Thursday, February 16, 2017

count on me to bring the awkward

The photo to the left is Lucien making butter. It's a long story and I'm trying to avoid long stories today because they are making my blog posts go on and on for days. I'll discuss the butter when I learn how to truncate.

There were lessons learned this week in Mexico. One lesson I've learned is you're supposed to tip the people who bag your groceries. My grocery load is always sizable so the baggers, who are generally elderly and adorable, probably aren't too happy when I walk away with a single "gracias" and a smile. Smiles don't pay the bills, gringa. 

I noticed the guy behind me tipping the bagger (as in giving him money, not pushing him over) on my last shopping trip even though he was only buying a couple bottles of water. If that guy tipped for only two things, I should probably tip for my lots of things. I froze and observed those around me, which is always good operating procedure for an ex-pat. True enough, everyone was handing the baggers money on their way out the door. I nearly dumped my entire purse out in my haste to find pesos.

I won't make that mistake again. Look at all this learning I'm doing. 

I embarrassed myself pretty thoroughly this week. Julio, my friend Seattle Mom's driver, whom we met last time we were in Mexico City, came to our building to pick up something for Seattle Mom. I met him down in the lobby of our building. 

It's like I knew before it happened our interaction was going to be awkward because I went into it a little sweaty-palmed and bumbling. I could see he was coming in for a handshake as he approached me but I, for reasons I don't know, instead dove in for a cheek kiss. 

I'm not sure who kisses who and who shakes whose hands around here. What's the social protocol on that? Whatever the rules are, I'm pretty sure I broke them with Julio because he was not expecting the cheek kiss and it threw him way off. I could sense that, could sense his confusion and tension, but I still kept right on leaning in because you can count on me to bring the awkward.

I couldn't stop myself even though I knew I was doing the wrong thing -- and worse, I was doing it in front of witnesses, since Senor Scowly and his friend were standing a handful of feet away. Instead of backing off, I doubled down. I decided to show them all I stood firmly behind my decision to kiss Julio with conviction. So as I landed on Julio's face, and as Julio still desperately tried to shake my hand, I did a very loud "Mwah! kiss sound. Twice. The sound echoed in our modern sleek building entry. Such a weird f*cking thing to do. 

Did you know it is possible to cringe so hard that you can actually crumple and fold into yourself at the middle? It's like human origami. I hobbled back to the elevator after Julio escaped (that guy moves fast when he wants to) contorted with embarrassment. My old popular refrain from Paris days returned in that moment: "I am SUCH an ASSHOLE." Nice to have the ole mantra back again.

This week has been pretty awful because Lucien is sick and home from school for the third day in a row. Last night, Lucien was so sick I texted Seattle Mom, my soul sister friend back home, for advice. She's a nurse and is always a voice of calm and reason. I was having a stressful night; Lucien's fever was so high, and I didn't know how to call for medical help in Mexico if we needed it, and Alex is in Seattle for work this week. Seattle Mom said to push those fluids and take comfort he's lucid and talking to me normally.  

At that very moment, Lucien chose to sit straight up in his bed and start speaking absolute nonsense. The first thing he said, eyes staring at me in a creepy unfocused way, was "we have to get out of here now." GAH!

The non-comforting, non-lucid thoughts continued with things like, "you expect me to have two elements" and "I think wrong about this color." I snapped my fingers in front of his face, clapped my hands, tried to get him to snap out of it. The look on his face and the bizarre words coming out of his mouth did not stop. I told him to get up, I'd walk him to the bathroom. He said, "OK, good plan for sliding rats." 

He got up from his bed, pulled his pants down to his ankles, and hopped down the hall to the bathroom while saying something about people not being able to trick him for water. What the hell kind of eff'd up Mexican flu is this??

He doesn't remember any of that this morning and he's on the mend now. Hopefully he'll be back in school tomorrow and I can leave the apartment again.

Paulina babysat last Friday night so Alex and I could go out to dinner with two other ex-pat couples, both from Seattle. The company was hilarious good. Our dinner was delicious. Most noteworthy is Alex and I tried chapulines, which are fried grasshoppers. Eating grasshoppers is an ex-pat initiation rite in Mexico City so now we're in for real.


chapulines
tastes like crispy


I asked Lucien how Paulina got them to bed that night given the language barrier and he said, "She just kind of kept poking us until we moved in the right direction." I'm going to try that, I like its simplicity.

I've learned many things this week and will not make the same mistakes.
I will make new mistakes,
MJ

Friday, February 10, 2017

It begins again

Two days ago Lucien came home from school and said, "Mom, I got in trouble today!" Perhaps it was the shade of enthusiasm in his voice that gave me Paris flashbacks but my heart immediately sank a little.

It happened in Spanish class, a class that is making Lucien's head explode on the daily. The teacher calls on him often in an attempt to give him as much practice as possible, which he claims is "kinda mean" since he can't answer any of her questions. He studies lists of Spanish words in his bed at night; we know he's doing it when we hear a lot of "aghh!" and "this is impossible!" coming from his room.

Two days ago, the teacher was giving him a particularly grueling time, quizzing him on vocabulary and verb conjugation. Another student raised his hand and asked to go to the bathroom. As that student walked across the room and placed his hand on the classroom's doorknob, Lucien yelled, "SAVE YOURSELF!!"

The class cracked up. The teacher did not. She warned him that if he was going to be Mr. Funny Guy in class, he was going to find himself in the office more often than not. Well that's just great and here we are again. Those still reading from the Paris years probably remember Lucien did not fit in very well at his French school. He stood out from the much more subdued French children. He was in trouble all the time, had teachers tearing their hair out on the regular. La betise! La betise! The Loosh was an...ahem...spirited child in a non-spirited environment.

Thankfully it's been smooth sailing the past handful of years.  He's matured so much, is a good student and is finally able to control the more severe of his spaz-tastic impulses. He's the class clown for sure but good natured, rarely in trouble, and his teachers usually get a kick out of him. Maybe Americans are more flexible with those kinds of things, I don't know, but it seems apparent the teachers at the British School, at least the Spanish ones, are not as amused.

