Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween

We missed Halloween, since, for some reason quite unknown to me, the neighborhood decided to celebrate it on Sunday afternoon. I didn't realize my mistake (silly me, thinking the trick-or-treating would take place today) until the doorbell started ringing nonstop at 6 pm on Sunday afternoon. I had to play the evil witch and pretend like no one was home since there was no candy in the house (and that is true - NO candy. Note to self: need to get to supermarket). Anyhow, last night I carved a green pumpkin (it was orange on the inside) into a cyclops face. Agustin was quite frightened and then offended this morning when he saw his jack o' lantern had only one eye. He told me to get another eye on him or throw the whole thing out because he wanted it gone when he got home this afternoon. And that pumpkin took me all night! Sure hope he has a change of heart when he sees it all lit up...

So Buzz Lightyear and Mickey Mouse will probably not go out tonight. But no fear, we got the cute pictures and, if that's not enough, look at the resemblance here... Now, can you tell who's who?

Saturday they got a little taste of a Halloween party at the Harvest Festival. Here we are with some others from playgroup.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Women in Power Meeting

Another successful meeting at the Ecuadorian Ambassador's Residence. I was (partly) responsible for organizing it and getting one of the panel members (executive director of a foundation here in Quito) to come. One of the panelists was the former Vice-President of Ecuador, Rosalia Arteaga (who, by the way, should have also been the President when Abdala was kicked out), another was the U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador, and the other was the dean of students of a bilingual high school here. All the panelists were women and spoke about women in leadership roles.

A common thread that went among all four panelists was the fact that, as women, we need to believe in ourselves, remain truthful to our values/beliefs and families, accept people as they are and understand their strengths/weaknesses to better use them to our advantage, and focus on our work as professionals and role models rather than get caught up in the battle of the sexes. It was a very enlightening and enriching talk, and I was able to converse with some great people. The moderator did a wonderful job and everything came together so smoothly that you never would have imagined some of us were pulling our hair out to pull it off!

You don't know how hard it is to put together a meeting of this magnitude (and we only had 30 guests!) until you are part of the planning committee, so it is no wonder that some people sort of "take it for granted" and make trouble where there should be none. We almost found ourselves in a riot as some ladies got real upset that we are no longer going to email out the newsletter, but rather let them go to the web site and check it out (they seemed to think we were excluding them and playing favorites or taking away some inherent right they have to get the newsletter directly to their inbox). It is just a little embarrassing when older ladies, who are supposedly in it for their contribution to Ecuadorian society and charities, get into a shouting match at the Ambassador's personal residence over a newsletter...

Well, from what I've heard this has not been the first time and I doubt it will be the last...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Off to School!

Bright and early this morning, Agustin wanted to show off his uniform to his family back in Minnesota...

And then, he wanted to do a little pirouette...

And we can't forget little brother!

Doing Homework Together

Sitting down with Tin to help with homework is nice. When he cooperates. Last Friday his English teacher didn't send homework, but I don't know what will happen this week! As we sit and paint, color, draw, trace, cut and glue, baby brother looks on, apparently counting down the days until he can sit and paint, color, draw, trace, cut and glue with us!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Homework for Babies

OK, he's not a baby. But he's three, only two or three years away from baby-dom. He's a boy. He's his father's son (short attention span). And he gets homework every day!
At first the assignments were fun.
Scribble on a piece of paper with different colored pencils.

Scrunch up paper and glue it above the line.

Complete the drawings.

Paint all over the page.

Cut out things that are yellow and paste them to the page.

But little by little they are getting harder and longer.
Color the smaller circles blue and decorate the large circle however you want.

But the worst has been the English homework - it is only sent on Fridays but last Friday it was so long (about 8 pages - 2 parts of the body on each page - Agustin had to cut out the parts of the body and glue them under the corresponding word). Of course, he can't read, so who do you think gets stuck doing his homework?

Actually, I don't really do his homework. Most Ecuadorian parents do - which, obviously, makes no sense at all, although when faced with battling your 3-year-old to sit down for an hour and cut out miniature eyes from magazines and glue them onto a piece of paper, or just doing it yourself in five minutes - the choice doesn't always seem so black and white.

So, I am the mean mom who makes him do his own homework, the way he interprets it. Which means sometimes he goes out of the lines. Sometimes he glues things over the words. Sometimes his lines are far from straight.

So I get notes from his teacher: "I said to tear the paper and glue it, not rip it."

Was it a problem with my translation of trozar? Maybe not - after asking various people what trozar meant, I got such a variety of interpretations that I no longer knew what the teacher meant. He only got one star on that assignment, presumably because I didn't do it for him.

More than once people have hinted that maybe, if I want him to get good grades and be a good student, I should do the homework myself.

I can't even dignify that statement with an answer!

Back to School

I know, I know. It's a little late for a back to school post (although before the Ecuadorian School Curriculum Reform, schools would have been starting this week), but I have been so busy and haven't had any time to post at all. Also, it isn't technically a back to school post, since this is actually Agustin's first year in school (preschool). I still feel pretty strongly about the fact that he is only three until end of November, and thus, in my opinion, not ready for the vigor of Ecuadorian preschool, which is more like a kindergarten/1st grade mix, but what can a lowly parent do? Every teacher and administrator knows more than I (and me being a teacher myself!) and so, we can do nothing more than abide by the system, perhaps gritting our teeth a little along the way.

But more on how Agustin's doing later. The real question is: how are the parents taking it?
I must admit, it is exciting to see my little baby boy in shiny new shoes and uniform, marching off to school with a backpack slung across his shoulders. It is also heart-wrenching. He is so BIG! When I look at him with the eyes of a stranger I see an older boy, not a little recently-potty-trained and even more-recently-taken-off-the-bottle three-year-old boy.

It is fun to see and hear about all the different things he learned in school, and sad, also, knowing that his horizons are broadening and we (his parents) are no longer the only source of information he has. While it is a relief, at times, to know that someone else needs to take responsibility for things like teaching him numbers and letters and how they work, it is also disconcerting, especially when he corrects me (my Spanish, my knowledge of the difference between rip and tear, the way I taught him how to hold the pencil - wrong, of course). And the nerve of the teacher, which is cultural but also hard for me to stomach - sending home notes telling me that he needs his nails cut (and for pete's sake, they weren't really that long, either! We've had much longer!), or admonishing me for not getting him to complete his homework assignment ("He works so well in class and is so motivated, I wonder what his problem could be at home?"). (On a side note he does complete his assignments, but tires easily, which I happened to mention to the teacher, suggesting that perhaps they were a bit too long?)

Anyhoo, back to the beginning. We got his school supply list the first day of school, and was I ever in for a shocker! It seems that school supply lists in Ecuador are quite the science, since mine looked like a calculus formula or another language. Here, for example, is an excerpt (and following in parentheses a loose translation):
  • 1 caja de pinturas 12 colores PAX CROMO MEGA 5.5 mm lápiz gigante
  • 2 frascos de témpera grande: 473 ml. 16 oz. Azul-amarillo
  • 2 lápices triplux delgados, 1 borrador de queso
  • 1 tabla pegada fomix de 30x20 cm y 1 punzón punta metálica
  • 1 marcador de tiza líquida PAPER MATE EXPO (rojo)
  • 1 sacapuntas de caja doble orificio para normal y triangular
  • 1 diario escolar
  • 1 pliego de cartón corrugated (morado)
  • 1 cuaderno parvulario grande de 50 hojas anillado
  • 1 juego didáctico para 5 años, bloques lógicos 48-50 figuras
  • 20 cartulinas muresco o iris de colores tamaño INEN

  • (1 box of paints, 12 colors, PAX CROMO MEGA 5.5 mm gigantic pencil)
  • (2 bottles of big tempera paints 473 ml 16 oz blue-yellow)
  • (2 thin triplux pencils, 1 "cheese" eraser)
  • (1 30x20 cm table glued fomix and 1 metal-tipped "stabber")
  • (1 PAPER MATE EXPO liquid chalk marker - red)
  • (1 double-holed box pencil sharpener for normal and triangular pencils)
  • (1 school diary)
  • (1 large posterboard of corrugated cardboard, purple)
  • (1 large preschool notebook, spiral-bound, 50 pages)
  • (1 didactic game for 5-year-olds, "Logical Blocks, 48-50 pieces")
  • (20 cardstock A4 papers (Muresco or iris), various colors)

Well, things would have been easier if I had know that "paints" can also mean "colored pencils", a "cheese" eraser is a soft white one, PAX CROMO MEGA and Muresco/Iris are brand names, and there are certain kinds of pencils that are considered normal and others that are considered triangular (although honestly they both look the same to me). But these are the things I will learn, I guess. The list, by the way, goes on and on for a page more, including, among other things, 12 rolls of toilet paper, a towel (no size specification, although the original was sent back two weeks later with a note that we needed one slightly larger), baby soap, band-aids, cotton balls, colored Popsicle sticks, masking tape, glitter and regular glue, a 20-piece puzzle, various types and qualities of colored paper, fine markers, modeling clay, 2 used magazines for cutting up pictures, scissors, a bag of confetti, a hard-covered two-ringed folder... I could go on but you get the picture. (Notice that I'm not even counting the textbooks for class.)

Exciting! Imagine - those of you who know me can easily: I get to go on a shopping spree buying all kinds of stationery items - papers, markers, pens, pencils, glitter, glue, etc. I was thrilled, and not at all daunted by the size of the list...


I get to the store. Now, remember, it is the first day of class. All 6 million Ecuadorian students have entered class on the same day, receiving lists of various pages of supplies that need to be bought, not by next week but by tomorrow. Hence the mad dash to the stores.

I saw the line of cars, stopping traffic, outside of the store. But still I persisted on. I mean, really, when do I ever have "permission" to go crazy buying tons of things I wouldn't normally need? I needed this excuse to shop, so I took Agustin's hand and went in with him (he was also very excited too, by the way).

No carts. We waited at the cash registers for the first available and only waited a few minutes. Not bad so far.

Well, imagine a store the size of your local gas station, a store in which close to 300 people and their kids have walked into, a store that has in reserve probably 50 shopping carts of which every single one is used... it was CROWDED. To make it worse, as I didn't know what the bleep I was looking for exactly, I would inch my way to an aisle, and after 10 minutes make it there, painstakingly read the itsy-bitsy fine print on the mylars, only to realize that no, no mention of a triangular pencil. We spent about 1 1/2 hours doing this. Occasionally a worker would whiz by and be able to help for a fleeting second, but they were being bombarded by every other parent in the store and also clearly stretched to the limits.

All the while, Andres and the baby were out in the car. He finally decided to make an appearance, to my relief, and help out with some of the language barrier situations I mentioned above. It still took us another half an hour to determine that we had gotten most of what we could (some things were already out of stock) and then I got in line.

The line of the century.

This line stretched to the back of the store, weaving in and out of desperate shoppers and crying children. This line moved one cart-length approximately every 10-15 minutes. This line took us almost 2 hours to get through. Utterly exhausting.

Agustin was so good during the whole thing. He barely complained and remained in good spirits. I was a little more than irked, as you can imagine, but the closer we got to the register, the better I felt, knowing that soon we'd be going home. It got dark, Andres and the baby were sent outside to peer in through a large window at our progress as the store employees, tired and wondering when the stream of people may stop, decided to close the store 2 hours early.

We got home around 7:30 pm. I thought that my four-hour ordeal was nearing its close, but I was soooooo wrong. Next came the part that was really labor-intensive: putting Agustin's name on every notebook, bag, marker, pencil, piece of chalk, etc. And if you think I'm exaggerating...

Let's just say I'm not.

I was up until half past midnight, labelling all of his things in the Ecuadorian way. We had three plastic bags full of his supplies, all labelled (hopefully) correctly and organized for the teacher. We still had some things to get (every school-aged child in the country must be asked to bring cotton balls, because we couldn't find any in any of the pharmacies we went to), but for the most part we were finished. And I was exhausted.

It was going to be a long year...