Español dontchaknow

So this is the third summer we’ve vacationed in our home state Wisconsin. July is by far the best month in our beloved cheese state, and we can escape the humidity of Mayaguez while visiting family and keep some annual traditions.

Eager to practice mi español, I want to speak to strangers who I think speak it. The problem is, some people who look like Spanish speakers don’t speak Spanish, or aren’t Latino at all (my bad, Filipino guy. Sorry).  For example, my cousins-in-law who live in a small town adopted a Mexican girl who doesn’t speak much Spanish.  But people keep stopping her on the street and speaking Spanish to her. Kinda makes things awkward.  I like to avoid awkward.

At a swing dance a firefighter made an announcement for a charity event, and he mentioned his Spanish accent.  An obvious in, I spoke with him at the bar afterward and practiced my Spanish. Lo and Behold – he’s Puerto Rican.  His eyes lit up when I told him I lived there.  His family is from Bayamon, but he’s lived in Milwaukee a decade. Then his eyes got all confused and he asked, “Why do you live there??” haha

 

Home Depot checkout clerk’s apron boldly read, “Yo hablo Espanol!” Ah ha! I spoke Spanish to him too. Told him I live in PR. His eyes lit up, his family is from Utuado, PR. He called over to the lady cashier next to us – his sister! She got excited too.  Then he got all confused and asked, “Why do you live there??” haha

At Great America the cashier’s name tag said “Dominican Republic” under her name, and her eyes lit up when I spoke Spanish to her too.

So, when there was an obvious chance I took it. When it’s not obvious I’m a little more shy. If I hear others speaking Spanish around us I’m inspired to speak Spanish to my kids then too.  But I wonder if that’s weird from the other people’s perspective.  There’s a part of me that would like to be speaking Spanish to my kids before I hear others speaking it around us.  So it’s like, “Oh, I was just speaking Spanish to my kids like always, not because you’re around me.”  I’m so weird.  And I probably think too much.

 

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Fiestas de Cumpleaños 

I subscribe to Parents Magazine.  Recently they had these statistics:

This, along with comparisons to birthday parties we’ve been invited to, I fall deep into the minority.  12% spend less than $100 – I guess that’s where I fall. Last year my daughter wanted a Mickey Mouse pinata.  I totally made one by hand. It’s wasn’t all that pretty, but it delivered candy just fine.  I find cake decorating a fascinating challenge so they are always homemade.  Jeez, just cleaning the house and rearranging furniture for the party is a lot of work.

I’m going to sound old here – and say When I was a kid, we had pretty modest birthday parties. While my Mom did throw me parties, generally only 2-4 kids were invited, she made cake out of a box (maybe even serving it still in the pan), and there weren’t many gimmicks.  Maybe a homemade game, a sleepover, a sprinkler. Presents wrapped in newspaper comic sheets. But I LOVED it!  I still felt special. My friend Maggie’s mom made an awesome scavenger hunt for us once, leaving clues all over the neighborhood. Occasionally when we were older we might go bowling, or be let loose at my church fair.  But that was when I was like, 15.

1982 – My cousin Steve and I celebrated our 3rd birthdays together. This was the extent of the excitement haha

Certainly when I turned 5 or 6, it was a small affair. I remember being SO excited when I was gifted a box of 64 Crayons – with a sharpener in the back! It was such a hot gift, two different people gave it to me that year. A BOX OF CRAYONS! What would my kid say if I just gave them that nowadays?? Heavens to Betsy what would ANOTHER kid say if we brought that as a gift to their party?

I am quite impressed with the parties we attend here.  I generally have a great time, but my kids sometimes get overwhelmed, as do I.  I used to arrive early to help them acclimate, but it turned out to be too-early gringo time. Once my friend told me to arrive an hour later than the invite said – guess I had a reputation. haha

We’ve attended parties with bouncy houses (wet or dry), catering services such as cotton candy/popcorn/ make your own pizza, face painting, various arts and crafts, a pool with a hired lifeguard, and of course parties on location such as the beach, a water park, and Happyland. There are professional cupcakes surrounding the professional tiered cake, and goody bags (ok I think I got goody bags even as a kid). What work we parents put into these events!

Let me reiterate, we have super fun going to these. The birthday kids seems to love it too. My kids BEG for a bouncy house, but I’m going to be honest and say I love the fact our yard is too small, and I whip that excuse out every time they ask.

