A Week of Surprise Dates

This was the last week of summer vacation for the school children of Banderas Bay.  On Monday, they will head back to school after a 4 or 5-week break.  Like children everywhere, they are not happy about the end of freedom, the beginning of perceived bondage.  Someday they will remember these as the simplest days of their lives, but for now it’s just school with its early mornings (school starts at 7:30 here) and afternoon homework.

Some of the children went to stay with immediate family or extended family during the break.  I have worried about them because I know they may have been left alone while parents or grandparents worked and they may not have had much to eat.  I will feel better when everyone is back safe in our care. But many stayed at Manos de Amor for the entire summer and we continued with English classes twice a week.  We went to the pool and the beach and played games and went for rides in the golf cart.  This week Grant and I decided to celebrate the last week of vacation by taking each of the children on a surprise date.  We took most of them in pairs, but the littlest girls are impossible to separate so we took all 5 of them together.  Although we know that living at Manos de Amor Casa Hogar has made a huge difference in each child’s life, we also recognize that living in an institution can never be quite like being in a family.  These children long to spend one-on-one time with grown-ups who love them and we knew they would be excited to head out for a treat with us.  We didn’t tell them what we would be doing – each date was a surprise.

Samantha and Mareli

On Friday, we picked up the two oldest girls and headed to the theatre to watch Despicable Me 3.  I had checked online for the movie times and dates – I double and triple checked.  The movie was to be on at 11:00 at the mall in the next town.  Of course, as per Mexico, schedules mean nothing and when we arrived at the theatre, the ticket counter was dark.  Others were waiting as well, until an employee told us all “No, we’re not having it today”.   Our very first date of the week and our plan was already in jeopardy.  I quickly went online and found out the movie was showing in Vallarta in 90 minutes – and looking at the puppy dog eyes of these two girls I knew we had no choice.  We headed into Vallarta to the bigger mall where we had lunch, played a couple arcade games, and watched the movie with giant tubs of popcorn, both plain and caramel.  They loved the movie but do you know what made them the most excited?   The escalator and the automatic hand dryer.  It seemed they had never used either before and they just laughed and laughed.  Samantha said, “You’re the Mom and Gran is the Dad (they just can’t say Grant) and we’re a family.”  Before heading home, we stopped at the giant bead store where they each picked out one charm to remember the day by.  It was a good day.


Cesar and Luisito

On Monday, we picked up two of the boys in our Golf Cart and took them to our house for an afternoon of Wii video games and a hot dog BBQ.  As they came into our very simple house, Luisito said “You must be so rich – you have a TV and games and an office.”  Well that’s humbling considering how often I grumble about what I think I lack.   We laughed and laughed as they raced cars, played tennis and baseball and boxing.  A perfect boy date.

The Littles

On Tuesday it was the little girls’ turn – 5 of them, aged 5-7.  They were waiting at the door when we arrived and the next 4 hours was nothing but a pure giggle fest.  We took them to a little zoo in Nuevo Vallarta where we fed the turtles and fish.  Then we headed indoors to the nearby mall to play in the giant play structure, eat pizza and Happy Meals and finish off with ice cream sundaes.   I am not really sure if the littlest ones understand that we don’t speak the same language – they just keep talking and we just keep nodding and laughing.  It seems to work.

Fernanda and Santiago

We have known these two for many years – they used to live at Manos de Amor but at some point, went back to live with their father.  They were visiting for a few days and when we arrived back after our zoo date, they were waiting by the door with expectancy.  What about them?  Could they go with us too?  Honestly, I was pooped, and we had English classes to teach in a couple of hours, but they looked so sad.  How could we turn them down?  So we put them in the golf cart and took them home – Wii games were waiting.  It was hilarious watching these spunky siblings fight it out – but I was so sad as I watched Fernanda’s tiny arms swing the tennis racket.  She is too thin and that scares me.


Carlos and Brayan

Wednesday was another Video Game and Hot Dog Day with these two brothers. This day was kind of special to us.  These two boys were the first children we ever met at Manos de Amor on our very first visit 6 years ago.  They captured our heart then and that was really the start of our “Moving to Mexico” journey.   They have had a tough life – their Dad died when they were very young and their mom left.  They live with grandparents who really can’t care for them.  Manos de Amor has been the only constant in their young lives.  Watching them play with Grant in our home felt like coming full circle in this adventure.

Meeting Carlos & Brayan in 2011 – the day I fell in love with Mexico’s children.  Who could have guessed the road ahead!

Grand Finale Water Fight Party

Thursday was the party to end Date week – and more importantly to end the summer.  We filled up 350 water balloons, cranked up the music and spent the afternoon drenching one another.  When the water balloons ran out, Carlos introduced the hose and that took it all to a whole new level.  Grant and I were not spared – in fact we were ganged up on – and with 32 degree heat, it felt really good!  We finished it all off with a bunch of pizza and danced around the patio with Brayan as our DJ.  I was tired, but we weren’t quite finished…..

Jorge and Victor

These two guys don’t live at Manos de Amor, but they live in the neighborhood and are in our English class.  We couldn’t leave them out.  Especially Victor.  His mom recently died and he lives across the street with his stepdad who is seldom around – he is so sad and often cuddles close under my arm.  When the water party seemed to be winding down I gave them the signal – let’s go to my place.  It’s your turn.  One last round of video games and since they were a bit older than the rest, they really got Mario’s Kart moving!  It was so good to hear Victor laugh.

That was the end of Date Week.  We will never know what it meant in the lives of these children.  Probably something different for everyone.  But it brought us all closer and as I watched them play throughout the week, I recognized that they now deeply trust us.  When they were scared or upset they ran to either Grant or I and held on tight.  They held our hands as we walked.  They whispered “Gracias”.  And today, when we were driving a number of the girls home for the weekend, Mareli said “Karen, remember the day we went to the movie and Samantha farted and Grant plugged his nose?”  And then we all laughed like crazy again – cause that’s what families do!


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