ForeignMom's Blog

Bicultural mom adjusting to motherhood in a foreign country

The Richness of Positive Cultural Exchanges April 28, 2017

Sometimes the shortest trips, the ones taken within your own region of the country, are the ones that turn out to be the most contrasting with our quotidian lives. As it was the case of our most recent visit to Chicago.

Not even four hours away from us, right on the other side of Lake Michigan. This big city is one of our children’s most favorite places to visit. They like the cars, and the noise, and the endless lines of people walking up and down the main streets. They enjoy the view of the tall buildings and the sky lighted with tiny windows in the horizon at night.

It is a place of wonder for them. Frankly, for us as well. We like the variety of restaurants, the racially mixed families that mirror our own, and the  endless cultural opportunities.

Although we go to Chicago often, this last time was very unique as we visited my cousin and his family in their diverse home. My cousin is also Mexican but he’s married to a French girl and together they have a son who was born in Mexico and a daughter born in the States. (You did not think I was the only one in the family who started a multi-racial clan, right?).

As soon as their son opened the door, we were immerse in a weekend-long cultural exchange. A mix of English, French and Spanish set the tone for our adventure. My kids were exposed to quiche and brioche with salted butter, which I now have had to make available for them at our own home, per their request. Their children tried pretzels filled with peanut butter and were on-the-go more hours than what they are used to, keeping up with my gang.

We talked about my latest post about the challenges of keeping a bilingual house and they pointed out how in their case, French is the main language because is spoken both at home and at school all the time. They gave me more ideas to keep Spanish more present in our lives, and I even caught myself speaking it less and less in this multi-lingual weekend adventure. (Mental note to correct that).

Along with our families’ cultural exchanges, came the concept of how to navigate around in bigger cities. After we said hello and unloaded our car, we headed to the neighborhood park. The kids on scooters, bikes and strollers following our 4-year-old tour guide on wheels. It seemed that, even at a younger age than my 7 and 5-year-old kids, our tour guide knew the rules of stopping at every street corner before crossing, making room for other pedestrians on the sidewalk and being aware of the cars at all times.

Now, is not like my kids were running around and crossing the streets without looking, but, they certainly had to be reminded to use their street smarts more than a few times. The fact that they didn’t know where they were going didn’t help to keep them on their side of the sidewalk either. But I think they were very impressed by their little cousin who was used to the “urban rules”. On the way back, they were certainly more conscious of what they were doing. It was a good lesson learned.

During this short time we had sharing sinks, and cleaning after 5 children, the four adults got a glimpse of what life is like for other multicultural families. We influenced each other in a positive way and our children spent meaningful time individually among each other. It was wonderful to hear my 2-year-old daughter and our little tour guide engage in a conversation at play time -when they thought nobody was listening. It was equally amusing to hear my 7-year-old responding in Spanish to a sentence said in French.

I love having this connection with my multicultural cousin and his family as we always get something positive out from our encounters. In this case, it was the opportunity of engaging my children in activities out of the norm for them. They loved having breakfast à la française and listening to our multilingual conversations.

I believe that while our goal to raising bilingual children has met some challenges as of late; the one of raising multicultural ones is right on track! Just ask them what some of their favorite foods are and you’ll find a colorful blend of cultural backgrounds.

I say we can feel pretty victorious at the moment!

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Vacation vs. Family Trip February 28, 2016

Exhausted and with 4 hours left on a plane ride during our journey home after our visit to Mexico, my husband pointed out how our “trip” had turned out to be more like a stumble than a journey. We laughed at the ambivalence of the word trip as we thought about the major unplanned things that turned our respite into a few days of extra intense work.

