. They spent an hour today telling their various tragic stories about dogs being run over, or dying of cancer, or being taken to the vet and not coming home. So that unit on animal classification is just going to have to wait, because those tender hearts are the priority in your classroom.

You are busy wondering why your little student has changed from that happy-go-lucky kid who was always excited to play Alphabet Memory to the withdrawn, sad little person who wants to be alone all the time. You can’t quite fall asleep as easily as you usually do because you are mentally listing all the ways you can draw her out of her shell.

Your time is far too taken up by every child in your classroom to wonder if anyone notices the hours you put in on their learning, on their behavior, on their happiness. And it’s ok, because if you can’t get job satisfaction as a teacher just by doing the actual job, then you probably should change careers. Because if you really do need a lot of continuous back-patting, this job will stop being fun after your first circle time when the first five children ask to go to the bathroom.

And you will discover in random, sudden moments that your students really do notice. It’s in the tight hugs around your legs and you have to grab a chair so you don’t fall on them. It’s in the anonymous “i LoF U MiS” written in a crooked heart on your white board. It’s in the excited, shining eyes that catch yours when they sound out their very first word.

 

I’m not going to lie. Having a day where my career choice is celebrated is pretty nice. It kind of makes up for being a human Kleenex on the other days of the year. But having a job where I get to make a difference, that’s even better.

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Becoming a Mother in Mexico

I always knew that I would be a mother. From the time I could hold a baby doll, I practiced feeding and changing, burping and chastising. I remember writing down lists of names, depending on my current mood and on what was popular at the time. I wondered what their father would be like, and if we would live in a big house in my own hometown, grandparents on call just down the street. I thought about how many I might have, and if I’d have an equal ratio of boys to girls. I decided that I’d need to take a break from my job in order to devote enough time to their childhoods, just as my mom did for my brother and me.

I never dreamed in a million lifetimes that I would raise my children in another country. I didn’t consider for a second that their father wouldn’t be Canadian and might have his own opinions about names (that might not even be English). I wouldn’t have guessed that their grandparents wouldn’t live within driving distance. And I never once thought that my baby daddy would be a guitar player by night and Super Dad by day, so I wouldn’t need to leave my career behind.

The reality of motherhood doesn’t even share the same eye color as my vision of it when I was a little girl force-feeding her Baby Alive circa 1978. I didn’t know that I’d struggle while trying to pushing a stroller over cobblestones. I didn’t know that I would cry for my own mother when it was 2am, the baby wouldn’t sleep and my husband was at work. I didn’t know that I’d be a second language learner in the pediatrician’s office. I didn’t know that I would search my babies’ faces and realize they didn’t look like me at all.

I didn’t know that sometimes I would feel very lost, very sad and very alone.

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But I also didn’t know how rich and sweet my life as a mother would be, because how could I have predicted any of those things as a young girl playing pretend? Because when you become a mother, you are always biting off more than you can chew, and you never can be fully prepared for the new identity you are taking on.

When you become a mother in a country where you were not born, you are taking on a new identity while trying to understand a new culture and language. When I changed my son to a new formula, I had to learn the ingredients in Spanish. When I couldn’t deal with the stroller on cobblestones, I had to learn how to wrap my little babies in a scarf, or reboso, literally wearing them on my body. I dealt with typhoid and dengue as threats to our family’s health, along with the regular, suddenly mundane, colds and flu.

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or seasickness… oh yes…

Strangely enough, I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the maple syrup in Canada. Our family is small, but it’s tight, thanks to all those days when we had only each other to lean on. Carrying my little ones wrapped up next to my heart is one of my favorite memories of their babyhood. Our children speak two languages with ease and can read now labels for me. I came to acknowledge that regular sleep wasn’t everything (although it’s pretty dang important). I learned that sadness and loneliness are not the apocalypse.  They are simply emotions that show me I’m human. And I learned that joy and love are felt just as deeply, and often at the very same time.

Motherhood isn’t what I expected it would be when I dreamed of it so long ago. It’s a thousand times better. My identity as a mother to these two human beings is the most precious part of who I am. I am grateful every day for the gift of love and for my life as a mother in Mexico.

Children’s Day!

Last Monday Mexico celebrated Children’s Day, or Dia Del Niño. It’s a fantastic, fun, exhausting day where all children enjoy outrageously fun activities planned for them by adults. The adults genuinely desire that the children have the best day ever, and they also hope to tire them out by midday.

