Living Slower With… Becky Morales

June 25, 2012

Morales Family

Becky Morales is a remarkable woman for a lot of reasons but I’m especially drawn to her because she’s living one of my alternative lives. An ESL teacher with a passion for multi-cultural education and traveling the world, she and her husband Antonio are the proud parents of four — two by adoption. Becky makes family life look exciting and interesting — and that comes through on her web site, kidworldcitizen, a helpful resource for families who want to bring the riches of other cultures and traditions into their own homes. Friends, I know you’ll love this interview with Becky as much as I do.

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Zoe Saint-Paul: Some people have commented that your family looks like a mini United Nations. How did you come to build such an interesting little tribe?

Becky Morales: My husband is from Mexico City, and we met when he was an exchange student in the U.S. On one of our first dates, he told me he wanted to adopt because he had volunteered at an orphanage in Mexico. He didn’t realize that when I was 15, I traveled with my dad to bring home my brother and sister from Peru. So we always had adoption on our minds and knew we’d choose it to grow our family. We first tried to adopt from Latin America (since we speak Spanish), but switched to China for our first son. Once we had two daughters (biological) and then Tonito at home, we knew we’d adopt one more little boy. We were open-minded about where he’d be from and then heard about the Ethiopia program. We turned in our homestudy in February and a month later were matched with almost 3-year-old Ricky. It went very quickly, and he fits perfectly in our family.

Morales Children

Besides the gift of your two sons, what has adoption brought to your life?

We are so blessed. Everyday I wonder how I came to be so lucky to be the mom to my four beautiful children. When I married Antonio, he and I adopted many traditions from each other. As we added more countries and became a truly multicultural family  — U.S., Mexico, China, Ethiopia — we enriched our lives with more customs, food, languages, and celebrations. All of our kids like to celebrate Easter at the Ethiopian church, eating from the huge buffet of homemade injera and wot and playing basketball with the other kids; we also love to celebrate Chinese New Year at the Chinese Consulate every year, enjoying the lion dancers and drummers, the dragon dance, and all of the games and food associated with the holiday. We’re fortunate to have a large Chinese population in our town and an Ethiopian church that is extremely welcoming to adoptive families. These experiences would not have been on our radar if we hadn’t searched them out. Even simple things like taking out books from the library about our adoptive cultures help enrich our family.

Becky Morales

Travel is a passion of yours and you’ve been to many places. How has it changed you?

It’s changed the way I understand the world, how I interact with others, and how I teach my children. The first time I traveled, I was 15 and went to Peru — really, really off the beaten track. It was completely life-changing. The food, the culture, the architecture, the amazing scenery, Machu Picchu, the wonderfully warm people, the poverty, the colors…I was completely blown away. I was bitten by the travel bug and couldn’t wait to go on another adventure. As a college student I studied abroad twice, immersing myself in Spanish and then Ecuadorian culture and language. I love making friends in other parts of the world and seeing how they spend their time, celebrate, and share with their families. I teach ESL to immigrants and am a better, more compassionate teacher because I have an idea of where my students are coming from, and some of the difficulties they have acclimating and adapting to their new culture. I think traveling and learning the different circumstances under which people live, and the small amount of resources that are really necessary, changes the way we choose to live our lives.

Becky & Antonio Morales What travel experience can you never forget?

It’s so hard to choose just one! I’ll never forget the two-week trip Antonio and I took through southern Ethiopia. We were able to experience the culture, food, and traditions of our son’s heritage. During the trip, we met many children who sang us songs, invited us into their homes, introduced us to their parents, and showed off their soccer skills. Two favorite memories come from connections we made without sharing a single word of the same language: The first was in a market in a town called Dimeka, where the Hamer people live. Little kids were surrounding us and trying to communicate, and showing off. They wanted to talk with us so badly, and I couldn’t figure out a way to have a conversation. I ended up taking out a picture of my three kids at home (Tonito, Viviana, and Maya) and explaining that I was their mom.  Through miming and gestures they asked (and I explained) that my two daughters were biological and Tonito was adopted from China — they were very interested that he was Chinese. Our translator came over to explain that we were adopting a little boy from Ethiopia and the kids were applauding and hugging us.

My second favorite memory was when we visited the Mursi tribe, way in the lower Omo Valley. It was an awkward, uncomfortable visit. The Mursi tribe is known to be demanding of payment for photos; they’re seen by Westerners to be one of the most primitive tribes in the world — half-naked, painted and scarred bodies, and huge clay disks in the lips and ears of the married women are so unique that they attract tourists who want to take pictures. The entire village surrounded us, begging for photos, grabbing us and demanding “3 birr photo.” Our local guide tried to explain that bringing tourism to the Mursi tribes enables them to maintain their traditions. An older gentleman from the Mursi tribe looked curiously at my camera and seemed to want to play with it. I showed him how it worked, and he proceeded to take over 100 pictures of me, laughing hysterically by the end. The stress of the situation instantly dissipated and laughter filled the village. As they snapped pictures of me, I’d charge them “3 birr!!! No, 5 birr!”– a joke that had them cracking up, even though we didn’t speak the same language. They say that humor doesn’t translate, but both sides were repeating the joke and laughing again and again.

