I am trying to return to my habit of writing to you here, interrupted for the better part of a year by the effort of producing a book (coming out soon, I swear). But that’s just one reason. The other is that I ran out of momentum, out of fodder for my love letters to Costa Rica. Looking back, I realize that my ever-fluctuating feelings for my adopted country were modulating into yet another key – as did, for different reasons, the tenor of motherhood.
New motherhood can be tender, thoughtful even romantic. Romantic in an “I’m covered in puke and I think one of my nipples just fell off” kind of way, of course, but romantic all the same. If you’re lucky, there’s lots of gazing, silence, contemplation and gratitude. Life slows and sweetens. Everything seems precious, including the country outside your window.
Then things change. People can, and often do, have both a newborn baby and no sense of humor; believe me, I’ve met quite a few. But people who are the parents of toddlers without honing their darkest wit; who haven’t given up, at least for now, on 95% of the parenting goals they had before giving birth; who don’t question their own sanity on a daily basis (not their kid’s, because the kid is clearly insane); and who haven’t laughed until they cried while surrounded by a growing pool of toddler urine in the aisle of a store… well, such a parent is not a person I want to have a beer with.
You’re no longer a baby, as you remind me every chance you get. You’re a toddler. As your dad sometimes points out, you are very literally a mocosa: a not-terribly-nice term for a small child, meaning “snotty one.” Since preschool began, you have been covered in mocos on a daily basis – whether from yet another cold, poor thing, or because of the crying fits that hit like a hurricane as soon as you turned three.
Don’t get me wrong. Parenting is still sweet. You’ve still got me wrapped around your little finger, along with, at this precise moment, half a ball of yarn and what appears to be frosting of some kind. All you have to do to cut through the daily grind and melt my heart is give me a kiss, ask me to play, say hello, or appear within my field of vision, basically. But our life is funnier, more ridiculous, more hectic, more disgusting, more complex. I don’t spend an hour watching you stare at the wall anymore; I run after you, dropping stuff, and grab the sweetness where I may.
A pretty good description of life itself.
In a weird way, I feel like your toddlerhood has made my outlook less of a gringa’s – that is, fairly earnest and prone to extremes – and a little more Costa Rican. Feet on the ground, expectations a little lower, greeting failure with a joke instead of a tear.
I grab the sweetness where I may with Costa Rica, too. Over the past year, as my workload and the overall pace of life increased bit by bit, I started to feel increasingly downtrodden: by traffic, by sprawl, by prices, by a lot of things. It’s one of the reasons I stopped writing my posts and columns. Just as I got in the rhythm of little odes to Costa Rica, I ran out of steam, ran out of things to say. I felt a bit gray, or maybe that I’d said it all.
But – less frequently and easily than you, but still reliably – Costa Rica can still bring a happy tear to my eye. Last week was Independence Day, and as dusk fell, we headed to the desfile de faroles, when schoolchildren carry homemade (or, increasingly, store-bought) paper lanterns through the streets. Last year, it was new and thrilling for you. This year, I was in a major snit: annoyed at your dad for something so unimportant I can’t remember a few days later, tired and overwhelmed by work, bitter that the schoolteachers had decided to begin the parade at the side of a major throughway at rush hour, rather than at a perfectly nice spot up by the school. Worried that you’d get run over by a semi.
“They chose this spot so the kids can see the Antorcha pass by,” said your dad, referring to the flame of liberty that runners carry from Guatemala throughout Central America, ending on the night of September 14th in Cartago, the city just to the east of us. I harumphed as a Hyundai honked and a truck blew exhaust in our general direction.
Your little cousins climbed up a streetlamp, hanging off of it like monkeys to try to see the approaching torch. You sat on your dad’s shoulder, unsure what you were looking for. A team of giggling runners from a local high school jogged in place, ready to grab the torch and run it eastward to the next team. I was still grumpy, in the proverbial corner.
Then, all of a sudden, the torch was upon us, flame streaking through the night. Like a snapshot, I saw the girl who, minutes before, had looked frivolous and goofy with her friends. Now, she glowed in the firelight like a Greek statue, serious and strong as she reached back for the torch and set off toward the colonial capital. Once the Antorcha had passed, dozens of cars waited somewhat patiently as a river of mocosos poured into the street, excited and tumultuous, clad in red and blue and white, clutching their lanterns in the shapes of toucans and farmhouses.
All my annoyance turned into a lump in my throat.
As often happens in a city that has grown far too fast in a valley creased by creeks and little gorges, we quickly left the highway behind us and were plunged into silent blackness, climbing the hill toward the neighborhood of the school. We actually needed your tiny flame to lead us forward. You held my hand, and I thought: Dammit, Costa Rica, you always get me in the end.
This morning, in San Pedro, you and I walked past a giant pothole with a flowerpot stuck in it to warn cars that it was there. I thought: that’s life in Costa Rica, and life with a toddler, and life in general. We can’t (apparently) have a perfectly paved street, nor a childhood without many hot messes of irrational tears. So do we keep our sense of humor and stick a houseplant in it? Do we see the pothole as half-empty, or half-full? Do we shake our heads in disgust, or grin with a certain strange delight as we facepalm?
I did the latter. Snapped a picture. Noticed your streaming nose and surreptitiously wiped it with my scarf because I forgot to put Kleenex in my purse, again. Managed to keep us from being mown down by a train, and counted that as my parenting for the day. And cuddled you alongside the crowded streets all the way to the door of your preschool, snotty and glorious.