Saturday, June 4, 2016

Another Baby Makes Eight

Everything had been going so well that I couldn't think of anything interesting to write about. Now I know to beware when it feels like nothing interesting is happening. The Guatemalan school year ended in October with Diego failing the sixth grade. I had told him that, if he didn't pass, he would go to the same school as his younger siblings, now called the Green School Antigua. He couldn't go there without failing the sixth grade so I was actually pleased that the other school hadn't worked out. As the Green School is growing with its students they were only up to sixth grade or "upper elementary" in the Montessori tradition. I dreaded having to tell Diego that he would be leaving his friends behind but, surprisingly, he didn't seem to mind. He has settled in, has three teachers who all adore him. Two of his teachers are men who are fluent English speakers and the other a Guatemalan woman. Throughout the school day the students are required to speak English with the English speakers and Spanish with the Spanish speakers. I had a message recently that one of his teachers wanted to speak to me. Oh no, here we go again. However, when I met with Maria she told me what a joy it was to have Diego as a student. She said that he was not only very intelligent but a leader in the classroom and extremely well-behaved. She reported that his mother had cried when she had told her the same thing.

I was in Mexico City when Diego made his way to my house to use the Internet so he could send me a message that he had gotten ninety-four percent on his math test. That was up from thirty-four percent at his previous school. Maria told me that he had gotten ninety-eight percent on the national math exam. Go Diego!

Diego's English has taken a huge jump forward. A few days ago he told me that his best friend at school is a girl named Emily who is from Denmark. He reported that they speak a mix of Spanish and English together. I suspect that Emily gets at least some of the credit for the improvement in his English. Go Emily!

Cris and Mishelle continue to be a delight. Both played recently in a municipal soccer tournament. Diego, being a year too old to compete, was given the role of assistant coach for the school. He took that role very seriously but also ministered to his younger siblings during half time making sure they had sufficient water. Cris's team only missed first place by a kickoff to settle a tie. During one game Cris scored four goals. His Japanese American pal, Jojo, scored the other four. Interestingly, Cris who is timid about a lot of other things, is a ruthless soccer player. He is also a math whiz and loves to be challenged with math questions. We routinely do math problems at the ice cream store. How much is one sandwich and two cones and how much change should you get?

Four goals each.

One day I heard Mishelle reading aloud from an interactive book on a tablet. She was able to answer successfully all of the comprehension questions at the end and then asked for books for her upcoming birthday. Books she got. It is sad that books are so hard to find in this country. When I was her age I lived at the public library. Recently, Mishelle's grandfather blessed me again and told me that Mishelle was reading to him. Quite a feat for a kid who knows that her grandfather can't read.

Diego, the assistant coach with Mishelle and Cris and a smile not often visible in years gone by.

Just about when I thought everyone was on track Estela, once again, asked to speak privately to me. I knew that everyone over the age of eight had an IUD so what could it be? Once again I wondered if Alex had been murdered in prison. Tears rolled down her face as she told me that our star student, Astrid, was four months pregnant despite having an IUD. Estela had become suspicious and had taken the child to the same clinic that had installed the IUD. They had confirmed the pregnancy and removed the still in place but failed IUD.

I was devastated, furious. Clearly, she thought she was protected but my concern was her apparent interest in casual, indiscriminate village sex after three months in the United States. As with her sister the father was a boy in the village. This one a candy seller who at least offered to take the baby. How could she return from the picking cherries in Oregon, the Golden Gate Bridge, Broadway and the top of the Washington monument to banging a local boy in the bushes somewhere. And at the same time she was volunteering as a youth counselor with a family planning NGO. Clearly, there was another side to Astrid and while I don't envy her the consequences I was kind of pleased that she got busted.

Fortunately, I had calmed down before I saw her. Her mother had reported that she was more afraid of me than she was of her classmates finding out which they inevitably would. She was examined by the NGO doctor and sent for an ultrasound which confirmed that she was four months pregnant. Astrid, aged sixteen, and not even fully grown will be having a baby at the end of June.

The first order of business was to deal with her school. On a Saturday I messaged Astrid's favorite teacher from the previous year. "Coffee today?" "Sure, everything OK?" "Nope, Astrid is four months pregnant." "Oh God." Over coffee we hashed out a plan to tell the school. Carmen called the Guatemalan principal and told her that she had been approached by a student who found herself pregnant and thought that the administrators would like a heads up. The principal contacted the American director who was in his first few months at the school, a school that had so far not experienced a student pregnancy.

The director's initial reaction was that Astrid should simply disappear after Holy Week because of "a health issue." The school would then continue to support her through home schooling. His approach was reminiscent of New England in the fifties I thought but since, as he repeatedly pointed out, I was not Astrid's legal guardian, I was not entitled to an opinion. However, as word leaked out it was the Guatemalan parents who raised a ruckus and came to Astrid's defense. No doubt someone also pointed out that in Guatemala it is a human rights violation to deny a child the right to attend school. Suddenly there was a shift in policy and Astrid was then welcome to stay in class as long as she wanted to.

