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.

Great Expectations

When you move to the beach after life on a very flat, cold surface, and fall in love with a new country and a wonderful new person, it’s hard to see very far into the future. All you know is that you want to stay forever in this lovely rose-colored bubble that you have created.

I believe that I am a relatively intelligent being. And yet, I love to lead with all my feelings first, because I am a true romantic at heart. In this case, it worked out pretty well. Except for the fact that I thought that I’d continue to live a block from Los Muertos Beach and would have every evening and weekend to enjoy the sand and stars with my wonderful family at my side, hand in hand with my true love. I didn’t think much about the school age children they would become after the tiny, cute part, but I had kind of sketched out the following:

  • They would adore surfing because they live on the coast.
  • They would have brown hair that would be streaked with blonde because.
  • They would always be respectful and any undesirable behavior would be easily redirected thanks to their easy temperaments and my parenting skills that I had somehow acquired without needing to practice because I definitely knew a lot more than any parent I’d ever met.

So you might see how I had set myself up for disappointment, especially with the hair. As it happens, all the free time I had set aside for sunset watching and star gazing has been quickly gobbled up by extra-curricular activities and reading log requirements. My husband is still my true love, but it’s hard to hold hands when I’m putting together yet another school lunch while he is trying to shout fractions into The Boy.

I had always assumed that we could live close to the beach forever, because on our daily beach walks before children, we often saw a Canadian lady who screamed obscenities at all the passersby from her ocean front condo terrace. I figured if she could live ocean front, surely a soft-spoken, experienced educator deserved to do the same.

I think we’ve all learned in the last two weeks that being soft-spoken and having experience isn’t necessarily going to get you what you deserve. More importantly, loud, vulgar, rude behavior also doesn’t get what it deserves either, unfortunately. Certainly we have a lovely home, but we aren’t watching the sun set over the water most days, mainly because the water isn’t on the way to tae kwon do class.

My daughter is part fish. She loves the water. My son is an excellent swimmer and enjoys being in the waves from time to time. But the truth is, they don’t particularly want to surf. Which isn’t really weird because I hate surfing and my husband has never tried it. So I’m not sure why I had that expectation, or why it came as a surprise that it didn’t turn out.

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Tell me they don’t have surfer hair, highlights or no.

We are told regularly that our children are very respectful and polite. I have had many comments on how kind my children are to those who need a friend. I love these comments and, while I pretend to be humble and self-deprecating about it, I wish just ONCE the person saying it was holding a live microphone or a small bullhorn by accident.

But I think I speak for their father when I say that we mainly had no idea what we were doing, and all the things we thought we knew were absolutely wrong, and that all the marvelous behavior is not always on full display in our own home. Let’s just leave it at that.

So, some of the expectations I held when I was in my twenties and deeply in love weren’t exactly realistic. No matter where you live, parenting is always an eye-opener, and it’s always more exhausting than you thought it would be. It involves a lot more time in a car which will be more littered with wrappers and empty water bottles than you thought possible.

But the truth is, my reality far exceeds the expectations I had. And I wouldn’t give my busy, chaotic, wonderful life for all the sand on Los Muertos. Anyhow, if one day I change my mind about the whole soft-spoken approach, I can shout at passersby from any terrace in town.

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El Buen Fin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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