Wednesday, February 12, 2014

DRAGON DREW'S TAIL


self-control, emotions, responsibility, family

When Dragon Drew danced around his cave, he jumped high. He tapped hard. He spun fast.
One day...
Swoosh! Crash!
His sister Amy's tower tumbled to the ground.
“Watch your tail,” warned Amy and packed up her pebbles.
Grrr. I always knock stuff over. Drew moped into his bedcave. He set up his play town. He lined up the houses. When he stood the last people in the school, he heard his neighbor singing.
What a rockin' song, he thought.
Drew jumped. Drew tapped. Drew spun.
Swoosh! Crash!
The whole town whipped under his bed.
“Watch your tail,” warned Mom and handed him a broom.
Grrr. I always scratch up my toys. Drew stomped into the playcave and set out paper and paints.
He dipped his brush in the blue. He smeared some red with his paw. When he hung his picture to dry, he heard Amy practicing her piano.
What a jazzy tune, he thought.
Drew jumped. Drew tapped. Drew spun.
Swoosh! Crash!
The easel flew against the wall.
“Watch your tail,” warned Dad and handed him a mop.
Grrr. I always make a mess. Drew sulked to the living cave and grabbed some books. He read one and put it beside him. He read a second book and stacked it on the first, and then another and another. When he closed the last book, he heard...
A pan clink. A cupboard bang. Plates clank. And a spoon ding on a glass.
What a great beat, thought Drew.
Drew jumped. Drew tapped. Drew spun.
Swoosh! Crash!
Books flew across the living cave smashing everything!
“Not again,” said Dad.
“Clean up this cave,” said Mom.
Grrr. I always cause a catastrophe. Drew wiped a tear from his cheek.
Drew looked at his tail. Then, he looked at the mess. Mmmm...
Drew hummed and wiggled this way. He hummed and shimmied that way. Finally, he hummed and twisted everywhere until the living cave was tidy.
Drew was so happy, he jumped. He tapped. He spun.
Swoosh!
But no Crash!
“Look at that tail!” said Mom, Dad, and Amy. “Great job, Drew!”


What do you think?
Do you ever have days when everything seems to go wrong?
Do you ever have times when it's hard to control your excitement? If so, when?
Have you ever bumped into something or dropped something or spilled something by accident? How did you feel? How did you fix it? 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thanks to Susanna Leonard Hill for hosting the Halloweensie Contest! The rules are to incorporate the three words, cackle, black cat, and spooky, into a story of no more than 100 words. Here's mine.


Lizzy Witch and Spooky 

The final bell clanged. Schoolwitches cheered. It was Halloween break!

Lizzy Witch kicked up her broomstand and soared home to her black cat.

"Where's Spooky?" she asked Mum.

"We never know," she cackled.

Lizzy echoed into the caldron. "Spooky."

She plucked through the pumpkin patch. "Spoooky."

She flew over the chimney and under the thorn bushes. "Spooooooky!"

Lizzy coasted home with empty arms and an empty tummy.

"Soup's on," said Mum.

"I can't eat without Spooky." Lizzy sobbed. 

"Who do you think caught the ingredients?" Mum winked.

Just then, Spooky sprang into Lizzy's lap.

"Happy Halloween to you too, Spooky!"



Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dolphins on Her Mind



My twin sister Avani and I watched the most amazing science video today – about the sea, about coral reefs, and about dolphins!
They squeak. They swim and play. They save people when they fall off boats.
And Avani wants one.
Avani could squeak in dolphin language. It can't be that different from whining.
We have a swimming pool. And she's not afraid to ride on a dolphin's back.
Avani asks Mom as soon as she gets home.
“You want a dolphin?” Mom squeals. She would be great at talking to dolphins, too.
“Please?” says Avani.
“Sorry, Avani. It's not possible,” she says.
Avani goes to our room and draws a picture of a smiling dolphin jumping out of our swimming pool. Dad always swims laps by himself. Surely he would like the company.
Avani asks Dad as soon as he gets home.
“Swim with a dolphin?” Dad repeats slamming the trunk. He is definitely strong enough.
“Please?” says Avani.
“Sorry, Avani. It's not possible,” he says.
Avani is so distracted during dinner, she pokes green beans into her cheek. She pours water down her chin. And worst of all, she forgets she has a piece of bread in her hand, leans onto her elbow, and smashes it into her ear.
Dad asks, “What's on your mind, Avani?”
“Dolphins,” she says.
He shakes his head.
“Mom, can I use your computer?” Avani asks.
“If it's for school work,” she says.
We both go to the living room.
She types DOLPHINS and we watch shiny, grey creatures swim in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Pacific Ocean... Pink dolphins even swim in rivers! But not one dolphin lives near us, in the middle of the country.
I write down some notes while Avani types DOLPHIN CENTERS. They exist in North America, South America... Australia has several centers! But not one center is anywhere near our house.
Then we see a word at the bottom of the screen. ADOPTION. She clicks on it, and we read the description.
“Mom, Dad,” I shout back into the kitchen, “Avani can have a dolphin.”
As I scribble down names and places, my parents scoot back their chairs.
“Come see,” Avani shouts even though they're already standing behind us.
Mom says, “These dolphins have been injured and can't go back to sea. How sad.”
Dad says, “They need donations to help care for them.”
“I'll give everything in my piggy bank,” Avani says and runs upstairs. Her coins rattle as she runs back downstairs. “Please?”
“Sorry, Avani,” says Dad. “It is not possible that you have enough money to feed a dolphin for a year.”
But Avani asks, “What if we each add some money?”
Mom and Dad look at one another.
“Please?” says Avani.
Finally, a smile creeps onto Dad's face and in between Mom's cheeks.
Avani knew it was possible!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Growing Book by Book

I would like to thank Jodie at Growing Book by Book for creating such a resourceful, fun blog all about literacy.

I would also like to thank Jodie for featuring me today on Growing Book by Book. In the interview, I share how I encourage literacy in my family and the reading habits I now see in my children. As much as I have appreciated previous interviews with teachers, librarians, parents, writers, authors and author/illustrators who have appeared on Growing Book by Book, I hope you will also get some value from today's feature.

Happy reading to everyone!

From Main Street America...

Usually, expat assignments last under five years. But when we rented our current house in Belgium, we had to sign a nine-year lease. We did this because if we were to leave before the end of the lease, the fees would be much less. I almost laughed out loud as I signed the paper and thought, "Yeah right, we'll never be here that long."

After that signature, I was officially an expat. Before leaving the US, telling people of our move abroad sparked great interest because it seemed so out of the ordinary. But in fact, arriving in Brussels proved just how normal it was. I was excited to hear stories of other families who had already lived in five countries or more. Considering we had already lived in three States in our first four years of marriage, I expected the same globe-trotting life. My husband's assignment had indeed been specified as a two to three-year deal...

...to Main Street Belgium
...nine years ago. Our lease is up.

Hoping to travel a bit through Europe in those couple years, I expected to be back in the US for my first daughter, then only 1 year old, to start kindergarten. Instead, we have

had a second baby
a sprained neck from falling off a swing
an appendicitis
traveled to a dozen countries at least once (excluding the USA)
celebrated baptisms and communions
started both daughters in school - local and international
survived lay-offs, budget cuts, furloughs
benefitted from job title changes and promotions
made a slew of friends
said good-bye to many of them
learned about the world through these friends
and continue to make more...

At some point between comparing potty-training practices and starting the children in primary school, I stopped feeling like an expat. I was just another woman, mother, wife, writer, living somewhere else.

Nothing replaces family but when your closest friends are also away from their families, a natural and strong bond forms. We support each other no matter the color of the hand being held, how smooth or rough it may be, or to where that hand waved good-bye. We celebrate our children's birthdays, help out when they fall ill, and have a good laugh at our cultural faux pas.

I have been also fortunate to make some very dear Belgian friends. Speaking French before the move certainly helped. I could comfortably attend local playgroups, go shopping, explain various ailments to medical professionals, read the newspaper, pay my speeding tickets and parking violations (I'm getting off track)... but all that to say, I did my best to integrate.

After five years, my husband was rehired under a local contract. We aren't even technically expats anymore. Regardless, I am still referred to by the neighbors as l'américaine qui parle français (the American who speaks French).

