Friday, May 28, 2010

It takes a village

I’ve been in Spain less than four hours and already I can see a place that puts “it takes a village into practice.” Our friends live in an apartment complex filled with small tykes. When I asked how it was possible to have so many toddlers in one building, they said it was due to the economic crisis. “There is nothing else to do,” Jose said. Or, as his mother theorized, perhaps it’s due to the storks that are prevalent in this area. One of these massive birds flew by as we sat at a table outside of a bar.

The complex has a locked outdoor patio, with a basketball court, swings and toys. “You can just let your kids run in here. Nothing can happen since it’s enclosed and there are always so many people we know here,” said Lucia. Giant roses – pink, yellow, red and fragrant – grew from small garden patches amidst the toys. “If someone needs to go and do something, someone else will watch their child.” It’s such a simple way to help the neighbors get to know each other, to interact, to help each other out, yet it’s not something I’ve seen in the United States.

From there, we went to a bar that was literally 10 feet from the front door of the building. Both adults and children congregated there. The kids could run around and play, the adults socialized and drank, everyone enjoyed themselves.

Our hosts quickly assembled a family group. Jose, his parents and his two brothers all live within a couple of buildings of each other. The three generations see each other all the time.

In the fall, 2.5 year old Jose Jr. will start preschool. It’s five days a week, located a five-minute walk from home, and can be as long as 8-3. My friend Lucia thinks it will be possible for her to find work that will allow her to pick him up by 3. The cost - $0. Public preschools are free, and education is mandatory from the age of 4.

I told them that the program we’d like to enroll River in next year costs $9,000 for four days a week, and that that is in the mid-range where we live. The cheapest programs are around $3,000, the most expensive can exceed $30,000. “$9,000 is about what we have budgeted for our child’s entire education,” Jose said.

Of course I like having a choice of programs, but I’m still mentally trying to come to terms with that price tag, and to financially prepare for it. I also think it’s wrong that some children have access to quality programs, and others don’t. I’d rather pay a bit more in taxes and allow all children the same opportunity.

Community, family, connection, support for parents and for early education for all – those are all values that I cherish. When I see them practiced elsewhere, it makes me sad that some people in my country think making each individual struggle, and the children to pay the price, is necessarily great. They may mock what they call “socialism.” But a little care for all people, and structures that support inter-reliance go a long way in terms of creating happy, secure and protected children – and adults.

No comments: