My Suegra

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When I found out that my mother-in-law was coming to visit us, I was so excited! She’s never been this far from Chiapas, and I had given up hope of having her here.

I was excited, but then I got nervous. Not because of normal mother-in-law worries, but because life here is so different than what she’s used to. She wakes up in the morning and crawls out from under the mosquito net that has shredded her bed during the night. It isn’t actually a net, but something thicker–impermeable to good air flow.

To begin to cook breakfast and coffee, my suegra builds a small fire under her comal. A comal is a flat piece of metal that is commonly used to cook tortillas. She feeds the fire with wood, often adjusting where the heat is focused. Coffee (that she grew and ground) is stirred into a pot of water on the comal.

Then she begins the masa–at one time, my suegra would begin to soften dried corn with cal. I just found out yesterday that cal is lye. Yes, the same lye that makes soap… Now she doesn’t make her own masa, but instead buys in cheap from a lady who walks a round selling it. She deftly pats out the tortillas by hand, using a piece of plastic underneath as an aide to turn the tortilla while keeping it from sticking to other things.

If my mother-in-law wants eggs for breakfast, she needs to go find them–but often she keeps an eye out on where the chickens are laying around the yards. A handful of rice thrown on the ground is met by a chorus of pio pio, and the little pollitos scramble to eat before their brothers.

When breakfast is over, my suegra begins her daily chores. She washes one of her several dresses that she switches out throat the week. Other clothes are also washed by hand and hung up to dry. She sweeps–not just inside the concrete floor of the bedroom but the hard packed dirt that covers the area where she cooks and the common area where the family gathers in the yard. Until I visited Chiapas, I would have never guess that you would sweep a dirt floor.

If it happens to be a day when the water gets delivered, my suegra starts to clean out the concrete holding tank that keeps a week’s worth of water. She scrubs the tank to loosen any algae that has grown. As the water arrives, bleach is added as an extra protectant from whatever arrives with it. Victor says the water comes from the hills, and if it is the rainy season it is full of mud.

This water is used for washing dishes, bathing, and flushing the commode. While they have a toilet (sans seat), they don’t have running water–so she carries water from their water tank to the “bathroom.” It is also used for washing laundry, mopping, and brushing your teeth. When it is time to shower, a large five gallon bucket is filled with cold water, and a smaller scoop is used to dump the water on your body.

Luckily, it was evident that my worries were for nothing. The baby has quickly taken to her abuelita, and they are the best of friends. Abuelita does make her were her shoes all the time, as she worries the “cold” tile will make Ale sick. She cooks for Ale rice with veggies, tortillas, and beans–and changes her cloth diapers throughout the day.

She’s learned to operate the shower and the hot water. She carries her sweater to warm her up, because our swamp cooler makes her cold. And she keeps busy straightening up, watching Ale, and cooking.

The hardest thing for my suegra to see here was the money we spend when we eat out at a restaurant–something we do too often. Well, something we used to do too often… Now, who wants to eat out when you have a little chiapanecan cooking yummy salsas and fresh tortillas everyday?

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World Read Aloud Day

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My heart is breaking.  Seriously.  I take so much for granted–like this wonderful world of literacy!  Reading has been an escape for me since I was a little girl.  Writing became my therapy a couple years ago when I felt like the world was crumbling around me.

And now?  Literacy is my future!  It’s what my job is based on, and I’ve already signed a contract as a literacy coach for the next two years.  You could say that I can support my family because I learned to read.   That’s the truth.

But still, my heart is breaking.

My custodian just asked me sheepishly, “Miss, what does this say in English.  I don’t understand.”  He was holding a button that I had made proclaiming March 5th World Read Aloud Day.  I didn’t think anything of it, and I explained in broken Spanish the idea behind World Read Aloud Day.  It’s a day where you read with a loud voice (the actual translation).  Suddenly, a look of near panic crosses his face.  “Us too?” he asked?  I explained that no, we wouldn’t have everyone reading, but that some schools do celebrate like that.  “But, it’s because I can’t read.  I had to quit school when I was eleven,” he continued, “when my father died.”

Hard swallow.

I quickly assured him that I understood how that could happen.  My husband too worked his whole childhood and missed out on a lot of school.  I can help, I explained.  It will be hard.  But I know I can help him learn to read.

Wow.  I think back to the notes that I’ve written, the cards that we’ve signed, and the text that is literally dripping from my classroom walls.  Poems decorate my door, banners fly in the hallway with each writing celebration, and this sweet man who takes care of us everyday just told me his secret.

I know that it is a secret.  That expression on his face?  I know that expression.  I see it daily on the faces of the boys and girls who struggle with reading–Who know that they are struggling.

There are a lot of things I can’t do in this world.  But teach someone to read?  That’s something I can do.  And it all starts with reading aloud.  Reading with a loud voice.  Be loud.  Be proud.  Read someone a book tomorrow–even if that someone is just yourself.

 

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Wow… Happy Birthday to Me!

I’m a little embarrassed. 

