Perhaps the worst part of living overseas as the wife of a basketball player, is the lack of real time off. They get maybe one day off per week, but that day is often the day after a game, or a day when they spent 15 hours traveling by bus or plane and their “day off” consists of the remainder of that travel day. There are no weekends off, no breaks for Thanksgiving, or other holidays we expect to have some extra family time.
However, Christmas is the exception. The league has a mandate of 10 days off, so 10 days is what we get. Last year we spent a few days in Tucuman, the closest big city, two hours away. This year we ventured to Cordoba, which is arguably the best city in Northern Argentina.
Cordoba is almost 6 hours away, which was a lofty goal considering I get car sick, along with my 8 year old and 4 year old, who often throw up on any trip over an hour. So despite the preventative dramamine, this trip had our little one’s face in a bag anytime she was in the car and not asleep.
But it was worth it!
Cordoba is the big city, where we spent New Year’s eve and a few days after, but we spent the bulk of our time in Carlos Paz, about 30-45 minutes outside of the city. It’s the epitome of a resort town, filled with hotels, hostels, restaurants and bars, and of course, beaches.
These beaches are not the beaches you’ll find in Florida, or even in the Hamptons. Instead, they are really rivers, but with sand, clean water, and amazing views. The beaches are filled with young people drinking and listening to music, as well as older couples, and families all relaxing and enjoying their time off. People take holidays and vacations seriously and they relax like bosses.
Aside from the beach, we also took a chair lift up one of the mountains, where we enjoyed the view and the kids enjoyed some activities such as archery once we reached the top.
There was also an amusement park and water park that we attempted to visit, but a rainy day spilled our fun. We were able to travel the 40 minutes into the city and spend a day at a mall, where I was able to re-up on my coveted Nespresso capsules, take in a showing of Aquaman in English, and enjoy a much needed cup of coffee from the elusive Starbucks. We also rang in the new year at a great party at the Sheraton, where we ate and drank to our hearts desire.
The trip gave me a much needed break from the day to day life in Santiago. It reminded me of summer weekends in the Hamptons, where there’s nothing to do that doesn’t involve sun, beaches, good food and drinks, and relaxation. A great vacation indeed!
As I sat down for dinner at 1am this past Monday, I was conflicted as to how I should feel at that moment. I was happy for the silence, but I was exhausted, and pretty pissed at the very fact that I was eating dinner at 1am. My older three had a physical fitness performance at school that evening, so the day was long, and filled with all types of errands. The night was even longer, and we didn’t return home until after 11pm, with baths and the whole routine still to be had. While the day was a particularly tough one, it was practically a repeat of a few days prior, when my pre schooler had the same physical fitness performance. We were home after 11pm and it ended with me eating alone, well past 1am.
The weekend was spent cleaning, doing school work, basketball practice, and refereeing the endless fights among the kids. My kids have been especially mean to each other lately and I’m a sensitive soul, so it breaks my heart to see my children mistreating each other. I was angry and I yelled, then I was sad and I cried. It was like we had all reached the limit of how much I could handle on my own.
So when Monday rolled around, with school and more performances in store, I can’t say that I was rested and ready for the week. Fast forward a few days to today. It’s now Thursday, and none of the kids had school, yet they thought it would be a good idea to have another performance, complete with props and costumes, and this time just for my 6 yr old, and at 8:30 in the morning! To say that I’ve been one step away from a breakdown all week would be an understatement.
I’m a pretty strong person, and it’s rare that I ever feel so overwhelmed. I’ve lived in multiple states, away from home, since I was 14 years old. I worked hard in school, on the track, at restaurants, bars, offices, even a call center when I needed to. I’ve always felt like I could do anything I put my mind to, and that I can do it on my own and without help. I’ve come to learn that that’s just not true anymore.
As independent as I am, and as much as my husband calls me super woman, I just know that I’m a better person when he’s here with me. I’m happier, I’m sillier, I’m more efficient, and perhaps most importantly, I’m more patient. I’m the best version of myself. It’s probably why I married him in the first place. So had he been here, they still would have been awful to each other, but I would have had someone to play good cop-bad cop with, and I would have been able to leave the house and take a break from the chaos.
