When my husband first said let’s take the kids to Nicaragua, I worried. I saw pictures of the place he wanted to stay and the first thing I worried about was the pool. Next, were all the unbaby-proofed pitfalls waiting around every jagged corner. The worries continued. How well will they travel for that many hours? What about car seats? The kids are so picky; what are they going to eat? Are they going to be able to adapt to the heat, and oh my, what about sunburns, dysentary, bug bites and where is the nearest hospital? On and on it went. Everytime we told someone we were taking the kids to Nicaragua they wanted to know– is it safe?
I’ve been to third-world countries before but this is my first time as a mother of two small children. It might as well be my first time ever because I see the world anew with Mother Eyes.
We brought two car seats; one for my 17-month-old son, and a booster for my 3-year-old-daughter. I worried that the booster wouldn’t be safe enough because she’s 3lbs shy of the weight limit, but we decided it would be best for packing reasons. Speaking of packing, we brought two large suitcases, a large duffle bag to hold the pack-n-play, two back packs and a rolling carry-on. We would be gone for 14 days and we reasoned that we needed all this stuff for our family of four. We brought snacks, toys, electronics, three kinds of diapers (day, night, swim) and clothes upon clothes upon clothes. Between my daughter and I, we have 10 swimsuits.
The drive from the airport in Managua, to the place we’re staying, San Juan del Sur, took 2.5 hours. It was in a “fancy” car which was a early model jeep of some kind with “air conditioning” which was slightly cooler than the muggy 85 degrees outside. The regular seatbelts were rusted and you can forget about those safety latches in the seat crack for attaching car seats. I don’t even think they know those exist. I was sure we were going to get into a head-on collision multiple times on the long drive down a narrow two-lane road. We passed horse-drawn carts, tractors, busses with people hanging out the sides (including children) and tons of rusted out (but functioning) motorcycles and bicycles loaded down with two or three people, including babies.
I’m not sure I saw a single helmet. It makes me feel a little silly worrying about the 3lbs my daughter lacked to be “regulation” for her booster seat because this is how toddlers travel in Nicaragua.
With these new Mother Eyes, I can’t stop seeing all the Nicaraguan children and their mothers.
I went to the unairconditioned grocery store were I watched two mothers chat in the narrow aisles. When I passed them with my loud and whiney kids in the wobbly cart, they got quiet and parted letting me pass between them. They smiled and stared a little as I walked by. I couldn’t seem to hold their gaze. I felt shy, spoiled, foreign in every way and I can’t even imagine what they were thinking of my excessive persperation, new blonde highlights and coral painted toenails.
As we walked up and down the balmy aisles of the grocery store we looked for things our kids might eat. As a rule we try to limit their sugar, not only because it’s not good for them, but because my son has an intolerance when he has too much. There wasn’t much we could find. We bought some basic corn flakes, crackers and condensed milk in unrefrigerated cartons, because everything from the orange juice to the jams and cereals were loaded with tons and tons of added sugar and hydrogenated oils. Those things are cheap and work well to preserve and sweeten foods that aren’t that good for you and made to sit on unairconditioned shelves. They do have plenty of tropical fruit here; pinneaple, bananas, watermellons; but vegetables are hard to find and more expensive. Whole wheat bread is non-existent.
The woman that comes to the house from 7am-3pm to clean and cook breakfast for us has four children of her own. When we sit down to eat she holds my son and entertains my daughter. She doesn’t speak English but we try to communicate. My husband types into Google translation: “Thank you for helping with our children. We tip well.” Gracias por su atención a nuestros hijos. Nos propina. She smiles and laughs. Before she cleans our rooms I look around at all our stuff and I am embarrassed. I can’t find anything because we brought so much and it’s now strewn from one corner to the next. On top of it all, my daughter only wants to wear the pink swimsuit with the skirt, and my son has slept in the pack-n-play twice because he prefers to sleep next to me. I can’t help but wonder what she thinks of it all while she cleans. Of us. Of me.
I am humbled here. I feel silly for worrying so much about my children and their picky appetites while the children here clearly have so much less. There is perspective around every unbaby-proofed corner. It breaks my heart but I am equally grateful. I’m grateful to see these things; to understand so profoundly exactly what I have in my life.
Because when I look around I don’t just see all that’s different or lacking. I see what is also the same. That these mothers work, shop, cook and clean for their children because they love them as much as I do, mine. They may not have a LeapPad2, non-toxic crayons made in Europe or even car seats, but there is no difference in how we feel or what they would do for their kids. We all want the best for them. We will all worry about them no matter what and we will do our best to provide what we can.
The irony in all this is; the kids are oblivious to our angst. Everywhere, in any language, country and climate, all kids want is to wear is the pink swimsuit, sleep by Mommy, and instead of playing with fancy electronics, throw the scrabble letters around because of the cool sound they make on the tile floors.
It’s the kids that know how to live this life. It’s the kids everywhere that should teach us how to live. They don’t feel shy or embarrassed or silly around anyone and they don’t need Google to translate anything.