They Call Her Queen

Quinlen Macy is our first girl.  Our angel baby.  Our baby who slept easily, played easily, ate easily, traveled easily….was the easiest little person.  Our middle child.

<And you know it’s coming, right?>


…we moved,

…baby Lennox was born,

…she started school,

…she changed beds

…she gave up her binkies,

…her parents gave into her temper tantrums….

We have a long list of  excuses reasons as to why what seems like an enormous shift happened in her life and she started to really demand a large chunk of our energy and patience and attention.  Those of you who know us well know that we even sought out professional help this past year when we were truly at our wits’ ends.  Two different counselors with Ph.D.s after their names listened to our long list of concerns that we’d written down on our yellow legal pad (yes, we’re those people) and we carefully took notes as to how to curb her middle-of-the-night-temper-tantrums and her other fucking exhausting leadership qualities she was so strongly exhibiting.

Quin had become the bellwether in our family. “Did you have a good day Addy?” was only answered after I thought, “hmm…did Quin have a good day?”  Quin was becoming the leader in our family–and by leader, I don’t mean democratically elected leader. I mean, she dictated the temperament of our household by her mercurial moods.

Luckily, things shifted and by the time we were preparing to move to Santiago Quin was pretty even-keeled in her behavior.

We were relieved to see that all three of our kids settled into their new school in Santiago without much fuss.  Sure Lennox (and I) cried the first week during drop-off but the big kids were pretty disappointed when we showed up to pick them up every day. They made friends and played hard and learned a lot. Language barriers and all, their eyes lit up when they went to school.

In Spanish “qu” is pronounced “k” and “i” is pronounced “ee” and so technically Quin’s teachers should have called her “Keen.”  But, as it turns out, they somehow called her Queen.  They even gave up on the American spelling of her name.  I’m looking through her folder of school work from Santiago and see that every bit of her work is nicely labeled QUEEN.

Oh, so appropriate.

Last week our friend emailed and asked us how everyone was doing. How was Carter? How was Lennox? How was Queen?

This, my friends, is one of the finer memories from Santiago.




Our Own Version of “Me Talk Pretty One Day”

One of my all time favorite authors is David Sedaris. If you don’t know him and his amazing body of work, please stop reading this blog immediately and get yourself to your nearest bookstore (preferably an independent) and buy ALL of his precious books.  You will laugh so hard you will pee your pants.  He writes short stories about life and they are brilliant.  My all time favorite story is Me Talk Pretty One Day about his experience learning French in Paris and how all of the foreign students, with no common language amongst them, would stand around and try and console each other in their childlike and broken French.  I love it because I lived it, too.  But I love it now, too, because I see our own version of this story playing out here in Santiago as we slowly learn Spanish.  Different from Sedaris’ story, our teachers are kind and patient and generous.  And for the first 2-3 weeks so were we.  But as the weeks have progressed, frustration has grown.  And to be really blunt (and completely immodest), I’m actually kick ass at learning Spanish. I don’t care if I sound like a child or an idiot, I talk to everyone all the time here. And I lean heavily on my brain’s experience and knowledge of French, a language that is very similar to Spanish.

And so, when I speak of frustrations growing, I speak mostly of my sweet husband.  A man who is brilliant in so many ways.  Who is a tremendous provider for his family.  Brilliant at his work.  But, very frustrated with learning Spanish.  But, so are others.   In my grammar class today when the professor asked us all how we were doing, I just went ahead and launched into it. Como se dice, “fed up”?  Because I am. I’m tired of Chile, I said in broken Spanish.  And I could tell I had compatriots in the room. I could tell that very easily I could lead a revolt.  Fuck Spanish!  There is this fellow from Australia who is likely brilliant in English but is painfully bad in Spanish. And an Austrian who has been here weeks and the poor young kid cannot even answer basic questions. It is painful to witness. It is humiliating to be that person.  When leaving school today I saw classmates hanging out on the terrace and I overhead some conversations about the frustrations of Spanish: “But why do they conjugate it that way.” “This part makes no sense to me.” “This is simply a trick.”  And I knew precisely what they were talking about and why they felt that way because it does make no sense and it is a trick and we feel so duped by these grand dreams we had that we could learn if we just applied ourselves.  I felt the same way in week five when they taught me that you MUST use the formal version of “you” when speaking to say, your friend’s parents.  Mind you this is WEEK FIVE! I’ve been living here and speaking to all these strangers DAILY using the INFORMAL you.  I was SO mad at my teacher and the school. How could they?  Why didn’t they tell me this, oh, I don’t know, THE FIRST DAY?  So, I immediately wrote my friend’s parents an email apologizing for insulting them the entire weekend we stayed with them at Cajon del Maipo.  Seriously.