And so this “expat life” has slowly taken shape as, simply, “life.” I just happen to live in Belgium, raise my kids as bilinguals with two nationalities (neither one being Belgian), renew passports on a regular basis, pay taxes in two countries, and rack up quite a few frequent flyer miles... like so many other people.
Oh, the places we go!
And what about these Third Culture Kids I'm raising? This life is the only one they have ever known, except for my eldest daughter's six months at a YMCA daycare. When we go back to the US, I take my daughters around to my old neighborhood, to my friends' homes, to play at my old playground, to have ice cream at the same stand open only in the summers and still run by the same family. But to them, that's “Mum's country” (yes, they even call me 'mum' instead of 'mom'). The US is a world of cook-outs, swimming pools, beaches, and amusement parks.

Visiting their French mamie and their English grandad in France doesn't seem all that different than being in Belgium except that they happen to live in the Alps and the bread is... well... crustier. Considering we spend almost every holiday with them (except for the Christmas during which the above-mentioned appendix was removed from my daughter), France is the land of skiing, hot chocolate, pain au raisins, long meals and late-nights.

But in Belgium, my children are who they are. They like fries, but also snails, and pâté. They love bandes dessinées (comic books). They don't even bat an eye when a different language is spoken. And still, they are influenced by my American side (i.e., I do accidentally speak louder than the kids like in public places) and my husband's French and English sides (i.e., we systematically have to stop for an espresso mid-morning no matter where we are or where we are going and the same is true at 4pm for a tea). And so, my children are living their unique hotchpotch of a culture beside all the other Third Culture Kids running through the Belgian playgrounds. This is, simply, their life.

I would be quite happy to move the family to another country, to see new monuments, to learn another language and about a new culture first-hand. But at the end of the day, whether we're sitting at the dinner table around moules frites or fish and chips, couscous or coq au vin, or even mac and cheese (for which I've spent a small fortune at an American food shop), we're still here...growing, learning, living...and loving it.












Wednesday, November 21, 2012

'Tis the season to travel! 
Whether driving across town, taking a train across the country, or flying over an ocean to be with family, what's really important is that we get there.
third culture kids, family travel, siblings, cultural differences, patience, grandparents, good night, sleep tight

I was looking forward to this trip. But, my tummy was feeling mushy too. I hadn't seen my grandparents since I was three years old. Would they remember me? Would they still think I was cute? Sure, we see each other sometimes after lunch on weekends through the computer screen. I don't know how they get there but they can't get out. And I, I can't get in...believe me I tried! “Don't touch the screen!” Mommy's shrill still rings in my head. So, I have been waiting for tomorrow since at least the last page of the kitchen calendar.

Daddy said we had to wake up earlier tomorrow than for school.

Saturdays are usually sleep-in days. Usually the clock rings seven times before my eyes open. Mommy says it will only ring five times. The sun, my brother says, won't even be up yet!

I slip on my pajama bottoms and t-shirt after hanging my bath towel back on its hook. I walk back into my room to see Mom putting out my clothes for the next day: socks, undies, orange kitty t-shirt, purple button-down sweater, green pants and red socks. She sees my surprise face and explains, “I have to be able to see you in a crowd!” and goes to check on my brother.

I can see Matt pulling clothes out of his wardrobe.

“That shirt's too tight. You won't be comfortable.” Mom says. “Those pants are too big – get a belt!”

Mom turns to walk out. I see Matt's eyes roll...just like Mom's are.

I grab my stuffed tiger and hold him tight under my comforter, waiting for someone to turn off my light.

I hope I don't forget him in the morning.

“Good night, salty tart. Sleep well.” Daddy kisses my cheek.

Bonne nuit, Papa.” I reply.

I close my eyes and wait for my thoughts to show up. We used to see Grandma and Grandpa every Friday after school. I mean, after Matt got out of school. Grandma would pick me up from another lady's house, then drive to Matt's school. I remember lots of windows in a row between bricks. I remember eating pizza and watching cartoons. Then, we just didn't anymore. I remember a big airplane, little TV screens, and clouds right outside the window! I remember lots of people in a long hallway and a moving sidewalk. My stroller went ahead all by itself. Then, I remember the noise, lots of voices, lots of words, but I couldn't understand even one. Mom told me we would learn how to speak new words. I have. She hasn't so much.
Beebeebeebeep. Beebeebeebeep.
“Get up! Time to go! The plane is going to take off,” Mom slams the shower door. Dad starts the coffee pot. Matt just sits in the WC* for a really, really long time. I run downstairs!

