There really is no place like home.
The endless hands and arms of loved ones—friends and family alike—to scoop up your children, to hug and kiss and squeeze and calm and entertain them, to support you with joy and energy.
The night after night of summer barbeques, where platters of bratwurst are ever present and fireflies tease while the sun makes its slow descent beyond the horizon and children big and small fall asleep in their parents’ laps as they laugh and talk into the wee hours.
I know that look.
The awkward, flat smile. The glazed over eyes that quickly give way to desperation. The deep breath before any words are spoken. The pursed lips and shrugged shoulders.
I know that look. It’s the look of not understanding a damn thing going on in the world around you.
I know schools. I spend my life in schools. I study schools, I work in schools, I pretty much live in schools. And school here in Mexico…Well, it’s different.
My head swims with a constant stream of, “Wow. In the States, it’s like X, but in Mexico, it’s like X.” Some are improvements, some are infuriating, and some are just baffling cultural differences. But different nonetheless. Never mind that I am teaching at an “American” school. This place is definitely not American. Plus, I get the added benefit of Anna being in a local Montessori program, a non-Americanized (but still private, so relatively affluent) school. And man! These schools are just…different.
Here are just a few of the things that just don’t match up between American and this little sample of Mexican schools (with the full acknowledgement that my n=2 sample is skewed heavily toward upper-class Mexico).
As soon as we left the house for Friday night paletas, I knew. I could smell it in the air. That tell-tale mix of earth, minerals and water.
The rains were coming.
I was teased into thinking they’d arrived a week earlier when, on my walk home from school, a quick drizzle sputtered down. When the first droplets hit my arms–my arms, hot and sticky after a day spent herding teenagers in classrooms that grew hotter and thicker as the day wore on–it was as if I were electrified. Every cell in my body began zinging and bouncing and reaching for those rain drops. Those precious few drizzle drops that sent me home in a skip, only to be dashed by Nico’s solemn head shake, “No, no es la lluvia. Es muy temprano. Y lluvia ahorra es muy mala, muy mala. La próxima día será más húmedo y con mucho más calor.”
I am not really the biggest fan of Mother’s Day.
It’s one of those holidays that seems to be set up for disappointment, with Hallmark-inspired fantasies of perfectly behaved children that the real world can never live up to. The very act of mothering seems to conflict with Mother’s Day dreams of a pampered day ‘off,’ despite the fact that mothering is what we’re supposed to be celebrating. Never mind when real life (read: AP exams) requires Dad to work all weekend and Mom to do double child-care duty. Or when your rambunctious toddler makes a lovely meal out (or in!) seem more stressful than that easy box of mac-and-cheese. Or when your four-month-old cries his little heart out as the soundtrack to your day (or worse: night). This year, I really could have done without Mother’s Day. I would have been happy with a Let Mom Sleep Just a Little Day.
It’s been a rough 10 weeks in the Gibwater casa.
In the 10 weeks since the Littlest One was born, it’s been what feels like a cascade of mala suerte here on Calle Colomos. We’ve become the Bad News Osos.
Time can start to drag on when you’re waiting for a baby.
Here in Mexico, that waiting begins six weeks prior to your expected due date, when the government begins your twelve-week incapacidad. The first four weeks of my maternity leave, however, were anything but a drag. Free from lesson planning and grading for the first time since August, I dove full-force into all the other things that had been put on hold in my life: I spent days working on my dissertation. I organized and arranged the Tadpole’s room. I stocked the freezer with casseroles and the pantry with homemade granola. I caught up on the household budget. I finally finished unpacking and moving into our house. I dove into some pleasure reading. I celebrated the holidays and even escaped the city for a few days. I reveled in some free time with my family.
Our last day in Central America is bittersweet. Bitter because we’re forced to spend it in Cancun (aside from partying twentysomethings, who comes here?!). Sweet because we have fallen in love with Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.
Imagine this: Thousands of butterflies—orange, white, blue, brown, red, and yellow—flitting around you as you cruise down a swift river in a kayak-like wooden boat. Beyond the palm roof of your lancha, you can see jungle, thick, sweaty, and alive. There are vines, palms, banana trees, and giant tree trunks oozing ancient Mayan bubble gum. Monkeys lounging in trees, monkeys howling and grunting in the distance. Bromeliads hang in fuschia splendor from a towering ceiba tree; yellow and purple orchids float on a draft of wind down to the river. And as a soundtrack to it all, birds twitter and sing while cicadas and tree frogs add an incessant bass rhythm.
Greetings from Chiapas! Yes, Chiapas…home of the infamous 1994 Zapatista uprising. Sounds scarier than it is, though: Today, Chiapas (or at least San Cristobal de las Casas, the cultural capital of Chiapas) is more of a gringo-filled tourist pit stop than any place yet that we have been in Mexico. This town is seething with Brits, Aussies, Frenchies, Danes, Americans, Canadians, even Israelis. All are in town ostensibly to take in the colonial architecture, the surrounding indigenous villages, the Mayan textiles, and the cool mountain air. But I think that the Zapatistas are the real draw. They’re everywhere! On t-shirts, on windows, on little woven horse tchatchkes. Even in bars…
Buenas tardes from the tropics! Or the rainy tropics, I should say. At over 7000ft, in July Mexico City is a rainy, thunderstorming megalopolis. Like clockwork, at 8pm the drizzle, then the thunder, then the downpour arrives. It miraculously misses rush hour every day, although it tends to interrupt the nightly excursion for dinner and cerveza. Our best Mexican purchase so far—a ginormous paragua, an umbrella perfect for protecting both of us from the rain, but also sending little old ladies off the sidewalk in fear of its stadium shadow.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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