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).

End of School Jitters

School and jitters go hand-in-hand. Normally, though, these jitters happen at the beginning of the school year (or when we were starting in the new school here a few months ago). This time, I’m getting jitters because the end of the school year is days away, ushering in the longest summer break we have had to date.

Do I have reasons to be nervous? Haven’t I done this before? Aren’t I an experienced SHAM? Yes to all! However, when we lived in Michigan, we attended a year-round school. This doesn’t mean my children did not get breaks, they were just distributed in a far more appealing and organized way, in my opinion.

With only six weeks of summer break to fill, the kids and I were constantly involved in fun, enriching and relaxing activities. Then, towards the end of July, when the kids were restless and constantly asking: “what are we doing next, mami?” It was time to go back-to-school shopping and to get them back on the school bus.

They loved it, I loved it and most importantly, my wallet LOVED it!

Now instead of six weeks worth of planning and organization, I have approximately ten. I say approximately because, honestly, I don’t even know if these kids go back before or after Labor Day Weekend. So while I’m pretty happy to take a break from the routine and from going out the door early, I still don’t know what’s going to become of me working from home, chauffeuring kids around, supplying an endless amount of snacks and picnic meals, relaxing while keeping a tidy home (hah! I laughed even typing that one in). I think I’m going to loose my marbles.

So here’s the plan of attack. The kids must engage in all of these activities weekly in a way or another:

  • Chores
  • Math and reading
  • Off screen play time
  • Planning outings on their own (including packing the snacks for that)
  • Visits to museums, zoo’s and other places of interest to all of them
  • Play dates

I have a general idea of how this is going to go. Now is in the execution where I need assistance. Please send me your success stories and tips. I will be reporting back with what has been going on later.


Still ForeignMom

It is only fitting that I write this post on Mother’s Day week as I reflect on why I started this blog eight years ago this month (yeah! Eight years, friends).

It all began as a place to pour out all the ideas, questions, thoughts and words floating around my mind. All of them related to motherhood and to my experiences as a woman not only learning how to be a mom, but how to do so in a country other than her own.

As a new mom who had decided to stay at home with her baby, I found myself living on an island where my only adult interactions consisted of the conversations with clerks at stores, my monologues with my husband at the end of the work day, and the time spent with the occasional friend who’d pop in for a visit.

The isolation and silence were driving me crazy when a dear friend told me about the baby story times at the public libraries and how to connect with local groups of moms. The pursuit of the interaction with other new moms initiated an endless adventure on how to maneuver through the cultural nuances plus the learning curve that implicated to be a mom for the first time.

Motherhood became my reason to exist. All I read about, all I did through the day, all the new friends I made were to support this wonderful new stage. This blog was born alongside to help me dissect my feelings, to bounce off ideas, and as a place where I could write things that I could not otherwise explain.

As you may have noticed, I don’t edit my writing before I post and though that may seem a bit lazy, trust me, is not because of lack of interest. If you have stayed at home taking care of children, you’d know that is more for the lack of time. So please read knowing that if I did not edit before pressing “Publish” is because, otherwise, I would never find any post good-enough to end up on the blog.

Now, you may wonder if after three kids and having lived in the U.S. for close to two decades, I’m still feeling like a foreigner. The answer is yes, always yes. Every stage of motherhood with each of my children keeps bringing me new lands to explore, new places where I still feel very much like a foreign mom trying to make sense of the situations.  The name of this blog is something that I definitely identify with, and that it is very much applicable to my current situation. Living in a new state has definitely made me feel extremely foreign lately.

Luckily, and as a result of this blog, I have found answers to many questions related to motherhood. It has not been the blog per se but rather, the situations that I have experienced and later reflected on before they end up as a story over here. Many of the posts end up being great conversations with friends and what’s even better, they have brought many people closer to me.

I have had a great time reading back through many post prior to writing this one. Reliving wonderful and painful moments alike. Realizing how lucky I have been making a network of moms just like me, growing our families together.

From all the people in my network, my first mom friend keeps popping up in the sweetest memories. I love knowing that we have been friends from the beginning of this wonderful journey called motherhood.

