Two Babies: Our New Normal

Not surprisingly, I haven’t had much time to blog over the last few weeks. Having a 13 month old and a one month old in the house has been a little time-consuming. It has been interesting being back to spit-up encrusted shirts and pulling the nightshift again. If I wasn’t a frumpy-frump before, I most definitely am now. In my head, long nights with a colicky newborn and long days with a mobile toddler justify my refusal to wear anything but yoga pants and never fixing my hair (and don’t even get me started about tweezing).

Also, I don’t know if it’s just in my head (or stuck in my nose), but I’m convinced our house smells like one huge sick-nasty diaper. Along with the smell, our house is now an unsightly obstacle course set with gates, clips, and locks in order to keep our curious daughter from trashing the place (even more). Oh, and the used baby bottles strewn throughout the house are reminiscent of a frat house after a drunken party (ex. I found one under the Christmas tree this morning).

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Don’t judge me for having a blow-up pool in my living room (Hannah).

When I do get out of the house, I’m amazed at the planning and strategy that it requires. I’ve been able to successfully cut down the number of hours it takes to get everyone fed, ready and out the door, but I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that while I once lived out of backpack for a year, I now have to pack twice as much gear to do some “quick” errands.

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Pure joy over peanut butter. She’s obviously my child.

Basically, I have a whole new respect for parents. The fact that some moms keep up with things like bathing themselves AND Pinterest is impressive.

Because I’d rather sleep than write, I’m going to jot down a few highlights from the last several weeks:

  1. Our fuzzy foster baby gained almost 2 pounds since coming to us a month ago (I told you we were chunky baby experts). His pediatrician is so impressed by how strong and healthy he is despite his prenatal circumstances. Praise Jesus.
  2. I have become a ninja when changing diapers. Baby boy parts cannot be trusted under any circumstances. #peeEVERYWHERE
  3. My mother in law has been a HUGE help to me and has even spent the night a few times. We have started to really work as a team and our relationship has been strengthened immensely through this.
  4. I’m starting to really enjoy watching how people curiously approach the subject of our babies’ ages. When we’re out in public, it’s almost a guarantee that someone will casually start a conversation for the sole purpose of finding out just how soon after Mariah’s birth Albin and I got back to making babies. I usually let them do the math in their heads before I mention the tiny one isn’t ours.
  5. I’ve spent somewhere around eight hours over the last two weeks waiting in the public health clinic lines to get fuzzy registered, screened, and checked up. Thankfully, this time around wasn’t nearly as complicated as it was with our first foster daughter since now the staff know how to handle temporary custody cases. I only had to go semi-postal on one miserable secretary that tried to override a doctor’s order in scheduling our next appointment (I still don’t know why she became so belligerent). I called her out and she became sickly sweet when she realized that I wasn’t some clueless foreigner and that I was doing a public service for a high-risk newborn. It’s rare that I’ll pull out my gringo directness on a Costa Rican, but when it comes to my kids…
  6. People have been incredibly generous with clothes and baby boy items. Friends, family, and even a Pharmacist from the free clinic have showered us with clothes and diapers. God bless.
  7. Sometimes I get in the fetal position and hold myself when both babies are trying to out-cry each other.

I can’t deny it’s been chaotic with two littles under 13 months, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Waiting in lines, dodging streams of urine, and fielding lots of curious questions are a small price to pay when I consider the privilege it is to get this little guy off to a healthy start in life. I am thankful that I can be a stay at home mom and love on these kids even if it’s not always pretty. I love falling into bed at night knowing that every ounce of my energy was spent loving on the precious lives God has entrusted to me. I know that we’re right where God wants us right now and that’s a good place to be.

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Immigration

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that anything that has to do with immigration gets my gag reflex going. For those of you who want to know if we got married in the U.S. or Costa Rica first (because yes, it matters in the process), we married in the U.S. first and then got it certified in CR. We turned in our paperwork almost right after getting back from our wedding, but there were some complications and one of our papers expired before we could get scheduled for a meeting with immigration. Side note: we were paying a lawyer (who was a family friend) good money to take care of these things for us, but we found out too late that she was not doing her job very well.

While reading over our documents one night, it hit me that my tourist visa would be expiring in one week and that due to the meeting complications, I was going to be illegal here. Not to mention that I already had a job … which if you don’t have the correct papers, can lead to a swift deportation. Don’t take this lightly, I’ve seen normal people deported from CR before. I started sweating immediately and we called our lawyer. She casually confirmed my suspicions and said I need to leave the country immediately (this was the moment that the family friendship started to deteriorate).

After a minor breakdown and hours of ranting, we bought bus tickets for several days later and hightailed it out of there. We went to Bocas del Toro, a small chain of Panamanian islands near the southern coast of Costa Rica. Minus the panicking and the exhaustion of several buses and water taxis, the trip turned out to be a blessing. It almost made up for the fact that we didn’t get to go on a honeymoon and it was honestly one of the first times since we had gotten married that we felt relatively normal.

While the trip was a blessing, the residency process was not. We finally were given appointments with immigration and did what we had to do, but no matter how organized I was, something always went wrong. Like “they lost our original marriage certificate” kind of wrong. I mean, I should have never given them the original document, but I was naïve to the ways of the Costa Rican filing system (i.e. possibly nonexistent).

