I Am the Wife of an Immigrant

A month ago my husband Billy took a job in San Diego. He got on a place a couple days later and said a temporary good-bye to Ella and me and BBQ#2.

It's a long story, which I won't go into, but suffice it to say my husband has been working or volunteering at odd jobs for the last four years while continually searching for full-time, sustainable employment. This employer in San Diego has been offering hi this position for nearly three years. With a new baby on the way, we had a conversation and Billy decided, "I gotta go."

There's a documentary called The Other Side of Immigration that remains back with the families and communities that are "left behind" when men venture to the States to work. I have been thinking about that film repeatedly this month. I am the wife of an immigrant.

What surprised me about this experience was not the increased workload without a partner. I have a sweet community who quickly and eagerly rose up to offer support. And working hard is simply life... taking out the trash, doing the dishes, getting me and my daughter where we need to go, working, doing laundry. It's exhausting, but it's life. Plenty of people manage day-to-day details on their own.

Nor was I overwhelmed by my sadness of Billy being absent. I know I would miss having him around to make me laugh (and provide good material for blog posts). And I fully expected to eagerly await his return. I also anticipated the incessant "Papi?... Where Papi?" questions I did receive from Ella.

No. What snuck up on me unexpectedly was the wave of sadness I felt that the city I love and call home couldn't find a place for my husband. I felt betrayed... not by individuals... but by a place that I have loved for more than a decade.

And then I kept thinking... what's that feel like when it's your country of origin? When the place where you were born... the country that you know and love... cannot find a place for you to work and live? It's a very sad emotion... and I'm not even sure I can articulate it well. Disappointment, betrayal, abandonment? I can't find the right word.

But my heart has been with immigrant families this month. Those that don't have the luxuries we have had of video chats, texting, phone calls, and the security that Billy will not be arrested, murdered, or left to die in the desert. (I mean, I guess those are always risks... but I think you feel my point.)

Our original plan was that Billy would remain in San Diego for 3-6 months. (Billy kept saying six, and I kept saying, "Lets' re-evaluate after three.") But... in the mysterious ways of the Lord... Billy was offered a full time job in Atlanta this past weekend. And he is flying home today! We give praise to God!

And our hearts still pray for families who cannot be reunited so easily. Those who are apart 3 months, 8 years, and longer to be able to provide for their families. It is not easy leaving, and it is not easy being left behind.

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A Little Birdy Made Me Smile

I was picking Ella up from school when I found a bird coloring sheet in her cubby. I pulled it out and (despite the fact that it had another child’s name on it) hung onto it.

What struck me was the typed name of the bird: “Quetzal.” The national bird of Guatemala and the namesake of their currency.

I took the picture to her teachers to ask about it. Naturally, they assumed I was concerned about the fact that it wasn’t my child’s coloring page. I (hopefully nicely) said that was fine… that I throw away Ella’s art anyway. (Mom of the Year…) But I wanted to know about the quetzal.

They told me the kids colored them in Spanish class.

 I was so touched.

The landslide majority of kids at Ella’s school are not Latino. Still, they are all in there coloring pictures of the quetzal. As the mother of my little Guatemalan-American daughter, I was just so deeply touched.

I am so grateful for preschools that offer Spanish and teach kids about other countries and the world around them. My kid doesn’t have to be the only one who knows what a quetzal is. That’s a special gift. (I mean… let me be clear… I recognize that a group of 2 year olds probably didn’t retain complex bird names. Still… that’s not the point here.)

Nationwide, there are always parents pushing back against multicultural education or bilingual teaching. And I am just thankful for schools and teachers who forge ahead and offer Guatemalan coloring sheets to a room full of American kiddos.

Thoughts on multicultural education? What projects on other cultures have your children brought home?

Convenient Elimination

A little while back I was walking into a Wendy’s and a man I presumed to be homeless held the door open for me. He didn’t ask for money. It’s a sight with which I am familiar.

After many years of living in cities, I am used to men offering to wash my windshield while I go inside to return a DVD (remember when people used to rent DVDs at a store?). I am not surprised when folks offer directions when I look too much like a tourist. And I’m familiar with someone holding open the door as I enter a fast food restaurant. In general, tips are expected and appreciated.

