Author Archives: patchworkdaydreams

About patchworkdaydreams

I am a 31 year old American expat living in Flanders. My husband, toddler and I are about to move (back) to America. This blog is all about us.

When English Isn’t The Dominant Language

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Children being raised with more than one language isn’t a foreign concept to me. Working in a daycare that was populated mostly with upper-middle class families meant not only that I saw a lot of really nice homes when I babysat, but I also came in contact with very interesting parents who came from various backgrounds, often outside of North America. 
And working mostly with two year olds, I gained a lot of experience regarding language development, both of children whose first language was English as well as several whose first languages ranged from Italian to Hebrew to French.

Different children develop differently, as we all know, and language is no exception. In one group of kids I had  a little boy whose parents were Italian. They only spoke Italian at home and in the beginning the boy had a very hard time communicating at daycare. Mostly, he screamed all the time. When he was happy, excited, upset, angry: didn’t matter, he just shrieked. None of us spoke any Italian so we just had to keep reinforcing the English words that went along with the boy’s activities and feelings. If he was playing with the farm toys we’d say, “Oh, you’re playing with the farm. You like playing with the animals. That makes you happy.” 
It seems redundant, but eventually it worked and the boy stopped shrieking and started gesturing and eventually speaking in order to ask for toys or to tell us if he was unhappy or whatever else he needed.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was also a little girl whose mother was from France and spoke to her in French while her father was from Belgium and spoke to her in Dutch (I rarely saw the dad and had no clue about this until right before I moved to Belgium). You’d think she’d be even more confused than the Italian boy, seeing as she got two languages at home and a third in daycare, but on the contrary, she was actually super precocious with language. She was shy and quiet so it took a while before she spoke much in daycare, but eventually we realized she had a lot to say (with an adorable accent) both in English to us and French to her mother. She also began writing very early, albeit in French since her mother was teaching her at home.

So, when Tay was born, of course it made sense to raise him in both Dutch and English. You’d think it’d be fairly easy, right?
English is my first language, Dutch is Piet’s first language. I should speak to Tay in English, Piet in Dutch. Obviously in the daycare, Tay’s caretakers speak Dutch.

But it actually wasn’t really all that easy.

Thing is, Piet and I default to English at home. It’s the language we first communicated in when we met and despite the fact that it probably would’ve helped my Dutch when I first moved here and we did attempt speaking to each other in Dutch at first, we always ended up defaulting back to English.

Outside of our house though, I’ve made it a strong point to insist on speaking Dutch.
Otherwise I doubt my Dutch would be as good as it is now. Because as soon as a Belgian figures out that you speak English, you can pretty much forget about that person speaking to you in Dutch. Mostly they assume (and are often right, but not always ahem) that their English (or often their French if you’re a francophone) will always be better than your Dutch and they’re actually helping you by speaking your own language.

I’m so accustomed to pretending I don’t speak anything but Dutch, that it has become difficult to speak in English to anyone outside of a few Portugese friends and my husband.
And with Piet speaking Dutch at home with Tay, I automatically started speaking much more Dutch at home as well.
Tay responding only to Dutch and rarely to English (aside from “no” which he figured out fast and listens to better than the Dutch “nee”) enforced my speaking to him in Dutch because it hurts to be a new mother whose child doesn’t respond when they speak. At 10 months, if I spoke in Dutch, he interacted and responded. In English, not really.

So that’s how it came about that, maybe 2 months ago, Piet told me I really had to start speaking in English to Tay.
And I’ve had to force myself to do it and still often switch back to Dutch if we’re in public or family gatherings.
Tay now understands a lot of what I say. He’s finally starting to say “bye bye” occasionally instead of “da da” although his other 15 or so words are all Dutch. He knows “bottle” and “eat” in both languages, although he says neither. He uses signs we taught him but he’ll make the sign in response to the words in both English and Dutch.

It’s bound to remain complicated, since Piet will continue speaking to Tay in Dutch once we move to America. Piet and I may speak in Dutch as well so that he stays in the habit of using it and so my Dutch doesn’t get too rusty. But I’ll still be trying to speak in English to Tay.

Most of the time.

Unless we need to keep a secret from his Grandma and Grandpa.

Cold November Rain

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You’d think the knowledge that I’ll be moving home soon would eliminate my pesky homesickness right?

