Reaching Out to Mexico

On September 18, there were Mexico City mothers who put their children to bed and kissed them goodnight, weary and hoping they could finish up their tasks and get some sleep themselves. They were thinking about work, or bills, or some other worry that always seems to catch a mother’s attention and stay there, wrapping itself around and around her mind as she finishes the nightly chores.

They woke up the next morning after a good sleep, or not enough sleep, or so much sleep that they had to shake their kids awake and rush them into their school uniforms so they would get to school on time. Because if they were late, the school might turn them away, and THEN what would they do?

Some mothers walked their little ones to school in uniforms clean and pressed, in neat braids and big red ribbons. Others made a mad dash to the bus, little boys running behind with breakfast stains on their shirts, spikes of hair sticking up in the back the way it always did even after being treated with a handful of gel.

All of them left their children at school with that feeling you get when you’ve accomplished something so early in the morning. They may have turned away from the door with a thought we’ve all had: make sure they learn something today, teacher, because just getting them to the door was enough to wear me out.

Their children probably got a kiss as they turned away to run inside. Some mothers would have had to stop them with a quick hug and That Look that says, I’m still your mother, now give me a kiss and tell me you’ll be good.

Some of them clung to their mamas longer because they didn’t want them to leave yet. Maybe one or two cried a little bit because they were still getting used to a new school. For those mothers, there was a tiny twinge of guilt at the gentle push they gave them, because it was time for work, and their children would be fine, but oh, they hated to see them cry.

I keep thinking about those things because those are the things moms do, and I do them every day. Except my children came home to me on the afternoon of September 19, and many of theirs did not.

I may be able to imagine what that last morning was like because I am a mother. I may be able to understand that last rush before the drop off and the frustration of dealing with children who take ten minutes to put a pair of socks on, but I can’t fathom the grief of these mothers today. I can’t because, when I try, my mind shrinks away from the thought like it’s a lit match. It won’t even turn toward it. It seems to be just too much for one heart to bear.

And if the thought is too much for me, then the reality must be truly excruciating. But that’s the reality of many mothers, fathers, siblings, friends, families all over central Mexico today.

The media has shown us multitudes of volunteers, concerned citizens and neighbors who have come out to help dig through the rubble, to support the families who are holding vigil over the schools and offices and houses, waiting to at least just know. That has touched our hearts, and it’s a beautiful thing. But what we don’t see are the empty beds, chairs, homes. And they must be empty indeed.

Perhaps we can’t even imagine. But we can join up with a reputable organization and ask what they need. We can gather the items that at least can help to heal some physical bodies and give someone a place to lay their heads tonight. We can be part of an effort that offers even a little bit of hope that there’s life after this. We can offer our hands to those whose hands are achingly empty today.

 

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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.

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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Why You Should NEVER Take a Family Road Trip in Mexico

I have spent my entire motherhood waiting to take my children on The Epic Road Trip. I have these incredible memories of my childhood in a car, driving to new and exotic locations (when you are five, new and exotic is the World’s Largest Easter Egg in Vegreville, Alberta).
In any case, I couldn’t wait to give my kids the gift of the true family vacation: the views, the stops at weird tourist attractions, the carsickness, even the “I WILL TURN THIS CAR AROUND”. All of it.
I imagine many parents wouldn’t have waited nearly eleven years, but then again, most parents tell me that their children are great travelers. Like beauty, I think this is a classic case of the eye of the beholder. I have a low whining threshold, and both of my children developed their early physical coordination skills through their untiring efforts to escape their car seats. So we waited while braver parents went ahead and Instagrammed their children’s hilarious seatbelt contortions.
Some years we flew to Canada to see my family. Sometimes we flew to Mexico City to see Gilberto’s family. Once, about four years ago, we made a short foray into the road trip world: a drive to Chapala to visit friends. We got lost on the highway. Our rental car was struck by a renegade motorcyclist in Guadalajara. We hung up our driving gloves and cooled our heels.
This summer Gilberto had a musical commitment in Mexico City and I knew it was my big chance. I mapped out an entire two week tour on our way to his heavy metal gig in the Districto Federal (another term for Mexico City).
I have learned so many things about myself, my partner and my family from two weeks on the road. I already knew these people better than anyone, and now I know so much more. For some of it, I am grateful. For the other stuff, well, its information I may be able to use at my children’s weddings during my speeches. It should get me a laugh.
Here’s why (with tongue firmly in cheek) you should NEVER take your children on The Epic Mexico Road Trip:
1) Highways – Contrary to what some people think of Mexican highways, you will NOT get the full cultural experience of waiting and sweating behind a cattle truck that breaks down every forty miles on a two lane gravel road. Mexico’s federal “cuota” highways are up to eight lanes and 110 km/hr. You are going to get to your destination, maybe even ahead of schedule. Bummer.
2) Sights – Once you get to a city like Guanajuato, you will have a lot of trouble choosing what sights to see among the many incredible historical sites, museums, art galleries, and natural phenomena. You will have to prioritize. What a drag.
3) Security – We never once felt unsafe or experienced any sketchy situations on the road. Now I feel like I’m contradicting the advice I get from my own government to keep off the highways in Mexico, stay at the resort and not talk to people. It’s not very patriotic.
4) Common sense parenting – Unlike many places in my home country, many of the natural sites have been left as-is. There aren’t necessarily hand-rails on everything or warning signs or people to hold your hand while you walk on the paths. There might be an arrow painted on a rock or two so you won’t get completely lost. Hopefully. This is both crazy-cool and a huge responsibility to parent your kids through situations you can’t completely predict. Oh, like real life.
5) After experiencing life on the Mexican highway, you will want to drive it all night long. Or at least all daylight long. You will have to come back to reality in order to save up enough dinero to take another Epic Mexican Road Trip. Because the real danger here, my friends, is that you won’t be able to stop with just one.
Mexico road trip

Sayulita Holiday

Our family has been going to Sayulita ever since the children were babies. We love to stay in places where we pay for the air conditioning up front and then use it irresponsibly. At least once during every trip my husband will come into the bedroom of the condo and find me under all the blankets, clad in my coziest sweater, smiling to myself. This is what I do for amusement when it’s 38 degrees in the shade.