I gave him a talking-to about picking his moments. The classroom is not an appropriate place to crack jokes. Save it for the playground, save it for the bus, save it for anywhere besides the Spanish teacher's classroom because IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE for principals in foreign countries to be part of our daily lives again, comprendes, little dude?

Lucien replied, "But Mom, I'm funny and I think my classmates have a right to know that." Great. This should go fine.

Coco's head is also exploding in Spanish because not only does she not speak Spanish, but everyone in her class is already writing cursive. Her First Grade classmates are writing Spanish in cursive, two things that could not be further from Coco's wheelhouse, goddammit, and I have to help her with her homework every afternoon.

Her homework, twice the amount of what other kids have because she's so far behind, is the most godawful painful hour... or two....or three.... of the day.  She whines and throws pencils, I cry and scour the kitchen cabinets for wine. It's pretty awful. Paulina has swooped in to save the day on a couple Spanish lessons and that may become the norm because when it comes to Spanish, surprise, I'm not much help. I wish Paulina could teach cursive, too.

Speaking of Spanish, the building's cleaning lady tried to chat me up in the elevator today. She sees me around the building daily and probably couldn't tell from my simple "buenos dias" and "hasta luego"s that I didn't know many more words than those. She stepped into the elevator with me this morning and immediately launched into some incomprehensible thing. There were definitely questions involved based on her inflection and her looking at me with her head tilted slightly to the side.

The realization struck her immediately that she was talking to a wall, probably because my eyes had gone wide and I was just staring at her frozen-like. I finally managed a "no comprendo" and she nodded, seemed embarrassed for the both of us. She hustled off the elevator a couple floors later.

Poor lady tried to be friendly and get to know me but ha! She won't try that again.


PS. Spanish in small elevators is much more uncomfortable than Spanish in larger open spaces. I need the breathing room, and the option to run away if/when I need to.

SAVE YOURSELF,
MJ

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mario, Paulina, and Leon Trotsky

The people of Mexico City are very cold today but I'm not even wearing a jacket. I went downstairs this morning to wait for Lucien's school bus wearing only a long sleeved t-shirt and a pair of jeans, True, I was also clutching a cup of very hot coffee, which may have had some impact on my temperature tolerance.

But you'd think we'd walked out into Siberia. The people on the street wore heavy winter coats with their chins tucked down inside. They looked miserable. I re-entered our building after Lucien's bus had carted him off to school and Carlos, the smiley doorman, asked, "Oh no, aren't you cold?" He blew on his hands to warm them and hopped a little from foot to foot to make sure I understood he was worried for my health. It's 58 degrees out there, Carlos, I think I'm gonna survive it.

We've hired a housekeeper. I was reluctant to hire help because I like my solo time when the kids are in school. I admit I'm a very strange person when I'm alone at home. There is a lot of talking to myself and some very odd outfits indeed when I don't need to go outside. My favorite pairing is my rainbow sundress with a bathrobe and Ugg boots. Cozy yet colorful. I also eat weird things when no one's watching, such as "sugar bread," which is exactly as it sounds -- butter and sugar on bread. I know, I'm an animal.

If someone were to be in the apartment with me all day, my concern was I would be more self conscious and could no longer be my strange self. I would have to get dressed for real, maybe even shower god forbid, and sit around looking proper and drinking tea or whatever when I really just wanted to crank some Metallica, sing into a cucumber and practice my rad spins.

I was quickly told by the Mexico City ex-pat ladies I was dumb for not taking advantage of what is very much the norm here. There's little downside to the housekeeping win-win. It's giving someone a well-paying job and freeing yourself up to focus on your interests. It would mean I could write pretty much all day, sitting in the sun with my laptop until my fingers fell off.  Heavenly.

I thought hard about it. Why was I fighting to do my own laundry instead of learning how to get dressed like a normal person every day? Why was I more willing to do sinkfuls of dishes than surrender a small bit of Metallica? Was I really that attached to pouring sugar on bread or would it be worth it to shelve that recipe for a bit in order to have someone else cook dinner?  And bottom line, which was preferable: doing all the work around here by myself as usual or finally devoting all of my waking hours to finishing the Paris book?

The answer was clear, the ladies were right, I was dumb. After a few recommendations and a very awkward interview (Alex didn't know the questions to ask and I didn't know how to ask anything at all so just sat there and smiled to show her I'm friendly), we hired Paulina. Paulina does not live in the apartment with us, as many housekeepers do, because she has a teenage daughter at home. She puts dinner on our table, says hasta luego, and returns at 10:00 the next morning. It's a perfect situation for her and for me -- she gets to be home with her daughter evenings and mornings and sometimes when Alex takes the kids swimming after he comes home from work, I still get a little lampshade-wearing, robot walking solo freak time.

When Paulina is here, you would not believe what all she does. Our laundry basket is always empty now, anything tossed in there is dealt with immediately. She takes Alex's shirts to the dry cleaners. She goes to the grocery store daily and cooks us dinner. She goes into our closets and organizes our drawers, refolds all our t-shirts and sweaters. I have not seen any dust bunnies since she arrived and I do not miss them; they used to blow like tumbleweed through Banister Abbey, stopping only briefly to mingle with large clumps of dog hair.

Paulina cleans out the refrigerator and packs the kids' lunches for the next morning. She washes our duvet covers at least once a week which makes me wonder, have I ever cleaned our duvet covers at home? Because it's not ringing any bells. Paulina irons everything, including our socks. She's also agreed to babysit once a week, something we'll be trying for the first time this weekend when we go out for dinner with two other couples.

This all sounds like bragging but I don't mean it as bragging, I'm more processing all she does for us in an incredulous manner and wondering why I chose to live here a full two and a half weeks without her. I don't miss sugar bread at all so far.

