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.


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,

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,

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,

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?"


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,

Saturday, January 7, 2017

I know everything about Mexico now

There comes a moment when you realize you're in over your ex-pat head, that you're about to be more "fish out of water" than "happy." It came surprisingly early for me this time around, much like how your second baby birthing usually goes way faster than your first.

It came this time while sitting in the Denver airport waiting to board our Aeromexico flight to Mexico City. Alex had taken the children to buy junk food so I was left alone for a rare non-distracted minute. That's when I noticed everyone around me was speaking Spanish with great enthusiasm and at seemingly superhuman speed.

I understood nothing; none of them were using the fifty or so basic Spanish words and phrases I know, at least not in ways I could readily understand.  What, none of them needed to say "I like bananas" at that very moment?  I find that hard to believe.

During the flight, our flight attendant spoke only Spanish.  She walked the aisle handing out customs forms at the very moment Alex went to the bathroom so I had to handle the customs forms situation by myself. She tried to hand me just one form so I tried to tell her I needed "mas, mas" and pointed around at, I thought, just Lucien and Coco. Then she said a bunch of stuff I didn't understand so I just nodded, which I tend to do when I'm nervous about a foreign language, and then suddenly I had 100 forms in my lap. I was keeper of all the forms for everybody, everywhere.

Alex returned and said, "what the hell did you do?"  And I said, "Hey, Al, remember this? Ex-pat me is back, baby!"

In that moment, a few truths returned.  Those truths had mellowed and gone soft and rosy around the edges since our return from Paris over five years ago but that familiar, "ohhh dang" feeling brought them back into sharper focus.  This international move isn't going to be all fun and games and glamour and excitement.  It's also going to be hard work and confusion and occasional feelings of "I am absolutely alone in this world."

It ain't my first rodeo and while I'm very happy to be participating in a second rodeo, riding that damn bucking bronco hurts, especially the times you get bucked off and are suddenly on the ground eating mouthfuls of dirt.  It's humbling stuff.

The title of this post is a lie, obviously. I know zero truths about Mexico thus far, only a few anecdotal things such as Carlos is a nice man and our new apartment occasionally smells like raw sewage.

the penthouse pool is incredible but if the plumber can't figure it out,
we're moving soon.
please advise how to break that one to the kids.

But I still know everything I need to know about how it's going to go down in Mexico. I'm going to love parts and hate parts, will have days I'm on top of the world to be here and in love with everything around me and days I wonder incredulously how this country continues to function. Eventually we'll get settled and comfortable, in this case maybe just in time to return to Seattle, and then we'll be sad to be going home so soon.

I will share one thing I absolutely do know as fact so far -- if you come to Mexico City, try to fly in after sunset because flying into Mexico City at night is one of the more jaw-dropping experiences you can have. The city, as the third largest in the world with over 21 million people, just goes on and on forever.  You can't even believe there's no more darkness, only lights and lights and lights.

Coco said it best, her mouth hung wide open as we lowered closer to the ground --"Sh*t, Dad, it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." Alex looked at me pretty firmly then, even though he shared her sentiment.

(I may say "sh*t" occasionally but so does Alex.  It's possible but not proven that one's on me. Thankfully everyone on the flight was still speaking uncomfortably fast Spanish to notice our poor parental modeling.)

I have another post to write soon regarding all sorts of things that have happened since we've arrived. It's mucho mucho stuff and we've only been here a few days.

One of the most important things to know is Lucien and I are trying to learn Spanish together using the Duolingo app. Yo como una manzana. That means I eat an apple; I know that now because I learned the verb "to eat" today.  Right after that, we needed to purchase some clothes hangers so I looked up the Spanish word --"perchas" -- so I could search them online.

I then began following Alex around the apartment saying, "Yo como los perchas."  I thought it was funny, combining my two new words like that, but it drove Alex surprisingly batty. "Why do you keep saying that?? WHY WOULD YOU EAT HANGERS?"  Sometimes that man doesn't understand me.

Bring on the growing pains, we're ready this time, maybe,

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

walk on that suitcase conveyor belt like a treadmill

We left Seattle the day after I had a root canal. I climbed into the Uber on our way to the airport clutching an ice pack to my jaw and bemoaning my once again impeccable timing.

