Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Día(s) de los Muertos

There is an interesting holiday here in Mexico called "Día de los Muertos." As it turns out, it is not just a day. It's kind of three days. Perhaps it used to only be one day before Europeans and Catholicism, but now it is three days, and it is an interesting mix of religions.

I've read a few websites and asked a number of friends here in Ciudad Juárez trying to figure out what the actual holiday was, and this is what I have determined.

On the evening of October 31, altars are made for deceased children. On November 1 and 2, people make altars for any deceased person. Thus, Día de los Muertos overlaps with America's Halloween on October 31, and with Catholicism's All Saints' Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls' Day (Nov. 2).

It is not a morbid or sad holiday. It is actually quite happy and joyous. The altars are not for worshipping dead people. The altars are for commemorating, for remembering. Traditionally they are very colorful with beautiful cut paper art, yellow marigolds, a special bread called pan de los muertos, and sugar skulls. The sugar skulls are colorful with pretty designs. The altar will also include the deceased person's favorite foods, pictures, and articles that represent hobbies or other aspects of the deceased's life. It is a time when it is believed that the veil separating life and death is very thin and those you love can be with you again.

We've had a busy weekend celebrating all of the holidays. On Friday of last week, we trick or treated at the Consulate where Jeff works. Then we went out in the evening to a Día de los Muertos party, complete with elaborate altars, many Catrinas and Catríns, delicious tamales, a puppet show, and I think a parade happened after we left (my kids needed to get to bed).

Then on Saturday, we went trick or treating at the El Paso Zoo for their Boo at the Zoo. We didn't actually trick or treat very much, but it was a good reason to get out of the house and walk a lot. And the kids enjoyed themselves. They didn't seem to notice that we didn't do a good job of following the map and getting to the candy stations.

Sunday we had regular church services. Sunday was also the anniversary of the death of my sweet niece Tabitha. We lost her to SIDS five years ago when she was just six months old. It is still so sad and almost unbelievable that she didn't get to stay with us in her beautiful family, but thinking of Día de los Muertos where the focus is celebrating the time you did have with someone, and receiving pictures from my brother of my little preemie niece Valerie who was supposed to be born in October but came in July instead and was recently home from the hospital, I felt joy in my heart.

Monday was actual Halloween. Since I live in a border town, some Mexicans have adopted American holidays that they like. So there was trick or treating at the mall near my house during the day, and then my neighborhood actually had trick or treating in the evening. My kids were thrilled about this. Somewhere between one third and one half of my neighbors participated by handing out candy. And I wondered if the act of giving to candy to children works with the idea of that night being the night that deceased children are able to visit. At the dark houses who weren't handing out candy, I wondered if our trick or treating was disturbing their festivities. The Mexican way (or at least the Juarense way) to trick or treat is not to ring doorbells and say "trick or treat," but to walk through the streets chanting "Queremos Halloween" (We want Halloween"). Those inside their homes will hear you, usually through an open window, and open their doors to give you candy.

Tuesday was also Día de los Muertos and All Saints' Day. The children had a party at school, which combined the two holidays. A priest came and held mass for All Saints' Day and the students were invited to dress up like saints and angels. Last year, I'm not sure what happened, but I dressed my kids up in their Catrina and Catrín costumes. They were the only ones. This year, Jill dressed up as a saint (she chose Saint Philomena), and none of my other kids wanted to participate in costume (although Alice decided to wear her Mexican dress), and there actually were two other students dressed up as Catrinas. So we wouldn't have been the only ones this year! After the mass, we all ate pan de muerte and drank delicious abuelita while we walked around to the classrooms to see the altars our children had made.

Today was the last day of Día de los Muertos and All Souls' Day. There was no school and the Consulate was closed. We didn't make any altars in our home, but Jill did spend the morning calling her grandparents and asking them about their parents and writing down information about each of her deceased great grandparents. I enjoyed hearing the stories my parents and in-laws shared with her, some familiar and some new.

Halloween 2015: I have since realized that to be a Catrín and not just a skeleton, I need to put clothes over the skeleton costume, but alas, I can't go back in time and fix that error.

All Saints' Day 2015: Daniel's class's altar, Martin Luther King, Jr. (Colegio Kari Montessori)

All Saints' Day 2015: Jill's class's altar, Mother Teresa (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Halloween 2016: This year, we separated the holidays more by having different costumes for Halloween and for Día de los Muertos. For Halloween, Daniel was Ironman; Gordon, Mickey Mouse; Alice, Minnie Mouse; and Jill, a cheerleader.

