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Letter to Camille: 119 Months

Happy 119 Months, my love! This post, as a reflection of our days now, is full of “lasts.” This is the last time I’ll write to you in Costa Rica, as we’ll be back in Savannah next month. This is the last time I’ll write to you as a single-digit girl, since next month you’ll be 10 years old. The last time I write to you as a 4th grader.

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Friends from Savannah were visiting last month, and Beth asked what you would miss most about Costa Rica. You replied,

  1. The people,
  2. The animals,
  3. The plants and nature.

I thought that was lovely. Then she asked what you were most excited about having in Savannah. To which you replied,

  1. Air conditioning,
  2. Big grocery stores with air conditioning,
  3. Reliable internet.

Ah. And thus we prepare to leave the third world for the first world. It is my sincere hope that we can return to enjoy the amenities of living in the US, while still finding ways to embrace the people, the animals and the nature there too. I don’t want those purer passions to fade with the return to comfy couches in cool homes with fruit roll-ups and Netflix on demand.

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Meanwhile in the absence of fast internet here in Costa Rica, you have become addicted to the game M.A.S.H. I think most females of my generation will remember this fortune-telling game, and I was secretly pleased to know it has withstood the test of time.

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You and your friends love to play M.A.S.H., using the game to predict who you’ll marry, where you’ll live, what job you’ll have and what pet. You and your cohort of gal pals have become quite the giggly bunch lately, talking of boys and crushes and everything of interest to a pre-teen. There’s a boy at school you like – I won’t dare betray your confidence and say his name – and most days when I pick you up from school I get a play-by-play of when you saw him, what he was doing, and whether or not you two made eye contact. If he talks to you, you’ll breathlessly recount the conversation, followed by the observation that “IT WAS TERRIFYING!” And then you’ll fall over sideways in the backseat and giggle for 5 solid minutes. You have already decided that you will cry on the last day of school because you’ll never see him again, this beloved who doesn’t even know he’s beloved.

And so it all begins. All of it. The last few weeks have borne witness to mounting girl drama – the kind that every girl must face as she grows up. I’m not ready for it, but then again, whenever would I be ready for it? One of your classmates announced your crush to the class, and you were devastated. Not only was your secret out, but you’d been betrayed by a friend. It will be the first of many times unfortunately, and learning to cope is essential but not fun.

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We’ve begun teaching another necessary skill in these last weeks – money management. There are as many different opinions as there are parents when it comes to allowances, chores, how much to pay for what, or if we should pay at all. And I haven’t a clue if we’re doing things right – it’ll be interesting for you to read this many years from now, maybe wrestling with these questions with your own child, and then judging whether or not we did well or how you’d improve.

What we have currently settled on is a points system for chores, managed through an app called ChoreMonster. There are certain chores that are non-negotiable – they’re just part of your duties as a member of the household, but we still give you points for doing them. Then if you want extra points, you can tackle extra tasks like cooking dinner or washing the car.

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The points translate to money, and you can “redeem” them when there is something you want to buy. One fantastic benefit of this, is that I don’t seem like a jerk when I don’t want to buy you something frivolous. You have the option to buy it, you just have to use YOUR money.

whole-fishWe even use this tactic in restaurants. You LOVE to order whole fish. I think you enjoy the fact that it FREAKS ME OUT to have that roasted eyeball staring at me. You like the attention. So when you see pescado entero on the menu, you always want to order it. Unfortunately, it’s usually about twice as expensive as the regular fish filet.

“Sure,” we say, “you can order the whole fish. The filet is $10 and the whole fish is $20, so if you want the whole fish you’ll need to pitch in ten bucks.”

And so you order the filet. When you have to really consider how much more money you spend for the novelty of whole fish, you learn the lesson of prioritization.

We ran into a tough one a couple of weeks ago when we were vacationing at the Rio Perdido resort. You wandered into the gift shop and fell madly in love with the most unusual stuffed animal. It looks mostly like a black dog, but with large teeth and a gold chain around its neck – and a spooky legend. The dog is named “Cadejos,” and according to legend he can be found roaming the woods at night, rattling his gold chain and snarling, with the goal of scaring drunk men. I’m not making this up.

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You badly wanted to buy him, but didn’t have enough ChoreMonster points. So we said sorry, you had to earn the points first (jerk move). This seemed unfair to you because we’d never seen this creature anywhere else, so when would you have another opportunity to buy him? Even after you’d earned the points?

In all honesty, I kind of wanted to buy him for you because he was hilarious. But we felt it was important for you to learn the lesson that if you don’t save your money, sometimes you can’t have things.

But your Daddy and I found a compromise. We went ahead and bought Cadejos, but wouldn’t let you have him until you’d earned the money. This was torture to you, having the toy in the room, staring at you, but you were forbidden to touch him.

The day we came home from the resort, you cooked dinner, washed all the dishes and washed the car. You earned your reward – and I think you love him even better for having had to work for him.

I admit that I was a little wary when we decided to let you wash the dishes, because my OCD wants to make sure they’re really really clean. But I needn’t have worried – you may be more OCD than your mother. I wash dishes well, but then I pile them up willy nilly on the towel to dry. You, on the other hand, lay out the clean dishes with the precision of an engineer.

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Now that you have your precious Cadejos, you have a new goal in mind. You’re currently trying to save up a very large number of points to get a bearded dragon. We’re not 100% sure we want to have another pet in the house, but then again, if you’re dedicated enough to save up that many points (it may take you a year) and not spend them on every stuffed animal you see in a store, then you deserve that new pet.

You even went to work making new necklaces and earrings last week for your Camscraft store, looking for additional ways to earn money.

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This parenting business is full of uncertainties for we the parents. From allowance rules, to email etiquette, to boy crushes and girl drama, to bearded dragons – there is a lot to navigate. But being your mother is still one of the greatest joys of my life. I love you sweet bear. My sweet 4th grader, 9 year old, temporary tica. I love you always.

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Letter to Camille: 118 Months

Hello SweetPea and Happy 118 months!

Today was a normal school day for you – just another Thursday, with six more Thursdays until you’re out of school (but who is counting?). This is a great travesty to you, because your Savannah peers are done with school tomorrow.

Oh the injustice!

I know you are eager to start your (very short) summer break, although the end of school will be laced with sadness too. You’re beginning to taste the bittersweet flavor of loving and leaving people here, because they’re already starting to trickle away.

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According to you, Mason was your first friend here, although it was a virtual friendship initially. Her family was moving to Nosara from Idaho last fall, and I’d connected with Mason’s mother on a Facebook community page. We shared stories about you girls, and Mason read your blog posts on TemporaryTicos. You spoke openly about your fears of moving here – fears that she shared. It created a bond in your mind, and you called her your friend long before you met.