Generally, the children are so excited and amped up early on that they are often tired out by about 10am instead, and have several crying meltdowns until the fun activities are concluded at 12pm and everyone can go home. I work with young children, so I know this. And it’s ok, because they’re adorable about 97% of the time, so they get a pass on the other 3%, especially on Children’s Day.

My own children are eleven and thirteen years old. Last year they spent most of the morning forgetting they no longer consider themselves children and just having a fabulous day. This year they are even more convinced of their extreme sophistication and aged wisdom, and yet I have anecdotal evidence of them doing things like flinging themselves down a slip and slide, mouths about as wide open as is humanly possible. They, like all of mankind, are powerless to resist the sheer juvenile delight of sliding down a greased up sheet of plastic.

And really, what’s better than celebrating what it means to be young and innocent and unencumbered by credit card debt? I love that Mexico believes so deeply in this fleeting, yet critical stage of human development. Just as one example, the childhood years are a vital time for brain development. Relationships and experiences of a child affect permanent wiring of the brain that, in turn, will impact their chances for success and happiness later on in life. So yeah, it could be a good idea to emphasize that childhood is a significant part of our lives as human beings, even if those human beings feel that they are “too mature” for a clown show at the local mall.

Mexico does it best with their Dia Del Niño on April 30, with celebrations taking place across the country in schools, town squares, and local shopping plazas. Many restaurants will offer special activities and menus for children, and don’t mind a little extra exuberance from their littlest customers on this special day.

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even Starbucks doesn’t seem to mind some rowdiness once a year

I love to participate in the day because I love children, and I believe in the significance of childhood as a stage in life. Children bring out the best in me.

As a teacher, children draw out my creativity. They don’t put up with a boring lesson, and they let me know that I missed the mark when the nearest ones start untying my shoelaces and the ones farthest away start singing Skinnamarink and pulling each other’s pigtails.

Children bring out my sense of humor. They make me laugh harder than I’ve ever laughed, even when I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be laughing. Like the time one little girl asked me to “keep my hair on” after I told her it was time to clean up the baby dolls. I had to hide my face behind a book for a moment so I could remind her of the rules with a straight face.

Children also draw out my deepest compassion. I’ve advocated for many of my students when they don’t have the words to speak up for themselves. I’ve given out so many in hugs so they know that they aren’t alone and that I understand how hard it is sometimes.

Children are the best of us, the shiniest element of the human race. They have the sparkle that we often leave behind as we grow and start trying to find medical insurance with the best dental plan. Whether you have children or not, I hope you celebrated with Mexico last Monday and enjoyed, even just for one day, the sparkle of childhood that you thought you left behind.

Easy to Please on Easter Break

I have recently realized that I am so easy to please. I just went on spring break and already I’m having the best and the least expensive time of my whole life, right in the comfort of my own home.

Yesterday I found my happy place in my daughter’s room, in the patch of sunlight that hits her bed every morning around 9am. My dog curled up beside me, taking in the lovely warm light, and wrapped in a nice, cozy blanket. The Girly was cleaning out her closet and asking me for advice on what to do with her old Barbies (because no Very Mature eleven-year-old needs Barbies any more). I answered her with a series of grunts given out with the appropriate inflections for “yes”, “no” or “put it in the garbage, child, Malibu Barbie’s gone moldy”.

After rising from this little slice of heaven, I spent the morning moving piles around the house (I call it Spring Cleaning Lite). I got tired, so I wrapped myself up in another blanket on my own bed and curled up beside The Girly, who had also worn herself out making final decisions about her childhood toys.

I went outside and read a book for awhile, but both my neighbors have just now returned from their respective lives in the city. Normally this means that they will pull up in at least two vehicles that have been stuffed full of many of the contents from their homes, and spend the rest of the day unpacking and setting up the barbeque. Since there are a lot of people and a few pets involved, it’s usually not very quiet. So I went back inside and lay around some more, which was pretty great too.

The children started mentioning hunger, and I realized that they still needed feeding several times a day, even when I am unmotivated to do so. But now The Boy is thirteen, and needs to use his legs for more than propping up the TV stand. So I sent him for tortillas and I heated up some beans. A bit of broccoli and voila! A full-on food pyramid salute!

