Mom! Why I No Speak Spanish?

Confessions of a bilingual mom without a bilingual child.

My son and I enjoying an ice cream break

I have been speaking Spanish my whole life. My parents, being from Mexico, spoke Spanish. I learned to pray in Spanish, and my lullabies, cartoons, stories….all in Spanish. My older siblings spoke to me in English. At the tender age of 5, I was translating for my mom during parent-teacher conferences. SO WHY IN THE HECK DOES MY CHILD NOT SPEAK SPANISH?

Because I stopped speaking it to him…and it’s been one of my biggest regrets. 

When my son was a baby, I would talk to him in both languages. One of his first words was “agua”. As time passed on, we noticed that his speech was not developing. His pediatrician recommended getting him tested for hearing loss and other things that might be impairing his speech development and that’s how we found out he had Receptive Language Disorder. In a nutshell, he was having a hard time understanding and processing what was being said to him. My husband and I spoke about what we could do at home to help him (in addition to speech therapy), and we decided that maybe sticking to one language would help him, since he wouldn’t have to try and understand/process more than one language at a time. Was it the right thing to do? At the time, we thought it was. Thankfully, with the help of some amazing speech therapists, he was talking more and more by the end of his first year of speech therapy. He was 3, and his few Spanish words were gone. 

Why is this a big deal?

Not only were his few words gone, but so was the ability to communicate with my parents. Growing up in a Mexican household, speaking Spanish became such an important part of our identity. It helped us keep connected to our culture in a place where our culture was not accepted the way it is today (and even then…well, you know). My parents gush over other children who can speak Spanish. They don’t shun my little one or anything, but it kind of hurts to see him and my mom struggle to understand each other. “Mom! Why I no speak Spanish like you and Tita?!”. Hearing those little words cut through me like a knife through butter. We speak it a lot more now and he understands it for the most part. He still has some problems with word pronunciations in English, so it is harder for him to try and pronounce Spanish words. 

I feel like a hypocrite when I talk about how proud I am to be a child of Mexican immigrants…of how proud I am of our culture. “Ah, no que muy ch*ng*na, pues?!” Haha (insert crying emoji).

I’m sitting here at my table, drinking some hard cider, waiting for my clothes to finish washing, and just mustering up the courage and energy to continue writing. I don’t think I’ve ever been this open about this to anyone besides my husband and my best friend.

World, we need to stop putting importance on what our children can do and put more importance on who they are. I know it sounds like common sense, but it’s probably easier said than done. I know I am not the only person out there who feels this way, as I have read about other mothers who struggle to keep their own second language, in a world where English is the major language. When someone asks me why he doesn’t speak Spanish (with such a sad face) I always just say “eh, we’re trying”. But in reality, it is none of your business.  Not speaking Spanish does not make him any less a part of our culture or any less a part of our family. It does not dictate his value as a person, and it does not dictate my values as a mother. The mom guilt is real and we’re all doing the best we can. I mean if you really want to get into the deeper stuff, Spanish was an indoctrinated language that erased many Indigenous languages…but that’s something for another day. My main point is that I am trying very hard here, and that’s all that matters. I’m not trying to make an excuse for why he doesn’t speak it, and quite honestly, I feel like I really need to try and stop explaining myself to other people. But the truth is that the person I’m really trying to convince is myself. I don’t think I have reached that point to where I believe what I am saying, but I hope that one day I won’t have to convince myself and I’ll just let things kind of roll off my shoulder.

*Disclaimer. I am in no way discouraging people from teaching their children a second language.*

With all that being said, we are still trying to learn more Spanish, seeing as how my Spanish is also disappearing. Playing games has been a great way to learn. We like to play Loteria, which is similar to Bingo, only more fun and includes pictures. I bought a child-friendly version of it from Lil Libros (not sponsored) and it includes the English and Spanish words to read off. We gradually moved up to the real Loteria and now my son likes to make it more interesting and plays for quarters. We do this, on top of doing a light version of immersion Spanish from time to time. I usually speak in both languages so he can try to make the mental connections to the words.  It really does take time and patience. Sometimes it can be a real struggle when you live in an area that is heavily structured around a single spoken language. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible and I applaud everyone who is working with their children to learn another language. 

Oh! A quick side note! Grandparents are such a huge blessing. My parents have been visiting for a month and they have been so patient with the communication between them and my son. They have been teaching each other how to say things in both languages and they seem to understand each other. Love is definitely a universal language, so it works out.

my son and my parents enjoying a hike out.

In conclusion

Languages are important. It is a way we can communicate with one another. Languages help with brain development in tiny humans. There is definitely an importance in keeping languages alive but I don’t think they should dictate the validity in your identity. You have no idea how hard it was for me to type out that sentence. Para mi gente leyendo esto, el no poder hablar el Espanol no es indicativo de ser menos parte de la cultura en cual tu perteneces. For my people reading this, not being able to speak Spanish does not make you any less part of your cultural background. In my case, it does not make you any less Mexican. There are various ways to keep connected to your culture despite having a language barrier. If you ever watched the movie Selena, there is a part in there where the dad is explaining to their children that as Mexican Americans, we have to try and prove how Mexican we are to our Mexican people, and then we have to prove how American we are to our American people. That resonated with me so much and still does to this day.

It’s about time we, in the Mexican/Latinx community, stop looking down at our generations as “less than” or “other” simply because they cannot speak Spanish. We must start coming together as a group to support and lift one another especially in times when our respective communities are hurting.  Unidos se puede (together, we can.) 

