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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Looking For the Bright Side

I do genuinely try to be a positive person but I feel like it’s not my natural state of mind. However, it seems like kids constantly need to know that things are going to be okay. So I’ve tried to put a positive spin on situations from the time my children were very small:

“Wow, the electricity went off at 2am! Now we can have a cozy sleepover on mommy and daddy’s bed while telling desperate stories and sweating and praying for the fans to start up again!”

“Oh you spilled chocolate and ketchup and glue on your brand new t-shirt within the first ten minutes of putting it on? Well, you were going to grow out of it in six more months anyway!”

I don’t think this is my natural bent. I tend toward visualizing the very worst outcome of most things. Maybe my brain figures that if I visualize the worst and it happens, at least I won’t be surprised. And if something better happens, then it’s cool.

And the thing is, sometimes it seems like there’s no way to make things sound sunny. Like, at all. And that’s when you just have to zip it and wait out the chest pain that comes with severe stress.

My credit card information was stolen last week and somebody had about an hour of online bliss on my account. There’s definitely nothing good about that, because even if this somebody had exceptional taste in whatever they were purchasing, I’d almost certainly never benefit from it.

But it ended up that the experience kind of flipped over on its side and showed its silver underbelly.

  1. It was pretty easy to get the bank to cooperate with me, because I reported it immediately.
  2. I reported it immediately because a few months ago I let a bank employee talk me into getting a banking app on my cell phone, and thus I was notified of the charges on my account.
  3. I let the employee talk me into it because I didn’t have enough Spanish banking vocabulary to talk him out of it. However, by the time we went through the inexplicably long and intricate process of downloading and setting up the app, I had acquired the vocabulary I was missing.
  4. And that was pretty timely, because when I went on the phone to report the charges, I WAS COMPLETELY ABLE TO COMMUNICATE WITH THE CREDIT CARD COMPANY (don’t tell my husband. I have a near-phobic hatred of talking on the phone, and use my lack of Spanish as an excuse to have him make all my phone calls for me).

Do you see? It was a nasty situation, but there were things about it that were kind of ok. Certainly better than they could have been.

But I am still a struggling, somewhat dull student of optimism. Today we went to get the Christmas tree and as the store worker tied our brand new pine to our car roof, all I could visualize was our car stopped in the middle of the road by the airport, cars driving over our fallen tree and stamping it ever deeper into the asphalt. I was relieved when we arrived back at home. We unloaded the water jugs first that we had picked up at the same time (because multi-tasking was invented by parents of children who don’t like any of the same sports). The Boy carried in a jug and I followed, chuckling at my Negative Nelly self. He dropped the jug. It cracked. Water quickly spread itself all over my kitchen floor, burbling merrily from the crack at the bottom.

I yelled for Gil who was busy with the tree and couldn’t drop it because it had made it this far, and by Jorge, he wasn’t about to tempt fate. I yelled for my daughter to bring the mop and bucket and she said she didn’t know what that even was (and I registered this for later review under Ways I’m Failing as a Parent).

As we cleaned up the kitchen, all of us secretly fuming, I realized that sometimes the worst things we visualize might not come true, but then something else at least as bad probably would.

So I’m not cured of my pessimism quite yet. But at least life is amused by me. And at least we have a Christmas tree and two other water jugs.

Thirteen Reasons

There’s been a lot of buzz lately around the new Netflix series “13 Reasons Why”. Some people thought it was a great, eye-opening series. Others thought it was dangerous and irresponsible. Either way, I should provide you with the following message before I go on: There are spoilers galore in here, so if you haven’t watched it and you don’t want to know what happens… maybe come back and read this after you’ve seen it.

It’s about a girl named Hannah Baker who decides, after a period of intense bullying by her classmates, to kill herself. She leaves a series of cassette tapes in the hands of one of her friends, who passes them on to the thirteen people who she felt contributed in some way to her decision.

It’s not an easy series to watch, especially as a parent. Hannah’s parents were completely oblivious to her growing despair and downward emotional spiral, and that was pretty shocking, because her parents seemed to love her dearly and no less than any other moms and dads I know.

I thought I was all big and tough having watched through several wrenching scenes in the show over the course of a couple of weeks. And then I watched her parents find her body in one of the final scenes, and all I can tell you is that I didn’t uncurl from the ball I was in until I could breathe again. It’s that painful if you have any empathy at all as a human being (and if you are a parent you are pretty much a walking empathy ball).

