Friday – Paraskevi – is the kids’ favorite day of the week. Isn’t it everyone’s? As I sit watching the two-tone sea on this windy, cloudy but warm afternoon, I’m glad it’s Friday too. The Christmas tree in the Plateia is being lit tonight, Demetri’s coming home tomorrow after a week in Portugal (his FB pics are great – go look), we’ll see Anna, Vasillis and the kids this weekend, and both Michael and Peter have a laser tag birthday party on Sunday. Quick aside: birthday parties are basically the same here as in the US, except the venue has a professional photographer to take photos of each child and then of course you can buy the photo or some swag that goes with it. I thought it was brilliant … and the moms laughed at me saying just wait until you have 15 key chains. By Sunday I’ll have 4.
We’re two and a half months into school and both boys are doing so well. Their school takes great advantage of the culture in and around Athens. Peter’s class went to the Wizard of Oz this week and last week they went to an olive orchard to harvest olives from the trees and began curing them. He’s also been to two theater performances. Michael has been to the ceramics museum in Athens and 2 theater performances, and both boys got to skip out of school at 12:30 on Halloween to go with the school basketball team to the SEF basketball stadium where the Olympiacos team plays. There are two more field trips each before school breaks for Christmas.
Plus, they’re having fun. Peter’s class is small and he has special things to say about each child. Sometimes he compares them one for one to his buddies from PreK, and his most consistent bubble up each day is when he gets to play with his friend Demetri in school. But he also loves to play with Ermes, Fillipos, Chrysanthi, Anastasia, Gianni, Massimo, Dorothea, Kacey, Ais, Sylvia … he loves them all and Kyria Anna too, his wonderful teacher. She’s pretty amazing. He is learning Greek well, he understands a ton, knows a lot of words, all the parts of the body in Greek, and is always singing or humming a Greek song. Having never met a stranger, Peter recognizes kids in the square from school or from the bus and yells “Gia sou Giorgos!” (or Panos or whomever) across the way. He has a little man crush on Spiros, a 5th grader who lives around the block. Spiros is quite cool. And very kind. Kindergarten here is not as rigorous as Aspen, but going to school in a foreign country where you don’t know the language is more than enough rigor for one little person.
Michael is mildly obsessed with basketball and loves going to practice. Sweet Papou got him a hoop for his birthday and he shoots almost every morning as we wait for the bus. He loves drama and computers and he has fun in English class where he’s got his buddy Max (Max speaks 4 languages) and 3 other second graders who are bilingual. Max has been his pal since day one, along with two sisters from Australia who are in our same boat with the language. One of the girls works with Michael and Ms. Elena every day. And just in the last week, he’s been starting to play with his classmates more and more, which has my mommy heart exploding.
Of all of us, Michael’s had the biggest challenge with the language. For Peter, it’s fine that he’s not fluent. For Demetri and me, it’s fine too. Most everything (signs, subway announcements) is translated and everyone speaks some English. Peter can be in class without having to know how to read or write at this point. But in second grade, you are listening and learning in Greek only. That part was addressed by school early on and the solution is working great. The social piece has been more difficult. He would come home with stories of boys getting in his face, not letting him have turns, knocking his ball out of his hands, pulling the door shut when Michael was coming in, and Michael was frustrated to not understand what they said and not to be able to tell them to stop. Then one day one of these boys pinned him between one of the desks and the window. Demetri, who went to 4 new schools between kinder and 5th grade, had excellent counsel for Michael. He constantly reminds him that what he’s doing is hard, that it is okay to say stop in English, and that part of what makes it difficult is that we don’t understand how other kids play. (School said that the desk incident was just playing, but that also they believed Michael that he didn’t think so.) Demetri never told Michael to push back or get back in their faces, but to engage and be fun about it, disarm the behavior. So, one day Michael got off the bus thrilled to tell us that when one of the two boys got in Michael’s face and growled at him, Michael growled back and then smiled at him. Then Michael went back to what he was doing. The next morning, this boy was waiting for Michael when he got off the bus and that day he and Max played with lots of other second grade boys at recess … and have been ever since. Major breakthrough.
I didn’t write all this for anyone to feel sorry or sad. Many of my friends have been through this or worse and I know it’s part of being a kid and being a parent. This blog was intended to be part travelogue and part family journal and today is a journal entry. But more than that, I wrote it for Michael’s (or Peter’s) future self. Seek first to understand, right?
A few photos from the last couple of weeks are below.