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Creating New Year's traditions and resolutions

Thursday, December 31, 2009

With the new year just two sleeps away, I feel like I should be reflecting and resolving.

I would like to create a tradition for my family - something special - but I feel so drained, and it would require some energy and freshness and upbeatness on my part to put it all together.

As a new blogger, I feel the pull to write something new years-y. Marking moments seems to be important for blogging, and since I started writing, I have already let so many pass by.

This has been a huge year for me. I have become a stay-at-home mom of two kids, living in the jungle in Argentina, blogging and cooking and dancing the hokey-pokey. It is simply shocking. And the coming year looms large and unknown.

But it's just not happening for me right now. I would want my reflections and my resolutions to be real and sincere, to reflect the joy, pride, beauty, ambivalence, isolation, fear, uncertainty and exhaustion in my life.

To appreciate the boldness and the audacity of leaving our life in Canada behind and moving to Macondo, to acknowledge its challenges, without casting it as 'adventurousness' or some other such thing that does not do justice to our intercultural and transcontinental dilemmas.

To consult with myself, deep down - How am I doing? What am I doing? What do I need? What do my kids need? What does my partner need? What can I do?  What can we do? How can I help my family, and myself, to thrive? (And my community? And the world?)

I wish I had the time and energy to do this thinking and writing. It would be good for me.

Here is a resolution: I'll get to it. I'll do it for real - some honest introspection and resolve. I can't do it today, or tomorrow, or probably this week or maybe even the next. But over the next few weeks I resolve to find the time and crowd out the distractions so that my little head and I can do some thinking and planning and resolving, and acting on it all.

In the meantime, I'll teach the monster and the monkey a lovely New Year's ritual I learned just three days before I met Macondo Papa (yes, that means that our anniversary is only three days away, and no, I haven't had a chance to think of anything special to do for him. As usual. Good thing I know he's in the same boat.).

I was in a beach town in southern Mexico, celebrating New Year's with a group of other backpackers. A Danish girl shared her ritual and we all did it together:

We climbed up onto chairs and logs and whatever else was about. And at midnight we all jumped off, with both feet into the new year.

Happy new year!

Raising kids on Argentina time

Monday, December 28, 2009

The monster had his end-of-the-year show at preschool a few weeks ago. It started at 8pm.*

Most of his classmates' birthday parties have been from 6-9:30pm, without dinner. (The kids go home for dinner afterwards, if they haven't already inhaled too many cheesies).

This is not bad planning, it does not reflect decisions made by people that don't have young kids and aren't used to thinking around their schedules and needs. These are the parents and teachers of three-year-olds.

This is Argentina.

It has different rhythms than the ones I grew up with. And these rhythms mark our days and our seasons, our activities and our energy levels, our invisible expectations of life, in ways that I had never realized.

*He was very, very cute, by the way. So proud of his performance, he announced that he wants to be a dancer when he grows up. Fun! We dance all the time now, with no lack of music, as our little town is filling up with obnoxious music-blaring vacationers for the season. I'm going to try to sign him up for some dance lessons, which will probably start at, like, 8pm or something. Really.


I remember the year I spent on exchange in Australia, marveling over and over again at the idea of spending New Year's Eve at the beach. Outside. For me, the very essence of New Year's Eve had been tied up in having a good plan about where to be at midnight - which house party or bar or cottage to go to - because once there, that was it. Venture outside at your own risk, only if -15°C and frostbite is your idea of a good time.

This went beyond strategic planning. It was bundled up in the meaning of New Year's Eve itself. It was part of how we celebrated. Being free to meet up in a park or a beach or someone's backyard (all free!), and then maybe play things by ear and see how the night developed, was simply not compatible with New Year's Eve. It wasn't compatible with the meaning, the identity, of New Year's Eve. Not in Toronto.

(Southern hemispherists are used to this disconnect between their steamy climatic reality and the dominant media images of the North: a white Christmas, holiday cooking with the oven, cozy sweaters and fireplaces... For not-very-well-traveled little me, it blew my mind.)

Similarly, September for me is a month of beginnings. First days of school, and kids crowding the subways once again. The end of August, like Sundays, carries a sad weight of a looming return to the daily grind, to the coming of winter and snow and slush and darkness at 4pm.

I can't describe how weird it is to me that my Argentinian partner gets this same Sunday feeling in late February, and that he associates a nice, fresh fruit salad with eating dinner in his backyard on Christmas Eve.


These yearly rhythms give smells and flavours and temperatures to our activities, and how could our daily rhythms be any different?
Can you imagine your kids at the park at midnight, running around with all the other neighbourhood kids?
Is 11pm too late to call to wish your 6-year-old nephew a happy birthday?
Did that vague "call me in the afternoon" mean 3pm or 6pm?
It's 6pm - Are you hungry for a few crackers and cheese, or a heaping plate of pasta and a salad? 
In Canada, the school day is roughly from 9am to 4pm. Then there is an after-school snack and free time until dinner, at about 6pm. After a 7:30 or 8 or 9pm bedtime, there is Grown-Up Time.

Don't ask me what grown-ups do with this time, I don't want to know. I know what I would do with it: any one of the kazillion things I feel like I have no time for.

Anyways, here in Argentina, the daily rhythm is entirely different.

The school day is roughly from 8am to 1pm or from 1 to 6pm. Kids either go in the morning or in the afternoon, all the way through high school. That's a lot of daytime hours that kids are NOT in school. Which I really like the idea of. But I would like to know how it is compatible with the parents having jobs, or just, say, things to do. The answer seems to be: either grandmas or nannies.

Let's move on. (There are gender implications to this that deserve more than these parentheses, and that may shape my work life for years to come. But that's for later).

Here in Macondo (but not in Buenos Aires), most everything is closed from 1 to 5pm for lunch and siesta. That means many families have lunch all together, and also play and sleep. Then it's back to work for many folks until 8 or 9 or 9:30 or so.

Snack-time is about 6pm. Dinner is at 9 or 9:30 or 10pm on weeknights (weekends could be later).

Kids generally go to sleep when the parents do, or earlier, but certainly not before 11pm, often not until 1 am or even later. Even the ones who don't have naps.

Every time I talk about these two very different systems, I get reactions like:

From the Canadians:
- but how do the kids get enough sleep?
- when do you have any down time or grown-up time?
- it can't be healthy to have dinner so late.
- don't the kids get cranky?
- what do they do for the half day they're not in school?

From the Argentinians:
- if you have dinner at 6, don't you get hungry later?
- when do you get to spend time with the kids?
- poor kids in school all day! when do they play?
- why do they have to go to bed so early? what if they're not tired? why so rigid?
- don't you end up always fighting over bedtime?
- don't they wake up way too early in the morning?
- how do you get dinner ready so early? (good question!)

There are and there aren't answers to these questions. I ask myself many of them, frequently. But I often come back to this: the whole country does it this way - it must work.

I find that reactions on both sides, stemming from genuine disbelief, often turn judgmental.
It's important for kids to get enough sleep. 
I don't prioritize grown-up time over spending time with my kids. It's tiring, but these years are so special and don't last long.

I tend to get a bit defensive, first of one way of doing things, and then of the other. Because in their own cultural contexts, these systems work, and they make sense. And they are frequently implemented even by loving and conscientious parents. And they both have advantages and disadvantages.

My struggle comes from living in the middle. It isn't easy to hand-pick the things you like from two different worlds (especially when you are physically living in only one of those worlds). They clash, and you end up making sense to no one at all.

Dinner at 9 does not make it easy to have the kids in bed by 10. But bedtime at 11 for a 3-year-old, or no bedtime at all, stretches my Canadian sensibilities too far.


So I admit I am conflicted.

I like that school is only a part of their day, and that the rest of their day is only as structured as we choose it to be, with dance classes, naptime or play dates. But I also like the thought of working without having to make complicated child-care arrangements.

I like the idea of early bedtimes and well-slept kids and grown-up time on a regular basis. (Really really!) But I also love the inclusion of kids in life here, that they are part of society and are welcome to exist and play and interact even at dinner parties, weddings, and night-time walks to the park. They are not put to bed and left with baby-stitters - not always, not often.

I like family time for more than a hurried two hours or so every day.

And then, there's the push, the societal insistence, that you respect the daily rhythms of the place where you live.

