A Garden for la Virgen de Guadalupe

The garden before we fixed it up.

The garden before we fixed it up.

As a member of Lowe’s Creative Ideas Network I received gift cards from Lowe’s in order to purchase supplies to complete projects. All opinions are my own.

Many years ago my suegra brought a very large statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe into our household. At the time I wasn’t happy about it because it was extremely large and she expected us to display it in the middle of our small living room. We ended up putting the statue in a garden on the side of our house, and that’s where it’s been ever since.

Over the years Carlos and I both became fond of the statue, (although we’re happy with its outdoor location and don’t regret putting it there) and this year we decided we should give a little more care to the neglected garden we put her in.

virgin-garden-BEFORE-2

I spent hours at Lowe’s trying to decide what I wanted to plant in the garden. We knew we needed top soil, so that went onto the cart first, but then I took forever choosing flowers.

Roses seemed a logical choice because of the story of the Virgen de Guadalupe, but I was a little intimidated by the thought of caring for them. It’s been a couple months now since we planted the roses though, and I have to say, they really haven’t been difficult. If you’ve always wanted to plant roses but have been worried you’ll kill them, I recommend buying some and giving it a try.

Carlos says I have a “good hand” with the plants, (that’s a direct translation of “buena mano” in Spanish – which is like saying someone has a green thumb), but it isn’t true. I’m not a great gardener and I’ve had things die before – a lot of the time I think I just get lucky, but really, the roses haven’t been a challenge at all.

Besides the roses, I thought it would be nice to plant rosemary. I love the smell of rosemary and the way the herb looks – but planting the rosemary was also symbolic. During the Salvadoran civil war, there was a Catholic archbishop named Oscar Romero. He was an outspoken defender of the people and it ended up costing him his life. “Romero” is how you say “rosemary” in Spanish.

For added color I chose some heather and snapdragons. Finally! All done and ready to get to work, right? Not quite. As we were getting ready to head to the check-out, a big spiky plant caught my eye.

“This looks kind of like Flor de Izote,” I said, calling Carlos over. Carlos inspected it. “It is,” he said, “That’s Flor de Izote.”

Flor de Izote! The national flower of El Salvador.

Flor de Izote! The national flower of El Salvador.

I checked the tag on the plant, (carefully because the leaves are very sharp!) and it was labeled “Variegated Spanish Dagger.” A quick check of the internet via my smartphone, and I found that these most likely are the same plant, or at least are closely related. (Any botanists out there who can verify?)

Flor de Izote went onto the cart. Instead of planting the Flor de Izote directly in the ground, I thought it would be nice to have it in a pot. Luckily, I spotted these beautiful pots made in Mexico. We hurried out of Lowe’s before I bought enough plants to rival the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C.

pots-at-lowes-for-gardening

Back at home, we unloaded the supplies and got down to work.

lowes-garden-supplies

pullingoutplants-garden

I don’t have any fancy step-by-step directions this month. We pulled everything out of the garden besides a large bush and the statue itself, then added some fresh top soil. I set the plants out, (still in their pots), to see how they looked in different locations. When I settled on the layout I liked, we dug the holes and planted them.

One thing I was still not satisfied with was the fact that you could see the ugly yellow gas line. Stacking some old cement patio pavers and putting the Flor de Izote on top helped, but Carlos ended up going back to Lowe’s and buying a white plastic lattice screen to help further disguise it.

virgin-garden-2

We’re really happy with how it turned out and we visit that side of the yard almost daily to check on things, water flowers if it hasn’t rained, (and sometimes fix things up. Our dog Chico has stepped on a few of the snapdragons and broken them. I also caught him trying to eat a rose one day.) If my suegra were here and she caught Chico in the garden, I can imagine her reaction and it makes me smile; she would chase him out of there, waving her hands as if to smack him, maybe with a chancla held high. She would almost certainly yell “¡Chhhhhht! Chucho condenado!” and then walk away muttering…”Ay, qué pecado…”

virgin-garden-3

Do you have a Virgen de Guadalupe garden? What did you plant in it?

Want more creative ideas?

