The Long Road Home

I have avoided writing.

At one time, this blog was therapeutic to me, and it really helped me get through a rough transition period in my life.  There was also the added benefit that I could share my experiences in another country with my loved ones at home.

But I have avoided telling a story that isn’t quite mine to tell.

And I have avoided taking the risk of sharing our story with many of my friends and family who have an oppositional view on immigration.

I really think stories like our story should be told.  It’s through stories that people can learn empathy and compassion for ideas that they don’t understand.  We teach children, through stories, how to embrace new siblings, deal with “enemies” or “bullies,” and learn social skills.

So, I am going to begin to tell our story… our story of immigrating to the United States.  I am hoping, that in the process, it will also help me to deal with these new changes in our lives.

This time around, it isn’t a single 27 year old off on an adventure of finding her place in the world.  This time, it’s a family: a honest, humble, loving father… A scared, strong, forward thinking mother.  A little girl who looks forward to a life in a new place, with a lack of understanding about all that will be left behind.  And the final person: a pichita–lively, funny, and just coming into her personality…unaware of changes at hand.

These are the characters of our story.  This is us.

family in chiapas

Our family this January in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.  (The place that Victor and I met, six years ago…)

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Thankfulness

My babies are upstairs asleep, with Victor snoozing alongside them.  We’re sleeping as close as we can get, because the nights have been chilly!  It’s been getting down into the 40’s–which is super cold in the desert when the days are still reaching into the upper 80’s / lower 90’s.

I’ve had an eventful Thanksgiving week:

  • We went for our first appointment in the paperwork process for Victor’s visa.  Ale heard me talking about working on Daddy’s “papers” last weekend, and she make him some.  There was a picture of us together (we have to prove we are married enough), and some writing.  She brought them to me proudly, as she had also recruited her sis to help.  I packed them with our real documents, and took them to the appointment.

    Ale’s “Papers for Daddy”

  • Thanksgiving Day was my fifth Thanksgiving in Mexico (the first Thanksgiving, I flew home for a baby shower).  We hosted our fourth Thanksgiving–and this one was the easiest, by far!  The turkey was PERFECT.  The dressing was moist and tasted just like I remember.  The rolls rose in record time due to all the cooking going on, and Ale and I shared a couple while we waiting for the guest to arrive.
  • We celebrated a second Thanksgiving with the workers the following night.  We saved some turkey, but I also made potato salad, more rolls, and fresh gravy.  I had turkey broth bubbling away, so the house smelled like Thanksgiving all over again!  This was a treat–as I have always wanted to have the workers for Thanksgiving.  One of our workers is from Texas, so he also appreciates southern cooking and sweet tea.  That always makes my day.  We also enjoyed great conversation, a good study of the last chapter of Revelations, and the peace that comes on the feet of those that carry the gospel!
  • We have chili in the crock pot simmering overnight–as tomorrow we will have potluck after meeting.  This is traditionally what we do when the workers are in town.  It’s our way of everyone getting a little extra fellowship.  I offered to make tamales, but that idea was rejected.  Then I offered to make mole to go with the tamales that someone else is making.  That was also rejected.  When I offered to make chili, I had to follow it up with the explanation, “You know, the beans that I made before…”  haha! They love my “beans.”

I am looking forward to the rest of this year.  Victor and I will have a six years in Mexico anniversary, followed shortly there after with our actual six year anniversary.  I am still hoping that we will be able to make it to Chiapas during winter break to visit with the abuelitos and primos!  Ale is at the perfect age for a visit to see her family.  She speaks amazing Spanish, and loves to hear all about Chiapas.  She asks questions like, “Mom, do they have cars in Chiapas?”  Tonight I told her that when we go to Chiapas, it is kind of like camping.  That we will probably sleep together on the floor.  She was unfazed, and started talking about roasting marshmallows (we have never done this…) with her cousins over the campfire.

Jojo is talking quite a lot!  She loves to play a game where we say words and she repeats us.  Tonight we were naming all of the family members, and when we got to abuelito, she said “popo.”  Ale died laughing, “Mom! She said ‘popo.’  That means poop!”  Speaking of poop, Victor explains gross things to Jojo, by saying, “Ewww! poo-poo!”  This is so she won’t touch things that are icky on the street, but she has adopted it for anything gross.  She also waves to the toilet overtime it flushes, and says, “Bye-bye, poo-poo!”  This kid…  She brings me so much joy and so much stress all at the same time.  She loves her sis, and has begun to demand equal treatment, by saying, “Me too.”  Sometimes all she says is “too,” but she makes sure that you know what she means!

