Category Archives: Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

Birthday Boy

My son turned 16 in May. We opted to invite some of the family over for a cookout.  It went better than I expected. As you’ll see, Mexico does its own thing when it comes to birthdays.

In the morning, just at dawn, my husband and I crept into my son’s room to “dar el remojo” (give the soaking). Instead of birthday spankings, water is dumped on the birthday boy or girl. Way before the Catholic church arrived to baptize the indigenous people, rain was the blessing given by the gods. El cumpleaños (anniversary of completing years rather than the day you were born) deserves some liberal blessing libations, don’t you think? Of course, my son sputtered and flopped about like a drenched chicken, but a little water never hurt anyone (except the Wicked Witch of the West but she isn’t known here in Mexico).

In the afternoon, after we ate all the tacos we could eat, it was time for the cake. Instead of singing “Happy Birthday” the traditional song is “Las Mañanitas” which is also sung on Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, the Virgin of Guadalupe’s day and saints’ days. It’s a pretty song used for serenading. Typically, only the first verse is sung at birthdays followed by a coro (cheer) “A la bim, a la bam, a la bim bom bam, (name of the person, name of the person) Ra, ra, ra.” As it’s all nonsense, no translation is needed. Remember, in Mexico, more often than not, your birthday and the day to honor the Saint for which you were named are the same day, thus “el dia de tu santo” (your saint’s day) in the song still applies although it is sometimes altered to “tu cumpleaños.”

Las Mañanitas (1)

Despierta (nombre de la persona) despiertaPasó el tiempo de dormirYa los gallos muy contentos cantaron kikirikiYa viene amaneciendoya la luz del dia nos dió.Levantarte de la mañana,miAfter the singing, the chant begins “Que le sople. Que le sople.” encouraging the birthday boy or girl to blow out the candle. The next step is “Que le muerda. Que le muerda.”  The birthday boy/girl is instructed to take a bite out of the cake which inevitably results in a face plant when someone attacks from behind. Then the chant changes to “Que le parta. Que le parta.” indicating it is time for the cake to be cut and served. 

Breaking a piñata at a birthday party is typically only found at parties for the very young, and well-to-do families, or so says my husband.  Considering he came from a family with 11 children, it really wouldn’t have been affordable to have a piñata for every child’s birthday, so I can see his point. We have had piñatas in the past, but not this year. For the same reason, giving birthday gifts isn’t one of my husband’s family’s traditions. Thus, this was my son’s lone b-day present all decked out in Spiderman, for old times sake.

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So there you have it–the low-key event marking my son’s 16th birthday.

 

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Thank you Mom

Today I thought I write about my mom. I know she knows that I love her, but I don’t think she realizes how much of who I am today is because of her.

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When my brother and I were kids, we had this mammoth garden.  Well, it seemed mammoth at the time, 2 football stadiums long at least.  During growing season, every weekend and all summer long, we were supposed to go out and weed a row or two.  We also watered the plants bucket by bucket every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening.  Being older and wiser than my brother, I always tried to get my weeding done before 9 am because it was hotter after that.  Whereas, my brother was just rolling out of bed at 9 am and grumped about, sometimes never even getting around to weeding his row.  Hmm, I wonder who was the smarter one after all?  Anyway, those gardening skills sure have been useful trying to eek out an existence here in Mexico over the years.  Thank you, mom.

My mom paid $5 every Monday for me to take piano lessons for 6 years.  I bellyached and complained about practicing and tried to skate through each Monday’s lesson knowing I could have played better had I just spent a little more time banging out songs during the week.  My brother and mom would disappear someplace during that very long 30 minutes and sometimes were late picking me up and I had to wait hours in the cold, shivering (or at least it seemed like hours, it was probably only 5 minutes or so) for them to come and get me.  My piano has provided me endless hours of comfort since.  Thank you, mom.

My mom would take my brother and me for these endless bike rides, or at least they seemed to last that long.  She’d fill up her basket with wildflowers or maybe a cluster of wild grapes or elderberries.  Our rides often passed the Women’s penitentiary and one time the police came to investigate thinking my mom in her striped purple polyester pants had escaped the compound. While the mountains hereabouts aren’t really bike friendly, I have been known to drag my husband and son on wildflower excursions.  Thank you, mom.