Paulina and Mario, our driver, who also does many things for us including buying all of Coco's school supplies (Mario is now her favorite person because he bought her the notebooks with the sparkles and sheets of stickers inside) are hugely helpful but truthfully, it's very awkward as we get to know each other and understand how to work together. Paulina does not speak one word of English and my Spanish, well, estoy aprendiendo but it still sucks. This has made for some painful "conversations" and some inevitable miscommunications. For instance, I seem to have given Paulina the impression we require lactose free milk. I have no idea how I did that, must have strung together some words I didn't even know I knew. I can barely say, "I like milk" but somehow managed "lactose intolerance?"

Now our fridge is full of the stuff and I can't bring myself to tell her we don't need lactose free milk. She was so happy to find it, even sent Mario to a larger grocery store farther away to find a larger container. I can't let her know her efforts were for naught, as well as being very confusing.

Lactose free milk tastes terrible but I still hiss at the kids "just drink it" and they dutifully glug glug glug with grimaces. Alex keeps sighing at me and telling me we have to tell her, that she'll understand it was a miscommunication, but I'm biding my time and instead constructing a needlessly complicated plan. We'll keep drinking the gross milk then I'll tell her in a month or so our lactose intolerance has been miraculously cured, perhaps due to Mexico City's fresh air (that's a joke, we live in pollution city).


We took the weekend away from the gross milk

We spent the weekend in Coyoacan, a former village outside Mexico City now considered a suburb. Coyoacan is where Frida Kahlo's house/museum is, still one of my favorite places in the city.


This is Mario navigating the insanity of Friday late afternoon traffic 
on a three-day holiday weekend.
The 30 minute trip to Coyoacan took two hours.

Alex planned the weekend. He was excited to do so because he had accumulated points via his credit card and could get us a hotel room for free. The only hotel that qualified for the points in the Coyoacan area was the Holiday Inn.  Alex told me Holiday Inns are nice in Mexico and anyway, the hotel didn't matter because we planned on spending most of our time in the historic center of the town. As long as we could walk into town, we'd be happy anywhere.

The Holiday Inn looked nice enough but things turned odd when the bellhop used the key given to us to enter our room and we walked in to find somebody else's belongings all over the place. Lucien was like,"this room comes with a lot of stuff" and then the realization dawned we were standing in the middle of someone else's room. We all turned and hightailed it out of there fast as we could. Thankfully the person whose room it was was not there -- or perhaps he'd heard us entering his room and was hiding behind the curtains with a sharp stick prepared to defend himself.

The bellhop stammered an apology and ran downstairs to straighten out the room situation. He returned and took us to a different floor. We entered that room and thought, "whoa, this is a really big room!" but soon realized it was because it was the handicapped accessible room and was meant to fit many wheelchairs. There was a large handicapped-friendly potty chair thing installed over the toilet, which I never did figure out, and the sinks were so low you ended up with a backache just for attempting a freshly scrubbed face.

Fine, the room was a little oddly sized for us and sure, we almost walked in on some other dude in the comfort of his own room but who cares as long as we could get into town.  Alex asked the person at the desk for the nicest walk route to the main square and the guy looked at him like he was crazy. You can't walk into Coyoacan from the Holiday Inn. You have to take a taxi and it's at least a fifteen minute ride.

Alex didn't make eye contact with me after that, just kind of repeated "but it was free but it was free but it was free" like a little mantra then said with a forced cheer, "OK, kids, let's go grab a taxi and get some food before your mother kills me."


Mariachi dinner
they were so loud we could not hear ourselves think.

Coyoacan, as always, is insanely charming. The best way to spend your time is to wander the Calle Francisco Sosa, a street full of historic old colonial homes. The sidewalk is so uneven it sometimes feels like climbing small rocky loose-tiled hills but it's worth the effort if you can survive the terrain. Aside -- I feel sad for those who need handicapped accessible hotel rooms at the Holiday Inn near Coyoacan because nobody in a wheelchair can come close to navigating most of those streets.


Calle Francisco Sosa

Alex has a co-worker, Eduardo, who lives in Coyoacan and after meeting for lunch, he and his wife invited us back to their house for tequila and coffee. Their house is one of the more unique homes we've visited and we were immediately informed by our children that our own house is "really boring."


there's a tree in their interior living space



and a hammock indoors
The Loosh is sneaking up the back stairs to the "playground..."



...said "playground" is the glass roof of the living room.


This is the slide they have on their roof.
We can't win.
Our house is indeed boring.

Our kids and Eduardo's kids acted just like kids, chasing each other around the house and laughing maniacally even though they speak zero languages in common. I wish I could run around and play tag with all the people I've met here with whom I cannot even remotely converse.  It would take so much pressure off the situation. "You're it, Senor Scowly!" *takes off running and laughing down the street*


I wish I could play with Senor Scowly, carefree,
on a set of aerial silks in the living room.

The next day our family visited the Leon Trotsky Museum, which is located in the home where Trotsky lived after being granted political asylum in Mexico. I wasn't very interested in the museum before we went but by the time we left I was on fire with the Bolsheviks and Stalin and Marxism and KGB assassinations. My favorite museums are the ones located directly where the history happened, or directly where historical figures lived.  I loved Frida's house for that very reason; you get to know people better when you're walking through their living spaces.

The same went for Trotsky. I got to know him better when walking through the heavily fortified iron doors of his bedroom and seeing where he was sitting in his study when he got an ice pick to the head. I understood how very afraid he was for his life, and also learned that when Stalin wanted you dead, didn't matter where you were, you got dead.


Trotsky's house, all windows and doors bricked up and a guard tower for his security.
It didn't work for long.


The study where Trotsky was sitting when he was assassinated.



Coco being very unnerved by the heavy iron doors to Trotsky's bedroom.
You don't come to Trotsky's house to have fun, little girl.



Pretty house, though, guard tower and all.



Lucien and Coco sit in the garden outside the guards' house and contemplate Marxism.


