a little cameo

Life in Colombia and everything that goes with it

Archive for the category “Parenting”

Feliz Dia from my little feminist

A light knock on my bedroom door this morning was followed by D coming in to greet me. He flopped his lanky teen body on the bed and burrowed his head into my side. As I put my arm around him he said “Feliz Dia de La Mujer“.

My earliest memories of International Women’s Day are from after I had started work in the late nineties, where my female colleagues celebrated the day and my workplace observed the day with seminars, morning teas and the colour purple. I don’t recall anything from my school days giving cause to note the 8th of March as any special day, which is a crying shame.

It’s probably given this that I received a nice surprise on the first International Women’s Day I spent in Colombia in 2013. D was then in Grade 4 and he, along with Edwin, wished me, la suegra and Edwin’s brother’s girlfriend a happy women’s day. I hadn’t expected this at all, and truth be told, I probably hadn’t even realised that it was International Women’s Day until that point.

Colombia is still quite a macho country, especially on the Caribbean Coast where my boys are from. Although men have an utmost respect for their mothers, that sadly doesn’t transfer often enough into respect for partners and young girls. So I was extremely pleased to see that International Women’s Day is acknowledged widely in Colombia and instilled in children at school, so much to the point that I’m surprised it hasn’t become a national holiday yet (although really, maxing out with 19 public holidays per year is probably sufficient).

Feliz Dia del La Mujer

A present from D in 2015

After D had left for school, Edwin came into our bedroom bearing pancakes and with another “Feliz Dia de La Mujer“. It gives me a nice cosy feeling to see the wonderful example that Edwin is for D and know that D is growing up in an environment where there is respect for women.

D is exposed to a family environment where there is sharing of household tasks and responsibilities and where a woman is the main source of family income. This should all be part of a definition of normal, and therefore I sincerely hope that these elements of his upbringing will be indiscernible in him as a man, and intrinsic to his future as a feminist.

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Remembering High School Maths

Maths problem solving and equationsD’s maths teacher sent through ten maths problems for him to solve over the weekend, and helping him with this has taken me back to my maths education at high school.

I never liked maths. I was always a word kind of person, enjoying English the most out of all of my subjects (although I never really liked the required reading texts much). I always struggled with maths and the different concepts presented, possibly helped along in no small part by the belief that I wasn’t a maths person. In Year 7 the problem sheets we were given for homework were always difficult and challenging but being the kind of student I was, I hated getting red crosses for anything so diligently put in the effort to solve them correctly.

Despite not liking maths and not considering myself good at it, I got excellent grades until Year 11 when we were able to choose our subjects. At Year 11 level there were two levels of maths, Further Maths, which was dubbed veggie maths, and Maths Methods, which was far more technical and demanding. My friends were all science-maths types and they convinced me in joining them in Maths Methods. From the very beginning that was a bad idea. I was in a class with all the kids who went on to become engineers and scientists, people for whom complex mathematical equations would be part of their university degrees. I had no such ambitions and really should have taken veggie maths along with the other students who were aiming for business degrees.

My Year 11 Maths Methods class became hell and I the demon who terrorised it. I mostly copied the work from my friends, still not understanding anything or how it was applicable in the real world. I spent great chunks of time distracting other students, which for my goody-two-shoes student persona was a huge departure from my reputation at school and I developed a bad attitude. In one particular class, a fellow student complained to the teacher that my wandering around the classroom and loud voice was distracting so the teacher gave me an ultimatum, to sit down and focus or leave the classroom. So I defiantly packed up my books and chose to leave the class, surprising everyone including the teacher who still considered me a responsible student.

I do not know how I managed to pass the year, but as it came to selecting subjects for the final year of school, I was not swayed by my friends’ encouragement to continue with Maths Methods, that I would make it through. So I dropped down to Further Maths at Year 12 level and discovered an interest in maths I never knew I had. Maybe it was the wonderful teacher, maybe it was being back in an environment where I understood the mathematical concepts or maybe it was because I could apply percentages and probability and the like to real life needs for problem solving. I aced the class and ended up with the best Further Maths score from my school, 49 out of 50, which equated to getting a couple of questions wrong on the end of year exam and was way higher than any of my other preferred subjects. Only years later when I organised an event of the Premier’s VCE Awards for my state celebrating excellence by giving awards to the students who received study scores of 50 out of 50 did I realise just how well I had done.

Nowadays I rely on Excel formulas for most of my maths problems, but that interest in percentages, probability and statistics remains. So helping D with his homework on fractions is interesting and something that I get. Unfortunately, though, he doesn’t get it.