This was a particularly fun bouncy house. Even I went in it 🙂

I just can’t bring myself to go that lavish. Call me a cheapo. I don’t want to spend that much money, but I’m also afraid that my kids will be spoiled (sometimes I’m paranoid). But mostly cheap. Although, I’ll admit I enjoy making a ‘theme’ for their parties.

On another topic – it’s probably universal that a party has people who RSVP yes (like two days before) and then they don’t without explanation or apology, and act like nothing happened next time you see them? I’m done inviting them (happened 2x).  It’s not just me right? Do I smell? haha The best was at my girl’s 4th birthday when a Mom honestly told my daughter they didn’t have time to shop and handed her $20 in cash.  HA! I don’t judge, I actually think it’s really funny 😉

What are kids parties like other places? If they’re anything like Parent’s Magazine, I’ll be a cheapskate wherever I am haha

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Yauco

Los calles del Yauco eran tan empanada las aceras eran escaleras.

The streets of Yauco were so steep, the sidewalks were stairs.

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I heard Yauco, the southern town, had crazy looking stairs since the city was on such a steep hill.  We had to check it out last year.

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Trevor and I used Google maps to guess the approximate location of these famous stairways. When we got to the slightly scetchy neighborhood, we just drove around.

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Google maps said this was a nice street to drive down. NOT!

It was probably one of Trevor’s most unusual and focused drives.  And our poor car…

Cool colors!

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in the town

 

Yauco is a coffee town.  Yum! Below is a coffee tree sculpture.

Holding ears as the car with gigantic speaks rolled past

Coffee cup bike rack!

We found a nice cafe on the square. Slot machines and sandwiches! Perfect!

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Amigos and belonging

So, for the third year we’ve attended the end-of-year ceremonies for our kid’s school. Each kid gets a little certificate of completion. And it’s a big deal this year since the Montessori school has its first high school graduate! Cool!

Between the trees you can see the ocean


The first school event we attended was at this covered basketball court. Trevor and I (with our orbiting kids) barely knew anyone, weren’t sure who spoke English, weren’t good enough yet to really have a Spanish conversation, and accidentally sat with all the students because we didn’t know what to do.  I longed to have a tribe.

Well, I can safely say that we have one now.  I greeted at least 12 different parental groups with kisses on the cheek, held someone’s else’s baby, and had another 5 year old girl come and hold my hand, and understood a classmate when she ran over to tell me my daughter se cayó.  The other kids gathered around my girl making sure she was ok.  Heartwarming.

se cayo – she fell

I made plans for play dates and dinner parties. Parents thanked me for taking the school photos.  Speaking of which…

I had a sweaty blast taking the school photos a couple weeks ago.  High schoolers assisted me and taught me how to say espalda derecha! Straight back! Haha. I sat the kindergartners under the mango tree for shade. Later realizing I was lucky because it’s mango season and they tend to drop off the trees and bonk people on the head. !!!

waiting for the next preschooler, my high school assistant ready with the fill light. I don’t know how he wasn’t roasting in the sun. I was so hot and got sunburned!

the mango tree – not dropping mangos 🙂

I had a chance to chit chat with the teenagers. I like teens. I get along well with them.

Wow.  Three years have flown!

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Skate board park El Litoral

A fun place to take the kiddos biking is the skate board park on El Litoral in Mayaguez (that means the coast)

Step One: pretend that you can’t read the Spanish rules that say no bikes

Step Two: bike around! Go early. No skateboarders and not too hot out yet

Step Three: Ride down the ramp

Step Four: conquer the Volcano

Step Five: Cajole your kids into taking a perspective shot. Realize you have 10 seconds to take it because the sun is in their eyes and their legs are too short for the position

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Un disastre

Mayaguez is in a bit of a turmoil right now.  Though it seems to be nothing new according to people who have lived here longer than I.

First, the university students are on strike.  While I never heard of this sort of situation in a university before, apparently this occurred in Mayaguez in 2010 as well.  In that case, the students protested in early spring, causing a delay in classes which resulted in the spring semester being completed the following August and pushing back the start of the fall semester.

This is a complex subject I only know a minute amount about, but this year the students want the university to divulge where all it’s debt lies.  And odious task because I bet the university system doesn’t even know and would have to invest an absurd amount of money into investigating.  The uni wants to cut copious funding and even is considering closing down some of the PRU branches in the smaller cities along with firing significant staff.  So – the students strike, wanting accountability.

Half my friends are university professors so I try to ask them about this situation when I see them. Most are calmer than I would be, biding their time waiting for this to play out.  Some are frustrated, some rallying with the students. I think they all understand the students point, but are frustrated with everything. 

