What a great, great day. And it could have been a disaster.
We decided to try having the girls stay at school for lunch, playground time, and afternoon class til 3:30 with the rest of their classmates (nobody else comes home at 12, so they've been missing out on whatever happens after they leave). We dropped them off this morning with their little lunches packed in Princess lunchboxes from the Super GB and crossed our fingers.
What to do with all that time? First we found a new cafe, near the school, for coffee and croissant time. Nothing much is open before 10am as far as shops are concerned, so there's not much else to do but enjoy a leisurely coffee and croissant while perusing Belgian interior design magazines. Pain and suffering, I tell you. Next we took the 7 tram to the starfish neighborhood and got bread at Goossens. I love that little shop!
Then we took the 8 tram all the way to the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp (www.kmska.be) to check it out for a JMU student tour we have planned for Thursday. It's so easy to get there, and the building itself is beautiful. I can't wait to see the exhibits on Thursday! There's a visiting exhibit from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam because of a renovation project. I noticed that they have audio guides too--I really love to see an exhibit with the audio guide at hand. It makes such a difference as far as the richness of the experience. Our group of students seems interested in seeing the cultural offerings while they're here, so it makes us all the more eager to sleuth out the possibilities.
Came back to the apartment for a while, read the International Herald Tribune, then headed to a soup restaurant in the University of Antwerp neighborhood. John had onion soup and I had a sort of cream of leek soup with pieces of salmon in it--delicious.
After John went to hold his office hours, I suddenly realized I had two whole hours to myself. Occasional solitude is essential to my mental health. Two hours with nobody calling my name...better than chocolate.
I decided to take my book of the moment, Dave Eggers' What is the What, and go to Verso, a cafe that I'd noticed as we rode the trams day after day. I knew that it was part of a high fashion boutique, and that it had a fire in the fireplace. How much could coffee be?
As it turned out, this was just the place for a languid afternooon. (www.verso.be) I perused the menu and ordered "Koffie Kompleet"--only 2 euro more than a Pellegrino water, and so much better! Koffie Kompleet is a cup of coffee accompanied by two Pierre Marcolini chocolates, four shortbread cookies, a scoop of the most delicious homemade vanilla ice cream ever, and a tiny cordial cup of Bailey's Irish Cream. I put a bit of the ice cream in the coffee and nibbled/sipped at my little table of treats for a good hour and a half til it was time to wrap it up.
Before I left, I decided to wander through the verso boutique itself, since I never go in that kind of rarefied atmosphere. The shirts in there cost more than I make in a semester of teaching. I sniffed the perfume testers at the cosmetics counter, scents with names like Jasmine & Cigarettes, Divine Angel, and Hotel Slut.
Took the 7 to the 8, popped into the Proost Supermarket to make sure the girls had an afterschool snack as soon as they got out, and walked up to meet them. The moment of truth had arrived. If they came out crying and clinging, the party would most certainly be over. If they had a good day, the possibilities for February and March are greatly expanded, for all of us.
We heard the announcement for "Familie Arndt" and came to the door. JieJie and MeiMei came out neither too sad nor too relieved, just normal. It was the best possible outcome. JieJie had learned to make newspaper hats today--an essential life skill!--and MeiMei had had gym this morning. They played tag at lunch recess with some kids who speak English, and enjoyed the rest of their day. We'll try it again on Thursday, which means I get to go to the art museum too.
Tonight JieJie asked if they could be sure to get to school early in the morning because that's what "her school friends" do. a good sign indeed.
I don't mean to give the impression that I'm trying to put my kids in storage all day, but really what is there to do in the apartment between 12 and 3 that's as fun as school? If they are happy there, it's probably the best use of that time, given the weather and our urban locale. If they were miserable though, I couldn't enjoy the free time it affords us with a black cloud of Mommie Dearest guilt hanging over my head.
I am thankful for this promising development.