Thursday, January 11, 2007

Jet Lag 2 and First Day of School

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'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 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.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

We've arrived--and the stroller did too!

Ta-da! Through the miracle of airline travel and internet communications, I am writing to you from the desk in the Antwerp apartment. Lots to tell, so I'll begin at the beginning.

Monday 1/8/07 was departure day, but we weren't leaving until 4:30pm so we had a full day to finish cleaning our house, pack the last few odds and ends, and tire the girls out so they'd be likely to sleep on the flight.

I tried one last time to email the ebay seller of the BeBeLove stroller we bought. He had become strangely uncommunicative ever since my PayPal payment went through, and did not provide me with a UPS tracking number. About 10am, a beautiful brown truck pulled up to the front of our house and the driver brought a package to our door and rang the doorbell. I ran down to the door, wanting to thank him for the speedy delivery, but he was down the street before I could stop him. I looked on the porch floor and saw...JieJie's LeapPad backpack box. Argh again!

The rest of the day passed uneventfully and then at 3:24 pm, a FEDEX truck pulled up (hunh??) and finally, there was our beautiful stroller, packed flat in a box. I practically kissed the delivery man (I think I told him I loved him) and I noticed that the seller paid the difference to have it shipped 2-Day. He's going to get good ebay feedback for that! The stroller was easy to assemble, just pop the wheels on and snap the canopy on, then I had to pump up the tires and voila, The School Bus.

The JMU van driver came at 4:30pm and took us to Dulles Airport, British Airways desk. I had already checked in online at home and printed out boarding passes so we went to the FastBag check-in. I had printed out a sheet of address labels with our Antwerp address on them, so when it came time to tag the six suitcases and two car seats, instead of having to write it all down, we just stuck labels on the tags and we were finished in no time. Top that, Heloise.

Flight was delayed to 11pm, so good thing we'd brought some toys for the girls. We also took lots of long walks/runs up and down the long corridor of our departure hallway. We had dinner, a few snacks, and I gave the girls some Airborne Jr. in disposable toddler cups we brought. They liked the taste. Ruby was messing with the cup, biting the spout, and the top came off, spilling about half of the grape-flavored stuff all over her. SUPER MOM MOMENT: I'd thought ahead to bring a change of clothes for them both--AND a band-aid for the small boo-boo JieJie got on her finger. You have to understand, I'm not usually this prepared. Perhaps the knowledge that this would end up in the blogosphere motivated me...

Anyway, then it was time to get on the plane. The girls were SO good (had no idea what to expect, was prepared for the worst). They liked the personal video screens at each seat, though they didn't really watch anything. They also liked the meals. We requested kids' meals and they were kid-friendly but not unhealthy. After eating, the girls and John fell asleep for several hours. I can't sleep on airplanes because I need to be able to curl up, but I watched a couple of movies instead, Little Miss Sunshine (hilarious, I want to see it again because I missed the end) and The Queen with Helen Mirren (she was good but the material itself was the quality of script more often associated with Lifetime Movie Network).

JET LAG BEGINS...Got into Heathrow late morning London time, which was barely dawn as far as our bodies were concerned. The girls slept through breakfast, but we took it with us into the terminal and they ate it in a cafe overlooking the runways. They were good about walking - I wasn't sure whether the stroller was checked through or not since we gate-checked it at Dulles.

NOTE TO AIRLINES: Come up with some kind of precise terminology to clarify the word "destination" for multi-leg flights. Perhaps "immediate" and "ultimate"? It's confusing to say something will be ready for you at your "destination"...which one?

Flight from Heathrow was delayed due to scary straight-line winds that pushed the plane sideways as we taxied for takeoff. Inside I'm thinking, one wing-tip touches the ground and I'm toast. Meanwhile MeiMei is sitting next to me cheering "Wheeeee!" and laughing. JieJie had her first window seat and was really interested in seeing all there is to see. She said "are we still on our planet?" so we talked about the atmosphere and all that.