Paulina just placed a stack of our underwear on the ironing board.
The woman is out of control,
MJ

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Señor Scowly and Diego Dorito

Our doorman, Señor Scowly, hates Alex with the strength of a thousand suns, which for some reason makes Alex even more determined to befriend him. The more Alex talks, the more scowls Alex receives but he is not deterred!  He instead talks faster, believing he will win S.S.'s favor if he can just say more things. The faster he talks, the more he stumbles over his Spanish, and the more twitchy and annoyed Senor Scowly becomes. It's painful to watch.

I have dragged Al away by the arm more than once, even as he continues to chat over his shoulder, wondering how Señor Scowly's mother is doing and asking things like, "What's your favorite song? Do you like tamales? Does Mexico recycle? I like your shoes!"

S.S. seems to like me a little better, most likely because I never chat him up. He usually smiles at me at least every other time he opens the door for me, or at least whenever he's not glaring at some undetermined thing in the middle distance.


Diego Rivera's mural at the Palacio Nacional, which illustrates the history 
of the Mexican people.
That communist sure could paint,
but Coco got bored and asked, 
"Are we done looking at Diego Dorito yet?"

I sister marched in Mexico City, right outside the U.S. embassy, along with millions of other people who participated in the Women's March all over the world --


And Alex marched. And the kids marched. And a whole bunch of other people marched. 

You had to stay vigilant at the march due to the proliferation of high-fives between strangers. Be prepared to duck or else you'll get high-fived in the face, patriot

My country is being run by a madman who keeps doubling down on "horrifying." I wonder if Donald Trump will soon sign an executive order banning liberals from returning to the United States? If so, hola, Mexico, it's you and me forever.




It's impressive how much the world hates this guy.

There was something else impressive about the traffic-clogging nature of our demonstration. Mexico City, like Paris, seems to be a city fairly used to demonstrations that shut down traffic (Vive la manifestation!). When it became clear our crowd was about to shut down the street by its swarming nature, police instead shut it down officially using frantic hand gestures, whistles, and eventually barricades.

I braced for the anger and the horn honking from the cars barreling our direction -- they were about to be stuck and for a very long time -- but there was none of that. Drivers instead, on Paseo de la Reforma, the busiest street through Mexico City with four lanes of traffic in each direction, began immediately and without much fuss to reverse their cars and turn around.

I couldn't believe it.  Al and I watched dumbfounded and transfixed as the police walked down the middle of the street, approaching oncoming drivers with whistles blaring and hands outstretched. The drivers got the message and all just immediately began performing three-point turns simultaneously. It was spectacular.

Within a handful of minutes, all the cars had headed back in the direction from which they'd arrived. There were even three buses in the bus lane that got the hell outta there with little trouble. Police stood at the next intersection directing traffic onto side streets. Paseo de la Reforma, for our block anyway, was empty. It was a bit apocalyptic, which fit the Trump situation pretty well.


I didn't pull out my camera fast enough. This was five minutes in to the road closure.
Many are already gone and everyone else almost ready to be gone.
Mexican drivers know how to get sh*t done.
Mucho respect.

My Spanish is still horrendous, of course, but I'm picking up little helpful phrases here and there and learning some crucial skills such as saying "bottle of water" at restaurants versus just "water" because my family prefers to avoid the runs.

(AND WE CAN'T EVEN DRINK THE WATER....)

Spanish numbers are hard for me to understand yet are so often used. I've got 1-10 down pretty well but after that it gets fuzzy.  An ex-pat can learn how to ask, "how much does it cost?" but it isn't much help if the ex-pat doesn't understand the answer that comes flying back at her face.

A nice stroll through Chapultepec Park becomes stressful when one of the kids asks, "Hey Mom, can I buy that stuffed Pikachu over there with my own money?" or "Mom, can we buy some watermelon from the fruit vendor?"


The watermelon and pineapple are delicious 
but they will be sprinkled with chili powder and lime juice if you don't jump in there fast enough.
Sounds cool but....an acquired taste, perhaps. 

I want the kids to have control over their spending and saving choices and I want them to have fresh fruit so to those questions I usually answer with a confident, "ummm, sure?" Then as we approach the vendor, I whisper, "OK here's the plan. Let's just hand him 100 pesos and see what he does. If he looks at us expectantly, hand him more money. If he gives us back change, just take it, whatever."

I realize this is a dangerous path and I will end up paying way more for things than I should but who cares, things are getting bought and Mama's getting it done.

Alex ran into an old co-worker, a very random but happy occurrence, at his immigration appointment last week. She lives in Mexico City now, a relative newbie as well, but here long enough to know a lot more than we do. She invited us on the spot to a brunch at her house last weekend.

The people at the brunch were mostly from Mexico but also from Columbia and Paraguay and Lebanon and others.  They are all fluent Spanish speakers yet when I walked in, they all switched to English to the best of their individual abilities. I made an entire party start speaking English just by walking in and standing there, I am drunk with my unilingual American power.

We are learning new things, little by little.  This week we learned if you go out for breakfast and they offer you a plate of croissants and other pastries, DO NOT grab one off the tray. The tray pastries are only presented for you to make your selection and the real thing will be delivered to you on a plate later.

But the four of us, because we're clueless exuberant types, all grabbed pastries off the tray when it was put in front of our faces. The tray holder at first frantically shook his head "no" then laughed so hard I thought he was going to collapse. He seemed to like us even more after that and even brought us extra pastries with a wink. They like you even more when you screw things up; it's upside down world in Mexico.

Gotta go pry Alex away from Señor Scowly before he gets strangled,
MJ

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

20 wallets, embroidery, and a bigger bowl

The kids have been bickering near non-stop since we came to Mexico. I've never seen them so constantly annoyed with each other. Every little thing sets them off, a situation made more fun by the fact they share a bedroom. As a means of dealing with the escalating situation, Coco built a wall out of our moving boxes and put her mattress on the other side of them.

The box wall does not even nearly reach the ceiling so count on it, they are throwing things over those boxes and yelling at each other every night. We may have had a little too much "togetherness" the past handful of weeks.

Maybe it's all for the best, then, because the original plan was to put both kids in the same international school in Mexico City. There was a snag in the plan, however, as there often is but sometimes you're too stupidly optimistic to see it coming.

