The Brady Bunch only exists without exes

I don’t consider myself to be a stepmom in any sort of way, even though I guess that yeah, the fact of the matter IS that I’m technically a stepmom, given that my husband has children from his previous marriage. But the whole idea behind the term “stepmom” is so cliché, I get nauseous at the mere thought of it. Just thinking of the typical image of the woman who has no children of her own, all of a sudden trying to be a mom, just makes me think of Baroness Schraeder playing ball with the Von Trapp kids (yes, one more of the million references to the movie “The Sound of Music” – so sue me.)

I won’t get into detailed specifics of the dynamics between my husband and his ex, nor will I get into exact specifics of my role either. Suffice it to say that the mother of my husband’s kids (also known as “b*tch face” in my small circle of me, myself and I) is equatable to a fascist dictator (according to me) and even if she isn’t physically with us on the weekends the kids do spend time in our home, trust me, she’s nevertheless omnipresent.

In the beginning of this journey, I was rather accepting of the separation and distinction made between their mom, their dad, them and me. G lived a separate life, according to me back then, when they were around. While he made plans with them with hope of including me, I always politely declined, hiding behind the excuse “no, no, this is YOUR time with them.” Literally there would be weekends when we’d barely see each other and barely had conversations. A combination of demanding kids and impatient Wife #2 didn’t make for easily accessible family time for G. Back then, the ex was more of a b*tch face than I can honesty say she is now – mostly due to the fact that she apparently has a significant other to now love/torture and has withdrawn from loving/torturing my husband – so it was much easier to draw a clear line between “that’s you guys” and this is me. In correlated events, as the fascist mother of the kids has (presumably) been diverted by the sweet smell of love with someone else, she’s become less of a presence in our home with the kids here and less of a bother and anchor around the neck when the kids aren’t here.

As time marched on, as love blossomed for b.f., and as I spent more time with the kids, I got past seeing them as the “offspring” of a “mad love affair” between my husband and his ex. (The reality is that the term “mad” applies but not “love” nor does “affair”) and began seeing them as just them. Two kids with their own personalities. I remove the thought of their mom from our time spent together because it angers me to see how she holds the noose above their heads and how she must be so invasive, that the kids think twice about any move they make with me. It’s a little more seamless now but nonetheless apparent and it’s just sickening to think that a mother is that controlling. And to circle back to my first thought, this is the main reason I don’t feel like I’m a stepmom. The iron hand of the law has far reaches into the minds of its subjects and as such, there is no room for a third party to: 1) educate or offer insight 2) offer alternate thinking 3) lead by example. There is only room for a third party to offer fun. When I choose and when circumstances allow for it, that’s all I’m really, truly a part of – something fun (whether that be introducing them to Beyonce and Black Eyed Peas, introducing them to Monopoly, playing Wii or watching – you guessed it – “The Sound of Music.”)

Unfortunately there are times, like today, when I’m reminded how in reality, there IS a clear line dividing us. Sadly, when that division is apparent, I’m the cheese that stands alone. For some reason or another, the kids’ school doesn’t do their dieciocho celebrations in September when all the other schools do them. They do them in October. Specifically today. In traditional fashion, by class, kids dance typical Chilean dances in full costume for the parents of the entire student body. G, accompanied by his mother, took his kids and I’m of course, left behind. It’s an unspoken rule that shouts from the top of the Andes Mountains: I’m not to be involved or included in these types of things. It doesn’t help that the kids’ mom is actually a teacher at the school they attend but I’m pretty sure that even if she didn’t work there, I’d still have to stay behind the invisible line that divides “his family” from “our family.” I don’t think it will ever change. In fact, a close friend of mine who married into a similar situation finally stood her ground when the youngest of her husband’s sons graduated HIGH SCHOOL! From the time she met his son at the age of 6, she’d missed every single school event, every single performance, every important soccer game. Clearly forced to watch from behind the line. I give her props for standing her ground on his high school graduation. As she clearly stated “Si no le gusta que este, mala suerte.” (If she doesn’t like that I’m here, too bad.)

At what point does it really, truly become a blended family, I wonder? It’s obviously not when the stepmom decides and it could very well be difficult for the kids in between to decide. Does that only leave the option for the first marriage to decide? Can we discuss how unfair that sounds for the now-wife? Then I wonder if it’s about the ex-wife deciding because she happens to hold the reins. Or does the husband decide that it’s ok to include his wife, opting to literally show the ex that she can go straight to hell if she disagrees? I’m at a loss.

G argues that I wouldn’t want to go to their show anyway. True, I’d find it boring as most kid shows are to me. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be cute or, at the very least, entertaining to see their pint-sized selves dance typical Chilean dances. However it’s not an option for me either way. Which is the reason I’m sitting on this side of the dividing line, writing a blog, waiting for my dog’s trainer to arrive.

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When one movie sparked an existential crisis

Have any of you seen the movie “She’s Having a Baby?” It’s a random John Hughes movie that in typical JH style, speaks eloquent words of wisdom on coming of age. Except this coming of age movie is more about the coming of age into full-fledged, real adulthood, with marriage, mortgages, careers and babies, as opposed to his typical teenage passage à l’âge adulte films like “Sixteen Candles” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” The reviews I took a gander at speak of this film as being an “essay” by John Hughes and his most “serious” film ever.”

Yeah it’s serious but very typical John Hughes and as usual, there were certain parts of the movie that again spoke to me and reminded me just how relatable the main character’s sentiments are to my own. It’s a crossfire between emotion and finding (or maintaining) your true self. Last night as I was watching it, G sleeping next to me, two particular ideas from the following quote resonated with me:

“Why couldn’t I accept who I was, what I was and where I was? Why couldn’t I be like everyone else who rode the train? Were they mindless, anonymous drones, following the scent of money to a senseless, forgotten end or were they the bearers of some great secret that allowed them to rejoice in this life that I was so unwilling to embrace?”

