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).

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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.

A Splash of Color

We have been at our new house 9 weeks now and the adaptation process has taken a quick turn for the better. As the parent staying home with the kids and in charge of helping them find activities that they enjoy, it isn’t easy to turn the attention inwards and figure out what is that I need during this period.

As you may have read, at the beginning, it felt like I was living in someone else’s house. I had the feeling of being in a vacation rental where nothing was just right for my family. My husband was not in love with the new space either (even though he was the one who picked it). So at least I wasn’t alone in this sentiment.

I don’t know if knowing that I wasn’t the only one mourning our previous home helped me or worsen things. What I did know is that being the obsessive, Type A personality, overachievers that we both are, we were not just going to sit by waiting for the love for this new house to grow in us.

So we teared up magazine pages, went to furniture stores, dove into decorating blogs and finally decided to call in some painters to switch things around… dramatically, I have to add. My husband was absolutely convinced that paint was all we needed to improve things but I was skeptical. I didn’t think that some color here and there would have the magic we needed to turn this house from “theirs” into “our new home”.

Nonetheless, I was pretty happy to pick out the colors because having Mexico in my heart, I knew that bright and bold would at least make the house a feel little bit better, a little bit more like us.

The crew came in hauling all their drops, ladders, brushes and paint cans. Nothing overly exciting to see, I thought, but with every room they have covered in a splash of color, I have grown to care for this house more and more.

First the light green and the blue, then the silver grey and the peachy. The cozy spot by the foyer in teal; the formal dining gold. I have seen the magic happening in front of me in the last three weeks making the house more ours. Going from colonial and classic to mid-century modern and trendy. This explosion of color has turned out to be the inspiration we needed to find the right furniture for the right spaces and to start calling this house our home.

I’m excited to see the transformation continue to evolve.

Friendships Are Made in Unexpected Ways

By now you probably know that friendship is an intrinsic part of my life. That is why one of the most challenging things of this move out-of-state was leaving my friends, my different networks, my community, my tribe.

It takes a lot to cultivate those relationships and even more so when we are apart so I’ve been moping about on-and-off these first weeks in Pennsylvania. Then of course, as soon as you stop thinking about it, the universe seems to sense what you were in need of and surprises you with it.

Last week something pretty cool and rather unusual happened to me as I finished a yoga class in high spirits. I was headed for the showers at the gym, distracted and thinking of the day’s to-do list in my head. I forgot my shampoo and when I returned to fetch it, I saw a shopping bag from a Mexican department store on the bench!

I looked up in search for the owner and ventured the question: ¿Eres mexicana? (are you Mexican?) and yes! Of course she was, and she belongs to a big community of Mexicans living in this state, and she has children the ages of mine, and she stays at home. So yes! I had found the holy grail of friendship as the newby in town. How lucky and how unexpected but how welcomed this encounter has been for me.

Naturally, I’m very excited to getting to know her. I also, once again, was reminded that it takes time to get adjusted and is just matter of exercising patience and to be attuned to what the universe throws at you.

Broken Spanish

In many occasions, I have used this blog to express my ups and downs in raising multilingual children. It is something that I’m passionate about not only because speaking more than one language in a globalized society makes sense, but because I want my children to have a deeper connection with their extended family and our roots.

Time and again, I have compared how my oldest daughter’s grasp on the Spanish language is far superior than my son’s -the middle child- or my youngest daughter who is only in preschool. My son is just not as interested in the Spanish language as his older sister, or so I thought.

As you have probably read, we recently relocated from Michigan to Pennsylvania. The move has obviously come with plenty of opportunities for the kids to adjust and adapt to a new environment. Nowhere has it been more evident than at school. Our former environment was quite homogeneous making us stand out as the mixed family we are. Here however, not only is the student body rich in diversity, but also the staff.

My children were welcomed in a warm way making them feel safe and empowered. My daughter has five classmates of Mexican heritage in her classroom. She was happy to discover that like her, they are all bilingual but English is their stronger language.

Among my son’s classmates, there is a boy from Puerto Rico who does not speak English (yet). To my surprise, my son has happily taken the role of an interpreter between his Spanish-speaking friend and the English-speaking ones.

You cannot believe the amount of joy this makes me feel! My son, using his broken Spanish, is experiencing first hand how bilingualism bridges the gap between two people. Furthermore, he’s the one building that bridge and helping his new friend become a part of the dynamic of the classroom!

I am thrilled at the opportunity that my son has to see the value of bilingualism but more importantly, to have a friend to learn Spanish from and to teach English to. I could not have imagined that such a relationship could spark my son’s interest in the language that so passionately I have tried to teach him since he was a baby.

We shall see how this friendship brings both boys closer to the relative unknown worlds that they now both share: this English-speaking one where we reside, and that of Hispanic heritage that is far away.