But he’s not here. He’s on day 10 of a 14 day road trip, the longest road trip in all of my years overseas. I usually enjoy a day or two alone. I catch up on episodes of Law and Order and The Big Bang Theory, I give myself a mani-pedi, and I don’t even bother shaving my legs. It’s some nice me-time. This trip, however, is all the way extra. They were supposed to play two games here in Northern Argentina for the first round of the playoffs, and then travel to Paraguay for the second round of the Liga Sudamerica championships. They ended up winning both playoff games so they just learned that they would be playing the second round of the playoffs this weekend. So instead of coming home today, their road trip would be extended by 4 days.
I’m normally pretty happy and content, and I’m fully aware that I lead a blessed life, but this shit is ridiculous.
I know that everything is relative, and I know that there are wives in the military that can go a year or more without seeing their partners, so I know that it’s no comparison. But this life is all I know, and it’s a unique one, where I spend more time with my husband than I ever thought I would.
In the basketball world there are no 9-5’s. There are early mornings, lazy afternoons, and late nights. I may sometimes want him to be more involved, but he is pretty much always here. By the time the kids are home from school at 12:30pm, he is soon to follow from morning practice. He relaxes and eats lunch, before taking a nap/siesta, while the children and I have our afternoon lessons. He wakes up and has a snack, while I either go for a run or hit the supermarket, or both. Then he heads to evening practice, I make dinner, bathe the kids, etc., and we eat dinner together once he’s back, at around 9:30pm or 10pm (8pm or 8:30pm if I make separate meals). Once the kids are in bed, we stay up far later than we should; but like most parents, it’s the only time we have to ourselves, and adult conversation is a welcome respite when I’ve been talking to kids all day.
This is our normal. I still feel stressed at times, because staying at home with 4 kids in a foreign land is a lot, but there is a balance. I’m still the one taking the kids to school in the morning, picking them up a few hours later, homeschooling, cooking the meals, and cleaning the house; but he’s also running errands, walking the dog, and doing the laundry. Knowing that he’s never gone for more than a few hours at a time, or that I can make an emergency call for capers or chicken stock on his way home, brings me comfort and makes me feel like we are a unit. If I were back in New York, I would have my family and friends to help, and food delivery, and Amazon, and pretty much everything else I needed, but here it’s just me and him, raising our kids the best way we know how to.
It’s almost like we live in our very own basketball bubble. It’s the same bubble most of the overseas WAGS I know live in, regardless of country or team, and it isn’t always easy. I’ve said it before, but this life isn’t for everyone. There are language barriers, cultural differences, educational challenges, feelings of isolation, and so much more when you are oceans away from those you love. It is worth it to me, because I’m the one that gets to teach my children everything from math and grammar, to love and empathy, and I’m there for every milestone that they may achieve. I’m also able to provide my husband with the emotional support he needs, among other things, that enable him to go out and be the best husband, father, and player that he can be. It’s rewarding to know that I have a happy, healthy, and well adjusted family, but it doesn’t mean that it’s easy, and despite having my kids around 24/7, it doesn’t mean that I don’t get lonely.
The ability to not just travel, but to live, all over the world has truly been an amazing, yet humbling, experience. I didn’t realize that there was actually a limit to my sanity, but now I know, and it sits somewhere around 7 days. If I have to hear “when is daddy coming home” one more time, I may just scream, but I definitely feel their pain. I keep reminding myself that there are highs and lows, and while this week has been a trying one, there have been many great ones filled with love and laughter. Maybe I need to start meditating, or find a cleaning lady, or bring back my weekly massages, but for now I’m looking forward to a weekend filled with cartoons, doggy snuggles, and the finest Malbec that this country has to offer.
Our most recent trip to Tucuman was our third overall (and second with the hubs) so we wanted to venture outside of the city to see what else Tucuman had to offer. Since we had previously visited the animal reserve in the hills of Horco Molle, we decided to go a bit further and hike the trails of the mountains that begin in Horco Molle and extend to San Javier.
We’re lucky that it was a mild day, with temperatures only reaching the low 80s, instead of the high 90s we’ve had the past few weeks. The kids have never been on a proper hike before so they were excited. Even though I’m a city kid myself, I spent a good deal of my youth at summer camps in rural areas, so I was also excited to surround myself with nature once again.
