Colombia Had Been Waiting

We are that family who likes to give our children the sort of things that do not come in boxes (most of the time) and adventures are our most preferred option. Like I have talked about in some of my previous posts, travel is the one gift that as you unwrap, as it takes over your surroundings, it makes an imprint on you, changing you forever. That was in my husband’s mind when he decided to buy tickets for the five of us to go to Colombia in lieu of a party for his momentous fortieth birthday.

Colombia had been waiting for us. It had been on our radar ever since my dear friend moved there following her Colombian husband. They were supposed to be there only for some months but those months have now amounted to four years and it was time that we went to see them.

Our findings suggested that we explored more than one city while we were in the South American country and it made sense that if our first stop was going to be Cartagena, right at the beach, the second one to be Medellin, the city surrounded by mountains and greenery that has been our friends’ home.

Since we were going to be on the move, we decided to pack lightly. The usual one big suitcase that we would check-in, two carry-on roller suitcases, backpacks for us adults, and for the first time in nine years, no stroller. This last piece of information is important because our preschooler, the baby of the family, is not the walking type. She likes to be on a stroller or carried most of the time. She still takes naps when she’s been pushed around so we knew this was going to be the one particular challenge to overcome during the trip.

I packed the Ergo Baby in which she still fits, just in case, and went along with the plan. This frugality in our packing allowed us to go swiftly through the airport and only 30 minutes after landing, we were already at our hotel, ready to explore.

It is magical to witness the look in my children’s eyes as they start to take in the new sounds, the music, the smells. Our first daughter is rather observant but not one to say much in the moment. She keeps it in until she decides to tell you how she noticed even the color of the shoes the hat peddler was wearing. Our middle child, our son, is the one who still acts like a puppy, as I like to describe; he jumps around and climbs everything he can climb -from benches to short walls-, he’s the one who would be describing things as they interest him, the one ever-ready to try new foods. Then lastly, our preschooler who usually tries to follow her older brother. She would do whatever he does if she can, so she’s easy to get to try new foods. She also would tell you how tired she is from walking -even when you have been carrying her for the last 5 blocks.

The walled city with endless souvenirs to buy, the pool at the hotel, our first encounter with our lovely friends, the boat ride to the islands, the day at the beach, our stroller-less strolls, the sounds of Cartagena are all gifts that we were all able to unwrap and savor together during this part of the adventure. Cartagena tattooing itself in our hearts. However magical and romantic of a place, I think the most important part of the trip unraveled in Medellin.

We landed there to be greeted by our friend who had arrived the day before. She was ready to regale us with anecdotes, with touristy bits and pieces of information, with her performing the task of the tour guide in a country that now shows to be the greater piece of herself -Colombia had been waiting in her for us to come, to teach us all her love for her new country. It was a wonderful day for us all as we met our hosts’ extended family and were, at last, able to visit with them and their children in their new home.

Everyone enjoyed having time with our friends in their house in the mountains, but perhaps above all of them myself. This visit represented so much more to me. It was the first time since I reconnected with my girlfriend of almost two decades, that she was hosting us, in her home. Welcoming me into her kitchen where I was able to contribute chopping veggies for dinner; welcoming me into her living room where I was able to win over her three-year-old son who, since last time I saw him, was now able to tell me stories; welcoming me into her day-to-day life as a way to understand the stage of motherhood she currently finds herself in.

I wonder if this happens to my friends when they see me in pure mommy-form, but there was something very special in seeing my friend, comadre, confidant and cheerleader in this role. Her two boys wrapping around her legs and torso, conducting half conversations between them and I and my children who also love her and wanted her attention. She danced the dance of chaos that young children bring beautifully and it was such a joy, the biggest gift to me, to witness her in her home, in her element for once.

