I’ll admit that I’m typing this while lying in a hammock on the Caribbean Coast but that is only because I want to finally live up to the expectations that everyone has about what life is like for us in Costa Rica. The reality is that this is the first time that I have been in a hammock all year and this is the first time that we have been to the Caribbean Coast. If I had started earlier entries with “I just came back from picking Jack up from tennis at a condo complex and I’m now sitting at our dining room table” that wouldn’t exactly grab your attention. The current image captures a much nicer poetic stereotype.
An intro like that begs the question “why are you visiting the Caribbean during October?”
The European School schedule is (like many things about the school) quite unique. They don’t go by a Costa Rican or American schedule. Rather than have one chunky 2.5 month vacation, they have four quarters with vacation blocks in between. Starting school late July or early August is an adjustment (“what?!? we’re going to school already?!?”) but when you get TWO weeks off in October…it starts to feel kinda cool.
More on vacation trips in another post.
Today is about our shock that the kids are already DONE with their first quarter of school (!?!). Like any major life change (moving, new job, etc.), the first 2-3 weeks here felt like both a positive and negative eternity (the first few day trips feel monumental and lasting while the first transition days at school or nightmares dealing with car troubles feel equally monumental and never-ending). Then you hit your stride and life starts to click along. Granted, it clicks along at a slightly slower pace for us down here and the oft-mentioned extra-family time each day is special. But it does click along.
All six of us have learned a lot about ourselves and about each other during these first 10+ weeks.
A Look Back At The First Quarter of School…
— Our fears about a “Lunch Box(er) Rebellion” were unfounded.
The kids aren’t fans of the salad-and-healthy-lunch-clean-plate-policy at the school but it became an accepted reality of life after only a couple of days. Rumor has it that some friends back in Milton have begun using the line “Ella has to eat a big salad every day without complaint and now you do to.” Apologies to the Rowley kids…but kid-misery does love company. : )
— Any school is going to have shortcomings. We have had to step in to do some “math homeschooling” to keep them from falling behind their peers in the US. And other than SSL a few times a week, they don’t get much in the way of Spanish practice. But the positives at the European School dramatically outweigh these for a year. Putting aside the fact that the kids ARE living abroad…even just the experience of a different school environment and a different way of teaching/learning for a year is eye opening for the kids. The heavy focus on arts, music, public speaking, etc. is cool. They have even started to bring some of it home. Last week the four of them put on a “play” at the house. They have done this type of thing in the past but this time around they upped their game big time. Liadan wrote the script for the narrator (Jack).
They made masks, built “sets” (complete with blue blanket waterfalls and birds hanging from the loft in Ella’s room) and put it all together to a background soundtrack from The Lion King.
— While Jack’s transition in school has been tough, he is clearly growing from it. Recently he began proactively talking about his own strengths and weaknesses and how they play into the year’s ups and downs. And focusing more on what makes him happy (tennis, school work, family time) than dwelling on what he is upset about. Seeing the first glimmers of that type of maturity is huuuuge for us as parents. Sadly, in my old job I saw way too many 20-somethings graduate from college still lacking the understanding that the world doesn’t “owe” them an easy road and still lacking an appreciation for the fact that they need to take some responsibility for their own happiness or unhappiness. If Jack comes out of this year with a head-start on that maturation process already, we couldn’t ask for more. (on a side note…if you haven’t seen it already, you should check out http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/09/why-generation-y-yuppies-are-unhappy.html — a funny and shockingly on-the-mark take on why American 20-somethings have a hard time being happy these days).
— Ella continues to be our biggest surprise. I used to joke that she would have the same negative reaction to “you are switching soccer teams” as she would to “you are moving to a Siberian prison camp.” She HATED change of all kinds. Yet she is thriving in ways I would never have imagined…to the point that she recently said “if we could somehow see our Boston friends and family more, I would want to stay here.” We used to think she craved the heavy-rules-based structure of her old school but we are realizing now that it is a more general drive to want to succeed. In that environment ‘success” MEANT following heavily structured rules. In this environment “success” means “think for yourself a bit more…” and she LOVES it. If you told me in June that by October Ella would have recited poems in Spanish in front of her class, waltzed on stage, acted in skits, gone to Costa Rican bday parties, made friends from Costa Rica, Colombia, Russia, Switzerland, etc. I would have said you were crazy. But as Audrey says, she is the “Lady of Surprises” now.