I had printed out the sheet of problems from the teacher and left it for him to work on yesterday morning while attending an Escuela de Padres (Parents’ School) on values at his school. I was in a bit of a bad mood about this, as I usually am regarding Escuelas de Padres, and especially since they set it for a long weekend and with mandatory attendance, although there weren’t many parents there.

I came home to find that D hadn’t done the maths homework because he didn’t understand what to do. So this morning we sat down to the first three problems.

“If Juan, Antonio and Carlos each received 12, 36 and 48 respectively on the test out of a maximum 96, what fraction did they each receive.”

Cool! I thought. We had discussed fractions expressed as percentages yesterday while cooking lunch when I asked him to fill the saucepan 3/4 full and I checked to see that he had understood.

Unfortunately he still couldn’t work it out as I explained the problem and what he needed to do. I wrote the equations he needed to do with long division (something I never ever understood and cannot help him with, but D seems to be good at long division). He eventually solved the problem and I said how he could learn little shortcuts to help, things like how 96 is close to 100 and 48 close to 50, so 48 should be about half of 96 and that you can figure this out at a glance if you use these kinds of logic tricks.

We moved onto the second question about needing 1/8 of a gallon of paint diluted in 1/16 of thinner to paint 1 door, and therefore how much is needed to paint 3 doors. This also escaped him and we spent a good 15 minutes on it with diagrams of bottles broken into eighths and sixteenths to colour in the levels.

The third question was much more difficult, but structured in a way of being able to check your answer doing a few additional equations, yet my patience evaporated as no amount of explanation seemed to help him. I guess the additional check equations confused him rather than helped and he then couldn’t go back and put his finger on which one was the answer to the question.

So while he copies out the answers to the first three questions on a fresh sheet, trying to remember exactly which scratchings on the scrap paper are the relevant ones, I sit here typing in my blog about the time I hated maths, hoping to soothe my impatience because we still have another seven questions to go.

 

 

A lesson in leaving Colombia with a minor

Desierto de Tatacoa, Colombia

It’s not quite Central America, but a new experience nonetheless. Desierto de Tatacoa, Colombia

Leaving Colombia and getting an exit stamp in the passport of a Colombian minor isn’t a straightforward process. Colombia has very stringent laws in place for travelling children, and rightly so to keep them safe from kidnapping or trafficking.

We  understand that our situation is a little more complex than some others as when a child leaves the country with only one parent, there are a lot more forms and processes to follow. Given that D’s mum doesn’t live in Colombia, matters are further complicated as we can’t get her to sign the Migracion Colombia permission form in the presence of a notary when we plan to travel.

With our sights set on taking D on international holidays, Edwin organised with D’s mum to get an escritura publica signed at the notary office when she was last in Colombia. The escritura publica is essentially a legal document that says that D can leave the country with Edwin for tourism purposes until he turns 18. Since it’s within D’s mum’s rights to annul this document and retract her permission at any time, we knew we had to get a copy from the notary’s office within 30 days of our departure date, which we duly did.

Rules, regulations and laws are prone to changing frequently, so rather than rely on our understanding of the requirements, Edwin went to the Migracion Colombia office in Calle 100 and spoke with a childen’s lawyer, showing her the documents we have. She said that all the documents were in order and that we would have no problems leaving the country with D. Edwin asked again if there was anything else we needed, and she said no, the escritura publica and his birth certificate were sufficient.

But it wasn’t.

After checking into our Christmas Day flight to El Salvador and lunching at Crepes and Waffles, we approached the immigration booth to get stamped out of Colombia, handing over passports, boarding passes, the escritura publica and D’s birth certificate. We knew something was up when the officer moved away to an office with our documents, and we started to get a sinking feeling.

When he came back he said we were missing a section validating the escritura publica and led us out of the quarantine area to the Migracion Colombia office beside the check in section of the terminal, handing over our documents to another officer.

We weren’t the only ones there in that office, and it appeared that all the cases were regarding children.

The officer explained that what we were missing was a nota de vigencia, a seal from the notary’s office saying that there was no amendment or annulment on record for the escritura publica. She showed us a copy of another traveller’s documents to explain what that was. What we had was a photocopy of the document from the notary’s records, and a notary’s authentication of that document. But no nota de vigencia.

The sinking feeling deepened into dread.

Edwin explained to the officer that he had gone to Migracion Colombia in Calle 100 just 10 days prior and was told his documents were in order by a Migracion Colombia official. Still there was nothing we could do, and the only thing the officer could do was include his claim in the report on the incident and encourage him to make a formal complaint at the office he had visited regarding the incorrect advice received.

