Saturday, August 3, 2013

Why Hello There

We are settling into our new place, in our new city, in our new country, and I have to say, it's pretty awesome.  Our apartment is really nice--huge, actually, and in a great neighborhood.  We have parks and great restaurants nearby.  People are warm and friendly and treat our children like rock stars.  My job is going well, and I like the people I'm working with.   Life is pretty damn good.

It has been a pretty smooth transition this time, and I think part of it is that Latin America is culturally so much a part of of the U.S..  It doesn't feel entirely foreign here, because so much about the language, food, and culture is woven through the tapestry that is America.  And people are so kind.  Have I mentioned how kind they are?  They are so encouraging with my Spanish, and so very nice to my family.  I showed up more than 30 minutes late to tour a prospective school for Miss M yesterday (due to horrible and uncontrollable commuting issues), and the woman laughed it off in the most charming way.  We really, really like it here.

And we are making friends!  We've had a few playdates in the park with a family with a 4 year old, and we met another couple that we had dinner with last night.  Nothing makes a place feel like home so much as having your own things, and making friends.  We still don't have our stuff, but it felt really good to drink wine and laugh last night.  We are settling in.

The altitude has made us a bit tired, and it really seems to kill my appetite.  Stairs make me way more out of breath than I could have imagined.  I am in pretty good shape, and athletic things make me feel like a 300 pound chain smoker.  But other than that, it hasn't impacted us too much.

Working in Spanish has been fun and crazy hard and exhausting.  I am having fun at work, most of the time.  The pace is dizzying, but the days fly by.  The hard part for my family is that after almost a year of working a relaxed schedule and being home most afternoons, and two whole months of vacation, they were kind of used to having me around.  The transition here has been especially tough for Miss M, who really seems to be missing me.  It is most noticeable at bedtime, when she begs me to sleep with her, and throws a giant tantrum every.single.night.  I usually cave at some point in the middle of the night, when she awakens sobbing.  I can steel myself at bedtime, but sobbing in the night really gets to me.  I'm sure it will get better, as everyone adjusts to our new schedule, and as new routines (like school) are established.

To help ease the burden on poor T., who has been stuck with few toys and two little kids in a giant, echo-y apartment full of hardwood floors that are slippery as hell, we hired household help.  She shall heretofore be known as "Lilli."  She was highly recommended, and she is lovely.  It was really important to us that we got someone who was good at cleaning, but who also would be kind to our children.   They instantly gravitated toward her.  In fact, it's hard to keep the kids away from her so that she can get anything done.  We'll have her about 30 hours a week, which seems perfect to me.  She also said she's willing to babysit at night, with a little notice.  We are paying her about 25% more than her last employer, and it's still seems like a terribly small amount of money, for all of that work. But that can be the subject of another post!

We have physically settled in as well as we can, until our shipments arrive.  We brought a mountain of luggage with us, and we shipped some things via air freight, but it was impossible to bring more than a smattering of toys and books and photos and kitchen gadgets and all of the things that make your home a home.  Our stuff hasn't cleared customs yet, and we are probably looking at another six weeks before it does.  Sigh.  I wish I'd mailed us more toys.

But.  School starts in two weeks!  It has been kind of a pain in the ass to find a preschool.  The place closest to our house has a reputation of being super snooty and full of ultra-rich kids.   I talked with one woman who was delighted to send her child there, but another who hated it, and I just don't think it's the right place for us.  I visited another place a bit further away, but it lacked spirit.  It was neat and tidy and organized, but I just kept thinking that it lacked a soul the entire time I was on the tour.  There is a third place that has offered me a tour two weeks from now. . .after school starts.  And finally, there is the choice I think we've settled on.  It's pretty close to our place, and it has a great vibe.  This is the one I was late for.  I was not only late, but T had shown up 20 minute early, and they invited him inside, assigned people to play with the kids, and had been talking to him and showing him around the whole time.  They were reorganizing the whole place, so it looked like the building had thrown up art supplies and toys and chaos all over itself.  Another woman in my office had toured it a few days before, and had been horrified.  But we thought it was charming.  It's definitely not US standards, which freaks me out a little bit.  But then, nothing is.   It is also physically different from her last preschool, and I have to acknowledge that and let it go.  Her old preschool in the U.S. was in a beautiful facility.  There were about 15 kids and two teachers, and the classroom was giant and airy and cheerful, with different sections for different activities.  This place, like every preschool I've visited here, is carved up into lots of little rooms.  The actual classroom where she will spend her time with a dozen other kids is TINY compared to her U.S. school.  Granted, they leave the classroom occasionally for different activities. . .but still.  I guess I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around this different way of being.

But, this place had a soul.  A vibrant, chaotic, throw-your-arms-in-the-air-and-dance kind of soul.  They are really community-oriented, and believe in teaching kids to care for each other, and they spend a lot of time on art, and they weave recycling into their teaching so that the kids work with recycled materials. . .I'm not doing a good job of describing it, but it's hard to capture spirit.  This place had spirit.  And the kids both sobbed when it was time to go, because they both thought it was so great that neither wanted to leave.

They have some students who speak English, but none will be in Miss M's class, which is just what we want.  We want her to learn Spanish as quickly as possibly (at her age, she should be fluent in about 9 months, according to everyone we've talked to).  The great part is that most of the teachers, including hers, speak English, so that if she has a problem, she won't be completely adrift.

I admit, I am more tense than I ever expected about the preschool.  It is a "good" preschool, attended by this country's elite (no one else could afford the tuition, which is a pittance compared to US tuition, but a fortune on the local economy).  But it is definitely different from her old preschool.  I know that her old preschool was probably much nicer than a lot of preschools.  And for pete's sake, the kid is going to come out of this speaking Spanish, so I know she will be learning.  I guess it's the safety aspects that have me most stressed.  Do they do adequate background checks?  Is there a fire code?  Earthquake code?  Will they let her run with scissors?  America is so litigious that I never worried about that kind of stuff in the U.S., but here is most definitely a different story.  I think that's why, although we have purportedly decided on this school, I haven't emailed the director yet.

In other news, tomorrow morning, I'm going to a big open air market with a friend.  I've heard great things about it, so I'm super excited.

I have so many more things to write about, but this is already way too long.  Next time!

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