We looked at each other with a little irony. Vacations are no longer what we have when we go places with our children. They are not restful, peaceful or otherwise free of stress. Having a six, four and one-year-old turn every little journey into a big production. We still carry a diaper bag full of snacks, diapers, wipes, a thermometer and some basic OTC meds (because you never know when someone isn’t going to feel well or need a band aid); as well as a stroller or some kind of carrier. We resemble more a camping crew than that quintessential photo of a couple laying on a chaise long at the beach sipping piña coladas while their kids play safely at the beach shore that airplane magazines often use to sell you the idea of going somewhere with your family to rest and relax.

Now, I’m not saying that traveling with my family is not fun. Not at all, anyone who knows me can tell you that I love going places with my cubs and giving them different experiences. What I am saying is that, although we have fun, it is stressful and not very restful for the parents.

Take our most recent trip. We landed in Guadalajara, Mexico on a Thursday evening at 11 pm to drive the next day to a state close by to visit extended family. After spending two evenings hanging out with our kin, we returned to Guadalajara for a few activity-packed days and then drove four hours to get to the beach. We were very much looking forward to this beach trip as we had planned it with some very close friends for a few months already.

They had bought lots of food and “recreational refreshments” for after the kids were in bed, we had also brought quite a bit of supplies. Twenty minutes before we were supposed to reach our destination, I received a phone call from my brother (a Hematologist), to whom I had sent some photos of a rash that my toddler had developed over night -it wasn’t unusual for her to have a rash but I wanted to make sure that I didn’t need to take extra precautions because we were headed to the beach. He announced his suspicion of chicken pox. How the heck did my toddler contract chicken pox? And then I remember my cousin’s son having a fever at a family gathering during our first weekend in Mexico and someone mentioning that his classmate had the disease.

I called my mom to confirm my suspicions. She had already talked to my aunt and told me that indeed, my toddler’s playmate had chicken pox and that the rash had started the day after the party. Still in disbelief and upon arrival to the house we had rented for our fabulous escaped, I informed my friend who was riding with her family (including a toddler) in a different car. We decided to take my sick child to the hospital for a final verdict and to look for a hotel for my family to stay at, so that we wouldn’t expose her little girl.

They said it was a mild and non typical case of the virus since the child has barely had a fever and, other than the rash in her extremities, was formidable. We could stay at the beach if we wanted to, but they advised against the sun and going in the pool and ocean. Great! How could I keep a toddler from wanting to do whatever her siblings were going to do at the beach?

But we were already there, our oldest daughter was turning six that very day and we had our minds made up to have a beach “vacation”. We found a place to sleep and booked it for two nights. I was still not buying the whole chicken pox infection so I sent the photos to my sister-in-law who is also a doctor, who in turn sent them to a couple of pediatric dermatologists friends of her. Their advise: to wait 48 hours from the time the rash first appeared to know for sure, but they were not so sure it was chicken pox. In the mean time, our friends and us between disappointed and mad at the world, kept weighing whether it was worth the risk of getting the families together.

At the end we decided to give it another day before sending more photos to our team of doctors, which by now had grown to six. By our second day at the beach the conclusion reached by all was the same: chicken pox. My husband and I took turns taking our older two to the beach and pool while the other stayed at the room watching cartoons, or took the sick toddler to the shaded swing sets or to play underneath the shade of a palm tree (don’t worry, because of the time a year, we were the only family at the hotel with children and there were only a handful of guests around).

We were determined to make the best of our situation so we also drove to a nearby artsy beach town and time even allowed for me to escape with my girlfriend to have dinner one of the evenings. We had to cut our four day “vacation” short because it was impossible to keep the toddler happy inside and away from her siblings. A cloud of disappointment followed us back to Guadalajara but, oh well, we had visited the beach and spent some time under the sun and that was not too shabby considering the snow back home.

We finished our time away from home hanging out with fewer friends than we had planned as the chicken pox prevented us from getting together with some families but we had a very nice last days. Then, on the day we were supposed to return to the U.S., we got up at 4 am to make our early flight. Got through all the stress that taking three young children through airport screening implies, made it to our gate just in time, when we spotted on the screen the worst words that one can see next to their flight number: CANCELLED.

