Wednesday, 11 August 2010


I am into my second consecutive week of tension headaches, thanks to what is known in Brazil as 'adaptation': the ritual of staying at nursery school alongside your little ones until they are fully ready to give you their permission to go, which, according to the school psychologist, might be tomorrow, next week, or when they turn eighteen. Fabulous.

Yes, I am waiting patiently for my 20 month old daughter to make the gestures that mean "it's ok mummy, I do not blame you for abandoning me, you can go and get a manicure now".

She is doing pretty well actually. I have graduated from sitting within easy cuddle distance at all times, cross-legged on the hard floor or scrunched up into diminutive nursery furniture, to sitting for hours on the uncomfortable sofa beside the water-cooler. Hours and hours of death by screeching, squealing and back-ache, during which I ponder the Brazilian approach to children, education and discipline.

That's a fat enough topic to write a dissertation on, but I'll just stick to the question of who's in charge: I don't generally subscribe to the parenting philosophy that requires I ask my children permission for anything. They do as I ask, not the other way around. Demand feeding? Nope. Since day one it's my way or the highway. For example, if I want them to get off the swing in the playground, I tell them it is time to get down from the swing, NOW!

In Brazil however, it's the opposite. Let them eat whenever, whatever . They want to be rocked to sleep in your arms in the late afternoon even if it means they then won't sleep until ten that night? Laissez faire. And when it's time to stop hogging the swing? Mummy puts on her sweet pleading voice, asks queridinha if she wouldn't rather be on the slide instead, and waits for nodding acquiecence. If the child doesn't want? The child doesn't do.

I guess the same attitude translates into the school environment too, hence the whole 'permission to leave' thing . Certainly, I remember the December after my son started his nursery in Sao Paulo how absolutely horrified I was at the Christmas party to see Father Christmas trampled to within an inch of his life by unruly tiddlers; two, three and four year olds surged onto the stage like teen rockers; shouting, clambering and stamping to get on the old man's lap. Teachers looked on helpless, not one of them with the gall to restore order. My God, if that had been my school, Christmas would have been cancelled and we would have all been on sock-sorting and table-setting duty for the rest of our lives.

Of course I could send my children to The British School and pay royally for a more academic, disciplined approach akin to what I myself experienced. But on second thoughts...maybe not. Is it really that bad letting the children call the shots? I remember my grandmother's "why say no when you can say yes" parenting advice. I'm not sure I agree, but there is certainly something lovely in the Brazilian reverence for small children; their infinite patience and nurturing love.

Case in point: Yesterday, a few hours into the school day, my daughter became upset about something and was finally brought to me by her teacher for a quick cuddle. She had been crying, her eyes all wet and her nose all runny. As she leaned towards me with her arms outstretched, a foot long string of teary snot dripped from her nose. I instinctively recoiled with a loud screech. Her teacher however, deftly twirled her wrist to wind the snot around her forearm, as though it was her greatest pleasure.

Yes, I'm sure my daughter will adapt fine to a place where she will be loved to bits and allowed to do pretty much whatever she likes. I may just have to re-adapt to her!


  1. This is crazy, you are the second 'gringa blogger' talking about this adaptation process. I asked my Brazilian husband and some of our friends, this must be a newer thing that wasn't around when they were kids 'cause they were like "What?!" But kids are definitely in another world here that's for sure. Like when my four year old stepdaughter said she wasn't going to stay with us when she visited Rio because her mom said she could stay wherever she wanted, and was serious. My mom didn't give me all those liberties to tell her what and where when I was 14, let alone 4!

  2. Actually it's not THAT crazy....Ranting Rach and I have kids the same age, at the same school. We're in it together!! But I did have to do the same with my son in Sao Paulo so I just think it's the way they do things here these days!

  3. Vivi is in a daycare here in Montreal and the people are so mean ! They make the children do everything themselves, which means that after her swimming lesson, I pick her up with no underwear, and her clothes put on the wron way because she is forced to dress herself ! When she left for the day once, she kissed everybodby goodbye and the teacher said to me : What's this ?? Does she kiss everbody good night at home like that ? I'm like Yes she does ! Of course, the daycare is english... not french !

  4. Oh, breaks my hear! Poor Vivi! Get her back to the affectionate Tias here in Brazil!

  5. You make yourself out to be such a hard-baller, but I know the inner softie that you are!

    Sorry about the bad furniture and hours on end though. Over at Submarino Amarelo, they do it differently (I never stayed at all) They think it's easier that way.

    Love that they are down with snot there though.

  6. This is not a typical Brazilian approach.
    One of our friends just described the drama of her 3 year old crying for two weeks on her way to school.
    She never even went to school with her toddler, the school bus picked her up at home.
    The girl finally got over it and now enjoys her rides to school and her days of activities with other toddlers.

  7. By the way, this all took place in a suburb of Sao Paulo called Sao Bernardo do Campo at a traditional Private School for children called Jean Piaget.

  8. the "Tias" in Brazil are usually very kind and loving to the children indeed.