A selfie with my little booger…

Victor and I are trying to stay encouraged about his paperwork process.  Sometimes it is difficult, as the requirements are overwhelming, and the process rather costly.  Americans have no clue how difficult it is for honest, hard-working people to get permission to work in the U.S.  The people who easily get accepted are people with loads of money, and unfortunately, loads of money doesn’t always equal honest+hardworking.  It’s really an intimidating process, and even more so when you give it a go without a lawyer’s help.  I trust that my friends and family have us in their thoughts and prayers–and I also pray for “the peace of a perfect trust.”

This post has turned out to be more of an update than anything else… If you’re still reading, you must love us!  😉

Backwards Plan

Yesterday afternoon, before I left for the day, I sent an email to my colleagues letting them know I would be moving on next year.  I explained that my state license for education requires that I teach there in order to keep it, and that if I fail to do so, I will lose my teaching license.

When I found out that I needed to return to Tennessee, it came as a surprise.  To say that I was disappointed is a huge understatement.

But today I started thinking of something my mentor and friend asked me last year around this time.  She asked, “Jania, what is your ultimate goal for your family?”  I told her that it was to eventually settle in the United States.  Then she said, “Well, now you can ‘backwards plan’ to see what steps you need to take before that happens.”

My list of steps soon became the countries we were interested in moving to–and schools that I could teach at that would pay a lot of money while providing housing.  All the while I prayed the same prayer from six years ago–that God would put me (us) in a place where we can be helpful.  That he would open doors that should be opened and close doors that should be closed.  I wrote to the workers in the middle east, and they responded letting us know about the area, the work opportunities for Victor, and of whom the meetings were composed.

That didn’t work out for us.  Neither did Asia.  But I still would like to teach internationally again someday.

Until then…

Here I am.  Moving straight through my backwards plan to the ultimate goal part.  Life has a way of sending little twists and turns our way.  I find myself hoping and praying for guidance and peace again, and trusting that God has our best in his plan.

Cooking with Kids

I love to cook.  I love to cook for my family, my friends, and myself.  For me, cooking for you is how I show you that I care–so if you’ve been the recipient of my baked goods, that is why!  (If you haven’t, it’s probably because you don’t live near me…)

When my nieces and nephews were younger, I used to love getting them to help me with child-friendly foods.

Ale used to help me all the time too!  This was mainly because she was always underfoot–I could put her up on the counter, and she would happily play with spoons, measuring cups, and rice.  Sometimes, she would be TOO happy, and I quickly learned to be careful what was within her reach.  I

March 2015 Ale making biscuits and gravy with Mami.

When Ale was around a year and a half/ two years old, I bought her a cheap kitchen from the local store.  We put it in the kitchen with me, and she would “cook” while I cooked.  To be honest, Ale still plays with her kitchen!  She makes baby food for her dolls and pretend food for us.

This week I planned our menu before grocery shopping.  We are eating around the world: Sushi, Pizza, Tacos, Beans and Cornbread.  Last night was a pizza night, and Ale asked to help me.  Pizza is easy, right?  It’s the perfect recipe to cook with a kid!

But Kid#2 also decided to help.  She’s really selfish with Mama right now, and wants to do everything Big Sis does.

So, there I was: One kid in one chair, another kid in another chair, me in the middle and all of our pizza goodies on the table in front of us.  Ale is super careful now when she helps me, and I take that for granted.  But Jojo had holes in the dough, hands in the sauce, and stole the package of pepperoni after we put some on her pizza.

I gathered up all the ingredients and stored them as quickly as I could in the kitchen.

Not quick enough.

“Mama! Josie’s making a mess!” I heard from the other room.  Jojo had the flour, and had poured about a cup of it out onto the table.  She saw me, grinned, then began smearing her hand through it with the finesse of a window washer.

It was that moment that I realized I had two options: 1) Holler and try in vain to stop the disaster that was my table and floor OR 2) Let her have fun with the flour.