“Hey, girly. What do you want for breakfast?” I run past Daddy to the guest toilet.

“Ahhh...Cornflakes!” I finally say.

I'm still drinking the milk from my cereal bowl when Mom sits next to me and pours her coffee.

“Why aren't you dressed?” She asks.

“I was hungry.”

“Now, you're not.” She takes my dishes to the sink and shoos me away. “Go upstairs!”

Mom is generally a very calm person unless we are running late, actually late, or could possibly be late for a-ny-thing.

I put on my clothes, make my bed, brush my teeth and hair, grab my book bag and wait by the front door, “shoes on, ready to go,” as we say. I feel like we could be going to school, but my bag has only my favorite books in it, my crayons and a fresh, clean pad of paper – love that. It's for writing down what I do every day on vacation.

* WC (water closet)- pronounced [vay say] is a room the size of a closet where just a toilet sits.

What do you think?
  • Do you have family or friends who live far away? How do you keep in touch with them?
  • Do you like going on trips? What makes you excited? What makes you nervous?


Part 2
We climb into Dad's car and... wait. Mom runs back into the house to go to the bathroom. She runs back to check the stove (we all had cereal for breakfast). She runs in to close the curtains. She runs back to open the curtains. Dad leans for a long time on the horn. Mom runs out with her arms above her head. “You're going to wake the neighbors!” She whispers really loudly.

“Ready to go?” Dad asks. He pulls down the driveway before she can answer; before she can get out again.

I'm asleep. I'm awake. The car stops, screeching, outside the airport. “Everyone out!” Mom and Dad call. I stretch my arms only half way across the backseat when Matt grabs me and plops me onto the pavement.

Dad has finally realized how crazy we all are. I watch him pull away, fast.


“Come on, we have to get to the check-in line while your father parks the car.”

Oh, good, he hasn't realized it yet.

Walking toward the sliding doors, a teenage girl with long hair and heeled, pointy shoes is walking out towards us. I see Matt looking at her. I see he doesn't notice the doors, the ones sliding shut. I just slow down and watch....Crash! Matt shakes his nose back out of his face as I run up with Mom.

Gosh, are all these people going to America, too?

“Oh no, you'll stay with us, Matt. We'll have plenty of time for coffee, later.” Mom puts her foot down...on mine.

“Sorry, dear. Where is your father? We're almost next!”

Dad slides right behind Mom just as she is deciding which language to greet the ticket agent. “Hallo. Bonjour. Hi, here are our passports.” What to say is often Mom's problem. We live in Belgium. Matt and I speak French at school. Our neighbors speak Dutch. A drive not long enough for a nap takes us to where people speak German. Mom and Dad are always saying to strangers, “We learned Spanish in high school.”

“Let's go little terrors. Off to Security. ” Dad pokes our shoulders and laughs.

“Dad! Don't say that so loud!” Matt looks right and left.

This is the part where we have to take off our shoes, put all our bags in plastic tubs and watch them slide through a scanner tunnel. Mom pushes the juice boxes down under other stuff so no one takes them.

Dad is through. Now me. Beep. I have to go through the door again. Beep. A lady has a long black wand. She calls me to move over. What did I do? I can't keep my arms up this long. I look at Dad to come save me. But... he's taking my picture!

“Oh, how funny! Look, Caroline's being searched.” Mom tries to join him but she beeps in the machine too.

Madame, take off your belt, please.” Mom takes off her belt.

Madame, take off your watch, please.” Mom takes off her watch.

“Do you have any loose change?”

She finally makes it through only to find the evil look of one of the inspectors throwing away our drinks.

Matt got through the line in no time, bragging. “No watch. No belt. Let's go.”

“And certainly no money in your pockets!” Dad adds.

We run for the elevator. We run down lots of big hallways, past shops and cafés, down the already moving sidewalk...wheeee!... and jump off right by our gate.

