:: last day of summer ::

that unexpected mix of relief and a bit of regret

Today is the last day before school starts again. It has been a long, hot and busy summer. A special one too, our last one with the three of us. (Although I must say our daughter made sure we didn’t forget about her presence already).

I’m convinced that those mixed feelings of relief and regret are well known to all parents who had to entertain their children during eight weeks. Eight weeks is long. I wouldn’t want it to be shorter, as it gives me the chance to reload, to dive into my creative mind and gather new ideas as a teacher, but for those little ones… rather long. I have been doubting if I would bring my boy to some great summer activities organized by the town we live in. There was a really amazing and affordable summer program – with one week-long themed camps or afternoon activities. I had indicated a few on the calendar, and then never used them. Next year I might probably do so.

But I’ve had help. A lot of help. First of all: my husband took up a n awful lot of days off. And on those days, he didn’t only work in the garden or the house, he made sure to get our son involved. I must say, those two had a real bonding thing going on the last two months and it just makes my heart jump when I see them working together pulling out weeds and then my husband asking our son to come along to the container park… the look on that face: glowing of pride and responsability. Just lovely. To me it seems our little kid has grown a lot during this holiday and I’m convinced his dad has a lot to do with that.

And then their was Auntie. Auntie (as I will call her here) is the youngest aunt of my husband – the youngest sister of his deceased mother. While it feels strange that his mother isn’t around anymore, there is also a kind of mental rest that came with it. For her, days that revolved around her grandson were the only days that really mattered, but physically she couldn’t really cope well anymore with those. So it was a constant exercise in allowing her to spend time with him and being on the lookout to not let dangerous situations happen. That had been hard, and it was mentally exhausting, for everyone involved. The day she was buried though, was one of the first times our son saw Auntie. And it clicked. Right away. Auntie doesn’t have children. Her mother told me that the moment “children” became a possibility, she was already 35, and she and the doctors didn’t think it was wise to start at that age.

Auntie spent most of her life with a man about whom I cannot say much (I don’t know him really), but it was a relation in which he took the absolute lead. In many ways he isolated her from her family. I remember that we had to come over to invite them to our wedding, otherwise he wouldn’t have come (and not allowed for her to come either). When her sister was ill and in the end died, he first gave in a bit more, but after a week or two he began commenting again about how much time she spent with her family. And then, for her, something snapped. She made plans to leave him and the moment she found an appartment she could afford, she did. For him, that came as a total shock. They are still on speaking terms, trying to handle it as friends, but I don’t think he fully realizes that for her this is definitive.

She immediately offered help though. As there was a clear connexion between her and our boy right from the start, she told us we could call her anytime needed. If he was sick, she came babysitting, which was just great as my own family lives quite far from here and is certainly not a last minute option. This summer, she came by about two afternoons a week to give me some time to do my own stuff or to rest. And since she installed a car seat, she already twice picked him up for a special day full of fun. They are both tired to the bone after such days, but it’s great to see how they enjoy each other’s company. I’m thankful that out of all the sadness and tears something beautiful like this came up. She really helps us out a lot and that has totally made my summer.

sea_soh

There were days at the beach, where father and son enjoyed themselves thoroughly. I love the sea, but I’ve never been a beach-kid, so my husband is very happy to pass on this tradition he knows from very early age. Looking for shells, splashing in the water, catching crabs, building fortresses and digging holes… all the classics were there. Auntie came over a few days too, so I really had my rest.

There was also a week spent in France, with my parents and siblings. A lot of special attention, a lovely garden to explore, walks around the house and a huge trampoline. There was a little plastic pool as it was hot hot hot and luckily the home was cool and cosy. I think it’s a bit of a pity we didn’t explore the surroundings more but I really suffered from the heat so couldn’t do much.

france_soh

I think we had a good summer. Lots of play and fun times, and help when needed. I boy who seems to grow before your very eyes, erasing the last toddler traits and changing them for big-boy smiles and expressions. He owns my heart and he knows it. Can’t wait to see what the future holds for him, for us all.

:: summer reading ::

Because books are a uniquely portable magic. (Stephen King)

I’m an avid reader, but I’m easily tempted to stick to the screen. This summer I promised myself to read more books and not only fantasy novels. I thought one book a week would be manageable and it was. I really enjoyed my summer reading and hope to keep up the rhythm for the time to come. Even if there will be probably a complete lack of sleep involved and a lot of diaper changing…

 

summer_reading_fantasy_soh

 

First of all, fantasy. I really love that genre, it lets me escape. I prefer a good series above individual books. Maybe because it gives me the chance to completely go under in a new world. Naomi Novik  for me really has been a revelation. I’ve finished the fourth book of her series about the dragon Temeraire and I’m eager to continue. Alas, someone else is enjoying the fifth part right now, so I’ll have to wait a little longer for it to arrive in my library. What I like about it most, is the way the characters are deep and sophisticated where needed without overdoing it, and the setting that feels historical even when it isn’t completely (I mean, Napoleon fighting wars with dragons against the English with their own army supported by dragons…).
Less impressed I am with the second series I started this summer, it’s the Bitterbynde Trilogy by Cecilia Dart-Thornton. The first book got me though, it’s the second that was slightly disappointing. She has a way of weaving ancient tales through her stories, but it isn’t as subtle as I would like. At the end of the second book there were two fairy tales used to get her story together. It was a bit much for me and I didn’t like the way it turned out. In the first book it’s about a child, completely deformed, completely lost her memory and her ability to talk. In the second book everything turns out for the best, but she’s still haunted by her lost memory and scary creatures. I have the last book here, but when I read the first chapter, I don’t know if I will finish it…

summer_reading_dutch_soh

Then there are a few books that are written in Dutch, my mother tongue, and not translated (yet). 30 is een schoon getal (30 is a beautiful number) by Frauke Joossen is a book that did get a lot of great reviews. I, on the other hand, didn’t like it at all. For me it was a bit too cynical, in a way I could have written it myself. Ok, that sounds arrogant. But what I love about reading, is that I can fall in love with the style. I want to read words and sentences of which I wished I had invented them myself. Not because they’re difficult, but because the use of very normal everyday language has a kind of poetry in itself. But I sat it out until the end and the author has managed to surprise me anyway. A bit of research learned me that she’s a journalist for the magazines in which I read the reviews… maybe that explains my somewhat divergent opinion.
De moeder van Ikabod by the known Maarten ‘t Hart is a collection of short stories. I enjoyed them, but couldn’t retell any of them.

And then De rode droom (the red dream) is a reread. The author, J. Bernlef,  passed away in 2012, and it’s one of my favorite authors ever. You really should check out his translated work if Dutch is not your language. The book is about two men who try to survive in a state that used to be communist. They see how the world has changed, and how it impacts them deeply, but they long for the ideals that came with the everyday life they once knew.
I really loved the book, because it’s so typical for Bernlef. He has a simple writing style and knows how to evoke with just the right words a whole setting. I discovered the man in high school, when we had to read Hersenschimmen (Out of Mind). I was completely flabbergasted by that book. I might reread that one soon too.

summer_reading_literature_soh

And last but nog least, four novels that, each in their own special way, made me happy to be a reader. I started the summer with All that is solid melts into air by Darragh McKeon. Oh lord, that book really hit me in the face. It tells about the gigantic cover-up operation after the Chernobyl disaster and the going-down of the Soviet Union, through the stories of ordinary people that aren’t ordinary because, you know, people just never are. To me, this book is frighteningly applicable to today.

With The war of Don Emmanuel’s nether parts, Louis de Bernières threw me back to my college years, when Latin-America seemed just around the corner to me. I studied French-Spanish and there is something with Hispanic literature that makes me feel at home. And de Bernières did very well in translating the inspiration he got from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I love the style, the setting, and the way he makes that enormous amount of story lines click together. Irony is never far away, and it just works.

The house of special purpose wasn’t the book I intended to read from Joh Boyne, but I’m glad I did anyway. It’s just that I should have seen coming the end way before I actually did. It’s quite predictable, but it didn’t matter at all. It’s well written and a lovely story.

And finally The Illegal, by Lawrence Hill, left me godsmacked too. Because it’s real. It’s happening. Because it’s not just a story, it could be the story of any many talented kid that gets here and tries to make the best of his life. And while I’m willing to trust our government and leaders, I think in many cases corruption makes the situation of those kids even sadder and more unpredictable.

 

So far for my summer in books. As I want to keep up in the months to come, I’d always be happy to take your advice. What book did you enjoy the most this summer?

 

 

 

Bewaren

:: nostalgia ::

on the fear of having missed it in the blink of an eye

We had a difficult night yesterday. Although very tired, our Little Boy didn’t want to go to sleep. Kept running away, making a fight of putting his pajamas on. It might have been the heat, it might have been one of those weeks in the life of a toddler when sleeping is not appreciated… anyway, it was not the most peaceful bedtime ritual we ever had.