I mean, this time next year I’ll be looking forward to a long weekend, the Macys parade, football and leftover cranberries and stuffing. I’ll be cuddled up with my husband and son, possibly watching snow falling outside, enjoying the mini-vacation that preludes December and New Years festivities.

But now, here, in the present, I’m having another autumn devoid of cornstalks and hayrides. No scarecrows, no mounds of little pumpkins and gourds, no rich tapestry of red and gold leaves.
Halloween isn’t an anticipated night of costumes, candy and trick-or-treating.
Thanksgiving doesn’t exist to break the bleak weather with the warm glow of family and gratitude.
This hits me every year around the end of November. This constant lump in my throat, this longing for home.

December in Belgium is a festive month, kicking off with Sinterklaas on the 6th and continuing through Christmas, New Years and often not fully settling back down until the end of January.
Those days are full of spiced wine, rich foods, sweet treats, outdoor Christmas markets (which I adore), and overall good cheer. Those are the days I’ll probably miss in America where repetetive music, gaudy lights and commercialism have redefined “holiday spirit.”

But now, here, in the present, I stare out the window, imagining my family: my mother spending the whole day preparing the turkey, my father cleaning the house for the guests, my brother and sister-in-law, my grandpa, my aunt, uncle and cousins arriving in a flurry of bulky coats, settling down around the table to squabble over the crispy corner pieces of baked stuffing or to praise this year’s new recipe, my grandpa snoring in front of the television while the other men yell at the football game and the women clear the table and do the dishes.

I think of those things, images hovering over me like a warm fleece blanket, a blanket that never quite settles on my shoulders, a blanket that waits for me across hundreds of miles of Atlantic Ocean.

And the lump stays stuck in my throat.

Holy Crap, She’s Back

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On an almost daily basis I walk a tightrope between things I will miss when we leave Belgium and things that I will be so SO happy to get away from.

Just this morning, on my way to an appointment, I was crossing a small bridge over the canal that runs by our neighborhood and I noticed that there were complete spiderwebs hanging between almost every rail on the bridge. They were still wet from the morning dew, so they were shining and looking beautiful as they caught the morning sun.

(Do note that had I seen any of the spiders responsible for the whimsical bridge decoration, I’d be singing a totally different tune because I’m borderline arachnophobic)

As I crossed the bridge I also saw several ducks having a morning swim and feeding in the canal. The water was clear enough to see their orange feet paddling beneath their bodies and the quacking and antics of ducks chasing their food made me smile.

I’ll miss that.

When we move in with my parents, we won’t be walking distance from anything. They live in a housing plan that was built in an industrial zone. You have to drive to get to anywhere other than a slag field, a school bus depot or the local cable company.
Something I imagine Piet and I will be looking for once we can buy a house of our own, will be a home that is in walking or biking distance of local parks, grocery stores, etc.

After my appointment I went to the city center and went to go look for a new toy for Tay, who really loves playing with our keys and becomes very distressed when we have to pry the keys from his grubby little mitts. I found some child appropriate toy keys, went to the counter to pay, said “hello” to the woman who was standing behind the counter and she looked at me, ignored me, and turned to her colleague, saying how she still had to vacuum. So I stood there, waiting to pay while cashier number one gathered up her stuff and walked away to go vacuum (which she had not been doing when I entered the store and passed her when I went upstairs, nor when I looked for and located the toy, nor when I came back down and greeted her and tried to pay for the toy), while cashier number two had to stop whatever she was doing, come over and ring me up.

And to that I say: Fuck you, you uppity bitch! You are a cashier. Your job is to ring up my stuff, take my money and give me any change there might be. You don’t have to smile or be nice or even give me a bag. But part of your job description is definitely “taking customer’s money.”
And the most annoying thing was that the twit still hadn’t even picked up the vacuum by the time I paid and was walking out of the store.

In about 4 hours I had gone from wistfully regretting the impending absence of morning strolls over web-bedecked bridges and frolicking water fowl to wishing with all my heart for a place where cashiers actually crack a smile and do not avoid taking the customer’s money by ignoring the customer’s greeting and then pretending to go vacuum.

I may have manic depression, but if I do, I blame Belgium for giving it to me.

Anyway, that said, the weather was nice and warm so I opted to walk home rather than take the bus (public transportation in Belgium is yet another contradictory can of worms and if I actually get back into the blogging habit, remind me to write about it some time).
On the way I stopped at a little organic store and bought some coconut water and other assorted stuff. A bit farther towards home I spotted a bakery, popped in and grabbed a loaf of fresh bread, continued on a bit further to a vegetable store to pick up some salad stuff for lunch tomorrow and then I finally came home and unpacked my stuff.

