Tuesday, March 11, 2014
So what does our routine look like? Much like that of any busy family regardless of what country or continent they are living on. Work, school, and running a household now fill every waking moment of our lives. In many respects it is the type of routine I had always envisioned myself in, albeit just not playing the role that is designated as mine. Oh well, if there is one thing I've learned it is that I must roll with the punches. Mornings are a flurry of well honed and perfectly timed (most days) activities. Showers, getting dressed, and coffee are all orchestrated like a well honed dance. Whereas I once was donning suits and heels and perfecting my makeup, yoga pants and (gulp) fleece, the ubiquitous uniform of car pooling moms everywhere, have become my go to morning wear. While not fashionable, this type of outfit does considerably streamline my morning routine. Once the caffeine is flowing through my system it is time to wake Sidney which ironically enough, on school days is a relatively painless process. Next comes breakfast then herding everyone out the door making sure we have snacks, bags, and the other sundry necessities to get through the day. More often than not, our complete morning routine involves swinging back around the block to retrieve a forgotten item.
Fortunately we are a short, ten minute or so commute away from both Glenn's office and Sidney's school. After dropping Glenn off I join the other yoga/fleece clad masses in maneuvering the one way street that is the school zone. This is never easy and due to limited parking, wandering pets, children, and too many vehicles, takes longer than our actual commute. But once Sidney is safely ensconced in his classroom, the day is all mine---at least for the next six hours until I get to come back and do the school zone dance all over again.
So what do I do with myself and all of my "free time"? To be honest, I'm not really sure. But some how the time bookended between 0845 and 1515 flies by giving my day its own sort of structure. (Except for Wednesdays when school ends at the early hour of 1200 thus creating a different, "short day" routine). Because once the after school hour hits full fledge parenting mode sets in again. Afternoon snacks, playing games, and trying to channel the endless energy that only a four year old can have is now the focus of my afternoons. Throw in making dinner, cleaning up, then bedtime (which fortunately falls into Glenn's usual domain), and our day ends with all of us falling into bed exhausted. And with that our day is complete.....until we get to do it all over again. They say time flies when you are having fun--or at least when you are busy. Yes we are busy but more importantly for a family that loves a schedule, we now seem to have found ours.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
|Even Google is getting in on the action|
Today, in honor of International Women's Day, I'm re-posting a version of my tribute from past years. I'm just settling in here in Belgium and have yet to tie into the local international women's group. As such I'm unsure to what extent International Women's Day is recognized and celebrated here in Belgium. I haven't seen anything advertised and in venturing out this morning I didn't see any of the hoopla I'd seen in Albania. That doesn't mean it isn't celebrated here however.
But here is my tribute from previous years.................
International Women's Day receives scant attention in the United States, but here in Europe it is a big deal. And in the Balkans it is a very big deal. Albania, like the rest of Europe goes all out in it recognition of all women- mothers, sisters, and daughters alike. While getting my hair returned to its "natural" color this morning, there was a steady stream of women coming into the salon for washes and blow outs. The restaurants were packed with well dressed women celebrating with their "sisters". It seems as though everyone is out celebrating the wonders of women but it makes you wonder how far the "holiday" has moved from its original intentions. If today's celebratory events in Russia are any example, it makes me think that there are much more meaningful and long term ways that the contributions of women can be celebrated, or at least recognized. The history and commemorations may remain the same but this year I really find myself pondering why women's contributions are recognized on a single day when we toil the other 364 days of the year as well. Shouldn't every day be a day to honor and respect all women, and all people for that matter? But I digress...........
The origins of such an upbeat holiday surprisingly memorializes one of the saddest events in the women's equality movement. International Women's Day actually commemorates a 1908 fire in a New York textile factory. Female workers had decided to strike due to unfair wages and terrible working conditions. After several days of strikes, the factory owner barricaded the exits and set fire to the factory, killing all 129 works trapped inside. This terrible atrocity led to the formation of the first women's labor union in the United States, and paved the way towards gender equality in the workplace.
International Women's Day is celebrated annually on March 8th. In different regions, the focus of the festivities ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation, and love towards women, to a celebration of women's economic, political, and social achievements. In many regions the day has become an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a combination of Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. In other regions, however, the original political and human rights themed designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.
Festa e nenes dhe e gruas, or festival of mothers and women as Women's Day is called in Albania, is celebrated with gifts of beautiful mimosa flower bundles. The mimosa was chosen as the international symbol of the celebration in 1946, to mark the first Women's Day after the end of World War II. It was chosen for its bright color, sweet fragrance, and full bloom during the often cold early-March weather. It's viewed as a symbol of rebirth and renewal, underscoring its relevance after the war time. This time of year the mimosas are in full bloom and the bright yellow flowers are hawked by the fistful by children standing along the sides of the road.
On this important day you can send mimosa flowers or bake a mimosa flower cake for the special women in your life. Or you can simply say "thank you" to the women who have touched you in a special way. So on that note, I say thank you to the women who have helped make me who I am today.
Friday, March 7, 2014
Sandwiched between the Netherlands, France, Germany, and even tinier Luxembourg, Belgium is a convenient jumping off point for exploring much of western Europe. If this isn't enough to keep you busy, a quick ferry or Chunnel ride across the English Channel will put all of Great Britain at your doorstep. But there is so much packed into this country of just over 30,500 square kilometers and a population of just under 10,424,000 that you don't have to leave to have a good time. Belgium is filled with chateaus, green space, historic centers, and yes, chocolate and beer. The capital of Brussels is perhaps best known for being the home of NATO making it an important player in global politics but this strategically located country has been a player on the world scene for much longer. Wars have been fought on what is now Belgian soil since the Middle Ages, the country was the site of the famous 1815 Battle of Waterloo and it was occupied by Germany during both World Wars. Today the struggle for national identity continues with an ongoing debate over a division of the country along Flemish and French lines.
Now here are a few more fact about Belgium:
- Belgium is officially a tri-language country with residents of the northern (Flanders) region speaking a dialect of Dutch, those in the southern (Wallonia) region speaking French and a tiny population along the border with Germany speaking German.
- According to the World Health Organization and the CIA Fact Book, Belgians spend 51.84% less money on health care than their American counterparts while having a lower chance of dying in infancy (28.66%) and a longer life expectancy (1.13 years).
- On average, Belgians make 21.12% less money a year ($36,600 compared to $46,400) but also work fewer hours (1469 versus 1797) than Americans.
- Gay marriage has been legal here since 2003 and euthanasia since 2002.
- Voting is compulsory as is education up to the age of 18.
- The Belgian road system is the only man made structure visible from the moon at night due to lights along the entire motorway network.
- Over 800 kinds of beer are brewed in Belgium and the average Belgian consumes 150 liters of this local beverage a year.
- Belgium produces 220,000 tons of chocolate a year which is equivalent to 22 kilograms of chocolate for every Belgian.
- Belgium is home to 20 UNESCO World Heritage and Intangible Cultural Heritage sites.
We've only just arrived and there is so much of this country for us to explore and get to know. I can only hope we can see it all over the next three years.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Earlier this week I blogged about a particularly difficult parenting struggle we are facing in our house. At first I hesitated to publish my post out of fear of criticism of my parenting skills. After all, the topic was just so personal. But then I remembered that a big part of blogging is putting yourself out there so that is what I did. And sure enough, within minutes of publishing my post comments started flowing into my in box like a virtual hug. I quickly discovered that so many other parents, both friends and complete strangers, had shared similar parenting struggles and survived. Their stories and experiences could have been my own; actually I felt as though many were my own. Receiving all of this feedback was like sitting around a table with my girlfriends. I no longer felt alone in my struggles and actually felt like what I was going through was normal. (And in this crazy filled world, who doesn't want to feel normal?).
Because we have been picking up and moving every few years it has been hard for me to put down real roots so those table top chats with girlfriends are all too few and far between. But as I am realizing with increasing frequency, my blogging community is filling this much needed niche for me. Just as I am moved by so many of the writings by my fellow bloggers I'm learning that my posts also move others. Sometimes I comment on what others have written while other times I simply take silent comfort in knowing that others share my thoughts and struggles. But when I do comment I often engage in a conversation with bloggers I have never met only to realize that we have a lot in common. Some of these fellow writers have become my virtual friends. Other commenters are people I know in "real life" and considered to be casual acquaintances but thanks to modern technology I have gotten to know better and now I consider them to be friends. And friends, regardless of whether you know them in person or only online, provide support to one another.
