My Mexicans

Before my husband was my husband I sent him on an important trip. He was heading to San Cristobal for the day, and I wanted him to buy a pretty hand-embroidered dress for my friend’s new daughter.

They are very delicate, girlie, and quite lovely! Usually white, flowers of purple and pink are embroidered on the front and around the bottom.

Instead, my husband returns with some kind of woven jumper…

I took it home laughing, and when I found it this summer–I decided our daughter should wear it. This is what I came home to:

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Lemonade: A Labor of Love

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I’ve had my share of convention chores. When I was younger, one of the sister workers had me cut the grass in the dining shed with scissors. I have put away the spoons–a job I viewed as a baby job. I remember trying to skip out on that with my friend–and our moms were always there to remind us that we had a job! (Thank goodness they cared so much!) The year before I started serving drinks. I practiced at the house: “Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea…”

Yesterday was our convention here in Torreon. It is strange to say that–because there were maybe 20 people there. The meal was a group effort: everyone brought a little something that gets mixed into a big bowl of Tuna Salad.

When our visitors came Friday night, we were super happy to have them! The school had just delivered a bed for us to use on Thursday, and we couldn’t get it upstairs without assistance. So we took advantage of the extra men to help out! Actually, it took four of us on the ground and two on the balcony to hoist the king size mattress to the second floor.

The next day, we woke up early to begin preparing breakfast. The conversation that we had was food for the soul, and it was more substantial than our humble comida. Our older sister grew up with a lime tree in her yard, so when she saw our tree overflowing, she helped us out. We could take the juice, she told us, and freeze it. Then, when we wanted lemonade, all we had to do was put it on some water until it was as lemony as we wanted, take it out, and freeze it again.

Not a bad idea…

I had already volunteered to bring lemonade to convention, so we went to work. The four of us picked well over two hundred limón. I know. Because with every lime we sliced and juiced, we counted. There were 170 limón in the two bags of juice that we froze.

What makes this a labor of love, is that the tree actually has briars in it. So while you’re going for a piece of fruit, you get scratched up pretty good. Then when you squeeze juice, it stings like no other…

To top it all off, we actually didn’t use the lemonade the next day! Someone froze a bunch of mango for a Agua de Mango (juice). Have you ever cut fresh mango? THAT’S a labor of love too! I guess it doesn’t matter what the job is, huh? From cutting grass, to cracking eggs, to cleaning commodes–it’s the little we can do. But it is all done with such great love!

My Mama’s Daughter: A Tale of Cookies

When I was young, my Mama would make cookies. If you’re imagining chocolate chip cookies, stop right there. My entire childhood, Mama NEVER made chocolate chip cookies… Mama’s favorite cookie is a chocolate oatmeal cookie-you know, the no-bake kind? She usually made two batches: one with raisins and one without. Yummo!

It was always a very exciting time. It went something like this:

First, in a bowl, she mixed oatmeal, peanut butter, and vanilla. My friend and I affectionately dubbed that “Kitty Litter.”

On the stove top, she added milk, butter, sugar, and cocoa powder. The trick is to bring it to a boil and allow it to do so for one minute. Once it has boiled, with the timer blaring in the background, Mama began hollering.

“Girls!” she yelled, “Help!” Put down more wax paper! Move out of the way! Careful, this is hot! Now, git! Stop messing!” We would look on as she spooned out cookies with gusto. Careful to not get in her way, we eyed each splatter with glee. After all, those were free. We could eat around each cookie while we waited for them to cool.

Fast forward twenty years to my kitchen here in Torreon. Without all the proper ingredients, but close enough to make it work, I began cookies the other night. I’ve made these cookies almost as many times as I watch my Mama make them, so I know the drill. I am, however, my mother’s daughter…

“Victor!” I said, quietly (but urgently) as to not wake the baby. Here I was, elbows deep in chocolate and oatmeal, stirring furiously at my bowl. I wasn’t too pleased when he strolled through the kitchen a few minutes later. He obviously has not learned the drill. Cookies can’t be made without hollering for help.

“I needed more paper!” I immediately blamed him. “I yelled for you, where were you!?” I continued accusingly. Oblivious, I had to made it work without him, and I laughed to myself. But my immediate thought, Gosh! He is just like Daddy! was followed with a more honest reflection: Could I be more like Mama?

Oh, sweet cookies. I am doomed.

First Day of School Hatred

I am just going to put this out there: I hate the first day of school.

I used to love it, and part of me still does! But then there are the supplies still thrown all over the corner of my classroom… I never thought the day would come when I would complain about too many supplies.

It arrived with the 75 boxes of Kleenexes that some helpful students organized today.

There used to be a time when I would fret about supplies. Mama and I would scour the Sunday paper advertisements for the 1 cent sale. I loaded up on enough folders, glue sticks, and pencils to sink a battleship. It was necessary, you know, in order for my students to have what they needed.