Oh to be liberated of chain stores and the dreaded titan Walmart.
I really love that I can walk home and on every single route I can find at least one, if not several bakeries, a smattering of fruit and veggie stores and couple butchers, all independantly owned and run, with their own personalities and specialties.
We don’t have a car anymore (long story) so I buy groceries every 3 days or so and I really like the fact that I don’t just take a car, grab a huge cart and load up on mass produced, over marketed garbage.

Don’t get me wrong.
I can do that here if I want to (or I could when we had the car), but it’s actually much easier not to.

So by the time I arrived back home, I had added yet another thing to my “stuff I’ll miss” list and was brainstorming on where I’d like to do my grocery shopping once we return to Pittsburgh.

It’s not so far away anymore, is it?

 

So I Was Having a Good Day, Right?

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And then I went to a gym in the city center to ask about membership prices because I realize in order to keep losing weight I need to add more exercise to my routine. I hate running and my allergies make it hard for me to do a lot of outdoor activities although admittedly, the rain here is so frequent that it washes away a lot of the pollen, but then, it’s raining frequently so that also tends to make me avoid outside activities.

Anyway, the well intentioned 20-something at the desk told me the membership was for a year and then afterwards it could be ended at any time, but they ask you to pay for at least a year.
This is a problem, given that we’re moving abroad in 6 months (how weird is it that America is now “abroad” for me?).

I told her I was moving in December with my husband and baby and she said that that was an exception and I could end my contract by showing the manager some sort of proof I’m moving.
Then she asked when I was due to have the baby.
And I was all

So she backpedaled and asked if I had it a few days ago.

To which I was all

And then I did what I think most people would do.

I lied and said I had him a month ago and then got my fat ass right out of there before the embarrassment caused me to internally combust.

Now I’m torn between joining so I can shed 30 more pounds more expediently or just turning off all the lights and balling myself up in the most convenient corner.

11 Months

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Tay is 11 months old today.

One month away from his first year.

One month away from the exit of babyhood.
Sort of. The beginning of the end of babyhood.

This month Tay’s personality exploded all over the place.
He started waving at people (and animals), pointing at things (and people and animals), laughing at silly word games, hiding his face from strangers and coyly peeking at them only to hide his face again and so on, clearly requesting/refusing things, developing a concept of “mine” as well as a (sometimes tearful) understanding of “no” and many other things that indicate a little footbridge brooking the gap between baby and toddler.

He’s still only got two bottom teeth, but Piet thinks he felt the top two starting to break through this morning. He continues to eat EVERYTHING (with the acception of avocado) and by everything I do mean everything. Here in Spain he’s eaten ajo blanco, gazpacho, marinated artichoke hearts, nisperos and pretty much anything else we allow him to eat.   This includes a slice of lemon we gave him yesterday to try to deter the rampant eating.

He ate the whole thing, rind included.

We’re starting to wonder if the kid truly likes the taste of food or simply has no taste buds at all.

He’s sooooo close to his first step, we can practically taste it (maybe if steps could actually be tasted Tay would take the first one sooner). He walks with the help of anything he gets his hands on, cruises effortlessly and constantly lets go of his aids to stand alone, but that first step just barely eludes him.

He’s become cuddlier while also becoming slightly more independent with his play.
He clearly loves his Mama and Papa.
He’s starting to have favorite toys and games and songs.

And sooner than I can imagine he’ll be celebrating his very first birthday.

My boy.

 

El Guapito

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Several times daily we have people asking us how old Tay is.

I didn’t know how to say “eleven” in Spanish until our second day here. And then enough people asked me and I gestured the number eleven enough to pick up the word “once.” Granted Tay won’t really be 11 months old for another 10 days, but, well, the older the kid gets, the more I find myself rounding up instead of giving his exact age.

And inevitably when we tell his age, the people here say two things, Es grande (he’s big) and Guapo (handsome). Both of which are true.

Tay is adorable.
I’m biased of course, but he is. Truth is truth.

And for an almost 11 month old, he is big. He can wear shirts for 18 month olds and onesies for 12-18 months. The only thing he fits in that is in his age range is pants. He only wears 9-12 month old pants.
He isn’t walking yet, but he stands alone with no support, which is more than the majority of 11 month olds can do.

