Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mermaid tails and Santa wings

"Can't you see I've got my hands full with ONE?"
“Mom, why I live on two planets?”  asks four-year-old Isa from the backseat.    

We’re driving to Trader Joe’s for eggs.  I know exactly what he means.

Isaias was born on the feast day of San Jerónimo, the patron saint of our tiny town in Oaxaca, where the donkey cart is still a common form of transportation and you can see most of the stars on a clear night.   He learned to walk on dirt roads and in alfalfa fields; he took his first solo steps while we were helping our neighbors shell corn.  He held hours-old chicks and rabbits in his hands and kissed a baby goat on the lips one time.  When we needed eggs, we walked across the yard to the chicken enclosure, greeted the ladies by name (Mago, Bárbara, Ramona, Macorina, and Darkwing, thank you very much), and rooted around in the straw.

Now when we need eggs, we get in the car and drive to Trader Joe’s along smooth paved streets.  No stars or farm animals in sight.  Two planets.  Yes, I know exactly what he means, but hell if I have an answer for him.


Today I’m sitting in one of the five Starbucks (Starbuckses?)  found within a mile radius of our house.  I took a personal day at work because today, almost seven months after we hugged him goodbye in the Oaxaca airport, my husband is sitting in the American consulate in Ciudad Juarez, waiting for his visa interview.   He could be here, theoretically, as soon as Tuesday, in time for Christmas.  Or he could be put off for another two or three or seven months. 

It’s December 12, the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  I try to see that as a good sign.  I remember sitting on a plane, years ago, having just said goodbye to my future husband for the first, but not the last, time.  Tears pouring down my face.  As we flew out over Mexico City, the elderly woman in the seat next to me patted my arm and said, “Ten fe, ten fe.”  Have faith.  All week I’ve been unconsciously repeating her words to my husband via text and badly-connected phone calls:  Ten fe, mi amor, ten fe.  Faith in what, I don’t know.  In Guadalupe, in our family, in our story, in the journey, something. 

The other day I was looking at a map of Mexico, trying to put my husband’s presence in Ciudad Juarez into context, and suddenly saw the country as a mermaid’s tail, poised for the downstroke that will propel her towards the surface, where two worlds meet.  Ciudad Juarez would be her navel.  Her face, of course, is Guadalupe’s.  My love will pass through the navel of the mermaid and then our family will be complete again, and reborn as a family with two planets. 

Why we live on two planets?  If there’s not a reason, we’ll create one. 


Christmas is coming, and four years old has got to be the age for Christmas magic.  Isaias is excited, and full, of course, of questions.

“Mom, why Santa not wanna be seen?”

“Mom, why Santa have panza grande?”

“Mom, why Santa brings the presents?  Why, Mom?  When he bring them?”

It’s hard to talk about Santa to a kid who lives on two planets.  Isa’s first friends were the three youngest children of our neighbor in Oaxaca, who lived in a house with a dirt floor and shared one rusty tricycle between them.  He knows that not all kids have new toys, not all kids have adequate shoes or enough to eat or glass in their windows.  I almost want to tell him the truth, but my husband emails imploring me to not to.  Ten fe.

When I get to the part about the eight flying reindeer, Isa stops me. 

“No, Mom.  Santa have wings.  Santa can fly.” 

We visit Santa at Christmas in the Park downtown.  Isa asks for a monster truck, and I ask for Papá’s visa, which makes Santa laugh.  He’s been trained, I notice, not to make any promises: “A monster truck!  Why, that’s a fine idea!”

Afterwards, I ask Isa if Santa had wings. 

“Yup.  Red and green wings like a butterfly.”

And that’s that. 


So here I am in Starbucks, waiting for a phone call from another planet, from the belly button of a mermaid with the solemn face of an Aztec goddess.  When will she break the surface, when will we be three again?  Santa’s fluttering up there somewhere on butterfly wings, jolly and enigmatic, saying, “All of you together for Christmas?  That’s a fine idea, very fine, indeed.”   

Why we live on two planets, m’ijito?  So our hearts will grow big enough to fit them.   So we’ll learn to grow butterfly wings for flying and mermaid tails for diving deep.  So we’ll learn to laugh and cry at the same time.  So we’ll learn to have faith in something: in life, in each other.  So we’ll be able to sit in a strip mall Starbucks in Silicon Valley at ten thirty a.m. and remember the stars are up there somewhere.     

UPDATE: Five minutes after I finished writing this, I got a text.  He’ll be here next week.  


  1. I love your writing. Happy to hear your two worlds will be coliding again soon :)

  2. Nice and cute post..keep up the good work of posting good stuffs.

    Turkey Tour Packages

  3. Found your blog on expat blogs
    Love your writing so much is so beautiful
    I so hope you and your esposo were reunited.

  4. outstanding, reviews you post really interesting, good work