Today I went to preschool with Lou. There was so much noise and commotion for the first half an hour—when all of the kids ages two through five are together in one big room with many hard surfaces—that I experienced physical and psychic discomfort.
Madagascar 3 was playing on the flat screen when we arrived, and Lou sat perfectly still trying to watch the movie as kids in front of him stood up, talked and yelled over each other, danced, wiggled, and shoved each other. The seño* with the remote control—seeing the kids dancing—decided to fast forward to some point in the movie where the characters were dancing. She stopped several times and, seeing that she wasn’t at the right place, continued advancing the scenes while shouting out to the kids “You want the part with dancing, right?! Dancing?!” The look on Lou’s face said “Are you kidding me? I’m trying to watch the movie.”
Then it was time for the flag raising and a group singalong. (Hard. Surfaces.) At the end, Lou’s class—the Hipopótamos—stood up to sing a song led by a couple of seños. The teachers modeled expressive movements copied by most of the kids.
Finally, it was time for the Hipos to go to their room and take their toallas (towels as placemats) and vasos (cups) out for snack time. The next 45 minutes went smoothly: Lou served himself cookies while seated at a table of girls, and then he sat on the floor right in front of Seño. Andre with rapt attention while she told the story of Snow White.
Afterward, everyone lined up to go to the playground. It was another magnificent day, and Lou enjoyed running around. With some encouragement, he went on the seesaw with another boy and I asked him if he wouldn’t like to go down the slide attached to a playhouse. Then I saw that the aggressive boys owned that corner. No wonder Lou wasn’t interested.
We left at the end of the outside play, and Seño. Andre went hunting for a piece of candy to give Lou for his most excellent behavior. She is impressed with his ability to sit still and focus. Even if I knew the words in Spanish, how could I tell her that he has always behaved well at school, but in this case he is also totally freaked out?
Given that the other kids seemed to be functioning okay, I think Pete, Lou and I experienced our first culture shock. Our tolerance for noise, need for personal space, need for order, our level of physicality, even the amount of words we choose to use in expressing ourselves, are all calibrated on a different system. To push Lou out of his comfort zone on all of those metrics, in a place where he doesn’t know anyone and can’t communicate well, seems cruel.
In the afternoon, we went to visit a preschool in the Belgrano neighborhood, one of Bariloche’s most exclusive and just up the hill from our current apartment. We heard a familiar story: school is almost over for the year and there’s no way they can integrate a new student. On January 6 they will begin their colonia de verano (summer camp) where there is a reasonable ratio of two teachers for 20 children ages two through four.
I would have said thank you to the administrator and left at that point, but Pete is good at keeping the conversation going and I’ve observed that this often leads to useful information. He further explained our difficult situation and then he asked if there were any preschools we should avoid. In my head I thought “she’ll never answer that question.” But she did, and she named the school we had just tried “because they don’t put any limits on the number of students they take.” She also mentioned another school without elaborating. Then she gave us phone numbers for two places that come highly recommended—a colonia that starts in December and a club deportivo (sports club) for kids with stuff on weekends. Pete will follow up on all of this as well as a play date with Maia, a sweet five year old who proudly showed me the Cinderella stickers in her cuaderno this morning. Pete will also take Lou back to Primeros Pasos on Wednesday for a field trip to see a play, and then he’ll pay up and let them know Lou won’t be coming back.
*The teachers use “seño”—short for señora or señorita—as their title. This is not to be confused with “seno,” which means breast.