Posts Tagged ‘raising bicultural kids’

16th October
written by Michelle



Last week, Elena and I were on our way back from an afternoon errand. As soon as I pull up in front of our house, her little voice from the backseat both asks and exclaims, “Agua? Agua!”

I pull her out of the carseat, going over my mental to-do list that should be written down somewhere, but it’s not. Call Sandra. Email the hotel. Peel Carrots. I make a mental note to buy a planner for 2015.

Elena interrupts my thoughts, “Agua!” “Agua?” I smile, knowing very well what she wants.

I leave the diaper bag in the car, grab my phone and keys while setting Elena on the sidewalk.

Ah-wa!” She points toward the cement basketball court.

She remembers.  After it rains there are always puddles of water.

She squeals as she runs toward the court, one hand pointing toward her destination the other hand tightly wrapped around my mine.

I marvel at her excitement. She splashes her feet in the water and giggles.

She hops over to the next puddle and does the same. Water splashes, her little white shoes get wet.

She pauses and notices the dirt on the side of court.

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She waddles over, and squats down. With one hand on the ground to sustain her, she uses her other to pick up a tiny rock. She holds it out for me to see, “mah-ma?” 

I nod and offer my motherly, “wow.”

She tosses it into the puddle. It barely makes a ripple, but she laughs.

She walks over to the puddle, splashes her little feet and then picks up the rock and gently tosses it into the next puddle.

She watches it land, then runs over to splash next to it.

Then she goes back to the dirt to look for another pebble.

I snap a few pictures.

I ask her, “What did you find? “ so she knows I am still there.

I stay about three feet back from where I usually would be, too hesitant to ruin her playing.


She tries to run, but slips and falls down. Her pants get wet. All wet.

Her eyes meet mine for reassurance.

It’s ok. You’re just a little wet. 

She seems consoled and begins splashing her hands in the water. The sleeves of her sweater absorb half of the dirty water. I restrain myself from interfering. I want to push up her sleeves or remove the wet sweater, but I don’t.

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It will wash out, I tell myself.

Her face is now wet, a mix of dirt and water drops have landed on places I usually try to keep clean. But she is smiling.

She straightens her legs into a little mini downward dog pose and pushes herself up to standing. She runs back over to the first puddle. She finds another little rocks and picks it up and then tosses it into the neighboring puddle.

For 25-minutes I watch this continue.

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I notice she has a pattern, a rhythm to her play. She is learning and discovering. She is having fun.

It is moment I realize, that I didn’t bring anything for her “to do.” We come to this little park often, but usually I wheel the stroller down with bubbles and a ball and sometimes snacks to share with friends we meet. I know those things are not inherently bad, but it made me wonder how often do I miss opportunities because I bring too much stuff?

•   •   •

I am a product of my generation and my country. The “if-I-don’t-buy-this-then-my-child-will-miss-out” parenting myth is strong and believable.  Sophie the Giraffe, gotta have that. Stacking wood colored blocks, yep. Baby moccasins, of course. Books, yes, please, more books! There is poverty in privilege because I can choose to buy all of these things for my daughter. I could choose (and often do) fill up her shelves and our lives with stuff, but I often wonder when I say yes, to those things what I am I saying no to.

How often is the cliché true, less is more?

Months ago I read part of the book, Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. The idea is that in the US, we give our kids too many choices, too much stuff and too little time and so it goes through ways to de-clutter your stuff and your life, taking away screen time to have more family time, planning less activities, etc. It’s mostly geared for school age children, but I think a lot of the principles are applicable now.

•   •   •

So I am thinking about this as a parent, but also a person.

I am by no means the poster child for simplicity. This blog is called Simply Complicated, with slightly more emphasis on the “complicated.” Just look at my computer desktop or how many drafts I have saved in my email (454!). I can pack-up tw0 50lb suitcases with tightly rolled clothes, cushioned around picture frames and cute anthropologie bowls like it’s my job. I have “wishlists” saved in my phone of things I want to get when we’re in the US later this month. I am usually a more is better, always be prepared kinda person. Ask anyone who knows me, simple I am not.