I was also unaware of how difficult it was to get fingerprinted here. At the time, there was only one place in the capital to get fingerprinted for the residency process. The first time I showed up, I was oblivious to the line stretching out the gate and around the block. After waiting far too long, I overheard one of the guards saying something about running out of numbers. Only the first 50 people in line were allowed to be fingerprinted that day and I was not one of those first 50 people. The next time around, I decided I would be there when the doors opened at 7:30 a.m. Unfortunately, I was not the only person to have that thought. In fact, I wasn’t among the first 50 people to have that thought. Fail. I approached the guard and asked what time she thought I should arrive in order to be among the first 50. She thought getting there between 1-2 hours before opening time would suffice. Sooo, basically camp out at the crack of dawn. I’ll admit it; I had to have a crying/cursing Costa Rica session in my car to pull it together. After my pity party, I went back to the guard and asked her if there was any other way. She told me that sometimes they would give out more numbers in the afternoon if there was space. The next week, I rolled up in the afternoon hoping for the best. There were huned’s of people there. I went up to my guard (we were becoming fast friends) and she had sympathy on me. She took me to another line and told me to wait there. Besides getting the stink eye from all those people I had apparently just cut in front of, I was feeling pretty confident.

As I came to the front of the (shorter) line, another guard asked me if I had brought the correct seals. What seals? No one had mentioned seals, the instructions I had been given didn’t say anything about seals, and can I bribe someone to ignore the fact that I didn’t have seals? No. Go look around the block and ask at the banks and law offices, they probably have them. I literally ran around the block looking for the seals and of course, no one had them. Finally, desperate and furious, I stopped at a little soda (which is like a little hole in the wall restaurant), and the cook sold me some seals for 20 cents as she served up some rice and beans to another customer. What the…?

By now, I’m panting and sweating and all my guard friends are cracking up at the poor gringa’s plight. I must have done something right though, because as they laughed, they let me pass everyone in line. Success. Not only did I get fingerprinted that day, but I made friends with some guards who clearly needed some comic relief and found an unlikely love for a greasy cook selling 20 cent stamps and Diet Coke.

And then we waited … a long time. About two years in, we finally called the immigration office regarding my visa and I remember overhearing Albin talking to the lady and getting increasingly frustrated with her (which is unusual because Albin is often much more merciful in situations like these). She refused to help us because she said it was impossible that my residency had taken that long and that residencies are processed within 90 days. Albin assured her that wasn’t the case for us and that we just had a question. Nope, a two year wait was impossible and therefore she could not answer our question. He hung up with a prompt “gracias por nada” (thanks for nothing).

Two and a half years later, I was finally given my temporary residency permit; even though it would expire after one year, there were tears of joy that day. I am currently waiting for my permanent residency permit that I get through having my baby in Costa Rica (anchor child anyone?) and I was told it would only take 90 days to be processed. That’s what I was told in regards to my temporary permit, so I’m not getting my hopes up this time. The 90 day limit is today, so I’ll keep you posted.

Immigration processes and policies are definitely a complicated matter. Albin and I have been praying about and considering moving back to the U.S., but we’re trying to come to terms with the inevitable high cost, long wait, and load of work it will take to make that kind of thing happen. It’s intimidating, overwhelming, and humbling (especially when immigrantion is a hot topic right now and people aren’t careful with their comments). Trying to do things correctly and legally through the immigration system is frustrating enough to make even Donald Trump think twice about his hateful assumptions (fun fact: Did you know Trump is married to an immigrant?).

Moral of the story: residency processes just suck. Accept it and move on. No matter where you’re applying, prepare yourself to receive a different answer from everyone you ask about ANYTHING, to spend a lot of money in filing fees (and seals apparently), and to wait. If you are married to (or are going to marry) someone from another country, you said “I do” to lines in immigration offices. Embrace it.Try to have a good attitude and enjoy the ride. All that hard work means you get to live with your foreign dreamboat, and even Trump can attest to that :).

Sidenote: If you’re not going through immigration processes, try to have some grace with immigrants despite the current attitude of condemnation that is so popular in the U.S. right now.  Not everyone trying to get into the U.S. is a druglord or rapist. As evidenced by the devastating story of the Syrian children who drowned this past week as their family tried to escape the war- you never know what extreme circumstances are bringing someone to take desparate measures. That Syrian father wanted was a better life for his family, can we blame him? That could have been you or me, risking everything to give our family a peaceful future. Don’t be quick to judge, friends, almost all of our families were immigrants at some point. 

Crossing the border into Panama

Crossing the border into Panama

Marrying a Family

There is a saying out there that says something to the effect of “you don’t just marry an individual, you marry a family.” In my case, I feel like I married a country. At any rate, I’m going to go ahead and assume that I’m not the only one who felt a little out of place with my new tribe.

First off, the sheer number of this new clan was devastatingly intimidating. I didn’t take me long to realize that a family get-together included my mother-in-law’s eight siblings plus their children and grandchildren. I kept confusing Uncle Dagoberto with Uncle Rigoberto and couldn’t remember if I’d already talked to Aunt Eda or if that was actually Aunt Nidia … or wait? Second, I was still speaking three year old (or worse) equivalent Spanish when we got married. Very few people speak English in Al’s family, so I had to prove how cool I was while speaking toddler. Most of them would just stare at me … probably because I was a hot mess. Speaking so much Spanish would give me shaky hands and sweaty everything else.