This. Is. The. Life. No one is pressuring me to do anything else, because once I start really cleaning things, I end up throwing entire shelves away, and everyone in the house develops nervous tics. I don’t like clutter at all, but if I close my eyes or cover them with a pillow, I can ignore it long enough to enjoy a bit of my vacation.

I know what you’re thinking: You live in Puerto Vallarta and you are spending the ENTIRE DAY inside your house?

Yes. Yes, I am. And if you live here, so will you, until your cupboards are bare and you have to venture out to a grocery store where all of Mexico is shopping for all the same things as you are. Traffic is busy and congested, and it’s ok, because that’s the way it is every year. Vallarta is always hopping during Semana Santa, Holy Week, when the nationals go on vacation and celebrate Easter on the beach.

I will probably leave the house a few times during Semana Santa. If you think you might want to do the same, let me offer you a few tips:

  • Go out in the morning if you can, the earlier the better. People generally spend late morning to late night out on the beaches and the streets.
  • If you ever want to enjoy a fine dining experience, now may be a good time to do so. There are many upscale restaurants that do not have huge crowds during holy week. A lot of people who travel during Easter are here to eat on the beach or at street side vendors.
  • Check out the Botanical Gardens. It’s always been an oasis of calm during Easter week, at least when I’ve gone, and there’s so much to see and enjoy!

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    Gorgeous avocado salad at the Gardens

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. There are going to be crowds. They are going to be noisy and mostly very happy. My neighbors bring their families to stay all week, and I think it’s amazing to see entire extended families together, truly enjoying each other’s company.

If it all gets to be too much, find a patch of sunlight, curl up with a puppy, your kid, or a good book. Trust me, it doesn’t get much better than that.

 

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.

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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 xplorapv.com, 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.

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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.

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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

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.

Day of the Dead

One of my favorite holidays in Mexico takes place on November 1rst. Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, found its roots in Mexico about 3,000 years ago. It is celebrated all over the country and especially in the central and southern regions.

Before the Spanish showed up in the sixteenth century, it was celebrated in the beginning of summer. Also, this holiday was a month long festival dedicated to the Lady of the Dead (who eventually became  known as La Calavera Catrina). But, like many festivals that are part of indigenous cultures all over the world, it was changed to fit into Christian holidays such as All Saints Eve.

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Lady Catrina

The main part of this holiday involves families and friends honoring the memory of loved ones who have passed on before them. At midnight on October 31, it is believed that the spirits of the children who died, los angelitos, come down to be reunited with their families for twenty-four hours. On November 2nd, the adults have the same opportunity. Many families go to the cemetery and spend time at their loved ones’ graves.

This sounds sad and solemn on paper and it’s hard to believe that Day of the Dead is one of the most lively, colorful celebrations you’ll see in Mexico. And that’s pretty impressive because, in Mexico, there is always a fiesta to be found.

The cemeteries, for example, are full of music, light, and chatter. Families are playing cards and cleaning up graves, reminiscing about family members. The streets are full of color, with dozens of altars and huge, decorated calaveras lining the streets posed in funny costumes and postures.

In many homes you will find ofrendas, or altars, dedicated to someone who has passed away. Some of the elements you may see on an ofrenda are:

  • Salt, a purifying element
  • Marigolds, (flor de cempasúchil), the scent of which will lead the deceased to the home
  • Photos of the deceased
  • Pan de muertos, a delicious, sugary sweet bread
  • Sugar skulls to decorate the altar and to represent the loved one
  • The favorite food of the deceased to feed them on their long journey
  • Candles to guide them on their way

Our family lost a dear friend to cancer nearly two years ago. She was very proud of her Mexican heritage and loved Dia de los Muertos most of all. She often spoke fondly of growing up in Mexico City and the magic of these special days. When she passed away, I knew our family would honor her memory in our home with an altar, because she would absolutely love that.

But that wasn’t the only reason.  Her sickness and eventual passing had been so shocking and so tragic for our family. We had known her for years, and she was an important person to all of us. After she passed away we would bring up some of the happy times we had with her, but they usually just made us feel badly that she was gone.

As we began to collect items for her altar, we were able to talk about her and feel good. We found the clay cup that she always used for her coffee. We dug up photos of her playing with our kids when they were tiny. We brought out the Spanish children’s books she gave them as gifts.

We thought of her favorite kinds of food (mole for sure). We bought marigolds and talked about her love for all kinds of plants and trees. We found sugar skulls and I told the children about how she laughed at the look on my face when she bought me one during my first year in Mexico.

