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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.
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