Becky With Mursai Tribe

Most people think traveling with children is too stressful. How have you made it work? How can parents build travel into their family’s life?

Kids have a bad rap. Yes, they get crabby, and they have tantrums, but they’re also extremely flexible if we keep exposing them to new experiences. They become good travelers if they get to practice. I take my kids everywhere with me, whether it’s the DMV, shopping, a quiet corner while I’m volunteering, meetings at school (where they need to sit quietly in the corner). Sometimes we’re successful, other times I need to leave early. But more often than not, if I’m prepared, the kids do great. These everyday experiences help them to be better little travelers. My kids are happier when they’re not hungry or thirsty, so I always have snacks for emergencies. I also play silly games or sing songs, tell them stories, etc. We do day trips all the time, weekend trips, and of course longer road trips whenever we get vacation time. When traveling by air, I suggest you allow plenty of time to eliminate the stress of running late, and acknowledge that 1) you’ll be slow going through security, 2) something will go wrong, so pack extra clothes/undies/wipes/snacks, and 3) your kids are only kids, and you’ll never see any of your fellow passengers again.

Morales Boys on Plane

We’ve had some major meltdowns when traveling. I remember one time in Hong Kong at the train station, two guards with huge guns came over to tell us we needed to “silence” our 3-year-old daughter, who was in the middle of a tantrum because I couldn’t carry her in the skinny lines with all of our bags, etc. She was tired, I was exhausted, our emergency lollypops were in our checked bags instead of our carry-ons, and I just smiled and said, “I can’t make her stop crying, I’m so sorry.” He then led us to the front of the line of customs, we made it through, and she finally stopped, happy to be running around and out of the long line.

It’s a process, but I think if parents are too scared to travel and don’t give their kids a chance to experience it, then of course their kids won’t be used to it, won’t know how to behave, and won’t be pleasant travelers. Remember to have a sense of humor and take things in stride.

Tonito Traveling

I’m a big fan of your website kidworldcitizen.org, where you share global activities you’ve used in the classroom and with your own children — games, traditional celebrations, recipes, arts & crafts, etc. Why is it important to teach children to be “citizens of the world”?

I truly believe if we teach kids about the world beyond their community, they will grow up to be culturally competent and compassionate world citizens. Educators and policymakers talk about 21st-century skills: critical thinking, problem solving, and communication. But there’s a global component to these skills: leadership, solving problems that affect the world, communicating across cultures. These can be taught to our youngest students through simple activities that help them gain a global and cultural awareness, and a realization that they play an important role in the world. Kids are very open to learning about other cultures, especially when they experience it through mediums they enjoy, like music, food, books, and movies.

You train ESL teachers and speak and write about multicultural education topics. How do you juggle your passions and work with the demands of motherhood?

My kids come first, which sometimes means I don’t always meet deadlines, I’m late to meetings, or I take longer to do things than I’d like. I’m learning to say no, though it’s not always easy. The volunteer teacher-training I do is only a couple times a month, and I bring my kids with me and they sit in the corner coloring, reading, or watching a DVD. I think it’s wonderful for kids to witness their parents volunteering time to help others.

I love my website because it combines all of my passions: I love to do crafts with my kids, cook with them, read them books, travel with them — we do most of these projects together on weekends and after school. I usually write at night once they’re in bed. We don’t have cable or any channels on our TV (but we do have Netflix), so at night I sit with my laptop while my husband either studies or watches movies. That’s when I relax.

Take us on a brief tour of your typical day.

I can’t do carpool for school because it’s too stressful — we either bike or walk in the morning. After I drop off the big kids, I take the little ones to their preschool or we go to the YMCA for a quick workout. We then visit the library or a park or play at home. After lunch, we read books and then do some coloring or puzzles while I make dinner. I love to cook and hate to rush, so I usually make dinner around 1 pm — either prepping it or actually fully cooking it. We walk or bike to get the big kids from school and spend a bit of time talking about their day, maybe start homework. Before dinner there’s inevitably an activity or sport, and afterwards it’s bedtime for the kids while I work on my website or ebook.

Slow living is about things like simplicity, beauty, connection, community, and not rushing through life all the time. How do you incorporate these ideals into your busy life?

We live in a wonderful community where parents are very involved in school and activities, and everywhere I go I run into someone we know. This helps if we need someone to watch one of the kids or carpool to activities. We limit the amount of activities our kids are in and maximize our time there by encouraging our children to do the same activities. So, for example, we have all four children in swim team, so we all go to the same practices and meets. We always have dinner as a family and rarely eat out — I think family dinners are so important to reconnect and talk about what’s happened during the day, what’s going on in everyone’s classes and with friends. Plus, all of my kids love to eat and love to talk, so it’s a happy time. We don’t watch TV; eliminating that background noise focuses the attention on our conversations. Our kids are growing up fast and I feel like we need to appreciate our time together before they grow up. When I first started my website, I was spending too much time in front of a screen and would only half pay attention to what was going on around me. My husband and I decided that we’d make a more conscious effort to give our undivided attention to the kids — so no phones or screens at the table or whenever any of the kids are talking to us. It’s a simple rule that the kids appreciate — and hopefully we’re setting an example for them.

What is your best tip for living well?

Do what you love and love what you do. You really do have the power to change your situation if you think creatively, work hard, and have patience to see it through. If you’re stuck in a job or situation you hate, write down all of the steps that need to happen in order to change it, and then work through them one by one and get to where you want to be. Life is too short to be unhappy and trapped.

What drives you and what relaxes you?

My family drives me — I’m devoted to their well-being. At the same time, I know I’m a better mom, wife, and friend when I am well-rested and healthy. This means I do make time for myself to work out and take care of myself. As for what relaxes me… I love the feeling after a good workout. I love when I have a clean house. I am completely relaxed when I’m in the kitchen cooking, or when I am snuggling on the couch reading to my kids. I also love my garden and being outside in nature.

What’s your greatest challenge right now?

My youngest has one more year before he starts kindergarten, and I’m trying to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up.” The biggest, most challenging decision I ever made was to stay home with my  kids and leave my teaching career. Now that all four kids will be in school, I’m trying to decide if I want to go back to teaching, go back to school, or try something completely different. I overanalyze decisions because I worry I’ll have regrets, so I’m trying to look at all of my options. Most people can’t understand why this is such a challenge, but I see an ocean of opportunities in front of me; I’m interested in so many different areas.

Your guilty pleasure is…

Haha, when I cook in the kitchen and no one is around I watch reality shows on hulu!

If you and your husband could get away just the two of you right now, where would you go?

If I could get a babysitter, I’d be happy to just be alone with my husband and go anywhere! I’ve always been drawn to Tanzania/Kenya…or maybe a tour through India.

Morales Family2

If you could pass along one important lesson to your children, what would it be?

I want my kids to be compassionate. They might not be the most athletic or the valedictorian, but if I raise compassionate, truly nice, decent kids who follow their dreams, I’ll be the happiest mom.

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Thanks for spending time with us here on SlowMama, Becky — you show us that adventure doesn’t have to stop when kids show up, and I know parents will find inspiration in how you teach your children about the world. We’ll be keeping up with your beautiful family and helpful resources on kidworldcitizen.org!

Images provided by Becky Morales

 

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1 Becky June 25, 2012 at 12:19 pm

I loved the interview- thank you so much!

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2 Zoe Saint-Paul June 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Thank YOU, Becky!

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3 Larry Hersam June 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Just reading this interview has exhausted me. I’ve known Becky her whole life and she has always been a very special person.

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4 Zoe Saint-Paul June 25, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I felt the same way reading her answers — she must have the energy of five people and then some!

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5 online kredit arbeitslose February 11, 2017 at 11:28 am

Esa Ana!!! Qué de cosas nos cuentas! Pásatelo bien y aprende mucho!!! Con esta reflexión dan aún más ganas de pillar vacaciones, jejeje.Un beso

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6 Melissa Abadie June 25, 2012 at 5:49 pm

What an amazing family! Thanks for featuring them in this informative interview!

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7 Zoe Saint-Paul June 26, 2012 at 7:42 pm

My pleasure!

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8 Therese June 26, 2012 at 1:31 pm

What a beautiful family! Thank you for “introducing” us!

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9 Zoe Saint-Paul June 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm

You and Becky could swap some fabulous travel stories, I bet!

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10 julie mladic June 26, 2012 at 4:13 pm

I loved reading this article. Becky has given many excellent ideas about traveling with children, juggling everyone’s schedule and tips for living well. I have 5 grown or almost grown children, and think anyone could use the suggestions she talked about, like doing what you love & love what you’re doing, slowing down and seeing what your priorities are for your family. Great job Becky!

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11 Zoe Saint-Paul June 26, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Hmmm.. I see a book in Becky’s future.

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12 Annie Barsch June 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm

As Becky’s cousin I took know what an amazing inspiring woman she is! So glad to see her highlighted for her talents.

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13 Tere Cornejo June 26, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Becky and Antonio make me feel so proud and happy. Seeing them pursue their ideals, I have known Antonio since he was a boy and met Becky when they were dating and was ever so thrilled when I was invited to their wedding. Seeing them with their kids doing what they do whatever it be is always a pleasure and a joy. Hope returns to ones heart just to know they believe in raising a FAMILY in growing up together as individuals. May God bless them and their lovely families.

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14 Jamie June 27, 2012 at 12:08 am

I love Becky! This family inspires me to no end!

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