06 September 2009

"our bread" : living life in the details

A few years back (what now to me seems like a lifetime ago) while I was working on my Masters Thesis, I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico to study Spanish, zapatismo, and international social revolution. I'd gone there because, ever since traveling through Mexico as a tourist a few years prior, I'd been fascinated by the region, and even more so with the cultural, political, and social revolution being waged by the indigenous people there. The Zapatista movement attracts people from all walks of life, from all around the globe, people who are committed to working together to improving the lives of Mexico's indigenous peoples, and to applying the knowledge they gain in that work to their own lives and work at home and elsewhere.

My ticket "in" to the Zapatista movement came through the language school they operated in Zapatista territory in the highlands of Chiapas. I'd write about it later in my thesis on language acquisition, transnational social activism, and tourism, a pile of pages that's likely collecting dust at my university library right now. But it was hugely important at the time.

While in Zapatista territory, I shared three very simple meals a day with my fellow language students. A little fruit for breakfast. Beans and tortillas for lunch, pasta and beans for dinner. The occasional sandwich with fresh cheese and tomatoes that I'm sure gave more of us food poisoning than not. There was a couple there, about my age, who I'd, to myself, labeled the "hippy couple." She was a yoga instructor and a new ACLU recruit, and he was an ex-businessman who'd packed it in, temporarily, to camp his way around Mexico searching for some of the best mushrooms on offer. I liked them, despite my initial labeling attempt because, like anyone, they both turned out to be infinitely more complex than I'd at first given them credit.

One of the very "hippy" things the "hippy couple" did was initiate a supper ritual that I played along with but never really took to. During our meal, they asked us all to go around the table and all share what, to us, was the favorite part of the day we'd just lived together. I'd get all shaky, wracking my brains for something profound, or just something, to say when it came my turn. Never was my contribution very profound, though I felt it should be since we were, after all, in the middle of the cold and misty Mexican mountains surrounded by indigenous rebels (some who even wore ski masks!) with whom we struggled under the common banner of bringing health care, education, participatory democracy, and a host of other basic rights to the forgotten classes in
both Mexico and around the globe.

But hard as I'd try, most of the "favorite parts" I'd share were, like they were back home, simple moments. Talking with children, walking past a shed in the twilight listening to Mexican pop music played live by a couple of musicians in residence, spending the afternoon painting murals in the pouring rain, hoping the artist I was "helping out" wouldn't catch on to the fact that I'd nearly flunked out of art class in Junior High and had practically sworn it off since then. None of these shared moments were earth-shattering. None, in and of themselves, would change my life, or anyone else's for that matter. But what I came to realize, well after the "hippy coup
le" and I parted ways was that, collectively, these moments did have a profound effect on me and on how I view the world and my place in it. I go back to and relive moments in Chiapas in my mind more than just about any other time or place I've been to in my life. And of course, what they taught me, what I scoffed at back then but fully appreciate now, was that reflecting on those moments, as close as you can to when you're in them, makes them last longer. It makes you more present with the people you share your life with. And sharing those reflections gives you insight not only into others' lives, but into your own.

I remembered this a few months back, and began using it as part of my nighttime ritual with Jules. After we've put on jammies, used the potty (this is new!), brushed teeth, read books and turned out the lights, we lie in his bed in the dark together and share with each other our favorite part of the day. More often than not, what he tells me surprises me. He'll pick out a moment that I'd breezed by when we were together, or that I was not a part of because it happened at preschool. Most of the moments he shares are cute, sweet, 3 year old bits of fun and happiness, but occasionally he uses them to share with me his fears or embarrassments of the day and work through them. A few days ago, when I asked him what his favorite part of the day was, he told me "making bread with you, mama." This really surprised me, since I felt I'd been too impatient with him, hadn't let him touch the dough enough, had been too preoccupied with the bread turning out (it's just flour and milk and salt and sugar and yeast, after all). I thought I'd ruined the fun for him. I'm pretty sure I yelled at him, at least once. It was a failure for me. One of many parenting failures I'd been ticking off in my head lately. But Jules enjoyed it. No, more than that. It was his favorite part of the day. This was huge to me.

That first loaf lasted us about three days, and every day, at just about every meal, Jules asked for a slice of "our bread." I just about cried every time I cut him off a piece.

I think I'm making my way toward some big a-ha moment, though I still can't quite put my finger on it, and certainly won't do so before my fingers stop typing this post. But it starts out something like this:

While my life now may seem infinitely more mundane than it did when I was a child-free, globetrotting, polilingual, academic revolutionary, it's not. It's these little moments, about things as seemingly ordinary as a loaf of bread, smushed around on the counter by me and my kid, that can reduce me to tears precisely because they are extraordinary to me at the place I'm at in my life. And more than that, they're affecting me, shaping me, in ways that I may only come to recognize long after these "little moments" have passed.

More eloquent than that, I can't be at the moment. But I'm working on it. Just come back to me later.


  1. FABULOUS post Kristi! We do the "favorite part of the day" at the dinner table but I bet bedtime would be even more reflective.

  2. Oh, Kristi, how heart warming to read this.
    I also tried a few times thru the years with my son to have this "ritual" in different forms, times, and places. I tried to make it work but it didn't last long. My son is not much of a talker, that when he needs to answer other people's questions (I think it's a control thing). But for the short periods when it did work, it was fantastic and sometimes mind blowing indeed.
    As for cooking/baking together, we had that too. I learned though to relax and be more flexible, it took a loooot of practice :)

  3. Actually, that was pretty powerful and eloquent. You sell yourself short.


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