Category Archives: introspections

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.

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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.

No Cutting in Line

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And I’m talking about Belgians here, not the unschooled masses in immigrant hell**, where you could safely make the assumption that most of the people around you didn’t even know what deodorant was, let alone how to form a civilized line. I mean, have you ever seen the Grand Bizarre or those street markets in Aladdin? That’s not a lie, that’s how the market places work where many of the immigrants here come from. I never could figure out why people who dealt with so many immigrants ever made the assumption that forming a line was somehow a skill that people were born with rather than a culturally taught behavior.

Especially because Belgians can’t figure out how lines work themselves.
Mostly in grocery stores, it seems, since I’ve never seen this phenomenon anywhere else.

It drives me up a wall because it’s so presumptuous and self entitled and just makes me want to punch the perpetrator in the neck: people who get in line to check out at the grocery store, realize they’ve forgotten something, leave their basket on the floor in line and then expect to get their place back when they return.

Bull. Shit. I say to that crap right there.

If you don’t have the presence of mind to make a shopping list or you’ve realized you’ve forgotten something, you know what? Too damn bad! Take your basket with you (or really, if it’s that heavy that you have to leave it, leave it off to the side so people can file through and buy their food or better yet, if your basked is that heavy, use a cart next time, schmuck).
And if you do leave it in line? Don’t expect me to just stand there like a fool waiting for you to come back to your “saved space.” This isn’t grade school. You can’t be all “ooh, save my space” and then expect a whole line of people to just hang out because oops, you forgot your cantaloupe.

Okay, well apparently you can expect it, but you shouldn’t. You forgot something, sucks to be you, go get it and get in the back of the line. Do not even try to push your way in front of me or demand that I let you go first cause your basket was sitting there unattended. Your basket is not a magical bookmark that saves your place for you.
See this frozen stuff I’m holding? It’s defrosting.
Do you have frozen stuff in your basket? Why no, you don’t. I’m in more of a hurry than you are and look! I brought a list with me so I wouldn’t forget anything.
And if I did?
I’d get it and go to the back of the line.

It could be that I’m the only one who finds these people to be selfish, rude, and self-entitled.
Or maybe it’s just me as a westernized immigrant.

I have no clue.
But this one?
This one falls soundly on the con side of living in Belgium.

 

 

**Unfamiliar with Immigrant Hell? It’s a term I coined for the Gent Town Hall’s immigration waiting area. In the first two years of my residency here I had to visit relatively often and in my old blog I had several tales of wrestling to get a number, waking up at 5 am to get in line for when the office opened at 7:30, running circles for paperwork and documents when laws and rules would change with no one knowing or informing me, etc., etc.

Burgundians: No, It Has Nothing to do With The Color

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Right, so, I was supposed to start talking about what I like and dislike about my current country of residence (Belgium for new comers and people with no reading comprehension skills) as well as what I like a dislike about my old and soon to be new country of residence, the United States.

I’ve been busy doing other very important things like not blogging and fishing around in my child’s mouth for stuff he shouldn’t be eating but persists to secretly jam into his face-hole with disturbing regularity.

Anyway, speaking of food (sort of … Tay has a much looser definition of what constitutes edibility), let’s talk about living in a land of Burgundians.

What, you may be asking, is a Burgundian?

Good question! I will demonstrate with the cunning use of wikipedia links.
A Burgundian, in the sense of the word as I’m using it, is someone from the region of Burgundy as seen on this map here:

If you want to read more about it, click on the map.

Moving on.
People in the Burgundian region are people with…how should I say it… somewhat higher expectations regarding food quality and presentation. And also wine and aperitifs and after dinner drinks and appetizers and, well, stuff that, as an American born and raised in the land where the only thing more important than portion size is how fast the giant portion can be slapped on your plate, I was pretty much completely clueless to when I moved here.

Belgium is a country where a relaxed dinner out can easily take 2-3 hours. There’s no hurry to turn your table over, because the waitstaff doesn’t work for tips. The cooks, especially in the nicer restaurants, take time to prepare their dishes according to the proper cuisson (translated it means cooking, but I believe in English we’d say cuisine).

And most people, with exception to non-Belgians and the Belgians who eat at a fry shack every day, can tell you the proper cuisson for plenty of foods. Tuna? Seared on the outside, raw on the inside. Lamb or porkloin? Crispy on the outside, rosé on the inside. Scallops? Middle of the scallop should be translucent, not cooked opaque.
If you go to a decent restaurant and ask for a well done piece of tuna, it’s not unrealistic for the waitress to come back out and tell you to choose something else because the cook won’t “spoil” the tuna by cooking it through.
And if you live here long enough, you learn that when you order things, you just eat them as they come out because the cook knows what he’s doing and he’s making the food in the way it tastes best according to culinary tradition.

