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Thank you, birthday stars

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We've been pretty absorbed here in the Macondo household with preparations for the Monster's 4th birthday party.

At the Monster's previous birthday parties, I used to stress about whether he would enjoy himself.

Crowds, noise, too much attention - these things are not for him. He hates it when people sing happy birthday, for example. And he is not particularly generous with hugs and kisses and thank yous, which some people like to force on little people whenever they can, regardless of how well they are received or how willingly they are offered.

He can get whiny and clingy, and I can feel pressured to try to manage and compensate for him. I can sometimes forget that these things are supposed to be fun for him, and not for all of the guests who come with their own expectations about what a birthday party and a birthday boy are supposed to be like.

Well, I was still worried about whether he would have a good time - his moods can be kind of unpredictable - but he and I have both gotten better at dealing with other people's expectations.

I don't insist that he kiss everyone, as is the standard greeting here in Argentina and is expected of everyone. It makes him seem unfriendly or grumpy to those who don't know him or don't 'get' shyness, but who cares, really? Kids are like that. He'll figure it out.

'Thank you', on the other hand, seems important to me. I guess it is just another adult convention, and there are lots of other ways of showing gratitude, but it is also a simple and tangible way for him to acknowledge other people's efforts or their kindness, and I think that matters. I've struggled with this because I don't want him to say it without meaning it, so I don't want to just force it (as if I could!), but I do want him to say it.

We had a great talk about 'thank you' on the morning of the party. I reminded him how good it made people feel to know that he was happy, that he wanted them to be there, that he liked the presents they had chosen for him, and so on. This making-people-feel-good explanation seemed to click with him - he seemed to get it.

And he told me this:
I do say thank you. I just don't let anyone hear me say it.
What can I say? When I was his age I was waaaaaay shyer than he is, so I get it. When I was little, I said so much more in my head than ever came out of my mouth. I was quite a friendly and gracious and thoughtful person in my head, but appeared to be a rather silent, unhappy little snob for many years.

I told him I knew how he felt. We talked about how it couldn't make people feel good if they couldn't hear it, and left it at that.

Then, during the party, after each present he received, I asked him if he had remembered to say thank you. About half of the time, he went right up to the person and (shyly) said 'thank you', and ran away with a proud smile on his face. The other half of the time, he asked me to say it for him (instead of refusing to say it, which is different). He would come with me, and I would say, 'Monster wants me to say "thank you for the present" for him.'

I think we were both really happy with this arrangement, it felt like a real accomplishment. And to my relief, others received his thanks in a way that didn't compound his embarrassment.

We got through the 'happy birthday' song (in two languages) with him in my arms, not loving it, but dealing with it. It all got better when the kids decided that it was OK to eat all the chocolates off the cake before we cut it.

That night, in bed, when I told him how much fun I had had at his party, he said,
Me too. The only part I didn't like so much was when everybody sang. But it was okay.
And it was okay.

All this, of course, would not have happened had he not been having an excellent time. So I am thrilled to report that the Monster's long-awaited 4th birthday party was an unqualified success, despite our unprecedented departure from birthday party tradition, here in Macondo.

Prelude to a birth story

Friday, March 26, 2010

As of tomorrow I will have been a mom for four years. Holy shit. Four years ago tonight, I went into labour. Since I am feeling a little nostalgic about it all, I thought I would share my Monster's birth story. Everybody loves a good birth story, right?

Okay, but before I share the story, I have a bit of explaining to do. Consider it setting the stage.

I birthed the Monster at home, as planned, with my partner and our midwives. It is, like every birth story, unique, scattered, chaotic, overwhelming, quite impossible for me to really describe.

When I went into labour, I had the intense feeling that I wasn't ready yet. It was only 5 days until my due date, but my midwives had been sure that I would be 'late', rather than 'early'. I had only just stopped working the week before. Three days earlier my midwife had assured me that the baby's head still hadn't even dropped.

We were prepared, though, if such a thing is possible. Our home-birth kit was ready - garbage bags, blue pads, olive oil, plastic sheeting, bending straws... We had done a midwife-based birthing preparation course, which was awesome. I had read Birthing from Within (affiliate link), which I highly recommend.

But I hadn't yet gotten my head around the idea of soon being not-pregnant, soon being a mom. I also hadn't yet really slowed down my thoughts to try to prepare myself for the physical ordeal I would soon face.

So my first reaction to those first contractions was NOOOOO, NOT YET. I still want to think about this a little longer.

As it turned out, my birth was very speedy, what they call precipitous labour - less than three hours of active labour for a first-time mom. And though I am glad it did not last several days, and I am thrilled that I laboured naturally and delivered my baby without any drugs and in the coziness of my own living room, birthing so quickly did not make for an easy birth experience. It was too fast.