Thankfully, you hit it off well in real life too, and became good buddies with Mason and her brother Ellis. The three of you spent countless hours throughout the months writing a play – something about a robber, a judge, falling asleep, a bus ride … I’m not sure I caught all the rest. You scribbled dialogue in secret notebooks and practiced the scenes, building up to a final performance that we parents enjoyed even if we didn’t quite understand the plot.

That performance was given on your last playdate together before Mason, Ellis and their parents relocated to Mexico for the next leg of their journey. There were promises to stay in touch.

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Another friend is leaving for Canada in two weeks. Two more will say good-bye at the end of June before moving to Germany.

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One mother shared with me a conversation she recently had with you.

“What do you love most about Savannah?” she asked you.

“The people,” you replied.

“And what do you love most about Costa Rica?” she asked.

“The people,” you said.

And truly, I think that’s wonderful. When you measure Savannah and Costa Rica as destinations, you can extoll their virtues and list their challenges. But for you, it boils down to relationships. And what a gift, because no matter where life takes you, how beautiful it is to build relationships everywhere you go.

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I think one of your favorite memories with friends here will be your “sledding” adventures. We got a new refrigerator last month, and as I broke down the box for recycling you asked if you could keep it. For what, you weren’t sure.

But then your buddy Agnes came over, and the two of you decided it would make an excellent sled. And it did. Now when your friends are here it’s a game to see how many of you can pile on for the ride.

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You even made a movie trailer featuring your escapades called “Slope Riders.” Comedy gold.

This last month we took a trip across the country to the Caribbean coast to visit the Sloth Sanctuary and see other area wildlife. It just so happens that over spring break Nana gave you a book about rainforests, which included a chapter about cocoa plantations and the making of chocolate. You became obsessed with the idea of making your own chocolate. So I was thrilled to learn there was a chocolate museum and plantation near our hotel, and we signed up for a tour.

Unfortunately, their English speaking tour guide didn’t show up that day, but we forged ahead and understood enough to enjoy the tour. We held giant cocoa pods, and even sampled the soft flesh inside that surrounds the beans.

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But the best part was at the end, when we had a chance to toast the cocoa beans, grind them into powder, mix them with ingredients and knead it all together to make the tastiest chocolate I think I’ve ever had.

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We bought a bag of the cocoa powder to take home so you can try to recreate the recipe. I’m looking forward to that.

You also had a great time taking photos of wildlife with my new camera and telephoto lens. You have quite the eye for it too!

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Also last month, we finally made the trip an hour or so up the coast to our old stomping grounds, Playa Azul. This is where we stayed three years ago, when we first came to Costa Rica for a month. It was thrilling to be back there, walking the black sand beaches, searching for sea glass and watching the waves crash on the rocks, just like before.

Three years ago, one of your favorite things to do was play “pioneer,” setting up a trading station for the barter of goods. Here you were then, :

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And here you are now, still playing the same game, still trading feathers for coconut husks.

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Then:

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And now:

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Still amazing – the place, but especially the girl. I love you so much, sweetheart.

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Letter to Camille: 117 Months

Happy 117 months, sweet girl! My talented violist. My reality TV show star.

We’ve had a lot going on this past month – where to start?

When last I wrote to you, we were beginning our 3 week stay in Savannah, which involved you being in a wedding, a TV show, and inside several potential new houses.

About that last part.

While we were in Savannah we signed the paperwork allowing our renters to stay in our house for another year or more, and officially started the hunt for a new Savannah home. Our plan is to buy another house while keeping our old one as a rental investment.

You do not like this plan.

Our home in Savannah is the only one you’ve ever known (until this move to Costa Rica). Your Daddy and I have wanted something different for some time, but not you. Home is home. You love your lavender room with the owl stickers on the wall, and you’re upset that it is the office of a priest for the foreseeable future. The church across the street is renting our house, and you don’t like that our living room is the new place for catechism classes. That’s your living room.

What you cannot fathom, and what seems to you like a grave injustice, is that YOU are one of the big reasons we’re looking to make a move. There are indeed a lot of great things about that old house, but we are longing for a home that gives you more freedom and independence. We want a home that is farther from busy streets and quadriplex apartments with nameless neighbors – a home where you can ride your bike alone or walk to a friend’s house. A home with a big yard and a big neighborhood for exploring – not weekends confined to the square of grass guarded by our privacy fence. We want some space to breathe. For all of us.

But you just want your old house back. These decisions are not easy for us – every home and every neighborhood has pros and cons. And we haven’t found the right house yet. But just as we were telling you this time last year when talking about coming to Costa Rica – home is wherever we are together. And I have faith that in time, our next house will feel like home to you too.

While the house hunt took up a lot of mental real estate, there were plenty of other happenings too. For the first time in years we were able to make it to the Easter family gathering in Moultrie with your Daddy’s extended family.

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This always involves a much anticipated Easter egg hunt, including cash-filled prize eggs. But this year was the first year we could remember when it POURED rain on Easter day.

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This didn’t stop you and the cousins though, who happily splashed about the yard, finding eggs. The Easter bunny piñata had to be moved to the porch, and I love that your weapon of choice was not a baseball bat or a broomstick, but a big umbrella. Very appropriate.

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Another major event for you was participating in my cousin Emmie’s wedding. Emmie lived in Savannah when you were very young, and was a frequent babysitter. You adore her, and were thrilled when she asked you to be a junior bridesmaid.

The day of the wedding, Emmie had kimono-style robes for her wedding party, and you felt very fancy. Then it was time to trade the kimonos for your gorgeous dress and even some high-heeled shoes, which made you feel very grown up. It was a special day for many reasons, and I’m so happy you could be part of it.

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Aside from your “performance” at the wedding, you had two other major performances this month.

One was back in Costa Rica after spring break, when your school held a Talent Show. You’d been practicing your viola song “Gypsy Fantastic” for months, and were thrilled to pass the audition.

The day of the talent show, you had a dress rehearsal at school. You didn’t know, however, that the dress rehearsal would be performed for the entire student body. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to see it, but you say the song went well and you got an embarrassingly large number of congratulations afterward.

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The night of the talent show, you were nervous as you took the stage – one of the few solo acts in the whole show. You began beautifully, but about halfway through the song stumbled on a run of notes. You knew it, I knew and your Daddy knew it, because we’ve all heard the song a million times. But I don’t think the crowd knew it. Your Daddy and I held our breaths though, because we could see in the stiffness of your posture that you weren’t happy. You ended the piece early, but you ended it strong, and even took a little bow to a roar of applause before walking off stage. But you were very upset with yourself.

Oh I know how hard it is not to be perfect when you want to be perfect. When you’re on stage and all eyes are on you. But I love how your friends – how our whole community – encouraged and supported you. It’s hard to be down on yourself with so many people lifting you up. You really did play beautifully, even if not as perfectly as you’d hoped.

