Traveling With Your Young Child to Middle-of-Nowhere Latin America

baby-coconut

Okay, “middle-of-nowhere” is an exaggeration, but that’s what it feels like when you’re so far away from everything that represents normalcy to you – And if you have a baby with you, multiply that times a hundred.

A friend of mine will soon experience this first hand as she’s traveling to a small pueblo in Mexico, so this post is for her. Although my experience traveling with babies is limited, I did learn a few things the hard way. Those hard learned lessons will have to suffice as advice – or as the Catherine Aird quote goes, “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.”

So, here we go. Ten pieces of advice for anyone traveling with a baby and staying at a location which may not have the modern amenities you’re accustomed to.

Disclaimer: This advice may or may not apply to you depending on where exactly you’re coming from and where exactly you’re going, but this is the advice I’m giving based on my own experiences. Just because this post focuses on the difficulties and less desirable circumstances I encountered does not mean one should assume all of Latin America is represented. Latin America is extremely diverse and just like the United States and anywhere else in the world, there are areas of great wealth, areas of great poverty and everything in between. This advice is meant for individuals coming from a lifestyle of modern conveniences who are visiting and staying in a place that does not have those same modern conveniences.

Traveling With Your Young Child to Middle-of-Nowhere Latin America

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#1. Get yourself and your baby up to date on any necessary shots. Besides getting your passport and traveling documents in order, you should go to the doctor and pediatrician, tell them where you’re going and when, and ask their advice about any recommended vaccinations as they may advise you to get shots that aren’t on the regular schedule. Do your own research ahead of time too on the CDC website so you can ask your doctor any questions you might have. (Also make use of the advice on the State Department website regarding your passport, closest U.S. consulate and embassy locations to where you’ll be staying, and how to handle emergencies while abroad.)

By the way, it’s somewhat controversial but some doctors will recommend “sedating” your baby or young child for a long flight using a medicine such as Benadryl. If you decide to go this route, make sure you get the proper dosing for your child’s weight and give it a trial run before the flight as some children actually become hyper on the medicine instead of sleepy, which is obviously the exact opposite of what you want when you’re 30,000 feet in the air in a cramped space with a hundred irritable strangers.

#2. Don’t let the doctor freak you out. I almost starved in El Salvador the first time we went because my doctor told me about all the diseases I would get if I ate unwashed fruit or vegetables, or if I drank the water. And I was constantly stressed and vigilant in preventing well-meaning relatives from slipping my baby a bite of food from their plates. I’m not saying it isn’t possible to get sick from contaminated food, but don’t let this be something you’re constantly paranoid about to the point that it ruins your trip. On our second trip to El Salvador I ate with reckless abandon. I ate a torta from a market stall that didn’t even have a proper sink for the owner to wash their hands. I survived.

cocina

Instead of worrying about food poisoning and other food borne illnesses, focus on trying to prevent more likely and dangerous possibilities – such as your child wandering off. This may be overboard, but I had dog tags made with our local address in El Salvador in case they became lost. If your child doesn’t know the language well or the address of where you’re staying, knowing they have the address on them at all times will ease some of your anxiety.

dogtags

#3. Packaged foods are a lifesaver. Even if you and your child happily eat from vendors, markets, and the kitchens of your in-laws, it’s possible that at some point your child is going to want the comfort that only familiar packaged food can provide. If you can find the room in your luggage, pack a few favorites – a jar of peanut butter, a box of Cheerios, granola bars, etc. For a baby, consider packing baby food (avoid glass jars) and their formula in case you can’t find them at your destination.

Local authentically prepared meals are sure to be delicious, but don’t be ashamed if you feel the need to visit a local fast food place once in awhile. (Thank you Pollo Campero and Biggest for keeping me sane.)

pollo-campero-hat

#4. It’s okay to be over-prepared. It’s better to be a little over-prepared than under-prepared. Think of all the things you use at home for your baby throughout the day, realize that some of them may not be easy to find at your destination, and pack accordingly. (Bottles, extra nipples, bottle liners, a specific brand of lotion or baby shampoo, diaper or wipe that you prefer, etc.) … If your child has a favorite blanket or toy, see if you can buy a duplicate to keep stowed away in case one gets lost during your travels.

Keep a sufficient amount of these items in your carry-on luggage in case of unexpected delays. (Wipes are especially useful for all kinds of messes so keep tons on you at all times.)

Don’t forget any prescriptions and all your preferred medicines for everything from pain/headaches, cramps, stomachache, itchiness, diarrhea, and allergies to motion sickness, (for yourself and for your child.)

If there’s any possibility of menstruating on your trip, bring your preferred feminine products as well.

Oh, and sunscreen. Bring the sunscreen and use it. If you think you stick out like a sore thumb, you’ll stick out even more if your skin is lobster red.

#5. Prepare for takeoff. For babies and young children, the worst part of the flight is takeoff and landing because of the pressure changes in their little ears. If your child is old enough, give them gum to chew. If the child is too young for gum, have them suck on a pacifier or bottle.

There’s no shame in using electronics to keep little ones quiet and occupied at the airport and on the airplane. Let them play apps on your smartphone the entire flight if it helps.

If you have an older child who has been wanting a specific toy for awhile, buy it and let him know he’s going to receive it on the flight. (Don’t let him play with it before then or it will lose its charm.) Keep a “fun bag” of random things to entertain your child – preferably new things they’ve never played with before. Cracker Barrel’s store is a great place to buy things like that. Some suggestions: Sticker books, coloring and activity books with crayons, a mini Etch-a-sketch, Rubick’s cube, Wooly Willy, slide puzzles – (The classics work best!)

#6. Mosquitoes are nothing to play with. Depending on where exactly you’re going and the time of year, chances are you and your baby or small child will come into contact with more mosquitoes than you knew ever existed on this planet. Not only will they make you itch, but some transmit diseases such as Chikungunya in El Salvador. Before you travel, ask your relatives if they have mosquito netting to cover the area you’ll be sleeping – if not, bring some. Also bring along mosquito repellent to put on your bodies as well. If your hosts offer to burn a mosquito coil (it looks like a green spiral), ask them not to. These coils are popular in some parts of Latin America but research has shown that they’re extremely toxic to breathe.

mosquito-bites

(By the way, I’m convinced mosquitoes prefer gringa blood because no one was ever getting bit up as much as I was.)

#7. The hammock is your friend. Most babies love to be rocked but you most likely won’t have access to any fancy contraptions like you have back home. Make use of any available hammocks to rock babies to sleep, (but don’t leave them unattended.)

hammock-baby

#8. Stay hydrated. This seems like a no-brainer but when you’re busy, overwhelmed, stressed, in hot weather, and have to seek out bottled water since the tap water is off limits (or turned off completely), you’d be surprised how quickly you and your child could become dehydrated. Avoid caffeine the day you travel and drink water on your flight and at the airport as soon as you get off the plane. Grab some bottles to take with you to your destination and find out as soon as possible where you’ll be able to buy more when needed.

latinaish-waterbag

(You can tell by his eyes, my younger son was getting a little dehydrated on an outing during our most recent trip to El Salvador so we stopped at the first place we found selling water.)

#9. Expect the unexpected no matter how much you prepare. Ask others who have visited the area what it’s like and have them tell you in as much detail as possible. Even after the most thorough research though, you may find that you were woefully unprepared to face such a different lifestyle even for a short period of time. Take some deep breaths (Inhala…Exhala…), and try to go with the flow.

bath-tub

#10. Take plenty of photos. This is an incredibly special moment in your child’s life, and if they’re very young, they may not remember it well or at all. Take photos of your child with all their relatives and keep a little journal of what you do each day while there. These will make a cherished keepsake for your child later. Before you know it your return flight will be departing to take you home, and while half of you will be relieved that you can come back to familiar food, hot showers, drinkable tap water, modern appliances, child-safe locks, and air conditioning – the other half of you is going to wish you could have stayed a little longer now that you were finally getting the hang of things.

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Don’t get the wrong idea…

This past weekend Carlos and I had the unhappy chore of shopping for new cellphone service since my contract with Cricket Wireless is coming to an end this month. Because of the way our family’s service was set up, we weren’t able to keep our phone numbers, making this the third cellphone number change for us in three years.

We spent all weekend setting up the new phones and texting all our contacts to apologetically let them know we have new numbers yet again. Most people dutifully changed our numbers in their contacts and replied with simple responses like “Ok! Got it!”

However, the response Carlos received from his Mexican friend Rigo had us both laughing.

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Conversations at Casa López – Part 4

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Today I bring back this series with my family’s most recent “bilingual moments” and funny conversations. (Be sure to share your recent funny conversations in comments!)

Tracy: Whatcha doing cutie pants?
Carlos: Not much—
Tracy: I was talking to Chico.

Carlos: Look, the guy at the Latino market gave me the merchant copy. [Shows me a receipt]
Tracy: Why is this the American copy? Did you want it in Spanish?
Carlos: What?
Tracy: Why are you calling this an American copy?
Carlos: No, I said MERCHANT copy.
Tracy: Oh, it sounded like you said ‘MURICAN copy.

“Mommy help! Get him off me! He’s hurting me with jalapeño breath!”

- My older son being pinned down by my younger son who was breathing into his face after eating pickled jalapeños

Tracy: Hey, this book says Mexican women don’t shave their legs. I’m moving to Mexico.
Carlos: Um, that sounds… anticuado. How old is that book?
Tracy: Published…(turns pages)… 1972. Oh.