Vacation Rental

Have you ever stayed in a vacation rental property? We have come to really like them. It’s kind of nice to be able to eat a simple, inexpensive breakfast from the comfort of “your” space in a different city or to have drinks and munchies after the kids go to bed without having to hire a sitter. I also like how you have the ability to do laundry in the middle of a longer trip. I have come to appreciate the whole sense of having a “home away from home”.

For all the great amenities that these vacation rentals offer, I have to say that it feels a little silly not knowing which switch turns what light on, or how to work the coffee pot or how to run the laundry machine. You can’t shake the idea of being in someone else’s house as some kind of intruder.

I want you to picture that feeling of being an intruder in your mind as that is exactly how I am feeling right now in our new house. The kitchen is designed so differently than in my older home that I have no idea where to organize the tools and utensils. I feel a little bit clumsy trying to cook a meal, figuring out if the oil should go in a cabinet or the pantry.

The kids can’t reach the closet space to hang or get their clothes, the youngest can’t even reach the switches to turn the lights on and off. We haven’t found a place for all of our furniture and even our organizers don’t seem to be the right fit. Every room we enter has either an assortment of boxes or many items that need to find a permanent spot. Some days it has been easier just to close the door and go and explore the new city.

Talking with a friend this week, she helped me realize that things will take time (I kind of knew that already), but also that I am going through my mourning process and that I should allow myself to feel sad for what was lost (brilliant! I needed someone’s permission to validate my feelings). Isn’t that so true? When I moved, there was so much anticipation and excitement for all the new things, that I  forgot to think of how leaving all the familiar would affect me.

In trying to be a rock for my children, I swallowed my emotions, but now that we are all here (and just around Christmas of all times), every little feeling of loss and sadness is pouring out of me as quickly as the cereal came out of the box my kid broke this morning. My instinct was to contain the emotions, my friend reminded me that I am allowed to have bad days and let them spill all over too.

It will be a different kind of Christmas for our family this year. Perhaps all the newness and exploration will take over the feeling of being an intruder living temporarily in a vacation rental. Perhaps the feeling will stay for a while. In all cases, I know that at least I am happy of being in this adventure all together.

The Season of Goodbyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Tragedy Strikes

In my last post I talked about the holes dug in my heart from not partaking in the joyful moments of my friends and family who live away from me. Today I want to talk about the heart-wrenching feeling of uselessness after the terrible crisis following this Tuesday’s earthquake in Mexico City.

My husband called me after he received the notification of a 7.1 earthquake affecting Mexico City. He had already connected with my brother, who lives there, and he was fine. However, he was unable to locate his wife and his son’s school was not responding either.

I called my brother who at that point was filled with anguish as he was trapped in the gridlock of traffic with all the other people trying to get to their loved ones, knowing that he was on the opposite side of town from his son and wife and having just learned that some of the collapsed buildings were right in the areas where they were. His desperate voice: help me reach them!

For about an hour I tried without success calling the school, looking for any updates on the social media, getting a hold of my sister-in-law. I even reached out to a friend who I know works closer to the area where my nephew was, to learn any information she would have to offer. Nothing, just more news updates of the devastation, of collapsed buildings and of gas leaks.

My heart sunk to the ground, but even more, thinking about the eternal wait for my brother. He reached out, he’s son’s school had been evacuated but all the children were safe. His wife was able to connect soon after. As he grew desperate to reach them, he parked his car and proceeded to walk 12 kilometers in the chaos and massive hysteria of a city too immense to let help reach their destinations.

It took them five hours but finally they were together and reached out to us. They were safe but not their apartment building, which suffered the kind of structural damage that warns you not to stay there. They headed to my sister-in-law’s aunt. Her place was safe.

My brother who is a doctor recruited during emergency situations, such as this horrid day, had to head to the hospital where he learned of tragedy after tragedy. He worked through the night and well into  Wednesday afternoon when he called me to tell me was safe, his family safe, him and his wife ready to help.

I haven’t been able to sleep well and cannot stop thinking about the terrible images, the fear and the unanswered questions of when things would calm down. However, I’m forever thankful for their safety and for having a brother willing to give it all to others.

As I read of the news, I find this weight on my chest that doesn’t let me breath, I wish I could help more but not being physically there prevents me from being actively involved. So I come to this blog to share of some ways in which people like me (away but willing to help in any way) can make a difference.

