About 6 months ago, after strong encouragement from my husband, I took advantage of an irresistible airline sale and bought a ticket to go visit my mom…alone…with no kids…nada…solo.
The date seemed so far away back then, and suddenly…like an avalanche, time closed in on me. I never even discussed the trip with the kids (I always give them a fair warning when I leave for a trip).
I also forgot to put it down on the family calendar on our bulletin white board…where all important (and some unimportant) events are announced.
My daughter had her birthday a day before my trip, so the idea of packing and running last minute errands was out of the question. Instead I spent all afternoon assisting in a Paint your own T-shirt project, setting up a dance performance (with young judges critiquing and announcing if each dancer passed the test or not), making bacon wrapped hot dogs and finally, cutting cake. There were gymnastics and Krav Maga lessons to end the afternoon; when I took a deep breath at 7pm and felt the itch of starting to pack, I realized there was no milk, ham and cinnamon rolls that I had promised my daughter for the weekend…the weekend I would be gone.
I ended up going to the store that night. My husband helped out with dinner and the evening routine, so I was able to start packing at 8pm.
When my kids saw the suitcase sitting on my bed, they were close to offended because this time they were not invited to come with me.
I explained that this time I needed to go alone to spend some quality time with my mom.
I was done packing in an hour, after my daughter came to offer help packing. She said “the faster you finish the more time you can be with me”.
So we watched TV for a while and we chatted and we said prayers.
She thanked me profusely for her little birthday party and though a little bit sad, she was content when she went to sleep.
The next day I woke up at 6:30am, same as my clockwork son.
I left my room to snuggle up with him and as he made a tiny sliver of room in his twin size bed for me (he and his 3 ft. Teddy bear uses up most of the space), he said…“you can’t just suddenly leave, you know”. He demanded a 10 minute back rub, which I happily delivered, and afterwards he appeared to forgive my sudden trip and asked for a “private breakfast”. This is what he calls a very early breakfast in which only us two are invited.
We had eggs, bacon and chocolate milk and talked about the video games on his new 3ds (which he purchased with his cat-sitting money). I normally understand a third of his very animated conversations, in which characters, health, power, accessories, decor, team members and loyalty are talked about. All these, within the confines of his little screen worlds.
I arrived in Monterrey that evening, and the moist hot air hit me the moment I stepped out of the Airport. My Dad, at 71, still makes me nervous with his fast driving, but he refused to let me drive. So while I appreciated the warm welcome and the ride home, the 45 minute drive was a bit stressful.
I spent the next 4 days so leisurely it was hard to sit still. I am just not used to it, not having a routine, a plan, a meal to cook, some chores to finish, kids to deal with. I have to say, I really enjoyed it.
Every visit to the home where I grew up brings back many, many memories. The very smell of the house, of the kitchen. The sounds the dining room chairs make when we drag them to sit or push them in after a 30 minute chat when the meals are over (“sobremesa”).
This family time which seems to drag on after lunch and dinner, was what I enjoyed and miss the most.
Whenever we visit, we still do it: we eat dessert with all the calm in the world, we drink coffee as we swat persistent blood thirsty mosquitoes under the table, we reminisce over childhood memories, we pick on the variety of cookies, pastries or regional desserts my mom ALWAYS has, occasionally a family friend will stop by and visit, if not we eventually give in to our aching backs that are screaming for a break.
I don’t ever remember a lunch or dinner when right after we ate, we stood up to leave. It was almost rude and only acceptable is someone was sick or in a rush to get back to work.
Lunch break in Mexico can be anywhere between 1 and 2 hours, so the “sobremesa” is almost part of the lunch break.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to implement this at home. I try, but it is not so easy when your kids are still young and jumpy and they spend half the time arguing and competing for attention.
My daughter takes quite a bit of time to start her meals; then some more to eat, and some more to finish up and clear her place. This stretched out meal time, serves the rest of us to chat and talk about our day, but it is more a consequence than a planned savored deal.
Back to my trip, I went to have coffee with my mother and friends (average age 68- I was the baby). I almost always go with them when I visit. I do enjoy listening the perspective of women that have walked the path I am headed to, that have traveled quite a bit, that have lost loved ones, that though live in a modern and affluent society, still have the customs and values of the 50’s and 60’s.
It amazes me to see them on their smart phones, showing each other their grand kids, their travel shoots. How much that generation has seen, learned and how many technological obstacles overcome!
Sometimes I try to understand how the Morse code translated into messages that were to be printed into the form of a telegram, or how the screechy sound of a fax is able to transmit an image. How DVD’s contain a movie or how a chip the size of my Pinky fingernail can hold as much information as a computer.
During my stay, my parents and I went to our favorite Lebanese Restaurant, which only serves on Wednesdays and Sundays. It is Buffet style so the amount of food that I put in my mouth is usually sinful- and I never regret it.
This food reminds me of my Grandmother’s Sisters who prepared all these Lebanese delights every single Sunday; all those summers I spend in Chihuahua, were marked as weeks that ended in this Family Sunday, where abundant food, abundant noise and plenty of cigarette smoke where all part of the feast. And not to forget, the coffee cup readings that my Aunt Jeannett did for family and friends.
The smell of Turkish coffee is sealed in my mind almost as heavily as the cigarette smoke.
So I wonder, if it’s the Lebanese food that I love, or the memories attached to it that bring such pleasure. Judging by the number of Stuffed Grape Leafs I had, I have to say, I do love the food.
