Don't judge me. I may have mentally scarred my child. Hopefully not permanently. As background the holidays have come and gone. Here in Mexico I made my best effort to keep all of our Christmas traditions alive...tree, elf, letter to Santa, cookies, milk, the whole thing. As any good parent of a third culture kid, I also tried to incorporate some Mexican traditions...piñatas, ponche, and posadas. We did a big dinner on the 24th like good Mexicans and Christmas morning craziness like good Americans.
My kids are borderline spoiled everyday, so the holidays are overkill. Stockings are filled and plenty of gifts from Santa as well as family members are under the tree. Christmas was followed by a New Year's trip to Vancouver, Canada, to play in the snow and a trip to San Francisco to visit family. Sounds good so far, right? A pretty spoiled, I mean magical childhood with everything they could need and want. Killing this parenting thing.
Then came Los Reyes Magos (The Three Kings). This is a tradition celebrated here in Mexico where kids put out shoes and a letter on January 5th and receive presents from The Three Kings the morning of the 6th. Santa is a more recent tradition here and while some kids may get something on Christmas, The Three Kings are the real holiday gift bearers and have been for a long, long time. It is The Three Kings Day that Mexican kids really look forward to and talk about when they go back to school. "Que te trajeron los Reyes Magos?" ("What did the Three Kings bring you?")
I am not uneducated on Mexican culture, I just HIGHLY underestimated what it might mean to my oldest child. I thought I was in the clear. The kids got everything they wanted for Christmas and they absolutely do not need a single new toy. We went away on vacation and were in San Francisco on the Three Kings Day. As my son still doesn't really pay attention to what date it is, he had no idea when the 5th and 6th came and went. Plus he was to return to school on the 8th a couple days after Three Kings Day. We never celebrated this day or tradition when living in the US and we have only been living in Mexico for a year and a half. I knew my son knew what it was. He had brought it up in December and I responded, "O yes, that is something Mexican families celebrate here."
We took an overnight flight home from vacation arriving back to Mexico on the 7th at 5 in the morning. We walked into the house still fully decorated from Christmas. My son went straight to the tree and stated in perfect Spanglish, "Los Reyes Magos didn't come. Probably because I didn't leave a shoe." He shrugged and walked away. He was pretty nonchalant about it, so I didn't say anything or bring it up.
The morning that followed came the heartbreaking moment. My son wakes up, walks straight over to the tree, stomps his foot and pouts, now really upset The Three Kings didn't come. You see, he had put out a shoe! The night before he placed a shoe under the tree and didn't mention it to anyone. We didn't notice with all the toys and Christmas decor scattered about the tree.
OMG, my husband and I nearly died as we shot each other panicked glances. We have just crushed our baby's belief system. He believes in Santa and unbeknownst to us, The Three Kings as well. His little heart broken that he did not receive anything even after putting out a shoe, and it is all our fault. How could we not know? How could we let him down? Well, I guess there is no way I could have understood how deeply my child was taking in and absorbing the culture around him. I am not him, and I see everything through a different lens because my background growing up is very different from his experience. Put plainly, I have no idea how Mexican he feels. How American does he feel for that matter? I will probably never know.
Luckily, my husband is quick on his feet. He immediately suggested, "Maybe they went to your grandparent's because we were not here." He called his Mexican mother on the spot and asked if the Kings had arrived to their house on our behalf. Thank God my mother-in-law knew immediately what was going on and responded with a cheery "Si, aqui llegaron y dejaron los regalos." ("Yes, they came and left your gifts.") My son's face lit up and all was right in our world again. My husband explained to the kids he'd pick up the gifts from his parent's house during his lunch break and bring them home that night. The magic of The Three Kings was saved as was my dignity. I hope my son is not scarred for life.
I cannot possibly be the first parent who significantly underestimated how important something was to their kid who was being raised in a culture different from their own. To all of my diplomatic and expat readers, if you have examples of your own, feel free to share in the comments (and make me feel better about my mistake).
