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.

Where I Belong

I am back from my latest visit to The Mitten, A.K.A. Michigan. On my drive there from Pennsylvania, I had plenty of time to reflect on our move, on the good-byes, on the progress that the kids had made adapting to our new city and their new school. I became afraid of the possibility of a regression on that progress.

We were back for the wedding of one of the best babysitters that we have had, so even just that event seemed so momentous. The world doesn’t stop moving just because you find yourself frozen in your current situation and longing for the past and the comfort zone that you just left.

With or without us, our friends “back-home” continue to meet new people and move on with their lives. While staying with some of our closest friends ever, they took a job offer that would transfer them to the West Coast. With or without us, even if we had stayed in our comfort zone, things would have also changed in our little world.

As I planned a jam-packed schedule of events and activities with the intention to see the biggest number of friends possible, I was so worried that hanging out with them would leave us sad and wishing we could return to the way things were. However, I found that instead, we took the opportunity to recharge, to reconnect and to ascertain that true friendship withstands distance and time.

We were all very happy to hang out with good’ol friends at the good’ol places in which we had bloomed over the past 16 years that we had spent learning to love Michigan and its lakes, beaches, cherry plantations and even its long and bitter winters.

Things were not always easy as a foreigner in a land that is not used to welcome that many of us. Sometimes I wished I had landed in a different place. But now I look back at my time in The Mitten as the greatest one so far. I met the love of my life there, we formed a family, we planted the seeds of friendship in many fields and now, at the time of harvest, we have seen that our bounty is plentiful.

There was a moment at a dinner with just women where I invited some of the closest of my friends to join me, when I felt it. All of the sudden, looking at them as if I had been an outsider, as if I wasn’t at that very table, I saw in each of them the many moments where we had supported and cheered each other on, the shared struggles and laughter. I saw them all interacting as if they were all friends for years and I realized that right there, at that time I had a place and a group where I belonged.

I left Michigan happy and fulfilled but also knowing that I had some friendships in Pennsylvania to continue to tend to and invest in. Maybe soon, I will surprise myself by feeling that I belong.

Forever-Long Summer Break

We are just about crossing the half way mark of my first forever-long summer break. As my children’s former classmates in Michigan are getting their backpacks ready to go back to school next week, I find myself thinking: is it really that bad to have a bit over a month left of summer break this time around?

I gotta confess that I had a change or heart. Though I really would still like to have the option of a year-round schedule with a shorter summer break and more breaks during the school year, I would be lying if I said that I was unhappy of having more unstructured days to come.

From the list of things I wanted the kids to engage in weekly, I can definitely cross off all of them. However, my plan of attack did not really take the shape that I had envisioned in my head. Everything has just happened more naturally than I had expected it.

One of my friends even sent me a chore chart that was color coded and beautifully done after my cry for help during my previous post about my anxiety and the long summer break… but I never printed it.

After the first couple of weeks of letting them chill and play around as they wanted, I started involving them in the normal day-to-day chores of the house and even helped them come up with a schedule and a deadline for them to organize their toys and bedrooms.

I was a bit concerned with the summer slide, which was one of things I liked best of returning to school sooner in the summer. But someone mentioned how much her kids loved Brain Quest books. I got the summer ones for grades 1st going into 2nd and 2nd going into 3rd and gave them to the kids during a plane ride. They have been so obsessed with completing the different levels that I have not felt the urge to do extra math exercises with them.

Besides, between the coding apps, the Minecraft sessions, board games, card games and all the cooking we have been doing together, I think we have math (and strategy) covered.

We have been to the library a couple of times. One of them to pick up the local version of the summer reading challenge. We started it strong and then, who knows when, we begun forgetting to cross of the daily square indicating we had read. That is not to say we are not reading. We all are (myself included), but I think we no longer see it as “something that has to get done”.

Aside from keeping their brain active, the kids have also been getting more of a sense or responsibility (and pride) planning ahead for the day by packing snacks and water bottles before our outings. They really enjoy taking turns (including the 4-year-old) picking what we are having later and making sure there’s plenty for everyone.

