Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Somewhere in Between Two Time Zones

It occurred to me the other day as I was watching my daughter stare out our window at the trees and streets that surround our Mirador Sur apartment, that Santo Domingo is the first home my children will know. So when she says fore (which I am aware should be flores - but she's two, so cut her a break), it is the purple flowers outside of our window (whose name I don't know) that she is talking about because it is those flowers that she understands flowers to be. I first understood flowers to be dandelions. 

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. 

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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?

But...
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. 

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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. 
But...
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.

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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. 

But...
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. 

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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
But...
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.


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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


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11 comments:

  1. It's really weird how differently our children grow up from what we expected. I grew up in a military family, spending most of my life over seas , growing up in Europe-- being able to go to Italy, Austria, Czech on a weekend if we wanted. My kids have only ever left the US once, and that was while their father was station in Iceland. Now, they live in Las Vegas and are getting to do the typical American teenager things that I never go to do, Have the same friends for more than 2 years, go to a mall on the weekends, take drivers ed...

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    1. that's wild, right? i think about that too for sure that although i loooove that they get all of this cultural and travel experience at some point i might just want them to go to prom. :)

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  2. What an amazingly touching and clearly written post. I wondered the same thing during the time we were living in Hawaii. That somehow my Kiddies were missing out on what I had as a child. At the time we weren't sure how long we were going to be there and my 2 youngest were actually born there. I kept thinking my Kiddies are Hawaiian and I'm not. Then I realized it was a positive...they were having a broader experience than I did. Isn't that what we want? For our Kiddies to have it better and more? I loved reading this...thank you so much for sharing.

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    1. i know. Santiago has a Dominican passport and I think, "Lucky. He's got two passports." and yeah, i totally agree. i think having as many experiences as you could have and cracking the world open wherever possible is a great way to live life fully

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  3. what a beautifully written post! it's funny how we think our kids will grow up just like us!

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    1. riiiight? like i never thought they wouldn't. until now...

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  4. I love this! It's something I never really gave a thought to, and can't really imagine myself actually.

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  5. I loved this! Reading the comparisons between your childhood home and your children's was great. I love how you are able to see the great parts in both, yet still realizing that neither is perfect. It made me think that even though I only live a half hour away from where I grew up, my kids are still having a different experience. I think we change and the world changes, so whether you are near or far from your childhood home, your kids will have a different experience. Great post!!

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    1. thank you. and you're right. nothing is perfect. i'm not sure that anywhere we would ever go to would be perfect because part of my heart will always be in NJ. i'm trying to get my parents to travel the world with us... that might help a bit ;)

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  6. What a beautiful way to express how life is raising kids somewhere other than where you were raised. I live about an hour from the border of Mexico so a lot of what you describe is similar. Only not as beautiful scenery, which, btw, looks so perfect it looks photoshopped! I want for my kids to see more snow like I did when I was little with parents from the east coast. But if we ever moved, I would be sad they wouldn't experience the Day of the Dead parade every year, perfect springs and falls, and life in the southwest amongst Mariachi music and Tamale festivals.

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    1. sounds like you know exactly what i'm talking about then??? there are so many things that i love about how they are growing p now and so many things i wish they knew more of.

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