How I️ Came to Love Art -and the recent movie that took me back in time

It has been a while since a movie enchanted me as much as Loving Vincent did. As I️ was seating there perplexed by the beautiful imagery, I️ was taken back to my first encounter with Van Gogh’s paintings.

My grandparents lived in a different city when I️ was little; however, my parents took us every Friday to spend the weekend there.

I️ remember entering the garage door to be greeted by our grandma who was always baking something special for us. As we got into the house, we were reminded by her motioning with her finger on her lips, to be quiet until we were away from my grandpa’s study.

He took classical guitar every Friday afternoon so he was always in his class whenever we arrived. One sees this weekly occurrences like nothing more than routine when one is young.

However, when I️ think back now, I️ feel the warmth and love of the maternal grandparents’ house. I️ can hear the guitar notes clearly in my head and almost taste the galletas de nata that my granny used to bake us.

From all the many things that brought me joy through the years from that home, the one that I️ remember to be the most exciting, was my grandpa’s study, his library.

That library is where the Loving Vincent film took me to. It was the quirkiest of places with a giant map of the State of Michoacan in Mexico right at the entrance. Two horse saddles flanked an old wooden desk that I’m sure was an exquisite piece of furniture in its prime because my grandpa was very particular of who could seat by it.

A wild boar head rested a top the area where the TV was, and in a corner, a pensive wooden statue of Don Quijote safeguarded my grandpa’s precious Tequila barrica.

There was a painting of my great grandma across the desk, right next to a glued-back-together statue of Buddha that my eldest cousin had broken once -almost having him banish forever from that place of sanctuary. Everything else was a collection of marvelous books.

It was an eclectic place for everything, all the contents of this space were so randomly chosen that I’m sure makes no sense to the reader. For me is a slice of my childhood. The place where I️ played and where I️ learned about Da Vinci, Van Gogh and World War II.

The bright colors of the paintings highlighted in Loving Vincent placed me back on my grandpa’s lap, as he carefully showed me his book about a crazy painter who had cut off his ear to give to someone as a present.

I️ was too little to really care about his life, but boy, was I️ entranced with his Sunflowers, Starry Night and Café de Nuit. That book opened my eyes to the art world. My very own love for Vincent began then.

The Loving Vincent film gifted me with a glimpse into my childhood. It reminded me of my grandpa and his study, the place where I️ understood him most. It gifted me with some precious space back in time and with the presence of my grandpa who no longer is with us.

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The Season of Goodbyes

If you know me in person, you know that the reason why I ended up in Michigan was a series of opportunities and open doors that presented along the way. You also know that while we love West Michigan and have created a community and a presence where we reside, my other half has an adventurous heart that keeps him constantly exploring possibilities.

It probably came to no surprise to those who know us when we announced our move to Pennsylvania. A job opportunity, a new place to explore, an adventure to embark on. It came to us a gift box that once, opened, it engulfed us in excitement and anxiety.

There are so many things to figure out, from where to live, to putting our own house for sale. I guess at some level, we expected this aspect to be difficult and stressful. What we did not anticipate was the sadness and the heartache that would come with every goodbye said to the people who have been a pretty big part of our lives.

All those friends who have been like family members in a country that was not our own. But even the relationships built with our pediatrician, the staff at the school, the ever-weaving support system that we have knitted around our family. It has been everything but easy to begin to say goodbye and to imagine how things will be “on the other side”.

I have been keeping everything bottled up inside this far, shedding tears only here and there. Is almost as if I fear that once the floodgates open, I will not be able to control the current. I simply don’t want to allow myself to crumble just yet. There’s so much to keep tabs on still: the showings of the house, the daily activities of the children, the passing moments of fear-of-the-unknown that the children experience in relation the to move… I have to be strong and help them maneuver this.

However, there are some days when a sappy show would just bring some of those emotions to the surface and I would allow myself to feel. During one of those emotional TV-watching times, I heard the phrase: Bloom where you are planted. It really hit me hard. Wasn’t that what I did by coming here in the first place? I was planted in this community and found fertile soil to bloom. Could I not be transplanted and continue to grow? And just like that, both nostalgia and incertitude found a cozy spot in my heart.

Reminiscing on my college years and how my husband and I came to be together; our children being born; the achievements and the obstacles; the process of building a home and a community. Am I ready to leave all of that? Or will all the memories come with us packed away between photo albums and heirlooms?

Wondering where would we live? How are the schools? Will the children adjust well? Will I find friends easily?

So here I am, in the middle of this season of goodbyes that while sad, helps me understand how wonderfully lucky we have been to have been planted here and how much we have bloomed as individuals and as a family.

 

When Tragedy Strikes

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

 

A Heart Full of Holes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.