My husband was very irritated, feeling it as a kind of personal attack. He had done the best he could to be at home on time, only to find his son hyper and not very willing to cooperate. He was ranting about staying later, just to avoid that stress and that it would be our boy’s own fault. My heart broke a little as he continued how other couples had sweet children, not making problems about bedtime, sleeping in, or getting ready for school (our son loves school, but getting him there is quite a thingy).

He had a bad day at work. Temperatures didn’t help. And later that night I showed him some little movies I made a few years ago. Our toddler, not yet being able to talk, only a few words. That didn’t stop him from telling the cutest stories. Playing with his cars, babbling all the time, cute puffy cheeks and the most wonderful smile on his face. My husband looked at me, a bit sad, and told me he regretted how many of those moments he missed. That it would never be the same with a daughter, and that he missed quite a lot of those cute toddler years of his son. Partly because of work, partly out of ease and not seeing the need to invest time.

Time is precious and the only way to capture it, is to grab the moment with both hands and fully live it.

 

 

My heart broke a little again. It’s something I told him all the time. Not to blame him, but because I knew this moment would come. That at the age he felt he could really connect, like now, he would regret everything he missed. Time is precious, and despite tons of pictures and other possibilities to document it, the only way to capture it, is to grab the moment with both hands and live it.

nostalgia-col-soh

Today I’m watching my son. Yesterday he discovered a bag of marbles and today we are watching how they work on his train rails. I cut him a few holes in a cardboard box, he decorated the whole thing and he has already spent two hours playing with the marbles and the box. Outside it’s hot, but we might pick up some supplies and create something together. Maybe make some chalk paint and decorate the tiles outside, if it’s not too hot. He’s a very strong-willed boy, but he is very sweet too. As all kids do, he likes new things and he likes spending time with us.

I’m tired and I wish I could just sit back and relax. But then again, I know these moments, just before his little sister arrives, will matter a lot. Time is the greatest gift I can give him now.

:: home ::

When a house becomes more than just a roof over our heads.

 

Despite the very high temperatures outside, I’m curling up inside, only slightly cooler. Little Boy doesn’t feel like facing the heat either so we’re spending today quietly together. Watching him play with his cars and dinosaurs, occasionally putting on a favorite show on television, it makes my heart sing. And inside my belly, there is another tiny dancer, letting me know she’ll join us soon.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately. I want to save these moments, turning them into a chronicle of simplicity and joy, documenting our life in words and pictures. I always keep coming back to this place, it’s why I keep it. My nesting happens here, rather than in our house.

home_soh_col

Once it became clear that we’ll share these last weeks of pregnancy with a very friendly builder turning our office space into a baby room, rectifying as many little building mistakes that came with the house as he can along the way, I’ve settled for this slightly chaotic place. My husband does the best he can, trying to get everything sorted out, but this messy state of things makes him nervous – he needs structure and a good amount of clean. I know he would want to move if the money was there. He thinks the house is too small (and I know he doesn’t trust these walls like I do). We don’t have the place to get as organized as he would want to. To me, it’s a question of perspective. The more room there is, the more stuff gets put away (and forgotten about). Mostly my kind of bad habit, but one I should be able to break.

So while he makes this work as well as he can, my mind is doing the nesting thing that all women go through at some point in their pregnancy. And it keeps going back to what I recently read on the beautiful, heart-written blog of Mr. Home Maker. : Houses are aplenty in our society but homes are becoming much thinner on the ground.

Houses are aplenty in our society but homes are becoming much thinner on the ground

 

It’s what I want for this house. I want it to be a home, a good place, where there is always someone available to listen to stories. I want it to be a place where those stories are created and fully lived. I want it to be warm and cosy because of the people who share a life together. I want people that pass by to feel the warm welcome of a place where they are safe and appreciated. I want there to be food on the table and music in the souls.  There are probably plenty of toys and books, but I mostly want my children to play and to read and to be happy doing so. I want them to go to bed, knowing that their parents love them dearly and they mean the world to them, whatever has happened during the day. I want my husband to come home after work feeling happy to pass the doorstep even if there might be some chores to do. I want to come home after work, see the place and instantly wear a smile because I know: this is it. This is home.

 

:: and things will change forever ::

 

A smile fled over her face when she noticed he had fallen asleep against her arm and she was careful not to move. It didn’t happen all that often anymore that she could feel the soft rising of his chest against her side, despite too many honest attempts at the wee hours of the day, when she tried to get him to sleep again, by curling up around him.

