Saturday, January 29, 2011

Seven years and I'm still botching it...

I´ve lived in this long, skinny country for seven years now (gasp!), but I must confess, I'm FAR from having it figured out. There are some guidelines that I know and do my best to abide by. There's a whole other set that I don't know/understand. And, then there's the set that I know perfectly well, but forget.

Let me set the scene by saying that having a housekeeper/cleaning lady here is quite normal- it is not an indicator of some new luxurious lifestyle. These arrangements range from live-in, full time housekeeper to once a week cleaning lady. I have the latter and I had a new lady this week.

I really like her. Not only does she work independently so I can take care of Ely and translate while she naps, but she helped me make lunch and split a beer with me at lunch. While I have loved my previous cleaning ladies, I was never able to convince them to have a beer in the middle of the day- no matter how hot it was. I’m not a big drinker, at all, but I do appreciate a cold beer on a hot day and Thursday was a scorcher!

So, we had our first day together and it was a relative success. She cleaned. We ate lunch. Split our beer. I paid. We both got what we expected out of the deal. Then, it was time to go and I messed up and made things all weird.

Let me give you a little background: As a whole, I find Chileans to be REALLY clean people. Like REALLY clean. Their houses are clean. While housekeepers play a part in that, I've found this to be categorically true even in homes without a housekeeper. (Side note: LB, if you're reading this, I bet you wish I'd spent more time in Chile before living with you in college. I've learned a few things ;))

Personal hygiene is off the charts (excluding boys between 18-20 who do their best to look dirty once they are finally free from the demands of their colegio, although I have a sneaking suspicion that their mothers make them shower daily and that their dirty appearance is the result of A LOT of effort). All of my (Chilean) officemates used to have toothbrushes in their desks for use after lunch or any random snack. All of the guys that work with R shower before leaving work. My darling husband ALWAYS showers used to shower before we (used to) go out at night- no matter how late we are running.

So, since it was such a hot day and she worked really hard, I thought our new cleaning lady might be uncomfortable going home without taking a shower. So, I offered her the option. Her response, "I don’t have a towel." To which I smiled and responded "I have one I can lend you" and scampered off to get it. I produced the towel and she took it and headed upstairs dutifully.

As soon as I was up the stairs, I had a ‘doh’ moment. I’d totally and completely forgotten what I’ve been told many times… some Chileans don’t share towels. Towel sharing has never been an issue for me. I just assume that if someone is offering me a towel, it’s clean. Maybe that’s na├»ve, but I’ve survived so far.

I know of a few ladies of a certain age who take towels to hotels. R’s uncle who is a great handyman was working here and brought his own towel for the end of the day shower. I’ve never asked what the issue is because I’m usually told in one of two contexts (1) Another gringa asking if her mother-in-laws no towel sharing policy is the norm (2) Going somewhere and R tells me to remember towels because X doesn’t share towels. I’ve never been comfortable enough to ask X "So, why you don’t want to share your towels with us?" Although, I do assume that it’s related to the cleanliness thing.

So, in an effort to be nice and sensitive to the cleanliness factor, I had accidentally forced an unwanted towel on my new cleaning lady. So as not to offend me, she’d taken it into the bathroom and appeared 10 minutes later, freshly perfumed. I chose not to address my faux paus. I couldn’t come up with anything that wouldn’t sound like "Why don’t you want to share my towel?" thereby making things weirder. So, I zipped it and said good-bye.

I went upstairs to get the towel to throw it in the wash I was doing- and noticed it wasn’t damp. I glanced over and the tub wasn’t wet either. I had made her so uncomfortable that she’d faked a shower to avoid offending me! Eeeekkk!

I really hope that she comes back next week… I bet she’ll bring her own towel, lest I force another on her.

At least when you’re new to a country and/or are clueless to the guidelines, you don’t know when you’ve botched it… I hate when this happens. Seven years into it, I’m definitely passed my "She’s new here. She doesn’t know" grace period.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lunch Line of Life

Flashback: Little blonde girl sits in her classroom listening to the day's menu on the morning announcements. This particular little girl was always quite confused by one particular lunch item: choiceoftwo. Yes, every morning the announcer would list the options: main meal, choiceoftwo, and milk.

As a card carrying member of the bring-your-own-lunch club, I distinctly remember wondering what that part of the meal looked like. I never saw anything unidentifiable on my friends' plates. Well, that may not be entirely true, but nothing that I could imagine being called choiceoftwo.

When I got older and bringing my lunch became so embarrassing, I finally figured it out: Everyone got to choose two of the three to five totally unappetizing options. No matter what I chose, I always wanted to try the other options. You know, just in case. Usually, if we wanted to take two tasty things and asked for an extra apple, the cafeteria manager would concede, but no one could try ALL the options: choice or two, you see.

Life may offer a variety of options that is more appealing than an elementary school lunch, but you certainly can't try them all. I find myself constantly reminding myself of this- you are currently reading exhibit A. As I see my friends develop rock solid careers, take awesome vacations, pursue higher education, etc. I feel like I’m missing something, which might be more appealing than what I’ve got.

How do you go through the lunch line of life and really, truly value what you have? I LOVE my life, really and truly. I am married to my best friend. I have a sweet daughter who teaches me more each day than I could ever teach her. I’m blessed with parents that are able and willing to spend their vacation time with us, a house that is a home, lifetime friends and new friends, and two adorable (if incestuous) dogs.

Why in the world am I still looking for that extra apple?

I, like many of us, was raised to believe that anything is possible; that you can have it all if you only work hard enough. While optimism is important, I'd like to take a second to call BS on that. I just don't think I can, or anyone can, for that matter.

I don't think I can work from home enough to take awesome trips and be as available as I want to be for Ely.

I don't think I can pursue an awesome career or even that master's degree, be available for Ely and have the energy left over to nurture my marriage.

I don't think I can nurture my marriage, pursue higher education, raise Ely, work from home (Gotta pay for that degree somehow!) and maintain my physical and mental health.

I hate to be a downer, but I don't think I'm the only one. Something has got to give and at this point, for me, it can't be time or energy spent on Ely or my marriage. This day of her childhood and our relationship are the only things that won't be on the menu tomorrow.

The bounty is plentiful and we can all choose a lot more than two options, but trying a little bit of all of them will leave us with a stomach/heart ache gets in the way of enjoying any of them.

Now, I’m scurrying off to be thankful that I was able to choose this life. Your choices might be different and equally fulfilling, but I think it’s worth recognizing that the position and ability to make these choices is worth being thankful for.

Please remind me of that next time I’m asking for an extra apple.