People often ask me how old you are and I keep wanting to say, oh, she’s 10 months. But the truth is, it’s June and you’re almost a year old! (ah, I can barely believe it!?) But since I am behind on these letters, in my mind you’re still just 10-months old.
At 10 months you discovered the wonderful world of pointing. And you do so with such an intensity about you. Your finger may be tiny, but your will is strong. You will keep pointing until someone takes you to what you want to see. 9 times out of 10 you are probably pointing at a water fountain, an animal, someone’s eyes or when you want me, your mama. This is all cute and fun until we are sitting tightly wedged in an airplane-window seat and you think it would be fun to point at and then poke the eyes of the poor man sitting in the middle. Sorry, kind sir.
Your favorite things are playing with water, pulling books off of the shelf and laughing with Daddy. You like to eat whatever we are eating and clap along when we start singing your favorite song “los arboles se mueve.”
Elena, we spent most of your 10th month traveling. First in Ohio, then in Chicago and then in California. When I think of this trip the first 2 things I will remember are:
One, how you squealed with delight whenever we let you walk.
You’d wrinkle your little nose and grip your hands around our fingers and just GO! You walked around grass fields, and church buildings, down the cement streets of Chicago, on the sands of California beaches and maybe your favorite, on the soft carpet in people’s homes.
And two, how every night we put you to sleep on the floor.
Yep, we tried the pack n play, but you preferred the floor. So there we put you, right on top of the carpet, wrapped tightly in the Guatemalan cargador your abuela gave me before you were born. We placed some pillows all around to make you feel cosy and left the baby monitor nearby to hear when you woke up. Somehow I am sure the SID police would not approve, but hey, it worked.
But there is something else I became astutely aware of on this trip. As your mama, I spend lots of time thinking about the kind of world that you’re growing up in and in your case, the two worlds you are a part of. The Guatemalan world where we live and do life, and the US world that we visit and buy things from. I realize your Daddy and I probably will feel this tension more than you, because for us it’s new. We’re trying to navigate two worlds and two cultures and although we do it just fine most days, without giving it much thought. I know deep down, it’s like the static of an old radio. It’s always there. Quietly humming in the background. And some days it feels louder than others. The awareness that how you’re growing up is so different from how both your Daddy and I grew up.
And often I wonder, what will feel normal to you?
Elena, you’re growing up with more pairs of shoes than your Daddy ever had. And you’re barely even walking. Your Daddy had one pair of shoes for the whole year and those were for school. So when he came home from school he had to take off his black leather shoes and walk barefoot around the dirt floor. And your Daddy’s family didn’t have hot water, or even running water like we do. So the fact that I give you a warm bath every night before bed is still such a foreign idea to him. And he’s probably right, most little kids in the world don’t get a warm tub of water to bathe in every night.
But I did growing up.
Nana gave me and my sisters and brother a bath almost every night. So it seems totally normal for me. Growing up it was normal to run outside on the grass barefoot because we wanted to. And when we had to put on shoes, we had a whole closet to choose from. It was normal to have lots of choices about everything: from toys to ice cream flavors to which backpack color we wanted for each new school year. But when your Daddy was little he didn’t get to choose his backpack color each year. When your Daddy was just starting school, his older brother was going to jr high school and your Daddy remembers how his brother gave him his old backpack. It had a hole in the bottom and a broken zipper and your Daddy had to sew it so it would work. And he told me that even then, he could only open it half way or everything would fall out. There was no choice about it, it was just all he had.
One of the biggest challenges your Daddy and I have faced is deciding how we want to raise you because you see, we grew up so differently. Usually he wants to give you nice, brand new things. Things that he didn’t have growing up. And I want to get you borrowed toys or gently used hand-me-downs because I want to be resourceful and thrifty. This is part of the two worlds where you come from. Two very different socio-economic worlds. Socio-economic is a fancy word that adults like to use when talking about money. So instead of saying rich and poor, we say different socio-economic levels.
Will you appreciate running water and hot water at that? Will you know what a dishwasher and a garbage disposal are? Will you feel comfortable walking the aisles of Target one week and then walking to the tienda the next?
Mija, to be honest sometimes I wonder, will you feel more comfortable with the luxuries of the rich or the simplicity of the poor? Maybe both? or maybe neither? These are questions I ask myself.
As I write this, I realize many things that I have had to learn about life in Guatemala, will just be normal for you.
When we take walks in our neighborhood, I realize it will be completely normal for you to hear megaphones blaring “zeta gas, zeta gas” around town. And you will know how to wash your hands in the pila without someone having to show you. You will think it’s totally normal to see 3 or 4, or even 5 people piled on one motorcycle. You will understand the nuisances of viniera, vine and vengo better than I ever will and you won’t ever have to ask someone to explain to you the meaning of the national anthem. You will just get it. Because you are Guatemalan. And I hope you feel Guatemalan.
But I also hope you will feel American. I want you to learn the pledge of allegiance, and get excited for the 4th of July. I want you to know the joy of seeing the mailman put a letter in the mail box addressed to you and the excitement of coming home and finding a package at your doorstep. For as silly as it sounds I want you experience good customer service and be able to return something that didn’t fit. I want you to be able to check-out books from the public library and visit The Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park. I want you to feel connected to the United States, because it my country. It’s where I come from. But it’s also your country.
I often wonder, if we live in Guatemala, will you feel American?
They say there’s a word for kids like you, kids who grow up in more than one culture or country. They call them third culture kids because they often identify with a way of life and living that is different from both of the cultures of their parents. I know this can he helpful in making sense of the blending of countries and cultures, but I don’t always love the idea because it sounds like an “other.” Like you’re not from either place, or either culture. Instead you’re from some other third culture.
But as I’ve watch you grow and observe the world around you, I realize there is something that transcends national identity. It’s your spiritual identity. And one of my hopes and prayers for you is that you would come to know Jesus, but not an American Jesus or a Guatemalan Jesus. But a Jesus who loved people, all people. A Jesus who lived simply, befriended outcasts and challenged the status quo. A Jesus who forgave people instead of wanting to get even. A Jesus who loves you, even more than I do.
Elena, that is where I want you to get your identity. First, as a child of God, a follower of Jesus. And then second, as a a blended-beautiful-bi-cultural-American-Guatemalan girl with probably a bit of third-cultureness.
Mija, it is both a wonderful and terrifying thought that this; our family’s life, will become your normal.
All my love,