The trails are family friendly up until a certain point, where it breaks off into a much more challenging one. I would have liked to try the advanced trial, but my 3 and 5 year olds would not have been able to handle it. Perhaps the next time we’ll leave them behind and go for it. The advanced trail leads to the top of the mountain, where the views are apparently to die for!
Our trail still had much to discover, with streams and ravines to cross, different types of mushrooms and plants to discover, various bridges, abandoned tracks, and we even came across what appeared to be part of an old train car.
With the path being as rocky as it was, my greatest surprise is that no one hurt themselves. My kids are big, and with their size comes great unsteadiness on their feet (I’ll stop shy of calling them clumsy, but yea). Anaya did have a little fall, but there were no tears, so I’ll say it was a win for these kids and their first hike.
Some may say it’s a little odd to constantly want to eat soup when it’s the middle of the summer and it’s 100 degrees outside. However, the fact that it’s winter back in NY, coupled with our very strong air conditioning system, gives me the illusion of cold weather, so the soup seems quite normal and appropriate to me.
Vegetarian split pea was the first soup I made out here last year, and this recipe is similar and just as easy. There are only a few steps, and if you like it chunky, rather than pureed, you can skip the last few steps.
1 bag of dried beans
3-4 large carrots
3-4 stalks of celery
1 large onion
3-4 tablespoons chopped garlic
Fresh cilantro (or Goya cilantro sofrito)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, cajun spices (all to taste)
6 chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes, and 6-8 cups water, depending on desired consistency OR 6-8 cups chicken or vegetable stock
I’m forced to use dried beans because that’s all I can find in these parts. I’d imagine it would be much easier if I were using canned black beans, but since I don’t have a choice, dried beans is it!
The first step is to soak the beans for as long as possible. Most recipes I’ve seen said to soak for 8 hours or overnight, but I usually have to soak for an entire day if I don’t want to have to cook the actual beans for hours on end.
Next, thinly slice carrots. Thinly slice celery. Chop onions. Mince garlic.
Over medium heat, add olive oil, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, and salt and pepper. Saute until soft, about 20 minutes.
Add beans, bouillon cubes, and water (or stock).
Add remaining spices to taste, and stir.
Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally, until the beans are to your desired consistency. Add water/stock as necessary if levels get too low.
If you like a chunky black bean soup, then you are done.
I like my black beans pureed, so transfer to a food processor and puree in batches until you’ve reached your desired consistency. I do like to have some chunks in my soup, so I stop shy of a complete puree.
Transfer back to the pot and if you like it a little thinner, add a bit more water/stock.
I would eat with a dollop of sour cream and avocado, but since we don’t have sour cream, I use plain yogurt.
Two years ago we were in a hotel for 6 weeks and I thought I would just about lose it. It was our first season in Argentina, and I quickly learned what would be coined “the Argentinian way.” Now I can’t be sure if we coined the term, or if it has been around for ages, but the Argentinian way insures that tomorrow means maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after, possibly next week, but really who knows. It rarely actually means tomorrow.
So flash forward to this season, and with our new team and new city we were hoping for a quicker and smoother transition, but alas, there’s just no getting around the Argentinian way. We almost broke the 6 week record, but 3 days short of it we were finally able to move! I would say that my joy knows no bounds, but the Argentinian way relates to every aspect of life, and especially with moving and settling in it seems.
It’s been just about two weeks and we are still waiting on the air conditioners, Direct tv, a dining room table, mirrors for the bathroom, a coffee table or side table (I’ll take anything at this point!) We do actually have a beautiful new microwave, but it’s not compatible with the kitchen outlets so it can’t be used. We also have a washing machine, but it’s not hooked up to plumbing or electricity so not quite useful. We also don’t have a dryer, and since we don’t have a house with lines outside to dry anymore, we’re shit out of luck.
We do have a couch, but have only actually had it for a few days because they couldn’t figure out how to get it in the apartment, so we spent the first week and a half sitting on the cushions on the floor! I basically spent the last couple of weeks saying fml on a continuous loop.