Learning a second language is exasperating.  And humiliating.  And wonderful.

So, today, while the kids are napping, I can tell that Josh is frustrated. He is quietly fuming as he cleans the potatoes in the kitchen sink. He is not speaking but he is taking it out on those poor Chilean potatoes.  Then, and I’m waiting for it, he turns to me and says, “in your infinite wisdom…” (and now I know that maybe the fury is going to be directed to me because….what infinite wisdom?)…”how does “hay que” mean “es necesario?”  And I feel the laughter bubbling up inside me and I cannot stop it and it spills over and all of a sudden I am laughing so hard I am crying!  Because I do not know but, hey, just go with it.  Ok.  So.  Friends, this has been going on for weeks.  Josh gets really frustrated with learning Spanish because it doesn’t always translate into English.  And he is a very analytical man.  He actually hates learning Spanish and is very hurt and mad and frustrated that he’s not at all as good at learning Spanish as he imagined he would be.  For sure, FOR SURE, he is wonderful at learning Spanish but one thing about my husband is that he has enormously high standards of himself (and for others).

And so, I tell him, “babe, sometimes it just doesn’t translate.  And why should it have to translate TO English, why don’t we walk around and say, why can’t we have this same expression in English?”  He is so mad about this very point.  That these people told him what “hay” and “que” meant and then they fucking combined them and they mean something else altogether when combined!  The outrage!   And, he claims, others in his class were outraged by this concept too.

We’ve both accused our teachers of duplicity.  Of purposely holding out on us, not giving us the knowledge when we needed it most.

Broken Arm

It’s Saturday night and we have plans. Our sitter is coming over in about an hour and we’re going out with our Chilean friends Francisco and Jimena to one of our favorite spots in Santiago–Patio Bellavista. Josh is giving Lennox a bath and he calls to me down the hallway, amidst normal baby-bath-screaming, that something is wrong.  Here comes Lennox waddling out of the bathroom naked–a sight I cherish–but she’s screaming crying.  I pick her up and she’s easily consoled but when I squeeze her right arm by her wrist she immediately shrieks.

I’m not boasting when I say I knew immediately that her arm was broken but sometimes you just know.  I am instantly filled with mommy-adrenaline. The kind that makes you sit down and breathe deeply.  In addition to normal mommy-adrenaline, we now have the added adrenaline of living in a foreign country. Which, by the way, in case you haven’t guessed, is really fucking hard.  The kind of hard that makes going to the pharmacy something we actually “prepare” for, talk ourselves into, have “you can do it” talks with each other about.  We have to take the baby to the emergency room.  Tonight.  Thank God we have a sitter lined up.  The baby is hurt.  But then.  Maybe it’s nothing, we tell ourselves, while she wanders off the down the hall to play, chit chatting with herself in her toddler way.  Laughing.  Playing.  Normal.  But every time we squeeze her arm she cries.  So, there we were waffling between, “her arm is broken; let’s go to the ER” and “obviously she’s fine, look at her playing?” except when we look closely it’s obvious she’s not using her right arm.  We look at each other and know that part of the waffling is that we don’t want to go to the ER in Chile. We don’t know how their system works. We don’t understand Spanish well enough. We’ll be lost and alone and it will be hard to get help.  It sucks.  It’s uncomfortable and hard and we just don’t want to do it.  We say these things OUT LOUD to each other and clear the air. Lay the fear out in the room.  Look at it.  Smell it.  Examine it.  And then laugh while we’re crying because, duh, we can do this.  I sit down with Lennox and have a good cry so I can get it out of my system and then we get down to business.  We get on the phone and Facebook and start looking up what hospital to go to and all the words associated with broken arms and dislocated wrists, etc.