Día de los Muertos 2016: We attended a Día de los Muertos party. We arrived fresh faced and left with painted faces. I think the skeleton face symbolizes that we all have death within us and that the distance between life and death is not actually all that far—that our loved ones are not that far away. (Colegio San Patricio)

Día de los Muertos 2016: One of the altars at the party. Shortly after I took this picture, Gordon knocked over the guitar, which knocked over one of the candles, which made me have a miniature heart attack, but luckily nothing burned down. (Colegio San Patricio)

Halloween 2016: Trick or treating at Boo at the El Paso Zoo

All Saints' Day 2016: Some of the students dressed up like saints and angels for the mass at school. (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Día de los Muertos 2016: Gordon's class's altar, Diego Rivera (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Día de los Muertos 2016: Alice and Daniel's class's altar, Frida Kahlo (Colegio Kari Montessori)

Día de los Muertos 2016: Jill's class's altar, Pablo Picasso (Colegio Kari Montessori)

I am very grateful to the wonderful Mexicans we have met during our time here who have embraced us and welcomed us into their homes and culture. Honoring and remembering our deceased ancestors is very important to me, so I appreciate this joyous holiday.

(Also disclaimer, I'm sorry if I got anything wrong with the holiday. I'm trying my best to figure it out!)

Click here to watch a video of a cool Catrina/Catrín Día de los Muertos parade.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Who am I now?

Do you remember my post from March? The one where I wrote this:

My last baby turns one year old next month, and I have no plans to go for a fifth child. That has caused me to reflect a lot. I got married at 20 with a goal to have four kids before I turned 30. And I achieved that goal. I had no idea when I made that goal what it would entail, but here I am. A success. Goal achieved.

In achieving that goal, I was stripped down. Worn down. Softened. Only the essential core of what made Mimi Mimi remained. But now I'm almost out. My body is almost mine again. I almost don't have a breastfeeding infant. In a few months, I think I'll start getting uninterrupted nights of sleep sometimes.

And it makes me wonder who I'll be. I used to be a hospice volunteer. I used to be an editor. I used to be a member of an auditioned community choir. I used to review books. I used to be a reader in a writers' group. I used to blog a lot more. I used to play soccer. I used to try to write songs. I used to write the occasional poetry. I used to research family history. I used to scrapbook. I used to try to sew things.

What hobbies will I reclaim? Which will I never go back to? I don't know yet. But I'm having a lot of fun thinking about it. What kind of a woman will Mimi be in her 30s?

Well, it happened.

Gordon self weaned at the end of last month. It happened. I am not nursing. My body is only keeping myself alive and no one else.

I can choose my outfit and only think about the weather and what I want to wear. I don't have to plan on access (will I lift up? will I button down? will I slide over? how will the baby get his food???). All I think about is me.

I can wear a real bra.

My body is mine.

I'm not pregnant.

For the first time since the summer of 2008, my body is mine. Mine. Friends, let me say that again: since the summer of 2008!

And they all even sleep through the night now.

What a gift. I have my body back. And I can sleep with only random interruptions for nightmares or sickness. 

What am I going to do with myself?

Who am I without a baby? 

I'm not who I was at 23 before I had any children—that's for sure! My body is very different, and my personality is as well.

I'm half excited to not have a baby, but half of me already misses it. But, as much as my kids want me to have more, I'm done. Now humor me while I post a bunch of pictures of me with my babies and cry a little bit about how quickly it's gone and how it will never, ever come back again.

What a glorious, exhausting, draining, rewarding ride it has been.

Watch me grow! (Jill's pregnancy)

Jill

Jill

Daniel

Daniel

Jill

Daniel and Jill

Daniel

Jill

Alice

 Alice, Daniel, and Jill

Alice

Alice

Gordon's pregnancy

Alice, Daniel, and Jill

Gordon

Gordon, Alice, and Daniel

Gordon

Jill and Daniel

Jill

Daniel

Alice, Gordon, Jill, and Daniel

Alice

 Gordon

Gordon, Jill, Alice, and Daniel

Gordon attends preschool a little bit now, too.
So for a few hours, they're all gone, and my house is so, so empty.

As I try to think of how to explain how I feel sad and happy at the same time about "being done with babies," a poem my sister wrote in 2015 keeps running through my mind. 



I kiss your nose, your forehead, your cheek, your chin.

I squeeze you tightly to me and feel your soft squishiness give.

I look in your eyes and you look back at me 
and in my heart I feel a tugging ache I cannot fully define.

I ache because you are my baby, mine to squeeze and squish.

I ache because in this predawn darkness under the blankets we form a cocoon 
and every day you are closer to emerging out of it into the world.

I ache because every morning you wake up you are my baby, 
but every morning you are a little less my baby and a little more your own self.

I ache and I ache and I laugh at the joy it makes me feel to hurt this way.

You look at me laughing and it makes you laugh too.

It seems that this might have been your last time nursing. It felt that way, how you kept your body unusually still as if you, too, were savoring the moment. Your legs were carefully curled up, tucked tightly next to mine, your little hand free and tapping gently on my chest, just above my heart.

