31 October 2008

The newest pumpkin in the patch

Happy halloween!

23 October 2008

A haiku, deep-fried and topped with powdered sugar

Just like a beignet,
But with a sillier name.
Oliebollen. Yum.

21 October 2008

La collation

Lily's class brings snacks ("la collation") in rotation. Every month, Mme. J. distributes a list with every child assigned a day and a certain snack. On the list are fresh fruit salad, cereal and milk, waffles, and, my favorite: cheese, olives, and pickles. Sophisticated palates, those preschoolers!

I was relieved when the first month we were assigned something I didn't have to pull out the French dictionary to understand: "yaourt aux fruits." I did wonder whether I was supposed to bring yogurt AND fruit, but I figured that would have been "yaourt avec fruits" or "yaourt et fruits." So, Lily brought four huge containers of strawberry yogurt. The school requests that you do not bring individual servings to encourage a communal spirit, which is great. They each have a bowl in the classroom that they then wash after the snack. Great!

I had a French lesson the night after Lily brought la collation, and I asked my teacher whether fruit-flavored yogurt was in fact what I was assigned. I was close. "Yaourt aux fruits" is usually yogurt with small pieces of fruit, not just fruit-flavored yogurt.

The kids survived. Next month Lily gets to bring a cake for her birthday, which (I clarified) I can in fact make and doesn't have to be store-bought. (Aren't homemade snacks bygone in most U.S. schools?) When we ordered a cake for Lily's birthday last year (our shipment hadn't arrived so I didn't have baking supplies), the bakery didn't have the typical layer cake as an option. What we had was beautiful and delicious -- a thin biscuit, then a thick cream layer topped with fruit. But I'd like her to have a real cake cake this year. We shall see how this goes over with Belgian kids.

17 October 2008

Sentiment was incited! and some ambiguity expressed.

This week my French teacher expressed a negative opinion, finally. Did she rail against Americans' rudeness/ignorance/boldness/obesity/poor taste in clothing? No, she had something negative to say about something going on in Belgium. She was quite surprised to learn about Lily's "nuit a l'ecole" next week, and said that was a new idea, to have three-year-olds staying overnight at school. I told her about the "class vert" in the spring (three-night trip) and she said her son didn't do that until he was seven. She assured me that I was not the only parent thinking that was strange, that there surely are Belgian parents in the class who don't like the idea either.

I could have just hugged her! And then probably never seen her again. I restrained myself.

I filled out la questionnaire noting that Lily will not be participating, but added a note explaining that if it were possible for her to stay through the afternoon and participate in the fun events (promenade of trick or treating, supper) and then return to our home, we would consider it. When I asked her teacher about that yesterday morning, though, she said it was not an option. I said Matthew and I would have to discuss further, and talk about it with Lily. When I picked Lily up, Mme. J. said that she had asked Lily, and Lily did want to stay overnight. Oh! Well.

From our discussion on the way home, Lily's understanding of that conversation was somewhat different, as in, she had no idea what Mme. J. was asking her, and I'm sure even if she did, she wouldn't want to disappoint her teacher by saying she did not want to participate in a school activity. As we drove home, I told Lily that some kids were sleeping at school next week, and she was quick to say that she did not want to do that. I told her that that was what Daddy and I were thinking too, that there are some things that are different about living in Belgium than in the U.S., and some of them we have to get used to and we can change, and some of them it's OK to say, No, I think we'll do it the way we're used to doing it. She piped up, "Do it the way we're used to doing it." The Family Jacobs is in agreement: No sleepovers will occur.

On this same drive home she told me that she liked school and wanted to stay through the afternoon, and then literally a minute later, that she guessed she didn't really like school, actually.

So we proceed, unsure and frustrated.

14 October 2008

My inability to incite anti-American sentiment

Last week my French teacher asked what I thought about the (U.S.) election. This was during the time in my lesson when we practice verbs. She usually asks questions that require one-sentence answers: "J'habite a Belgique," "Je suis americaine," "Je fait du poulet." When we got to "penser," she dropped this one on me, and our easy exchange came to a screeching halt as I tried to express my opinion. I now know this phrase, though: "Je suis sceptique" ("I am a skeptic").

My French teacher is the Belgian I interact with one-on-one the most, and I think very highly of her. So I am quite interested to hear her perceptions of America and Americans. She has visited the U.S. several times, and I am sure she has taught many Americans. She is demure on the topic, though. I sometimes attempt to toss "idées" out there in the hopes that I will touch a nerve, and she will hit me with the full force of her opinion. When we talked about the election, I asked whether she and her friends were interested and follow U.S. politics, and she said, Of course. Then I (haltingly) suggested that Americans in general are not that interested in what goes on in other parts of the world, and she did not express an opinion. Then I tentatively said that maybe what happens in America has a bigger impact on Belgians than what happens in Belgium has on Americans, and she seemed to agree.

She is respectful and kind and that is partly why I like her so much, but I, perhaps wrongly, suspect that all Belgians (Europeans?) harbor negative sentiment about America. Maybe I'm paranoid. But I'm curious and would be so interested to have her talk frankly with me.

I know that she thinks we are bold, because she told me about an American friend of hers who came to visit and spoke to a diner seated at a table near them in a restaurant. My French teacher was appalled. "Oh!" she said. "Je suis rouge!"

I do initiate some pro-America propagandizing. I talk up our food, like chocolate chip cookies, chili, and peanut butter sandwiches. "C'est la tartine plus popular aux Etats Unis!" I declared, encouraging her to buy some beurre aux cacahuetes (peanut butter).