Thanks for reading my late-night confessions. My clothes are in the dryer, and my cider is all gone. I hope you all have a good day/night. 

Buenas Noches!

Meet the Contributor: Christina Villa

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Family: My family consists of my husband of 10 years and our two beautiful boys.

Job: I work for Coconino County and love every minute of it!

What brought you to Flagstaff: Our desire to move away from the heat! We lived in Phoenix for long enough and although we miss our families; Flagstaff has become our home.

Early Bird or Night Owl: I’m a bit of both. But I’d consider myself more of an early bird.

Hobbies: Reading, True Crime, listening to TC podcasts, the lists goes on!

Favorite thing to do with your Family: Just spending time with my kids and husband.

Kid(s): 2 beautiful boys!

Coffee or Tea: Coffee, can’t stand tea

Favorite/Least Favorite Household chore: No one has a favorite chore. Hate the idea of dishes

Going back in time, one thing you would tell yourself right before you became a mother: Things change fast, you won’t be the same person with the same body and you’re going to lose friends along the way. But at the end of the day, you’ll always have everything you need in your kids.

Something you are looking forward to: Going to the Green Room or Monte Vista!

Favorite Thing to do in Flagstaff with/without kids: Going out for a beer

Best Mom Hack: Don’t think I really have one, kind of go with the flow

The greatest challenge you’ve faced: My greatest challenge right now is balancing everything! I’ve overcome a lot of challenges from my past, which help me look at how I approach my challenges now.

Something you love about yourself: I love my ability to keep going, my endurance for everything going on.

Favorite thing about being a Mom: Feeling unconditional love from my kids. When I have a bad day, I can always turn to my boys and forget about the frivolity of my issues. They can make me laugh and

 

Up All Night Mom: The Second Shift

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If you aren’t familiar with the term, “The second shift,” it refers to the domestic labor that mothers perform after returning from jobs outside the home. The “equality” of this labor has improved somewhat over the years, but most studies agree that even when women work outside the home they also complete most of the domestic labor. This work is often referred to as “invisible.” It’s the small tasks like filing doctor’s records, keeping current on the addresses of all friends and family members, remembering everyone’s birthday and buying thoughtful gifts, transitioning old kid clothes out and new ones in when they grow, and so on. In some households, these tasks are divided more evenly than in others. This isn’t to make fun of dads. Dads are great. The pandemic has just brought the “second shift” that mothers face to the forefront of conversations again.

I’m a college instructor and since the pandemic I’ve dealt with shifting the rest of the semester online over Spring Break, battling job insecurity, applying for part-time summer work, and trying to meet some of the emotional needs of my students. Oh, and I’m a mom to a 3-year-old boy and 9-month-old daughter. And my husband still works outside the home. What does this look like?

When NAU was still in Spring session I checked emails in the morning while the kids ate, did office hours on the phone while holding my baby and distracting the toddler with a tablet, and then did the bulk of my grading and lesson planning after the kids went to sleep. This meant I woke up at 8:00 a.m. and didn’t sleep until after 1:00 a.m. 7 hours of sleep would be okay, except that my baby still doesn’t sleep through the night.

What about my husband

Why didn’t I pressure my husband to help more? Well, once he got home from work he was pretty much in charge of the toddler. I felt bad leaving him with two kids while I went upstairs to work. I couldn’t focus, because I could hear the baby screaming periodically. She only wants me to hold her. You know that phase. It just wasn’t worth it.

When I was able to leave the house to work, I didn’t have to hear and see my family’s needs. I knew that everything would work out, and I’d jump in when I got home. But once the pandemic hit I could hear my son yelling that he was done pooping, and I could hear the baby crying because she was teething. How could I not help my husband?

Hard choices

I recently read an article about a small business owner who let her business go. She felt horrible for letting down her employees but felt she had to choose her family. With kids at home and no daycare options, she made the best choice she could. Here’s the kicker…she was married. Her husband tried his best to pitch in more, but they just couldn’t make it work. Their marriage was suffering.

Nobody can be prepared for a pandemic, but it is painfully obvious to me that many men are not prepared to jump in as primary caregivers. Many of them have not had to face days on end of caring for children largely alone. They don’t have the same experience in sheer hours logged.

At the same time, many women are finding it hard to “let go” and focus on work while their partners take on the bulk of child-rearing and domestic labor. I’ve seen memes saying, “Help me, no, not that way,” and I swear some of us can hear our partners putting away the dishes “incorrectly” from the other room. The mental load of trying not to offend your partner, but also to give them tips, but also trying to seem grateful is hard.

That’s why I opted to work at night. I also felt bad for my husband, who still had to wake up early, go to work, and come home to share the child-rearing. Obviously, with no daycare there are no breaks. With no way to reconnect, or spend much alone time together, couples with kids are under pressure. It’s not the easiest time to change family dynamics.

They want to help – and should

I know this view is only of a heterosexual couple, and a married one. Single parents are living a different story entirely. Families with no working parents are struggling greatly. I’m not trying to paint myself as a victim. My husband is a great guy. My point is that if you remove childcare from the equation, you see that many families are unable to “divide” domestic labor and work time evenly. Old inequalities are sharply brought to the surface.