This has to be a joke -I thought. But it wasn’t, a snow storm had cancelled all the flights into Chicago. After being in a line to figure what our options were for two hours (my husband actually in the line while I entertained the kids with books, granola bars and chicken nuggets), they told us that they had no availability until eight days later. How could that be possible!? But it was, and we needed to collect our luggage too.

We were stressed out and pretty irritated but we needed to keep things light for the kids and figure a way to get back home. Luckily, our phones had Internet access so while we were in line, my husband looked for flights to alternative cities and I looked at the coverage of our travel insurance. We were going to have to incur some expenses, but the insurance would help out, and we had just enough time for my husband to purchase the new tickets while I ran to get our luggage from the other side of the airport.

The line to get the luggage was huge and we had to get on our plane in less than an hour. I did what any desperate person would do: Excuse me everyone, I know your flight also got cancelled but as it turns out, my family and I were able to get in a new flight that leaves in an hour, would you PLEASE let me cut through the line? I must have been pretty convincing because not one single person complained. They let me through and we rushed through security and the airport to make our flight to Mexico City and from there to Detroit -where the snowstorm was headed.

After an unplanned hotel stay in Detroit, we made it home, exhausted but in one piece. After having a whole day to get back into our routine, my husband and I were talking about all the unplanned “excitement” of our travel and we came to the conclusion that for now, and as long as we have young children who completely depend on us, our journeys will be more trips than anything that remotely resembles a vacation. We will happily continue to take our children different places but we will always make sure to have travel insurance! It has been so useful in so many different occasions.

 

 

Love Actually Is Everywhere January 12, 2016

I have always had a love-hate relationship with airports. They are covered in tears. Some are sad good-bye forever, come-back-to-me-safely tears. Some others are joyful gestures of excitement to welcome someone we love.

The movie Love Actually puts this last thought of joy being ever-present at airports in such a romantic way. I love seeing the embraces between family members, dear friends and lovers as the image brings me to the many re-encounters that I have enjoyed after traveling from one place to another.

The movie starts by stating: Love actually, is everywhere. Which is exactly my perception of this Christmas season in particular. I guess, if someone would have followed my little clan around, we could have been the cast of a Christmas comedy. You see, my parents who live in Mexico, had never been in the U.S. to spend Christmas with us. My husband and I, have only spent Christmas in Mexico once in our close to nine years of marriage. Our children had never experienced what it was to be around family for the holidays. But this year my husband decided to change that by having my parents over.

We kept my parents’ visit a surprise for the kids, because who can resist to add that kind of excitement to the season? They arrived in Chicago from where my husband and our toddler went to pick them up. All seemed to be happening right on schedule and I had managed to keep the older two children occupied so that they would not notice that their father and their little sister had been gone for too long. But of course, no adventure is perfect and our special guests along with my husband and little girl got into a little car accident.

Nothing happened to anybody (thankfully) but there was a need to call for a tow truck and a rental car. As the trucker loaded the misshaped car, and in the true spirit of Christmas, he decided to load the whole family in his truck so that they wouldn’t have to wait any longer to reach their destination. That wonderful man drove my family for two hours so they could arrive before bedtime and to make the whole surprise really work.

I was so anxious to welcome our guests too. Particularly, because after hunting for a gingerbread house in many stores that morning without succeeding, my sad 5-year-old proclaimed that in a time like this, the only thing that could brighten her up was going to my mom’s house. I just couldn’t wait to see her reaction. How many wishes do come true like that in real life?

I stalled the kids by having a movie and popcorn. There we were just playing in the living room when the doorbell rang. My daughter darted to the door and as she opened it and realized who was behind it, she twitched in excitement letting all the pure love, that only children have in their hearts, out. It was as if a cloud of love surrounded her and dispersed through the house. She couldn’t believe her eyes and repeated my parents’ nicknames a couple of times, almost as if she was trying to convince herself they were really there. My parents couldn’t contain their joy either. Even my son who had been a little bit under the weather that day, came out from under his blanket. His little heart beating so fast under his shirt.

