ForeignMom's Blog

Bicultural mom adjusting to motherhood in a foreign country

Too Late for Coffee, Too Early for Hard Liquor July 27, 2017

Filed under: Motherhood,Stay At Home Mom — ForeignMom @ 2:42 am

I was having one of those terrible summer-break mornings that any Stay-At-Home-Mom knows: the dishes had been piling up for days, the dishwasher in need to be emptied, mountains of laundry to be put away, hungry kids begging for a snack (only few minutes after having eaten a huge breakfast)… you get the idea.

We rushed out the door “only” ten minutes later than when we needed to go to meet up with my old playgroup. But then, because of course we are already late, I take a couple wrong turns and make us really late at that point. When we FINALLY reach the beach spot where everyone is waiting for us, I jokingly ask if 11:30 am is too early for vodka and looking at each other we all laugh in complicity. We all have been there. We know the struggle.

One of my friends reminds us of the many times we find ourselves in need of something… anything to boost our mood, to give us energy, to keep us going, and how it totally sucks when you find yourself in that window of time when it’s too late for coffee but too early for hard liquor. The phrase made me laugh so hard that I had to write about this phenomenon.

I love my chosen occupation of a Stay-At-Home-Mom, I truly do. I really enjoy cooking, playing games, and going places together. I love to be the arms that console, and the “voice of wisdom” to their endless questions. I love their kisses and hugs, I love to be present in their routine as an anchor. I adore this precious time when magic is still present in everything and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.

However, no matter how much I love my little kids and how many fun activities we are involved in, there are many moments every day when I need a little mental escape. When I need to break lose from those thousands of questions and quiet everything else, except for my mind. As many of my SAHM friends would tell you, we signed up for the raising-children end of the deal, unluckily, most of the domestic tasks also fall on us. And those, as much as I like to keep an organized home, are not fun whatsoever.

Who really likes to fold laundry for a household of 5? Even when my 6-year-old wrote it as my hobby in his Mother’s Day Letter to me this May, I wish I didn’t have to do any of that. And then when you have days where nothing goes smoothly, you just feel like screaming… instead you opt for coffee or if it’s a socially-acceptable time, a glass of wine, or a shot of Tequila (honestly, there are just some crazy days).

But what happens when you are in between both of those times? Like my friend pointed out. When you are the verge of bursting into tears because you just need that mental and physical escape that you cannot get? Then you just plug along and hopefully find a worthy popsicle (or any other snack your kids are having) and try to keep it together until you can actually take a break.

As I mentioned before, the struggle is real! But, weren’t we the ones choosing to be the main caregivers? Don’t we all say how much we love being home with the kids? Well, nobody can love anything a 100% of the time (unless is chocolate)! It’s hard to be all unicorn and rainbows when it comes to parenting. The bickering between siblings only makes the task of the happy mom ever more challenging. And then there’s that whole isolation situation. If you don’t find other moms to go on a playdate with, then you find yourself not having any adult conversation for hours and hours.

So please understand that while we do not have an unhealthy dependence on pharmaceutical substances, such as coffee and hard liquor, it is nice to be ready to tackle the day and to end it on a high note.

Cheers!

 

 

 

Duality June 22, 2017

When I was nineteen years-old, I flew to the U. S. as a freshman in college. I had only seen my university in brochures and through the photos on its website. I had only conversed with the people in the international admissions office via email (except for the recruiter who persuaded me to go to Grand Valley State University). I had no idea of how empty my room in the shared apartment was going to be nor did I anticipated the need for kitchenware and food and anything else other than the provided bed and mattress.

Nonetheless, I was excited and happy to be there. The campus was beautiful, green and filled with summertime flowers and sounds of nature. I met the rest of the international students who had come the same year as I did, the day after as we started our orientation. Standing in line with people from every continent, I felt so different and at the same time so connected to them. I did not know it fifteen years ago, but my new life began then.

