Happy Campers

Leticia Ramierez-Arana


She never imagined that she would be a mother, but when Letitia Ramierez-Arana’s son BB – Baby Bear – is born, she is delighted. As a toddler, he wears tiny Birkenstock sandals, and when he grows older and travels around South America, he sports a similar, bigger pair. As the sandals wear out, his adventurous spirit grows, and his mother must learn to let him make his own way.


I never imagined I would be a mother. My inner world seemed too dark a place to bring up a child. However, Mother Nature had another plan.

1996 was a big year. First, after a long battle… I got my official permanent resident visa, and, to my surprise, I found out I was pregnant. Adding to my good fortune, I also moved into a brand-new apartment at the Holy Trinity Church non-profit housing complex.  The Church members became my family, as I was settling down all by myself in my new land.

Nine months later, in the middle of summer, my son Andres was born, my most precious person, my Baby Bear (BB). 

As a new immigrant and newly single mother, I experienced a turmoil of doubts and dreams.  I was determined to be the best mother I could be by nurturing my boy forever.

Like BB, my motherhood journey started with baby steps. I overcame severe baby blues as my boy became the mentor of my creativity, the healer of my life and the seeds of my inner strength. By caring for him, I discovered unlimited possibilities within myself, including boundless love and compassion for us both.

In my eagerness to explore our new country, I took Baby Bear to summer family camps. He celebrated his second birthday running all over the grounds, wearing a pair of tiny sandals, white Birkenstocks. Over the years, I delighted in watching BB jumping and swimming in the lake.

I still treasure the facemask that he finger-painted. When he was seven, he even directed a pirate show with everyone in the camp. This was the last year we went together. 

The following year he left for camp alone for the first time, and I faced severe separation anxiety. It was so intense that I landed in the hospital. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, there he was – stepping off the bus dirty and happy, reeking of campfire and holding a stuffed toy for his Mama Bear. 

Over the next ten years, BB went on many more trips alone, including leadership camps and white-water canoeing trips up north. It was thrilling to watch him evolve into a thriving, happy camper. 

When my boy turned fifteen, he suddenly asked me for a pair of Birkenstocks because most of his friends were wearing them. He got them right away – classic sturdy brown sandals with two buckled straps over the foot and one around the heel. He lived in those sandals. As they gradually wore down, his adventurous spirit grew stronger.

He was still wearing them three years later when he graduated from high school. During his gap year, he and his friends embarked on a 100-day backpacking trip through South America. I gave him my blessing to go but left all the preparations up to him. By then, his Birkenstocks were in urgent need of repair. Don José, our friendly local shoemaker, promised to fix them.  

On the day of BB’s departure, we dropped by the shoe store on the way to the airport. But oh no! it was closed! BB needed his Birkenstocks.

I promised my boy that I would get his mended sandals to him, and forty days later, they reached him in Peru. I kept my pledge to look after him, even from thousands of miles away. 

And you know what? When BB came back, he was still wearing them! By this time, they were completely run down; in fact – they were so loose and smooth he fell down the stairs and nearly broke his back. That’s the day those sandals landed in the garbage. Like the Birkenstocks, motherhood has been a journey that eventually taught me detachment.

LETICIA RAMIEREZ-ARANA is a native Mexican and former head nurse. She is a proud single mother and a community advocacy worker.

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