— Charlie is…well, Charlie is Charlie both in the US and Costa Rica. He adjusts well and goes through life thinking that the glass is half full AND that someone is about to come around and fill it up completely in just a few minutes. Those traits have all helped him make friends, win over teachers, and overall have a great year thus far. BUT “Charlie being Charlie” also means that he needs some helpful nudging from time to time or he slips into a mode of being a bit tooooo tranquilo about things. School has been good for him in this way. They put a lot of responsibility on the kids. For example, if there is a project due in the US, the teacher sends home a note with details or sends an email or posts all of the details online. Here they will tell ONLY the kids about project deadlines, etc. rather than sending emails and letters home to parents. If the kids mess up, they mess up and learn from it. Charlie has had his share of “whoops…forgot about THAT too…” moments in the first quarter but he is getting better. Poco a poco…
— Liadan is still our bundle of emotion. Mostly positive (“i can’t wait for gym today!”) but sometimes negative (“i can’t go to school today because we have to play our ocarina song in front of the school for morning music. Nooooo!”). She has lucked out with some super nice kids in her class who have taken her under their wing, but that has had some negative side-effects, too. Over the past couple of weeks we were told by multiple people (her teacher and the principal of the K-through-3rd-graders) that the Spanish teacher has been “extremely impressed” with how much Spanish Liadan has been learning. This seemed QUITE strange to us because she appears to be learning almost NO Spanish at school (at her age they don’t take SSL classes). The other day we told her what the teacher said and asked if she was learning more than she thought sitting in on the regular Costa Rican Spanish class. She said “Nope. I don’t know anything that they do. But my friend Ximena sits next to me in Spanish, shows me what to write down, tells me everything in English and tells me a word to say sometimes. But I have NO idea what is going on.” I guess that’s one point for social skills and minus-one for Spanish language skills.
(captions aren't working on the photo above but that's Liadan with Ximena...the secret to her "success" in Spanish class)
A Look Back At The First Quarter of Activities…
— I mentioned in previous entries that activities down here are there but they are much more chill. A sport or club is once a week for an hour and that’s it. But it has been fun for the kids to try stuff they never got to do back in Milton.
— Jack tried fencing in the first quarter but wasn’t that into it. Not sure if he’ll continue with it. We did find a place for him to get back to tennis lessons once a week…oddly enough, it turns out that the instructor was the head tennis pro at the Cohasset Country Club (in Massachusetts) for 20+ years. Small world. Jack has also enjoyed learning a simple wind instrument like the recorder. It’s not exactly complicated music but it has him thinking about instruments other than piano.
— Ella continues to enjoy her break from her normal U.S. activities. She LOVES fencing and archery. Likes having her year off from piano (a little too much). Etc. While she may not be getting a ton of exercise out of her activities, she is learning how to defend our house from intruders in two ways (with both the sword and the bow). I feel much safer now.
— Charlie and Liadan chose to do all of their activities together (awwww…how cute). They do Art Club once a week…which has been awesome (particularly for Charlie). The instructor has been great at giving Charlie the extra “push” he needs to keep developing his talents (he likes to sketch and then stop and move on to the next sketch…she pushes him to think about detailed backgrounds, think about mixing colors, etc.).
They also do Robotica Club together (Liadan’s age group builds little robots out of legos…Charlie’s gets to use more advanced stuff) and fencing.
— and perhaps the coolest of the new “activities” for the Gavin family is Audrey’s volunteer job at a local orphanage. In addition to getting to be with the kids, she is also getting perhaps her best “Spanish class” ever (as nobody who works there or lives there speaks a word of English!).
Throw in a bunch of (well-documented) trips around the country, a lot of exploration of the areas right around us (finding cool family restaurants, the best ice cream places, the best playgrounds and mini-hikes, etc.) and you have a busy but much appreciated “first quarter.”
When we get back from vacation, school fires up again and life will get back to its normal rhythm…until late November when “The Visitor Phase” begins! We can’t wait to see some of you folks and share with you a bit of Costa Rica in person…