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Atol de Avena

atol-de-avena-latinaish

When my suegra lived with us, she used to buy oatmeal, which she called by one name and one name only – “Quacker.” This used to make me crazy because “Quacker” sounds like a nickname for a duck, but it was her mispronunciation of the brand name “Quaker Oats” – and perhaps it’s a common mispronunciation in El Salvador, the same way Corn Flakes are called “Con Fleis” – I honestly don’t know if it was a suegra thing or a Salvadoran thing.

When my suegra would make oatmeal though, she didn’t even attempt to decipher the directions on the can; the result was more like soup than anything I previously recognized as the thick, lumpy oatmeal of my childhood. I told her many times that you aren’t supposed to add that much water or milk, but she would only look at me like I was stupid and sip her oatmeal out of her favorite cumbo.

It was only years later that I found out what “atol de avena” is – and realized that my suegra had never been attempting to make American-style oatmeal in the first place. So, here is a lesson in humility, a reminder that there isn’t always one right answer, and a recipe for “atol de avena” which I am sipping right now, suegra-style.

Atol de Avena

2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick (and/or ground cinnamon)
1 cup uncooked oatmeal (I use Quaker Oats 100% Natural Whole Grain Old Fashioned)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
4 packed tablespoons brown sugar or other sweetener (see directions below)

Directions:

1. In a medium pot over medium-high heat, bring 2 cups water, a cinnamon stick, salt, and oatmeal to a boil. (If you don’t have a cinnamon stick, you can add ground cinnamon to taste later.)

2. Reduce heat to a simmer. Stir continuously for about 3 minutes.

3. Add milk and stir until heated through. Remove from heat.

4. While still warm, you’ll want to add the sweetener. I usually use brown sugar, (4 packed tablespoons), but you can use piloncillo, dulce de atado, or dulce de panela. My suegra never would have added more sugar than this as she doesn’t like things overly sweet, but feel free to add more if you don’t find it sweet enough. You can also add ground cinnamon for more flavor as this recipe yields a very mild tasting atol de avena.

5. Serve warm. Makes about 4 cups.

12 Greeting Cards For Latinos That Don’t Exist (But Should)

12-latino-greeting-cards

I love greeting cards and will embrace any holiday, occasion, or event, to give them to friends and family. You know those “Just because” cards? Those were made for people like me, for those days we want to give cards but can’t think of any good reason to. If Carlos can’t find me in a store, he goes to the greeting card aisle – that’s usually where I am – just reading them for fun.

That being said, I’ve found that at times it’s difficult for me to find cards that say exactly what I need them to. As a bilingual, bicultural Latino-American family in the United States, we have our own unique culture, events, and language. The cards in English with Latin-flavor usually feature a donkey wearing a sombrero or some other tired theme. The cards in Spanish are limited, and usually only available for quinces and Día de las Madres. What’s a bicultural gringa to do? … Make my own cards, of course!

The cards I created below (which you should feel free to share in social media or print for personal use!) represent some real themes we’ve dealt with in our familia – maybe you’ll relate. Which greeting card have you needed that doesn’t exist?

imperfect-nuera-card-latinaish
(Not much that can be done about that, but at least a greeting card softens the blow?)

pan-dulce-apology-card-latinaish
(Kind of one of those “Sorry, not sorry” moments.)

difficult-time-card-latinaish
(Salvadorans, you know what I mean… At least we’ve got the playera team.)

sapo-verde-to-you-card-latinaish
(We don’t say “Happy birthday” in this house.)

buen-viaje-card-latinaish
(This would come in handy for all your encargo requests for traveling family members.)

belated-spanish-bday-card-latinaish
(A whole line of greeting cards with “Chavito del 8″ references would sell like pan caliente.)

felicidades-card-latinaish
(We’ve got some unique milestones that you don’t really find anywhere in the greeting card aisle!)

love-you-spanish-card-latinaish
(Cute enough for a kid, but could be exchanged between adults too.)

misunderstanding-card-latinaish
(We would probably need to exchange this card at least once a week.)

not-mexican-salvadoran-card-latinaish
(My kids are half Salvadoran and my older son in particular is constantly mistaken for Mexican. Thought I should explain that one!)

get-well-latino-card-latinaish
(Who needs a “Get Well” card when there’s Vicks?)

mothers-day-spanish-card-latinaish
(Día de las Madres was always a dangerous day for Carlos.)

Olores y Cultura

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!