Coco's writing is damn near illegible.  Coco doesn't care much about writing, she cares more about making messes and then making bigger, bolder, more intricate messes. When you are Coco's kind of messy, handwriting can be a challenge. The necessary precision of it is at odds with her personality.

Coco and Lucien had evaluation exams at the international school before they were able to be officially enrolled.  Lucien sailed through his exam and was offered a 5th Grade spot that same day. Coco, however, totally bombed the handwriting portion of her exam.  The school said they could not offer her a spot in 1st Grade because she would be too far behind in their writing-intensive curriculum. They instead offered her a spot in K-3.

Al and I were shocked but our shock was nothing compared to Coco's outrage. She took extreme umbrage. "I am NOT going back to Kindergarten" (at ever increasing volume) became our family's soundtrack for the next couple days while Alex and I debated what to do. So much glaring, I swear she can pierce holes through our pitifully weak souls. 
    
But what could we do?  Many other international schools we'd contacted were full, others were not very highly recommended.  Plus we had all fallen head over heels for this particular school, Coco included -- its sprawling pretty campus, its swimming pool and giant soccer field, its perfect mix of friendly and welcoming kids, both ex-pats and locals.

But Coco back to Kindergarten? In class with kids over a year younger than her, and only because she couldn't write for shit?  It seemed way too harsh. Al and I advocated hard for a 1st Grade spot but the school stood firm. I briefly considered homeschooling but that idea disappeared when Alex looked at me and said flatly, "You would die." True, true, an effective and well developed argument, Alex.

She stayed home with me for another week as we grappled with indecision. Lucien started school and acclimated to his new life easily. His teacher is a kind British man and his circle of friends is growing. Kids at his school are used to high ex-pat turnover, their social circles are always changing so they are easy to approach and are helpful and welcoming. It hasn't been as hard as he feared to be "the new kid."

Meanwhile, Coco and I hung out at home. We walked the neighborhood and did as much math, reading, and writing as I could stand. I've got the patience of a puppy and the attention span of a fruit fly. At least our PE class was fun --


I'm so glad we survived the sewer stink and could keep the pool

With great reservation, we decided to take the K-3 spot just to get Coco around kids again, get her learning Spanish, get her out of my face because she talks all the time and I need a breather. 

Last weekend, our family hit the streets with school supply checklists in hand.  The first stop was a large department store in our neighborhood called Liverpool where we hoped to buy several specific pairs of shoes for the kids' uniforms.

We got lost in Liverpool for hours because Alex, who speaks fluent Spanish, is apparently too goddamn proud to ask where the kid shoes are and I, being fluent in English and not much else, have no idea how to ask for shoes of any kind. It was a bad combo. The kids asked at one point, "Are we ever leaving this place?" and I responded honestly, "I'm not sure."

We eventually found kid shoes after wandering the labyrinth of Liverpool for the better part of our lives. We picked a few pairs to try from the specific "school shoe" section and then waited, and waited, and waited.  There was only one employee working the kid shoe department that day. She was a very flustered employee, as two of her co-workers had called in sick that morning. It was most unfortunate for all involved.

We waited so long to try on those goddamn shoes, I got very crabby and began muttering things like, "I don't care if those things are a full size too small, we're buying them immediately and getting the hell out of here." I'm an introvert, you see, so being stuck like purgatory in a crowded noisy department store eats my happiness until there's nothing left but death and black holes. 

I was the only one losing my shit, apparently, because other than me you've never seen such a festive shoe department. Everyone else accepted the long waits for shoes with zen-like calm and struck up conversations with each other. One little kid, maybe four years old, had the time of his life grabbing shoes off the racks and tossing them over his shoulder while laughing like a tiny maniac.

(This was one of the many times I have thought, despite being here a mere two weeks, "This would never happen in Paris.")

The shoes finally, thankfully bought, we headed to a nearby Office Max to purchase more supplies. My already sour mood turned sour-er as I looked over the list of supplies sent by the school. The list was written by British people and it's never been more obvious we use different terms for things. What the hell were "20 plastic wallets for your folded portfolio?" We did not leave with everything on the list because some of it just made no damn sense.

On our walk home, I read from the school supply list that students' names were to be embroidered on every item of their uniforms. It had been a long day and I was in no state of mind to commit to embroidery so I yelled much louder than I intended to, and unfortunately part of it in the face of a shocked valet parking attendant who had the misfortune of standing behind me when I spun around assuming he was Alex, "F*ck that, F*ck that, I'm scrawling their goddamn names on everything with a Sharpie, they can suck it."  

Lucien promptly lost both his tie and his PE sweatshirt in the first two days of school because there were no tags on those things upon which to scrawl his name with a Sharpie. I understand the importance of embroidery in a school full of identical uniforms now and I'm sorry I lost my mind on you, international school, you were absolutely right. But I'm still not going to embroider. We will instead likely buy a new set of uniforms every week.



They are so cute in their uniforms.
I'm going to make them wear them even when we return to the U.S.

The school situation wasn't over, though. Because when all was processed and debated and advocated and (we thought) decided, it still wasn't sitting right. We could not accept putting Coco back a year based on only one subject. 

Alex and I sent a few Hail Mary emails to schools we'd already contacted but didn't have space at the time. One school, a tiny thing with a good reputation, responded the next morning that indeed, a space had just opened up in J-1 and they'd love to meet Coco. She went and interviewed that very day and took another evaluation exam. 

Her writing still sucked, no surprise there, but this school had a plan. They wanted to keep her with her peers, put her in First Grade but have a teaching assistant with her one-on-one during writing periods. Holy hell, SOLD, and yes of course I can stop humping your leg if it makes you "extremely uncomfortable."

Coco is sad to be at a different school than Lucien even though they are currently fighting all the time. She's sad her school is tiny and much quieter when his is huge and exciting. 25% of Coco's day is going to be in Spanish, which will also be a challenge, but in our minds a positive one.  She liked it way more on Day Two than Day One, that is progress, and we'll take it.