The practice makes sense to me. In general, people want the dignity of having earned their income. There are exceptions of course, but we were designed to work and most people want to work in some form or fashion.

What struck me about the man outside Wendy’s was that when I encountered him, I had recently returned from Guatemala. And there, I have experienced several fast food establishments where an employee or security guard actually stands near the door and opens it for customers. It is a job.

The time I’ve spent in other countries, I’m often intrigued by the high volume of people I interact with by simply living life.

In Argentina, for example, with no washer or dryer, we took our clothes to the laundry mat. Unlike the DIY United States' version, we handed a duffel bag through the window where a woman (who quickly grew to know us) washed, dried, and folded our clothes for us.

Public transportation in Buenos Aires is incredible. On the rare occasions that a bus or train wouldn’t meet our needs, we had our cab driver’s phone number. We would call Gabriel to come pick us up.

Guatemala City doesn’t have comparable public transit, so we do drive. However, when we stop at a gas station, someone always pumps our gas. It’s a job.

I recognize that all these services are available to the upper class in the States and that they are not affordable to all in these countries where we have experienced them. However, I am fascinated by the volume of jobs I encounter internationally. In the States, I always wash and fold my own clothes, clean my own house, drive my own car, and pump my own gas.

Our American values of total independence, mass convenience, and low prices have the unfortunate side effect of eliminating jobs. I couldn’t stop thinking about this fact after the man opened the door for me to leave Wendy’s.

Photo credit: Elvis Santana

Bilingual Mini-Milestone

I may be playing it fast and loose with the word milestone, but I had a sweet bilingual moment the other day. 

I always love to worry that she's speaking too much English and that none of the Spanish is sticking. That in three years it'll be like we never tried to raise a bilingual baby at all. You know... rational concerns.

Well, this week Gabriella started preschool again. She was on hiatus during the fall. She needed a break... kind of a "gap year," if you will, to travel... find herself... and embarrass her mother. But Tuesday she returned with gusto. 

When I came to pick her up from the playground, her new teacher approached me. We introduced ourselves and then she asked me, "Does your daughter speak Spanish?"

"Oh yes. I'm sorry. I should have mentioned that this morning." (Of course, I wasn't able to mention anything since my daughter loves to give me a very dramatic farewell.)

"No, it's okay," she told me. "We kinda suspected it. When they went to Spanish class, we told the teacher, 'We think this little girl speaks Spanish.'"

I wanted to scream! It just felt so exciting. People who'd never met my toddler... listening to her babbling and thinking, "She speaks Spanish." It just made me so happy. 

Who knows... maybe she will be bilingual one day!

Words to Explain

A while back I used a word that Billy asked me to explain. It has turned out to be a bit trickier than I expected. So I'm asking you, dear friends, to weigh in. How do you describe the word "cheesy"?

And just because I love it so much (and I think it relates), I'm including this awesome photo:

Photo source: Awkward Family Photos
By the way, if you haven't browsed the website Awkward Family Photos, clear your afternoon. I was literally crying at midnight last night laughing so hard. Here are a few fun ones to get you started: Backseat Rider, Tape (an awesome parenting moment), and The Wedding Episode. And one more for good measure: The Drop. The girl's description just made me laugh so hard. 

Okay, now seriously. Come back from that website and help me answer the question. What does "cheesy" mean?

New Year's Plan to Gain Weight

Well, truly I've had this plan for years. It involves always getting sick within two weeks of starting a new exercise regime. Enjoying cookies extensively. And frequently convincing others that going out for Mexican food is a truly good idea.

But in 2013 I have a much more concrete and respectable plan for my weight gain.... we are expecting Baby Q #2!

For a while I kept saying that if and when I became pregnant again, I was going to announce it like this:

Pregnant and I Know It (Funny Music Video!) from keephopealive on GodTube.

Yeah, this is a girl I'd like to know. Oh, and yes, that's a website called GodTube. 

But alas, I did not have time to create a faux music video... as much as I would like to. So instead, we chose to announce the new little one like this instead:

I hope your New Year is off to a wonderful start. We are anticipating a lot of fun, new stories this year as we incorporate a fresh infant into our crazy, little family. Here's to 2013!
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