Carlos: I’m going to cut the grass.
Tracy: It’s Sunday. That’s bad karma.
Carlos: But it needs to be done.
Tracy: Ay ve vos.
Carlos: Well I can’t now cause you jinxed me.

Tracy: Can you grab me a wad of paper towels?
Carlos: Huh?
Tracy: Can you grab me a wad of paper towels?
Carlos: A watt?
Tracy: A wad!
Carlos: What is that?
Tracy: Tanate! Can you grab me a tanate of paper towels?
Carlos: Why didn’t you just say that to begin with?

13 year old: Hey Daddy, have you heard of that singer Macklemore?
Carlos: Yeah, he’s from Soyapango.
13 year old: You say everyone is from Soyapango!

Carlos: Ooo, you got Abuelita chocolate!
Tracy: Yup.
13 year old son: Who’s the old lady on the package?
Tracy: Abuelita, of course.
13 year old: Oh.
Tracy: Hey Carlos, isn’t that the same lady in the Pedro Infante movies?
Carlos: Yup, that’s Nana Tomasita.
13 year old: Let me guess, she’s from Soyapango.
Carlos: Nope. She’s from Chalate.

10 Gifs For Parents Raising Bilingual Kids

Parenting is one of the biggest challenges there is, and bilingual parenting can be twice as hard. Here are 10 animated gifs only parents raising bilingual kids will understand. Laugh, cry, be entertained – I know you feel me.

#1. When your bilingual child is just a baby everything is new and awesome. Mixing the languages together is totally normal and totally adorable. So your reaction when your baby speaks Spanglish is something like:

so-cute

#2. Fast forward 10 years though and your child is still not fluent. Your child’s Spanglish at this stage of the game may have become somewhat less enchanting.

weep-die

#3. But then one day your child says their first curse word in Spanish, (and you know they learned it from you.)

amazing

Hey, at least they’re speaking Spanish.

#4. And then comes that magical age when they get to pick a foreign language at school. The child you’re raising English/Spanish bilingual tells you they want to take… French.

wait-what

#5. Okay, okay. We must embrace all language learning. It’s fine, they can learn French. Maybe they’ll be trilingual you say to yourself. But then they ask for help with their French homework and you discover your mouth will only pronounce French words following Spanish-language rules so you’re completely unhelpful.

blooblah

#6. At some point you realize hey, we’re not speaking enough Spanish at home, so you try the famous “I won’t acknowledge you unless you speak Spanish” tactic.

wont-hear-it

#7. However your child’s reaction to the “I won’t acknowledge you unless you speak Spanish” tactic is:

ok

#8. Time to get stealthy. You decide you’ll try to sneak Spanish into your child’s life by listening to Spanish-language music in the car.

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#9. However, this is your child’s reaction when you listen to Spanish-language music in the car right before they put their earbuds in.

dont-want-to-hear

#10. You’ve all but given up until one day your teenager develops a crush on a native Spanish speaker at school and suddenly takes a renewed interest in learning the language.

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Día de los Muertos 2014

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This year marks our 4th year of celebrating Día de los Muertos by creating an altar to remember passed loved ones. In 2010 when I first set up an altar and Carlos asked me to take it down because it made him sad, I completely understood and dismantled it. Día de los Muertos is called Día de los Difuntos in El Salvador and most people don’t see it as a day of celebration. In El Salvador it’s more a day of mourning – so Carlos wasn’t into it.

I thought that would be our first and last altar but the next year my boys remembered the tradition and asked if we were going to build an altar. When I explained that it had made Daddy sad to see his father on the altar they asked if we could make one for a beloved dog who had passed – and so we celebrated the life of Ginger the dog that year.

Last year was a turning point because not only did Carlos say he felt comfortable with me creating an altar for his passed loved ones, I also felt comfortable enough to include passed loved ones from my side of the family.

As I set up this year’s ofrenda I realized how therapeutic Día de los Muertos is for healing. It feels good to be able to look at a photo of my grandfather or Carlos’s abuelos and smile, remembering them.

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La alegría y la angustia del cambio

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Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Me di cuenta de algo. Me di cuenta que cuando veo las hojas de colores en otoño siento dos cosas. Primero me siento llena de felicidad porque es una de las cosas más bellísimas en este mundo y soy bendecida por verlo suceder. Todo el año espero este momento breve por ver el cambio en los árboles. Pero bajo de la alegría es una fuerte tristeza saber que los días son cortos y pronto se caerán las hojas, desapareciendo en el viento. Me siento feliz por el momento que está frente de mi, pero angustia porque yo sé que no puede durar para siempre.