October 2017 Jojo making a mess…

I chose fun.

A Few Monday Morning Thoughts

I woke up this morning to the news of another shooting in the United States: 50 dead and over 200 injured.  Then a friend on Facebook posted something about how the U.S. really IS helping Puerto Rico, and how you shouldn’t watch CNN.  When I arrived to school, it was to received the news of a fellow teacher who passed away last night after the most gallant fight with cancer.  He has a little girl Ale’s age, and another in fourth grade.

I can’t imagine.  I can’t imagine losing my husband.  I can’t imagine my children being without their papi.

I was thinking about Rafa last night.  I had heard last week that they had news of the cancer spreading.  He was also dealing with a lot of depression.  And last night, as I drifted to sleep, snuggled between my two perfect little bundles, I made a plan to send him some books.  Not books for him to read for his own pleasure, but books to read with his girls.  Because those little girls deserve sweet memories of being with their dad at the end of his life.

The biggest difference I can see between having kids and when I didn’t have kids is the way I look at disaster.  I look at events happening and think, what if that were my daughter.  It makes me more empathetic and way more scared to judge others.

What if it were my daughters who lost their homes in a storm?

What if it were my daughters who didn’t have clean water to drink or enough to eat?

What if it were my daughters couldn’t go back to school for weeks?

What if it were my daughters adjusting to life without electricity?

What if my daughters went to a concert and never came home?

What if my daughters were in the wrong place at the wrong time?

More than anything, I see events like those I read today (mass shootings), and I think, “Why are we moving back to that?!”  I know that Mexico is in the U.S. News often, and in an ugly light.  But (usually) when there are events of mass killings here, they are connected to drug cartels.  You don’t often read about innocent people being plowed down by home-grown terrorists.

I read about the drug issues that are rampant in East Tennessee, and I get scared.  I get scared when I hear that schools are putting “over-dose kits” in each location within Knox County.  I get scared when I hear that cops are carrying over-dose medicine in Jeff County.  I get scared when I think of the number of people who carry guns.  I get scared when I think of my little girls growing up in that environment.

I know living in fear isn’t the way to go about life either.  Fear robs us of our peace–and the Lord knows that we need peace during these crazy times!!

I don’t even know how to end this post.  Perhaps with a plea that you pray for everyone suffering today.  Because the problems that you and I deal with on an everyday basis are small and rather insignificant when you compare them to the problems all around us.

A Letter to My Girls (Who Won’t Stop Talking)

Dear Little Chatterboxes,

Oh! I sure do love hearing you two while you’re playing!!  Until I hear you start to argue.  You might ask what that sounds like with an 19 month old and a four year old.  Let me explain…

Jojo, you are all fire!  I see you thrive on the attention of your sister, even when it isn’t positive!  I watch you run up, grab her toys, and run away.  And I listen to that nonsense talk as you tell her what you think.  Someday, we are going to know exactly what you think!  Until then, you keep practicing that little, “No!” with just as much passion as you use it now.  It will come in handy when you’re older.

And Ale, my little ice princess!  If you would just involve your sister a little more in your play, she wouldn’t wreck havoc.  Yes, I know that is your office.  Yes, I see that you laid out all your supplies on your desk.  But Josie doesn’t understand that the doll stroller is your office chair.  And she certainly doesn’t understand why she can’t use your colored pencils and special office pen!

Oh, now you’re friends again?  Okay, because five minutes ago you were sworn enemies…

Ahhh…sweet girls, you have no idea what is in store for you.

I want you to grow up knowing how to communicate.  I want you to be able to talk to each other about your wildest secrets and your deepest fears.  I want you to hold each other when you are sad, and keep each other in line when the temptations of the world start to call.  I want to see you grow strong, but stay tender (because God can work best with a tender heart, but strength is needed for you to stand up for yourselves…and each other).

I know that someday soon I will need to fuss about how you need to stop talking and just go to sleep.  I know that someday soon, you’re going to start asking for cell phones, iPads, or the latest fad in technology (don’t bother…).  I know that your arguments will grow from toys to bigger issues.  But for the sake of your parents, not too big please…

Girls, don’t forget to lace your words with kindness!  Someone asked me if I would rather have a smart child or a kind child, and without a doubt–kindness wins!  Moments of kindness are what will remind you of your great love for one another.  Arguments will come, but time will pass way too quickly.  Soon you will be like Mama and your aunties.  You will reach the day where you realize it isn’t worth the argument, but it is always worth the love.  More love.  More kindness.  More love.  Less judgement.  More love.

