Beanie and I went to the Acuario Inbursa in Mexico City last Friday morning, a well-designed aquarium that has one of those glass tunnels where you can walk underneath the sharks and turtles.
We hadn’t been to an aquarium in a couple of years and during previous visits, Beanie had exhibited at best a mild interest that fizzled out rapidly. If it weren’t for its convenient location a few minutes’ walk from our apartment, I probably wouldn’t have chosen to go. As it was, I figured I at least would derive some enjoyment even if she didn’t.
Once we entered, she really surprised me with her enthusiasm. She likes taking photos, so I gave her my phone and camera to shoot with. We spent ages at each tank, examining the creatures inside, entranced.
Highlights included the Ranas Albinas—albino frogs in a large open water tray that we were allowed to touch. A staff member showed us how to gently stroke the frogs’ hind legs, and I tried it. I expected to touch slimy skin but that wasn’t the case at all—the legs were soft and pillowy.
The sea turtles were very used to human visitors—they kept coming up to say hello. And of course, there were the axolotls, those cute little salamanders native only to one freshwater lake in Mexico City. Like so many other animals, habitat destruction has led them to become critically endangered, with possibly as few as 50 in the wild…though, because of their adorableness, thousands more are bred in captivity.
The aquarium is split into the main exhibition building and an offshoot, the Acuario Interactivo, located in a nearby mall. We went to both exhibitions and peered into every tank. After leaving, I texted with a friend whose son likes axolotls (Hi, Nik!); she asked if we had any photos of the axolotls and I realized ours were not up to snuff. They are blurry-looking animals in the first place, and even blurrier in our photos. This would not do. We persuaded the security guard to let us back in and we zipped back toward the axolotls. Once we were satisfied with our axolotl photos, Beanie decided to stop and look into all her favorite tanks again.
By this time, I was pooped, but Beanie wanted to return with her dad to show him the exciting things she’d seen. So we went home, they bought another pair of tickets, and she entered the aquarium for a third time!
I would not have predicted, based on past performance, how much she would enjoy the aquarium. That’s one of the joys of watching kids grow—they continually surprise you as they change.
Another place we all three like to visit is libraries. We spent part of this past Saturday morning at the “megabiblioteca” Biblioteca Vasconcelos, named after the Mexican writer, philosopher and politician José Vasconcelos. We could not read any of the Spanish books lining shelf after shelf, but the architecture itself was worth the Uber ride. It’s such an impressively large and airy building that it made the whale skeleton hanging over the foyer look small.
Last week, I mentioned that Beanie’s first Mexico City school visit was not very successful. The Hogwarts-like Westhill Institute school building was beautiful and the admissions director was friendly, but Beanie got upset when it came time to observe her potential future class, and refused to step foot in the classroom. There was crying, cajoling, reasoning, and frustration. The girl is stubborn and we did not get our way. She ended up not joining the class at all, so we never gave the school a fair shake. Afterwards, in a subdued mood, we walked around the leafy streets near the school for a few minutes and then went home.
I realize now that, by not sitting her down and explaining the day to her in detail, we hadn’t handled this school visit properly. Beanie doesn’t like surprises, and she faces situations better when she knows what to expect. I should have thought more carefully about our approach, because I’m the same way.
With our visit to The Wingate School the next day, we discussed the schedule and our expectations, and she was mentally prepared to be away from us. This time, as her class was lining up after assembly, she joined in without much fuss and she spent most of the school day with them. The school had assigned a classmate to guide and take care of her, a sweet-looking girl called Julietta, and she was also instrumental in making Beanie feel at ease. The kids were friendly and she played with several of them during recess. Someone even shared some lunch with her, since Beanie hadn’t brought any food.
The Wingate School is located in the hills outside of the city center, where the air is both colder and fresher. It’s an area we would never have gone to as tourists. We arrived on a drizzly, chilly day to a campus in the midst of tall pine trees. Wingate is a British international school, and it felt quite British in its atmosphere, its four Houses and House competition system (students get points for good deeds and other achievements), and its slightly damp cold and surrounding temperate forest. The people were welcoming and not cold at all, though, and we got a good vibe from the students and staff.
While Beanie spent the day making friends, we took a tour of the school grounds, borrowed a staff conference room to do some work, and then interviewed with a school psychologist as part of the admissions process. It’s the first time we’d experienced something like this, and we appreciated it. The psychologist was a parent of two Wingate students herself, and seemed to genuinely like the school. Her questions were detailed and made us reflect a bit deeper about our family values and priorities—questions about Beanie’s personality, our relationships with her individually and as a family, what causes are most important to us, what activities we liked to do with her, how much screen time she was allowed…it was a thorough but relaxed interview. I quite enjoyed thinking the answers through.
Also, knowing that the school asks these questions of every family and are thoughtful about how they choose their students reassured us that if they approved our application, the school community would be a good fit for us and vice-versa.
The psychologist noted at the end of our meeting that the school discourages flashy and opulent birthday parties. This is a point she makes to all parents, she said, because in the Mexican culture, over-the-top parties for kids are common.
As we were waiting for our ride home, we asked Beanie about her day. She told us about the conversations she’d had with some of the students (she knows several girls’ favorite colors now) and the games they had played. She rated the day a 7 out of 10, but she said Mexico City was too big for her liking.
Now we are back in Costa Rica, with our destination checklists and our many open browser tabs, trying to synthesize all the factors that will go into deciding where to live in January—what’s the cost of housing? how will we get around? should we pick a place we can see ourselves eventually moving to, or is this just a discrete experience?—with school being the most important factor of all.
Is CDMX our next home? I do not know yet, but based on what we’ve seen, I’d say it’s quite compelling.
Pretty Good Things
A Mexican-Indian restaurant
We couldn’t pass up having lunch at Mari Gold, a Mexican-Indian restaurant in the leafy Condesa district. Fusion food is dangerous territory—most often unrecognizable from the lenses of its component cuisines. But when it is good, it is very, very good. Mari Gold delivered—the spices from both cultures melded well in dishes like the cucumber and pomegranate in yogurt sauce (above).
Co-owner of the restaurant Chef Saqib Keval came around to talk to us and told us a little about his background. His family, like Taz’s, migrated from India to East Africa, though the chef’s family went much earlier, 300 years ago, to Kenya. In fact, he and his wife also own another restaurant in the city called Masala y Maiz, serving food with Indian, East African, and Mexican influence. We didn’t get to try it…but next time for sure.
Delicioso! I recommend.
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I love the idea of meeting with a psychologist as part of the interview process; thank you for including that in your post. I am curious, which were the most thought provoking questions for you? Did any feel too invasive? I am excited to learn where you end up in January!
Thank you for the excellent Axolotl pics for Rafi!!!