Having the opportunity to attend college in a foreign country was a challenge that in so many ways, I was not ready to confront. At the same time, learning how to navigate the syllabuses, schedules, pressure and new culture, gave me a kind of internal strength, that I doubt anything else would have ever given me. I became confident as I was able to find answers to the many hows and how comes; as I overcame obstacles on my own, without my parents’ help.

Living in a different culture helped me reaffirm the things that I liked about my own, but it also helped me question so many traditions and parts of myself that had been a part of me more out of routine than because I believed in them. Surrounding myself with my fellow international students helped me learn about so many different views about one issue all at once.

The adventure of attending college in the U.S. was an enriching one; however, it wasn’t always gratifying nor easy to maneuver. I experienced reject, racism and prejudice for the first time in my life. Not all classmates were thrilled of having someone with an accent as a partner in projects. Barely anyone talked to me in the classrooms. Arriving to class filled with freshmen was the equivalent to staying in your room by yourself. I found it baffling that not a single person would say hello or good morning as they sat by you. There were no invitations to coffee or lunch after class (as it would happen in my native Mexico). I found that very hard and started to feel isolated. I found solace in my group of international student friends. Many of whom were as shocked as me by the lack of interaction between students in the classrooms.

As the semesters passed by, I developed friendships with some students with whom I had more than a class with, with the professors who took an especial interest in me and with my co-workers. More and more, I felt like I had carved myself a place in college and in my new surroundings. Yet, I longed for getting my degree and going back to Mexico, to my life there.

Along the way, I was charmed by a wonderful international student from Lebanon. Our love for each other was so deep that early on in the relationship, we both knew that we were going to get married. When we decided to get together, I knew that I was saying goodbye to Mexico for good. But when I was with him, nothing else mattered.

And so we embarked in the little-known world of getting a sponsor to give you a work visa. Then, after years of uncertainty and hefty lawyer fees, we jumped from the work visa to a green card. We bought a house, we had children and when we realized it, we had been living in the U.S. for longer than a decade.

Our personalities have morphed so many times that we were unrecognizable in our home countries, our believes had been shaped by our experiences in our host country and the many cultures that we had come in contact with. We had found a duality in our being that only people who live abroad can understand.

It is a bit odd to find that you are a dual being. I love where I come from and have deep roots in Mexico. I’m proud of its colors, music, flavors, history and the ease in which friendship flows from one person to the next. At the same time, the more time that I have spent in Michigan, the more that I have learned to love its nature, cities, freedom and easy-going way of life. I have made such great friends here that I now feel just at home.

It is easier to explain this sense of duality with the analogy of a tree with deep and strong roots. Without them, the tree would not stand tall. The roots represent my upbringing in Mexico. But this tree needs the right kind of soil to grow stronger and feel grounded and enriched. This soil is my husband and the sense of belonging that him and I have forged for each other and our children. The tree would not be much without its ever-reaching branches and leaves. That is what my host country had been for me. Every teaching moment a new branch. Every life-changing experience a set of leaves. I could not be the woman that I am today without my both nations vibrating underneath my skin. I am roots and branches. I am this duality. 

A month ago I found myself standing tall in a new line of people from 31 different countries. All with our different believes and religions, all with roots from different places, but all of us with our hearts beaming with excitement as we prepared to become U.S. citizens. Nearly fifteen years had passed but I took the oath of citizenship with the same pride that I had come to the U.S. as an international student to break stereotypes, to challenge and be challenged. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I sung God Bless America while holding my eldest daughter’s hand. I finally had a voice. I finally would be able to make decisions for my children and my family in the way of a vote. I finally felt that I had a right to defend our believes. I finally had become a dual citizen.

 

The Richness of Positive Cultural Exchanges April 28, 2017

Sometimes the shortest trips, the ones taken within your own region of the country, are the ones that turn out to be the most contrasting with our quotidian lives. As it was the case of our most recent visit to Chicago.

Not even four hours away from us, right on the other side of Lake Michigan. This big city is one of our children’s most favorite places to visit. They like the cars, and the noise, and the endless lines of people walking up and down the main streets. They enjoy the view of the tall buildings and the sky lighted with tiny windows in the horizon at night.

