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.

Goodbye Worries, Hello 2017

I think most people were happy to say goodbye to 2016. For many, it’s been a rough ride right to the bitter end. I’ve heard some criticism of this type of thinking, calling it “superstitious” to blame all misfortune on a calendar year number. I don’t think it’s superstitious so much as wanting a clean slate. Let’s just start over and ask Luke Skywalker and Han Solo to just please, please be careful for the sake of mankind.

I like to write New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of every year. Considering how this year went, I figure I can set the bar pretty low and still have things work out well for me in 2017.

One of my biggest resolutions every year is to stop worrying. You see, I come from a long line of furrow-browed prophets of doom. If something could go wrong, we could think of any number of ways that it might get even worse. My own nervous system’s favorite pastime is to prod me awake at 4:46 am to engage in a back and forth over things I usually can’t control. Or things I might control if only it wasn’t 4:46am.

So, I strongly resolve on New Year’s Day of almost every year that I won’t do that anymore. But, much to my surprise, I still wake up five minutes before my alarm on January 2 (and each day thereafter) to mull over the fact that my kitchen cupboard drawer that is only one year old is swelling due to humidity and can’t be quite closed so now we’ll probably never get the full value for our house when we one day want to sell which means our children will never go to college and we’ll all be living in mismatched cardboard boxes and living off the busking my husband and son will do together on violin and guitar which will sound ok as long as I keep reminding The Boy to practice which he hasn’t done in at least three days.

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You might be starting to realize the importance of tackling the Worry Wart Issue in my life. But I have finally figured out that I do need a real plan. My blueprint for this particular resolution is to make a list of the Big Nigglers, the ones that cause the most disruption in my lovely nighttime stream of consciousness (ie dreams about food). Then I will choose the ones that I can actually solve. Once I have written down a few steps for each one, the fact that I’ve put my feet on the path to resolving these issues should, in theory, make sleep come a little easier. So here you have a list of things I can probably tackle:

  • Saving money for the future instead of spending it on Haagen Daaz at La Isla Shopping Center (even though, have you TRIED the Praline flavor? I mean, do the children REALLY need to go to college?)
  • Exercising in the morning instead of lying in my bed awake, consuming fewer, yet not insignificant calories trying to think of reasons why I can’t work out today
  • Deciding once and for all if I care about the kitchen drawer situation or if it’s kind of handy (and even a selling point) to have one drawer slightly open at all times

That seems about enough to tackle for one year. Now I can neatly file the following worries under the label in brain called Out of My Control and Therefore Not Going to Impact My Sleep Tonight:

  • Gas prices (and let’s be honest, I can’t even TALK about this without a blood pressure hike)
  • Whether it rains freakishly out of season when my relatives come to visit this winter (and we all know it will anyway)
  • Whether my neighbors are going to think of a reason to have a party this weekend with their favorite music caressing my windows in a vibrating sort of manner (there’s always a reason for a party)

Now that I have freed my mind from worry, I will probably become some sort of creative genius. If you like to read my column, I have very little doubt this will be an inspiring year for you as well.  Unless, of course, I start worrying about something else that’s not on the list. Because I can’t remember now if my kids are up to date on their vaccinations.  You know, I think I saw some rust on that piece of metal my daughter scraped her leg on yesterday. And it’s probably too late for a tetanus shot now. Does anyone know anything about lockjaw symptoms?

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The Long Drive Home

Do you ever pick up your children from school and you ask them “How was your day?” and they say “fine”? And then you ask them, “So what did you do at school?” and they say “nothing” and their voice carries a warning that this blatantly unconstitutional interrogation will not be tolerated for much longer?

I was that kid, and I’m still that kid. I don’t want you to ask me about my day, and I don’t want to know about your day, either. Don’t worry, I WILL want to tell you how things went, and I WILL want to hear about how things went with you. But not thirty seconds after finishing a day filled with activities like tying one kid’s shoes sixty-three times and telling people why we can’t climb OVER the bookshelves to get to the door to go to recess even though we could save ourselves so much time. Just imagine that day, and then ask yourself why some people need to debrief for a few minutes after it.

