The thicker grass of Dominican Republic, so fat and strong that it actually feels like it can hold you is so different from the skinny blades of New Jersey grass that were soft under my barefeet. And the ladylike palm trees here that swing from left to right will be what Santiago and Rafaella know as trees. Not the bushy pines and full elms that wallpapered my window. Those will be as foreign to them as the coconut trees are to me.
It's such an interesting thing as a parent because
so much of what I imagined doing as a parent involved the life I knew when I was a child.
I never imagined my kids would learn to ride waves because I rode sleds. Being beach bums in New Jersey only existed from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend while building snowmen is a longer lived pastime than getting a golden tan. And there, we waited for snow to cancel next day's classes (pajamas inside out and fingers crossed). Here, we hope for a hurricane.
The life I thought I knew for the children I would one day have was constructed upon the kind of life I grew up with in New Jersey. And I guess, as much as I wanted to be abroad, I never really thought about how differently my kids would grow up based on where in the world we landed. Didn't you always just think your kids would grow up the same as you? One is no better than the other. It is just an opportunity to see things differently; to understand that we don't all live the same and that sometimes the more we have the less we see and sometimes the less we have, the better we understand what matters.
My kids might grow up to be the most amazeball drivers ever because driving here is unlike driving anywhere else in the world. All five senses have to be on high alert to drive here: eyes open and looking in every direction, ears at attention listening to a warning beep signaling I'm coming so move out of the way. Hands firmly grasping the wheel, my palm hovering over the horn - just in case - no slouching or Detroit leaning. Be alert. The busy, traffic jammed streets and the horns beeping like birds chirping will be background music to their little ears. In fact, Rafa drives her little Old McDonald cart around our house screaming, "Beep beep. Beep beeeeep." (And then adds an enthusiastic "Yeah," for her Beatles listening parents. High five.) And sometimes when I'm in the car, beeping my car horn at another driver Rafa belts out, "Beep beeeeep... jeesh." Where did she get that from?
The melodic way the avocado guy sings his avocados for sale, every morning, will also be a comforting, familiar tune, like the sound of a lawn mower outside my window in the summer reminding me to not waste the day away. A delicious reminder that we are living on an island. "AguaCAte." That familiar song sung by the same Dominican voice every morning at the same time like a set alarm since our arrival was one of the first sounds to make me feel like I was home.
They will think that there is no need to visit a supermarket when you could buy half of what you need from your car at every corner for a few pesos: mangoes, avocados, bananas, loofah sponges, sunglasses, nuts, balloons, cell phone accessories, calling cards, multiplication fact posters, garbage bags, ceiling fan dusters, puppies. What's that you ask? Did I just say puppies? Umm... as a matter of fact, I did. Yes. I have twice been witness to a man holding puppies for sale on Avenida 27. Lucky for Husband, I didn't have enough effectivo (cash) on me.
|Ceiling fan duster for sale. Sorry about the camera phone quality pic.|
They will know that coconut water isn't sold in juice boxes at wholesale at Costco. Instead they will drink fresh coconut water from an actual coconut that they just watched the guy pushing the coconut cart machete chop open for them with two swipes of precision. Fish will be caught straight from the ocean that they are swimming in, grilled to perfection and served with a side of tostones to their rustic picnic table on the local beach for less than a Value Meal. And guavas? Well they can just pick one off the tree outside our apartment.
They will know unfortunately (and this is a major source of sadness for me) that not all dogs are as loved as Olive and Jersey. That some dogs' home is the street and that they struggle every day to find food and shelter. And they'll also know that some kids don't go to school because they are washing windshields for a quarter or whatever you decide to throw their way and that they too are wondering where they will find their next meal.
They'll know how lucky they are because they'll witness daily that not all people are lucky to have what they have. And they won't be able to turn a blind eye to how unbalanced the world could be. They'll question why they are lucky and others aren't and maybe they'll want to do something about it. I don't think I really got this either until I came here. I still miss it sometimes - that my closet full of shoes and my water heater and my air conditioned bedroom is a luxury. But I'm slowly humbled by learning about the things I can live without.
Horses wander the streets here. So do chickens and roosters. A lizard the size of my small pinky dropped out of my cupboard last night and I only yelped a little. Life is slower, days are longer, and the evening breeze lifts the salt from the ocean water and carries it to the tip of your nose for you to smell the ocean air.
|View from our car and again my not great quality picture phone|
I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the East Coast hustle, the shorter days pointing me in the direction of winter's arrival which allows me to rest and hibernate and do nothing, (I swear people are skinnier here because the constant sun makes you guilty to waste the day inside) and the evening air that smells of chimneys burning wood, warming up the cozy families that live inside.
My kids will know many things growing up that I didn't. They're growing up Dominican. And in the future maybe they'll grow up Argentinian or Croatian or Chilean.
But with us as their anchor maybe they're growing up New Jersey too.
And I hope they'll be the better for it.
|Santiago taking in the sun|
|Rafaella taking in the warmth of Starbucks|