The Munchkin goes to school in Mexico

We’re in small town Mexico for a month over Christmas holidays and the Munchkin has a chance to go to school for a couple of hours one morning with her best friend. This is one of the schools she has gone to with her mother to talk about pet care and to explain about the free spaying and neutering clinics offered twice a year.

Today, she’ll just be another student in her friend’s classroom.

The Munchkin goes to school in Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The school isn’t fancy, but the rooms do have air conditioning. The playground, as you can see, is cement. At recess the kids improvise a soccer game using a small plastic cube for a ball.

The cafeteria, manned by a couple of local women, offers (mostly) healthy food at a nominal price.

The Munchkin goes to school in Mexico

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Munchkin goes to school in Mexico

 

 

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Montessori in Mexico

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In San Pancho, Nayarit, Mexico, we find a Montessori school–a compound of buildings and gardens and play areas sequestered in a jungle setting, hidden from the highway by a row of car and tire repair shops, and backed by an abandoned abandoned bull ring.

We step out of the car and hear roosters crowing. I feel like I’m in Mali.

In this hide-a-way spot, we see the kindergarten class washing their lunch dishes and brushing their teeth. We hear the laughter of kids playing and gathering vegetables from their garden to prepare for their lunch.

One of the teachers shows the Munchkin his classroom.

“We have this,” says the Munchkin who is in grade 2 Montessori in Canada. “And we have this, and this, and this.” I think she’d like to go to school here.

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Multi-generational living – are we missing out?

Moving in

Moving in

 

Multi-generational living – are we missing out?

Through a set of unforeseen circumstances, our family life changed drastically and our daughter and young granddaughter moved in with us. We live in a 1600 square foot condo with a large living room/kitchen, a media room, an office, a large front closet, and two bedrooms, each with a walk-in closet and full bath. The floor plan offers needed privacy to go along with communal living.

Initially, I thought we’d be fine with this living arrangement. Now, a year later, while our daughter hunts for their own home, I find that I don’t want them to move out. Living together has been better than “fine.”

Helping our daughter with child care is a breeze when said child is in the same house. It’s not just the convenience of having her right here when it’s time to take her to school, or pick her up, or take her to an appointment. It’s the joy of having her energy and enthusiasm filling the house with laughter. “Grandpa, will you play two rounds of museum guard with me?”—a game she made up and for which she has detailed explanations and rules. “Grandma, can I read to you?” I’ve heard all of her books hundreds of times and love each and every reading. Yes, sometimes there are tears and whining, but that’s okay too.

Then there are the benefits of having an extra adult to share the work load and the expenses. Speaking of expenses, I have yet to calculate the savings by not duplicating—one set of appliances instead of two must equal four or five thousand dollars, one set of utility bills instead of two translates to a savings of four to five hundred dollars (or more) a month.

This communal living has psychological benefits too. The teaching and learning that flows back and forth—I’ve had to search Google to find out about some of the things our granddaughter talks about from school—the hugs and teasing, the caring and sharing, all of it priceless and beneficial for everyone. We offer stability and security, an oral history of our family, a perspective and wisdom (I hope) from our life experience. Our daughter keeps us current. Our granddaughter keeps us young. And love bounces off the walls.

It is said that multi-generational living went out of fashion with the surge of baby boomers. I’m one of those boomers and yes, we all thought we had to have our own homes; the bigger the better, right? Many of us followed jobs that took us miles away from our parents. Seeing, first hand, the benefits communal living has brought us, I wonder how that isolation from family impacts our children and our grandchildren. How does it impact us? What do we all lose in that separation of generations?

 

 

 

 

Memory Beats Reality

Barn

Perusing the book shelves in the hotel lobby, I snatched up a favorite I had read many years ago. This will be a delightful reread, I thought, with visions of snuggling under a warm blanket on the sofa and reading to the wee hours of the morning. I’d pretend I’d time traveled to my youth, but now I wouldn’t need to hide under the covers with a flashlight lest Mom notice and take the book away.

Alas, it was not to be. What I remembered as a delightful romantic romp was in fact a rather poorly written story “telling” rather than “showing.” I stopped reading before I got to the end of the first chapter preferring to live with the warm fun memories of the book than the reality that I faced now.

The disappointment with the book got me thinking. How many of our past experiences are better not relived?

For one, a visit back to my childhood home—shattering.  Our house and farmyard, diminished by adult eyes brought me to tears. Where was the enormous barn? It couldn’t be that little lopsided building over there could it? The house was worse—a tiny low ceiling three room structure rotting from disuse, the pattern on the wallpaper I so loved as a child faded to mere shadows.

