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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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.