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.

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Proud of You

I’m not going to lie, because somehow you can laser through all the layers of fluffy, motherly platitudes (Of course I like you all the time! Every minute!!), right to the ugly bone truth of it: since our family hit puberty, I don’t know what I’m doing about 64 percent of the time. That’s a high percentage. It probably scares you a little. I know it terrifies me.

You have changed in just a few short months, from the chatty, happy children who flopped all over me like puppies, to these broody, internet-savvy mini-adults who roll their eyes. At me. A lot.

But still, underneath the eye-rolling, I see you there, trying out your brand new wings. Even deeper underneath are two kids who are scared to fall. And you wonder if you do fall, how you’ll ever be able to get back up and try again.

So what I’m coming to realize is that it is my job to help you fly. And it’s also my job to make sure you stand up again when you fall. It’s my tremendous, absolutely staggering task to help two human beings Figure It All Out.

I  wish you could read my heart because in there you would see all that crazy, eye-popping love for you. And there you would find all the incredible things you do that you think nobody sees. It’s all in there, lovingly tucked away.

You see, I know that someday I’ll need to share them with you. There will come that moment where you’ve crashed in a plume of smoke and you forget, for a moment, what you’re capable of. But I’ll be there to remind you.

Because you make me proud, in so many odd, mismatched ways that you would never guess in one million light years. It’s a pride tinged with a bit of sadness sometimes, with a heap of frustration a lot of other times, but always, always saturated in a mother’s unconditional love.

I’m proud when you get honor roll and stand up there onstage with your certificate and a big camera-cheesy smile.

I’m proud when you don’t make the honor roll but your math grade goes up five points, because you (and I) have earned every last one of those points with hours of stubborn, often tear-filled determination over the kitchen table.

I’m proud of you when you sign up for the talent show to sing a song you wrote, despite the fact that you have never, ever sung a solo. But you get up there anyway and you give it all you’ve got, in front of all the people whose opinion is beginning to matter more than mine.

I’m proud of you when you are too shy to sing a solo, despite the fact that we have spent many pesos and many hours driving you to your lessons. That’s where I hear you sing Castle on a Cloud in a voice so pure and so sweet I have to pretend I’m focused on my cell phone so you won’t be embarrassed by your old sniffling mom.

I’m proud when you stand up for what’s right, when you call people out who are “just joking” about disrespecting women, or other races, or any marginalized group of people.

I’m proud when you get it wrong, act out in class or make a wrong choice, and you go on your own to find the friend or the teacher so you can apologize.

I’m proud when you go against the grain and do your own thing, like choose your own music, make your own friends, even if it’s Not The Popular Thing To Do.

I’m proud when you see an unfairness and tell me I’m wrong, even though it’s almost impossible to swallow in the moment, even though your delivery might need a bit of polish.

I’m proud of you, even when you crash and burn, even when you fail, even when you lay there for a moment to catch your break before getting back up. I’m honored to be by your side, putting back the broken pieces and nudging you to your feet again.

I may not know what I’m doing 64% of the time, but when I watch you taking your test flights I am impressed by the power of the other 36%.

And, goodness gracious, I am so very proud of you.

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Room For Us All

You often hear about problems that girls experience in their peer groups and friendships in the pre-teen and teen years. It’s a phenomenon that inspired the movie “Mean Girls”. We tend to accept it as a normal, even humorous, part of childhood. But I don’t think we should.

Girls AND boys look for ways to belong, especially in the pre-teen and teen years. They are developing an identity apart from their parents, and they are searching for a family outside of their immediate one where they feel accepted for who they are – their tribe, as I like to call it. When they lose their place in their tribe, it can be devastating; like being kicked out of a family, like losing a piece of themselves.

My daughter recently went through something like this. She has a group of friends online because they live far from each other and they communicate through a web messaging site. She owns an Ipod Touch and uses the site when she has WiFi. She and one of the other girls had had a disagreement recently, and the other girl had begun to ask their friends to block my daughter. Some of they did, and it was very painful for her to watch them drop away, one by one.

