11 road trips and 21 stories on tape and no one asking: Are we there yet?


11 road trips and 21 stories on tape and no one asking: Are we there yet?

As much as I used to dread going on road trips as a child, I now love it as an adult. I was one of those children that kept on asking: are we there yet? When my oldest child was a toddler, she used to hate long trips and I fear her in them. Road trips where painful for all, until she got a bit older, and we all discovered stories on tape. Now, thanks to the CDs we get from the public library, my husband, my 11-year-old, my 8-year-old and I look forward to our car trips and and could drive for hours. Many of the road trips that we’ve had and love are associated with the book or book series we read then.

These are, more or less chronologically, some of my most memorable US road trips and the stories we’ve listened to:

Williamsburg to Miami (when my older daughter was 5):

The Mysterious Benedict Society series (loved this series: they were the start of our driving while listening to stories saga. My younger son would fuzz and fall sleep during the first couple of years, until I suddenly discovered him listening to the stories and asking questions)

About 4 trips from San Francisco to LA when my niece was there (when my daughter was about 7, 8, 9, and my son 4,5,7)

Almost all of the Tinkerbell stories about fairies

Almost all of the Magic Tree house series

The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press)

Charlotte’s Web by EB White

Ella Enchanted

Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls

Harriet the Spy

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson

Harry Potter (books 1 and 2)

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

2 trips from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell (Houghton)

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Mathilda by Roal Dahl

Round trip Phoenix to Tubac

Dragonwings by Laurence Yep

San Francisco to Phoenix roundtrip

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (Loved this one)

San Francisco to Santa Barbara

39 Steps

Washington DC to Williamsburg, Williamsburg To Hannover, NH and back to DC

Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander (we did all of them)

2014’s springbreak San francsico to Lake Tahoe

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Trip to camp Mather in San francsico June 2014

The Youngest Templar. by Michael P. Spadrilin

The above are the books that come to my mind for some of the more significant road trips we’ve taken, but we’ve listened to many more stories on tape. Whenever I need some peace and quiet and to think about my life, I love to go off for a long drive with the kids and while they listen to stories on tape, I meditate.


Memorial Day visit to the Presidio cemetery with my family.


On the morning of Sunday May 26th, my husband took us to visit the national cemetery at the Presidio in San Francisco, where we live, to honor the US citizens (not saying “Americans”, as this term applies to North, Central and South Americans) who participated in the wars of the U.S.  My husband comes from a Quaker background. Quakers are known for opposing wars, and being incarcerated as conscientious objectors, but he wanted to go there to teach the kids respect for others who’ve had hard lives and had participated in the creation of a country that he loves and believes in. He wanted to teach the kids that holidays are not just for shopping, but have a little time to think of events that have happened and meditate about certain moments in history.

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I, as an Ecuadorian, was torn with the idea. Though I recognize the value of the US participation in World Wars I and II and of certain well-conceived diplomatic policies that helped the world, I feel the US has in recent (Iraq, Afghanistan) and not so recently (Vietnam, El Salvador, Chile) history, interfered on other countries affairs in an unjustified way and often without the consent of the United Nations. I decided to accompany them anyway.


The military cemetery at the Presidio is located on a hill overlooking the Bay Bridge and has probably one of the best views in the world. There were some celebrations happening at the bottom of the hill. We wanted a private observance, so we hiked with the kids all the way up to the highest corner, where there was no one else. We brought two flowers, and each child chose the grave of a soldier, preferably one who had died a very long time ago and had no one visiting him, on which to place the flowers.  It was a very meditative morning, in which I learned that Memorial Day is not meant to honor the politicians who send young kids often to the wrong wars, but the duty and sacrifice of the ordinary men and women who participate in them.


We talked with the kids about the importance of diplomacy. I used as an example Diego Cordovez, a diplomat from Ecuador who coincidentally died Saturday may 25 and was nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating peace with Afghanistan years before the wars.


I never thought I would be in an U.S. military cemetery on Memorial Day, but thanks to my husband I went and had a contemplative morning in which we honored life, sacrifice and Peace.

