If you have been following the notes from this Antwerp adventure, perhaps you have noticed that I tend to like where we go, enjoy the food we taste, and find most people I encounter to be more or less pleasant. I wonder whether you think I am really seeing everything around me...I mean after all, how can anyplace be this great?
I do tend to be a glass half-full sort of person by nature, it's true. And I love to travel, I love meeting people, trying new things, getting out of the comfort zone of the same-old same-old at home. I love learning new languages and turns of phrase, and seeing things from a different perspective. This time we have been given here is truly a gift for which I am beyond grateful, and I know John shares this feeling. We both loved Art Buchwald's last column...he mentioned wanting to eat as many eclairs as he possibly could in his final days, and regretted denying himself so many on doctor's orders. Life is a gift to be enjoyed, and the world is a big place--so much to see in so little time.
Do I like Antwerp? Absolutely! Would I move to Antwerp permanently? Nope. I think I like it more because I know we won't be here permanently, as odd as that may seem. It's been about a month now, so I feel a bit more comfortable making a Big Pronouncement like this. There are things that are easily dealt with for a short while that I think would begin to wear on me over time, and they're all parenting-logistics type things.
What things, you ask? Lack of elbow room for all of us, and lack of an easy way to get some mental elbow room while parenting young children. We are on the third floor of an apartment building that is a far walk from anything like a playground (thank goodness we found the school so they have a place to play with other kids!). At home in Virginia, which appears in my imagination impossibly green even though I know it's freezing cold and stark there right now, the girls can run out the back door and play in the yard while I do dishes, so we are together but I have a bit of mental space. Just before we left, big sister JieJie had gotten old enough to go play at her friend's house up the street without me along.
At home, they had dozens of ways to entertain themselves and were getting more and more self-sufficient for increasing chunks of time. In this apartment, our parent-child relationship is different. If they are bored, they call my name. If they are happy, they call my name. If they are tired of playing with their sister, ...well you get the idea. It's as though they are more dependent on me here, and on John of course, though he is infinitely more energetic and playful with them between 3:30 and 5pm than I seem able to be. The need to make sure they don't get too loud for the neighbors is always there too, though JieJie and MeiMei have really adjusted well, considering. But their "In case of boredom break glass" tactic is to screech like starving baby eagles. Yikes.
So we go outside, but still the girls have to exercise restraint. At home we have the yard, plenty of sidewalk to draw on or ride tricycles. Here we have pavement, cars, trams, buses, bicycles and lots of pedestrians to consider. Some buildings in Antwerp have nice courtyards with trees or private gardens, but the courtyard of our building is where people park bicycles and bring recycling, so that's not an option. As you know, we are going on lots of walks and other outings, but that's a double-edged sword. It's a temporary fix, but once we get back in the apartment, there we are again and they're more tired than before.
To end on a positive note (see? I can't help it), it is neat to travel with the girls, to see things through their eyes and see how people become playful when the girls are there. In the tram home today, a whole section was playing high-five games with the girls and laughing, and there was such a nice sense of warmth and friendliness.
So I am certainly not Complaining, by any means. I just wanted you to know I haven't overdosed on saccharine, if everything seems too happy-happy for you. How about this for a negative comment: there's doggie-do everywhere! It's true! The girls call out "DOG POO!" about once a minute so we don't run over it with The Stroller. I've started to guess at each dog's breed and general health by the size of the turds. Is it too much to ask to pick up after your dogs, people?!
Still, you can step in that stuff anywhere. Except maybe Disneyland. Bottom line--pun intended--the dead of winter is a tough time for parents and young children (and anybody I suppose) to be cooped up together. It will be lovely when spring comes.