The thing is, most male partners want to help. They want to step in and make it better, but it is a struggle. I think we need a society that supports fathers better. Brain scans revealed that male brains alter when they are the primary caregiver to a child. I believe fathers should be left alone with newborns for long stretches. They should have more bonding time, including more leave from work. They should have more opportunities to practice domestic labor by babysitting, being invited into the kitchen as boys, doing their own laundry from a young age, and managing all their own appointments.

These things might sound silly, but I grew up around a lot of guys who had moms who made their beds, never asked them to babysit, always cooked for them (not with them), did all of their laundry, made all of their appointments, and even ordered their meals at restaurants. What we pour into our children is what they can pour out to their partner. Nobody taught me to change a tire. If this pandemic were dependent upon me changing tires for 8 hours a day my family would be in trouble. I’d learn, but it would be difficult. Why are these gender traps still present for many (not all) of us? How do we honor each other, and give each other grace, but also set our children up for more success than we’ve had? These are the questions so many of us continue to grapple with.

What I really want for Women’s Equality Day – Inclusion

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Women

Just last week American women celebrated 100 years since the ratification of the 19th amendment which granted our right to vote. 1920 was a powerful year for women – I’m hoping 2020 brings more of the same. In 1971, the U.S. Congress designated August 26 as Women’s Equality Day.

An excerpt of the sample proclamation for women’s equality day from a Joint Resolution of Congress in 1971 reads:

WHEREAS, the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States; and
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have united to assure that these rights and privileges are available to all citizens equally regardless of sex; and
WHEREAS, the women of the United States have designated August 26, the anniversary date of the certification of the Nineteenth Amendment, as symbol of the continued fight for equal rights: and
WHEREAS, the women of United States are to be commended and supported in their organizations and activities,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that August 26th of each year is designated as Women’s Equality Day, and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation annually in commemoration of that day in 1920, on which the women of America were first given the right to vote, and that day in 1970, on which a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights took place.

Source

Where are we today?

I’m immediately struck by the opening of the statement that reads, “…the women of the United States have been treated as second-class citizens and have not been entitled the full rights and privileges, public or private, legal or institutional, which are available to male citizens of the United States…”

Rights. Privileges.

There is no question, 2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year so far. But, it’s also been a year of rising voices and growing momentum for social justice and civil rights. Facing a global pandemic, while working and schooling from home, perhaps with a spouse on unemployment has no-doubt shifted our focus and perspectives greatly. In 1971 Congress named August 26 Women’s Equality Day, but where do we sit almost 50 years later?

The Pay Gap

“In other words, the median salary for men is roughly 19 percent higher than the median salary for women. This figure represents a 2 percent improvement from 2019 and a 7 percent improvement from 2015, when the median salary for men was roughly 26 percent higher than the median salary for women.” Source. You’ve likely heard of the gender pay gap. During the rise of the #MeToo movement women in Hollywood used their platforms to highlight that they were often paid significantly less than their male costars. This is not a new challenge and is one that had long existed. The statistics above show that the gap is shrinking, but goodness – isn’t the uphill battle exhausting?

The Mental Load

A few years ago a French cartoonist, Emma made the Mental Load go viral with her illustrated work highlighting all the labor women are expected to accomplish as a result of long-standing social expectations. Mothers across the world dropped their laundry baskets and applauded. Finally, someone named it! Now, is caring for a family of children you longed for, with a partner you chose ultimately a gift? Yes. But is it fair that as women we are expected to manage the majority of domestic responsibilities alone? No. However, I do see a striking contrast to domestic partnerships of today vs that of my grandparents. Men are packing lunches and braiding hair and giving baths right alongside the matriarchs of the home.

One current burden mothers are faced with is the weight of distance learning during the time of COVID-19. Women are forced to either alter their work schedules significantly or quit their jobs completely in order to support their children’s education. In some cases, we are jumping through endless hoops to arrange learning pods or find tutors when modifying a work schedule isn’t possible.

It. Is. Exhausting. 

Equality vs Inclusion

I recently took a training course on Inclusion at NAU and one of the points we focused on was the difference between equality and inclusion. Equality is the idea that we should all be considered equal – but that only works if we are all starting from the same place.

Let’s take a step back and examine our founding fathers – they were: male, white, rich, heterosexual, and Christian. As a result, our country was constructed on the basis that these 5 points were ideal. Those beliefs then became the foundation of our institutions – government, voting, healthcare, education, the justice system.

Inclusion is the idea of accepting others as their authentic self while removing the institutional barriers. That looks like rejecting those 5 “ideal” points and then deconstructing the bias systems within our institutions that have prevented everyone from succeeding.

So what do I want for Women’s Equality Day this year? I want inclusion. I want all women to be their authentic selves in a country where our institutions are free of barriers that prevent us from truly thriving.

Mentally Preparing for Another Baby (Part II)

A million years ago I wrote a reflection on the decision to have a second baby. Spoiler alert: I was pregnant about 10 seconds after it was posted.

When my husband and I were dating we had a frank discussion over our ideal sized family. For me, four, all adopted. For him, two. but he would compromise on three, biological. None of that even mattered because that’s actually not how life works. You might know that my family struggled with fertility and that for a few years, we were foster parents, although we never got the opportunity to adopt.  We eventually conceived with the help of our local birth center, and when it came to baby number two, all we had to do was say out loud, “should we start trying again?” before immediately getting pregnant. We were blessed.

Following the traumatic birth of my second child  though, my family said we were done. D-O-N-E. Done with babies.

I happily donated all my maternity clothes. I sorted, donated, and sold any baby items as my son outgrew them. I felt happy knowing our family was done. I felt really at peace about our decision.

