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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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.

 

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.

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