When raising kids, a lot of times women will have those moments where they think, “I’ve turned into my mother.”
I’m not married and I don’t have children, but I’ve had a lot of those moments lately. I’ve come to discover that running Casa Alitas is sort of a mix between working at a hostel and being a mom. Here’s a taste of the “mother moments” I’ve been having lately. Most are in response to the teenage boys we have in the house.
When I ask the teen boys what they want from the grocery store, and they say “I don’t care.” This used to be me and it would drive my mom crazy. Now it’s me being like “Just tell me what you want or I swear on all that’s holy, I will buy nothing but tuna!!”
When I look in the fridge and pull out a jar of salsa, then realize it is empty. I have found empty tupperware, empty bread sacks, empty cheese bags, empty gatorade bottles. And it drives. me. nuts. This was mostly a problem with the 2 boys who were living here last month. They’ve since moved into an apartment together in Phoenix. Sometimes I imagine what their fridge there must look like. Just shelves full of empty bottles and containers. Seemingly stocked with food, but when you look a little bit closer you realize it’s nothing but empty packaging.
When I get in the Alitas van, which is totally a mom van, and everyone who I am driving sits in the back seat and leaves me in the front seat alone. Mom response: “Someone get up here! You’re making me feel like a taxi driver!”
When I make dinner and set it out on the table, and say “Do you want to come eat?” and everyone says yes, but no one moves, they just continue to watch TV. So I set out plates and silverware, and say “Ok, food’s ready. Come eat!” and they nod and say ok, but still no one moves. So I say “Are you going to eat?” – yes – “Are you going to come to the table?” – yes – “Now??” – Oh, ok. And then they come. WAS THAT SO HARD??
Then there are those other moments when I feel like a grandma. Only in the sense that I get to completely spoil these cute little kids for a few days and then their poor mothers have to deal with the after effects.
First, there was the little Guatemalan girl who would follow me around the house. “Señora,” she’d say, “don’t you have more….more….more….more….more………”
“More what?” I’d say.
I’d look in the office and find a few stuffed animals hiding somewhere, which would pacify her for a few minutes, until she’d come back with the same question. I’d look in the shed and find a couple teddy bears. Then a few minutes later, she’d ask again. I’d look in some boxes and find the little bags of coloring books and crayons that we send with kids on the bus rides. She’d play with that for a bit, then come back and ask for more. We have a lot of toys in this house and that little girl played with every last one of them. When I finally ran out of toys, she started asking for new things.
“Señora,” she’d say, “do you have a crown?”
“Señora, do you have a bicycle?”
“Señora, do you have a bow?”
I started baking a cake to take to the community dinner that happens at Casa Mariposa every week, and she wanted to be my helper. I put some bocadillo (sweetened guava paste) in the cake, and gave her a taste. Every time I would add a new ingredient to the batter, she asked me to take the bowl off the counter and show it to her, and I would ask her how it looked.
“Bien bonito,” she’d say every time – “Really nice.”
Then she’d ask if I couldn’t just give her a tiny bit more bocadillo, and I’d cut her off another chunk.
Then she wanted to paint her nails. I was staying overnight at the house at the time, and had brought some of my nail polish. She picked some out and I painted her fingers and toes. “Why don’t you paint your nails?” she asked me. I told her I was going to, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. “Why don’t you comb your hair?” she asked me next. “I do,” I told her. “It just looks like this anyway.”
Sadly, this little girl left, like they all do. But it was not long before I had another miniature Guatemalan shadow. This one was quite the little helper. She would follow me around and ask what she could do to help. She put away groceries, folded laundry, helped cook. It was like having my own personal assistant. In return, I spoiled her rotten. It started out when her family first arrived. I took them to the clothing shed we have in the backyard to pick out some clean clothes so they could take showers and have something to change into. The girl saw a pair of pink and black polka dot pants, and her eyes lit up. I told her she could have them and she got super excited. She found a pink shirt to match and then turned to the shoes. She found a cute little white high-heel, but unfortunately it didn’t have a match. We found a pair of velcro shoes that fit her instead and she was happy with that.
Later, she was looking at the bookshelf and I told her if she picked out some books she liked, she could take them with her for the bus trip. Her eyes got wide and she started looking through them. She found one she liked, showed it to me, and asked if she could have it. I said sure and she turned around and screamed, “MOM!!! She said I could have it!” Then, for the rest of the time she was here, she would come up to me now and then with a little toy in her hand and ask if she could take it with her. “Sure,” I’d say.
“MOOOOMMMM!!! She said I could have it!”
By the time she was ready to get on her bus, she had a little pink wheeled suitcase she had found, and it was stuffed with clothes, books, toys and snacks. I took the family to the bus station, but in the rush of getting ready, I had forgotten to grab the food bag we give them that has food, water, and toiletries for the journey. For the night buses, there are always a couple of volunteers that meet me at the station, and stay with the families to explain their tickets and wait with them to get on the bus. I left them with the volunteers and explained I would run back to the house quick to grab the food. A half hour later, when I got back to the station, I went over to where they were waiting. One of the volunteers told me that the little girl decided she wanted to stay and live at the house with me. The mother laughed, and the girl looked at me and nodded. The volunteer told me she said she wanted to stay with me because I treated her better than her mom did. I told her that she couldn’t stay with me because she was getting on a bus to Florida to see her daddy. The little girl started bawling and I gave her a hug, said goodbye to the rest of the family, and said “Well, I should probably get back to the house.” She was still wailing as I left the station. Her poor mother. I’ve got this grandma thing down pat.
But the absolute worst part of being the Casa Alitas mom is when my kids leave me. When they’ve been here for a few days, a few weeks, or even a month, and I get used to having them around the house. But then I have to send them on their way, and I spend the next few days worrying about how they’re doing in their new home, or whether the bus ride went ok. And sometimes I go from a full house to all of a sudden just me, and I sit alone in the house with empty nest syndrome until the next family gets dropped at my doorstep.