Seeing my friend in this early stages of childhood with her boys showed me too that the stages of childhood that we have graduated from with our two oldest children, are still very present in our youngest. It was hard to avoid the comparisons. While my oldest is posing questions about the unfairness of life as she saw humble housing next to rich ones, my middle child wondered why the fruits and plants were different than the ones in Pennsylvania, and the youngest was just happy cuddling with her godparents, eating chorizo y morcilla.

It is important to meet every child where they are at, not rush them to grow and to be like the others in the family clan. If this important in the quotidianity of life, it is even more important when you are teaching young children to adapt their needs in new environments.  I repeated this to myself many times as we walked only for a little bit when my preschooler would already be asking to be held missing her stroller. My husband and I held her willingly and gladly. Childhood is too precious to be rushed around.

Colombia had been waiting for us with its natural beauty and our lovely friends. It turned out to be the best gift we could have gotten for my husband’s fortieth and a most extraordinary place to celebrate our oldest’s ninth birthday! Now imprinted in us all, we come back with our hearts full and our minds filled with fun memories ever more aware of our children’s individuality and the particular stages they find themselves in.

 

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Tough Love

This week, in honor of Love and Valentine’s Day, of course, I want to share how love has touched me in a different way lately. Relocating to a different state shook me to my core and perhaps helped me put my life into perspective, propelling me to find ways to move towards achieving different goals.

Serendipity guided me back to school and my long hours of self assessment, have turned into dynamic ones with great purpose. All these opportunities for self-improvement had started to be filled with positive ways to get closer to my goals. All but in the area of fitness.

Perhaps the fear of adding yet another failure to the list of unaccomplished task, kept me comfortable in my routine of hot yoga and cycling. I had not wanted to go back to lifting weights or boot camp, or anything really that would show me, once again, that my performance was inadequate, that I was just not up to par.

Then just as I was feeling a bit more settled, more capable of accomplishment, a friend’s push to follow her into a healthy lifestyle ended with me winning a makeover at this highly personal strength training gym. Talk about intimidating. I was now there alongside my extremely fit and agile friend who is basically a poster child of determination (literally, there’s a poster at the gym with her photo at a sporting event with the legend “Determination”) and I was supposed to participate in the same class? Where there not different levels like at yoga?

She’s not one for hugs and cuddles. She instead high fives me and looks into my eyes and persuades me that I too can get it done. She makes fun of me for using weightlifting gloves for my newly-acquired calluses, but at the same time sends me encouraging texts to keep me going, to lift more, to keep challenging myself or to check out the latest trainer’s post that applies to me. She doesn’t see my goals as hefty or unattainable, she sees some kind of hidden strength in me and she informs me of its existence. She has me convinced that I can really set this as my personal goal without the fear of failure. She wants me to achieve and to thrive. She truly has my back.

Her drive, her pep talk, her tough love is something that I have come to highly appreciate and her friendship is one I know I want for the long haul.

Love comes at you in different ways, true friendship is the one that lifts you higher.

Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc, Tic-Toc

Tic-toc, tic-toc, tic-toc

the time is almost here

 

Tic-toc, tic-toc, tic-toc

this is the last of it

 

The time has passed like wind,

the fast kind, not a breeze

 

There was a first one, then two,

at last there were the three

Three little babies who then began to read

 

The last one of the three

will be my last to keep so near

 

Tic-toc, tic-toc, tic-toc

like knocking on the door,

to kindergarten soon,

the youngest dear will go

 

Alone the mom will be,

she chose to make this work

 

Career on pause and all

but joy instead had come

 

Without promotions and praises

but with memories in special places

 

Tic-toc, tic-toc, tic-toc

the last preschooler goes

 

Tic-toc, tic-toc, tic-toc

and now where will I go?

The Gift of No Expectations

It was a low key closure of the year in this house. One the one hand, we found ourselves reflecting on our first year in Pennsylvania with the many obstacles conquered and many other voids yet to be filled. On the other hand, my husband had a pretty strenuous last quarter at work with the never-ending list of the responsibilities and projects to complete in his office competing non-stop with his home life.