Until I wasn’t.

So here I am. Wondering, how do I know when I’m done? Truly done.

How does anyone know when their family is complete?

It took me a long year and a half, and a candid conversation with my midwife before I truly felt emotionally healed from my son’s birth. It took longer for my husband.

Then the question came up with a more open heart. What if we had another baby?

I knew I was ready, and when I looked at my children I kept thinking, someone isn’t here.

I know most people just leave it up to God or chance or they take more medical or permanent solutions. We use fertility awareness meticulously so surprises aren’t really in the cards for us. Sure, there could always be the chance, but that chance also exists for people who contracept and people who sterilize. But before even anyone takes that step, how do they know it’s time?

How do you know when you’re done? Really done?

My husband and are on the same page now. Although sometimes he’ll say, “ok, but no more than four”. Alright, I tell him, but I can’t make any promises.

How did you or how will you know?

 

What do you do if your loved one has COVID-19?

I am not ready to be a widow. Then again, who is ever ready to be one?

This was my first thought when I found out that my husband tested positive for COVID-19. We were both hoping that he had some other viral disease when he started to show the symptoms (cough, fever, shortness of breath, lack of energy) but it was clear that this was no common cold.

My first concern once learning that he has been infected was

what will happen to the children if I get sick too?”

My husband and I, both in our mid-30’s, have 3 young children (4 and under). We don’t have any family in Flagstaff who could provide childcare. Even if we did, sending our children to my or his parents could potentially jeopardize their lives. Hiring a babysitter is not an option either when someone has been infected. Thankfully, I was able to stay healthy during the 14-day quarantine. Otherwise, I am not sure how I would’ve taken care of my husband and the kids.

I remember the nights being hard because I wasn’t able to comfort him as he soaked through the bed sheets with his fever. I also remember the nights being scary because I didn’t know if I made the right call by letting him sleep as opposed to checking his oxygen level and/or temperature. To reduce paranoia, I opened the bedroom door periodically and listened to his breathing to make sure that he was alive. I am grateful that he was able to win this battle without needing a ventilator and any other medical intervention.

This article is not meant to provide medical, legal or financial advice for anybody. Instead, it illustrates what I have learned as I reflect on this experience. Please consult your doctor, lawyer, or financial advisor for any questions and decisions.

  1. Learn about your significant other’s wish for end-of-life care. It certainly was not easy to imagine how I might have to advocate for my husband’s end-of-life care. Nonetheless, it was better for me to know this now than when it is too late for him to express his wish.
  2. Decide on guardianship for the children, if you have any, in case both of you fall ill to this terrible virus. Honestly, we should’ve had this conversation pre-COVID. Better yet, we should’ve had this conversation pre-children. But we didn’t. If you don’t make any arrangement for such an emergency, your children may be placed with a family that is not the right fit and this would be an extremely disruptive process for them.
  3. Get approval from the person you are considering to be a guardian for your children. You can’t assume that they would be able to fulfill your request, and it is better to make another selection if necessary.
  4. Have an estate plan. I used to think estate planning is just for the rich, but it is not. It protects the beneficiaries and allows you to choose who gets what. People always fight over money, and this minimizes the chances of ugly and costly legal battles.
  5. Choose a guardian of the estate. This is the person who will manage the money or assets left in your children’s name on their behalf if you die. The guardian of the estate doesn’t have to be the same as the guardian of the children, but they will work together to distribute funds and pay any expenses that may incur on behalf of the children’s well-being. Again, we probably should’ve chosen this person prior to having children.
  6. Learn the details of your significant other’s life insurance policy, if there is one. I knew that my husband had purchased life insurance shortly before purchasing our house. Embarrassingly, I had no clue what type of life insurance (term life vs universal life, protection period, death benefit coverage, etc) he had chosen until now.
  7. Talk to your family members and notify who will serve as the guardian of the estate and guardian of the children if you and your significant other become incapacitated. If both parents die, then who gets custody of a minor child isn’t always simple. You don’t want your family members fighting over your kids or your $.
  8. Get things in writing. Make your choices legally binding and official. I will be honest – we didn’t have time to have our documents “official” by having witnesses and/or notarized because we were writing them in small windows of time when my husband felt well enough to be awake. But again, you should have this done before you have an emergency (see the theme here?).
  9. Get a pulse oximeter and check your significant other’s oxygen levels. This is a small electronic device that measures the saturation of oxygen carried in the red blood cells. It can be purchased at any local pharmacy (price range from $30-$100). Hopefully, none of you who are reading this post will ever need a pulse oximeter, but if you do and it is sold out at the pharmacy, please reach out to me.

*What is the significance of checking the oxygen level? It may not be possible to reliably self-assess shortness of breath, a symptom of this disease because some COVID-19 patients suddenly develop a condition where they look and feel fine (i.e. not noticing any shortness of breath) but their oxygen levels are dangerously low. The oxygen level can be used as one of the deciding factors for bringing your loved one to the hospital. It is important to point out that shortness of breath and low oxygen levels are just two possible symptoms of COVID-19. You should visit the CDC website to familiarize yourself with all of the symptoms that could appear anywhere between 2 to 14 days after the exposure.

