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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Queen of the May

I had a bit of writer’s block this week. At first I didn’t really know why. Whenever I’d sit down at the computer to type, there seemed to be a wide selection of cute cat videos that would pop up on my Facebook feed all of a sudden. And my kids would say something across the house to their dad, who wouldn’t hear them, and then I’d have to facilitate their communication. Plus, I kept having to go downstairs and open the fridge and find nothing to eat.  Then I would need to close it and go back upstairs to read what I’d already typed. Which was this: I should get a cat.

This happens every May, and it’s worse this year because we just finished spring break, for crying out loud. It’s the time of year that causes a particular brand of lethargy in me and in many of my fellow parents and colleagues. You see, May is a month of both interruption and celebration. And that’s good in many many ways, but maybe not so good in a few other ways.

In May, there are several days off for some excellent reasons. We have Dia del Trabajo (known in English-speaking countries as Worker’s Day), which is a day off. We have Cinco de Mayo (known in English-speaking countries as Cinco de Mayo) and we have Teacher’s Day. We have Mother’s Day, and, best of all, we have My Birthday to cap it off (you’re welcome).

Picture May as a parade float where everyone’s dressed up like non-scary clowns, laughing and throwing fistfuls of the good candy to every kid who runs alongside. Heck, they even have clowns that jump off and run up to the kids who are too shy to join the crowd, so everyone is getting the Twix bars and oversized lollipops and decent sized jawbreakers. They’ve got music that’s actually kinda cool.

The other nine school months (well, except probably December and whichever got Easter this year) are the marching bands that sound like they haven’t practiced together in six months. They are the local politicians’ cars where the mayor is waving out the windows looking bored or the gas company trucks who throw out rock hard bubble gum. We all wave at them, ‘cause it’s still a parade, but where’s May for crying out loud?

But that’s the thing. May is fun, but she wears me out. If I’m not having a long weekend, then I’m getting up at 5:30 to pretend to exercise (but really listen to Stephen Colbert) and make school lunches. I’m either sitting on the beach at Cuates y Cuetes or I’m tying lots (and lots) of shoes at recess. I’m either the Queen of the May (and as a mother turning forty-four, I’ve earned this several times over) or Miss Leza who just caught you out of line and is giving you That Look. No wonder I don’t know what to write. I’m not even sure who I am right now.

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I don’t know where I am right now, but I think it’s somewhere nice

It doesn’t help that May is right beside June, and that means that we are reaching the end of a school cycle. So my motivation is starting to bottom out when it comes to listening to my children read aloud, driving to any kind of enriching after school activity, and spreading peanut butter on bread.

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Wonder if anyone will notice if I hire a stand-in…

But I have to admit that, as a teacher, I am fully expecting my students’ parents listen to them read each and every night. With enthusiasm. I’m sure that’s different somehow.

And really, I shouldn’t complain at all. I love these four day weeks and these cakes for being a teacher, a mother, and simply being born. Because, honestly, cake is delicious even when it isn’t really. And the good news is that there will finally be something in my refrigerator that will be sure to ease up this writer’s block.

 

Peace and Quiet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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El Buen Fin

This past weekend our family went to see a movie. We love seeing movies on Saturdays in the early afternoon. If you go before 1:30, it’s half price. And if you are accustomed to movie theatre prices in Canada or the U.S., it’s also half price of 75% off.

We went to Galerias, forgetting that it was “El Buen Fin”, which is the Mexican version of Black Friday. It translates literally to be “The Good Weekend”, but figuratively it’s “The Last Weekend You’ll Be Debt-Free in a Very Long Time”.

There were a lot of people at Galerias, taking advantage of the low low prices of things they wouldn’t normally buy. The underground parking lot was full, so we parked outside in the heat, far (so very far) from the entrance.

After the movie we thought it could be fun to take a walk around and see was what “buen” about the “fin”. I will share with you my observations:

  • There were many, many people. I think there were more people in the toy section at Liverpool than there were in the Zocalo on September 15.
  • No one looked at all happy, even (arguably, especially) those struggling with their new purchases.
  • I am now uncomfortably aware of how I wave my hands when I speak, especially when I am using an English accent in my effort to cover my stress with humor.

