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 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.

 

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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

 

A Heart Full of Holes

I love baby arrivals! It is a time of entrancing joy and love that I really enjoy being a part of. It is especially joyful for me to visit my close friends in the first few weeks or even before they leave the hospital. I just cannot get enough of that.

Unluckily, many of my closest, most adored friends either had their babies before we met, or live so far away that I’m not able to go see them. I can’t bake my traditional butter cookies for them or hug their little one as they tell me the story of the baby’s arrival. I have to be content with a brief exchange of WhatsApp messages filled with emojis and to wait until we can find the time to FaceTime and visit a little bit more “proper”.

You would think that after living away from my home country for 17 years now, I would be used to not being around for the life-transforming moments in my loved ones lives but, sometimes it isn’t that easy.

Recently, one of my soul sisters -my youngest child’s godmother- had her second baby. With half a continent between us, it is not entirely feasible for us to see each other so the whole weekend, I walked around with a hole in my heart and a need to bake cookies.

I had anticipated my lack of physical presence in such a momentous time, so I was able to send a little care package with her mom. Though I know she loved it knowing that it was my way to be with her, I still find myself a little sad.

It is hard to be away from the people you love. The holes pierced in my heart are due to those milestones missed in the lives of my friends but also the ones they have missed in mine. Sometimes, distance is just hard.

 

I’m Sorry Teachers

Summer is at an end… Well at least as far as the season is concerned, because our summer break ended about four weeks ago. Don’t worry, my kids were ready and happy to go back to school. They go to a school with a year-round calendar in which they only get 6 weeks of summer break but then get several recess weeks during the school year.

This system has been working great for our family! The shorter summer break makes us take full advantage of the days off from school; and while we do love our academics, we take take the opportunity to disconnect from them.

I’m sorry teachers, I must confess that I’m one of those parents who throws the suggested exercise sheets in the recycle bin as soon as they come home. I know your intentions are great and please know that I don’t do it to be a rebel, but I think that the summer break is better taken advantage of, if the kids have time to do things that otherwise they can’t fit on their schedules.

I let them veg around, they watch some TV, we go to the movies, and the beach, they tag along during my errands and I try to catch them up in their Spanish as much as possible. While we do go to the library and visit museums, I don’t make these outings academic ones. I let them explore and enjoy. We use math when we bake and cook, we read the things that catch our attention at the times that we feel like reading them, we observe nature for the pleasure of it and not with an educational agenda to get through in mind. We have fun.

In the midst of all those activities, we have time to grow and to learn in a very organic way and I am thankful for that. However, I’m also thankful that the shorter summer break allows for the kids to retain a great deal of what was learned during the school year (without me having to break out those suggested academic activities).

Too Late for Coffee, Too Early for Hard Liquor

I was having one of those terrible summer-break mornings that any Stay-At-Home-Mom knows: the dishes had been piling up for days, the dishwasher in need to be emptied, mountains of laundry to be put away, hungry kids begging for a snack (only few minutes after having eaten a huge breakfast)… you get the idea.

We rushed out the door “only” ten minutes later than when we needed to go to meet up with my old playgroup. But then, because of course we are already late, I take a couple wrong turns and make us really late at that point. When we FINALLY reach the beach spot where everyone is waiting for us, I jokingly ask if 11:30 am is too early for vodka and looking at each other we all laugh in complicity. We all have been there. We know the struggle.

One of my friends reminds us of the many times we find ourselves in need of something… anything to boost our mood, to give us energy, to keep us going, and how it totally sucks when you find yourself in that window of time when it’s too late for coffee but too early for hard liquor. The phrase made me laugh so hard that I had to write about this phenomenon.

I love my chosen occupation of a Stay-At-Home-Mom, I truly do. I really enjoy cooking, playing games, and going places together. I love to be the arms that console, and the “voice of wisdom” to their endless questions. I love their kisses and hugs, I love to be present in their routine as an anchor. I adore this precious time when magic is still present in everything and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.