She has been my shoulder to cry on, the one pouring me a glass of wine and coffee alike in so many of the bad times. The one who trusted me with her daughter to start a summer tradition with my oldest daughter. The one whose family grew almost (I have my limits, S!) at the same rate than mine. My companion from the very beginning. Thank you for being a topic of conversation in so many of my posts! I love you!

After reading back so much, I realized of how lucky I have been to be surrounded by a great mom-support group from the beginning. I have breastfeed and changed diapers alongside them; I have jumped into cold lakes with them to play “lifeguard” as we have let our children show their newly-acquired swimming abilities; I have carved time to go out for adult time with them; We have cried a river of tears and laughed so much together that our sisterhood is undeniable. Now spread out across the country, the unbreakable bond remains.

Reading through this, I have also noticed how the years that have come and gone have left their mark on me and how today, I am definitely a much more comfortable writer than when I started this. It’s pretty funny to read about the things that used to worry me so much (i.e. breastfeed at the circus) and that now seem so silly.

I hope to keep this up for many years to come. Thank you for reading me. Thank you for your input. And a very special thank you to all of the people who are the source of so many stories being told here.

Happy Mother’s Day to my tribe.

Work in Progress

When I was in my early twenties, thinking that I knew how things were going to pan out, I never thought that I would be entering my mid-thirties without a plan.

No route to follow, no maps, no timeline for anything, no compass. I am starting to realize that I’m lost. Sure, I have my family and I’m the captain of that ship, right? I plan the outings, procure their food, clean their clothes. I got that piece all organized.

But what of me? Of my big plans and the talents that professors talked about expanding?

Everything that interests me is a work in progress.

  • After over a year in guitar lessons I can play a few songs only… still a work in progress.
  • Photography skills are still developing, evolving… still a work in progress.
  • My French speaking abilities are lost for the most part but I try to keep engaged my listening skills… still a work in progress.
  • My yoga practice develops so slowly that sometimes I find tears mixed with sweat sliding down my neck as a result of my frustration… still a work in progress.
  • Fitness goals…
  • Weight loss goals…
  • Getting the new house put together…
  • Story writing…
  • Applications to be filled out…

My whole life is a work in progress.

I like to have goals, reach them and make more, always more, and continue to grow. Lately I just feel that I have lost direction, that I lost a part of me. What do I even want? All of the things, nothing anymore?

It gets harder as I reach that milestone. My thirty-fifth birthday. The chunk of my lifetime that I had envisioned with much more clarity as a young professional and newly-wed. Now the lines on the map have blurred and I don’t know whether to see this as an opportunity to reroute, to reinvent myself or as a giant failure.

Have I lost my way or have I found new ones and I just can’t see them ahead just yet?

Where is it that I want to go? Will I ever arrive? Or will I always be a work in progress in some aspects of my life?

Perhaps that is the whole idea of change and exploration. That we never arrive but we are always going, always growing.

Perhaps is time to just let things be for a while and go back to that sentiment of one of my previous blogs of letting go of control and enjoy the stillness of some days.

Perhaps the beauty of it all is that I am a work in progress.


Back Home

Back home. Two words that come up in conversation a lot these days. When I lived in Michigan, it was clear that whenever I said back home, I meant Mexico. Nowadays it could mean Grand Rapids, Michigan in general, Guadalajara or Mexico.

It’s confusing even to me. As a college student, the only thing I wanted to do is go back to Mexico. I never saw myself building a life in West Michigan. But little by little, I made my place there and it grew on me. I now consider myself a Michigander and get teary-eyed when I hear Pure Michigan ads on the radio. More than the places, I think is the people and the experiences that have created this attachment to the area. It truly does still feel like home.

This month, I have been very lucky as I was able to go back home for a visit. I actually went back to both of the areas that represent my “back home”. Going to Mexico first was a nice refresher course of my language and roots. Spending time with the family and friends that I love so much was very good for my heart, which has been struggling through the relocation process.