•   •   •

So I am thinking about this idea of less is more on a personal level, but also on a societal level.

I would say one of the most frustrating and perhaps best parts of living in Guatemala is that I have fewer options. By nature there are just less choices here. There is no Target, no 2-day amazon prime, or return policy. What you buy is yours and when the store if out, it means they’re really out. There’s no backup. You can find things like frozen fruit in pre-packaged bags and pre-chopped bags of broccoli or lettuce, but you’ll pay 5 times as much for it. Convenience and efficiency are not a high value in Guatemala. But you know what is? Contentment.

I don’t think I am alone when I say, I feel more content here, than I do when I am in the states. And it’s not because I have found some secret recipe for contentment. No, I think it’s more circumstantial. Less is more. When you have fewer options, I think in general you’re more grateful for what you have.

•   •   •

So, I am left wondering how do you raise kids in relative material wealth, who still grow up to be content? Does contentment grow out of the very fact of not having enough? By buying our kids too much stuff are we taking away the very opportunity to practice being content?

It’s privilege of the wealthy that even get to look at this whole notion that less is more. I know for many families growing up in poverty, less really is less. There is nothing to glorify about poverty. My husband can attest that there is nothing nostalgic about never getting a birthday present or not ever getting a new toy. He never had his own books to read or crayons to color with. Sure, he learned how to be creative and climb trees and run through corn fields, but it wasn’t cause his parents were trying to give him “opportunities”for play and discovery or practice being content, it was really because there were not any other options.

When is less more? And when is it really less?

It seems fewer options leads to more contentment, but no options leads to fewer opportunities.

Maybe the question I am learning to ask is, by saying yes to (buying/bringing/getting) _______ ____ for myself or our daughter, what am I saying no to?

•   •   •

I think about that day at the park last week. About the simple joy of watching Elena play.


As the sun begins to set, I carry home my wet, dirty and smiley, little girl. I set her down on the doormat before walking inside. She puts her colds hands on my cheeks as I lift up one leg at a time.

“Let’s get these dirty shoes off you.”

I peel off her wet pants and stained socks. I lift her shirt and sweater up over her head and kiss her bare bell button. She laughs and squirms away.


I leave her clothes in a pile by the front door, thankful that I can throw those in the washing machine as soon as she’s in bed. I pick her up as we march up the stairs for bath time. “Bah?!”

Yes, time for a bath. And then night, night!

I smile as touch my nose to her hers.

She can’t yet say it, but I have a feeling we both went to bed that evening feeling quite content.


P.S.  Look, her curls! They also make me quite content! xo


23rd September
written by Michelle

I posted this picture on Instagram this morning. Sometimes on our morning walks, as the soft light breaks through the trees, I try to imagine our town through MY daughters eyes.

I try to imagine, what does she see?

Lots of doggies roaming the streets, doggies without collars or leashes, or owners • puddles of rain water from yesterday’s downpour  •  los ninos walking hand in hand with their moms, bundled up with hats and jackets por el frio  •  loud motorcycles buzzing by usually with at least three people holding on tightly  • the subtle smell of bus exhaust  •  the gas truck blaring “zeta gaaaas” •  women balencing large buckets balenced on their heads walking toward the pila  the señora selling pan from her canasta  •  the man hanging off the back of the bus yelling, “tigua-tigua” in his sing-songy voice  • Tall cement store fronts and cornstalk walls  •  the blue tigo sign •  the brightly colored flowers  • the big orange cathedral  •

These are the things that my daughter will grow up seeing as normal. This town will be, her normal. This is sometimes still a new idea for me.

What’s foreign to me, will be normal to her. 

P.S. This is part of my own little take on a yearly series called Project 52: My Town. You can read some of the other posts here.

11th August
written by Michelle

If your new here, these are series of letters I started writing to my daughter before she was born. This was the first one, and this is one her Daddy wrote her. I wrote about her birth story here  and I seem to write a lot about raising a bilingual and bicultural daughter and hardest part of motherhoods . These are my way to capture and remember parts of her life and I invite you to read along. This may be last “Dear Mija” letter for awhile, but I am sure I’ll come back to it.


Dear Mija-

In June we celebrated your first birthday. (And our first year has parents! Let’s be honest, both are equally important.)

Elena, you say “Dada” first thing every morning, you are starting to give real besitos and you would eat black beans by the spoonful if we let you. I am convinced the Guatemalan side of you will always prefer to sleep right between me and Daddy and it’s a good thing we live in a country where no one bats an eye if you breastfeed your walkin’, talkin’, toddler because that very well may be us. Your favorite things are doggies, agua and signing “more.” Maybe in that order.

Anytime you see a doggie you make the cutest little “ruff ruff” sound. Oddly in Guatemala, the toilet paper brand Scott has a cute golden retriever as its logo. So you often walk down the supermarket aisle pointing and barking.

Before you said “mama” or “dada” you said “agua.” And it’s still your favorite thing. Washing your hands, taking a shower, playing in the pool…as long as there is water involved you’re a happy camper. We’ve started teaching you signs for “more” and “all-done” around 7 or 8 months and I was convinced that you could care less. And then one day around 11 months or so you ago you just got it! It’s like it clicked and you started signing “more” ALL. THE. TIME. More aguaMore beans. More nena. More books. More, more, more.

When I tell you it’s time to go “night night” you grab your monkey or your nena and start to pat their back and say “shhhh.” It’s pretty much the cutest thing ever. You now sleep in a small corner of your room on the floor, surrounded by pillows and blankets. We call it your nest, and ironically you sleep better now then you ever did in your crib.

You wave to people we see on the street and you love playing with and poking other kids. We’re working on more of the former and less of the latter. You have always liked noise and activity and being out and about. When we go to a birthday party or out with friends you’re as content as can be. But the moment I get you in the car you start to fuss and cry and basically melt down. When you meet someone new you usually give them a stare down at first. When someone talks to you, you listen with your eyes. Serious, focused and intent. When you trust someone you usually grab their hand and a cautious smile comes across your face.

Without intentionally planning it we got to celebrate your first birthday in both countries. First in California with your US family and then a few weeks later with your Guatemalan family. At Nana and Papa’s house your Auntie Christine and Stephanie decorated with an etsy banner that matched the circus theme.


Nana bought Animal Crackers and delicious cupcakes and everything was red, white and yellow. We ate grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough bread with onions and veggies and drank fancy drinks through pretty straws.

You sat on the floor in your red birthday dress and loved trying frosting for the first time. You opened gifts and tore paper and played with the envelopes while I read your birthday cards.


You are so loved by your family in the states. Your Uncle Andrew was there and Grandma Charlotte came by. I so badly want you to have memories in that home where I grew up. I look forward to the day when you say, “I want go to Nana and Papa’s house.”

In Guatemala a few weeks later, I picked up some balloons and a “Feliz Cumpleanos” banner at the Bodegona. I had you dressed in jeans and little blouse, but when we got to Mama Hiya’s house she surprised us with a huipil and corte that she made just for you. Your Aunt Mimi got you dressed and everyone said how beautiful you looked.


You didn’t look so sure about your new wardrobe, but you were a good sport. Your abuela made pepian for the whole family and we drank rosa de jaimca.


We had a huge Winnie the Pooh piñata, which I think your cousins were more excited about than you were. We sang to you and ate cake and drank Pepsi.

I made your “cake” with banana bread and cocoa date frosting and gave you water. Sorry, Mija…if I can hold off giving you soda for a little bit longer I will.


And you are so loved by your family in Guatemala.