Moms, daughters, changes and hormones


I was running this morning with another mother from my daughter’s school, and while we run, we talked about our 11-year-old daughters and their moods. After talking about them, we would talk about ourselves and our moods. We then talked about our interaction with our daughters, and how their stress about growing and our stress about them growing influence our relationship with them. Then we’ll go back to talking about ourselves, and our stress about them confronting change. Then back to talk about ourselves and so on.

Our daughters, these lovely and still very loving people, who were little kids just yesterday, are going to middle school next year. I wish that in the US, elementary school would go up until 6th grade, as it does in Ecuador. It is so intense for our daughters, who are just 11, and for ourselves to assume them moving into the quasi-teenage hood of middle school when probably neither them, nor us are ready to take that step.

Most public middle schools, at least in San Francisco, are huge; therefore kids are pushed into growing faster than what may be good for them, and to learn to be tough to survive the masses. If you add to this stress, the over exposure to media that many of the kids get, then you get kids stressing for what is coming to them and needing to grow up fast in a society that is pushing them to do so too soon.

Besides all the stress about the changes coming to them from moving to a new schools, their bodies are slowly starting to change and they are starting to feel their hormonal changes, coincidentally when us, their mom’s (at least in places where us moms had had our kids later), are starting to feel those changes too.

Here are a couple of things I’m trying to do, while we go through transitions. Would love any input in more things that could be done:

  • Give myself a timeout and a place to meditate in peace when things are getting out of control for me with the kids.
  • Give my daughter a space in the house that is only hers, I cannot interfere in and is where she can regroup.
  • Give myself a mom and daughter time, without my younger, so that she and I have some time to talk and catch up.
  • Respect the duality of girl/and preteen in her and not force neither. We went together for a mom and daughter time for the first time to the American Girl doll store. She had a certificate she got last Christmas from her grandma. While she looked at the last things she’ll probably ever buy for her doll, I looked at the American girl doll books about girls. American girl doll books are surprisingly great (The care and keeping of You 1, The care and keeping of You 2, Middle School, the Feelings Book and some more.).
  • Acknowledge all my crazy feelings as they come: sadness, happiness, elation, depression and feel them along without judging them.
  • Acknowledge my daughter’s crazy feelings as they come: sadness, happiness, elation, depression and let her feel them, without freaking out and judging them.
  • Help her maintain her solid group of friends with whom she could talk to about her feelings.
  • Maintain and interact with people with whom I could process my issues.

I must confess, that after dropping my daughter at school for her 5th grade camping trip,  though I want to have some time for myself and sometime for a boy and mama time with my younger son, I still felt the urge to go and spy what she is doing. I know I shall resist that urge and give her a space to go and have her own time, test her freedom and comeback recharged.

While there are beautiful things ahead of us: like more grown up trips, museum visits and more to look forward to as they get older, I know there will be more challenges too when our daughters face teenage hood. Throughout these times and the ones to come, I’ll just have to keep on running.


School Hopping

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As I leisurely walk from home, towards one of the few schools I’ll be visiting before sending my daughter to middle school, I remember my insane K school research. I remember the stress that I and my friends experienced while selecting a K school in San Francisco, including:

  • Visiting dozens of schools, both private and public.
  • Thinking that we had to do private school, because we all loved those beautiful schools we visited and wanted to do “the best” for our kids.
  • Thinking whether to do single language, immersion, or bilingual.
  • Thinking that we wouldn’t have any luck in the public school lottery in San Francisco. A lottery that people deem impossible to get through (before really trying).
  •  Researching like crazies in blogs and web sites like Greatschools.org
  •  Getting books from the library about schools.
  • Endless discussions with “battle-hardened” parents with older children who had gone through the process.

Six years ago, when my daughter Isa was about to get into Kinder, my husband and I were some of those stressed people.  We 741applied to 6 of the 20 private schools and got into one. We also applied to public schools and after visiting about 20 as well selected the seven to be put in our list and got none of our public choice schools.