It’s been quite difficult for me to adjust to living here in Chile and accept what my life now looks like compared to what it looked like when I was back home. What’s been most difficult has been the uncertainty about my future, especially my career. I have this familiar paranoia that continues to walk around with me in that I can’t decide if my inability to adjust is something about ME or if the circumstances I willingly chose to be a part of are making it difficult to progress.

Only two ideas from the lines above are ones that make me think:

1) are the women I know who have also made the leap to this strange land actually bearers of some kind of wisdom and secret that makes life here better and positive, a revelation I’ve yet to stumble across?

2) why am I so unwilling to embrace this life, what it looks like now and who I am as I live it?

What is it that I see in other women here that makes me think my reality is so grossly different from theirs? In fact, I’ve spoken to many of them who have told me that they too had a difficult time adjusting to living in Chile at first, and when they hear me complain or see me wanting to bang my head against the wall over the idiosyncrasy of the Chilean culture, I know I’m generally preaching to the choir. There’s nothing I’m currently going through, or have gone through in the last 14 months, that they have not also experienced and ultimately accepted or overcome. In fact, even this past Friday as we were all out celebrating a Gringa friend’s birthday, I was sitting there talking to the birthday girl and she said to me, “Do you ever look around and think ‘wait, what am I doing here? How and when did I end up living in Chile?'” Um, yes, that notions sounds vaguely familiar to me. But it got me thinking: she, like other gringa friends, have been here much longer than I have, yet for the most part, if not completely, they live happy lives here. But even so, just as my friend made me realize with her rhetorical question, they too must stop every once and a while and think, “how did I get here?”

The devil’s advocate in me (or the pessimistic, masochistic side of me – your choice) then remembers that most of the women I’m friends with here aren’t really, truly here for the long-term. Eventually, as their plans unfold, they’ll make their way back home, husbands in tow. They’ll carry with them the adventure they had of living in another country, surviving and excelling in said country (in this case, Chile of course) and all the bad memories and experiences of adapting will become examples, anecdotes or memories of how living abroad shaped their current and/or future plans and selves. I compare that to my reality and realize, I don’t have that luxury. I made the decision to leave everything I’ve ever known, everything that ever meant anything to me, every last memory and experience I was ever a part of, and start my life literally ALL OVER AGAIN, in a foreign country. And the thing is, there is no going back. At least, not in a way that I would willingly choose.

And in my head I wonder, over and over again, would Chile seem so difficult if I knew that at some point down the line, I’d be back home again, better than ever because I’d be with my husband, the person I adore most in this world? I don’t have the answer, nor can I pretend to know what it’s like for others…but from this perspective I think that would be an important secret to embracing life in a different country. I don’t know what it’s like for my friends here, what it’s been like or what other people experience here and I’m not saying that what I write here is the truth. Really, it’s just a thought.

As for point #2 above, I began to really, truly analyze: what makes my life so uncomfortable here that I am so far removed from accepting who I am and where I am now that I live here? I still can’t put a name on it but I can describe it as this: I feel like I’m redoing the period of my life post-college graduation, when I had no idea where I was going, what would become of me or why it seemed that my peers had their sh*t together and I didn’t. In short, I feel like I’m experiencing my quarter-life crisis all over again, meanwhile I’m actually heading into my mid-30s! Wikipedia lists a variety of characteristics of this social and cultural phenomenon we know as the quarter-life crisis and you can see them all here. However in my case, I can call out the following as relevant:

* confronting their own mortality [i.e. realizing that I’m not getting any younger and I have a list of accomplishments that seem to just be sitting there, not transforming themselves into reality.]
* insecurity regarding the fact that their actions are meaningless [This might have more to do with a certain quest I’m on that so far, has proved fruitless. Also, school.]
* insecurity regarding present accomplishments
* disappointment with one’s job
* nostalgia for university, college, high school or elementary school life [except in my case it’s the life I left back in California]
* tendency to hold stronger opinions [fighting the power here really makes me quite obnoxious. And it’s not like I’m happy with being that way.]
* loss of closeness to high school and college friends [missing one of my good friend’s wedding this past weekend and not even KNOWING my best friend’s boyfriend = sucks.]
* financially-rooted stress [as I’ve gotten older, I have more financial responsibilities and I’m still not at the point of being able to save for, say, a home? Plus school and the final wedding payments have killed me in the last few months.]
* desire to have children [or the simple to desire to be at a place in my life where it’s a viable and intelligent option to start a family. Guess who’s not getting any younger?]
* a sense that everyone is, somehow, doing better than oneself
* frustration with social skills [it’s not that I’m awkward – I don’t think – but I do tend to have my weirdo moments in everyday Chilean encounters.]

I remember feeling many of these things and more, immediately after college. Then my career and life began to take shape and one by one, these sentiments became irrelevant. Of course, 10 points were replaced by ONE HUGE point, that being: “Waaaaaaaaaa! I want someone to love!! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa I’ll never find THE ONE!” And the like. Now I have the latter fantastically filled but upon moving to Chile, all of the points above made their way back into my life (como Pedro por su casa) at a time when I had completely forgotten ever feeling that way at all! Of course I wouldn’t trade what I have in my personal life right now – the fulfillment I have with the person I’ve chosen to live my life with and the relationship we have together – for more time in California, not in a million years. I accept Round 2 of the quarter-life crisis because I figure, I survived it once before (and alone at that). After all, now, I should be better equipped to give all the points above a good kick in the b*lls anyway. At some point soon, I’ll have hurdled it all and I’ll look back, wave goodbye and say “thanks for playing.”

…Geez. Had I known that my seemingly innocent choice over which DVD to watch prior to falling asleep last night would spark such an existential crisis (and consequently, a ridiculously long blog post) I would have opted for “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” instead …

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Chilean companies & their employees – unproductive?

Sometimes the things that my classmates and teachers talk about surprise me and not at all in a negative way. Rather, I’m enlightened and many times struck by a ray of hope for the evolution of the average Chilean. Meaning my classmates and teachers seem to be, in my experience, not your everyday average Chileans and definitely not the Chileans that perhaps our parents once were (or still are.) Though there are many times when they talk about things I have no clue on (mainly knowledge one would have if he/she grew up here), there are other times when they talk about things I never expected, offering insight and opinions that shed some light on the changing profile of young executives in this country.

This was the case yesterday in class when we began deviating from the topic of the day. To offer a quick background, we were discussing how a company can be more than just a company but a brand in and of itself. The main requirement for this, in short, is to make sure that your internal client, i.e. employees, are happy. Happy employees will feel an affinity to the company’s brand. I was enjoying the discussion when all of a sudden the professor, a man between 45-50, professional and educated both here and in Spain, says to the class “Officially and on record, it’s been shown that Chile is the least productive country in regards to time management of employees and efficiency in the workplace.”

Scratch record, silence music, stop the presses.

Did my Chilean professor just say that in front of my Chilean peers and classmates?

Granted it’s something I’ve experienced, seen, heard about and witnessed in the past six years I’ve worked with Latin Americans but never in a million years did I expect to hear that from a Chilean in a room with other Chileans. Even more so, I never expected the majority of the Chilean classmates I have to actually AGREE with the statement.

What ensued was a series of examples and reasons as to WHY, from their perspective, Chileans weren’t productive. Words and phrases thrown out were (note that this was discussed in a general sense, in the “we” context, in the context of the work/labor force and delivered by Chileans. I.e. the foreigners, including myself, did not offer opinions):

  1. Chileans, as a general group, are lazy.
  2. Chileans lack motivation.
  3. Chileans lack good leadership.
  4. Chileans lack education.
  5. Even college graduates are unprofessional.
  6. Chileans are unreliable.
  7. There are fewer opportunities in Chile.

Other examples where offered but what I found to be more interesting were the anecdotes that followed each example of why Chileans were unproductive and inefficient in the workplace. For instance, one classmate shared with us that when it was time for her yearly review, her supervisor told her that she was “too anxious” because she consistently followed up with people on to-do’s and next steps. She stated that she had to be that way because following up once, twice and up to four times didn’t automatically make things happen. And for being proactive, she was labeled as “anxious” by her superior.

Another example (given by a classmate) is how Chileans will work until 7 or 8 p.m. when in comparison, Brazilians (in her example) will work until 6 pm. If she’s talking to a distributor for her company in Brazil and the line is disconnected, she stated that the Brazilians immediately call back. Whereas it was her experience that the same incident will happen with a Chilean and the Chilean will not only NOT return the call, but when she tries to call, the line rings and rings or it goes straight to voicemail. Upon locating the same Chilean distributor another day, the Chilean distributor will proclaim “Oh, I thought you were going to call ME back.” I did. “Oh yeah but it was 6:30 pm, I left of course.” In the middle of our pending phone conversation? Yes.

My contribution to the discussion did not involve bashing how Chileans work nor did it involve criticizing Chileans in any way. In fact, I offered this morsel of insight, valuable or not: I stated that in the U.S. most people learn proper business conduct and etiquette from the companies that hire them. We can study the most “random” things in college (English Literature, History, Anthropology, etc) and still find ourselves working in a financial firm, venture capital, branding or consumer products company. The point being that in the U.S., GENERALLY, we are taught the proper business culture when already in that culture. And I stated that from what I observed, Chileans were more preoccupied with making sure that one is the proper Ingeniero Comercial with the adequate amount of excel and economics and marketing courses necessary but with no aspect of how to properly function inside an organization.

I thought about it too. When I started my current job, I had zero experience in licensing. I had worked at a software company during the dot.com craze of the late 90s and when I was laid off due to lack of funding, I worked at a private wealth management firm. I was hired at my current company because I had the college education, I had the basic, fundamental skills needed and I had the drive and knowledge to learn a new business. Further, I had NO experience working with Japanese businesses nor did I have any idea how to conduct myself in a meeting or in negotiations with the Japanese. In fact, given that I was hired to work on the international side of the business, I didn’t have any idea how to do business with ANYONE who wasn’t American! Obviously it took a few months, but I learned all of that and I feel that I have even come to excel in some aspects of it. In the same situation, a Chilean company will try to find a candidate with the exact same business experience (or at least 80% of what’s required for the position) because to them, that’s what’s fundamental – past experience doing the exact same thing. But does that mean they’re hiring the most efficient person out there? Someone who may help increase productivity? If what our professor told us yesterday is true, then I think Chilean companies need to rethink how they do their hiring. That is, if they care about having productive employees.

The best example given yesterday (in my opinion) was by the women who work at Lider, one of the major supermarket/hipermarket chains here in Chile. Lider is now owned by Walmart and as such, we were given a top-line example of how the business culture at Lider changed when Walmart came with their team to implement the new procedures and spark the Walmart culture of “Save Money. Live Better.” Though we weren’t offered major specifics, the examples offered clearly demonstrated how Walmart, with its American business culture, spent time observing how corporate and retail Lider worked and implemented changes that would increase productivity and efficiency across the board. It’s a work-in-progress we were told, but already changes were apparent.

Then I got to thinking of the comment thrown out about professionalism and how many Chilean executives and professionals lack this fundamental quality in the workplace. I recalled stories I’ve heard about (mainly) women who go into their bosses offices here, only to sit down and literally start bawling. I’ve heard this more than once, with different women in different companies for different reasons. Regardless of the reason, I’m always taken aback by this. What kind of executive allows her superiors, even her peers, to see her break down in the office? Whether right or wrong, to do so only promotes the quick labeling of her (us) as weak or fragile and not someone who can carry a burden of responsibility. The UBER female in me wants to ask these women “Helllooooooo did you not see the episode of Sex and the City when Samantha and Charlotte talked about the effects of crying the workplace? Do I need to do a PSA about this for all those out there who feel the overwhelming need to bawl and ruin the reputation of the rest of us?” Because I would if I could. This is just one example of the unprofessional nature of some executives here in Chile, but I can add to the mix those who take their half hour cigarette breaks, those who go out for 2+ hour lunches, those women who abuse their maternity leave and tack on days that become weeks that turn into months outside the office because their baby spits up milk or whatever lame excuse is used…

I can’t say that the United States is the most productive or most efficient business capital of the world, nor can I attest that our workers don’t slack off. I’ve seen many who do, hiding behind the guise of a Senior This-or-That title and taking credit for work done by those working under them. I’ve seen those who stroll into work at 10 am and leave at 4 pm everyday. And I’ve seen those who sit at their computers watching YouTube all day long instead of working.