In Love & Tacos
Mom guilt. It’s real. Constantly questioning if you are doing the right thing. I have found myself recently questioning the experiences my children might miss out on being raised abroad. I often scroll through my friends’ social media feeds of their children’s soccer and baseball games, and gymnastics and swim meets. Seasonally I see trips to the pumpkin patch and hayrides, pictures with Santa and the Easter Bunny, and birthday parties full of friends they have grown up with. These are all things I grew up with. Memories built over years of team sports, holiday traditions, and parties with lifelong friends; these moments made me the person I am today. Scrolling through social media while living abroad I find myself wondering, “Will my children learn those important lessons of teamwork and overcoming losses with grace without the team sports? Will they have strong memories of holiday traditions that they will want to pass down to their kids? The sort of memories where the smell of baked goods and pine needles remind them of warm happy holidays surrounded by family. Will they build long lasting friendships growing up without lifelong childhood friends?” Some of my closest friends at age 40 are the people I met in 1st grade. Am I robbing my kids of basic life lessons and experiences? Am I robbing them of traditions that give children a sense of time and place and treasured memories?
There is only one way to overcome this questioning, this sense of guilt. I have to sit quietly and specifically call to mind all the things my children are gaining.
At ages 4 and 7 they already have the experience and confidence to know that they are capable of uprooting themselves, leaving what is comfortable, and adjusting to a new location and way of life. I am convinced, and will continue to reassure myself, that this lifestyle will serve them well and somewhere along the way they will learn teamwork, build memories, and make lasting friendships even if their journey looks different than mine.
In Love & Tacos
Art does not often speak to me. I can absolutely appreciate the great and refined skill that goes into a beautiful painting, especially when just writing my name looks like the work of a kindergartner (as anyone who knows me can attest.) I often wander the halls of museums and marvel at how people can create fine details with just a paintbrush, but rarely do I feel like I need to have it hanging above my sofa or adorning my dining room. Art obviously means something to the person who created it, but usually does not resonate with my own life or existence.
Since childhood I have always connected more with photography, I prefer documentaries over romantic comedies and sci-fi, and I read books based in history or autobiographies over great works of fiction. My favorite traits in a person are logic and reason. I think this is why I have always liked photography, the capture of a moment in time, something based in reality but from a different perspective. Well, until I came across my new favorite Mexican artist, or just artist period, Luis Selem.
I was walking down the street about two months after my move to Mexico City and saw this hanging in a gallery window...
Now, as with all art, this may not call to you but it caught my attention. "What a great shot" I thought. As the wife of a diplomat I loved the word "Fiesta" on it. This piece is called "We are Party." I decided to go inside and inquire about the price, as I could actually picture this in my new Mexico City loft. This is when I fell hard. I saw more pieces like the ones below.
What I quickly realized after walking in was that these were paintings, not photos. How can he possibly make each wrinkle, crease and shadow look so incredibly real? How did he choose what the newspaper said? Did the newspaper's words add to the meaning of the item or was it random? I was suddenly pondering art like never before. And as it turns out "hyperrealism," I now know, is my favorite form of painting.
Then I read a little of the history of the series as described by the artist. My best translation...
"Painting is my mother tongue, my lifestyle and my passion, it has been this way since we discovered each other. My work is based in experiences lived during childhood, to connect with this child scared and afraid because of his first move. Scared and afraid not for the change, but for the preoccupation that his most precious objects (toys) would suffer some damage in the move. From there my eagerness to wrap, to preserve what I loved most. To wrap with a paper that has no significance to a child, newspaper..."
A tear came to my eye and my jaw dropped. "I get it" I shouted in my head! This had been my second major move where I did the same thing with my precious objects that create a sense of home anywhere I go. And beyond that his words resonated because I had just moved my 5 year old son. Picked him up from his perfect suburban life, all his friends, and everything he had know and moved him to a different country. But he was so good about it, his only preoccupation was that his toys would arrive at his new home. HIS precious items that made him feel like he was surrounded by the familiar. Could there be more perfect art to represent diplomatic life? I feel like all diplomatic families will understand why Luis Selem's art struck a chord in me. I had just seen all my objects wrapped up in this manner and would likely see them like this again, five or six times more, over the course of our diplomatic life. Trying earnestly to preserve all that represented my life. An item or two are lost every time, despite our best efforts. Lost to the arduous journey of life.