And this is why I blog. So to anyone who reads my blog, thank you. Your friendship and support mean the world to me.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I knew this move would be difficult for Sidney. While this is his third move in his short life, it is the first one where he has lasting memories of the life he left behind. Prior to our move he had talked excitedly about it "being just the three of us everyday" but apparently this novelty has worn off. Six weeks after we left Albania he still asks where Tirana is, when we will go back, proclaims he doesn't want to stay in Belgium all day, and most heartbreaking of all, cries that he lost something. Upon inquiry he states that it is his nene (nanny) that he lost and can't find her. We've done everything we can to comfort and reassure him and some days I feel as though it is enough. But others, I'm not so sure. Fortunately, these verbal proclamations are becoming less frequent but his sorrow is manifesting in other ways that I can neither anticipate nor address.
The crying fits that marked our first few weeks have morphed into loud outbursts of anger or even worse tantrums involving hitting followed by a refusal to speak. I (thought) I had finally figured out how to deal with the crying through lots of hugging and reassuring that it was perfectly natural to be sad and miss our old home. By also pointing out the positives of our new one--and the things he can do here that he couldn't back in Albania-- Sidney is able to focus on the things he likes about Belgium and thus his moments of sadness seem to dissipate as quickly as they appear. (One of my biggest fears about this move however, fortunately failed to materialized. The prospect of Sidney's starting school had given me great angst but after a rather rough first week, Sidney is loving school. Or so he says when he comes home each day. Unfortunately for us, his entire school is on vacation this week and after one day of not going to school he is already asking when he can go back. When we tell him he can return next week he sadly tells me he wants to go back now. I know, most parents can only hope for a child who actually wants to be in school. But for a child who loves routine, a break in his new routine is throwing his already fragile world further askew).
But these recent angry outbursts of his? I have no idea how to handle them. It takes every inch of my being to not react in a negative way. Reminding Sidney that he shouldn't hit is hard to do when he is in the middle of a tantrum and getting too close puts me in the direct line of fire of his flailing fists. When he refuses to speak to me I have no idea how much of what I am saying is getting through or what he is even thinking. Fortunately these angry fits are much shorter and rarer in duration than his crying fits were. And they are always followed by his being remorseful and talking about the things he likes to do here in Belgium. Or, as was the case yesterday afternoon, a request to sit on my lap and "read" his French book on his Leap Pad. I can only hope that this angry phase is short lived............
Yes, being a parent is very hard but being a four year old who has been uprooted from the only life he remembers is equally difficult. At least as a parent I have the maturity and intellectual understanding and an incredibly supportive partner to help me through all of this. A four year old has......his parents. And as his parent, all I can do is be there for whatever phase or curve ball he throws our way. He'll get through this, as will we. And maybe, just maybe, this is all practice for the teenage years. By then we will be pros at this game.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
I recently posted the above picture on my Facebook page and, as it had done for me when saw it, the picture immediately brought back so many childhood memories for those of us who grew up in Mid Coast Maine during the 1970s and 1980s. For those of you who aren't from the area or are too young to remember, this 1977 picture, courtesy of mainetoday.com, is of the famous Andre the Seal and his trainer Harry Goodrich. But for those of us who grew up during that time, who doesn't remember the seal?
A quick recap for those who aren't familiar with the story: Andre was an orphaned harbor seal who was rescued by Goodrich in 1961 off the coast of Rockport, Maine. By the time I "met" Andre he was spending his summers lounging and playing in a protected corral in Rockport harbor and winters in various New England aquariums. A highlight of any trip to the harbor was visiting during meal time where we could watch Goodrich throwing fish to a playful Andre. If he wasn't eating he might be simply basking in the sun or swimming in the harbor's cool waters. Being the first to spot the seal as he popped to the surface of the water became a game that my brother and I both wanted to win. To our parents, visiting Andre was free entertainment. For us kids, it was simply cool to see the famous seal. One of my most prized books as a child was A Seal Called Andre, Goodrich's children's book about his adventures with Andre. Andre died in 1986 at the age of twenty-five and I still remember the sadness I felt when I heard the news. (I have no idea if this is old for a seal--it probably is since one only has to watch a National Geographic special or two to see that the life of a normal seal is anything but easy). Over the years a movie has been made about Andre's story and a statue of the famous seal sits in the little park at the head of Rockport Harbor. Because of this, Andre lives on as a little bit of Maine history for my generation and generations to come.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of visiting the statue both during our summer vacations to Maine and later as a local resident. Its been years since I've been back--probably the last time was when my brother got married in that very park during a particularly rainy October weekend. But our family has plans to visit Maine this summer and visiting Andre's statue, and introducing my son to one of my fondest childhood memories, is on the top of my to-do list. I'm feeling nostalgic (and a bit homesick) just thinking about it. How many days is it until July????
To read Andre's complete story, click here.