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Routines in Macondo

Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's not that I've got this home-making thing all figured out, or anything. Or that my kids have started entertaining themselves with stimulating, crafty activities while I make any progress at all on drafting a PhD proposal (or even, say, go to the bathroom by myself).

Don't get me wrong.

But I'm starting to get a few little things to feel like they're working. It's about time, really - I've been here for almost a year now. And like the quirks of language acquisition I observe in my kids, the routines I am most aware of here reveal a lot about our lifestyle. 

Beach play. And blackouts.

Living so close to the beach, I was pretty happy when I had finally worked out a decent routine for getting the two kids ready and out the door for some beach time in less than...an hour.

No small feat! It only took about a year of trial and error and pulling my hair out and pleading with my kids.

It's true that Macondo Papa can pull it all off in about half the time, but this inevitably means no spare diaper, screwing the snacks, forgetting the favourite toys and depending on MY pre-packed beach bag.

However, our dealing-with-power-outage prowess is a shared accomplishment, and it requires a lot of teamwork. This, too, took some time. Many a blackout has included fumbling around for flashlights, matches, candles, surfaces for candles, and so on. Oh, and usually a screaming kid or two at some point.

Daytime power outages can also be very challenging, but our most recent nighttime blackout bears recounting. It lasted from about 9pm to 2am, with a comfortable outside temperature of 40°C.

The kids were playing, and we were getting dinner ready. (Yes, we have dinner at 9pm). We saw a few flashes of lightning and then...we saw nothing. (¡Se cortó!)

Macondo Papa was closest to the kids, so he stumbles towards them both, scooping them up and establishing the excited 'yay! it's a power outage and everything is fine' tone for the evening.

I head for the Beloved Blackout Basket, now finally well-stocked with tea candles, long candles, flashlights, a lighter and old plates we use as candle holders.

With basic lighting in place, we quickly debate the pros and cons of opening the windows. It's hotter outside, but as the storm picks up, there is a bit of (hot) wind. Moving air feels like a good thing, so we open up.

While Macondo Papa gets dinner on the table, I move toys and shoes and bits and pieces of clothing away from all the windows, as the rain quickly starts to spray through our screens and form puddles on the floor.

We light a few more candles and sit down for dinner. The storm outside rages. We watch the light show as the rain sprinkles us and our dinner. We talk about how a long time ago, there was no electricity and people always used candles at nighttime. The monster adds: yeah, and telephones with cords.

We cover the kids in generous helpings of cornstarch.

We bring the monster's mattress into our room, and I nurse the monkey down while the monster gets his story and takes the usual forever to fall asleep.

The temperature starts to rise. The rain slows to a trickle and the wind dies down. It is very h.o.t.

Macondo Papa and I lay a few towels on the various puddles around the house and try to remember which lights and fans we need to turn off. Have I mentioned that it was hot? Stifling, in fact.

We light our gorgeous new citronella burner (those mosquitoes love themselves a good blackout) and then collapse, as spread out as possible, into our bed. We occasionally touch each other with a finger tip, so as to say "good night, I love you, but no way am I going to touch you."

The temperature goes up and up, the kids stir in their sleep. I concentrate on finding an elbow I can unfold a bit more or a part of neck to extend further, to feel just the slightest of breezes actually move a bit of air over an additional millimetre of my skin. It is hot, hot, hot.

PLEASE KIDS, DO NOT WAKE UP. Please. Please. Puhhh-leeeeeeease.

Two hours in bed, fully stretched out, remembering to breathe -- this too shall pass, I have given birth to two kids, I survived dengue fever all by myself in the middle of nowhere, I can handle this, this too shall pass... and ...

Flash! The lights we had forgotten about brighten the room, the whir of the fans breathes some movement back into the air, and we quickly turn off the lights, blow out our little citronella burner, and drift off to sleep, cuddling with more than just our fingertips.

Language learning is all about exposure. How revealing...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

For example, when I say we have a lot of power outages here, I mean really, we really really do.

My little monkey -- not quite a year and a half, just starting to speak his first words -- has his own toddler Macondo version of the power went out! In Spanish, of course.

The lights dim and go out, the fan stops, the hum of the refrigerator goes silent, and the little monkey looks around and says:

"ohhhh, se cortó"

It's all about exposure, right? Back in Canada, my friends' toddlers are probably saying things like "it's slushy today" and "organic yogourt".

Well, the monkey's almost-4-year-old brother says, in his endearing Spanish:

"I'm so hungry I could shit all over the noodles!"
"tengo un hambre que voy a cagar en todos los fideos"

(People swear a lot in Spanish. 'People' meaning everyone, in general, and also everyone in this family. That does not, however, mean we normally threaten to shit on our food. I promise.)


As my bilingual little monkey's language continues to develop, I am dutifully writing down his new words and will post an updated list like this one soon.

That special grandparent thing

Monday, February 22, 2010

As I mentioned the other day, though far from painless, my mom's visit a few months ago was really important for our little monster.

Now that we live so impossibly far away, their relationship depends so much on what will be a series of much-hyped visits throughout his childhood. With letters and presents and skype sessions filling in the gaps, yes. But I suspect the love and affection - the memories - will be built primarily around these visits.

The monster really missed his grandmother, his Bubby, and leaving her was probably the hardest part about our trans-continental move for him. They had been so close, and promises of eventual visits didn't make a whole lot of sense to the 2.5-year-old he was when we left Canada.

Her real, physical presence, the coming true of when-Bubby-comes-to-visit-us, was an important piece of truth in the configuration of my little guy's brain. It made the whole thing less abstract, in the air, incomprehensible. Bubby had still existed all this time, she was just far away. Now she has come to visit, and she is still Bubby. The world makes sense. (This has also meant that other friends and relatives, along with the now mythical "Canada", have started to exist for him in more tangible ways as well).

In addition to this HUGELY important benefit, I think the monster got three additional big benefits out of his Bubby's visit:

1) Improved self-esteem, mood and behaviour

After the first 10 minutes of shyness, they were inseparable until she left, three weeks later. This was good for him in so many ways. He thrives on this kind of undivided attention from a grown-up. I'm sure all kids do, but the monster can be pulled out of cloudy weeks and even months, it seems, by the kind of devotion his best grown-up admirers have been able to dedicate to him from time to time. My mom dedicated herself to him. And he was a happy, cooperative, silly and delightful guy to be around throughout her visit.

2) Greater ease and fluency in English

All this non-stop play and loving with a non-Spanish speaker also went a long way to consolidating his English. His English has always been great, but he was starting to find it harder to switch out of Spanish, to find the right words, to speak and play with the same ease in English as in Spanish. Since my mom's visit, I haven't had to remind him to speak to me in English. When he occasionally gropes for a word, I help him, or he finds his way around the word he's missing all on his own.

Not only did he become more comfortable in English; he also picked up some new unmistakenly Bubby vocabulary. Like "super-duper" and "I think the heat is starting to get to me."

3) More meaningful long-distance communication

All this re-connecting with Bubby made all of the web-camming, skyping and Chanukah-present getting seem much more real to the monster, and even to the monkey, who was only 13 months when she was here. They have private jokes and spitting games, and Bubby knows the right questions to ask to get the monster talking about his books or his friends. It works better than it did before her visit, and it's more meaningful.

The monster talks about his Bubby all the time. She has a daily presence in our family.

We should call Bubby on the computer and tell her that I rode a horse! 
I like my potatoes like this, just like Bubby.
Did you hear how loud I blew my nose? Like Bubby!

And -

Did you know that Bubby's going to visit us again? She told me she'll come when I'm five. Isn't that great??

Big smile.

He left me speechless

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My dentist, that is. My new dentist, out here in Macondo-land. He left me speechless.

I went for a cleaning today, my first since November 2008, since I left Canada. That's a long time, according to my every-3-month instructions from my previous dentist. Every 3 months I would go and get the usual scraping and be reminded about the precarious situation of my gums, the absolute necessity that I floss religiously.

Well, Dr. Macondo had a different take on things. He polished the outside part of my 6 top teeth and 6 bottom teeth, and he told me to come back in 6 months.

Me: What? You're not going to scold me and shame me? You're not going to scrape my gums while I wince and watch whatever awful daytime TV the hygienist wants to foist upon me?

Dr. Macondo actually said this: No, don't worry. You don't have any plaque. The water here is very good - the only people with plaque are either heavy smokers or heavy maté drinkers.

Now, wait a minute. Aside from the fact that I drink my share of maté, doesn't everybody have plaque?

I must say, I liked it. I'm not sure if it is total dental negligence, or just a different approach.

Maybe, instead of the unattainable Canadian ideal of perfect teeth and gums until death, the idea here is more like: check in every now and then to make sure you don't have any cavities or anything else we need to worry about.

Like my ongoing, unofficial, unscientific survey of pap smear experiences here in Argentina, I am going to start investigating the dental situation. I will keep you posted. And I may end up going elsewhere for a second opinion, or a good thorough cleaning.

On childhood wonder

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I've been thinking a lot about my recent discovery of enthusiasm and the effect it has on my kids. In a recent post I wrote about it more as a technique for getting my kids to do what I want. Or about getting them to be happy about doing it anyways.

But, while showing enthusiasm about an activity or a chore is a positive and gentle way to generate more participation and cooperation than I might otherwise get, it's really so much more important than I first realized.

More than agreeability, it can incite wonder. Wonder. My kids' wonder. Wonder in my kids' lives and minds and memories.

Yesterday a child came out to wonder,
caught a dragon fly inside a jar.
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder,
and tearful at the falling of a star.

Joni Mitchell, The Circle Game

I am not particularly good at mindfulness and living in the moment and being present all the time (though I try), but those moments when I see my kids express genuine wonder make me catch my breath. They fill me up. More than anything else, I think, this is the absolute beauty and magic of childhood - the ability to be so fascinated, the willingness to get so excited, the openness to total joy, the curiosity to explore and experiment.

And the privilege of parenthood is to help it happen and soak in its beauty.

I want to help to create and encourage wonder in my children's lives.

Since I can't stomach the Santa Claus stuff, and religion isn't my thing, and fairies and elves and things don't work for me either, the wonder that I can help them to discover will have to find other outlets. Thunderstorms, sunsets, frogs, somersaults and homemade pasta. That kind of thing.

It's not that we don't celebrate these things or take the time to savour them. We do. Especially living out here, we really savour how much family time we have and the natural beauty that surrounds us.

I had just never really thought to purposely add extra touches of elaborate enthusiasm, just because. It seems those extra touches can go a far way to infusing moments with wonder, to making them extra special and memorable and exciting. And if I can do that for my kids, why wouldn't I?


Last night, we had a bizarre invasion of insects in our house. We ended up having to stuff a towel underneath our front door because they were just clamouring to get in any way they could. And when I say clamour, I mean their noisy and repeated 'boink' against our windows sounded like rain!

Along with all the nameless, harmless, annoying flying and crawling critters that were suddenly all over the place, there was a beautiful, bright green grasshopper. Not unlike the one we saw get gulped down by the froggy in my blog header (see the bit of the grasshopper still sticking out?).

I would have normally shown some interest in the little jumper to try to engage the kids. They like bugs. Plus, it's not like I never smile or dance or anything. I can be extra silly, dance like crazy, sing too loudly, get into raucous tickling and wrestling, and all this generates special times too. But this time I purposely filled this otherwise "Hey-look-at-this" moment with extra enthusiasm, with wonder. 'WOW! Look at how green it is! Look at how it jumps! Oooooo, did you see THAT?"

That cackle of excitement, that shared look of complicity, that totally unexpected, emotional embrace? Scientific proof that a little fake enthusiasm can be a very good thing.

The big visit from mom

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

There is a bit of mom-bashing in what follows. Not mom-bashing for the sake of it, or mom-bashing of mothers-in-general or anything like that. There are way too many people already having a field day with that. 

But sadly, I just can't write about my mom in the same kind of adoring tone that I hope my little guys will someday use when they talk about their loving mama. Now that I'm a mom, and I can imagine how heartbreaking it must be for my mom that this is our relationship, it makes me kind of sad. But it is what it is.


Two Three Four months have passed since my mom was here for a visit. Enough time to get back to "normal" life and figure out what to make of it all.

My relationship with my mom isn't easy. Partly because we have a rocky past, partly because I am impatient and unforgiving with her, and partly because she has a really (really!) strong and obnoxious personality, with endless ways to IRRITATE THE HELL OUT OF ME.

I can't help it - she drives me absolutely crazy.

So I knew that three entire weeks with her living in our house would be a challenge. In fact, I have a really hard time not being a total bitch to her. It is completely unfair, because it isn't the deep, underlying, problematic stuff of our past that drives me to such bitchiness. Which, after all, would be more understandable, and could even potentially be resolved with a few full-on Talks.

Instead, it is her overbearingly loud voice, her non-stop chatter and instruction about food preparation, her belief and her need that everyone around her must realize what a gem of pure genius she actually is, and her incessant attempts to elicit our praise and wonder and celebration for her superior wit and cleverness. It makes me not even want to say "this is delicious" to a yummy meal prepared by her.

(I am such a bitch.)

My mom tolerates all this from me. Partially because she is not so tuned in to other people's moods and social cues as to realize that we're not always adoring her. And partially because she really loves me, and Macondo Papa, and especially the kids, and is willing to take quite a bit of crap to still be part of our lives.

And I invite her and even (mostly) look forward to her visits because I want her to be part of my kids' lives. I grant that she is a wonderful "Bubby". She is helpful, patient (in her own way), very loving, very generous.

So how was the visit?

Well, since the unbearable heat and the black flies and the flooded river pretty much kept us inside for her whole visit, there isn't much to tell in terms of what we did. Sticker books, chicken soup, indoor volleyball/baseball/soccer, storytime, and repeat.

As expected, what really stands out is the visit she had with the monster. In that respect it was all good. It was Great.

And I guess we had a few of our own one little 'moments', too. Not good, or great, just 'moments'. Which, to be sure, is more than nothing, and way better than unbearable tension and explosive anger.

Details coming soon...

more yumminess, in case you missed it the first time

Saturday, February 13, 2010

It's probably breaking some important blogging Rule, but I am re-posting something that is only just over a month old.   Thinking about the Love It Up challenge at Momalom, I realized that this is the only real love letter I have probably ever written. That is so not cool. Poor Macondo Papa. 

Writing a love letter for Valentine's Day would just be laughably ridiculous in my we're-too-cool-for-Valentine's-Day relationship. But the occasional love letter just because - how sweet would that be?

I wrote this love letter to him on our 11th anniversary. It's pretty tame I guess, but I like it, and he really liked it too (even though I had to explain 'crunchy' and 'mushy' -- some of our most romantic moments have been punctuated with vocabulary lessons). I will hereby write more love letters (yet another reason Macondo Papa should be happy I'm getting all into this blogging thing)...


Such yumminess
I am deeply in love with my partner - Macondo Papa. Enamorada. (Some things sound better in Spanish.)

We met 11 years ago today, on a long-distance, overnight bus in southern Mexico. We have since been to 8 countries together, lived in 4 cities and 7 houses. We have officially immigrated to each other's countries. We have been travelers, students, unemployed, under-employed, self-employed, over-employed, co-employed. We have two little boys. We are family.

We fall in and out of magic - or rather, we fall into magic and slip out of it, and, thankfully, deliciously, fall into it yet again. But my deep, true love for him never wavers. There isn't a drop in me that doesn't love him totally. There are so few things that I know with such certainty.

He is smart, beautiful, real, funny and loving. He is passionate and brave. He sings. He whistles. He has gorgeous eyes (and eyebrows!), a killer smile, and perfect hands. He is the most open-minded, open-hearted partner, lover, papa, thinker and political being.

He is not crunchy, or mushy, like me. He is yummy. He is sharp and cynical and critical and delightfully anti-social. He is full of edges. He challenges me. I fall short of him in so many ways.

I am so lucky.

F: Te amo.

it's all about me me me

Friday, February 12, 2010

As promised, I have now added 'about me' and 'about macondo' pages to my little bloggy home.

Pretty exciting stuff, wouldn't you say?

While I'm talking about me... would it be too much to ask to just be able to get a little case of the sniffles and a sore throat without anyone else in this house having to feel ickier than me? To just get to lie in bed for a day and groan? Really?


In more important news, here's a great initiative to support relief efforts in Haiti. If you can get your hands on an extra tent, do. And here is a really great new article. Really.

There are also links to some excellent articles in this post.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A few recent observations:

1) It's all in the tone of your voice

No, not a lesson to my kids to stop whining (but I would be all for that!).

I have discovered that a little enthusiasm (fake or otherwise) goes a long way towards buying some cooperation and agreeability. I should have already known this, but I'm just now starting to really put it into practice. I swear, the results are truly surprising, at least for my (occasionally) grumpy monster.

Are you READY?

Who wants to go for a WALK?

We get to have SANDWICHES for lunch!

The trick is to overact. Say it loudly, with eyebrows raised, barely contained emotion in your voice, and be ready to follow up with some YAY! and WOOHOO! Body language counts too.

I really want this trick to last for a little while, so I am trying to be careful to use it sparingly, mixed in with lots of things that don't need the extra boost:

It's time for ICE CREAM!

Let's play DINOSAURS!

2) Context is everything

Example 1: Are road-trips with young kids hellish? It depends.

Two-day road trip to get to vacation spot.
Both kids are cranky. The Monster doesn't even have a nap, at any point, on either day of the long drive. Much crying, complaining, refusing to share the water bottle, attempts to hit each other with plastic dinosaurs and window screens. The Monkey demands booby the entire way, meaning I get to float my boob acrobatically in his mouth the entire drive, with him strapped into his car seat.

Result: Macondo Papa gets a migraine. Macondo Mama gets a neck that won't turn sideways for a few days. General grumpiness all around.

Two-day road trip to return from vacation spot.
Both kids nap. The Monster's daily nap coincides with the Monkey's afternoon nap, on both days. Booby is not offered or requested while driving, meaning I get to sit up front the whole way. Silly songs are sung. Carnivorous dinosaurs eat herbivorous ones. A phone call during the kids' extended nap on the second day suggests a dream job may be in the works for Macondo Papa.

Result: Kids are well-rested. Macondo Papa and Macondo Mama spontaneously rub each other's knees and tell each other 'I love you'. A lot. General bliss all around.

Example 2: Are power outages in the extreme heat bearable? Well, no, but it depends.

8:30pm, power goes out, it is 37°C (47°C with the humidex)
Monster is 10 minutes into watching the first video he's been allowed to see in a month. Waaaaaah! Monkey suddenly develops what appears to be an intense fear of the dark and need to be holding both parents' hands all the time. Waaaaaah! Dinner is only just barely in preparation. The temperature rises. The heat rashes get itchy. There is only slightly more air outside, and lots of mosquitoes.

Result: All I can say is that I am glad to have given birth to two kids, so I know I can deal with anything. Not enjoy it, or breathe through it, or get into a state of mind and let it flow through me, but deal with it. And be really really happy when it's over.

10:30pm, power goes out, it is 37°C (47°C with the humidex)
The kids have eaten, Macondo Papa takes the monkey for a drive, and I try out my new 'enthusiasm trick' (see above) with the monster: we bring a blanket outside to get eaten by the mosquitoes and enjoy the stars. We giggle and talk and point.

Result: Sleeping monkey, itchy mama, probably a night to remember for the rest of his life for the monster. Still way too hot for humanity.

Home again

Monday, February 8, 2010

You know things are pretty good when you don't dread the end of vacations, when you look forward to getting home again, when that last 2 hours of the road trip that brings you back to your town and your neighbourhood and your house and the return to the everyday isn't a huge, depressing drag.

So, life is sweet. We had a great vacation, and we're happy to be home.

I came back to a pile of unexpected work in my inbox, so lots of what I want to write will have to wait.

My big hopes for some one-on-one time with my notebook were foiled by my inability to find a pen, despite my truly excellent packing job. And remembering to buy one any one of the times that I bought water, ice, fruit or bread turned out to be too much for me.

Here are a few highlights from the trip, though:
  • Monster waking up every morning by himself, finding a pair of shorts and a t-shirt (yes, pretty much the same ones for the entire week), PUTTING THEM ON ALL BY HIMSELF without even waking us up, grabbing his bicycle and asking me quietly if he could go and see if his cousin was awake yet to play.
  • Cousins spending hours playing together, dirty, sweaty, laughing, making up crazy shit. 
  • Monkey saying Monster's name for the first time, clearly and perfectly, and over and over again.
  • Two blissful afternoons when the kids' naps coincided and Macondo Papa and I had two whole hours to sit and drink maté and laugh and be together. To re-connect. And talk about the future.
  • Watching the Monster stop his cousin before they crossed the "road" in the campground to explain how to cross the road properly - look both ways, look again. He had soon gathered a small crowd of little munchkins, and they had what looked like a mini-conference on the subject, featuring the Monster himself as keynote speaker.
  • Interesting adult conversations! Yay for my brother-in-law and sister-in-law - not only the best aunt and uncle for the kids, but wonderful people and friends - and yay for kids that entertained each other for hours without needing us.
It's nice to come back here, to my little blog-world. The automatic posting thing was pretty cool for not missing my friend's birthday, but I also apparently posted a 'postcard' of a cow's butt, which was not my intention. I've now resized the photo so you can see the cow and its surroundings in all their glory.

Postcard from Macondo: Cow

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I thought I might start posting some images from Macondo.

Lots of cows around these here parts...
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