I love watching you grab your cousins’ hands and walk around the home where your Daddy grew up. I look forward to you learning things about your Guatemalan heritage, things that I can’t teach you.

Elena, as you get older we’ll probably have our own birthday celebrations here at home. And I have a feeling we’ll take some traditions from both families. I imagine you may always want a piñata and ya know, the Bodegona has some half-decent decorations on the 2nd level. Your Daddy and I may get you a gift or two and let you choose a new birthday outfit. I will probably make some half-healthy snacks and I think pretty straws are sometimes fun. I imagine as you grow up we will keep finding ways to honor and celebrate you, and where you come from and who you are.

Elena, each year on your birthday I want you to remember three words:

strong, kind and grateful.

These are three words I hope to teach you and model for you. Three words that I pray over you and the one day you’ll look back and say, my mama taught me how to be strong, kind and grateful.

I want you to be strong in who you are. I want you to have an inner strength to know where you come from and how deeply loved you are. I pray that your strength comes not from what you do or what you achieve but from a deep trust in God. My hope is that your strength allows you take risks, and be the kind of girl who who stands up for what you know is right and is willing to sometimes do the hard thing.

I also want you to be kind. This is something that I have had to learn how to be. Sometimes I think being a first-born means we learn to be bossy and brave, but kindness gets buried underneath being in charge. Elena, my sweet girl I want you to be kind to people, kind to the boy or girl at school who other kids make fun and kind to the old lady you see in the park. Kindness is kind of like of a muscle, the more you use if the stronger it becomes.

Lastly, and maybe more most importantly, I want you to be grateful. I want you to be grateful when we sit on plastic stools and are served caldo de galina, even if it’s not your favorite. I want you to be grateful for the home we have and the privileges that will have. I think you can either choose to live life complaining about little things, or being grateful for the big things. I hope we can always choose the latter.

Elena, I know if I want you to be a strong, kind and grateful girl, then I need to model that. So on your birthday, this is also a reminder to myself, too. Because the truth is I want to be a strong, kind and grateful mother.

Whenever Daddy asks you, “Cuantos anos, Elena?” you hold up your little pointer finger ever so proudly. Uno!

Yes, my dear you’re one. And sometimes I want to bottle up your little finger, and chubby legs and sweet smile and say, stay my one-year-old baby forever. But then I remember what a gift it is to watch you grow and change and learn. And how being your mom is one of my favorite things ever. So here’s to a lifetime of celebrating your birthday…and making me a mom.

I love you, Elena.

 All my love,



P.S. Here’s a little quick 15-second look at the past 12 months, month-by-month!

4th July
written by Michelle


I have lived in Guatemala for 4 years now. And every year around 4th of July a wave of homesickness rolls over me. I know myself well enough, that now I can kind of anticipate it, but I can’t make it go away. Funny how emotions work like that, huh?

I have always loved the 4th of July. It’s the epitome of summer. BBQs and bare feet. Family and friends gathered around picnic tables. Sun-kissed shoulders and beach hair and finding sand between your toes. 

But when you live in another country, where summer is celebrated between the months of January to April and July 4th is just a date on the calendar, it just feels different. Gerber and I talk a lot about this because we both “know” in our heads that our respective independence days are a big deal for each other. Individually, and for our little girl. But it’s so hard because we don’t feel anything. He can tell me all about the “antorchas” and “bandas” and “actos civicos” that are preformed on September 15th, but for me it’s still  just a date.  I understand what it is and what to expect, but I don’t feel anything. There’s not a collective memory or emotion attached to those things. At least not yet.

And I know the same is true for him. I can tell him about summer BBQs and beach days and how we used to sit on the curb bundled up in sweatshirts eating popsicles, staying up way past our bed time to watch fireworks. He knows all of that, but there is no emotional attachment or collective memory for him. July 4th is just a date. 

