Stone Soup Worldschooling Pop-up in Antigua, Guatemala – Part I
So we just returned from a week in Antigua, Guatemala, where we joined the Stone Soup Worldschooling Pop-up Community.
I knew going into the experience that it would be tough for us — we have two small kids, I’m pregnant, and I would be solo for most of the trip as my husband wouldn’t be able to take that much time off of work.
But it just seemed liked kismet! A worldschooling community so close to our home in Guatemala City? Right after we’d just started homeschooling full-time and felt desperate for community? It seemed wrong to pass it up just because “it sounds hard.”
Well, it was hard. It was also great and challenging and provocative, but there’s no denying it was hard.
I’m not sure how to even encapsulate the whole experience, so I’ve decided to just tell you the story, and then maybe by the end of it, I’ll be able to tie it all up into a neat bow.
For now, here’s the story of the breakdown I had, about a week into the trip. There’s all kinds of privilege and whininess in here, but this is the truth of what I felt, as I experienced it, as a 21-week pregnant mom of a four-year-old and a 23-month-old, who was traveling solo with her kids.
I wake up at 5:45 am to my toddler calling my name as she scales the dangerous, winding concrete stairs to the loft, where my bed was located in our Air B&B. I leap out of bed to grab her before she falls off the landing onto the concrete steps below.
I shush her, but it’s too late — she’s woken her sister now.
After a futile attempt to get everyone to settle back down, I give up and turn on the TV and give everyone cups of milk while I sit bleary-eyed on the couch, trying to come up with a plan for the day.
Phrases like “make the most of it” and “don’t be afraid” flit across my mind. As the sun comes up, one of the housekeepers delivers the breakfast I had remembered to order the day before. As the first few sips of coffee hit my lips, I feel re-motivated — I can do this. Let’s go exploring.
It takes a lot longer than usual to get us out the door. Not only am I in Antigua, Guatemala by myself, with two young kids, I’m in an Air B&B that doesn’t have a lot of the luxury amenities I’m used to — including a dishwasher, an oven, or potable water. None of it is necessary, sure, but it doesn’t change the fact that it takes a lot longer to get the breakfast dishes cleaned up and the kids dressed when it’s just me and I have to wait for tap water to filter before I can load up water bottles and snacks for the day.
We leave the Air B&B — a complex of five apartments that share a central courtyard — and I hold the girls in a death grip as we walk half a block to the dirt lot where our car is parked. I get the door to the lot unlocked and try (and fail) to keep the toddler out of the trash-strewn piles while I get everyone into their carseats. Then I head back to the door of the lot and pull open the vehicle doors, pinning them into place against the walls and stepping gingerly around the two-foot-high heap of trash around each drop point.
Then I head back to the car, carefully drive through the narrow entrance, and park the car on the street outside. Then I climb back outside the car, walk back to the gate, walk back to the trash heap, and carefully un-pin the doors and secure them behind me. It’s taken us 15 minutes just to get from the front door to everyone in the car, and I already want hand sanitizer.
It’s a thirty-minute drive through narrow streets full of people, chicken buses, and street dogs to reach Aguas Calientes, where the weaving museum is located. It’s another lovely day in Antigua, with bright sun and beautiful views of the volcanos that circle the city.
As we drive, a volcano erupts on the horizon. When I excitedly point it out to my four-year-old, she replies with an exasperated sigh, “Mooooom, I see that every day.” She’s not wrong. We can see the same volcano from our front door back in Guatemala City.
I find the weaving museum, which is perched on a hillside deep in the countryside outside of Antigua. I shepherd the kids down the steep driveway to the tiny museum, which looks like it was built out of the first floor of what is obviously the home of the museum tenders.
I greet the docent and pay for admission and a bracelet-making class for my oldest. I don’t bother signing the toddler up for the class — she couldn’t sit through the chocolate-making class the day before, and I feel wise as I magnanimously declare that I’ll mind her while the older one learns how to make a bracelet using traditional Mayan weaving techniques. I congratulate myself on providing my children with such a rich cultural experience, even though I’m pregnant and tired and just want a real shower.
Once we’re in the tiny but well-maintained museum, my kids immediately start picking up every loose object in the displays and sitting on antique looms. I clutch the toddler and hiss at my older one to stop touching that, damn it. Meanwhile, the guide continues on (he’s thoughtfully switched to English for our benefit) and I’m doing my best to be polite and pay attention while also keeping the kids from destroying the exhibit.
My preschooler eventually stalks off, mad, and refuses to participate. I keep glancing over at her in between exhibits, where she’s giving me looks of betrayal. We cut the tour short, and I try to console her while simultaneously keeping the toddler from stomping over the displays of hand-woven textiles for sale.
Once peace has been more or less restored, the guide gets out the supplies for the bracelet weaving lesson. The toddler asks to go to the bathroom.
We went through potty training a month ago, and even though she’s now only 23 months, she has been very reliable. She was a potty training unicorn. Yet another feather in my mom-of-the-year cap. (<— eyeroll)
Except for this week. She immediately developed terrible diarrhea pretty much the moment we checked into our Air B&B, which of course does not have a washing machine in the unit, and I’ve been hand-washing poop-filled underwear in the shower multiple times a day, all week long. I’d given up the day before and put her back in a diaper, but I’d only brought enough diapers to cover night-time and nap-time and now I’m almost out. I’d go to the store, but given how hard it is to get the damn car out of the lot, I’m not eager to go unless it’s absolutely necessary.
So I shuffle us into the outdoor bathroom and put her back into undies for the day — it’s been almost 18 hours since the last incident, surely we’re out of the woods now. (This will prove to be tragically false.)
After I get her reasonably cleaned up in the outdoor sink (no soap available), I chase her around the courtyard for 15 minutes. She continually tries to climb the stairs to the private apartment, where she saw a cat disappear. She screams loudly every time I prevent her from entering. She is fixated on walking onto the roof of the lower level. She is not pleased when I pull her off of the roof — again, and again, and again.
Meanwhile, my four-year-old is over the weaving class. She, too, has been distracted by the cat and just wants to play with the kitty. I keep herding her back to the class, where the guide is now making the bracelet by himself. Every time I get her settled, I have to run after the toddler, who is now trying to escape up the driveway to the traffic-filled road.
After another fifteen long minutes, I give up and pull up Daniel Tiger on my cell phone. The toddler plops down into the dust and watches. The four-year-old manages another ten minutes of the class — halfheartedly — until she, too, is in the dirt, watching Daniel Tiger. The guide finishes the bracelet for her.
I pile the kids into the car and take several deep breaths. We’d been at the museum less than an hour, and I am wiped out from chasing the kids. The kids are cranky from the constant re-direction. I can’t remember a single thing from the museum. I look over ruefully at the $120 in textiles that I’d bought out of guilt for my children’s behavior. That was not in the budget.
I make a snap decision to go to one of the fancy hotels downtown where I heard you can buy a day pass to use their pool.
We pull up in front of the hotel entrance, which is flanked with several bodyguards and men wearing earpieces. I’m filthy, the kids are dusty, but I hand over our pool bag to the bell boy and let him carry it for me to the pool area. I push my pregnant belly out, as if that’s an excuse for both our appearance and the fact that I’m too tired to carry anything myself.
The courtyard is lovely and the pool has a toddler area — perfect!
The kids jump in. All is well.
Ten minutes later, the kids are cold, they’re bored, and they want to go home.
I ply the kids with lemonade and ice cream and overpriced chicken nuggets, and we manage to stick it out long enough so I don’t feel like the day pass is a total waste. There is a playground and free-flying parrots, and it feels idyllic at moments.
I congratulate myself again for rescuing the day. I ignore the part of me that wonders why I just spent over $60 (between the day passes and all the hotel food) when we have a free community pool that is arguably nicer back at home.
I take the kids back to the Air B&B for an afternoon rest. I try to get the toddler to nap, but it’s too late in the day now — we stayed too long at the pool to make the most of our day pass — and she won’t have it.
When I walk out of the bedroom after the 12th attempt to put her down, I see that the preschooler has made herself lunch: four slices of white bread, with a layer of honey and sprinkles between each layer. She is super proud of herself. I permit myself to make a snarky mental comment about nutrition and behavior, then proceed to let her eat the entire thing. While I am ashamed that I let her eat this way, I’m mainly happy that I didn’t have to prepare it and that she ate her entire meal for once.
After an hour, I give up on toddler nap time. I resign myself to another day without even a semblance of a break — just like every other day this week. Just like I imagine the next few days will go until our scheduled departure on Monday. The preschooler continues watching TV, and I bring the toddler out into the shared courtyard of our Air B&B. An elderly woman sits cross-stitching in a lawn chair nearby.
I spend the next two hours chasing the toddler around the courtyard, trying to keep her from bothering the neighbors.
I grab her before she plunges into the fountain. I unwind her fists from the hanging orchids that she desperately wants to yank off the pergola. She attempts to walk into the apartments around the courtyard, most of which leave their doors open to catch the Antigua breeze, and I shush her when she screams after I told that No, we cannot just walk into any house she likes. For the 1000th time, I ask myself whether my kids are actually benefiting from this worldschooling experience when I’m having to tell them no every thirty seconds.