However, no matter how much I love my little kids and how many fun activities we are involved in, there are many moments every day when I need a little mental escape. When I need to break lose from those thousands of questions and quiet everything else, except for my mind. As many of my SAHM friends would tell you, we signed up for the raising-children end of the deal, unluckily, most of the domestic tasks also fall on us. And those, as much as I like to keep an organized home, are not fun whatsoever.

Who really likes to fold laundry for a household of 5? Even when my 6-year-old wrote it as my hobby in his Mother’s Day Letter to me this May, I wish I didn’t have to do any of that. And then when you have days where nothing goes smoothly, you just feel like screaming… instead you opt for coffee or if it’s a socially-acceptable time, a glass of wine, or a shot of Tequila (honestly, there are just some crazy days).

But what happens when you are in between both of those times? Like my friend pointed out. When you are on the verge of bursting into tears because you just need that mental and physical escape that you cannot get? Then you just plug along and hopefully find a worthy popsicle (or any other snack your kids are having) and try to keep it together until you can actually take a break.

As I mentioned before, the struggle is real! But, weren’t we the ones choosing to be the main caregivers? Don’t we all say how much we love being home with the kids? Well, nobody can love anything a 100% of the time (unless is chocolate)! It’s hard to be all unicorn and rainbows when it comes to parenting. The bickering between siblings only makes the task of the happy mom ever more challenging. And then there’s that whole isolation situation. If you don’t find other moms to go on a playdate with, then you find yourself not having any adult conversation for hours and hours.

So please understand that while we do not have an unhealthy dependence on pharmaceutical substances, such as coffee and hard liquor, it is nice to be ready to tackle the day and to end it on a high note.

Cheers!

 

 

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!

The Increasing Challenges of Keeping a Bilingual Home

Many of my posts have been dedicated to bilingualism but this is the first one I write after having experienced the process of learning how to read with my two oldest children.

When I only had my daughter in elementary last year, I saw how difficult learning how to read in English was. Spanish phonetics work much more with logic and intuition while in English, I feel we depend a lot more in repetition and memorization.

I had to learn how to teach my child while at the same time not giving up our goal of raising bilingual children. We had a learning curve but by the end of kindergarten, my daughter was caught up with the rest of her classmates. Now that she’s a more confident reader, I feel like first grade has been a lot easier to handle for both of us. She still practices her Spanish and has begun to read in both languages with almost the same fluency.

With my son, who is now in kindergarten, English phonetics and the reading process have been notoriously easier. Not necessarily because this is my second time around but, he just prefers to communicate in English. He has shown a preference for this language since he started to talk. When I would ask him: ponte los zapatos, he would respond, as if he wanted me to switch languages: I will put my shoes on.

I did not know how much understanding of Spanish my son really had until we visited Mexico when he was about three years-old. There he spoke Spanish because he had no choice but he definitely lacked the vocabulary as he did not practice his skills as much as his older sister. Limited language ability or not, he was able to get his point across and to play with his cousins.

Now that both children are in elementary, I am starting to notice many differences in their language acquisition and reading abilities. I have come up with a theory in relation to how bilingual each of the children are.

My first daughter is the most fluent in both languages, enjoys speaking Spanish with me and though her vocabulary is much more extensive in English, she can communicate her ideas in Spanish (or to my dismay, ahem, Spanglish).

My son has an extensive vocabulary and great diction in English. He reads with ease above his grade level and though he can read a little in Spanish, he is behind his grade level in this language. He prefers speaking and interacting in English but can understand Spanish. When we talk, he usually replies in English so him and I sound more like an episode of Dora The Explorer.

My toddler is just starting to speak with more complex sentences. While at the beginning, her vocabulary was a mix of English and Spanish, depending on the ease of a particular word, she is now showing a preference for English over Spanish.

So what did I do different? Why is my first born the most interested in Spanish?