Dad gives our passports and tickets again to the same lady from downstairs  (how did she get up here so fast?) standing by the door to another hallway. At the end, is the door to the plane.

“I see we're in row 15,” Mom states and hands out the seat tickets.

“But, this one says I'm in row 21,” Dad points out.

“Yes! I'm in row 10. See ya.” Matt practically sings and walks off.

Where do I sit?

What do you think?
  • Why is the family in such a rush?
  • Have you ever been to an airport? What was it like? (big, noisy, crowded, empty, quiet, small)
  • If you were to go on an airplane, would you like to sit by the window, by the aisle or in the middle? Why?

Part 3
Now, Mom's whispering to Dad as if I can't hear her. “We can't let her sit by herself! What if no one will switch places? The plane is taking off soon.”

“Relax, I'll tell a steward.” Dad reassures her, but not me.

I hope I don't really cry but... I do.

“It's ok, choux*. We'll change seats with someone.” Mom holds me tight against her thigh. I wish she wouldn't wear corduroy pants.

Dames en Herren...  Monsieurs et Mesdames... Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. The captain is preparing for take-off.”

A stewardess leads Mom, then Dad, then me to our seats. I can hardly breath. Mom looks back at me from her row as if I have fallen off the plane.

I look for Dad. He's rearranging luggage in the overhead compartment. The man next to him looks as if he wants to rearrange him!

As for Matt, I see his foot tapping in the aisle. He already has his earphones in.

Mais, où es ta maman, ma chérie?” The lady beside me asks where my mom is.

Là-bas,” I answer pointing up the aisle. She immediately gets up.

Madame,” a steward calls. She doesn't come back...Mom does!

I almost bounce out of my seat but the belt holds me back. I lie my head on Mom's s arm and watch the clouds come down past the windows.

I don't know how long I slept, but the meal cart has hit my foot. Although I'm wide awake now, Mom whispers, “Two chickens, please.”

Yeah, we kind of are, I think to myself  even though I know she's talking about lunch.

Mom says I can watch TV while I eat. Wow! I never get to do that at home. She shows me which buttons to push to find all the cartoons. Mom's not watching cartoons on her screen. It must be funny anyway because she keeps trying not to laugh. Her cheeks have puffed up past her hands, trying to keep to her mouth closed. I know this won't last long...

BAAAHAAAHAAAA!

Yep, everyone from two rows in front of us to two rows back have turned their heads towards Mom. She picks up her fork again like nothing's happened. I try to keep my giggle quiet, too.

Dad steps out of his row backwards and turns to come back to us. That's nice. But, the steward hasn't gotten to his seat yet with lunch. He's stuck in the aisle. He tries to go back up the aisle and through the hall with the bathrooms, but another lady is already coming towards him. By this time, the steward is blocking his row and he can't get back. He tucks himself into one woman's seat. She looks up in disbelief...so does Mom. I can hardly see her eyes anymore, so far back in her head they have rolled!
Dad and his very red face finally reach us.

So, how are you all doing back here?”

Fine,” I say.

You've missed your lunch, you know,” says Mom.

What?” Dad turns to see that the meal cart is already in the front section, rows ahead of his seat. “Oh, no. They're going to run out of chicken.”

A stewardess comes up behind me. “I'm sorry. We forgot to give you our special meal for little travelers. Here you are.”

I smile and hand Dad my chicken lunch I hardly touched. Dad grins as wide as I do and returns to his seat.

My lunch, another cartoon, and half a colouring book later, I ask, “Can I go see Matt?”

Are you ok walking up there by yourself?”

Sure.” I unbuckle myself. I take a skip up the aisle but the floor feels as if it is skipping up from beneath me.

Matt turns his his eyes up just enough to see I'm watching his movie. He unsnaps his belt, takes me on his lap and snaps it back. “I don't want you to bounce away if we hit any air bumps,” he says.

I wrap my arms around his chest and fall back to sleep.

*choux – pronounced [shoe], is an affectionate term in French meaning cabbage!

What do you think?
  • Have you ever had to sit by yourself somewhere? How did you feel?
  • Have your parents ever done something so funny that you laughed at them? What was it?
  • