Back to School….Finally

2020 has continued to be bananas, but a mixed bunch. Some have been perfect, and others have been super rotten. Globally, the world has been a dumpster fire. The U.S. has been hit especially hard by Covid, has experienced months of protests to address the continued injustice of Black people in America, and most recently the west is suffering an apocalyptic spread of wildfires. All this while my friends struggle to balance full time jobs while helping their children with distance learning. We have never been so happy with our decision to leave the States. While I used to be in a rush to move back, now I reminded everyday of the paradise we are living in.

Of course, Covid has brought challenges to Panama. This country has seen one of the longest and strictest quarantines, especially in the capital city. Children especially have suffered as they have been forced to remain indoors, often in high density apartment buildings. The long shut down has perpetuated the extreme divide between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Luckily the country is beginning to ease restrictions this month. We hope this bring economic and mental health relief without too dire consequences for the people’s health.

Because we live in a remote area, Covid never really touched our corner of the world. We have been living in a privileged little bubble. As things open up and tourists begin to visit the beaches, this could change, of course. Actually for us, life has gotten better in a lot of ways. While our remoteness used to be an inconvenience, that has become almost a non-factor as almost all shops started delivering. We get our produce, bread, seafood and meats delivered from local vendors to our home. We even found delivery services to bring in shipments from PriceSmart (Panama’s version of Costco) right to our door.

We were also fortunate to have a community of families in our little neighborhood that we could join forces with. While we each had a different virtual/homeschool solution for our kids, we were able to collaborate and find teachers to put on enrichment classes in the afternoon. This way the kiddos still had socialization and were exposed to new activities. It was in a new theatre class, that AJC has really found his passion. They are working on putting together a Cinderella play. AJC wakes up every Tuesday and Thursday excited for theatre class in the afternoon. He spends every day singing and dancing. He has a whole list of plays he wants to do after Cinderella. To encourage this newfound love, he has also taken Disney sing- along and dance classes through I have no idea where he got his creative and performative side, but we are trying to encourage it!

Career day in their “summer school”. PJC was a paleontologist and AJC was a detective.

Our biggest challenge during this time was that AJC’s OCD started to rear it’s ugly head. We were able to resume therapy with his psychologist in Buffalo as she was willing to see him virtually. Unfortunately, his anxiety and OCD escalated to a point where he was almost paralyzed. He was in crisis, and in turn, our whole family was in crisis. One of benefits of Covid was that now all treatment options were available to us because everyone was willing to do telehealth. Before, living in such a remote region made treatment for him almost impossible. We were able to add to his treatment team a psychiatrist in Panama City and a functional medicine pediatrician in Santa Monica. Under the care of this new team, AJC has made huge progress. We are now able to see him enjoy his friends, laugh, sing, dance, and play- all which were almost non-existent almost a month ago.

And before we knew it, it was time for school to start again. AJC’s school took a little break from July to September. They had been virtual since March. The administrator and parents met to discuss options, and due to our remoteness and small student population, everyone agreed that we should try resuming in-person learning. AJC started his new school this week with only 7 other students ranging from 2nd-4th grade. The beach and jungle is their playground. Every day (well only three days so far), he tells me how awesome his day was. When I ask for the worst part of his day and the best part of his day, he says the best part was “all of school.” To see a child mentally paralyzed shift to a child filled with joy has been the greatest gift. We know this is the best possible learning environment for him, and we feel so lucky that he is able to be a child here. The only con is that the Spanish program at the school is weak so we still need to figure out supplementing that.

The public schools in Panama have decided to go virtual for the remaining of the 2020 year. They will resume school in March of 2021. At that time, we will have to re-evaluate if we want to send PJC to the public school again. However, right now, his previous pre-school teacher (Teacher Emily-“my favorite teacher”) has taken him and a couple other students on for Pre-K/Kinder. He has an amazing classroom right by the beach with it’s own pool. Seriously, how spoiled are these kids? The class is also completely in Spanish which is a major win.

We’ve survived 2020 so far. Who knows what the rest of the year has in store. As they say here, “vamos a ver…” While this year has been crazy, we have countless reasons for gratitude.

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