Monday, May 07, 2007

Argentine Transplant - by Shoshana Davis

“Miiiiiiahhh, where are we going again?” sighs Charlotte, a newly four, overly poised, yet quiet and thoughtful red headed child. “We’re going to Argentina,” answers her best friend, Mia with a subtle eye roll and toss of her bobbed blonde hair. She can’t understand why Charlotte does not remember. It’s the same place they go every time they go on a trip. The bottom two steps act as their airplane seats when they travel around the world.

Ameila known to most by her nickname, Mia, is a slightly older (almost five) four year-old, and is the type of little girl always found wearing a pink skirt. She prefers dark pink and everything must match. She thinks anything pink matches. Polk-a-dots, stripes and stars match. It just has to be pink and if possible bright. Currently, she’s outfitted in pink sweat pants, under a pink flowered dress, and topped with a hot pink and orange fleece poncho.

“Where is Argentina?” asks Charlotte still attempting to comprehend how they are going to get there via the staircase of her parents’ Victorian style, northern Virginia home. “It’s faaaar away,” says Mia as she packs up one of their two Fisher Price strollers with her favorite doll, Bitty Baby, and her stuffed brown dog, known simply as big dog.

“Is Argentina more far away than Africa?” Charlotte asks as she continues her inquisition. Charlotte’s class at the Waldorf School recently learned about Africa. She really enjoyed learning about the drums. Mia pauses as she buckles Bitty Baby into place to collect her thoughts. “Well, Argentina is at the very top of the stairs and Africa is at the middle of the stairs,” she says as she points up from her perch on the bottom step. “We have to go far to get to Argentina. It’s not very close.”

“We are going very very far away?” Charlotte asks again. “Reeeaally far away and we have to take macaroni and cheese. They don’t have even Annies in Argentina!” Mia squeals as they both burst into uncontrollable four year-old girl giggles.
While most American children her age are going to pre-school and debating hot topics like what finger paint color looks the best on red construction paper, Mia has already lived a double life. For the past year, she has lived in the wine country of Mendoza, Argentina after her parents decided to take a lifestyle sabbatical.

Vince and Janalee, aka Mommy and Daddy, fled their suburbia existence in Clarendon, Virginia, quit their suit wearing, high stress Washington jobs, sold their cars, rented their house and left on a year long adventure to help a friend’s start up wine tourism business. And they’ve just signed on for one more year abroad. To many people it sounds like living a dream.

While in Argentina, Mia’s mom and dad switched caretaker roles leaving Vince to act as a stay at home dad. Mia’s mommy is the chief of staff for their friend Michael’s wine business, which often leaves Mia asking “Where is Mommy?” instead of her typical “Where is Daddy?” Although they both worked in the states, Mia’s mom was home two days a week.

This quick transfer left Mia on a lifestyle sabbatical of her own, which is why on a week long vacation to the states, Mia constantly tries to explain life in Argentina to her best friend, or “twin” as she calls Charlotte.

Yet, Mia does not make her shift from a yuppie neighborhood where everyone drives energy efficient cars and shops solely at whole foods to a country where they nightly have celebrations that serve solely meat (Asado), seem difficult.

“I go to school all day, and I play all day. Then I go to the pool and swim. They give me lollipops - strawberry lollipops,” she says as she giggles and lets out a lady like snort that’s only endearing when you’re under the age of six.

Mia’s new school is much different from the one she left in Clarendon. The old establishment was in an ancient brick church building and housed a total of 35 Arlington pre-schoolers with arguably over attentive mothers and fathers. In Mendoza, Mia attends school with 300 kindergarten through eighth graders all dressed in the same uniform with a St. Andrews cross on their chest. Her father always brings Mia to class which is very different from the typical societal norms in Argentina. He is the only father in a sea of women.

Mia also notices a difference in how people are disciplined at school. “If you say a bad word, or something, they leave you alone. I don’t know really, I don’t do it,” she clarifies, just in case her parents read this. “In my old school, they would say ‘now don’t say that,’ but in Argentina they just leave you alone.”

During the day, Mia’s new teachers, Ms. Savina teaches in Spanish for the first four hours in the morning and Miss Anita teaches in English for the rest of the day. When she first started at Colegio San Andres, the only Spanish she knew was from Dora the Explorer. Now, she’s not only fluent, but sounds like she she’s a true Argentine in both language and spirit.

She cheered for the Argentine soccer team by shouting “Vamos, Vamos, Vamos Argentina”, wore a jersey and painted her face during the world cup. She wore a falda de pisana (a type of skirt) and waved a handkerchief during her class’ Argentine Independence Day play. And one of her favorite things to do is sing in Spanish.

“La cucaracha, La cucaracha, Ya no puede caminar!!” screeches Mia at the top of her lungs in perfect dialect as she slides on the wood flooring in her pink striped socks. “Charlotte, do you know what that means?” She asks. “The cockroach can’t walk!” Again, both girls break into intense giggles.


Within seconds, the two are serious again. “We have to bring the car seat with us,” instructs Mia as they continued to cram vacation necessities into their strollers. “They don’t use car seats in Argentina. Only babies use car seats there. We need to bring our own. I don’t like slipping around in the car.” She says confidently, as if she’s obviously used this explanation before to show that she is not a baby.

To Mia, the biggest difference is in the driving. “They drive sooooo fast in Argentina. They just drive crazy!” she explains excitedly. Her young brain soaked up the language quickly and clearly one of the results of Mia’s transplant is apparent as she accidentally goes in and out of Spanish.

“First we walk to the car, then I put on cinturon on then we go to the store.” Charlotte looks at Mia bewildered as she tries to figure out what her best friend just said. Mia quickly realizes her mistake and says “First I walk to the car, put the seat belt on and then we go to the store.”

This isn’t the first time this has happened. And don’t be fooled, sometimes she’ll even do it for her own entertainment.

“It’s so fun here. If someone asks you something, you can explain in Spanish,” she laughs “And only some people know what I’m saying! People here can’t speak Spanish either. They sound funny!”

By this time they’ve also added many sweaters, scarves and gloves to the growing pile on the stairs. But surprisingly the two have also found bathing suits and sandals. The amount of stuff has quickly exploded out of their two strollers and into cardboard boxes known as suitcases to the busy four year-old crew. Mia explained to Charlotte that they need both sets of clothes because it’s winter in America, but summer in Argentina.

It was leaving her friends as well as Annie’s Organic Macaroni and Cheese, her favorite comfort food that causes the most anxiety.

“I like America better, I don’t have Charlotte or Sarah or David in Argentina,” she explains as thoughtfully as any four year-old can waving her small stubby hands in the air for emphasis. “And Argentina is a lot different. They don’t really make pink stuff.” Her five year-old priorities are definitely in the right place.

“Charlotte-Darlotte, let’s go to Argentina!” Mia says in a sing-song voice as she drags her friend’s hand to the staircase to take their pretend airplane seats where their jam packed strollers and random articles of clothing are strewed about. “We have to stop in Miami first,” she giggles. “Are you sure you packed the macaroni and cheese?” asks Charlotte earnestly. “Sure!” She shouts as she and Charlotte depart on their last trip via the staircase before she and her “Papi” board their actual flight across the equator. “Say goodbye through the window!”

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