JUNGLE KIDS GO TO TOWN


I have four grandchildren, two of whom live next door to me in the jungle. The other two live a block behind Main Street in downtown Northampton, MA. The jungle girls typically visit the U.S. once a year. Each year as we prepare for our trip, we wonder how the the girls will respond to civilization. Once we're in the U.S., we wonder how the girls will feel about going back to their home so far away from everything.

In this picture we're playing on the Northampton courthouse lawn after having a pizza picnic there. For dessert we walked by the candy store (a whole store full of candy!) to get frozen yogurt. The girls were advised to watch out for cars rather than the usual snakes, scorpions, and biting ants.

On our second night at our daughter Polly's house in Northampton I found three-year-old Layla standing very still, staring out the window. When asked what she was looking at, she responded in hushed tones, "Look at the beautiful lights. It's like Christmas!" She'd been watching the traffic light turn from red to green and back again.

"What does a policeman do?" Maya, who is four, wondered the next day. "Who is that man putting envelopes into all the little boxes?" she asked about the mailman. "What is this?" both girls pondered, studying a fire hydrant. They were endlessly entertained by the sirens of emergency vehicles wailing through town. Numerous playgrounds within walking distance of Sammy and Phoebe's house gave Northampton Disneyworld status in the eyes of little girls who'd just popped in from the middle of nowhere.

Last year when we returned from our summer family visit, Ba decided the jungle girls needed something resembling a playground where we live so he built a 20-foot slide off the front of Emily's open-air living room. With no slide-making materials available, Bill used teak and pink ceramic tiles to create what he felt his half-American granddaughters deserved. We're uncertain as to how a 20-foot pink ceramic tile slide built right onto Emily's house will influence potential buyers when we go to sell our property, but we can say that adults enjoy the slide as much as the kids do.

While Sammy and Phoebe, the city cousins, go to playgrounds, gymnastics class, a lovely private school, the YMCA, the mall, the park, bookstores, and awesome children's sections of two different libraries, the jungle cousins learn and grow in their own fashion. They swim in Nay and Ba's pool just about every day, They encounter all sorts of creatures who fly, slither, run, hop, swim, and crawl on a regular basis. With their mother speaking English to them and their father speaking Spanish, their young brains are expanding to accommodate two separate languages. Unlike American children, who seem to socialize mostly with people their own age, Maya and Layla have friends of all ages. To me, any time spent on, in, or near the ocean is time well spent.

When we were packing to move to Costa Rica, a dispute arose as to the number of books that would accompany us. "What the hell do you need all these children's books for?" Bill demanded. "We don't even have any grandchildren!" "No, we don't," I replied, "but we won't have any libraries or bookstores when we get there and I refuse to become a grandmother without books to read to my grandchildren." How nice that I stood my ground! Maya will listen to as many books as we'll read to her. She hugs books and brings them to bed with her.

All over the world children grow up in very different circumstances. Maya and Layla are growing up straddling two separate cultures and so far, appear to have no preference for one over the other. This gives me hope that someday there will be no more imaginary lines separating people.