we’ve seen some momentum over the past several months. the youth retreat in january had a better turnout and the kids had fun and hopefully also learned something! the middle schoolers especially interact really well together despite being very different, and we are fortunate not to have any bullies or kids who alienate others. there’s a lot of diversity in upbringing and family structure which can make things interesting and sometimes challenging.
we’ve hit the potential halfway mark in our time here, and already staying or moving on will be a tough decision. i am trying to be content, instead of waiting impatiently for the next bigger, better thing. in just a year and a half much has changed. we really love this community and this part of the world. we’ve learned how to respond internally and practically to disappointments, uphill battles and apathy, how to appreciate people that are different from us. we’ve been so blessed, seeing God provide in many situations.
we found a preschool where emi feels safe, with educators we trust. we were told not to expect much or even put her in school here but amazingly, the director and teachers seem to truly care for the kids’ physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual needs. i’ve never seen a more thorough end-of-the-year “report card” for a four-year old. baby M is now 6 months old and growing rapidly. for the most part he is cheerful and happy. he adores his sister and spends most of his day watching her run around and dissolves into laughter when she jumps or talks to him.
our church is very similar to the ones i grew up in, with many people who live across oceans from family, who don’t speak the local language and are unable to articulate intelligibly, who stick out in a crowd, who learn to adapt constantly. i feel so at home here and in a weird way more comfortable not fitting in than having assumptions made about how i should fit in. unfortunately, maybe part of what makes it easier in a sense is not developing very deep friendships, with many conversations never progressing past comparing travel tips and collecting great anecdotes.
the hardest part of this expat life is missing weddings, births, major events and life. part of you always wishes you were somewhere else, and it’s hard not to feel like you have to choose where your loyalties lie, always at the expense of someone else. some of these kids struggle with homesickness, cultural identity and wanting to belong but recognized for your differences. i wish i could reassure them that all the goodbyes and spending half of your life flying back and forth is not without its sorrows but there are advantages, it just may not be apparent until much later.
we’ve made it three months, during which malachi has gained a pound each month, learned to prop himself up on his elbows, flown internationally twice and turned out to be a smiley and friendly baby. thankfully, emi has grown into her role as big sister, and it is awesome to see how wide he smiles when he sees her or hears her voice.
over the last ten months I was nervous about so many things being pregnant in a new country, in a language I barely knew more than hola, gracias. half the time I had to guess what the nurses were saying during labs and ultrasounds, wondering if I followed instructions correctly. I had no idea if language would be a problem during labor, and if it would add stress to an already intense situation. I misunderstood the time for appointments, showed up for an appointment I thought I made but hadn’t, and generally fumbled my way through the entire pregnancy.
“so how on earth can I bring a child into the world, knowing that such sorrow lies ahead, that it is such a large part of what it means to be human? I’m not sure. That’s my answer: I’m not sure.” ― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
i think a lot about whether it makes sense to have kids with all the tragedy and pain in this world. to be anxious and fearful, trying to raise a responsible human being when it’s really a gamble what you’ll end up with. maybe we all just selfishly want to leave our mark. at 35 weeks we are nearing my july 9 due date. i’m more excited this time around despite the sleepless nights and neediness of infants and loss of personal space ahead. i’ve very slowly come to appreciate life as a gift and the enormous task of preparing a little person to face the world. having kids can either be a boost to your ego or a reminder of your weaknesses in each moment of choosing yourself over their needs or seeing them imitate your worst habits, then having them forgive you and adore you unreservedly.
it’s hard not to focus on the number of kids in the youth group since it’s smaller than it used to be. we get comments about how we’ll have to work to add numbers, or they’ll talk about its heyday when there were a ton of kids. part of the challenge is there aren’t many families that are seriously involved. some fathers don’t attend, which means the kids eventually opt out. some families are typical expats: transient, long work hours, frequent business trips, so weekends are strictly family time. another factor is that we don’t have children at the international school, so there isn’t the same level of connection with families in that community; nate is meeting kids but their parents have no idea who he is.
part of me wants to be “successful” during our time here so that we aren’t wasting resources, wanting badly to be able to say we came and conquered in the face of these challenges. every week nate and i discuss whether we should change the model, how to more effectively reach kids, how to push them to think about the bigger picture beyond daily needs. i hope that at the end of the day, we are faithful in our efforts to invest in the kids that show up no matter how things turn out.
these first couple months have been a period of letting go and adjusting to the new normal, as nate calls it. one stark difference has been the lack of community here. i keep forgetting that it takes a while when you move to a new place, but sometimes the social potential seems so bleak here. everyone is welcoming and happy to offer tips, we’ve had dinner with a handful of people which has been fun, but we haven’t really found anyone that we click with. a lot of the locals spend most weekends with extended family, having barbecues and escaping to their seaside condos on the weekends. someone once mentioned that there is also a lot of residual distrust from the pinochet era so that people tend to be more closed off.
the youth group is on the small side, which has its advantages in terms of logistics, but when i look at the obstacles to growing the group sometimes it seems discouraging. we aren’t part of the international school community, the kids in the youth group don’t have wide networks of friends, the dynamics of the group sometimes falls a little flat because the kids don’t go to school together or have a ton in common, there aren’t a lot of families that are really involved in the youth group, etc. for a youth group to thrive, i think there has to be an existing momentum, big personalities and something attractive, which makes it hard when the existing group is small and sometimes stilted. i think nate looks at a situation like this and rises to the challenge, while sometimes it feels like pulling teeth to me.