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A glamorized reenactment of what my day is like. 

The other day I was driving home from school with my two children. It’s about a seven minute drive. And there I was, inside my brain wondering if tomorrow I will post pictorial interpretations of the consequences of climbing over classroom furniture, when I realized that I was also having a conversation with my children.  Well, not exactly a conversation, really, more like a question and answer period. They were lobbing them at me at a pace that could only be described as unreasonably fast.

The Good Mom part of my brain appeared to be receiving the queries and trying to come up with decent answers so as to not to disturb the other part that was hibernating, since rousing it awake wouldn’t result in anything productive or friendly. Unfortunately, Good Mom was absolutely tanking, and the children were starting to reject pat answers such as “Wow, you are going to have to Google that one today!”

I decided to make a mental list of all of these questions because not only do they provide a glimpse into the wide and deep range of my children’s thoughts, but a demonstration of Things I Deal With Every Day:

  • Who invented beagles?
  • If your best friend had a zombie virus and he wanted to die and it was the apocalypse and he was going to die anyway, would you kill him?
  • What’s the biggest iceberg in the world called?
  • Who names their dog Sticky Buns, anyway?
  • Is it still cannibalism if it’s a matter of survival?
  • What did you say, mom?
  • Why/Why not?
  • But why/why not?

Remember when you were a tired mom of two toddlers and you were crying because there was just no way tomorrow could even happen if either one said “Why?” one more time? And then your best friend/mom/husband/person at the taxi stand was trying to make you feel better so they told you that it was a phase and that someday you would miss the fact that they relied on you for all the answers?

Psst. It was a lie. They HAD to tell you that because your mascara was running, your eyes were frightening them and they didn’t know how they were going to end the conversation otherwise.

Children don’t stop asking questions, and they will think you know all the answers until the exact moment when they think you are basically a brain stem. No in between as far as I can tell.

The introvert in me wants to retreat into a tiny, dark burrow in my mind after work. But I figure I better get out of hibernation and engage with these people while we drive those seven minutes, even when they are the longest seven minutes of my human experience. Because right now they think I might know something about zombies and icebergs and beagles, and right now they are curious to know what that is. Someday, I’ll be a brain stem. Until then, I’ll tell them what I still know.

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Some days, seven minutes seem longer than other days.

Our Children in Turbulent Times

When something catastrophic or incomprehensible happens in the world, it’s much easier dealing with your own feelings when you don’t have children. You can fasten yourself to the couch and watch all the urgent commentaries and play by plays. You and your friends can hang out and try earnestly to deconstruct exactly what is going on and what you should be doing about it. You can sit alone in your shower until you are prune-y and make decisions about Who You Are in the Wake of All of This. Then, you can wrap yourself in a fluffy towel convinced that you will come out on the other side of all of this a better person.

Once you become a parent, a world-changing event is not only absorbed by you and your psyche, but by your children who have no experience processing things and who fully expect that you will do it for them, just as you have done with their laundry for over a decade. So you are not only trying to make sense of it yourself, you are responsible for making sense of things for people who still think that running out of peanut butter before breakfast is the worst thing that will ever happen to them personally.

Last week was surreal for many people after the U.S. elections took place. In our family, it was also very disappointing and kind of worrisome. Regardless of where you stand politically, it was a hot topic. My children go to an American School, and are citizens of a country that was the source of a great deal of debate and media focus during the elections. They are of an age where they are becoming more and more interested in the way government works and also the weirdness of current pop culture, both of which featured strongly in this election.

My husband and I were conflicted because, although they were interested and both quickly forming alarming opinions based on musical parodies on YouTube, we also wanted to keep the information appropriate to their level of emotional and cognitive development. Not only that, we wanted to help them point their moral compass while respecting their own valid points of view. It was quite a parental tightrope.