Landed in Brussels/Bruxelles an hour later--the flight was so short, they practically threw the snack to us as though it were feeding time at the zoo...why bother? Not complaining, mind you.

Claimed our luggage, and all six suitcases arrived intact. I figured the stroller and car seats would come through a separate door or something, but no such luck. We inquired at British Airways lost luggage--thank goodness we kept the receipts with the numbers on them--and they were able to tell us that those three items were sent on a later flight. It suddenly occurred to me that if the stroller got lost, it would've been in our possession for a total of eight hours. John filled out the forms so BA could deliver our things directly to Antwerp (pre-printed labels came in handy again) and we put the girls on top of suitcases on the luggage carts. They rode out through customs (I swear, smugglers should just travel with cute kids...we were waved through with no questions) and we all met Mr. K, an efficient, amiable man with twinkly eyes who assists with the university's Antwerp program. He's American but has also lived for a long time in London before coming here.

Mr. K drove us to the apartment and it's really great--small but well laid-out and very cozy. John and Mr. K went to dinner and I stayed with the girls, unpacking and waiting for takeout. At that point, the thought of asking them to behave in a restaurant seemed downright inhumane. The takeout was great - a wonderful Greek salad for me and macaroni and cheese in a cream-of-chicken type cheese sauce with little bits of ham mixed in. They ate dinner and we all fell asleep by 9pm.

JET LAG CONTINUED: MeiMei was the only one who slept thru the night, so she's already on local time. The rest of us were up from 1-3am and then slept til 9:30ish. I think we're caught up now, more or less, but I still have momentary dizzy spells here and there.

Today, Mr. K came with the truck to take us on a big grocery shop at Match, a nice store in walking distance. It was good to have access to a truck for the first grocery trip. From now on we will be limited to what we can carry in a rolling cart, and we don't have all that much storage space for much more anyway. It's good - we'll eat things that are fresher. Stroller and car seats arrived mid-afternoon and, despite the rain, we went out for a late afternoon walk. It was such a tease...I want to explore every nook and cranny of what I saw today. and the stroller was worth the angst--it handles the cobblestones so well, the girls were singing and their voices didn't even shake!

Dinner was salmon, broccoli and potatoes and we scarfed it down. JieJie had been bouncing off the walls (not good in an apartment building) so we knew she was tired and she fell asleep right after dinner in about a minute. MeiMei stayed up a bit but not for long.

So now you're caught up.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

bye bye!

Time to pack up the computer, and they're going to disconnect the phone and DSL any moment. I just scanned copies of important documents onto a USB drive to avoid carrying so much paper. Noticed that the girls' passports weren't signed, so a quick trip to the site answered that question (parent prints child's name, signs next to it and then writes (mother) or (father) after the signature.

Church this morning was happy-sad. We feel so lucky that we feel so much a part of a big family there, and it was sad to say goodbye. But then again, it means it will be so joyous to say hello again in a few months, with so many stories to tell.

Well, here goes nothing...British Airways here we come!

two days to go...

...and no stroller. UPS 3-day shipping does not include Saturday delivery. It's supposed to be here by the end of the day Monday, which is approximately when we're leaving. Guess you'll have to wait til our first post from Antwerp to find out how this mini-saga ends. I'm packing up the computer Monday morning, so no entries til Tuesday at the earliest. Worst case scenario, we'd have to have it shipped to us in Antwerp, but I think we'd still come out ahead.

Otherwise, we're pretty much packed and ready to go. Tomorrow will be just cleaning and taking care of odds and ends, and Monday we have the whole day. John's going to go to work just to rub it in that he's not concerned with syllabi, overrides, and the whole beginning-of-the-semester frenzy. As for me...perhaps I'll take a long walk and maybe even get a cheapo manicure. Something to give a moment of peace before the crowds and disorientation. I can't sleep on airplanes, so I'm about to be awake for about 30 hours straight from Monday morning til what's going to feel like Tuesday mid-afternoon when I can finally go to sleep in our Antwerp apartment. Wish I enjoyed knitting.

You can search FTJ for past posts, e.g. China info...