This is one reason why teachers should make more money. We spend so much of our already meager earnings on our students. Sure you can write off some on taxes, but not enough to make a dent in my debt…

Before, my students families weren’t able to purchase the list of “suggested supplies.” They would envy the goodies the other students brought to school. So, we began community supplies. At the beginning of the year, I collected all the supplies–and we used them at our table groups throughout the year. It. Was. A. Game-changer.

This year, it took me three days to sort through Kleenex boxes, highlighters, and colored pencils. I had students with pencil sharpeners that look like toys, artist quality colored pencils, and pencil boxes organized with each pencil labeled. Back to community supplies! Rich or poor–learning to share is always a challenge…

Life on the Floor

We moved into our “new house.” It’s really old.

Because its old, we actually got a really great rate for rent. But we are now in this huge, old, empty house. Seriously, it’s empty.

Bebita and I are sleeping on an air mattress. I’m okay with this. Victor is sleeping on a pallet of blankets on the floor beside us. He prefers this over the air mattress.

We eat on the floor too. We just throw a blanket down, or we join the baby on whatever blanket she’s occupying.

Victor got the shower to work. The first five days we used the water hose outside. Now we have warm water inside. I did step on a giant roach yesterday. Barefoot.

Despite it all, we are happy. Yes, we sleep on the floor of our living room. Yes, our clothes are in trash bags, boxes, and suitcases. Yes, we’d love to have a few things. But, things don’t make you happy! (Said with a full heart despite the empty house…)

How Things Have Changed

Today my Vice-principal pointed out that one of the guys was wearing a bracelet that said, “I am Second.” This is referring to God as having first place (pretty cool story behind this, actually…).

I need to make one that says, “I am Third.”

As I slaved over my laundry this afternoon, I began dripping sweat. We don’t have a washing machine yet, and I am hand washing our clothes (again) in true Mexican fashion. My husband reminded me how on our recent trip to visit his family. The baby was behind me in her stroller hanging up out in the shade.

I hear, “Baby, do you want to go take a cold shower?” Finally! I think, Victor’s recognizing my hardwork!. I start to turn around to admit defeat at the evidence of my procrastination…

Then he wheeled the baby off to cool down in a bath. When did I lose the title Baby?

Customer Service: It’s Important, People

I could have been convinced by United’s introductory video that customer service is important them. I could have been convinced, but then the stewardess on my first flight yelled at an elderly Spanish speaking woman to sit down and wait to board the plane. Of course she didn’t understand, but with childlike puzzlement, she knew that she had done something wrong. She glanced around helplessly, so the stewardess repeated herself…louder. Because, after all, it must be that she didn’t hear–despite the fact that the flight departed from Torreon, Coahuila MEXICO…

I could have been convinced that United cared about their customers, but upon arriving late into Houston on my return flight, I was greeted with, “EVERYONE missed their flight, you should travel with enough money to pay for a hotel in case you have weather problems.” No “I am sorry that you’re stuck in the Houston airport at night with your infant–let me help you find a hotel.” When I asked about other ways to get to Torreon, my “customer service” representative told me that she didn’t have time to wait on the phone to ask about flights. She couldn’t “hold the line” for that. See, doing things like helping seems to be beyond United Customer Service employees. That must be why a twelve year old child was crying while trying to find a hotel for her family. She was the only one who spoke a bit of English, but did the ONE Spanish speaker (the same agent who “helped” me) offer to help? Obviously in distress, other passengers offered food, water, and money to the woman and her two children.

I could have been convinced by the lady who did finally help me get a hotel. It was then apparent at nearly 10:30 that evening that my flight had only been delayed. But due to the misinformation I was given, my baby and I went on a wild goose chase to track down new flights and luggage. She could have convinced me if she didn’t keep looking at the clock while telling me she needed to go home…

I could have been convinced the next day at the Houston airport that employees received training on how to talk to customers. However, the “gentlemen” sitting next to me talking about “having sexual relations” (it wasn’t worded like that) with a girl who “wanted it,” made me think otherwise. When I asked them to save their conversation for their break room, I was questioned, “We’re we talking to you?” Ummm…no, sir, you were apparently not raised to bite your tongue around ladies and children… Actually, the fact that you keep staring at the children you are supposed to be caring for while they wait for their grandfather, intermittently saying, “Sit down!” explains a lot too. Forget the fact that a eight year old and her six year old sister are nervous and excited to be so far from home alone. Forget the fact that their parents paid a lot of money for United to “escort” them to their destination.

While waiting to get on the plane, I thought perhaps I would be able to ask the lady helping board the plane about my seat. After all, breastfeeding on a plane is difficult enough–proper seating with space if allowed makes it much easier to travel with a four month old baby. I could have been convinced that passengers could go to her for questions regarding flights, but after being turned away once because she was busy, waiting until it was time to load, hearing her help another young parent, instead she says to me, “They”ll probably have to move your seat anyway because you have a baby.” Appalled not by her words, but more by the way she said them with heavy agitation dripping in her voice, I asked her name. “Maria ____,” I said, reading her badge. “Really!?” she said loudly and indignantly, “Really? Because there aren’t any window seats?” I was shocked a bit beyond words at the tone of her voice and the challenge I heard there.