Finally, you also had an opportunity to perform in Savannah and in Costa Rica when we participated in filming a reality TV show. I can’t write much about it now – but I can say that you are officially a paid actor.

Not that the show paid you – but because of a Mommy and Daddy bribe.

You really wanted our family to be chosen for the TV show, but once we were and you realized how much time we’d have to spend taping, your enthusiasm waned. Greatly.

I knew that if you spent most of your time on camera looking bored or rolling your eyes, your scenes would be left on the cutting room floor. And I really wanted you to be part of it. So finally, we told you that even if you weren’t in the mood to film, you were an actor so you needed to act like it. And if you would do that for us, we’d pay you a small acting fee.

You perked up considerably.

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I did have to threaten to withdraw the fee several times. Once, here in Costa Rica, you were surfing for the camera. The two of us were in the water, mercifully away from the microphones because we were arguing about the waves. You thought I was taking you out too deep where the waves were too big. But I knew the waves you wanted were too small and too spent to actually hold you up. I let you try a couple to prove my point, and you repeatedly fell off the board, resurfacing almost in hysterics.

Then I snapped. “I know you don’t feel like surfing right now and you don’t like these waves. But you are a PAID actor and I need you to get on that board and I need you to surf. And ACT like it’s fun.”

And thankfully, you stood up on the board and surfed a wave that cut right in front of the camera, backlit by a gorgeous sunset. And I smiled and cheered and ACTED like we hadn’t both nearly added our salty tears to the seawater just moments before.

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But now that the show is done, you’re already planning all the ways you’re going to spend your hard-earned money. And you’re lamenting the fact that the crew had to leave. You were completely and totally charmed by the sound technician, who treated you like a grown up and explained his equipment to you, even letting you wear his headphones and instructing Lee and me to march around whispering jokes into our microphones only for you to hear.

You decided that when you grow up, you want to be a marine biologist and a sound technician. And listen to whales.

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And when it was time to wrap the show, you had handmade gifts for the whole crew. And then you sobbed all night because you wouldn’t see the sound tech or the director again.

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Oh my tender-hearted girl. My funny, silly, sometimes crabby actor. My musician. My sweetheart.

I love you so.

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Letter to Camille: 116 Months

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Hello sweet girl and happy 116 months!

IMG_7370Right now it’s 66 degrees outside, so naturally you are in fuzzy, footie pajamas under a fleece blanket on the couch. I don’t think I broke a sweat today, and that’s so … weird.

We are back in Savannah for a few weeks during your spring break, and arrived late last night. Footie pajamas were the first item on your to-do list. Second, a happy reunion with your stuffies.

Of course we were very glad to see family, but thankfully it hadn’t been such a long space between visits this time. We had lots of company these past several weeks!

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First, Boo and Auntie came to see us! In between all the cuddles, there was a lot of beach time and even a day spent 4-wheeling around the jungle. I might’ve even let you drive. You might’ve loved it.

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Then last week, Nana, Granddaddy, your Uncle Jeff, Aunt Michelle and cousins Stella and Jane came to visit. What didn’t we do? We explored beaches, rode horses, tried aerial yoga and took surf lessons.

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And rock climbing!

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This trimester at school, you traded kickboxing class for rock climbing class. I really wasn’t sure what to expect – you’re a strong girl, but could you make it ALL THE WAY up that 40 meter wall? And if you couldn’t, how disappointed would you be?

I needn’t have worried. I watched, proud and amazed, as you scrambled up the wall, making it all the way to the top on your first attempt. It certainly wasn’t easy, but I loved your determination and the way you attacked the task.

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I was so inspired, that I joined the adult rock climbing club too. It’s tough climbing up that wall, and when my arms are shaking with the effort, I think about your determination and I want to make it to the top for me – and for you, too. And so I do.

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It has been a great month in the jungle for you. One of the highlights was the school dance – even though at first, you didn’t want to go.

“There will be BOYS there,” you said. “And what if they ask me to dance?”

Oh boy – your Daddy and I thought – it begins. I’m sure part of you was afraid they’d ask you to dance, and part of you was afraid they wouldn’t.

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But you and your girlfriends all finally agreed to go, and I snapped a picture before we drove away (parents were not invited!). When we rolled back up two hours later, the music was thumping, the lights were low and a disco ball was flinging color all over the dance floor. You and your girlfriends were right in the middle of it, impossibly sweaty and deliriously happy.

It felt like a milestone, like a rite of passage. You girls felt so grown up, out there dancing together, and several of you agreed it was one of the best nights you’d had in a long time.

“What did the boys do?” I asked. “Did they ask you to dance?”

“No,” you answered. “They took off their shirts and ran around.”

Okay then! Fine by me.

You’ve made some great gal pals in Nosara, and you’re already starting to dread the good-byes. The other day in the car on the way home from school, you told me that you and your friends have decided you’re all going to cry and cry on the last day of school.

I couldn’t resist an I-told-you-so. When you found out we were moving to Costa Rica, you were devastated. You were so worried you wouldn’t have friends.

Yes, you have missed your Savannah crew very, very much, but you have made lasting friendships in Costa Rica. My hope for you, when we began this journey, was that when it was time to go the parting would be bittersweet. That you’d discover things (and people!) to love in Costa Rica, but also be drawn back to things you love in Savannah too. And I’m finding this to be true.

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We were shopping the other day in a store in Nosara that sells signs with clever slogans carved onto them. You wanted one, and flipped through the stack. I admit I was surprised – pleasantly so – when I saw the sign you chose.

It says, “If you’re lucky enough to live in Nosara, you’re lucky enough.”

Yes. That. It doesn’t mean you’re not also lucky to live in Savannah – we love this place. But I’m glad you will finally admit that we’ve all been pretty lucky this year to have the experiences we’re having.

I certainly know I’m lucky enough, and you’re a big reason why. I love you so much, sweet girl.