If we were to try to follow a more North American schedule, how could we have playdates, if they start here at 6pm? How could we ever go out for dinner, if the restaurants are just opening at 8:30? Should the monster miss all of his classmates' late birthday parties? Wouldn't he be too cranky (or meltdown-y) to enjoy his end-of-the-year show, if it were just an exception that he was out at 8pm? Wouldn't it be a shame if he never got to kick the ball around with the other kids at the park on a hot summer night, under the stars?

As it is, we have implemented a strange blend of both systems. We try to eat no later than 9pm. If we can do it earlier, even better. We try to have the kids in bed no later than 10pm, though the monster takes FOREVER to fall asleep (AND IT IS DRIVING US CRAZY). We are as flexible as we can be, we try to tweak nap-times and meal-times to match the day's plans. And we have partially converted our good friends over to a semi-similar regime, so at least we can have dinner together from time to time.


I realize, as New Year's Eve approaches, that the monster and the monkey will never understand the great delight my brothers and I experienced the very few times we were allowed to stay up late, past midnight, until it was "already Tomorrow." They won't get it because for them it's no big deal. When the grown-ups are having lots of fun and the kids still want to play too, they do.

My occasional angst and indecision about all this, all my hand-wringing and back-and-forth with Macondo Papa about these seeming trivialities of parenthood, show me how deeply some of our cultural differences run.

Pre-parenting, all this was no big deal. I just had to remember not to totally pig out on the 6pm pastries, because dinner was still to come.

Now, with my monster doing his ugly duckling dance in his little, yellow bird costume at 8:30pm, followed by a dinner outside with friends in December, I can see that his rhythms are being formed, his "normal"s are being created and lived, right now. The meanings he and his brother will attribute to their days and seasons are being shaped by these moments, right here, in this place that they live.

This is as it should be, right?

the stockings

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My attempt to "do" Christmas this year was going to consist of making some stockings and filling them with a few little things.

Not being with my inlaws this year means we don't have the tree and the presents and the candy and the religion by default.

So there has been no real talk of Santa, but the Monster does like loading up his pillow-sleigh with toys and dragging them around the house "for all the kids". And yesterday he said: "I'm so hungry, I'm going to eat Christmas!"

We haven't really talked about Santa because I can't bring myself to participate in the whole lie/fantasy, but we also don't want him to ruin his friends' delusions/fantasies. I kind of mumble a half-assed version of this, but I can't figure out how to make it coherent with all the prezzies his friends are going to be rolling around in.

Good thing that this age isn't all about solid logic and sound theoretical reasoning.

Back to the stockings.

When I say that I was going to make them, I was clearly a bit delusional. I imagined simple, anti-commercial, much-loved, unique stockings, to be increasingly decorated with cuteness and funkiness as the years went by and our family built our own traditions.

I bought some funky orange fabric when I was in Buenos Aires (see? I was planning and prepared and everything!), and I asked my partner to get me some fabric glue yesterday. (You didn't actually think I was going to sew! I wish I could say that it at least crossed my mind, but no.)

Now, I know perfectly well that it is completely unfair to blame this all on the glue, but that's what I'm going to do. I imagined a glue stick kind of thing, and he brought me a crazy glue kind of thing. Picture a gloppy, stringy, uber-sticky, impossible-to-apply-evenly mess.

I'm sure the stockings would not have lived up to my imagination anyways. But, they are so...wierd...that when I showed them to Macondo Papa we both kind of laughed, snorted, and cackled that This-Is-So-Funny/Embarrassing/Wierd kind of laugh.

Good thing I don't really care that much, and neither will anyone else.

Plus, I impressed myself and totally came through for Chanukah (at the Monster's prodding, I must admit). We made plasticine dreidels, we remembered to light the candles every night, and we even Skype-sang the Chanukah songs with the grandparents.

I still have Three Kings' Day to figure out. What to do about the lie/fantasy about the camels that will come a-visiting for some grass and a drink of water?

Too bad there is already so much celebrating to do. I would have loved to have tried for a fun Solstice celebration, but enough is enough.


One evening in my bilingual relationship:

me: I think we should do stockings for Christmas.

him: You want to spy on someone and follow them around?

me: (ha ha ha ha ha!) That's stalking. This is s-t-o-c-k-ing.

him: You think we should accumulate stuff for the winter, so that we have a stock?

me: Christmas stockings, they're like socks. You hang them from the fireplace, with goodies inside. We could hang them from the staircase.

him: Oh, Christmas sock-y things. Ok, whatever. We can use my socks, if you want.

Driving in Macondo and small-town bureaucracy

Monday, December 21, 2009

I wrote this post before the loss of my beloved bag last week. Some or all of my affection for local bureaucracy may be put to the test in the weeks and months to come.


License to drive

me: Good morning. I need a driver's license.

her: Give me two pictures, a photocopy of your ID card, and your blood type.

Notice the absence of the following requirements:
- a previous driver's license
- a current driver's license
- knowing how to drive

I guess that both Buenos Aires and Toronto are pretty good evidence that driver education and driving tests do not good drivers make....

Now I just have to laminate my flimsy, official little piece of paper, and I am set.


(Not) Getting paid

Breezing through bureaucracy is not the usual, here in Argentina. This is the reason that my kids are still here on overstayed tourist visas.

And my partner still hasn't been paid, for example, for the job that he officially started in April, with a contract not signed until August, followed by months of X-rays, psychological tests, dental exams, certified diplomas, waiting in lines and filling out forms by triplicate, all collected in a specific type of folder and submitted over two months ago. It may take yet another month, because one of the forms included his middle name, and, alas, the rest did not.

This is normal. Yes, all this is for a job. A normal job.

When he does get paid, it will be another several weeks until he will be able to stand in line all day to be able to withdraw it from his not-yet-in-existence bank account that must be opened and used for this purpose. He may or may not ever get a debit card for said account.


I could go on - it really is more absurd than you could probably imagine.

But my shiny new driver's license was painless, and no newcomer to Toronto or Buenos Aires can say that.


The small-town, Latin American bureaucratic office

The overly spacious or impossibly cramped room, big metal fan standing in a corner (not turned on, of course), naked light bulb with perilous wiring, two or three lone seats, thick binders labelled with fat markers stacked on the shelves, and The Desk.
The large, bare desk, with a telephone, an ashtray, a few pens and some scissors. Possibly a calculator, or a hole punch. Perhaps a small plant.
And, of course, a little pile of Important Stamps - the goal of visiting such an office is inevitably to have one of those stamps pounded onto one or more important pieces of paper.
But... NO COMPUTER. Possibly, in a corner, a typewriter. Yes, a typewriter. Think back to the last time you saw a desk anywhere without a computer. I know, it's crazy.

Sometimes, this small-town home of the ubiquitous tramite (bureaucratic process or transaction) reminds me of the slimy, moustached police officers and border guards on power trips from my backpacking days. Ick.

But, when it isn't way too hot and crowded to be sentimental, I also feel a bit of affection for these places, which surely are doomed to extinction, eventually.

And when I imagine what the lines would be like in Buenos Aires, I can't complain. I just load on the bug spray and wait my turn. And having a kid in tow means I jump to the front of the line.

Woe is me

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What a shitty, shitty, shitty day.

Screw rigour. I am not going to try to find any little pearl of wisdom, universal theme or thread of deep thought in all of this. I am not going to worry about boring my mysterious readers (who are you guys, anyways?) Do come back for another post, another day. But now I am just going to describe the shittiness of my day. And I probably won't even do it justice, because it is really shitty.

I lost my bag. My BAG. It is gone, gone, gone. I want to cry and carry on for a little while, rather than accept it and put it into that odious "perspective": at least we are all healthy, blah blah blah.

Macondo Papa wishes that I would stop, that I would get over it, that the kids shouldn't see me like this. Well kids, it's time that you learned this: when I'm not on auto-drive, in patience-infused mama-land, I Cry A Lot. Not always this gushing, sobbing kind of crying, but tears and wobbly-voice make very regular appearances in my life. So there you go.

Right now, I don't want to have to do one single thing more for anyone other than myself. And all I want to do for myself is to feel sorry for myself for a little while, since I can't do anything else.* Boo hoo hoo.
(*I tried to hang on to all these feelings long enough to get this blog post written before life took over, but no luck. It's already two days later. I still feel sorry for myself, but not with quite the same passion as before. Macondo Papa made me some freshly squeezed orange juice. I squeezed in a nap at some point. The monster wanted to play "something fun like 'dance teacher' or 'shark'" to make me feel better.)