While we had a dryer, more often than not our washed clothes were hung out on the line.  The sun-kissed bed linens were just the thing to snuggle into at night. If was often my job to either hang or bring in the clothes. I am proud to say that here in Mexico, where a dryer is a rarity and everybody hangs stuff out, my clotheslines are a work of art.  You wouldn’t believe how many items I can get to dry on one line.  Another useful skill.  Thank you, mom.

Eight grade Home Ec was a nightmare.  I just could not get the seams to run straight.  My mom spent extra time helping me fix my sewing mistakes and then over the summer, she had me learn how to run her old Singer sewing machine.  I won’t say that it was my favorite memory–those hot, frustrating afternoons!  Only, yet again, it has been a useful ability in my life in Mexico even if my seams still aren’t quite straight.  Thank you, mom.

As an awkward teenager, my mom took the time to help me find makeup that complimented my coloring and clothes that flattered my figure.  We scoured Goodwill and clearance racks looking for quality material, then bought shoes and earrings to create outfits that bolstered my confidence.  While I don’t wear much makeup these days, when I do, I use the same techniques my mother taught me.  And while I don’t do much shopping either, I know how to search out quality and have used that skill to clothe my family.  Thank you, mom.

Things aren’t so easy here in Mexico, as you might well imagine.  Sometimes it’s downright difficult. When a friend commented that she admired the strength and grace with which I was able to deal with adversity, I told her I had learned it from my mom.  So thank you, mom, for all that you did to create the woman and mother than I have become.  Thank you for giving me my independence and teaching me how to create a life of beauty even in the middle of nowhere.  I couldn’t have done it without you.

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Online Prepa

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Remember how part of my transition year included the fact that my son would no longer be attending school in town?  Well, he’s been enrolled 5 months now and here’s how that is going.

At the end of July, we headed down to the UVEG office in Moroleon in order to enroll my son in the online Preparatoria program.  He needed to actually take the entrance exam there in the office, I suppose to reduce the chance of cheating.  Well, as I didn’t need to be there, I dropped him off and went shopping.  I went back later to pick him up and the supervisor said that he had left some time earlier because he wasn’t able to take the examination.  Why wasn’t he able to take the exam?  Well, I set it up so that notifications from UVEG get sent to my Gmail account, not his and he didn’t know my password to get the link for the exam.  Well, alrighty then.

So we tried again the next day.  I waited this time.  I brought my Kindle and twirled around in a computer chair for about 2 hours while he completed the exam.  He tested out of the Introduction to Spanish course, but didn’t do so well in the other sections, well, he passed, but not enough to opt out of those sections of the course entirely.

So his first course online was Introduction to Computer Science.  Seems like a good one to start with.  Only he found it tediously boring.  When it came time to take the exam, he missed an entire section (because it was boring) and failed.  He had the option to do an extra credit activity (for a fee of course) and passed with a 77.  

The second online course was Online Classroom Study Techniques.  Again, this seemed like a good course, even helpful perhaps?  But just like the first course, he found it BORING!  He procrastinated and then the last day to turn in the exam he had made plans with friends, so rushed through it and guess what?  Failed again.  He did the extra credit activity and passed with a 70.

You can probably guess that I wasn’t a happy camper at this point.  As an incentive, I drew up a potential income chart.  If he scored above a 90, he would earn 500 pesos.  An 80 would earn him 200 pesos.  No earnings for grades in the 70s.  Anything below that, woe betide him.  He must reimburse me for the retake fees.  AND he would not be allowed to say at the little house in Sunflower Valley overnight until he brought his grades up.

The third online course was Mathematical Reasoning and he bellyached about that, but the first week he completed 70 percent of the course. He was doing well.  He had 80-100% correct answers on his activities.  Then he let it slide.  He logged on to complete the final section, worth 25% of his grade to find out that the course had closed the previous day, 3 days early, due to technical problems with the site.  So he failed AGAIN!