I am a little embarrassed, as it has been nearly ONE month since I last posted.  I feel like this is the difference between being a student and a teacher.  I am always there to remind my students to write every day.  Who’s been around to remind me?

It is, however, a rather important day.  I turn 30 today!  It’s even nationally recognized, and we don’t have school today.  Just kidding.  It’s a Mexican holiday–but not one of the really important holidays (so we’re agreeing to pretend that we have no school due to the nation-wide recognition of my birth.

I can’t believe I am thirty.

I am really going to milk this one for all it’s worth:

1)  I started the day with a chocolate doughnut, chocolate milk, and then a Chocolate Covered Cherry Green Smoothie.  (The last item is actually pretty healthy–but all the health benefits were cancelled out today by the previous two items…)

2)  I woke up at my regular 4:30 to have my “Me Time.” “Me time” is usually spent working, but this morning I’ve used it wisely watching Harry Potter.

3)  I washed the dishes this morning because we got back too late last night (so they were actually yesterday’s dishes), but I won’ be washing any more today.  That means that I will probably have to wash them tomorrow, in case you were wondering…

4)  I will be eating at a restaurant today.  I will also be drinking coffee in leisure with my family.  (Can I just say something about family time?  Everyone always talks about taking dates without their kids.  Maybe it hasn’t been long enough, but we don’t really see the point.  I mean, I waited 30 years to become a mom.  Why would I let someone else watch her so that we can do something without her?)

5)  I will spend an itty-bitty teensy-weensy amount of time working.  This is actually pleasurable, as it is in preparation for my soon-to-be job as literacy coach.  My mentor and vice-principal and I will be conducting a training this Friday on Early Childhood language development.  

6)  I will look for an excuse to have people sing Las Mañanitas to me–and I won’t even feel bad about it.  I’ve waited a long time to have someone sing that to me.  I will be hoping for a mariachi for future birthdays.  

7)  I will celebrate what God has given and I am oh-so-grateful for:  life, love, and family.

Thirty will be great–I just know it!  I don’t feel the least bit sad to leave my twenties behind.  Here’s a little recap though, just for old-time’s sake:  

When I was 20 I moved to Minnesota.  When I was 21 I started college.  When I was 22 I made it a point to watch as many mid-day movies as possible. When I was 23 I graduated and moved to Florida.  When I was 24 I moved to Virginia.  When I was 25 I learned to accept myself.  When I was 26 I lived by myself for the first time.  When I was 27 I quit my job and moved to Mexico.  When I was 28 I met my husband.  When I was 29 I had my precious pichita (“baby” in Chiapas).  

Whew!

I can’t wait to see what the thirties have in store!

A Year In Review

Tonight marks my two year anniversary south of the border!  Wow!  It’s hard to believe that I was once that excited young gringa–jaded by the educational system and failed relationships in the north on her way to adventure in Chiapas!  Two years ago, I packed my bags for six months.  My friend made the comment that I could do anything for six months.  “Even if you hate it,” she said, “You only have to be there six months.”  Shortly before this, her husband had remarked that we would soon know where I belonged.  I remind myself of how broken I was–and how willing I was to be placed where God needed me the most.   That was December 31, 2011

20120108-172130.jpgMy first meeting in Chiapas.  These kids were the nephews and grand daughter of the lady who had the meeting.  A lady that we grew to love so much!

20120110-154202.jpgMy second graders at The American School Foundation of Chiapas spoke little to no english.  In order to teach them procedures, I had to make these signs.  I practiced not speaking at all (super hard for me, but effective).  I came to Mexico with a couple of phrases, but I had to learn fast!

My first year in Mexico proved to be exceptional!  Shortly after arriving, I fell in love… with the country!  It wasn’t long before I met my husband and we decided to tough it out.  (It helps when it isn’t that tough, eh?)  I returned to the United States without him–pregnant and hoping to land a job.  And I did!  It just wasn’t in the United States!  Victor and I moved to the northern state of Coahuila, and I began teaching here.  We struggled some those early months–mostly with money and the lack of support that I initially felt from my employer.  That took us to December 31, 2012.  One year in Mexico!

20120121-162216.jpgI always felt like it was rude to take pictures of the indigenous people in San Cristobal.  I didn’t want to be THAT gringa.  This doesn’t even really show a fraction of how wonderful and lively it is there!

20120324-204953.jpgVictor and I met in San Cristobal.  The rest is history…

(Sidenote:  My one year in Mexico is also my husband’s one year in Mexico.  He arrived just a week before me, and we are patiently waiting out his ten-year ban.  It sounds so harsh, huh?)

It’s been strange to read on Facebook status updates how horrible 2013 was for people.  I feel almost displaced from their happiness–but I do understand what it feels like to have several wrong turns on your road to bliss.  How blessed I feel to be in this country with my family!  What a full year this has been!

January 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVictor and I started 2013 with our civil ceremony.

