A little over a year ago we moved into the heart of Africa to begin living out a coffee-covered dream. Its been an adventure, and along the way we’ve been working to help the coffee farmers of Burundi get a fairer price for their coffee beans. Our boys were 4 and 1.5 when we made the big move to Burundi. We got off to a pretty rocky start learning how to live here. So rocky, in fact, that actual rocks were thrown through windows by my 4 year old. That same kid belted “I hate you” down the hall on a daily basis. Meltdowns were a daily occurrence, usually I was the first to collapse in a heap of tears on the bathroom floor wondering, “What are we doing HERE?”
All that sounds awful (or normal), but my hardest day as a parent so far wasn’t any of the above. It was the day I dropped my (then) 4-year-old off for his first day of Kindergarten. His school is taught all in French and is located right off a dirt road in the heart of east Africa. That day, for me, was harder than giving birth to him. I felt like I was expecting him to manage far more than I had ever done as a child. Which is true, I was… and I felt guilty about it. At that point we didn’t speak a word of French at home; in fact, every French word we did speak we pronounced terribly wrong. So, on the first day of school we sent our kid into class calling his teacher, “Monsieur C.” which is correct… except that we pronounced it exactly like it’s spelled, “n” and all. Which is wrong, so very wrong.
On top of that, the first time I tried to say “Kindergarten” in French, which is “Trois-en maternelle,” I accidentally made a Freudian slip and said “ménage Ý trois” and then proceeded to talk about children and their teachers. Yeah, I know… at least I was in forgiving company. Anyway, I KNEW the road ahead was going to be hard for my son. On that first day of school, my heart faltered at the school gate. I kissed him goodbye and leaned for support on the sage advice of the penguins in the movie Madagascar, “Just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave.” I let his daddy walk him the whole way in. Had I walked in, he would have been navigating Kindergarten with an attached bawling parent at his side, and that’s just not a cool look for a 4-year-old… or a 32-year-old.
School hasn’t been the only hard thing my oldest kid has faced because of our choice to live abroad. There’s still more for me to feel parent-guilt about. We recently came back from a short visit to the USA, and every night for two weeks I cried outside my son’s door because he was crying himself to sleep while whispering “Grandpa!” in-between sobs. I felt like I had just broken his heart… on purpose. Was it his choice to grow up in east Africa and learn French and not have his grandparents around? Nope, not at all. It was our choice and there are moments, like on his first day of school and when we have to leave grandparents, that I question this adventure’s value.
Is it all worth it? Maybe we’ll know when we’re 70. I do know that I waver. When I breathe in I feel like I’m messing them up beyond repair and as I breathe out I KNOW that I am giving them the greatest gift on earth. But really, isn’t that just called “parenthood?” No matter where in the world you are and no matter what challenges are front of you. Somehow, as parents, we find the strength to be resolute and fearless… blazing a path by example for our children, even though just a moment before we had our heads “ostrich style” in the dirt and our hearts full of fear and guilt.