I think one of the beautiful and challenging things about cross-cultural relationships if you get to celebrate both. Or at least learn how to make space for both. You learn how to empathize, and negotiate and understand things that you’ve never had any reason to understand before. You learn to verbalize and explain things you’ve never had to explain before, because they just are. But when you’re an outsider trying to understand a foreign culture nothing is as it seems to be.  And  you also learn to accept that there are certain things that can’t be explained or verbalized, they just are. And you learn to accept those things as they are.

We have lots of explaining and trying to understand kind of conversations. Sometimes it’s a lot of work; this cross-cultural, two countries, two languages, two independence days kind of living. But it’s a good work.

And I think one of the reasons we put in energy and time for this “work” is because of this little one. 


This little gringa, growing up in Guatemala.

Because we care about her identity and her sense of belonging. She’s too little to remember anything from today. And she certainly won’t remember her first dia de la indpendencia last September.

But my hope is that she starts to build something in that collective memory of hers. So that when she see’s  the 4th of July on the calendar she’ll feel excited. And when we get to el 15 de septiembre each year she will also get excited. 

 Today we celebrated with some other expat friends up at a park overlooking the whole Antigua valley. Gerber left early because of the World Cup because as he said, “You’ll have 4th of July every year, we only have the World Cup every 4 years.” Touché. And I didn’t get any pictures of the adults. But the kiddos were pretty cute. Maybe one year we’ll celebrate 4th of July in the US. We won’t watch any fireworks tonight, but I am thankful that we live in a country where fireworks are enjoyed year around.

Happy 4th of July!


P.S. Did you know that one year Gerber even surprised me for my birthday with fireworks?! And at our wedding we had fireworks right at the start of the ceermony?! Ever since I’ve been a little girl I have always loved fireworks.

6th December
written by Michelle


In case you’re new here, I started writing letters to our daughter each month after I wrote this post for  before she was born. Last month her daddy wrote a letter and the previous months you can find here. Enjoy this little snapshot into life with our little girl.

20131201-140215.jpgDear Mija,

I’m typing this letter to you on my iPhone because you are asleep in my arms. You and I have spent lots of time together like this: you sleeping, me on my phone. Sometime around 4 months you decided that the world was too interesting and you didn’t want to miss out. So we’ve had a long month or so trying to get you to sleep and stay asleep. Lately my motto has been “do whatever works”  and what works for us right now is for me or Daddy hold you in our arms or in the ergo for e.v.e.r.y. nap. Everyone says I should soak up these moments and enjoy them, and don’t get me wrong I do, but sweet girl I sometimes want someone to reassure me that one day you will nap all by yourself in your crib and sleep through the night. Whatta ya think? Maybe a good goal for 6 months, eh?

 Just to be fair, even though you really haven’t been the best sleeper, you’re still eating like a champ. For that I am thankful. Breastfed or bottle fed, you don’t seem to mind as long as its mamma’s milk. And one morning with the babysitter we realized you’ll even drink it cold! Lately you have been so interested in what we are eating. You try to grab the scrambled eggs of my plate and when Daddy drinks his coffee you reach your little hand up as if it say, where’s mine?  We let you suck on a banana last week. You seemed to enjoy it. But then again you enjoy putting plastic bags in your mouth. I think next week we’ll try giving you some mashed up avocado just because you seem so eager. Our friends let us borrow their bumbo seat you like sitting up high and watching me make our morning smoothie. You even were a great helper when I made banana muffins.

Elena, my love, it has even be fun to see your personality shine through these past few weeks. I feel like we are getting to know YOU so much better. And YOU, my dear, are not a baby in a book, or a certain temperament to be figured out. No, you are uniquely wonderfully, you. You my dear, are persistent and perceptive. You observe so closely new faces and places. You love being out and about. Your favorite places so far seem to be: parque central en Antigua, walking around Santa Maria de Jesus and any place with loud motos and live music. When someone new talks to you, you usually stare them down for 3 seconds with your big brown eyes and then if you’re pleased, you give them the biggest grin. It’s pretty cute. You are active and strong and rarely lay still. You are babbling up a storm and are very good at exercising your vocal chords.

