International Humiliation

Two major events yesterday: Babygirl had a monumental temper tantrum, and we were interrogated by armed guards. What do these two things have to do with each other?

I’m in Guatemala with Babyboy, Babygirl and Nana for a family wedding and mini- vacation. Respectable family friends offered to take us to the Zoo, and we were all very excited about it! We’d gone with them on our last trip two and a half years ago, and we all had a great time.

The zoo in Guatemala city is really nice. It features all the large animals you’d want to see, in beautiful and comfortable enclosures. There are also a number of smaller displays with jungle animals and birds, typical to Central America: jaguarundis and ocelots, coatis and pythons, toucans and guacamayas, on and on.

Even better, it’s very safe. It’s completely enclosed by with razor-wire topped twenty- foot high walls. This is not to keep the animals in. There are many armed guards outside, some manning the entrance, and the rest pacing and milling about. Generally, I find this reassuring, because there is a huge kidnaping problem throughout all of Central and South America.

We had arrived at lunchtime. Since the kids had snacks in the car, we decided to walk around before getting lunch. But, it was hot and sunny, and we all got dehydrated and cranky pretty fast. So we made our way to the food court.

There were ample familiar food choices: Frozen yogurt and fruit for Babygirl, fried chicken and fries for Babyboy. Even better, the fried chicken was Pollo Campero (arguably the best fried chicken there is!). He ate like a champ, and then some.

But Babygirl didn’t. She didn’t like the frozen yogurt, nor the soft rolls I got special for her, nor ice cream… She’d snacked on Cheerios in the car, and had sips of water, but apart from that, she hadn’t eaten or drank much all day.

Both kids ran and played on the large playground after lunchtime. Babyboy started walking funny and pulling at the back of his pants, signs that he needed to have a B.M. I took him to the bathrooms three times, but he would not go. It was noisy, and there were electric hand dryers…

So we went back to the playground. There were all kinds of families there: Mayan descendants in traditional handwoven dress, regular mestizo Latinos, and tourists. The only zoo in town is a great equalizer!

And they all eyed Babyboy with questioning or disgusted glances when he continued to bend forward awkwardly and pull at the seat of his underpants.

Time to go, I thought. So, we’d miss out on some displays. No matter, we’d been there for three hours anyways. The kids wouldn’t notice….

But on the way out, Babygirl threw herself on the ground and started tantruming. I don’t want to go, we didn’t see all the animals, turn back now! NOW!!!!!

I tried to calm her. After all, we were out in public. I was excruciatingly aware that we hadn’t seen any tantrums at all from the thousand for so other kids at the zoo. Seated near us was a Mayan mother in gorgeously embroidered dress, with her five perfectly behaved children, ranging from infant to about eight years old. I pictured them at home: where they likely lived, in relative poverty, with few material goods. And they were all sitting quietly, observing, mesmerized by Babygirl’s obnoxious tantrum.

I started counting: If I get to three, I’m carrying you to the car, and you’ll get a time out, I warned. Three came and so I hoisted her up.

She kicked, hit, flailed, screamed. I started walking to the parking lot. She screamed louder. I saw a guard shift his automatic weapon and start following us.

Jesus, he thinks I’m kidnaping her! I though, and I tried to move as nonchalantly as possible, while carrying the Excorcist child to the parked car.

She was no better at the car. I counted, I threatened, I basically stuffed her into the car seat. But she arched her back and howled, fought me, hit me. Our hosts were silently horrified.

I knew I was at the point where I was going to hit her, and with an audience of educated family acquaintances plus strange men with guns, I decided to back off.

Nana was right behind me. I can’t fucking deal with her. Can you please buckle her in, I hissed. I had assumed that Babygirl would behave a smidgen better for Nana…. Wrong.

At this point, there was a group of guards around the car. One of them stepped forward and stuck his head in, and inquired what was going on. Another asked, if we were arriving or leaving. Our host tried to assuage them. They only looked more skeptical.

Nana knew the word for tantrum: berrinche.

Es una berrinche grande. No queria salir del zoologico... She explained.

I freely admit that I was sobbing at this point. I didn’t have our passports.  I hadn’t even brought photocopies of our passports. All I had was my driver’s license and a credit card and our travel insurance card. I had no idea how I would prove that this hell child was mine.

But the guards looked at her and at me, and though they stayed close by (and marked down the car license plate information), they stopped asking questions. Later on, Nana commented that they must have noticed how much Babygirl looks like me.

Babygirl was distracted by the guards, and Nana managed to get her secured in the seat. We drove off, with Babygirl screaming banshee-like all the way home. In traffic. For an hour. She screamed for another hour once we were home. She was awful, until she calmed down enough to eat two bowls of yogurt with maple syrup.

I realize now that she was dehydrated and hungry. I’m not sure what else we could have done under the circumstances, though.

I also realize that the guards were likely mystified by and suspicious of the car seat, since these are very rare in Guatemala. There are no automobile child safety rules, and the vast majority of Guatemalans do not use child car seats. I’ve seen close family friends drive off with their unbuckled school-aged child in the front passenger seat, and the baby cradled in unbuckled mom’s arms in the back seat. That is normal. So, the guards probably thought Babygirl’s car seat was a restraining device for use by child kidnappers!

We were all exhausted after this adventure. I felt totally humiliated.

We leave for home tomorrow, and we all decided that we won’t venture out in public again…

Until we have to go to the airport.


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