Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Life as a Stay At Home Mom - Who Would Believe It?!?!

My life as a "stay-at-home-mom" cracks me up. If only I knew a year ago when I was back full swing following maternity leave that I would be giving up my hose, heels, and business suits for jeans and sneakers in Belgium. And giving up my go-go-go workdays for playdates and nursery rhymes! It might sound hunky dory but there are many new challenges to making such an adjustment, and these challenges are compounded in a foreign country away from friends/family/familiar places. But there are so many wonderful, unexpected rewards too with this precious gift of time. I used to be able to get 20 things done in a day, now I am lucky if we master one successful daily outing. Very humbling - but also very good for the soul. I notice things more - the little things. This sacred job of raising a kind and caring Connor surprises and touches me everyday.

I wanted to try to give a glimpse of my European life in this role as wife, mother, and expatriate:

1. Entertaining and Educating Connor; and Connor Entertaining and Educating Me! – It is a nonstop full force job. I really think it is in many ways more exhausting and engaging than corporate work. I am exercising my “muscles” of patience, creativity and observation in entirely new ways. For instance, this week Kirk had a business trip to London and the weather here was -7 degrees Celsius (freeze your face off cold). I resulted to giving Connor a box of Kleenex to play with. She had a ball pulling the tissues out of the box and floating them in the air. Maybe it seems wasteful but it was the best $1.50 I may have ever spent and we had just as much fun stuffing all the tissues back in the box. Who knew Kleenex could be so much fun?!?!
Recently Connor has also become very good at working puzzles. The funny thing is when she puts the piece in the right slot, but the wrong direction. Instead of just rotating the piece into the spot in with her fingers she moves her entire body around the puzzle's perimeter to line it up. Connor also enjoys playing with the new parachute Santa brought to her. We slide around the apartment on it and also get under it like a cave.

She also loves to have me tuck “Frog” and “Muh-Muh” into her doll stroller, strapping them in properly. I think I must do this a hundred times a day. It never seems to lose its entertainment value and urgency. I was a little surprised last night when Connor took “Muh-Muh” and gave it the royal resting spot of being stuffed into her (yet-to-be-used) potty. Poor Muh-Muh! She keeps me guessing! And marveling at the way her brain is developing leaps and bounds each day.

2. Grocery shopping – Perhaps there is no more jarring change than in the grocery store. Everything is different – room temperature milk, butter that doesn’t readily melt, French food labels, enough cheeses/yogurts/bread to make you dizzy, yet no nonstick cooking spray anywhere to be found. And the way they group items on the aisles makes no sense to me – I spend so much time circling the rows trying to retrace my steps to locate items on my list. I mean wouldn’t you think the sugar and the flour should be on the same aisle?!? By the time I finally manage to find the items I need and check out, I have to remember to bring my own bag and haul and balance everything down the street to our apartment all the while pushing Connor. I am getting the hang of it all though.

Yesterday the produce guy at our store saw the “crazy redheaded American with the huge stroller” arriving, and recognizing us from our daily grocery adventures he came up to speak to us. I have needed many items I have had to get his help in translating to English so he knew me from my attempts to find mushrooms (“champignons”), baking soda (“bicarbonate de soude”), among other items. But I was always under the impression he was annoyed by my pitiful attempts in food translation. But today he gave us a hearty “Bonjour” and I was comforted, feeling for the first time I might have an ally in my daily grocery store battles. Then when I was going back upstairs to check out (yes, you read that right, you have to go upstairs to check out) Gracine – the same produce guy – saw us leaving and came over to carry my basket to the check out line while I pushed Connor up. Chivalry Brussels-style….it is a start. On a similar note, I walked past a nearby pharmacy today and through the window the pharmacist who has helped us a couple times saw us and waved and smiled at us. I nearly fell over I was so shocked. I am forming my service network here, slowly but surely. Maybe the Belgians are not as unfriendly as I originally thought.

3. Transportation – Driving here is absurd. There is a “priorite a droit” rule where even when you are driving along on a major street, if a car on a more minor street approaches an intersection from the right – they have the right of way, and you must yield. Very strange. Connor and I don’t drive much though so walking and public transportation are our lifelines. I love being able to walk so much more here and I go to great lengths to keep our world in a walkable scope. We get lost a lot on the twisting cobblestone streets with the dual French and Dutch names, but persistence and an everpresent map gets us by. The public transport is extensive, but cramming into small spaces underground with a toddler in a stroller gives me a headache just to think about.

4. Making Friends – I am a social person. I miss my friends, a lot. I miss being able to call a girlfriend to walk or see a chick flick movie. But I am starting to piece together acquaintance buds I am hopeful will bloom into friendships. We have joined the Brussels Childhood Trust which organizes local playdates with English-speaking moms in homes by zip code 2x per week. It takes a brave mom to have 15 children with their moms descend in their home. We have met interesting folks from South Africa, Germany, Canada, England and the US. Hard to focus too much with toddlers running every which way though so the “getting to know you” progress is often interrupted. I will stick with it however. Connor and I have also joined a weekly French music class in the Ixelles neighborhood at La Chaise Musicale. Connor can already sing several French songs and she claps with glee when we go. Luckily even though the course is totally French, they put me in a class with British mothers. There are 4 of us who take our kids for “un cafĂ© et croissant” after each class and these 3 are terrific resources and friends-in-the-making, I hope! This in addition to joining a church (the International Protestant Church), as well as the Amercian Women's Club of Brussels, and of course tapping into Kirk's E&Y colleagues should set me up for friend success.

5. Domestic life – My name may be Reid, but it will never be Donna Reid. I am trying to use recipes and cook more. Planning home cooked meals has never been a strength of mine. If I am lucky enough to find the right ingredients in my grocery store (or at least appropriate substitutes), and I can accurately translate the Farenheit oven temperature to Celsius and get my pans to fit into my oven…and my oven doesn’t fall apart on me…then I have a 50/50 chance of producing an edible meal. Case in point – check out the gingerbread house I tried to make/bake with Connor below. We will keep trying!

It is also humorous to see me conquer the neverending pile of laundry. Washing machines in Europe are maybe ¼ the size of those in America. That means 4x the loads of laundry to do. We have a dryer that literally connects only through a standard electrical outlet. There is a container that collects the water from the drying clothes that must be emptied every time, just like the lint collector. If you forget to empty it the dryer starts steaming out of control and the clothes warm up but don’t dry. And since there is only one plug we have to switch the washing machine for the dryer’s plug each time. This means it is not possible to have both machines going simultaneously.
I find though that it is the simple times that make all of the above change totally, totally worth it:
- Today we were eating lunch - a scrumptous lunch of turkey deli meat and a banana. Connor took the banana and as she was smushing it into her mouth she stopped and looked up at me and said "Yummy!" clear as day. Then I told her to be sure to eat some turkey too. She thought about it and tapped at the turkey. She looked at me with that cute squished up face and said "gobble, gobble"!!! Priceless.
- This afternoon it was -7 degrees Celsius yet so sunny and the sky so blue. I had our iTunes blaring James Taylor’s “Whenever I See Your Smiling Face” while the sun streamed in our full length apartment windows. I asked Connor if she wanted to dance with me. She threw her arms up and ran to me. I lifted her up and we danced around together cheek to cheek. I have decided I love Brussels.

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