Travelling is another. My first return trip to Mali was a delight. Three years after coming back to Canada, I revisited the house where I had lived, spent time with the students at the school where I had taught, browsed in the market, lunched with the nuns…. All was well.

Another trip to Mali twenty years later brought heartache. Inundated with refugees from the drought, the city was unrecognizable. Wide boulevards, now populated with rude shelters, reduced to narrow paths. The broad steps to the post office, now crowded with make-shift dwellings, had to be pointed out to me. And most of the people I had known were nowhere to be found.

Now, when I think of Mali and Bamako, my memories are tarnished by that later visit. I push them to the back of my mind and linger over the cherished ones from my years living there.

Visiting my school after retirement was another mistake. The start of a new year carries its own excitement unique to the people involved. I was no longer a player, and while I was welcomed warmly and showered with good wishes, all I felt after the visit was deep depression.

I’ve never been attracted to the idea of reunions and have never attended one. I think, now, that my instinctive rejection of reunions stems from this subconscious knowledge that memories are best left as they are—to be savored, and, over the years, to develop a hazy halo that we can bask in to our heart’s content.

 

 

Mitts

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So, here’s the thing. Grandma goes to Australia to spend the summer with her sister.

Our summer. Their winter. No central heating. Damp and cold. Of course her thoughts turn to knitting and knit she does. Mitts for her grandson from special wool she bought in Tasmania.

A couple of months later grandson heads off to school, happy and proud to be in grade one. Then it’s winter. Mom takes the special mitts, sews a bit of elastic to each one and attaches the other end of the elastic to the sleeves of his parka.

She sends him off to school content in the thought that he can’t possibly lose his mitts and he’ll always have warm hands.

To her horror, he arrives home that first day with elastics dangling from his sleeves. Elastics only—no mitts.

“Where are you mitts?” she asks.

He looks up at her with a puzzled frown. “What mitts?”

The mitts are never found, not even after several searches in the school lost and found box. Mom is more upset than Grandma, who quickly knits him another pair—but not with special wool from Tasmania.

The Travelling Dress

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It’s traveled a long way—that little dress. From the shop in Melita, Manitoba where the young 16 year-old aunt bought it for her niece to the country one-room school house in Saskatchewan, where the niece wore it for her first day of school.

From there it was worn for special occasions, the hem let down as the niece grew until the dress no longer fit. The mother folded it carefully and stored it in the cedar chest where it rested for several years, moving from the country to the city, from the mother’s house to the niece’s when she married.

Then the dress, with the hem raised was worn by the granddaughter on her first day of school in Alberta, after which it was packed away in the cedar chest for who knew if there would be a great granddaughter/grandniece to wear it yet again.

And there was. In 2014, off to school the dress went (with the hem let down, for this young lady is taller than her mother and grandmother were at the same age) for yet another first day—this time in British Columbia. Where is it now? In the cedar chest of course. Perhaps it will be worn yet again in the years to come.

The dress is a brand called Curly Lox made in Canada.

A Generation Gap or Two

Korean food

“Hello, Mr. K. This is Mrs. Jones calling. Can you come in to school for a parent/teacher interview?”

“No. Is not possible.”

Well, okay then. His daughter was an honor student. No need really to meet with the parents, but still …

The next day, L handed me a note. It was an invitation for me and my family to dine at her father’s restaurant on Sunday evening.

“You eat Korean before?” Mr. K asked as the hostess seated us at a table.

“No.”

He took the menus away. “I bring. You eat.” And eat we did. A delicious array of new tastes and smells.

After the meal Mr. K pulled up a chair. “My kids. They look in mirror all day. Go to movies. Wear jeans. Makeup. No work.”

“But, Mr. K,” I said. “L is an honors student. Her marks are all in the 90s.”

“Bah! Why not 100%? When I come to Canada I work many years in tar sands. Finally, I have enough money. Come here. Open Taekwondo club. Then restaurant. My kids. No work. No speak Korean. No want to go back visit family.” Dramatic gestures accompanied his words. Sounds of disgust punctuated his sentences.

“But, Mr. K, your kids are great students. L and her brother have good marks. They work hard.”

“Bah!”

And that was pretty much the end of the interview. I learned later that L’s brother contemplated suicide. Fortunately, he never acted on it. Both L and her brother went on to be successful professionals, but I’m guessing Mr. K would have still had doubts about his children.

 

 

One party, two parties …

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“Do you think you could cook burgers for 27 kids,” I ask.

“Sure, but why?”

“I’d like to have my grade nine home room class over for a year end barbecue.”

Permission slips signed, parent drivers lined up, date and time set, and the party is on. The kids swarm our house and yard. I find several boys taking turns toting our children around on their shoulders. I cringe when they climb up into the playhouse with our kids. Can it possibly hold all that weight? It does.

