We’re just shy of our two month anniversary in Oaxaca. The kids have been enrolled in school since mid-August, so it’s a nice vantage point to take stock of what’s happened and how everyone is adjusting.
You know you can count on me to be brutally honest.
The first three weeks of school totally sucked. Tantrums were thrown, tears were shed, and it wasn’t just the little people. There were meetings with the director, the teachers, the school psychologist, and of course informal family meetings around the breakfast and dinner table.
One could argue that schools are perhaps the most important carrier of a country’s cultural norms. So it makes sense, this would be where we would experience our first pangs of culture shock.
Mexico is extremely traditional when it comes to education. School uniforms, teacher at the front of the classroom, students in their seats, not much group work, and textbooks galore. Even for our four-year-old preschooler.
And while my ideal learning environment is more play based and learner-led, there is an undeniable warmness between teachers and students that has been regulated out of US schools. People in general are much more expressive in latin america, and Mexico is no exception. So this affection and one big family approach toward life, doesn’t stop at the classroom doors. It’s really lovely to see a teacher scooping up a distraught child in his or her arms without fear of being reported for inappropriate behavior. Or other kids crowding around, as my son cries, asking what’s wrong, and reaching out their hands in comfort.
Despite the compassion coming from students and teachers alike, Jaxon whined and sniveled every morning before school for three solid weeks. He didn’t want to go and do “boring work.” We argued over the uniform, the homework, every little detail; and I was hit with a relentless barrage of six year old whys, that I had no good answer for. I debated with myself, if I should move him down to Kindergarden where he wouldn’t have the academic pressure, and could focus on language acquisition. I tortured myself with second guessing every decision we’d made. Diego and I would argue, and then I would brood. Not fun.
At morning drop-offs, Serafina would cling to me like a child in fear of drowning. With the school psychologist, teachers and administration looking on in the small school yard, I would give reassuring hugs and kisses. I would then try to physically unclamp the surprisingly strong tangle of limbs clenched down on my leg, before walking off alone with my head in a torrent of self rebuke and my heart in a million pieces.
The decision to come to Mexico was my husband’s and mine. My children were more than happy in California.
Was I robbing them of a normal childhood? Were they going to suffer from some weird detachment disorder because they move every few years and lose the friendships they’ve grown? Will they have low self esteem, because they’ve been thrown into a sink or swim immersion situation with Spanish? I could easily lose myself down this freeway of self-doubt, if I didn’t find a reasonable exit fast.
Amidst this sea of uncertainty, there was one small thing that buoyed my hope. Every afternoon, we would arrive to the school to find them both running around the playground having a seemingly grand time.
Our dinnertime ritual is a gratitude practice. Each family members shares what their favorite part of the day was, and something they are grateful for. At some point over those miserable three weeks, Jaxon’s favorite part of the day went from a negative rant about everything, to a simple answer of “school.”
“What part of school, honey?” I asked, eager to hear more.
“The whole thing, Mom,” he’d reply nonchalantly. “I know pretty much everyone, and they understand me when I speak Spanish. I like school.”
Words cannot describe the relief that washed over my body each night as he would share something that happened in his classroom or on the playground, and contentment became our new normal. Serafina no longer clings to me like I’m a life raft in the mornings, and Jaxon no longer picks a fight about anything and everything. We made it!
My little gringo just a little out of step, and the only one wearing short sleeves. We’re so close to nailing it.
Happy kids! Scooters and skateboards make the 20 minute walk to school fun,
even if there are several broken sidewalks we have to walk not ride.
So here we are at the 7 week mark, and my kids are feeling at home. In hindsight the struggle seems a small price to pay for the benefits of my children experiencing another culture, language and country. But for anyone going through those initial weeks of adjustment, or planning a move abroad, go easy on yourself. Those growing pains are indeed painful, and it’s okay to say so.