Tooth Fairy

Jody and I are the parents that you hate. Your children might come home from school

Crystel, six-years-old. First four teeth pulled.

one day and ask you why the tooth fairy doesn’t give them a treasure hunt like she or he does for Antonio and Crystel (our tooth fairy is a boy or girl, depending on the tooth).

Oh yes, the kids also get the dollar under the pillow. That comes with a letter. And depending on the circumstances, the tooth fairy might use the opportunity to gently remind them to be nice to their sibling or to thank them for a job well done. The fairy often goes on to explain what the tooth is going to be used for. It could be a doorbell (teeth clanging together make just the right sound), a decoration in a flower garden, or it may join other teeth and line the walkway up to the tiny fairy house. The tooth fairy doesn’t stop there with the toothless child. Before flying to the next house the fairy drops a box of candy – like Sour Patch or Mike and Ike’s – under the sibling’s pillow. I know … candy … right?

Crystel often has her teeth pulled out in groups of four by the dentist. The first time it happened, the tooth fairy felt so bad that at the end of Crystel’s treasure hunt, there was an American Girl Doll that looked like her. Well, not quite. The fairy brought home an Indian American Girl doll that the tooth fairy thought matched Crystel’s complexion but the tooth fairy helper said No way, and the fairy trudged back to the Mall of America and got Josephina, the Latin American girl.

Fortunately, getting teeth pulled is like scheduling a Cesarean. You know when it has to come out.

When the kids started asking me if there actually was a tooth fairy, I asked them whether they really wanted to know. By then, they had a relationship with the fairy. They might leave a letter for her or him under the pillow, asking questions and stating that they wanted to come to the fairy’s castle.

Antonio and Crystel hesitated. The stories that accompanied a lost tooth were so magical. Would the magic disappear?

After the age of awakening (at seven-years-old) when Crystel was in the dentist chair getting her next four teeth out, the dentist asked her what she thought the tooth fairy was going to bring her. “A hamster,” Crystel said. The dentist looked at me. I nodded. A hamster.

Yesterday, eating pasta, nine-year-old Antonio said he lost a tooth. There it was in his hand. I looked up at his frothy bloody mouth. My kids are not known for toying with their teeth. Teeth have fallen out while drinking water.

By now the tooth fairy has gotten old and tired and a bit lazy. I asked Antonio if he minded if the fairy just left him money. “I don’t care,” he said, “As long as it’s a twenty.”

Antonio, 7-years-old.

Parents warned us that whatever the first tooth cost the tooth fairy, the ante would always have to be matched. Jody and I never worried about that. I sometimes feel as if I am experimenting with what love will do for a child. I know that giving presents doesn’t equate to love and you risk having spoiled children. So far, I feel as if we have escaped that. Antonio and Crystel are polite, kind, and giving.

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What A Day We Had with the Indigenous Mayans of Lake Atitlan

CECAP Training Center and Cafe Sabor Cruzeno

I walked into Cafe Sabor Cruzeno in Santa Cruz la Laguna, Lake Atitlan with trepidation. Not because it was recently opened. Not because it wasn’t yet rated on Trip Advisor or that it was a student-run café. And not because it was part of an NGO, Non-Government Organization.

Café Sabor Cruzeno was the result of the CECAP (Centro de Capacitacion) Culinary Arts program of Amigos de Santa Cruz foundation. The goal of the program is to train young people for successful employment in the restaurant and tourist business.

No, it was because I had my doubts that the culinary arts program would be successful with Antonio. I had a suitcase of dried pasta betting on it. Some people might pack extra clothes and shoes to match each outfit. I was more concerned that we have a food supply tucked away. When we traveled to Guatemala in 2010 I had forgotten to pack Crystel’s swimsuit. She ended up swimming in her Hello Kitty pajamas. But, I didn’t forget emergency rations for my son.

View from Café Sabor Cruzeno

Antonio is a healthy ten-year-old. He will eat a salad. Just don’t make a pyramid out of the raw vegetables. Instead, imagine a horizontal sundial and align the fixings uniformly around his plate. No dressing wanted or required. When Antonio and Crystel were in highchairs Jody and I would put food on each tray and what one toddler didn’t eat the other would. Being low maintenance, Crystel’s sundial can be any shape: cylindrical, conical, or vertical with a dab of ranch dressing. She’s satisfied with a ham sandwich. Antonio came to us waving a chicken leg in the air. He has never eaten a sandwich in his life. But give him a Sweet Hawaiian bun in one hand and a slice of salami in the other and he will happily eat them separately.