I guess I assumed that I would seamlessly slip right into the family because I’m generally comfortable in new social situations. The difference with this situation, however, was that I married these people and we didn’t understand each other at all. As I’m typing this, I am asking my mother-in-law (who is here playing with my daughter so I can write and clean the house, bless her) what the hardest part of me becoming part of the family was for her. Here were her top 4 (and I think she could have thought of more but she had mercifully stopped after the overarching statement “your way of life”):

  1.      Language: She said the language was hard because “they had no idea if I could understand anything they were saying.” I thought that they knew I could understand because I would answer their questions, but apparently I was wrong. I remember on two separate occasions my suegra showed up with preschool level books and tried to get me to repeat the most basic Spanish verbs because my accent was bad. Shot to the heart.
  2.      Food: She said that they didn’t know what to offer me or feed me because I was from a different culture. Valid, but I will generally eat anything that isn’t still moving, so I had no idea this was a concern of theirs.
  3.      Physical touch: They love to greet each other with a kiss and they are very touchy. They weren’t sure I wanted them to touch me. I can handle the fake kiss on the cheek when greeting, but I guess they were afraid to go further than that?
  4.      My way of life: She said I did a lot of different things and they didn’t understand. I’m not going to elaborate because that one definitely goes both ways; basically, they thought I was a weirdo whenever I did anything.

Okay, so being the only white girl in the family was challenging and still is at times. For a while, I tried SO HARD to just become one of them, which made me feel like a wanna-be imposter in Costa Rica and a dirty cheater on my beloved ‘Merican heritage. I had a minor identity crisis. I finally realized that no matter how hard I tried, I was always going to be really tall (almost 6 feet, which is like a foot taller than most Costa Ricans), really white (no matter how much I tanned), and really loud (my whisper voice is basically non-existent). I finally swallowed the fact that while I could improve my pronunciation, my accent was permanent because I didn’t learn Spanish as a kid.  I stopped trying to impress them with my Costa Rican cuisine expertise and made them gringo delicacies like Thanksgiving stuffing, zucchini bread, and all things pumpkin. It’s just now setting in that I can go around and kiss everyone when I enter the room, but also that they understand not to be offended if I do just a general “hola” addressed to all. In short, once I got over myself and my insecurities of feeling like I needed to fit in, everyone got a lot more comfortable.

Now that we have almost four years under our belts and my Latino family is used to me being tall, loud, white, and weird, I am finally myself (well, I try to be). I listen to the opinions they have (Oh, and do they have them. Especially about my daughter :-/), I respect their customs, and I embrace the parts of their culture that I love. It’s also okay that I’m my own person and bring my opinions, customs, and culture to the family as well.

These past few months I’ve been working hard to acknowledge Albin’s family as “my family” instead of me always referring to them as “Albin’s family.” Does that make sense? Because it’s not “my family” or “Albin’s family” anymore. It’s our family. That clan of Latinos that think my accent sucks is my family. That big white wave of gringos that can’t say Albin’s last name correctly is his family. It’s become our family and we love the madness that comes from our cultural collision.

Albin's gma, mom, and me. I'm leaning, but I'm still giant.

Albin’s gma, mom, and me. I’m leaning, but I’m still giant.

Looking For Some Community?

Despite keeping a blog, I’m not a techie. It took Albin years to convince me to get an iPhone and I still only have a whole four pictures posted to my Instagram account.  Facebook posts and chats and pages and groups  and messages and pokes and game invites kind of stress me out. I take forever to respond to emails and even setting up this blog took me years to do because setting up all the little widgets was torturous for me.

I’ve felt like I needed to broaden my horizons, if you will, in terms of getting this whole bicultural marriage thing going. I told God that I wasn’t interested in marketing my blog and that if He wanted people to read it, He needed to just have them happen upon my blog. I prayed that if He really wanted me to build more of a community, He would send someone that understood marketing. Well, of course the week I prayed that, I also had invited a friend over for dinner. We hadn’t gotten together for while, so I didn’t know that she specializes in marketing. Of course. So here I go, kicking and screaming as I create a FB page and group. I feel awkward for promoting myself, but if it helps bring glory to God and helps save some marriages, then its worth figuring out how to navigate the confusing world of social media.

I have received so many emails and messages from people in bicultural marriages/relationships who are asking for advice and let’s be honest, I definitely don’t have all the answers. In fact, I am the least likely candidate (ask my friends Lynne and Diego about the time I recommended they didn’t pursue their bicultural marriage). ANYWAY, I figure that if we can start up a community of people who support and encourage one another, that is going to make it easier on all of us.

So here’s to figuring out FB pages and groups to get this whole bicultural marriage conversation started. If you’re a woman in a bicultural marriage/engagement or you know someone else who is, please send them to our group or you can like my page off to the side and that will connect you (I think, somehow. I hope). I’m hoping to start up a community for encouragement, support, laughter, and wisdom. Thanks for liking! Cheers!
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1608317236079696/

Top 10 Hardest Things About Bicultural Marriage

Last week I posted about my top ten favorite things about being in a bicultural marriage. To be fair, here are my top ten least favorite things in no particular order. If you’re considering marriage to a foreigner, I hope this list is helpful!