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February 2012

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Victor and I went to a hotel for my birthday.  Really, it was just so that I could get a good bath.  How nice it was to get in the pool!  I felt weightless (obviously, I wasn’t…)

March 2013

birth.jpgOur little Alexandria swam into the world a couple months later.  Having a water birth was ahhhh-mazing!  Being able to have Ale at home was great too!  I was able to sleep in my own bed!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAle’s first visit with the workers who were in town for Special Meeting.  She was one week old here!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASpecial Meeting (Ale’s first meeting) with a special visitor who swooped in to save the day!

April 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took Ale’s first trip to Monterrey to get her American birth certificate and passport.  We met some of the sweet friends, and Victor had his first gospel meeting!  He was astonished by all the young people.

May 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVictor made his choice to serve God known to our little church.  

June 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAle traveled to the United States where her best friend tried to eat her upon meeting her.

July 2013

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IMG_0642We’ve been to visit both families–and ALMOST all of Ale’s cousins, aunts, and uncles (short one cousin and one uncle).  This is Ale with her abuelos in Chiapas.

August 2013

IMG_0860We settled into our “new” house, and started a new school year.

September 2013

20130918-172659.jpgWe went to Alexandria’s first convention. 

IMG_0834And she cut her first teeth…

October 2013

IMG_1615Mommy’s first work trip away.  Guess who wasn’t upset at all?

IMG_1653Ale’s first Halloween–dressed as the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

November 2013

20131128-222758.jpgMy first Thanksgiving away from home.  Ale’s first Thanksgiving.  And Victor’s first Thanksgiving in Mexico!

December 2013

Ale_Dec3113.jpgAle has made us squeal with joy, and she just gets better everyday.

The Pains of Non-Celebrators

Many years ago, (no, seriously…) my sister Jenny and I left my brother’s house in Indiana to drive to Iowa. We left on the 23rd of December, and promptly drove into a horrific freak snowstorm in Illinois. What started as beautiful snowflakes soon became treacherous driving conditions, and my sister’s car slid off the road.

We were able to make it back onto the road, but had to pull off again due to a flat tire. A nice cop came along and gave us a ride to a hotel in Champaign, Illinois. There isn’t much in Champaign. Except Chinese food. How do I know this? Well, everything closes on Christmas Eve. And Christmas. So we were stuck in Champaign eating at a Chinese Restaurant while watching a Law and Order SVU Marathon for two days.

My first thought this morning was, “Oh, it’s Christmas.” My second thought was, “We should go get some Chinese food today.” (We didn’t go get Chinese food–mostly because I think I can cook better than all the restaurants that we eat at. So every time we go, I end up saying, “Next time, I’ll just make this at home.”) The baby and I hung out while Victor went walking all over town. I even had him pick up the goods for stir-fry. Score! Better-than-Chinese-food soon coming to a plate near you!

Our biggest problem today came this evening when we tried to get a taxi. Turns out, all the taxi drivers want Christmas off–go figure! Then the evening culminated with me swearing I would walk home from church in the dark carrying my fat baby rather than pay 80 pesos for a 30 peso fare.

Bah-Humbug! Hope all you celebrators had a good one! Feliz Navidad!

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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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?

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.

A Poo Emergency

I have a friend who uses the expression “Poo Emergency” more frequently than you would imagine. Let me tell you, being back in Chiapas makes a stop on the side of the road look like nothing…

I realize that after a hiatus from writing, you probably weren’t expecting this post today. After all, this summer has been full of all kinds of family fun. Bebita and I have been all over meeting new family members. Sometimes, the things that weigh heaviest on a blogger’s mind come from somewhere deep inside…

Using the bathroom in Chiapas isn’t squatting over a hole in China–but it isn’t a pretty thing. It was one of the things that I had the hardest time getting used to last year. I mean, seriously, I know toilet seats aren’t necessary, but they sure are nice! (Do you think Mexican men got tired of their wives complaining, and they just decided to take them off?)

We carry toilet paper with us everywhere too–because apparently that’s also not a given…

My newest experience involves my husband’s sweet family. Most of the houses have a crude sort of bathroom outside. (Think outhouse without the smell–and an actual toilet to sit on.) His sister decided to move her “bathroom” to inside her house. I use the word inside lightly, as there is an open area to the side of the bedrooms where the family cooks, eats, visits, and…uses the bathroom.

Oh! And to flush, you fill a bucket with water from the rain barrel by the better old bathroom location. How could I forget that!

This particular morning, I was hurting while mentally willing the family to get up from the table a mere five feet away from the open air bathroom. By “open air” I am referring to the fact that I can look up at the guava tree while I’m using the facilities, I can see the family move about through the shower curtain, and I could join the conversation without raising my voice if I were a braver soul.

Instead? I clench my muscles and explain to my husband that my bowels are rebelling against tamales and tacos. (Yep. We no longer have secrets, it seems…). We work as a team to fill the water bucket before I go–as to quickly remove the wastes as soon as possible.

The privacy of the Starbucks bathroom was not wasted on someone unappreciative today as we made our way back to “civilization”.