So, here’s the deal, I’ve traveled before. And by travel, I mean, TRAVEL. 20 countries? 30? I’m not sure. But I’ve been out and about in the world before and so my complete and utter cavalier attitude about our trip to Santiago? Warranted, right? I’ll also freely admit that every time some asshole friend of ours would suggest we were biting off more than we could chew I’d get even MORE cavalier and MORE certain it would all be fine. Your doubts are like a dare to me.
But, so, I can be humble. I can admit when I’m wrong.
We had three surprisingly easy flights: Yakima-Seattle-Dallas-Santiago. Our kids are 15 months, 4 and 5.5 years old and they were CHAMPIONS. They never screamed, slept most of the 10 hour flight to Santiago and were, in general, great sports. Our first clue that Chileans love children is when we were ushered through a VIP line for passport control ahead of hundreds of other weary travelers. Seriously. The government agent GUSHED over our kids. If she had stickers or suckers she would have handed them out. Have you ever gone through passport control anywhere ever and had them be more than stern and unpleasant looking? Me neither.
Grabbed our bags, our kids, found our van, got to our apartment and snacked and slept.
Then we looked around a bit. And I slowly began to disintegrate. And by disintegrate I mean uncharacteristic, debilitating anxiety. I couldn’t stay in the apartment; I couldn’t leave the apartment; my kids aren’t safe; we’re ruining our kids; how can we live here; I can’t sleep; I’m starving; the food is gross; where is all the good
fucking food?; there’s going to be an earthquake; why won’t the kids behave? Is this what culture shock feels like? Is it because of my advanced age, as my husband has humorously suggested? I’m no longer some freewheeling 20something hitchhiking in Turkey. WHAT IS THIS FEELING?
The apartment is in a very undesirable part of town. Noisy, dirty, poor, lots of construction, tiny sidewalks and ridiculously fast traffic. Reasonable for me to have some anxiety, right? Have you ever met my 5yo son? The one who can be standing perfectly still and all of a sudden he is sprawled on the ground four feet away because, well, because he’s a puppy-boy and his feet got in the way or there was a grasshopper or …? And here we are walking down narrow sidewalks with no barrier to extremely fast traffic and he doesn’t understand why his mother is losing her
shit mind about him not holding her hand.
Or our daughter Quin. Oh, lovely Quin. Boundaries you say? Let me push them. And the mellowest baby in the world who takes two naps and goes to bed with no crying, no fussing? Not sure where she disappeared to. So, we’ve had some rough moments with our otherwise darling children.
The apartment is small. Ok, we can live with that. But it is also UNSAFE for our kids. Here’s something I never thought of before Santiago…how unsafe is an 11th story balcony to three adventurous children? Or big bedroom windows with no screens that open up to…AIR 11 floors up? Especially when we need to open said windows as it gets hotter and hotter and hotter here in spring-summer Santiago? Yeah, you can see why it is reasonable for me to have some anxiety.
These past 10 days have been surreal. The layers of culture shock are many: jet lag, enormous city, different language, different culture, tiny apartment, new schools, bus, metro, walking, walking, walking, dog poop everywhere, eating out almost every dinner (because we’re not creative enough to cook in our teeny, tiny, miniscule kitchen), grocery shopping (where I’ve found ONE gluten free thing), upset kids and whacked out (yeah, that’s the best descriptor I could come up with) parents. I walk around all day wondering what is wrong with me. Here I am in Santiago feeling like I need to be medicated because all of a sudden keeping my children safe and alive seems ENORMOUS. And I’m supposed to relax long enough to LEARN SPANISH and ENJOY MYSELF?
The best three hours of the day are in our Spanish immersion school where I have discovered I LOVE learning. And guess what, Spanish is similar to French. Our kids are in a lovely daycare a 15 minute walk away and they are adjusting well. Of course, I bawled like a baby the first day I dropped them off until I realized they were safe and happy.
Most importantly, Chileans are friendly and interested in us. Every day someone stops to talk with us, to learn about us, to help us. EVERYONE loves our kids. I have slowly repeated “estoy aprendiendo espanol” everywhere I go prior to muddling out a half English, half Spanish sentence. People are so willing to help and correct my sentences and repeat and repeat and repeat when necessary. They have a twinkle in their eye as I slowly state my needs or interests. Almost every word that comes out of my mouth though seems to first form itself in French, then English, and then finally Spanish. And we LOVE SPANISH and the kids are starting to speak it organically.
We are solution oriented. We’ve found a new, much larger apartment with a balcony and windows that have safety nets (common here in Santiago) and is in a much nicer neighborhood and walking distance to both schools. Next week we will not walk 15 minutes, take a bus for 15 minutes, then walk another 15 minutes to school every morning and every afternoon (yeah, ok, so I also underestimated the stress of commuting). I’m ok with the fact that I’m not a badass traveler anymore; it’s ok that I want to be in a shiny part of town where we all feel safer and happier.
We are laughing again. My husband is all of a sudden really funny again. My kids are endearing again. I’m sleeping. We just ordered sushi for delivery again (baby steps). My husband and I sit and do homework together every night. It’s kind of cute. We are embracing being the village idiots. We are living inside Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day (please read it if you love me). We just calculated that if all five of us in our Spanish class were let loose in the city that together we’d manage to speak Spanish almost as well as a small child, maybe not a school aged child, but for sure a preschooler.
Sushi is here. Spanish homework after. And tomorrow will be even better.