I have always had great ability to make already complicated things things even more complicated. Who else needs an emergency root canal the day before they move to Mexico? Who else has such an oddly abnormally stupidly structured tooth, according to the endodontist, that the procedure was going to take twice as long and recovery was going to be more lengthy and painful than for any other normal person?

If they could harness my immense ability to unintentionally complicate all of the things, I could power the world just by walking around and existing.

The bad news was I was in terrible pain the morning we left for the airport; the good news was I was drugged on Vicodin and Valium so I didn't even flinch when one of our suitcases came in over the accepted weight limit at check-in, which necessitated some shuffling of articles between suitcases.  That's something that usually sends me into panic fits because oh no, what if people waiting in line catch a glimpse of my old pile of undies?  (All those people in line are watching in such a situation and hoping for a glimpse of something embarrassing. Trust me, I know people.)

But this time, thanks to the Vitamin V,  I was more, "consider and enjoy all my underwear, people, I really don't ca -- oh oh oh, hey airline person, can I go back there and walk on that suitcase conveyor belt thing like a treadmill?  Because looks like wheeee..."

The movers came to pack our Mexico-bound belongings the same day I had the root canal. They were so friendly and kind as they carefully wrapped our clothing and computers and recently opened Christmas presents because they could tell I was not feeling well (a heating pad pressed over my entire face was their first clue) and I was once again zoned out on Vicodin so unable to make big decisions.

The movers informed me we still had room in our shipment container after they'd packed everything we'd set aside.  They said, "You still got plenty of room in here, ma'am, anything else you'd like to add?' I stared at them with unfocused eyes and mumbled, "Just take whatever you want."

A few long beats of silence followed as the movers glanced at each other in concern until one said, "Umm, I guess we can fill the space with more of your daughter's stuffed animals?" I gave them a thumbs up, said, "I knew you guys would figure it out" and went to sleep with my head down on the kitchen counter.

Coco, up until the very end, continued to slip festive Christmas cards 
under our bedroom door
voicing her feelings about the situation

Seattle Mom had the sweet idea to have a "graduation" party for Lucien on the last day of school before Winter Break. It was his very last day at his elementary school and he was achingly sad about it.

We invited Lucien's favorite classmates and their parents to Chuck's Hop Shop for his "5th Grade Graduation" party.  They brought graduation gifts and signs and a gigantic graduation balloon that, we hear from our housesitter, is nowhere near ready to deflate. That sucker's gonna be floating around Banister Abbey for a long time, perhaps even waiting for us upon our return.

Chuck's Hop Shop is a beer shop in the neighborhood, which may seem an odd choice for a kid's graduation party but it's really not.  We've held birthday parties there, community meetings there, Lucien had his end-of-year soccer team party there. Chuck's is the neighborhood spot; it has over 50 craft beer taps and a rotating schedule of food trucks in the parking lot plus ice cream cones, bags of chips, Pac-Man and board games for kids.  It's a real crowd pleaser.

It meant so much to him that his besties showed up to celebrate him, and to give him a little closure on elementary school -- and I think we can all agree the tangerine IPA was surprisingly good.

While I'm entering an emotional tailspin with that last tale, I might as well share an email I received on the last day of school from a friend who has a daughter in Lucien's class --

"Hey MJ,

This morning as we left for the airport, here's how it went:

Daughter: Mama! I'm bummed out about our class clown leaving us.
Mom: Class clown?
Daughter: Lucien. There are other funny kids in class, but they're sort of malicious. Lucien's just not. He's just fun. Every morning when teacher takes roll call, it goes:

Molly? Here.
Leo? Here.
Micky? Here.
Lucien? Potato.

Mom: What happens then?

Daughter: The teacher laughs every time. It's a really good way to start the day.

MJ, we'll so miss that potato. Best to you all."

I've since been informed Lucien's class has a plan for the first day back to school after break.  The class is going to wait until roll call is finished, during which Lucien's name will inevitably be skipped, then all yell together at the very end, "Lucien? POTATO!!!"

We went Christmas caroling with our crew before Christmas. We were a big group of over 40 people. We hired a teacher from the nearby music school to come play the piano so we could practice beforehand but the practice didn't matter much. We were awful. Who cares, let's hit the streets!

Freebird! Freebird!

Many people enjoy carolers but more than a handful waved us away with panicked expressions, one even giving a frantic cut-the-throat gesture. One woman said she was Jewish so would feel uncomfortable but when we told her we'd also learned the Dreidel Song for just such a situation, she still wasn't into it.