I only get the luxury of visiting my parents 2 or 3 times a year, so the signs of our aging (theirs and mine) are more evident. Just like the house itself, crying for paint here and there, or a loose wood plank begging to be replaced, both my parents and I show our signs, in our own way. My mom used to to marathon-shopping and back to back movies in the Theatre. My Dad used to be able to walk for quite a while at the mall, the park, anywhere. He used to walk so fast, I had a hard time keeping up.
I used to go out and party ‘til the sun was coming up. I used to sleep in, soundly.
Now my mom’s eyes are like windows that show you exactly how tired she is every moment. My Dad’s pace when he walks begs you to slow down for him. His driving, though fast, is more reckless.
Me? I went out on 2 occasions with friends, once ‘til 2 am another ‘til 3. After that, my voice sounded hoarse like I was sick for almost a week and I could not stop yawning for days, despite the copious amounts of coffee I drank.
The city itself also shows signs of aging. The streets and avenues clearly cannot keep up with the population’s growth. The excessive rain takes a toll on roads and buildings, but also has made the parks and mountains more lush and green. The mountains in Monterrey are majestic and imposing; I have to see them with my own eyes to remember this. No photo does justice to their beauty.
The small skinny trees that were planted in the park across from my parents’ house have grown taller and thicker, providing the park with a welcoming shade for joggers and children. One afternoon, observing the park, I couldn’t help but remember one hard fall I had while riding a bike, when the park was still bare and we considered it “off-road”. There were dirt ramps that my cousins and I would ride really fast in order to go airborne and land a good 5 feet below. I realized that I was more of a tomboy than I thought. 🙂
I remember landing on my face after jumping off the ramp, on a purple bike NOT made for off-roading. I still remember the stinging when someone at home cleaned the dirt off my cheek and forehead with antiseptic. I must have been 10 or so.
Every time I visit I wonder if I could ever go back, for good. To live there permanently with my husband and kids. Unfortunately my answer is always no. One gets used to everything, they say. Wherever life, work, or family takes you, you survive, so yes, we would all survive, but the longer I live in California, the more foreign I feel in my own hometown.
I see too many people trapped in a social stereotype, in a shell they would love to break and can’t. Trapped in a life style they can’t afford or in a set of values they don’t necessarily believe in.
Trapped in a corrupt economic and political system they despise and yet, either don’t care to change or have tried fruitlessly, or are too afraid because of fear of reprisal.
I see a county with poverty that breaks me to look at, so I choose to help form a distance. I see a country with millions of people still carrying the oppression of the Spanish Conquistadores in their attitudes, in their insecurity, on their lack of self-esteem.
About a year ago, I stood in line for 90 minutes to cross the border by foot. Almost when I was reaching the US, a group of teenagers cut the line and stood just a few feet in front of me. Just like that. I felt my back pulsating in pain after all the time standing, and my feet swollen, and could not believe my eyes and how ballsy these people had been. I looked around me to see if anyone reacted, nothing…
I started yelling at them, demanding they got out of the line and calling them names. Then I looked at the people close to me, who had clearly seen it all, and questioned them. “Why don’t you say anything? Why do you allow them to do this? Is this what you are teaching your kids?”- some adults had kids with them.
No one spoke. The kids eventually left the line and I was enraged by the lack of backbone of the crowd. I finished by saying to them “That is why Mexico is where it is, you need to speak up!”
A minute later I plugged my headphones in and decided to shut up before I got shot by a Narco from Tijuana. I had kids waiting at home, but I had made my point.
The days that followed, this haunted me and saddened me; I realized that Mexico carries history heavily in its current generations, carries resentment and the feeling of abuse and inferiority.
The higher, affluent class, can feel otherwise because “things” can be bought, rules don’t necessarily count if you have the money.
But I also see hope. And optimism and a fight for justice, from a class that is empowered and that is tired of the abuse and the lies. An educated group of young individuals who are willing to sacrifice a lot to defend the rights of the people. I just hope these leaders don’t give up. Mexico is a beautiful and rich country – it deserves better.
During this trip, I took the time to visit my Mom’s sister. She is one of the most generous women I know, generous with her time, her heart, her whole person. I admire her greatly and felt fortunate to get a couple of hours of her undivided attention. After catching up on family matters, we walked through her library (she is a writer, editor, publicist and who knows what else I might be missing) in search of a book she wanted to give me for my birthday. Along the way, she showed me a phrase I hand wrote and glued on a cutout cardboard for her; it spoke about the art of redacting, as in composing. The ink is fading, but I recognized my 20 year old handwriting. I don’t remember where I copied the phrase from, but it really moved me to see that in the busy life, busy house and busy library of this amazing woman, there was room for a 20 year old simple gift. It made me think of how easily I let go off “things” (I fear hoarding and hoarders). It made me realize how little things can mean something bigger later in life.
Back to my trip again, I felt grateful for these 5 days with my mom and dad, for their time, for their love and their foot and back rubbing (my Dad gives the best foot rub).
For the memories that almost come back to life. For the faithful cook, Licha, that has been with them for over 40 years. For those friends who show such affection and interest in my life and my family, and make an effort to come see me when I am in town.
I left on the 6th day, early in the morning, with the much hated sound of my suitcase rolling out of the room. I really do hate this sound. It means good bye. It means lump in my throat. It means my mom trying her best not to cry. It means too sick to my stomach to eat breakfast, even though I am hungry.
I flew back tired and yawning but with a rested and happy soul, and was greeted at home by my kids with Welcome Home paintings (that was my daughter, of course) and unusually tight hugs and kisses.
My heart feels divided sometimes. Times like this.
It feels good to be home, and to be back home.