I since learned that professors are still getting paid

Last week about 50 students decided that it would be a good idea to take over a busy intersection near campus and stop traffic.  Oh, I’m so glad I wasn’t stuck in that. 

Anyway, my tutor was hoping to graduate in about three weeks from the Uni, then apply to their masters program.  All that’s on hold.  My other friend has a family trip to the other side of the planet in early summer, so hopefully those plans won’t become compromised.

Honestly, I’m glad I’m not in the middle of it.

Tres maneras de apoyar la UPR en tiempos de huelga

On another note, our garbage collection service hasn’t been paid by the city since November.  Understandably, they are mad and had to tell the city pay up or we can’t afford to collect anymore.  So the garbage in my neighborhood sat fermenting on our curbs for four extra days past the usual pick up date (the previous week’s collection was questionable but happened).

The Mayor’s solution? Fire the company to which it owed $$$$$ and hire a new company. Read below:

What a nice mayor! And good luck EC Waste Management with suing a broke city.

My massage therapist said all Puerto Ricans should be protesting. Because the situation all around as such a mess. My tutor called it ‘Un disastre”  Let’s see where this leads

The new company with white trucks. I’d ask for payment up front if I were them.

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The pressures and realities of raising bilingual kids

One of my reasons to move to Puerto Rico was so my kids could learn Spanish. A Bilingual school – or even a monolingual Spanish school – was extremely appealing. We found the perfect one.
Over the years, I’ve kept my list of short and long term goals in a binder. Repeatedly my lists include “become fluent in Spanish”.
If my kids and I don’t learn now, I’ll be adding “get over regret of lost opportunity to learn Spanish” on my future goal lists 🙁

Fast forward to now: two and a half years into our life here. My Spanish has improved exponentially and the kids continue to amaze me. But the trouble of having a bilingual ‘goal’ is that it’s completely ambiguous. Does that mean carrying on a conversation? I can do that. Keep up with a rowdy group of Spanish speakers at a party? well… depends on the topic but maybe next year I can check that off. My heart feels it means I can think and speak in Spanish without mapping out my sentence in my head. Converse quickly without thinking, mentally conjugating, and self doubting. And THAT seems a long way off. However, if you ask people who are monolingual English speakers, they would probably say I’m fluent enough.

As for the goal of my kids speaking Spanish? Even more subjective. They are little sponges, and so far haven’t resisted learning Spanish. I feel ebbs and flows, frustrations and pride. In Wisconsin I was around ONE other bilingual toddler (English/Italian). Here…sometimes I feel like every kid is more bilingual than mine.  And they all practice their English with my kiddos.  That’s why I like to hang out with the twins who speak only Spanish and French. Well, I also hang out with them because they’re really nice… 🙂

All these ideas cloud my mind daily. Nearly every time I say something to my kids in English the back on my mind tells me it’s a wasted opportunity to say it in Spanish.  Then the front of my mind realizes that I speak a ton in the subjunctive tense (ex: You should’ve finished your dinner, then you wouldn’t be hungry now.  I swerved the car otherwise I would’ve hit the dog) and I don’t know how to say my sentence in Spanish. I could take a moment a minute to muddle through it, check on Google translate, but by that time my kids have moved on, or dropped their crackers all over the car, or asked/demanded my attention for something else.  You know. Parenthood en general.

I’m a member of a parenting advice website, and on their facebook page a mother posted this:

While it doesn’t echo exactly what I feel, the sentiment behind never unclenching, feeling tense, and never fully present rings true. If I’m trying to use my full brain to think in a second language, then my full attention is not on my kids. If I’m letting my language practice slide in front of them, then the little voice sings, “wasted opportunity…” annoyingly in my head. Shut up you idiot. I’m doing the best I can.

I do appreciate the fact that they know WAY more Spanish than I ever did growing up.  And I need to remind myself that even if they aren’t babbling non-stop to their Spanish-speaking friends (which isn’t their personality anyway) they are developing a foundation for the language.  We use Spanish vocab for many routine parts of our lives – bedtime routine, school related routines, and they watch cartoons in Spanish.

And they are more and more bilingual every semester. I’m really proud. I want them to be able to take local classes, play with kids on the playground and know what their classmates are saying. So they don’t feel ostracized.

I’ve drafted this blog post over the last 4 months, and since then I’ve quit the bilingual parenting website. I did get good use out of it, but the $20 per month subscription made me heavy-hearted and regretful, and reminded me of when I got behind on school work.  Not a good feeling.