The kids, however, were just happy to be out of that hotel and to have access to their arsenal of toys, some which were just retrieved from our storage in Belgium. They spent so much time on the floor that they barely noticed we didn’t have an actual couch to sit on.
I will say that the apartment itself is big and beautiful. Was it worth the wait? Who knows, but I will say that I am happy to come home everyday. It has 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms, which in itself is a Godsend with 4 poopy ass kids! It also has a pretty spacious kitchen, complete with an oven that’s actually equipped with a broiler (our first in Argentina!)
Aside from the kitchen, I’m excited to have the best closets we’ve had in years of overseas living! I have been told that I pack with a heavy hand, and while I do not agree with that assessment, I will say that I may not be the lightest of packers 😏. So while I have struggled with space in the past, this closet has managed to put a permanent smile on my face. I just love to organize and this closet has given me life! Now if I only had somewhere to go 😂😂😂.
Ok back to the apartment! The rooms have floor to ceiling windows and a large patio with a built in grill, that runs across the living room and two of the bedrooms. We haven’t put a table and chairs out there yet, and I’ve actually forbidden the kids from going outside until they put up some kind of safety net, because we’re on the 10th floor and the tiny little railing has me petrified that one of the kids will fall 10 stories down! Heck, I’m scared of falling myself because all it takes is for one bee to attack me while out there and I’m done for!
Aside from the general death trappy-ness, one of the selling points is the fact that the building has a rooftop pool, two floors up from us. So while we don’t have our own pool like we did the two previous seasons, we also don’t have to maintain it ourselves, so that’s a pretty good trade off.
We’re also on a main street, where all of the restaurants and cafe’s are (not to mention that we are across the street from the only sushi restaurant in the city 😀), so I can hardly complain about the neighborhood when all I’m surrounded by is food!
To help with the gluttony, a park with a running path is two blocks away, but I also joined the gym directly across the street for when those 100 degree days hit. All things I haven’t had in a few years, so beggars can’t be choosers, right?
When all is said and done, my family is together, we have our own space where I can cook, and teach, and clean to my liking. The kids are finally in school, making friends and learning the language, and they have full access to their toys and books at home, lovingly organized for their pleasure and enjoyment.
I’m finally able to burn a few candles and make this house a home. So even with the lack of certain modern amenities, it doesn’t get much better than that. Oh, and we have have great WiFi! The one modern amenity I can’t do without 😁😁😁
I’m finally finding time to recap our trip to Tucuman a few weeks ago.
As is the Argentinian way, almost a month after arrival, we were still sitting in a hotel waiting for them to find us the “perfect” apartment.
I was at my wits end sitting in that hotel room, but I’m not the type to sit and sulk for too long, and the kids deserved to have some fun, so I decided to take a trip the nearest big city. We needed to relax and I wanted to explore and see some more of Argentina. I wish the hubby could have joined, but one day a week is the most the guys get off, so we had to leave him behind this time.
I did feel a little crazy leaving one hotel for another, but sometimes you just need a change of scenery!
We also visited Horco Molle, which is an animal reserve where they care for and rehabilitate rescued animals. Many will live out their days here, but they do have the goal of returning them to their natural habitat.
The tickets were pretty cheap (about $3 for adults and $2 for children). With that entry fee, you get a dedicated guide that takes you around the park, explaining each animal, their food, habits, etc. We were lucky to have only 1 other person in our group so our guide took time explaining and answering all of the kids many questions. It was also a plus that she spoke English!
The other great thing is that the park isn’t so big, so the tour lasts about an hour, which is the perfect amount of time to spend walking around in the heat before the little ones start complaining. So the kids enjoyed this part of our trip very much.
In addition to the touristy activities, we did some shopping at the big mall just outside of the city, and walked around downtown, which was so big we had to split it into two days.
We also spent a good amount of time relaxing at the hotel, enjoying the cable tv and the reliable wifi. We stayed at the Sheraton hotel, which had a pretty nice playroom for the kids, as well as a gym for me to finally get a few workouts in. They also had a spa where I was able to get a much needed massage. We were bummed that the pool wasn’t yet open, as it was pretty hot during our visit, but since it is still officially springtime, most pools haven’t opened for the season yet.