When I was pregnant, Piet and I took my parents to a very nice restaurant here in Gent. I really wanted to try the tuna dish, but I knew they tend to serve tuna bleu and I wasn’t supposed to eat raw fish, so I asked the waitress if the cook could maybe cook it through a little more. She misunderstood, went tot he kitchen and came back suggesting I try something else because the cook wouldn’t bake it through.
And me?
I was ashamed, ashamed that the cook was under the impression that I didn’t know the proper cuisson for tuna. I felt like a dumbass for giving the impression that I didn’t know how good tuna should be cooked and bumblingly asked if she could just ask him to cook it enough to be warm in the middle, was all I’d meant, not to actually cook it through.
My parents looked really confused while Piet chuckled and I had to explain to them the conversation. I think they were both pretty amazed that a cook would refuse a customer’s request.

Because in the US if I tell the kitchen to scorch my fish until it tastes like leather and serve it with a side of A-1 Steaksause instead of tartar sauce, they’ll do it in a heartbeat.
If I did that here I may be asked to leave.

Also, everything here (with the exception of the scampis at De Gekroonde Hoofden) comes with some sort of garnish or salad. Plates will always have a nice little pile of lettuce with some assorted veggies and a little dressing on top, pretty much regardless of what you order.
Plates are expected to be warm, especially in restaurants, but for some people (ahem…Piet), it’s also preferred at home. If Piet is cooking and he has time, he’ll warm the plates before he puts food on them and has told me before he really prefers eating from a warm plate.
If you go to a friend’s house for dinner you typically are offered an aperitif with a little hapje (appetizer) before the meal and coffee and some sort of dessert afterwards.
If you go out and order a coffee it is served on a little doily on its own separate tray with a little cookie or chocolate or advocaat along with it.
Asking for your food to be put in a box to go?
Not done unless the restaurant specifically offers take away service. It can be requested, technically at any restaurant, but culturally? No, not done.
Buffets?
No, not unless you’re at a Chinese Buffet or here, which we tried once and it was hideous (or else, I’ve become just Burgundian enough to find it hideous).
Chain restaurants?
Rarely, if ever. You can find McDonalds and Quik, the fastfood burger chains and Pizza Hut and Dominoes as well. We once found a Chi Chis in Namur and a Chilis in Brussels. And I think that’s it. Ninety percent of the restaurants here are individual, privately owned.

Now, I realize I haven’t established whether or not I find this food snobbery (because yes, when you break it down, Burgundians are food snobs) to be a plus or a minus yet.

To answer that question, let me make this post even longer and tell you a story.
A few weeks ago, Piet and I took Tay to the lake here in Gent to enjoy the nice weather and sun (which has since disappeared, but Belgian weather is a whole other topic to discuss). Next to the lake is a large cafe that has an okay view but really crappy service. We went to the cafe and sat and Piet asked if I’d go get him an ice tea.
I figured he was thirsty so I went in, took a can of ice tea from the refrigerator, paid and brought it out to Piet.
Piet looked at the can and asked if I got it at the bar.
I told him I’d paid at the bar but took it from the fridge by the bar.
Piet got pissed off and told me that he meant for me to order him an ice tea at the bar because then they give it to you in a glass with some ice cubes and a little slice of orange and a napkin and that’s what he’d wanted because why else would we sit at this crappy cafe if he wasn’t going to have his drink served nicely.

I got pissed off right back because what the fuck? You order a drink because you’re thristy, not to create fucking ambiance and atmosphere.
Right? Right??

Apparently not if you’re Burgundian.
If you’re Burgundian, part of the reason you order the iced tea is for it’s presentation.
You order your coffee partially for the experience of the little party on a tray with the doily and cookie.
You pick the beer or wine that properly accompanies your food.
A plate of cheese can constitute a dessert. The moldier the cheese, the better.

Food. Snobs.

But at the same time, since living here, I find myself constantly let down when going out to eat in the States. Restaurants I used to love are now mediocre and I often feel rushed when I’m eating. The chipper, peppy wait staff annoy the crap out of me because I will tip you 15-20% unless you’re a complete and total bitch so chill out, quit refilling my enormous cup when it isn’t even empty, stop asking me how my food is when I’m clearly chewing it and no, I don’t want to try the deep fried super chili triple cheese balls tonight. For the love of all that is good in this world, just let me eat!
The portions are too big, too greasy, too bland.
Everything is okay, but very few things are really good.

In contrast, when we go out to eat here at a restaurant, I can rarely complain that the food wasn’t really good. I’ve come to appreciate quality over quantity.