  1. Plan how you will live in isolation. This aims to separate those infected with the virus from those who are not infected. In other words, think about how infected people can separate themselves from others by staying in a specific room and using a specific bathroom.
  2. Accept help from your friends and family. Our extended families were thoughtful enough to mail snacks, books, and art supplies for our children who were more or less neglected during this time. They were also kind enough to arrange dinner (plus enough left-over for lunch the following day) for most of the nights during the quarantine. I feel a bit guilty saying this, but I am pretty sure I gained weight because I ate too well. DoorDash, UberEats, Grubhub – there are many delivery options out there.
  3. Talk to your kids about COVID-19 while keeping their developmental stage in mind. They need to understand why the sick parent wears a mask inside the house, why he sits 6 ft away from the dining table during meals, why he is unable to kiss them, why he is too tired to wrestle them, why he excuses himself in the middle of a meal to lie down, etc. Listen to their fears and concerns while offering empathy.
  4. Call your best friend and let out a good cry. I didn’t want to cry in front of my sick husband (who honestly wasn’t awake enough during the day anyway) so I let my emotion bottled up inside. I was afraid, stressed, lonely, confused, tired, all of the above. It felt nice to talk to my best friend and not think about COVID-19 for a few minutes.
  5. Tell yourself that it’s fine to be the world’s okayest parent right now. No, my children are not going to be engaged in the coolest science experiment. No, my children are not going to produce the most beautiful artwork that will be Instagram-able. No, my children are not going to master simple subtraction. But they will be fed, bathed, and loved. That’s about all I can do at this time.

Why I Quit Social Media

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I have had a long-standing love-hate relationship with social media.

There was a practical component where I would quickly learn what was going on around town, a single source of information for kids’ events, as well as tip-offs for cheaper tickets or hints to register by a certain day or time to ensure admission.  Local businesses often advertise special sales on Instagram, and I have even seen a “First person to come to the store and show me this post wins this gift certificate.”

I am sorry to miss those special deals and insider tips.  I am sorrier to miss updates from my friends and those I care about who I may not see regularly or at all.

I am not sorry to leave platforms that have become a space for people to feel comfortable acting vindictively, passive-aggressively, and speaking in ways known to be hurtful only because they get to hide behind a screen.  I do not miss seeing my feed full of political discourse where individuals spend their free time arguing on Facebook falsely believing they are going to change someone’s political affiliation or opinion.

It has been refreshing not to habitually open Instagram and scroll passively while learning almost nothing and to rid the feeling of getting more excited to share a family experience rather than experiencing the moment itself.  I no longer spend an extra minute here and there checking back in to see people’s reactions to my son’s new milestone or seeing what people think of my new DIY.

I have found that without social media, my friendships are more intentional and although I miss seeing what they are doing on the daily, my interactions with them feel more personal since I am making a true effort to check in with them and ask deliberate questions.

I am not saying I will not return to social media at some point when things might feel more balanced about using it.  For me, social media was not adding much value to life and became more of a habit than a tool.

I am now free to spend any extra time reading more books and writing, which I have always felt I did not have time for.  Funny how those things work out.

 

Meet the Contributor: Shellie Puffer

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Shellie on one of her favorite kind of days – the gray, rainy kind.

Family: Well, there’s me (lofty ideas and ideals central, here), there’s my husband (excellent helper in implementing ideas and ideals), our almost 2-year old daughter (ideas and ideals still developing, seems kind of erratic) as well as our gremlin fence-jumping, lightning speed seven-year-old dog (ideas all relate to food, sleep, ball, or stick; affectionately she is called the “cheese monster”). Our cheese drawer is always stocked, and this is a very important thing in our house. I once sent my husband a card (this was over a decade ago) that read “I love you more than cheese”, and after that he said he really understood how much I loved him.

Gremlin dog. Don’t feed her after midnight!

Card that affirms love above cheese.

Career: I am a Wildlife Biologist, and for the past five years I have been working on reptile and amphibian research/conservation here in the desert southwest. I know that these cold-blooded animals are not as cute, cuddly, and relatable as all the fluffy, warm-blooded mammals out there, but I hope that sharing my interest in reptiles and amphibians will build an appreciation in others for some really “neat-o” organisms that also call the southwest their home!

What brought you to Flagstaff: I was a long-time dreamer of moving to the “real” west (I’m from the Midwest), and my husband shared the same idea. I love thunderstorms, rain, washed-out gray skies, and all things green. Naturally, when I said “west”, I thought of the northwest. Then my husband landed a job in Flagstaff, and we were suddenly propelled into the desert with nearly 300 days of sunshine every year. It certainly has given me time to appreciate the beauty of arid places – the ephemeral blooms, perennial hardiness, and wide-open landscapes of the southwest.

Early Bird or Night Owl: The post-sunrise, pre-late morning bird? I suppose the fact that I enjoy getting up early over going to bed late makes me a de facto “early bird”. I am actually quite terrible at staying up late. If I try to do so, it usually just translates to falling asleep on the couch and ends with my husband poking me to go to bed while I make grumpy noises akin to a bear coming out of hibernation.

Hobbies: Enjoying the outdoors (whether it’s hiking and camping or being lazy in a hammock); Reading (now relegated to a brief bedtime ritual since becoming a parent, but oh how I miss weekends of lazy page-turning); Honing my naturalist skills; Being selectively crafty (I like to believe I am crafty, but I have created things that could end up on a “Pinterest Fail” page. This has been going on since I was young and tried to create a “real” rainbow out of old sandwich bags, glue, and some markers.); Testing baking recipes for high-altitude success; Perpetually coming up with madcap ideas

Favorite thing to do with your Family: At risk of sounding repetitive, see above! We really love hiking together, and I spend as much time as I can absorbing the natural world with my family. Nature is such a soul-centering setting for us.

