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.

 

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Work in Progress

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

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

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

Everything that interests me is a work in progress.

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

My whole life is a work in progress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.

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!

 

 

I Give Up

OK, I admit it… I can’t be solely responsible for my children’s bilingualism. There, I said it. I’m giving up. But not in the sense that you might think. 

I will continue to speak in Spanish to them, to encourage them to read in Spanish, listening to music in Spanish, and celebrating our multicultural traditions. Perhaps even device strategies to help them engage in conversations in Spanish in a more organic way (one that doesn’t requiere constant nagging on my part).

However, I have finally understood that I cannot do it alone -even by being a Stay-At-Home-Mom. 

So I’m giving up on the idea of doing it all by myself. I need reinforcements from the community and family and friends. So I have come up with an alternative plan. One where I model behavior and try to keep my kids’ bilingual and multicultural knowledge growing as they mature themselves.

I wish we had the option of enrolling them in a Spanish-immersion program but that isn’t the case right now. That’s why, I have contacted a tutor specialized in children to help me teach my children how to read and with whom they would only speak Spanish to -if only for a set period of time every week.

I encourage them to call their grandparents in Mexico as often as they can so they can practice conversation (even though they don’t know that they are doing it also for academic purposes).

I also joined a playgroup in Spanish so that my youngest one can increase the exposure to the language outside of the home.

This journey to bilingualism doesn’t stop here. It doesn’t end with the tired children who prefer to speak in their main language only. It may be a childhood-long learning experience in which breaks will now be allowed, but where the main goal of full bilingualism will always be in sight. 

I’m giving up direct control over the situation but I hope the combination of outside influences and constant modeling will rekindle my kids’ interest in Spanish.

Wish me luck! And as usual, I welcome any ideas and experiences in your own journey to raising bilingual and multicultural children. 

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 Wondrous Gift of Travel

This year has been fun and tough like most others. It has brought me many tears and laughter and muscle aches and full bellies. It has been replete with special moments with each of my children and my hubby, with all of us together as a family. But it also brought some very powerful times for my husband and I as individuals. Unlike other years, this one we decided to travel by ourselves leaving the family life and the routine behind.

He went to Lebanon to visit his family for Easter and when he bought his ticket, he felt I also needed to do something for myself. So he bought me a surprise ticket to Europe, to go and live one of my greatest dreams… he gave me the wondrous gift of travel!

Defining the destination got a little tricky but once the friend who ended up being my travel companion had reached out to me saying that she too wanted a trip just for herself, deciding where to go was very easy.

We submerged ourselves in travel books and websites. We organized and planned and nixed ideas. We were decidedly indecisive about all the things we needed to include in the itinerary. We had spread sheets and phone meetings -she leaves abroad- and we texted and sent each other info until everything came together.

We landed in Madrid, each traveling from different spots of the world but both ready to soak up every bit of our trip as possible. I figured out my way to the hotel with a giant smile in my face. My heart tingling with excitement. I didn’t need to think about anyone’s schedule, nap time, potty break. It was me with my camera and my map and I was the owner of my days for over a week.

It was one of those experiences that as you go through it, you can’t stop yourself from trying to capture every moment, every photo, every flavor and aroma. So I just walked all over, explored places, opened my eyes wide and let my pores absorb everything they could.

I found the little things that I loved about the Spanish culture that brought me closer to my Mexico, to another time. I lived art in the architecture and the paintings and sculptures at museums. I visited the museum of the first artist that I ever loved as a young child in Amsterdam, bringing me joyful tears as I remembered going through my grandpa’s Van Gogh book time and again.

I laughed until I couldn’t handle it anymore with my travel companion who’s the god mother of one of my children, with my dear friend from college with whom I shared some remarkable times my first day in Madrid, and with my childhood friend -mi amiga del alma- who made us a trio during the first part of our trip.

I connected with my thoughts and feelings in a way in which the daily tasks of a stay-at-home-mom don’t let you -laundry didn’t get in the way of my aspirations this time. I had time to think about what else there is for me now, while I’m still raising little children who need my constant attention. I realized that waiting until they all are in school, until they grow, is just a mental block. This trip helped me realize the pleasure of a visit to a museum or a walk at a park on my own. The joy that new experiences bring to me. I don’t need to wait for the little things that will amount to something big later on. My friends cheered me on and I cheered them on. We all found a channel to talk, to externalize the conflicts and fears we all harbor inside.

Having mi comadre and mi amiga del alma during this wondrous experience was as cleansing as the Arab baths that we visited when passing through Seville. Having adult conversation at leisure (you know how some days when you stay home with the kids, all you want is another adult to get you out of that mental rot?) was as exciting to me as the Flamenco performance we lived in Granada. Walking around history and the majesty of La Alhambra filled my pores with the joie-de-vivre that I needed to wake up from the stupor of my own mental blocks and fears of never doing/accomplishing enough.

I feel a renewed flow of energy waiting for me to channel it to my dreams and aspirations even if it is one little, insignificant step at a time. All journeys begin with the first step. So here we go life! I don’t know exactly where I’m headed but I at least know that all the little things serve a purpose (that includes you, giant mountain of laundry waiting to be folded!).