She came to me in tears and we talked it all through. It was one of those moments as a mother where my inner Mama Bear began to lumber up on her haunches and growl softly, attempting to stifle the Reasoning and Teaching portions of my brain. I listened to my girl (muting the growling just a moment), and then I waited a minute to respond. I measured my words, because Mama Bear was still struggling weakly against the restraints of my prefrontal cortex.

First, I asked her what she said that might have contributed to the other child’s anger. I asked if there was any responsibility she might need to take for that.

Then, I asked her what we could do (I said “we” so she understood that she wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t going anywhere). We devised a plan of apologizing for the part she may have played in the misunderstanding, telling the friends she wished them well, and then letting go.

We talked about the value of friendship, but that hanging on to a cycle of conflict wasn’t the right thing to do for her OR for the other girl. She chose to let go, but with an openness to reconciliation down the road.

And then we talked about the friends in her life  who lifted her up, and helped her be a better person, and who wanted good things for her (there are several). With good friends, we can achieve so much. And we want to achieve. We don’t want to curl up in the mire of hurt feelings and gossip. We want to stand up, climb higher, and begin the work of making our dreams come true.

That same week my daughter’s class put on a wax museum where they had to depict characters from the American and Mexican revolution. My daughter took on the role of Juana Belem Gutierrez de Mendoza on the Mexican Revolution day. She had to research her character and then write a speech that would inform the visitors to the wax museum who she was.

What I learned from my daughter was that Juana was a revolutionary, a feminist, a poet and a journalist in the early 1900’s. She didn’t have time to worry about hurt feelings or what people may have thought of her. I am pretty sure she heard people call her names that would have caused her pain. She even spent time in prison for her activism.  But she stood up and fought for the rights of all human beings in her country, and didn’t stop no matter what it cost.

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We don’t have to accept that gossip and social exclusion is a natural part of childhood. We can show them that we are on this planet to do so much more, that our relationships and our actions can mean so much more. We can show them what strong women can do. And we can help them rise to a level where there’s room for us all.

That Kind of Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Son’s Story

Every child has a story. Most of the time, it’s the story of his birth. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s a story that is told by someone who loves him most. And, little by little, it’s a story that lays itself on a child’s heart, and whispers itself in his ear when he needs to hear about family, and love, and belonging.

Both of my children know their story, because their dad and I have told it to each of them many times. Sometimes they ask for it, but they hear it at other times because I want to say it out loud and see them smile knowingly.

My son’s story begins with a lunar eclipse and ends the next morning with his (then) blue eyes staring up at me, squinting and calm but asking “Are you my mama?” and my answer “Yes, that’s me.”

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My boy’s story will be thirteen years old this month, and so I’m reliving this first scene where his life began. As a result, I’m getting sentimental and melancholy as opposed to feeling simply nostalgic like a normal person.

You see, I never pictured myself as a teenager’s mom. I was always comfortable in the role of harried, messy mom of toddlers and preschoolers. I must have spent hundreds of hours mixing up a million batches of playdough and picking the remnants out of the carpet at night. I knew all the songs. I had all the equipment. I finally learned how to work the seatbelts in the carseats. I read them all my favorite books from childhood, which became their favorite books too.

But I suspect that I might actually have a knack for being a teenager’s mom. For one thing, I am starting to look the part, with lines on places where I worry too much. For another, I have really taken to the sarcastic banter with The Boy, and don’t mind a bit of back talk as long as it’s successfully funny.

And here I am, ready or not, driving from school to home discussing politics with my nearly-adolescent son. He is full of opinions that seem to be forming faster than he can shock me with them. I don’t know where he gets all this information. I don’t know how he processes it into astonishingly inaccurate ideas.

He’s hilarious just like his grandfather (on my side, naturally), but unbelievably serious at the same time, and far too ready to take the weight of the world on his shoulders. He worries too much, and asks questions about the future, ones that keep me up at night, ones that show he beginning to understand what a responsibility this Life Thing is. He asked me the other day if his dad and I had a will, because we really should plan for the future.

In September, out of the blue, he decided to join the school musical, The Fiddler on the Roof, as a member of the stage crew. I assumed he and a buddy were joining together to try new and creative ways of slacking off. I asked him who else would be part of the stage crew, and he told me he didn’t know, that he just wanted to help out Mr. Dunger, the music teacher whose class he enjoys. The teacher asked him to be in the Bottle Dance and he said sure. He picked up his rehearsal schedules and didn’t miss a single one.