There's another little blonde American girl in her class. She is so happy about Coco's arrival. They are glued to each other like a two-headed blonde American monster, giggling and hugging all the time. Coco said when she came home her first day, "I think she's been waiting for me a long time." 

It's a different thing, kids in school here versus at home. I no longer take them to school or pick them up. Lucien is now signed up for the school bus, which he loves, but before that our driver, Leo, took him to school each morning and brought him home each afternoon. I tagged along for the first couple days to make sure he knew where he was going, to pay the tuition bill and sort out uniform pieces and whatnot but after that Lucien said, "Mom, no other parents go, it's just the drivers, it's OK."

So I gave him that space, instead watched every morning from our 7th floor balcony as he climbed into Leo's car to be driven the half hour to school alone.


That's my green boot self
watching the brown dot, my backpacked son,
climb into our driver's car.
It's a whole new world.

My friend here, Seattle Mom (will the "Seattle Mom" madness ever end, apparently not), whose house we stayed in back in July when we visited Mexico City, invited me to a ladies night with her circle of friends last week. 

Once again, sitting there with the lot of them, I was reminded of the beauty of ex-pat friendships. They spring up almost immediately. You meet, you decide within seconds whether or not you like each other, then suddenly you're friends on Facebook and soon thereafter have plans together every day for the rest of eternity. 

There were fifteen of us that night, from New Zealand, Ireland, the US, Canada, Uruguay and Mexico among others I've forgotten. We met at a gin bar in Polanquito, which may have been a tactical error because none of us like gin. We instead wanted red wine, which perplexed the servers. The servers disappeared for awhile, returned with the manager and a handful of bottles of red wine they had dug out of storage. When we finished all of those, I'm pretty sure the manager handed a server some money to go buy more wine down the street.  

A group of 15 women out in Polanquito have a damn good time. But figuring out the bill at the end of the night is still an exercise in futility. We all just threw money at the bill until it went away. I think I spent five trillion pesos on a few glasses of wine.


counting pesos late at night by cell phone flashlight

Our apartment no longer smells like a sewer but the pipe leading to our dishwasher recently sprang a leak.  Alex and I were very diligent about tending to the leak until Sergio, our cheerful relocation guy, could get another plumber here. We put a bowl under the leak, mopped up around it when the bowl overflowed. The owner of this apartment owes us many beers.

Cheerful Sergio arrived with the building manager and two plumbers on Monday morning. Sergio said, "OK, we see the problem, we are going to buy supplies and will be right back." The building manager then turned to me and said in English, "We are going to buy you a bigger bowl so you don't have to empty it as often" and then laughed at his own joke for about five minutes.  I like that guy.


And I really like Mexico City

Now that the kids are both in school, may my blog posts come fast and furious and my Paris book finally get whittled down to a readable thing. It may get a bit muddled, writing about Paris in Mexico. I may end up with sentences like, "I walked the streets of Paris, intoxicated by the aroma of fresh tortilla."

No embroidery 4-ever,
MJ

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mañana at ocho

There's a delicious tamale place across the street from our apartment. I have eaten more tamales in the past ten days than I have in my first 41 years of life combined. Our diets are so tamale heavy right now, I decided to be responsible about it and Google, "are tamales healthy?"

I'm going to keep what I read a secret and just keep eating tamales. They're not unhealthy if you ignore they're unhealthy.  Sshhhh.....I'm fine.


It got dramatic at the Papalote Childrens Museum

Speaking of knowing something you wish you didn't, now that I know how to use the doorman intercom phone thing on the wall, I wish I could go back to those first few days of staring at it blankly.  The doorman rings us occasionally for one thing or another and oftentimes Alex isn't home to answer. One day the doorman rang and I understood one word out of the entire torrent -- mañana. OK! Something was going to happen tomorrow.

I said, "Si, es bueno" and he sounded happy and said again "mañana?" and I said "Si!" because he seemed so pleased and tomorrow seemed a very good time for something to happen.  Then the doorman said two more words I understood -- "ocho" and "nueve," both followed with question marks and beats of silence. OK, I got this, he wants me to choose a time for the thing.

I chose "ocho" because why not.  Mañana at ocho seemed a good time for.... whatever.

When we hung up, I didn't know what I'd agreed to but was pretty sure we'd scheduled a time for our weekly housecleaning.  It had to be that. When Alex came home that night, I said fairly confidently I had scheduled the housecleaning service for 8:00 a.m. the next morning. He said, "OK, we'll stick around to meet them then go have breakfast somewhere."

Mañana at ocho came and went and nothing happened.  Nobody showed up, nobody called.  I shrugged at Alex, who shrugged back.  At 10:30, we gave up on waiting for whatever and went out for a very late breakfast.

We would have asked the doorman to clarify on our way out the door but it was the non-friendly doorman on duty and I like to walk past him as quickly as possible. We have two doormen -- smiley cheerful helpful Carlos (who had been the one to call me to schedule the whatever thing) and Señor Scowly, who rarely smiles, is never cheerful, takes his job very very seriously.

It's great to take your job seriously but Señor Scowly seems as suspicious of the people inside the building as the ones outside of it, which doesn't seem right for a doorman. We're not the enemy in here, Señor Scowly.


The Loosh puts the punk rock back into oral hygiene

Our apartment is a "temporary executive housing" kind of apartment and judging by what the kitchen is stocked with, it seems temporary executives don't like to cook.  It's stocked with a couple pots and pans, a half dozen spatulas and large spoons, and that's about it. There's no peeler, no can opener, no measuring cups or spoons, no large cooking pot, no baking dishes, you get the idea.

How am I going to make my craptastic homemade chili with no cooking tools? I very much regret my Vicodin-infused decision to fill the rest of our shipment container with Coco's stuffed animals back in Seattle. We should have filled it with our kitchen instead.

