Tuesday, November 22, 2011

By the way...

The Cena de Las Papas for Birdie's class was a very good time. There were only 9 couples there, so it was rather intimate - and that intimacy did not lend itself to much English at all. (At Deevie's dinner, there were 5 round tables of people, with an animated hum of conversation from all sides, so Pedro wasn't out of place talking to me in English as others at our own table had their own discussions.)

All of us sat in a circle, as one large group. Thank goodness N and I were together on this one :). I understand some Spanish, but man, regular conversation with its speed, pause-less transition of topics, ups/downs of emotion...not very conducive to little ol' Narra comprehending mucho! At one point one of the dads was going on and on with a very animated story that I wasn't getting at all -- until he said the word "carriola". It felt like my brain stopped.

In Narra's head: "Hey! I know "carriola"! That means "stroller!"

And with that one ping of recognition, I smiled and laughed with everyone else. The dad went on with his story, and then said the word "cacahuates."

In Narra's head: "Cacahuates! That means "peanuts!!"

More smiling and nodding of my head. "Stroller and peanuts! He's talking about strollers and peanuts! I GET IT!" I was positively giddy.

And then he said both "carriola" and "cacahuates" again. I was laughing so hard in my head that I'm sure my exterior expression seemed like I understood every bit of the overall story.

"NOT! It's all strollers and peanuts in here, people!"

N and I had a good laugh at that in the car home. "Strollers and Peanuts" has sort of become our family mantra whenever we don't fully understand what's going on. Even Birdie and Deevie are in on it. For example, yesterday we went to Tonala to buy a mirror for the living room, and pick up bar stools I'd ordered last week. Birdie kept asking me if we could find a place to make doll furniture. I asked a store owner, who went into a longish response with full hand gestures and pointing in all directions. After I said "Gracias!" Birdie asked, "What did he say?" Me: "I'm not sure. It was mostly strollers and peanuts to me!"

Why do I feign comprehension?! Why is it that when someone asks me a question in Spanish, my first impulse is to respond with a big, happy "¡Sí!"?!

ANYWAY. The cena was truly lovely, and both N and I were so happy to be a part of it. Our first "date night" since arriving! :)

It's very easy to stay within the Consulate Family here in GDL -- which is a necessary comfort and something else I'm so thankful for, but branching out like this when we can is a true blessing as well.

Play Date

Birdie was invited to her first after-school play date with a Mexican classmate last Friday. Play dates are a big deal here, so we were pretty excited about it. Birdie's friend Mari is the daughter of Ani, one of the mom's who has become my legitimate friend after we sat next to each other at the "Mother's Breakfast" for the class moms. (We signed up as a team to make the turkey dinner for the class Thanksgiving party, another long story.) Ani is a "Chilanga" - which means that she is from the "D.F." (what "Mexico City" is called in Mexico, sort of like how we call Washington D.C. just "D.C."). Anyway, Ani has been the coolest, telling me that she too had a hard time when she first came to Guadalajara last year, and how we can hang out as "outsiders" together.

Chilanga = Mexico City native
Tapatia = Guadalajara native
Gringa = me

The good news about this whole play date situation is that Birdie was invited, along with me, Deevie and Cubby - we often come as a packaged deal. (Birdie can be a little overwhelmed with new situations she has to face alone, and Ani totally got this. She told me she wanted to have a play date with me as well!) So after school Friday, I wrangled the whole crew (thinking back, images of wild cattle come to mind) into the van and took to the crazy GDL traffic and streets to follow Ani's driver to their house. When we arrived after 3pm, delicious smells were coming from the kitchen. "Are you ready to eat?" Ani asked. They had a full spread of grilled meat, rice black beans and fresh green tomatillo salsa - all so good and nothing like anything I've tasted in Mexican restaurants back home. But that isn't to say that eating lunch at 3pm is still pretty strange to me! (Side note: The girls' teachers tell me I'm one of the very few moms who pack an actual lunch for my kids, who have breaks during what Americans would consider "lunch time." The Mexican kids tend to bring very light snacks, because of the cultural norm to eat a real lunch with their family at home. No wonder dinner is after 9pm, huh?)

The kids had a great time. We rode bikes to the neighborhood trampoline, where Birdie, Deevie, Mari and one other play-dating classmate Maite jumped for a good while. Ani has three kids like me, so she and I spent our time talking in between pushing our little boys around on push-cars (her youngest son is 2). Cubby kept wanting to get bigger and better cars he saw in a neighbor's garage.

It felt so good to be doing something so normal. Just an afternoon hanging out with another mom, while our kids played around us. At one point Mari showed us all how well she can hulahoop. Ani gave it a shot and was terrible. Then I did, and the thing literally fell right down to the ground as I gyrated insanely. Ani laughed so hard -- and even having someone laugh at me that unabashedly felt good! Hard to explain, but it was refreshing to feel walls of formality and politeness come down.

I kept feeling like we needed to go, but Ani said that a normal play date lasts til around 7. Long day for four of the five Gs! We finally hit the road around 645 (Cubby and Deevie were starting to get that crazed, nearing-meltdown look in their eyes), and with traffic, got home just before 8pm.

