I am so happy to introduce my friend Amanda from my "early" married years. We served in the RS together. Amanda is a down-to-earth, chocolate-loving, intelligent, hard-working (what mother isn't?), funny, funny person. I encourage you to check out her blog, Keeping up with the Joneses, at http://amandon.blogspot.com/. She, her hubby, and four young kiddos moved to Costa Rica about a year? ago, and she has tells of her adventures with humor.
The first time I realized that Landon’s interest in birds might lead to problems was when, as a newly engaged couple, he took me to Utah Lake and parked the car. There was no make-out session. Instead, he eagerly thumbed through his birder’s field guides and proceeded to ask me to try to find gulls with yellow legs. Deciding I loved my Bird Nerd regardless of his fowl obsession, I married him and started a family. And now the birds have led the six of us to Costa Rica, where we are immersed in a foreign language and culture while Landon chases toucans.
The first night we spent in Costa Rica, we stayed at a home with no hot water. The culture shock was just as real as the shock of stepping into the cold shower there. We couldn’t communicate well. We had no vehicle, no knowledge of local transportation, no cell phones or landlines in our apartment, no food, and no chocolate to help me cope with it all. In the first 2 months I dropped 10 pounds and my 4-year-old developed a nervous tic, but we survived. Now, 8 months later, I’d say we’ve acclimated. The tic disappeared (and fortunately, the 10 pounds never reappeared). But there are still cultural discrepancies that remind me I’m not in the States.
Some of the differences are small. For instance, it took a few weeks to consistently remember to put my used toilet paper in the trash instead of in the toilet and to stop trying to use the hot water faucets in the house (which don’t work). I had to adjust my recipes, eliminating ingredients not available here. I adjusted my schedule, going to bed and getting up earlier since the work and school day begins at 7:00 AM. Other differences, on the other hand, were harder to navigate, like the language barrier, transportation woes, and the education system.
“Mom, I’m tired of speaking Spanish,” complained my 6-year-old soon after we arrived. Since she didn’t speak a lick of it, I assumed she meant she was sick of not understanding what went on around her. “Amen!” I thought privately, but said out loud something motherly and encouraging. The neighbor girls would shut the door in my kids’ faces when they tried to make friends, and my heart would break when they came home crying. After some weeks, however, they were slowly accepted and speaking halting Spanglish: “Quieres jugar at my house?”, and “Mira. This is mio.” My Spanish is better than theirs, but I still miss a lot of what people say to me. I usually just smile and nod rather than make them repeat themselves. Once while walking away after doing this, I heard a woman tell her friend in Spanish, “She didn’t understand what I said.” Busted.
I never truly appreciated having a car for most of my adult life. After walking miles around town, with a 20 pound infant strapped to my chest and 3 kids holding onto my hands or grabbing my back pockets, and toting a rolling bag full of groceries, I have a newly-formed, deeply-felt appreciation for my minivan awaiting me in the States. I never again want to be running to catch the bus, yelling encouragement to my children and holding the baby’s head so it doesn’t flop around as I dodge potholes and stray dogs. In the rain. Toting 30 pounds worth of rice, beans, milk, and produce. ‘Nuff said.
The education system here is all right. I like my kids’ teachers, and the things they’re learning are mostly age-appropriate. I don’t even mind the fact that my first-grader gets taught Catholicism in her PUBLIC school. (In fact, I like that the school system here isn’t afraid to include religion in its curriculum.) The only problem with the schools here is that they’re empty too often. After getting yet another note in Jocelynne’s (first grade) notebook canceling school, I took out a calendar for April and did the calculation: in all of April, she only had 4 regular days of school. The rest were either canceled days or early days. No regular days yet for May, but I’m hoping to beat April’s record. The other kids, aged 3 and 4, have school even less. Their preschool started out as 5 days a week, 3.5 hours a day. Then they said that they’d no longer hold school on Mondays. Then they canceled all Fridays. And most weeks, one or two other days are canceled as well. So, out of necessity, I’ve become a part-time homeschooler. To all you moms out there who home school, you are amazing.
The best things about Costa Rica, on a brighter note, are its beauty and its people. I won’t dazzle you with flowery words about the green lushness that is Costa Rica – just look at the pictures. What amaze me even more are the people. They are so FRIENDLY. They are also fabulously flexible, a trait I’m trying hard to adopt so that I don’t blow a gasket every time school is canceled or a function starts an hour late (which is all too common). They take all these things in stride – with a smile even. Lastly, the Ticos (what Costa Ricans call themselves) love to be helpful. I’m frequently offered rides when people see me waiting for the bus on the side of the road. I rarely have to carry my own heavy grocery sac up the bus steps. And when I ask for directions, sometimes people will stop what they’re doing and walk me to where I need to go. And it doesn’t hurt that they think my kids are adorable, patting their heads and giving them treats when they see them.
So would I recommend living abroad with four children under the age of seven? Sure. Travel affords a wonderful opportunity to learn a different language and culture. It has made us a stronger family unit and given us a broader, international perspective on life. Just don’t forget to pack a bottle of Xanax and bring your own chocolate.
If you’re still not convinced, don’t worry – being a mom is an adventure no matter where in the world you are. And a parting word of advice: if you don’t want to travel, stay away from the bird nerds.