The other day I picked him up from a six hour rehearsal on a Saturday. He had missed a classmate’s birthday party because, as he said, he had this rehearsal and could not miss it. I took him to Starbucks for a treat and he sank into a comfy chair gratefully, long legs splayed out in front of him.

It was like he had just grown an entire foot in front of my very eyes (which I actually think has happened at some point this year). Finally I think I really understood that my boy is this separate person, living parts of his life that I don’t really know much about. I couldn’t stop staring at him, which apparently isn’t really a cool thing for a mom to do. Oh well, it’s not like I’ve done a lot of cool mom things in his lifetime anyway, so why start now.

He’s not a blue-eyed baby or a brash, curly-haired toddler. He’s not a sticky, noisy preschooler. He’s a teenager, one who has his own thoughts, his own opinions, his own nature.  One who was now rubbing his cap over his eyes, waiting for a milkshake.

He’s not a baby anymore. But I’m still his mama. His story is still being written. And I’m so grateful for this extraordinary boy’s life.

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Feeding My Family

So I don’t know how many of you are going through this same problem right now, but I just realized that if we don’t stop spending money on groceries, we won’t be able to live in a house anymore. I have done the numbers and our grocery bills are roughly four times what we spent ten years ago.

Perplexing Thought Number One: my salary has not quadrupled in the last ten years.

Perplexing Thought Number Two: Neither has Gilberto’s.

Perplexing Thought Number Three: The children cannot get full time jobs yet and they don’t seem eager to strike out on their own.

Now, you might say that the food prices in Mexico have really gone up significantly lately. I would definitely agree with that. We are now paying at least fifteen pesos (on a good day) for a liter of milk. Ten years ago we were paying about ten pesos if I remember correctly (and that’s also on a good day).

But I present to you the following: my children used to use about seven liters of milk per week. That’s about seventy pesos a week. Now, they use about twelve liters a week, and I am buying a case of the stuff at 175 pesos a case, per week.

Yes, we understand what’s happening here, of course. The grocery bills grow in direct relation to the size of our children. I am actually dismayed at the size of The Boy, whose rate of growth in the last year has had me really worried. I looked at pictures of him one year ago and I wondered if this is what Andre the Giant’s parents went through when he was almost thirteen.

My Girly isn’t exactly slacking off in the growth department either. I can’t buy clothing fast enough to keep her decent. And the problem is, she really doesn’t notice that all her shorts are becoming “short” shorts and infuriating her father and brother because she’s only eleven.

Coupled with these worrisome growth spurts is the insatiable hunger for all of the food in the house which needs to be prepared constantly. Gil and I have tried our all-mightiest to get these children to know their way around the kitchen. The thing is we also have nightmares about kids and gas stoves. There’s a limit to what is okay and what is flirting with permanent oblivion for our entire street.

Financially and logistically we are a bit tired. But I have been brainstorming and I think we are very close to finding some strategies to making life a bit easier in the food department. The list is still in rough form, but there are some solid ideas in there:

  • Send them to friends’ houses to eat. “Talk up” how fun sleepovers are when they are not at our house.
  • Never miss another birthday party and get there early before the food runs out.
  • Get creative with cereal. Note: should have used water since they were little, ‘cause now they don’t seem very open to change.
  • Make as much as I can from scratch that doesn’t require the use of stoves or ovens because it’s October and I sweat when I use the can opener.
  • Google “microwave cooking – health hazard?”
  • Google “a week of meals with a kilo of tortillas”

 

I know, I know. Food prices in Mexico compared to places like the U.S. or Canada, well, let’s just say I don’t have much to complain about. But feeding two growing kids isn’t always easy on a budget of both time and money.

And yet, there’s something special about watching a boy tuck into a big breakfast of “Huevos Rancheros” and knowing he’ll tell his wife someday that his mom’s recipe was the best. Kind of makes up for the fact that he’s eating a portion that’s roughly as big as the rest of his family, combined.

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This oughta keep them ’til we get home maybe.

The Birthday Fairies

When I was a young mother I enjoyed creating new traditions for my children. I think I believed that the more exhausted you were every night, the less likely your children would have to be bailed out of prison some day. So every time my children had a birthday, they would wake up that morning and found that the “birthday fairies” had arrived sometime during the night and decorated the house with their favorite Disney characters.

So the birthday fairies are up way past my bedtime on every October 27th and June 22nd, and I am unwinding streamers and blowing up balloons as quietly as I can even though it HURTS my FINGERS to tie those dang things after the fifth one. It’s all about the love and the traditions and the remembering what your mother did for you so you’ll feel a bit guilty about asking for a loan just until payday.

The Boy’s birthday is easy. It’s almost Halloween, and nothing’s more wonderful than turning your home into a House of Horrors even if it’s not someone’s birthday. The birthday fairies are pretty twisted anyway, so they love stuffing Daddy’s clothing into life-like poses with a Jason mask perched on the tippy top of the whole mess. The Boy has a great collection of cool Halloween weaponry, so the whole scene pretty much makes itself.

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My Girly, on the other hand, has a fairly sophisticated sense of fashion and décor. She had a brief obsession with Shrek at the age of two, but since then she requests things like “how about pastels only this year” or “what about a garden tea party theme” or “think Pinkalicious”.

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She’s classy. She lets me hang out with her too.

Here’s the thing. No one has accused me (aka Head Birthday Fairy) of a lot of sophistication. But God bless me, every year on June 22nd you will find me hanging flowers from light fixtures and sprinkling glitter into tea cups and giving all the credit to the small winged creatures I made up because childhood should be magical, darn it.

I expect that some day, when my daughter has her own child and has made the same foolish promises about fairies breaking into the house with princess birthday banners at 2am, she will remember what I did. She’ll maybe wonder how I managed to get the decorations at least twelve hours ahead of time and didn’t have to run out to Wal-Mart at 9pm with my eyeliner around my ankles (let’s just keep that to ourselves, how ‘bout).

She’ll be blowing up those balloons wondering why I spent over eleven years dedicating myself to an exhausting fabrication. She’ll think about a good way to break it to HER little girl about how the birthday fairies was a Lie Grandma Told, so she won’t have to keep up this charade, because it’s killing her, this birthday chaos that comes with a magical childhood.

But you know what? The next morning her little girl is going to be shaking her awake around some ungodly hour and asking her if They came. My daughter will go downstairs with her and there will be the result of the Fairies’ hard labor: a crooked banner that’s coming off the wall because gum doesn’t substitute packing tape, some half inflated balloons because those are easier to tie, and some glitter spread around her plate.

My daughter’s heart will sink and she’ll realize she should have done a better job and not been in such a hurry to sleep by midnight, but her little girl will interrupt that thought with a scream of pure joy and a clatter down the stairs with widespread arms in an attempt to physically take in all this wonder.

And then she’ll know something that I finally figured out too. We don’t create the magic of childhood.  It’s already there, in the eyes of a child who sees a crooked pink banner and knows for a fact that the fairies put it there.

That’s why I did it. And that’s why she’ll keep doing it, as long as her baby believes in magic.

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A Mother’s Day Letter to My Kids

 

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Dear Kids,

Well it’s Mother’s Day again. Actually it’s Mother’s DAYS again, because we are a Mexican/Canadian family, so I get two. You might think this isn’t fair, but it means you’ll probably get to eat in a restaurant twice so I’m sure you’ll get over it.

I just wanted to justify all the fuss I’ll be expecting, because I’m probably not the best mom on the planet. Sometimes you may even wish you live in Never Land where there are no mothers and where a kindly fairy covers you in golden flying dust instead of insisting on a regular bedtime.

I will agree that I’m not the best mom on the planet. I’ve spent a bit of time on Pinterest, so I have plenty of evidence to support that. I’d give the award to the lady who painted an illustrated world’s map on their child’s bedroom wall, or the mom who created a natural wood bunk bed with real twig ladder for her twin sons. But perhaps I am not the worst. I said PERHAPS. And that’s what this letter is about, kids.

I may not always remember to cut the crusts off your sandwiches and put little notes in your lunch, but sometimes I sneak a mini chocolate bar in there. Because I don’t really like the Milky Way ones, so there are a few extra.

