Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Never Say Never

Our flight landed two hours ago. I'm finally have handed off nine 11- to 14-year-olds off to their parents, paid $45 for parking, and I'm in my bed at home. And I'm happy.

We had a blast in Costa Rica--I'm so glad that I decided to do this trip and offer this experience to my students. But, let's face it: being responsible for kids who aren't yours in a foreign country is a lot of stress.

How can you not be stressed at learning the day before departure that one of the students signed up for the trip will not be joining you because she never got her passport? How do you not get stressed after discovering one of your students locked in the bathroom and in tears because she occasionally can't hold her bladder, is sure the other girls have been making fun of her, and her skinny jeans are glued to her legs because we had just spent two hours riding horses in the rain? (We had to use a pocket knife to cut her out of those, fyi). How do you not stress out about an absolute walking disaster who had a new scrape or cut each day, consistently dropped things or left them behind? And how do you not stress when this same walking disaster comes to you after spending three hours at the beach and three hours in the pool with a rat's nest in her hair that took two days and about four pairs of hands to brush and comb out? (Let's just say the little dear is also missing a good chunk of her hair, too.) How could you not stress out when you'd been grouped with a bunch 17- and 18-year-old who smoked, drank, and penises in the sand?

And of course there's just the general stress of making sure they fill out immigration and custom forms correctly, didn't lose their passports, didn't blow all their money on the first day, and on and on. Basically, I was Mommy for nine days. Considering I don't have any kids of my own and have only really babysat or nannied kids under the age of 7... I think you get my point.

The biggest bit of stress came rolling in on Day 3. One of mys students broke an antique statue in front of the fireplace at the hotel we were staying at. We had just come in from horseback riding, had showered and warmed up with hot cocoa after being soaked to the bone. I had just finished cutting one of my little dears from her jeans, and had suggested that another one dry her shoes by the fireplace. She took my suggestion, but decided instead of leaving her shoes at the hearth, or at least sitting in a chair while she held them up to the flame, that she'd perch on antique man. I was talking to the manager and happened to glance at her and thought I saw her sitting on it, but wasn't sure. The plan was to walk over and check once I finished my conversation. Instead, I hear a deafening crash. And when I glance back, the antique statue is in shambles under my student.

I was horrified. She was blase. She kind of just walked around to the other end, with absolutely no fear, concern or remorse crossing her face or evident in her attitude. When I asked her what happened she said she was trying to walk around it and it just fell (other chaperons/adults confirmed they saw her sitting on it, but she swears she wasn't). After cleaning up the scrap she got from the ceramic, I sent her on her way and faced the manager.

Now, we're in the middle of nowhere Costa Rica. As lovely as Monteverde is, it's definitely small town. The hotel didn't have Wi-Fi. They had one computer with Internet access at the front desk. You couldn't dial out on their desk phone. They didn't have a credit card machine. In fact, they had never had a situation like this before. After a lot of back and forth between the manager and the owner, they decided that the price of the statue would be $220 (apparently it was really worth thousands of dollars, but that was all they'd charge her). So... we call mom. Who first ignores our calls. Until we text her and say it's an emergency. And then she calls and is all panicked. When I explain the situation she wants to talk to her daughter. And then the manager. And then she tells him that she would like to talk to her lawyer first because how can they hold a 12-year-old accountable for damaged property (if you're thinking WTH?!?, so did I). When I call her back about an hour later, she acts like she never said that and said she was just waiting for her husband to get home. Daddy gets home, they call back and want to give a credit card number... but we're in the middle of nowhere, no credit card machine, remember? And the banks in the town don't open on Saturdays or Sundays (this was a Friday). So then the manager wanted me to pay for it and have the parents transfer money into my account. Suggesting this to the parents started one of the biggest minefields I've experienced in my teaching career so far.

Somehow, their daughter breaking something became my fault and dad tells me, I quote (with my thoughts in parenthesis): Don't you have money on you? (No. Not that much.) I can't believe you left the country with 10 kids and don't have thousands of dollars to pay for this? (Excuse me?) If I were you, I would have brought thousands of dollars and weapons... (Well, if you'd like to deposit thousands of dollars into my account, that would be great. And weapons?!?! Obviously you've never been on a plane before.)

Let's just say I was fuming, and as they continued to try and rip a new hole into my butt, I eventually got mad at sort of yelled back. I made it clear that if they didn't trust me, they shouldn't have sent her with me and if they'd like we could try to get her on a plane right now so they can be responsible for their angel, who could do no wrong.

In the end, they deposited money into my account and then acted like I was holding money hostage from their child and started to beg me through three e-mails and three phone calls to please make sure she has money. Which she did. And even had the audacity to come up to me and ask for more money on the last day so she could get a specific souvenir she wanted (which I'm not sure where she thought it was going to come from. I'm not your mother. Nor am I your personal ATM. If you finished the money your parents gave you, your bad).

I had a moment after this event (and all the other stressful ones) that made me think: Never again. Never again.

But honestly, I'm already excited for next year. Because even though it's easy to focus on the negative, there were tons of bright spots.

All the hugs I got every day from most of the little dears. Meeting other students and teachers and bonding. Learning about a new culture and seeing new places. The new adventures. Fitting into one of my student's skinny jeans when I needed a black pair to wear. Laughing at how five of us where too light to tandem zip line and had to be taken in groups of three with a guide. Hearing the kids say, "I don't want to go home. Can we stay one more day?" And seeing the welcoming party of parents, who stopped to hug and thank me for giving their daughters this opportunity. And one even writing me a very sweet thank you card with money tucked in. I think I wanted to cry more in those final moments than I did throughout any of the stressful ones the nine days before.

Yes, it was a lot of stress. But, the bright spots made it worth it.

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