How I Plan to Retrace My Mom’s Steps Once Covid is Finally Over

Tonight I’ve decided to cook dinner on my cast iron dutch oven thing. I usually reserve this tool for camping and cooking over a fire, but I want to cook outside. I’m trying it out on the grill.

This afternoon over pizza with my family and my parents, a novel idea came to mind. It started a few weeks ago when Husband was curious about what brought my parents to the United States. When he first asked me, I was amazed that I didn’t know the answer to the question. Surely I had heard the story of my parents immigrating. But no. I don’t think I had. Because when the answer to the question came out over dinner one night, the protests at the Francisco Jose de Caldas District University that shut down the univeristy right when my dad had matriculated did not come to mind.

My mom, it turns out, had also spent a few years in college before leaving it all behind for good. She was headed toward a degree in petrochemical engineering, priming for a career at Ecopetrol, the largest primary petroleum company in Colombia.

“It’s your alternate reality, mom.” I said, “And in that alternate reality, none of us are here.”

My great and novel idea is this: when all this Covid travel anxiety is behind us, I will travel to Colombia and retrace my mom’s steps. Maybe dad’s too if there’s time. I will visit the town my mom lived in, and the university she and my dad almost graduated from, and the streets where they grew up.

In the meantime, I will ask questions. And sit here while I wait for the results of my outside cooking experiment.

Respect Your Domestic Help

In Colombia, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, if you were middle-class, you probably had live-in domestic help, and you probably called her La Muchacha. She might be an adult. She might be a kid. She definitely came from the countryside.

The topic came up at lunch a month or so ago. My mom remembered the Muchacha from her household, a young girl the same age as my mom was at the time. But unlike my mom, the Muchacha did not get to spend time with her mother and family and did not go to school. She was invisible to Bogotá society. She did not rate.

Today things are a bit different in Colombia. But everywhere, including the U.S., a similar problem persists, where disadvantaged people perform domestic work within an informal economy for less than minimum wage, and the like.

If you want to do right by the people who do paid work in your home, treat them with respect. Meaning, treat them the way any kind, fair boss would treat an employee. I suggest the following:

Provide expectations. Tell her how you want the floor cleaned. Tell him how you want the grass cut.

Provide clarity. Tell her that you plan to stay with her for at least six months at two visits per month, for example. Mean it.

Pay people reliably and on time. Duh. 

Pay people at least minimum wage. Come on. 

Talk about how to handle reschedulings and cancelations. They will happen.

Offer a “Thank You” gift at Christmas time. This is a nice thing to do.

Respect is not about going above and beyond. Respect is about treating people the way anyone deserves to be treated.

Just because you can’t measure it, doesn’t mean it’s not important

John Boyd said that. But they say the opposite in science fields. They say, if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. 

Of course, we know this isn’t true. Still, people get in a lot of trouble this way because a heuristic unfolds. It goes something like this: if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter, and if it doesn’t matter, it can be ignored. 

If you can’t measure it —> Ignore it

Feelings, emotions, ideas, and other abstractions are hard to measure. Activities, dollars, and things are easy. Don’t ignore the abstract, the hard to quantify and measure. Pay attention to it. It might be important. This short piece in The Atlantic says it best.

Try New Things As A Family

It’s easy to sit and do nothing with the family this holiday. Making memories takes effort. You are busy. You have a long to-do list. Most people only have Thursday and Friday off. I’m not being pejorative, either. These things are all true. And sure, there is the Thanksgiving event, and that is a thing, but what about the rest of the days when everyone is home?

Trying new things doesn’t have to be epic. It doesn’t even have to cost money (well, maybe a little). All you need is something out of the ordinary to create a memory. Here are some ideas: 

1. Ride bikes or walk to the nearest grocery store only to purchase a four-pack of Dove ice-cream bars. Eat them immediately. 

2. Go to Target or Walmart and purchase Monopoly Deal. Play it. 

3. Go for a walk in inclement weather. Dress appropriately. 

4. Get vanilla cones from McDonalds. Since most fast-food dining is closed, eat them sitting on the curb. 

5.  Create a media event, with popcorn and candy, and watch the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (or maybe just Infinity War and Endgame). 

You can come up with a dozen other things. Better things. Easy things. Don’t play on your phone all break. Don’t let your kids languish on the iPad the entire time. A lot of iPad or Xbox time is fine and realistic. Set aside an hour or two for something different.