We needed a breather and with the hubby hitting the pause button to take a much deserved respite, we enjoyed the last 10 days of 2018 as a family -with no outside responsibilities. I knew how stressed my husband had been over work and I did not intend on loading him with honey-do lists at home and a fast-paced week off spent on-the-go. So I did something that normally I wouldn’t and I let go of my planning side a bit for him to take over and decide what activities to do with the kids.

We kicked started the holiday break with a weekend in The Big Apple. Normally I would be the one sitting by the computer, compiling lists and mapping out the days. However, my husband wanted to be more involved from the get go and helped me decide on the activities and then he just took over navigating, making reservations and figuring everything out. I tell you, this was something unseen but it gave us a wonderful opportunity to switch roles. To really go on vacation mode.

We had a low-key Christmas all about the kids and managed to be social and hung out with a few friends. Overall, though, we were more concerned about spending time together, listening to each other, playing with the children, doing things that we normally don’t get the chance to do like cooking a meal together, him and I together while sipping wine. It was wonderful for the whole family dynamic to fit in the every day.

The ease of the days and the relaxing feeling of the closing of one more year was very much dependent on the gift of having zero expectations for each and every day. If we woke up wanting to go ice skating downtown, we would just go do it. If we felt like staying home and playing Legos or reading a book, we made sure that nothing else would creep into the schedule.

In the fast-paced life that we chose to live, is important to give ourselves the gift of nothingness and empty days on the calendar. I had forgotten what that felt like. Now on to 2019 and the many goals each of us has for ourselves and back to madness of the school-year routine but we are already making sure to make room for adventures and nothingness too.

Happy New Year!

 

Reclaiming Traditions

Last year, my family was living in the state of limbo that a move across state lines represents. The heart that had been contracting and expanding to deal with the many emotions of leaving the familiar to venture into what I had primarily explored in photos taken on my husband’s phone, was pumping away the last bits of farewells that it could handle.

Knowing that the move would take place the week prior to Christmas, we did not cut a tree to trim; we could not decorate the house as it had to be kept “show-ready” for any potential buyers to come by; we did not host any parties of partake in the majority of OUR traditions. Those traditions that we had been so fortunate to forge by ourselves, as one of the great benefits of being a couple of foreigners who made a home in a new land.

Aside from the sadness that not being able to really take a part in the festivities at home leading to last year’s Christmas like closing on two houses -one sold and the other purchased (without me even seeing it), controlling my emotions so that the children could find solace in me, and the many emotional and deeply touching good-byes, made for a whole lot to handle in such a compressed amount of time.

We did get a tree that ended up traveling with us from Michigan to Pennsylvania, making all the pit stops. And the very evening we moved, my husband got us a real tree from a parking lot we drove by. However, the emptiness of the house with the solemnity of its cream color walls and its lack of personality, made for a sad Christmas. At least for me, tired of caring for everyone’s emotions by hiding my sadness. Christmas Eve everything just hit me at once and I think that was the very day that my mourning for Michigan started.

That feeling would not leave me for a while as the anticipated transition surprised me by lasting so much more than I would have preferred. I did learn, however, that like a tea that needs to steep to soften and release it flavors, I too needed to give time to my emotions to soften before I could grow from the experience.

Now exactly a year later, I can look back and look at the obstacles that we overcame as a family and as individuals. I can see the friendly smiles that have help us find a place along with many new experiences that we have had the opportunity to live. We have settled enough to feel like we have made a home.

This home needed to be decorated for Christmas so this year, our friends took us to a place to cut our tree, we baked our traditional spritz cookies to give away, we got out the window clings and the wreath, we sent and are receiving holiday cards, we even took out that darn Elf on the shelf early… Many things have found a place in our new lives, many others are yet to do so and we also have made room for new traditions such as singing along to the organ at the botanical gardens with friends.

As I look back, we came here for adventure and change and I think we have gotten quite a bit of both.