In the past month or so you also discovered toys and it’s been so fun to watch you play. You really like Sophie the Giraffe and anything that makes a crinkle-plastic bag sound. You seem to like butterflies and anything that is small enough to fit in your mouth. Sometimes you reach for one of your books, and I get so excited, “oh my daughter already loves books” and then you proceed to suck on the corner. Sometimes when I show you two toys and say “which one do you want?” You grab both. I like that about you, mija. You seem to know what you want.


And have I told you that you have the sweetest little laugh?  Yes, you do. You laugh the most with me and Daddy, especially when we play peek-a-boo. (But we usually say it in Spanish and it sounds something like “chee- wa”) You are also at a stage where you are grabbing and reaching and putting anything and everything in your mouth- my hair, your fingers or the corners of pillows, tend to be among your favorites. When we lay you down under the activity mat, you get really frustrated. You grunt and lift your shoulders and head off the mat trying so hard to sit up. You’re almost there, but you you still need someone’s hand on your back so you don’t fall over.


Elena, I have loved watching how you see the world. I can see you taking it in, trying to understand how things work.  When you take a bath I use a little plastic cup and pour water out in front of you. You reach out your little chubby hands and try to grab the water. I can tell you’re confused. Why can’t I hold the water? It’s a very good question. I can see how that’s confusing, huh?




You and your Daddy have a such a sweet relationship. You love grabbing his beard and spending mornings together. One morning I came down the stairs and in walked Daddy carrying you in the Baby Bjorn.. You were still in your pajamas, bundled up with a hat on and Daddy had pan frances in one hand and eggs in the other. He made us breakfast. Mommy loves those kind of mornings. Some afternoons I find you two on the couch, you arching your head backwards so you can see the TV!  On Saturday morning I get to go to yoga, because Daddy wants to spend time with just you! I foresee lots of breakfast dates with you and daddy in the future.


Mija, this month:
-you discovered your toes.
-had your first cold and ear infection : (
- slept with us almost every night after 12am
-went to your first water park and played in the pool
-spent lots and lots of time in the ergo and the cargador.
(I have decided that always wanting to be carried makes your a great little traveler, but not the best crib sleeper)
-you spent a weekend at one of your Daddy’s and my favorite places: Lake Atitlan
- you started blowing spit bubbles and your learned how to squeal with delight.
(and sometimes you like to wake-up and practice at 5:30am)


Elena, I like this age. You are so curious and interactive, but not yet mobile. You are still in the lay on a blanket on the floor stage and cuddle in bed stage. You’re not scooting or crawling just yet. And you’re acting more and more like a little person, but you’re still tiny enough to by my baby. Sometimes while we sit in this chair I smell the top if your head and breathe in the sweet, soft baby smell . Your soft, tender fingers rest on my chest and sometimes when you get startled the reach up and grab my chin.

I never want to forget how soft and smooth your little fingertips feel against my skin.

Or your chubby thigh rolls

Or how your brown beautiful eyes get so big when someone talks to you

I sometimes stare at long dark eye lashes when you sleep.

I love watching how your little mouth knows right where to latch on even when your dead asleep.

And how you fit right between my shoulders and legs, curled up like a little c, when I lay next to on my side.

I want to remember how your skin tends to change shades depending on the light or what color you wear and which Instagram filter I use :)

Guatemalans think you’re “bien canche” and gringos say you’re “tan,” but I think you’re just perfect.

You’re hair is darker than my hair ever was as a little girl, but not as black as your daddy’s. I’m still hoping it grows.

Your Auntie Christine is a little worried you may have inherited the Acker baby-bald-gene.

I’m hoping you’ll at least have a little pony tail by the time you’re 5!


Elena, I really love being your mom. It is by far one of the greatest joys, and hardest things I’ve done so far.


With all my love,