Wednesday, January 25, 2017

20 wallets, embroidery, and a bigger bowl

The kids have been bickering near non-stop since we came to Mexico. I've never seen them so constantly annoyed with each other. Every little thing sets them off, a situation made more fun by the fact they share a bedroom. As a means of dealing with the escalating situation, Coco built a wall out of our moving boxes and put her mattress on the other side of them.

The box wall does not even nearly reach the ceiling so count on it, they are throwing things over those boxes and yelling at each other every night. We may have had a little too much "togetherness" the past handful of weeks.

Maybe it's all for the best, then, because the original plan was to put both kids in the same international school in Mexico City. There was a snag in the plan, however, as there often is but sometimes you're too stupidly optimistic to see it coming.

Coco's writing is damn near illegible.  Coco doesn't care much about writing, she cares more about making messes and then making bigger, bolder, more intricate messes. When you are Coco's kind of messy, handwriting can be a challenge. The necessary precision of it is at odds with her personality.

Coco and Lucien had evaluation exams at the international school before they were able to be officially enrolled.  Lucien sailed through his exam and was offered a 5th Grade spot that same day. Coco, however, totally bombed the handwriting portion of her exam.  The school said they could not offer her a spot in 1st Grade because she would be too far behind in their writing-intensive curriculum. They instead offered her a spot in K-3.

Al and I were shocked but our shock was nothing compared to Coco's outrage. She took extreme umbrage. "I am NOT going back to Kindergarten" (at ever increasing volume) became our family's soundtrack for the next couple days while Alex and I debated what to do. So much glaring, I swear she can pierce holes through our pitifully weak souls. 
But what could we do?  Many other international schools we'd contacted were full, others were not very highly recommended.  Plus we had all fallen head over heels for this particular school, Coco included -- its sprawling pretty campus, its swimming pool and giant soccer field, its perfect mix of friendly and welcoming kids, both ex-pats and locals.

But Coco back to Kindergarten? In class with kids over a year younger than her, and only because she couldn't write for shit?  It seemed way too harsh. Al and I advocated hard for a 1st Grade spot but the school stood firm. I briefly considered homeschooling but that idea disappeared when Alex looked at me and said flatly, "You would die." True, true, an effective and well developed argument, Alex.

She stayed home with me for another week as we grappled with indecision. Lucien started school and acclimated to his new life easily. His teacher is a kind British man and his circle of friends is growing. Kids at his school are used to high ex-pat turnover, their social circles are always changing so they are easy to approach and are helpful and welcoming. It hasn't been as hard as he feared to be "the new kid."

Meanwhile, Coco and I hung out at home. We walked the neighborhood and did as much math, reading, and writing as I could stand. I've got the patience of a puppy and the attention span of a fruit fly. At least our PE class was fun --

I'm so glad we survived the sewer stink and could keep the pool

With great reservation, we decided to take the K-3 spot just to get Coco around kids again, get her learning Spanish, get her out of my face because she talks all the time and I need a breather. 

Last weekend, our family hit the streets with school supply checklists in hand.  The first stop was a large department store in our neighborhood called Liverpool where we hoped to buy several specific pairs of shoes for the kids' uniforms.

We got lost in Liverpool for hours because Alex, who speaks fluent Spanish, is apparently too goddamn proud to ask where the kid shoes are and I, being fluent in English and not much else, have no idea how to ask for shoes of any kind. It was a bad combo. The kids asked at one point, "Are we ever leaving this place?" and I responded honestly, "I'm not sure."

We eventually found kid shoes after wandering the labyrinth of Liverpool for the better part of our lives. We picked a few pairs to try from the specific "school shoe" section and then waited, and waited, and waited.  There was only one employee working the kid shoe department that day. She was a very flustered employee, as two of her co-workers had called in sick that morning. It was most unfortunate for all involved.

We waited so long to try on those goddamn shoes, I got very crabby and began muttering things like, "I don't care if those things are a full size too small, we're buying them immediately and getting the hell out of here." I'm an introvert, you see, so being stuck like purgatory in a crowded noisy department store eats my happiness until there's nothing left but death and black holes. 

I was the only one losing my shit, apparently, because other than me you've never seen such a festive shoe department. Everyone else accepted the long waits for shoes with zen-like calm and struck up conversations with each other. One little kid, maybe four years old, had the time of his life grabbing shoes off the racks and tossing them over his shoulder while laughing like a tiny maniac.

(This was one of the many times I have thought, despite being here a mere two weeks, "This would never happen in Paris.")

The shoes finally, thankfully bought, we headed to a nearby Office Max to purchase more supplies. My already sour mood turned sour-er as I looked over the list of supplies sent by the school. The list was written by British people and it's never been more obvious we use different terms for things. What the hell were "20 plastic wallets for your folded portfolio?" We did not leave with everything on the list because some of it just made no damn sense.

On our walk home, I read from the school supply list that students' names were to be embroidered on every item of their uniforms. It had been a long day and I was in no state of mind to commit to embroidery so I yelled much louder than I intended to, and unfortunately part of it in the face of a shocked valet parking attendant who had the misfortune of standing behind me when I spun around assuming he was Alex, "F*ck that, F*ck that, I'm scrawling their goddamn names on everything with a Sharpie, they can suck it."  

Lucien promptly lost both his tie and his PE sweatshirt in the first two days of school because there were no tags on those things upon which to scrawl his name with a Sharpie. I understand the importance of embroidery in a school full of identical uniforms now and I'm sorry I lost my mind on you, international school, you were absolutely right. But I'm still not going to embroider. We will instead likely buy a new set of uniforms every week.