Despite the fact that priority seating is not given to parents with small children, another young mother asked, “Why?” politely. “United has their reasons,” she was told. “We give priority to our premium customers.” Perhaps United doesn’t want parents with children to fly with them?

I didn’t have any guitars for United to break. I am not musically inclined enough to write a YouTube hit. But I am equally distressed by United’s customer service. It’s apparent to me that no, customer service isn’t important to United. For every helpful employee there are three more equally hateful. The propaganda video that I watched three times wasn’t enough to convince me. After all, actions speak louder than words, people…

World Breastfeeding Week

Most of the world’s women bare their boobs to their babies because of common sense, but it’s quite the choice in other places.  In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I will continue to embarrass my dad.

You would think that seeing my mom breastfeed five kids would take care of some of that embarrassment.  That didn’t do the trick though, because this summer while sitting in a Thai restaurant in Northern Virginia waiting on our Pho, Daddy said, “Can you do THAT here?”

“Of course,” I replied with a laugh.  Because to me, it is laughable.

Is there anything more natural than a woman giving her child the nourishment that her body makes?  It’s interesting when I teach about mammals.  The fact that the mother produces milk is something that second graders sometimes giggle over–but others take as common knowledge.  I always wonder which of my students were breastfed at this point.

I am not here to judge mamas who can’t or won’t breastfeed.  That’s really their choice.  But I can’t imagine doing anything different.  When I see Ale’s little doe eyes staring up in me while she reaches to play with my dress, my lips, my hair, I think, “Wow.  I wish I could post a picture of this for everyone to share.”  When she starts to drift off to sleep, the singing often begins.  Coos of contentment and sighs of satisfaction.

My breastfeeding journey has had it’s ups and downs.  I also don’t judge women who quit too harshly, because without the encouragement of good mamas and self-determination to give my baby the best that could have been me.  I thought that latching on would be normal and natural–the way I read it sometimes is.  Ale quickly learned to suck, but it took a while for my nipples to cooperate.  So blisters and bleeding arrived that first week.

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Still determined, I would place a blanket or washcloth in my mouth to bite back the urge to scream from the pain.   I pictured my sister when she and my niece had a bad bout of thrush.  The pain would eventually leave, I told myself.

I looked to internet for advice (bad idea).  Ten days later, I was still expecting the day to come when it wasn’t a horrible experience (feeding my child).  I would nurse her on the good side, and occasionally pump on the other side while worrying about nipple confusion.  I would hope that she would just sleep a little longer so that I could avoid the pain.   Mama would say, “Jania!  Look at her!  She’s happy!” when I would express my concern about supply.

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Alexandria was three weeks old when it stopped hurting.  She was over two months old when laying down and breastfeeding began to work.  She quickly gained weight on my milk alone, and on her four month birthday she weighed over 16 pounds.  Woo hoo!

The discouragement came in the place I least expected it.

Because my suegra (my mother-in-law) had been another source of encouragement the whole time, I assumed her daughters would also be knowledgeable.  We made a summer trip to hot Mexico, and I noticed that the baby couldn’t get enough chi-chi.  I was told that I should give her water, but my husband and I agreed that the water wasn’t something we wanted to share with our little one.  It also made sense to me that she was probably nursing a lot being in a new place, teething, and sweating like mad!  My oldest sister-in-law wouldn’t let it go one day, telling me that I should be giving Ale water and food by now.  She observed the flatness of my boobs, and assumed that I had no milk.  If only her eagle eyes could have spotted the rolls of healthy fat on my daughter’s arms that waved happily around her.  Maybe I should have given her diaper duty, so that she could lift her chubby legs to clean poo from places you’d never imagine it would get stuck.  Instead, I lifted my chin and argued for my daughter’s sake.

I refuse to cover her when she nurses for her sake too.  I am not flashy, exposing large amounts of flesh, but I don’t cover my head when I eat.  Don’t get me wrong, I tried the cover thing when we first started.  One of my newly married friends brought me one to help me out while she and her husband visited us for the first time after the birth.  I think that may have been the last time we did that…

And I don’t know anyone who chooses to eat daily on the toilet.   That’s the one place I have never nursed Ale.  She’s eaten in a plane, a car, an airport,  and a restaurant.  We’ve latched on at a mall, in a taxi, in a bus, at my school, and in church.  I’ve happily given her milk outside under the stars, inside cuddled up next to me, and sitting on the ground surrounded by family.  This little girl isn’t ashamed to demand her milk in Starbucks, in book stores, or at the kitchen table.  And this Mama isn’t about to shuffle into a dirty stall instead.

I am heading back to work this week, and anxiety about supply is trying to resurface.  You know what?  My body was made for this!  No, it wasn’t made for a breast pump, but knowing that my husband can give her the best thing in the world while I am at work makes me one happy camper pumper.  I will not worry about supply.

I will cringe through the engorgment pains, the blocked ducts, the teething, etc.  My boobs aren’t going to be perky, but they never were.  My dad, brothers, and nephews might get embarrassed, but I refuse to.  Breastfeeding is the best thing I can do for my little girl.  And I won’t give her less than the best.