The not knowing where or how to buy anything is exhausting.  It takes the form of aimless wandering around the neighborhood paired with some fruitless shot-in-the-dark Google searches. Our grocery store turned up a can opener, so that was something, but we still don't have much else.


can anyone tell me where to get a cheese grater around here?

Ahh, the grocery store. For those who've been with me for the long haul since back in the Paris days (which Facebook recently reminded me began eight years ago) you'll remember the grocery store was a constant source of pain, embarrassment, frustration and anger for me. I won't rehash right now but let's just say more often than not, there was yelling.

I'm not going to have the same grocery experience in Mexico. Our neighborhood grocery store is a nice size, big enough aisles to move around comfortably.  Even when it becomes busy and congested, people wait, step to the side and let others pass as if it's no big deal. They all seem entirely too laid back for grocery shopping.

The kids went with me for our first grocery store trip and they wanted to buy a lot of fresh produce. "No way, kids," I said, "I'm not getting sucked into that produce trap." I remember all too vividly the Parisian weight-it tag-it yourself machine and the trouble it caused me. I refuse to head down that banana rabbit hole again.

I told Coco and The Loosh to stick with produce items that came prepackaged with little UPC stickers on the side, such as the nice gigantic bag of oranges. "But Mommy, we don't like oranges," they said. "I don't care," I said, "I know how to buy them."

On our second trip to the store, I pulled the cart to the side and whispered to the kids to watch what all the other people did.  Coco felt chatty in the middle of our produce reconnaissance so I hissed, "Shush, concentrate, this is serious, girl." Lucien soon reported, and I concurred, the other customers appeared to be just putting things in bags and putting the bags straight into their carts with no visible signs of stress. We then did a stakeout at the checkout line to make sure those bags were being handled gracefully at the finish line and nobody was getting yelled at.

I agreed to let the kids get two apples.  They wanted more but I said "let's not overdo it our first time" which made them look at me quizzically -- but I've been hurt before, many times, you see.

I gathered up our things with little trouble. The checkout lady was almost unnervingly smiley. I needed a validation stamp for my parking ticket and attempted to ask for it in Spanish but butchered the word for parking -- estacianimiento -- terribly. I tried again. The checkout lady stopped what she was doing to pronounce estacianimiento as slowly as she could.  I tried to mimic her, but nope, butchered again.

She pronounced it again, and again.  The lady behind me in line pronounced it, too.  They were smiling at me, and not even in a mocking kind of way.  I tried one more time, got it halfway right, and the woman behind the register laughed and said in English -- "Wee weel practous." I then pronounced "practice" for her correctly and we all had a good old laugh.

I don't know what the hell that was all about but I know I like it.

In other happy surprise news, the toilet paper I bought during our grocery shopping trip smells like baby powder.  I repeat, the stuff you wipe your butt with smells like sweet little babies around here. Alex has looked at me funny a couple times as I've walked past him pressing a roll of toilet paper to my nose but I don't care. If liking the smell of baby powder is a crime, please don't throw me into a Mexican prison, I'll stop.

I discovered another amazing thing looking out our apartment window at our view of the city; the very wealthy residents of Mexico City sometimes use helicopters to fly from one building to another to avoid the often gridlocked traffic below.

Most of the tall buildings we see from our apartment have helicopter pads. You can watch helicopters take off and land way off in the distance, or head out of sight towards the buildings of downtown.


rich person landing

I have so much to write about, blog, I can barely keep it all straight and will likely forget most of it. I must discuss the kids' school, and an Ode to Leo is most certainly in the works. A guy just dropped down onto my balcony on a rope, wiped down the balcony furniture and disappeared again over the side, so I may try to puzzle that out later as well.

Never did figure out what was supposed to happen at ocho,
MJ

Thursday, January 12, 2017

And we can't even drink the water

It's 45 degrees in Mexico City this morning.  Even when considering Mexico City's sky high elevation, nobody expects anywhere in Mexico to be this chilly -- most of all, apparently and unfortunately, me. The wardrobes I packed for the first week before the movers arrive are more "Spring-like" than "Winter in yo face."

Our apartment doesn't have a heating system so the kids and I are currently wearing all pieces from our Spring-like collections at the same time (my light sweater pairs surprisingly well with my other light sweater and my pajama pants work well as a scarf) and are huddling together under blankets.

I understand why central heating is not common in Mexico City.  It's not often needed.  But for those who know this town, can you suggest a place where I might buy a space heater so I can keep my fingers limber enough to type on winter mornings?  I've heard there's a place called "Liverpool" but I couldn't tell if that person was being truthful or just trying to send me to England so I'd leave them alone. (the person was Alex)


We were happy when we walked into the apartment our arrival night, greeted by cheerful Sergio from the relocation company, exhausted from the travel and looking forward to finally being here after a hectic month of planning. The apartment was in the exact location we wanted with an impressive city view several floors above the worst of the street noise. Best of all, there was a pool above us on the penthouse level, which made the kids' eyes bug out of their heads in disbelieving ecstasy.

The issue began the morning after arrival, a slight smell in the kitchen that made Al and I wrinkle our noses at each other. "What's that?  A whiff of sewer with our coffees?" We passed it off as an inevitable consequence of immense city living, the occasional sniff sniff of something unsavory, and moved on.

A handful of hours later, the stench was near unbearable. Our apartment smelled of raw sewage, as if the shit of one million strangers flowed straight through the living room. We escaped, went outside, walked the neighborhood to clear our heads and nostrils and hoped in our stupid way it would clear up on its own by the time we returned.

It didn't. Or more accurately, it did, but then it didn't.  Over the next couple of days it would clear up for a few hours but would return mid-morning, or around dinner time, dashing our hopes to the ground and making our delicious take-out tamales suddenly unappetizing.

I didn't sleep well with the smell.  My middle-of-the-night awake hours were spent Googling things like, "Will poop smell kill you?" and "How much methane gas does it take before your apartment blows up?" We contacted the relocation company, who were apologetic and promised to send a plumber as soon as possible Monday morning.  But Alex and I could not wait until Monday morning; we would not, could not, survive the smell until Monday morning. We had to become plumbers ourselves and fix it by Saturday afternoon or die.

