Culture Shock, Part 2: Extracurricular Activities
There are a lot of things to do in Austin, another reason we decided to move here. We arrived in May and school wasn’t quite out yet. We thought we’d have plenty of time to find places for our regular extracurricular activities and maybe try some new ones, and we’d have a schedule set by the time school started.
I looked online and found places for rock climbing, circus classes, dance, gymnastics, krav maga, an American Ninja Warrior gym, and lots of places to ride horses. It looked perfect for our whole family to have everything we could possibly want and I thought we’d have to be careful not to overschedule ourselves with so many good options.
The thing is, we’ve been homeschooling for 3 years and you don’t realize how much everything kid related revolves around the school schedule until you try to do something in the summer. Summer is for camps and vacations and everything else either has a special schedule or shuts down completely. Some places in Mexico are the same way but usually there were regular classes scheduled around the camp weeks too.
Austin is also really, really hot in the summer (it was over 100 degrees every day for more than a month straight this year,) so there’s a large part of the day that no one wants to do anything anyway. There’s a big outdoor culture here, but in the summer it’s just so hot during the day and crowded in the few cool hours at dawn and dusk. We decided to take our time and let it cool down a little before exploring the parks.
What are we looking for?
When we first moved to Cozumel June and Rory started aerial silks classes, and Rory especially fell in love with it. They’ve kept up taking classes almost everywhere we’ve gone over the past 3 years and I found a aerial studio in Austin with a variety of apparatus for them to try. But in the summer they only did week long camps, not regular classes. We’d have to wait until the 10-week sessions started up in September to attend a weekly class.
Ok, let’s do something else for the summer then.
But everything we had been looking forward to was the same: camps in the summer, no actual classes until after school starts. None. It was frustrating. We didn’t know anybody so we couldn’t just hang out with friends, and I had hoped to start our extracurricular activities before school so the girls wouldn’t get overwhelmed (little did I know how much work school would be for me, but that’s another post.) Our timing was bad.
The girls went to Camp Half Blood and became demigods, they spent a week painting, and in desperation I sent them to the horse camp Rory loved last year, but it wasn’t the same as finding regular things to do and making friends.
What We Miss the Most
We started horseback riding when we lived in Playa del Carmen, all three of us learning to ride together. It was something special to not just take my kids to the classes but be a part of it myself, the have them cheer me on when I was trying something new and watch them overcome their own fears while knowing exactly how it felt because I was next. We ride because we love it, but being able to do it together has been one of the best parts.
We’ve been riding for 2 years, making it a priority to find stables and different teachers all over Mexico as we traveled. We did English riding and jumping near Playa del Carmen at Hipico Riviera Maya, dressage and trail riding in San Miguel de Allende at Granja las Animas, and riding lessons for all of us at Hipico la Golondrina in Oaxaca with the added bonus of vaulting classes for the girls. Being in classes together was never an issue, there was usually a mix of adults and children riding and we enjoyed learning from each other. We spent time hanging around before and after class, helping with chores or just enjoying being at the barn and learning from what was going on that day whether it was a vet visit or another class.
There were a few places in Mexico we didn’t find a place to ride, usually because we weren’t there long enough to find one, but this was the exception to the rule. Even short trips often had riding, like our week at Hacienda de Taos in Jalisco and Rory’s 8th birthday riding horses with a wonderful old farmer outside of Antigua, Guatemala.
We thought it would be fun to learn some Western riding skills while we were in Texas, but it’s been surprisingly hard to find a place that teaches it around Austin. Most seem to be English, Hunter/Jumper, or dressage. At first I tried to keep looking, to find a place that find what we wanted. After a few months I just wanted a place that would do classes for all three of us instead of trying to split us up, either into kids’ classes and adult classes on separate days or private lessons at premium prices.
The experience of finding a barn to ride at here has been completely different. In Mexico when we went to a new stable for the first time I was used to meeting with the boss and the instructors, usually they had us get on a horse for a few minutes so they could evaluate our skills before offering us a class time.
In Austin two stables had me meet with a teenager who couldn’t answer my questions but was ready to take my money. Some places said they didn’t offer what we wanted but we should come ride with them anyway. The bosses have either absent or too busy to meet us, and the instructors were not there because we weren’t invited to come during lessons but during the day when no one was around and the horses were all idle, no way to gauge what classes would be like.