Very fast births can be traumatic.

Yes, the outcome was perfect. And the experience was beautiful and powerful and raw.

But, it was also like getting run over by a truck. In fact, and possibly unrelated to the speed of my labour, I broke my tailbone during labour, which slowed down my recovery and kept me in pain (and, in retrospect, shock) for weeks after my Monster was born.

The birth was beautiful, and I am proud of my body and its strength. I only emphasize the fact that there was trauma because everybody's reaction to news of a fast birth is, lucky you.

Three hours might be a perfect length for a quick and straightforward second birth (wait 'til I tell you how long my second birth lasted), but it was just so, so, so fast for a first birth.

I have a theory about this. It probably isn't very original or anything, but maybe because I have heard and read very little about precipitous labour, I haven't come across this anywhere else.

My theory goes like this. You know the zone you're supposed to get yourself into while you labour? All those endorphins pumping through you are supposed to help you float off into labour land. Your body and mind start to flow with the rhythm of your contractions. Nobody claims that it feels delightful or anything, but that the zone helps you to cope. This natural druggy state is also credited with why so many women have only foggy memories of their births afterward, and their experience of pain quickly becomes hazy and vague.

Well, with no time for your body to produce those endorphins, and no actual rhythm to try to flow with, the pain and intensity are all felt more acutely, and there is no time to focus, to relax, to brace yourself, to allow yourself to open.

It is violent. That is how it felt. And I remember it in all its pain and glory.

I have absolutely no idea how I would have dealt with a different type of birth, a slower one that might have allowed me to get into a zone, to inhabit labour land for a while. I might have had time to use the kiddie pool we were going to fill up for me to labour in (or to even remember that we had it). I might have actually made the empanadas we were going to make for our midwives as our project for early labour. I might have opted for drugs or a hospital transfer. I might have just had more time to freak out.

Once again, yes yes yes, it was also beautiful. And I am proud. And I am very happy not to have any regrets about my choices. I had the home birth I had dreamed of. My baby was healthy and beautiful. My partner was a superstar, my midwives were compassionate and competent. Luckily, happily, it all worked out wonderfully. In this sense, yes, calling my birth experience lucky is quite appropriate.

But not because it was so fast.

Now, with that wordy and anti-climactic caveat out of the way, here is the Monster's actual birth story.

This is you at four years old

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My little Monster is turning four on Saturday. In addition to the obligatory birthday party, I'd like to mark the occasion with something he can look back on when he's older, to try to capture this age that he will never be again.

I've been thinking about asking him a series of questions and recording his answers, creating something like a little snapshot of him and his 4-year-old ideas. Or, to be a little less structured about it, maybe somehow recording a conversation about something special.

What would this look like? I thought about asking some of the following questions and just kind of following him where he was willing to take me.

- What's your name? Where do you live? Who do you live with? Tell me about your family.
- Where were you born? When did you move to Argentina?
- What do you love to play? What do you love to eat?
- Tell me about your school. What do you want to do at school this year?
- What's your favourite colour? Song? Book? Toy?
- What would you like your job to be when you're older?
- Do you want to have kids? Tell me about them.

Too boring?

I'd love to get his answers to things like: what are twins, what are planets, how do cameras work, and all the other great things we muse about here...but I'm also prepared for him to refuse to show his face or open his mouth the minute the camera is on.

I told him about my idea this morning and asked him if he had any ideas. He suggested that I could ask him why he always asks 'why'.

That might be a great start.

NUNCA MÁS: Memory, truth and justice in Argentina

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Today is another day that will form a part of our family's calendar of commemorations and rituals.  One that we will struggle to give meaning to our kids. Today is Argentina's national Day of Memory for Truth and Justice, remembering the victims of the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

My partner had to learn when he was far too young that there were some bad people who took loved ones away, and they might never come back. And he had to keep it a secret from all his friends and teachers, while his childhood and his family were forever transformed.

Our kids are still too young to learn about terror, about Argentina's bloody recent history, about the generation that is missing and all its profound and heart-wrenching implications. Thankfully, they do not have to learn these things the way their papa did.
But today, if we were in Buenos Aires, we would go to the Plaza de Mayo with all the other many thousands of people who will say never again and continue to demand both truth and justice. And not just today. We will also talk to them about related struggles, about the meaning of social justice and human rights, and about the super-heroes - people and organizations - who have fought for truth and justice all this time.

We will start to talk to them about memory, and we will continue to talk to them about justice. Eventually, we will share everything with them as an essential part of their history. I'm still not sure how, but it will not just be a one-day-a-year thing.