I am going to tell you something about myself that I have always known as long as I have had conscious thought: I do not like crowds. I have now discovered that I like crowds far less when they are unhappy and slightly desperate. I would have been a very bad pitchfork and torch carrier back in the day.  I would have either run off screaming “Don’t TOUCH me!” and left sharp and burning objects in my wake, or I would have tried to convince people to leave the poor village herbalist alone so that we could all just go back to our hovels and be sad and miserable again.

The weird thing about being in that whole situation was that, mid-way through, I became convinced that 40% off meant that we needed to buy my child an entire new wardrobe of puffy vests and fleece jackets, JUST BECAUSE WE COULD. My husband said that NOW WAS THE TIME to buy a smart TV, because a) no interest and b) how COOL would that BE?

P.S. We live in Vallarta and we haven’t used fleece in about the WHOLE OF OUR CHILDREN’S LIVES, and we don’t really watch TV.

You can see by the use of the cap lock function in the last two paragraphs that being amongst a crowd who was grabbing up 49 peso books about designing your own ballet slippers is quickly contagious. We knew we had to leave when I started wondering aloud if we shouldn’t just buy the Xbox One as it is TODAY only FOUR times the Christmas budget per child.

The interesting and scary thing is that my husband and I have been purposeful about living and loving life through experiences rather than material possessions. We do our best to transmit this to our children and to prioritize relationships over stuff. We do this not only because we are relying on teacher’s and musician’s salaries to stay alive (although this fact is extremely motivating), but because we know that road is always the one paved with happiness and satisfaction. But still, it only took a few well-placed signs and the long lines to make us wonder if everyone else in the room might know something that we don’t: that perhaps our needs include something that we could pay off in about sixty-eight slightly excruciating payments.

P.S.S.  I’m not knocking people who buy stuff on El Buen Fin. Actually I intend to purchase (ahem, on Santa’s request, of course) a couple of things on the kids’ Wish Lists whose discounted prices will help ease the Christmas spending. I AM knocking the idea of putting myself into debt and misery for things we don’t need just because it’s on sale. And very, very shiny. And has incredible resolution. I forget what I was talking about.

Anyway, instead of applying for a store credit card, I bought a small gift for a party we would be attending the next day, and we went to eat sushi. My son and I began discussing the merits of the lead character in Fantastic Beasts, and my daughter let me steal a few fries. We walked the half mile back to our car, package-free, but laughing because The Boy can’t walk anywhere without karate-chopping the air, and The Girl can’t keep herself from dancing the whole way. Even without one shiny new thing.

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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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Love Has No Pedigree

Sometimes when I’m out walking my two dogs, people stop and admire them. They certainly are admirable, I must admit. They are small, white and apricot, with a lot more swagger than they’ve probably earned. Lucy, the female and the larger one, is almost always open to being appreciated. She’ll usually quickly wag her tail like a benevolent celebrity giving an autograph, and allow her head to be patted. Max, my tiny warrior, is not usually open to meeting new humans or pets and will wrap himself and his leash around my legs in growing panic if anyone tries to get too friendly.

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Once they all get acquainted (or not, in Max’s case), they ask me what kind of dogs they are. This is always an intriguing question for our family. We have been debating this very thing ever since we came upon them, and even have books in order to fully research their obviously varied pedigree. Depending on the current shaky conclusion we’ve reached, I may answer with any variation of Chihuahua/Yorkie/Bichon/Poodle/Corgi or any other interesting new mixture we’ve dug up on Google.

We’ll probably never really know, but we welcome your contributions to the family discussion. We adopted Lucy through MexPup after a rescuer got her off death row at a local dog pound. We rescued Max when we found him shivering under our car, chased there by a larger street dog who didn’t appreciate a lost pup wandering into his territory.

The fact is, our dogs are family, and their backgrounds matter only because we adore discussing them. These two beauties have provided our family with so much, and not because they win pedigree ribbons or ability competitions. I can guarantee you that neither one of them would agree to jump any kind of fence unless there was a block of cheese on the other side. No, what they give us is much, much more than monetary gain (although it would be nice if they could pay for a couple of bags of dog chow once in awhile).

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For example, my kids actually listen to me when I use the voices that I have perfected and speak through the animals. Max and Lucy don’t seem to mind that I am taking great license with my knowledge of what they might be thinking. And that way, the dogs, and not Lame Mom, are telling them how important it is to keep a clean room or to finish ALL the math questions for homework.