  1. Vacations will almost always be to see family. Unless you’re loaded and/or unemployed, most of your money and vacation time will be dedicated to seeing family. We usually go home to Ohio about once a year. It can be hard to justify spending money to go see a new place when you haven’t seen your parents and sister for a year. Another thorn is my flesh is that in our case, we have to spend a considerable amount of money to go on vacation to Cincinnati, Ohio. I love to visit my family, but Ohio isn’t exactly an exciting travel destination. If we lived in Ohio and went on vacation to see family in Costa Rica, however, I might be singing a different tune.
  1.  Difficulty with jokes and cultural references. In my honest opinion, my family is pretty witty and we joke around about 75 percent of the time. Albin had a hard time keeping up and inserting his own comments for a long time which made him feel outed. I’ve felt the same way with his friends/family so we’ve spent a lot of time educating one another on the millions of puns, sayings, and jokes that exist in each culture. For example, once my sister used the term “throw you under the bus” with Albin. As we were all laughing about how he had just been thrown under the bus, he was still considering why we were talking about him being run over by a bus.
  1.  Truly expressing yourself. Albin speaks English really well and I like to think that I speak Spanish equally as well; however, sometimes it is hard to truly express yourself and have your spouse understand. Expressing your deepest thoughts usually require you using more extensive vocabulary and that can create some misunderstanding or at least not a complete understanding of what you’re trying to get across.
  1.  Being far away for funerals, sicknesses, holidays, etc. Most likely one spouse will be living far away from their family. That part is hard, but Skype is a huge help (My parents skype me every day to watch my daughter do interesting things like smack her lips or roll over). It is almost unbearable, however, to be so far when there are funerals that you can’t get to, extensive illnesses that you can’t help out with, or holidays that you would otherwise enjoy being with your family for. Thanksgiving is always a killer for me because it’s not a thing in CR and my whole extended family gets on Skype while they stuff deep-fried turkey and pumpkin pie into their mouths. Sure I do a Thanksgiving dinner here, but it’s not exactly the same.
  1.  Missing family in general. This has become increasingly harder since the birth of  our daughter. It hurts my heart a little bit to know that my daughter only gets to see my family in person once or twice a year because I want them to be a big part of her life and they want to be a big part of hers. Knowing that you have to get on a long plane ride if you wanted to see them is a bummer most of the time.
  1.  Cultural norms. This is the everyday stuff that you just don’t agree on because you grew up not knowing there were other options (like whether you should eat big lunches or big dinners). One that has been hard for me is a cuota, which is a fee you pay to go to a party, shower, or even a wedding. Oftentimes you are required to pay this fee on top of buying a gift in order to help the host throw the party or finance the wedding. Not only is it hard for me swallow paying to go to someone else’s party, but it is nearly impossible for me to charge a fee for people to come to my parties. Can’t we just do a potluck? No.
  1.  Feeling lonely if you don’t have a community. This has definitely improved for us, but it can be challenging. It can be extremely lonely to not have any friends doing the bicultural marriage thing. Having community in any stage of life is of utmost importance, but this unique circumstance requires it.
  1.  Residency processes and paperwork. Have I mentioned that I hate it? Residency in any country is usually complicated, expensive, and requires a lot of patience. There is a lot of extra paperwork to fill out for every step you take when you’re married to a foreigner. Almost always, there you are required to pay a fee to file the never ending pile of paperwork. Buying a house, paying taxes, getting immigration visas, obtaining permanent residency, proving our child can receive dual citizenship, and obtaining employment are just a few of the processes that have emptied our bank account of thousands of dollars dedicated solely to filing.
  1.  Not having access to certain things (or they’re really expensive). This one doesn’t necessarily require you to be in a bicultural marriage, because this happens when you live almost anywhere overseas. Most likely, however, you or your spouse will be living in a different culture and will miss things you can’t have (probably more than you ever even wanted them when you were living in your own country). For example, Target. Oh how I miss Target. Another example, cheese is expensive here and I love cheese. When I’m in the U.S., I binge on cheese and when I’m in Costa Rica, I agonize in the dairy aisle about whether I should spend $12 on a small block of cheddar. One more: I absolutely love ice cream and I think I shed of tear of joy when a Dairy Queen opened here last year.
  1.  Negative comments. I previously posted a blog about this. People can be very critical of bicultural marriages and relationships. Whether it’s racism, ignorance, concern for your well-being, or just a case of social ineptness, people can say very hurtful things when you decide to do something out of the ordinary. Once you decide to marry a foreigner, be confident in your decision and don’t let negative comments affect your relationship.

If you’re considering a bicultural marriage and have questions or doubts, please hit me up. I’ll try to be as honest (and encouraging) as I can be!

 

Top 10 Favorite Things About Bicultural Marriage

I receive a lot messages from people in bicultural relationships that are considering marriage. Just as in any marriage, a lot of great things can come out of two people doing life together. In this list, however, I’m trying to focus on things that are mostly unique to those marrying a foreigner. In light of that, here are my top ten favorite things about being in a bicultural marriage.