So we were denied departure to Colombia because when we’d gotten the copy of the escritura publica, the notary hadn’t added the seal. Or maybe we were supposed to ask for a nota de vigencia instead, I’m still not clear.

With heavy hearts we left the office, spoke to the airline regarding our tickets and luggage and when we found out that the plane had to leave before we could get our bags, we took a taxi home to think about our options.

Before returning to the airport and after being able to process what had happened, we had devised a plan B. Given that it was Friday, we wouldn’t be able to get a nota de vigencia from the notary in Santa Marta until at least Tuesday, which would reduce the days we had to travel, and it would cost an extra US$150 per person with the difference in fare and the ticket penalty. We had our bags packed already so we decided to do a roadtrip instead, taking advantage of our time off to visit the South of Colombia which none of us had visited before.

The reality hit poor D – who was very excited about our trip and getting on an international flight – when we went back to the airport to collect our bags and he was glum until we got to our first stop at Desierto de Tatacoa the next afternoon.

I would hate for this to happen to you and ruin your holiday or travel plans, so here are my tips for reducing immigration heartache in Colombia with Colombian minors, which we will certainly be following  next time.

  1. If possible, check your documentation ahead of your flight with your port of departure. Next time we will be going to El Dorado Airport in Bogota to check our documents as they are the people that see these cases every day.
  2. Carry a copy, or even better multiple copies, of the child’s birth certificate. This is because the officers need to know who the parents are. We overheard another case in the airport where a 15 and 17 year old were travelling with both their parents and they didn’t have their birth certificates to prove that the two adults were their birth parents. The officers were prepared to accept scanned copies saved in an email, but the family didn’t have that either.
  3. If you are visiting multiple countries, take a copy of documentation to travel with the child for each country as Migracion Colombia keep the copies of your permission form (the per-trip authorisation by both parents – the Migracion Colombia website should have a template for download) or your escritura publica. I think they also keep the copy of the birth certificate.
  4. Make sure if you have an escritura publica authorising the child’s travel with a particular parent, that you get a nota de vigencia from the notary as well.
  5. As I’m not sure of the process if you are travelling with non-Colombian minors, you should check with Migracion Colombia what they need.

If you have any other tips or have a Colombian immigration experience to share, please feel free to leave a comment.

The Last Visit of Raton Perez

One of the unexpected aspects of moving to Colombia and being thrust into instant parenthood is that the perpetuation of childhood miracles at Easter, Christmas and upon losing a tooth are quite distinct.

Santa Claus/Father Christmas really only appears in decorations as Christmas gifts are given by Niño Dios (Baby Jesus). This probably shouldn’t be so strange for me to see Santa faces and forms in houses when he isn’t an integral part of Colombian Christmas rituals as I’m guilty of buying snow-covered decorations and wrapping paper when snow is not part of Christmas in Australia.

Easter Bunny doesn’t exist and there are no chocolate giving traditions at Easter. Coming from the country with the highest per capita Easter egg chocolate consumption, I find this very sad, although if you look hard you can rely on a few imported Lindt Chocolate bunnies to cheer up the season.

Another changing face of childhood magic is the Tooth Fairy whose gossamer wings have been replaced by a whiskered mouse called Ratón Pérez.

Perhaps I want to try to hold onto my own childhood memories by bringing these traditions into my family here but I’m not sure I’ve ever really thought much about the impact of me thrusting them upon D who by that time had already celebrated 7 Christmases, 7 Easters and lost a couple of teeth. I must remember to ask him when he’s older if he noticed the difference in these events after I came into his life because all of a sudden Santa came to visit, leaving gifts behind in a pillowcase laid out by the tree, chocolate was consumed at Easter, and instead of putting his lost tooth under his pillow he had to put it in a glass of water on the mantelpiece in order to receive the money.

In the past year and a half, Ratón Pérez has made over 10 visits to our place, although I think now he is just about done. I remember one of the first teeth to come out in Bogotá; D had been fiddling with his loose tooth for quite some time, giving us updates on his progress every so often. I remember as a kid getting the dental floss and tying it around my loose tooth to help give a little pull. It’s one of those fascinating agonies we can’t help but be drawn to. After quite some time and in a burst of bravery, the tooth came out. We probably didn’t make enough noise about his achievement, instead directing him to put it in a glass of water on the mantel and saying Ratón Pérez would come during the night.