Our table waiting for us

We cater to Antonio and Crystel because we can, though sometimes I remind him that he was born in Guatemala.  Tamales made of corn and filled with beans are eaten with nearly every meal.

Lee Beal, our guide, originally from Texas, has lived around the world over the years, with Colorado being his home base. His wife, Elaine, and he have been full-time residents of Santa Cruz for the past 5 years. The couple came to Guatemala looking for a simpler and more fulfilling life and found it on Lake Atitlan. Lee originally started working with Amigos de Santa Cruz foundation and now serves on the board of directors. As he learned more about the people of Santa Cruz he realized there was a need for jobs creation. A part of this is now being fulfilled through the CECAP vocational training center.

The kitchen

Walking into the restaurant, I was surprised how open, clean and fresh it was. I felt as if we were on top of a mountain and we were. Two graduates of the culinary arts program were busy in the kitchen completing our authentic Guatemalan meal. They would also be serving us.

I don’t out Antonio unless I have too. Usually I just take him aside and remind him that we have food at home and simply be polite and say, “No thank you” if he doesn’t like what’s served. No funny noises or grotesque looks necessary.

After snapping a picture of our seating area, I took a deep breath and sat down. We had our choice of freshly made cold tea, several sauces, mashed potatoes, and a mixture of glazed vegetables and chicken with pulique sauce. At first glance, there wasn’t anything that I thought Antonio would try. Pulique is a common dish of the Guatemalan highlands. It is often served at holidays, anniversaries, and yearly fairs. Alex, our Guatemalan guide, explained how special it was that our chef had made the pulique for us. (Lee has been employing local guides trained through INGUAT. His goal is to create well-paying jobs that fit with the Mayan culture.)

Antonio with Alex paying our bill

The pulique sauce was mild, gentle, and creamy. I watched Antonio as he scraped a bit of it off his chicken.He tried a bite, finished his chicken, and asked for more.

Antonio had proven that CECAP’s culinary arts program was headed for success.

The café is located in the vocational center which houses carpentry, welding, computer education, sewing and weaving. The training center was buzzing with students sewing on Singer sewing machines and students welding on the rooftop.

What makes CECAP unique is that it has always been a community-driven vision and not a government project. Amigos is helping CECAP become self-sufficient.

Singer sewing machines. Girls and boys sewing.

Touring the vocational education center, watching students sew and weld, and dining at the café were some of the many highlights of our trip. We were getting a glimpse into the future of Santa Cruz la Laguna. Santa Cruz is one of the 45 poorest townships in all of Guatemala with illiteracy and malnutrition among the highest in the country. Amigos believes that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty for the indigenous people of Guatemala. Their primary focus has been on education both at the primary and secondary level. We were fortunate to see it at work.

Before we left Minnesota, Crystel had told us that she wanted to learn how to weave while in Guatemala. Lee contacted a local Guatemalan and set up a time for us to meet with her in her home. Both Antonio and Crystel quickly became engaged in learning to weave. They returned to her home several afternoons to complete their projects.

While Antonio and Crystel were weaving, Lee took Jody and me on a tour of the town church and also to Casa Milagro. Casa Milagro (since 1992) is an NGO that supports widows and children. Thilda Zorn, founder and manager of the project, focuses on providing an environment for creativity, joy, and freedom. Jody and I purchased handicrafts that the children had made.

Casa Milagro – children learning to weave

By the time Jody and I returned to our children, Antonio had left with Alex and Zach to play soccer in the village square, and Crystel was making fast friends with the girl of the house.

Antonio rushed in breathless and excited. He was poking fun at Alex and Zach, “Those kids were smaller than me,” he laughed. “We lost 10-7. It cost us 3 quetzales (50 cents).” Apparently, there was a side bet and the local children came away the winners. “Alex, they blew right by you,” Antonio added. “And, Zach he couldn’t stop anything.”

Antonio and Crystel learning to weave

Antonio and Crystel were being changed. And, it had nothing to do with their parents and everything to do with their parents. We had brought them here – to their birth country to have an opportunity to connect with other Guatemalans.

The boy who wouldn’t look at the kids in the square the first night was now facing off with them in a soccer match and for a short time he had two older Guatemalans, Alex and Zach, that could brother him.


Antonio’s bud’s – Zach and Alex

Crystel’s new friend

This very fine day would finish in a hot tub and swimming pool in the next village, El Jaibalito. A ten-minute launch from Los Elementos.