She had enjoyed to read another chapter, just like that, not in the least disturbed by anything that yet had to be done. Unfortunately, a sharp pain in the back and a few rather well-pointed kicks on her bladder helped her remember she couldn’t doze away unpunished in any position she’d like.

It was exactly for that reason she had chosen to stay home today, vaguely bothered by a feeling of guilt, partly because she was actually longing for the moment she really didn’t have to think about school again. This pregnancy had proven to be so different from the other one. The seemingly everlasting morning sickness (that lasted all day) and now that excruciating pain in the back that made her nights a lot less refreshing than they should be. Her daughter already manifested herself as a very lively little lady and she was curious and nervous at the same time to meet her in September.

change_forever_SoH
#tiny #fmsphotoaday

A few days ago she had been crying at the view of a series of images showing mothers saying goodbye to their eldest, just before they gave birth. She thought it was heartbreaking – her son didn’t ask for all of this and even if she felt confident about things turning out just well, she cringed when she thought about how his world would be upside down in only a few months and how things would change forever.

An exercice in letting go. Already.

 

Learning curve

While I first half-heartedly realized working in the evening hours wouldn’t be very doable anymore, I now try to embrace the calm of not working for school at night. It puts my mind at rest, I feel less hunted and the moment it turned into an active decision, rather than a desperate impossibility, it became doable. I now try to use every spare moment available while I am at school, alternating classes in which I teach actively with classes that are more oriented on self-discovery and reflection and don’t need my constant supervision. You might call it cheating, but it is showing to be rather efficient and I felt rather on top of my stuff last week.

It does a lot of good for me. I can give my full attention to cooking, to cuddling with my little boy, to have a chat with my husband before I go to bed really early, just to doze off with a good book and waking at dawn the next morning. If necessary, I can pinch in half an hour of correction work then. I am a morning person, even if I sometimes would prefer to sleep in. My best hours are in the quiet around sunrise, with birds singing their lungs out, and the freshness of dawn on the garden that seems to envelop the house.

learning_curve_SoH

 

Our house, where there is still so much to be done. With all its inconveniences and errors. The house we fell in love with, naive as we were as first-time-buyers. Yet I still love it here. I just wish we both would be a bit more handy, feeling the drive and the confidence to attack certain matters ourselves, shifting between what we could do and what we had to outsource. But then again. There is so much to learn in this life and it’s one of my favorite things: to read, to dive into a subject, to let it soak in, to dream about what that knowledge can do for me.

A whole new world in every page, in every article, in every news item, in every story. One would want to live a thousand lives to discover them all…

Spring has sprung

School life has begun again and fatigue and different priorities kick in, as always. Luckily, it’s the last part of the year, leaving me then two whole months to enjoy the last weeks of pregnancy, quietly preparing birth and an addition to our family of three in September.

spring2_SoH

 

Spring is also making its way into our home, garden and heart. Cold and rainy days are still there, but every now and then, sun shows her shiny face and warms my chilly mood. I let Little Boy potter in the garden as much as he wants and it forces me to go outside too. He know how to play on his own, but likes to show me his finds and his activities, so I’m not allowed to hide inside constantly. So we prepare little picnics when weather is warm enough, and I do my kitchen work while looking through my window and seeing my love play and enjoy himself. On those days, life is good.

It gets harder when I have to go to school. While I like teaching, a lot, those few months of having my own rhythm and pace, focusing on home, family and myself, have given me a taste of what life could be like too, and I find it hard to integrate that into the day to day schedule of school days and teaching. Big part of it is because I have started in January, when school is already settled and routines have formed. For me, it was hard to get myself involved and care about the students the way I did before – starting to build a bond halfway the years is not the easiest of things and it’s mostly because I did/do not put enough effort into it. Pregnancy has to do a lot with it of course – those three months of everyday sickness and feeling horrible didn’t help and after that… well it just doesn’t seem worth it for the few weeks that are still ahead of us.

Oh well, we’ll tackle it day by day and in the end it will work out, as it always does. In the mean time, I try to get my thoughs refreshed by things that inspire me – getting in the kitchen, building routines and reading everything that catches my attention. Which is a lot.

spring_SoH

And feeling contentment with the soup bubbling away on the stove, made with bits and pieces I have found in the pantry and the fridge, sprinkled with some curry powder, knowing that it will warm us up in no time, nourishing our bodies and minds. It’s what I hope to find in the whole foods kitchen course I signed up for.