All the wholesome activities have been going well but summer has also been days at the pool, picnics at different parks, rainy afternoons playing with play dough, play dates with friends, visits, exploring around, trips… so now the forever-long summer seems less daunting than I expected it to be, and much shorter too (how did 6 weeks fly by so quickly?).

Thanks for all the great tips experienced friends. I think longer summer breaks are something I can adjust to.

First Family Vacation?

Relaxation was not something that I had thought possible when vacationing with children. In my experience this far, vacation was never a word my husband and I had used. We always referred to our family escapades as family trips because no matter how much fun we had, there were always a lot of work and planning. Every time we went away, we had come back exhausted from our trips.

But not this time! Did we hit the magic ages for all children? I’m not sure. I mean, our 8 and 6-year-olds are pretty independent and great travelers. However, the 4-year-old still wants to be held (a lot!), which makes it tiresome for us to maneuver airports and big hotels. This time, we decided to forgo the stroller, so we ended up exercising our upper-body strength much more than anticipated. So the age of the little one didn’t necessarily make things easier.

Was it the location? I think that had much more to do with our success this time. My better half and I normally shy away from the all-inclusive hotel format. It’s just that it makes it more difficult for you to want to leave the hotel to explore the area. However, with young children, it truly makes traveling easy. There’s minimum planning, everything is readily available for you, there’s tons to do in the resort day and night for a family, plus there was the terrific bonus of having a kids’ club right there for children ages 4-12! (So maybe the age of the little one did play in our favor).

Need I say more?

We chose Riviera Maya because of the great value, awesome location, direct flights availability and proximity to exciting sites such as Tulum. And though everything was paid for at the resort, we made the pact that we would go out and explore at least three times during our stay. I think that was the best agreement we could have come up with. We didn’t feel trapped in one place, but at the same time, had plenty of time to enjoy the resort, the beach, the pool, and the entertainment options.

I just mentioned the kids’ club, but let me tell you all about it. It was such a hit with my kids that I would be looking for a resort with one next time that we do this type of vacation. The club had flexible hours so you could have your kids there from 10am-5-pm, just for an hour or a particular activity, for half the day or whatever else worked for your schedule. After that, the club had additional activities starting at 6:30pm when kids could have dinner with the counselors, then participate in games, play roles in little shows and even go to a kiddie disco until 10pm. Talk about freedom for the parents!

Our kids did a full day and then a bunch of half days. We even had it where we spent the afternoon with just one of the kids as the other two were having fun at the club. It was MAGICAL! I had brought a book with me to read “whenever the kids would let me”, I finished it in 3 days… I mean, it really was a vacation for all of us.

During the time at the club, the kids learned about local flora and fauna, played in the different pools and kid-only designated areas, made tie-dye shirts, had their faces painted, prepared a little play, met people from Argentina, Chile, Scotland, Canada, Spain and Portugal and realized (once again) how being bilingual is really a cool skill to have when it comes to meeting new friends.

Those of you who know me would not be surprised to read that I wanted to make the trip a cultural experience as well so, of course we had to take the kids to Tulum so they could explore the Mayan ruins by the ocean. We were also able to snorkel there in the bay with sea turtles and sting rays, and saw the fish in a coral reef!

We also went to Xcaret, which is a must if you go to Riviera Maya. Though pricey, it is well worth the money. You just need to plan to stay until the show! What a show! The kids got to snorkel there too and learned more about sea turtles and coral reefs.

The last place we visited was Playa del Carmen, because it is just so fun to window shop and buy a gelato in its busy main street. The art, the live music, the tourist from all over, makes it just a fun place to get some souvenirs at.

How did we get around? Asking the hotel concierges we figured out which places were close and not too expensive for a taxi ride (paying in pesos was cheaper than in dollars), and which others was better to rent a car for. In our case, it made sense to rent a car (including car seats) to go to Tulum, which was a straight shot from the hotel. There were also tours that included everything available at the hotel, but we wanted more flexibility with our time so we did our thing.

We had adventure, we had quiet time, we had a lot of fun family time, the kids practiced their Spanish (a lot!), but we also had the gift of having time as a couple enjoying walks on the beach, uninterrupted World Cup games, drinks by the bar at night. It was a phenomenal time and I would give all-inclusive hotels another shot again (hopefully soon).