So yes, he’s a big boy, but at the same time I’m constantly reminded of how small he is. The broad chest and chubby belly play host to arms that look especially spindly in sleeveless shirts. The marshmallowy thighs taper off into round, chubby feet. The mouth that consumes everything from paella to tsatsiki houses only two teeth.

He’s such a little big boy.

But either way, he sure is handsome.

Planning Vacations

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Piet, Tay and I have been vacationing in southern Spain for the last 5 days and I’ve noticed something about how I schedule a day on vacation, versus how Piet does it.

See, most of my childhood vacations were spent at the beach. Usually it was Virginia Beach, but I’ve also been to Wildwood and Myrtle Beach as well.
While the majority of the time I was just with my parents and brother, there were a few times it was a larger family affair and my aunt, uncle, Gram and cousins went along as well.
And when we went to the beach, that’s pretty much what we did.

We got up, had breakfast, went to the beach, watched some tv, had lunch, went back to the beach and then had dinner.
Sometimes my mom took me and my brother to miniature golf or an amusement park, but mostly we just went to the water line and stayed there most of the day.

When I was little I loved the ocean and I’ve always loved to read so I rarely got bored doing nothing but going to the beach.

Piet, on the other hand, burns very easily and prefers things like hiking and canoeing and scenic views and walking. He spent most of his childhood vacations camping in France with his parents and sister.

So, over the past few days, I’ve noticed a definite pattern in how we each choose the activities to do each day.
Piet goes online or looks at our Andalusia guide book and picks some different things to do.
We’ve done a day trip to Cordoba, markets in Nerja and Torrox Costa, an out of the way, but lovely restaurant in Torrox, a trip to a donkey sanctuary and a trip to the lovely, tastefully touristic village of Frigiliana.
Those were all Piet’s plans.

My plans are mostly:
Um…there’s a beach, why aren’t we at the beach? It’s sunny and hot and beach, let’s go to the beach. Too sandy? Um, we can go to the pool? Too hot? Um, there’s a shopping mall in Malaga, no?
After that we could always go to the beach…

I?
Am a very beach-centric vacationer.
Which has been exacerbated by the fact that Tay did not inherit his father’s tendency to get crispy after 5 minutes in the sun.
Baby and Mommy get lovely tans in the sun, if sunscreen is appropriately applied.
Papa becomes a lobster if not continuously slathered in spf 60.

Because I don’t want my husband to internally combust and leave me alone with an 11 month old child and a stick shift Qashqai in a foreign country, I’ve been dutifully taking my allergy pills and motion sickness pills and petting donkeys (thank you anti-bacterial hand gel)  and learning to get over my aversion to non-beach nature and animals taller than my shoulders.

And believe it or not, I’ve been having a really good time.

Just as long as I occasionally get to go to the beach.

Alone

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Sometimes I really feel like I must be a horrible mother.

Days like today when my son wakes up an hour earlier than usual, when it’s my turn to wake up with him.

When I wake up and I just desperately want to be alone and do my own thing and not be responsible for anyone or anything.
When I just don’t know how to entertain a ten month old properly and when I’m pretty sure he’s sleepy but he refuses to fall asleep and just clings and fusses and I lose my patience because I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH YOU so I swing him up onto my shoulder, probably too abruptly, storm downstairs, clip him in his stroller and take him to the daycare ten minutes after they’re open.

On my day off.

When I guess most good parents are cherishing the extra time they can spend with they’re babies.

But instead I’m stomping down the street, feeling frustrated and inadequate and selfish.

I’m rushing to leave my son for the whole day with people who he likes and who know how to properly keep him busy and give him enriching things to do for 8 hours.
And all the while I’m seething and boiling under my skin.

Raging at the depressing, dank, gray skies that have been non stop since the cold weather broke in March.
Furious at the puddles the stroller splashes through because the puddles never end because it won’t stop raining here, EVER, or so it seems.
Livid because if I hear one more conversation in Turkish or Arabic, see one more piece of old food or garbage left on our windowsill by the neighborhood brats, wade through one more ignorant crowd of roma hogging the sidewalk and blowing cigarette smoke in my face, I swear I’m going to scream and claw someone’s eyes out.