But in light of the fact that I live in Chile now, I wonder, if what our professor told us is true, what’s the real reason behind it? Further, how can it be changed?

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Rock Star Kids!

I’m intrigued by kids, especially those with imagination and drive. This is because on the other hand, I’ve seen my fair share of the typical kid and his/her antics. I know it’s not their fault these kids have nothing new to offer; it’s mainly their parents fault and in light of that, I think the majority of parents today are really proactive about how their kids develop and how they are stimulated. It’s a sign of the times, I believe.

Which is why it’s no surprise that some very close family friends back home have accomplished something that I too hope to accomplish when I have children: they’re raising women leaders who wish to make this world a better place.

I reject the idea that if one is a girl, that girl needs pink and needs dolls and needs cutesy this or that. Girls aren’t bubbles, fragile and likely to burst if poked. Further, girls, just like boys can very well be encouraged to run, explore, climb, question, think, laugh, build, rearrange and a series of other active verbs that right now escape me but that are traditionally seen as boy behavior.

Our family friends have three girls: Kylie (11), Devon (10) and Piper (8) and these three girls think big. They started a club called Earth Savers Club for Kids about two years ago, initially with the belief “think globally, act locally,” with the purpose of picking up trash around their neighborhood in Northern California. But big thinkers and doers don’t just settle on the first idea that comes to mind, no matter how old or young they may be. No, they decided that to go BIG would mean reaching kids in other parts of the State, country and world and encouraging kids to pledge their commitment – however they can – to saving the Earth. Some kids pledge (via the website) to eat as much organic food as possible, others pledge to pick up garbage and recycle more, while others pledge to save the Earth by simply walking more. Um, did I mention these are KIDS making said pledges?? Rock star kids, all of them.

A local newspaper called “The Almanac” did a short report on these three girls and their hope for the future. But the real gem that lets one truly appreciate where these girls hope to go and what they hope to accomplish is the actual Earth Savers Club for Kids, a colorful, interactive website that invites kids from all over the world to join the global effort to save the Earth’s natural resources. As 10-year old Devon reminds us in the article she wrote for an e-magazine, “the Earth can’t be saved without kids.” Call me crazy, but if I were a parent, I’d definitely use this site to encourage my kids to participate in their own way.

An epilogue to ponder ….
On a personal note, I’ve known these girls since they were babies. In fact, I’ve known Kylie since she was 4 months old and I “met” Devon and Piper days after they were each born. My mother used to be their nanny when we lived in California and we were as much a part of eachother’s lives as any blood-related relatives. We’ve had the opportunity (and honor) to watch these girls grow up, celebrating with them, vacationing with them, sharing with them and to watch them individually become exactly who they chose to be … They are the reason I reject the notion that girls – and women – aren’t capable of excelling beyond our everyday imagination (and expectation). I’ve seen it first hand numerous times and in the simplest of forms, such as conversations with them or everyday play with them. In any case, I’m proud of them and of the girls they have become … I look forward to marveling at the women they will be and I hope that one day, if I have a girl, I too can accomplish the feat of encouraging her to look around and consider how she can help make things better.

Kylie and me in St. Thomas, USVI.

Devon and me playing on their backyard’s swing set.

Piper and me in Disneyland.

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Lider’s Bicentennial GWP

For those who are unfamiliar with the letters GWP, they stand for “gift with purchase” and as it sounds, it’s usually a little trinket a buyer receives after buying something else. Usually, but not always, a company will do this type of promotion jointly with another company and together, they each have the opportunity to promote their product/brand. The best part is that the consumer generally wins because the GWPs tend to come with items one is already going to buy or is already willing to buy.

Lider, a (former) Chilean hipermarket purchased by the monster known as Walmart, is not one of my favorite places in the world and I rarely go there for my grocery needs. This is due in part to my great distaste for all things Walmart in general and also because Lider, as a place in existence to satisfy grocery needs, doesn’t speak to me at all. In fact, all it really says to me is “Andrea turn around and go to Jumbo.”

There’s one exception: the Lider Express located on Bilbao and Pedro de Valdivia, a few blocks from our apartment in Providencia. I won’t lie. This Lider Express has gotten us out of jams many a times and it’s the only Lider I’ve stepped foot in and actually purchased something since I moved here. That was the case this evening when G and I noted we didn’t have a single tomato in our apartment (crucial part of our weekly diet) or anything that could accompany the chicken we were thinking of bbq-ing for dinner. Enter Lider Express to save the day.

As we walked in, G said to me “Did you see their promotion?” What promotion? “If you spend $15,000 pesos (about US$30) you get a free Chilean Recipes Cookbook.” Cool.

I didn’t think much of it until G went to claim the GWP with our receipt of over $15,000 pesos spent. But once I saw it, I swooooooned!! Give or take, 42 glossy pages of the yummiest of Chilean recipes I could ever lay my hands on FOR FREE (kind of.) Everything from Chilean drinks, to Chilean seafood recipes, soups, casseroles and desserts. Hello, 7th Heaven!

Front cover of the recipe book. Unabashed marketing of the Lider Express brand but who cares? I want to know how one makes that empanada!

This is followed by pages and pages of images of typical Chilean dishes and their corresponding step by step instructions for do-it-yourself brilliance!

Almejas en Salsa Verde & Sopa de Choritos con Verduras (Clams in Green Salsa & Mussel soup with vegetables.)

Porotos granados con Pilco & Porotos con Choricillos (Typical Chilean beans with corn and Beans with Chorizo)

Sopaipillas con Pebre & Ajiaco (Sopaipillas that are generally salty rather than sweet, with a type of Chilean pico de gallo & Ajiaco – a type of potato and beef soup with A WHOLE LOTTA garlic. Nothing short of fabulous.)