First, we head off to Clinic Santa Maria where they take Josh’s drivers license during registration and tell us he can have it back when we pay.  Then we try and convince two triage nurses that Lennox really is hurt, maybe her arm is broken, while Lennox is smiling and waving and saying “hi” to them.  This is a hard moment because we don’t really understand what they are saying TO us but their faces are saying, “these are some stupid fucking Americans.”  Then we hear the wait time to be seen is 2-3 hours.  Meanwhile, our friend Tatiana, a pediatric neurologist, is texting us to please get a cab to her hospital, Clinica Alemana, where she is currently working on-call and isn’t busy and she can help us.  Driver’s license back in hand, we get another cab to Clinica Alemana about 15 minutes away.

There is no wait at Clinica Alemana but we do have a hard time finding the correct Emergency Room. That’s right.  There are multiple emergency rooms. One for just kids. One for trauma like broken bones. And one for all the rest.  Wouldn’t that be nice moms, an ER just for kids?  Finally, we meet up with Tatiana who whisks us away to the correct location, helps us get registered and shown to a room.  The pediatric orthopedist comes pretty quickly and asks for x-rays.  Off we go to x-rays, a brutal, horrible, tortuous experience for Lennox and for me, who has to hold her while she screams as the x-ray tech pulls and fiddles with her arm to get the correct images.  Finally, finally, finally, we are done and try and find our way back to our room.  This hospital is beautiful and clean and confusing to us foreigners.  It is likely one of the nicest hospitals I’ve ever seen in the world though.  As soon as a staff member sees us wandering with utter confusion, we are redirected and sit and wait for the results.  Tatiana comes back from her consultation in the children’s ER to check on us and sneaks a peak at the x-ray results before our doctor arrives.  Lennox’s arm is broken.  But it is a minor fracture.  It will heal quickly.  She doesn’t need surgery.  But she does need an extensive cast, at least in the beginning.  So we walk across the hall and get her casted up.  This time I make Josh hold her while she screams in pain as she’s casted.  Another family in the room is so kind to us it makes me weep.  (I notice that my new emotional standard while living in Chile is that every time someone is especially kind to me I cry. Or want to cry.  This is new for me. It is evidence of how emotionally vulnerable–ok, all kinds of vulnerable–I am here).  This other family in the cast room has four kids.  Their son has a broken arm too.  He broke both of his clavicles last year.  This mom is reassuring in her calmness.  Her sureness.  Her this-is-just-how-it-goes-ness.  I love moms.  I love how she quietly hands her four year old candy to give to Lennox while she’s screaming so she can be distracted.  While we are leaving another girl comes in with two broken wrists.  Josh and I look at each other and grimace.  It could be so much worse.

And then, we are done.  Lennox is calm but tired as it is now hours and hours past her bedtime.  And it is hours and hours past my bedtime and I’m so relieved but I just want to lie down and cry.  Because this was difficult.  Because this was not difficult.  Because we managed fine when we’d prepared to fail miserably.  Because sometimes when people like Tatiana–who stayed with us almost the entire time–are kind to you the instinct is to just lie down and cry.  Or maybe that’s just my instinct.  And for all the challenges Chile has thrown our way I will say that we have been stunned and overwhelmed by people’s kindness.  Their utter selflessness and hospitality and guarantee of our wellbeing.  Because one of the challenges of this adventure is that we don’t have our village, we don’t have our usual safe guards, and we sense that more than we know it, every single day.  But then we see that we do have a village, though a small and sometimes uncertain one.  We do have safe guards.  And we always have each other.

We check out, arrange for a follow-up visit next Friday, and get our bill for everything right then and there.  The entire bill. Wouldn’t that be nice?  And the bill is, wait for it, $280.  For everything.  Doctor, hospital, x-ray: $280.00  No, I’m not kidding with the decimals.  Wouldn’t that be nice in the States?  That your bill equaled services rendered.  AND.  GET A STIFF DRINK BECAUSE YOU’RE SIMPLY NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS: The prices were posted on the wall in the ER. THE COST OF SERVICES–POSTED–ON THE WALL!

United Statesians!  We could learn from this!