It’s gutting because we think we know our kids and we think those kids will come to us if they are being harassed or bullied or raped. We think we Will Just Know if something is really that wrong. As it happens, the author of this novel, the writers of this show, and many, many teenagers are telling us that we will not. Not necessarily.

So that’s pretty much like having a huge body-sized band aid ripped off, all at once. That’s some raw skin, right there.

But let’s set that aside for just a minute, right after you take a moment to go hug your kid and remind them that they can trust you and that you will believe them always, and they can come to you with any secret. Once they give you the Mom’s Really Lost It This Time look, come on back, because I have another box to unpack right here.

Let me be a teacher now, a teacher of young children who spends a great big chunk of their waking hours with them. Even at five years old, children know a word that has been tossed around so much these days that we don’t always remember what it means. That word is bullying. It’s super charged, and it’s very often poorly defined.

But that’s ok, because Merriam-Webster is online now, and they define bullying as: “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger and more powerful”.

That means that bullying isn’t an argument or a disagreement between two friends. Bullying isn’t a fistfight in the school yard over a soccer rule dispute. Bullying happens anytime someone vulnerable is abused by someone in a position of power.

We all have a picture that jumps to attention in our minds when we hear the word “bully”. We think of a bully as a huge, loud, angry kid with a big uni-brow who waits outside the school gate every day to torment those who are unfortunate enough to have been brought to his or her attention.

But guess what? Bullies aren’t always big. They usually don’t have uni-brows. They aren’t bullies all the time. They often don’t even know that they are bullying.

Bullies can physically harm other people. But most of the time they cause far more damage emotionally. Bullying is social isolation, it is online torment, it is jokes at someone’s expense who isn’t in a good position to defend him/herself.

Sometimes a bully is simply:

  • someone who hands out invitations to everyone in the class to his party, except that one kid who isn’t really, you know, part of the gang.
  • someone who tells everyone else not to friend the new kid on Facebook.
  • someone who says cruel things to that quiet girl in front of his friends, because, come on, it’s funny.

Because when you’re a kid, those things are not always simple things. They matter. Sometimes they are everything. And they can completely devastate you.

A bully can be anyone’s child. A bully’s victim can be anyone’s child. And, to make things more complex, the roles can change.

If we are honest, we are most afraid that our children will be victims. But if we really care about and truly receive the messages in 13 Reasons Why, we will protect everyone’s children from becoming Hannah Bakers.

We will do it by teaching our own how to never become one of Hannah’s thirteen reasons to die. We will do it by teaching them that everyone’s life is precious. We will do it by teaching them to be kind.

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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.

 

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.

 

Heart in Her Hand

I think we never realize how our actions as children affect our parents until we have children of our own and we get the first call from the principal. Suddenly all you can visualize is your heart, freshly ripped from your chest, dripping messily all over a plate she’s holding casually (which sounds really weird when I say it out loud). And there, on a toothpick at the center of the aorta is a tiny white flag and two words: “be gentle”.

I’m fortunate that the educators in my children’s lives care deeply for them and want the best for them. So my tender heart has been safe in their hands. But it takes moments like these to understand that some of the happiest moments in my life may have been a little traumatizing for my own parents.

I can illustrate this with a fun story about my Mexican wedding. I look back fondly on Gil’s and my civil ceremony because it reflected my own personality so beautifully: disorganized and a bit of a disaster. We found out a week before our spiritual ceremony on the beach that the civil ceremony in Vallarta just wasn’t happening. It turns out that the Civil Registry here in town requires brand new birth certificates, even from non-Mexicans. I had one about ten years old, which was considered to be a useless sheet of antique paper here in Jalisco. They recommended that we check to see if folks in the state of Nayarit were more romantic and less concerned with the age of official papers.

The nearest Civil Registry in Nayarit is in a little place called Bahia de Banderas. If you know where Mezcales is, you can find Bahia de Banderas if you go through Mezcales onto very small, very confusing, very bumpy roads for about a really long time. The office itself is tiny in size but mighty in enthusiasm to marry people, and thus we held our ceremony right there.

From my point of view, the whole thing was both quirky and romantic, because the Justice of the Peace was an earnest, wonderful lady who was so happy for us in spite of just having met us. Gilberto bought me flowers, and I was surrounded by friends and family.

