(Published on The Huffington Post here)
Daisies. It occurred to me as I watched my daughter stare out of our window at the trees and streets that surround our apartment, that Santo Domingo is the first home my children will know and the place that will construct their little minds the way my hometown did me. So when she says flor, it is the purple flowers growing in our window box that she is thinking about. It will be those flowers, whose name I don’t know, that are her first understanding of what flowers are. Mine were daisies. And in that moment of clarity, the international floodgates open and I start to think about all of the other ways my kids will grow up differently than I did.
It’s an interesting thing as a parent because so much of what I imagined doing as a parent involved the life I knew when I was a child. The life I built in my mind for the children I would one day have was constructed upon the foundation of the life I grew up with, it was an assumption, an assumption that my kids would grow up the same as me. It’s sounds silly but I gave no weight to location or how it could change everything when we moved abroad; I didn’t think about how differently my kids would grow up based on where in the world we were planted; one being no better than the other but rather an opportunity to see things differently and understand that we don’t all live the same, that sometimes the more we have the less we see and sometimes the less we have, the better we understand what matters.
The thicker grass of Dominican Republic is so fat and strong that it actually feels like it can hold your weight, quite unlike the skinny blades of New Jersey grass that were soft under my bare feet as a child. When they are asked to draw a picture of a tree, they will draw the ladylike palm trees that curve and dance in the breeze will be what my children know as trees, not the bushy pines and full elms that wallpapered the street outside my window. Those will be as foreign to them as the coconut trees are to me.
I never imagined my kids would learn to ride waves because I rode sleds. Being beach bums in New Jersey only existed from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day Weekend while building snowmen have a much longer shelf life. There, we waited for snow to cancel next day’s classes (pajamas inside out and fingers crossed). Here, we hope for a hurricane.
My kids might grow to be the most amazing drivers because driving here is unlike driving anywhere else in the world. All five senses on high alert: eyes open and looking in every direction, ears at attention listening to a warning beep signaling I’m coming so move out of the way. Hands firmly grasping the wheel, palm hovering over the horn – just in case – no slouching or Detroit leaning. Be alert. The busy, traffic jammed streets and the horns beeping like birds chirping in the suburbs will be background music to their little ears. But…the melodic way the avocado guy sings his avocados for sale, every morning, will also be a comforting tune. Like the sound of a lawn mower outside my window in my NJ summers reminding me to not waste the day away, the familiar song sung by the same Dominican voice at the same time each day like a set alarm is a reminder too, a delicious reminder that we are living on an island. “Agua-CAAA-te.” If ever there was a way to bottle a sound, I’d bottle that one.
Because of this place, my kids will think that supermarkets are unnecessary because you could buy half of what you need from your car window for a few pesos: mangoes, avocados, bananas, loofah sponges, sunglasses, nuts, balloons, cell phone accessories, calling cards, multiplication fact posters, garbage bags, ceiling fan dusters, puppies. Puppies? Yes, puppies. I have twice seen a man holding puppies for sale on Avenida 27. Lucky for Husband, I didn’t have enough effectivo (cash) on me. But… they will know that coconut water isn’t sold in juice boxes at wholesale at Costco. Instead they will drink fresh coconut water from an actual coconut that they just watched the coconut guy chop open with a machete for them in two swipes of near fatal precision. Fish will be caught straight from the ocean that they are swimming in, grilled to perfection and served with a side of tostones to their rustic picnic table on the local beach for less than a Kids’ Meal. And guavas? Well they can just pick one off the tree outside our apartment.
They will know that not all dogs are as loved as the ones in our home and that many dogs make their home in the street and struggle every day to find food and shelter. They’ll know the same of many kids too. Kids who don’t go to school because they are washing windshields for a dime. Kids who seem too young to be alone on a busy city street and who, too, are wondering where they will find their next meal. But… my kids will know how lucky they are because they’ll witness daily that not all people are lucky to have what they have. They won’t be able to turn a blind eye to how unbalanced the world could be and they’ll question why they are lucky and others aren’t and realize the answer is as simple as being born. I hope that they’ll look at their closet full of shoes and their water heater and air conditioned bedroom and see that it is a luxury.
Here, horses wander the streets. So do chickens and roosters. A lizard the size of my small pinky dropped out of my cupboard last night and I only yelped a little. Life is slower, days are longer, and the evening breeze lifts the salt from the ocean water and carries it to the tip of your nose for you to smell the ocean air. And… I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the East Coast hustle, the shorter days of winter’s arrival giving me the nod of approval to hibernate and do nothing, and the evening air that smells of chimneys burning wood, warming up the cozy families that live inside.
My kids are growing up Dominican. In the future they might grow up Argentinian or Croatian or Chilean and with us as their anchor, I’d like to believe they’re growing up New Jerseyan too. And I hope that one day their purple-flowered, daisy-infused minds will see that the world is one big place full of many different childhoods. None better than the one they lived.