When the results came in, after they were in bed, I really couldn’t sleep. Their excitement going to bed, believing that they would wake up to see history made, was piercing me right through. Waking them up in the morning was even worse. Watching them rub sleep from their eyes and then gently telling them that, although history was made, it wasn’t in the way we had expected, I felt as many a messenger has throughout history right before they were shot by a disappointed monarch: Why me? Why do I have to be the one to lay this at their feet? Why didn’t I ever fashion that sound-proof bubble for them like I had always planned? Why couldn’t I just curl up in my own ball of dismay for a minute?

But that wasn’t an option. Because they were incredulous. They were sad. They were worried. I shook off my own disbelief for a moment and sat with them there in that bleak early morning. Then I stood up and told them that we were going to get ready for school. I also told them that we were going to be kind today, and we were going to give everyone a break, because all sorts of friends and teachers were going to be feeling all of these things too.

For the past week, we’ve been processing. They’ve been asking a lot of things, and my husband and I have been answering to the best of our ability. If I could offer any advice to families about how to help children understand what’s happening in the world, regardless of the event or calamity, it would be this:

  • In whatever you say, let it be the truth. But let it be the truth that makes sense TO A CHILD. Don’t lie. But don’t tell them something that will give them nightmares, unless you enjoy waking up and hanging out with a terrified child at 3am every night for two weeks. For example, I had to explain that no, neither candidate is out there waiting to kill babies (information they received from another worried child).
  • Listen, no matter what you hear. My son works through his thoughts and beliefs by playing devil’s advocate. As his anxiety escalates, so does his contrary nature. I tell him that I don’t mind if he doesn’t share my beliefs, but I do want to know what he does believe and why. Through his talking I can start to understand his fears, and then I can start asking questions and giving reassurances.
  • Once you’ve reassured and been as honest as you can be, you can show them ways that we can always be of help. We talked about holding out a hand to those who are afraid, sitting down with a lonely kid in the cafeteria, standing up for someone who doesn’t have a voice.
  • It’s time then to show them that life does go on, and it’s a beautiful thing. This week that took the form of a family movie date. It was my son wiping the floor with my husband in a few rounds of chess. It was me baking cinnamon rolls (I don’t really know what you do to beat stress and avoid anxiety, but if you are of Mennonite heritage, you turn to mindless dough kneading and simple carbs).

My children learned this week that the world is not a predictable place, and that it sometimes feels like we are helplessly caught up in the churning of these turbulent days. It’s our job as parents to help them understand that this is never true. When things seem out of control, we have each other. And then we can turn outward and be a light in a world that sometimes seems a little dark.

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Agree to Disagree

I know a lot of people who wisely choose not to read the comments section of controversial articles online. Actually, many people choose not to read the comments section of any post at all, because it seems like even an article about using chickpeas as a protein source can get people lathered up these days. Reading these comments can create stress and rage, the same rage that causes people to write a lashing “get a life” when someone disagrees with using the terms “garbanzo bean” and “chickpea” interchangeably.

I must admit that I do read the comments on some articles that interest me. I’m fascinated by people whose opinions are strong enough to attack people’s physical attributes when their ideas don’t match theirs, because I don’t really understand that. How can the desperation of proving your point lead to the delusional idea that someone’s weight/height/abundance of facial hair is connected to their intelligence?

I grew up in a home where education was valued tremendously, and reading and keeping informed was encouraged. We often discussed our ideas on many current events, and quite often our opinions didn’t coincide. But my brother and I were discouraged from connecting a person’s opinion to the size of their ears, for example, and while we certainly didn’t always abide by the rules (normally my brother’s fault, of course), these values were engrained in us as we grew into adulthood.

For example, my brother and I have probably never voted for the same political party in a single Canadian election. Now that I no longer have the ability to vote as an expat, he takes great satisfaction in this. And yet, I love him very much and I never lose hope that he will someday understand that he is wrong. Not only that, I don’t believe that he has experienced hair loss because of his political views, although they surely don’t help.

The comments that I stopped reading, mind you, were the ones that had to do with raising children. Any topic about how to raise a decent human being should close their comments section because these new “mommy wars” can get pretty vicious.

