Bilingual is Better

Amy's children at their new elementary school in Mexico

This is Part 2 in a continuing series by Amy Conroy. To read Part 1 go here: One Family’s Total Immersion Adventure in Mexico.

Some truths I’ve learned:
A. Vacation Mexico is not the same as Living Mexico.
B. Quaint, charming, ‘manana’ Mexico is different from Mexico 2011 with a family.
C. Your children are your favorite people and most ingratiating part of you, i.e. your personal ambassador and ticket in.

Some truths I’m coming to terms with:
A. No age is too young for telenovelas – my 3 year old would sit and watch these for hours given the opportunity.
B. While you can live cheaply, it’s a lot more pleasant to have a bit more.
C. Safety regulations are relative.
D. Bribes work.

I have to start this account of our experiences in full disclosure: we have visited San Miguel de Allende twice before for about a month each time. I didn’t realize the impact this would have on our stay. While our plans are to be here for four months, I distinctly feel that we’ve had a jumpstart because of our previous visits and contacts made. Immediately upon arrival, each child rattled off their favorite things that they wanted to do around town: go to Xote water slides (always #1 in their books and about #100 in mine due to safety), get ice cream, go to Parque Juarez, play with 10 peso toys in the Jardin, stand look out for the ubiquitous fireworks, etc., the list is long. When we couldn’t produce all of those experiences in the first 24 hours, our children began to seriously doubt our abilities to successfully proceed with this adventure. But, everyone was excited.

I am now in the middle of our second week. Daddy has left, and I wake to welcome sickness to my youngest and myself. No matter, today all parents have been invited to visit Jack’s school to view English class in the morning 8-9 am, followed by Sports Day at the preschool 11-12:30 am – please take a minute to consider somersault races with your most charming five year old, which couldn’t sound more unsavory with the disorienting affect of a pounding headache and clogged sinus’! In between those invitations, I navigate Cecilia and I to the Farmacia for medicine. I really cannot afford to be off my game; I need meds. Our trusty taxi driver advises me that I should rest a little more – ‘don’t I have some help?’ he asks sweetly. Truthfully, he’s probably right, but I am thinking that I have to be there for my children in this critical time of adjustment to new schools and life in Mx. All I want to do is take a nap and I find myself bribing my children –“a peso if you sleep through the night”, “chocolate chip cookies if you stay the whole day at school”. No matter where you are it’s difficult when you and your kids are sick, but it is magnified in a new city with a new language and customs. It’s as if they are the matadors circling around me, the dizzy bull, and they can sense my weakness. Another cookie?

Let me back up, we arrived Saturday, made school introductions Monday, and started ‘em up Tuesday @ 7:45 a.m. It felt hyper-speed-like and surreal – very similar to when you give birth and then all of the sudden have a baby to care for! My younger ones have started a Montessori preschool, which is lovely and I dare say could rival any in the States. We leave my 5 year old listening to classic music and studiously drawing red squares at his appropriately sized desk. My three year old gives me the finger when we stop in to her class to say good-bye – the finger pointing us out the door as she’s dancing around with little bilingual girly friends. The school is a bilingual immersion school and I leave, basically, feeling like this is too good to be true. Day One is awesome!

BUT I leave with a gi-normous TO-DO list – what?! By tomorrow a.m., I am supposed to bring two shoeboxes covered in paper (do I have to buy 2 pairs of shoes in town? How am I going to get my hands on 2 shoeboxes?), 2 Oral B toothbrushes (seriously? as though they had stock in the company or something – the brushes had to be Oral B), 2 cups, 2 hairbrushes, changes of clothing, photos documenting a timeline of their long little lives, a folder made of a certain cardboard and taped along the sides, and random other things that gave me the anxiety produced butterflies that I haven’t had since I last took the GRE! The scavenger hunt sent us to the Mega (which is like a Super Wal-Mart), and then to the Papeleria – four times. My head hurt and where was that margarita anyway?! I love the old lady in the Papeleria, and thanked God for her. Somehow she knew what I was talking about, because apparently it is quite common to buy an oversized posterboard that you fold in half to make a ‘folder’. The reasoning seems questionable, however, where there is a local Office Depot and there are ready-made manila folders available everywhere, but anyway… When I was finally assembling all of the ‘crafts’ required, I had that eerie feeling that all moms, no matter where we are, are doing the same sorts of things for our kids.

Jack’s school is another story. While the two schools are connected, they are in different locations and the elementary is based on Multiple Intelligences Theories. The school looks extremely different from his Los Angeles school – set on the outskirts of town with only 6 classes of 10-15 students each. It is small and simple looking. I was so nervous for my little guy, my eldest. He is thoughtful and pensive by nature, a sweet and gentle boy, i.e. not overly gregarious at the start and soft-spoken. How will he make friends? Does he understand that it will all be in Spanish? He bravely walked forward, and they whisked him away with smiles rattling away in Spanish.

Retrieving him was another thing: I arrived five hours later down the same dirt road with burros tied to trees and shacks nestled between modern castillos. I sit in the shade to size up the situation, and am greeted by the voices of Mexican school children singing “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train. Crazy, the music is a comforting bridge between our spaces. Again no different than home, parents drive in a loop to pick up their children while the Directora calls each child’s name over a PA system. When I approach, she switches to English in a way that sounded as if she could somehow elongate her audio track, “Ja-a-a-a-ck, yourrrr (roll your tongue with the ‘r’) mo-o-m is he-e-ere (rolled ‘r’ again)”. It sounded funny because it was so different from the rapido Spanish to which everyone was accustomed. I was grateful, however, for their thoughtfulness of both of us, and super grateful to see him walk up to me with all of his fingers and toes just as I had left him. Admittedly, I felt really… ubiquitous.

Driving back to our house, I petitioned Jack with all my might for information about the school day to no avail. I was locked out with no information, which made me privately insane. Hours later, we were getting dinner together and working on a family puzzle, and he said “there was this Star Wars song going on… like the whole day.” If I could only be a fly on the wall! I guess the day was a success. He seems non-plussed about it all.

Next: socializing.

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