I went off to Cuba for a week or so and when I returned Estela reported that the director had called her in and had her sign a letter along with Astrid. I asked her what it said and, being barely literate, she said she didn't know. She indicated that she had a copy and I asked her to bring it to the house. I emailed the director and asked him how I could help in supporting Astrid's home schooling. His rather curt response basically said that my help wasn't needed, that it was a private matter. He indicated that I should just come in if I wanted to discuss it any further so I set up a meeting for the next day. I asked him if I could see the letter that Astrid and her mother had signed. He told me no, that it was confidential. I reminded him that we were not in the US and that I had paid Astrid's bills since she was five years old. He told me that I should ask Estela for her copy. I pulled that copy out of my handbag and pointed out to him that it wasn't signed by anyone other than a support staff person and that her mother was now worried about what she had signed. He wasn't able to explain why the copy had not been signed as he had indicated.

If the copy is the same as the signed letter it was to relieve him of any responsibility for Astrid not attending class. It indicated that Astrid was welcome to attend class or be on campus at any time and that it was her decision to study at home and not attend class. As I pointed out to him she chose that path after being told by himself and the principal that she would be humiliated by other students and parents, that the school couldn't be responsible, etc., etc., etc.

Another parent, Doctor Oscar, told me to go to an attorney and get a power of attorney for educational decisions so that the administrators couldn't shut me out any further. The attorney told Estela to go to the school and ask if they would accept the power. Estela did that and explained that since I paid the bills and was in a better position to guide Astrid in her education she wanted to have an attorney draw up a power of attorney. Suddenly, that was not going to be necessary and the school had Estela sign their own document giving me the right to make decisions at the school for Astrid.

Astrid retreated becoming a recluse at their little home in San Antonio Aguas Calientes. I suspected that she was so full of self-loathing that she couldn't cope with anyone being nice to her. She alienated both myself and Carmen, her former teacher. Carmen was able to persuade her mother to take Astrid to the National (free, public, sketchy) Hospital as the child had disturbingly high blood pressure. As luck would have it the first doctor she saw there spoke English and Astrid told him, in English, all about her trip to the United States. He told her about another patient he had had in similar circumstances whose family wanted her to give the baby up for adoption. She insisted on keeping the baby and was, at the present time, studying at a university in the US and the baby had become the favorite grandchild of her parents who were raising it. I suspect that doctor gave Astrid a ray of hope, an idea for her future.

Carmen and I both backed off each weary of the abuse from Astrid. Carmen greeted her at school one day when she arrived to take some tests and Astrid didn't acknowledge her. Astrid had told me not to come and collect her from a class, that she would rather walk home. After a couple of months realizing how isolated Astrid was, dangerously so, I started emailing some idle chatter. It was fairly obvious that she was getting little support at home. Her mother had told me of a single woman she knew who had twins. She sold bread on the street during the day and studied at night. I guessed that was Estela's plan for Astrid. She did not have the skills to understand what Astrid would be losing by selling bread and not returning to the international school. Eventually Astrid responded to my emails, at first, reminiscing about blueberry pies in Oregon. Then she asked me for all the photos from her trip to the states.

While Estela didn't often offer any information without being asked when asked one needed to set aside an hour. She told me that Astrid was being seen weekly at the National Hospital because of elevated blood pressure. And probably also because of her youth and small size. Perhaps thanks to that first doctor who recognized that Astrid was not the usual pregnant teen the staff had apparently taken up Astrid's cause. Estela had been referred to a psychologist who had hammered in the notion that she needed to support her daughter, that she was exceptional with tremendous potential and, given the failure of her IUD, pregnant quite unexpectedly.

Thanks to that psychologist Estela and Jackie decided that together they could help Astrid raise the baby. For some reason, despite pleadings from many Astrid, who doesn't even like to take care of her nephew, refused to consider adoption. Her mother and sister both tried to convince Astrid that adoption would be best for all. I told her that she needed to do what was right for the baby. Back doors adoptions with known families who would let her have a relationship with the child were of no interest either. Estela fretted that Astrid, because of her temper, would not be a good mother. We all knew that she is bound to resent the child for interfering with her plans. Her mother expressed fear of her daughter's temper at a later time if she forced the issue, any issue. Estela understands that she will be raising the child.

So, in another month Astrid is having a baby by Cesarian section due to her small size and the size of the baby. Amazing what nutrition can do that wasn't done before and after Astrid's birth. She has emailed me that she plans to keep the baby. "It is a personal decision." Further, she explains that her mother and sister are going to help her and that she is desperate to go back to school. So, with a bit of hesitation I sent the first check to enroll her in the tenth grade started August 29th. Estela reports that Astrid is now much calmer and happy. I suggested that she contact Carmen and apologize to her and she responded that they had been in contact and the two had a plan to get together. I have no such plans as seeing her older sister pregnant was disturbing enough and Astrid is even younger. I will discuss conditions for continuing school attendance and only pay monthly until I am sure Astrid can meet those conditions. And yes, one is no further pregnancies.

Liam says "I don't have a father, I have Uncle Denis."

Denis, or Tío Denis, as he is known to toddler Liam, is now nineteen and will graduate from high school in October. I suggested that he should think about attending university full-time in the city getting an apartment with some other students. Needless to say he jumped on that idea and his school is helping him with entrance exams and the admission process. Interestingly, the enormous public university which is actually quite good schedules classes either in the morning, afternoon or evening allowing students to choose based on the work they find to support themselves and pay their school fees. US, please take note.

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