Liam’s first decade

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Liam turned ten last month, soon after we left Costa Rica. There is much we want to remember about his tenth year of life.

Liam remains a man of obsessions–said obsessions are generally tethered to his art table, a critical feature of any Liam abode. In Maine, he sets up shop on the loft with lots of origami paper, pens, and other supplies, and in Costa Rica he made due with our house’s coffee table and whatever he could make into a square sheet for folding paper (receipts, post-it notes, notebook paper, and fliers).

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This year, Liam started out the year still passionate about Pokémon. Perhaps it was the combination of cuteness, ferocity, interesting taxonomy, battle potential, and lots of facts to memorize. Memorize them he did, pouring over his 700+ page manual and recording every last detail. I was reminded of 2-yr-old Liam who would recite lines from his favorite picture books as he fell asleep at night. Ever the artist, Liam created a hand-made Pokéball out of a tennis ball and colored balloons, his own intricate origami Pokémon designs, Pokémon drawings, a lengthy written report on Pokémon Go, and ornate card sleeves and carriers.

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Sometime around February, Pokémon lost its appeal (there was little left to memorize in the manual, perhaps) and Liam pivoted with a vengeance back to his tried and true obsession: origami. He designed a stunning origami bison skull, a Droideka (Star Wars) model, and an origami Metagross. If we couldn’t find Liam, we simply followed his trail of folded creations and drawings, and voila!

Another passion of Liam’s this year was soccer, or fútbol as he and his Tico friends call it. Liam jumped into the fray of Costa Rican kids’ soccer with great courage, a land where headers are expected (sorry North American docs), footwork is beyond fancy, and the level of play is like nothing we see in the States. The intensity seemed to captivate Liam and he went from a middling, kind-of-interested U.S. soccer player to a guy who somehow always snuck the ball around us and suddenly demonstrated deep ganas (desire) to improve his game. One night in a rough Nicaraguan border-town, Liam watched a group of kids playing fútbol under street lights next to the river, and within minutes he was out on the cement field asking if he could join them.

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More than anything, this year Liam revealed his amazing gift for languages. He started out the school year in a Spanish-as-a-Second-Language class but was soon mainstreamed. Before we knew it, he was conjugating verbs in tenses Tim and I have yet to master, getting complimented daily by Ticos for having a perfect Costa Rican accent (not to mention diction, like starting sentences with the Tico qualifier Bueno), and generally soaking up Spanish. Now that we’re back in the States, we still find ourselves turning to him for help whenever we encounter Spanish: searching for obscure words like jaguar or fisheries at our local Spanish table, or trying to make sense of Latin pop songs in the car (Me: “What did the singer just say?” Liam: “He said, ‘Bring me the alcohol to dull the pain,’ Mom.” Me: “Oh!”).

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Of course, language is culture and Liam seems to have carried some Costa Rican culture home with him. When we asked him tonight if he would finally (this was not the first time we were asking–the guy often moves slowly) bring his dishes to the kitchen, he said, “Ya lo hago,” which roughly translates to mean, “I’m already doing it.” In an objective–or at least North American cultural–context, this was simply not true, but it was a perfect Costa Rican reply. Liam had started to think about bringing his dishes to the kitchen, so in that sense he was already on the job. He is our pura vida guy.

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Liam’s gentle, compassionate character sometimes ran him into trouble this school year. Tico kids play tough, and though there were some equally gentle, lovely kids in his class, there were also some bullies who gave him trouble. Liam’s inclination was to bite his tongue, not to rock the boat (his greatest fear was that he might get into trouble if he stood up to them). We–and his teachers–finally persuaded him otherwise. On the day Liam tackled a kid on the soccer field after the kid bit him, we celebrated by making a cake. It was hard to watch Liam have to deal with bullying, but we realize that learning to stand up to aggressors is perhaps better done at age 10 than 13, or 25, or 40.

At the end of the year, Liam and Reid’s school continued the tradition of a “Meeting for Appreciation,” the sort of ceremony you might do at the end of a camp session. Kids and teachers met in the Quaker Meeting House and stood to share messages of appreciation. Tim and I didn’t make it to this event. We were at home packing for our family’s imminent departure. We should have realized Liam might share something. Throughout the school year, Monteverde Friends School students attend weekly, hour-long, mostly-silent Quaker Meetings, and earlier in the year Liam had risen one Wednesday morning to calmly share a message that teachers told us left them spell bound for days afterward. “He’s a wise old soul,” one generously said.  No other child shared a message during Meetings during the entire school year until this end-of-year Meeting for Appreciation. Sure enough, within an hour of the end of Meeting for Appreciation, we received a flood of messages from friends and teachers who were impressed with what Liam had shared and with what friends had said about him. “What a good kid,” they commented. One friend said that if we had been there, we would have needed “muchas tissues.”

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He’s a lovable fellow, Mr. Liam, and what a treat it has been to watch him grow in Central America this year. Happy birthday, kid.

Paul and his Bellbird

One of the many neighbors who has brought us joy this year is our neighbor Paul Smith. Within minutes of meeting him, we discovered that he had attended Kodai School in India, where Tim and I previously taught, and our friendship just took off from there.

