It's been a tough week. My husband up and told me, with literally no warning, that he was going to go to the states for an undefined period of time to help his brother with a construction project. Those of you who have followed me here from my old blog,newtofarmlife.blogspot.com , know that sudden announcements of this kind are one of my husband's specialties. See, for example, When the Cat's Away (the Mice Will Get Some Work Done).
Homero taking off to Mexico on short notice for unspecified lengths of time is a long-running theme of our marriage, and while I can't say I like it, I have become resigned to it. It never occurred to me, however, that while we were living here in Oaxaca, he would do the same thing in reverse. I was seriously non-plussed to hear that his disappearing act isn't just a US phenomenon, but apparently a permanent part of his personality. Oh, the things you learn about your partner, even after fourteen years together.
He is willing to negotiate, up to a point, and so we came to the agreement that he would be gone for no more than three weeks. That's as long as I've ever been on my own with the kids in our married life, and I was doing it in my own home, not in a foreign country where I have no standing apart from that of Homero's wife.
Oh that sounds crazy? Surely, after giving the family two grandchildren and celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary - surely after bestowing American citizenship on Homero and after inviting various members of his family into my home for lengths of time up to seven months, surely I have some individual status? Well, no.
It took less than twenty-four hours for my brother-in-law to make it clear that the respect with which he had been treating me (such as he perceived it) was a show put on for his brother. I'm not going to get into a bunch of nitty-gritty details, but we got into a screaming argument which culminated with him telling me I should shut up because this wasn't my house and I had no right to be here.
So I left. I took the kids, the car (source of friction), and the dog, and I went and spent the night at this glorious little hotel, less than a mile from our house. It's called the Casa de Adobe, in San Felipe del Agua, and it is lovely and reasonably priced. The rooms are spacious and tasteful; the pool is clear and clean and cool; the service is adequate, and I lament that I only had enough money to spend a single night there. I can't really recommend this hotel to the casual visitor, because it is too far from downtown. Unless what you really like in a vacation is lounging by the pool with a book, in which case it's perfect.
Homero will not be home for another two weeks. Since I got back to the house, I haven't seen my brother-in-law, and if I do I'm going to ignore him as completely as possible. I am also looking into the possibility of renting my own car. I'd love to have an apartment of our own, but I'm morally certain that the mere mention of this desire will get me shunned by all members of the family, husband included. Apparently in this communal culture, a desire for independence and privacy is tantamount to insulting the family hospitality.
My mother-in-law's hospitality is not in question. The fact that she would invite all four of us to spend an entire year in her house - and apparently be genuinely delighted about it - is simply amazing to me. A few years ago, when my husband unexpectedly brought home four of his relatives to spend six weeks or so in our house ("surprise!"). I made it through, but with considerably less grace than my mother-in-law has shown in ten times the amount of time. I tell myself that it's not comparable, because Mexicans are raised to expect this sort of thing, whereas Americans like me are raised in hermetically sealed bubbles and never expected to tolerate the least breach of privacy.
The fact is, I fairly often congratulate myself on dealing with situations that my American relatives and friends would consider extreme, but which are merely routine for most Mexicans. This can be pulled off among Americans - three hours notice of hosting four relatives for an unknown length of time not less than a month? Wow, Aimee, you're a hero! The same situation told to a group of Mexicans? Yawn, it's tuesday.
When we first began seriously talking about spending a year in Oaxaca, we agreed we would rent a house. But financial realities intruded, and Homero's mother expressed real hurt at the idea that we wouldn't want to stay in her house. So we bent, and decided we would stay in this house, but I said I needed a kitchen of my own, be it as humble as a hot plate and a five gallon jug of water, upstairs. That didn't happen either. We thought we would have our own car - and then that idea went by the wayside as well. Homero assured me that none of these things would be issues, but I knew better.
I'm a woman, and I've been the mistress of my own home (and the pilot of my own car) for more than twenty years. I knew for damn certain that there was going to be tension around these issues. But what could I say that didn't make me sound like a spoiled American princess? If I demand that Homero take my side on certain issues, it comes out sounding like an ultimatum: "tell me you love me more than you love your own family." Clearly, that's a steaming pile of bullshit, and deserves to be treated as such.
I've sat here for ten minutes thinking this over. I think that perhaps the best course is to be proactive right now, while Homero is still in the states. I'll buy a table, haul it up the spiral staircase (never mind how; one thing at a time) and make myself a little kitchen on top of it. I really don't need much: a one burner hot plate, a shelf for plates and cups, and maybe a styrofoam cooler to keep a few fresh ingredients in along with a bag of ice.
The car is a little harder. That's a problem for another day.