School, Sickness, and a Birthday - Oh My!

When I think how the time passes at home, in Toronto, the time goes quickly, our lives filled with productivity and full schedules.

Here, two months has felt like a long time.

During our two months, we have learned basic, human survival; where to get groceries and toilet paper, how to cook using only two elements, and how to parent two children in a foreign country. Along the way, we have managed to acquire enough Spanish to communicate our basic needs to taxi drivers, share where we are from, and talk about the ages of our children. 'Gracias' and 'por favor', are words to live by.

The Mexican people are patient and kind. We have embraced their slower pace with more focus on the present moment. I continue to be grateful for the spontaneous, unplanned interactions with people we have met along the journey. There is time and space for people to have lengthy conversation without rushing to a meeting or activity. So refreshing.

My own expectations about work have been thwarted due to the inconsistent, unreliable internet. This has been fraught with frustration, yet also a humble reminder to slow-the-fuck-down.

If you have been following us on Instagram (we post stories there a lot!), you may know that there have been some ups and down over the past few weeks.

Some good. Some not so good. Some amazing.

The Good

On a Friday afternoon, a few weeks ago, while hanging out at our favourite restaurant, we met a local mother and her daughter. As usual, children gravitate to each other regardless of language barriers, and all three girls played together with ease.  The mother was warm, and engaging (and spoke English!). She had just picked her daughter up from a private alternative school, five minutes up the road. She described the school as a safe, nurturing community, with a few Waldorf-inspired touches, and a focus on self-directed learning.

Our curiosity naturally peaked.

We had already heard wonderful things about another Waldorf school on the other side of town, but commuting in a taxi five days a week felt too reminiscent of the 9-5 rush that we had chosen to leave, so we had decided not to enroll the girls there.

But a school FIVE minutes away?! With a focus on child-led learning?!

Ummmm….yes, please!

If you read our last post, you know that parenting in paradise has had its challenges.

The universe was handing us a gift, so we got in contact with the director of the school later that day.

By Monday morning, we were meeting the director, a lovely trilingual woman, originally from Sweden, passionate about child development and self-directed learning. We learned that during the day, the school is a kindergarten program for children ages two to six, and in the evening the programming is for children ages 7 and up. While the girls played with the other children at the school, she told us of her philosophy and extensive experience in agile learning.

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I need to pause here, and tell you that listening to this woman speak about the ideal manner in which children learn, made me weep. I was shocked to find myself being moved to tears.

I wept for my inner child, who was forced to conform into a more rigid education system. From a young age, I learned to follow instructions, take tests well, and to be a “good” student. I excelled in the system and figured out how to get positive results, eventually graduating as valedictorian of my highschool.  But as an artist (singer and dancer), I had always felt that my passions would never be fruitful. The system subconsciously taught me that I needed to grow up and get a “real” job.

(There is a happy ending to my story, but I will save it for another day. Hint: I worked professionally as a singer and dancer for nearly a decade AND bought my first house with that income.)

I also wept for my eldest child. Agile learning is what she craves and needs. I have seen her free, strong spirit being squashed in the school system at home.  She has learned to colour in the lines, to follow the rules, and to be a good listener.  Her creativity needs space and I hope that this program will help her find it again.

Please understand that both of my parents are retired educators, and I have deep respect for their craft. I have witnessed first-hand the challenges and pressures on these professionals. Teachers are doing the best with what they have been given.

In the Ontario Kindergarten program, thirty 4 and 5 year old children cannot be free to roam and learn in the way that they truly need when confined to a classroom. It’s just not possible. But it’s what we have available.  Our youngest daughter will soon be joining that system come the fall.

This is part of the reason why we chose to leave for the Winter – so that our children could run and play and learn in a new environment.

Again, we are all doing the best with what we have and are making intentional choices for our families.

As you can tell, my eyes have been opened to a new way of learning, and I look forward to guiding our children as much a possible in collaboration with our education system upon our return to Canada.

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After our interview at the school, Arjan and I both knew that this was a perfect fit for our family: agile learning is ideal for the girls, they would be exposed to Spanish, and they would make friends with local children.  Not to mention that when you join a school, you meet other families who are at the same stage of parenting as you – bonus! AND Arjan and I would have time together to workout, collaborate on our business, and connect as a couple.

The girls officially began school the following day and initially flowed effortlessly into the program. The fifteen-minute walk to school is a nice start to the day, and Arjan and I get to enjoy the walk home, just the two of us. That is a lovely perk.

School costs $200 per child per month. If you break that down, it is $10 per day per child. Someone pinch me.

It’s almost too good to be true.

The Not-So-Good

After two days of school, our youngest got a fever.

Classic reaction to being in an environment with other children, right?

Poor thing suffered for three days, and we had to postpone her fourth birthday party from Saturday to Sunday. Naturally, as she got better, big sister caught the same bug.

As you know, when your children are not well, it is all-consuming and a helpless feeling as a parent.  We are grateful to have a friend here who practices functional medicine who did acupuncture for both girls. There is also an excellent pediatrician nearby for emergencies, who we fortunately did not have to call. Knowing that we have a supportive community here brought us comfort, especially since this was our first case of illness since being in Mexico.

The Amazing

By some miracle, everyone was healthy by Sunday, and we managed to pull-off an awesome birthday celebration on the beach!

For $200 Canadian, we had a candy-filled handmade clay piñata, ceviche, guacamole, and cervesas for 25 people. The quinoa cake (that I had made using a friend’s oven) was a hit, and the sunset, breathtaking, as always.

The girls had been anticipating the fiesta for weeks, so you can imagine their elation when they finally got to take a whack at that piñata!

Confession: As a recovering perfectionist, I still find it hard to relax at these events…I want everything to go smoothly and for everyone to have a good time. I put way too much pressure on myself! Change is slow and steady, right...?

The Transition Continues

The girls have completed two full weeks of school. 9am until 2pm, Monday to Friday. They are truly inspirational: bravely facing Spanish immersion and new faces every day. They are understandably exhausted. It takes ample mental and emotional energy to be around a new language, which means that they need more tenderness and patience from us when they get home.

Having the girls in school is a privilege that I do not take for granted. It has allowed Arjan and I to have more consistency with our own self-care, allowing us to be calmer with the kids, and also, more loving towards each other.

I have been meditating daily to prepare myself for the emotional afternoons and evening meltdowns. It’s all part of the process.

Homesickness hit me unexpectedly the other day. No doubt that all of this discomfort and growth has had a deep impact, not only on the kids, but on Arjan and I too. I found myself weeping...releasing all of the built-up stress and fear.

Arjan held me and let me cry. Then he told me that he has been missing the familiarities of home too. Once again, moments of vulnerability bring us closer, giving us a deeper understanding of each other. So grateful.

Every transition takes time, and this one is no exception.