I found a 2-year-old!

August 22, 2016

I was thinking of Googling “quotes about time.” Maybe there was one that said something like, “Time is a baby cobra, waiting for the right moment to jab its poison fangs into your neck.” Cozy just turned two, so that might be fitting of the stabbing realization that our “baby” is a fairly formed little person now. Or maybe for the fact that she is now in complete realization of the power of the temper tantrum, ready to shut all forward motion down. She’s grown into this glorious child, charming the pantaloons off of everyone in Mexico, but she also learning the power of one word – no. And that’s probably a good thing.

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As I wrote a few weeks ago, Andrea and I came to Isla Mujeres alone, leaving Cozy in Morelia with Andrea’s family. After over two weeks apart, we were finally reunited last Tuesday. We were both so excited about her coming to Isla we could barely sleep. Cozy loves flowers so I bought her a bouquet and we hopped on the ferry to meet her on the Cancun side of the bay. When she and her abuela finally arrived at the port (transport from the Cancun airport can take a long time if your collectivo has to stop by a lot of tourist hotels first), she seemed a bit surprised to see us, like, “Oh, I sort of remember these two.” Then she looked out at the Caribbean and said, “Agua!” That’s my hija.

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Birthdays are a big deal in Mexico so we made a big deal about our little Bug turning two. She had a party in Morelia, with uncles and aunts and a cake. Here it became a two-day celebration. We started out at the beach building sandcastles, going to see the sea turtles at Tortugranja, and the iguanas at Punta Sur. We rented a golf cart to ride around the island and at one point, with the beautiful Caribbean rolling by on our right side, she put each arm around our necks and hugged us tightly with the biggest smile ever on her face. “I think she remembers us,” I thought. It was all worth it for that moment.

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Then to Café Mogagua for the second annual Café Mogagua birthday banana split. It’s a Mexican tradition to push a kid’s face in their birthday cake and Andrea is not one to pass up a good tradition. The white people in the café were probably shocked but the Latino family next to us thought it was hilarious. And so did Cozy. So much of this trip has been about connecting her to her Mexican heritage, why not a little whipped cream?

 

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Day Two was a trip to Xcaret, an ecological amusement park between Cancun and Tulum. These people know how to make eco-tourism fun for the whole family. I thought Cozy would love seeing the birds, dolphins, monkeys, and butterflies (and she did). The most amazing part of the experience was the half-mile long underwater river that visitors get to float down. They give you a life jacket and flippers, and like a Mayan offering, you are thrown into the water. Cozy was apprehensive about the whole thing. It might have been the fact that two days before she fell into the hotel swimming pool and was rescued by one of my students. (I dove in too, but “first responder” Elaine was on it!) But once in the river, clinging to my neck, she started to go all wide-eyed. “Do you like this, Bug?” I asked. “Si!” she said.

Xcaret is essentially a water-park with animals (Cozy was fascinated by the stingrays and roared at a puma) with several all-you-can-eat buffets scattered through the park. Everyone is in their bathing suits all day so it’s an opportunity to be reminded of the wide variety of bodies in the world, all entitled to a good snorkel with a nurse shark.

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Then, at 7 pm, everyone dries off and heads to this giant arena for a two-hour spectacular. A cast of over 300 puts on an impressive show about the history of Mexico, complete with Mayan sports, mariachi bands, dances from Jalisco, the flying men of Papantla, parrots flying around, and ending with an ode to the diaspora of the Mexican people that would make Donald Trump caca in his foreign-made suit. It was great seeing Andrea’s mother sing along to every song and Cozy was just completely amazed by the whole spectacle. I watched her as much as the show. It’s been so important for her to be exposed to her Mexican culture and she got it in grand style that night.

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In the middle of all this excitement it became clear that we now have a two-year-old daughter. She’s a little social butterfly who loves to chat it up with the other chavos. She will wander off as far as we’ll let her, confident on her own path. (Don’t worry, I’m quite mindful of the horror stories of kids like her being snatched or falling into gorilla enclosures.) But she also has a new defiance. She can walk a mile, but if she wants to be carried all she needs to do is stage a noisy sit in. If she doesn’t want to eat in a restaurant, banging her head on the table and screaming bloody murder sends the message to everyone in earshot. “No!” works in both English and Spanish.

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Andrea figured out how to handle this fairly quickly. You’ve got to come on strong with a stern voice. For all my lecturing on raising children, I’m a complete wimp. I can’t yell at her just yet. I worry about her little flameouts after being away from her for two-and-a half-weeks. I worry about other people thinking I’m shitty parent because my kid is wailing in front of the flamingos. I worry that Super Nanny will judge me for not putting the kid on the naughty step. So I carry her through the jungles of Mexico. But Andrea’s way works and I know it’s important for parents to be on the same page. (“Yeah, I’m not wrapped around anybody’s finger,” he said.) Firm and supportive, like a Playtex brassiere.

