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From Dad, excerpt from a two-page letter that my dad sent to me when I was 17, November 22, 1978, image © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.





From my Writing Practice on “Be Impeccable with your Word,” the first agreement of don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements:

Dad was impeccable with his word. Words were important to him. They still are. He still wants to be heard. When I was a teenager and unwilling to listen, he wrote his words down in two or three letters he then slipped under the closed door of my bedroom or left on the kitchen table for me to open after he left for work. He was like Felix Unger in some ways, a tidy man with small and precise handwriting. His handwriting is shaky now, but then his writing looked like a professional cursive font.

The letters he wrote on yellow legal pads, and so he fit a lot of words on them. He told me the things he had tried to say to me but that I would shut down. What was important to him, the things he wanted to pass on, the wisdom he wanted to impart. He worried about me, the friends I had chosen, my boyfriend. He acknowledged that even though I had many bad habits, I was still keeping up my grades, and for that he was grateful.

He did pass something on to me, didn’t he? His honesty with words. That’s a powerful gift.





Thanks, Dad. I listen to you now.



-Related to posts PRACTICE: Be Impeccable With Your Word – 15min and WRITING TOPIC — THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

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vietnamese children (one)
 
 
                   vietnamese children (two)
 
 
                             vietnamese children (three)
 


Here I am, crouching in front of a temple in Hue, surrounded by children. They squeal, I smile. They tug at me, I hug them. When my guide enters the courtyard and sees me, he marches toward me, beside himself. He pulls me up from the spot where I am, a small child like them. “Watch your purse,” he hisses.

He’s not unkind. He just knows how children can be with tourists. But I’m not afraid. If they take something from me, more power to them. I shouldn’t be such a naive soul, should I?, for letting them dupe me like that. It’s the price I’m willing to pay to be with children, even if they’re not my own.

But the truth is, these kids don’t even try to take my things. They want to test their broken English and throw me some universal signs. Peace, love, all that. At this point on a trip to Vietnam, I need all the peace and love I can get. I notice children everywhere I go. I am beyond homesick.



child monk




Fast forward to today. Em packs Froggy and Meow. Froggy is a frog pillow that presently rests in the space between me and Em. His green warmth at my side assures me as our plane lifts from the tarmac and begins its bumpy ascent. Dee packs no stuffed toys, although this morning she took Merry, the horse she’s had since age three or four, to stay with Jim for the almost three weeks we’ll be gone. We’ll be gone. Me and my girls. Finally. In Vietnam.

This is something I’ve always done with my girls. Not the international travel, but whisking them away, the three of us sans Daddy. I’ve taken them to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, where we tried unsuccessfully to put up a tent in the wind and ended up walking into the administration office and sheepishly asking for a room. We’ve been to Santa Monica, at the Hotel California, and when we drove into the parking lot from the airport—you won’t believe it!—that Eagles tune was playing on the rental car radio.

We’ve gone to Denver, with my sister and her kids, and also taken a road trip with them to San Francisco via Las Vegas. In Taos, the girls and I stayed in Mabel‘s room at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, and I didn’t tell them that my blog partner had once seen the ghost of Mabel in that very same room.

But those adventures pale in comparison to the three plane rides it will take to get us to Ho Chi Minh City. One of the flights is 13 or 14 hours long. I try not to dwell on it but wonder if I’ll be able not to when I have an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old sitting next to me. Not to mention Froggy.

And this is just the beginning. I can’t wait to see my girls’ reactions when I take them to the crowded colorful market where women tug at your sleeve and say “Madam, Madam!” or when we eat a steaming bowl of rice noodles and chicken for breakfast or morning glory sauteed in garlic for lunch. Will they agree that Vietnamese food is the best in the world?

We’ll float down the Mekong Delta, travel by domestic plane to a beach town I’ve heard about but never been to, stay in a luxury two-bedroom apartment right in the heart of bustling Saigon. All month long as the trip looms closer, I drive them around our hometown and tell them that driving on the streets of Saigon is nothing like Corrales. I want them to feel the chaos, the aliveness of it all. To see how a place half a world away wakes up, eats, lives, go to sleep. Is.

We are on the plane now. Em shows me a photo she just snapped with her cell phone camera of the landscape out the window of our plane, somewhere west of the Grand Canyon. The image on her small screen resembles those photos of Earth as seen from outer space. There’s the curve of the terrain, layers of atmosphere growing from light to dark blue as you move away from the land toward the expansive sky.

This is like us, I think, in the world, high above it all. On our way to places beyond.


safe travels


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Dee got her first cell phone at age ten. A milestone year (and an indulged one), the birthday of her first decade brought a horse, pierced ears, and a flip phone.

It was earlier than we had wanted, and I’m pretty sure she was among the first of ten-year-olds-we-knew to have a mobile phone. But it went with the horse, another accoutrement like the saddle and reins. The phone was essential to keeping in contact with Dee while she went on long trail rides, alone or with friends.

Not that we expected anything bad to happen to her and her one-ton animal, but in the event she needed help or even to alert us that her ride was meandering longer and further than expected, we could be reached. She almost always called us on her rides, mostly to check in. One fall day she left her hoodie on a bush near the river and went back to find it. That day she took twice as long as expected on her ride, which would have had us worried sick had she not called.
 
This morning I was pondering the question, How young is too young? Dee’s sister got her first phone for her tenth birthday this spring. The excuse this round wasn’t equestrian safety but rather, precedent.

Em is among the first of her friends to have a cell phone, and among her friends’ parents I am about the only one who thinks having a phone is a good thing. But I’m also in a unique position in that I travel, a lot, and the cell phone has become a way for me to stay connected to my littlest babe.

This morning, Vietnam time, after calling home to say good-night to my family (it was about 7:30p their time and they were on their way home, oddly enough, from picking up Vietnamese take-out for dinner) I continued for about two hours to receive text messages from Em. She always misses me most at nighttime, so as it got later for her, I got more frequent text messages.

The messages arrived in my email inbox—my cell phone service doesn’t work in Vietnam—and always with Em’s little abbreviations, misspellings, and emoticons. She told me what she and her sister and dad were up to (a carwash after dinner), what Sony the pug was up to (missing me), and when she was ready for bed. Then when she crawled under the covers she sent this:
 

I'm going to bed now I luv u  :-( I miss u  :-(

 


These past few days, Em has sent me all sorts of text messages, along with photos she takes to show me what she’s been doing. She sent me a drawing of a girl who looks like her (no, not a self-portrait), a photo of Em yawning, a shot of Sony sticking out her tongue, and just a bit ago an image with these words on the Subject line:


The garden is growing.





Em Big Eyes, the doodle Em sent to me via her phone, image © 2009 by Em, all rights reservedSony Tongue, pic of Sony that Em took and sent via her cell phone, photo © 2009 by Em, all rights reservedGarden Is Growing, photo of the amaranth that Em took and sent me via her cell phone, photo © 2009 by Em, all rights reserved




I work in in the Tech industry and maybe for that reason I see technology as a positive. Dee is almost 14 now and on her third phone (all changes due to my switching service providers). Her latest is an iPhone with unlimited data and texting. She’s also had a MacBook since two Christmases ago.

As is common for kids of her generation, she’s comfortable with technology and figures out how to download and use “apps” way before I can. She learned how to manipulate photos taken with her iPhone into entirely new and bizarre creations. Thanks to that and a fascination with making mini-films on her MacBook, she recently spent her own money on her first digital camera.

There are, of course, huge risks for kids and technology. There are concerns about long-term health effects, especially brain cancer from the radio-frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile phones on developing brain tissues of children. There are worries that kids are spending more time with their gadgets than with real friends. I fret about sexual predators and their access to my daughters via cell phones and email. (Neither of my girls has asked for Facebook or My Space accounts, and I thank their schools for instilling a cautious attitude around social media networks.)

But the risks can be mitigated by talking with your kid and setting guidelines around usage. And you’ve got to ask yourself, at what age do the pros become greater than the cons?

For me, ten-years-old is that tipping point. Tonight I can’t get an international phone line out of Saigon to make a call, but I have sent about a dozen text messages back and forth to home. And even though I didn’t get real voices on the other end of the line wishing me sweet dreams, I’m going to bed with a virtual kiss good-night.


kiss

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Dee and me, detail from a Mother-Daughter mural that our Moms-Daughters group created

dee and me, detail from a Mother-Daughter mural
that our Moms-Daughters group created.




Last night Jim and I attended a meeting for families who will be hosting exchange students from Mexico City starting next week. Our oldest daughter’s school has a two-week exchange program with a bilingual school in Mexico’s capital, and we signed up to be a host family.

Our exchange student is a twelve-year-old girl who has an older brother and younger sister. She loves animals—her menagerie includes a dog, rabbit, turtles, birds, and fish. I wrote last night to her father to let him know that we are also animal lovers, with three dogs, turkeys, a horse, and a bullsnake. (I made sure to tell him that the bullsnake lives outside.)

We’re excited to host this young girl. The exchange program coordinators have planned activities of all kinds to give the students a taste of the best things to do and see in Albuquerque and surrounding areas. The host family’s job is to provide three square meals a day, a private room, and a comfortable, safe, and stable environment. Of course, the mother in me is also prepared to provide love, support, and a wonderful experience—in short, a home away from home.



dee and me (two), detail from a mural created by our Mother-Daughter group    dee and me (two), detail from a mural created by our Mother-Daughter group





Benefits of Exchange Student Hosting

  • Gain a lasting friendship: While two weeks might not be long enough to bond for a lifetime, foreign exchange is built on trust. The parents of the student send their child to another country with faith that she will be kept safe and cared for. In turn, we embrace the student into our family. Assuming all goes well, we enter this as strangers and walk away knowing that we each took a leap of faith and met one another’s trust.   
  • Learn about another culture: Having an exchange student is immersion into another culture, except instead of you going to another country, the country comes to you. We’ll plow this child with questions about her life, family, school, traditions, foods, friends, home. You name it, we’ll want to know about it. She’ll be her country’s ambassador, and we’ll be ours.
  • See your family and your life through someone else’s eyes: There is nothing like putting the mirror to yourself to help realize how fortunate you are. And to remind yourself that if you can create the family you want to be for this student, you can be that family always.
  • Do the things you love most about the place where you live: With almost all of our family living in our city, we don’t do enough of the things tourists do in our town.
  • Be reminded of the importance of community: I hope to introduce our student to my parents and Jim’s, and to have her get to know Dee’s friends. Also, Dee’s best friends’ parents, who are all part of a common carpool, offered to accommodate this new rider in our carpool. Doing so wasn’t easy and involved a couple of people loaning vans to those of us who were limited by car size. Once again I was struck by the generosity of friends.



What to Expect (and Tips to Handle the Unexpected)

  • Homesickness: This girl is still a pretty tiny person in the world. This is her first exchange, and I’m prepared for her to hit a wall. (My gosh, I do whenever I travel abroad, and I’m an adult!) If it happens, we’ll do everything we can to help her get through—cook a favorite meal or ask her to show us how to cook something from her country, let her sleep with the girls’ stuffed animals, hug her, take her somewhere fun to distract her, let her call home (although that can make it worse), or meet up with another exchange student if she has a friend in the group.
  • Illness: I’m not the world’s best caregiver of sick people, but the good news is I’m better with children and animals than with my husband. (smile) Although, last night when the program coordinator asked us what we’d do if our host child woke up in the night with nausea, I whispered to Jim that I’d throw a towel over her head and run get him. But in all honesty, I can cope. We’d have to call the coordinator before administering any medications, even over-the-counter, although we can provide ginger ale, Saltines, and anything else that might provide short-term relief. And I will sit by her side and soothe her.
  • Conflict: Even though 12-year-olds are less likely than high schoolers to rebel, we’ve been advised to expect that conflicts might arise. Perhaps the student will want to do nothing but listen to her iPod or be on email or want to go somewhere that we can’t accommodate. Maybe she doesn’t like the food or gets up late every morning. Who knows? What I do know is that it will be important to let her know our schedule and our expectations. We have routines, practices, and traditions, and while we’ll be flexible we also need to maintain sane, healthy lives.
  • Exhaustion: Immersion in another country can be exhausting—all that thinking and speaking and living in a different language, not to mention that fact that you never really let your guard down. We were advised that our student might become withdrawn, expecially with all the activity, and if this happens to not take it personally. We’ll give our student down time, let her take naps or go to bed early. And of course, we love to sit quietly and read. Exhaustion we can handle.


Our temporary family member arrives this Saturday afternoon. We’ll let you know how it goes.

In the mean time, I’m curious if any of you’ve hosted foreign exchange students or have been an exchange student yourself. If so, what was your experience? And if not, have you ever entertained the idea of either role? Did you long to be an exchange student in high school? Do you toy with the notion of hosting a student now? I want to hear about it.

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Please buy, Madame, child vendor selling clay whistles in Hoi An, Vietnam, December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




My oldest daughter, Dee, made 48 brownies this morning for a bake sale today. She and two other seventh-graders are doing a “pay it forward” class assignment, whereby they identify a worthy need and then do good works to support the cause.

Dee and her classmates decided to raise money for a global non-profit called Invisible Children. The group was created in the spring of 2003 when…

…three young filmmakers traveled to Africa in search of a story. What started out as a filmmaking adventure transformed into much more when these boys from Southern California discovered a tragedy that disgusted and inspired them, a tragedy where children are both the weapons and the victims.

After returning to the States, they created the documentary “Invisible Children: Rough Cut,” a film that exposes the tragic realities of northern Uganda’s night commuters and child soldiers. The film was originally shown to friends and family, but has now been seen by millions of people.

The overwhelming response has been, “How can I help?” To answer this question, the non-profit Invisible Children, Inc. was created, giving compassionate individuals an effective way to respond to the situation.


Invisible Children has a singular mission: To use the power of stories to change lives around the world. There are many organizations that help children, some decades old, and I can only imagine it was tough for Dee and her two friends to choose a recipient for their project. Ths group appealed to them because of the medium (film), the young vibe to the organization, and its focus on schools and books for kids (many of whom been forced to grow up and participate in a tragic war) in Uganda.







There is so much poverty in this world. I have seen children in Delhi and Agra, India, little blind beggars and dirty-faced kids performing acrobatics down crowded walkways of trains—scenes and situations brought to light in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. Vietnam, South Africa, Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, and communities in my very own New Mexico—these are some of the places where I’ve seen children living without the most basic of needs met.

It’s easy—perhaps even at times a necessary coping mechanism—to become inured to the realities of the world, especially when we don’t see with our own eyes the suffering and pain. But it’s all around us.

Dee and her classmates also chose as recipient for their works a no-kill animal shelter whose primary focus is to rescue dogs and cats on “death row” (those about to be euthanized by animal control centers in the state). One of the girls working with Dee on this project volunteers at this shelter, which is supported entirely by donations from the community and adoption fees.

These are tough realities for these girls to be aware of, yet they’re learning that through their efforts, no matter how small or big, they can make a difference.


It begins with doing a favor for another person– without any expectation of being paid back.


This is their second bake sale this month. Their goal is to raise $150 per organization. Their first bake sale they earned $80, and within just minutes of setting up for their sale today, they’re earned about $15. They’ll probably have one or two more sales before the project is due. I hope they surpass their goal.






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Twilight Advance, advance ticket for opening day of Twilight, the long-awaited film adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s young adult hit series, image © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



Twilight opened at midnight last night, and I imagine theaters everywhere were filled with teenage girls dressed in black. My teen didn’t make it; today was a school day.

But guess who has a ticket for a showing tonight? Yep. The way I see it is, these are the things that eventually become memories when today’s kids get to be our age. Standing in line for over an hour to get a good seat in the theater on opening day of Twilight, or sitting two rows from the front of the screen and being unable to straighten your neck when the movie ends. Sweet.

I don’t remember standing in line as a kid to be among the first to see a movie or to buy a book. Maybe life was simpler then and less sales-driven. Or maybe my parents just wouldn’t stand for such nonsense.

I’m pretty sure it’s the deprived child in me that now indulges my daughters and last year endured the torture of standing—or, rather, leaning—in line, half alseep at one in the morning, so I could fork over $24.99 to a testy cashier and get Dee’s copy of the long awaited Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.



     



What did we have that was even slightly similar? My older sisters swooned over The Beatles and Elvis, although I don’t think they ever made it to a concert. Jim remembers going to see 2001: A Space Odyssey on his 13th birthday, although it wasn’t opening night. “Nah, we never went to openings when I was a kid.” And in general, we still avoid the crowds that come with any opening night.

Although, Em reminded Jim that we all went to see Wall-E the first night it opened this past summer. We were in Taos for the Taos Solar Festival, and on a whim the Friday night we rolled into town, we decided to go see Wall-E. We sashayed on in, bought our tickets, and sat smack dab in the middle of a mostly empty theater. We couldn’t believe our luck. No way we would have ventured to an Albuquerque theater for opening night of any movie, not even a Disney Pixar one.

But some people love the excitement of being among the first. It’s kind of like making history. Or, like I said, making memories.

How about you? Do you move with the throngs or do you hang back until the crowds thin?




-Related to posts My Kid Got Bit By Stephenie Meyer and Stephenie Bit Me, Too!

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I have a photo of me in Ray Bans and a bright green bikini top, climbing sandstone rocks on a beach in Costa Rica. I’m smiling, teeth white against my dark skin. On the back of the photo, these words in my handwriting: March 1996, for Dee, so you’ll know what your mama was up to six months after you were born.

Rosa from work snapped the shot. She and Kevin and I were on a two-week trip to Central America. Guatemala and El Salvador the first week, weekend at Manuel Antonio, and the second week in San José. Rosa and Kevin went on to Honduras and Panamá, while I flew back home to be with my baby.

It’s a long story, how I ended up in Central America when Dee was only six months old. Suffice to say that it had to do with a grant proposal I submitted on behalf of the university I worked for when I was pregnant. The proposal was funded, and I had to follow through with the trip or risk losing the money.

As with most international travel, it was Hell getting mentally prepared. A jet plane crashed in the region weeks before I left, killing everyone on board. All I could think was, I’m going to die and never see my baby grow up. Of course, once I got there I was pulled into the color and smells and sounds. I loved it.

Between appointments, I had to run to my hotel room and power on my little battery-operated breast pump. Waoo-waoo-waoo-waoo, it went, like a sick cow, for twenty minutes. I sat on the bed with my blouse unbuttoned and tried not to worry about whether I’d dry up by the time I got home.

Later, walking past indigenous women sitting on the sidewalk, infants in bundles on their backs or in their arms, I pictured my watery milk running down the sink and wished I could pick up a baby and feed it.

“Ew, that’s disgusting!” Rosa said when I told her what I wanted to do.

That trip, Dee refused to take the bottle. Typical conversation those first days I called home:

     Has she taken it yet?
     Nope, just spits it out.
     My God, what are you gonna do?
     Everyone says she’ll take it when she gets hungry enough.
     Have you tried other nipples?
     Yeah, went through four new ones today.
     I’m sorry.
     It’s alright. She’ll be fine. Don’t worry.
Click.

Everyone was wrong. Dee never took the bottle. No other options left, Jim finally introduced rice cereal.






I was thinking about that trip yesterday. The postcards I’d sent from Vietnam had just arrived, and I remembered how before I left for Central America I prepared a postcard a day for Jim to read to Dee. I didn’t actually send them; I left them for him to show her, a new one each day.

I went on a lot of trips while both my babies were young. I left the university when Dee was about a year old; new job yet one thing remained the same—still plenty of travel.

I remember sending baggies of frozen breast milk over dry ice for Em when I took a week-long training course in Eugene, Oregon. I became expert at pumping in mothers’ rooms at work and in airports. Life revolved around finding the best place and time to run my little machine.


I pumped milk in the Portland airport. I used the private kiddy bathroom, which had a plug so I could use electric. After 15 minutes, someone jiggled the door and it turned out to be a cleaning woman. At first she scolded me for using the kiddy bathroom; apparently a woman had complained about not having access to the changing table. But when I explained that I was pumping and that I appreciated the privacy, she seemed to understand.

I’m coming home with something for everyone: Em’s milk, a watch with a floating dinosaur for Dee, a Nike fleece sweatshirt for Jim.


Before we had kids, Jim and I made the decision that one of us would stay home full-time to take care of them. We both came from families where a parent stayed home, and we wanted to do the same thing for our kids if we could afford it. Which we could, barely at first. Jim got the role of stay-at-home Dad, and I got to pursue my dream of working in a job where I could travel.

But it wasn’t easy being away from my children. All the time I was on the road, I wondered if they would grow up and resent my being gone. Yet when I was home I was a present parent, more so, I imagined, than dads in my same situation. Bone tired, I took over the moment I got home. Evenings and weekends were always mine.

My girls are both old enough now that I can see they’ve not been damaged. On the contrary, they are bold and adventurous from spending formative years with a parent who let them walk on roofs versus one with a fear of heights. They love being outdoors, think nothing of catching snakes and frogs, and are up for long hikes.

They also want to get to know this world. “Take me to Vietnam,” they tell me. I promise them that I will. Hopefully next summer.

They’re in for a wild experience.




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