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.

A Tribute to Love, To the Love of My Life

There I was, a young college student looking for love. The kind of love that makes your lungs be fuller, covers your skin with goosebumps, and tastes like hope. Then you were there with your smile and your soft hands, with your dazzling eyes and your plans.

I didn’t even know that I was part of your plans until one day, I figured out what the tingling sensation I felt in my hands every time I was around you was. Attraction? Admiration? Love? Yes, that was it, all of it! I had fallen in love with you, you were in love with me and there was no turning back.

From that time forward, life was you and I as a nucleus and then everybody else. I had never been as convinced of anything as I was on January 20th of 2007 when we said “I do” and began this wonderful life as husband and wife.

Now ten years later, I have innumerable “collectable moments” stored away in my heart, my pores, and my smile. Life with you is full of love, of laughter, of tears that find relief. When we got married, I never thought I would ever be more in love than at that point in life, but the truth is, that my whole world has expanded with you by my side. My soul has broadened so much that I wouldn’t know hot to explain to my younger self just how much more I love you now.

You are the perfect companion in this world away from our families. Together we have found our own traditions, we speak our own language and we are raising our children to find belonging in three different countries. I love your eagerness to travel, your sense of adventure, your constant plans. I melt every time I see you pouring all your love over our children. I am so proud of all of who you are today and I am thrilled to have you next to me whenever I have a new project.

Thank you for all you give, thank you for all you are, thank you for being here.

Happy anniversary! I adore you.

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.

Salty Cheeks

My face was salty. I could taste the tears that had been flowing all morning. The same tears that my toddler with her little hand wiped away from my face. “It shouldn’t be like this” I thought to myself as I held my two-year-old in my arms afraid of what the future may bring for her, for us.

In this post-election climate, I find myself wondering how the recent rise in xenophobic comments and racism around the country will affect us -a family comprised of a Middle Eastern man and a Mexican woman, both immigrants, and their young children.

I find myself surrounded by people who voted for the very man behind the white supremacist movements around the country. A man who’s careless rhetoric filled with hatred toward my roots has encouraged many to “say it like it is” insulting the very existence of my family. I wonder if they feel the same way he does about “us”. I wonder if we are safe.

I could not help it but to teach my young six and five-year-old children about racism. Forced by a comment made to my daughter on the school bus. “A fifth-grader told me Trump doesn’t like Mexicans or women” she said. Mortified I asked if that was said to hurt her or just to inform her of the facts. She really could not tell me. So I had to fast track time and talk to her and her brother about racism and how it is around us. I felt I was lecturing a pair of teenagers with baby faces.

I told them “we should never disrespect people and should try to always act with kindness but if someone is mean to you because of where you come from, because your parents where not born here or because of your appearance, you cannot tolerate it and you have to let an adult know immediately. This is not a joking matter under any circumstance and if an adult is the one who makes you feel sad, you have to call me right away.”

It is a harsh lesson to impart on such young hearts but it is one that needs to come from the parents before they start tuning in to the TV, the radio or god forbid, they witness it first hand. I hate to be a pessimist, but it suffices to read a few news stories of racism happening in schools with Latinos being a prominent target for attacks such as chants of “build the wall”, by their peers, to be horrified.

I don’t know what the near future will bring. I only know I’m scared for my kids’ innocence to be shattered by a careless comment from someone close to them. I hope I’m wrong but the news coverage doesn’t seem to bring anything promising for the new times we are about to enter.

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!).


To You, Natalia

I could not write any new posts without dedicating a very special one to you, dear Natalia Gomez. You were my champion from the first posts, an encouragement whenever they were raw and full of emotion, a guide and an inspiration. You were a friend and sometimes a role model.

I remember when I first met you as a freshman in college. I did not take any of your classes but, as homesick as I was, found comfort in some of the faculty members who spoke Spanish. You assessed my skills as a Spanish tutor and gave me my first job in college. You also, on occasion, heard about how much I missed my home. You listened carefully and helped me find ways to stay connected with my culture -even when I felt so alone. The doors to your office were always open for me.

After graduation, I found my way back to you when working with the Sister Cities committee. You were always so willing to participate in any efforts to enrich the community and to get the university involved in cultural opportunities.

Not much longer after that, I became a mom. I remember how when you came to meet my baby you encouraged me to get out of the house and suggested I joined any of the organizations for moms in the community. You told me how much joining one had helped you meet people in those lonely times that come when you stay home with young children. You taught me about hiding vegetables in the most ordinary things, like pancakes and macaroni and cheese. You repeated once and again that there was no shame in looking for help when we needed it, and how great it was to have more than one reliable baby sitter on speed dial.

Whenever we got together, you shared about the very many ways you were trying to make a difference in the community, always insisting that I joined you in at least one of your efforts. And when you first were diagnosed with cancer, you were not passive. You looked the illness in the eyes and made every effort to get healthy again. You didn’t stop being involved. Instead, you helped write the new law that will help thousands of women in Michigan that have dense breast to have the right to require more tests and more information in order to detect breast cancer early.

You got better and continued to be a source of inspiration to so many. Even when you were not 100% better, you gave me a very cute baby shower for my second child, because you knew that we have one for every child in Mexico, because you knew I was homesick, because that was you: always trying to brighten up the world.

We didn’t see each other frequently. Your young family, the community and unluckily the cancer needed your attention. The later perhaps too much. However, whenever I saw you, your positive aura surrounded me and I always left our encounters feeling empowered, happy to be dedicating my best to my children, happy to be writing this blog.