Image source: Marie Hale

Image source: Marie Hale

¿Cómo afecta tu cultura a tu sentido del olfato y las cosas que crees que huelen bien y las cosas que crees que huelen mal?

En un artículo que leí, hacen el argumento que aprendemos nuestras preferencias olfativas. ¿Qué interesante, no?

Unos ejemplos puedo dar de mi vida: A mi, me gusta el olor de zorrillo y también el olor de gasolina. Yo sé que son olores muy ofensivos para mucha gente, pero estos olores están ligados a buenos recuerdos de mi niñez.

También, olores que normalmente se consideran agradable en una cultura, pueden convertir en ser ofensivos para otros. Por ejemplo, el olor que llamamos “cherry” (cereza, pero cereza artificial como usan en paletas y chapstick), me encanta. Tengo bastantes buenos recuerdos con el olor “cherry” – pero mi suegra odia el olor y el sabor de “cherry” americano. (Digo “cherry americano” porque ella le gusta cerezas naturales.)

Siempre cuando hice una jarra de jugo sabor “cherry”, mi suegra empezó a quejarse de “el tufo.”

“Hiede a sapuyulo!” ella me decía.

Yo no sabía lo que era sapuyulo pero es una fruta, también conocido por el nombre “zapote” o “mamey” en algunos países. Mi suegra me explicó que cuando era niña, tuvo que tomar sapuyulo por un remedio casero o usar lo en forma de jabón, no recuerdo exactamente pero de cualquier manera no le gustó – y por eso el olor de “cherry” le molestaba mucho.

¿Y tú? Cuáles son tus experiencias entre olores y cultura? Cuáles olores te gustan? Cuáles olores no te gustan? Y cómo afectan tus buenos o malos recuerdos a los olores que te gustan o no te gustan?

Nota: Mil gracias a mi amiga Claudia quién me dijo como deletrear “sapuyulo.”

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

How does your culture affect your sense of smell and the things you think smell good and the things you think smell bad?

In an article I read, the argument is made that our olfactory preferences are learned. Interesting, right?

Some examples I can give from my life: I like the smell of skunk and the smell of gasoline. I know these are very offensive odors for many people, but these scents are tied to fond memories from my childhood.

Also, scents normally considered to be nice in one culture may be offensive in others. For example, the scent we call “cherry” (cherry, as in the artificial cherry scent used in popsicles and chapstick), I love very much. I have many fond memories of the “cherry” scent – but my mother-in-law hates the smell and taste of American “cherry.” (I say “American cherry” because she likes natural cherries.)

Whenever I used to make a pitcher of cherry-flavored juice, my mother-in-law would start complaining of “the bad smell.”

“That stinks like sapuyulo!” she’d say.

I didn’t know what sapuyulo was but it turns out it’s a fruit, also known by the name “sapote” or “mamey” in some countries. My mother-in-law explained to me that when she was a child she had to take a home remedy made of sapuyulo or that she had to use it as a soap, I can’t remember exactly how it was, but either way she hated it – and that’s why the smell of “cherry” bothered her so much.

And you? What are your experiences with smells and culture? Which scents do you like? Which scents do you dislike? How do your good or bad memories affect the scents you like or dislike?

Note: Many thanks to my friend Claudia who told me how to spell “sapuyulo.”

Central American Chow Mein

chowmein_latinaish

Some of you reading this are probably very excited and some of you a probably very confused – so let’s make sure we’re on the same page. Chow Mein, (also sometimes spelled Chao Mein, and often pronounced by some native Spanish speakers as “Chow Ming”), is best known as a noodle dish from China. Many people don’t realize that just as we have our Americanized versions of Chow Mein in the United States, there are well-loved versions of the dish all around the world, including in Central America.

Guatemala in particular has a great love of Chow Mein. This do-it-yourself box of “Chao Mein” (pictured below) is a brand commonly found in Latino Markets here in the U.S., and it’s made in Guatemala.

noodlebox_latinaish

Chow Mein is also a favorite in neighboring El Salvador, and ever since I’ve known Carlos, he has loved Chow Mein, and Chinese food in general.

On our first date we spent the entire day together. For lunch we ate at a hamburger place but for dinner, (yes two meals together in one day!) Carlos wanted to go out for Chinese food. As we were waiting to be served at the Chinese restaurant, two waiters were standing nearby having a conversation in Chinese. Carlos jutted his chin in their direction, “Entiendes lo que dicen?” [Do you know what they're saying?] he asked me.

