(Mexican) potty mouth: 7 toilet tips

For a while now, I have been working on a list of tips and observations about living and traveling in Mexico, and it occurred to me that a number of them were related to using the restroom.  Since this is such an important (and sometimes delicate) topic in itself, I decided to give you a heads-up about some concerns regarding toilet use in Mexico.

  1. If you go on a road trip, take a good amount of loose change with you.  Many rest stops charge a fee for using the restroom.  There will often be a person seated just outside of the restroom doors to take your change.  Don’t expect anyone to break a bill of 200 pesos just so that you can go to the restroom.  Nobody likes doing that.  Sometimes there is no person at the entrance; instead, at the doorway there will be a revolving door of metal bars that only unlocks when you insert the appropriate change into a slot. Gas stations with restrooms are not as common as they are in the U.S., so don’t hold out for the next place, thinking you will find a free restroom anytime soon.  Just be prepared… which goes along with the next thought:
  2. If you go on a road trip, take some rolls of toilet paper with you.  Some public restrooms along the highways do not offer toilet paper.  Others will have it, but they charge a fee for using the toilet paper.  This has been the case during our travel throughout Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.  If you are not traveling the east coast, it is still better to be safe than soiled.
  3. If you go on a road trip, or if you are visiting folks in the country, take some extra bottled water with you.  Aside from what you will want to take along to drink, take more just in case you find yourself at a location without sinks to wash your hands, or with plumbing that is not working properly.
  4. Don’t expect all public or private toilets to have seats!  I remember accompanying Aron and his mom to the medical clinic (one of the times Aron got injured during my initial stay in Mexico) and being weirded out that the toilets were just the bare-bones.  I ended up not using the toilet that day because it seemed a bit shady.  Are they afraid people will steal or vandalize them (that is not sarcasm — that is a real question)?  Is it a financial worry — do they simply refuse to splurge on the unnecessary cost of seats?   I suppose it doesn’t make much of a difference, since you don’t want to touch them anyway, but it was something odd that I found to be very common where I went.
  5. Don’t expect changing tables, ever.  If you are traveling with a young’un, plan to change diapers on a changing mat on the comfortable seat of your vehicle.
  6. While many homes have toilet fixtures, it is still common to have running water only outdoors, or only in the shower.  In this kind of situation, the toilet handle is useless.  There will generally be a bucket handy in the bathroom so that you can fill up from another water source and pour it directly into the toilet bowl.  The water being poured from the bucket will force the dirty water down the drain, leaving the toilet ready for the next person to use.
  7. Unless otherwise instructed, don’t flush your toilet paper down the drain in any public or private restroom.  Though I had become used to the idea at my now-husband’s home, I was surprised to see notes on the restroom stalls at my exchange university, requesting for us not to flush toilet paper; I had figured that a campus of its prestige would not have toilet problems, but it is important to follow the rule regardless.  It has less to do with the power of the flush than what happens once the product gets into the pipes.  Place the paper — regardless of how nasty it is (I would advise rolling it up in extra toilet paper as an additional courtesy measure) in the wastebasket.  It seems primitive and gross, and it is a tough habit to get into!  However, refraining from flushing the paper may prevent a huge headache and financial obligation in the future.  Read more about it here: http://www.yucatanliving.com/yucatan-survivor/mexican-fosa-septica.htm — and take some time to read the comments, too!

If you have any questions, or if you have more to add to the toilet list, please feel free to share!

What’s good for the goose?

I recently got a huge response for my post about how my husband Aron doesn’t speak English, and thought I would add some thoughts while they are still fresh in my mind.

Earlier this week, I spoke with a very nice woman — perhaps in her 60s — about some of the sentiments my family has had during our transition to life in the U.S.  I knew I shouldn’t have let it slip that Aron only speaks Spanish.  I ended up listening to her briefly inform me that it will be necessary for him to learn English, and that while he is working in the kitchen of a Mexican restaurant he will not get the opportunity to branch out and learn our language.

Sigh.  Instead of sarcastically complimenting her on her novel idea of cultural/language immersion, I respectfully bit my tongue.

I think this would be a good spot to mention that tomorrow we will be celebrating our first anniversary of entering the U.S. as a family!  Go us!!  This was a feat of sorts, but I will get into the details of that at another time.

So first of all, the reasons Aron works at a Mexican restaurant are these: the owners of the restaurant are great people, and the place is literally about 2 blocks away from our home — very helpful, since we only have one car, and Aron can walk out of the house four minutes before he has to be at work and still make it on time.  It was a chance for him to make some more money for us, and it was too convenient to pass up.  Oddly enough, Aron has actually been learning some English back in the kitchen because the food preparation information is all in English.  Go figure.  That’s not as good as being fluent, but I would not expect him to be fluent after a year anyway.  I wholeheartedly embrace those baby steps.