  1.  Kids are bilingual and have an understanding of the world. I love this. I have enjoyed becoming bilingual and I’m even more excited that our children will speak two languages naturally. This will give them many opportunities and will also make learning a third language (if they so desire) much easier. I also love that they will have a broader view of the world and be more culturally aware.
  1.  It’s an adventure; you try new things, eat new foods, etc. Whether you live in your spouse’s country or not, you’re bound to have an adventure. You’ll be exposed to new ways of thinking and doing things, new foods, new customs, and new traditions. You’ll probably get to know his/her country and have fun exploring together. It can be exciting, crazy, overwhelming, and difficult; it will be a lot of things, but I guarantee  boring will not be one of them.
  1.  Two languages/cultures cover over a multitude of sins. This one might just be in my head, but I feel like Albin and I overlook a lot of harsh comments by attributing them to the language differences. If he says something to me in English that seems harsh, I blame it on the fact that he may not know how to say it any other way. If I have a ridiculous personality quirk, he will tend to think it’s just a cultural issue rather than just me being a weirdo. Score.
  1.  You can choose the best parts from each culture to create your own family’s culture. I love this one, too. We’ve been able to integrate both of our cultures into our family culture and choose what we like best. In my mind, our family is getting the best of both worlds when we do it like this.
  1.  I have become Amazon woman. This one might just be from living in a different country or maybe it’s because I wasn’t exposed to this in the U.S., but I have learned so much. As I made Greek yogurt, a week’s worth of baby food, and soaked beans, lentils, and chickpeas to make dinner from scratch the other day, I realized that marrying Albin has forced me to learn how to do things I may not have ever learned living in Cincinnati.
  1.  Your friend group is diverse and fun. Since we are a bicultural family, we naturally tend to hook up with other multicultural families. This opens your mind to a lot of different ways of doing things and you have a lot of opportunities to grow and learn. You meet so many new and different people and become a different (and better) person as a result.
  1.  There is always an excuse to travel. So maybe you’re just going to see family (again) every time you fly anywhere, but at least you’re breaking up the monotony. While traveling for pleasure might not be in the budget, you can always justify going to see family; therefore, you end up getting a vacation without the guilt.
  1.   The thought that God brought together two continents. I just love the thought that God had to rearrange all of our roads and cross borders to bring us together. It reminds me that He has an amazing purpose for us being together whenever things get tough.
  1.  It’s challenging and humbling, but you grow. I’ve been pretty honest about how bicultural marriage can be a challenge, but I’ve also talked about how beauty comes out of struggle. Facing the odds and working hard to make your marriage work creates a love that is steadfast. We have been stretched and as a result, have become more open-minded, mature (I hope), and strong.
  1.  You have to work hard to get to know one another. With language barriers and different cultural norms, you have to work twice as hard to really know each other and understand the other person. This is a positive for me because I see how our marriage has become very transparent as a result. You have to over-communicate and over-explain everything, and that sets a foundation of honesty and directness from the very start.
  1.   I love when my man speaks to me in Spanish. This is the bonus one. No matter how superficial it sounds, having my man speak to me in his love language gets me all hot and bothered lol. Shakira wasn’t messing around when she said, “Oh baby when you talk like that, you make a woman go mad…”

 

Things to Consider Before Marrying a Foreigner

This one goes out to all couples out there who are contemplating taking the plunge into marriage. I’ve received several messages from women who are dating or engaged to a foreigner and many have wondered if I had any advice (bahaha) for them or if I had any suggestions for things they could discuss to make the transition into bicultural marriage easier. I’m not really a bicultural marriage expert (at all), but I do have some suggestions for things to consider and talk about before you get married. If you had asked me three years ago, I simply would have said, “RUN. Far and fast in the other direction.”

Thankfully you’re asking me now when I’m a little more mature and a lot more rational.

These days I would say that if you love each other, you both love God, and you’re both willing to work for it, you should go for it. If you find an amazing man (or woman), don’t let the fact that you’re from different countries get in the way. It’s not every day you find someone amazing enough that you consider marrying them. That being said, here are some questions that I think are worth asking and discussing before you get married:

  1. The obvious one: Are you both committed to God? Obviously your commitment to God in marriage is going to make a huge difference no matter whom you marry. Specifically in bicultural marriage, there can be some loneliness and misunderstanding due to language/culture differences. You NEED a commitment to God because He will sustain both you and your spouse through those times and remind you that He knows you, understands you, and is with you.
  2. Has God confirmed this relationship to you? This one has been particularly helpful to me when things have gotten difficult. Whenever I started having doubts and questioning if we made the right decision to get married, I’ve thought back to God’s clear confirmation and hand within our relationship. It gives so much security knowing this was of God, is from God, and is done through God.
  3. How would each of you define the roles of men/women in marriage? It’s always good to discuss what each person expects/desires from the other. This is important because there are many cultural expectations or customs that can be complicated. If in your husband’s culture the women always stay home with the children and always do the cooking, but you want to work and hate cooking, obviously you’re going to want to talk about that. That one is easy, but things can get sticky if you haven’t talked about areas like this before you get married. Watch how each other’s families interact and discuss how you like/don’t like what happens. Better now than later. Honesty is key here.
  4. Are both of you willing to live in either country? It is highly likely that at some point or another you’ll live in your country or the other’s country. Make sure that both of you are comfortable with this. Even if you plan to live in the U.S., you never know what could happen in the future. Maybe you’ll have to go back and live to take care of his parents, etc. Are you willing to live in a foreign country?
  5. Are you willing to work through the various processes that are inevitable when you marry a foreigner (such a paperwork, immigration/residency, etc.)? These things cost money and require a lot of time and patience. It’s a good idea to do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions before you get married because you’ll be able to save yourself time and money if you do the process right the first time.  Recognize that if you someday want your man to move to the U.S. with you, smuggling him in isn’t the best option. You have to follow the process and that can be frustrating. (P.S. Never give the original copies of documents like your marriage certificate to immigration officials of foreign countries. You may never see them again. You can thank me later for this priceless piece of advice.)
  6. Are you willing to wait a few years for you to fully understand one another? I’m assuming that you both speak English or at least share one language and can communicate somehow, but even with a husband who is  fluent in English, I have a hard time fully expressing myself sometimes so that he can understand and vice versa. Something good to do before you get married and while you’re married is to be OVERLY direct. If you’re a lady that is easily offended, gets quiet and doesn’t explain why you are mad–that needs to change. You have to explain everything in detail and in a way the man can understand…especially since he is probably going to compare your behavior to what he has seen in women in his culture and possibly not understand the problem. It took us a few years to truly know each other and communicate well. As always, communication is everything. Start now. 🙂
  7. Sex. This is a must. Different cultures have different expectations, different presuppositions, and different ideas for how your sex life is going to play out. Save yourself the trouble of an awkward wedding night, honeymoon, and possibly the frustration in the first several years of marriage by discussing this a little in advance.
  8. Money. Albin and I come from very different socioeconomic statuses, and on top of that our countries deal with various aspects of handling money differently. You and your future spouse should talk about who will keep the budget, whether or not both of you will have access to your joint money (I’ve heard horror stories about this one), tithing, debts, etc. Money is such a touchy subject as it is, and when you add cultural differences, it can cause some serious dissension. You may also want to talk about whether or not you will be supporting anyone else outside of your immediate family. It is very common for foreigners living in the U.S. especially to send money home to help support extended family. Albin and I haven’t dealt with this too often since we live in CR, but many of my friends have needed to have this discussion. Get it out in the open now to avoid conflict later.
  9. Kids. Talk about which cultural customs you plan to uphold when raising your kids. Spanking is illegal in Costa Rica, but I grew up with a paddle at home and one in every car in case we were on the road and someone got crazy. Being on the same page about discipline, language, customs, etc. when raising your kids will save you from a lot of heartache in the future.

I hope this list is helpful and at least gives you some ideas of things to discuss. I know a lot of the items are rather obvious, but it can be easy to overlook areas when you’re lovestruck and swooning over that sexy foreign accent. Most people will talk about these topic before any marriage in general, but try to think through how cultural norms will play into each one.  In the next few weeks I’ll be posting my top ten favorite things about bicultural marriage and top ten not-so-favorite things to give you some more food for thought. As always, if you want to discuss something more specific or have questions, please feel free to hit me up!

Our Non-Honeymoon (First Year Fails: Part I)

I decided that following my last post about the miscarriage we had after our first month of marriage,  I’m going to post a series of blogs about our first year of marriage. You may think I’m being dramatic when I say that our first year was an epic fail; but in this case, I’m not being dramatic. The only two things that didn’t fail: God (because He doesn’t), and our actual marriage commitment (oh, but it came close). Our honeymoon, my residency, our health, our communication, our living situation, our dogs (at first), our Nissan Sentra, my job– they were all a mess. Some of those circumstances were comical (or at least they are now) and some of them were devastating blows to our marriage. Either way, by the time we got to our first anniversary, we felt like we’d been married for ten years. During that time, people who didn’t know us well would continually give us the provocative eyebrow raise and make references about how we were in the “honeymoon period,” but really had no idea that we were barely surviving that special sexy season. Then they would say, “Just wait until year seven, then it really gets difficult.” I think we died inside just a little bit every time we heard that.

Lest you fret that this series of blogs will be entirely negative, this first entry is pretty light and comical, mostly because it was RIGHT after we got married. I can also say that even though a lot of crappy things happened our first year, we did survive, and we’re stronger for it. We’ve struggled immensely, fought hard, and loved well. We’ve come to know each other in amazing ways and have a profound respect for each other now that we’ve seen how the other responds to difficulty. Most importantly, we’ve learned that Christ is the center of our marriage and have come to understand that He is the only reason any marriage is truly successful. I hope these posts are encouraging to any of you who aren’t living a Facebook photo-worthy marriage or feel like you missed the boat on the good old honeymoon period …

Albin was able to get two weeks off for our wedding. He flew to Cincinnati, we got married six days later, flew back to Costa Rica three days later, bought a bed and settled into our apartment for one night, and then spent the next night at my suegra’s (mother-in-law’s) house for our excursión the next day. Excursión sounds so much more exotic than it really is. Basically, appliances are expensive in Costa Rica since they have an import tax placed on them. To get around the import tax, there is a tax-free zone, called “Golfito,” in the southern part of the country. It’s very common to go to Golfito  through an excursión, which is when a company with a bus takes care of your transportation and lodging for your trip. Each person is allowed to spend $1,000 in Golfito per year, so my suegra and Albin’s abuela (grandma) went with us so we could divide up our money to buy our big appliances (found out later that everyone is allowed to spend $2,000 per year, which means suegra and abuela didn’t need to go after all). Back to the story.

We spent the night at my suegra’s and slept in abuela’s single bed (this was the 5th night of marriage, mind you) the night before our expedition. At 5 a.m. we got to the bus stop and a large and in-charge Tica woman named Doña Adelita welcomed a big group of us. We arrived in Golfito in six hours with no problem. We were greeted by a wall of humid heat the minute we got off the bus. By now you know about my sweating problem, so you can imagine. Doña Adelita got up and gave us the “rules.” That day we had three hours to make all of our purchases. We would leave promptly after three hours and head for the border of Panama, where we would spend the night in their “accommodations” and have a chance to shop at the border crossing (i.e. seediest place in the Western Hemisphere). The following day we would return and have two hours to pick up our purchases and get them ready to be shipped back home (it was a rule).