Pastel de Jaiba (Crab casserole? Hello, lovely!)

Pastel de Choclo – the quintessential Chilean dish, following the empanada. (Corn casserole that contains meat, chicken, olives and onions. Delish!)

And much, much more!

I’m quite impressed with this marketing initiative on behalf of Lider Express and at home, we’re really excited to hop-to on many of these recipes. I love the small packaging, glossy photos and simple, yet delicious recipes that make up this GWP.

By far worth the minimum of $15,000 pesos Lider wants you to spend in their stores. At least in my book.

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Thanks Tom

When living in a foreign country, sometimes it seems that the planets are aligning against you and you begin to wonder what the hell you’re doing there. If you decide you have enough reasons for being there (like I do here) then you begin to wonder how you’ll not only keep your head above water but actually start treading it and then walking on said water.

That’s where I am right now, this very second, today. And because of that, I have to imagine that Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers are speaking directly to me …

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Chile, 100 years ago

I love the magazine inserts that come in the weekend editions of “El Mercurio” (Chile’s primary newspaper). I rather enjoy reading them and finding out about all things related to the Chilean culture and the happenings in Santiago itself.

This past Saturday’s edition of “Sabado” Magazine. A Bicentennial special.

I grew up learning the in’s and out’s of American History: the wars we fought in, the important figures that helped shape our country, the geography, the movements and the changes we encountered and the obstacles we overcame to arrive where we are today, whether good or bad. So when I moved to Chile last year, I realized that I arrived with very limited knowledge of why Chile is the Chile it is today, who was involved, which historical dates were the most important and who played a role in shaping society. Of course I know who Pinochet was, who Allende was … but what did Pratt do? Is he the naval hero or is it Bernardo O’Higgins? And mind you, the only reason I even know the names Pratt and O’Higgins is because every city in Chile has streets named after these two so I gather, they must be important, right? There are holidays that randomly come around and G will have the day off from work and I ask “To what do I owe the pleasure?” and the response will be the likes of “El combate naval de Iquique.” (Iquique’s – city in northern Chile – naval combat.) Oh. Right. That.

Apparently baby’s got a lot to learn about her new home.

Which is why I was particularly happy that this past “Sabado” magazine was a special on the Bicentennial and as such, many fun and interesting historical “datos” (or facts / information) were featured. My personal favorite from last weekend’s issue: “Chile Puertas Adentro: Como han cambiado nuestras costumbres.” (Chile behind closed doors: how our customs have changed.) The article gave a very top-line but interesting look at how family life has changed, what tendencies have been left behind and which ones still remain intact in Chilean family life.

The article first begins with stating what we know of Chile today: 60% of families consist of both a mother and a father and 27% of families are single-parent; the woman not only works outside the home but makes up 50% of the Chilean workforce. We read that there are now more divorces than marriages, that Chilean women begin to have children at about age 30 (give or take) and the average woman will not have more than 2 children. Further, it is now a viable option to just have one child.

From here, the article takes us back 100 years to what the family life was like at the turn of the century. The most fundamental difference between families then and families now is that the men and women of the last century did not typically marry for love. Rather, they married to procreate (how romantic.) Couples were introduced and were pressured to marry based on family preferences (either personal or professional) and this led to the majority of husbands turning outside the marriage for sexual satisfaction and even love. As an outsider, I still see a little of this in Chile in that many, many couples I know have been together for 5,6,7 or more years BEFORE ACTUALLY GETTING MARRIED. Then they seem to get married because it’s the logical next step. Yeah, I gather that they must love one another but after 7 years together, at some point there must be way more family and societal pressure to marry than there is heart-wrenching, burning desire to do so. Nowadays I wouldn’t go as far as to say that men opt to cheat since I’ll take the information regarding growing divorce of evidence that greener pastures will be pursued sans infidelity. Plus, in the more elite circles of Chile, I am willing to bet that little has changed with regards to family preferences and who a man or woman chooses to marry. If they come to say it doesn’t ever matter … I call LIAR!

The article then moves on to talk about where the family spent the majority of their time. Since central heating systems are still lacking in Chile, and chimneys weren’t introduced until the 1930s, the majority of Chileans used “braseros” to heat their homes at the turn of the century. I had to look up what a traditional brasero looked like and this is what I found:

Typically coal was burned (indoors) to provide heat. Hi, intoxication!

These were used across all social classes and the primary consequence of this less-than-cozy apparatus is that it forced the family to spend the majority of their time together in one room of the house. The article then states that family members would wear coats to move about other areas of the house … which got me thinking that it doesn’t seem to me that that’s changed much nowadays. I’m pretty sure we aren’t going to see coals warming the homes of the average Chilean but I’m fairly certain that no matter the social class, the lack of heating in Chile forces everyone to walk around the house looking like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man…


…or Randy from the movie “A Christmas Story” …

What have you.

Santiago, with a population of about 544,000 people back then, was a considerably smaller city than it is now. Hence, people either walked from Point A to Point B or rode around in horse drawn carriages. The men worked, went home for lunch, took a nap and then went out to work again. Mind you, this concept of closing for lunch is still relevant outside Santiago and it’s like you’ve been in the DeLorean and have been shuttled back in time when you encounter a sign that tells you the store will reopen at 3 pm. Happy hour seems to still be around since back in the day the men would go to their “club” after work (whether it be La Union, Club Hipico, a Mason club, firefighters club, etc) and to quote Kate from Titanic, I imagine they were also inclined to “congratulate themselves on being masters of the universe.” Woman had their little get togethers as well and after a long day of duties at home, would invite other women over and partake in a little gin rummy and conversation. It sounds to me like they may have also dipped into their husband’s wine and may have gone crazy showing one another their ankles. Call me crazy.