Which I suppose balances out the annoyance with my spouse when he demands a glamorously presented ice tea.

 

Also: Meat cheat sheet if you don’t know bleu and rosé

Putting it in Perspective

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Have I officially announced that we’re moving to America sometime either the end of this year or the beginning of next?

I’ve probably alluded to it, but I think, now that my petition for an immigrant visa for Piet has been approved (which doesn’t mean much, but it’s a good first step to getting him a visa), that I’ll type it for you all to see.

If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be taking Rex and Luna to my parents’ house during our visit in October and bringing Tay and whatever we can fit in our luggage over in late December or early to mid January.

I’m not really thinking too hard about the insanely huge change this will be in all of our lives, but I have found myself doing a lot of comparing in my head lately between Belgium and the US, trying to put everything in perspective and to accept both the positives and negatives of moving back to America.

In the spirit of that, I’m going to try to blog once a week about a positive or negative thing about Belgium and likewise a positive or negative thing about the U.S.
Consider it a pros/cons list in which I force you to watch me wax prosaic.

Where I Should Be

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Tuesday night was a bit of a mess.

Tay caught a stomach bug on Monday and couldn’t hold anything down all day. Monday night and all day Tuesday he seemed to be better but then around midnight he woke up crying, which is not normal at all, so I went up to check on him and when I was putting his pacifier back in his mouth he started gagging and out came a tummyful of used fruit and biscuit puree.
I cleaned him up, put him in a fresh sleep sack and then put him back to bed.
An hour later he was crying again and when I went to get him he lost the rest of his puree, all over himself, my arm, his bed and the floor. We were out of clean sleep sacks and clearly he wasn’t feeling well, so I brought him into our bed to sleep with us. He was restless and unhappy for most of the night and finally only fell into a deep sleep around 4 in the morning, which, surprise, is when I had to be up for work.
Which means I got all of 2 hours of sleep before I got to bike to the station to open the kiosk.

Also, Piet had a deadline at work and couldn’t take the day off, so at 7 in the morning when the 3rd day shift person came in, I had to turn right around and bike back home to take care of my sick child on two hours of sleep.

 

So, in that 2-ish hours of work I found myself dazedly staring out the window of the kiosk, observing the crowd forming in the early morning train station. When I saw the 4 drunken 20-something parading by, the two girls dressed in neon pink leggings, short-shorts and muddy Converse shoes, and one of the guys dressed in a chicken suit, it dawned on me that the Carnival party in Aalst must’ve ended and now all the carefree party goers were on their way home.
So there these people were, stumbling around, clearly having a great time and there I was, trapped in the kiosk, awaiting the coworker at 7 so I could bike home to clean vomit and diarrhea off of my sick baby all day and catch up on laundry (all the vomit covered items from the night before) and dishes.

I mulled this over in my head for a surprisingly short amount of time before realizing that I looked forward to going home to my son, regardless of the circumstances and that, had someone paid my ticket to Aalst and told me they’d babysit my son for the 4 days of shenanigans, I’d still turn them down.

Because I’m not that 20 something anymore, and given the opportunity, I wouldn’t try to have those days back.

They were good while I had them (sometimes), but I cherish the days I have with my son right now more than I miss the days of drinking and partying and goofing around.

Clearly, when it comes to my family, I’m right where I should be.

Various Parentius

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I totally made that second word up.

This is what happens when I have an interesting topic I want to write about but can’t think of an equally interesting title.

Anyway, parents.

Yes.

There are so many of us and so many different styles/approaches/attitudes/instincts/etc. that emerge as we care for our children.

I think back to my first “real” group of two year olds in the day care I worked at back home and I immediately think of two little boys, very close in age. They were both a bit small for their age, both had blond hair and blue eyes. They both had two kind, caring, involved parents who were well educated and intelligent.
One child was severely high-strung and spent a lot of the day clinging to one of us. He absolutely would not nap for the first half of the year and we practically did the dance of joy when we finally got him to where the lights went out for nap time and he would doze for 20-30 minutes without wailing inconsolably for his mother. The head teacher had it worked out with this boy’s mother that he’d only attend for half a day because he simply just couldn’t get through a whole day of day care without falling apart at the end.
The other little boy was social and friendly. One of his little girl classmates developed a huge toddler crush on him and he let her drag him around and play dress up with him and sit next to him during snack time. He fell asleep easily at nap time and was often there from quite early in the morning until 5:30 in the evening. This little boy happened to have asthma and occasionally his nebulizer had to be sent to the day care with him.
He also had no left hand.

The parents (especially the mother) of the first little boy covered him in hugs and kisses and pet names and made up cutesy names for everything (from when he got lotion put on his skin to his pajamas). He was obviously the thing they treasured most in the world and even more obviously he was still there baby more than their little boy.