I don’t know how to even describe how this all went down. If you remember the game show “Supermarket Sweep,” then you’ll have an idea. We literally had to run from place to place, comparing prices, bargaining, and buying in 100 degree heat. It was so stressful. Three hours may seem like a lot until you realize you have to compare, bargain, and buy your washer, dryer, oven, microwave, fridge, pots, pans, toaster, blender, Crockpot, and television–all in different stores. On top of that, add in suegra and abuela giving their opinions and telling us what to do, Albin trying to translate everything since I was lost in life, and the lack of sleep due to just getting married. Just imagine me panting and sweating with a deer-in-headlights look on my face as all that bartering and opinionating is going on in Spanish. In literally no time, Doña Adelita was blowing her foghorn and saying it was time to go. Right now.

We shuffled onto the bus headed for the border. Absolute chaos at the border. We eventually arrived at our accommodations which weren’t anything comparable to a hotel, motel, or Holiday Inn. It was an 8×8’ room and it was ghetto. My suegra and abuela graciously took the bunk beds so we newly-weds could take the double bed (6th night of marriage), locked the door tight, and tried to justify in our heads that all of this was completely normal.

The next morning, Doña Adelita rolled up at 5 a.m. and we went back to the free zone to pick up our items. I swear it was hotter than the day before. We secured all of our items and got all of the receipts in order to go through what is essentially a customs line. As we neared the front of the line, Albin started frantically shuffling through the receipts. He couldn’t find the one from the washer and we wouldn’t be allowed out with our new washer without the receipt. Utter panic ensued. We lost our place in the long line and went running to every store trying to find the receipt. So. Much. Sweat.

As abuela guarded our purchases, we ran around rabidly trying to ignore Doña Adelita’s loudspeaker notifying us that we were about to miss the bus. At the last minute, we found that blessed golden ticket at one of the stores and ran back to the line, begging Doña Adelita not to leave us. She had mercy on us and we were able to get our appliances on the shipping truck.

Back on the bus, I passed out immediately and slept for about two hours. Up until this point, the bus was air-conditioned and was the only respite from the unbearable humidity. Naturally, the air-conditioner was overworked and went out. The windows of the bus were airtight (due to it normally being a bus with AC), so there was no air flow. We started stripping. Then the bus driver had the brilliant idea to turn on a movie to distract us. It was reminiscent of Saw III. Between the gore in the movie, the boiling bus, and the curvy mountain road, someone was bound to get sick. Of course it was the lady next to us. She started throwing up and you can imagine how that went seeing as the windows wouldn’t open. People were moaning the whole way home.

The good news is that we made it home. There was a problem with the shipping truck and we didn’t receive our appliances for four days, which wasn’t a huge problem at first since we slept for two days straight. Things started to become dire when our clothes from the excursion started rotting and smelling up our apartment along with the food that couldn’t be kept cold due to no refrigerator. Oh, and did I mention it was Christmas? We went to Denny’s for Christmas breakfast. Sigh.

Moral of the story: Go on a real honeymoon.  Seriously, I know there was the whole thing about not having enough money, or time off work or needing the appliances, but we TOTALLY regret not having a honeymoon.

 

Breakfast Battles

I have no idea if the following topic is just a bicultural marriage issue or if it’s an every marriage issue, but it is fun to write about, so I shall.

I grew up on loads of breakfast cereal. Any time of day was a good time of day for cereal. One of my favorite food-related reasons for going back to Ohio isn’t to eat Olive Garden, but to open up my parents’ pantry and see a cereal buffet. Cereal has been in my top five favorite foods for decades. One of my fondest childhood memories is when I would eat peanut butter Cap’n Crunch until the roof of my mouth would hurt while watching good ole Bob Barker on the Price is Right. Oh, and what did I crave during pregnancy? Cinnamon Honey Bunches of Oats. You can’t get it here in Costa Rica, so I literally dreamed about me finding a cabinet full of it.

Enter Albin. He was used to eating a big plate of gallo pinto (black beans and rice) with sour cream, eggs and toast for just about every breakfast since, well, forever.

When he first came to Cincinnati to visit, he was slightly timid with my family.  As Albin became more comfortable with everyone, he started to seem more uncomfortable with breakfast. Finally, he must have mustered up some confidence because one morning I overheard him ask my mom if we had anything else to eat for breakfast. After a puzzled hesitation, she said yes, thought for a moment, and offered him oatmeal. I have to give it to him, he really tried to seem excited about that “different” option, but I know his Costa Rican brain was telling him that oatmeal was just hot cereal.

My mom noticed his less than authentic excitement and asked what he usually ate for breakfast. He asked if he could just make some eggs. That definitely wasn’t a problem. The best part was that she pulled out a carton of “Egg Beaters.” For those of you unaware of what Egg Beaters are, like Albin was, they are eggs that are already beaten and ready to be poured out of what looks like a milk carton. You should have seen Albin’s face when she gave him that carton. Eggs in a milk carton? He was lost. By that point, I was cracking up. He considered turning her down, but it all worked out in the end and Albin took the plunge with boxed and beaten eggs.