Imagine an extravagant birthday party for a four-year-old...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

...and then get a load of this.

I hereby present you with another Macondo birthday party anecdote. (I wrote about our first experience with the local birthday party scene here.)

No matter what we end up doing for our Monster's upcoming birthday, he will seem unloved and deprived in comparison, so phew, the pressure is off!


The party

On Saturday night (6-9:30pm), I ventured out with the kids to a birthday party for one of the Monster's classmates. She turned four, just like he will this Saturday.

Aside from being too-pukey pink and with the volume turned up to Your Ears Will Buzz for the Rest of the Night, there were just oh-so-many things oh-so-very wrong with the party. For starters, it cost thousands of DOLLARS, and to spend that kind of money on a party in Argentina, you really have to try pretty hard. There were about 100 people there. It was about equally as extravagant as the bar- and bat-mitzvahs I attended way back when, and waaay more extravagant than every wedding I have ever attended (except for one, which was also pukey).


- hall rental, complete with linens and food servers in tuxes
- beer, wine and soft drinks
- junk food, finger food and use your imagination for the cake
- face painters
- inflatable jumpy trampoline thing
- two clowns, who animated the party with fun things like, 'who's smarter, the girls or the boys???'
- bubble machine
- smoke machine
- DJ
- live band
- really really loud grown-up music, including a pukey recorded version of happy birthday (no, the kids did not sing happy birthday)
- several LARGE displays of balloons and ornate pink things, all arranged very artistically
- serious loot bags, including a notebook and pencil crayons, personalized mugs and copious amounts of candy

The completely bizarre part? This is a typical birthday party here for the wealthy. A little bit extravagant in some of the details, but perfectly in line with what the rest of the parents and kids are used to. I kid you not.

They all invite all twenty-something of their classmates, along with their parents and siblings. They all blare music (grown-up music, I should add) at unhealthy, eardrum-damaging volume (and there were several very tiny babies there, too). They all dress the girls in long, uncomfortable, frilly party dresses with bows and matching hair ribbons. They all go completely overboard on the soft drinks, crappy food and amount of candy the kids bring home with them. And all the other mommies wear heels and have their best boobies on display (though I am the only one to actually flash mine, when I nurse my little Monkey).

Am I so out of touch that this is actually common in other parts of the world? Would anybody in Toronto or Buenos Aires actually send their 4-year-old daughter to a birthday party in an ankle-length frilly dress with lace and large bows (unless, perhaps, she begged to be allowed such ridiculousness)? 

The Monster does not like loud music or crowds, so he does not enjoy these events. He clings to me, cries easily, appears to be miserable, but doesn't want to leave. He enjoys little windows of fun, when the music is slightly lower and he chases after the bubbles, or other such fleeting moments.

Then, the next day he goes on and on about how much fun he had.

He pigs out on potato chips, but doesn't mind at all when I get him a glass of water while the other kids are drinking fanta, and by the next day he pretty much forgets to ask about all the candy he had taken home with him. (His little brother is going to be an entirely different story, however.)

The one big moment the Monster really cares about is the breaking of the piñata, which is why we had to stay to the very end. I have taken note and will be sure that there is a piñata at his birthday party, NOT filled with little plastic guns and swords and princess tiaras, mind you.


The post-party conversations with Macondo Papa

We have decided that the ear-drum damage is unacceptable for our little toddler and will not be bringing him to any more parties. It's actually unacceptable for all of us, but we don't want to be anti-social meanies, so we will let the Monster decide if he wants to go to his classmates' parties, and support his preference to stay away from the loudspeakers.

These encounters with 'society' - along with our discouraging explorations of the available schooling options - also serve to reinforce our Plan to leave here before it's too late. That is, to stay another 1 or 2 or 3 years, to enjoy our river, our beach, our monkeys and toucans, our long and lazy siestas, and then please let us move somewhere at least a tiny little bit progressive and cosmopolitan. Please.

Upcoming rituals and celebrations

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I am not very good at planning or celebrating rituals. I like the idea of them, especially for the kids, but I do not follow through. Macondo Papa and I almost always let our birthdays and anniversaries fizzle away with a clink of wine glasses, a kiss and the intention to do more next time.

I did manage to scoop a spoonful of honey into my kids' mouths on their first day of school (for a sweet year, a bit of appropriation from Rosh Hashanah - the Jewish New Year - but that's okay).

However, my attempt at a Christmas stocking ritual was not so successful, and to this day I am delinquent on following through with some New Year's reflecting.

I have two main problems.

The first is that these dates always seem to creep up on me.

For years I've been saying that I wanted to start my own Passover seder tradition as soon as I was far away from the maddening right-wing seders of my uncle's family in Toronto. A secular, child-centred, age-appropriate, anti-oppression celebration of solidarity and struggle. How cool would that be?

But Passover is next week. I don't have the time to think and read and prepare, and I don't have the time to start talking about it with the Monster, planting seeds and building interest and excitement so that the ritual might mean something.

My second problem is that these dates always seem to happen in bunches.

Starting next week, we will have my inlaws here for a week, and we will celebrate the Monster's 4th birthday, Macondo Papa's 40th, Passover, Easter and my birthday, all in a two-week period. This is what did me in with the whole Christmas, Chanukah, Solstice, New Years and Three Kings Day crunch. And the Monster had wanted to celebrate Kwanzaa too (thanks, Elmo).

So I am going to let Passover go this year, and try again next year. And I will leave Easter to my inlaws, who I'm sure will have an Easter story or two up their sleeves to share with the kids while they're here (which we will then further discuss as needed - I'm not sure if they'll get into resurrection and all that, or what, but some follow-up analysis will probably be required).

That leaves the Monster's 4th birthday and Macondo Papa's 40th. Both are biggies. I'm thinking face-painting, a treasure hunt and a piñata for one of them, and a new book, breakfast-in-bed and a group pasta-making fiesta (with all 3 of our friends) for the other.

Maybe not creating a deep, meaningful sense of tradition, but perhaps at least a little happiness and joy all around?

20 things I am considering worrying about

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's not that I don't already have a few things that I worry about.

There is the total absence of 'bedtime', the imposition of unwanted gender norms on my little guys, toxins in our foods, an upcoming 4th birthday party that I have to design and host so that it will be memorable, enjoyable and socially acceptable with all kinds of unfamiliar rules and expectations, and...I could go on.

But why not have a list of things I could worry about, should I feel the need to expand my worrying horizons? I'm not one to turn away from new opportunities. These are all things I am not quite worried about, yet, but I occasionally consider that they might have some worry merit, or, in some cases, I sometimes remember that they are probably deserving of worry, but then I forget, or get too freaked out, or realize that it's futile.

Anyways, in no particular order:

1) I have to have a killer PhD proposal ready by November in order to apply for the scholarship I covet. Getting it is the only way that I will go ahead with actually doing a PhD. And I still don't have a tiny little idea for a topic.

2) The 500-page book on Latin American social and political theory that I am translating (what was I thinking?) is due in October. And yeah, things aren't exactly zooming along.

3) I need friends. Here in Macondo, if at all possible, and it's not looking very promising.

4) It might be five years before Macondo Papa and I can go out for dinner, go for a walk, read Le Monde Diplomatique to each other or make an uninterrupted comment.

5) We may never find a babysitter.

6) My wrinkles. Ack! I can't believe I even said that.

7) The Monster is almost 4 and still takes almost 2 hours to fall asleep every night. With us lying in bed with him, motionless, in the dark. Is this insomnia? Is this a sign of something bigger that he needs our help with?

8) The Monster's difficulties with adapting to change. See #9-11.

9) The Monster's occasional stutter (currently non-existent, but at times quite prominent).

10) The Monster's fingers in his mouth, all the time or not so much, depending on... I only wish I could figure out what.

11) The Monster's obsession with certain clothing items, which comes and goes, and  can take on extreme proportions, depending on... I only wish I could figure out what.

The socks have to be pulled all the way up, always, or no other shirt but that specific shirt must be worn, every day, no matter what, or wearing a sweatshirt would clearly be equivalent to torturing him with unspeakable techniques. OR he's perfectly agreeable to whatever clothes you offer him, or easily makes a choice between the climate-appropriate options you present.

12) The Monkey may soon have the same size feet as the Monster, and we might actually have to buy him some shoes instead of having an abundance of hand-me-down options.

13) The Monkey may never outgrow hitting. Is all this aggression just age-appropriate testing of limits and learning how to be an acceptable human, or might I be raising a sociopath?

14) The Monkey's daycare situation is still unresolved. For three weeks now, either Macondo Papa or I have been staying with him (often just out of sight) all morning long. And now we are considering starting the adaptation phase all over again at a different daycare. We're not getting a whole lot of other things done.

And this, lest you not realize what I'm dealing with here, is in Macondo, where Every Single Bill you might want to pay means standing in line at the corresponding service provider along with the rest of the world., praying that the power won't go out, the 'system' won't go 'down', they haven't decided to stop accepting, say, money, or some other impediment won't render your entire morning wasted, again. And oh yeah, see #2

15) This. Ewwwww. Luckily, my kids just play with a few stainless steel cups in the bath, and the occasional stray plastic dinosaur that does not normally live in the bathroom. So I have just started washing the cups when I shower, and all is well.

What should possibly worry me more is the actual bathtub they use, which is a little plastic baby tub. Despite air-drying and occasional washing, it is probably a really cozy home to lots of icky stuff I'd rather not know about.

(Re-reading this, I feel like it misrepresents me as a very clean person, which I am not. Which is why I am not including a picture of our bathtub in its natural habitat.)

16) My kids have already outgrown their bathtub, and still occasionally insist on having baths together. There is no foreseeable solution to this, other than getting used to showering. But, they don't seem to mind the squishiness, and absolutely love how easy it is to make the water overflow all over the bathroom floor.

17) My kids' swearing. I don't really worry about this, but I'm throwing it in there to maybe seem like an appropriately concerned parent.

18) The absence of school choices we can feel really good about. We'd prefer public, but that isn't even an option until next year for the Monster, and it also has its issues. And the private alternatives have most of the same issues - conservative values, ridiculous traditional methods and routines, huge classes, tiny classrooms - along with the added perk of atrocious and expensive uniforms.

19) Dengue fever. There was an outbreak here last year, and so it is entirely possible that there will be another one this year, or next. Most certainly, there will be outbreaks eventually. I have already had Dengue, AND IT SUCKS. It is Terrible. I was hit quite hard, and I was alone, literally alone, all by myself, in a little hut on an island in Nicaragua, hallucinating with fever and pain for days and days.

The thought of my kids getting Dengue FREAKS ME OUT. And, since I have already had it, I am now vulnerable to the hemorrhagic form (did you hear that? the hemorrhagic form!), with lovely symptoms like bleeding gums and eyballs and DEATH.

I am just going to take a few deep breaths now, and continue on with my list.

20) Our exposure to DEET and other anti-mosquito necessities. We try to minimize this - repellent on the clothes instead of our skin, good ventilation, and so on - but we are definitely exposed to more of this than I would like. And my kids are still so young. But, see #19.

Okay, I think that's enough for now. I have a book to translate and a PhD proposal to wish into existence.

(By the way, I don't actually recommend writing lists like this one. I thought it was a cute, amusing little idea at first, but now it seems more like a good way to pepper your week with worry, even if you started out just fine. Lesson learned.)

Bilingual language development at 18 months

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Our one-and-a-half year old Monkey is talking! A lot!

His language skills are developing and changing so quickly that I have to write this now, or by next week he might be speaking in full sentences before I ever got to write about the first time he put two words together.

At sixteen months he already had a couple dozen words in Spanish and English and was starting to pick up new ones with increasing ease. But now, it's hard to keep track, and is starting to seem kind of silly, as the list gets longer and longer. I've included it below, but, of course, you have to imagine it all with the huge cuteness factor that word lists don't really transmit so well.

Aside from his mushrooming vocabulary though, there's lots more to say about how he is becoming a bilingual little talker.**

He has started saying some things in both Spanish and English. Like 'all done!' and '¡ya está!'

Before, he had some words in English, and others in Spanish. Agua and cheese, for example. He now has a whole bunch of words that he knows in both languages. In most cases, he started saying the Spanish one first, and then started using the English one later.

- turtle / tortuga
- shoe / zapato
- noom (moon) / luna 
- bum-bum / cola, culo
- bad / malo 
- booby / teta
- horsey / caballo
- more / más
- bye-bye / chau
- hand / mano 
- pee-pee / pis

So far, he doesn't seem to distinguish between who speaks to him in Spanish and who speaks to him in English. I think he says whichever version of the word that he heard most recently, but will then switch to the other if we do.

He is starting to go to daycare in the mornings now (an entire saga I will eventually write about, complete with turtles, electrical hazards, AWOL teachers, trying to convince school directors that our 1.5-year-old is actually a 2-year-old in disguise (without coming across as obnoxious and ridiculous, of course), and a whole whack of parental indecision and waffling).

Anyways, now that his mornings will be infused with Spanish songs and rhymes and stories (we would hope), I will have to be sure to step up the English here at home. I read somewhere that kids need at least 25% of their time to be in direct communication in a given language in order to be able to use the language themselves, form their own sentences, and so on. I don't really love the idea of calculating our time together in percentages, much less measuring our "stimulating, language-exposure, language-learning time", but it is something to worry about keep in mind.

He is excellent at imitating sounds and copying words. Like 'calculator', 'chiquitito', 'Papi's sleeping' and fairly convincing actual birdcalls. I don't include them as part of his vocabulary until he uses them all on his own, but it is really quite impressive.

He seems to have a special ear for 'bad' words. Including, especially, 'bad', but also 'culo' (ass) and 'boludo' (general insult, or 'man' - as in 'no way, man' - depending on the context).

This should be no surprise, I guess, given the extensive use of profanities in Argentinian Spanish. When I say extensive, I mean really, really extensive. And no attempts to limit their use around kids. Not even the really nasty ones. And so kids swear too.

He seems to say 'boludo' for the laugh factor he gets from his brother. For weeks, we weren't really sure if that's what he was saying or not, but now it's undeniable.

He usually says 'bum-bum' or the Spanish equivalent, 'cola', but 'culo' is also lurking there in his vocabulary.

'Bad' is, for me, the worst of the bunch. He says it in Spanish too - 'malo'. Thanks big brother. (He also already knows what candies and lollipops are. You just can't be as wholesome with the younger siblings. The older ones will be sure to foil all attempts.)

We don't use the word 'bad' in this house (we're not the only ones), and we were not pleased at all when the Monster brought it home when he was three and a half. The Monkey is just 18 months and already applies it exactly as his brother's friends intended it: he yells it at us when he has to share or wants to play with the cell phone or isn't allowed to hit me on the head with a wooden train. Not cool.

He clusters concepts into one word, and then starts to learn to distinguish them with new words. This is fascinating to watch.

He first said 'se cortó' to remark that the power had gone out, which is the correct use of the term. He then started to apply it to a whole cluster of 'endings': lights going off, fans stopping, an apple falling, a story ending, a paper tearing, a toy breaking. He has since learned 'off' for the light when it isn't related to a power outage, but for all the others he still relies on 'se cortó'.

He started saying 'ach' as an invented word to mean 'open this'. Its use then extended to 'take out' this toy from the container, 'take off' this shirt, 'turn on' the computer, etc. He has since learned 'open' for doors and containers, but uses 'ach' for all the others.

He uses the term 'maté' not only to name all of our maté-related paraphernalia (kettle, thermos, yerba, bombilla and the maté itself), but also to say 'food', 'hungry', 'eat'. He is sticking with this term and doesn't want to use any others.

He is starting to string two words together. I try to differentiate between two words that express one concept - like 'good night' and 'all done' - and the real connecting of two different words to communicate additional information. So far, we have:

- quiero agua (I want water)
- es mío (it's mine)

Here is the big list of his vocabulary so far. It's grown quite a lot since the first list, two months ago.

silla (chair)
apple (used for all fruit)
all done, ya está
quiero agua (I want water)
more, más
pan (bread)

yo (me)
mío (mine)
dame (give it to me)
bad, malo
boludo (general insult, or not, depending on context - see above)

+ the mother and daughter pair of our closest family friends

horsey, caballo
'pider, araña
turtle, tortuga
pio-pio (bird)
pato (duck)

bum-bum, cola, culo
pito (penis)
pee pee, pis
shoes, zapatos
hand, mano

acá (here)
allá (there)
se cortó (see above)
yay, wow
luz (light)
sucio (dirty)
noom (moon), luna
good night

**I will write more, eventually, about our "approach" to bilingualism, but basically, I am the kids' only source of English, along with lots of books, and web-camming with family and friends back in Canada. I always speak to them in English (with a few exceptions in public), but I speak to Macondo Papa in Spanish.

All in good time

Monday, March 15, 2010

Every day for the past week or so, at some point in the day, I have remembered that we rented a DVD with the ridiculously optimistic idea of actually watching it, eventually. I didn't even know what movie it was - Macondo Papa picked it out - just that it was for grown-ups, and that it was already one, two, three, four days overdue.

Every night over dinner, one of us reminds the other, with an eager smile:
Let's do the m-o-v-i-e tonight.
Speak too openly, and the Monster will get the crazy idea that he gets to watch Kirikou ride around on a giraffe, again.

Anyways, then there's dessert, a few minutes to enjoy the only time of the day when the kids play nicely together, growling and roaring and chasing each other around the house. It's 10pm. This is Argentina time.

We start quieting down, brushing teeth, picking stories, separating the kids.

I wrestle with Monkey in a drawn-out process of reading, nursing, running away, cuddling, singing, nursing, running away, lying down on the floor, running away, nursing, lying down on the bed, nursing, nursing, nursing, falling asleep. We both fall asleep.

Macondo Papa is holding his own with Monster, reading a story in an increasingly drawn-out, monotonous voice, stopping for some deep breaths, gently insisting he keep still, turning off the lights, singing a song, gently insisting he keep still, not-so-gently insisting he keep still, and so on.