Other interesting tidbits about the article include:

  • Children did not eat at the same table with their parents until they reached puberty. Since this term wasn’t coined until later, those that had reached it were identified as those who no longer wore “short pants.” I guess young boys wore shorter slacks back then … the article doesn’t mention anything pertaining to females (as I’m sure they didn’t go around wearing long or short pants, ever) but I gather once the girl began menstruating, she too got the privilege to eat with the adults. Though how embarrassing. You arrive at the table and not only does your brother know what’s up with your body but so does your dad! Ewww.
  • The term “mama” actually came about from the elite’s use of wet nurses back in the day (taking from the verb “mamar” which means “to nurse or feed.”) The name and idea of a “nana” is actually as recent as 30 years ago and has gained popularity as the times have changed and more women pursue interests and goals outside their home.
  • Back then 98% of Chileans claimed to be Catholic, with at least 50% of them being practicing Catholics. Now, observing Catholics make up 7% of the population.

The article concludes stating the one thing that hasn’t changed at all in the last 100 hundred years here in Chile: women continue to be the ones responsible for “keeping” the home and that “domestic co-responsibility” is something that continues to be non-existent in the majority of Chilean households. This despite the fact that women now work outside the home and like I said, make up at least 50% of the country’s work force …

Thinking, thinking, thinking ….Hmmm … why does that sound so familiar …?

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It’s time to stop playing dumb

In June, when G and I decided to get Obi neutered, I wrote a blog about the constant reactions I received from MANY (and I mean almost ALL) Chileans with whom we shared our decision to neuter. I surrendered to the fact that my role as a responsible pet owner was once again more proof to Chileans that I was a “bicho raro” (odd duck) and that my poor proper Chilean husband must be the “pobrecito” (poor guy) who had no choice but to let his gringa wife have her way with their little pooch. (Incidentally, this is just one of many examples of gringa wife = bicho raro, Chilean husband = probrecito.) I must have given the speech about the benefits of sterilization dozens and dozens of times and of course, this was met with resistant, then skeptical eyes. In the end I always found myself frustrated and concluding “It’s what we do where I’m from.” It seems that was the only acceptable response that Chileans would accept. “Oooooh, right. It’s a Gringo thing. You crazy, Gringos.” The fact of the matter is that Obi was neutered, yeah it hurt and he was uncomfortable, but almost three months post-op he’s fine! Here’s proof, my dear skeptical Chileans:

Obi lounging in the sun 3 weeks post-surgery.

Obi next to his BFF, Toyotomi, 4 weeks post surgery.

Obi playing in Parque Bicentenario 5 weeks post-surgery.

Obi two weeks ago displaying his deep appreciation for his new toy from Brazil.

I told you guys he’d be fine. And despite one of the RIDICULOUS reasons that many Chileans still hold on to as reasons for not sterilizing their pets, I don’t think he understands the notion that he’ll “never be a father” because, oh, he’s A DOG!

Anyway, the point of of this blog is this: after some researching and reading, I’ve come to learn that there are many entities and people in Chile who actually favor the notion of responsible pet ownership. And because of this, I’ve decided that anyone who gives me ridiculous reasons for not doing so (an example of said ridiculousness noted above), will automatically be labeled as ignorant in my book. Call me extreme, call me rude, call me intolerant. I disagree with all three because the fact of the matter is that Chile, whether behind the times or not, is actually well aware of the need to be responsible … it just seems that said knowledge needs to spread to the masses via communication and education.

Here are links to various interesting articles and websites regarding the topic of the stray animal population and the programs available to help dog owners be the best owners possible to their little furry family members:

  • Sterilization programs in various comunas of Santiago (link)
  • Article on the root of the stray animal over-population in Chile and why sterilization is better than elimination (link)
  • Article on the Canine Sterilization Center in Osorno, Chile (link)
  • Article on initiative to fine those who feed street animals in Valparaiso, Chile. Note that this initiative has since been suspended. (link)
  • Financial Statement and information on campaign to save animals post February’s earthquake “No los dejes atrás, ellos también son víctimas.” (link)
  • The rights granted to animals in Chile (link)

The fact of the matter is that right now the everyday reality I encounter in Chile shows that many people have got to get their act together on the topic of pets and the animal over-population in Chile’s streets. But I have hope for the younger generations because Chileans are a smart bunch, savvy in many ways, forward-thinkers and progressive. Yet in so many ways, also quite antiquated (believe me, G and I run into people OUR AGE who still view the concept of “me man, work – woman, home good) and responsible pet ownership is one of those concepts that continues to just float about without any real place in the culture.

Case in point: G and I took Obi and his kids to Parque Bicentenario last Sunday, where we found ourselves in the midst of the “tiki-tiki-ti” (Independence Day) celebrations and park bustling with stands, activities, rides for the kids and people everywhere. Inside the area designated for pets to run around without leashes, there was a woman who was there with her own bulldog for the first time. We got to talking and in the next five minutes, I about keeled over in astonishment realizing that:

  1. her bulldog was running around like crazy, something she thought was “great” since he spent so much time during the week indoors.
  2. she didn’t have water and because her bully was so thirsty, he was foaming at the mouth
  3. she didn’t have baggies to clean up after him, which was a problem when he suddenly stopped running to proceed to throw up due to over exertion.

Yeah this woman had a bulldog that had been gifted to her and yeah, she seemed to think he was great but the problem was apparent: she was pretty irresponsible as a bulldog owner. 1) bulldogs literally, physically cannot run around for long periods of times, even if they want to. There are many health reasons that back this up which I won’t get into here but any proper bulldog owner would know this even by simple means of something called the INTERNET. 2) Bulldogs are drastically (almost annoyingly) sensitive to the heat and sun, even if it’s not that hot. As a result, when outside, in the sun, an owner must ALWAYS have with him/her some water for the little piggy to drink. They get thirsty and they get thirsty fast. Obi can chug 2 liters of water like it’s nobody’s business on a typical park outing. 3) an owner of a dog (or cat) should be pretty aware of the cues that indicate that their pet is not doing well, in a similar fashion that a mother or father would be attuned to their kid all of a sudden feeling sick. At the very least, notice that you dog is not over exerted so that the poor little guy doesn’t throw up?

Needless to say I almost b*tch slapped the woman for being so dumb and for being so oblivious. I immediately took the opportunity to point all of this out to G’s daughter and told her the following “Having a pet is a responsibility and if you’re going to have a special breed like a bulldog, you need to make sure you know the dog’s limitations so that he can live a happy life.” Even G’s daughter, who is 8, understood that bulldogs can’t run around for extended periods of time.

I don’t know if it’s the culture or if it’s Chile’s obsessive focus on the children’s welfare that makes for the myopic view of topics regarding animals (and the environment, while we’re at it!) Maybe it’s neither and it’s just a geographic obstacle, in that Chile is literally so far away from so many other “developed” countries and that it’s surrounded by geographic barriers (Andes and Pacific Ocean) that the information and tendencies are delayed? Or perhaps it’s none of the above. In any case, if there are people as dumb as those who reprimand me for neutering Obi and people like the woman mentioned above who didn’t have the slightest idea of what it meant to be a bulldog owner, I believe that times are changing and Chile is evolving when it comes to animal rights and education to the masses on the responsibility of pet ownership. It’s time for the masses to stop playing dumb regarding the topic of responsible pet-ownership and the topic of the over-population of dogs and cats in the country. If parents-to-be educate themselves on all things involving children and newborns, if someone who’s about to buy a car will read every article and book about how to care for the car so as to assure it’s longevity, if people study the last financial statement of a company they are interviewing with in order to gain a competitive advantage in the interview process, what would it take for these same people to learn a bit more about the benefits of protecting and enriching the lives of animals?

I wonder.

Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. ~George Orwell, Animal Farm

Ever occur to you why some of us can be this much concerned with animals suffering? Because government is not. Why not? Animals don’t vote. ~Paul Harvey

Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar. ~Bradley Millar

Here’s an epilogue to ponder:
I never used to be so aware of animals and especially dogs. But ever since I moved to Chile and realized how animals are regarded, both the good and the bad, and became a pet owner myself, I have found that I am quite adamant on the topic of proper pet responsibility and education. In fact, I’m more adamant about pets than I am about children, as controversial as that may sound. I don’t have kids, I have a dog. And in Chile, as well as everywhere else, there about 100 times more people fighting for the rights of children than there are those remotely concerned about dogs and animals. Things will shift when I have kids, I’m sure. But that just means that my focus will then be balanced between kids and dogs and by no means, will that ever mean that my focus on dogs will falter.

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Chile – evolving!

I rarely listen to the radio here in Chile but I saw a billboard advertisement about a radio station that plays classic rock so I tuned in yesterday when I headed to the gym. I encountered good music but what really struck my fancy was a public service announcement (PSA) by a government agency here in Chile called SERNAM (Servicio Nacional de la Mujer or the National Association for Women, to loosely translate.) I, of course, only heard the audio version of this PSA but upon searching the SERNAM website, I found the video which contains the same message I heard yesterday. You can refer to the 30 second spot below:

Even for those of you who don’t understand Spanish, it’s clear that you see a man sitting on a stool who eventually begins turning into a caveman. Why is this happening? No it’s not a GEICO commercial … The reason for this is because the narrator of the commercial is asking the man “Felipe, what do you do?” and Felipe answers that he works. The narrator then asks “And do you have kids?” And Felipe answers “Yes, but my wife watches them.” The spot continues with the narrator asking the same series of questions and each time Felipe answers the equivalent of “Me work, wife stay at home with kids” he starts turning more and more into a caveman, until eventually he’s just grunting, pounding his chest and saying “me work!” The spot then concludes with the word “Evolucionemos” (let’s evolve) and the narrator communicates that Chile needs men AND women sharing responsibilities (termed “co-responsabilidad” in the campaign) both inside the home and at work. We see Felipe and his lovely wife locking hands as the narrator tells us that we should make a pact to “grow together in a better country.”

What can I say? I LOVE it! I love it because it’s addressing something that is so outrageously prevalent in many societies, though it’s something that needed addressing, oh, yesterday. The United Nations reports that though more and more women are now part of the labor force of many countries, “when hours in paid and unpaid work are combined, women tend to have longer working hours per week than men, and less time for leisure or sleep.” On the flip side, the report states that men may work as many hours or more in a day, but that said work is most often paid work. In short, the norm is that home management and keeping is not ultimately a shared responsibility among supposed partners. Of course Chile is the rule, not the exception as we can tell from a report done by Channel 13 in Chile as the journalist took to the streets to ask men and women how much sharing is really taking place when it comes to the home.

Sadly enough (but truthful) most men and their wives will agree that the husband or male partner “occasionally helps” or just “helps” but it’s a far cry from actually SHARING responsibility. Really, it’s kind of sad that the first man interviewed in the video above can’t, for the life of him, give an answer and so he looks at his wife/partner for help with the question of shared responsibility. She laughs and answers, “Sometimes he sweeps the balcony.” Whoop-dee-doo!! That lady has got herself a gem!

So what’s my reality when it comes to this? G is an exception to the norm. Though our reality is peppered with other variables that could very well explain why things are more shared in our home: he was a single-parent when his kids were 8 months & 4 years old, thus he had to handle many things pertaining to running his home and taking care of his kids every other weekend. Also contributing is the fact that we’re fortunate enough to have a nana come once a week, which ultimately reduces the amount of cleaning and upkeep either of us have to do around here. Of course we can factor in that we don’t have kids together and his kids don’t live full-time in the house, though trust me our dog certainly makes up for it with his fair share of strewing toys about, shedding and generally being messy and slobbery (such is the case with bulldogs.) So yes, in our home I’d say it’s 40-60 and I say this ONLY because I generally do the cooking and generally do the grocery shopping alone. But then again, he’s the one who waters the plants and takes the initiative to do laundry when the nana isn’t here. I do neither of those two things – ever. In any case, personally we are lucky to be an exception because really, whatever I do, he can do and whatever I don’t do he definitely does.