I enjoy researching all the hotels and condos on sayulitalife.com and then contacting as many as I can in order to get the best price and the coldest air conditioning. As a result, we have stayed in exactly eleven different locations in Sayulita, and nearly every last one has been amazing.

This time, our family (grandparents and all) stayed on the quiet north end in a two bedroom condo called Casa Maraica.  It’s in a serene, beachfront, gated neighborhood with a pool. The air conditioning is in every room and it is first class chilly. Not only that, the condo has its own rooftop terrace where you can sit and listen to the waves and see the stars.

After every visit to Sayulita I promise myself to slow down just a bit and check out the night sky more often. I step out onto my front lawn the very next evening and look up, waiting for that same peaceful feeling to start seeping in. What seeps in instead are about five mosquitoes that somehow find the inch of available flesh. What also seep in are the children’s voices, calling me from inside the house: “Mom. I still don’t know how to use the toaster.” “Mom. I am in the shower and I forgot to bring my towel like I have forgotten to do for the last ten years of my life.”

Sigh. It’s not the same. Let’s agree that it’s just not the same.

The relaxation and the renewed enthusiasm for life in general and stars in particular are great benefits to going to Sayulita on a short holiday. But the greatest part of going to the same vacation spot every year is that I am able to see how the children have changed over the years. For example:

  • We don’t have to go in the pool with them anymore. I can sit on a deck chair and maybe even READ A BOOK! Yes, friends, I read a very long book on a vacation with my children, and nobody drowned once. Those swimming lesson? Best investment EVER.
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  • My kids eat Real People Food now (mostly). I don’t have to pack one and a half car loads of the only food items that they will eat and are definitely not available in Sayulita. No more horror upon opening the cooler and realizing that we left behind the special organic chocolate milk drink boxes. No more turning toward my tearful child with a fake, bright “Daddy’s going to go back to Vallarta to get your chocolate milk, it’ll just be a SEC!”

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  • Naps are a thing of the past (or, for the sake of clarity, naps for the KIDS are a thing of the past). Gone are the days of spending fifty-two minutes packing a beach bag full of teething cookies and squeezable applesauce tubes and then returning to our condo in forty-seven minutes so the kids can have their midday siestas. And to all of you who are saying “why didn’t you just skip the naps for once?” I would like to ask why you would want to spend your holidays with dangerously unstable people in a rented home on which you’ve placed a large damage deposit.

I’m excited to see what changes I’ll see in them in our holidays of the future. I think the goal for next year will include independent toaster use. sayulita 3 Sayulita 6sayulita 2

My 72 Hours Away

If you are a truly dedicated professional, then you will continuously seek out ways to improve and grow in your chosen career. If you are a teacher at an international school, this means you also need to be creative, because it’s not as easy to find opportunities a) in your particular teaching area and b) in a language that you can comprehend.

Fortunately my colleague and I were offered a chance to go to an early childhood conference in Mexico City last weekend involving many international schools in Latin America. The speakers were from Reggio Emilia, Italy. To an early childhood teacher, this is kind of like being a kid with a magic kit and David Copperfield coming over to show you how to use it.

So I was certainly very excited to participate. But here’s the thing: the more I looked forward to the conference, the more convinced I become that my family would never survive seventy-two whole hours without my careful scheduling/meddling in their lives.

The mother’s ego is a terrible thing. We are able to talk ourselves into the idea that we are indispensable. And surely we are, because if we aren’t, then why are we so ridiculously tired at the end of every day? What would be the point?

The weird part is, I am not a Type A sort of personality. You can ask my own mother about my organizational skills and she’d probably begin to sob. However, for some reason, the one part of my life where I became obsessively controlling is the day to day routine of my children.

To this end, I decided to write out in point form what the schedule would be for those 72 hours, excluding the sleeping hours of course (now THAT would be overbearing). I hired sitters, booked play dates, and packed beach bags. I made meals and called friends for backup in case my husband’s work schedule changed. Then I submitted it all to my husband for review in a rather formal presentation. He smiled, gave me a hug, and told me he’d manage just fine. It was terrifying. I don’t even think he looked at my school uniform closet system.

It was a quiet flight, which is ridiculous because for the first time in about two years (since the last conference, to be exact) my colleague and I had a full hour and a half to chat without being interrupted by any person who urgently needed his juice box straw unwrapped. I was preoccupied in trying to remember if I packed sunscreen for my daughter’s play date on Saturday. It was killing me.

We checked into the hotel and decided on dinner. My husband texted me to assure me that I had packed the sunscreen and that, from here on out, he would not be requiring any more helpful advice. And that he loved me. And that it was time for me to relax and enjoy my well-deserved break from the grind. And that I should get off my phone and talk to my friend.

Of course he was right. He’s mostly right except when it comes to which days that the children need their soccer uniforms washed. I was being irrational. I was being arrogant. I was being unfair to myself and my husband.

In that moment I decided to let it all go. I had a little chuckle and turned to my colleague to make small talk. She told me that she was glad I was finally off my phone. I agreed and apologized. She told me not to worry, but if she could borrow my phone she’d appreciate it.  Her daughter was in a dance in an hour, and if her husband found the dress she needed it would be a miracle.

Only sixty-eight hours to go. Not that anyone’s keeping track.Leza Mex City