When Life in Mexico Just Becomes Life

When I quit my job (six years ago) and moved home to Tennessee, it was with the plan that I would spend a few months with friends in Mexico.  That plan went quickly from spending a few months to actually getting a job in Chiapas–but still with the plan to return to the United States in July of 2012.

You know that trite saying that if you want God to laugh you should tell him your plans?

My six months in Mexico has turned into (nearly) six years in Mexico.  My sabbatical-of-sorts has given me an amazing husband who serves the Lord and two little girls who keep the laughter and love bubbling in our home.  My trip-turned-life has allowed me to grow in my professional life as well, although that is perhaps the less important of these three gifts.

Somewhere along the way, Mexico stopped being funny writing material, and just became normal.  Now it’s the United States and their customs, way of thinking, and lifestyle that seem so foreign to me!!!  The people in the United States live to work and the people in Mexico work to live.  The people in the United States fill up their time with screens and activities that keep them away from their families–and even when they are with their families, the screen is a buffer of distraction.  The people in Mexico have family at the core, and everything else is secondary.

Our life in Mexico is peaceful, which is ironic considering my state is on a restricted travel list for government employees.  Our days are spent with my girls playing with their babies, the rooster crowing at all times of day, and the smell of something yummy wafting through the house.  During the week we buzz to school and daycare, but the evenings are our time–and we aren’t too tired to enjoy them!

When I write, the core is usually a place of great emotion.  When I have emotion that I can’t quite process, it’s hard to put that down into words.  This summer was full of surprise for us, as I found out that I will have to return to Tennessee to teach in order to keep my license.  As I prepare for my final year in Mexico, I no longer am experiencing Mexico firsts, but rather my lasts.  My last conventions. My last first day of school.  My last Independence Day. My last…

And so I find myself coming to this place again to write with a different lens: Yes, life in Mexico is just life, but it is coming to an end as our future unfolds before us.  I am trying to stay positive, as I know that God has good things planned for us.  (And how fitting that the same message that comforted me when I came here is comforting me as I prepare to leave here…)  I know that there are opportunities in the United States that will be good for our family, and that God is taking us back in his time.  I know that there will be ups and downs as we face the challenges of this year.  I know that someday, we will look back on this time as if it were a minor series of events.

Ah, well, what is life if it isn’t “a fine mingling of holding on and letting go?”

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At the End of a Life (a Reflection)

I remember as a little girl that going to Grandpa’s house was always proceeded with a lecture about behaving.  This was out of the ordinary for us, as we were always so well behaved.

Just kidding.

I am sure that people talked about us the way I’ve heard people talk about other big families.  Six children.  Loud.  Unruly.  Traviesos. 

We didn’t have a television, so Grandpa’s house was a real treat!  We would wait until one got up the confidence to ask if we could watch tv.  We would play by running around the circle that was created by a bar in the kitchen.  We would stare up at the huge grandfather clock and the swords hanging above the fireplace in wonder.  After all, who has swords in their house?

Jacinda, the littlest, would crawl in the space of the coffee table.  And the rest of us would with glee get glasses of ice water, kool-aid, or lemonade.  Any excuse to fill our cups with the ice from the freezer door ice maker.

Grandma Carol would make delicious treats: casseroles, peanut butter balls covered in chocolate, cookies with M&M candies pressed in the top…

I can compared us then to my nieces and nephews now, and I see such similarities.  We must have been such brats, and yet we always had some kind of treat waiting for us.  I know that was largely Grandma Carol.  She was more tender when Grandpa was still perched on his throne as the king of our family.  That’s what it felt like! Not because he was unkind to us.  I never remember Grandpa being unkind.  But he always had “a chair” that was his!  And as the patriarch, there was a level of aloofness that even children could recognize.

You know what I think?  Grandpas and Grandmas shouldn’t have to be “bad guys.”  They should get to enjoy their grandkids then send them back home.  Grandparents should get to fuss at their own children for their unruly children, with their grandkids blissfully unaware.  And parents should be conscious of the difference in tolerance of older people.

I haven’t been there for each family reunion.  I don’t get to see the ups and downs of waging wars on health like my family does.  I get to see differently–as if observing my parents and grandparents age through a series of photos rather than in real time.  I get the yearly visits (if I am lucky), and reminders to email.  I get to see the tenderness of an old man, without much of a memory of who he was before.

I hate the photo that was chosen of my Grandpa for his obituary.  That’s a man I don’t remember–one I have only heard stories of in whispers of virility and pride.  I love the picture I have in my mind: my Grandpa sitting in his arm chair, waving us over for hugs, or cradling his great-grandchildren with unspoken tenderness.  I see him in my father’s face, the best parts of him there, kindness and gentleness that multiplied with age.  At the end of a life, it’s the kind memories that matter most of all.

My, oh My!

Where to start, dear readers…

Life is daily: Ale and Jojo are loving school/daycare.  They love being with other children…and each other!  They greet one another almost every day with a smile and a hug.  It’s just a question of who will wake up the other sis!

Victor is growing his clientele, and has a job or two each day.  He’s also learning who the good customers are–and who he should stay away from!  There’s been a couple times he has needed some help, and eventually I see him growing this into a crew.  We are saving for a little work truck to increase his work area, and hopefully we will register him soon with the government in order to give receipts for tax purposes.

And I am still learning and struggling as a literacy coach!  There’s so much to learn and sometimes it is a bit disconcerting.  I feel so dumb and at the same time, it is incredibly empowering!  Learning what you don’t know and teaching it to others is a pretty cool thing!  I miss being in the classroom, and I would love to be back with kids someday.  I also really want to try out the things I learn!

We are planning a trip home this summer for the first time in two years, and I look forward to seeing my friends and family!  It’s strange and a little scary: the longer you are away from home, the easier it gets to be away from home…

Eek

We are excited for the weekend and family time/adventures.  (Although to be honest a trip to Starbucks is an “adventure” for us!)  We were FINALLY able to visit Parras, the magical pueblo with the oldest wineries in the Americas!  We also took off for a day trip to a local dam/river.  The water in the river was deep enough to allow us to wade and swim.  Jojo, ever the tremenda, walked straight into the river and plopped down on her bottom to play!  Ale is getting confident in her puddle-jumper, but is still rather cautious.
My little family looks forward to the years to come with great anticipation.  The current political climate in the United States isn’t something we wish to return to anytime soon.  We are exploring our options and thinking about what will be best for us–and where we might be able to go while the girls are still young and rootless.  I am not being coy, by hinting of adventures without telling exactly what they are–we truly don’t know what they are!   More than anything, we want to be in a place where we can be helpful for God’s work, be secure financially (Mama still has school loans…), and hopefully learn a new language!  On the other hand, if it doesn’t work out and we stay here for another few years, we are okay with that too!
We will see what God has in store for us–and we know we have to approach each day new and open to opportunities!

A Letter to a Big Girl

I wrote the following a few nights ago.  Excuse the late post!
Dear Sweet Daughter-of-Mine,

I know most of my letters to you mention you sleeping next to me.  Someday you may understand that the night’s quiet is a mama’s recess.  And again, you and your little tootie sis are here: bottoms up in the air, nearly touching, with blankets draped carefully…

Downstairs there are balloons, streamers, and somewhere buried in a drawer is your “birthday” banner.  I suppose I could hang it for the sister workers arriving tomorrow: it boldly says, “Bienvined@s!”  

I think back four years to the night I labored to bring you into the world…

I didn’t know at that moment how fast time would fly!  I didn’t realize that the pain, anxiety, and fear of the unknown would be such a contrast to the sunshine you brought into my world.  And I had no idea that your birth would later be an achievement for me–that in that moment I could take in the world.  And win.

You are my sweetest companion!  You’re constantly by my side, and with me on every errand!  You ride in my buggy, marking off items on my grocery list, begging me for sugary cereal, princess crowns, and another Playdoh.  You skip along beside me whining when I rush into the school, and playfully run off to hide every chance you get!  You sneak into my bathtub, pull up a stool when I cook, and demand to be at my side during meals, meeting, and bedtime.  You, my sweet, are a pain…and a joy…

Yesterday, as I combed your hair, I found a thin silver hair–and I pointed it out to Victor.  A little streak of wisdom shooting through the top of your crown–reminding your momma to listen when you speak.  “Everything dies, right, Mama?”you said a couple weeks ago as I mourned our lost chicks.  

Slow down, my love! 

You’re growing up too fast, and your mama isn’t prepared for the big version of you…

Happy Birthday, Little Ale!
Love, 
Mama

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Shock and Sadness on the Day After Elections

I feel sick.  I am literally crying as I write this a country away.

When I visited home during the summer of 2015, Trump had recently began his race.  He had gone on camera talking about Mexicans, and we all were still wondering if it was a joke.  

And that was a question even during the spring of this year:  Is this a joke?   We have all been waiting for the punchline to be delivered.

You know what?  Hate is no joke.  I cannot believe that my countrymen just voted for a man who says the things he says.  Someone who has repeatedly spoken out against Muslims, Mexicans, homosexuals, and women.  Someone who makes fun of people with disabilities.  Someone who jokes about using weapons of mass destruction on other countries.  Someone who every living president has warned us about.  Someone who opens his mouth and spews anger, ignorance, and hatred with every word.

I am reeling, thinking of my little family here in Mexico.  I am wondering  if I need to apply for Victor’s visa earlier than planned.  We were planning on applying for a visitor visa in January.  But now?  What does this mean for us?  Do you, dear readers, realize that with the exception of one brother and my mother, my own family hasn’t met my husband?  Not one family member or friend from home has met my child?  Did you think of us when you voted?  Did you think of the thousands of families like us–or families who have to live seperate in order to survive?

And what does this mean for our country?  Do we really belong to a nation that wants this man as the leader?  I am appalled.  This is the first time in my life that I can say I am embarrassed to be American.  

And I am scared for our future.  

Sweet Will of God

Today I had a friend ask me about what brought me to Mexico.  She and I have known each other for two years, but for some reason, the topic never came up.  She asked, “Did the thought ever cross your mind that you would find a boyfriend in Mexico?”

Whoa.

Talk about a major trip down Memory Lane! As I began telling her the story of coming to Mexico, something occurred to me: this year and last year line up perfectly with the days matching the dates for the year I left the States and moved to Mexico.  That means the day I quit my job (FIVE YEARS AGO?!?!) fell on the same day of the week this year.

Which means that this day, this time five years ago I was having a really hard realization that a relationship with a man I loved was coming to an end.

Which means that it was this month five years ago that I took a trip to West Virginia with some dear friends where I received renewing and encouragement I didn’t believe I needed.

Which means that it was five years ago that I sat in a Sunday morning meeting and cried throughout the hymn that said, “I worship thee, sweet will of God…”

Five years.  A lot can happen in five years.  Thankfully, God’s will for our lives will always be the best.  And when we allow him to have control of present, he can make something spectacular for our future.

So tonight I sit in my home in Mexico–five years later.  My baby is gnawing on my toes and pulling at my skirt-tail.  My daughter just yelled at me to come help her from the other room.  The four of us just got back from walking to the store to buy tamales and burritos from the street vendor.  And tomorrow I will (hopefully) go to Sunday morning meeting and we can sing the words of this hymn.  The words in English still have such great meaning for me!  I worship thee, sweet will of God, and all thy ways adore–and every day I live I seem to love thee more and more.  Perhaps  it’s the third verse means the most to me in Spanish–because the others are practically translated the same:

  I have no regrets today–I trust in your goodness.  I enjoy now the blessing of pleasant freedom. 

 

First Day of School

Tonight I told Ale about a first day tradition from my youth: at night, Aunt Jen-Jen and I would lay in bed and dream about the first day of school.  It was her secret to falling asleep, and rather effective!    “Just think about your first day,” she would say.  Tonight I added, “Think of all the fun you are going to have tomorrow–all the friends you get to play with!”  

I remember thinking about Sister Bear’s kindergarten as a kid–wishing I had barrels of clay to play with or a see-saw right there in the classroom!  I wonder what she thought of as she fought sleep last night.  Maybe getting to paint?  Reading her name like Froggy?  Having snack like Emily Elizabeth? 

Ale’s favorite book! This was taken for our summer reading storytime’s final day!

 

We checked out a pile of first day books last week, and we have read them together.  We’ve talked about “nap time,” and how it is okay to just rest quietly.  We tried on her socks and shoes, and practiced using the potty in her skirt.  And I have been the nervous one, knowing that this year will be one she remembers for the rest of her life!  

In just a few hours, my little girl is going to her first day of Kinder 1. In Mexico there are three years of Kindergarten, the first being when students are three years old.  She is excited, and ready for some out of the house stimulation.  And lucky for the both of us, she will be in my school!  I can’t wait to see her playing outside, talking Spanish to her friends, and wearing her tiny uniform.

When I had a class of students, I would always pray for them this first night before school.  I would pray that God would give me the kids that needed me.  I know that the biggest testimony is often that of a little life though, and I think of that these days: how can I help her little light to shine for others?

I read these verses this week in Deuteronomy 6:

“…and thou shalt love Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up

And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house, and upon thy gates.”

I want to do a better job of that first part (loving God more) AND the second part (talking to my girls about my love and desire to serve God.) If her life can be used, even at age three, then what she is seeing and hearing at home must be the right things!  

The backpack show

   

Quick pose before leaving

 

 

Family photo for Ale’s first day!

  

Ale and her teachers

 

My Worries as a “Teacher Mom”

My biggest kid is starting school next year.  (Here in Mexico kids start around age three in preschool.)   I have been a little concerned about something, and tonight I decided to write about it:

What if my kid is worse than I think?  What if she isn’t always the person I see her be, and she morphs into a school monster?  (Some kids are totally different in the privacy of their own home…) What if I can’t see how she really is through my mom-blindness?

This is seriously worries me.

I think mom-blindness is a real thing.  It doesn’t matter how big your kid gets; once they engage in an altercation with someone, the mama bear emerges with claws blazing.  Sometimes we think bears only attack when provoked.  That’s where the expression comes from, right?  It’s the don’t-pick-on-my-baby response that every mom has.  

That’s all fine and dandy, but guess what?  This morning I read about a guy who was attacked in his tent while he was asleep.  When they recovered his possessions, everything was chewed to bits.  With no true cause, the bear attacked a man and all the inanimate objects in his tent.

What if I am a mama bear when I shouldn’t be?  Like, maybe MY kid is at fault and not the other person sometimes.  

I have tried to explain to daycare some of Ale’s “quirks.”  She doesn’t talk until she’s comfortable.  She is fully potty-trained, so I can’t explain why she doesn’t tell you she needs to go.  She didn’t have a sibling until three months past, so maybe that is why she doesn’t share.  But what if all of these are just excuses, and my kid is just that kid with a crazy teacher mom.

What if I make too many excuses for my child’s behavior because of mom-blindness?

I am making it my purpose to be less subjective.  I will try to take a step back and consider my kid’s potential for misbehavior when analyzing what other people say.  I will try to see the situation through their eyes.  I will try to see past my innate love for my child, to see the real her (faults and all).  Then, I will love her anyway.

An ex’s mom told me that once: “We don’t always like what our kids do, but we still love them.”  I understand that better now than ever before.

So, I will love her.  But I don’t want my love to ever enable her misbehavior to continue.  I want to be able to correct my child and love her at the same time.  And I want eyes that see clearly through it all.

  

Someday in Tennessee

This week a crew from school will be heading to Tennessee to complete in the DI (Destination Imagination) Global competition.  I’ve been trying to think of fun things for them to do, and it has made me long for the day that I get to share East Tennessee with my family.

Someday, I am going to take my girls to the Knoxville Zoo.  I can’t wait to pay for those overpriced day tickets.  I will watch with delight as they squeal with glee over the gorillas and the bears.  I will shiver as they discover snakes through the windows of the reptile observatory.  And I will shell out the big bucks for zoo treats and souvenirs that will I will one day regret buying when I pick it up off the floor.

Someday, I am going to wake my husband up early and stop for coffee at an all-night Pilot service station as we drive up to the Smokies to watch the sun rise.  I won’t know where we are going, but my “map” will be the road.  Up will always be the choice–until we reach the perfect place to park the car and see the sun peek out over the trees as the hills come to life.  (I will probably end up singing some cheesy song from a musical or recite “Tennessee Sunrise” much to his dismay.)

Someday, we are going to be tourists in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.  We are going to play mini-golf, and ride all the rides at Dollywood.  We are going to spend way too much money on those tickets, unless some niece or nephew happens to be working there at the time… (hint hint)  We are going to eat funnel cakes and sing along to all my favorite Dolly songs.  I am going to tell my family all about Dolly, and how she is my hero for never forgetting where she came from after she left (but more importantly, for all her work with the Imagination Library… #literacystartsyoung, afterall…)

Someday, we are going to drive down to Cardins and eat hotdogs, cheeseburgers, and drink milkshakes.  I am going to tell stories about my Mamaw, and how we would buy hotdogs on the way home from Wednesday night bible study.  We will fill up on fries AND onion rings, because if you are going to “do Cardins,” you might as well live it up.

Someday, we will go watch a drive-in double feature.  We will stock up on treats at the gas station, then back in to a spot so that we can sit in the back of the truck together on piles of blankets.  We will let the girls go to sleep late that night, and will surely regret it the next day.

Someday in Tennessee, we will get together with our friends on Fourth of July, eat tacos, and shoot fireworks.  We will swat hands that sneak black olives, and will tease each other over how much eating has happened, and we will watch the new generation of kids catch fireflies before dark.

Someday, we will sit on the porch in a summer thunderstorm and watch the waterfall created by the warm rain.  We will read aloud something appropriate for summer storms–something that will make us giggle with delight.