Happy holidays!

Rebuilding My Internal Puzzle

I have a love-and-hate relationship with puzzles. I really enjoy putting them together and more than anything, finishing them. However, it is very hard for me to leave things unfinished, laying there on a table waiting for me to take action. Which is why when we opened a thousand piece puzzle after dinner on Thanksgiving, I knew I would lose sleep, I would be behind with the laundry and my work and everything else, until the last piece was placed on the board.

As I’m closing in on my first year since my move to Pennsylvania, I have been reflecting on the enriching new experiences and the tough times that have come my way during this transition that continues to engulf my new life.

Like the pieces in an endless puzzle, I’ve been trying to frantically put my new life together -sometimes forcing bits and pieces where they don’t belong- just so that I can finish going through this transition and look back and admire the end results.

Real life does not seem to have an exact number of puzzle pieces to match together, however. As new parts have come to me, I have tried to find them a spot in my previous life, in my old routine, in the things that I used to do. But alas, not all new pieces fit where I would like them to and in my rush to get “back to normal”, I have forced them into a spot where they rest uncomfortably.

It has been particularly challenging to create a social circle. In my quest to find friendship, I have often forced a relationship that perhaps was better off left as casual acquaintances. At the same time, I have noticed that when I let things be, true friendships have been formed piece-by-piece.

In retrospect, I have been molding my new life in a way that does not leave much room for superficiality and rather than being a social butterfly, I have focused my energies in building strong bonds with people who have come to represent what Pennsylvania has become for me: a welcoming place filled with great adventures.

As I try to rebuild my internal puzzle, I’m reminded, once again, to be patient and to trust the process rather than rushing to a self-imposed finish line marking the first year since we moved. Nevertheless, since patience is not my strongest suit, I think I still have a lot of pieces to replace within me.

There is much work to be done still but I think this internal puzzle will definitely be one of my most precious ones when I finish it.

 

A Decade Since You Touched My Life

It was Autumn in Michigan, my most favorite time of the year, when I found myself pregnant for the first time. The momentous occasion only made even more exciting due to being a successful month in the many that had passed before in the offices of my fertility doctor.

Young as I was, I found myself unable to conceive. I had known of the risks since my teenage years when I was diagnosed with poly cystic ovary syndrome. I wanted to be a mom, a young mom at that. The pain and frustration of years of unsuccessful blood work and constant monitoring had made me lose all faith. Then, one day, the test at the doctor’s turned a definitive positive.

My joy was incomparable. I bought a coaster that read Daddy-to-be to surprise my husband. The plan successfully achieved when I told him I had placed his favorite juice in the fridge. His eyes full of tears, our happiness contagious.

We had a few weeks of dreams and planning and thinking about the future, when during an afternoon at a round-up meeting at work, sharp pains made me excuse myself. The blood was the tell all sign. The pain dug so deep that I could not ignore it, I could not pretend it was not happening. I was losing my baby.

It was the end of the work day so I called my doctor’s as soon as I got in the car -Come to the office tomorrow first thing in the morning- the nurse said in the most caring way she could convey.

I could not stop crying on the phone trying to explain to my husband what was going on. Then a final call to a friend with whom I was trying to find a bridge between our dividing worlds. She had asked me out for cake to celebrate the news… I cancelled on her when she was already at the set spot. I hung up.

I went home to the darkness and solitude that this wretched moment of loss had brought to me. I cried of physical pain but I cried even more of the emotional one. All I wanted to be at that moment in life was to be a mother. To grow life within me. My body just did not want to be a part of that wish.

My husband came and together, we had the saddest night of our life together. The next morning the doctor confirmed that the pregnancy was over. All we could do was for me to rest and recover then start the process again a few months down the road.

At that moment in time, we were busy building our first home. The colors for the baby room had been decided in those weeks while I was pregnant. We moved into the new place with no due date, nobody to wait on. Then a friend told me about planting something beautiful that would grow with us to always honor and remember the life of that baby that touched our lives briefly.