For some reason we couldn’t register for the recuperation activity, site problems I guess. So he would have to take the course over again.  

The next class was Text Analysis, not his favorite by a long shot. Upon registration,  I really emphasized that he needed to complete the course sooner rather than later.  The whole point of doing this online course bit is for him to learn how to manage his time effectively.  So far he hasn’t mastered that particular skill. If he learns something from the actual course he is taking, well that’s a bonus.  Call me crazy but time management would be something to excel at before taking more extensive(and expensive) courses.  I also threatened to send him to the downtown computer lab to do his school work daily.  If there are too many distractions (Minecraft, Facebook, Whats App) for him at the little house, well then, time to move to a distraction-free monitored zone.

This time, he really applied himself even though I know this was his least favorite course so far.  The report card came and he passed with a 71 the first time around. No extra activities needed, no redoing the entire course.  Yipee!  As a reward, the prohibition to staying at the little house in Sunflower was lifted. He now could choose one night to stay overnight per week.  IF he passed the next course, he’d be allowed to stay 2 nights.

December brought a redo of Mathematical Reasoning.  Since he had done well with the material the first time around, he rushed to completion a full week ahead of schedule.  He double and triple checked that 100% of the course activities had been submitted and we waited for the grade. 79.  Much better!

So, over the holidays, there aren’t any classes scheduled.  Wanting to get a jump on the new year, we went to register for his next class, English (he’d better pass this one) and much to my delight, beginning in 2018, all online preparatorio classes are free in the state of Guanajuato.  Oh, happy day!  I feel less guilty about quitting the book reviewer job now.  Of course, if my son fails and needs to do extra credit activities, there’s a fee involved but he must reimburse me according to the rules above.  He’s currently 14% through his total studies.  Considering that his classmates who continued their education at the local prepas will only be 25% through their studies next July, I think he’s making good progress.

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Herbalism Courses for all levels

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Secondary Graduation

the grad

This week the kids in our area head back to school.  I am delighted to say that neither myself nor my son is a part of that throng.  Instead, I am going to take a few minutes to talk about the last stage of my son’s education, secondary graduation.

Perhaps it was partly due to my son’s lack of interest in the proceedings, or perhaps it was that I didn’t know what was expected, being a foreigner and all, in any case, we didn’t get the invitation to the special after-ceremony dinner, so our whole experience was cut short, but not by much.  It was a LONG, drawn-out affair.

The day started early for us as the animals needed attending before we went anywhere.  Then there was the showers and the fixing up process.  Since my son became a teenager, this stage of the morning routine is agonizing in length.  Once we were all ready, we hopped into the truck and headed to the salon (hall).  We arrived in plenty of time and stood around with the hoards of people milling around the entrances.  

I handed the family invitation to the doorman and he said something about my husband needing to go around to the other door.  We paid him no mind, having no IDEA what he was talking about.  We found some seats and sat down.  

banner

Nothing in Mexico ever starts on time so we did some people watching.  Each of the 10 (yes ten) graduating classes had a lona (banner) with a blown up version of their class picture.  We were quite near 3F’s display and could clearly see my handsome son.  I don’t know why they had such a fit that he wore a red tie instead of a brown tie.  Some of the boys didn’t even have ties on.  In any event, the shadowing of the photo made his red tie look brown.  We did, however, get a brownish tie for today’s graduation ceremony.  Geez!  Ties are expensive!

After about 45 minutes, the show finally got on the road with the presentation of the invitados de honor (the important people that sit on the stage).  Much to our surprise, the president of Moroleon was the guest of honor.  Even more surprising, his daughter attends the school my son goes to, which is a PUBLIC school.  Most of the well-to-do send their kids to private schools. So this really was something.  There was some blah-blahing about recent renovations to the school and the funding for those renovations, thanks to the president.  None of this concerned us since my son was graduating and wouldn’t be a beneficiary.

Suddenly, I realized that I shouldn’t be there sitting in the parent section, but standing with my son as “madrina” (godmother).  Customarily, someone outside the family is asked to perform this function.  I figured that since I took my son to school every morning, made sure he had a clean uniform and finished most of his homework, I was the most qualified to stand as madrina.  Only, I had entered as a parent and now didn’t know where my son was.  