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Letter to Camille: 115 Months

Camille at 115 Months

Hello sweet girl – Happy 115 Months! Right now you’re watching the Teen Titans cartoon with your Daddy – something you guys do most every night before bed. We have a routine – you and your Daddy watch a show, and then one of us reads to you in bed (we take turns). Gone are the evenings when you needed us to read for you. I can’t even count the number of books you’ve devoured on your own lately. But we still savor these moments together, cuddled in your bed (or not cuddled, since it’s usually too hot for that business), enjoying a good book together.
You’re in that literary in-between phase, where you want books that are more challenging and cerebral, but also can’t handle books that are scary or too sad or heavy.
Wait. Come to think of it, I’m still in that phase. Maybe it’s not a phase – maybe it’s the kind of reader you are. I read for fun and for entertainment and to learn new things, but if the story is particularly sad I carry that sadness around in my heart and a dark cloud hangs over my entire day for as long as I’m reading the book. It’s just not worth it. I think you may be the same way.
Your current favorite book – one you’ve probably read 6 or 7 times in the last 6 months – is Wonder by R.J. Palacio. At first, I would have thought it was too heavy for you. It’s about a boy with a severe facial deformity who attends middle school for the first time after a childhood of homeschooling. It’s tough in places, but the characters are beautiful and strong. We read it together and I loved it too.
We needed something new to read, so just last week we started Esperanza Rising. The main character faces a major tragedy in the beginning – the death of her father. Her sadness and grief are drawn out over the first several chapters, and that night after I tucked you in, it wasn’t long before I heard the creak of your door opening again.
“Mama, I can’t sleep,” you said. “My heart is racing.”
We talked about it. You said you were scared after reading that book. Scared something might happen to me or your Daddy. I laid down beside you and curled around your body for comfort.
“Mama,” you cried, “please don’t die.”
Ugh. That’s a difficult one. We all die. We do. It bothers me too, but it’s true. It would seem like I wasn’t taking you seriously if I just said, “Don’t worry sweetie, I won’t die.” That would be a lie.
So I told you that I was healthy, that your Daddy was healthy, and there was no reason to be worried. That was the truth, and eventually you fell asleep. And I promptly returned that book to the library. I know it has a happy ending, but I felt your pain. The book was just not worth it.
Whoa – that ended up being more dark than I intended. But sometimes this parenting stuff is tough. And sometimes this growing up stuff is tough too.

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Thankfully, these dark and scary thoughts don’t dominate your day. Generally, your thoughts seem to linger on more fun things, like going to Germany.
You’ve become obsessed with Germany lately – in particular, with visiting Heidelberg because it shares your last name.
“What do you even want to do there?” I asked you one evening after you declared it to be the most important destination on your travel wish list.
“I don’t know!” you squealed. “See the sign for Heidelberg and then FREAK OUT!”
That’s a looooooong flight to see one sign. And freak out.
But your Daddy started looking up some information about travel to Heidelberg. Secretly, we’ve been longing to take one of the “Adventures by Disney” trips. They’re super pricey, super fun-sounding global adventures organized by Disney – sure to be kid-friendly and swank.
And they just happen to have a European one that includes a few nights in Heidelberg. And a sleepover in a real castle.
When he told you about it, your eyes got huge and round, as excited energy beamed from your every pore. “I WANT TO DO THAT!” you declared.
“Sorry love,” Daddy said, “But it’s $5,000. PER PERSON.”
You: “Whoa. That’s a lot. (pause) But I still want to go.”
Daddy: “I tell you what, if you can come up with $5,000 and pay your way, we’ll go.” Your Daddy and I had a nice chuckle about that.
But you remained guardedly optimistic. You now receive an allowance of $5 per week, and each week brings you gleefully closer to 5 grand. And you retain that optimism, because you can’t really fathom how much money that is, especially for a 9 year old.
Fast forward to Saturday. We were having a lazy, hang-around-the-house kind of day, so you started making crafts. You took sea shells and hemp string and made lovely necklaces. You’d been talking for a while about wanting to sell Costa Rican themed jewelry and art, and your Daddy had made a deal with you: make at least 10 products, and he’d make you a website.

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So you gathered up some of the paintings you’ve created, and you fashioned several more necklaces, and by the end of the day had 10 products. You even made your own logo for your store, CamsCraft.

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Good to his word, Daddy made your website, CamsCraft.us, and we shared it with our friends on Facebook. Within a day, you’d sold nearly every item, and made almost $75. In one day.
Now your Daddy and I are getting a little worried about that Germany/Disney promise.
Not really though. If you manage to save up and dream up a way to make $5,000, then that’ll be a happy problem for us to have. Mostly, I’m just proud of your ambitious, entrepreneurial spirit.
I remember several years ago, you learned to make an origami whale. You made about two dozen of them, and wanted to sell them on the street corner for a dollar a piece. I didn’t have the heart to tell you that I didn’t think they’d sell very well. The product and the market didn’t seem a good match. I finally convinced you to give them away to parents in the school carpool line, who seemed surprised but gracious upon receiving your gift.
But with CamsCraft, you are feeling the joy of success. Of having people see something you made, and decide it’s worth buying. And I’m feeling very grateful toward family and friends who are supporting you and helping you find this success.
You need to rep
lenish the store, so tonight we walked the beach at Guiones, looking for more shells and fish bones. We’re asking around to see if we can source more string for necklaces. We’re foraging for more wood for your paintings.

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Maybe one day you’ll make enough money to go to Heidelberg. Or, more likely, you’ll come across a giant stuffed animal somewhere and blow all your money on it. But for now, enjoy that feeling of accomplishment. You are loved. We are loved. And that love comes flooding to us in so many different ways – like in the support for a 9-year-old’s craft store even though we’re thousands of miles away.
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I love you so much my sweet pea. And I’m so proud of you. Love, Mama.
Pura Vida Hammock Time

Letter to Camille: 114 Months

Camille at 114 Months

Hello sweet girl and Happy 114 Months to you!

We are back in the land of Pura Vida, and right now you’re at school where it is “Spirit Week.” Crazy Hair Day yesterday involved 5 ponytails. Today you could dress like an athlete, and you are looking super cute in a set of running clothes. 
I worried that you might have trouble transitioning back to our Costa Rican existence after three weeks at home, but you seem to be adjusting well. You’re glad to see your friends, and happy to be at school.
That doesn’t mean you don’t miss home though. While we were in Savannah, and the first week or two after our return here, you became increasingly defensive of your home town. Anything positive we said about Costa Rica was met with an eye roll, and you’d re-assert your preference for Savannah at any given opportunity. 
I’m sure this is partly because we got news while we were home that our renters, the church, need our house for another year. Your father and I were tempted, and toyed with the idea of extending our one-year stay to two. We ultimately decided to return home in July as planned, but I think all this talk unsettled you.
Back in Costa Rica, I’d remark, “Wow, what a beautiful sunset!” To which you’d shrug and say, “it’s ok.” At night, I’d look up at the sky and marvel at how well you can see the bright stars from our rural, hilltop position. “You can’t see them like this in Savannah,” we’d say, to which you’d immediately bristle and declare the stars here to be mediocre.
I caught you doodling the words “Costa Rica” on a piece of paper and I remarked how nice it looked. You stopped, and then began doodling “Savannah” and “United States” immediately.
We get the hint.
The thing that drives me crazy is that I’m not asking you to choose sides. There doesn’t have to be a better city, or a lovelier country. In reality, I know just how you feel. There are things we enjoy here in Costa Rica that Savannah can never match. But at the same time, there are things we love about Savannah that Costa Rica cannot provide. Loving one isn’t a rejection of the other, but it feels that way sometimes. Like a disloyalty.
And while you prefer home, I do think you love many things about being here. Lately, you’ve taken a real interest in zodiac signs and astrology thanks to a study of constellations in science class. We were looking up your Chinese zodiac information online just for fun, and the article noted that each 10 years after your birth year would be a year of bad luck. So for you, that would be 2016.
“Well that’s just wrong,” you said. “In 2016 I got to be in Costa Rica!”
Your father and I stole quick happy glances at each other and looked away before you could register what you’d said, rethink it and take it back.
We’re not asking you to love Costa Rica more than home. I just want you to embrace the opportunity you have been given, that we as a family have been given. This is big. This global perspective could change the way you perceive things for the rest of your life, and hopefully in a very positive way. It’s not about which city or country is better, it’s about enjoying every place you are for all it has to offer.
I also recognize that some of this blasé attitude is part of a larger phase. We spent the New Year holiday camping in Fort Wilderness at Disney with our beloved Gaddy clan. You kids had a fabulous time in the pool, and enjoyed evening bonfires and marshmallow roasting. 