No one told me that hurting like this could feel so good.

I wonder if I would have believed them.

I'm a believer now.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A summer gone

School ended the third week of June, and then two weeks later we flew to the Midwest. We were there for a month, and three weeks after returning, school started again. So summer vacation really seemed to fly by.

Our trip home was wonderful and exhausting. We started in Ohio with Jeffrey's family, celebrating the wedding of Jeff's youngest brother, Kyle. Jill got to be a flower girl. And now Amber is a part of our family! We're thrilled to have her.

Welcome, Amber!

At the wedding reception, I peeked into the kitchen and saw the team of friends who were helping my mother-in-law with all of the food and preparations. It made me a little teary eyed, remembering my wedding open house from ten years ago where almost exactly those same friends helped her with the food and preparations for me. Then they were strangers; now they are friends.

Returning to Cincinnati is always bittersweet. I love seeing family and friends and driving on familiar streets. But then seeing those same family and friends, I can almost imagine how our life would have been, and it seems like it would be so easy to slip into that life. But, of course, it's never that easy, and we're living the life we've chosen. But still—bittersweet.

Life is good in Grandma and Papa's hot tub!

While in Ohio, my sister-in-law Rachel, who had been on hospital bed rest, gave birth to my newest niece, Valerie. Valerie was born at only 25 weeks gestation, right around 2 pounds. She's already gained a pound, and this week she was moved from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to the Special Care Nursery. I'm amazed at the fight in this tiny girl.

After a week in Cincinnati, Jeff had to return to Juarez, because someone has to work!

The kids and I went on to Indiana. We got to see my grandpa Homer, aunts, uncles, cousins, and my cousins' children during a day in Richmond. My aunt Ann took us to the Richmond public library, and my kids were pretty amazed. We haven't been to a library in a few years, and Richmond has a really nice one. I remember going there and participating in their summer reading program when I was a girl and we were staying at my grandparents' house. It was really neat to share it with my kids.

My grandpa taught Jill how to knit.

Gordon with Aunt Ann, watching as his older siblings feed the chickens at Uncle Steve's house

Then it was on to Avon to see the new home of my technically ex-sister-in-law (but always-my-sister) and meet my new "brother-in-law" (her husband). Daniel really hit it off with his new "cousin." He's thrilled that there will be a boy his age at family reunions now, because he's usually surrounded by girls. (Daniel is the eighth grandchild and the first grandson; of the sixteen grandchildren, only five are boys.)

The next day it was on to Mounds State Park near Anderson. We camped for two days. "We" in this case being my sister, her husband, their four kids, my parents, three nieces and nephews (whose parents did not come, because they had a preemie in the NICU), my brother, my brother's ex-wife, my brother's three children, my brother's ex-wife's new husband, and my brother's ex-wife's two step children. So we had eight adults at the campground and sixteen children (ages 8 and under). It was a little crazy, but really fun. And we only lost one kid once. (Alice decided that she could walk to the bathrooms by herself. Not a chance, sweetie!) Can I just say that I love my family? So, so much.

Some of the kids we had at the campground

You know who else I love? My Hoosier friends. I had friends come from Chicago, Louisville, Indianapolis, and Muncie to meet me at this campground and see me and my family for just a few hours. I felt so loved. There is something very comforting about being around people who have known you for a long time. The visit was too short. I wish I could have spent time with each of them one-on-one and caught up. I used to know their joys and despairs, their daily excitements and obsessions, and now we all live so far away. (Well, some of them still get to see each other regularly, and I'm very jealous of that!) I know their pasts, and I try my best to keep up with their presents, and I work hard to be in their futures. Friends who grew up with you can never be replaced, so it is best to not lose them!

On a funny note, I had brought a cute shirt to change into before getting together with my friends, but we were camping and Jeff was in Mexico and I had four kids and there were a lot of other kids there and I just forgot to change. So I was looking less than fresh from the get go. And then one of my kids actually had diarrhea while I was giving him/her a piggy back riding and running as quickly as possible to the bathroom. And I'm sure my baby gifted the front of my shirt with snot and spit. Two of my other kids actually peed their pants during the get together, but luckily I wasn't holding them for that! Anyway, it was parenting at its finest. I laughed inside about it and thought, "I'm so glad that I've known all of these people for a long time, because I would not be making my best impression today."

Also, let it be known, that claims have been made that my father was convinced by Joe to ride his motorcycle around the campground. I was at the swimming pool with littles, and NO ONE bothered to take pictures or video, and this is 2016. If it wasn't recorded on someone's phone then it clearly didn't happen. I officially request that Phil and Joe need to have a second motorcycle ride, so I can witness it.

