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  • Sara B.

Our kids are epic

Before moving down here, my #1 (and really only) concern was our kids. Not money, not work, not the pandemic, not our house (either in Madison or Costa Rica), nothing. All I really stressed about was how our kids would fare with the major life change. Ironically, early on in the “moving to Costa Rica” planning, Ollie was hesitant and Yori was thrilled (Leo is always pretty much up for anything). As the date grew closer and the pandemic slowly sucked the life out of everyone and the fun out of life, it was Ollie who was pumped, Yori who was weepy and Leo who was still on board for whatever.


Well, here we are, just about a year in, and my #1 concern is still our kids. School is still not full-time (but at least it’s in-person every other day), there is still lots of down time, and our ginormous visit to Madison in July (where we got absolutely everything on our list done - right down to the orange rolls from our East-side bakery that I miss a lot) was epic in itself but then led to a bit of disappointment when we have to leave and head back (thank goodness we have Pipa - she was pretty much the only thing that excited the kids about coming back, which you can’t blame them for….we did more in our 6 weeks in Madison that we did during a year of normal life in Madison and that was busy). I’m still a mom and still hyper-aware of struggles with our new living situation.


But, you know, I’m noticing more and more little (and sometimes big) things that help me realize that this experience, overall, is actually molding them into pretty amazing little people, whether or not they like it. They’ve endured big changes on top of a pandemic and it’s doing them some deep-down good. Here are some highlights:


1. Exhibit A: Our kids have become amazing hikers. Like amazing, amazing. Does that mean they never complain? Of course not. Johel and I are not afraid of mud, rain, wind, blazing sun, or steep or rocky terrain. We’ve hauled our kids since arriving here through 80 kph winds, mud that’s knee-deep, downpours that threatened to give Leo hypothermia, slippery rock, river crossings, ice cold mountain pools, and more. And they’ve done it every-single-time. Two hikes of particular note were done since we’ve been back here after our stint in Madison:


1. Catarata de Nieve y Paz (Peace & Snow waterfall - go figure with the name). While not particularly long (1 kilometer one-way), this hike was craaazy steep and 80% tall stairs down through a rainforest. Exhausting. Knee-throbbing. Way too steep to have me hauling any kid on my shoulders or back. And wouldn’t you guess who made it entirely on their own (and most of the time in the lead?) Leo. The kids pack and haul their own backpacks (with the occasional cave-in where Johel and I help out), but really, they are independent kiddos on some major trails.



2. Catarata San Fernando

I actually planned to take Johel to this one on our own for our anniversary but we got a late start that day and the man in charge insists you arrive before 8 a.m. It’s at the base of an incredible, lush canyon where the Río Sarapiqui runs. It’s huge and way, way down. In fact, I didn’t know it existed for the longest time and was surprised to find out it’s en route to San Jose from La Flor. And even more surprised to find out the parking lot is right where there is a stretch of road that makes you catch your breath as you drive because if you so much as sneeze while in the driver’s seat, you’ll veer right off the road and over the side of a very scary cliff (into the area, I now realize) where we hiked!


This was the first waterfall where we had to sign waivers, and when I showed up with Leo, the man in charge asked me for his age. “Four”. Now in the US, this would have been their cue to turn me away. In Costa Rica, on some family’s private property, this means he warns me “only one other four year old has done this before” and pushes a waiver in my face. “Well, you don’t know our four year old.” “Bueno, ok.”


This hike was about four hours total down previously-mentioned cliff-side into previously-mentioned canyon. The trail was gravely, slippery as a result, and involved a wild amount of backward-scaling down rocks while holding ropes. Large rocks with slippery sides and no grips/divots for steps. Woohoo! It was crazy. But even Pipa bounded along. We passed nothing but adults (until the end, where there were two families with kids maybe 7 or 8+)


Ollie was a mess at first, not at all thrilled with the wet and mud, but Yori and Leo were plugging away. Once we got to the bottom, though, what a change of heart. This waterfall was incredible: immensely tall with a large boulder balanced over the top (not going to lie: that was a bit scary - all it needed was a little rush of water to send it right over the falls onto all of us gawkers below.) It rushed out in a bit of a cove and the roar, wind, and spray was unbelievable. Ollie and Yori, upon reaching the base, immediately rushed to the falls to take it in. They laughed and screamed and truly loved it. You could see how momentous this was for them….even after Yori slipped on a rock and gashed open her knee pretty good. Leo relaxed and ate his PBJ, fueling up for the hike back.


