Friday, June 10, 2011

The Month of May

Spending the afternoon with the kids in the sun
I got back from Spain late on Saturday and arrived at Charleroi airport. It's always a little bit of a mission flying in and out of there, and this time I arrived five minutes after the last bus left and so had to wait nearly another hour. Then it was bus to the train station, train to Antwerp, and bus out here to Zoersel - it takes longer to get home from the airport than it does from airport to airport! Then the fun began because I had 45 kilo of luggage, in two bags and a broken suitcase (the really cheap one I got in London) that no longer had a pull-out handle and the ten/fifteen minute walk from the bus stop took me an hour, in the end I left one on the side of the road, went and dumped the other two, and returned for the third.

Alice stealing my shoe. I miss my wardrobe doors!
I got back to an empty house (they'd decided to stay until Monday night. Thanks for deciding that after booking my tickets to Spain) with dust EVERYWHERE. I cannot even describe how bad the house was post-sandblasting, even with three people cleaning for eight hours the day before. It was like a whole kindergarten's worth of kids had had a massive marathon-length sand fight inside. I spent four hours cleaning my room and bathroom again on the Monday and a month later I am still finding sand everywhere. I couldn't go upstairs until the Monday, because the floors were being varnished, so I slept downstairs and spent most of the weekend watching DVDs and hanging out in the pool, the weather was kinda crap. The builders have been here ever since, a polish gang that don't speak dutch, and only a little english between them. Turns out they have to hand-sand all of the already sandblasted surfaces, then bleach them, and then hand-sand them again before they can varnish them. Its been a month since we got back and they are still camped out here. They're kinda fun, they talk about me and whistle when I walk past, and once one woke me up from a nap all stressed out saying "you baby cry, you baby cry". Annoying though because my room keeps getting covered in stuff, I can't use any shelves or the wardrobe so everything is dumped on the floor, and they wake me up all the time!

Alice playing with the box
So then everyone came back on Monday and life resumed as normal. I loved how Koi and Jan brought Arin one of those weird Bakugan toys in London and he played with it for like, five minutes, but Alice played with the cardboard box for two days! And I brought Whale Rider for them, the next day Koi says to me, "I watched that movie last night but I didn't really get it, something about a girl and a whale?" Um, yes. A girl and a whale.

It seemed like things were going more smoothly here, Arin seemed much better with me and Alice stopped crying so much. I changed to an actual schedule, where I worked Sunday-Thursday, mostly mornings with Alice and then school to bedtime with Arin and sometimes Alice too. I went out a couple of times, to the Irish bar in Antwerp and spent the night talking to foreigners - a crazy spanish-speaking Moroccan and a even crazier Russian included.

Out with the Antwerp Roller Darby team
 I also had a night out with Arianne, the girl that comes to speak dutch with Arin and her flatmate's roller darby team. I say girl, but she's a lot older than me. This night was pretty good, I had a chance to rant with her for ages about Jan and Koi and their lack of organisation and how that affects other people and lets them down all the time. She goes really out of her way to come all the way out here and spend time with him in the evenings after getting up at 6.30am and working all day, because Jan is a family friend, but they tend not to let her know if Arin is sick or whatever because they forget or think that she likes coming for dinner anyway. The night also saw me promise to play roller darby (so far an unfulfilled promise) and doing a mad dash with Arianne to get to the bus stop because I didn't realise how far away it was and left it until right before the last bus to work out I didn't know how to get there. Sorry!

View during our walk home, "rural" Belgium
That conversation made me think a lot more about what was going on here. I think I was refusing to think too much about the negative stuff here, because I figured that anywhere I went there will be negative aspects to the different families, and not thinking about it meant I wouldn't notice so much and be able to cope. That conversation made me voice a lot of things that were making me unhappy, like the complete disorganisation that led to them often letting me down or making life really difficult for me. When they said that they'd decided to take Arin to Thailand for six weeks, giving me an extended unpaid holiday with little warning to prepare for it, this was another example of their disorganisation making life hard for me! In the end it seemed a lot easier to just move to another family, rather than work out what I was going to do for six weeks with no money, so I re-activated my nanny profiles on the websites I used before. I've since been told by them that it's a good thing I'm leaving because 'Arin doesn't like me'.

