There are definite advantages to taking a 3.5 and almost-five year old on a semester abroad such as this one. We chose this semester precisely because it was post-diapers but pre-kindergarten, so we have more flexibility on both...ends...ok, I didn't intend to go down that road but it's there now.
Major advantage #1: They get up early. No teenagers moaning in bed at 10am when everyone else is ready to see the sights. JieJie and MeiMei are up at 7am every day. Right now it's still dark at 7, but we look forward to it getting lighter and lighter.
Major advantage #2: They have no sense of what's "supposed" to happen. These girls roll with whatever happens because they assume that's how it goes. Sometimes the other side of that coin can be troublesome...they assume we know about all this stuff and we find ourselves saying "hey, we've never done this before either!" Still, there's very little disappointment, because there are no real expectations, unless you count getting to have candy all the time.
Major advantage #3: They take pleasure in everyday things. What are their favorite things to do? They can move laundry from the washer to the dryer because these machines are front-loading and easy for them to deal with. They love to take out the garbage and recycling and they fight over who gets to put bottles down the collection pipes at the corner of our street. The bottles fall down the pipe and we hear a most satisfying crash as they break in the collection pit below. They LOVE escalators (JieJie calls them a pet name, "escalaties") and luckily those are plentiful here (we have none at home). They've been excited to learn to ride on trams, and JieJie even knows how to read the indicator lights at the tram stops that show how far away the next tram is.
Major advantage #4: They are easily enchanted. They loved the castle (Steen), the carillon that plays in the beautiful cathedral down by the river, and they remember that just below that cathedral's steeple, there is the statue/fountain of Brabo throwing the giant's hand into the Schelde River. MeiMei said "that's where the monster is!" and I said "Mommy made a mistake, it wasn't a monster, it was actually a giant." MeiMei said "you mean like a Fee Fo?" Took me a moment to realize we'd read Jack and the Beanstalk not long ago! We're still giggling over that one.
We have a great system (at least it's working so far) for the girls to help keep things picked up. With only a few rooms, we can't let messes pile up. There are three rules: keep voices down, keep bedroom picked up, and don't leave toys out in the living room. As long as all three rules are followed, they get to pick a small toy off the "treasure shelf" in our room. It has become a really big deal to pick a small doll or a coloring book, and a great heartache when that opportunity is lost, but it seems to be working. If I have to pick toys up, I put them on the treasure shelf and voila, it's restocked. It seems to be helping maintain a kind of equilibrium as far as how much they can keep up with.
Yesterday we went to a big toy store and they chose these little battery operated yapping dogs that work with a little remote control on a "leash" (cord) and can walk along the floor, wag their tails, etc. These are in addition to the little stuffed dogs they brought from home, Arfy and Woofy. Now we have Barky and Rolly. And they want a real dog when we get home from Belgium.