They are so cute in their uniforms.
I'm going to make them wear them even when we return to the U.S.

The school situation wasn't over, though. Because when all was processed and debated and advocated and (we thought) decided, it still wasn't sitting right. We could not accept putting Coco back a year based on only one subject. 

Alex and I sent a few Hail Mary emails to schools we'd already contacted but didn't have space at the time. One school, a tiny thing with a good reputation, responded the next morning that indeed, a space had just opened up in J-1 and they'd love to meet Coco. She went and interviewed that very day and took another evaluation exam. 

Her writing still sucked, no surprise there, but this school had a plan. They wanted to keep her with her peers, put her in First Grade but have a teaching assistant with her one-on-one during writing periods. Holy hell, SOLD, and yes of course I can stop humping your leg if it makes you "extremely uncomfortable."

Coco is sad to be at a different school than Lucien even though they are currently fighting all the time. She's sad her school is tiny and much quieter when his is huge and exciting. 25% of Coco's day is going to be in Spanish, which will also be a challenge, but in our minds a positive one.  She liked it way more on Day Two than Day One, that is progress, and we'll take it.

There's another little blonde American girl in her class. She is so happy about Coco's arrival. They are glued to each other like a two-headed blonde American monster, giggling and hugging all the time. Coco said when she came home her first day, "I think she's been waiting for me a long time." 

It's a different thing, kids in school here versus at home. I no longer take them to school or pick them up. Lucien is now signed up for the school bus, which he loves, but before that our driver, Leo, took him to school each morning and brought him home each afternoon. I tagged along for the first couple days to make sure he knew where he was going, to pay the tuition bill and sort out uniform pieces and whatnot but after that Lucien said, "Mom, no other parents go, it's just the drivers, it's OK."

So I gave him that space, instead watched every morning from our 7th floor balcony as he climbed into Leo's car to be driven the half hour to school alone.

That's my green boot self
watching the brown dot, my backpacked son,
climb into our driver's car.
It's a whole new world.

My friend here, Seattle Mom (will the "Seattle Mom" madness ever end, apparently not), whose house we stayed in back in July when we visited Mexico City, invited me to a ladies night with her circle of friends last week. 

Once again, sitting there with the lot of them, I was reminded of the beauty of ex-pat friendships. They spring up almost immediately. You meet, you decide within seconds whether or not you like each other, then suddenly you're friends on Facebook and soon thereafter have plans together every day for the rest of eternity. 

There were fifteen of us that night, from New Zealand, Ireland, the US, Canada, Uruguay and Mexico among others I've forgotten. We met at a gin bar in Polanquito, which may have been a tactical error because none of us like gin. We instead wanted red wine, which perplexed the servers. The servers disappeared for awhile, returned with the manager and a handful of bottles of red wine they had dug out of storage. When we finished all of those, I'm pretty sure the manager handed a server some money to go buy more wine down the street.  

A group of 15 women out in Polanquito have a damn good time. But figuring out the bill at the end of the night is still an exercise in futility. We all just threw money at the bill until it went away. I think I spent five trillion pesos on a few glasses of wine.

counting pesos late at night by cell phone flashlight

Our apartment no longer smells like a sewer but the pipe leading to our dishwasher recently sprang a leak.  Alex and I were very diligent about tending to the leak until Sergio, our cheerful relocation guy, could get another plumber here. We put a bowl under the leak, mopped up around it when the bowl overflowed. The owner of this apartment owes us many beers.

Cheerful Sergio arrived with the building manager and two plumbers on Monday morning. Sergio said, "OK, we see the problem, we are going to buy supplies and will be right back." The building manager then turned to me and said in English, "We are going to buy you a bigger bowl so you don't have to empty it as often" and then laughed at his own joke for about five minutes.  I like that guy.

And I really like Mexico City

Now that the kids are both in school, may my blog posts come fast and furious and my Paris book finally get whittled down to a readable thing. It may get a bit muddled, writing about Paris in Mexico. I may end up with sentences like, "I walked the streets of Paris, intoxicated by the aroma of fresh tortilla."

No embroidery 4-ever,


  1. You are my hero and your sense of adventure knows no bounds. So happy Coco got a place in the right school for her- I got put into a special class for hand writing when I was in first grade too, and I'm a lawyer now. Who types everything on the computer but could write it all in legible cursive if I wanted to. So there! (;

    Can't wait to read the Paris book! And even if I'm not commenting much these days, I'm reading all your posts in my e-mail and giggling tremendously. Hugely. Best. Giggles. Ever.

    1. Kiki! Happy to know you're still around. Now that I think about it, my dad has terrible handwriting and was also a lawyer. Looks like Coco's got her career path sorted!

  2. I can't handle how adorable Coco looks in that uniform pic. And so much like you! Also that's some next level bullshit about the handwriting. I'm glad she landed somewhere supportive.

    1. Next level bullshit. That's the theme of my life, nailed it on the head, Bec.

  3. Immediately when I saw the pics of Coco and Lucien, I thought, "The Sorting Hat put them both in Slytherin.".

    1. Oh my god. How did I not see that.....nice one, niiiice one.

  4. OMG the kids are so adorable in those uniforms. I went to Catholic School K-12 in uniforms the whole time and never ever had anything so fashionable. I intend to preorder the book the minute it is possible to do that. The nuns all hated my handwriting all 12 yrs but they were a bit more tolerant about it than those Brits!!!