But I have to commend SERNAM for starting this campaign. I’m all about sharing responsibilities because there is no reason that anyone in the house should be held responsible for the majority of the work. It’s also quite unfair to women (what else is new) that we spend more time working – period, when combining paid and unpaid work. I like that they chose to make their point using a little comedy. In addition, I would imagine that being portrayed as a caveman is something that no man likes. I assume, with all of their ingrained competitiveness, that if they are shown in a manner to be the antithesis of evolving, they’ll at least look at themselves and think “Hey now, I’m better than a caveman.” I just hope that this campaign also evolves because I imagine that many men, namely the older generations but perhaps the younger ones alike, probably don’t really get the difference between “helping out” and “sharing responsibility.” After all, it seems that even the wife filmed above was ok with the husband merely sweeping the balcony every so often.

And of course, that’s the other side of the battle. As long as women are accepting of this behavior and attitude, as long as women are ok with a little help here, a little help there, then the notion of shared responsibility will be lost and contained to a few reels of PSA’s stocked away in a library of film.

But we’re on the right path with this campaign and personally, I’m kind of digging SERNAM for making the right to a balanced and fair life for all, men and women, enough of a priority so as to spend some dollars on communication to the masses.

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The last name issue in Chile: another dilemma

I think my fellow expat friend was on to something when she wrote her post about her struggle to figure out what to do with her name following her marriage to a Chilean this year. You see, as she explained quite eloquently in her post, Chileans have a certain way of viewing the last name game and it’s basically this: first name, middle name, father’s last name, mother’s last name. This is the case for every single person born in Chile and this is the case for men, women and children, alike. There are a few exceptions, such as, for example, when the father has completely disappeared and the mother chooses to give her child both her last names (which technically speaking would make Chileans think that the child was actually her mother’s sibling and of course, eyebrows would be raised.) Women don’t take their husband’s name after marriage and are forever known by the name they were born with, regardless of marital status. This is the antithesis of what we know in the States because many women choose to either keep their last names or adopt their husband’s last name once married and if you live abroad, this options somehow becomes obsolete. At least, this is what we’re faced with here in Chile.

My issue with the name dilemma here in Chile is not quite the same as my friend’s and it has more to do with Chilean society and their obsession with last names. Although perhaps outwardly Chileans will argue that classism and discrimination based on one’s last name no longer plays a major role in opportunities for advancement here in Chile, incognito, it really does. How do I know this? Besides the reliable source that is my husband and his experience with the matter, I have many other reliable sources who have given me their input based on experiences in college, experiences in the work force, their personal experiences as decisions makers within their companies, experiences in their social life and so on. As much as I wanted to believe that such a reality was no longer the case in this age of globalism AND considering that there are many expats who live in Chile, the reality is that sadly, last names matter. They matter just as much as where you live in Santiago and where you went to school (and I’m not talking school as in which you university you attended. Rather, I’m speaking of where you went to KINDERGARTEN. Believe it or not, these factors also still matter in Chile).

I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify that not all of these variables are important 100% of the time. For instance, there may very well be many examples of how someone who lives in Puente Alto (a lower to lower-middle class neighborhood in Santiago), went to a mediocre school, achieved the best grades possible, attended a prestigious university, such as Universidad de Chile, based on their own personal merit and consequently landed a great job where he/she moved up the ranks and is now a decision maker at a very good company. I totally believe that happens and I’m HAPPY it’s possible. On the flip side, just because the aforementioned is possible, is BY NO MEANS an indication that the opposite doesn’t happen. Meaning, without seeing a face, without knowing a background, without even bothering to type the word GOOGLE in the browser to find out more, someone may very well look at G’s last name, coupled with my last name and completely disregard our future children for a number of things (including entrance into a good school.) I totally believe that happens based on REAL examples and it’s worrisome.

I’m not gonna lie. G’s paternal last name and my paternal last name are bad. I say this not because the actual, physical spelling of either name is phonetically equivalent to the word shmagina (God forbid), but because they are so blah, so common, so ORDINARY, and so typical, I truly believe it will be a disadvantage to our future children (hey, I didn’t make the societal rules here in Chile, but I’m here and I need to plan for them). Seriously. You might call me crazy or think I’m exaggerating but what I’m telling you is based on the social sphere we find ourselves circulating in more and more and this stuff REALLY matters (in this circle)! So what am I going to do? Fight the power my entire life? With the last name equivalents of Smith and Jones, G and I are seriously considering putting our second last names as our children’s last names, IF ONLY, the proposed new law that is circulating in the congress-equivalent would JUST PASS. After all, if I have two last names that identify me as, well, ME, shouldn’t I have the option to give my future kids one of those two last names? Why does the government get to decide what I get to name my future kids? Truth be told, G’s second last name might secure our future kids a senate seat and why should we have to give up that option just because the government tells us that we HAVE to give each kid the grandfather’s last name? Needless to say (in case you can’t tell) I’m irate over the matter. If being born in Chile means you get two last names, my thought is that of those two last names, one should be able to choose which of the last names you give your children. Plain and simple. It’s not like I’m suggesting Chile adopt the practice of allowing anyone to give their kids ANY last name imaginable! (Imagine if that were the case, what roll call would be like at school: “Manchester United? Here! San Francisco Forty Niners? Here! Lan Chile? She’s absent. Ok, thanks.”) If given the option to choose one of your two last names to pass on, I totally agree that all the kids should share that same pattern of last names so that you don’t have a family of five, all with different last names. I get that consistency and the ability to trace your roots back to the time of the Spanish Inquisition makes sense to some.

In short, I hope this law finds its way to passage. I’d really, really like to give my kids last names other than the paternal ones G and I unfortunately have. Again, nothing is wrong with the names themselves, but everything is wrong with what Chilean society will do or not do, how it will react or not react, based solely on these last names as they are. I have two last names and I should have the right to pass on whichever one I choose. Why the h*ll does the government of Chile get to decide this? And why the h*ll do I have to give credit to and pass on ONLY the paternal one?

What century are we living in, Chilean government? Get with the program and lighten the h*ll up.

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