It is a place of wonder for them. Frankly, for us as well. We like the variety of restaurants, the racially mixed families that mirror our own, and the  endless cultural opportunities.

Although we go to Chicago often, this last time was very unique as we visited my cousin and his family in their diverse home. My cousin is also Mexican but he’s married to a French girl and together they have a son who was born in Mexico and a daughter born in the States. (You did not think I was the only one in the family who started a multi-racial clan, right?).

As soon as their son opened the door, we were immerse in a weekend-long cultural exchange. A mix of English, French and Spanish set the tone for our adventure. My kids were exposed to quiche and brioche with salted butter, which I now have had to make available for them at our own home, per their request. Their children tried pretzels filled with peanut butter and were on-the-go more hours than what they are used to, keeping up with my gang.

We talked about my latest post about the challenges of keeping a bilingual house and they pointed out how in their case, French is the main language because is spoken both at home and at school all the time. They gave me more ideas to keep Spanish more present in our lives, and I even caught myself speaking it less and less in this multi-lingual weekend adventure. (Mental note to correct that).

Along with our families’ cultural exchanges, came the concept of how to navigate around in bigger cities. After we said hello and unloaded our car, we headed to the neighborhood park. The kids on scooters, bikes and strollers following our 4-year-old tour guide on wheels. It seemed that, even at a younger age than my 7 and 5-year-old kids, our tour guide knew the rules of stopping at every street corner before crossing, making room for other pedestrians on the sidewalk and being aware of the cars at all times.

Now, is not like my kids were running around and crossing the streets without looking, but, they certainly had to be reminded to use their street smarts more than a few times. The fact that they didn’t know where they were going didn’t help to keep them on their side of the sidewalk either. But I think they were very impressed by their little cousin who was used to the “urban rules”. On the way back, they were certainly more conscious of what they were doing. It was a good lesson learned.

During this short time we had sharing sinks, and cleaning after 5 children, the four adults got a glimpse of what life is like for other multicultural families. We influenced each other in a positive way and our children spent meaningful time individually among each other. It was wonderful to hear my 2-year-old daughter and our little tour guide engage in a conversation at play time -when they thought nobody was listening. It was equally amusing to hear my 7-year-old responding in Spanish to a sentence said in French.

I love having this connection with my multicultural cousin and his family as we always get something positive out from our encounters. In this case, it was the opportunity of engaging my children in activities out of the norm for them. They loved having breakfast à la française and listening to our multilingual conversations.

I believe that while our goal to raising bilingual children has met some challenges as of late; the one of raising multicultural ones is right on track! Just ask them what some of their favorite foods are and you’ll find a colorful blend of cultural backgrounds.

I say we can feel pretty victorious at the moment!

 

I Give Up April 4, 2017

OK, I admit it… I can’t be solely responsible for my children’s bilingualism. There, I said it. I’m giving up. But not in the sense that you might think. 

I will continue to speak in Spanish to them, to encourage them to read in Spanish, listening to music in Spanish, and celebrating our multicultural traditions. Perhaps even device strategies to help them engage in conversations in Spanish in a more organic way (one that doesn’t requiere constant nagging on my part).

However, I have finally understood that I cannot do it alone -even by being a Stay-At-Home-Mom. 

So I’m giving up on the idea of doing it all by myself. I need reinforcements from the community and family and friends. So I have come up with an alternative plan. One where I model behavior and try to keep my kids’ bilingual and multicultural knowledge growing as they mature themselves.

I wish we had the option of enrolling them in a Spanish-immersion program but that isn’t the case right now. That’s why, I have contacted a tutor specialized in children to help me teach my children how to read and with whom they would only speak Spanish to -if only for a set period of time every week.

I encourage them to call their grandparents in Mexico as often as they can so they can practice conversation (even though they don’t know that they are doing it also for academic purposes).

I also joined a playgroup in Spanish so that my youngest one can increase the exposure to the language outside of the home.

This journey to bilingualism doesn’t stop here. It doesn’t end with the tired children who prefer to speak in their main language only. It may be a childhood-long learning experience in which breaks will now be allowed, but where the main goal of full bilingualism will always be in sight. 

