Our Biggest Challenge (continued)

The saga continues with our endeavor to find a good school situation for the boys, primarily AJC.  PJC is still very happy in his pre-school and we even added afternoon lessons with a teacher in Spanish.  He loves both!  His Spanish teacher says he talks A LOT in both English and Spanish.  It’s true, that kid’s mouth is always moving.

Here’s PJC learning about primary colors at his morning Learning Center.

When I last wrote, we were trying to assimilate AJC into the public school with the goal of immersing him in the language and the local culture.  It did not go well.

We really only lasted a few weeks.  After attending for two weeks, he missed a week when he sprained his arm.  Then he missed the very next week when the school had vacation for their trimester break.  He always was anxious about going, but when he had to return after the 2 missed weeks, it was an impossible feat.  He spent the first day crying the entire time, so they sent him to the principal’s office to sit there.  That day after school, he was super argumentative with his afternoon tutor, who he usually loves.  Then he came home and had a major anxiety attack.  His anxiety attack looked like him curled into the fetal position.  When he wasn’t uncontrollably crying he was asking questions like, “What if you die and I’m left here alone.  How will anyone find me?”  “What if I get lost and no one knows how to call you and I can’t tell them because I can’t speak Spanish?”  “Are we going to die at the same time so we can go to heaven together?” He also kept saying that the school was too scary, it was loud, there were way too many kids, everyone was staring at him.

I have a Bachelor’s in theology and a Master’s in Counseling, and I was totally ill-equipped to calm these fears.  His separation anxiety had reached peak level and the immersion into the foreign environment was more than he could process.  Still we pressed on… he actually went to school the next day and we didn’t receive any calls.  When I picked him up, I did notice his pants were filthy.  He said he had been on the floor playing with a bug while all the other kids were listening to the teacher. Wednesday we dropped him off at 7:30.  By 7:45 (seriously 15 minutes into the day), his teacher called and asked us to pick him up.  She said that he had been crying the entire time and that when she tried to talk to him, he started to get physical.  He was screaming, hitting the desk and stomping the floor.

Even though he only lasted a couple weeks, Brian and I felt like we couldn’t pressure him to go any more.  It was giving us all anxiety, and we hated to see him suffer.  It was totally changing his personality and ruining our relationships.  We also felt like the school had the best intentions, but they didn’t have the resources to help him through this transition.  We decided to place him in a small day care in the mornings called Kids Club.  It’s almost all expat kids and it’s taught primarily in English.  While the teacher covers themes, it’s not academic instruction like a kindergarten would be.  It’s not the perfect solution, but he’s happy there and it’s the best/only option for now.  We also will continue his afternoon instruction with his private teacher to try and keep him up to U.S. kinder standards.  We also made a deal with him that if he leaves the public school, he has to watch all of his videos in Spanish so he would have more exposure (this was a point on contention, but he eventually gave in).  He also stays with a local nanny for two hours of the day.  She tries to speak with him in Spanish, but she says that he is super quiet and sulks the entire time that he is there.

Quitting the public school felt like a big disappointment for Brian and I because one of our main goals in moving here was to immerse the boys in the language and culture.  We are finding that it is actually difficult to integrate into the local community and that expats tend to clump together.  I think Brian thought that because he is half Panamanian, he would integrate easier, but we are finding it is more an issue of class.  Also because we live 15 minutes outside of the town, we don’t spend much time in the “pueblo” socializing.  In the near future, I think we need to make more of an effort to spend time in Pedasi and find ways to assimilate.

We do see AJC making some progress though.  When doing sidewalk chalk at a friend’s house the other day, he wrote his first and last name perfectly and unprompted.  He also is gaining confidence on the beach and rides long waves on the boogie board and dunks his head under waves.  These are all sensory challenges that he has conquered since moving here.


Look at that pincher grasp- his old OT would be so proud!  Now we just need to get him to break down the wall he has built against learning Spanish.  It’s just a bit embarrassing when we are around Panamanians and he is screaming, “They can’t talk to me in Spanish, they need to learn English!”  Okay, kid- what are you going to do next, put on a MAGA hat?  Whose kid are you?  Is it okay if we pretend not to know you?  Maybe after enough episodes of My Little Pony in Spanish, it will start to sink in…. vamos a ver!


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