Photo credit: eggbeaters.com

Photo credit: eggbeaters.com

The next weekend, we went camping with a big group and one morning Albin had disappeared. We were looking everywhere for him when suddenly I caught a glimpse of a man creeping around my grandparents’ camper. Turns out they felt sorry for him and invited him to eat breakfast with them. He was overjoyed to find out that they were having (real) eggs, sausage, bacon, and toast.

That was just a foretaste of things to come. Breakfast was definitely another thing for us. Apparently a lot of our cultural things have to do with food, but let’s be honest, a big part of our day is dedicated to eating. Up until this day, I still avoid eye contact on Saturday mornings when I know Albin is looking at me with longing, hoping that I will say those magical words, “What if I make gallo pinto?” Don’t worry, I do make it. I’m not completely heartless. In fact, I’ve grown to love beans and rice for breakfast. Just as cereal has definitely grown on him. I’ve even opened up his horizons and blown his mind with different kinds of pancakes. He had never tried a blueberry (or banana, or chocolate chip) pancake before we were married! Once his eyes were opened, he got a little out of hand. I remember one day he surprised me by getting crazy and making pancakes with apples, cinnamon, and chocolate chips in them.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose. Our children will have a nice assortment of both cereal and gallo pinto throughout the week, with the occasional randomly flavored pancake thrown in. In a funny way, our breakfast is kind of like our relationship. I love that.

Wildly Successful Marriage

Nobody wants their marriage to fail, including me. Before I got married, not only did I not want to fail, I wanted my marriage to be wildly successful. I loved to win. I wanted to be the best at everything I did. My parents have an amazing marriage. In my mind, it was pretty near perfect. It hasn’t been easy for them, but they have set an incredible example. In my mind, their example was the standard. I was crushed when I found out that I couldn’t meet my own high expectations.

When Albin and I first started dating, a well-meaning missionary lady asked me to get coffee. She told me she had worked with several bicultural couples over the years and that they hadn’t had much success. She told me a few horror stories about her friends. In some cases, the problem wasn’t the cultural difference, the problem was that they married crazy people. There was, however, some truth to a lot of what she said and I appreciated that she cared for me. A little seed of fear was planted.

Throughout the rest of our dating relationship, engagement, and marriage, we encountered SO many people that were more than happy to give us any negative comment, horror story, or struggle they’d ever heard of in a bicultural marriage. Each time, another little seed of fear was planted in my heart. Comments about how we would be miserable, how Albin would treat me as a second-class citizen, how the Tico man/Gringa woman marriage was rated the most likely to fail (how does one even measure that?!). On several occasions I was told that I was crazy to stop traveling and get married to live in Costa Rica. I am not kidding you; the list could go on and on.

The problem was that the negative comments came so often that I started to believe them. All that fear became a huge ball of anxiety in my gut. Fear about things that weren’t even close to being true about my husband, about my marriage, or about my life. I was discouraged and had a hard time recognizing what was true and what were pure lies. We went through a lot of difficult challenges during that period, and each time I felt like all those negative people had been right after all.

Here we are "cutting" our first anniversary cake...

Here we are “cutting?” our first anniversary cake…

We finally went to marriage counseling and I told the couple we were working with that I felt like such a failure. I still wanted my marriage to be wildly successful, but I didn’t know if that was even possible based on all the negativity I had heard. One thing the counselor said totally changed my perspective.

You need to make your own success.

It’s simple, but it was the proverbial shot to the heart. I had been basing my idea of success off of what I saw from my parents, pictures on Facebook, my friends’ marriages, my unattainable expectations, etc. I was doing a lot of comparing, and that is never healthy.

Albin and I started praying that God would show us what His idea of a successful marriage was. Hearing His truth spoken over us was amazing. He showed us how to reject the negativity spoken over our marriage and how to set limits with people who were literally speaking death over us and stealing joy from our marriage. We started guarding our hearts and minds against all of the attacks.

We realized that we needed to make our own “culture” that worked for our family. We chose our favorite parts from each of our upbringings and instilled those into our family culture. I was reminded again that one of the very reasons that I was attracted to Albin in the first place was his culture and that he was different than anyone I’d ever met. I decided that I couldn’t let the negativity of others steal the joy from what is one of the things that attracted me to him in the first place.

Ultimately, our success comes from Jesus. He shows us what true success looks like. We can read over all the statistics in the world about bicultural marriages; but none of those statistics are taking into account that both of us are surrendered to Jesus and that a relationship with Him changes everything.

I still want my marriage to be wildly successful. We haven’t “arrived” by any means, but I can tell you that our perspective of success has changed for the better. Though we only have three and a half years of experience under our belts, we are on a mission to encourage all of you who are bicultural marriages and relationships out there. We want to be painfully real and extremely honest, but we also want to speak life, encouragement, and fight fear.

Just remember that what you’re fighting so hard for is worth it. It’s possible. You can be wildly successful.

And a note to my husband, Albin:

So many of the negative comments that were made about you and us were as far from the truth as possible. I will never be able to express how grateful I am to you for your faithfulness and unconditional love. The way you have loved me and our daughter (and our ridiculous dogs) is such a testimony to me. You are the most unselfish, caring, and patient man I’ve ever met. I am so glad that none of the Debbie Downers talked me out of marrying you. You are such a blessing from God to me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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