Saturday, December 12, 2015

Silly, Punctual Gringos

We've lived in Guatemala for more than 2 1/2 years. There are some cultural norms that we've learned, accepted, and adapted to, and there are others that we still struggle to fully embrace.

When entering a room or arriving to an event, Guatemalans go out of their way to greet everyone, even people they don't know. They go around the room, kissing each person on the cheek and uttering a "mucho gusto" or "como esta?" We've come to appreciate this intentionality of making time to be warm and polite. We are reminded of how uncommon this is in our own culture when North Americans visit and awkwardly ignore people in the room they don't know or haven't met.

A common experience that North Americans have living in other cultures is in relation to time and/or punctuality. Time is more fluid in other places. This isn't natural for us. For some reason we still strive to be "on time" to events. We've arrived at several events at the listed time on the invitation, only to be ridiculously early. I remember one party we showed up to 20 minutes late, we had even woken up Ruby early from her nap to leave, and we were at the party an hour before the birthday girl showed up. They were still setting up decorations and tables. We were the glaringly obvious "punctual" gringos.

It doesn't matter how often it happens, I still find myself worried about being "late" to things. I should probably know better by now that being on time means arriving awkwardly early, and also, things just last a lot longer. Church services last longer, and parties and events start late and go for hours.

Last night we decided to attend our church's annual Christmas dinner. It started at 7pm which is about the time our girls are in bed or getting ready for bed. Most social events start about this time of night. These usually involve kids running around and playing late into the night. We figured it would last a couple hours and didn't want to bring a tired, sick baby to a long night. Fortunately, (or rather unfortunately for her) we have a staff member staying with us this week due to a sickness that brought her to the City for a couple weeks. I put Ruby down for the night and our friend was able to stay at home while Ruby slept.

The formal invitation said that the event started at 7, and that they wanted to start "en punto," as in, right on time at 7. So, we arrived about 7:15. The church was probably half or 3/4 full, which is a pretty decent showing. The parking lot in our church is extremely narrow and cars arrive and line up one in front of the other. (Countless times, due to our inability to arrive late, we've been stuck in the back of the parking lot, unable to leave until the majority of the cars have left. First ones to arrive, last to leave.) Last night was no exception. We were directed to park down a narrow alley of the parking lot, very far away from the gate. This meant we were blocked in deep, with no chance of leaving before every last goodbye had been said.

There was special music, with dinner finally served at 8:00. Following dinner there were more presentations, and finally, at about 9:15, the sermon began. The Christmas sermon wrapped up a little after 10, which segued to a half an hour of Christmas carols to end the night.
Hazel taking a break on my lap. What you can't tell is that to get her to smile I had to bribe her with candy. Totally worth it.
Once again, I had to bribe Hazel. She only agreed to the picture if she wore this crown.
Then there were the final goodbyes and chats and waiting for all the cars behind us to finally leave. In the meantime, our girls reminded us of just how different they each are:

Hazel, tired from a long day of swim class and playing, couldn't make it more than 3 hours past her normal bedtime, and somehow fell asleep under the bright lights, in Daddy's arm, while he chatted.
Ellie, on the other hand, is a night owl and was playing with the other kids, running around for hours, and insisted she was not tired in the least (though she did fall asleep in the 5-minute drive home at 11pm).
All of this is par for the course, another cultural experience to remind us of how time-conscious we are. I was a little more stressed because I knew our poor worker was at home with a sick Ruby, who has the habit of waking up around this time of night. And of course, we arrived home to a bleary eyed Ruby being held, having been crying for nearly an hour.

We might learn not to look at the clock, eventually. In the meantime, friends of ours at church assured us that the traditional upcoming Christmas Eve service at church is "very short" compared to most events, "only" an hour and a half. We had a good laugh about how a 90-minute service is short here, which would feel very long in the US. We explained how church services in the States are very punctual. If they go more than a few minutes over the prescribed schedule, people get antsy, start thinking about their lunch plans, squirm in their seats. One of my friends commented how sad it is that time is more important than the service or connecting with people.

Ah, touche.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


I want to have Joy. Experience Joy. BE Joy.

A theme I've noticed in my life and in motherhood for longer than I can remember is my lack of patience, even to the point of anger. I'm constantly afraid of how this will affect my girls and my family.

Recently my husband (fairly) cautioned me in my responses to my oldest daughter. I had been snarky and passive-aggressive. My tone of voice was frustrated and even bordered on manipulative in my attempts to get her to do what I want. It scared me as a Momma. I don't want my relationship with my children to be full of threats and frustrated side remarks. She's already learning to tune out our nagging, and I don't blame her. She is so unique and is so many ways exactly like me. People tell me she's my mini-me because she looks like me. But most people have no idea just how much she's like me personality and otherwise.
Hanging on my fridge as a gentle reminder
At our recent team retreat I found myself thinking about JOY. I'm often so focused on the details, or the environment (too loud, too messy...I'm a huge sensory person) that I don't experience Joy in the moment. I just find myself frustrated and mad, and I routinely take that out on the girls by being snippy and short.

Granted, three whining, needy girls don't contribute to a state of blissful thankfulness in all things. But I think if I can look for Joy, if I push myself to find Joy amidst the chaos, if I can seek Joy in the frustrated moments, I'll be more at peace and less angry. I'll be more the mom and person I want to be.

I can choose to see Joy in my girls silliness instead of hearing loud screams.

I can choose to see Joy in the toys strewn all over the floors and the paint dried to the table, because it means they are content.

I can choose Joy in my own reactions when they want to help me cook or work on a project, even if it makes a bigger mess than necessary.

I don't have to be SuperMom. Yet another December is flying by and I feel the weight of my inadequacy. I'm not a Pinterest Mom that pulls off dazzling surprises and projects and meaningful moments every day of Advent. I have some Advent cards with activities I made a few years ago, but we haven't done anything intentional with them this year. I haven't done anything super spiritual to teach them about the true meaning of Christmas. There's still time, of course, but I want to do it with joy, and without the pressure to have a perfect Christmas. I want to be together as a family, full of joy, focused on giving and thinking of others.

This morning I dusted off a devotional book I haven't picked up in weeks, and the theme of Joy jumped out at me in today's reading:

Accept the value of problems in this life, considering them pure joy.

I choose to see my stressors and my problems with a lens of joy. My 10-month old is still waking me up in the night, and I can see joy because she's healthy and happy and I have the ability and means to soothe her. 

My birthday was two days ago, and I spent the majority of the day like any other, at home, with my girls. We crafted, went on a bike ride picnic, and just spent time together. I chose to be thankful and joyful, in awe of the blessing that is three beautiful, loving, energetic girls. 
A birthday project with my girls

Simple moments make the best memories
Maybe it was easier because it was my birthday, but I chose to be more OK with the chaos, and I felt more free to enjoy my girls and just "be." May we all choose to find more joy in this season.