On Monday night, the 15-month-old monkey and I got on another overnight bus to Buenos Aires.

Why do we take these trips every two months or so? Ah, the wierd, random details of my life. To take advantage of the last drops of the best health insurance coverage I will probably ever have in my life, just before we left Canada I got invisible braces. Check them out, they're cool. And they were free, covered by my benefits package. But I have to follow up every now and then with a certified, invisible-braces orthodontist. There are only four in Argentina, and they are all in Buenos Aires.

So, yes, I've been taking 12-hour bus rides with my toddler every two months to visit the orthodontist. Anyways...

While these trips are exhausting and expensive, it is also nice to get to Buenos Aires every now and then. I watch people, I go bra shopping, I browse book stores, I eat empanadas. I soak in the big city. I contrast my beach and my alligators and my bizarre Macondo anecdotes and encounters with the beauty and insanity and noise of Buenos Aires, and my brain has some stuff to chew on and some perspective to glean for a while.


The post I would have written, had I not LOST MY BAG, would have been about these impressions that I gather, and about the luxuries I indulge in (eating empanadas, buying the latest Le Monde Diplomatique, walking along Corrientes Avenue).

I also would have written about the incredible amount of work that it is to travel alone with a little one. And how well I pull it off.

But now I am writing a post about how hard I worked on this trip, how exhausting it was, how good I felt about how I had managed it all, and how I managed to completely fuck it all up and make it completely meaningless and pointless and just a gigantic pain in the ass.


First, I must credit the monkey - he is an excellent traveller, so I fully appreciate that it could have been a lot harder.

If this were that other post that I was going to write, I would tell you about how he slept, he didn't get sick, he didn't poo anywhere inconvenient, he smiled and waved at all the right people, at all the right times. He let me carry him around in the sling for endless hours, with only minor and occasional complaints.

But still.

Twelve hours on a bus with an energetic little dude takes a lot of energy and a big bag of tricks. Offering our unused champagne cup as a new toy at just the right time; a fun game of fingers crawling on the window instead of eating my dinner; a concerted effort to not have to use the bathroom for the entire trip, because it would just be way too complicated. And booby all night long.

Then lug baby, suitcase and bag (oh, my BAG) through the bus terminal, walk several blocks to the subway station, take two subways, walk several blocks, and get to hostel. Now, if you can, imagine what you think that might all look like in Buenos Aires, with noise, crowds, broken sidewalks, and less-than-convenient subway transfer points.

Now, fill two full days with the following ingredients:
- a one hour bus ride there and back to the orthodontist
- a visit with the orthodontist with toddler on my lap, keeping him out of her box of old toothbrushes (why does she have such a box?)
- some play time and exploring time in our hostel, which is absolutely lovely but not without some scary-looking electrical outlets, a breakable-looking stereo system, a few irresistible stairs to practice endlessly on, other people's rooms to break into, and several deadly balconies
- not going to the bathroom ONE. SINGLE. TIME. without the monkey, except for one super quicky before bedtime, because I was afraid he would wake up and/or fall out of bed
- making sure he didn't fall out of our bed all night long (I couldn't push it up against a wall)
- restaurants! Trying to feed the monkey, trying to feed myself, wondering why on earth high chairs in this country do not have that middle bar that goes between the legs, or any kind of strap or other type of safety feature
- Chanukah and Christmas shopping with the 11-kg monkey on my back
- a return trip to the bus terminal, and another 12-hour bus ride home
- waiting (= keeping the monkey entertained and happy, without destroying any property) at the bus terminal for another 45 minutes for Macondo Papa and the monster to show up

I did all that. I was exhausted, but happy to be home. Happy to pick up the monster and see his shy smile as I kissed him and told him how much I'd missed him. Happy to feel Macondo Papa's arms hug me quickly before he grabbed the monkey out of my arms for some tossing up into the air.

I felt good about some of the special moments I had shared with the monkey, without the distractions of the internet, the dirty dishes, the demanding older brother. I felt proud about how hard I had worked and how well it had gone. And completely exhausted, I was looking forward to a bit of down time.

We loaded up the car, drove for 40 minutes, unloaded the kids and...MY BAG WAS NOT IN THE CAR.

I had set it down to strap the monkey into his car seat, and I left it there in the parking lot.

I panicked and freaked. I wanted to run back to the bus station, but Macondo Papa wouldn't let me. He called, got transferred around. Somebody checked, it wasn't there.

My mind raced: All that I had done, the kazillion details I had managed so well throughout the trip, and I was so close to being peacefully and thankfully at home, and at the very last moment I had spaced out and done something so stupid and LOST MY BAG. It wasn't fair. I can't convey how unfair it was.

I wanted to go to back to the bus station, but MP wouldn't let me go in the state I was in, so he went, against his will. Again, how unfair! Of course he didn't find anything, and meanwhile I was a wreck and I had two kids to take care of by myself for 2 hours. Not the way I had envisioned my return.

What, you may wonder, was in the bag? (The most awesome diaper bag, by the way, that I bought on a memorable day with my best friend when we were both about 8 months pregnant, that only cost $25, that was the perfect size, with the perfect pockets, the perfect colour brown, that I was going to be able to use as my bag even when I no longer had to lug diapers around.)
  • Money - I have no idea how much, probably about $70 US, which is a whole lot to us right now, but not so important, in the end.
  • Credit cards - I spent the afternoon Skyping with Visa and Mastercard; it's the only way we can call overseas. Good thing the power didn't go out (a frequent occurrence).
  • Driver's licenses - Canadian and Argentinian.
  • National Identity Card - this is going to be a major headache.
  • Cell phone - boo hoo.
  • Memory card with all of the photos we've taken over the last few weeks, which we hadn't downloaded yet. With a video of the monster singing "Dreidel dreidel dreidel" all by himself. Boo Hoo!
  • Change of clothes and a few toys for the monkey, no big deal.
  • THE REST OF MY FUCKING INVISIBLE BRACES. I only had two more to go. Just one month until I was done. Only one more visit to the bloody orthodontist. Now, to continue I would need to go to Buenos Aires to get the molds taken, pay $300 US to send them off, and $900 US for the replacements, along with at least another two follow-up visits. I can't do it. It's way too much money, especially for what were supposed to be essentially free braces, other than the expense of the visits to Buenos Aires.
Okay, I'm done complaining for now. I know it's all just stuff. Not even a hard drive, or a lifetime of photos, or an irreplaceable address book. On Monday, I'll file a police report to get the ball rolling to replace some of the ID that I lost. Life will go on.

Maybe it hit me so hard because of my exhaustion. Because of all the effort wasted. (My teeth!) Because I wanted to write about other things but instead had to write about this first. Because instead of a happy and cuddly rejoining with the rest of my family, I got panic and tears, money wasted and more work to do.


Have you lost anything valuable? Are you able to keep things in perspective, about what really matters, all the time? Do your kids see you cry? Have you travelled alone with little ones?

Sneezing for laughs

Monday, December 14, 2009

How I love these quirky, intimate moments with the little ones.

On the drive home from our friends' place, the monkey starts crying and doesn't stop. Since Macondo Papa isn't there, and I'm driving, I can't climb into the back seat on the go and smush my boob into his mouth while he's strapped into his car seat (sounds really safe, I know).

The monster and I try singing to him, playing the kiddie CD that's already in the CD player (maria elena walsh =  brilliant) and finally hit on the one thing that has always managed to get a good laugh out of him.

We start sneezing.

Ha-choo. Ha-choo! Ha-ha-ha-CHOO!

And since we're a bilingual family:

Ha-chis! Ha-ha-chis! HA-CHISSS!

And so on. (You might not have known that ha-choo in Spanish is ha-chis. I try to keep my blog educational...)

Well, it didn't have him hysterical with laughter like it usually does, but he stopped crying for the remaining 15 minutes of the drive.

And the monster and i had a pretty good time of it too.

On motherhood and rigour

Friday, December 11, 2009

I have this desire to write profound words about all this and many other half-written posts. To reflect upon it all in a deep and meaningful way. To write something really honest, or thought-provoking.

I am feeling less than thoughtful lately (as in less than 'full of thoughts', not as in considerate, although probably that, too).