Aside from what I have discussed previously about our reliance on Spanish to maintain our relationship, and to  keep the Mexican culture flowing through our home, one thing to know about Aron and me is that we put our 3 year-old son D’s education on the front burner.  That doesn’t mean we sit down with little D and pour over a pile of flash cards every day for hours on end.  That does mean, though, that we are concerned about shaping his verbal, mechanical, intellectual, and social skills.  One of the main things we IMG_7406emphasize is the need for D to speak English and Spanish fluently, with an appropriate accent for each.  The amount of time we spend with D, along with devoting time to our grown-up jobs and normal life events, takes priority over what Aron and I do for ourselves.  That means it is more necessary for D to be listening to authentic Spanish in the household than for us to be focusing on Aron’s English.

Another thing I take into consideration when measuring our efforts regarding my husband’s verbal ability is that I know what it is like to be in a place that is far away from, and drastically different from, where I grew up.  Dissimilar cultural immersion can take a physical and emotional toll on a person.  Heck, I feel like I was on-and-off a crazy person the entire 4 years I was living in Mexico.  I felt relieved to listen often to music in English, to bond with friends who spoke English, and to watch U.S. TV shows; and I know I am not the only traveller who has experienced this.  So let’s ease off a bit on the language force-feeding.  It will come with time.  We may be able to scrounge up the money to get Aron into some language courses at the state college soon, but for now we are doing our best.

We are still working out the snags in our methods, but I really love where we are headed as a family.

Check out the link below for an easy-to-read brief (for those of us who are lazy or who don’t care to allot too much time for interpreting demographics) from the U.S. Census Bureau to find out more about the Hispanic population of the U.S.  Based on the trends, it’s interesting and exciting to think about how society will be changing over the upcoming years!


Life + technology / Life vs. technology

I find myself in a bit of an uncomfortable/unsure position as a parent of this day and age.  Why?  Because our society is consumed by the desire to be constantly connected — so much that parents are urged to have their children, from the point of infancy, distracted by technological devices.  The tech/toy industry has brought us baby/toddler laptops, cell phones, tablets, movies, video games, and apps.  So what are we supposed to think about this?

This is important: If we neglect to educate our children about technology at a young age, it may be difficult for them to survive in the modern world as they grow older.  The longer they wait to learn, the longer it will take them to learn — and they may never catch up to the rest of the world.  This could cause problems not only socially, but also academically and professionally.  Primary, secondary, and higher education require a degree of technological competence.  Even schools in poor, rural Mexico are increasingly prompting students to research specific topics online and to own a personal computer in order to facilitate the completion of assignments.  Then into upper levels of education and in the real world, demand for techsavvy individuals in any given field is high.  And need for those without tech experience is almost nonexistent.

But this is important, too: While I am not the type of person who despises technology or societal progress, I am a believer that too much of a good thing can cause a lot of problems.  With technological devices running our lives, we are dependent and distracted.  And despite what gets posted on Facebook and Twitter, most of us are actually very average, boring people.  Some of us lock ourselves in our rooms to play multiplayer online games all day.  Others of us are so anxious that we can’t deny ourselves the chance to glance down at, or stick our noses into, our devices continuously while we are at a family reunion, at the movies, at a civic event, or sitting down to a meal with our favorite people.  We have little practice of courtesy in this sense.  We also seem to have less patience and self-control now than in previous generations, because we expect everything to occur instantly and flawlessly.  We don’t have a clue what to do otherwise.


Early 2011: D playing on his Igloo “activity table” with his drumstick and drums. While you’re looking, notice our “advanced” version of babyproofing — clear packing tape to hold the doors shut on the entertainment center; this was the only babyproofing I think we ever did.

So in raising D so far, the basic rule on this subject has been the standard, “everything in moderation.”  We did not allow D to watch television until around 18 months of age, and even then it would only be a minimal amount so that he would not be clueless about other things going on outside of what we were able to teach him.  D is turning 4 years old this summer, and on any given day he probably won’t watch more than a couple hours of TV in total, if at all.  He can maneuver the Roku a bit.  No action movies, no thrillers, and goodness gracious! — no horror movies for him (I don’t see the benefit of gruesome events happening in front of a young’un’s eyes if we can help it).  He has an ancient version of a LeapFrog device so he can play some games and develop his coordination and learning skills that way.  D listens to a lot of music, whether in the car, in the kitchen, or with Daddy and the iTunes, etc.  He sometimes carries around my old cell phone — which doesn’t do anything except flip open, because I have no idea where the battery charger is.  He talks on the phone briefly when he wants to say thank you to someone for sending a gift or card, and when Aron is calling the family in Mexico.  Otherwise, he enjoys spending his days with his Duplo creations (we recently watched a documentary about dinosaurs, so he makes “fossils” out of his Legos and digs them up out of the pile of toys), painting, drawing, playing games, putting together puzzles, sculpting with clay, exploring nature, reading, playing with friends (at the library, at home, at church, and at zumba), and running/riding around with us at the park.

This is something we haved struggled with at times.  I think it is important to refrain from bombarding the little ones with too much of anything.  Remember, a cardboard box or paper bag can easily transform into many more things (with some imagination and perhaps creativity) than almost any given toy on the market!  Little by little, we will be working with him more on computer skills and typing, but at this age we are not in a rush for him to become completely engulfed in the devices.

Tell me about it: how have you gone about maintaining a balance of life + technology?