I once saw a mother accuse another of raising a cognitively deficient child for discontinuing breastfeeding after three months. When the other said that her milk, unfortunately, disappeared for no apparent reason, the original poster said she didn’t try hard enough and called into question her own cognitive powers and general value as a human being. They didn’t know each other, but they were both convinced they knew the other’s IQ score by the end of the train wreck they call a “conversation thread”.

This kind of confidence in your abilities as a parent is absolutely breathtaking, isn’t it? If I decided that my opinion mattered enough to perfect strangers and that they were so wrong that they could cause harm to their child, I would still have to create an anonymous account. I mean, how many times could I be called a complete hypocrite if I tried to portray myself as a perfect mother?

What kind of mother, for example:

  • Holds off making dinner some nights so that the kids will get tired of waiting and find a microwaveable popcorn package in the cupboard?
  • Hides in the bathroom and eats the last Jersey Milk chocolate bar that her uncle brought from Canada?
  • Forgets that irons exist and that she owns two of them?
  • Tells the kids they can’t use technology until their homework is done, while reading the comments section of her favorite vegan blog, telling them “mommy is working”?

My kind of mother, that’s who. The kind of mother who isn’t perfect and doesn’t expect anyone else to be, either. The kind of mother who knows that a sense of humor in this gig comes in pretty handy. The kind of mother who admires anyone else who is slogging through this thing called parenthood and doing it their way. The kind of mother who could use a word of encouragement, or a helping hand, or even people to kind of look the other way when she sometimes messes it up.

 

Because I will. Mess it up, I mean. And so will you, and so will she.  But we’re out here and we’re still doing it. And if we can hang in there together, maybe we’ll mess it up less. Well, nah. We’ll still mess it up. But at least we’ll have someone else to laugh with, cry with, and then get back out there again to do the most important job we’ll ever have.

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I’ll be over here, doing things my way…

Back to School 2016!

This week Mexico’s children went back to school and Mexico’s parents went back to whatever semblance of a normal life they still had left after trying to keep their children occupied for two months.

If you are a teacher and a parent, as I am, then you will have some mixed feelings right now. I have really enjoyed my time with my family; the movie nights, the late morning coffee, the quick trips for falafel in Sayulita on a Wednesday evening (if you haven’t experienced the food at Falafel and Friends, believe me when I say you need it in your life).

But I sometimes wish that “back to school” would take place in a time of year where it wasn’t so hot that your thinking processes swirl away like shampoo down the shower drain. It’s easier being hot when you can float around in a pool, find a new restaurant with sub-zero A/C, or, when all else fails, sneak out to the car and sit there with the engine running for a few precious minutes (Quick Tip: while your kids will find you almost immediately, you can get an extra thirty seconds out of it if you pretend to be asleep with the doors locked). Starting school is tough when you have force your kids to try on school uniforms and think of cute shapes for their sandwiches in 34 degrees Celisus (feels like 45).

I have a feeling that most of you don’t care much either way what the temperature is as long as your child is experiencing the Vallarta heat in a classroom. Preferably with a teacher who isn’t sighing and shaking his/her head over the summer learning loss that’s going to take him until December to overcome (by the way, downloading MindQuest on your Android apparently doesn’t constitute a Comprehensive Summer Learning Program).

Here are a few ways that I had every intention of doing to make that back to school transition easier for the whole family. Currently I have done exactly zero of the things. But I still can. Any day now I will:

  • Make a vision board with my family, focusing on the next school year. It’s a great goal-setting activity for all ages. It creates accountability when others know about what you intend to accomplish, it serves as a daily reminder that you need to continue to reach for your goals, and it helps focus as a family on some common goals. And you get to cut and paste as much as you want (I promise that means fun.  I teach kindergarten. I know these things). Try this short guide for making your own: http://www.kidzworld.com/article/15917-how-to-make-a-vision-board
  • Bake some of their snack favorites and freeze them for their school lunches in the first few weeks of school (and still look like I am caring and involved if any teachers eat lunch with them).
  • Organize their uniforms on hangers (although, actually, I promise myself to do this every year. It lasts until September 23 and after that we go back to scrounging through laundry baskets and performing sniff tests).
  • Write them “jokey” lunch notes that imply terrible consequences for not eating their fruit (When you don’t eat your banana, a Pokemon dies. Love, mom xo)
  • Set my alarm. On June 23 I turned it off with one hand while fist-pumping with the other. Last week, I forgot to reset it for the first day of school, which began with the violent sounds of a woman running in circles, hitting pieces of furniture in her path with her shins, and saying things for which she apologized later.