Long, but great day.

Friday, November 11, 2011

La Cena de Las Papas

I always Google Translate all the Spanish emails I get from Birdie and Deevie's school room mothers, and some of the attempts at translation are pretty funny. "La Cena de las Papas" was at first "A Potato Dinner." I clicked on the "other possibilities" and it became, "A Dinner of the Pope." And then the body of the email kept saying things that "las mamas" (or "the breasts") needed to do. The breasts need to prepare potatoes for the Pope? Ugh!

Anyway, thanks to the babysitting of our lovely fellow consulate neighbor, I was able to go to Deevie's "Dinner for the Parents" last night, hosted by the parents of one of her classmates. Some of the finer points of the wonderful evening:

1) Holy hotel lobby! That's what the living room looked like, with the dinner tables set out on the patio, under the glorious purple, flower-scented Guadalajara evening sky. Full service staff was on hand in formal uniforms.

2) Beginning time for the dinner...NINE P.M.?!? I still can't get used to the late night events around here. We started eating at 1045, and introductions around the room started at 12:05am. I finally got home just before 1am -- on a school night.

3) After initially feeling extremely intimidated by the gorgeous, very dressed up moms I saw at the school, I now love, love, love the parents around these parts and have only been treated with the upmost kindness and warmth. For one thing, they are so involved in their kids school and activities, many of the moms dropping off and picking up their kids every day. Deevie's teacher (from Minnesota, this is her first year in Guadalajara) has taught 20 years in the States and in her introduction she hit on the fact that as an educator, it is so wonderful and refreshing for her to be so in-tune with the parents of her students, working together on the kids' behalf. "I don't know where the parents are in the States. But I never saw many of them when I taught there!" she said. I chimed in and said, "They were working!" (Like me!)

4) I sat at the greatest table of parents. (N, by the way, was not with me. He was rockin' out at the Aerosmith concert, you see. :)) To my right was a couple from Argentina, who had moved to Guadalajara in June. The father, named Pedro, spoke very good English, and helped translate things I didn't understand, and together with everyone at the table, kept me laughing most of the night. "So is Spanish that different between Mexico and Argentina?" I asked the table. "I mean, can you tell that he is not from Mexico?" Pedro turned to me and said, "Can you tell when someone is from England?" Aha. Of course. I've never thought about these things before, as lame as that sounds!

There is so much more to tell, but overall, it really was a wonderful evening. I'm sorry N missed it. We met up at home and compared notes on our evenings. He'll get to experience another Cena de las Papas TONIGHT when we head out to attend the one for Birdie's class....starting at a las 9 de la noche.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


At a recent birthday party in Deevie's class, one of the Mexican moms asked me what these are called in English:

Party blower thingy? I had no idea! Anyway, she told me that in Spanish they're called "espantasuegras," which literally translates to "scare the mother-in-law." She blew one out and said that the action, easily associated with blowing up a lady's skirt, is a daughter-in-law's way of saying "humfph!" to something annoying the "suegra" does or says. So much tied up in a little thing! I love learning things like this.

And for the record, both N and I have very cool and loveable suegras. ;)

Friday, November 4, 2011


I talked to my grandma yesterday and one thing she said struck me. "It sure sounds like you're having a good time!" she said. "Is anything hard at all?" I laughed, because of course things are hard. We just don't blog about it for some reason. As you can see, it's hard enough for us to blog when things are great!

Guadalajara on a whole is a fantastic place. But it's still not home. An American mom friend from school mentioned a statistic to me - that living out of your home country is like 30% harder on top of all the other crap that makes life hard. We thought it was funny and sort of ridiculous that anyone would even try to quantify an actual percentage. But I do understand the general cloud of stress, pressure, something hanging over all of us as we go about life here.

Sometimes I just want to ball up and stay at home all day. But of course with a household to run, dinner to get on the table, kids to cheer up and be an example for, I can't do that. I worry about the kids and their ability to make actual friends. And then I worry about leaving in two years and them having to leave any friends they've made in the first place. I worry about missing out on things back home. I stress about not being as supportive to N as I could be, and worry about us dealing with our issues individually instead of communicating. I worry that I trust people too much - our household help, the construction workers in the neighborhood, the guys who deliver water. Not being able to speak fluently, and not understanding cultural nuances, is very frustrating. I feel like an imbecile a lot of the time, even while doing things that you'd think were normal -- like getting groceries, or getting gas, or even taking a walk with Cubby. Tipping! Goodness, that is a big one. I never know when or how much to tip, and often feel sweat forming as I fumble around in my purse for money. Even swiping my credentials to get into the school makes me think twice. "Do Mexicans do this a different way?" I ask myself. "Does my jalopy of a stroller just scream 'American'?" "Is my internal discomfort manifesting itself externally?" These are the crazy thoughts that often run through my head, as pathetic as it is! But in good moments, this is all fodder for laughter with N and other friends who are going through the same thing. In bad, it's all reason for me to buy comfort stuff online. (Just kidding, N! Ha ha...er...um.)

My friend back home asked how things were going here, and as I told her, "Well, it's still just life. I still have to figure out what to cook tonight!"

Plus or minus 30% more stress :).