At the same time, though, I am trying to be patient with myself, and trust that my brain power may return one day. Sleeplessness, house chaos, spousal exam stress, intense heat - when these things pass, my lazy brain might roll out of its bed now and then.

Is it okay to wait a few years? Because that seems like a really long time. But how can it be sooner?


At times, I'm convinced that it is okay for me to take this time while the monkey is still small and I figure out how to live here. To not already have developed a few good PhD ideas to toss around. To not have followed global and regional affairs as closely as I would have liked. To write about whatever, to think less than rigorously, to not find that essence in the everyday that makes the best mommy blogging - and the best cultural commentary in general - so honest and meaningful and provocative.

By writing about whatever, I am practicing something else that is important and doesn't come to me easily: just jumping in and doing something, even when it isn't perfect or great. Yes, I edit a couple of hundred times, but in the end I do it. I am finally, finally starting to write. Even if I am writing crap, it is still a good thing (for me, not for you...). If I didn't have a good excuse for my lack of depth (no time, no sleep, no life), I might have never started writing at all.

And, AND! I am finally starting to think (really think, even if it isn't profound, I am actually dedicating quite a bit of thinking time and energy to this) about me and my life and my family and my body and my feelings and my past and present and future.

I have always shied away (honestly, fled would be more like it) from doing the me and my life thinking that I think will make me more me, and also a better mother, lover/partner (I just can't say wife), friend, woman.


I am a lazy thinker.

I love good books and films and articles and theories and analyses, for example, but rarely retain enough information to make effective use of the information later on, or linger long enough to squeeze out the really juicy stuff that is a little harder to extract.

I lack rigour.

This is why I love (and hate) being a student. Insanely long reading lists, articulate smart people, intimidating assignments - these things bring out the rigour in me (though they cause me a great deal of anguish and self-doubt in the process).

Motherhood, on the other hand - and especially stay-at-home motherhood - while important and rewarding and challenging to my core - has not exactly honed my critical analysis skills. Instead, it has been my justification for kind of setting them aside for now.

I am still outraged by the outrageous, and I still get excited when I read some kick-ass analysis. But I read (WAY) less. I often don't even get past the headlines. And I don't do anything with any ideas that might spontaneously arise. I am lazy, lazy, lazy.

As I write this I am thinking how cool it would be to somehow be more serious about all my bloggy reading and thinking and writing, and create something resembling a course, a reading list, a seminar, a study group. Something with some rigour, focused on an area that I am finding myself able to concentrate on a bit and also from which I am benefiting enormously. (Really, reading some of the brilliant mama blogginess out there is so inspiring, and I am learning so much). I will just leave the idea there for now, because it would take a lot of time and thinking to give it a structure and make it work. This is what I do, think of things, and then get lazy and let them fade away...


Back in grade 10 English, I read a short story by Kurt Vonnegut that has somehow defied my knack for forgetting all the details about anything excellent that I read.

It was about a society built on a tyrannical brand of Equality. So that nobody should benefit unfairly from their various types of privilege, everyone had their strengths amputated or neutralized; equality meant imposing the lowest common denominator in every sphere of life. The protagonist's father was a smart guy, so he had to have some noise-making device buzzing loudly in his ear every 30 seconds or so, interrupting whatever smart or coherent thought he might have been incubating. The really loud buzzes were called doozies.

(Seems like a stab at socialism, but come on, not from our beloved Kurt Vonnegut! It must be brilliant and lefty, right? Anyways, since I am lazy and I lack rigour, you can read this, and I will get back to being self-absorbed.)

Since becoming a mother, I have been reminded of this story so many times.

My days are filled with constant, unrelenting interruptions - doozies - with absolutely no respect for what else might be happening, what thoughts might be forming, what ideas might be taking shape, what interesting or important conversation might be developing, often to be cut short and then forgotten, or abandoned, or reduced to that which can be completed in unconnected, five-minute one-minute bursts of time.

Interruptions like diapers and nursing and boo-boos and potty and play-with-me and all that, but also the infinity of indescribable, really important nothings that require stopping everything Right Now, all the time.

Mom, mom, mom, mom! Mom! Mom! LOOK! - what is it? - Look how I can bend my thumb.

And I believe that all these interruptions not only make it exceedingly difficult to get stuff done (like the dishes, finishing the page you're reading, sending an email), but they interfere significantly with forming thoughts, memories and plans.

They really do impede intelligence, these doozies.

Since I accept that having small kids is naturally and understandably doozy-filled, I am left with this: the sincere hope that when the interruptions subside, thoughtfulness may return. Other than being a bit out of practice, I see no reason why it shouldn't, but it does feel a bit scary (or lazy) to just go with that and hope for the best.


I started writing this post because I was sad and frustrated with my limited opportunities for real thinking, and my limited success whenever I did give it a try.

Why don't I try to dedicate some time to developing a good PhD idea? Why am I going nowhere with this?

I am antsy. Something is missing. I assume it is a little bit of brain activity that I need. Some stimulation. Saying or writing something Good, something Interesting. (Insert usual disclaimer here: yes, yes, mothering is also Good and Interesting, and I love it, and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. But...)

Sometimes I think I need to get some more paid work, to de-antsify myself. But without a dream job on the horizon for now, I don't know why I think that a not-so-fulfilling job would somehow be more fulfilling than Mothering: The Most Fulfilling Thing in the World.

Do I like finding a good translation for "gendered" more than playing this-dinosaur-is-really-hungry-and-is-GONNA-EAT-YOU? Do I like teaching the conditional tense more than reading Green Eggs and Ham?

Are these fair questions?


I am perplexed by the excellent writing and thinking and activism I come across by other mothers with small children. Envious. Impressed. Curious. Ashamed. Intimidated.

How do they do it?

I don't want my 'mommy brain' feelings to validate any mother-dismissing, 'it's just the hormones and the lack of sleep' discourses circulating out there. Clearly, there are lots of sharp, rigorous mamas out there, with voices that the world needs to hear. I wish they were all my friends.


All these fragments are about the same thing. A well written piece would have strung them together in a logical and compelling argument. I am lazy. Fragments are cool too, sometimes, but that is no excuse.


Why do all of my attempts to write about sadness and frustration turn into hand-holding pep talks and wierd attempts to be funny?


I have reread this post countless times over the past few days. But not one of them has been uninterrupted. I'm sure I've forgotten some really wonderful things I was going to say, but here goes anyways - Publish Post, click.


(as i continue to obsess with geeky blog details, i have registered my blog at technorati. i am not sure how it works or what it is, but i assume that once i am all signed up, i can start to figure it out. they have asked me to put this code in a post, and so here it is: M92P864XP7XZ)

If you are still reading, you might be interested to know that I have added a 'subscribe by email' option in the sidebar, so that you can get your 'mama in macondo' posts delivered right to your inbox. Go check it out. Subscribe. And let me know what you think, too!

Things I wish you wouldn't say to my preschooler

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Unfortunately, we have heard all of these over the past few days:

You're big now, you don't cry anymore. That's for babies.
Macondo Papa's advice for the monster: "That's ridiculous, everyone cries! The next time your teacher tells you that, tell them that it's ridiculous!"

(Speaking loudly about his little brother):
Look at that smile! You're the friendly one, aren't you? What a cutie!!! etc. etc. gush, gush, gush.
I said, "His big brother is really friendly too. Now that he's big though, he just doesn't feel like smiling and waving at people all the time." Have you people no understanding of what shit like this does to an older sibling? On an already not-so-great day?

(In a strong Spanish accent):  
Hello. How are you?
No blame for this one, just trying to be friendly, but my poor guy doesn't understand why people don't just speak to him in Spanish like everyone else, and why they all giggle in amazement when he slips up and lets them hear him say something to me in English. I say (in Spanish), "Did you hear that? They wish they could speak English as well as you can!"

Look at you, so cool not buckled in to your car seat. Like a big kid! 
A momentary lapse of judgment from Macondo Papa, hopefully not really registered and quickly forgotten...

Ha ha ha ha ha!
From a four-year-old boy we met at the park, laughing in my son's face at his stuttering as he so earnestly tried to tell his new friend all kinds of things. Poor little monster, my heart ached at your potential future pain from this one.

You can't have the pink one, it's for girls.

You ran around like a crazy bunch of Indians all morning - what fun!
Ugggghh ugggghh! 

No, not now, stop that, don't do that, hurry up, come here, sit down, I'm getting angry...
My own stellar parenting skills.