When the kids just aren’t getting along, the dogs are the perfect foil for getting them either distracted or back on the same page. Who can resist a fluffy little dog who doesn’t care that one of them ate all the Zucaritas cereal, he just wants a four-handed belly rub?

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At the end of the day, we know what kind of dogs we have. At least in the ways that matter. We have the kind of dogs that:

  • Lay beside a sick child and allow them to snuggle up for warmth
  • Press their bodies into you for comfort when you’ve just had the kind of bad news that leaves you immobile and breathless
  • Know the difference between your son’s friend and his dad coming to the door and someone who wants to sell you something and behave accordingly
  • Treat each and every babysitter you’ve ever had with a policy of guilty until proven innocent, with an emphasis on the guilty
  • Will actively listen to a rant that most other family members have already heard and are unapologetically tuning out
  • Know each and every family member’s name and will go looking under every bed if you don’t come home with the others
  • Will pull you out of bodies of water, even if you weigh about twelves times their own body weight and hadn’t particularly desired to exit the body of wátercolumn-pets-7

If you would like this kind of dog, you don’t need one with official papers. There are many places in Vallarta that are overflowing with dogs of this very variety. They need homes, and you need someone in your life that will stand by you to the end of days. It may be corny, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true: Love has no pedigree. Let some in today.

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Turtle Sighting

Recently my son was sick for three weeks with what our pediatrician first called a bacterial infection and later, after the antibiotics raised a microscopic white flag, packed up their tiny bags and shipped out, a virus. And then later, when the fever hung around like an unwanted visitor who just sits there even when you want to go to bed and you’ve only given them a choice between wáter or milk, a bacterial infection.

I really don’t like it when my children are ill because I usually don’t know what to do except demand that someone tell me what it’s called. My husband is much more the common sense caregiver in our family, the one who knows when to apply the cool cloths and when to send the child to the bath. Fluttering around the perimeter is me, insisting to know where the thermometer is and asking why everything in this country is in Celsius.

At the end of it, I had strong-armed a battery of tests which revealed that there were no scary pathogens flooding his veins or his bladder. It’s quite likely that his pediatrician has quietly moved to another office and changed his phone number. And, by the way, my son is feeling much better after a regimen of horse-pill-sized antiobiotics, rest, fever-reducing medicine and my homemade cinnamon rolls. He may have somehow raised his own body temperature in order to get the cinnamon rolls.

Unfortunately, that means that we had a very quiet and unexciting Independence Day weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I like having a morning or two on a long weekend where I can sit with my cup of coffee (or three) and read something unrelated to my teaching job, some kind of novel where no one goes to school or even knows any children. But I also like having at least one day where we go on some kind of unique adventure where we end up finding all of the long weekend travelers in the Republic of Mexico at the same location.

But The Boy was heavy-lidded and belligerent with sore limbs and eyes, and The Girl had just begun a cold as a way to demonstrate sibling solidarity. We were stuck inside with quick trips to our favorite locations with free A/C in order to change up the view surrounding our shared misery.

On the night of the fifteenth, we had almost decided to stay home and forget the fireworks, because I wasn’t about to face the crowds, loud fireworks, bells and two children who kept trying to lie down on the sidewalk. But both kids, as bad as they felt, enjoy a bit of tradition, and were devastated to get the news that for the first time in several years they wouldn’t see the Independence Day fireworks.

So we shoveled ourselves into the car and went down to the beach access on the other side of the Peninsula. We like that spot for fireworks viewing because it’s quiet (until WE get there, anyway) and crowd-free. Plus, Vallarta is just spectacular on any old night, so you can sit there as long as you like and feel smug about living on the beach surrounded by mountains and beautiful lights.

As per our family tradition, the children watched the fireworks for roughly thirty seconds before asking to leave, and the adults began walking backwards toward the car so we could catch the rest of the display without the accompaniment of “Pleeeeeeaaasssee can we just goooooo?”

Suddenly our daughter stopped us with a fierce whisper “STOP! There’s a turtle there!”

Sure enough, a huge sea turtle had come aground and was slowly and methodically digging her nest in the sand. A few other groups of people had spotted her and were standing around, watching her labors. She didn’t even pause, despite the small audience, and the people respectfully gave her the space she needed in order to finish her work and leave her precious cargo.

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This is a sea turtle but it’s made out of sand by my friend Ahime.