The hotel was across the street from 9 de Julio park, which was huge and reminded me of central park because of it’s size. There were so many families out picnicking and lounging around drinking mate tea, and there was a big area with trampolines and bouncy houses for the kids. It appeared that people would put them up themselves and rent them out in 15 minute increments. With the prices being around $1 per 15 minutes, it was a steal, especially since they really just let the kids play as long as they liked. What a brilliant way to make money, while relaxing with family in the park!
So our trip was a success, and the fact that Tucuman is only a little more than 2 hours away, means that we’ll definitely be back.
So the main flight to Argentina was cool. I have some generally well behaved kids, so the combination of my mommy eye, the pinch, and my “behave bags” will almost always provide good results. Barely any screaming, minimal crying, and as little complaining as can be expected from 3 kids under 7, and a moody 11 yr old. Since hubby had to report to training camp two weeks ago, I was happy to have my mom accompany us on our 24 hour trip.
The fun began in Buenos Aires, where I struggled with our 14 suitcases, 4 carry-ons, stroller, and other assorted items. I’ve apparently reached the point in life where I’m in jeopardy of throwing my back out with each episode of heavy lifting. At this point in our travels, I would usually sit back and watch my strong, capable, husband toss the bags around with ease, while shouting “good job baby!” or doing some other trivial task. That was all a dream this time around, and I have a heating pad attached to my back as I speak.
Back problems aside, the team arranged for us to spend a few hours in a hotel so we could sleep/shower and relax for a few hours, since we arrived at 4am, and our next flight wasn’t until 5pm. We were told we being taken to the same hotel the team stays at while in Buenos Aires, and I was eagerly anticipating the rest after the more than 10 hour flight.
Well someone must have missed the memo because we were taken to what I can only assume is where prostitutes go to take their “friends.” It was a tiny hotel on the kind of dark alley only seen in movies. The halls were dark and the rooms were tiny and reeked of cigarette smoke. One of the rooms didn’t even have a bathroom, while the other had a tiny one with room for just a toilet and sink, with a shower head aimed over the toilet, because, you know, that’s how one showers in a whore house???
To say I was angry is an understatement. I do expect a certain amount of disfunction from teams, but we left our last team because they were heavy on it, so my threshold is low these days. Our new team has a reputation for professionalism, and this wasn’t it. Apologies flowed, “heads will roll” they said, as they promised to get to the bottom of how we ended up there. So ok, on to the next flight.
Once in Santiago Del Estero, our new home, we were brought to what would be our temporary living situation, until our permanent apartment is ready for us. Another player is currently living there, so a new place must be found for him before we can move in. This house boasted a big courtyard with the most beautiful trees and flowers, a big living room/dining room, 3 bedrooms, a pool, but of course no hot water, no working oven or microwave, a big non-working tv, a ridiculous mosquito infestation, and too far outside of town to walk (we tried, but gave up after almost an hour). This is, sadly, not a surprise, as so many teams bring the bullshit at the start of the season.
The hubs is also away playing some pre-season games for 5 days so I’m stuck complaining on my own. But what a complainer I am! After dealing with this kind of disorganization and procrastination from many teams in many countries over the years, I have become well versed in the art of complaining and telling off, and tell off I did.
The day after I went off, we were moved into two apartment-like suites in a downtown hotel, with all the comforts of home, and a few blocks from all the restaurants and shops. We were able to walk around a little yesterday, and had a pretty good dinner in the city plaza. From what I can tell thus far, it seems like we’ll be happy here, as this city already looks to be a little more lively than Formosa, our last Argentinian city. More importantly for the kids, we’ve already located a playground directly across the street, which were very hard to come by in Formosa.
The hubs will be back tomorrow, and hopefully we’ll be in our apartment by this time next week, so we can get settled, get the kids in school, and explore some more, but what a rough start! Precisely why I tell people who say that they envy my life and travels, that it isn’t just one big vacation, and certainly is not for everyone!
Anyone familiar with overseas basketball knows that most contracts are year to year, sometimes with an option for an additional year, and sometimes you’ll get a two year offer. Our two year offers have mostly been from less desirable teams, so throughout my husband’s 11 year career, we’ve always had one year contracts and have never stayed with the same team for more than a year, until now.