The next morning there was a 2,000 peso note in the glass and no tooth. D started to rant and get upset. It wasn’t over the amount of money he had received, rather he was upset that Ratón Pérez had taken his tooth. The horror! His words were “I wanted to keep my tooth, it took me a lot of effort to pull it out.” He wasn’t happy with our explanation that it is an exchange process, the tooth for money and so the following week when the next loose tooth came out with some help from the school nurse (who has helped him pull at least 2 teeth out during school) he put the tooth in the glass of water but this time wrote a note asking Ratón Pérez to leave him his tooth because he had invested so much effort into pulling it out. The next morning there was a tooth in the glass, but no money, and so it continued for the next two nights until D finally took the petition down and resigned himself to the fact that he couldn’t have both.

I had expected that by now, at age 11, D would have definitely cottoned on to Ratón Pérez being Edwin and I, but with one of his last teeth to come out we forgot to swap the tooth for money and in the morning when he checked it before going to school, he got really angry that Ratón Pérez hadn’t come. His reaction was not that of a boy who knew his parents were behind the scam.

It’s nice that he’s still so innocent, although we can see that beginning to change. He’s going through a big growth spurt and his interests are evolving. Now that I think all his baby teeth are out, there’s no need for him to keep believing in Ratón Pérez , but for now, we’ll just hold onto the last vestiges of his affectionate and innocent boyhood before the magic wears off.

When is it okay to clean out your 10 year old stepson’s room?

I’m home alone for a few days as mi novio and D went back to Santa Marta for Semana Santa.

I love having the house to myself. These periods become very relaxing, peaceful (because I can function without the TV on) and ultimately very productive. So in the past couple of days I’ve managed to clean out our bedroom, my wardrobe, the spare room and now I am working on D’s room.

I can’t admit to being a tidy person. Thankfully, mi novio and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to tidying and cleaning, as in my experience that is an important element for a less stressful relationship. I am also a hoarder. I have stuff and when I go through my things to throw them out, sentimentality overwhelms any motivation to de-clutter. When I moved to the US a few years ago, I didn’t even pack up my little family cottage. Mum said if she needed the place she would clean it out and pack it up. It was a bit of a different story when I moved to Colombia. I finally realised that I was going overseas for an indefinite period of time, and it was highly likely that the bits and bobs I was saving for “some day when I have kids” or “for when I have a costume party to go to” just wouldn’t even be unpacked but stay in my mother’s container of hoarded items, so I had a market stall, dropped off three boxes to the op-shop and threw out a heap of junk.

Having entered D’s room to put some clean clothes away, I decided his room also had to be on my clean out list. D certainly didn’t inherit his grandmother’s penchant for cleaning, nor do I think he falls into the same untidy/disorganised category as mi novio. I actually think he is the messiest of us all. Maybe it’s because he’s a ten year old boy, but about two weeks ago he spent a whole afternoon supposedly cleaning up his room. In his ten year old mind that obviously didn’t mean sweeping under the bed or cleaning out and re-organising the shelves.

When I think back to my time as a 10 year old, I had just moved into my very own room. It had a built in desk and shelves where I could put all my little ornaments (and there were a lot of them). I loved having my privacy. I think it was not long after this that I started to have regular toybox clean ups. My ritual would involve opening up the toybox and pulling out all sorts of things – mostly junk – and then convincing my younger brothers and sister that it would be great for them. In effect, I tidied up my toybox, and would carefully put everything back in the box in neat piles, yet the junk only moved to another room of the house.

I also remember the fear whenever Nan came to stay. Almost every single time she came to stay she would get the rake out of the shed and rake out our rooms while we were at school. This was terrifying for all of us and I’m still not sure whether Mum sanctioned this behaviour or not. Perhaps Mum now feels somewhat vindicated of her own hoarding that would also come under threat whenever Nan came, because she then had to clean out Nan’s house after she moved into a nursing home and Mum discovered Nan’s very own hoarding habit hidden in a four bedroom house.

I tried to keep in mind what it was like having someone else forcibly enter my room and clean it out according to their own definitions of rubbish while I was in D’s room, but ultimately I just got on with it. My compromise was a bag of things that I would be happy to throw out, but that D should see first. I’m curious as to whether he will actually go through that bag and put away neatly any of those things.

It will be interesting to find out whether I suddenly become the wicked stepmother, or whether he’ll take it all in his stride and be happy with the new pairs of tracksuit pants I’ve bought and left on his bed as a surprise. There’s also the Easter chocolate he won’t be expecting to sweeten the deal even further. Let’s hope that at the very least, the Lego stays in one general area and not end up in every single drawer, nook and cranny of his room. I think that would be called a cleaning win.

What’s your approach to cleaning a 10 year old’s bedroom, is it their job or your job?

 

 

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