I may not pay the biggest allowance in town, but I make sure to pay you back when I “borrow” some out of your wallet. Almost always.

I may not know what all the cool, popular songs are right now, but I always sing along when they come on the radio, extra loud so it makes up for not knowing all (any) of the lyrics.

I may not always be patient when you break the rules, but I rarely call you out in front of your friends (I have The Look that says it all anyhow, such as Wait Til Your Buddy Goes Home, My Man).

I may have forgotten more fifth grade math than I ever even knew, but I’ll sit at that kitchen table, calculator in hand, until we finish checking your homework. Even if I’m crying a little.

I may have no idea how to french braid, but I’ll watch seven YouTube tutorials and give it my best shot, sweating and muttering, until your father takes over.

I may forget that you asked me not to sing “The Goodnight Song” because you are too big and too legit nowadays, but I’ll tuck you in and hug you as long as you want and pretend I don’t notice that you still need your mama.

I may not be able to buy you the latest technology, or the name brand clothing, or the boots that I know you will wear exactly one time and then put them away until you grow out of them (because we LIVE AT THE BEACH, GIRLFRIEND). But I’ll stay by your side when you’re sad. And I’ll fight for you even when you don’t know it. And I’ll be your greatest fan when you get out there and do those gutsy things you do.

Someday, when you’re all grown up, you’ll have the worst day of your life because you will fail at something. Miserably. Spectacularly. And for a minute, you are going to feel more alone than you ever felt in your life. But then you’ll remember, and you’ll pick up the phone. And I’ll be there on the other end. Every. Single. Time. The Not-So-Cool Mom. The Not-Always-Together Mom. The Loud-Singer Mom. The Obsessed-With-Vegetables Mom. I’ll be there.

And while I’m probably never going to tattoo your name on my body and then pin it to my own “Super Mega Cool Mommy” Pinterest board (because pain), your names are tattooed forever on my heart.

Because I might not be the best mom on the planet, but I’m pretty good at loving the two of you.

 

Love,

Me (Your Mom/Madre/Mami)

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The good news: They still cuddle. The bad news: it just hurts more. The best news: Totally worth it.

Living Dangerously

Last Friday my daughter went to a friend’s house to sleep over.  It was a day off from school and, because she spends only six and a half hours a day with her friend during a normal week (seven and a half since they are in swimming lessons together twice a week), it seems that they had much to discuss.

I went to work, because, in spite of common belief, teachers have to actually go to school and work on professional development days. No, we don’t sit around drinking coffee and laughing about how we hide all the pencil sharpeners during tests (at least not all day). We actually have a scheduled day of meetings and workshops.

From there I went to meet up with my parents and my son’s friend’s family at El Rio BBQ, where my husband plays guitar on Fridays and where I discovered that guacamole and fries (together) are the best way for an introvert to recover from a communication styles workshop.

My boy went into the river with his buddy, but I wasn’t concerned. He’s grown up in this part of the river, jumping rocks and catching tadpoles for several years now. He’s also my cautious child, careful to let me know where he is and asking me if I’m going anywhere. His risk-taking takes place on paper, where he writes absolutely the weirdest, most brilliant stories ever.

The Boy has always been somehow aware that he has only one physical body, and he doesn’t want to waste it in one reckless act of danger. He was never the kid who ran directly in the pool before knowing how to swim.

He doesn’t like anyone else taking chances either. He was the one who raised the alarm (at the age of two) when his sister climbed the stairs for the first time before she could even walk. He then stood behind her protectively as she did her victory dance at the top, hanging haphazardly onto the bars like an overnight guest in the drunk tank.

So I wasn’t all that concerned about him being in the river. He’s twelve, a great swimmer, and currently the water level is at its lowest and laziest. But after a while, I thought I’d check on him. I walked over to the stairs that led down to the river.

There was my son, not very high up mind you, but still crouching casually against the cliff side of the river, hanging on by his toes. There was a local Mexican kid throwing him the rope on one side, and on the other side his buddy, shaking his head with a grin.

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The Boy looked up, saw his mother gaping at him, and got a big ol’ grin on his face that kind of concerned me. He grabbed the rope from his new pal and immediately kicked out from the cliff, swinging out over the river and dropping down with a slightly scared, yet totally thrilled victory yell.

