San Miguel de Allende, GTO, MX, August 31, 2014 – Life is starting to take on something that resembles a routine. Just like for families all over the world, for us here it coincides with the start of the school year. While everyone loves summer and the freedom it brings, it’s undeniable that the return to school restores order and routine to life for those of us with school-age children.
Our mornings here begin while it’s still dark. Mexico observes daylight savings time, and it ends in late October, but right now it’s full-on dark when the alarm goes off at 6 A.M. I used to be the first one up, but now Wiley gets up first and does some work before breakfast. I’m up by 6:30 and I try to rouse the little man starting at around 6:40 or so, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes getting him up and going requires more than one trip to his room.
After the dogs go out for a quick walk, we all sit down to breakfast together. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we all walk to school together, since those are gym days for Wiley III and me. The walk takes fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on how hard I’m driving the pace. The school doors open at 8:00 and stay open until 8:15.
On the way to school we share in the mundane tasks of daily life with those around us. We become just another family walking to school. On the way we see lots of kids, freshly scrubbed and combed, sporting backpacks and lunchboxes adorned with Despicable Me’s minions and mindcraft icons. My understanding is that all Mexican schools in San Miguel require uniforms, so everyone, including Wiley, is dressed in the uniform of their particular school. One school close to us requires that the boys wear white wool pants – I can only imagine what kind of laundry nightmares those produce. It’s a new experience for us, and while donning a white polo shirt and khakis every day takes away any ambivalence about what to wear to school, I kind of miss seeing Wiley in his wacky t-shirts and well-worn jeans he typically favors. So far he seems resigned to the idea of wearing a uniform, although he typically rejects the navy blue cardigan. Perhaps it’s a tad too preppy for him.
Around here the garbage gets picked up from the curb. The ancient narrow cobblestone streets make getting the truck directly to everyone’s door impossible, so we carry our bags of trash up the hill to the road behind us twice weekly. The garbageman signals his arrival by clanging on a long piece of metal with another piece of metal, a la dinner bell-style. The men working this job are abnormally cheerful, given the time of day and the nature of their job. They are typically seen in the back of the truck, sorting the trash into its various categories, by hand and with no gloves. Wiley IV claims he saw one of them finish off a half-consumed carton of chocolate milk the other day, but I choose to believe that this had been his carton all along.
A common morning pursuit in San Miguel seems to be the daily sweeping of the street. This is often accomplished with a rough broom made of twigs, but we also see regular brooms being used. The street is being cleared of small debris, such as fine gravel and fallen blossoms. The streets are typically very clean because of this. An older man who is the caretaker at one of the houses on our road greets us every morning as he sweeps with, “Hola! Buenos Dias, como esta?”. On our way home we often find him exiting our neighborhood tiena, or small store, with his morning refreshment of two bottles of Victoria beer.
The tienas are an interesting phenomena. There are three or four in our block alone, some almost right next to each other. Some of them, like the one directly behind us, sell only a few items; others have packed a sizable inventory of cleaning supplies, canned and fresh food items, and drinks into a space the size of the average American walk-in closet. Most mornings we are cheerfully greeted by the couple that runs our go-to tienda. Sometimes we’ll stop and buy six or seven eggs to round-out breakfast, which the shop keeper puts in a plastic bag with no carton for us to carry home.
Along with way we see lots of Mexicans making their morning meal at little taco stands. Many are large and quite elaborate, offering several kinds of tacos and/or tamales, which are a staple of both breakfast and lunch here. Often they sell fresh-squeezed juice as well. Most patrons eat their meal while standing and then return the plastic plate to the seller.
On our way to school we pass through Parque Benito Juarez, which is only four or five blocks from our house. It’s the only substantial green space around, and it is heavily and lovingly used. In the mornings the paths are crowded with joggers and walkers, there’s usually a couple of games going on at the basketball courts, people are walking dogs, doing yoga and tai chi, and chatting with neighbors.
Once at school Wiley heads inside and we go to the gym just down the block. On Fridays parents can come in and participate in or just watch the morning “focus time”, during which the dance teacher, who I understand to be a semi-professional tango dancer, leads the group through the paces of a raucous Latin dance routine in the courtyard. The kids then settle down to their work, and parents chat for a while (it’s an incredibly friendly group) before heading off to start their day.
It’s a very different way to start the morning from the routine we established at home in Colorado. We always had breakfast together, then I bolted out the door to get to work by 7:30, Wiley III “commuted” downstairs to his office, and Wiley IV rode the five blocks to his school on his bike or scooter with friends. It’s nice to be able to send Wiley off to school together, to hear about each other’s upcoming plans for the day, and to start the day with some shared exercise and conversation.