One and a half to two hours later, Macondo Papa and I stumble blearily towards each other, alternatingly either half asleep or pissed off that so much of our time is spent keeping still in dark rooms trying to get our kids to sleep.

Oh, and the m-o-v-i-e? It's either forgotten, or postponed until tomorrow, in the name of sleep. Again.

Well, I am happy to report that after 9 days of our overdue m-o-v-i-e sitting in its case, we watched it! And it was a good movie - Leonera - though not easy to watch.

Doesn't it feel just so great to watch a good movie every now and then?

Eighteen months of Monkey

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Monkey is 18 months old (and two days). A year and a half. And he is one amazing little dude, if I do say so myself.

Unlike his brother at this age, he is not obedient, shy, cautious, gentle, a complicated eater, or apparently anywhere close to weaning. Like his brother, he is observant, playful, affectionate and hilarious.

He is a daring, coordinated and stubborn little monkey, who climbs up the big kids' slides and throws himself down head first.

He is a tough and persistent torturer of his brother, able to understand all manner of complicated instructions and explanations, but not 'no hitting', 'no pinching', 'no pushing', 'no bashing your brother with that hockey stick'. But - he is good at following up with hugs and kisses and gentle strokes.

He is a darling. He waves and blows kisses with abandon. He will whisper secrets in your ear upon request. While nursing, even half asleep, he will grin or giggle when he hears his brother laugh. He sometimes pulls off my breast to grab my head, pull it towards him and give me a big kiss before settling back to nurse.

He sweats profusely, especially from his elbows and forearms, which is weird. He has my itchy and rashy skin, and my tendency to scratch and pick. Poor monkey.

As of just a few days ago, his mind and body have been taken over by an overpowering need to continually wash his hands and play with soap and toothbrushes. He seems to need it as much as he needed to practice walking: All.The.Time. As if there were a hard-wired, biological hand-washing imperative.

He also loves lids, books, whatever his brother is playing with, riding toys, balls, shoes and excitedly pointing out all the spider webs he can see from his special toddler vantage point. He takes this job very seriously.

He has advanced tantrum-throwing skills for his age. And a strong little body to match.

His language skills are in the exponentially-exploding phase. We are starting to lose track of all his new vocabulary. I will post soon on the many fascinating aspects of his language development, including his bilingualism, his love of animals and his ability to learn profanities faster than anything else.

He is a singing and dancing, groovy little guy. He loves to shout 'GOAL!' in Spanish, with both arms in the air. And he celebrates the things that give him joy with enthusiastic and contagious shouts of yay, wow and yum. He loves to beat his chest like a gorilla.

Happy half birthday, little monkey. Kazoodles of love.

Clitoris fruit and International Women's Day in Argentina

Far away in my quiet little town, I wish for a feminist mother's group I could join, or feminist moms I could befriend, while I smile and share some clitoris fruit from International Women's Day activities in Buenos Aires.

Thanks to Desobediencia y Felicidad for their struggle, their creativity, and for the pics.

Our first week of school

Sunday, March 7, 2010

We've survived our first week of junior kindergarten and daycare. It's an 8:45 to noon thing, plus driving time. If we had chosen afternoons instead of mornings, it would have been from 4:45 to 8pm. I wasn't exaggerating about the Argentina-time thing.

I'll have to write about the "beloved" guardapolvo culture here soon (the smocks the kids and their teachers wear over their clothes). It's quite a topic.

Anyways, some highlights:

1) The Monster has decided to replace his favourite game of We are Carnivores: Let's Hunt and Growl, with waving his pistol-hand around and going pchooo, pchooo (or however you write that).

-- Thank you, kindergarten friends exposed to nasty stuff. Should I forbid this, ridicule it, ignore it, subvert it? How how how? (I kind of do the last 3, though I really just want to do the first.)

2) The Monster has decided he does not play with girls. It would be like a pig being friends with a frog, you know.

-- Thank you, gender-obsessed world out there. Again: Should I forbid this, ridicule it, ignore it, subvert it? How how how?**

(I'm happy to say, though, that the very next day he asked me to tie on a scarf as a skirt, put a clip in his hair, and play some music so he could do some ballet dancing. I also assume, though, that it's just a matter of time before he learns that this kind of behaviour is girly, and therefore totally uncool.)

3) The Monster and the Monkey have snotty noses and wheezy coughs.

-- Thank you, germs that stalk my children. I can forego a(nother) week of sleep. Sure.

4) And both kids are quite happy.

-- Thank you, universe.