Above all no one could wrap their minds around me wanting to be in the same class with my kids.
I was surprised at first, but as we’ve been here longer I’ve noticed that’s the way everything is in the states: the parents sign the kids up for activities, drive them there, sit and scroll through their phones while the lesson happens, then they take them home. If there are adult classes for aerial silks or horseback riding or rock climbing they are kept separate from the children’s classes, with the exception being Mommy and Me stuff that seems to be geared toward moms with toddlers that need to get out of the house. Adults and kids live separate lives here and we aren’t liking that at all.
If you don’t ride horses this may seem like quite the pity party, but to us riding has been a huge part of our bonding experience as a family and even Jason liked riding with us in San Miguel. We like to go to a place that has the riders do all their own “work” of grooming, picking feet, tacking and untacking, because it allows more time to get to know the horses, and the extra time around them reduces stress and helps us relax. It’s a therapeutic part of our lives that we’re missing terribly, especially now that school has started.
Now that school has started
So now that school has started what about extracurriculars at school? We’ve had some success there for the kids at least because things happen right after school is out, kind of a fun extension of the day. I’ve found you have to jump on every opportunity, though, because everything fills up fast.
Rory is in hip hop class for 6 weeks and an after school choir, each once a week. She loves this part of her day more than school and has been trying to convince me that practicing her dance is more important than doing her homework. I wanted to sign her up for wresting (she LOVES wresting) but it filled up back in August before I even knew it existed. Soccer did too.
June’s school just started their after school clubs now that they’ve been in session for a month and they seem to be able to drop in and out. She played Dungeons and Dragons for the first time today and learned to make cheesecake in Baking Club last week. I’m just relieved she’s been able to get into things she likes because spots are limited and her middle school has around 1200 kids. She has more fun classes too with dance being her PE credit, playing the flute in beginner band and a very active choir.
So far the only thing the kids do outside of school is June’s Irish dance class on Tuesdays, and she loves it, but last week she was so exhausted that she burst into tears on the way there and we decided to go home instead. Getting up early and going hard at school all day wears them out, and they don’t have much energy left for anything with us. That makes me sad too.
Balancing extracurriculars and school is hard, and I miss the freedom of homeschooling. The aerial silks classes have started, but with school the girls are still adjusting and don’t have the energy for it so we haven’t signed up. They ask now and then, but we just can’t do anything else right now, we’re all overwhelmed with being back in school. I’m hoping it gets better in the spring, that they adjust to the work load and the long days and Jason and I learn to keep track of all the websites and apps that we’re supposed to be checking so we know what’s going on at school. There’s not much downtime for any of us and I find myself pushing back against the school wanting us to do more.
Typical mom, I don’t have any extracurriculars of my own yet. In part this is because horseback riding has been my priority and I’ve been saving my time and money to spend there. I need to do something, though, to get out of the house and get moving. It’s depressing to feel stuck here, I need distraction to help pass the time.
Jason loves the krav maga gym he joined. They have mandatory giant groin protectors and beat the crap out of each other, just what he was looking for. I’m not so sure I’m up for that right now but I would like to learn some self-defense, so maybe eventually. It’s hard for him to get there with stuff to do at home and kids only here a few hours in the evening, I don’t know how both of us could go with things as they are.
Being back in the states we really feel the lack of time here, and yes everything is at least 3x as expensive as it was in Mexico and we have to choose carefully what is worth spending so much money on. The combination of those two things makes it hard to do anything extra, but we’re trying. I’ve found another stable that I want to go take a look at and hopefully we can make it work. Aerial silks classes will have other sessions later, and rock climbing and Ninja gyms can be dropped into when (if) we have more time.
This is the kind of time-crunched life we wanted to escape 3 years ago and we are fast remembering why we didn’t like it.
If it’s all you know it seems normal, it seems like opportunity and fun. But we know there’s another way, one that isn’t such a struggle and doesn’t keep us running around and separated all the time. We had time to do the things we loved in Mexico and not feel like it was costing us quality time with each other. I think that may have spoiled us.
I admit we never had this many options in Mexico, there are activities like the Irish dance classes that we’ve never had access to before, but the bottom line is that no matter what there is available here in Austin, if we can’t get to it it isn’t doing us any good.
Up next: adjusting to school. oof.
Did you miss the first part of my reverse culture shock stories? Go here and catch up.