This past season was our second year in Argentina, and the second year with the same team. There were many firsts for us in Formosa, and as we prepare for a new season with a new team, I look back on our time there with nothing but love.
Aside from a 6 week hotel stay last year, we were in the same big, beautiful house for both seasons. It’s the first time overseas that we’ve had a house, a pool, and a yard, and it really did begin to feel like home. The kids got their hands dirty in the yard, spent their days swimming, doing school work, and playing hide and seek. Our boys learned how to swim and ride bikes in that house. All the kids became true water babies.
Our 11 year old learned Spanish and is now so fluent that she often answers my questions in Spanish and sometimes refuses to even speak to me in English, leaving me all kinds of confused!
They all made friends, and had playdates constantly, especially Maliya, who had a busier social calendar than I did. She took dance classes, Zumba classes, and spent so much time outside of the the house that we even decided to buy her her first phone. As a result, most of her time was spent at a friend’s house, or in her room talking to the friends she just saw minutes before.
Our time in Formosa also did wonders for my boys, who are extremely shy. In addition to friends from school, they were able to play with the other kids from the team, as well as the many kids running around at the games. They joined the team’s youth basketball league and had their first taste of organized ball. They also started learning the language, and will soon hopefully have two languages to communicate in.
It’s no secret that I didn’t love the city because there wasn’t much to do, but it was safe, relaxing, and the people were so warm and friendly. For the first time in years, there were a boatload of other wives, and despite the fact that all but one spoke no English, we became fast friends. We were constantly having playdates, parties, and nights at the casino and the club. For a small and pretty quiet city, I will say that the nightlife was pretty great. We found a reliable baby sitter and had more date nights than I can remember in recent years.
When we decided that we wanted a change for next season, it was pretty sad in our house. The boys wanted to stay, but it was Maliya who begged and begged. She says that Formosa is where she’s made the best and most friend’s in all of our years abroad.
When it came time to leave, the school presented each of the kids with framed photos in a beautiful little ceremony, and Maliya’s friends organized a going away party, or despedida, to send her, and us, on our way. She cried, and because I’m such a softy, I cried too, and we weren’t the only ones! A few families actually offered their homes to her if she wanted to stay there for the summer, or until December so she could finish school with her friends. To see the impact she had on so many kids and their parents warmed my heart, and actually made it difficult to leave for the first time in years. It truly is the first time we’ve felt so welcome and so connected to our international community.
We will be back in Argentina next season, and we are excited to see what kind of experiences we’ll have in a new city, and with a new team, but our time in Formosa will forever be a special part of our lives.
Chau Formosa! Hasta luego! xoxoxoxo
I’m excited to partner with ABCmouse for their semi-annual sale. You can save 50% off of the annual membership, so that’s a year for $45! This sale is valid until Monday May 29th, but I’m also including a link for a 30 day free trial that you can use at any time.
I’ve used ABCmouse for years, ever since I discovered it, when my 11 yr old was around 4. Since then I’ve used it for my 7 year old, 4 year old, and have recently begun using it with my 2 year old. It’s a fun way to get the younger ones interested in shapes, colors, numbers, and letters. For the older kids, they work on phonics, reading, science, and math concepts. As a part-time home schooler it really helps to have an alternative to sitting at a table doing work with boring old mom lol.
Here’s the link for the 30 day trial that never expires!
Last week, my beautiful and sweet boy was teased and laughed at because of his hair. He just turned 7 and is pretty sensitive as it is, so when I learned that he broke down in tears because of it, my heart just about broke.
All of my kids wear their hair naturally. My two youngest have big, beautiful hair and I usually like to keep it out in an afro, and sometimes in braids or twists. My 11 year old recently started growing dreadlocks like her daddy, and Kaden, the 7 yr old, had the same big hair until my husband convinced him to get his first haircut, much to my chagrin, two years ago. Recently he’s been expressing regret at not having the same big hair we all have, so he’s been asking to grow it out so he can wear braids and a fro like he used to, and like his brother does now.
So last week he wore it in braids for the first time in years, after begging his dad to stop cutting the top so that his mohawk would be long enough. The very next day our 11 yr old told us that the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade classes were laughing at him and making fun of his braids. It’s hard enough to handle teasing from a few children, but dozens of children, including his own “friends,” is heartbreaking. The fact that they were insulting him in Spanish means nothing, because he clearly understood what was going on. A teacher did tell them to stop, but not before he burst into tears and the teachers had to take my 11 yr old out of class to come and console him. When I heard this I was so angry, and so so sad for my son and his feelings.
Had this happened in the states, I would have rushed down to the school and talked to all the teachers involved, trying to pinpoint which kids were involved, and gotten those parents involved as well. Whether it’s body shaming, or any other kind of bullying, it is heartbreaking to think of the impact that dozens of laughing and teasing kids can have on a young child. When you add in the aspect of race, and the fact that there is already an assault on black hair in the states, it’s all the more troubling. Black hairstyles are being banned in schools and work places, and children are being punished for nothing more than wearing an afro at the wrong school. Just today I read about two young girls at a Boston charter school (hubby’s home city) who were sent to detention, banned from all school activities, including prom, and threatened with suspension because they refused to take their braids out of their hair. It’s disturbing to see a child disciplined and ostracized for wearing their hair in its natural state.
But being overseas has somewhat altered my thinking. I don’t respond to things the same way I used to, especially when I’m overseas. For as long as I can remember I have had an open mind, and living in so many countries has allowed me to become even more open minded and accepting. Things that would have had me in a rage at home, don’t affect me the same overseas. I try to understand that there are cultural differences at play, and many reactions and interactions are due to curiosity or ignorance of the unknown.
In Turkey, people stared and then tried to touch and grab the children. I would attack someone who randomly tried to grab my baby from his stroller in NY, but in Turkey it happened numerous times. I would calmly try to explain (in my horrible broken Turkish) that he didn’t like to be touched, to which they would smile, nod, and then pick him up anyway. They generally love babies, but they went crazy for our little brown babies, so I learned to begrudgingly accept the cheek squeezes, the constant barrage of cookies, candies, and requests for photos. I also grew to appreciate amd welcome the countless blessings they gave (“Mashallah, Mashallah” they would say). It came from a place of curiosity and of love, and I was living in their country, after all, so I learned to understand and accept that aspect of their culture. (I wrote about it here Please don’t touch my baby).
In Germany, the faces were often surly, but many were helpful and kind behind those rough exteriors. In Belgium, the stares were not quite as nice, and if you didn’t properly speak French they could barely contain their contempt. In Argentina, I have shaken maybe two hands, and double kissed hundreds of strangers, something I would never do in the states. It’s all a part of maneuvering throughout our many worlds, and I mostly welcome the experiences.
This is the first time one of those cultural differences has negatively affected anyone in the family, so I was really at a loss for what to do. It’s been a week and I’m still sad about it.
My Spanish is limited, so I decided against talking to the school director, since she doesn’t speak English and we have a hard time communicating as it is. I considered telling our son not to play with anyone who harassed him that day, but that would be petty and unrealistic, especially since he said everything was back to normal the next day, and no one said anything else about his hair. I felt conflicted because I want to stand up for my son, but I also don’t want to make things worse and bring more attention to our differences.
Ultimately, my husband and I decided to focus on him and his feelings. We needed to make sure he knows how beautiful and smart he is, and how perfect his hair is, regardless of the style in which he wears it. We tried to explain that although kids can be mean sometimes, the kids in our small Argentinian city have never seen black hair up close, so it’s new to them and they’re fascinated and don’t always know how to react. We reminded him of all the people in Turkey who used to touch his hair because they were amazed at how different it was from their own hair, and the people in Belgium who thought that him and his brother were girls if they had their hair in braids or a ponytail. We let him know that while we of course hope that people won’t laugh at us, they will always stare and ask questions because we are different and that’s ok.
We are a large family of 6. We are American. We are giants. We are black. We are so unique that wherever we are in the world, we will stand out. This knowledge should make us feel special and more confident, and I hope that he doesn’t let this one experience affect his view of himself or his beautiful hair. In the words of the amazing Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.”