My theory is that when I only had one child, everything we did, from reading books to listening to music to interacting with each other, was done in Spanish. As she grew, we were part of a playgroup where English was spoken and other activities outside of the home, such as swimming or gymnastics were done in English as well. However, the majority of the time, she was surrounded by Spanish and thus she preferred to communicate in it. It was not until she entered preschool that she decided to use English more. A way to assimilate better, it’s my guess.

When my son came along, we continued speaking in Spanish at home and the majority of the music and TV we watched was in this language. However, we were already involved in many activities outside of the home, which of course, happened in English, so little by little, this language gained a stronger presence in our daily routine. By the time he went to preschool, we were spending much of our days out of the home so he was involved in more activities conducted in English than his older sister at that age. I struggled for him to say anything in Spanish to me.

Lastly, my third child was born. By then, our days were spent between summer camps, field trips with playgroup and taking her siblings from one activity to the next. My little daughter was surrounded by English 90% of the time because by now, even her older siblings were speaking it at home. I was so curious to see how her vocabulary would evolve. As I mentioned earlier, she too prefers English.

So now there’s a challenge in front of me: How to increment the exposure to activities around the Spanish language and culture? The only answer is discipline. I have to catch myself not addressing my children in English. I have to plan our traditional Hispanic festivities and encourage my children and their little friends to talk to each other in Spanish (if only for part of the event). I have to find something of interest of each of the children and try to learn/do/practice that activity in Spanish.

Whatever it takes, I’m not giving up. Even when it seems that I’m constantly battling English from taking over more terrain in our house. I know, one day, all these efforts will pay off.

 

Shedding Innocence

My oldest daughter is about a week short from reaching her seventh birthday and I find myself watching her in her interactions, studying her teenage-like mannerisms, and listening to her use of logic in her questions and statements. Compared to her two-year-old sister, she seems like a young lady so I ask myself the most popular of motherhood cliches: where has the time gone?

I know childhood has many phases but as an adult, as a mother, it is hard to witness the evolution of independence inside a child. I know being seven doesn’t mean that my child is ready to move out of the house yet, but I do know that in my child, this year has been one of transformation, of learning about the world, of deciphering social cues, of getting closer to finding herself as someone other than a daughter and a sister. It has been the year where she has begun to show us boundaries and to tell us that she is no longer as defenseless as she might had once been.

I see her playing with dolls and imagining wonderful worlds and make-believe scenarios but I also answer her questions about racism and inequality. I have held her as she cried the bitter tears of her first broken heart after being bullied on the bus for having a “mustache”. I consoled her wrapping myself around her as she explained between big sobs that she didn’t want her dark facial hair anymore because she didn’t want to be different. I also stood by her when her remorseful bully came to apologize and became friends with her.

I walked her through a little bit of what being a girl in a world that demands perfection means; and taught her about how making a decision to get rid of unwanted hair has to be based on how you feel inside and not on how others had made you feel. I also had a rewarding conversation with a child psychologist in Toronto who helped me convince my daughter to embrace the fact that being a minority where we live, is a beautiful thing.

Though she has had a year with some hard lessons, I have also cheered her as she has learned to read in both of her main languages. I shed some tears as she performed in her first ballet production. I have proudly seen her dealing with difficult situations with her playmates all on her own. And I have also applauded her for her interest in other cultures and her never-ending questions about life as she sees it. I have been so happy so see her grow.

As she walks through life, I find her shedding her innocence like a tree sheds its bark. Hardening, thickening, growing another layer to her personality, reaching taller. Just as innocence leaves little by little to make more room for logical explanations, I see the magic evaporating one concept at a time. Like when she explained to me how the characters in Disney World are just actors who dress up.

I don’t know if I’m ready for this process of maturation to be constantly slapping me in the face with unexpected questions that can no longer be satisfied with a magical explanation. I do know that I want to be her companion for as long as she lets me and to continue to watch her finding herself every year more and more.