I spent 15 frantic minutes crossing back and forth looking for his group, asking people that seemed in charge, only to be sent back to where I had just come from.  Finally, I located my son, no mean feat in a sea of identically clad teenagers and took up my position.  Being on the short side, meant I was unable to see much of anything.

Eventually, we all marched forward.  My job as madrina was to escort my son to his seat, which I managed to do quite well thank you very much.  Then I was supposed to sit in the specially set aside madrina/padrino section.  Thinking I could just get by if I followed the padrino in front of me, that’s what I did.  Only he ended up some other place and I had to march in FRONT of the stage to get to my seat.  My son said I was so short that nobody noticed that faux pax as my head didn’t even clear the stage floor.  I scampered along and managed to get the seat right in front of the speakers.

chicken marching

The next item on the program was the himno nacional (national anthem) and the passing of the flag from the graduating honor guard to the next level down.  This is quite a big deal.  There are formal words that need to be recited.  The flag has to be presented in a certain way.  And the departing group must leave in a dignified manner, well it would be dignified if they actually had sabers strapped on.  All very military.  Only no one took into account that the flag might get caught in the white drapey decorations, which is what happened.  And personally, I thought the elbows out march looked a bit like a chicken walk.  But again, I’m not Mexican so perhaps the solemnity of the situation escaped me.

stepping forward

After everyone involved in the flag exchange was gone, the first of the 10 (yes, ten) graduating classes was called up on stage.  The teacher read off the attendance list.  Each student was to take a step forward and call out “presente” when they heard their names.  After which, the teacher called out a last group attendance call, and all students took a second step forward with one last “presente.”  Of course, some groups were rather large, my son’s class had 39 graduating students,  and this second step nearly was the end of a few of the teachers teetering on the stage edge.

final class step forward

After everyone in the group was accounted for, the jefe del grupo (prefect) was called to the head mucky-muck table to shake hands and receive the pack of class documents.  My son is the jefe del grupo of 3F.  Instead of leaving the stage, walking around to the back steps and going up them to the raised tier where the important people table sat, my son, with his long legs, just climbed up a tier, shook some hands, accepted the documents, and hopped down the same way.  His short round teacher had to go the long way around.

photo op with pres

Then there was the group photo shoot with the school director and the president of Moroleon.  After that happy event, students filed offstage.

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In between group presentations, there were several entertainment segments.  Some of the teachers prepared a “surprise” dance routine that began as Thriller zombies and then morphed into a soulful rendition of Despacito with some getting jiggy with it moves to round it all out.  I totally was not expecting zombies at the graduation ceremony. There was also a dramatic recitation or two by students and a song by a rather talented curly haired sophomore.  

marching on stage

My son’s group was the last of the 10 (yes, ten) graduating classes.  Just when we thought it was over, there was the awards ceremony.  Highest promedio (grades), special participation in events throughout the year, and so on.  Not only were the awards for the graduating students, but also for the other two grades.  The president’s daughter received a certificate of some sort, so there was more picture taking which made it even LONGER.

Then the school principal took the stage.  More blah-blah.  And another artistic performance by a girl from each of the 10 (yes, ten) graduating classes.  By that time, people were getting restless.  The graduation misa (mass) was supposed to start at 12 pm and the madrinas and padrinos were filing out like sheep to make it to the church on time.  But it’s not over until the fat lady says “clausura oficial” literally.  The students hurried through the Himno a la escuela (school song) so that fat lady could make the pronouncement.

Not being Catholic and all, we opted out of the special mass and went for tacos instead. Much to our astonishment, the president of Moroleon also stopped at this same roadside taco stand and congratulated my son before sitting down at the next table with all his entourage (and daughter).  They serve some pretty good tacos there!

good conduct certificate

So for all that rigamarole, the folder my son was given contained nothing more than a certificado de buena conducta (Good behavior certificate).  His official diploma I had to download from the SEP site and print out myself the following week, which I did.  He needed it to enroll in his next course of study–Online Prepa!

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