I want to sleep past 9 o’clock in the morning, but even when I have the opportunity, my body wakes me up around 6.
I want an entire weekend free where my husband is not busy with his father rebuilding the house and the weather isn’t too shitty to go out and do something with our son as a family.
I want to feel like a good mother who doesn’t get exasperated when my son shows little interest in a book and doesn’t want any of his toys, and doesn’t seem to want to do anything but cling to me and whine.

I don’t want to come slamming back into the house and have to answer to my husband who thinks he’s done something wrong to cause my anger regardless of how many times I tell him I’m not mad at him.

I want to write this and hit publish and not worry that as soon as he reads it, my husband will come to me feeling hurt that I could write what was bothering me here and let other people read it, but not tell him the problem as soon as I got home.
I want him to know that I’m ashamed of how little patience I seem to have sometimes when it comes to my son.
Or my husband.
Or my cats.

Or, I suppose, underlying it all, how much loathing I often have for myself.

Ten Months

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Tay is ten months old today.

He’s still a big boy, weighing in at 10.5 kilos and measuring 72 cm (23 pounds and 28.3 inches) so people tend to think he’s already a year old.
He fits in 12 and sometimes even 18 month old shirts, but his 12 month old sized pants are always too short.
From what I can tell he’s built a lot like my brother: a little bulldog.

His two bottom middle teeth are definitely in although there have yet to be any more.

He crawls around like a little demon but is becoming more and more confident standing and cruising from piece of furniture to piece of furniture. He can walk using the little wheeled baby walker we borrowed from friends and enthusiastically walks across the room several times until me or his Papa get tired of turning him and the walker around so that he can cross the room again. When he standing in one place he is often balancing himself with only one hand and raises and lowers himself easily.
He still doesn’t have any words yet, but I know it’s still early for most kids to start talking.
He still claps, usually to music although sometimes just when he’s happy or excited or even sometimes when he’s upset. He knows the end of Bumba means bedtime and he understands when I say “come on” and follows me on hands and knees.

A week or two ago he gave up his evening bottle and now he has dinner with Piet and I, usually some pieces of fruit or vegetable with a slice of brown bread and some quark or yoghurt. We’re trying to encourage him to drink more water now that he only has one bottle and he’ll only oblige if he gets to drink from a real glass.

He continues to be mellow and friendly and sweet. He adjusts easily to strangers and is well liked at his day care.

He’s a happy, wonderful little boy and he’s making us all very happy.

A Letter to my Son

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Dear Tay,

Your Great Gram didn’t have a lot.
Not when it came to materialistic things.

She had her books.
Like your Mama, she always had a shelf full of books and she loved to read.
She had her recipes.
Like your Uncle Scooter, she loved cooking and when we were growing up she was always trying new baking recipes.

But nothing could beat her brisket and oven brown potatoes and her brownies and mandel bread.

She was always baking for friends and neighbors.

There were few people in this world as loyal to those she cared about. She did almost anything for those she loved, regardless of the cost or the effort and in her own way she was the glue that held our family together although, I really can’t explain how.
Maybe it was because her children grew closer together after your great grandfather died in his early 50′s. The way they rallied around your Great Gram made them and their families closer than a lot of others.
Maybe it was because your Great Gram buried her brother and sisters, her husband and two of her daughters and still kept smiling and working and reading and baking and loving her family, despite all the hard times.

And when we brought you to her, so she could see her great grandson, she was so very, very happy.  I was so proud to tell her how we gave you your middle name, Lukas to remember her baby Lynn who died before you Grandpa was born.

I wish you could’ve spent more time with your Great Gram, baby, I wish that with all of my heart.

But your Great Gram died this past Friday evening, in her sleep, and she’ll be buried next to the Great Grandpa I never got to meet tomorrow morning.

I wanted to write you something beautiful: something that could bring my Gram off the page and bring her to life for you, but I can’t seem to do any better than this right now.
My heart is so very, very heavy and when I think about her I can hardly breathe.
Every fiber in me is screaming to be with your Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle. I keep thinking of the last years of her life and how I’ve missed most of it and how tomorrow I’ll be missing my last chance to say goodbye.
Seeing your face, your big round eyes and your smile, and everything about you that is just so alive is what’s making being so far away from home possible right now.

So I’m writing this, not only to tell you about the Great Gram you’ll never get to know, but also to thank you. Thank you for making her so happy in the brief time she knew you. Thank you for reminding me of why I’ve been so far away from her the past few years.

She loved you.
I love you.

Both of us always will.