I smiled and clapped, because if I didn’t I thought he might go higher next time. But apparently he was in it for the win, (ie to terrify the woman who gave him life), because he climbed one rock higher for his next turn with the rope. I called out that that was fine but no higher.

A voice behind me in Spanish asked me “Why not higher?” It was the father of the boy who was handing my child the rope. He wanted to know (and he seemed genuinely curious) what I thought might happen if he tried to go higher. I told him politely, and in my best Spanish, that I was concerned about my son’s face and how it was likely to lose in a fight with a rock at high speeds. The father was kind and said “You can trust him. He won’t go higher than he can.”

I want to be that cool. I do. But I saw how high his kids were going and I knew that I could never even aspire to that level of parental coolness.

And yet. I looked at my boy, twelve going on sixty-two some days, but today just twelve. He was yelling and smiling with his whole face, doing something he knew didn’t have The Full Stamp of Parental Approval and absolutely no guard rails. And he loved it.

He took one more step up and shot me that devilish grin. I pretended to disapprove but didn’t say a word. He swung out on the rope one more time. My heart stopped just a little. He splashed into the water with a whoop. The other kids’ father nodded at me approvingly.

I’m not a cool parent. But yesterday I got to pretend that I was. And my boy got to live dangerously, just a little.

 

The Recital

Today my daughter is going to sing in her very first recital. She’s nervous about it, which is, of course, a normal feeling. I’m helping her by remaining very calm and distracting her from the ever-nearing moment by talking about other things and treating it like it’s not a big deal.

Well, that’s how I am probably dealing with it in a parallel universe where I’m a normal person.

In THIS universe, she keeps telling me to stop touching her hair and staring at her because it’s freaking her out. I keep wondering to myself (but maybe sometimes out loud) if she has all her songs completely memorized and if we should be going over them once more. Someone told her yesterday that when she gets on stage just to visualize the audience naked and now I am thinking about the lifelong trauma that may result from having her entire family, including her parents and grandparents, in the audience.

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Not only that, I am actually going to sing one song with her, as per teacher request, in a group song with other mothers. I suffer from tremendous stage fright, which means that, although I have probably practiced this song more than the original composer, I fear that I will Lose It and sing a completely different song that I didn’t practice even one time.

Not that I over think things. Except sometimes. Well, except maybe 87% of the time. I tend to think about things that will very possibly go wrong, like she forgets a lyric or two.  Once I’ve decided that these are no longer worries within my control, I move on to things that might go wrong, like she catches a cold. And when I’ve used up most of the day feeding her lemon tea, I’m imagining things that definitely won’t happen. Even so, wouldn’t it be awful if we were trying our best to get there on time but we are trapped in one of those dreams where we end up lost (in Vallarta) and no one we ask for directions speaks English or Spanish.

This will result in me wanting to leave the house around two and a half hours before we have to be there, just in case. Being married to a Mexican musician means that he will agree with me, smile, and then drag his heels until we are set to arrive about fifteen minutes after we are supposed to drop her off for a quick sound check. I doubt I have to describe our communal state of mind when we finally arrive.

The thing is, I’m so happy for her to have this opportunity, and so proud because she’s such a beautiful little songbird, and for me this translates into deep wells of anxiety for everything to be just right. I’m not normally a perfectionist (ask my kitchen floor), but when it comes to my kids I want every time to be The Time of Their Lives, which can create a bit of pressure with which most parents will be quite familiar. This is her moment to shine because she deserves it, and nothing better mess it up or it will have to deal with Mom.

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Maybe this means I’m officially a stage mom. The term kind of bothers me, because I never thought I was a stage mom, and I’ve never pushed my children to do things that I feel they wouldn’t enjoy. But then I found myself mouthing the words to her songs at her rehearsals, miming the little actions we put together for “Good Ship Lollipop” so she wouldn’t forget, and practicing putting on her “Annie” wig between sets. And I realized, every mom is a stage mom the minute her child hits the stage.

I imagine you are thinking that it would be a lot better for her if I just calmed down and let her enjoy it, because theoretically that’s the point. And honestly, I agree. Maybe we’ll try that. After the show.