I’m giving up direct control over the situation but I hope the combination of outside influences and constant modeling will rekindle my kids’ interest in Spanish.

Wish me luck! And as usual, I welcome any ideas and experiences in your own journey to raising bilingual and multicultural children. 

 

The Increasing Challenges of Keeping a Bilingual Home February 28, 2017

Many of my posts have been dedicated to bilingualism but this is the first one I write after having experienced the process of learning how to read with my two oldest children.

When I only had my daughter in elementary last year, I saw how difficult learning how to read in English was. Spanish phonetics work much more with logic and intuition while in English, I feel we depend a lot more in repetition and memorization.

I had to learn how to teach my child while at the same time not giving up our goal of raising bilingual children. We had a learning curve but by the end of kindergarten, my daughter was caught up with the rest of her classmates. Now that she’s a more confident reader, I feel like first grade has been a lot easier to handle for both of us. She still practices her Spanish and has begun to read in both languages with almost the same fluency.

With my son, who is now in kindergarten, English phonetics and the reading process have been notoriously easier. Not necessarily because this is my second time around but, he just prefers to communicate in English. He has shown a preference for this language since he started to talk. When I would ask him: ponte los zapatos, he would respond, as if he wanted me to switch languages: I will put my shoes on.

I did not know how much understanding of Spanish my son really had until we visited Mexico when he was about three years-old. There he spoke Spanish because he had no choice but he definitely lacked the vocabulary as he did not practice his skills as much as his older sister. Limited language ability or not, he was able to get his point across and to play with his cousins.

Now that both children are in elementary, I am starting to notice many differences in their language acquisition and reading abilities. I have come up with a theory in relation to how bilingual each of the children are.

My first daughter is the most fluent in both languages, enjoys speaking Spanish with me and though her vocabulary is much more extensive in English, she can communicate her ideas in Spanish (or to my dismay, ahem, Spanglish).

My son has an extensive vocabulary and great diction in English. He reads with ease above his grade level and though he can read a little in Spanish, he is behind his grade level in this language. He prefers speaking and interacting in English but can understand Spanish. When we talk, he usually replies in English so him and I sound more like an episode of Dora The Explorer.

My toddler is just starting to speak with more complex sentences. While at the beginning, her vocabulary was a mix of English and Spanish, depending on the ease of a particular word, she is now showing a preference for English over Spanish.

So what did I do different? Why is my first born the most interested in Spanish?

My theory is that when I only had one child, everything we did, from reading books to listening to music to interacting with each other, was done in Spanish. As she grew, we were part of a playgroup where English was spoken and other activities outside of the home, such as swimming or gymnastics were done in English as well. However, the majority of the time, she was surrounded by Spanish and thus she preferred to communicate in it. It was not until she entered preschool that she decided to use English more. A way to assimilate better, it’s my guess.

When my son came along, we continued speaking in Spanish at home and the majority of the music and TV we watched was in this language. However, we were already involved in many activities outside of the home, which of course, happened in English, so little by little, this language gained a stronger presence in our daily routine. By the time he went to preschool, we were spending much of our days out of the home so he was involved in more activities conducted in English than his older sister at that age. I struggled for him to say anything in Spanish to me.

Lastly, my third child was born. By then, our days were spent between summer camps, field trips with playgroup and taking her siblings from one activity to the next. My little daughter was surrounded by English 90% of the time because by now, even her older siblings were speaking it at home. I was so curious to see how her vocabulary would evolve. As I mentioned earlier, she too prefers English.

So now there’s a challenge in front of me: How to increment the exposure to activities around the Spanish language and culture? The only answer is discipline. I have to catch myself not addressing my children in English. I have to plan our traditional Hispanic festivities and encourage my children and their little friends to talk to each other in Spanish (if only for part of the event). I have to find something of interest of each of the children and try to learn/do/practice that activity in Spanish.

Whatever it takes, I’m not giving up. Even when it seems that I’m constantly battling English from taking over more terrain in our house. I know, one day, all these efforts will pay off.