The parents of the second little boy gave hugs and kisses, but they also encouraged him to potty train and to do things all by himself. They persisted in his using his prosthesis, even though he sometimes grew very frustrated with it. His father refused to buy him velcro shoes because he felt he needed to learn to be able to tie them himself.
I had to remind his father that no 2 year old child can tie his shoes yet and most of them had velcro shoes because it gave them the autonomy to put their shoes on all by themselves. They had a multitude of reasons to hover and baby their child, but they didn’t. He was their boy and he got no extra pampering from them.

That was seven years ago.

Now, as a parent myself, I see a multitude of different parents around me.

I know of a mother who has recorded every feeding and every nights’ sleep her baby has had since the day he was born. She’s precise down to the minute.
Doing something like that never even occurred to me, aside from keeping track of how many bottles a day Tay was eating when he was 2-3 months old because he was way too hungry and we were tracking bottles to be sure the satiating version of his formula worked (which it did, he went from sometimes 6 bottles/day to 5 or sometimes even 4). But tracking his sleep? I’m lucky I remember to shower and poop half the time since Tay was born.

I see the mother whose culture says that breastfeeding her baby for a minimum of a year is the best thing for him. She’s reluctantly weaning him off her breast now (he’s almost 9 months old) because in Belgium a mother can only get time off daily for breastfeeding up until 9 months. Her mother lived with her and her husband for the first 6 months of her son’s life so she didn’t have to even enroll him in daycare until he was almost 8 months old. He threw up the other day and she freaked out and called the doctor. Because he’d apparently never thrown up before and it scared her.
My son has had reflux since he was born. He threw up breast milk constantly and formula even more constantly. His stomach only started settling down when he began eating solid foods. Tay vomiting all over me is nothing new.

I know a father whose son was 10 weeks premature. He hears stories of other babies crawling at 9 months, or my son, who is almost crawling at 6 and a half months and is starting to occasionally pull himself into a standing position. He hears how huge my boy is and how mild-mannered he is, only crying when he’s hungry or sleepy, how he sleeps through the night most of the time and he reacts with sadness, answering that his son is one year old and all he can do is sit. He either can’t or won’t understand that his son is, for all intents and purposes, 9 and a half months old, rather than a year. His frustration and disappointment are clear when he complains that his son is fussy and doesn’t sleep very well at night.
I’m frustrated that Tay is in the 90th percentile weight-wise. But I’m not frustrated with Tay for that. I blame myself for being obese when I got pregnant. Plenty of studies show that obese mothers have a greater chance of having obese babies and so I’m trying to be extra vigilant and make sure my son eats nutritious food but also doesn’t over-eat. You all probably think I’m over reacting about this, and maybe I am, but my son does not say no to food. He eats everything that is put in front of him. At the daycare the standard meal for 6-12 month olds is some soup, vegetable and potato puree and meat puree. Once they added soup to his meals, we noticed he was throwing up a lot more and sometimes not finishing his bottles at night. He needs the nutrition in his milk much more than he needs soup, so we asked that he not get soup and now he’s no longer throwing up or only drinking half bottles. It’s great that my son loves all his fruits and veggies, but he doesn’t seem to understand when to stop eating and that’s a dangerous habit for a young child to get into.

Piet was playing “objective parent” a few days ago and mentioned that if Tay is a bit slower in anything, developmentally, it’s his social cognition skills. As of right now, Tay doesn’t really seem to register strangers or show any hesitation or trepidation regarding new/different people he encounters. I mean, clearly he recognizes Piet and I and reacts appropriately when we pick him up at daycare or come to get him in the morning when he wakes up, but he shows no hesitation whatsoever if we hand him over to a stranger. He’ll just as readily sit in someone’s lap he just met as in his oma’s lap, as in his daycare worker’s lap.

And while I completely agree that our child does not neccessarily get the concept of “stranger” yet, I found myself trying to justify Tay’s lack of separation anxiety and lack of anxiety when presented with a strange face.
Because he’s my son and my son is perfect and nothing about him is “slow” at all, dammit.
Even if I know it is and even if it isn’t abnormally slow.

I know all babies develop at their own pace and each set of skills develops differently. I guess I’ve just been spoiled so far because Tay has been pretty quick with all the rest of his developmental milestones, especially the gross/fine motor skills.

Since I began babysitting at the age of ten I’ve had an idea of the sort of parent I want to be and how I want to raise my children. Now I’m finding it very interesting to see what my tendencies are and what kind of parent I am becoming as my first child grows up.

Tay hasn’t figured out how to scale his crib bars and set the house on fire or anything yet, so I assume we’re doing a good job of raising him so far.