Well, now I have two of them. Elías, at 16 months, is quite a bit more vocal than Pedro was at that age, and he already has quite a few words in both languages. “Cow!” he cries, waving his toy animal at me. “¿Vaca?” he asks his father, peering down the alley to the cow barn in the village. Pedro’s English made quite a jump after our U.S. visit, though Spanish is still dominant, and he is probably somewhat behind his peers in verbal expression in both languages. I have moments of occasional panic when I run to the bilingual families Internet message boards to ask, “Is this really normal?” But, generally speaking, things are going well. With what will hopefully be yearly visits to the United States, and my insistence that he speak only English to me, I am optimistic that his language skills will continue to grow.
Just Mommy and Me
A month after Elías was born, I put Pedro into daycare so he could get some desperately needed outside stimulation and I could be free to look after Elías for a few hours each day. I suspect that the idea of a stay-at-home mom putting her two-year-old into daycare would be met with abject horror in the United States, but here, everyone I mentioned it to thought it was a wonderful idea. In fact, even now I get asked when I’m going to start sending Elías. Pedro was in a class with other kids his age, and they had a carefully structured day that included circle time, outside play, lunch, naptime, and a rotating set of activities to work on each of the developmental areas. He loved it, and I was thankful to have such a good alternative for him. Now, at three, Pedro has begun preschool in the official public school system and is quite happy there as well.
And now Elías is creeping up on the 18-month mark. These days, all my toddler activity books languish on the shelves, where I regard them guiltily as I walk by. Where once there were endless hours to fill, now it seems I have a shortage of time. While Pedro is at school, I have to pack in all the shopping, cooking, laundry, housework, and, um, net surfing because once he’s home, that’s it. In between chores, I read to Elías — he’ll toddle over and hand me a book, and that’s my cue — and we sing many rounds of “Old MacDonald,” and he enthusiastically joins in on the “E-I-E-I-O” part.
As for connecting with other mothers, well, I’m too busy to think much about it these days. At a parent meeting at Pedro’s school, lots of moms clamored to volunteer in various capacities in the classroom, so obviously there are more stay-at-home mothers — or at least part-time working mothers — than I had previously encountered. With Elías at home, I myself can’t do much more than an occasional song in English with the class on a day that my husband is telecommuting, but Marta and I chat every day at preschool drop-off, and though we are both quite busy, I think this may develop into a lasting friendship of sorts.
What Might Have Been
Both in the Peace Corps and in my job at the pregnancy prevention program, I did a considerable amount of work with elementary school classes, among other things, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Nevertheless, I had never considered elementary school teaching as a possible career until quite recently. As fate would have it, not long after the “Work” column went up, I heard about a degree program I could do mostly online that, in three years, would certify me to teach in public elementary schools with a specialization in teaching English. Since there is a big push for more English in the schools, it is likely that there will be an increasing demand for English teachers over the next several years, and if I pass the state exam, I will have a shot at a permanent teaching position. I will need to have worked here for at least 15 years to be eligible for a government pension, so the prospect of a steady job is attractive, and since there are so many school holidays here, having the same schedule as the kids is enormously practical.
There is just one problem. Since my American college degree is not officially recognized by the Ministry of Education, the only way to get into a Spanish university is by taking the Selectividad, a grueling, two-day college-entrance exam, next spring. When I found this out, I was dejected. I would have to pass exams in six subjects, and except for one on the English language, they would all be subjects I had never studied before, such as Latin, Philosophy, and Morpho-syntactical analysis of the Spanish language. How on earth could I manage that? When I registered Pedro for school, I looked wistfully around the school building. “It could have been fun to work in a place like this,” I thought.
But in the end, I decided to do it, and I grab study time wherever I can. It’s tough going, but I’m hoping it will all pay off in June. A few years ago, I would have thought it was crazy to spend a year studying for an exam just to get into a program that would take another three years to complete. After seeing how quickly these first three years of Pedro’s life have passed, however, I have a different perspective on time. Before I know it, the time will pass, and the kids will be — yikes! — five and seven! This way, I can still be at home for those early years yet have a solid career option when they are a bit older. The long-term investment is just another way of settling in here and making a life for myself.
And I have settled in quite a bit since starting this column. With three years of mothering abroad under my belt, it all seems a bit more manageable. I don’t even crave bagels anymore (though if you’re passing through, I can meet you at the airport to pick up a bag of them fresh from New York — I especially like garlic bagels with bacon scallion cream cheese, but any kind will do!).
So, now I will have to focus my energies elsewhere, at least temporarily. Of course I hope not to give up writing entirely, so you can look for me elsewhere on the web as time goes by. For now, though, a big thank you to all of my readers and to my editors and fellow columnists at Literary Mama, and in true Spanish style, a kiss on each cheek. ¡Adios, amigos!