ForeignMom's Blog

Bicultural mom adjusting to motherhood in a foreign country

When Tragedy Strikes September 21, 2017

In my last post I talked about the holes dug in my heart from not partaking in the joyful moments of my friends and family who live away from me. Today I want to talk about the heart-wrenching feeling of uselessness after the terrible crisis following this Tuesday’s earthquake in Mexico City.

My husband called me after he received the notification of a 7.1 earthquake affecting Mexico City. He had already connected with my brother, who lives there, and he was fine. However, he was unable to locate his wife and his son’s school was not responding either.

I called my brother who at that point was filled with anguish as he was trapped in the gridlock of traffic with all the other people trying to get to their loved ones, knowing that he was on the opposite side of town from his son and wife and having just learned that some of the collapsed buildings were right in the areas where they were. His desperate voice: help me reach them!

For about an hour I tried without success calling the school, looking for any updates on the social media, getting a hold of my sister-in-law. I even reached out to a friend who I know works closer to the area where my nephew was, to learn any information she would have to offer. Nothing, just more news updates of the devastation, of collapsed buildings and of gas leaks.

My heart sunk to the ground, but even more, thinking about the eternal wait for my brother. He reached out, he’s son’s school had been evacuated but all the children were safe. His wife was able to connect soon after. As he grew desperate to reach them, he parked his car and proceeded to walk 12 kilometers in the chaos and massive hysteria of a city too immense to let help reach their destinations.

It took them five hours but finally they were together and reached out to us. They were safe but not their apartment building, which suffered the kind of structural damage that warns you not to stay there. They headed to my sister-in-law’s aunt. Her place was safe.

My brother who is a doctor recruited during emergency situations, such as this horrid day, had to head to the hospital where he learned of tragedy after tragedy. He worked through the night and well into  Wednesday afternoon when he called me to tell me was safe, his family safe, him and his wife ready to help.

I haven’t been able to sleep well and cannot stop thinking about the terrible images, the fear and the unanswered questions of when things would calm down. However, I’m forever thankful for their safety and for having a brother willing to give it all to others.

As I read of the news, I find this weight on my chest that doesn’t let me breath, I wish I could help more but not being physically there prevents me from being actively involved. So I come to this blog to share of some ways in which people like me (away but willing to help in any way) can make a difference.

Consider donating to the following organizations:

MEXICAN RED CROSS (monetary gifts): https://www.cruzrojamexicana.org.mx/sismo-19-de-septiembre-2017

MEXICAN RED CROSS (wish list): https://www.amazon.com.mx/registry/wishlist/H4XK3LNWVOPB/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_ep_ws_mMXTzbP50RRF6/ref=s9_acss_bw_cg_CR_6b1_w?pf_rd_m=A3TO6F13CSVUA4&pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-1&pf_rd_r=53V28WVM26EX859A3147&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1a8a2582-90fc-40f6-8a49-5d772a879f13&pf_rd_i=17290014011

BRIGADA DE RESCATE TOPOS (Moles Rescue Brigade): PayPal donations at donativos@brigada-rescate-topos.org

 

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A Heart Full of Holes September 7, 2017

Filed under: Living Abroad,Motherhood,Travel — ForeignMom @ 6:11 pm
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I love baby arrivals! It is a time of entrancing joy and love that I really enjoy being a part of. It is especially joyful for me to visit my close friends in the first few weeks or even before they leave the hospital. I just cannot get enough of that.

Unluckily, many of my closest, most adored friends either had their babies before we met, or live so far away that I’m not able to go see them. I can’t bake my traditional butter cookies for them or hug their little one as they tell me the story of the baby’s arrival. I have to be content with a brief exchange of WhatsApp messages filled with emojis and to wait until we can find the time to FaceTime and visit a little bit more “proper”.

You would think that after living away from my home country for 17 years now, I would be used to not being around for the life-transforming moments in my loved ones lives but, sometimes it isn’t that easy.

Recently, one of my soul sisters -my youngest child’s godmother- had her second baby. With half a continent between us, it is not entirely feasible for us to see each other so the whole weekend, I walked around with a hole in my heart and a need to bake cookies.

I had anticipated my lack of physical presence in such a momentous time, so I was able to send a little care package with her mom. Though I know she loved it knowing that it was my way to be with her, I still find myself a little sad.

It is hard to be away from the people you love. The holes pierced in my heart are due to those milestones missed in the lives of my friends but also the ones they have missed in mine. Sometimes, distance is just hard.

 

 

I’m Sorry Teachers August 23, 2017

Filed under: Motherhood — ForeignMom @ 1:47 am
Tags: ,

Summer is at an end… Well at least as far as the season is concerned, because our summer break ended about four weeks ago. Don’t worry, my kids were ready and happy to go back to school. They go to a school with a year-round calendar in which they only get 6 weeks of summer break but then get several recess weeks during the school year.

This system has been working great for our family! The shorter summer break makes us take full advantage of the days off from school; and while we do love our academics, we take take the opportunity to disconnect from them.

I’m sorry teachers, I must confess that I’m one of those parents who throws the suggested exercise sheets in the recycle bin as soon as they come home. I know your intentions are great and please know that I don’t do it to be a rebel, but I think that the summer break is better taken advantage of, if the kids have time to do things that otherwise they can’t fit on their schedules.

I let them veg around, they watch some TV, we go to the movies, and the beach, they tag along during my errands and I try to catch them up in their Spanish as much as possible. While we do go to the library and visit museums, I don’t make these outings academic ones. I let them explore and enjoy. We use math when we bake and cook, we read the things that catch our attention at the times that we feel like reading them, we observe nature for the pleasure of it and not with an educational agenda to get through in mind. We have fun.

In the midst of all those activities, we have time to grow and to learn in a very organic way and I am thankful for that. However, I’m also thankful that the shorter summer break allows for the kids to retain a great deal of what was learned during the school year (without me having to break out those suggested academic activities).

 

More Than a Paycheck August 9, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — ForeignMom @ 3:32 pm

Without planning it too much, my children are surrounded by young adults who act as excellent role models for them.

Some of them are their babysitters and some others are their music and athletic instructors. They came to our lives because we needed their services but what they don’t know, is the tremendous impact they have on my children.

Take one of my babysitters. She has been helping us out for six years now. When she first started coming over, she was in high school. The kids have seen her graduate from high school and from cosmetology school. They have seen her working hard to buy her own car as well as struggling and overcoming obstacles in her life as a young adult. They adore her and we have developed great trust in her. But what she doesn’t realize is how the kids talk about her like a little hero of them.

Another of the young ladies who watches our children is in college. She has many jobs and a scholarship to pay for college, yet she manages to do so much more for herself. She studied abroad and travels whenever she cans. They see her balancing her education and all other responsibilities masterfully and think of her as mighty and kind.

We also have the great luck of having young musicians in our lives. They are piano and guitar instructors for our family but they also are an inspiration for my children’s imaginations and dreams. When we get to watch them perform, I can see my kids’ eyes widening as they are impressed by the talent of their teachers. My 7-year-old tells me how she wishes to play like her teachers one day. My 6-year-old tells me that he can picture himself playing the drums on a stage. And my 3-year-old dances with excitement when she listens to the music from “her friends”.

This summer was also very inspiring for the older two because they were part of a swim clinic led by college students. They learned a lot but they also saw all the “cool” things their instructors could do. They set themselves to learn more and to be like their instructors.

The kids see, they want, and they do everything they can right now (mostly dream) to become more like these wonderful group of young people who touch our lives. These great role models get a paycheck but what they might not know, is that they also get my gratitude for inspiring my children. For modeling what hard work looks like and showing them that applying yourself gets you closer to your dreams.

 

 

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 on 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!