Friday, March 6, 2015

Could a girl wearing a mustache climb a palm tree better than a dog?

Well, I missed an entire month. That hasn't happened in a while. My apologies to February 2015. You were too short, and I was too busy.

Alice has acclimated to preschool. It took almost exactly two months. It is still kind of . . . uncomfortable with me that she is going to a preschool at all. I am having trouble not judging myself. Do you ever feel that way?

The pre-Foreign Service me would never have put my two year old in preschool. (And she wasn't even quite two when I started the process!) I don't work; I'm a stay-at-home mom. What is a stay-at-home mom without kids who stay at home? (Please know that I am not intending to place any judgements on moms who do have their children in preschool or daycare. You are not me; I am not you. I can only talk about my personality and how I feel about things for myself.)

I did at-home preschool with Jill, starting when she was 3. It was a lot of fun, mostly. Sometimes frustrating, but usually really fun. And there were lots of other activities to do. She had swimming lessons, gymnastics lessons, cooking classes, and different kinds of art classes. We had many, many playdates. We attended play groups, music classes, and story times. I planned outings to the firehouse, to museums, to zoos, to gardens. It was a blast.

I did almost the same with Daniel, except that I hadn't started at-home preschool with him yet, because when he was 3, life was a little crazy getting ready with this move. But he had all of the other activities: story time, play groups, play dates, "field trips," swimming lessons, gymnastics, music class, etc. There was something to do almost every day to get us out of the house and out into the world.

Now Alice is 2. She tagged along, of course, on all of the outings with her older siblings, but she wasn't really able to enjoy or understand them yet.

And here we are in Mexico. There is no mommy-and-me gymnastics class. No story times at a library. I actually haven't seen a library yet. I've heard they exist, but that they are not like American libraries. Most Mexicans I have met buy all of the books they read. There is a really great Children's Museum that I am planning to attend. There are not a lot of play dates during the day, because I actually have met almost no other stay-at-home moms. The vast majority of the moms I have met work, and their children are all at daycare or preschool or at home with a nanny. And I'm not saying I couldn't be friends with a nanny, but I haven't figured out that hurdle yet. Do I set up plans with the nanny? Do I set it up with the mom who then orders the nanny to have a play date with me? It just seems awkward. I'm having fun; she's working (and having fun, hopefully, but still working). What are the boundaries? I don't know. Anyway, I haven't figured that out yet. I don't know of any music classes. I have not heard of any art classes. I have not seen any cooking classes or gymnastics for her age like I did with the others.

Everything is tied into preschool here. So, no parental involvement.

My choices were to try to find out how to replicate all of those activities in my home by myself while 7 months pregnant (now 8 months!), or put Daniel and Alice in preschool.

And preschool here comes with the added bonus of presumably learning Spanish.

So, Jill started school when she was almost 5 1/2.

Daniel has now started school a week after turning 4.

And Alice started school two months before turning 2.

I know it is impossible to parent all of your children the same and give them all the same life (especially now that I'll be moving countries every two to three years), but this just seems like such a drastic difference. And sometimes I feel like a failure. But then I give myself a pep-talk about how it is much better for them to be learning (and the younger two are at a Montessori school) than it would be for them to be at home while I am so tired.

On the note of being tired, I've been trying to decide whether this pregnancy is more exhausting because I have three other children in my house already or if it is because my body is 29 this time around instead of 23, 25, or 27. But, alas, it would be impossible for me to compare being pregnant at 23 and 29 without having an older child in the house, so I will never know. Nor will I know if the being tired has anything to do with moving to a slightly dangerous place. I have also not exercised since we moved here, so that could play into being more tired. Whatever the causes—it is what it is. I am more tired this pregnancy.

And thus Daniel and Alice are in preschool every day for four hours, doing the same activities I did with Jill, just without me there. And Jill is in what Americans call kindergarten but what Mexicans call the third (and last) year of preschool for five hours and fifteen minutes every day.

Jill goes to the consulate with Jeff in the morning, where a driver takes her to school in an armored vehicle. (She's so fancy pants!) I drive Alice and Daniel to school. Daniel was really on a roll this morning—he was a great conversationalist. Here is a sample.