I loved the idea so we planted a miniature cherry blossom tree that would have foliage, or flowers, or berries year-round. Constantly changing and growing. Being there outside of our window for us to cherish.

The tree grew with our family for nine whole years becoming a beautiful addition to the scenery in our backyard. In those years, I had the gift of becoming the mom of three special children that fill my every day. Nonetheless, the scar of the loss of my first baby remains, hidden quietly until someone touches it.

It is hard to think that now that we moved, we no longer have our baby tree outside of our window, but no matter where we are, we always remember and honor that time when you came and touched our lives. We will always remember that tremendous joy of knowing you were close to us, even when it was just in passing.

Ten years have come and gone but you remain with us.

The Void in My Hand

My hand once held a little hand within it. A little hand fitting perfectly in the space left there for me to guide and to cherish.

Later both of my hands held little hands within them as I spent wonderful hours at parks, and beaches, and gardens with my first two children.

Then my last child was born and both my hands held little hands within them as I held the baby wrapped around my chest, close to my heart.

After a while, the first little hand went off to school full time, followed shorty by the second little hand. All was good because my hand still had a little hand to hold within it.

But now, as the last baby is going to preschool three full days a week, I find myself walking everywhere with a void in my hand.

No more play dates every day, no more company to run every errand. What will I do to fill this void in my hands?

I still have those two weekdays to hold a little hand within mine. But it doesn’t seem enough. It isn’t like before.

So I take a look around me and I fill the void with a pen and a notebook to start writing more.

Then I grab my guitar and I start to practice more.

Then I see my yoga mat and I start to push myself more.

Then I find my camera and I start to shoot some.

Then I grab a course catalog and I start classes towards a degree that I have always wanted.

Is it time to fill the void with other dreams?

That Extraordinary Woman From My Past

Talking with a friend some weeks ago, she told me about a person from my past who happens to be living about 3 hours away from our new location. A person who I greatly admired. A woman who listened to me patiently and answered my adolescent questions of what to do with feelings and dreams and goals all combined. She was a great source of advice and care at a time when I felt lost and found, sad and happy, and a mix of every other feeling in between. (Perhaps not unlike what I have been feeling recently).

We met through the friend I just mentioned -the mom of my best friend from my time in Costa Rica. She was a mom of young kids in her thirties and I wanted to be just like her. I loved her musical taste, the fun activities she organized for her family, the way she had made a home in different countries, her positive energy, her way of sharing and guiding without judgement. I could never get enough time with her and her beautiful family.

We both left Costa Rica and ended up in the States. She was raising a family, I was a college student. From time-to-time I would email her, on occasion she would call me. Then she moved to China and we lost touch completely. I would think of her here and there but did not contact her anymore.

Then, talking with my friend about where exactly is that we moved to, the name of this wonderful woman surfaced into the conversation -You are so close to each other! I knew then that I wanted her back in my life so I asked my friend to connect us.

A week after that, I got a text from this wonderful woman calling me by the unique pet name she used to use. Her words were charged with love and care and the excitement of having found something you did not know you had lost. We spoke on the phone with the kind of happiness that fills a room. I told my husband about the plans to meet up with her and her husband and without a doubt, we put the date on the calendar.

Despite my best efforts, we arrived after them to the agreed-upon location where they were waiting for us. A closed market on a rainy day. As we were approaching the main door to begin the search for them, they appeared before us flashing their wonderful smiles. They were just as I remembered them: a power couple worthy of all praise.

Just like that, we compressed 17 years into a hug that spilled colors all around us. I did not want to let her go. My heart was vibrating nostalgia, happiness and excitement all at once. Her eyes, an ocean of good right before me, both of us holding back our tears. We did not have to say anything. The seeds planted so long ago flourished from our skins and engulfed the 7 of us with the wonderful feeling of being among friends. It could have been a scene from a movie.