And now Luis Selem is at it again, creating a series of portraits representing the various regions of Mexico with their beautiful embroidered clothing and jewelry but with faces obscured by newspaper so that the portrait represents everyone and not any one individual. Again I ask, is there more perfect art for the wife of a Mexican diplomat? What I would give to have these beauties adorning my home. And you can be sure they would be carefully wrapped and protected in each subsequent move. A wrapped precious painting of an item preciously wrapped in newspaper. Deep.
Art that finally speaks to my own life and existence. Now excuse me while I go start a "Go Fund Me" page to be able to afford a piece from this renowned artist. You can follow him on Instagram @luis.selem.
In Love & Tacos
People think diplomatic life is all crystal and fine china. What the movies don't show you is that the diplomatic lifestyle can be isolating and lonely. Yes there are cocktail parties but as the spouse of a mid-career diplomat these occasions are only a handful of times a year, if that. I am lucky to be in a posting where I speak the language fairly well but it takes a LOT of mental bandwidth to be social in Spanish. My personality is different in Spanish. I am more shy and less witty. If I really want to relax and connect with people with ease, I have to seek out a few other expats who speak English to really feel like my full social self.
As I have done that by joining expat groups in the city, it has been fascinating to listen to other foreigners perspective on Mexico. They don't want to leave! We have diplomatic friends from the UK who I really wanted to have a nice transition to Mexico. The wife and kids know zero Spanish. We met them the first week they arrived and I checked on them often. A few weeks in I asked how they were feeling living in Mexico and they assured me this monstrous city was a piece of cake compared to their last posting in India. Mexico City was like a lush assignment. Life here was western and much easier than where they had been. They were already off and exploring the city and country and taking Spanish lessons.
Then this week at an English speaking moms coffee I met a women from Barbados and one from Turkey. Their husbands are engineers in Mexico on a project. They were talking about how they didn't want to leave Mexico. They love it here. The mom from Barbados said she never wanted to go back to island living. My jaw dropped. "Why" I asked. I mean I have been bugging my husband about when we can get posted to St. Lucia so I can just hang out beachside all day. She explained that you cannot get all the creature comforts on the island that she had grown accustomed to here in Mexico. She had gone back for a visit and said she was cursing people daily for not having the stuff she wanted available. She was told by store clerks that the next shipment of stuff would arrive in 6 weeks. Also, she insisted the food was bland. All the years in Mexico with salsa, chile, and every delicious sauce one could want had spoiled her tastebuds. She was praying the project would continue for at least 4 more years.
The lovely mom from Turkey was talking about other available projects in Saudi Arabia, Barbados, Paraguay, Thailand, etc. She said she really wished she could stay here forever. That this was better than home (for political reasons) as well as the other available assignments. She mentioned how from Mexico City you can drive an hour or two in any direction and end up in another great place to explore for the weekend.
As these women were speaking it struck me, the irony. All the rhetoric going on in the US about Mexico, all the bad press, the bad hombres, all the travel advisories to reconsider travel to half of the states of Mexico. Foreigners from everywhere else in the world loved it here, and some even thought it was an ideal place to live and raise their kids over their home countries. I guess it is all a matter of perspective depending on where you came from, but it is amazing how hyped up rhetoric about a place can tarnish its reputation to one group of people, while the rest of the world is clamoring to get to stay.
The holidays are upon us here in Mexico City and like any good diplo-wife I tried my best to keep our family's holiday traditions alive despite our new location. Some things I was successful at. I researched and found a place to cut down our tree near a volcano close to Mexico City, we did our annual mall Santa pic, and our Elf on the Shelf, Garrett, had a whole new house to find places to hid in. I even managed, with the help of my mom, to get Christmas cards out to friends and family in the states.