Fort Wilderness PoolShenanigans with DaddyRoasting MarshmallowsToastyThe Crew

New Year’s Eve, we stationed ourselves on the beach at the lake in the campground, where we can see the spectacular fireworks from Magic Kingdom at the stroke of midnight. I love fireworks, and these are some of the best I’ve ever seen. 
As I have well documented in past letters, you’re not one for staying up late. So sometime around 10:30, you curled up on a beach blanket and went to sleep. 

Party Animal

Finally, as the countdown to the fireworks began, I woke you up and pulled you onto my lap so we could watch the light show together. 
The fireworks began filling the sky with the bright lights, bursting in so many colors and in perfect sync to the music piped in from the park. But after a minute or two, you turned your head sleepily into my shoulder and snuggled back down.
“But Camille!” I said, “You’re missing the fireworks!”
“I’ve seen fireworks before,” you moaned. And then you went back to sleep. 
Thankfully, our day in the park was a ton of fun and proved that you’re not yet blasé about Disney World in general. As long as you can get back to bed at a reasonable hour.

Early Morning at Magic KingdomGoofy FamilyShe's Driving!Haunted MansionMine Train!Beauty and the Beast RestaurantEyeing DessertWith the BeastDancers

Once back in Costa Rica, we spent our first weekend doing absolutely nothing. After all the busy busy busy of being back home, Disney and travel, it was so nice to sit in our pajamas all day and read books. Play chess. Nod off for a bit. We needed that. 
The next weekend though, it was time to emerge again, and we spent most of those days on the beach. We explored a new section of Guiones we’d never visited before, and then took a crew up to Playa San Juanillo where the waves were tranquil and the snorkeling was perfect. 

Hermit Crab HuntressExploring GuionesSan Juanillo Tidal PoolsBeach BudsFun with Sea Urchins

It was, and is, good to be back, and to be here with you – resistance and all. I love you so much sweet girl.

Letter to Camille: 113 Months

Camille at 113 MonthsHello sweet girl and Happy 113 Months! Could this be the latest I’ve ever been getting your letter written? Perhaps. But I don’t think you’ll be too hard on me – a whirlwind would not adequately describe these last few weeks. They’ve been good, but exhausting, with little time to pause, reflect, and write. 

Even now, I’m worn out at the end of a long day of packing. Packing to return to Costa Rica, and packing for a Disney camping trip all at once. We leave in the morning for Disney, then leave Disney for our Costa Rican home. Perhaps not the best of timing, but when we Heidels set our minds to something, we usually get it done.
And there’s just been too much good stuff to let this month go by without a letter. 
Since the last time I wrote, we celebrated Thanksgiving in Nosara. There was no turkey, no dressing, no sweet potato casserole – but we managed just fine with arroz con pollo, roasted veggies and a traditional Swedish fish soup courtesy of the Ankarbergs. The next day, we left the beach for a road trip up into the volcanic mountains north of Liberia, where you and Agnes and Elsa loved playing in the hot springs and on the waterslide.

Waterslide!

But you proved once again that you’re not a big fan of hiking, particularly in the jungle, in the rain, when it’s almost dark, and we’re kind of lost. Maybe that makes you the smart one of the family, come to think of it.

Hiking with Agnes and Elsa

While signs of Christmas were few in Costa Rica, there were some reminders. Your school held a holiday program where you and your classmates dressed as minions and performed Feliz Navidad. 

School Holiday Program

As the calendar flew toward our departure date for Savannah, you (like your mother), began making lists. The day before we left, you penned this list, which I think is a perfect snapshot of that moment in time. 

Camille's To Do List

I love that your tasks that day involved things like “reading poems.” I adore that your school schedule included “mindfulness class,” where your only homework was meditation. 
We had one final Friday night gathering with friends on Pelada before the Christmas break. I love that beach and those people, but I was also excited to see family and friends back home. You were too. 

Friday Nights at Pelada

After a long day of travel we were reunited with Auntie Erin at the Jacksonville airport at last. There were many hugs, and when we saw Boo that night there may have even been a tear or two.
Then the craziness really kicked in, trying to squeeze in all the playdates and visits we wanted to make between the dentist and doctor visits we needed to accomplish too. 
I took you for a checkup with your allergist, and was shocked to find out that since July, you’ve grown 2.5 inches. And LOST half a pound. Apparently you’ve been running around a lot in the jungle and eating healthy food. 
We asked you what restaurant you wanted to be sure to visit while we were in the states, and your answer came quickly. “Arby’s,” you said. So off we went for a roast beef sandwich, which you inhaled before leaning back against the bench seat and declaring, “I needed that.”

She's Thinking Arby's

We made Christmas goodies, we attended Christmas cookie swaps and Christmas dinners. 

Making Christmas Cookies

Apparently a new favorite holiday activity is impromptu caroling with your friends. We were having dinner at the Gaddy’s home when you, Lola  and Jacqueline spontaneously decided to go up and down the street, knocking on doors and belting out tunes. One neighbor was so impressed he gave you each a dollar as a tip.

Christmas Carolers

We enjoyed a Christmas meal and gift opening at Boo’s house, where you and Jones and Eli spent many happy hours playing together and even making gingerbread houses. 

Christmas at Boo's HouseGingerbread Houses with Boo

Of course, in between all of these things we all had to go see the new Star Wars movie, which was an event probably more highly anticipated than Christmas morning itself. 

Star Wars Movie!

Not only did you love the movie, but you and Daddy even got to visit Uncle Dave at the TV station the morning the Star Wars characters came to be on the news. A highlight for sure.

Star Wars at WSAV
Behind the Desk at WSAV

Then we packed our bags again for a trip north to Tennessee for a very special Christmas visit. Your Granddaddy retired from his job, and Christmas Eve was his last service as pastor of his church in Tennessee. Not only did we want to be there for it, but my brother and his family came from Texas too for the big event. 