The website of advocated the one-parent one language approach if possible. Great! Trevor can speak English to them and I Spanish all the time!  ACK! THE PRESSURE! No way. Voluntary stress is not my hobby of picking up. You see, I need to ignore my little, nagging inner voice about only speaking Spanish when I answer my kid’s life questions, explain to them why we don’t steal or that we need to respect personal space, how long people live, etc.  Speaking Spanish to people who clearly understand English much better seems so artificial especially when I’m trying to create loving, connecting moments with my kids like when they ask why someone shot Martin Luther King, Jr. I just need to speak English then.

It’s a process not a race.  Daily I release anxiousness, guilt and stress about the pace of progress for all of us.  What’s the use of feeling those? They are not motivating, but debilitating.  And make me a worse mother.  This is not just a language journey but a life journey as well.

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Museo del Mar

A cute little Maritime Museum is located right in Old San Juan. We needed to pass some time before the air show last fall so we checked it out. 

Real pieces of eight!

Pirate stuff. What’s not to love?

An great opportunity to teach your kid about maritime war tactics

 Clean, well done, bilingual placards,informative, inviting bathrooms. You should go! You only need about 30-45 minutes to leisurely see it all. 

Baño signs

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Abandoned airplane

Continuing our pursuit of all things aviation we finally found the elusive abandoned airplane in Aguadilla. I say elusive because a Google search yielded spotty information as to the whereabouts and how-to’s of how to view this ghost of a plane. So here’s the scoop: 

Park at this Puma station and walk into the fenced area next to it. Ignore the no trespassing sign. Wear socks and closed toe shoes because the grass can be long. But the plane itself is only about 50 yards from the road! 

There’s even a sturdy ladder near the back. We took turns ascending, even the kiddos.

I wasn’t going to climb into the aircraft at first because there was a high creep factor. But there was graffiti aplenty inside so I knew I wasn’t the first to risk it. And well, I can model safe behavior for my kids another day. Haha. In I went.



Trevor encouraged me to investigate the cockpit. Gee, was the folding chair part of the original design? Haha The creep factor increased exponentially here but the faint smell of urine didn’t let my mind reel out of control.



I immediately started brainstorming a photoshoot here. Oh yes, that would be cool.

For anyone who wants to research the origins of this plane, here’s the placard:

My Mom

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March Marbete Madness

Every year you need to get a new sticker for your windshield. It requires an inspection of your vehicle and waiting around. It’s dreadful. But last year my neighbor helped me out so this year I felt prepped. And I was certain that I didn’t have any toll road fines and my daughter was now in school so I shouldn’t end up crying at the DMV like I did the first year. Let’s go!

Inspection station


What’s a couple more minutes of waiting for the inspector to help move something out of the gas station?


There’s a marbete inspection spot at a gas station near the mall. It’s a glorified tent. You pull in, give the guy the papers your insurance company sent you in the mail, hand him a pile of official looking papers from your glove compartment (cause you can’t understand which one he needs exactly). He disappeares into his little office. Then he reminds you that you have until the 31st to get this done (in other words, why are you doing this in the 8th?) 

Five minutes later you pay and you realize that the ‘inspection’ didn’t even include him looking at your vehículo whatsoever. No light check, no exhaust check like the last two years. Maybe I look like the type that maintains my car well? (This explains a lot about why there are so many cars with blue plumbs billowing behind them on the road even tho yearly ‘inspections’ are necessary. 


For reasones I don’t understand the gas station can’t give my my new marbete sticker. I have to go to the CESCO (DMV). I knew this, so there I went. 

The parking lot was delightfully empty-ish but my optimism was squashed when inside I saw the line I needed was still 17 people deep. No prob. I had an hour before my yoga class

Fast forward a half hour and a lady hands me a triplicate form to fill out. Ok. I do. Then she looks at one of my many papers and tells me I need to go to another line to get a new paper. NOT THIS AGAIN! Since there is no one in that other line I don’t panic. That dude just needs my license then prints me a new sheet. I have no idea what this is for. 

Door to the office with signs reminding people to use manners haha


But I skip to the front of my first line and finally get seen. I wish I could take a photo of this office. But there’s about three signs admonishing anyone from using their phones or taking photos. There’s also a sign that reminds people that the magic word is gracias and that it’s polite to say disculpe when interrupting someone. Hahaha!

The lady at the desk informed me that I didn’t need to fill out the form in triplicate that I was handed so that’s now my souvenir. She also told me I have until the 31st do so this. (Why so early gringa?) I paid with my Visa, scoot outta there. I can now look forward to scraping off my old marbete. 

Only an hour and half of my time! And no tears! A success!

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