It's hard to know how to deal with all these (other than my own, which would benefit from some deep breathing, better sleep, AND JUST A LITTLE BIT OF TIME ALONE).

I've started speaking up more in front of others, saying things like "If you don't like it when she touches your hair / talks to you in English / tries to kiss you, then tell her that you don't like it."

The bilingualism adds an extra layer of complication to this, because I have to switch into Spanish to get the desired effect (back off, lady!). That adds a bit of wierdness to it for the monster, since I always speak to him in English. It also makes it quite obvious to all that I'm speaking to the monster - loudly and clearly enough to be overheard - as an easier and more socially acceptable way of saying what I'd really like to say (back off, mister!).

What kinds of comments do you wish your kids didn't hear? What do you do? How important do you think these unwanted outside influences really are?

froggy poop

Thursday, December 3, 2009

photo taken in my front yard
Sometimes, people who know that I have a biology degree ask me things like, "what should I do about this festering wound my dog has?" and "how many different kinds of scorpions are there?". It's as if they think that all those years of study should be useful, or something.
Red Algae and Green Algae

Well, I guess I know a thing or two about cell division, evolutionary theory, plant hormones, and other such cool things. But I seem to have this built-in attraction to all things unemployable and otherwise inapplicable. I spent my undergrad years focusing mainly on intertidal life, especially the really cool stuff, like algae, nudibranchs and anemones. I love that stuff.

So, not only have I never ever had a real biology-related job, but my biology background really hasn't been helpful in any way, other than that learning-for-the-sake-of-learning thing.*

For example, when I started seeing poop like this on my patio every day, I assumed it was cat poop. Day after day. For months. Until one day, my also-biologist partner, Macondo Papa, realized that it was frog poop. Frog Poop! So much for our biology cred...

There are lots and lots of frogs around these parts. Big ones. The one at the top of my sidebar had just pounced on a grasshopper and swallowed it whole. See the bit of the poor guy sticking out of its mouth? The grasshopper put up a fight from the inside, but alas, was eventually turned into just another piece of poop like the one pictured here.

Anyways, I like knowing that it's frog poop littering our patio. It feels all jungly-authentic, and I somehow enjoy the morning ritual of sweeping it away a lot more now.

*Oh! And it led to one of my first bonding moments with Macondo Papa (formerly "f." on this blog - I don't know why 'Macondo Papa' didn't occur to me until just now). He was sitting next to me on an all-night bus ride in Mexico, way back when. After the obvious "where are you from"s and "how long have you been travelling"s, we discovered that we both had biology degrees that we would probably never use! He keeps finding sneaky creative ways to use his, though.

remind me, what are we doing here?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I just discovered this awesome blog, and I am eating it up. She is smart and funny, and she has eased a whole whack of my mama anxiety with her writing about ambivalence and motherhood.  All things I wish that I had read before I put together these clumsy and not-really-what-I-wanted-to-say posts. (This piece, at Bitch PhD, is also very honest and powerful.)

Then I read this post, about her son's first day at his "supportive, respectful, non-authoritarian, play-based, hippie co-op" preschool. (That just sounds so GOOD!) And now, after a few days of anxiety over unfair comparisons to my reality, I am wondering if a self-imposed quarantine from such folk might be better for my mama anxiety after all, given that I have chosen to move to Macondo and deprive my kids of all manner of good things.

I'll keep reading her blog, and I'll let my anxiety levels do what they must, but the thought of communities out there with this kind of parents and kids and schools and public spaces keeps me well-supplied with envy.

I have fantasies about my kids frolicking around with their friends, being lovingly co-parented in a diverse community full of sugar-free snacks, organic food, North American bedtimes, public alternative schools, gender analysis, gay friends, brown friends, friends who use car seats, and a general avoidance of Disney, Nestle, Barbie, toy guns and plastic.

This would have kind of been my world if I had stayed in Toronto. (Along with sub-human winters, crappy rental housing and smog, lest I forget.)

Some of this good stuff we can give to our kids at home. But it's not quite the same if they're still getting Transformer or Barbie crap in their lootbags, if they're taught to stand up straight in the 'boys' line' at school and sing songs to the bloody flag, and if all their schoolmates are eating cheesies and pretending to shoot each other.

I think that as the kids get older I will start to get a better sense of how these battles for our kids' hearts and minds will play out. How will our parenting fare when the kids are more fully subjected to other social, media and corporate influences? Can we be that family with the critical, independent, creative kids, despite the traditional schools and mainstream friends? Will they appreciate their books and bilingualism and pursue their passions, or will they just feel unfairly deprived of Coca-Cola and television?

In the meantime, I am trying to work my way through many of these issues, but it is such a mess. Because, obviously, there are good things here in Argentina, and Macondo, too. Lots of them. We came here, in fact, because we wanted to, because we thought that it would be best for our family.

Plus, it's not like organic sunscreen, attachment parenting and gender neutrality are the norm out there (just that they're available, which is still a lot, compared to nothing). And they don't always (or ever) go hand in hand with other good stuff, like non-consumerism, anti-capitalism, class consciousness, free university educations, short and mild winters, or living close to the kids' cousins (which are not necessarily the norm here, but they're available, which is still a lot, compared to nothing).

I know that most parents must face these kinds of issues, no matter where they live. But I do feel like it is especially challenging for immigrant and multicultural families, and I am totally new at all this (new at parenting, new at being an immigrant, and new at writing about it).

So I need to figure out where I stand on things and what I can do about it, and start writing about the good things too. Stay tuned.

well, i got his blog name right.

Friday, November 27, 2009

when the monkey started climbing the stairs, we eventually got around to getting a gate.

when he started climbing the kiddie chairs, we stacked them in a hidden corner and only took them out when they were in use.

when we finally got a bookshelf, he immediately started climbing it, and we just kind of held our breath and hoped for the best.

but what do i do now that his favourite thing to do is scale our hard, wooden, grown-up chairs on our hard, unforgiving, tiled floor?
and what does he do once he's up on the chair (or upside-down bowl, precarious edge of a bed, or push-toy with WHEELS)?
he stands up and he dances! stomp stomp, bounce bounce, clap clap.
if i just kind of let him, and hope for the best, is that still benign neglect, or just plain old neglect?

i've already tried the "no climbing!" approach, but he thought it over and decided not to take my advice.
the alternatives seem to be limited :
  1. living in a chairless house
  2. spotting him all the time, and therefore not sweeping a floor, preparing a meal or going pee again until he's over this stage

about toys, no toys and non-toy toys

Thursday, November 26, 2009

welcome to my post about toys, in which i ramble on about the local school, recount our toy purge when we left canada, vaguely describe my kids' current toy collection, and share a link to Los Bicharracos, where you can get a 10% discount off beautiful hand-made wooden toys and learning bikes
(it might be a bit much to order toys from argentina if you don't live in argentina, but people have been known to do wilder things than that, so go ahead, i promise i'll think you're the coolest. it won't be expensive, given the exchange rates (plus that whole thing about cheap third world labour). you could also help him get the word out by becoming a fan of his products on facebook.)
and, in preparation for the season of obnoxious toy bombardment, i'd also like to share this excellent guide to commercial-free holidays: tips for resisting holiday hype, by campaign for a commercial-free childhood.


we just came back from the local kindergarten, hoping to take a look around and maybe enroll the monster for next year. we're still undecided. we're not thrilled with the private school he's in right now, which is also 30 km away, so we thought maybe we would save a whole lot of money we don't have and try the local public school here.

in theory, i love the idea. in practice, i'm still undecided. and in reality, it might not matter at all because there are no spaces left and a long waiting list.

if we somehow eventually get a spot, then i will write more about the school and our decision-making process.

but for now, get this:
the rooms (one junior kindergarten and two senior kindergartens) had almost no toys. almost no toys. considerably fewer toys than his current school, and next to nothing compared to his (public) daycare in canada.
i paid closest attention to the junior kindergarten room, which is where the monster would be next year. there was a play kitchen, a doll bed and some stuffed animals, a small bowl of blocks, a small bowl of lego-type pieces and a large chalkboard with coloured pieces of chalk. there was also lots of art work hung all around, and lots of mini tables and chairs.

so, without getting into the pros and cons of this school (and most importantly, its lack of proper funding and infrastructure), i thought i'd just say that the scarcity of toys at the school doesn't bother me at all. i'm told they do lots of crafts and lots of outside play time. they have music time and story time. sounds good to me.

it's not that i'm against toys or anything. it's just that i know that kids will find ways to play with or without lots of toys, especially for just three hours a day and with lots of other kids around.

i would love to hear any thoughts any of you might have on this.

kids will find a way to play with just about anything. often the least likely objects become favourite toys.

my monkey is obsessed with shoes. and jars with lids. give him a jar big enough to put a shoe in, and a lid he can put on and off, repeatedly, and you can almost write a whole blog post while he experiments with the endless fun.

and then there's the monster, who picked up this IUD applicator my partner had temporarily dumped onto the kitchen table when he came back from giving a sex ed talk at the local high school. it quickly became a favourite toy, until i managed to sneak it into the garbage a week or so later.