“No, no hablo Chino,” I responded perplexed.
“Yo sí,” he said, smiling, and then he proceeded to invent a translation of the waiters’ conversation.

I wasn’t convinced, but as you know, we soon married anyway. Years later Suegra moved in. When Suegra lived with us and we would go out to eat, we often ended up at Chinese buffets because it was the one cuisine she wouldn’t complain about. I never ate so much Chinese food in my life until I married a Salvadoran!

So, with that being said, here is my version of Salvadoran Chow Mein, which is basically the same as Guatemalan Chow Mein, although families each have their own unique way of making it.

Chow Mein (Central American style!)

Ingredients:

1 package of “Chao Mein” noodles, or any brand Chow Mein Stir Fry Noodles
1 cup raw mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chayote (also known as güisquil), julienned
1 cup carrot, julienned
1 cup celery, julienned
1/2 cup green onion, (sliced lengthwise and then cut in 1 inch pieces)
5 chicken thighs, cooked and shredded (see notes below)
oil for frying (sesame oil and/or canola oil)
1/3 cup soy sauce (low sodium soy sauce can be used)

Notes Before We Get Started:

• It’s not necessary to buy the box of “Chao Mein” noodles pictured above. The box contains the noodles, a little packet of soy sauce (not nearly enough for my recipe), and 2 seasoning packets which I discarded because they contain MSG which I avoid. You can buy any Chow Mein Stir Fry Noodles. You may need to buy 2 packets of Chow Mein noodles depending on the size of the packages. You’ll want about 12 ounces to feed a hungry family of six people.

• This recipe is very flexible, feel free to try different vegetables and to increase the vegetables to make it healthier. You can also replace the dark meat chicken with chicken breast meat, steak or shrimp. I used green onions because that’s what I had on hand, but any type of onion you like can be used.

• If using chicken, you can cook it however you like. I cook it like this: Boil the chicken thighs in water with a little annatto (also known as “achiote”), a little salt, a little pepper, 1/2 an onion and a tablespoon of minced fresh garlic. After the chicken has cooked through, remove to cool. Once cool, discard the skin and bones. Shred the meat by hand and set aside. (The leftover broth can be used in another recipe.)

• For those who aren’t familiar, chayote (“güisquil” to Central Americans), is a type of squash, usually light green in color and about the size of a fist with one puckered side. The flavor is very mild and pleasant. To use chayote in this recipe, wash it and then julienne it, (i.e. cut it approximately into the size and shape of matchsticks or shoestring-style french fries.) You do not need to peel it but there is a small white seed in the middle you should discard.

• You can use sesame oil or canola oil for frying. I like to use equal amounts of both. The sesame oil gives it a nice flavor which helps make up for the fact that I discard the “condiment/flavoring” packets.

Directions:

1. Prepare all vegetables while the chicken cooks. Put the vegetables in a large bowl together and set aside.
2. Prepare chicken (see notes above), and then set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put the noodles into the water and cook about 5 minutes until al dente, being careful not to overcook them.
4. Remove the noodles to a colander to drain. Set aside.
5. In a large skillet over high heat add a few tablespoons of oil. Use either canola oil or sesame oil, or use equal amounts of both, (which is what I do.)
6. When the oil is very hot, add the vegetables, and stir them continuously for one to two minutes.
7. Add the chicken and continue stirring for another minute.
8. Add the noodles and continue stirring for another minute.
9. Add 1/3 cup soy sauce, stir and remove from heat.
10. Serve and enjoy!

Gringos can’t dance?

“Los americanos no bailan” – it was something my suegra always said, usually with arms crossed over her chest while sitting at my Anglo parents’ house on a holiday. My parents were always kind enough to invite my suegra to dinner even though she never seemed to like anything about being there. She complained about the American food, complained about the overly-friendly Golden Retrievers, complained that my family spoke English and that she couldn’t understand, complained about the lack of music, complained that no one was dancing.

Because we never danced, Suegra then assumed that it was because we couldn’t dance – that we were incapable of dancing. “Los americanos no saben bailar” – she would say.

When it was discovered at a very early age that my younger son was a natural dancer with an amazing sense of rhythm, she took all the credit. “Puro salvadoreño,” she’d say, or “Este talento viene de parte de mi familia.”

Likewise, when we discovered that my older son lacked rhythm, that no matter how hard he tried, (and that the harder he tried, the worse it was), Suegra blamed it on me. “Ay, pobrecito,” she’d say, “no puede bailar, igual a su mamá.”

The truth is that Suegra has never even seen me dance – and despite what she might think, I don’t dance like Elaine on Seinfeld. Neither will I claim to be as good as Napoleon Dynamite, but I think I do alright.

It’s a common stereotype that white people can’t dance. I guess humans like stereotypes because it gives us a false sense of security that we better understand ourselves, our world and the people in it. The problem is that stereotypes attempt to group people together based on a common trait, but humans, even those that share many things in common, are much too diverse to be categorized in that way.

That being said, in my experience, and without doing scientific research, my hypothesis is that if you walk up to your average gringo on the street and compared his dancing skills with your average Latino on the street, the average Latino would more often be the better dancer. But, why?

I don’t think that this is a result of race or skin color but rather a result of culture. Gringos, as my suegra noticed, don’t tend to dance as often as Latinos. Dance, for many Anglos, just isn’t a part of daily life, perhaps due to our Puritanical roots.

Now, if we all know that “practice makes perfect”, wouldn’t it make sense that the group who practices less, (regardless of any man-made category we could put them in), would quite simply be less skilled than the group that practices more?

Again, this is my unscientific guess as to why “gringos can’t dance” – (and to be clear, this doesn’t apply to all gringos. Some are born with natural talent and some learn to dance very well, even on a professional level.)

If you don’t like my theory, Dave Chappelle has another one.

Querida Suegra

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 below!

Image adapted from image by: Max Stanworth

Querida Suegra,

Ya ha pasado un año desde la ultima vez que hablé con usted, o mejor dicho, desde usted me habló. Tal vez piensas que todo que usted hizo y dicho, aquí y en El Salvador, es un gran secreto – que no sabemos todo que usted está haciendo – pero sabemos toditito. Ya que le gusta tanto el chisme, usted debe saber cómo habla la gente. Ni tenemos que preguntar a ninguna persona sobre usted, porque la gente nos hablan por telefono y nos cuentan todo – oh sí!

No voy a revelar que sé sobre qué pasó con usted este año al todo el mundo, porque no soy como usted, pero sí hay unas cositas que quiero aclarar. Usted corrió por todos partes diciendo mentiras sobre Carlos y yo – y bien sabe usted que mentiras son. Por una mujer que siempre le gusta citar la Biblia a “los pecadores”, me parece bien hipócrita hacer lo que estás haciendo, pero BUENO.

Las mentiras que quiero aclarar son:

MENTIRA #1. Tracy mangonea a Carlos.

Si mangoneo a Carlos, ¿Cómo fue que usted vivía con nosotros por una década, aunque no lo quería yo?

MENTIRA #2. Tracy es perezosa y pasa todo el día jugando en la computadora.

Si estoy jugando, ¿Qué es este papel en mi declaración de impuestos federales que me muestra como escritora?

Uno no paga impuestos por jugar, señora.

MENTIRA #3. Carlos tiene que trabajar en dos trabajos por cuidar a Tracy.

Ah, ¿de veras? Yo no sabía eso. ¿Qué es este segundo trabajo del que usted habla? Yo sé que Carlos trabaja bien duro durante el día pero en la noche, aquí lo puede encontrar.

Carlos en su “segundo trabajo”

Si alguien está pagando a Carlos por caer dormido mientras mira El Chavo del Ocho, digame dónde puedo aplicar, (ya que soy perezosa, ¿recuerda?)

Esto es todo que quiero decir, y lo digo sin una papita de malicia. Tus cuentos me parecen bien creativos. Por favor, siga contandole a la gente para que ellos sigan contandonos.

Sinceramente,
Su nuera

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

Dear Mother-in-Law,

It’s been a year since the last time I spoke to you, or rather, since you last spoke to me. Maybe you think everything you did and said, here and in El Salvador is a big secret – that we don’t know everything you’re doing – but we know everything. Since you like gossip so much, you should know better how people talk. We don’t even have to ask anyone about you, because people call on the phone and tell us everything – oh yes!