12 October 2008

Yesterday around 4:30

Soren and Matthew were washing Daddy's bike,

Clara was hanging out with me in the kitchen, eating her hand,

I was making pizza dough,

and poor Lily was sleeping in the family room, sick with strep.

What a difference a day, and three doses of antibiotics, makes.

Here's to your good health!


Getting Lily in and out of school has been interesting. In the morning and at noon I park, get all three kids out of the car, and walk up the little hill to the school. I usually carry Clara in the carseat, Lily walks beside me, and Soren, our sweet dawdle bug, meanders behind. (This is once we're out of the parking lot and climbing the hill to the school. In the parking lot, we're all holding hands -- never fear.) There is a gate which another parent often kindly holds open as they see us making our way. But you know how that is -- then I feel we must hurry so that the other parent is not waiting too long. I hurry Soren along or sort of abandon him in the wave of other families in my rush to get to the opened gate. Somehow I end up holding the gate for others, while holding Clara in the carseat, calling back to Soren, and making sure Lily doesn't go too far ahead by herself. Then we repeat this at the actual door to the school. I cannot seem to get all four of us through a doorway in succession.

Then there's the parking. There is a small lot out front with ill-defined spots, thus, some creative parking occurs. One morning as I was attempting to exit, the lot was so crammed that I did not see how I could squeak through without scraping another vehicle. I sat there wondering what to do long enough so that four cars were lined up behind me to exit the lot. At least one honked. Oh dear. Should I desert the car and never return? Flee with my children to America, the Great Paved Nation? Nope, I had just dropped Lily off. Emergency repatriation was out of the question. Hmm, what to do, what to do . . . I was pretty much out of ideas when one of the drivers I was blocking kindly inched me through the mess.

I am not the only one who finds the process a bit stress inducing. The other day as we were disembarking, I glanced up to see a British mother (we're not the only English-speakers at the school, but I haven't met any other Americans) pushing a stroller (or should I say "pram") and corralling two young boys. One of them was dawdling, and she burst out: "Oh CRIKEY, EDWARD!" And I felt a little less foolish.

09 October 2008

Subversive knee bends

Yesterday at the grocery store I had Clara in the sling. She was fussing a bit, so I was bobbing up and down gently as I looked at fruit.

An elderly man stopped me and spoke to me in Flemish. "Sorry -- spreekt u Engels?" I inquired, and he asked, in English, Clara's age. He smiled and looked at her sweetly and said some Flemish baby talk to her. It was nice.

Then he leaned in: "I think you'll regret that," he said, nodding to my movement. I looked at him quizzically, and he said something about her getting used to it.

Oh yes, right. The whole not-wanting-your-child-to-expect-comforting-from-you thing. Overnights for three-year-olds, and no bouncing for the babies!

05 October 2008

Teach your children

In the comments to my post about the parent meeting at school, Heidi (friend, mom, and American pre-school teacher) expressed puzzlement as to the purpose of these overnights at such a young age. Oh, don't I know it. This touches on the thing I most dislike about the Belgian culture -- the way children seem to be viewed.

Independence is the goal of these overnights, as I've been told by Lily's teacher and our Belgian pediatrician, among others. Matthew and I want Lily to be independent, in some ways. We are pleased that at almost four years old, she feeds herself, dresses herself, and uses the toilet by herself. That is awesome independence for a preschooler! But surviving without a parent -- or any family (the kids did stay with Matthew's parents for a week when we came here to find a home) -- for multiple days? That is a skill I do not think she needs to develop for several more years. So I don't really get it. Why the big push for kids to be independent so early?

Before Clara was born and I would go to the grocery store here with both Lily and Soren, I felt out of place. Very rarely did I see other little kids with their mom or dad in the grocery store during the day. I remember fondly the days at Cub or Byerly's (Minnesota grocery stores) when a grandmotherly type would smile at me and ask the kids' ages; a forty-year-old woman would ask how far apart they were, say she had two that close, and tell me it would get easier; an old man would mistake Lily for a boy despite her bright pink fur vest and go on and on about my son, even though I kept saying "she," until finally he asked "his" name, I said Lily, and he gasped, "You named a boy Lily?!"

The point is, at Cub or Byerly's I felt like the other shoppers were friendly and sympathetic, or at least not opposed to the idea of a stay-at-home mom shopping with her children. I do not feel that way here. Lily and Soren are well behaved, but I feel an added stress shopping with them, like I really need to keep them in line, because I can count on no grace from other shoppers.

It's been interesting to see that it's different now with Clara. "Oooh, kleintje," I hear all the time ("little one"). It's OK to still be with one's infant, it seems. It's being with a child who is actually mobile during the day that seems to offend Belgian sensibilities.

More observations:
  • It's more common to see a child out during the day with a grandparent than a parent. 
  • It's not unusual to see a four-year-old walking into school or down the street with a pacifier in her mouth. 
  • A Belgian woman who had lived in America for a while said there was "no comparison" between the involvement of Belgian and American parents with their children, i.e., the Americans are much more involved. 
All this adds up to my impression that children are a nuisance or hindrance to parents here. 

Thus my reaction to this book Lily brought home from school, "Quatre petits chats," by Par K. Daly, copyright 1957:

On page one they're born, on page two their eyes open, and on page three, la Maman Chat gives her kittens the boot:

«Mes enfants», leur dit-elle un jour, «le moment est venu pour vous decider de ce que vous allez devenir».

She's telling them it's time to decide what they are going to become. Good grief! Why can't we just let petits chats be petits chats?

01 October 2008

Two months, many faces





And last but not least: The Scrunch-*Twinkle*!