The first was set on top of a small hill. Primary colors covered its walls in entirety. We pulled into the small parking lot next to the school. An unsure man in a blue uniform approached us.
We greeted him and told of our intentions to tour the school. He went to fetch one of the teachers. We climbed the steps up to the door. A few minutes later, a profesora in all white scrubs with a colorful apron on top opened it.
The school was very quiet. I glanced down at my phone. 1:30. They must be napping after lunch. As she spoke, I looked around, observing the lack of light, the quiet, the segmented rooms. She began her tour of the school. We walked around the small-windowed classrooms with views of the city. Dark.
Around back was the outdoor play area. It looked more suitable for mountain goats than for children, with its sharp incline and narrow footpaths. I imagined a child tripping and tumbling down the hill until his or her body was flung against the building.
She walked us back through the central corridor to the other half of the school. The library, the art room, a back patio where the children ate lunch. Dark, dark, dark. Was it the shady covering? The inept bulbs not capable of lighting a closet, much less an entire classroom?
We walked back to her office and inquired about classroom size and format. D3 would be in parabolas. Each classroom had around 13 children with one teacher. There was a helper that all the teachers shared, who pitched in when necessary. At 13 to 1, I imagined the helper running around like a crazed lunatic, breaking up fights and wiping bottoms while the haggard teacher tried to keep the rest of the students in line.
We thanked her and walked back to the car. This one would be a pass. There were two more to see.
The second was a few blocks uphill from our apartment complex. A few blocks sounds promising; it’s the uphill part that scares me. Here in Medellín, the inclines demand that car gears shift, sweat leaks, and heart rates increase. For a foreigner who hails from the flattest of lands, being 5,000 feet up in the air plus hiking higher was an intimidating thought.
As we drove up past our apartment building, I imagined how I would retrieve him at the end of the day. Would I be lazy and take a taxi? Or strap on my workout clothes and start climbing, no gym membership necessary? Or could I cajole my husband to do both drop-offs and pick-ups with his able vehicle?
And what about the walk back down? Would my knees shatter? Would D3 give up and sit on the pavement until I scooped him up? I pictured myself trying not to fall face first into the cement while navigating the descending sidewalk.
We walked to the daycare’s front door from the rocky parking lot and rang the bell. A bubbly woman opened the door and immediately recognized our friend. They go to the same church. We took this as a good sign and followed her into the receiving hall.
We told her what we need and how long we’ll be in town. They’re on summer vacation and are only open until 2 during the next two weeks, which explains the empty school. Then there will be a full week off, followed by regularly scheduled programming. We can work around this.
Like the first time, we follow her around the school and peek into the different play areas. There’s a room upstairs cushioned by play mats. Child-sized musical instruments cover the walls. Downstairs, the back door opens up to a huge outdoor area fitted with a trampoline, a paved drive for riding tricycles, and plenty of grass to run around. A covered patio hosts easels and painting aprons. The owner tells us the kids can spend up to three or four hours a day out there.
Back in her office, she shows us the television screen divided into nine segments. Each segment displays a different webcam view. All parents have access to this surveillance system. The teachers send parents photos, lunch menus and updates through a WhatsApp group.
We’re in. How soon can he start?
* * *
We bring our son back at 9 a.m. the following day. A handful of kids are sitting in the owner’s office watching Peppa Pig dubbed in Spanish. The owner hasn’t arrived yet.
This isn’t what we expected. I wonder who will broach the subject: me or my husband?
As he jots down our contact information, he asks how long the kids will be watching TV today and if this is a normal thing. The teacher denies it is, and a few minutes later another teacher rounds them up to take them to the playroom.
Our son follows her up the stairs with a quick glance back and a casual goodbye. We look at each other, eyebrows raised, and shrug our shoulders.
That first day, we’re added to the shared parent chat. We get pictures of him on the trampoline. Next, he’s dressed up as a cowboy and Mr. Incredible. A third scene shows him painting next to his classmates. We get his lunch menu and the plan for the next day. We get a reminder message to bring a bathing suit, towel and sandals for him tomorrow. They’ll be splashing around in the kiddie pool and playing with play-doh. Some of the class moms chime in, sending heart emojis and commenting about how cute the kids look and how much fun they’re having.
We pick him up at 1:30. His teacher comes down to greet us. She tells us how well he did interacting with the other kids, eating, using the bathroom and having fun.
He is the right amount of happy to see us. Not desperately happy, like where have you been this whole time? Not a tiny amount of happy, like he’s been drugged into passivity. Just happy to see us because we are his favorite people and he wants to tell us about his day.
* * *
Of all the different aspects of moving to another country, this is the one that made me the most nervous. What are the schools like? Are they licensed? Will the kids be mean to him because he looks a little different and maybe sounds a little different than them? Are there any cultural differences that I’d be unable to tolerate? Would it be better to hire a mother’s helper instead so I’d always have my eye on him?
As we walked down the steps and through the rocky driveway to the car, I felt satisfied. He’ll be well taken care of, learning even more Spanish and about the culture, and I’ll have time to do what I do: write.