Clearly our Chilean adventure just wasn’t complete with all of our other day-to-day challenges.  So, ok, a broken arm.  A new challenge.  It’s a broken arm.  A tiny fracture.  A no big deal thing.  I get it.  I know.  Carter had a far worse injury at the same age.  He burned his hands on the lawnmower and it was ghastly.  Horrible.  Hands down awful.  I broke my own right arm when Quinlen was four months old.  Super painful.  A hassle.  A truly crummy time of our lives.  Josh broke his arm a year after that riding the mechanical bull at a charity event.  Ok, so bones heal.  No big deal.  We get it.

So, what’s the deal.  Where is the pain.  Why the anguish?

Part of the pain is knowing how fragile she is.

Part of the anguish is not knowing how or when it happened. At our friend’s house Wednesday night? Ok, so that would mean we didn’t notice for three days.  With the babysitter on Thursday afternoon. Ok, so that would mean she had an accident that no one told us about.  At school on Friday?  Again, an accident that we didn’t know about.

Part of the pain is just feeling all that more vulnerable here in Chile.  And having to ask for help.  And not being able wanting to ask for help.

Lennox is quickly learning how to manage as a lefty.  Tatiana is picking me up Friday and going with me to Lennox’s next doctor’s appointment when hopefully she’ll get a new, maybe even waterproof, cast.  And so it is.  But this morning Lennox woke up and walked out to the living room holding her cast.  Yes.  That’s right.  She had removed her cast.  So.  First, we gave her a bath (duh!) and then we MacGyvered her cast back onto her arm.  So far so good.  Because, clearly, we don’t want to go back to the hospital!








What We Love

1. LOVE AND HONOR OF FAMILY. As a mother of three children living in Chile, I feel like a protected and honored and sacred part of society. Every single time we’ve ridden the bus or metro, people give up their seats for me and our children, insisting that I sit down. I feel protected and special–set apart and watched over. Every day people reach out and touch our children, rub their hair, stop to admire them, help them onto or off the metro, ask about them. Very possibly it’s because we look oh so foreign, especially Lennox with her prized blonde hair (Chileans insist that even Carter is blond). But quite possibly also we are living in a culture where family–and children–are more important than anything else. And we have evidence of that everyday here.

2. CEVICHE. I could eat ceviche every day here. It is fantastic. From fancy restaurants to basic corner cafés, ceviche is good everywhere. Fresh seafood abounds.

3. PARKS. Chilean parks are impressive. They are filled with not only exciting and fun playground toys but also cool activities that I’ve never seen in our parks. Parque Forestal is our favorite park in Santiago. Not only do they have great playground toys, they also have two trampolines set up that you pay $1.50 to jump on for 15 minutes with a bunch of other little kids. They have pedal-powered go carts to rent and drive around the sandy paths of the park. They have an artist area complete with big wooden easels and paint and pictures or blank paper and kids sit down and quietly do art for a break. They have vendors selling all sorts of snacks and toys. It is a wonderland and most of the wonder is created by a unique entrepreneurial spirit–not the city.

It is apparent everywhere here that Chile is simply not a litigious society. We’ve come across city employees at the top of 10 foot ladders without (gasp!) helmets or harnesses or colleagues below insuring their safety. Every playground we’ve visited has awesome toys that are not to be found in the US ever–as in, no more or never before. Our international friends stare at us with open mouths when I tell them that new playgrounds in the US don’t have swing sets because they are too dangerous and schools and cities can’t afford the insurance. They have no response. It is, for them, a new level of American ridiculousness. I have to agree.

And it feels so oddly liberating to live someplace with such danger as crazy fun playground toys. The statistically ridiculous and plain old greed has made the U.S. too safe in innumerable ways.

We recently spent the weekend at Casa Chueca, a small lodge in the countryside run by an Austrian family. Besides the trampoline and swimming pool, both requiring high levels of insurance in the US, there were animals roaming all around including a pony and a mare and her foal. Tree houses and zip lines, ponds and rivers–all accessible, unstaffed, enjoy-but-be-smart activities. We loved it and enjoyed every single moment. It was very much like staying at a friend’s farm for the weekend.

Chile is spectacular and yet we’ve only experienced a teeny tiny bit of it. Travel–cultural capital–worth every difficult and joyful moment.