Uprooting, yes. But hopefully the last five years of gardening/homesteading have taught me how to replant successfully 😉.
This process began long before our daughters were born. I just look Hispanic; my mother is black and my father white. My husband Uriah was born to 1st and 2nd generation Puerto Rican natives. His pull to his culture was unapologetic and relentless throughout his youth. Like many of our Latino peers, he wasn’t taught Spanish because their parents believed that would help the children become “real” Americans. But he still tried to learn how to play the congas with local Latino bands, still loved his arroz con pollo, still was draping himself in Puerto Rican flag clothing (haha!).
We’ve been dating since high school and we always said that somehow our future children would learn Spanish. Not having a strong cultural upbringing myself, I would have desired for the culture of any man I married to be passed onto my children. I took French in school, assuming that I would just pick Spanish up one day in “real life” (reality check!), and his not knowing his adored language just fueled his insecurity in ever actually learning it.
As young newlyweds trying to figure out what we were going to do with our lives, the idea came up to move to Puerto Rico. Why not? We didn’t have kids, a house or careers yet, this is how he could finally get the immersion he wanted!
I’m a nature freak and when Uriah told me the island had a rainforest, I had to live there! We roughly determined costs and started looking for a place to live (I really don’t know how he was able to do this back in 2007…craigslist? Lol). We found a house in Luquillo and we were sold!
I feel like we are a pretty good mix of slightly reckless and responsible. Sure, we totally went to Italy for our honeymoon without an itinerary or basic concept of the language (and this was before smartphones!) but hey! I was 20 years old with a 401K so that counts for something! So when a career opportunity for Uriah came up while we were in the midst of prepping for our move, real life took over and we scrapped our island plans.
Some time later, our first nephews were born and we began our campaign to Uriah’s parents that they should pass down the culture to the new generation. Several years had passed and no language, no music, no recipes had been gifted to the new family members.
Our first daughter Eurya was born and we pleaded again.
“Please talk to her in Spanish!”
“Que linda, muñequita.”
That was about the extent of it for a year. Then E started showing signs of being verbally advanced. She began speaking at eight months old, and could formulate full sentences that strangers could understand by 15 months old.
“Please talk to her in Spanish! She will learn quickly!”
“Besos, Eurya! Besos!”
Enter our second daughter, Zemira. She was born and Uriah’s side of the family immediately fell head-over-heels for her, as she really pulled from their gene pool. I really thought this time they might try to pass down the culture, but it was more of the same.
I never imagined I would be a homeschooling mother, but as the girls grew and continued to show signs of being advanced, I knew that was the choice for us. We have a terrible public school system at home and we weren’t fond of the private school options nearby either. Not to mention it was difficult for me to justify spending the money when I believed I could do just as good a job myself for free.
Although I began loosely homeshooling, we still searched for schools in a reasonable distance from home, hoping to find a Spanish-language immersion school, and eventually falling in love with Montessori education. The closest Montessori to us was nearly an hour away and they did teach Spanish so we considered it. Could we even afford such an expensive private school? Could we realistically handle driving four hours a day just for elementary school? Those answers were no. Maybe I could get a job in that town and cut the commute down to two hours a day 🙄, while making some money for that heavy price tag? Maybe we could get a tiny apartment and I could stay there during the week? No, crazy talk! Or open a storefront for our Stark business (more info here 😉) so I’m being productive while Montessori sucks our bank account dry.
We continued with our lives, years go by, we travel a lot and fantasize about up and moving to a Spanish-speaking country. The girls grow and we buy Rosetta Stone and old school Muzzie (which was admittedly more nostalgic for us–millennials will remember those infomercials on Nickelodeon: “un, deux, trois!” 😆–than us really believing it would teach them Spanish). We think with their lack of screen time they will really love these, but they don’t hold their interest. Then we finally find a college kid to come and essentially babysit for us in Spanish. She means well but she’s not a native speaker and she resorts to English too much. Plus, I’m home while they “work” and it’s weird that I’m paying someone to play with my kids. Time passes and we again find another babysitter, this time a charismatic young woman from Mexico who has experience working with children. The girls click with her and it seems to be working! It’s still awkward that I’m home trying to keep busy while they play and learn, but I deal. Then she suddenly has to quit. We are all heartbroken. Now what?
The conversations come back up about moving to another country. Our house will be paid off in just a few years, we could do it then. Uriah can quit, we sell the house, go to Costa Rica or something. Sounds crazy, but we’re kinda crazy. We do research on expats, how would we get work visas? How do you do ANYTHING? Spain is probably easier, right? Because it’s Europe and that’s like America! Right? I don’t know how much time passed before finally we remembered Puerto Rico in our comparisons of countries. It was so silly, we want the kids to have their Puerto Rican culture and forget to consider going straight to the source.
Soooo, this is more plausible. PR is a part of America so we don’t have to worry about actually being expats. Could pretty much just move down! Maybe Uriah could take a sabbatical while we live there as a family? But he wouldn’t get paid, so maybe we wait until we are mortgage-less with the hope of going down bill free? Save enough money to live off of so we wouldn’t need jobs? Try to spread our Stark business to PR? Have someone rent our house? These things could work, but it would require that we wait a few years. That thought was so sad. We had already wasted the first six or so years of their lives, now we come up with a maybe plan and we have to wait more? Until when, when E is almost 10!? That felt like failure. Would they be set in their ways at 10 and not really learn? Would it be too big of a change for them at that age? Would it be a lot harder to learn? After mulling over our questions for about a day (we move fast lol) I suddenly had a question for my husband:
What if I went without you?
“I thought that also, but I didn’t want to say it.”
Wow. So now we are on the same crazy page! We go over it. He would keep his job and health insurance and our house, nothing here at home would change except the girls and I aren’t here. He already works so so much (besides his 9 to 5 with many hours of overtime a week, he’s co-owner of a CrossFit gym where he instructs classes) that we don’t see him that often. We look up schools in Puerto Rico and what do you know, they’re full of seemingly nice (and affordable!) private and Montessori schools! We look up apartments and they seem doable! Uriah gets a lot of vacation days with his job so he could come visit for weeks at a time if he plans it right. He also is obsessed with traveling so this would feed his urge. The time we would get with him there would be total quality time, rather than an hour or so in between shifts. Everything seems to be making sense, our questions seem to have workable answers!
Within a week, we book a trip sans children to visit a list of schools we’ve compiled and get a feel for the island, especially organic food options (because it seems bleak). The whole time we are each a ball of nerves, but we’re trying to be open minded. People move to new places all the time, no biggie. Military families deal with this type of thing with such grace. We’ve traveled to other counties and gotten around just fine in the past. But it still felt so strange.
Then we walked to the entrance of the last school added to our list and all anxiety melted away almost immediately! The founder of the school was perfect, the school was perfect, we felt we could fit in this space so well. After that meeting we went home and promptly filled the paperwork, tuition check in the mail, done deal! As the purpose of this move is the girls’ education, we based everything off the school we found. So now we know what town to look for apartments in. We are getting school calendars and supply lists sent to us, we bought one-way tickets and I’ve begun packing!
It may be a little extreme to move almost 2000 miles away just so my kids can learn Spanish, but life is supposed to be an adventure, right?! Maybe we’ll love it and stay. Maybe we’ll love the process and try it again in a different country/language. Maybe it’ll all fail somehow and we end up back at square one.
But we’re ready to find out!