They say this because he's difficult and when they are around, he much prefers to play with them and have nothing to do with me. They don't seem to realise that when it's just the two of us, I rarely have a problem with him, and that its a much better thing if he prefers his parents over his nanny! I think reason he hasn't bonded 100% with me though is that all of his main caregivers (including Koi, his mother) have either left him behind in the care of others for years, or died, and then he's had six nannies in the past year. He is always just scared that everyone is going to leave him, it took Arianne about six months to get his trust.

Arin's dinosaurs all lined up. Aspergers Syndrome?
He has been increasingly difficult the last three weeks, throwing tantrums all the time that last for hours on end, so it's getting harder to be here. A big part of me wanted to suck it up and try and help him through it, because I really do care about him, but as Jan and Koi don't really listen to my suggestions, there isn't so much I can do. I keep telling them to talk to his school, as every day he says that school is 'not-good' and he puts up a fuss about going there - when a four-year old that just plays games and does painting all day at school decides he hates it, there must be something else going on there. Also, my parents pointed out that a lot of what he says and does is associated with Aspergers Syndrome. I think Koi and Jan try to explain each element of his behaviour with things like, well he's an only child, and well dutch is his third language, rather than looking at the big picture of him being a really slow developer, unable to handle social contact with both kids and adults, and so many other things. I've tried some different things with him since and its worked well for me, but I can't convince them to use the same approaches. They just don't get a lot of things, I've only just managed to convince Koi that sugar affects children's moods and behaviour, and I'm still working on convincing them that kids need actual bedtimes that are adhered to everyday. I thought that I wasn't good with kids, but I guess so much of it is just common sense and putting the kids needs ahead of your own, two things they don't really seem to have. The silver lining really has been that I've realised I am capable of raising my own kids and being a good parent one day. Hopefully one day far, far away I remind myself everytime Alice wakes me up in the middle of the night. Baby monitor bad, contraception good.

Khoi and I in Antwerp
Other than that, its been pretty quite here. Sunny, so I now have a pretty epic tan. Well, epic if you're as white as me to begin with! I went through a big healthy buzz of running and swimming every day, with big dreams of entering some marathon/triathalon in the future, a dream that came crashing down this week as Alice cut another tooth and my sleep got really interrupted. This week, the only exercise I've had is rocking her for an hour and a half in the middle of the night, which is actually pretty good for my arms, at 8kg she's damn heavy after the first five minutes! Not very good for my sanity though! Khoi, a kiwi guy I know through AFS came to Belgium on his way home from working in Norway, I spent the day doing a terrible job of showing him around Antwerp, although we did find an awesome cafe with couches in a huge cellar, a good find. We also went to Diamondland, where I discovered a) Khoi knows nothing about diamonds or jewellery, b) Antwerp's diamond cutters spend most of their time smoking and eating in their workshop and c) New Zealand is so far removed from the diamond trade scene that we aren't even on the map. Literally. See my photo album.

Diamondland fishbowl workshop
So now that I'm planning on taking off again, Im trying to rush around doing all of the sightseeing in Belgium. I say rush, but its noon on Friday and I'm still in bed blogging, despite telling myself I was going to Ypres today! The plan is to head there today, to Brussels to see a friend tomorrow, I'm off to Mainz for Hauke's birthday next week, and then go back to see Lena in Liege and visit Leuven the weekend after. I still don't know when I'm finishing up here, they planned on going in three weeks but they still haven't looked at buying tickets, and I still don't know where or when I start at another family (at the moment Im looking for something in a German speaking country, Germany or Luxembourg seem most likely) but I probably have several weeks in between. I'm off to Sicily to visit Francesca from AFS for awhile, and then I think I'll spend the rest of the time at Hauke's parents place in Gottingen and travel around Germany a little more too. So a time of much uncertainty and much to do!

Me and Alice
To end the post on a funny note, yesterday I was holding Alice and Arin was standing beside me, looking up at her and playing with the sticky tab on the back of her diaper when she let out the most enormous fart! I burst out laughing but he got really angry, took of his belt and tied her up in it, saying he was taking her to the police "for being naughty and make a stinky on me"!

Ok! Off to have a shower in my door-less bathroom and then to Ypres I go! More photos are here.

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