One of my last truly happy memories of you is from about two years ago, when you came to see me at the hospital after I had my third child. You were so nervous to hold a newborn that it made laugh a little. You were so happy to be in that moment with me that we shared some joyful tears.

This year was a very hard one for you. You could not get as much done as you wanted to; yet, you were able to continue helping people. Like that time when you read my blog post about getting rid of my baby stuff and immediately getting a hold of me so that you could buy whatever was left to help a young mom. When I came to deliver the stuff you were very weak so I couldn’t see you, but that didn’t stop you from sending the most heartwarming text.

You were grand. A beautiful soul full of light, full of warmness, full of gratitude for every extra day you were able to spend here with us. So amazingly strong that you even pushed yourself to finish your poetry book just a few weeks ago.

I will miss you Natalia, but I am happy to be a part of the tribe of people you touched and so grateful to have had you in my life. Your children may not know yet of the very many people who have a little bit of their mother in their hearts, but I am sure they will always be reminded of the greatness of your heart and your joie de vivre.

I wish I could have done a lot more for you than what I did. I wish I could have spent more time with you. I wish to always have you in my heart and I wish to have your strength and your commitment to live life to the fullest.

Rest in peace dear friend. I will always think of you fondly.

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.


Your Older Kids

To my friend whose older children serve as a great example to my children,

I know from time-to-time I have mentioned in passing how much I appreciate the presence of your children in the lives of mine. However, I have never really told you how I admire their high morals, the great patience they show playing with my little ones and the way in which they show them about problem resolution.

You may not know this, but even when you don’t see me outside when they all play together, I listen to their conversations and hear them playing from inside the house. It is not that I’m spying on anybody, I just like to hear how the imagination of 5 children of different ages flies and meets at different levels. I also like to see how all of them, yours and mine, watch over the 6th kid, my little toddler who just wants to be part of whatever they have going on.

I know the weeks go by quickly as we drive the kids around from one activity to the next. I know how busy your schedule is with all your volunteerism and your involvement in your family life. I know of the many times you rush to accomplish so much for everyone else that you barely find time for you. I also know that all your effort is paying off.

You have a sweet middle-schooler who finds a way to relate to even my 2-year-old. He’s kind and gentle and teaches them so much -like how to build boats that actually float out of the items in my recycling bin. Whenever my older two are getting impatient with the little one who’s trying to play with them, I always use him as an example.

You have a fifth-grader who is smart and funny and who never tires to play princesses and pirates or whatever the younger ones want to play. She has the biggest heart and knows just how to make everybody feel included in the games. Her name is always spoken in my home. One of the first ones all of my children learned when they first started to speak.

You also have that early-elementary kid who runs around the yard just like mine. She is one of their most favorite companions. She listens, and cares and challenges them too. We all love having her over as well.

As the kids play outside today and I find myself eavesdropping on them, I wanted to tell you that you are doing a great job raising the type of children that I want mine to be.

Thank you for being such a great influence in our lives.

Leftovers for Lunch and Some Other Options

It’s back-to-school time, or if you follow a calendar similar to the one my kids do, then you already are back into the Fall routine.

My picky-eaters don’t want to have anything to do with school lunches -I gotta say I’m not disappointed because, even though, there are some good lunch options, there’s no guarantees that they will choose the healthy option vs. pizza or hotdogs. Therefore, I’m left with the task of packing lunch every day.

Last year I was baffled at all the work that some parents put into making and packing their kids’ school lunches. I thought Bento boxes were awesome but how do you keep those expectations up through the year?

So I sat down with my daughter and drafted a little menu with options for every morning: from the elaborate lunch kinds to the sandwich staples.

Through the year, I discovered that by cooking a little extra of their favorite dinners the night before, I could save a ton of time the morning after plus I could almost have the guarantee that they would love and eat their food.

Below are 10 days of school lunches. Some are from left overs and some others are things that are easy to put together and pack while everyone is eating breakfast. I include water with every lunch and some times we do some apple juice too. In order to keep hot lunches, well, hot, I used containers that would keep food cold for 7 hours and hot for 5. I gotta say they work wonderfully.

***The photos were taken in a rush with my phone so please forgive any clutter in the background ;)***


DAY 1 – Salmon over rice, cucumbers and apple slices.

DAY 2 – Spaghetti with quinoa and beef meatballs, grated cheese, grapes and steamed broccoli.

DAY 3 – Carrots and cucumbers with hummus, apple sauce and half a ham and Swiss cheese spread sandwich in whole wheat bread.

DAY 4 – Two homemade morning glory mini muffins (apples, beets, carrots, flax seed, GF flour and chocolate chips to entice the kids), Greek yogurt, cucumber and peach slices.

DAY 5 – Chicken Shawarma over quinoa, baby carrots and Babaganoush, probiotic dairy drink.

DAY 6 – Peanut butter and honey sandwich in whole wheat bread, popcorn and strawberries.

DAY 7 – Chicken nuggets with ketchup, baby carrots, special treat sold at school (small ice cream).

DAY 8 – Quesadilla, guacamole and tortilla chips and two small plums.

DAY 9 – Mixed steam vegetables, broiled pork chops with ketchup, homemade cornbread muffin and peaches.

DAY 10 – Organic Mac N’ Cheese, watermelon and cherry tomatoes.