 

 

Shedding Innocence February 8, 2017

Filed under: Motherhood,Stay At Home Mom — ForeignMom @ 7:23 pm
Tags: , ,

My oldest daughter is about a week short from reaching her seventh birthday and I find myself watching her in her interactions, studying her teenage-like mannerisms, and listening to her use of logic in her questions and statements. Compared to her two-year-old sister, she seems like a young lady so I ask myself the most popular of motherhood cliches: where has the time gone?

I know childhood has many phases but as an adult, as a mother, it is hard to witness the evolution of independence inside a child. I know being seven doesn’t mean that my child is ready to move out of the house yet, but I do know that in my child, this year has been one of transformation, of learning about the world, of deciphering social cues, of getting closer to finding herself as someone other than a daughter and a sister. It has been the year where she has begun to show us boundaries and to tell us that she is no longer as defenseless as she might had once been.

I see her playing with dolls and imagining wonderful worlds and make-believe scenarios but I also answer her questions about racism and inequality. I have held her as she cried the bitter tears of her first broken heart after being bullied on the bus for having a “mustache”. I consoled her wrapping myself around her as she explained between big sobs that she didn’t want her dark facial hair anymore because she didn’t want to be different. I also stood by her when her remorseful bully came to apologize and became friends with her.

I walked her through a little bit of what being a girl in a world that demands perfection means; and taught her about how making a decision to get rid of unwanted hair has to be based on how you feel inside and not on how others had made you feel. I also had a rewarding conversation with a child psychologist in Toronto who helped me convince my daughter to embrace the fact that being a minority where we live, is a beautiful thing.

Though she has had a year with some hard lessons, I have also cheered her as she has learned to read in both of her main languages. I shed some tears as she performed in her first ballet production. I have proudly seen her dealing with difficult situations with her playmates all on her own. And I have also applauded her for her interest in other cultures and her never-ending questions about life as she sees it. I have been so happy so see her grow.

As she walks through life, I find her shedding her innocence like a tree sheds its bark. Hardening, thickening, growing another layer to her personality, reaching taller. Just as innocence leaves little by little to make more room for logical explanations, I see the magic evaporating one concept at a time. Like when she explained to me how the characters in Disney World are just actors who dress up.

I don’t know if I’m ready for this process of maturation to be constantly slapping me in the face with unexpected questions that can no longer be satisfied with a magical explanation. I do know that I want to be her companion for as long as she lets me and to continue to watch her finding herself every year more and more.

 

A Tribute to Love, To the Love of My Life January 20, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — ForeignMom @ 1:52 am
Tags: , ,

There I was, a young college student looking for love. The kind of love that makes your lungs be fuller, covers your skin with goosebumps, and tastes like hope. Then you were there with your smile and your soft hands, with your dazzling eyes and your plans.

I didn’t even know that I was part of your plans until one day, I figured out what the tingling sensation I felt in my hands every time I was around you was. Attraction? Admiration? Love? Yes, that was it, all of it! I had fallen in love with you, you were in love with me and there was no turning back.

From that time forward, life was you and I as a nucleus and then everybody else. I had never been as convinced of anything as I was on January 20th of 2007 when we said “I do” and began this wonderful life as husband and wife.

Now ten years later, I have innumerable “collectable moments” stored away in my heart, my pores, and my smile. Life with you is full of love, of laughter, of tears that find relief. When we got married, I never thought I would ever be more in love than at that point in life, but the truth is, that my whole world has expanded with you by my side. My soul has broadened so much that I wouldn’t know hot to explain to my younger self just how much more I love you now.

You are the perfect companion in this world away from our families. Together we have found our own traditions, we speak our own language and we are raising our children to find belonging in three different countries. I love your eagerness to travel, your sense of adventure, your constant plans. I melt every time I see you pouring all your love over our children. I am so proud of all of who you are today and I am thrilled to have you next to me whenever I have a new project.

Thank you for all you give, thank you for all you are, thank you for being here.

Happy anniversary! I adore you.