Meanwhile, my four-year-old is on her fourth hour of TV for the day. Maybe more. I ask myself for the 1000th time why we’re paying for this Air B&B, where my kids are watching way more TV than usual and where I am running myself ragged, keeping the kids from disturbing our neighbors when we have a perfectly good, kid-proofed house (with a nanny and housekeeper and nearby playground) just two hours away.
Just then, the toddler bolts for the courtyard door, which leads into a cobblestoned street where motorcycles and cars trundle past regularly. I follow at a leisurely pace until I realize she’s figured out how to unlatch the door, then I bolt after her, clutching my 21-week-pregnant belly as it bobbles in front of me.
I extract her from the door and she immediately goes boneless and starts screeching. I carry her in a barrel hold past the cross-stitching old lady, who keeps her eyes studiously averted, while I try to keep the toddler from kicking her in the face as we squeeze past.
Our apartment is the last one in the row. I look up and see that my four-year-old had managed to build a tower out of plastic lawn furniture in the 90 seconds it had taken me to retrieve the toddler. She’s nearly to the top.
I deposit the toddler on the ground and run to retrieve my older kid. I catch her just as she’s summiting her tower, and when I place her on the ground, I see that the toddler has returned to the courtyard door and has it half-open to the street.
So I run — again — and rescue the toddler. She’s crying, the preschooler is whining, and I feel blood thumping in my temples.
I march us all inside our apartment, lock the door, and walk directly into the bedroom. I pull down our suitcase and start throwing clothes into it.
“I am done,” I mutter. “Why am I bothering?”
My four-year-old follows me into the room.
“Mom, are you mad?” She asks.
“Mommy is feeling very frustrated right now. Mommy just needs a minute to calm down,” I say through gritted teeth as I stuff clothes into the suitcase.
“Mom, you know what you always tell me to do when I get mad?” The four-year-old pauses for effect before breaking into song, “When you FEEL so sad and you WANT to roar…just take a deep breath! And count to four! One…two…three….four. Mom, you’re supposed to breathe. Why aren’t you breathing? MOM. You have to breathe!”
I suddenly realize how demeaning it is that I insist my kid practice deep breathing mid-meltdown. I don’t want to flipping take deep breaths. I want to rant and be by myself and maybe scream into a pillow. I want a shower and poop-free clothing and baby gates. I do not need anyone, especially not my preschooler, to start spouting off Daniel Tiger song lyrics. Especially as this only reminds me of how we watched Daniel Tiger during one of our “cultural experiences” that morning.
In desperation, I ask my daughter to go over to the neighbors — the ones with the well-behaved kids — and ask for the toys we’d lent them back so I could pack them because we are leaving.
I check my watch. It’s already 4 pm, and it will be dark in an hour or two. I realize it’s too late to leave that day — we aren’t allowed to drive after dark here, and it’s a two-hour drive home — so I amend, “We are leaving tomorrow.”
She bounds out, happy to have a job to do, and I have two blessed minutes of silence before I realize that now I will have to explain to the full-time worldschooling family why I can’t hack it, even though it has barely been six days. Even though across America, plenty of moms have to do their own dishes every single day and here I am complaining just because it’s been barely a week.
Sighing, I throw another pair of semi-clean toddler underwear into the suitcase and walk out to retrieve my kid.
The full-time worldschooling mom of the well-behaved toddler pokes her head out of the apartment, giving me a concerned look.
“Is everything…okay? You’re leaving?” she asks.
I try for a breezy tone. “Oh, well, the girls really miss their dad, and I think it would be best to get them back in their routine…” I trail off, horrified to realize I am seconds away from breaking down into ugly sobs.
I wave my hands, still straining to come across as off-hand and 100% in control. “Whoops, these pregnancy hormones, they are so unpredictable.”
Well, that’s what I tried to say. What I really said was more like “I *sob* can’t *sob* do *sob* this!”
The worldschooling mom of the well-behaved children folds me into a hug. I spend the next hour word-vomiting all over her while her toddler plays calmly in the grass next to us. I, on the other hand, have to break off every three seconds to keep my own toddler from leaping off the lawn chair or escaping through the back door of the courtyard into the active construction site.
I was mortified at my breakdown. Mortified to cry into the arms of a near-stranger. Mortified to not be “strong enough” to make it. Mortified that we weren’t loving every second of this incredible opportunity. Ashamed that something as simple as a diarrhea-ridden toddler + lack of washing machine could send me over the edge.
But it was more than that. There was a lot more.
I’ll share the rest of our adventure in the next post.