Daniel: "Mom, there are a lot of beach trees around here."
Me: "Beech? I don't think so . . . Could you mean palm trees?"
Daniel: "Beach trees."
Me: "Oh, like at the beach. Yes, there are a lot of those here. I think they are called palm trees."
Daniel: "Some have coconuts. Some of the beach trees are bigger. Do you think they are pokey?"
Me: "I'm not sure. They might be."
Daniel: "A dog has claws; A dog could climb that beach tree."
Me: "Well, a dog does have claws, but they are not exactly sharp claws for climbing trees like a cat's claws."
Daniel: "What about a girl wearing a mustache? Could she climb a beach tree?"
Me: "Um, haha, I don't think that wearing a mustache would affect her climbing abilities. So maybe or maybe not."
[Pause in the back seat as the climbing abilities granted by fake mustaches is pondered.]
Daniel: Mom, why is Diego always with his girlfriend?"
Me: "His girlfriend? I don't think he has a girlfriend. Oh, girl friend. Well, Dora is his cousin, and Alicia is his sister. There's also a Baby Cheetah, I think. Did you mean Dora or Alicia?"
Daniel: "Yeah, Alicia."
Me: "Well, Alicia is just his big sister, like how you are always with Jill, and you are friends."
Alice: "Puppy!"
Daniel: "Where is the puppy?!"
Alice: "My win! My win! Puppy!" ("win" means "window")
Daniel: "I don't see a puppy."
Alice: "Puppy! Puppy!"

And then I drove on, leaving behind the possibly imaginary, but very distracting puppy.

On another topic, I have been pulled over again. Still no ticket though. And I was pulled over at the exact same intersection. Apparently I ran a red light again. This time I was sitting at the first set of lights, waiting for my light to change to green. I thought it did, so I went, but the police officer informed me that it was the other set of lights that turned green, not mine. Gah. So dangerous! I need to get my act together. I have been in a lot of almost-accidents here. Nothing like an almost-accident to get your pulse racing! (And I didn't cry this time!)

At almost every intersection, there are a lot of vendors. They sell peanuts, gum, candied apples, baked treats, Clementines, newspapers, cigarettes, kites, puzzles, hats, balls, eggs that turn into dinosaurs after soaking in water for 24 hours—lots of things. Sometimes I buy from them; sometimes I don't.

There are occasionally people fundraising at the street corners. I always feel uncomfortable about this, because I don't feel like a poster with pictures taped on it and matching outfits really let me know that you really are legitimately fundraising, but I also feel guilty, because I have, I assume, more money than the average person fundraising on the street.

And sometimes there are beggars. This was awkward the first time, because I thought she was trying to sell me a woven container, but she refused to tell me how much she wanted for the container. She actually wouldn't talk to me at all. I finally figured out that she was not selling the container, but that she was begging. It is interesting that they bother with the container at all, because you can see them slip the money into their pockets, so the container always looks empty. I actually did want to buy the woven container.

Anyway, so in the United States, when I have cash, I gave money to the very few people I ever saw begging. And I was doing that here, too, but then I started thinking about the possibility that the beggar might live next door to the vendor. How would it make the vendor feel if the beggar made more money for simply standing on the corner holding a container out, when the vendor went out every day, purchased a product and then actively tried to sell the product? The vendor is actually working, and he too was standing in the heat or the cold or the brutal wind that blows stinging dirt and sand in your eyes. The vendor actually had a product and was trying to work. But then what if the beggar made more money?

How would that feel?

It made me feel like giving to the beggar was sending a message to the vendor that his efforts at doing something had no value.

Do you have any thoughts on this? Obviously, I feel like the best efforts are achieved when donating to organizations that can provide food, shelter, and job skills. But some beggars are really old and past learning job skills, or are handicapped, or might have mental illness. Should they starve on the streets because they are past the help of an organization? Not all beggars can be con artists, surely. And I've never seen children begging here, so that is wonderful. It makes me happy that they are in school. Other countries have so many children begging, and that is just a devastating cycle. Without an education or job skills, how will they ever grow up to be anything other than beggars?

Along with the vendor, there are other enterprising people who earn a few coins by working the parking lots. They hold up traffic so you can get in and out of your parking spot, they direct you when you are backing up, they carry your groceries, sometimes they clean your car while you're in the store. And then you decide how many coins to give them. This impresses me. They are not just begging. They are actually doing something. And parking lots are always clear of shopping carts here, because these men take your cart and return it to the store for you. As a pregnant woman who often has three children with her in the parking lot, I really appreciate their help.

How have you handled your treatment of beggars? I'm still trying to figure this out.

Let's move on.

Piñatas are a birthday party staple here, but from what I've learned, they are not filled with candy in this part of Mexico. I've been told filling them with candy is more common in southern Mexico. But, here the piñatas are ENORMOUS, so I was glad to hear they were not full of candy. You already are given a huge bag of candy at the end of the party, so we couldn't have handled much more. Even without candy, they still appear to be fun to beat upon with a bat, which is kind of interesting when you consider that the piñata is usually a replica of the child's favorite character or thing.

Here is Alice in front of the largest piñata I've seen so far.

A few weekends ago, we went to the children's soccer game. They usually play at 11:00. We arrived a little before 11:00 and were told their game would be at 12:00. Finally at 1:45, their game began. I could tell from the get-go that something was different other than the start time being so delayed, because there was a procession before the game, complete with women in high heels carrying trophies out onto the field. There are often banners, flags, drums, parents in matching shirts, noise makers, and huge hats at all the games, but that day there were even more of all of those things in the stands. (May I remind you that my children are in the Under-6 league?!) So something was definitely up.