The kids got to visit with their cousins, showed me that they are more bilingual than what they lead me to believe when we are in the States, and tried more adventurous dishes than ever before. It was a whirlwind of events, travel and family gatherings but all time was well-invested. I returned to Pennsylvania with a wider smile.

A few days later, I was set to go to Michigan for a weekend that originally was about business but that it turned to be exactly what I needed to rid myself of the stress, guilt, feeling of not accomplishing anything that I had been dragging around for months.

It was so nice to lose myself in the comfort of the familiar hugs of the friends who have been my chosen family all these years. I felt like with them, I could just say exactly how the transition was going and the things that I miss that I haven’t accomplished, my frustrations… they got me, they hugged me, they let me cry a little and laugh a lot. I felt surrounded by warmth and cheer the whole time I was there.

Everyone I saw, was there to support me, to give me a tap on the back. One by one, they picked up the pieces of the puzzle that my heart had been broken into and they placed them carefully where they belong.

I have returned more wholesome and happier than how I left. Ready to continue to build a life here. Strengthen by the kind words, the jokes, the familiarity of my back homes.

My Battle With ELL

For those of you who may not be familiar with ELL, it stands for English Language Learners and it is a program designed to help students, who’s native tongue isn’t English, to reach proficiency so that they can perform well in the main classroom.

It is a great program if you are just coming to the country and have no idea of what’s going on in the class. ELL teachers are highly experienced in diverse techniques to help these students learn English and be able to partake in the school’s life.

My problem with this program is that the school district where my children begun elementary school did not test my children before placing them in it. Once in ELL, they cannot remove your child from it until he/she tests out. Now my children may live in a bilingual (ahem, multilingual home); however, their preferred language is English. They speak it fluently and, unlike their parents, they have no foreign accent whatsoever when they communicate.

They were placed in the program simply because when I enrolled them, I answer “yes” to the question: are there other languages spoken at home?

To me that was short from racial profiling. Did the district take a minute to speak to my children before giving them ELL status? No. Was I concerned how this stigma may follow them from one school to the next? Absolutely.

However, my children remained in the program because all the testing is done on a computer and is timed. Have you ever tried testing a child that is proficient in a language with a timer? Well, they put a lot of pressure on themselves and they make many unnecessary mistakes just because they are nervous. Never mind their great academic progress or their ease and fluency when speaking English in the classroom and social settings. Since they would not get the required scores on the computerized test, they would not let them leave the program.

Now, you may think, what’s the big deal? They are getting extra help, aren’t they? Well, perhaps, but it is help that is not related to their ability to understand the language. Sure, my daughter still needs help with fluency and reading comprehension and my son needs to practice his spelling. But this isn’t due to their lack of understanding of the English language. Why then place them in a program designed for those who do not speak English as a first language?

I decided not to fight the battle in Michigan and went with the flow so long my children were not pulled out of the main classroom during periods where they would have enjoyed the activities that the rest of the class was doing. Nevertheless, I resented the label. As a bilingual person who has worked her whole life to be bi-literate and bi-cultural too, I take great pride in my language abilities and place a great deal of energy so that my children can one day call themselves bilingual too (multilingual would be even better). The label offended me and found the ELL intervention useless in my family’s case.

As I feared, the ELL status followed us from Michigan to Pennsylvania where we attend a much more diverse school. The teachers were quite surprised to learn that my children had been placed in the ELL program. They scored so high academically in their first tests, that they could not understand what the previous school was doing with them in ELL. Unluckily, once you are in ELL, by law, you have to remain getting services until the next test comes along.

Today, as I met with their grade teachers for parent-teacher conferences, I learned with great pride that both of my elementary students are doing terrific with the transition into their new school and classroom. That the high academics that our previous school had taught them, have given them an advantage here. They are both ahead of the goals for their grade level.

One of ELL teachers joined in during one of my meetings and assured me that she makes the intervention something fun and tries to help my children with the things that are actually challenging for them in the main classroom. She put my mind at ease -at least they are not wasting anybody’s time-. She also made me feel that I wasn’t crazy or to proud by thinking my kids did not belong there. I guess all I wanted to hear from the beginning was that the label was not something that applied to my family but that every child can find something beneficial out of every intervention at school.