Collectable Moments

My children love to collect rocks, figurines, cards and all kinds of trinkets. They are their little treasures and I love to see how carefully they observe them when they add something to the rest of the group. I, as an adult, love to collect too. Even though my collection is not always tangible, not always piling up over a desk, I enjoy taking my time looking over the pieces of my collection and cherish them just like my children do theirs.

I like to collect moments by snapping photographs of occasions, taking candid shots of the fun things the kids do, taking selfies with my hubby to remember a wonderful night out for just the two of us, photos are my obsession. Right before the end of 2016, I was laying in bed one night flipping through the hundreds of photos taken with my phone through the year, filled with tears of joy and getting my husband to share in the nostalgia, happiness and love knitted in those photographs. All those fragments of our happy moments of the year brought me so much joy that I could have filled up the house with it, they made me whole.

Article after article and post after post tells you that, as a parent, you should put the phone away, you should stop taking photos and just live in the moment. What this advice fails to tell you is that after those cute hugs between siblings happen, after the water balloon fight is over, after the trip to the beach or the sledding is done, all what’s left is the memory of it. Memories are great and heartwarming but memory fades and sometimes those moments are forgotten forever. I can’t imagine not taking the time to snap a photo when I feel like I need to, even if this means that I missed pushing my toddler on the swing one or two times.

I don’t want to miss my kids’ childhood because I was behind a screen, but having my phone ready to take photos doesn’t prevent me from being a part of the action at their birthday parties, or playing pick-up soccer or at the pool with them. Having my phone ever-ready, lets me take shots of the collectable moments that are sure to fill me with joy for the rest of my life.

A friend recently told me that she wants mindfulness to be a part of her every activity. I think that one can be mindful while taking photographs. If you truly find joy in doing it, if you can see the moment behind the photo as a treasure, as part of your family history, if you can then put the phone away and enjoy life with your kids, and your husband, and friends, then why not encourage more people to be collectors of moments?

Just take the photo, I can assure you would love to relive that moment later.

The Imminent Goodbye That I Don’t Want To Say

The news were given to me in passing, in front of my children and hers while we were trying to get them into our respective cars. The implication of the words did not settled completely until later that day, when I got home. They played in my head like in a loop: So… we are moving, So… we are moving, So… we are moving.

I could see her face in my head: a quasi smile, holding tears behind. Kind of the one I was making right that moment. We have known for a while that “the move” was happening at some point. Her husband was looking for a different opportunity. We knew the opportunity would be away from where we met and hang out regularly. I needed to be supportive, plus it wasn’t happening for a few more months. Carpe Diem! Let’s just enjoy this time to the fullest, I thought.

Well, now “the move” is right around the corner and every time we see each other, it feels like another part of me has to get ready for the imminent goodbye that I don’t want to say. It feels like watching the final season of your favorite show. The one that you have been binge-watching season after season until this last one. Now you don’t glue yourself to the TV to watch episode after episode. No, now you pace yourself because you want to savor every twist of the plot, because you know the end of the show is near. You know that you have to get ready to say goodbye.

I wish I didn’t have to prepare myself for this, but I need to. She has been a good friend, a rare gem. The kind that has little to nothing in common with you yet you just truly enjoy her insight, respect her advice, admire the way she mothers her children. She has been the kind of friend who has challenged my notions, who has listened to my believes and discussed life and volumes of parenting advice with me. She has been the type of friend that even when we have gotten into a heated argument (or fight… let’s just be frank here), I have just wanted to keep her close.

She has been a true support. Present through the ups-and-downs of my postpartum depressions. Ready with a tissue to dry my tears. Always available to help me out with my children. There, present, constant and now we must part ways. Her moving away will leave a big void in my life, a palpable gap in my weekly planning and my monthly calendar of activities, an empty spot at our Moms Night Outs.

I am truly going to miss you, dearest friend. I would never be able to tell you in words how glad I am that we met.