Once we had all these items, we painted boxes and decorated them with the traditional papel picado (cut paper). We set them up and set out all the items we had gathered. We lit the candles and sat down in front of the ofrenda, silent for a moment. I realized then that we weren’t thinking about her loss so much as her memory.

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Our beloved friend came to us on Dia de los Muertos. She came to us in bright orange flowers, in chocolate, in delicious food, in laughter.

Mexico is a beautiful place with many fascinating secrets. If you listen closely, she will share one of her best: that death is never the end, and that our loved ones are never truly gone.

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My girl’s depiction of the way we remember our friend. Pretty lovely.

Mexico’s Independence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peace and Quiet

I like peace and quiet so much. This probably sounds like a tragic confession from a kindergarten teacher. Both peace and quiet are two things that are most elusive to someone in my line of work, and yet sometimes I crave them with my entire being.

You probably don’t have a lot of sympathy for me, because moving to a country like Mexico from one like Canada isn’t exactly a solitude-seeking life change. Mexico is a vibrant gal, she’s a mover and a shaker, she’s color and light, and she’s often planning a fiesta. Canada by comparison folds her hands in her lap, sits on her chesterfield (sofa) and doesn’t make a scene until the hockey game is on.

But I do need my quiet time every now and then, because it makes me feel less like slamming things and more like smiling gently at my children. And although my tweenager children are becoming more and more likely to go days without noticing me as long as food shows up regularly, I enjoy feeling like a benevolent motherly figure rather than a red-faced, twitchy one.

So I made myself a little to-do list for the spring break:

  • Make a bed angel every day (like a snow angel, but with pajamas and warm blankets)
  • Spend time sitting in the sun while the children find their own entertainment (that doesn’t involve asking me what they should DO when there’s NOTHING to DO)
  • Go somewhere where I rediscover the Sound of Silence

Finding a quiet place in the sun during Mexico’s celebrated Semana Santa is always going to be a challenge. Plus, we are saving money for our trip to Canada this summer, so we didn’t want to travel far.

But staying at home was not a silent option because, two days before Easter, our neighbor pulled up IN A TOURIST BUS with his entire extended family and probably several extra people who looked like they needed a vacation. They trooped out of the bus, set up two tents on the front yard, and packed roughly twenty-five people inside of their four bedroom home (which, unfortunately, shares a wall with our home).

Understand that I don’t begrudge our neighbor one bit of his family fun, because he’s so incredibly friendly and lends us his ladder whenever we ask for it. Also because I really do love that, in Mexico, family is always welcome, even if (especially if) there’s lots and lots of them.

And I’m actually grateful for this occurrence; because it became clear that it was time to put some effort into my search for silence. And I am here to tell you that silence can be had in an hour and a half drive out of town and into the mountains. It resides in a tiny, pop. 600 town called San Sebastian del Oeste.

Now, I’m not going to go into the history of this town because today that’s not my point. I LOVE history and I find Mexico’s history fascinating. And I think you should go to San Sebastian and discover its mining roots and colonial architecture. It’s going to knock your boots off.

But what I want to tell you is that, in San Sebastian, silence really does have a sound. It’s so quiet that my children were the loudest sound-producing items in the entire village. It’s so quiet that I heard the page turn in my e-reader.

We stayed at the Hotel Mansion Real. This mansion was originally built in 1750 and was renovated just over a decade ago, so the romance is real. It has a central patio where you can read or just enjoy the view of the mountains, surrounded by original eighteenth century architecture and citrus trees. Inside the rooms there is satellite TV, so once you hike for a couple of hours and take in a whole bunch of calories at the Café El Fortin in the plaza, you can plop the kids there and enjoy the tranquility on the patio for a sec.

The hotel is located just behind the central plaza, backed against a walking trail that leads you through these little orchards and parts of the village itself, winding around the white bricked homes and cobbled streets. You will need a floppy straw hat, a flowery journal and flowing cotton clothing in order to fully fantasize that you are living inside an eighteenth century novel.

Gil and I plan to go back there without kids one day, because it’s hard to do the eighteenth century romance when the kids keep asking where to charge their IPods. But I’m glad we took them to do some exploring and to enjoy some family time far from the busy Easter crowds. And making bed angels in an eighteenth century mansion makes it an almost dignified holiday pastime.