 

A quad pulled up, carrying one of the local government’s workers in charge of the turtle conservation program. He stopped, dismounted, and began to record data on his clipboard. Although he was designated protector of the mother turtle and her sandy nest, he was relaxed, feeling the hush of the people around, realizing that no one here would harm this beautiful creature or her eggs.

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This is a real baby sea turtle in Vallarta. It is also from a turtle reléase that happened five years ago.

 

In that quiet moment, we received a gift. The four of us stood quietly and took it all in; the beginning of new life, the trust of a rare and lovely animal, and a shared, peaceful spell of time on a very special night.

I reached for my phone in my back pocket and realized I had mistakenly shoved the thermometer in there instead of my camera (as my son says, Classic Mom). I shrugged and decided to forget about being worried about my son’s temperature for a second, and just watch another mother doing what she needed to do to care for her own.

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This is not the turtle. It’s not on the beach. It’s not even in Vallarta. It’s not a sea turtle, nor even a REAL turtle. We would not be sitting on a real turtle or trying to poke it in the eye. And now you know what happens when you forget your camera every time there’s a real sea turtle laying eggs on the beach in front of your very eyes.

Families of Mexico

If you asked me what I love most about Mexico, I would put on my finest pair of pink spectacles and roll out a list longer than the world’s longest churro. Which, by the way, was 252.62 feet (these are things I enjoy knowing), so that’s a lot of love. I won’t lie and say Mexico is problem-free, because if you are a person on planet Earth and you sometimes read a bit, you know that is not true. But I chose (and continue to choose) to live here, because for me and my family, the problems are outweighed by that churro-beating list. One of the items on that list is Mexican Independence Day.

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If you’ve ever been in Mexico at 11pm on September 15, you would remember it well. Your gaze can’t avoid (even if it wanted to) the bright combinations of red, white and green on public buildings, souvenir carts, and people. Crowds fill every available public space. There are spicy, delicious smells wafting out from all the food carts lining the streets and plazas. Children are running about, wildly over stimulated and covered with streaky paint that originally began on their faces. People on every street corner are attempting to outdo Miguel Hidalgo’s cry of independence that originated on the steps of his church in Dolores. It is loud and glorious. It is Mexico at its most Mexico. In other words, it is absolutely magnificent.

Our family loves to go to the celebrations. Well, in theory. The problem is, unfortunately, that my son and I are both a bit claustrophobic, so the crowds sometimes make the idea of celebrating a great deal more attractive than the actual celebrating. The other problem is that most celebratory days require music, and therefore my husband is often required to work on these days.

If he isn’t, and if The Boy and I can work up the courage, we find ourselves a spot on which to view the fireworks and join in on El Grito. Everywhere you look, you will find other families doing the same.

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Nobody here but us burros. A less crowded Malecon, well before dark.

And here we arrive at what is number one on my list: the emphasis on family life in Mexico. One of the things I love about being married to a Mexican man is that, to him, Sunday is Family Day and it is top priority. He turns down gigs if he feels it will interfere with Family Day.

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If you go out on a Sunday in Vallarta, you will look around at the beach and realize that many Mexican families have gathered themselves up and set themselves down under a giant, temporary gazebo with abuelos, sobrinos, tios, and a whole lot of ceviche.

If you cut it too close to your flight time when flying domestically, you will find yourself biting your nails behind families of ten, traveling to DF to see a sick hermano who needs some support and some caldo de pollo.

People here work hard, but they know when it’s time to rest, and they also know that the rest they need is always better when it’s con la familia. And many families here know what it means to be there for each other when there’s trouble.

Nowadays, families around the world don’t always look the way they did fifty years ago. My constant refrain to my children is “Every family’s different.” No one knows this better than they do, members of a bicultural family with a half brother and sister living in Canada with their mom. They have friends whose parents are divorced, friends who were adopted, friends with no children, friends who have two dads. They know how different families can be. But they also know that every family loves, and every family celebrates, and every family matters. Most of all, they know how wonderful it is when we can all do that together.

So this year, let’s celebrate the Mexico that welcomes us all to her family table, from those who were born here to those who came across her borders, wide-eyed with wonder.

Let’s celebrate the Mexico who will proudly gather her diverse, beloved families together on September 15 in every plaza all over this great country.

Viva la familia, of every beautiful kind. And Viva Mexico.

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Viva!