Christmas Eve Service 2015

After the service, we all shared a toast – champagne for the adults, and sparkling grape juice for the underage granddaughters. 

Cheers!

Christmas morning was great fun – this was the first Christmas morning you’d shared with other kids, and the excitement was contagious. I love this pic your Daddy got of you three rushing toward your piles of gifts from Santa, because the blur is just how it looked in real life too. 

Christmas Morning Blur

You’ve been increasingly interested in editing photos and videos lately, so Santa hooked you up with a GoPro. And plenty of Star Wars stuff too, naturally. There were also some nods to Costa Rica in the stack – like a shirt with a sloth playing a ukulele. 

GoPro!Sloth UkuleleItty Bitty ReyA Star Wars Christmas

And I’m so glad you loved the gift we got you for Christmas – an honorary adoption of Jorge, your favorite baby monkey from SIBU Wildlife Sanctuary.

Camille Loves Jorge!

We had our traditional breakfast of biscuits and gravy before packing up and heading to Macon for the annual Christmas night bonfire with extended family. It was a long day for sure, but so good to be with these good people, like your favorite of my cousins, Gracie.

Camille and Gracie

These last few days have been filled with a few more playdates and even a trip to the Crab Shack before heading back out. 

Crab Shack Time!

You’ve enjoyed being home, and you’ve been showered with so much love from your family and friends that I’m sure you have some reservations about leaving them again. But I’m thankful we have such beautiful people to return to in Costa Rica as well, were the love continues to pour. 
And in the meantime, there’s that whole Disney thing to look forward to. Which means i should get some sleep, because tomorrow WE GO TO THE MOUSE!
I love you so much sweet girl. So very much. Happy Disney dreams to you!

Letter to Camille: 112 Months

Thumbnail image for Camille at 112 Months

Happy 112 Months to my sweet girl, who is currently crooning “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” while her Daddy plays guitar. This song has been a favorite of yours lately, and you spent quite a long time this morning (and a lot of pencil lead) transcribing all the words into your notebook, and then rewriting the whole song in the secret cryptic language you and your friends have developed. 
So much to love about that.

Secret Language

I remember being in the 5th grade and passing a note to my best friend Erica, written entirely in pig latin. Our teacher – a strict, stern disciplinarian – intercepted the note on its way across the room.
“I am now going to read this aloud to the class,” she announced, expecting me to shrink in embarrassment. I did wonder for a moment if she knew pig latin, as I watched her unfold the lined paper. But then she wrinkled her nose and said, “This is just nonsense,” and crumpled the note. 
Score for me. 
I approve of these kinds of secrets – the kind that show you developing special bonds with your crew of friends.
In addition to a secret language, you’ve also discovered a secret hideout. Our first couple of months here in Costa Rica, you were reluctant to wander away from our yard, for fear of snakes, creatures and the general unknown. 
But this last month, as your familiarity and bravery have grown, you’ve begun wandering out a bit. I love this, because back home I don’t feel as good about letting you trot off down our busy city street by yourself. But up here on our gravel mountain road, I feel like I can unravel the umbilical cord a bit farther. 
When your friend Agnes was visiting, you two decided to strike out on your own in search of a secret space. You spent a good deal of time packing your backpacks with everything from bug spray, to crackers and nutella, and even your camping knife (just in case). 
Off you went down the driveway, saying your good-byes as though you might be gone for a while. 

Searching for a Secret Hideout

You did find a secret spot, and I wondered if you’d let me see it too. Sure enough, the next day, you invited me to come with you.
You packed your backpack again, but also decided to bring along a light wooden nightstand. “I need something to put my water on,” you said, as though this were an obvious necessity. 

Heading to the Hideout

Your secret hideout is simply magical. It’s just up the road and into the woods a bit, where many years ago someone began constructing a home. For whatever reason, the home site was abandoned to be reclaimed by the jungle. There are paving stones covered in a carpet of green moss, “great for dancing on,” you told me. There is a stone wall crawling with vines, reminiscent of some old, forgotten castle. 
Secret Hideout

Mysterious WallMossy Pavers

And beside it all is a view of the sea. You spread your blanket out on the soft green moss, placed your water on the nightstand, and began to read a book. So I did the same. 

A Hideout with a View

It was peaceful and lovely, albeit a bit buggy, and as charming as could be. I loved to see you there, and was so thankful that you wanted to share it with me. 

Peaceful

I’m definitely seeing evidence of you moving into a new phase of life now, where your peers become more and more important. This is natural, and this is good, but not without a few pitfalls. One is that you care more about your appearance – not so much from a place of vanity, but of a desire for acceptance. 
When the school year began, we bought your school uniform. We had the option of a polo shirt with shorts, polo with a skort, and a dress with the school logo embroidered on the chest. We got a couple of each, thinking you’d appreciate the options. 
I hadn’t really noticed that you’d only been wearing the polo and skort until one day you didn’t have any clean skorts. “So just grab your dress or some shorts,” I said, which earned me an exasperated glare. 
“I don’t want to wear those,” you said. Much prodding on my part finally got you to admit the problem. “Only the little kids wear dresses, and none of the girls wear shorts.”
We were out of time to do anything about this, and frankly I thought it was an opportunity to reinforce that you should be your own person and not worry so much about your clothes. So you begrudgingly pulled on the shorts and went off to school. 
Now I had decided to turn this into a “thing,” and that afternoon began badgering you about wearing your dress the next day, too. “Why did I even buy it,” I asked, pulling a guilt trip, “if you’re not going to wear it once?”

You were near tears – tears that I could not understand – until you told me that the boys at school had made fun of you that day for wearing shorts.

I felt simultaneously angry with the boys, upset on your behalf, and even more fired up that you should have the confidence to wear something different. “But mom,” you pleaded, “no one in my grade wears dresses.” 
Finally, we agreed to a compromise. You have two of these dresses, and Agnes loves dresses. So we gave a dress to her, and you both agreed to wear the dress on the same
day. That way, you wouldn’t be the only one in a dress in 4th grade. I promised if you’d wear it once – just once – I’d never make you wear it again.
You moped all the way through your morning routine that day, and dragged a little more slowly than usual to get to class. I wanted a picture of you and Agnes in your matching dresses, but knew better than to ask for a pose. So your Daddy snuck a pic when you weren’t paying attention. 

