So… I was told by my 11 year old daughter that she got me a coveted spot as a chaperone on her next school trip – of course, the night before the trip. Part of me was very excited. When we lived in Brooklyn, NY, she had several class trips and I went on every one. A move to upstate NY surprised me with none – the school district had chosen to take them out of the budget (one of the many things that drove me nuts about the Monroe Woodbury school system – 50 minutes from NYC and no field trips?!?!?!?! no Bronx Zoo, botanical gardens, bear mountain even????) So our move to San Ramon Costa Rica renewed my field trip spirits!
I go to school with my girl at 7am. I smile, nod at the few folks I have haphazardly met through school pickups and drop-offs in rain monsoons and sun burning heats (no bus pickup to where we live) …… but for the most part, I am on my own.
My daughter is so sweet – she knows my Spanish is still horrible, that I know no one, and keeps coming to my side with her girlfriend, to watch over me. I felt completely out of place, sticking out like a sore thumb due to a wardrobe/health choice that does not involve skintight jeans and/or 5 inch heels. I am alone. Every other mom has another mom. No dads, save one, who is also readily accepted by all the other moms. They’ve all been at the school together for years. I am new. Only one other mom says hi – she has been to my house with her other daughter who is my son’s age. Her English is OK, but she has her other moms and they are 4th grade, not 6th like my daughter – different part of the bus, different part of the sidewalk, different.
But my girl is sooo excited that I am there, I sort of hide by a column, feeling very hi-school “which group do I belong to” all over again. But J chooses for me – I am to sit with her other friend’s mom on the bus. The woman is very sweet as she sits next to me, but I know her sister is at the front of the bus and she wants to talk and not sit next to the mom who speaks horrible Spanish and knows no one. Thankfully, the other lady moves to the seat behind us and the pressure is off me to be social. It would be nice to make a friend, but awkward is just, well awkward. With no coffee, and feeling less than confident, I was not ready to take on the challenge.
As I sit there my mind wanders. I start to question and remember all at once. Why did we move here? My daughter is sooo good at fitting into all the new situations we throw at her and she is a adjusting so well. She is a bright light that the others flock to. We moved for the kids – didn’t we? We did it for the kids and the experiences they would have, the life we were hoping to offer them, with them – not just on the weekends. We would have our business, see them all the time, go places, take adventures. And here I was, doing just that, and completely miserable. Almost in tears, and the whole bus around me was chatting and laughing and sharing snacks and I sat by the window, holding my breath. Feeling a little outcast, though I could not really figure out why. I love new adventures, new places, new faces… don’t I? Sometimes I feel this way here – and I get very mad at myself for not learning more Spanish in the time we have been here. I make a mental to note to work on that – go to Green Mountain school and sign up for classes. The rest I just chalk up to a bad week.
Then the most unexpected thing happened. J somehow motioned to me from across the bus aisle and I looked up. A lady at the front was talking and everyone was quiet, then she bowed her head, and everyone else did to. Wait a second, are we praying? Praying on the bus? Before a field trip? They were Praying, praying on the bus, before a field trip.
I was raised in a half Jewish, half Christian home. I went to church before taking a plane anywhere because my mother made us, and we prayed at Thanksgiving. My best friend’s mom shocked me in high school when we sat at the dinner table and she said we needed to say Grace. My Jewish friend put her head down, so did her Jewish mom, and before I could follow, they both said “Grace!” and they laughed at me and we ate. Though my mother would hate to admit it, and despite several 2 week stints at summer bible camp, that was the extent of my organized religious experiences in life. My father denounced the Synagogue directly after WWII, and therefor his religion slipped away as a result. Though I was taught some basics, I was told to choose what I felt. I felt nothing.
And now everyone around me is praying on a bus, before a field trip, outside my daughter’s school. As if I couldn’t feel further apart from the whole experience. I felt like I was in small town America in 1960. And for whatever reason I started to giggle. This was insane! I thought to myself. Praying before a trip? My mood instantly started to change. I thought about how we are so hard pressed in the USA to to include god in our schools, or not – depending on your stance, and here he/she/it is on the bus. Or to be fair, he, its a catholic country after all. Jesse said they pray a lot but I could hardly imagine until now!
Part of me thought it must be nice to be around all these folks that all think the same thing – but then I thought nice is not always imaginative, creative, intellectual, thought provoking, or even right. Its a private school so even in the states they could do what they want – a Christian School could pray all the time, even in Brooklyn. But it caught me so off guard, I just laughed! I suddenly felt so happy to have been brought up the way I was, to have experienced so many different things and have so many free thoughts to explore everything around me, not just in body but in mind. I was happy with my college attraction to and understanding of American Indian beliefs in spirits and a connection to the earth. A single belief in a god to me has always been something I could not grasp, especially when I see all the evil that comes from it, and the hatred. I wondered what religion would do to all these children, if they would grow up to love, or to hate, or both, depending on what the other person was or believed.
And suddenly I realized why I was so different. Even if I spoke Spanish, I would be thinking the same thing. Its not just the heels, the jeans, the language. It is everything. As much as I love Costa Rica, I will never be a tica. My husband spent 20 years in NY and says hes a gringo. I could spend 50 years here and never make it to tica. And I think I laughed all at once, because its OK. Its OK to be different, I could still share myself with everyone. I would just have to get used to being the crazy gringa a little more often, and put myself out there more.
So when we were on the field trip, to the museum of Natural History with its dinosaurs and extinct fossils, to the National Theatre where the kids did not even know who Beethoven was (I of course pulled out my iPhone and played the girls the 9th Symphony and told them his story), to the mall, where I made Jesse finish her HW, and for supper at Taco Bell and a bouncy house, I just relaxed. I am who I am, and every one here must be a little different, and as I learn the language, I will encourage my new friends to explore their differences and their uniqueness, even if its not the norm. I like our life here, and I like the unexpected bus praying, even though its not for me. It wakes me up and makes me think. And I can’t wait for the next field trip this Friday – Poas Volcano and the Waterfall Gardens! I will find a little Sioux Prayer and share it with my girl on the bus. Hmm, maybe I could try and translate it into Spanish….