But there were a couple of things that indeed proved challenging. Maybe I procrastinated too long, but I found Christmas wrapping paper hard to come by. Perhaps everyone uses the in store gift wrapping service when they buy the gift, or maybe bags are just more popular, but I was shocked that my four go to supermarkets and corner stores did not have any?! I even chanced upon a Christmas market with all kinds of awesome Mexican decorations and saw a stack, not a roll, but a folded stack of wrapping paper. I asked how much and was told by the seller, "10 pesos por...(insert word I don't know)." I thought he meant per pack, but I eventually understood it was per sheet. The sheets were not so big and at .50 cents a small sheet it would have cost a fortune to wrap my family's presents. Gringa price? Maybe. But he did not offer a lower price as I walked away aghast and clutching my pearls.
As Christmas Day approached I hit my second challenge...baking in a new country. In order to fully participate in my Mexican In-laws Christmas Eve celebration, I offered to bring dessert. When I attended family occasions in Mexico the last 10 years of our marriage, we were always flying in and were basically treated as out of town guests without the means or time to actually help in the preparation of the event. But now that I live here I need to step up my game. The out-of-towner excuse would not fly anymore.
I have done a decent amount of cooking since our arrival but no baking. And as any kitchen dweller knows cooking can be spontaneous and less accurate, substituting items here or there with decent result. Baking on the other hand has to be precise. Follow the recipe, every ingredient and measurement, or else. The amount of time I spent Googling at the grocery store on my tiny phone screen was almost unbearable. Google, how to you say baking powder? Google, how do you say baking soda? Google, how do you say powdered sugar? I speak Spanish decently well, but when you get into specifics these were not things I knew off the top of my head. Of course the first thing I did was go to the baking isle assuming I would just recognize these basics, but I was sorely mistaken. So after Googling these basic items in Spanish, I was enlisting help from the employees. Found some items but not others. "No, señorita, no hay bicarbonato de sodio." No baking soda?!?! How can this be? "No, no manejamos azucar glas." What no powdered sugar?!?! "Impossible, how to Mexicans bake," I thought to myself. And I swear I just ate a cookie with powdered sugar yesterday, so I know it exists. I figured this store sucked and I would find it at one of my other go to spots.
For my cream cheese, Google, how many grams is 14 oz.? For my butter, Google, how many grams is a 1/2 cup? and so on and so forth. Trying to convert my recipe measurements was another reason to buy stock in Google. What did people do before Google and smartphones? But give or take a few hours, I managed my way through and knew I would be relying on my old friend again soon to convert Ferinheit to Celsius. But two stores later, and still no baking soda or powdered sugar. I was dumbfounded and my first attempt to be helpful during my in-laws holiday dinner was almost ruined. But at my third store, God sent me a little baking angel. As I stood staring blankly in the baking isle wondering why I couldn't find that little orange box with a muscular arm on it or something similar, a little old lady who worked there asked me what I was looking for. Then came the words of the savior..."Si, el bicarbonato esta en la farmacia."
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
In Mexico, baking soda is not found in the baking isle or the cleaning isle (I checked there too).
The baking soda is in the pharmacy!!!!
O the amount of time I could have saved if someone had told me that. And she had further information for me. I could find powdered sugar in the specialty store across the street which sells candy. Why grocery stores don't sell powdered sugar right there next to the regular sugar and brown sugar, I will never understand, but at least now I know where to find it. Christmas dessert was saved.
This story is such a classic expat experience. And below are my three takeaway lessons for living abroad.
1. Never take it for granted that even the most basic stuff will be like it is at home
2. Allow more time to accomplish even the smallest errands, and
3. You should probably just go ahead and buy stock in Google.
In Love & Tacos
Rants of a Diplomat's Wife
Hola, I am an American married to a Mexican Diplomat. I am on my 3rd post as a trailing spouse. The first two posts I joined were in the US, and in July 2018 we moved to Mexico City. Maybe it was the fact that I was pumping out my diplo-babies, or maybe I didn't think anyone would be interested in diplomatic life at my US posts, but I didn't blog then. Now I am in Mexico, and perhaps you might find it interesting to know what life is like here. This is where I share my adventures and thoughts at my current post.