My wonderful Hoosier friends

After camping, we went to Muncie to attend church in the ward where I was a teenager. Since my parents moved away in 2005, I think this was only the third time I've been back to attend church there. The first time was fun. The second time I was kind of emotional and actually sat in Sunday school just crying. This third time was just really nice. There are just so many memories in that building. Crushes. Friendships. Dates. Dances. Broken hearts. Betrayal. Figuring out who I was and who I wanted to be. Early morning seminary. Ha. So much! Being a teenager is rough, guys. And so much of it happened in that building. Specifically in the second mother's lounge. Either there weren't many nursing babies in my ward growing up, or all of the young mothers preferred the other mother's lounge, because "my" mother's lounge was almost always empty, and it was the perfect place to hide when I couldn't be around boys. My girls always knew to look for me there. And I always knew to look for them there. But no boy would dare go past the women's restroom and peak in the mother's lounge. I don't know if they even knew we would go in there. Anyway. It's amazing how many memories are tied to places and how being in those places can bring them back.

I currently live a lifestyle where I go many places and have wonderful or trying or amazing or devastating memories in those places. But I will most likely never return to those places. I wonder what it will do for my children to not be able to easily return to the places where they were seven or thirteen or eighteen.

After church, we headed up to Michigan, in the suburbs north of Detroit. My oldest brother had to fly back to Indonesia (where he's working and living right now), and my ex-sister-in-law and her family had to return to Avon to get ready for school that was starting really soon for them. But my sister and her family overlapped with me in Michigan for a week, and my other brother and his wife were there waiting for our return with their three children. So there was lots of Boling wonderfulness.

My kids and I in Canada, eh.

I got to meet my tiny, tiny niece Valerie. I went and visited her at the hospital twice. I was able to reach my hand in and touch her. I'm looking forward to being able to hold her the next time I visit.

My hand stroking Valerie

We did the usual Michigan things: picked berries, swam in lakes, swam in the pool, went to the farmer's market, visited Tabitha's "house," went roller skating. Daniel learned to do the monkey bars all by himself. A new event this trip was crossing the border into Canada. I was curious about the border crossing. The international river border between Detroit and Windsor has A LOT more water in it than the one between Juarez and El Paso. And it was interesting seeing all the signs in English/French rather than English/Spanish. Hopefully next time I'll understand the French!

Me with my dad at the lake

Harvesting potatoes with GranB

Then it was time for one last week of vacation, which brought us back to Cincinnati. In Jeff's family, my kids are the only grandkids, so it's total spoil time for them, which they love. We got to dance at the square dancing social and feed the ducks at the pond. We had play dates with friends from when we lived there. We swam in the YMCA pool that used to be our pool back when Jill could only say "YM! YM!" We did lots of hot tubbing.

Feeding the ducks (Gordon was feeding himself) at the pond by Grandma and Papa's house

Square dancing with Grandma and Papa

Then time did what it does and just like that our month of travel was over. I flew back with the four kids and they exceeded my expectations for how well they would behave with only one parent for a full day of flying.

And now we're back in Mexico, and I'm having to deal with the reality that time did what it does here as well, and somehow my two years in Mexico has dwindled down to only four months left. Africa is still a year away, because we'll have six months in Virginia to learn French and then a month and a half of home leave, but even a year away, it is starting to feel really real.

I've made a home here. I've made friends here. I dug down deep and put down roots here, and I feel like I'll blink and it will be time to pull them up and transplant anew. I vacillate between wanting to distance myself from my friends and this place, so that when I leave it won't hurt as much, and wanting to experience everything deeper and more fully, so that when I leave I won't have any regrets about who I could have known better or loved more or places I could have gotten to know.

I would be remiss if I ended this on this day, August 31, without mentioning all of the upheaval that is occurring in "my" countries. Donald Trump actually visited Mexico City today. He accepted an invitation from President Peña Nieto to visit. (Peña Nieto also invited Hilary Clinton.) I have not yet met a single Mexican who likes Trump. They feel that he has insulted and denigrated them. The big news right now are Trump's visit and the death of "divo" Juan Gabriel. Also today, Gabon finally announced that Ali Bongo won the presidential election in Gabon, extending his family's reign as presidents in that country for more than half a century. It was a hotly contested election, the army has been deployed, violence has erupted, and many are demanding a recount, because they believe Bongo tampered with votes. Also today, Brazil officially impeached their president, Dilma Rouseff, and swore in vice-president Michel Temer as the president of Brazil for the next two years. Clearly, it's been quite a day.

And also today, we found out that Jeff has been approved for a promotion this November! He will move up a rank in the Foreign Service. I'm very proud of my hardworking hubby.

Last but not least, I've listened to this song about twenty times today. It makes me kind of want to laugh and cry and half all the feels about moving and leaving and having a home. It's beautiful.



Me with my baby, enjoying a day at the lake