Matching Dresses

At the end of the day, you were all smiles again. “Everyone loved the dress,” you said. 
You’ve worn it a few times since, always on the same day as Agnes. It still makes you a little uncomfortable to be wearing something different, but I’m proud of you for doing it anyway.
But there was one clothing battle this month that I really and truly did not expect nor understand. And I feel like I should document it here because one day I think we’ll get a good laugh from the story. 
You wear socks to school every day, but are asked to leave your tennis shoes at the classroom door to help keep the rooms clean. So this means you run around in your socks a lot, and it shows. 
There is one pair of socks in particular you love. The funny thing is, there is NOTHING special about them. They are white Hanes crew socks, but you like how they fit and how they feel. 
Sadly, the heels of the socks became thinner and thinner until they finally had a hole. However, this didn’t deter you from wearing them at every opportunity.

Holy Socks

One night after dinner, with your feet propped up on the couch and your pinkish skin showing through the holes, your Daddy said the socks had seen their final days. “Those socks look awful,” he said. “It’s time for them to go in the trash.” 
You begged and pleaded for him not to take the socks, and we thought it was all a fun game until he walked over to actually take them from your feet. You clutched onto them and began to sob. “But I love these socks,” you said between choking tears. 
Your father and I stared at each other, mouths agape. What was this about? Was this really about socks? Was it about something deeper, like a way to cope with the unfamiliarity of your surroundings? You seem to be adjusting so well, but had these socks somehow become like a security blanket of sorts? 
We realized pretty quickly that we weren’t going to be tossing them in the trash, but they really were quite pitiful. So you consented to let me patch them. You wanted me to sew a piece of fabric over the hole. I agreed to sew them the next day, so that night you kept them on your nightstand with a stern note for any would-be sock thieves.

Do Not Steal!

I  hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to sew a patch around the inside of a sock heel, but I managed it, and you were very grateful. 

Patchwork

We lovingly dubbed them your “hobo socks,” and you still enjoy wearing them to school, to bed, everywhere. 

Hobo Socks

I’m sure as you grow older, as you struggle with your own changing feelings and moods, as you try to find the balance between dependence and independence, we’ll have many more incidents like this one. And we’ll try to find the compromise each time. 
And I have to admit, now that I spent so much time sewing those socks, and now that I know how much they mean to you … I kind of love them too. So one day, if you decide to toss your hobo socks, I’ll be the one digging them out of the trash and putting them somewhere special. Because they’re a reminder of you – in all your wonderful, quirky ways. 
I love you so much sweet girl.

Letter to Camille: 111 Months

Camille at 111 Months

Hello sweet girl, and Happy 111 Months to you! Right now, you are in Costa Rica, hosting a sleepover with your friend from Sweden, watching a movie from Japan. 
How international of you – I love it! 

Panamanian Metro

This month you added another stamp to your passport when we took our visa run to Panama City, Panama. We were also finally able to fulfill a promise we’d made to you back in the States. You were so sad to leave most of your stuffed animals at home, so we said you could get a new one during our travels. Nosara doesn’t offer many stuffed-animal-buying opportunities, but as soon as we arrived at the airport for our flight out of Costa Rica, you hit the airport stores with enthusiasm. 
It didn’t take you long to discover this cute little tapir with button eyes, so unlike any of your other stuffed animals, and so cuddly. You named him “David Kitson” (the namesake and benefactor of Nosara’s library – you’re being funny) and you love him dearly.

David Kitson the Tapir

In Panama we went on a whale watching tour to the Pearl Islands, we visited the beautiful cathedral in the old city, and hiked in a rainforest park in search of sloths. 

Whale watching in Panama

Studying the trees
The hike – well, that was not your favorite. It was very hot and humid, and the higher we climbed the more despairing your disposition. 

Rainforest HikeWorst Hike Ever

At times like that, I get frustrated – so I started in with a speech about how lucky you were to be hiking in a Central American rainforest looking for sloths. Yes it was hot, yes we were winded, but wasn’t this so much better than sitting around playing Minecraft? 
The speech seemed to fall on deaf ears. And then I remembered that you are 9. That you are uncomfortably hot and tired. That you don’t have the maturity to fully appreciate all the experiences we’re having, especially when they aren’t all pleasurable. I don’t think you’ll ever look back on that hike fondly, but I hope one day you’ll come to agree it was a pretty cool thing to do.

Panama City View

And at the very last minute, at the park exit, we finally spotted an elusive sloth.

The elusive sloth

Back in Nosara, with fresh 90-day tourist visas in our passports, it was back to work and school. The school held an extra-curricular activities fair, giving all the students a chance to see what clubs and sports were offered, and to sign up. We’d already looked through the list, and I suspected you’d choose the art club, the chess club, or perhaps the rock climbing club if you were feeling particularly daring. 
But I was shocked when you announced that you really wanted to join the Muay Thai Kickboxing club. 
Kickboxing?
I couldn’t imagine you hitting anything, much less anyone, even in fun. I feared you’d want to drop out after the first class, so I tried to steer you toward some of the other activities. How about paddle boarding? Marching band? 
But then I stopped myself – after all, didn’t we come here to try new things? Expand our horizons? If you wanted to experience kickboxing, why should I discourage you?
You’ve had one kickboxing class so far. I was there for the last few minutes of class and watched you hitting and kicking at the teacher, drenched in sweat from the effort. And happy. And quite proud of yourself, too.

Kickboxing!

You’ve also begun a series of aerial yoga classes, which you adore. You’ve begged us to sell your bed when we get back to Savannah and install a yoga silk instead. You love being cocooned inside, and I agree it looks very peaceful and cozy. 

Cocoons Aerial yogaUpside-Down Namaste

So your weekly activities look like this – viola lessons via Skype with your American teacher on Monday mornings, after-school Spanish on Mondays and Wednesdays, kickboxing on Mondays, aerial yoga on Saturdays, and sometimes surf school on Sunday mornings.

Long Distance Viola Lesson

We’d hoped to escape such a busy schedule when we came to Costa Rica, but somehow manage to have a lot going on anyway. But thankfully there is stil
l time in the afternoons and weekends for swimming in the pool, walks on the beach, or sunset sandcastle building with friends.
Sunset Sandcastles

Beach Walk

You’re settling in very nicely here – we all are. Even if a hike in the rainforest makes for the worst day ever, you like your school, you love your friends, and you’re trying new things. That’s my pure vida girl.
Camille and Her Daddy

Letter to Camille: 110 Months

Camille at 110 Months

Hello sweet girl, my temporary tica! I have so much I want to say to you, it’s hard to know where to begin recounting your transition into life here in Costa Rica. Your father and I were holding our collective breath when we took this trip south, because you’d made it clear you didn’t want to come along. 
The first week, we busied ourselves by settling in to our new environment and doing fun, vacation-type things. But week 2, Daddy and I needed to turn some focus back toward work, and you grew restless. You had FaceTime sessions with your friends back home nearly every night, which I think helped ease the ache. But I knew you were lonesome.

