Frieda arranged and self-financed a trip to the USA where she had a summer work experience; she started her final year of school, figured out what she wanted to study at University, applied to several and got herself an interview at Cambridge. She applied to a few other UK schools including Edinburgh, and sees options in Berlin, Munich & elsewhere. She’ll be making her final choices in 2017 and will start the New Year for the first time with friends in London.
Now she’s not going to like me saying this very much, cos it makes her sound like a kid – but …Esther started going out without adult chaperones, to concerts and a house party, and even overnighting 2-3 nights in a youth hostel in Gent with friends. Evermore so in these trying times! Well before finishing her first year of Italian studies, she told us she wanted to do a semester exchange with the European school in Varese, Italy. This was another first for us all. We visited there with Ben and Esther in July, meeting the lovely Irish and Italian family who offered to host her. We thoroughly enjoyed the region and its people so much that we could consider living there. Esther started the semester in September, came home for one week in November, and re-joins us just in time for Christmas.
Ben turned 9 this Spring and this year has been a turning point for him. He’s continued coping very well with his weekly hours of learning support for dyslexia. He’s outgrown many little boy behaviors; for example since the summer he’s only rarely come to cuddle with us which we miss. He’s too big to sit on our laps for any time.He looks forward to watching the Kids News called Logo, on tv, loves looking up and watching Nerf Wars on Youtube, and planning his treehouse with multiple rooms, balconies, electricity, kitchen, …. He’s ever so social, during the summer he went out in the neighbourhood “Friend Hunting”. But, he finds the pickings poorly. He’s just started to be able o walk longer distances to classmates’ homes, and that is a nice development. Recently, over dinner he’s told us that he misses his sister Esther. In the weeks before her return said that the family is not complete and he was looking forward to her return even more than to Christmas Day! (Maybe that’s partly ‘cos he also just stopped believing in Santa & the German gift delivery myth of the “kriskind”.)
We went on some great trips in 2016. Sicily in the spring time was an exciting trip with plenty of discovery for all of us on our week-long Easter break. We had a few high points including a day wandering around inside Roman and Greek ruins which were quite well preserved. Another day spent visiting town where our friend Giuseppe was visiting his mother. We got a private tour of some restricted parts of the monumental village church from his uncle, the priest. Frieda said she was able to understand some of what uncle priest was saying, which was amazing as he was speaking a particularly colorful local dialect. But the highest elevation was certainly our overnight stay in the Refugio, the only hotel high up on the active volcano Mt Etna. Clambering with the kids around and inside caldera and crateri was something I’d looked forward to for many years.
That trip was an anxious one because the bombing of Brussels airport happened just days after we’d left, and where we were to return. At first we spent lots of time clustered together in front of a tiny TV watching news in Italian or French as that was all it provided. And using lots of our Italian 3G credit to get what we could from back home and other sources. The airport was closed and no one knew exactly when it would reopen. In a day or two or a month or two or when? No one from our Air Italia could give us any information, and they refused to accept any responsibility to get us to our contracted destination. So the next few days I anxiously sought information about where we would be arriving and how we would get from there to Brussels.
The end of the story was peaceful and human. Just as we got out of Liege airport, a bus from Brussels Airlines was ready to depart. We had not flown with them but the driver graciously welcomed us and insisted there would be no fee. And just before the bus was to go, Ben said he had to go. Well, the driver said he would wait, but not long. We decided not to take that risk, as nice as he was. We also didn’t want to hold up the bus full of people either. Arriving in downtown Brussels, and then taking local public bus, (this was now several days after the bombings), it was my experience that people were much nicer and friendlier with strangers than usual. It was a heart-warming experience to come home to.
We’ve all had to make a number of adaptations to our daily lives. And they have changed over time. As parents we had different aspects to focus on: security, education, and family management. The first instinct was to just snuggle up and keep everybody close and safe from all of the possible harms in the outside world. That lasted about 3 1/2 minutes especially with Frieda and Esther who have been used to going out and about on their own in the big city for quite some time. The streets we use were patrolled by heavily armed soldiers in camouflage uniforms. Also in the train stations and in the metros and so on. That’ll take some getting used to, and now it seems almost normal. But it’s quite an eerie normal to me. It took more than a little while before we first agreed to let Frieda & Esther go out without parents to destinations like shopping centers and multiplex cinemas. But we did, even though the metro station that was bombed is very close to the one we use all the time.
A big challenge on the education and family management side of things was how to talk with our children about terror, terrorists, being terrorized, and maintain some perspective. Finding age-appropriate words, terms and examples was a trick. Tough is trying to talk about anything like this kind of a threat in your town at the dinner table with Ben who’d just turned 9, and 2 sisters with much more mature but still developing their own understanding of how the world works; except when it doesn’t. That’s one thing when mom and dad know what’s going on and use different perspectives to engage and share this with them. It’s quite another thing when mom and dad are not sure what’s going on, how much news to believe and count on, or even how much to just act like usual.
Several things have helped us along the way in putting these horrific events into context. They include our Muslim neighbors and friends. Starting with lovely Kadhir, who ran the shop at the corner, making and selling his fantastic couscous. We miss him terribly since the current shopkeepers are nowhere near so friendly and kindly. Kadhir still sells couscous at our market and lives just down our street with his wife and 2 boys, respecting Muslim customs and traditions. But has always been like good normal people who reject violence and hatred. He was our prime example to help explain to Ben that what the terrorists did was not something innate to being Muslim.
In the follow up to the bombings, a couple of unnerving developments came even closer to our home. The first involved a police video showing one of the bombers walking away from the airport explosion site, walking 6 or 7 miles toward the city center. The videos lost track of him about 150 yards away from our kids’ school bus stop. First we were struck by the fact that there were so many video cameras that they could use to show him walking step by step over such a long distance. Then we wondered why he came by here. Was it related to what I saw a couple hundred yards up the street from my office, a 7 minute walk from home? A scrum of 10-15 reporters was gathered facing the entrance to a house that was guarded by police. Turns out that one of the suspects lived there, or was trying to. He’d been released due to lack of sufficient evidence against him.
After a while we got back on with our lives, more or less, as I said, with some changes. We needed to do the planning for our big summer vacation to Indonesia. Esther made a great little film of our time there. As her dad I have to say it’s great, but then again it really, really is 🙂 Check it out : UPLOAD & ADD LINK
But that’s just one more 2016 first on the list
- Bali, Lombok, Java; oh my, and and What Happens if I Faint in Doha Airport?
- My first Quaker German Yearly Meeting – with Frieda
- Our nearly finalized second house purchase in Spa, Belgium
- Renovations planned for our Brussels home: the never ending saga?
- Selling the cargo bike –a moving story (please giggle or groan if you must)
- Reassessing career development & options – I needs a spicier title for this
- Job changes and challenges
- Death and disease: friends and stars including Richard & Andy; Bowie & Cohen,
- Baby stories NEW! Drax: Mystery baby from planet X. Fact or Fiction?
- Brexit & US elections: how they touch us
- Amazing Madonna, the 23 year old cat we still like to pet
- Next door neighbors burgled under my nose
- Dupuytren: hands & feet
- Dupuytren: hands & feet – miracle solutions and nonesuch
- PREMIERE! Renate & her Charlie Squints Band at our Charles Quint annual street party (incl pictures!)