I will not reveal all that I know about what happened to you this past year to everyone, I am not like you, but I do want to clarify a few things. You ran all over the place telling lies about Carlos and I – and you know you are lying. For a woman who likes to quote the Bible to “sinners” it seems rather hypocritical to do what you’re doing, but anyway.

The lies I want to clear up are:

LIE #1. Tracy bosses around Carlos.

If I boss around Carlos, how is it that you lived with us for a decade, which I never wanted?

LIE #2. Tracy is lazy and spends all day playing computer games.

If I’m playing, what is this part of my federal tax return that shows me as a writer?

One doesn’t pay taxes for playing, ma’am.

LIE #3. Carlos has to work two jobs to take care of Tracy.

Is that right? I didn’t know that. What is this second job of which you speak? I know that Carlos works very hard during the day but at night, here is where you can find him.

If someone is paying Carlos to fall asleep while watching El Chavo del Ocho, tell me where I can apply, (since I’m lazy, remember?)

That’s all I want to say, and I say this without an ounce of malice. Your stories seem rather creative. Please, keep telling people these stories so that they can keep telling them to us.

Sincerely,
Your daughter-in-law

Arriba con la Selección Salvadoreña!

On Friday, while watching the game (El Salvador vs. Costa Rica), the Salvadoran soccer team’s anthem came on during a commercial break. Our 10 year old son jumped up and started dancing; we all started laughing because this cipote has moves and I have no idea where he gets them from. He can dance to almost any kind of music, and he dances really well. (My Suegra used to say that he gets it from her side of the family but I’ve seen Suegra and her family dance – they aren’t any better than my family!)

Anyway, with the México vs. El Salvador game coming up on Tuesday June 12th, (9 pm ET on Telemundo), I asked my son if he’d be willing to give a repeat performance in front of the camera. He didn’t want to at first but a piece of chocolate, 50 cents, and my explanation that he would help pep everyone up for the game, convinced him.

Arriba con la Selección!

El Salvador – The story I can’t really tell

When Suegra declared that she’d be traveling with us to El Salvador, I knew that drama was only a plane ride away – What I didn’t know is just how much.

I can’t give too many details or show too many photos regarding all this, out of respect for Carlos, but here are the basics of what happened.

A Tía picked us all up at the airport. After a quick roadside stop for agua de coco, we went straight to Carlos’s childhood home in Soyapango.

I was kind of expecting open warfare, gunshots, tattooed mareros dealing drugs on street corners in broad daylight – but Soyapango was pretty much as I remembered it – a rough neighborhood to be sure, graffiti on walls and barbed wire on rooftops, but calm on the surface, at least at that moment on that particular day.

I sighed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t the safest place for us to stay, but I was prepared to spend time in the neighborhood – to sleep in Carlos’s modest childhood home for several nights and let the children experience the real El Salvador that you can’t get while staying in a hotel.

We pulled up to Carlos’s house and the outside looked uncared for, but not to the point that I worried. The house badly needed a fresh coat of teal paint – mareros had taken care of that in their own way with red graffiti.

Inside the house, was another story all together. For one thing, it was extremely hot, (even locals complained about the heat while we were there.) We arrived from the airport needing to use the bathroom and dehydrated, but the house’s water was turned off. Once our eyes adjusted to the darkness of the house, we became aware of its condition. Due to lack of maintenance, the house had deteriorated in various ways – it seemed abandoned. Suegra had sold most of her furniture, (who knows why), and what was left was dusty, dirty, infested by rodents – and totally unsanitary. I was fully prepared for poverty, but when it comes to cleanliness, (especially for my children) – I don’t compromise.

Carlos’s face registered the same look of shock, disappointment, sadness – anger. To see his childhood home in total disrepair, and to have to show his children that this is where he lived, really hurt him.

For an hour or two, Carlos quietly tried to figure out what to do – stood in the window of the enclosed patio, shaking his head and sighing. It was clear we couldn’t stay there.

Finally Carlos confronted his mother – asked what happened, why she hadn’t kept up the house – why she had lied to us about its condition before we arrived. She became defensive and told him nothing was wrong with the house – that it was virtually the same as it had been when we visited 12 years ago – that in fact, she felt it was actually improved. She denied the damage, safety hazards and unsanitary conditions that were right there before our eyes, told us we were being snobby. It was clear Suegra was seriously delusional or that she thought we were incredibly stupid.

After a walk through the neighborhood to buy bottled water, (because at this point the boys and I were becoming physically ill from dehydration), Carlos calmly told her we were going to have a friend take us to a hotel. We had told Suegra all along that we would spend some time in a hotel, so we were just going there earlier than we had planned, but Suegra acted like this option was totally unheard of. Suegra exploded with accusations and manipulations, yelling – first at Carlos, then at me, then attempting to drag the children into it.

“Tracy! Of all people, I never would have expected this from you!” she said.

We grabbed our suitcases while she cursed us to a Tío who had come by to say “hello.” We piled into the friend’s car while she called a Tía on the phone to tell her what horrible people we were. We drove off as she compared me to one of Carlos’s old girlfriends. (A woman he dated before coming to the U.S. who Suegra hated for stealing her son away from her.)

The first few hours were emotional and ugly – this isn’t what I wanted the children to remember, but I was proud of Carlos. He took care of me and the kids as he promised. He didn’t give into his mother’s manipulation. Despite what we wrestled with as we tried to sleep that first night, in the darkness of the hotel room, we agreed we wouldn’t let this ruin our time in El Salvador – and we didn’t.

A few days later Suegra called demanding that Carlos hand over her plane ticket so she could change it. She didn’t fly back with us and hasn’t spoken to us since we gave it to her, (which was another drama filled encounter.) She’s telling family members and friends that she won’t move back in with us. What she doesn’t know is that if she changes her mind and decides to stop playing games, the door is not open for her to return this time.

Yesterday Suegra had a Tía call and say she was in the hospital with chest pains due to the stress Carlos had caused her. We found out from another (more honest) Tía, that the story was completely fabricated, that Suegra never went to the hospital and was perfectly healthy.

Carlos is dealing with a lot emotionally right now. Not only is he struggling with missing El Salvador and his best friend who he became very much re-attached to, but the drama with Suegra is far from over. For one, her [former] bedroom here is still full of her things. She will eventually need to come collect her stuff, which, I can tell you from past experience, doesn’t go well. She will drag this whole situation out for years, or for the rest of her life.

Carlos understands that he deserves to be treated with respect and love, and that those who don’t treat him that way, do not deserve to be a part of his life. He knows that at some point, one has to stand up and refuse to be abused any further – It’s harder to follow through when the person being abusive is one’s own mother.

The importance of correct verb conjugation

We gathered around the back door, myself, Suegra and the boys, to watch the baby bird learning how to fly. His attempts weren’t successful and then he stopped trying – just sat there like a feathery lump, as if he had given up. The mother and father bird encouraged him, flapped their wings, flew from one point to another to demonstrate, but the baby bird seemed to look away with indifference.

Suegra clicked her tongue, “pobrecito,” she said.
My older son shook his head, “No puedo volar,” he commented.

I caught the wrong verb conjugation but didn’t want to correct him directly. Instead I just repeated what he said correctly so he would hear the difference and self-correct later.
“No,” I said sympathetically, “El pájarito no puede volar.”

Suegra snorted. She takes a more aggressive approach when the children make mistakes in Spanish.

“No ‘puedo volar’ decís. Como sos pajaro vos! Claro que no puedes volar, cipote.”

My older son sometimes gets defensive when corrected in this way. He doesn’t like being made fun of and can be kind of sensitive. This time he just smiled and flapped his arms.

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Note for non-Spanish speakers:

The verb “poder” (to be able to) – is conjugated “puedo” to mean “I can” and “puede” for “he/she can” … By saying “No puedo volar” my son said “I can’t fly” instead of “No puede volar” to mean that the bird couldn’t fly.

Vocabulary

Pobrecito – poor little thing
No puedo volar – I can’t fly
El pájarito no puede volar – The little bird can’t fly
No ‘puedo volar’ decís. Como sos pajaro vos! Claro que no puedes volar, cipote. – ‘I can’t fly’ you say. As if you’re a bird! Of course you can’t fly, kid.

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Note for bird lovers:

The bird did eventually learn to fly. (Sí se puede!)