Saturday, May 19, 2012

We Waldorf

Last year as my eldest wound up the year at her pre-preschool we started to investigate options for the real start to her academic life. Here as in the US, parents begin the process - opining, researching, networking, interviewing - and eventually selecting the school that their child will most likely spend the next 15 years of their lives, ridiculously early. "School" doesn't start until kindergarden, what they call here "primaria" but most of the primarias also have a jardin/preschool. If your child doesn't start at the preschool stage (between 3 and 4), then there are very few spots left to get in. So, with that as the general backdrop, all the moms at our pre-preschool began talking about it. Anthropologically speaking, its a fascinating process. What kind of education you choose for your child says much more about you than them. Its often the first time a parent gets to outline their core values and then align them if possible with some educational system. A few went immediately to the Catholic private schools, wanting structure and discipline. Others wanted the snobby but well respected private school known for sending graduates on to college in the US and Europe. A few who had received "the best" education from private schools wanted to get their child into one of the best public schools. A few chose to add another language (learning English is a given) by sending their child to the French or Italian school. We chose Waldorf...and in March this year Valentina started preschool at the oldest Waldorf School in Argentina - in a quaint suburb called Florida 20 minutes north of the city. The school is called Colegio Steiner and was founded 80 years ago. There are about a dozen Waldorf schools in Argentina but most are in Buenos Aires. The one in the city has a so so reputation, mainly because the campus is a concrete jungle. The Steiner preschool where Valen attends in contrast is set in a big old home with an expansive garden in the back lined with enormous trees, wooden play structures, a sandbox and an organic vegetable garden. The classrooms are cozy welcoming spaces. Each nook filled with wooden toys, hand knit dolls and pastel walls. Walking through is as if one has stepped into the dream of a three year old - wispy fairies dangling from the ceilings, water color paintings decorating the walls of the spiral staircase and the smell of freshly made bread wafting in from the kitchen. The children are not allowed to wear clothes with "characters or words" Mickey Barbie Old Navy Elmo etc. The commercialization of childhood is kept outside the gate. On wednesdays the children bake whole grain bread for their snack. On fridays they prepare muesli with plain yogurt. Backpacks aren't allowed (impossible to find one here that isn't emblazoned with Barbie, Hello Kitty, Toy Story or Spider Man and that's it - really) so instead each child brings a hand sewn pastel colored cloth bag to carry their snack. They wear aprons for baking bread and preparing the cake for when its someone's birthday. You get the idea. Valentina is in heaven. She rushes me out of the house in the morning so she can get there and see all of her new friends - girls and boys aged 3-6 years old. Each class has a mix of ages so that the younger kids get mentoring from the big ones and the bigger ones get to feel important and know it all. So, what's next for the Alexander family? A new adventure in suburbia. I spend the weekday mornings searching Florida for a rental house with a yard and maybe even a pool for us to live close to the school. Yet another thing I thought I'd never do and here I am doing it....leaving the city for the burbs.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


2011 was not a banner year for the blog. Sometime last March I lost the ump. I never really had the time, I just made it work between tantrums, feedings and not getting enough rest.

We are still here in Buenos Aires, living and working, raising our two daughters and making a life in a still quite foreign land. Why we continue...that's up for discussion all the time. Argentina is no longer a cheap place to live. I can't afford to shop for clothes, buy toys for the girls or eat out much. We have been priced out of the real estate market for the size apartment we would need. Our landlord recently told us that when our lease runs out in October, she will try to sell this 3 bedroom flat for a staggering $725,000 - yes, that's in dollars not pesos. And don't forget there are no mortgages here. To buy you must pay 100% in cash. Where is all that money coming from? How do argentines afford life? another mystery. The soy farmers have and continue to do quite well. Anyone with land in this country is rich rich rich. We went to the ranch of an expat mom friend and her argentine husbands last weekend. Her in laws grow soy and corn, run a private equity firm and several dry cleaning businesses. I guess someone in their family will be able to buy our apartment or something like it.

Next month marks our 5th year of living in Argentina. I turn 40 in August. It's been two years since I set foot in the US or outside this country. I am itching to travel again. In October I'll go to Northern India for two weeks with my good friend Jen. Hugh will take care of the girls along with our saintly live in helper Aurelia.

I've started giving away their clothes and toys to needy new moms. Yes, its official, this uterus is closed for business. There is a not so small part of him that grieves for his shattered dream of 4 little girls all trailing after him in a chorus of daddy daddy but I share no such fantasy. I'm still as shocked as the rest that parenthood factored into my life at all. Valentina is at a glorious age - enter the "whys". Why did I come first and not Maxima? Because you two talked it over in the sky and decided that you wanted to be the big sister and she wanted to be the little sister so would wait and come later. Why don't we eat on the floor like dogs? Why doesn't Aurelia speak English? Why can't grandma take a train to visit us? Wonder Wonder Wonder. It's mostly wonderful these rich conversations but I do dread the inevitable "why don't you have a papa?" Please give me a few more years to prepare for that one!

Utta is as usual asleep on the couch snoring up a storm. She's survived two operations in the last year or so to remove cancerous tumors. When they return (we've been assured its just a matter of time), we'll probably not put her under again as its a real stress for a bulldog to undergo anesthesia and the recovery. Also, she has some sort of degenerative spinal condition. She's not in pain but we have to be careful about her jumping up and down off the sofa. Fortunately, her quality of life is still great. She's surrounded by people all day, and thanks to Maxima's horrid table manners, laps up all kinds of goodies from the floor during mealtimes.

Friday, February 25, 2011


I just love this photo.

because it juxtaposes so perfectly the yin/yang that is infancy and adulthood. Maxima is newly born (6 months) and so fresh, so alive, happy and frankly ecstatic to be here on Earth - to be a part of our family and of the world. By the time she reaches her father's age (nearly 45, gulp) she'll likely be cynical, tired, weighed down by stresses and emotional baggage etc etc. When exactly does that happen? When does that smile turn to a frown?

I guess that's why we 'older' parents so adore our children. it's an escape from the mundane, the drama and firth of our daily lives. we get a peek of ecstacy and pure joy. it takes me hours of yoga practice to encounter pure joy. hours....about 6 or 7 years ago I left a yoga class in such a state of happiness I literally cried in the car the whole way home. that is/was the only time I've experienced that sensation and have been searching for it ever since. Maxima and Valentina feel that every day. That is why we become parents, why we love it - to witness that sensation of pleasure, of joy, of love, of happiness and if we're lucky to become it.

what else is there?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My grandmother Hazel and her toddler Lois (now known as my mom)

Maxima 5 1/2 months

The two faces of Eve

Was it the wrong spoon for the yogurt? still tired? the wrong doll? what - you wanted to get up on the chair by yourself? ahhhhhhh, the twos

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New Year

Ok, it's February but with a 5 1/2 month old and a 27 month old, the year still feels pretty new to me. Usually we get our New Year's collages done on New Year's Day or by the end of that week. Well, we just finished ours last night.

For the first time in many years my collage has very few concrete "goals" - as in measurable things to check off the proverbial list. Last year there were many material such things - I was desperate for mobility (check, new car), more space (check, new bigger apartment) and of course a healthy pregnancy and birth (check check check!).

This year I have very few wants. My life feels so full and so rich that I just want to enjoy it and stay in the moment as much as I can. They say these years with little ones just fly by and I can see how. Here's what a typical day looks like:

7am - both babies wake. Hugh gets Valen and starts her breakfast routine while I get Maxima.
7:30ish Hugh and I have "couch time" for about 10-15 minutes. Its this great concept I read about in the Babywise parenting books where the mom and dad spend a few minutes each day talking and being together in the presence of their children but not paying them any attention. They get to learn that the whole world doesn't revolve around them and that mom/dad need to be with each other too. At first Valen hated it and would act out to get our attention for the whole 15 minutes. Hello terrible tantrums! but to me that just proved how necessary it was that she learn to play on her own for a bit.
8-:830 - Sister play time. Maxima can sit up now and reach for toy so Valen likes to sit next to her, explaining how each one is used or flits around with one of her dolls while Maxima observes. I have to stay very close as the occasional "too tight hug" is delivered. Here in Argentina they have a saying for it "amores que matan".

8:30ish - Maxima goes down for her morning nap. Will sleep for a good two hours or so. While she's napping Valen will spend some time in her room playing with her barbies. She often castigates them for not sitting up straight in their chair or they'll have a sing a long. We'll also eat breakfast and get her dressed and ready for preschool.

9:30 - papa walks Valen to her preschool - 3 blocks away Risas de la Tierra. Its summertime so its technically "summer camp". Its two hours in the morning with lots of water play to stay cool, singing, dancing and art projects. She's well worn out afterwards. While she's at summer camp and Maxima is napping, I head to the gym for my one hour of mommytime. Thanks to Viviana our maid/nanny who stays at home with Maxima, I can do this every day during the week.

11 - Return home, shower, play with Maxima and then head off to pick Valen up from summer camp. This week I started bringing Maxima with me. She loves seeing the other children and Valen has been a good sport about sharing this time with her sister.

12:15ish - return home and put Valen down for her one nap of the day. Then put Maxima down for her 2nd nap. Somehow their schedules have collided to provide about an hour each day where both are asleep and the house is quiet. I am just recently using that time to run errands outside of the house, return emails and phone calls. For a long time I would nap too.

2pm - Lunchtime with Valen. She eats in a big chair now so am saving the highchair for when Maxima starts solids in a few weeks
3-4 - More sister playtime

4-6 - In the afternoons Valen goes either to the neighborhood playground or I'll take her to a playgroup. Depending on Maxima's nap, I will sometimes meet Valen and Vivi at the playground with Maxima and/or take them both to the playgroup. Some days I'll take Valen and leave Maxima at home with Vivi to get another good nap in before dinnertime. The playgroup we attend is comprised of english speaking moms (from the US, Canada, S Africa and Australia) raising bicultural, bilingual children. Most of them are married to Argentines but not all.

6-6:30 - Hugh gets home from work and has more time with the girls. They play "corre corre/chase" all over the house. Utta joins in too also Valen usually screams "no more Utta!" so that she can get time alone with her papa.
6:30 - I give Maxima her bath, bottle and put her down for the night. She sleeps a glorious uninterrupted 12 hours! While I do her routine, Vivi and Hugh (if he's not on a work call) do dinner with Valen.
7-8 - Books with Valen. We are trying to read to her together now and get her calmed down for the night. At 7:30 I do her bath and then papa puts her to bed. They sing "Julia" from the Beatles and she knows every word. She sleeps a glorious 11 hours!

8-10:30sh - mama and papa time!!! Since Viviana lives with us during the week, we can go out in the evenings. We try to go out at least twice a week to dinner or a movie or just to take a walk and get an ice cream. Life is good