That moment, which was planned and imagined for over a month, lasted less than a minute but it was magical, pure and full of love. I’m sure that it will be with all of us forever.

My parents’ time here was short but we took advantage of it. My mom made a piñata and a gingerbread house with the kids (yes, we ended up finding one); my dad and my toddler became inseparables but he stilled managed to play with the other two individually as well; we cooked a lot together; we even made time to visit some local traditional places and to have some friends over.

We closed the Christmas season surrounded by that cloud of love my daughter dispersed through the house and found that love actually is everywhere if we care to take a moment to find it.

 

 

Let’s Go Have an Adventure August 19, 2015

Who has watched the Disney movie UP without being moved by it at least once? The first time I watched it, I was dealing with infertility. So the part where they show you their shattered dream of becoming parents really got to me. I mean, I was sobbing in the movie theater, unable to control myself. The nice relationship of a married couple, the heartbreak of loosing the person who you love most in this world, the kept promises and the openness to new relationships (with Russel)… I mean, the movie is a tear jerker.

I had not wanted to re-watch it, however, over the weekend, the kids chose that same film for movie night. I thought I could handle it. But the truth is that I couldn’t watch it without crying. There are just so many things that one can relate to. Perhaps the most touching for me this time, was the very cute album made by Ellie as a little girl with her dreamed adventures that she never got to live herself. This specifically got to me because of the recent passing of my maternal grandpa. Yes, very cliché, but life is too short not to try to reach our goals and live our dreams. I did like however, the spin they put on it as she told her husband through the same album that her life with him had been the best adventure.

I type this and I can’t help it but to get teary eyed… Seriously. I think we all have dreams that we end up putting aside because other things come along. My husband and I have always had this burning desire to travel but, when we were first married, we couldn’t really afford to go anywhere. We had to be content listening to our friends’ stories and awaiting for their pictures of their adventurous travels to pop up on Facebook.

We would soak up all the information and make our mental plans of the places we would like to go; however, by the time we were in a comfortable position to travel, our children had arrived. We could have just continued dreaming and seeing the opportunities to travel just pass us by, like in the movie UP, or we could just be crazy and travel with babies, and toddlers and diapers and just go. And that is exactly what we have been doing at every chance we can. Opportunities are too few to be wasted. Carpe Diem!

Listen, if you have been thinking about doing something or going somewhere and you don’t because you have children that you would have to take along, just do it! Don’t overthink it, just over-plan it. In all honesty, it is hard and stressful to manage kids in airports and to shuttle them around places. But is so worth it and a true adventure. If you had asked for advice before and people have told you that taking your toddler to Europe, for example, is a waste of your money because they won’t appreciate it, don’t listen to them. Listen to your travel instinct. We did earlier this summer and we have no regrets.

We were invited to a friend’s wedding in an island in the northern part of France. This friend had come to our wedding in Mexico and we thought, why not go and make it a couple’s-getaway type of trip? But when my mother couldn’t come to stay with the children, we decided to just go with a five, three and one year-old and experience France. La vie est belle and one must live it to experience all of its beauty.

Now, when you travel with children, you do have to adjust your expectations as far as site-seeing goes, but I am not exaggerating (my friend who traveled with us is my witness), when I tell you that my two older where jumping of excitement at the first sight of the Eiffel Tower. Sure, I had prepped my kids for this trip by watching all kinds of movies and reading all kinds of books based in Paris. They also get a monthly subscription called Little Passports that teaches them about a different county every month and France had already been one of the countries. We have also traveled to Mexico and Lebanon to visit family, therefore, they were no strangers to airports and long travels.

