Chileans understand how difficult it can be to get the boring things done with kids especially when it comes to queue’s and waiting. Preferential queues exist almost everywhere (for pregnant women, families, elderly, people with a disability) in banks, supermarkets, government offices and even immigration control at the airport has a separate queue. Bringing your children with you everywhere, suddenly makes everything so much more efficient, faster and easier…..
Almost every time we have taken the metro train system; someone, somewhere will tap me on the shoulder and offer me a seat. I graciously refuse trying to explain in gestures that my son (whose strapped to my back) probably wont enjoy being squished between my back and the chair. Even teenage boys offered us a seat when we went to the public pools….
Its wonderful…. no need for an explanation or, a “do you mind if I go through, my son’s about to have a meltdown/need a poo/tired/needs to throw up/ etc…. its built into the system and people’s code of conduct here….
Not only are locals prepared to let you go through first, but they’ll entertain the kids along the way, or want to pick them up or want to go, goo goo and gaa gaa at them. Its fantastic.. its not even just the women, its girls of all ages (and they politely ask for a photo first before they take one), even the boys and men are comfortable around kids. Its simply cool to like kids!!
Now, nothing quite melts the heart like when I get beautiful comments about my children, and in Santiago/Chile it happens often.. every two minutes often..!! The spanish words that you are most likely to hear as a parent are: muy lindo/preciso/bonito/hermoso etc…Who would’ve thought that gorgeous had so many synomyns.
Babies especially, get the most attention, and my youngest son had plenty, even when he was at his most grottiest. He got so used to being called “waa waa” (not a term to tell me that my son’s a cry baby….but a mapuche indigenous word meaning baby). Expect stares, googly eyes, people happy to play baby sitter, photo sessions, and even the toughest looking teenager wanting to engage with your children.
However, the flip side is, that as a family you and your kids are up for scrutiny too. I know that people have noticed my younger/older son not wearing shoes, crawling around in the dirt, running around when they should be walking, etc. I know, because I’ve been told….
Almost everyone feels the need to air their observations and give you advice…. and that’s okay, but I began to feel a little self conscious, maybe even beginning to doubt my parenting abilities…afterall this parenting thing isn’t easy..! We had regular comments of hold onto our son/ or a suggestion to use the leash restraint (seems common here, I even saw a child of about 4 yo with one), to put socks on my son even when it was 30 deg and hot, or the assumption that my son had bad knees if he was without shoes.. Getting kids moving in a city can be difficult, but suggest a bit of a skip or a mini race, and watch them go! At one restaurant, two waiters persisted in bringing a high chair for my 3.5 year old son…. I didn’t even know he could still fit in one!!
However, when I’m feeling less paranoid, the comments are often helpful. Like when my one year old son had pulled his sock off while sitting in the car, and by the time I noticed, one man, four school kids and a grandma had already pointed it out….!
So who does 7pm bedtime?
Not the Chileans. The authors of any baby/toddler books who suggest a 7pm bedtime for toddlers, have never lived in South America. If you go to bed at 7pm, then the kids miss out on playing at the parks with other kids!! We have always been flexible around bed times as we are by no means early morning risers… So in a way, we fitted in quite well, although we still couldn’t match the 10pm or later bed times of the local children. We were asleep by that time too!
Soon after arriving in Santiago, my husband came home after a run one evening, excited. Here we were putting our kids to sleep when the streets and parks were alive with families, runners, bike riders, music makers etc…. Finally, after a week of going to the parks and playgrounds at all different times (we tried 9am, lunchtime, afternoons), we found the best time to visit was the evening. The parks were empty during the day!
It makes sense, Santiago is a hot city in late spring/ summer. The evenings are a perfect time to be out enjoying the mild nights, it is family time, and the parks are wonderful spaces to hang out. In summer there are free music concerts often starting at 9pm. But you might even get impromptu performances by locals who it seems are all out and doing whatever it is they would be doing in their apartments in the park instead– rehearsing, playing music, practicing dance moves, tai chi or whatever else takes their fancy. But what your most likely to find are parks full of amorous lovers and if you get a spare 15 minutes to yourselves, you might join them too!!