Paul is an artist, a retired dairy farmer, a climate change activist, a solar vehicle enthusiast, and a fellow with a great laugh, among other things. He took my writing class at the Institute and produced a wonderful essay about his most recent endeavor, building a Bellbird with his friend John out of found materials:

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Paul’s essay was published in the Tico Times–it’s a great story!

Walsh-Dalozes!

Todd and Susie are incredibly loyal friends when it comes to visiting us in unlikely places. They came to India–twice!!–and this year, now with Maeve and Hazel in tow, they generously made the trip down to Costa Rica.

We were clearly busy playing–and not taking photos–but here are a few.

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Solentiname Islands

We made our last visit to Nicaragua in April when we visited the Solentiname Island of Mancaron. This island was historically a fishing community, but became the focal point of the work of a famous Nicaraguan liberation theologian and of an arts renaissance. The island was beautiful and interesting to explore, though it seems to be in a rough spot at the moment with community conflicts over land.

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Liam joined a night pick-up soccer game in the first town we stayed in–I admire his courage!

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Montezuma Oropendola nests.
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The epiphytes were stunning.
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But the play ground had been decimated by the January hurricane.

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We took a traditional art class with a local family who runs the hotel Sueño Feliz. The art was carving balsa wood into birds with everything from machetes to smaller knives, then painting them. The father and the daughter taught us, and helped us to carve the birds, while the mother and son helped us to paint them.P1070416P1070431P1070451P1070455

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The church was lovely, but went seemingly unused, even the Sunday before Easter.

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San Luis Wanderings

One of our favorite places to explore is the valley below Monteverde, San Luis. In particular, we’ve had a great time playing in the swimming holes near the puente where the Buen Amigos trail begins. Here are some images from a March visit:P1070001P1070005P1070014P1070049P1070066P1070079IMG_4880IMG_4905IMG_4908We love stopping for a snack at the newly-opened San Luis Community Center’s cafe, run by the lovely Mon and Lupé. The merry-go-round across the yard is fun, too.IMG_4910P1070113Liam and Reid powered up the mountain to our house with little complaint (a full kilometer in elevation gain).IMG_4914IMG_4920IMG_4926And home’s not half bad with rainbows, amaryllis everywhere in the yard, and a great epiphyte-laden tree to climb.IMG_4847IMG_4850IMG_4857

Reid Turns 7!!

In February our not-so-little-anymore Reid turned 7. The transition between 6 and 7 feels pivotal.

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A.A. Milne puts emphasis on 6, and I mostly agree, but to me a real transitional period is that whole year of 6 ending in 7. Reid certainly marked the end of a momentous year.

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In the year of 6, Reid transitioned to:

  • bike commuting with a gear bike
  • hiking without the occasional lift (yes, our Ergo–now with his cousin Orion–clocked a lot of QW miles)
  • looking beyond his parents, brother, and brother’s friends for entertainment (1st and 2nd grade friends are fun and funny)
  • reading (first with Spanish phonemes, and then with English)
  • playing complex games (hello awesome board games like Settlers of Catan in which Reid somehow beat us all, goodbye Candy Land!)
  • writing (too much, Reid would argue, in Spanish, though he is proud of his cursive)
  • walking to school and the ice cream factory without his parents
  • talking and singing in Spanish (sometimes in a gringo accent to make fun of his parents)
  • stretching out (gone is the baby fat–sigh)
  • playing soccer with gusto, and loving running and swimming

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And, yet, despite the many changes, so much is familiar:

  • Reid’s impressive determination (his Spanish teacher says he writes more in Spanish than any of his Tico peers in his effort to keep up)
  • his keen awareness of rules and expectations (there’s increasing nuance here, but those who misbehave are still generally labeled as “bad” by Mr. Reid)
  • his independent streak (as toddler Reid said, “If I do, I do; if I don’t, I won’t”–the rule still generally applies)
  • his admiration for his brother (this year Reid wouldn’t have minded if said brother were doing less origami and more pretend play, though he rarely complained)
  • his critical mind (before our move to Central America, lots of “What if _________” (fill in the blank with worst case scenarios, like death by rabies in the event of being the last person on earth with no access to treatment) statements emerged)
  • his love of books (hours are still clocked on the couch reading–this year El Deafo was his literary winner)
  • his drawing ( initially Ed Emberly inspired, very narrative in nature and action packed, with weaponry, ships, castles, horses, low riders, electric vehicles, and pretty much always good guys and bad guys)
  • his style (this year’s outfits often include bright soccer jerseys, short, knee high fluorescent yellow wool socks with stripes, and fluorescent orange and blue soccer shoes)
  • his willingness and ability to keep up in a family where he is always the littlest (impressive!)

One other thing that hasn’t changed: when we are walking, if either Tim or I put our hand down by our side, Reid’s will snap in for a hold within seconds. It’s magnetic and magical.

IMG_4769IMG_4820P1030828img_9152P1060054P1060086P1060135P1060143P1060801Happy birthday, Reid. We’re so grateful to share this journey with you.