Our final weeks in Dar were incredibly busy, but especially for Grace. First there was a premature end-of-the-year class party with her 1st grade teacher who, because of some issues within the Tanzanian government around work permits, was not able to actually work at the school in their last week (that’s a different, totally Tanzanian story). While Grace and the other children took this news with aplomb, holy moly this Mama did not see that one coming. How could she have a substitute teacher for her last week at the most amazing school she’ll probably ever attend?! A goodbye before I was ready? No, thank you! Seriously, Ms. Jillian ended up consoling me far more than any of her students.
Aside from that, Grace had goodbye sleepovers and goodbye play dates with her many diverse friends. She bridged from Girl Scouts Daisies to Brownies. We did one big “final” play date where we invited pretty much everyone we knew in Dar for croissants, fruit and juice on the beach. That was super fun! And her school did so much for the kids who were transitioning – special group meetings with the counselor to process their feelings, family movie showing of “Inside Out” (great movie dealing with the emotions of moving) with facilitated discussion, yearbook signings, special t-shirts, and the whole community shouting “KWAHERI” at the same time in one final amazing assembly. It might sound quaint, but it was incredibly special. Grace would look at me and say, “Are you crying again?”
Of all the tangible things I miss from Dar, IST Elementary is what I miss the most. Especially in our last year under the direction of an outstanding principal, Grace received an amazing education. IST instilled in her some incredible values, a true love for reading and learning, and a diverse, multicultural view of the world that I pray she never forgets. There were 15 languages spoken among the 22 children in her 1st grade class alone. She still talks about “my school” with pride and often reminisces about events, moments, and people from IST that she remembers fondly. She sleeps with an IST pillowcase, and often in an IST t-shirt.
But in the end, she was also ready to go. We packed out almost 2 months before we left Dar and were living in a largely empty house, so that made for a fairly long goodbye. A little too long, actually. Really, it must be annoying to see your Mama still crying. Because Grace is like me and processes the world verbally, she talked a lot about both sides of the move. There were a couple of days where she was a huge mess – angry, sad, confused, exhausted, mean. She would kind of wallow in these feelings for a little while, but then get back to life shortly after. It was perfectly healthy and understandable, and those moments happened far less often than I expected. She was also excited to get to Denmark for vacation with our family there, she was excited to eventually see our new home, to make new friends, to try out a new school. I was very proud of the way she said both goodbye and hello, perhaps with a maturity slightly beyond her years, or at least beyond my expectation of her years. Our Super Girl once again. These are some of the highlights of Grace’s last two weeks in Tanzania.
Most of her 1st grade class
With Ms. Catherine
With Ms. Jillian
Bridging from Daisies to Brownies
With wonderful friend Mara
Her hula hoop friends, Yuki and Zoe
Last Days at the DYC
Last days of IST
(Me, with my permanently puffy eyes, thinking that maybe if I don't let her go to school today, we won't have to say goodbye to IST!)
All of the kids and teachers leaving at the end of the school year got to stand up before the whole school and everyone shouted KWAHERI (goodbye). It was loud and wonderful!
Two years of carpool crew...with Sia and Mattias
Annalie and Mia were also leaving Dar...goodbye pizza night at Bella Napoli
Grace's friend Meesha and her family came to say goodbye to us on our last day.
Where will see them next in the world?
And on our last day in Dar, Grace and Mattias were way too smiley for best friends saying Kwaheri! Friends since they were three...I'm not sure if it was harder for them, or for their mothers!
(puffy eyes, puffy eyes - I miss you, my friend!)
And then it was time to leave.
Trying to anticipate everyone’s unique transition issues and how to prevent or handle them was a mental activity I could not stop obsessing over before we moved. In my head, Grace would either have the most or the least difficulty in adjusting to our new home. I was certain she would not fall anywhere in between.
On the one hand, she had the deepest roots in East Africa so I was worried it would be hard for her to leave. Grace was always happy in Dar. She is a child who makes close friendships quickly and intensely. Like the proverbial apple, she does not fall far from her dear old Mama tree in that way. Her social circle widened and deepened with each and every year, and part of me hated to pull her away from all of that. She could have resisted, or resented us for uprooting her life. But, for the same reasons that she flourished in Dar, she also transitioned incredibly well to American life. She was nervous of course, but Grace is a girl who likes to be part of something and will take chances try new things. She instantly found a friend in her class who had also moved to our neighborhood over the summer and that bond helped her feel more comfortable right away. She got lucky enough to be put on a soccer team with an amazing group of girls (and parents! Score!), five who were also in her class. And there was additional overlap with her new Brownie troop – some girls were in her class AND on her soccer team! We even did a project on Tanzania with her Brownie troop, and she gained a little bit of confidence helping to teach them about one of her countries. She has also been enjoying gymnastics and completed her first year of piano lessons. She started CCD this year (religious education) and likes it a lot! She was proud to make her First Communion after Easter. Talk about jumping right in! Our girl wants to be happy, and she makes it so. That doesn’t mean she didn’t feel complicated emotions, but I do believe that all of the things we did to help give her closure when we left Tanzania paved the way for her to jump right in to her new American life.
Our school is another story. We live close by and can walk there – that’s awesome. But I didn’t have great experiences with the administration from the very start, and it turns out that I was not the only one. We’ll be getting a new principal next year and hope that will ease a lot of drama and tension that we observed at the school this year. Luckily, these issues did not directly affect our kids and Grace was very happy at school (and, also thankfully, we've met some amazing and super nice parents in our community!). The Common Core Curriculum is VERY different than the inquiry-based curriculum we were used to at IST, so she was a little behind in “the way they do things” here. But her teacher noted that she was mostly all caught up halfway through the year. Some unexpected challenges she faced at school were totally cultural; for example, she did not know who Martin Luther King was, but she could tell everyone about Nelson Mandela. She had never counted American money before, so we had to work on that at home. Funny little things that would never have occurred to us in Dar! Reading is still her favorite thing to do; she is more than proud to be reading Harry Potter and is halfway through the fourth book already. If I could bottle and freeze her academic enthusiasm and engagement at this age to save for a few years later when the going gets tough, I would!
Grace has a lot of metal in her mouth these days, with top and bottom expanders to make room for all of her teeth. So her face has changed! She also had her tonsils and adenoids out this year. You might remember – Lord, knows we do – that Grace was frequently sick in Dar. She averaged 10 throat infections a year and took a lifetime supply of antibiotics. She often had crazy high fevers and very bad headaches, often inciting fears of malaria. When we moved here, I asked about having her tonsils removed right away but the pediatrician’s office thought it best to give it a little time to see if Grace’s infections were environmental or if she also got sick here. Six strep infections later, she had the surgery over spring break. It was a rough couple of days for her, but the girl hasn’t been sick since! Amen to that!
In a couple of days, she will finish up 2nd grade and get ready for a summer of half day camps, visits with cousins, and travel to Denmark. She is loving life! It is safe to say that Grace has had a BIG year; here it is in review:
First day of school at KP
Family fun day - dance party!
Meeting her new Brownie troop!
Halloween - I cannot tell you how much our kids LOVED Halloween! The build up, the dedication to decorating, the costumes, the school parade and party, the candy! It was a bonus that Farmor and Hans were here for it too. Their first true American Halloween was a huge highlight. Grace was a zookeeper!
End of her first soccer season on the "Dark Devils" - amazing coaches and new friends!
Fall fun with Brownies!
She was an angel in the church Christmas pageant.
We didn't get much snow - and the most we got was on a trip to Massachusetts! She loves playing in it though, and spending time with her cousins remains a favorite past time.
Grace turned 8 in February!
Getting ready for First Communion (with Aunt Carrie).
Out to dinner after wards...I love this picture of G & N :)
First professional soccer game with her own team! DC United, meet the Dark Devils!
Finished the first Harry Potter!
Wrapped up the spring soccer season. Grace had a goal in their final game.
She had a small piano recital at Christmas time, but two weeks ago was her bigger end of the year recital. She did a great job! We all love her piano teacher who lives around the corner
(and whose daughter is our babysitter!).
Grace was introduced to this world on this blog for the first time in utero on September 4, 2008. We soon started her calling her “Simba” (thanks to Uncle Tim for that nickname). Someday, she might not like me very much for her very public Internet identity…that is something I will have to reconcile with her when the time comes (my intentions have been good, but I understand that she might not see it that). She is the baby who turned us into parents and the big sister who paves the way for her siblings. She might look very Danish, but her personality is so similar to mine in many ways that we often clash. I don’t love her any less for that, but it does seem that she can push my buttons unlike anyone else. Good things she's such a great kid! I’m so grateful to be her Mama - to hear her laugh and see her smile and watch her intellect grow - and I look forward to seeing how her early life experiences in East Africa shape the person she grows up to be. I hope she will always feel connected to Kenya and Tanzania and to the people who were part of her life there; if and when she starts to forget, I am grateful to have this blog to help remind her.