What do you talk about in such situations? Our conversation was a mix of remembering the past and circumstances that brought us together; a summary of 17 years of life and adventures grouped almost lustrum by lustrum; the now filled with photos of what had been going on with our families recently; the pillars already in place for the future plans.

As she shared her life experience as a stay-at-home-mom always looking for the next gig, I saw in her a great role model to emulate, once again. The roles have not changed. Her advice still spot on. You can stay home with your kids and still fulfill dreams and wear many hats and continue to grow for yourself and along with your family. I see it in her with her passion for life, in her drive for being all the things she wants to be: a chef, a yogi, a trainer, a Spanish teacher, a therapist, a person constantly growing.

The more she shared her stories, the more my already-present-admiration grew for her. Once I wanted to grow up to be a mom just like her. Now I want to continue to challenge myself and explore all the areas of interest that come by me, just like her. Is it coincidence that she comes back to my life during this critical stage of transition and self-doubt? I’m just glad our paths have crossed once again.

I’ll Be You Next Year

Dear friend,

I see you at the bus stop trying to be strong, I follow your posts with the photos of the kids ready and perfectly dressed to start the new school year. It may not be the first time you put a kindergartener on the bus, but this time is your baby that you are sending off to school.

You try to be strong and keep a smile glued to your face so as to instill confidence in that little person that is now taking the first steps towards independence. I know that behind your phone you snap the photos and videos that will capture this painfully fabulous moment forever, while your heart aches and is excited at the same time.

I know you will say you are fine, and that you will drive off with that same smile dangling from a corner of your lips, about to fall off your face. I know that you will pretend this doesn’t hurt until the garage door closes behind you. I know that then, in the solitude and quiet, the tears that you held back will come rolling down with no intention of stopping.

The tears may turn into a quiet sob as you think of the time you brought your newborns home for the first time. When you remember nursing them to sleep, kissing the boo-boo’s of the first falls they took while learning to walk. You will be thinking of the first words, of the park dates, of the swim lessons and music times. You will envision the time you took them hand-by-hand to their first classroom in preschool and the many picnic lunches that you shared.

Among this vast collection of memories, of months and years, of your time with them at home, you will find yourself feeling so full while your surroundings show you how empty the house now is without the little ones running around in it. And you will cry, you will long for those times, you will be proud of yourself for making the decision to stay at home to care for them and to be their first teacher but you will find yourself lonely.

I know that you will have plans for those first days to fill the long hours that stretch between drop-off and pick-up. I know people (perhaps myself included) will ask you what you plan on doing now that you have “all this time to yourself”. You don’t have to answer, you don’t have to know, you don’t have to have it all figured out but what you do have to have is that time to mourn. Know that I’m here, waiting on the sidelines with tissues handy, for whenever you want company, for whenever you want to talk.

I know that is not easy to give up a career to make child-rearing your everything. I know what is like. I’ve been there, I’m here doing just that. I also know how others may want to pretend to understand while undermining what we do when we stay home just because, on occasion, they have taken some vacation days to stay home with their kids. It’s not the same. It will never be the same.

I know how we take our job very seriously, how when people see us at the gym they think how easy we have it being able to “do what we want” every day. They don’t know that prior to that you did two loads of laundry, made breakfast, packed lunches, got the kids to the bus and planned dinner. They don’t know that you will then take the little ones at home to the zoo so that they can see, in person, the animals they were learning about in the book you read them at bedtime. They don’t know that play dates are scheduled for the kids to grow their social skills and to have other parents to share experiences with.

They also don’t know that now that the kids are “gone full-time” you will be called to volunteer at the school, you will finally clear the garage from the stuff collected through the years, you will find a million things to be busy with while you figure out what is the next thing for you.

They don’t know the real struggle of leaving yet another career, that of nurturing and enriching your children’s life first hand. But I do know it and I’m here to cheer you on, to be your companion, to learn from your experience. I know I’ll be you next year.