Coffee or Tea: BOTH. Mornings are for coffee. The strong, cold-brewed kind that slaps your brain awake and restores your daily motivation. Afternoons and evenings are for tea – any kind, any flavor, any mix. Tea drinking is downright exciting with all of the options out there.

Favorite/Least Favorite Household Chore: I cannot resist an organization project when I see one (Classic Type A here). I don’t even mind cleaning – it gives a little sense of satisfaction afterward. But if there’s one thing that I don’t enjoy in the cleaning realm, it’s dusting. I kind of loathe my knick-knacks when I have to move them aside to dust, and unless you haven’t dusted for a year, your table looks pretty much the same both before and after dusting. Where is the satisfaction in that?!

Going back in time, one thing you would tell yourself right before you became a mother: I think self-doubt plagued me before I became a parent. How will I know everything before I need to know it? Am I cut out to be a parent? Will I really love this kid as much as people say I will? What I know now, and what I wish I had understood then, is that every parent adapts and learns as they go. My advice would have been to just trust myself.

Something you are looking forward to: Did someone say ice cream? Oh man, I miss going out for ice cream. It’s our family summer ritual, and we’ve had to switch to making our own ice cream for peace of mind during the pandemic (who needs a shake weight when you can shake up your own ice cream?). As soon as I see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, I’m getting a delicious hand-dipped cone. Since that might be awhile, my future dreams include any and all kinds of great outdoor adventures with my daughter as she grows older. I hope the adventures end with an ice cream sandwich or a milkshake from Mama Burger.

Favorite Thing to do in Flagstaff with/without kids: We used to greatly enjoy going to the farmer’s market on the weekend, toting our glass jars to trade in for new bouquets of flowers. The pandemic has put that on hold, so now we just enjoy hitting the trails even more. Without kids, what is that? Don’t worry, I’m just “kid”ding (hah… hah…). I love to go to thrift stores (Flagstaff has so many!), and my husband and I always enjoy a night out in downtown Flag.

Best Mom Hack: To this day, the greatest accomplishment in our household was figuring out that if my daughter’s toys and stuffed animals do something first, then she will be more amenable to doing it, too. I have to give kudos to my husband on this one. My daughter hates medicine and we have always had great pains and battles trying to give any meds to her. Then one day, my husband sat down on the couch and gave medicine to her most beloved stuffie. Then all her stuffies got some. Then she wanted some, too. Now anytime we face a toddler that is stonewalling us, we grab her favorite stuffed animals and dolls to show her that if they can do it, she can, too. It works most of the time.

The greatest challenge you’ve faced: Moving through the grieving process the first time one of my close loved ones passed away. After watching them battle cancer and fade away slowly and painfully, I had a very long road to mental recovery and normalcy. I’ll never forget the heartbreak. It still pains me to think about, but I appreciate how that process has changed my perspective on life.

Something you love about yourself: I am a big dreamer. I am constantly dreaming about things – things I want to do, things I want to change, things I want to learn… and those things turn into real plans and real actions. I think it’s something that helps me keep moving forward in life.

Favorite thing about being a Mom: Oh gosh, let’s call a spade a spade and not beat around the bush: here come the clichés. Being a mom has made me a better person. It has expanded my heart and my empathy, and made me more patient and mindful. My daughter, without even knowing it, has made me grow into a more gracious person. She really makes me want to be my best self. There must be truth to these clichés (the proof is in the puddin’) and I’m afraid if I don’t stop here, the next one I write is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back!

Someday, We Will Tell The Story of Now

Oof. Here we are, more than 4 months into staying home, staying 6 ft away from everyone, and for me, staying in a near-constant state of anxiety about both the present and the future.

To avoid spiraling, I have been perpetually looking for small silver linings.

One silver lining was the chance recently to Facetime with an old friend, he was my saving grace at my first job out of college.  The type of friend where your bond feels tight forever because it was forged in adversity. But I hadn’t spoken to him in ten years. So we had a lot to talk about.

As we caught up and a chit-chatted, he asked me how a family member was doing. And so, in about 3 minutes, I described what had happened over the last ten years. Many of these data points were incredibly painful at the time. These events represented times I had felt huge feelings, of sadness and anger and fear. But here I was, rattling them off. After I finished, I said it was so strange to have done that, these are things so hard at the time… and now they’re just stories.

He is sweet and wise and suggested maybe that is how to think of hard things, even in the moment. What will this story be? And to know, even in the moment, that someday this can just be a story. Different tough periods have run through my head since, my eldest in the NICU, breakups, toxic work environments, health issues. Periods where the feelings, the hurt, the fear were so visceral… but time and perspective have since woven those tough times into stories.

These stories are not glib. The story of this year will always include huge loss, fear, and sadness. Personally and communally, we have lost so much in the last several months. We have lost loved ones, stability, income, the opportunity to go to in-person school. Everyone has lost something, but some families have lost far more than others. We started out in this together, but quickly our experiences diverged.

At least for me, in the middle of the storm and through the fear and sadness, it helps to try to remember this will all eventually be part of our story.

So the Fair is “Modified,” now what?