The entire hike up the canyon was a happy one as we could periodically take a look back and see how fast we were climbing. At the top, I felt it was kind of like the end of a marathon: everyone was rinsing off and cleaning up and excited that they’d made it. The kids had done amazing with some major obstacles: Ollie (endless mud), Yori (gash), and Leo (being four and small). On the car ride home, Johel and I just kept saying between ourselves: damn, our kids are amazing!


2. Exhibit B: Work


Our kids knew work before they came to Costa Rica. They had their little chores in Madison, plus the tasks of keeping up with school and instruments. But work was less consistent because we were busier and the jobs were generally easier.


Here, work is real and necessary, and the kids, for the most part, have owned up to the bigger tasks quite well (surprisingly, the smaller ones like bed-making still need incessant reminders). Besides daily tasks like Leo hauling compost to a far-off hole we’ve recently dug (and we produce a lot of compost!) or Ollie scrubbing shower floors and drains or Yori sweeping our porches, twice a week they have big work days. One for “free” because it involves cleaning out our huge veggie garden, weeding (and turning up biting ant nests - yikes!), planting, cleaning out, you name it. “Free” because we don’t pay them, but they get to sell the excess we harvest for savings for a future trip to wherever. Usually in blazing sun. Usually in 85+ degrees.


The other is every Saturday for a minimum of two hours - usually more. This day is a catch all from loading and hauling rocks to fill in car-damaging divots in our local road to cleaning cabins and scrubbing down doors (which grow a nice film of mildew in the humidity if not taken care of regularly), you name it. Spreading chicken poop in the garden, hauling brush, planting pinas. They do it, generally do it well, and even seem to be growing to enjoy it (or at the very least not complaining that they have to do it), which I see as a major improvement. Our kids were definitely not ones to labor for long in the blazing sun before we came to Costa Rica.


3. Exhibit C: Meals


Little by little, we’ve needed more and more help with the kids and meal prep. I have remote work at night three times per week and Johel is now in a 5-night a week tour guiding course (that lasts a year - sob!), so if the kids want to eat at a reasonable hour that’s not before 3:00 or after 8:30, a few nights a week they are basically on their own. And they are rocking it. Ollie (with occasional help from Yori) has prepared some pretty simple but amazing meals: Gallos (a traditional Costa Rican food of tortilla, shredded cabbage, meat and toppings), pastas and salads, fish tacos, and more. All from scratch, mind-you. Lots of chopping and dicing and shredding involved. One night a week, I have a brief window where Yori and I prep dinner together, and she is an amazing sous-chef, prepping veggies and occasionally working the stove. Leo usually helps out with table prep so much so that on nights when I might have a 30-minute break between hours of classes, I can come out and see a full meal ready and waiting for us to all quickly eat together before they then clean everything up and get themselves 100% ready for bed.


4. Exhibit D: Spanish


Their Spanish is great. Leo’s newest thing is “bueno” after everything as acknowledgement that he either

  1. Heard you

  2. Knows he needs to get his butt moving

  3. To preface something he’s about to say

It’s hilarious. And it’s sooo Tico.


Yori today was telling me a story about something from school and mentioned a “carajillo” in her class. It too is very Tico for “kid,” and I personally have never before used it. It was so natural and so hilarious to hear it coming out of her mouth: a sign she’s becoming more Tico every day.


Ollie’s academic vocabulary has greatly improved thanks to his teacher providing some reasonably challenging topics. He occasionally throws them out in conversation, and it always makes me a bit envious (do you know how long it would take me to learn and use those words!?)


5. Exhibit E: Trying new things

Mainly foods, but also experiences. Papaya is becoming a regular on our table lately (a fruit we all - sans Johel - agreed had a vomity texture and taste for the first many months we tried to choke it down). Our palette for milk and cheese (straight from the cow or curdled and prepared from milk straight from the cow) has adapted. We nibble on leaves that we’ve learned about that are growing randomly in natural areas. We’ve tried fruits we’ve never even seen before. Homemade yogurt, you name it, they’re pretty much willing to try it and most of the time, seeming to like it. Yori and Leo in particular. Ollie today even commented how much he’s grateful for the fact he’s starting to really like all this random stuff we’re eating.


So while days are not without complaining, frustrations or fights (we’re human, for goodness sake), the kids are doing an incredible job of making the most out of this wildly-different experience we’ve thrown them into. They’re seeming to thrive even if there are, of course, moments when they want nothing more than to be in A/C in Wisconsin watching TV with school buddies at a sleepover (we have none of these things: A/C, TV or sleepovers with school friends).


They’re epic kiddos for sure, and we’re lucky to be in this adventure with them!


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