** I am seething with revolt at an article in today's Página/12 (Spanish) about the new trend of girl-only birthday party venues, totally pink- and purple-ified, complete with make-overs and spa options. PEEYUUUKE! One owner shared her valuable insight:
Plus, the moms like to see their girls being quiet, pretty, not running all over the place and destroying the house.
It's just so, so, so... wrooooooooong! It kind of makes me feel like a frog living with a whole bunch of pigs. And I don't want my kids to start oinking. But I don't know how to prevent it. Ribbiting isn't likely to work. You know what I mean?

Save the Association for Research on Mothering

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) is a wonderful research centre (at my old stomping ground) that is about to close.

Instead of delaying this post while I try to put together a strong argument about why its work is sooooo important and how devastating funding cuts are to small research centres that aren't focused on more 'profitable' issues, I will point you to this post by Blue Milk with 3 ways to help.

ARM rocks. Let's try to stop their closure.

6 random things you might not already know about Argentina

Friday, March 5, 2010

I have not done the research to figure out if these are unique to Argentina, or if some or all are common in other parts of Latin America. Probably.

Anyways, here goes a list that will not include all the usual tango, maté, soccer, gaucho, asado, plastic surgery, blah blah blah.

1. Instead of knocking or ringing the (often non-existent) doorbell, people stand outside and clap loudly a few times. They don't call out hellooo? or its Spanish equivalent. This is only really true outside of the big cities (it obviously doesn't work very well with apartment buildings).

2. If you want to sell your car, you put a bottle of water on the roof of the car whenever you park it anywhere. If anyone is interested, they can come and clap for you. Why not a 'for sale' sign? Well, why not a bottle of water on the roof?

3. Bidets are standard bathroom gear here. When I say standard, I mean that even gas station bathrooms have them. In addition to their obvious uses, they are really handy washers of dirty little feet, and pretty wonderful toddler-sized sinks (and fountains).

4. The 'come here' gesture is a more contained version of my 'go away' gesture: palm facing outward and then flopping forward one or more times. I know this is true for all of Latin America, along with a tendency to hiss or go 'tchh, tchh' instead of saying 'hey' to get someone's attention.

5. The friendly or polite way to acknowledge an unknown passerby is not with my standard, toothless almost-smile, to then quickly look away. Instead, you mutter some kind of greeting - hello or good afternoon or bye - and then look away, or not. (I still have to consciously remind myself of this one all the time. I often find myself doing my almost-smile thingy, and then they often say hello, and then it seems like I wasn't going to say it, because they already caught me looking at them and sort-of-smiling and looking away.)

6. It is very, very close to impossible to find a mini kid-sized backpack that does not have one of the top 10 commercial characters plastered all over it (barbie, ben10, disney stuff and whatever else). Needless to say, all divided between pink for the girls and anything else for the boys. Same goes for toothbrushes, stickers, pencil cases and more. This means 3 things: I am still looking for a backpack for the monkey; I must stop judging all the parents who buy such crap for their kids; and entering shops often puts me in a really bad mood.


In which we narrowly escape buying girl things for a boy - shopkeeper to the rescue!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Me: I'd like to order the full list of school supplies for my kid in junior kindergarten at [XYZ] school. I can pick it up tomorrow morning.

Her: Sure, let me just check if we have a set ready and you can take it now. For a boy or a girl?

Me: A boy, but that doesn't matter, I'll take a girl one if you've got it ready.

Her: [after checking] We only have a girl one ready, so I'll prepare one for you for tomorrow.

Me: I really don't mind. We don't care about that stuff. What is the difference? Will his teacher really care?

Her: Don't worry, I'll have it for you tomorrow.

Me: No, really, just give me the girl one. It's fine.

Her: Don't worry, señora, it will be ready tomorrow.

Me: No, that's OK. I'll take the girl one.

Her: Don't worry, señora, it will be ready tomorrow.

It was as if I could not possibly be saying what I was saying. La la la la la - I can't hear you.

It's a good thing the monster has shopkeepers and kindergarten teachers everywhere working hard to ensure nothing pink or fairy-like ever come anywhere near him. And, of course, that girls have access to nothing but.

Phew, that was a close one.

I'm not sure how much or for how long I would have had to insist, to actually be allowed to purchase the forbidden girl supplies. I'm not sure if I gave up because the monkey was restless and I had to go, or because I am not entirely convinced that the monster will be okay with me making my point at his expense (and for his sake).


On Tuesday, the monster started kindergarten and the monkey started daycare. Back to school.

This means things to buy, routines out-of-whack, and not much work getting done by this supposedly working-at-home mom. And, of course, renewed contact with that world out there that seems to want my kids to play with swords and eat cheesies and scorn girly things.

It also means kids getting bigger, milestones to mark, and, eventually, bits and pieces of alone time for me.

Which comes down to this: content for my blog. Eventually.
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