Y igual me siento al ver a mis hijos creciendo a hombres.

carlos-boys-pumpkin-patch-collage

No importa lo fuerte que te aferras a esas hermosas hojas o esos hermosos hijos. Ellos cambian. Las hojas se secan y pierden su color. Tus hijos crecen. Es natural que esa realidad debe hacerte sentir triste, pero también recuerdate hay que disfrutar el momento. Tal vez sea un cliché, pero a veces existen los clichés porque no hay verdad más grande. La vida es efímera. Ama lo que tú amas con todo tu corazón.

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

Title: The Happiness and Anguish of Change

I realized something. I realized when I see the colored leaves of autumn I feel two things. First I feel full of happiness because it’s one of the most beautiful things in the world and I feel blessed to see it happen. All year I await this brief moment to see the change in the trees. But beneath that happiness is a strong sadness to know that the days are short and soon the leaves will fall, disappearing in the wind. I feel happy for the moment in front of me, but anguish because I know it won’t last forever.

And I feel the same to see my sons growing into men.

It doesn’t matter how tightly you hold onto those beautiful leaves or those beautiful children. They change. The leaves dry out and lose their color. Your children grow up. It’s natural that this realization should make one feel sadness, but let it also remind you to enjoy the moment. Maybe it’s cliche, but sometimes cliches exist because there is no greater truth. Life is fleeting. Love what you love with all your heart.

13 Gifs Only Latinos Married to Gringas Will Understand

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. English translation is in italics!

Aunque estos gifs estan basados en la experiencia personal de Carlos, si eres un Latino/a casado con una gringa/o, tal vez identificas con algunos de ellos. (Y si eres una gringa/o casado con Latino/a, chequea este post: 20 Gifs Only Gringas Married to Latinos Can Understand.)

Although these are based on Carlos’s personal experience, if you’re a Latino/a married to a gringa/o, you may identify with some of these. (And if you’re a gringa/o married with a Latino/a, check out this post: 20 Gifs Only Gringas Married to Latinos Can Understand.)

#1. borednow

Cuando vas a una “fiesta” de tus suegros gringos y no hay música o baile.

When you go to your gringo in-laws “parties” and there’s no music or dancing.

#2. nothing-can-do

Cuando estás tratando de ver las noticias en español y tu esposa quiere saber por qué hay mujeres semidesnudas en la pantalla.

When you’re just trying to watch the Spanish-language news and your wife wants to know why there’s half-naked women on the screen.

#3. shock

Cuando tu esposa usa palabras en español que aprendió de la música de Pitbull en compañía educada o delante de tu abuela.

When your spouse uses Spanish words she learned from Pitbull’s music in polite company or in front of your abuela.

#4. does-not-get-it

La reacción de tu esposa cuando explicas algo cultural que ella simplemente parece que no puede aceptar, como la necesidad de dar rosas a tu madre en el Día de San Valentín.

Your spouse’s reaction when you explain something cultural to her that she just can’t seem to accept, like the necessity of giving your mother roses on Valentine’s Day.

#5. fight-for-me

Las consecuencias de no defender a tu esposa cuando tu madre criticó a ella.

The aftermath of not defending your spouse when your mother criticized him/her.

#6. naah

La reacción de tu madre cuando le dices que te vas a casar con la gringa.

Your mother’s reaction when you tell her you’re marrying the gringa.

#7. no-michael-scott

Cuando preguntas qué hay de comer y ella dice peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

When you ask what’s for lunch and she says peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

#8. Huh_wtf_uhm

Tu reacción cuando tu esposa o suegros gringos permiten que el perro lame la cara.

Your reaction when your spouse or gringo in-laws let their pet dog lick them all over the face.

#9. sad-cold

En Nochebuena, cuando hace frío, tranquilo y solitario y comienzas a sentirte nostálgico por tu país de origen.

On Nochebuena when it’s cold, quiet and lonely and you start feeling nostalgic for home.

#10. who-am-i

Cuando por fin regresas a visitar tu país natal y todos tus familiares te dicen que hablas divertido porque has perdido el acento local y no conoces las últimas palabras coloquiales.

When you finally go back to visit your native country and all your relatives tell you that you speak funny because you’ve lost the local accent and aren’t up on the latest slang.

#11. cool

Cuando la gente se entera de dónde eres y empieza a nombrar todas sus comidas favoritas de tu país.

When people find out where you’re from and start naming all their favorite foods from your country.

#12. calm-down-children

Cuando tu esposa no cree en disciplina corporal y no puedes utilizar la chancla.

When your spouse doesn’t believe in physical discipline so you can’t use the chancla.

#13. imfine

Cuando tienes una discusión con tu esposa y te acusa de gritar.

When you’re having a discussion with your spouse and they accuse you of yelling.