I had to do lots of research of places where we could take them to run around between one attraction to the next, and even though my kids may not have appreciated the centennial history of Notre Dame, they were still in awe of its majesty and beauty. They also recognized the image of the Lady of Guadalupe inside the cathedral and were very curious about the gargoyles. They may not have appreciated the artwork displayed at the Louvre (which is why we didn’t go in this time), but as we walked by it, they recognized that it was “the house of Mona Lisa”, as they put it.

Kids CAN appreciate and have the capacity to learn from every situation. You just have to make a conscientious effort of getting to their level. If you are as lucky as we were, they may even let you sit down for coffee hour every day, so long you buy a colorful macaron for them.

Going back to UP, if you have dreamed of traveling somewhere and an opportunity comes along. Take it without hesitation and before is too late. Though life when you experience it along your greatest loves is an adventure on itself, pursuing and reaching dreams together makes for a prettier photo album at the end.

 

Escaping Routine April 16, 2015

Routine isn’t my thing at all. I say that with a sarcastic smirk on my face because as a stay-at-home-mom of children ages 5 and under, my life consists of a series of routines. I rebel sometimes by not complying with set schedules, but then the laundry piles up and I pay the consequences later. So it really is best to stick to the plan and attempt to stay on top of to-do lists, household chores and, most importantly, make time with the little ones.

Ever so often, I feel entrapped in these routines, which tend to turn into invisible walls closing in on me. It is then, that I desperately need an escapade. Last weekend said escapade came in the form of an international reunion of high school friends. I say international because two Mexican and two Venezuelan women traveling from different parts of the U.S., Canada and Mexico met in Chicago for two days of FREEDOM.

Freedom from household chores, freedom from acting like a role model in front of children, freedom from work, freedom from schedules and planning and organization. Freedom to be ourselves in a way that we can only be outside of the day-to-day life.

It was one of the happiest times for me so far this year. Aside from spending time with great friends in person sipping cocktails, this little trip provided each of us with the opportunity to talk. Really talk. You know that type of talk where you are able to connect with one another in a deep, honest way? The kind of talk that you don’t necessarily have every day? It was healing, refreshing, empowering. I felt like myself again.

Not that I’m not myself as a mom, but it is as if a big part of me (some dreams, some goals, some feelings) are pushed aside because there is always someone else’s needs that I have to tend to. By not having any responsibilities for a couple of days, I was able to reconnect with those parts of me that are usually just ghosts floating around my head. And I felt happy and complete, ready to share and to listen.

Between laughter, food and good music, a chain of conversations erupted.We talked one-on-one, we talked in pairs, we talked as a group. The whole weekend was a compilation of deep, fun, encouraging talks. It was as if all of us were waiting for this weekend to open up our hearts and let everything go. We listen to each other’s obstacles, we helped lift up our spirits and dust off our shoulders, and we felt validated and heard and supported.

Back in the train heading home I couldn’t wipe off the smile of my face. I felt complete, happy and filled with energy.

Routine will probably never be my thing. Motherhood (and I guess life in general) will always make some parts of me dormant. But if I get to enjoy every escapade as much as I enjoyed last weekend’s, then it will all be worth it.

 

The Music of Languages June 30, 2013

This week my husband and I joined a group of friends at a Pink Martini concert. If you don’t know who am I talking about, you should add them to your Pandora and have a relaxing, up-beat time next time you are making dinner. I really enjoy their music, but what I like the most is the fact that they sing in many different languages.

At Monday’s concert we heard them sing in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Italian and Croatian (how cool is that?)! And something that gets me pretty excited is to be able to follow their songs in my mind as the switches of the different languages I know turn on and off in my brain following the tempo of the music.

This little dance of words that happened inside me transported me to an afternoon this spring when we were hanging out with some friends in France. They were the couple with children of whom I talked about in my previous post. Both are French but they also speak German, Spanish and English fluently. For us it was most natural to speak to them in English through the day but then they took us to the house of one of their relatives where the mom of one of them along with her cousin and the husband of the cousin welcomed us for a little drink.

