Arrivals and Departures
Joy and grief as the seasons change
By Jen Paul Schroer
Sitting in our family room with my kids one lazy Saturday morning in July, my son, Ryker, age 4, asked to speak with Narel. Through an international cultural exchange program, Narel lived with us for nearly two years through the pandemic, but her visa expired and she had to return to South Africa in early June. It was heartbreaking to our entire family when she went back home. We missed her terribly. Justin, me, my kids, my parents, Justin’s parents, and even our parrot missed her — really, really, really missed her.
Narel was and will always be part of our family. While she lived with us, we loved experiencing her family and religious holiday traditions. Her lamb biryani was incredible! We special ordered sweetmeats for Diwali from an Indian grocery store in Albuquerque.
When she went back home to South Africa, we did regular video calls with Narel to help us all deal with the transition. The kids loved it. So when Ryker asked to speak with her, I pulled out my phone and got him connected to Narel through WhatsApp. They started chatting away. They sang songs together. Ryker described his new brown truck and green dinosaur that my parents bought him. He listed off what he ate for breakfast.
Just as I started to do the dishes, I heard Ryker say, “Narel. Your skin is brown, but mine is not yet.” While Ryker’s grandmother is several generations Northern New Mexican and Hispanic, Ryker’s German genetics are more prominent. Narel is of East Indian descent.
I remember holding my breath, not sure what to say. I waited a moment to see how Narel would respond. Narel smiled and told Ryker that he was right. Her skin was brown like her mum and dad” and his skin was lighter like his “mum and dad.” Ryker was quiet for a second as he processed her response. He tilted his head and said, “Well, I’m swimming a lot this summer so the sun will make me more brown like you.” His innocence and love for Narel warmed my heart, but it was clear that I needed to do more to contextualize diversity for my kids.
In talking to contributor Zoey Barnes, our Book Nook ninja, she loved the idea of sharing children’s books about diversity with our readers. In this issue, she researched and reviewed numerous titles for her article “Talking About Difference Through Children’s Books”. I hope this article gives families some good resources to start and keep the diversity conversation going.
Clearly, diversity is deeper than appearance: it includes customs, traditions, holidays, religion, language, heritage, food and much more. I love that Northern New Mexico celebrates and honors various cultures through community events, and I love exposing my children to different cultures, which is largely why our family continues to participate in an international cultural exchange program.
When I heard a rumor that a new event was coming to Santa Fe this fall that’s designed to honor yet another culture, I turned into Columbo (dating myself!) and discovered that Ray Sandoval of the Kiwanis Club was collaborating with the Mexican community to bring Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) to the Santa Fe Plaza. Knowing Tumbleweeds’ readers would love the inside scoop, he generously offered to contribute an article about the upcoming event. Little did I know that learning more about this Mexican holiday’s true meaning and heritage would become more relevant to our family toward the end of the summer.
On Friday, October 28, the event will open at 4 p.m. with mariachi music and boleros on the Santa Fe Bandstand, which will be festooned with papeles picados, the colorful cut paper decorations seen at celebrations throughout Mexico. Food trucks will be onsite to serve the signature Mexican foods that have enriched New Mexico’s own cuisine over time. Kiwanis will sell decorative items that customarily adorn the ofrendas — altars — that honor those who have passed on. Expect to see brightly colored masks, decorative skulls, and hundreds of marigolds!
How do we teach children to understand difference in others and in ourselves and to promote inclusive behavior? Experts say the answer is easy: talking to your children about the difference we see in other people helps them to find language for our commonalities and differences. Children do recognize difference from a young age, so reading age-appropriate books about diversity helps them put words to what they are seeing. But this can be easier said than done.
Like most of us in the community, the Schroers had numerous changes in our routine this summer. Narel left after two years. Ryker’s preschool program closed for the summer. We had both sets of grandparents watching the kids, while Justin and I continued to go to our day jobs. Northern New Mexican families dealt with historic wildfires, terrible air quality, and floods. But as our community typically does, we all came together. The Food Depot was one of the numerous nonprofits and groups that supported families impacted by the wildfires this summer, and they share their story in the Fall 2022 issue.
Summer was chaotic, but thankfully we managed and also managed to have fun. My kids made lifetime memories with their grandparents, going swimming, getting pizza, reading books, and doing crafts. We finally welcomed a new puppy into our home just to make things more chaotic. A new city park was completed near our neighborhood, and we made new friends while hanging from monkey bars and going down slides. We took some family photos, “for posterity,” as my mom says. We had a special summer, but I knew the seasons were about to change.
I reflected on a past Tumbleweeds article, (The Power of Routine) by Samantha Camillo, and decided I needed to get ahead of going back-to-school. This year, I thought of the transition as more than shopping, school orientation, and scheduling. I needed to get my family emotionally and mentally prepared, so the experience would be fun and, dare I say, smooth. So I rallied some more Tumbleweeds resources, knowing that families throughout Northern New Mexico would all be going through a similar situation this fall.
I connected with contributor Julia Bell. As a clinical mental health counselor intern, Julia is passionate and knowledgeable about the important role mental health has in families and educational outcomes. Her article “Tips for Reducing Anxiety for the Beginning of School” provides applicable tools parents can use to support children of all ages to work through transitions.
We parents also know that back-to-school season can also mean back-to-the-doctor as colds and viruses circulate through classrooms. COVID-19 has been the worry for the past two-plus years and now there is monkeypox looming (NMHealth.org). When Dr. Jenny Achilles and pediatric nurse Misha Harris contacted Tumbleweeds about writing a story about telehealth for children, I thought it was a perfect resource for families as they prepare for the school year. In the Fall 2022 issue, they share how parents can avoid long lines at urgent cares and ERs.
It was the Sunday before Ryker’s first day at PreK, and I felt ready; I felt like my kids were prepared. I was checking things off my list right and left, so I decided to accept an invitation to my cousin’s out-of-state baby shower. Late Sunday night, my mom and I booked flights and hotel rooms. We shipped a gift and were planning to make the most of the trip — go shopping and do lunch with some old friends. We had about two weeks to get everything organized.
But less than 48 hours after booking our trip, the day before Ryker’s first day of school, Justin’s dad, Phil Schroer, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He was the patriarch of the family, a humble man of integrity, a loving husband of over 50 years, a devoted father and grandfather and as many knew him, a beloved high school basketball coach and assistant principal. Needless to say, we were all heartbroken.
I struggled with finding the words to tell Ryker and my daughter, Aviva, that their Opa passed away. How can 2 and 4 year olds understand? Will they remember him? All families go through love and loss. I knew I had to tell them, but I kept stalling. I just didn’t want to see the pain in their eyes. I wanted Ryker to have a good first week at school. I wanted my kids to know their grandparents and remember their grandparents. His passing happened too soon.
I know we will tell them. I know they will be sad. My hope is that their Opa’s spirit of generosity, kindness and humility will live on in all the people Phil touched over the years, including my kids.
In her last note as editor of Tumbleweeds, Claudette shared, “The years tend to blur as so many tick by, but I can always mark time by milestones in my family’s life.”
“I can mark time by the arrivals and departures of loved ones.”
Tuesday, August 9, 2022, time seemed to stop for the Schroer family as we processed the departure of Phil Schroer, affectionately known as Big Spill. He was the kindest person I’ve ever known.
The Schroer family will celebrate Phil’s life and departure, while my side of the family will celebrate the arrival of my cousin’s new baby boy this fall. We will continue to remember and honor our departed loved ones and ancestors, while we continue to make the most of this life with purpose and with family and friends in the community.
With a heavy heart,