Happy Back to School. May your children fit their uniforms, may they daily crave peanut butter sandwiches, may your shins be scar-free, and may the traffic lights be ever in your favor.

 

Summer at Home

For nearly two months of every year I get to be a stay-at-home mom. This is a great perk of a job where I get to be a stay-at-school mom to other children for ten other months of the year.

It used to be pretty tiring to stay at home. Young babies and children require constant attention and supervision. I would have to make Special Learning Activities for my children each day or they would make their own Special Learning Activities while I wasn’t looking. The last time that happened they redecorated the master bathroom using Crayola’s Shamrock Green poster paint.

Fortunately, this has changed. I can sleep late and they will get their own cereal and watch Dan TDM on YouTube or make music videos on my phone. These are also learning activities. I’m pretty sure.

Not only that, now they are capable of working and doing a (mostly) decent job of it. As long as I hold the key to the WiFi password, I don’t have to: a) wash dishes b) bag grass clippings c) put away clothes that aren’t mine. I have energy for the first time in years, and I have read at least five books without hearing a single crash in another room.

But probably my favorite part of summer vacation is the time we spend together as a family. If we aren’t traveling, a lot of the time is spent in the house together but in separate rooms, because there’s only so much I can take of Dan TDM’s voice (look him up if you don’t believe me). But we also do fun things that we don’t have time for during the school year, and it’s wonderful.

Some of our favorites:

  • Making pie – At first my son was against the whole idea. While he did want pie (he always wants pie actually), he wanted to eat good pie, not some beginner’s version, even if the beginner was him. But I was there every step of the way, because I also wanted good pie, and now he wants to make pie every day. We can’t do that, because I want to fit my pants when I go back to work, but I am happy for the enthusiasm.column, summer
  • Movie marathons – We finally got to watch the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with them, after waiting several years for them to be able to handle the wind-y plot and intense sword-play scenes. That’s when I realized that three nights in a row of Jack Sparrow are at least two too many. But at least we were together.
  • Crafts – My daughter loves crafts. I do too except for things that involve sewing, but that’s why she has a dad. We have made cork boats, shell turtles, and snow globes. I won’t say they all worked out (I think we’ll just buy ourselves a snow globe), but we enjoyed it.
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    And when you forget to buy craft supplies, you improvise.

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    salt dough emoji beads

  • Walks – It’s hot out, but evenings and mornings have been pretty nice, and, when you live in a tropical paradise, there’s always a beautiful place to walk the dogs with the promise of ice cream or a quick jump in the ocean on the way. We like to jump in BEFORE remembering that we didn’t bring a change of clothes along.

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    You’ll never know what it cost us to get this one pic

  • Food – We like to hit our favorite taco stands and breakfast places every once in awhile, but we also enjoy trying some new places that we’ve been eyeing all year as we drive by to do other things, like grocery shopping, bill paying, and soul stifling. Last week we finally made it to Nutrihouse, a comida corrida place in the colonia Versalles where the menu changes each day. It was amazing. We got soup or salad, a main dish with two sides that you could choose, and flavored water for seventy-five pesos. There’s a vegetarian option every day and dessert for twelve pesos.
  • Anywhere with A/C. I’ll go walk around a mall or store aimlessly for at least an hour and a half for the free air conditioning. I don’t care where it is. As long as they have it set to twenty-one degrees Celsius it could be a medical supply store. I’d even buy something to support their business. Sometimes it’s all the difference between feeling human and feeling homicidal. If you really want to live it up, try Costco, they have the best free samples.