A clutch of girls are chatting on our bed, another group on the deck. They eat, talk, laugh, and clean up before their parents come to take them home. On their way out the door they ask if they can do this again in grade 12. My husband says sure.

Three years later, there’s a knock on the door. Four boys from the grade nine class have come to ask about a reunion party. My husband and I look at each other. We’d forgotten all about that request. Sure, we say. A date and time are set.

This go round 30 kids arrive in their own cars, many of which are much nicer than ours. We see heads peeping out of the neighbors’ windows and imagine them saying, “What are the Jones up to now?” This time the kids bring the food and do the barbecuing.

Our children are too old to be toted around on shoulders, but they enjoy the company of the teens who hover over them attentively. We eat, talk, and laugh until the wee hours of the morning knowing that these parties will forever remain fond memories for us all.

 

 

School shouldn’t be this much fun

 

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“Jones, if you don’t stop rearranging my stuff, we’re going to have to get a divorce.”

“Hays, if you were a little teeny bit organized, I wouldn’t have to clean up after you. Plus it’s not my fault we have to share a classroom. You’re the one who did the scheduling.”

I glanced at the students. Their mouths were hanging open. Our first year as administrators of the junior high school and it seemed David and I were setting a new tone, one completely unfamiliar to the kids. Obviously, we’d have to keep it up.

A few days later, I arrived in the room to find it empty. “Hays!” I bellowed, “What did you do with my kids?” Heads popped out of doorways to see what the ruckus was about. My students came out of the nooks and crannies they’d been hiding in, huge grins on their faces. Good, they were getting the hang of things.

Another time, I drove up to the school to see a grade nine class sitting in their desks on the basketball court for their math class. Someone, who shall remain nameless, had taken the desks outside (with student help) and when the teacher discovered the missing desks he moved the class outside.

For one of my classes, I needed students to get information on car insurance so I sent them to the office to use the phone. They called an insurance company to make inquiries, but the person on the other end of the line thought they were just fooling around and hung up on them.

David happened to arrive just then. They explained. He asked for the phone number and dialed. In a high squeaky voice, he said, “Hello. This is Mrs. Jones. I just retired from teaching and bought a new Jaguar.” The kids’ mouths hung open. He winked at them and continued. “How much would the insurance be?” The agent hung up on him too.

The point of all this kidding around? It was fun. It changed to tone of the school. Misbehaviors decreased. It was fun. For all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Books

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As a CUSO volunteer, I taught school in Bamako, the capital of Mali. When I traveled to Mali many years later, I was invited to the school I had taught at as a guest speaker for the English as a Second Language students. I would be the “document authentique.”

I visited the grade 11 and grade 12 classes. I promised I would answer any question they asked as long as they used English. The students astounded me. They asked about racism, abortion, women’s rights, our political system, and differences between Canadians and Americans. They were curious about my reasons for being in Mali and about other countries I had visited.

When our Malian friend, Raymond, came to Canada I decided to take him to school with me as guest speaker in my French as a Second Language classes. I explained who he was and told my students that he was an Olympic athlete, coach, and, at that time, an Olympic level referee. I encouraged them to ask any questions they liked. They wanted to know if it was hot in Mali and what he ate. He was gracious with his replies. I decided that their limited language skills were getting in the way and offered to translate. The questions were still banal. Disappointed with the kids, I took Raymond home at noon. There was no point in putting him through more of that.

What bothered me then, and still does, was the great divide between the two groups of students. Some of that may be attributed to age differences. The girls in Mali were seventeen-year-olds and my students fourteen. But I’m not convinced that’s a good enough excuse for their complacency and the superficiality of the questions they asked.

Can I chalk it up then, to the affluence of our society, to the ease with which our every desire is satisfied as contrasted with Malians who grow up facing daily hardship—the hunt for food, for firewood, for water…?

What, if anything, would make a difference for our students? When I ask myself that question, books loom large in my mind as the answer. I grew up in a poor home. We always had enough to eat, but certainly didn’t have extras. A five-cent comic book once in a while was a huge treat: the fat twenty-five cent comic rare and treasured. Books, when I could get my hands on some, were life to me then. They still are.

For me, reading is a deep and satisfying activity. Novels spark my curiosity, teach me about the world, about people—character, motivation, emotions. Books make me think and wonder and ponder.

Is that what’s missing in the youth of today? Engrossed with all the available social media—and not having to worry about their very survival—are they missing deeper meanings and understandings? Would reading books make a difference? I think so. Books do have power—more power than some people would like. Why else would they be banned or burned?

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson.