Bilingual is Better

"The Three Mango Muskateers" - Amy's boys and their new friend

Editor’s note: This is Part 3 in a continuing series by Amy Conroy. To read the first two parts, go here.

I would like to revisit one of the golden truths I’ve learned, Point C: our children are our best allies, our most gracious and charming ambassadors (when they’re not throwing berrinches or acting like super-ninjas in the local supermarket).  What I mean by this is that my experience right now would not be as rich without my children.

The simple truth is that if your children make friends with another child, a whole new world is open to them and yourself – certainly a new relationship (between the children, but also between adults), but I am also speaking of invitations and opportunities that might never have found their way to you otherwise.  And thus, I am so grateful!  The mommy network is a powerful thing, and from the time we have arrived in San Miguel de Allende, we have been graciously welcomed into the social folds and homes of many locals.

All of this is not to say that we don’t miss our friends from home! We’ve been here a month, and it happened – Jack hit ‘the wall’.  Sadly but somewhat predictably, my oldest had his first break with cultural assimilation. Someday we will chuckle over the physical circumstances of the said ‘break’, but I felt so badly for him. I could absolutely empathize. I’ve been there myself, and it made me tear up. He is thriving in his life down here. I am seeing a whole new side of him, relishing in the stimulation of everything that is new and different. It is beautiful to witness. Still, we dined at the rooftop restaurant of a posh 5 star hotel when my parents visited and of all things, the restroom did it. I know that sounds ridiculous, but to be honest I think it was because it was so clean and offered American-style plumbing (i.e. you could flush toilet paper down the toilet). He spontaneously broke into tears. It was so inexplicable at first that I didn’t understand what was happening, “Are you hurt? ¿Qué pasó?” But his tears were deeper, not ‘a mere flesh wound’[i]. We had been watching the sunset with a gorgeous and captivating vista, eating scrumptious food, celebrating our family’s Easter visit, and it all came together – or you could say, fell apart. He missed home. He missed Daddy. He missed his friends, his toys, everything. I totally understood where he was coming from – everything here is different. He is adapting beautifully, but you’d need to lack memory to not miss the things that make you feel comfortable.

I hugged him, I empathized; I got it. It’s so normal, it’s so observant of him to notice the details, and that, too, is part of the whole experience. He actually recovered quite quickly while it hit me to the core. I had to stop myself from continuing to comfort him because he was fine, as quickly as he hadn’t been. It was a moment. And while it rocks my world to think that he might suffer because of something I’ve chosen for him, I know that it is a big step toward all of the gains and positive things that he will take away from our experiences. It is happening. He is building his ‘cultural capital’[ii], one of my most favorite concepts. As we all know, ‘capital’ – fiscal or otherwise, isn’t easily gained or lost. It is earned.

So, you have two worlds. Nothing can replace a good friend – there or here. I’ve tried to explain it to my 7-year-old like this:  if you have an orange, it represents everything about your home in Los Angeles – your bedroom, your toys, friends, school, food, extra-curricular activities, everything – and you have a ton! But you, you also have an apple. And that represents all of the things and experiences you have here, in San Miguel: the friends, fiestas, policía on horseback outside our breakfast window, the Jardín (& associated toys), Parque Juarez, numerous taxis and limonata, etc., etc. You are lucky because you get both. Before, you only had one. Now you have two. The orange and your world at home aren’t going anywhere. I promise that they will be there when you return.

All of which leads me to my next truth about our ‘sabbatical’ in Mexico: Point D. Whatever you think is going to be easy, most likely isn’t. Conversely, whatever you anticipate being difficult might just be easy.

I have lots of examples to share. First of all, referencing my little cuento above – you would have thought a quick visit to the restroom to be simple. Alas, it was a layered experience that unfolded and will continue to reverberate. Enrolling in school? Tedious at home (U.S.) and filled with applications and wait lists, but super easy here – done in a day. Joining a Country Club? Fill out an application and pay money in the U.S.  Here? Additionally, please provide us with copies of your marriage certificate, birth certificates, and felony record if applicable (what?!  – must be bad hearsay, but makes me laugh to consider). Fresh fruit juice? Dime a dozen here vs. costly at home.  Phone call? All depends on your resources available and how well you understand the cellular vs. landline infrastructure of Mexico, i.e. can easily be confusing. Transportation? We hop in our car to go anywhere at home. Here, you walk, which I LOVE, or you take a taxi for 25 pesos nearly everywhere. Parking is considered unmanageable and common knowledge, so you’re better off not having to deal with a car.

However, transporting three children to two schools and home each day isn’t so easily done in a taxi. Clearly, this should have been realized in advance but I had made our trip to Mexico into a panacea of sorts. So after spending 2.5 hours each day in a taxi without a/c for a week in 90 degree plus weather, I tackled the luxury of obtaining a car and returning to my comfort zone. I feel a tiny bit ashamed and my friends loosely mock me, but what can I say? I am a Los Angelean and we love our personal automobiles. After inquiring about sky-high rental rates and considering a cuatro-moto for our needs, a friend offered to rent me his car. It seemed win-win all around as he hadn’t been using it and I clearly needed to, but he was apprehensive of my driving abilities since it is a manual truck with a stick shift.

He had a quick errand to do and suggested that I drive to “test it out”. I leave my children with my parents (who don’t speak a lick of Spanish) and tell them not to leave the house (3 little ones can be unwieldly in America let alone MX!), as I’ll be back shortly.  Two and a half hours later I find myself on the top of a gorgeous mountain ridge somewhere between San Miguel de Allende and Queretero drinking mezcal with the charming owner of a stunning ranch. And while it is 100% lovely, I am anxious to get back to my kids! I don’t even know exactly where I am, and I’ve left them in a foreign country all alone — time is tickin’, my friends! “They all speak English, right? They’ll be fine…” the dueño says. I know he’s right, and I have to check myself. Nobody else in our posse has children, so they don’t understand that I am the sole and primary caretaker in residence of my lovies! Against my gut, I consciously tell myself to enjoy this unexpected treat. Years ago, there would have been no conscious telling myself of anything, I simply would have relished the absurdity of the adventure.

Needless to say, it was great. I returned three hours later than expected with a wonderful memory and just a tiny bit of angst. My parents were pleased with the time spent solo with my kids, and everyone was happy. Plus, going to school in our own vehicle has greatly reduced the stress of everyday life.

Again, however, none of that would have happened if we hadn’t become friends with somebody who took kindly to my children: no car, no ranch views, no mezcal.  And where is the adventure in that?!  Thank you, my little ambassadors…

Next up: Fiestas, Pageantry, and Fun


[i] Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975.

[ii] Cultural capital refers to non-financial assets that involve educational, social, and intellectual knowledge that each person gains through their individual experiences in a lifetime.

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