Consider donating to the following organizations:

MEXICAN RED CROSS (monetary gifts): https://www.cruzrojamexicana.org.mx/sismo-19-de-septiembre-2017

MEXICAN RED CROSS (wish list): https://www.amazon.com.mx/registry/wishlist/H4XK3LNWVOPB/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_ep_ws_mMXTzbP50RRF6/ref=s9_acss_bw_cg_CR_6b1_w?pf_rd_m=A3TO6F13CSVUA4&pf_rd_s=merchandised-search-1&pf_rd_r=53V28WVM26EX859A3147&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1a8a2582-90fc-40f6-8a49-5d772a879f13&pf_rd_i=17290014011

BRIGADA DE RESCATE TOPOS (Moles Rescue Brigade): PayPal donations at donativos@brigada-rescate-topos.org

 

Duality

When I was nineteen years-old, I flew to the U. S. as a freshman in college. I had only seen my university in brochures and through the photos on its website. I had only conversed with the people in the international admissions office via email (except for the recruiter who persuaded me to go to Grand Valley State University). I had no idea of how empty my room in the shared apartment was going to be nor did I anticipated the need for kitchenware and food and anything else other than the provided bed and mattress.

Nonetheless, I was excited and happy to be there. The campus was beautiful, green and filled with summertime flowers and sounds of nature. I met the rest of the international students who had come the same year as I did, the day after as we started our orientation. Standing in line with people from every continent, I felt so different and at the same time so connected to them. I did not know it fifteen years ago, but my new life began then.

Having the opportunity to attend college in a foreign country was a challenge that in so many ways, I was not ready to confront. At the same time, learning how to navigate the syllabuses, schedules, pressure and new culture, gave me a kind of internal strength, that I doubt anything else would have ever given me. I became confident as I was able to find answers to the many hows and how comes; as I overcame obstacles on my own, without my parents’ help.

Living in a different culture helped me reaffirm the things that I liked about my own, but it also helped me question so many traditions and parts of myself that had been a part of me more out of routine than because I believed in them. Surrounding myself with my fellow international students helped me learn about so many different views about one issue all at once.

The adventure of attending college in the U.S. was an enriching one; however, it wasn’t always gratifying nor easy to maneuver. I experienced reject, racism and prejudice for the first time in my life. Not all classmates were thrilled of having someone with an accent as a partner in projects. Barely anyone talked to me in the classrooms. Arriving to class filled with freshmen was the equivalent to staying in your room by yourself. I found it baffling that not a single person would say hello or good morning as they sat by you. There were no invitations to coffee or lunch after class (as it would happen in my native Mexico). I found that very hard and started to feel isolated. I found solace in my group of international student friends. Many of whom were as shocked as me by the lack of interaction between students in the classrooms.

As the semesters passed by, I developed friendships with some students with whom I had more than a class with, with the professors who took an especial interest in me and with my co-workers. More and more, I felt like I had carved myself a place in college and in my new surroundings. Yet, I longed for getting my degree and going back to Mexico, to my life there.

Along the way, I was charmed by a wonderful international student from Lebanon. Our love for each other was so deep that early on in the relationship, we both knew that we were going to get married. When we decided to get together, I knew that I was saying goodbye to Mexico for good. But when I was with him, nothing else mattered.

And so we embarked in the little-known world of getting a sponsor to give you a work visa. Then, after years of uncertainty and hefty lawyer fees, we jumped from the work visa to a green card. We bought a house, we had children and when we realized it, we had been living in the U.S. for longer than a decade.

Our personalities have morphed so many times that we were unrecognizable in our home countries, our believes had been shaped by our experiences in our host country and the many cultures that we had come in contact with. We had found a duality in our being that only people who live abroad can understand.

It is a bit odd to find that you are a dual being. I love where I come from and have deep roots in Mexico. I’m proud of its colors, music, flavors, history and the ease in which friendship flows from one person to the next. At the same time, the more time that I have spent in Michigan, the more that I have learned to love its nature, cities, freedom and easy-going way of life. I have made such great friends here that I now feel just at home.

It is easier to explain this sense of duality with the analogy of a tree with deep and strong roots. Without them, the tree would not stand tall. The roots represent my upbringing in Mexico. But this tree needs the right kind of soil to grow stronger and feel grounded and enriched. This soil is my husband and the sense of belonging that him and I have forged for each other and our children. The tree would not be much without its ever-reaching branches and leaves. That is what my host country had been for me. Every teaching moment a new branch. Every life-changing experience a set of leaves. I could not be the woman that I am today without my both nations vibrating underneath my skin. I am roots and branches. I am this duality. 

A month ago I found myself standing tall in a new line of people from 31 different countries. All with our different believes and religions, all with roots from different places, but all of us with our hearts beaming with excitement as we prepared to become U.S. citizens. Nearly fifteen years had passed but I took the oath of citizenship with the same pride that I had come to the U.S. as an international student to break stereotypes, to challenge and be challenged. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I sung God Bless America while holding my eldest daughter’s hand. I finally had a voice. I finally would be able to make decisions for my children and my family in the way of a vote. I finally felt that I had a right to defend our believes. I finally had become a dual citizen.

The Richness of Positive Cultural Exchanges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I say we can feel pretty victorious at the moment!