But let’s take a step back and look at it through my dad’s eyes. This perspective won’t give you a great view of the ceremony, unfortunately, because he was standing in the Justice’s personal bathroom as her miniscule office was overflowing with all six witnesses. He was holding my daughter, whom he loved more than all the tortillas in Mexico, although I imagine he never dreamed of holding his grandchild at his daughter’s wedding. He was in a town he’d never heard of, in a land where he was not a citizen, and he couldn’t for the life of him make out a single word of the ceremony. He was probably just going on the hope that someone would say at some point (and in a most legal fashion), “I pronounce you husband and wife.”

This must have been an out of body experience as a parent. Because what do you do when your child calls you up from a foreign country right before she’s about to come home forever, and tells you in a breathless, excited voice that she’s in LOVE and she’s going to STAY IN MEXICO and probably get married at some point? Do you wonder where you went wrong? Do you wrestle with questions about how your daughter’s life’s work could have taken her so far from you? Do you stay awake nights worrying over your precious child who is now inexplicably in love with someone whose values and culture are not yet known to you?

Let me tell you what my parents did. They came down to Mexico and stood as witness for their daughter. They held their baby grandchildren tightly in their arms so their parents could sign the marriage license. They hugged Gilberto and called him “son”.

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The wedding on the beach was a few days later. My dad held my hand and danced with me on the sand. He asked if I was happy. I said that I was. And then he said what I hope I’ll trust my own child enough to say as my heart dangles from her hand, “Then that’s enough for me.”

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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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My Spirit Animal

One day when I was a little girl, I saw a butterfly and really stopped to watch it. I have always loved butterflies, but I think it’s that day that I realized that the delicately winged creature was, indeed, my spirit animal. Not because of a physical resemblance, of course. Sure, it’s a lovely creature, and I have finally sort of figured out a technique for eye liner, but that’s not where the similarities are most noticeable.

When I watched that one butterfly for just five minutes, it became easily apparent that this little insect had no idea what she was doing. Yes, she was hopping from flower to flower, but at least three times she fell off and had to work those wings just to get back to a safe landing space again. Trying not to zoom into a free fall, she’d get herself flapping back up to a new petal. But then she seemed to decide that she had something important to do elsewhere and would zip around madly for awhile in at least five different directions before landing on another blossom.

Even in my eleven-year-old mind, I knew who that reminded me of, and that hasn’t changed over the years. I like a big overall plan, but getting down to those details can throw my focus. So I end up fluttering from thing to thing until I’ve missed a deadline, or forgotten it altogether (kind of this one mostly). As a mother, my form of parenting could be described as “butterfly parenting”. I flit from issue to issue, trying to solve them all, and get all flustered and solve pretty much nothing.

This past summer, I cleaned out my house and realized how hard it was for me to finish that task. I would start out with one bookshelf and end up spending hours poring over baby photos that have never been placed in an actual album (and to this day have not). I knew then that I needed to get a little control into my life. Yes, that’s right, thirty-two years after my butterfly revelation I finally get around to formulating a plan. And yes, I realize how true to my spirit animal that probably is.

Things have been going sort of okay. I have accomplished these things so far:

  • Clean uniforms four days out of five (and I can find them about 75% of the time as well)
  • I know what assignments are due and tests are happening about 70% of the time, which is because that’s the percentage of the days that I remember to check their agendas (and WhatsApp mom chats help for the other 30%)
  • I have their after school activities organized on a finely tuned driving schedule that leaves no room for stops at the Oxxo for snacks (this is probably the most ingenious part of my transformation)

Next steps:

  • Grocery shopping
  • Cooking
  • Looking at myself in the mirror before leaving the house

You might think that an event as big as Christmas could possibly trip up my newfound organizational skill set. You might be right. But I have been purposeful about this and I believe that this holiday season everyone is going to be impressed with the new me. However, I admit that so far it has been a bit of a rocky start.

For example, I thought that I would craft some homemade decorations, because that is what proper mothers do for their children. I chose something easy, a twine ball made by wrapping thick raffia string around a balloon, dipping it in glue and letting it dry. It’s a craft I make all the time with my kindergarten students, except that I let my assistants help them make it while I am working at things that don’t require as much manual dexterity, like writing.

As it turns out, I maybe should have at least watched, because my festive twine balls ended up looking as though the neighborhood cat had played with them, eaten them, and then coughed them up. And, in my distress, I forgot to do the laundry, and thus had a minor setback the next day involving my child vigorously wishing not to wear a physical education uniform from two years ago.

 

So I think my transformation may require some baby steps, and me leaving the decoration-making crafts to the five-year-old professionals. I’ll set up the tree today and put on some Christmas carols. After I turn on the washing machine. After.