I researched online and announced, "Alex, the issue is dry p-traps." Alex high-fived me, impressed with my plumbing sleuthing skills, and we proceeded to run every sink, shower, flush every toilet, run all the appliances in an attempt to fill those p-traps and bring those water seals back home to mama.

It didn't work. So we spent most of the next day up at the pool where we could relax and pretend our apartment didn't smell like it enjoyed shitting itself on the regular.


Al and I didn't want to move away from the apartment that checked all the right boxes but were coming to the sad realization we had to. We sat in the kitchen later that night and composed a demanding email -- we needed a relocation to our relocation immediately. It was about then I mentioned in an offhand kind of way that all the appliances in the apartment were brand new, even still had stickers on them.

Alex suddenly grabbed my arm (ouch, damn, dude) and said, "Wait! If they're all brand new, maybe they were installed incorrectly?"

Eureka.

We first attacked the dishwasher, pulled it out from the wall. The smell behind the dishwasher was overwhelming, so bad you no longer saw a future for yourself.  We saw it right away; the dishwasher hose had no seal around it. There was a gaping space all around the hose, nothing blocking sewer fumes from coming back up the pipe and stopping in for a quick "hellooo!" before rushing out one of the many windows we'd left cranked wide open.

We un-installed the dishwasher, wrapped the pipe completely in Saran Wrap and secured it with one of my ponytail hair ties. The smell got better but it wasn't gone.  We were onto something but there was another source.

Lucien and Coco walked down the hall to find Al and I on our hands and knees crawling through the apartment sniffing walls and drains.  Lucien asked, "What are you guys doing?" and Alex said, "We are in control of the situation." The kids looked at each other, nodded, then wandered back to their room. They often seem confident we know exactly what we're doing.  If they only knew the full degree to which we are winging this whole thing.

We followed our noses to the brand new washer/dryer.  Same hose-to-pipe gap ratio with no seal. More Saran Wrap, another ponytail tie.

Suddenly, magically, we could breathe again. The goddamn smell was gone.  We collapsed on the ground, rolled around like happy little puppies because air is wonderful and the kids get to keep their pool.


it's the only thing keeping them cheerful about this move

Sergio came by Monday morning with the plumber to correctly re-install the appliances.  I knew they had arrived because the phone thing on the wall started buzzing but I didn't know what to do with the phone thing to allow them admittance.  I froze at first, then after more buzzing I picked it up and said, "Hola! Hola!" in a confident kind of way but nobody responded.

There are several unmarked buttons on the phone thing so I began pushing them, which resulted in multi-toned high-pitched piercing sounds in my eardrums.


tell me your secrets, phone thing

Soon thereafter, Sergio showed up at our apartment's door with the plumber and the doorman (who would not let them in without my permission and was concerned for my wellbeing when all he heard were multi-toned piercing sounds from his own wall phone thing) and Sergio immediately suggested, "How about I teach you how to use the doorman intercom system now?"



These were welcome gifts given to us by our relocation company -- a bag and a sleep mask.
Judging from the messages, 
I think our relocation company is a real whore.
(or it thinks we're real whores?)

This transition is going to be harder on the kids than I imagined.  Lucien has a mostly chin-up attitude but Coco has cried every night since we arrived.  I heard her crying in the middle of the night a few nights ago so got up and padded down to her room. I held her and agreed that moving is hard, and that I missed home, too. I reassured her the transition time is the hardest and it was going to get easier, and promised her Mommy and Daddy wouldn't have done this if we didn't know she'd be OK.

Then I told her to get it all out, give me the entire list of things she hates about the move. Her list was shockingly long for being in the country only a handful of days. She misses her friends, her teacher, her house, her dog, she hates that she doesn't understand anything anyone says, and the city is too loud, and I'm mean to her when we're walking around our neighborhood (cars are crazy here, sorry honey, gotta keep you close) and then, the grand finale, her voice rose to a high pitch indeed and she cried, "AND WE CAN'T EVEN DRINK THE WATER."

I couldn't help it. I started laughing. Coco, after an initial period of indignant shock that her mom was laughing, started laughing too, and then I heard Alex laughing loudly from our bedroom.  It has since become our family's rallying cry.


She ain't even lying.  This was our first purchase as Mexico residents.

Coco woke up crying even harder the next night.  She and Lucien share a room and he was deeply asleep, or so I thought, so I was in a hurry to comfort and quiet her before she woke him.

I whispered, "Coco, baby, you are feeling so sad right now but everything feels harder and lonelier in the middle of the night. I promise things will feel a little better in the morning. Now what's one happy thing we can think about to help us go back to sleep?" and she said, "Nothing, there is nothing, life is completely devoid of joy and I hate you" (she didn't say that but I could read it in her eyes).

I continued. "We had a good time at the pool today and we had a nice lunch at that place where you liked the frijoles and you really enjoyed the carousel at the park today... maybe we can think about one of those things?  What's something that makes you so happy you smile when you think about it?"

There was a beat of silence as Coco thought. She opened her mouth, was about to say something when suddenly Lucien piped up from the other side of the room.... "mah butt cheeks."

Coco laughed so hard I went with it, made her promise that whenever she was down about moving to Mexico-- heck, whenever any of us were down about moving to Mexico -- we were going to think about Lucien's butt cheeks. We agreed that was a good plan of action, even shook on it.

We went to the kids' school two days ago for admissions exams and tours.  They will start school Monday, or maybe not, no idea really, because there are some unanticipated problems that are giving us immense anxiety.  There are also problems with Natani at home; she has become aggressive with our housesitter's dog.  Natani has never been aggressive with any dog, is always the first to flop on her back submissively, so it seems she's having some transition pains of her own.

Sometimes there are so many problems and questions and confusion in a new place, it feels like a weight on your chest and you wonder if you're ever going to breathe normally again, even if your air is now sewage-stink free.

And we can't even drink the water.

....mah butt cheeks,
MJ