As we came in we were greeted in Spanish but with kisses in both cheeks (in the European fashion). I soon discovered that our hosts had been to Mexico and we talked a little bit about my country mixing French and Spanish in the sentences like audacious DJ’s; but then, as to include my friend’s mother into the conversation, we switched to Franglais (a mix of French and English). The seven of us ended up playing the musical notes of an international composition in which language barriers didn’t matter. Somehow, we all understood each other and enjoyed a little time of laughter crossing the borders of space and grammar.

It is joyful moments such as this that lead me to place so much energy and effort into making sure my children are citizens of the world -able to have the music of many languages and cultures intertwined in their little heads.

 

Traveling Isn’t Great But Going Places Definitely Is! October 23, 2012

Filed under: International Friendships,international travel,Living Abroad,Travel — ForeignMom @ 2:23 am
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This is the longest stretch of time that I have spent without writing since I began this blog but life has been spinning fast and furious for us in the last several weeks and I wanted to live it rather than document every single part of it.

Last time I checked in, I wrote in a sad, melancholic tone regretting the fact that we had to cancel our trip to Lebanon at the last minute. After a weekend away from home and realizing that the turmoil in that Middle Eastern country had soon died of, we ended up purchasing new tickets, repacking all bags and launching ourselves into the craziest adventure we had lived so far.

For my husband and I traveling with small children, one of them potty-training, was one of the hardest, most stressful things that we had to go through in our married life. Forget about any packing advice or what to do to entertain the little munchkins in the plane. The very basic thing of getting around the airports seemed to be the worse problem and one that all international travelers in our situation should really think through.

We had a backpack, a roller suitcase, a diaper bag, a car sit to be used in the planes,a double-stroller and two children to move around. All of that seemed doable within the US because we had the stroller with us but when we boarded the plane to Paris, we learned that we wouldn’t see it again until we arrived to Beirut. I made it through the huge Parisian airport because my husband was with me but I truly don’t know what I would have done if I was doing all of this by myself.

We arrived in Paris without having slept a single minute do to the fact that our one-year-old kept us awake the whole trip. We were tired and sleepy but still found the strength to carry both children and all of our belongings through the Parisian airport to find our new gate.

I think destiny thought that we needed a little more excitement during our trip because as the kids and I were waiting on a bench half awake while my husband had to get our tickets to Beirut reissued, two cops came running towards us asking us to move away from a neck pillow and a stuffed animal that were on that very same bench. They ended up asking everyone else around to evacuate the area, then they closed that whole section of the airport for the bomb squad to come and destroy the forgotten items because they were a potential threat. That definitely was enough of an adrenaline rush to wake us up and trust me, it made us move around the airport, like the gypsies we had become, with no problem.

After close to 27 hours traveling, we made it to Beirut but our luggage didn’t. Luckily, I planned for that to happen. After all, we flew in 3 planes and waited at 3 different airports. The chances for that to happen were pretty high but nothing matter anymore. We had enough diapers for 4 days, clothes for both the kids and us for several days, but most importantly, WE HAD ARRIVED TO MY HUSBAND’S COUNTRY! And I guess that is the one thing that makes us endure the hardships that traveling may bring to young families such as mine. It isn’t the “getting there” that matters, it is all about coming to people, meeting them for the first time… and all of this as part of a great surprise!

(After canceling the trip the first time, we didn’t want to get anybody’s hopes up in case we had to cancel one more time, so we decided to tell only my husband’s sister and her husband and give the biggest surprise of her life to my mother-in-law and the rest of the family).

We were in Beirut and ready to start one of the trips that has changed my husband, my self and us as a couple the most.

I will have to tell you all about my husband’s return to Lebanon in another post because it is just too exciting to write in conjunction with this one so look for the next post soon.