We’re settling in to our new parenting role. I don’t know if the “terrible 2’s” is really a thing, but it feels like the junior member of this partnership is now testing her autonomy. Right now life is about enjoying our last week here in Mexico, swimming, eating as many street cart quesadillas as possible, and dancing to the Beatles in our air-conditioned room. The outside world still sneaks in, including sexism at the Olympics, the spectacle of Trump’s free fall, and kids like Cozy being endlessly bombed in Syria, but we’re happy to be a tight little gang of three isleños. I have a sneaking suspicion that the bilingual kid we will bring back to Portland is gonna have her own ideas about how to live in this world.

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Dad Love 9: I Become Winona Ryder in Stranger Things

Aug. 8, 2016

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Cozy is fine. She’s with her abuela in Morelia, Mexico in a serious Spanish-language immersion class, going to the park with her tia, and, by all video accounts, having a blast. Andrea and I came to Isla Mujeres without her so I could start teaching this anthropology field research course. Cozy joins us on August 16 and we will be the reunited island family.

Sounds great, right?

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I mean what couple with a toddler wouldn’t want to have a few child-free weeks on a tropical island? It is certainly great for Andrea and I. This is my second year teaching a summer course at the amazing Isla Mujeres Ethnographic Field School and to have our own time is a true godsend. We sleep in and stay out late and when we walk down Hidalgo, the main street, the merchants shout, “Hey, honeymooners!” as they try to sell us trinkets and Cuban cigars. It’s a trip in time that’s allowed us to remember who we were together before we were “parents.”

But the missing part. That part can be rough.

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When we started on this experiment, I thought we’d have regular video hookups with Cozy via FaceTime. That’s how we did it last year when I came to Isla first and Andrea and Cozy stayed in Morelia for a few weeks. Technology has often been our link when I am out of town. I love seeing my daughter make goofy faces at me on her mom’s laptop.

A lot of therapy over the years helped me learn that some of my core relationship issues revolved around attachment and fear of being abandoned. Good therapy can take you way back to things that happened to you early in life, before you thought much about the world other than, “Wow.” My big “breakthrough” happened when I suddenly remembered how my parents would drop with an elderly neighbor when they went out of town for Amway conventions in the 1960s. I was maybe 3. I remembered thinking they would never come back and then being overwhelmed with emotion when they actually did come to get me. My apologies to all subsequent relationships. I’m better now.

So you can guess I don’t want to inflict that stress on my own daughter. This situation is different. She’s with family who spoil her to death. Andrea’s mother came to Portland from Mexico for the birth and was one of the first people on Earth to hold Cozy. She guards her like the most precious child. She is well fed and entertained and fortunately was out of the path of Hurricane Earl that almost hit our island last week.

We got to the island on July 29th and after a few days organized a FaceTime chat. Andrea’s sister, Viri, rang in with Cozy on her lap. We were so thrilled to see her and Cozy tried to kiss the screen. We were singing and hearing her new words and all smiles. Then I think she suddenly realized that we weren’t actually there and started crying with a horribly stressed look on her face. Her wise aunt just hung up. It was the right thing to do but I could feel a Mayan dagger plunged into my heart. And that was that. She won’t see us until we’re standing on the docks at Puerto Jaurez on the 16th, the day before her second birthday. (We plan to welcome her back with a big celebration.)

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We’re on “Island of Women,” but it’s really “Isla Niños.” There are so many little kids here, it’s hard not to be reminded of ours at every turn. Kids at the beach, kids riding with their family on motorcycles, a gang of four little girls who play in the alleyway of our hotel. Last year when we had Cozy’s first birthday party here, it was not hard to round up the local rug rats to have a go at the piñata. They are all stand-ins for our Bug.

So that’s the challenge. I want to enjoy every second with my beautiful, brilliant wife and not think my child is “gone.” I’m trying not to worry that she’s unsafe or that she’s forgetting about us or preferring the attention she’s getting to our less exotic life in Portland. Will she have grown so much I don’t recognize her? Just don’t think about it.

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I don’t need to string up Christmas lights to get messages from her in the upside down (OK, we just burned through all 8 episodes of Stranger Things). It not time to go mental. But missing your child is a powerful thing. Looking forward to hugging her is like all the Christmas Advent calendars I had as a kid rolled into one. One day closer.

I’ve been writing a lot about empathy in this blog and I’m getting a bite size chunk of the struggle of parents in the military or in prison who are far from their children. It’s got to be rough for parents who are separated and have work out custody arrangements. And we are not even touching the experience of actually losing a child. Lord. We probably grow more than our kids through all this. Letting go just a little bit. Not so easy. And it’s only sixteen years until she heads off to college. Help!

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For now it’s only eight days until Cozy and I are building castles in the sand and then watching them melt into the sea.

Dad Love 1: Dad Love

Dad Love 2: A Star is Born

Dad Love 3: Death and U2

Dad Love 4: You’re So Far Away

Dad Love 5: Flash, Ah! He’ll Save Every One of Us!

Dad Love 6: First Steps

Dad Love 7: I Need a Pep Talk

Dad Love 8: I’m on Drugs