Labor day in Flagstaff means the Coconino County Fair

Or at least until this year… ya know, COVID and all. Per the latest press release, “Coconino County Parks and Recreation is modifying the 71st Coconino County Fair due to COVID-19 concerns. This decision was reached after months of deliberation, research, and consultation with local health officials and the Board of Supervisors. Several county fairs in Arizona have canceled their events this year due to COVID-19 safety concerns.” The committee that is in charge of our Fair doesn’t want to just cancel another event, especially one this big! They/ we still want you, our community, involved and excited that there are offerings for this year’s Fair.

What does that look like?

To be honest, some of that is still up in the air. BUT, there are other Fairs around the country that are planning and doing alternate/ virtual contests. Coconino County is taking some pages from these other fairs and adding our fav ideas. The desire is for this year’s in-person event to focus on the 4-H exhibitors and junior livestock auction. But not to forget our other entrants: Instead of bringing in a cookie made from your mom’s recipe of the best chocolate chip cookie you’ve ever had, send in a recipe in the designated category with your tips and tricks for use in an online cookbook. Instead of agonizing over picking the best flower from your garden and bringing it in before it wilts, you send a picture of the whole garden. Instead of going through the struggle of printing and backing your fav photo from the last year, you send in it digitally.

The superintendents (did I mention that I am in that group) are busy finalizing categories for this year’s fair. Categories even include things that aren’t usually considered for Fair entries! An entire table setting! Something that’s too big to bring to the fairgrounds! Antics your cat or dog has gotten into! Photo-shop yourself with the Fair mascot, Coco the cow! We are working hard at figuring out what will work so that you, our community, can still be a part of the County Fair! We want this to be a fun experience for all who enjoy the Fair!

Cool, What do I do?

Keep checking coconinocountyfair.com! The idea is that people who want to enter will go there, fill out the online entry form, pick your department, select the category and upload your picture all in one space. Simple!

What’s next? After the entry period, the pictures will be compiled and sent to the appropriate judge. Judges filter through all those pictures and will then pick their winners.

Then? Yes, I’m glad you asked! Then, during what would be the Fair weekend (Fri Sept 4 – Mon Sept 7), winners of each category will be announced live on Facebook/ Instagram at a predetermined time for each department and posted on the Coconino County Fair web-sight. Did I mention that there’s a bit of prize money up for grabs? How cool is that?!

So, Next year?

Here’s hoping by the time the 72nd annual Coconino County Fair rolls around that we will be able to enjoy each other’s company without feeling like the world has cooties! So keep wearing your mask and keep working on your projects, taking pictures, planting your garden, saving your kid’s (school) art… I want to see it all in person next year!

Also, the Fair committee is looking for one or two more people to help Superintend buildings. Fair Superintendents make a positive difference in the County Fair. This includes working before during and after the fair. They connect the greater community to the Fair by encouraging individuals to submit entries and exhibits, organize workshops in the buildings that encourage community interest in a specific subject, and overall foster goodwill. There is a small stipend paid to superintendents after the completion of the fair. If you, or someone you know, have an interest in photography (currently vacant) or in-home arts (Home Economics – sewing, crochet, knit other needle arts, canning, baking, etc) there are openings in those buildings. Contact [email protected]

It’s a different senior year–4 things they still need to learn

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My fourth daughter is a senior in high school this year.

It’s different this time around, for sure. She picked up her schedule in a face mask. She doesn’t need to pray for a coveted senior parking spot, probably won’t get to sit in the senior section at the football games, and may not even take a class inside the school she will graduate from in May. However, there are some things that are the same, and those are the things I need to focus on during her last year of high school.

How to Make Mistakes

Part of success is learning from mistakes. How our kids learn from their mistakes is a powerful part of parenting. And, it assumes that we are letting our kids make those mistakes. Of course, I don’t want my girls to get hurt or develop dangerous habits, however, during their senior year, my husband and I try not to say “no.” Is it the best idea to go to Dutch or a friend’s house after dark when you have an exam the next day? Probably not. Will it kill her? Probably not. Will she likely regret her decision at midnight when she starts studying and realizes she’s too tired to study or runs out of time to do what she thought she could do? Probably. Will I be tempted to say, “I told you so”? Probably. But these are the life lessons that we can give them the grace to learn while under our roof, while we can still be there when they fall, tell them it’s going to be okay, and help them make a different decision the next time.

Who are you?

There is so much pressure on our seniors to know where they want to go and what they want to do for the rest of their life when they are all of 17-years-old. Seriously. On the one hand, of course, it is important for them to make the grades that will help them be successful after high school. But on the other hand, do they really need to apply to Ivy League “stretch” schools just because they can, and know exactly what their major is when they have no idea what a career in that field really looks like? As parents, we can affirm the things our kids are good at and passions that seem to be bubbling to the surface in conversations about current events. We can verbalize that to them so they know we believe in them and see great potential in them. But, we can also let them be uncertain, let them know it’s okay to change their mind once they get there, and let them know we will love them forever because of WHO they are, not WHAT they are.

Time Management

Maybe even more difficult this year, and yet perhaps more similar this year to life after high school, learning to balance work, play, and rest is one of the most important skills we can teach our seniors this year. Taking classes online, without the constant supervision of teachers and/or parents will be a challenge for some of our kids practicing to be adults. There’s a constant temptation to distraction, less accountability, and yet a need for us as parents to help our seniors develop time management strategies that will help them succeed beyond high school. Start the conversation. . . What is your most productive time of day? What makes you feel awake and ready to work? What routine could you start that would build a healthy rhythm to your day? How can I help? The challenge for me is that this daughter is wired way differently than I am, and I may need to let her figure out how to manage her time her way.

