Greetings from blustery Antwerp. It's a gray, rainy day and I can hear the wind howling past the windows that overlook our narrow street. The girls are napping, in hopes that they can catch up on sleep after last night.
JieJie had a particularly funky day yesterday and crashed hard at 7pm. MeiMei lasted til 8:30 and then went off to bed. John and I stayed up til maybe 10:30. The saga began at 12:30 when JieJie woke up, and I mean wide awake and ready for a new day. She was in with us for a while, then went back to her room but was singing...I was afraid she'd wake her sister so I gave her this little flashlight toy that our friend V gave us (thanks for the bag of goodies - what a life saver!). She amused herself with that for quite a while but didn't fall asleep. Finally at 1:30 she came in and complained that she still couldn't sleep, so I got up with her and we talked in the dark living room about Dora the Explorer in Dutch, which she'd slept through that morning.
Dora in Dutch is FANTASTIC--what a great way to get started learning the language! There are certain things that each character says, so there's a basis for immediate understanding. At home, Tico is the character who always speaks Spanish, but here he speaks English--it was so funny to hear a different voice as Tico say "Yes! I'm happy to do it!" instead of "Si, es un placer!" JieJie wanted to know what Swiper (Sveeper) says instead of "Oh MAN" when his nefarious plots are foiled, and she thought it was funny that he says "oh nee!" (oh, no!) For those of you who don't watch Dora, each show is a quest to reach a goal, and they chant the landmarks along the way. This time the goal was one I recognized as the Gooey Geyser, but in Dutch it's Droppige Geyser (sp?) and the g's are like the ch in the German "Ach."
So by 2:30, JieJie was ready to try sleeping again. Just as we were headed down the hallway, MeiMei woke up but after I sat with her a few minutes, they were both back to sleep so I went to lay down. I could feel myself surrendering to sleep when MeiMei cried again and wouldn't stop til I laid in her twin bed. She fell asleep about 4. I went back to my room when the alarm went off at 7 to get up and get the girls ready for school, but we turned it off and slept til 8:30 when Mr. K called. I'm glad he did, too, because we would've slept through our appointment at the school otherwise. I called the head of their school and moved the appointment to 11am.
After breakfast (various things with chocolate in them: chocolate croissants, Nestle cereal--even their All Bran is chocolate-filled!), we bundled the girls in their coats, hats and gloves (thanks, Aunt K in Wisconsin!) and set off for the school, which was supposed to be about a 30-minute walk. It was windy and brisk, but the girls seemed happy to see the sights, and every street is more picturesque than the last. John pushed the stroller (yay for the stroller) and I read the map directions we found on mappy.com's pedestrian map finder (like mapquest for European cities). It was tough navigating at times because the street names are listed on plaques on the sides of buildings, and not every corner lists all the streets, though most do. The other fly in the ointment is that street names seem to change at random. A street name might only be the name of one block of a road that continues on under another name. Just when we feared we were lost, we saw a map on the street and found the school, no problem. Still, we've learned our lesson - we never leave the house without a real map.
The school is going to be great. They've decided to put both girls in the same class (they're 3 1/2 and almost-5) for now, and if there's a need to separate them after they get comfortable, we would likely move MeiMei into the younger class since she is a bit more intrepid. The head of the school, Mrs. O, was so kind and attentive to the girls. It put me at ease right away. We went to the classroom, which has great big windows all along one wall and the familiar Montessori materials on one wall. The children were all making King's crowns for epiphany (it's also a Catholic school). What a great coincidence - the girls just did the same thing in Sunday School at home. MeiMei went right to a little "play house" area and picked up a doll, while JieJie hid in my coattails, peeking out every so often. She didn't seem to want me reassuring her or explaining anything to her in front of the other children--typical of an older child, from what I've learned. "Let me do it!" is often the underlying message when she gets upset. Her teacher Ms. K is a warm, friendly woman and she speaks excellent English--JieJie's face lit up when she realized her teacher could understand her and vice versa. They will learn some Flemish of course, but it won't be sink-or-swim.
We left feeling excited for the girls, and they seem enthusiastic too. How great it will be for them to make some friends, continue preschool (which they loved at home) and have time to run around and play even when the weather is awful (there is gym class even for the little ones). We think, at first anyway, school will be followed by lunch at home and then afternoon naps, just because of the energy it will require for them to get used to new surroundings.
We got lost on the way home but found our way eventually, though it took an extra 1/2 hour than it should have. Again, yay for the stroller. We are also thankful that people are pretty friendly and helpful when we asked for directions. When we studied the map at home, we had the same thought we often have about Mapquest...best to study the map and choose the simplest route, not necessarily the shortest. Tomorrow, instead of 20 instructions, we'll need to follow about 5 to make it there. As John said, "there's a MUCH easier way to get there...and when you see how easy it is, you'll cry."
I didn't cry, but he's absolutely right. Anyway, I'm looking forward to being able to find our way by landmarks rather than street names. There's a really cool street on the way that goes right past a Belgian government building, very grand and formal. Size-wise, it reminds me of the New York City Central Post Office near Penn Station. I can't wait to see what all these interesting buildings are.