(my bilingual boys is hosting a giveaway for a $25 gift card at amazon. there are several ways to enter, including writing about what toys your kids actually play with and linking to one of her posts about toys. while i doubt that i will win the giveaway, i hope that i might win the 'Most Unusual Answer' title.)

what non-toy toys do your kids like?


a year ago today - the day before we said goodbye to canada and got on a plane for a very long flight to our new home - i had some of my favourite mama friends over for a toy grab while f. and i madly finished packing, cleaning, throwing stuff out and carting things off to the local goodwill (thrift store).

i had already packed up lots of our books, and a few essential and easily packable toys: some cars and trucks, a wooden train set, a (too large) fire truck, some music toys, a doll, and some puppets and stuffed animals. i say that these were essential only because they were the monster's most favourite toys, and we thought that bringing them with us would help make the dramatic transition of moving to argentina as easy on him as possible.

at that time, the monster was two and a half years old. that means that we had two and a half years worth of birthday presents, garage sale finds, thrift store acquisitions and grandparent indulgences. even though we tried to avoid toy clutter and the accumulation of 'stuff', we had a pretty good-sized stash. that day a year ago, my friends took away riding toys, sand toys, bath toys, a rocking moose, a fridge, a parking garage, cars and trucks, and lots more.

it was a major purging. (we also got rid of almost everything we owned, but i'll stick to toys for this post.)

the monster dealt with this significant loss of his things pretty well. we explained over and over again that we were sending our things on a boat, and so we couldn't send things that were too big. then we'd play the too-big game:
is this dumptruck too big to send? Nooo. are your clothes too big to send? Nooo. is the bed too big to send? Yes! is the parking garage too big to send? Yes!

in the year that we've been here, we have been successful in rebuilding a less cluttered collection of toys. our efforts to limit family members' excessive gifting of cheap and forgettable trinkets have met with limited success, but since we live far away, it hasn't become too much of an issue.

we have followed our kids' lead and tried to get them the kinds of things that they show a lot of interest in. in this family, that means:
  • balls, hockey sticks, bats, paddles, nets, and anything else sports-related
  • cars, trucks, trains, and did i mention trucks?
  • shovels
we also try to get things that we like to have available for them:
  • lots of books, in english and spanish
  • craft supplies (neither seem very interested in crafts, but i keep trying. the monster loves cutting with scissors. and these 'soccer players' made out of pipe-cleaner see lots of action on a green piece of construction paper with a tape ball.)
  • puppets (buenos aires markets have the best puppets, EVER - see above)
  • dress-up stuff
  • wooden blocks
  • letters and numbers

and, we are very lucky to have a super-talented brother-in-law who has made my little guys their most special toys. you can check out some of his stuff here. the website is just getting set up and is still only in spanish, but if you're interested in anything, you can write to him in english.
if you mention that macondo mama sent you, he'll give you a 10% discount. (isn't that great?)
aside from all this Stuff, and when the weather and bugs cooperate, the best toys of all for my kids are:
  • the river
  • the beach
  • the dirt pile in our backyard (a happy outcome of an unfortunate sewage problem that required a lot of digging)
do you have any non-commercial toy or play suggestions? please share!

life in a heat wave

Monday, November 23, 2009

it's been between 41 and 47 degrees celsius here almost every day for almost a month. many nights it doesn't dip below 30. for those of you who don't think in celsius - this is HOT. very hot. like around 110°F.

now, we did just move to the jungle, and we did know that the summer would be very, very hot. the thing is, it's not summer yet. and this is very, very, very, very hot.

(plus, i might have mentioned that the power goes out a lot here - meaning no fans, no air conditioning. plus, our river flooded not long ago, making the bug situation pretty extreme, meaning some days we have to shut ourselves up inside and can't go to the beach or splash around in the kiddie pool in the backyard).

i do take solace in knowing that even the locals are suffering. and i especially find hope in their assurances that this much heat, day after day, is unusual, and, importantly, is as bad as the worst part of the summer. if i can survive november, i'm sure to survive january, then, right?

a few random thoughts about the heat (keep reading, i get more positive towards the end):

- you have to be really quick when you wash the floors, or all the water will dry up before you can swish your mop around.

 - my little 14-month-old monkey sweats a lot. i mean a whole lot. he is covered head to bum-bum in a prickly heat rash - poor guy got his mama's skin. i am going to follow all the locals and start rolling him around in cornstarch. (the picture is of him in his favourite coping-with-the-heat position.)

- bugs and itchies are the bane of my existence.

- nursing in the heat is hell. add mosquito bites and black fly bites to that and it seems like a personalized hell designed especially to see if i really am such a nice, patient, laid-back and loving mother after all.

- ditto for babywearing. i wear the monkey everywhere - it's our only transport on the sandy streets, unless we're all going Somewhere in the car. i love carrying him, but it is very, very sweaty.

- i no longer really like hanging our laundry. wierd, i know, but it was one of those few domestic things that i took the initiative on (instead of my partner), and i would feel all long-haired and skirt-flowy hanging my little guys' pyjamas and watching the hummingbirds feed on the flowers. now i come in from hanging the clothes with a bunch of new itchy bites and positively steaming from the heat. (on the plus side, our clothes are dry in just 2 hours).

- living 4 blocks away from a beautiful beach on a beautiful river is sweet.

- the river has become a good friend to my 3.5-year-old monster. it thrills me to watch him laugh and splash and shriek and jump in the water. he's so not the reckless type, so i love seeing the little bit of wild that it brings out in him.

- spray bottles filled with water can be quite refreshing, when used constantly.

- i am a total believer in the institutionalization of the siesta. everyone here naps in the afternoon. and everything is closed between 1 and 5pm. it makes for an entirely different structure of a day, but it is absolutely essential.

- visitors beware. 
we've been lucky to have first my mom visit and then some very good friends stay with us.

luckily, my mom only cared about spending time with the little guys, since she melts (and melts down) in the heat. staying inside and blasting the air conditioner between frequent power outages managed to keep the situation under control, kind of.

our friends and their 2 little ones dealt with it all really well, or as well as one can. splashing in the river, naps under a fan, the occasional blast of the air conditioner, cold and icy alcoholic drinks... we had lots of fun.
(and off topic, but the monster went alone with them to the beach and to the supermarket several times, without a problem! my mind kept jumping forward to imaginations of when he and the monkey can both be happily at friends' houses for a whole afternoon, and f. and i might have a child-free romp. in just, what, 3 more years or so?)
- i am losing weight. i always do in the summer, but overcompensate in the long canadian winters. now that i live in a sauna, maybe i will drop down to a lower natural weight. i can try to write that casually, like a naturally skinny (or confident, or body-loving) person would, but as much as i would like it to be otherwise, this is so important to me. it actually makes me happier. and it makes me feel sexier and more beautiful, and so it's good for my relationship with f., too. i would love to say that i am starting to like my body more because i am growing up, growing into it, getting over all my issues and things. but the truth is that i am starting to like it more because i am losing weight. i will keep trying to teach my head to love my body no matter what, but in the meantime i can't deny the pleasure i feel from being comfortable in my sundress, instead of my usual  hyper-aware negativity about my appearance.

- yay for paraguayan dresses (see picture, above). despite everything i just wrote in the previous point, when i'm really really hot and i have 2 kids hanging off of me and my ankles are itchy from all the bites, i don't really care at all how flattering my dress might be. which is a good thing, because these dresses (i've been told they're called paraguayan dresses) have many qualities, but flattering is most definitely not one of them.

let me share all their other qualities with you:
  • sold on busy street corners by women holding about 20 of them in one arm and the same amount of padded bras on hangers in the other arm. makes for an authentic latin american shopping feeling.
  • costs 18 pesos = about $5 US.
  • made of the lightest, coolest cotton (yes, totally see-through, but read above about not caring).
  • elastic neckline - ideal for the nursing mama.
  • 2 pockets! ideal for a plastic dinosaur and a special, must-be-collected, purple flower or little stick.
  • such ugly prints that it was easy to choose - i picked the craziest one and i think it does a good job of crossing that line into so-horrendous-that-it's-funky.
do you have any tips for dealing with the heat? or keep-cool activities for the kids?

parental culture shock part 1 - food

Saturday, November 14, 2009

i want to write about the multi-faceted parental culture shock that i am experiencing, but i am getting seriously bogged down with it and it is getting harder and harder to untangle.

this great post at the (always beautifully written) golden papaya really strikes a chord with me, and in an effort to build a conversation around these issues, i am going to force myself to put pen to paper, so to speak. (plus, i promised a whole series of these posts, so i better get started).

obviously, things are different here than where i grew up. there are many levels to these differences - some are differences between argentina and canada:
a latino culture instead of a largely anglo-saxon & multi-ethnic one (with all the caveats about the diversity that is also present in argentina and is also invisibilized in canada); a 'developing' country instead of a 'developed' one; a hotbed of social and political activism instead of a breeding ground of exasperating apathy and complacency...
 and some are differences between macondo and toronto:
a small town in a small province instead of the very centre of the universe itself; a poorly educated population instead of a highly educated population; rural poverty instead of urban affluence (again with all the usual caveats)...
see? i'm already bogged down.


back to my parental culture shock. i knew that one of the hardest things for us would be the racism, sexism and homophobia that is so present in the media and in the many kinds of everyday conversations we are bound to have here.

i've learned that we can and will stand up at times to speak out about things. racism, sexism, homophobia are not ok. i'll do what i can to teach that to my kids and to say so to their teachers, friends and relatives. it will still really upset me, and it will be a challenge to identify when it is worth the angst and who isn't worth the energy. but f. and i are both on the same page about this, which makes everything a lot easier.


medialunasother things no longer seem as important as they did even recently. nobody here worries about sugar in kids' diets, for example. bring on the medialunas con dulce de leche and the chocolate birthday cake. i admit to having fretted about this, but really, i've chilled out. we have no fast food, no soft drinks, in fact they almost never eat anything packaged at all. so sugar? yeah, okay. they get lots of exercise. they're not particularly hyper. i can live with it. i think (see below).

when i see the cheesies and coca-cola and lollipops and endless other crap many kids here have as regular parts of their diets, i wonder how long it will be until our little guys start begging for junk food. but this is a concern that i can safely tuck away until later.

for now, they're only exposed to junk food at birthday parties or when their cousins come to visit. we (selectively) let the monster indulge a little bit (a tiny bit of coca cola mixed with water, a free-for-all on potato chips since he only sees them a few times a year), and so far, he's okay with that. he will even just ask for a few sucks on the lollipop that the seƱora at the local shop gave him before asking me to put it away for later.

i regret that i can't get anything organic unless i go to walmart, of all places. and even then i can't get the organic stuff i really would like: milk, cheese, yogurt (i can't even get plain yogurt here, it's all flavoured and sweetened), apples, pears, green beans. but i can't do anything about this, so that's that. we get local honey, fresh eggs, and i have a little fantasy of myself making my own yogurt one day, but have yet to make it a reality (along with lots of other ways in which i'd love to be a little more domestic...)


what i find hard about all of this is not so much what the kids end up eating, which i have more or less come to terms with.

(credit has to go to my partner f. here for helping me to let go of a lot of worry about all this. cookies for snacks, so much sugar in everything and all the white flour stuff just made me feel like a Bad Parent. but f. is good at that thing called The Bigger Picture, which i highly recommend looking at every now and then.)

what i find hard is that sugar isn't even on the radar here as something to try to minimize. some people (very few) do shun soft drinks and cheesies and other types of junk food, but cookies and dulce de leche and ice cream and cake and tablespoons of extra sugar in the kids' chocolate milk are just yummy, and their intake is not limited.

this is the culture-shock part of it.

because in canada, people eat lots of sugar too. but there is a general consensus that it's not ideal, that it makes kids too hyper, that it messes with their sleep, with their teeth, with their health. but here, when asked why i want to keep sugar out of their diets, to the point of wanting to make sugar-free treats and snacks, i stumble to find an answer. we take good care of their teeth, they're active and not at risk of obesity - why indeed does it seem so important to me?

i don't know.

i never ever questioned it before, and now i'm at a loss. (even google couldn't help me this time). it's these kinds of speechless moments when i really feel the parental culture shock. how seriously should i take this? by letting go a little and going with the flow, am i not doing the best i can to protect my kids' health?

i lose my bearings all the time over issues just like this.


some of the topics still to come:

- argentina-time (10pm dinner; no bedtime (gasp!))
- dealing with lice & parasites
- angst about hiring some help around the house
- teaching diversity
- insisting on bilingualism
- can you believe that they (meaning moms or the hired help) IRON the kids' t-shirts??

on lubrication

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

image: a normal pap test. pretty, eh?

i've been working on a few posts about my parental culture shock. they're coming, but instead i have to write today about a different kind of total, utter shock.

perhaps it's 'just' culture shock - something i didn't know about life in argentina until just now. i don't know, you tell me.

i can't seem to scoop my jaw up off the floor or stop asking my partner, incredulously, "but, can you believe it?"

i wake him up in the middle of the night: "i mean, really, how can this be?"

i call him when he's working: "am i crazy, or is this not absolutely and utterly shocking and unacceptable and unbelievable and...um... shocking?"

i didn't expect to write about pap smears when i started this blog, but i am shocked!!! so i just have to share.


i casually mentioned to my friend that i needed to get a pap done sometime soonish, and could she recommend a doctor. (this was before i realized that my health coverage doesn't let me choose my doctor.)

she was happy to recommend her gynecologist: "he's pretty good. and he uses lubricant."

WHAT?? you mean that some gynecologists DON'T USE LUBRICANT? when they're putting a speculum inside you?

she found my bewilderment shock to be pretty amusing.

"they usually just tell you to relax and to breathe." AS IF. well, i guess i'm glad i asked.


i mentioned this conversation to my only other female friend here. and get this:

she had never even heard of the use of lubrication for a pap test.

my outrage doesn't know whether to boil and sizzle or try to snuff itself out in the name of 'adapting to cultural differences'.


i'm normally pretty chill about these things. though it's slightly uncomfortable, i've had no negative experiences, i don't even particularly mind if a man does the exam. i find it a lot more challenging to get blood taken than to have a pelvic exam.

but come on.

how hard can it be to put a little gel on the speculum, or on the gloved finger, that is going to be inserted into a part of my body that is so clearly meant to be lubricated before anything goes in there? no gel? warm water even. something!!!!

it would be like men getting prostate exams with no lubricant. they do use lubricant for those exams, don't they?

the more i think about it, the more outraged i get (and i'll admit it, nervous. i still have to get this done, and i have no idea what kind of experience awaits me).

the more i think about it, the more it seems to me like a total lack of respect, a total unwillingness to do anything at all to make life, and health, a little more comfortable. i can't help but think that this is about women's dignity. like the whole epidural-and-lie-on-your-back-for-labour routine vs. get-a-midwife-and-make-your-own-choices.

maybe i've been living in an oasis of lubricated pap smears all my life, i don't know. though i've lived in different countries, i've always saved things like pap smears and bra shopping for trips back to canada.

i couldn't post this without a little bit of research, so i did quickly google -pap exam lubrication-, and it turns out there is was a debate on the issue. on the first page of results, every site but one (called 'military obstetrics & gynecology') seems to either be about a different topic or to endorse the use of lubrication. this 2003 study claims to lay to rest the concerns that lubrication could contaminate the results (check out the editor's note at the bottom).

i had no idea there was ever any question about this. i've been getting regular pap smears since my very first one - oh so memorable - back in 1989(!). the planned parenthood folks at the youth clinic didn't seem to have any concerns about using lubricant, nor have any other doctors or midwives since. my last midwife even warmed the gel and the speculum, for my added comfort.

so what is going on?? i still can't get over it, but all i get around me is a giggle and a shrug of the shoulders. then google goes and makes me question my outrage. am i way off? i really don't know anymore.