Another guy, when approached and asked if he would like us to carol for him, said, "No thank you, I really have to go to the bathroom" and shut the door. We tried not to feel offended. I mean, the guy really had to go to the bathroom, right?  No one can fault him for that.

We soldiered on in our somewhat unwelcome neighborhood caroling quest.  We hit Chuck's Hop Shop and caroled for the beer drinkers within and also hit the family-owned corner store where we all buy our six-packs and quirky birthday gifts before we head to each other's homes on a regular basis.

One of those hats hanging on the wall was purchased for me by my friend Rusty 
for my 40th birthday party. 
It said "I heart weed."
I still wear it when I want to get people talking. 

I spent Christmas Eve -- pre-root canal, so in even more excruciating pain than post-root canal -- at Seattle Mom's annual Christmas Eve dinner party with a bag of frozen corn I'd fished out of Seattle Mom and Dad's freezer pressed to my face.  Seattle Mom looked at me, as the corn half-thawed on my face and I grimaced at her with red wine-stained teeth, and said, "Honey, that's your corn now."

Christmas Eve knife wielding

Our Christmas Day was speedy because we had a Mexico move to-do list staring us in the face.  We opened presents as quickly as possible then immediately began dismantling the Christmas tree and tearing down the festive holiday decorations decorating Banister Abbey.

I got Alex a "Man Crate" for Christmas that he had to pry open with a crowbar.
He confirmed; it made him feel very manly.

Our Christmas tree was undecorated and lying by the side of the road by 8:00 a.m. on the 26th.  We must have looked like the worst of the worst Scrooges to the dog walkers who wandered by and saw our sad tree on the curb that morning, discarded nearly immediately after the event it was bred to celebrate.  All our decorations were already boxed and back in closets as well, and we had moved on to pulling our warm weather clothes from the closet and shoving them into boxes in preparation for our next life chapter.

There wasn't much relaxation in Seattle those last couple of weeks, just stress and angst and tooth pain and sad-yet-festive farewell parties and long hugged goodbyes with our dearests. Natani was the worst of the goodbyes for all of us, which was surprising since she makes us batshit crazy on a daily basis.  I guess it's because we know the rest of our people will continue their lives as usual and we'll be in regular contact with them as usual, but there's no question Natani will be posted at our front window daily with a dumbfounded alert kind of "where'd dey go and when dey back? Guys? Guys?"

these two love each other more than anything
their goodbye was awful
we'll be back, sweet crazy dog girl.

We decided to come to Colorado for a week, where we are currently happy and snuggly (and fully recovered from root canals so once again narcotics-free) before making the bigger jump to Mexico City.  It made it more hectic on the Seattle end, the desire to spend a week with my family before leaving the country, but a transition period in beautiful blue sky Colorado was exactly what we needed --

....but it may be too late, minds may be lost for good

Being in Colorado is pure downtime after pure stress.  Now everything's been decided, whatever has been forgotten has been forgotten, our house and animals are in good hands with our superb house/petsitters, and we can say, "Meh, screw it" and go all limpy and soft in the warm Colorado sun while my mom makes my favorite lasagna.

My favorite part of being in Colorado, aside from the beautiful scenery just outside the back door of my parents' house, is watching my mother take half an hour to compose an email.  Things always go wrong for her on computers so she inevitably ends up saying things like, "Well for pete's sake, now everything's suddenly gone bold and it looks like I'm yelling at Bonnie."

I lie in wait to observe moments like that.  They make her who she is, and she is perfect.

I love it here. But the clock is ticking, and our comfortable loving cocoons of both Seattle and Colorado are closing up for now.  It's time to make the next leap.

(dammit, Coco, really?)

See you in Mexico City,

PS.  Before I go for real, a mini ode. Thanks for the daily laughs this week when I needed them badly, Mom and Dad.  You put the truly funny in my attempted funny, and have made me the happy oddball I am today.  You continue to inspire me with your senses of humor, love, mental fortitude, and unwavering cheerful support of all your children and grandchildren.

In the words of my Grandma J, "Well you're just a pleasure to have around...."

I will never look at a Dyson hand dryer
nor count sheep
ever the same again.
A week with them, with their desire to be constantly active, to move, their desire to love everything,
 always changes you for the better.
Hasta luego....