Can we practice this now?

My little girls, you never know where life will take you.  Someday you might find yourselves far away from each other.  Someday you will surely find yourselves without your mama and daddy.  Someday you might complain when your sister pulls up her skirt to show off her legs, then defend her with your might when someone else dares to tease her.  Someday you might decide to share a home and responsibilities.  Someday you might find yourself companions in God’s work (I could only wish this with my inmost desires and prayers).  Someday you might watch your children grow together.

One thing is for certain: for as long as you both live, your sister will be YOUR person.  No one else will know your past, understand your present, and look forward to your future the same way as your sister will.

So chatter away, little lovies.  Chatter away about the rain, your babies, and your chicks.  Chatter away about sharing.  Chatter away as you bathe, play, and eat.  Your chatter fills your mama’s heart with joy, so chatter away.

Love always,

Mama

A Chicken’s Life

Victor and I are SO looking forward to the day that we don’t live in the city.  We aren’t city people.  I mean, don’t get me wrong: I love trash pick-up, public transportation, and corner drugstores.  But the list of things I want to get away from is so much longer!

When we moved to our new house last year, the greatest thing that appealed to us was the backyard.  Yes! Grass!  Grass means chickens!

So, in February we started looking for some chicks.  And we found some.  And we accidentally killed them. (Don’t judge us…we live in the desert.)  And then we got more.  The most exciting news that I received when I was home in Tennessee was that the hens had started laying eggs.  So imagine my surprise when I came back, so excited, and was attacked by our rooster.  Grrrr…

This week was an eventful week though:  on Wednesday our first little chickie eggs hatched, and so now we have four little chicks.  Then yesterday morning we killed our rooster, so now our backyard is a safe place again! Free from the talons of that tyrant!

We didn’t really know how to go about the killing of that guy… I mean, I remember my grandmother killing chickens.  And Victor’s mom raises and kills her own chickens.  But Mamaw and my suegra aren’t here.  So Friday night, I did my research.  (Seriously, what did we ever do without internet?)  Armed with new knowledge, I told Victor what I had watched and read about–and together, we crossed a line.

Let me be clear here: Victor killed the jerk, but then he left him, hanging up on the fence and went to work.  So it was up to me to do the rest of the work.  It’s no joke.  They make it look so easy on YouTube!!  And I made quite a few mistakes.  But once the feathers, head and feet are off a dead chicken, he just looks like something from the grocery store.  I won’t lie and tell you that it was easy.  Somehow I cut the wrong bone, and I am covered in cuts on one hand from trying to clean out the cavity.  But, I did it.  Let me tell you, if people had to do this every time they wanted chicken, there’s no way we would eat as much meat as we do!

So, last night we had beans cooked in chicken broth.  I have boneless skinless breast and thighs in my fridge, and two chicken legs are ready for roasting.  Not to mention, that mama hen starting laying eggs again two days after her pollitos hatched, so we had egg sandwiches for breakfast!

Ahh… the urban farm life…  And such a peaceful one without listening to that gallo singing to us all day long!!

Peaceful

Today at school we were talking about a young teacher who moved to the Marshall Islands to work. She’s been posting the most amazing photos of the sunsets and sunrises from her constant life vacation. Today they were captioned with a comment about the peaceful time before work.

We were discussing what peaceful times for us entail, and it took me too long to think of peace in my life.

Now, keep in mind that I have a sick baby who kept me up all night. I am also taking steroids for my uveitis, so I am a pretty jittery person these days. And then add to the fact that I am never alone. Like never ever alone.

I sleep with people. I bathe with people. I go to work with people. I am with people all day long.

Friday I had about 20 minutes alone: I stayed at school after my office mate left and didn’t call for my ride until the last minute that I could. I knew that Victor was home with fussy Jojo, but I selfishly took 20 minutes. (I mean, I was working…but still…)

I think I need to work on defining peaceful times in my life–or preplanning? In any case, this mama needs some peace, and morning sunrises on the beach aren’t an option for me…this year.

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?”

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.