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.


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



Filed under Mexican Holidays, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

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.

mom teen 

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.



Filed under Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms

Online Prepa


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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Filed under Education, Parenting Challenges and Cultural Norms