It Was Time To Open The Door

The painters are gone, the furniture is starting to find it’s place in the new house and the walls have started to get some decorations up. We are finally more acclimated and that weird feeling of not recognizing anything around the house is fading away.

It was finally time to open the door and find that very important part of our lives in our new environment: social engagements, entertaining, get-togethers… in other words, it was time to find the wind under our social butterflies wings.

The first ones to come over to a more adapted me (who now loves her revamped kitchen, by the way), where a few of the girls from the Mexican network that I joined not too long ago. We had such a great time talking about kids, future plans, careers, the ups-and-downs of being a newbie in town, fashion trends… we even had a little moment in which, without planning it, we found ourselves lifting each other up. It was one of those wonderful breakfasts that turns into a whole day affair. It was so good for the soul!

But I could not feel more rooted without the whole family having friends over. It was time to repay some of the kindness and welcoming spirit that we have encountered from the first day in Pennsylvania. The kids had been so anxious to have some of their new friends and their families over, that they were pushing for a get-together the moment we closed the door behind the last painter.

It was a familiar feeling of joy and togetherness but with new faces and their stories to learn all about. It felt so right, we were so ready to start looking for that cozy spot where one is becoming less of a newbie and more of a local “wannabe” (the road to feel more assimilated, a true local, is still a long one ahead of me). It brought so much normalcy and happiness to the kids that they were asking when the next time would be before they even went to bed.

I feel so thankful to have found people full of smiles and advice so early on in this journey. Their gestures, big and small, will forever be engraved in my coziest memories of this period of transition. It only felt right that they would be among the first ones to have over at our new home.

Never-Ending Transition

Transitions come in all kinds of timelines. Some are pretty defined like when you move up a grade level at school. Some others are so personal that it’s hard to pin point how long they will take to complete (or if they’d ever be completed at all).

As you know by now, I moved from Michigan to Pennsylvania. This change and all what it has entailed has definitely been one of my top topics of conversation these days. Frankly, it is pretty hard to avoid talking about it, considering all the energy that it takes from my every day.

I guess as far as the kids go, things are moving along. They have found direction by being in school. We have found some extra-curricular activities of their liking. We have their doctors, dentists, a Spanish tutor for the summer months, and even a few reliable baby sitters. Even if they aren’t completely adapted yet, they have definitely made a good transition and continuously make progress in their assimilation. My son has even embraced the local love for the NFL team, the Eagles (and what better year than this one to do so?).

Although I would love to say that I am also assimilating quickly, I still find myself in the state of waiting that I was when I posted some time ago that I just needed to chill out while my metamorphosis was going on. I guess the time to come out of my chrysalis is not here quite yet.

In this period of waiting, however, I have challenged myself to practice patience. I have put “myself out there” by attending a few mom blind-dates. In the process, I have met great people and have found that my calendar keeps getting things added to it all the time. I am close to feeling as active and involved as I was at home. Home in Michigan, that is.

The transition also showed me how much of a Michigander I really am. I guess Michigan is where I assimilated into the U.S. culture, where I get quite a bit of my English-speaker accent and where I lived many winters buried deep in snow. My tribe is there and how I miss them! I was in-the-know back there, an active member of the community, the kind of person you could ask about any local happenings.

Here I know nothing, relying completely on my neighbor and a few other friends. They are the ones reminding me to sign the kids up for their activities, the ones who keep me informed of the places to go and the activities to do. I’m lucky if I don’t get lost at least once every day while driving places. This transitioning is both a humbling and exasperating process.

Overall, though, I think I’m doing pretty well. Have I turned the corner? No, I don’t even know if the corner is close by. However, my whole family is growing closer. We are having fun exploring our new surroundings. And we have learned to be ever so mindful when we drive around and when we visit every new place as we take everything in.

So I guess I will end this by saying that I have no idea when my transition will end (if at all), but I’m here giving it my best shot.