here's how you can help, if you feel so inclined:
  • help me get my bearings:  tell me if you are as shocked as i am, or if you're not surprised or appalled at all. am i making too much of all this?
  • share any advice or experience that could help me get prepared for my pending, potentially non-lubricated doctor's visit
  • help me think of other comparisons (like the prostate exam one) so i can better explain my shock and disbelief

the same-sex marriage debate in argentina

Friday, November 6, 2009

it wasn't so long ago that the debate about gay marriage was raging in canada, beginning in 2003 when the ontario court of appeal first allowed it, then in 2005, when the government passed an equal marriage law, through to 2006 when the [evil] harper government's motion to re-open the debate was defeated.

i remember how maddening it was to hear the ignorant and hateful arguments of those opposed to the right to marry being extended to same-sex couples. they were all over the media, and though it was terrible to have to hear their crap, the public debate was essential to mobilizing the support that allowed the law to be passed and upheld.

not so in the united states, where public debate and activism has been a prelude to referendums, in which everyone gets to vote on whether the state should respect a minority group's rights or not. the right for same-sex couples to marry has been voted against in all 31 states where such referendums took place.

well, argentina is a pretty surprising country. you might have thought that gay marriage wouldn't even be on the agenda here, just like access to legal abortions seems to only be on the agenda of a few feminist activist groups and even fewer politicians.

but - surprise! same-sex MARRIAGE is actually being debated in congress in argentina right now. i say MARRIAGE in capital letters, because the current debate is not about civil unions, which are already legal in buenos aires and several other latin american cities, as well as in all of uruguay. this is about MARRIAGE - the all-important "marriage" that makes you a Family if you have entered into it.

hearing the arguments (spanish) of those opposed is difficult and ugly. but even more so than in canada, i feel that the public debate that accompanies the political process here may really help to educate people about the issues involved and start to shift public opinion. a public opinion, i should say, that is supposedly 70% (spanish) in favour of gay marriage, though i'm pretty suspicious about that number (or do i just not know ANY of the right people?).

i'll post again on this as things develop, and in the meantime i'll try to collect some good english-language links to share.

i also want to share this new blog i just found in spanish - maternidades L - by two argentine lesbian moms. they've got links to some great resources, including lesmadres, an organization of lesbian moms and future moms fighting for their political, cultural, social and legal rights.

also, though i'll be far away in my quiet little macondo, tomorrow is the 18th annual PRIDE PARADE in buenos aires. the march starts at 6pm in plaza de mayo. from 3pm on there will be lots happening. if you go, i'd love to hear about it!

why didn't i do this sooner?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

here in macondo we are into day 7 of a brutal heat wave – last night it was 41 degrees at 10pm.

first, think about how your mom would deal with that, and then trust me when i say that there is probably no one in the world worse at dealing with the heat than my mom.

for the first time in our lives, we have air conditioning. and yeah, we’ll use it – when the heat is unbearable we’ll try to cool the house down enough to make it bearable. for us, bearable does not mean cool enough to want to sleep under a wool blanket, but, indeed, that’s what it means for my mom.

we wanted her to feel comfortable during her stay here, which started out with snot and fever all over the place and everybody, including her, coughing and hacking and sneezing. add to that some unfortunate swarms of black flies, a flooding river that washed away our beach and had us wondering if we should evacuate as a precaution to make sure she’d make it to the airport for her return flight, and a scorching heat wave, all rolled up to mean that we didn’t really leave the house, and she didn’t really leave her room, which she tried her best to keep at about 15 degrees celsius.

so we love the earth and all, and aren’t so crazy about paying high electricity bills either, but we just told her to blast away if that’s what she needed to do.

and then… the power went out. and the house quickly started to get steamier and steamier. then it came back on. and then it went out again. and again. and again.

because this is the thing here in macondo: your problems are not what they seem. your problem is that you need to pay a bill? no, your problem is that the bank machine ran out of money (a few days ago! still!), you haven't gotten paid yet (since april!), the system is down, they don’t accept payment with that card on tuesdays, or in person after 10:30am, or without first getting a stamp on this minuscule piece of paper from the office that is only open from 7 to 8 am in the next town over.

so the power went out, repeatedly, and it was so hot that not even a single molecule of air wanted to, say, circulate.

and really, i’ve got to hand it to my mom, because she sweated, and suffered, and huffed and puffed, and probably fantasized about checking in to either a 5-star hotel or the hospital, until she realized that they wouldn’t have power either (it never would have even occurred to her that even with power, the hospital isn’t air-conditioned). but she dealt with it, and managed to enjoy the monster and the monkey quite a lot.

so yay for her. she left this morning - bye bye macondo, bye bye bubby. more soon on other aspects of her visit.

back to the title of this post – you know how there are things that you don’t do for whatever reason, and then you finally do them, and you just wonder why on earth you didn’t do them long ago? like we drove around with the back seat of our car permanently reclined in this horribly uncomfortable position for a year, and then just before selling it, we brought it to a welder who fixed it for 50 pesos. why didn’t we do it sooner?

well, yesterday, when the power went out, i had a cold shower.

How. Totally. Heavenly. cold, clean, alone time, all rolled up in one.

old ways, new ways, red ways, blue ways

Monday, October 26, 2009

old ways, new ways, red ways, blue ways =
the way i feel right now about what i guess could be called parental culture shock.

it's the confusion and ambivalence i feel after moving continents, changing languages, leaving jobs, modifying lifestyles, and packing and unpacking and packing and unpacking. and packing. and unpacking.

the background:

taking advantage of my year of partially paid maternity leave, my argentinian partner and i and our two little guys left toronto in november and moved here, to a beautiful little town in argentina, with a lovely beach on the river, monkeys and toucans in the trees, and alligators and piranhas in the ponds.

we came here thinking that it would be for about 2 years - a chance for f. to get some good professional experience, for the kids to have the jungle and the river as their playground, for me to brainstorm my future.

then, the plan was (is?) to pack up our family, our belongings and our newly acquired experience and ideas once again and make one final move to The Place We Will Settle Down. a destination still unknown, but it would be in argentina, more cosmopolitan and progressive than macondo, more green space and sanity than buenos aires.

the situation:

for a while, the beauty, tranquility and macondo-esqueness of this place helped to make it feel transitory. easy to enjoy splashing with the kids in the river, reading in my hammock, having a chuckle at the local absurdities and shrugging my shoulders at the inconveniences and objectionables.

now we've been here for 8 months. i've learned that change is not easy for our now 3.5-year-old monster. i've learned it the hard way, as we struggled through several months of his utter unhappiness and our total misery. thankfully, he is a sparkling, yummy, brilliant and hilarious monster, who muddled through all the harsh changes we foisted upon him and has emerged a loving, playful and happy little guy.

i will write more soon about the monster, about how he has adapted to life here, and about how we struggled with his transition - forgetting, or not trusting, that it would all probably turn out ok.

but his difficulties with change have us wondering about when and how we will move again. it won't be easy.

i know we won't stay here forever, but now that we're here for a while - actually living here, not backpacking, not on a year's leave, not with any other 'home' for my kids to attach to - i am starting to really try to figure out how to make it 'home'. what is my place here?

i've travelled a lot, lived in different countries, been in relationships with people from other places who spoke other languages. i've been pretty good, i would say, at going with the flow, respecting local customs, modifying my expectations, while not compromising myself or losing sight of who i am.

but this whole parenting thing throws a wrench into that. there are some things i just don't want to be laid back about, some things i am not willing to embrace, others i am not willing to let go of. my kids are actually growing up here, so i have to figure out what those things are, and what on earth i can do about it.

the plan:

okay, so all that is a very wordy introduction that i want to follow up on in a series of future posts about my parental culture shock, exploring some of the differences between canada and argentina, between big city and small town, between my childhood and my kids' childhoods.

topics will include (eventually, there's no rush - right?):
- argentina-time (10pm dinner; no bedtime (gasp!))
- dealing with lice & parasites
- angst about hiring some help around the house
- teaching diversity
- food, snacks, sugar, organics
- insisting on bilingualism
- can you believe that they (meaning moms or the hired help) IRON the kids' t-shirts??

stay tuned!

the plea:
by the way, i've just added the new 'followers' gadget to my footer. i warmly invite you all to become macondo watchers...
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