Facetime with a Buddy

But more than lonesome, you were also scared. Scared about school, and the fact that half of your classes would be taught in Spanish. You’re a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to school, and you were stressed to think you might be lost and unable to accomplish your work.
A few days before school began, we took an afternoon trip with our friend Joe for dinner and drinks in Samara, a town about 45 minutes away. After our meal, we were perched on stools at the Microbar, a teeny-tiny craft beer bar that is nothing more than an open garage door, a few stools and two dozen beer taps (and a soda tap for you).

The Microbar

We were the only customers, and about to leave when a young woman sauntered over, grabbed a stool and announced she was on a “one woman bar crawl.” Light conversation revealed that her grandparents lived not far from Savannah, and that her family moved to South Africa from the States when she was 9. Now, she works for an aid agency in Rawanda, and is here in Costa Rica for dental work (wrap your brain around all that for a moment). 
She took a great interest in you, asking you to come over and tell her all about your adventure, about your school, about how you felt. And you were honest – you told her you were scared. 
Grace slipped off her bar stool and got on her knees so she’d be level with you. She took both of your hands in hers, looked directly into your eyes and said, “You are going to do so great. I can just tell. You are a brave girl, and you’re going to have an awesome year.”
It may have been the “bar crawl” that made her so friendly, but it was just what you needed to hear. As we made our way home that night, you announced, “I really like Grace. I wish I’d gotten her phone number so we could talk sometimes.”

Camille and Grace

The week before school started, I put a note up on a local Facebook page asking if any other parents were interested in a playdate, and you finally met some friends. They invited us along on a waterfall hike, and the group of kids folded you into their ranks like they’d known you forever.

Hiking to the WaterfallChecking Out a Turtle

It was wonderful – until it came time to jump. The kids, who’d all been to this waterfall many times before, scrambled confidently up the rocks and then jumped into the cool, deep pools below. You followed along, but when it was your turn to step out onto the ledge, you froze. 

Waterfall JumpingThe View to the Pools

I was watching from the ground, and knew you were terrified. I knew just what you were thinking: you didn’t want to jump, but you didn’t want to be the kid who didn’t jump either. 
We cheered you on from the ground. Then when that didn’t work, we told you that you didn’t have to jump if you didn’t want to. But still you stood there, rooted firmly in place, unable to jump or not jump. Unable to decide.
I finally climbed up there too, but it didn’t help. By this time, the other kids had hiked farther up and were swimming in other pools, but you were unwilling to join them. The jump was an obstacle you couldn’t get past – you couldn’t jump, and you couldn’t bear not to. 
Soon, the moms began packing up and it was time to go. The decision could not be put off any longer. I jumped, because frankly it was a lot easier than climbing back down. And then finally – FINALLY – you closed your eyes and stepped off the rock cliff. You splashed into the water, and then came up smiling and ready to jump again.

Jump!!

I thought it was a lovely metaphor for your current situation. You were scared about your school and your new life here, but eventually you had no choice but to jump. And I hoped, I prayed, that you’d come up smiling.
A couple of days before school started we got your supply list, and saw that you needed to bring books to read – one in English, and one in Spanish. There is a local library, so we made our way there to get you a card and find some books. 
Your library card is actually just your name and a number scrawled onto a slip of paper that I stuck in my wallet, but the library is really quite impressive for such a small town in the jungle. There are many books in both English and Spanish, and you walked back and forth along the English shelves, thrilled with the selection. 

Browsing the Library

You finally settled on “Eragon,” a tome that would nearly fill your entire backpack. Choosing a Spanish book was more difficult thou
gh, seeing as you knew no Spanish. You ended up with “Buenas Noches, Luna,” or “Good Night, Moon,” a book that was a favorite when you were younger.

La Biblioteca

I giggled to see your two school books lined up side-by-side – the hefty English book about a boy and his dragon, and the baby book about bedtime.

English vs. Spanish

The day before school started, you announced that you had the “first day heebie-jeebies,” and I know I did too. But ready or not, the school day arrived and it was time to put on your Del Mar uniform and metaphorically take that leap.

First Day of 4th GradeOff She Goes!

As we mingled with other parents and kids outside the classroom, you were introduced to Camila, a tica girl who speaks Spanish and English. When it was time for us to go, Camila was already seated at a table, and there was an empty chair beside her. You slipped into it, and I was relieved to see you two talking as we crept away.

Camille and Camila

The day felt long, and I didn’t know what to expect when we picked you up that afternoon. I felt there was a strong possibility of tears.
You saw us and trotted over, collapsing into us with the weary hug of someone who has been working hard all day at something new and difficult.
“So Camille, how was your day?” we asked.
“It was good,” you said. 
GOOD! The word bounced happily around in my head as we walked to the car. I would’ve taken “ok” or “not the worst,” but hadn’t expected something as wonderful as “good.”
Over the next few days you made several new friends, some tica, some from the US, another from Canada. 

Pool Pals

But the new friend you talked about most was Agnes. 
She doesn’t share all your classes, but shares Spanish and recess with you. Agnes is from Sweden, and speaks only a little bit of English and Spanish. I think you sympathized with her right away – if you were nervous about learning one language, imagine having to learn two! And not knowing what anyone around you was saying!
That first day of school, the two of you played on the playground during recess. “Did you talk to each other?” I asked, curious how a wordless friendship gets going. 
“No,” you said, “we would point at the tire swing if we wanted to swing, or walk around and look for butterflies. We didn’t say much. Agnes is so nice.”
And I felt a warmth spread across my chest. This – THIS – this was the kind of thing I hoped you would learn and experience here. I hoped you’d learn empathy for others who are also strangers in a strange land. I hoped you would befriend people who weren’t exactly like you. I hoped your world would grow and grow. 
Since then, we’ve had Agnes over for a playdate. It was the quietest playdate I’ve ever witnessed, but it was a happy one. The two of you swam in the pool, walked up the road and collected flowers, played with the dog. You didn’t need to talk to each other to be friends. It was – and is – lovely.

With Buddy Agnes

Into your second week of school, your English teacher gave you a homework assignment. She asked you to write an essay about your first week of 4th grade. 
You finished writing at our dining room table, and I had to beg you to let me read it. I was just so curious – what did you have to say about school? You seemed to be doing well, but when pressed, how would you describe it yourself? 
You finally consented to let me read it (and then consented to let me reproduce it here). 

Camille's Thoughts

Camille's Letter

“I really like this school.”
I read those words with such relief and joy. 
Are there days you get frustrated with your Spanish classes? Yes. Are there days you miss home? Absolutely. Could you have been painting a rosier picture for your teachers? Maybe, but when I asked if you meant everything you wrote, you looked at me like it was the oddest question. “Of course,” you said.
My dear, you jumped off the cliff into the muddy water, and you came up smiling.
I’m so lucky to be your mom, and to have this adventure with you. I couldn’t be more proud, and I love you so much sweet girl.