Adulting 101

And finally, maybe not the most glamorous of our tasks as parents of seniors, it’s time to learn some life skills. If you haven’t already, teach them to do their own laundry–and let them be responsible for it, week after week. Let them learn now, that if they don’t do laundry for two weeks, their room will smell and they will run out of underwear. It’s okay, mom. Teach them how to cook a few meals they could make for a date or roommates. I hadn’t cooked a meal solo until I was married, and bless my husband’s heart, he was a saint to suffer through that awkward process. Give your senior a night a week that they are in charge of dinner. Teach them how to make a meal plan, a grocery list, and shop on a budget. If your senior hasn’t had the experience of applying for a job or holding a basic, minimum-wage paying job yet, now is the time. Honestly, life will never be less busy. There’s so much to be learned from serving the public, having to do work that is hard and you don’t really like, and working with people who are different than you. Let them struggle with this now, so you can encourage them to hang in there, respect their boss, spend their earnings wisely, and enjoy the feeling of a job well done.

So, parents of seniors, this is a big year. And while it may not be what we have expected, let’s not lose sight of the significance of our role as parents this year in shaping our young people for all that is too soon to come. And meanwhile, you may find me quietly crying in my car in a parking lot, wishing time would slow down.

Your Great-Grandfather Died Today

Sweet baby girl, Your great-grandfather died today.

We were rushing around the house this morning trying to get a few things sorted out and quickly packed so that we could take you and the dogs and drive to Tucson. The plan was to say goodbye, but we were still packing when we got an email from your papa that he had already passed away.

Your dad and I made the decision to try and cobble together a semi-normal day for ourselves and to drop you off at daycare like “normal.” I ultimately arrived at work about an hour late, but I was mentally so far away.

As I drove to work, I reflected on how blissfully happy and unaware you were this morning—as busy packing and unpacking your toys as ever.  It was just another day for you, but I… I would need your smiles to get me through the day. 

I needed to remember your smiles as I reflected on the times your great-grandpa got to hold you, lingering on the memory of your baptism service Last Christmas and how he wouldn’t let you go afterward.  He was so proud of you—so proud of us for committing to raise you in the tradition in which he had raised your papa and in which your papa had raised your dad.

I began to think about all of the things I had loved about Grandpa Doc.  I had only known him for about six years, but I was able to see the way he loved your daddy and your papa and to hear stories of how your daddy’s cousins and aunts and uncles grew up.  There were no strangers in the Danker household as newcomers were quickly assimilated into the family.

Grandpa Doc was a man of great honor, a World War II Veteran, a revered veterinarian, a Midwesterner through and through.  He made everyone feel welcome, no matter how long or how short he had known them.  I had told Grandpa Doc one Christmas that it felt as if I had grown up a member of your daddy’s family the more and more stories they told—generations of laughs and love.  This year, Veterans’ Day felt a little heavier without him, our very own, very brave hero.

I started to wonder about how we would tell you about Grandpa Doc as you got older and what we would tell you.  Would we explain to you that your daddy also had a papa when you learned that Nana and Papa are really your daddy’s mom and dad?  Would you treasure our memories of him as we sat around the kitchen table swapping stories of Grandpa Doc and Grandma Lanie one Thanksgiving five or ten years from now? Would we remember to tell you about Grandpa Doc’s toupee or his false teeth or the way that he always used our visits to Sun City West as an excuse to meet us at In ‘n Out Burger?

The weight and responsibility of passing on an entire legacy seems huge.

I’m not sure how we will share Grandpa Doc with you, Baby Girl, but I promise that we will.  I promise that we will play hours and hours of cards at Christmas instead of resorting to screens.  I promise that we will talk about the meaning of Veteran’s Day, the bliss of growing up in close proximity to a lake, and all the special little things that made Grandpa Doc the way he was. AND, I am so, so thankful that your daddy and I do not have to do it alone.

“Type Two Fun” the crossover between adventure and motherhood

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Type Two Fun? Outdoor Adventure lingo…

The first time I heard the phrase “Type 2 fun” I had just repelled into a pool of stagnant smelly water at the bottom of a slot canyon. This was years ago, before kids, my first technical canyoneering adventure, my first time repelling at all. Eager to impress the group, I had gone first. I didn’t realize I was going to be swimming until after I’d dropped over the lip of the cliff and saw the stinking black pool 50 feet below. The water was literally black, and as I hit the surface my body broke the layer of slime that had grown there and released the smell of death and decay that I would wear for the rest of the day. It was also frigid, water at the bottom of a narrow canyon can often be close to freezing even when the desert days get above 100 degrees. The sun rarely touches the bottom of those canyons. So I was treading water, struggling to unclip myself from the rope so that I could swim away. When at last I was free and the rest of the group followed me down we gathered on the shore, shivering and smelly and giddy with adrenaline. One of the guys said, “well, that’s what we call type 2 fun.” Which means it wasn’t fun. It was miserable, no one enjoyed it. But we are all gonna love telling the story later. It’s fun in retrospect. 

Motherhood is an Adventure

Days with young children are not so different from epic adventures. We are often wet and uncomfortable, there is adrenaline, there are unpleasant smells. But even the miserable moments can be made into an adventure when you take a step back and consider the fun stories you’ll have to tell later.

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In + Around Flagstaff

Guide to Fall Color in Flagstaff

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