907I’m from Ecuador and speak only in Spanish to the kids since they were babies. I also do trips to Ecuador twice a year to maintain the Spanish Immersion. See some of my Ecuador stories in my blog at IncultureParent.com magazine. My husband is American and  studied history of Asia in college and was interested in exposing the kids to an Asian language. So, most of our school public school applications were for immersion schools with our top choices in the Asian languages.

Since we did not get any of the public schools of our choice in the first round of application, we resubmitted our public application, and got ready to start our daughter in the private bilingual school to which we were accepted. After a couple of days of private school, we got a notice from the SFUSD that we were accepted into a mandarin immersion program. We had the difficult choice of deciding between leaving our daughter in the school we had already payed for (and got a partial scholarship for), or move her to public. I had a hard time with the decision, but thanks to my more practical husband we decided for the latter.

After 6 years with my daughter, and later on my son, in a public school, I have nothing but good things to say about our choice. Thanks to that decision and to the fact that I didn’t have to go back to work full time:

  • We didn’t become stressed parents who had overextended beyond our means to be able to afford private school.
  • Our kids learned a third anguage for free. See our Una familia treslingüe: Español, Engles y article at the Miparentscounsil web site.
  • We have been able to, with the money we saved from private schooling,  go back to Ecuador every year for two months. We have been able to expose the kids to Spanish immersion and visit that culture and live with their Ecuadorian family.
  • We have been able to take time off to go camping for weeks, or go to other places within the US ( like our road trips from San Francisco to Phoenix, or Williamsburg to Miami, or DC to NH among others) or internationally (aside from Ecuador, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and hopefully soon Costa Rica).
  • We have provided our kids with a down-to-earth experience about life, thanks to the exposure to more cocioeconomic and racial diversity.

As my kids get older, I don’t rule out the possibility of doing private school in the future.  I feel though that aside from whatever school you choose, it is highly important for parents to be present in their kid’s lives.

Halloween: listen or lose it


Halloween has become the time of the year when the witches remind me to listen to my kids and try to understand who they are. 

I was raised in Ecuador by a lovely mom whose personality is always positively changing with the times. But when I was a child, parenting was more about following the rules, than listening to the individual needs of the children.

I have made it a point to try to see my kids for who they are and listen to their needs, but I guess sometimes I’ve forgotten to do so.

A couple of weeks before Halloween, my 10-year-old daughter, declared that she wanted to dress up as a pirate for Halloween. I like to help her fabricate her own costumes, sometimes very successfully(like when she was Pippi Longstockings) and sometimes not so much….

A week before Hallo020ween, at my neighbor’s garage sale, my daughter found a blonde wig, a little long performer dress and a white fake boa scarf. She loves to dress up, so she put it all on immediately and made several poses for the camera. I told her she looked fabulous and that maybe she could use it for Halloween. She agreed and we bought the costume.

During Halloween morning at the school parade, after wearing the attire for a bit it, she said it itched and took it off.  She told me then that she really wanted to be a pirate that eve. She said that since I loved so much how she looked with the wig costume,  she had wanted to please me by wearing it. I was about to get annoyed about having to fabricate a new costume that afternoon, when I remembered a Halloween parade years before when I failed at my goal of listening to my kids. So,  I told her I would help her make a good pirate custom for that afternoon and we came up with something.

Years before, at a Halloween parade at her preschool, my then 4-year-old daughter, dressed up as Dorothy. Parents were asked to dress up, so I thought I could dress up as a scare crow. When I told her about my intention to dress up as a scarecrow to her, first she it would be great and then said it may be scary. I later on wore the costume anyways (bad mama) thinking she would not be scared if she knew before hand it was me. When I went to the school (I had dropped Dorothy off earlier), I first went to say hi without my face scare crow make up. She seemed to be fine with the costume. But, when she saw me fully dressed she had a fit. I had to go to the bathroom and get changed before she would go in the parade.032

That incident told me a lesson, to listen to her when she says no and to hear my kid’s needs   and understand where they are coming from.  It doesn’t mean they don’t have to obey to the many rules I do set for them.  But it means that when it comes to their personal life, like their Halloween or their passions, careers, loves, I have to listen to what they choose.