Someday, we will pack up a cooler, and take off for the lake.  We will slather on sunscreen and squish our toes into some Tennessee mud.  Then we will drink sweet tea with our friends as we reminisce about when we were young while enjoying all the babies playing together.

Someday in Tennessee, my sisters and I will stay up late and snuggle together on the couches.  We will laugh and tickle each other like we did when we were young.  We will inevitably ruin that fun time by fighting over something stupid.  Then, we will make up by singing old hymns together at the piano while mama cries because her “babies” are together in harmony.

Someday, we will load up the kids and the bikes and head up to Cades Cove.  We will take lots of water and a picnic lunch to share.  After 11 miles of hilly countryside and kids complaining, we will head back down the mountain to sleepy snores in the backseat.

Some Saturday morning, Mama and I will get up earlier than everyone else and make biscuits and gravy.  We will work together to fry up enough sausage and bologna to feed a small army.  She will make the lightest biscuits ever tasted, and I will stir together some gravy–thinking about Mamaw and her methods.  We will slice some Grainger County tomatoes, and fill up glasses with sweet tea.  After calling everyone to breakfast, we will bully someone else into doing the dishes (but will probably end up doing them ourselves later…)

Some summer day, we will drive up to the farm stands and buy bushels of tomatoes, peppers, and sweet corn.  We will wash and sterilize mason jars that will later be filled with chow-chow, stewed tomatoes, and maybe some strawberry jam.  We will listen to the “pops” of success while warning everyone around to leave them alone.

Someday, we will pack up, and drive 20 minutes down the road to convention.  We will wake up early and help with breakfast.  We will stay up late and drink hot cocoa while eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts.  We will soak in the heavenly rain and fill up on spiritual food–and we will relish in the fellowship with sweet forever friends.  We will leave that oasis with new purpose for the next year, and promises to keep in touch that will go forgotten until the next spring.

Someday in Tennessee, we will wake up and check to see if school is out because of the flurries that were predicted.  We might get lucky enough to make snow cream and build a snowman.  We will regret having not bought a sled, but we will improvise with garbage bags and clothes-baskets.  We will eat too much, sleep too much, and play until we are frozen solid.  Then we will sit in front of the fire, and thaw out with soggy socks and gloves all around us.

Someday, my family and I will enjoy all that I miss about Tennessee.  But that day isn’t today, this summer, or this year.  So until then, I will make my plans for someday…

 

Mommy Sandwich Every Night

  
This week my kid had her first ham sandwich.  I don’t typically buy sandwich meat from the deli counter, and if I ever do–it is turkey.  But my first day back to work called for a sandwich, and after a bite, Ale was a ham lover.  She seems to sense when a sandwich has been made, and after a bite or two, she slides over to snatch it from my hands.

Today she asked for a sandwich, and I told her we were out.  She said, with more than a little exasperation in her voice and eyes slightly buggy, “Do we have peanut butter?  Do we have jelly?  Put it together, and that’s a sandwich!

Now it is the finish of a long day, and I am lying in bed with my sweeties on both sides.  I can’t help thinking that this is the only sandwich I want: a mommy sandwich.  I can hear both of them breathing, and every once in a while, a little snore.  Ale is cuddled in her “big girl bed,” which is flush against our bed.  She has her Barbie (with wet hair after her bath) and her baby lying beside her.  (Baby had to come to bed with us tonight, because she wanted chichi.)

My chichi monster is on the other side of me.  She’s propped up on my boppy with her arms thrown up in the air.  Her binky is lodged between her ear and the pillow, where it fell when her suckling stopped.  She’s already kicked her blanket down below her feet, but soon she will be recovered to ensure her warmth in our air conditioned bedroom.  Her breathing is a bit erratic and is interrupted by little grunts.

Some people don’t like sleeping with others.  They say they sleep better alone.  Babies sleep in cribs with monitors allowing the parents mothers to listen from afar.  It is true that I will wake up half a dozen times tonight.  Josie will nurse at least twice.  But sleeping with Mama means that her stretches of sleep are around five hours.  Ale might have a nightmare; that has been happening lately.  Mami can soothe her right away with a little pat or a song.  Victor will come to bed in another hour or so, and that will wake me up too.  Someone may need a diaper change or a drink of water.  We can’t all sleep like a baby husband, so I will be awake at the slightest change in breathing.

I don’t mind.

Being the middle part of a mama sandwich is the best job around.  In fact, you might say that despite the love we have been showing sandwiches these days, a mama sandwich is still the most popular sandwich on the menu.