Apparently the game was actually the end of some sort of tournament or season. My children's team came in fourth out of four teams, but there was still an award ceremony, and each child received a medal.

Here is a picture of Jill and Daniel holding their team's fourth place trophy.

Me: "Hey kids, your team came in fourth place!"
Jill: "That's almost first!"
Daniel: "We won! We won!"

The kids love their medals.

A little while back, I started seeing a lot of billboards for a grocery store with beach scenes on it. I was confused and had never seen the word before that was displayed prominently on the beach scene. I thought it was some sort of strange "go to the beach for spring break" poster, but why would a grocery store advertise that? I have since learned that the word "Cuaresma" means "Lent," and the billboard displayed that the grocery store would be stocking even more seafood than normal.

Here is merely a sample of the seafood available. 
Are there many people who still know how to take the heads, skins, and bones off a fish??
(Other than fishers, of course.)

I started volunteering at a school here in January. I teach English for three hours a week. It is more fun than I expected; although I am still trying to figure it out. At this point, I'm really only teaching them vocabulary, not grammar. But I'm not sure how to make that jump, because the prevalent theory at the school is that language is best learned by hearing it spoken correctly, not by diagramming sentences, and I agree with that to a certain extent, but it doesn't seem like I am there enough hours for them to ever learn from just hearing me.

If I had known in college that my life would be an international one, I think I might have chosen Teaching English as a Second Language for my bachelor's instead of (or perhaps along with) what I did choose, English Literature.

Oh, and I have been surprised how much work outside of the actual teaching this entails. I didn't realize that lesson plans and worksheet creation, etc., were so time consuming. I can't imagine how long it must take for first-time teachers who have seven hours to fill every day.

Here I am teaching the oldest group of children.

Somewhere in the midst of that quick month of February, Alice turned two. She had a cold on her birthday and was a little miserable, but she did smile for me in the picture! It was a pretty big day for a few people in our household actually. Alice's birthday, of course. Also, Daniel somehow danced into the window on the door (the more details he gave about his accident, the more confused I became) and managed to give himself a huge goose egg on his forehead. And Jill pulled out a loose tooth; that's her second baby tooth to go. And for me, it was the day that I noticed that my belly is now big enough and low enough that it hits my thighs when I walk up stairs. Yay for me! (I think Jeff's day was a normal day that day.)

Here are the three, showing off the spoils of their day.

Do you remember Daniel's birthday cake experience? (I wrote about it down near the bottom of my last post.) Well, Alice's birthday cake did not fare much better. I turned the oven on all the way, heated it up to 400 or so. I put the cake pans in and saw that merely opening the oven had lowered the temperature down to 350 or so. I set the timer and waited. The timer beeped, I checked on the cakes, and they were still completely liquid. Apparently I had blown out the flame when I opened the oven. My kitchen definitely smelled like gas. So, I turned the oven back on (and nothing exploded—yay!), and the cake eventually cooked.

But then the cakes refused to leave their pans. I had sprayed them and let them cool, so I am not sure what happened there. So, the cakes had some missing pieces. Then Jeff had the idea that maybe we could flip the cake over and have the smooth part show. He tried to flip it over, but the cake stuck to the plate I had put it on, and then it was completely broken. It was truly a group effort in destroying the cake. I somewhat tried to frost it, but that just made it worse. So, I threw some marshmallows and sprinkles on and put a dab of frosting in the middle for the candle. I then served the cake with frosting on the side instead of ice cream. It tasted fine, but it sure wasn't pretty.

When Alice was no longer sick, she went back to school, and her teachers had bought her a tres leches cake from the nicest bakery in town.

Good thing it wasn't a competition . . .

Alice's cakes

And, last but not least, Gordon should arrive next month! Yay! :)

Gordon is currently in breech position, which is unusual for me; my past three babies have all been head down by 33 weeks, but there is still time for him to move into the proper placement. I'm trying to be very positive about it, but I can't help but think about my sister's fourth baby who flipped to breech last minute and had the cord prolapse.

But I do know that I still have a whole month for him to move, and I've been trying out a few different exercises at home that have varying degrees of success in convincing babies to flip around.

If you have any advice about flipping breech babies, please share. Or, if you have any positive Cesarean section stories, those would be nice, too. The thought of recovering from a C-section with three older children in the house seems daunting to me, and my sister's emergency C-section was wonderful in the life-saving sense but pretty traumatic in all other senses.

So, please, send me positive stories. I am still hopeful to avoid surgery and have him move as he should, but should he not move, I need something other than horror stories to base my decision on.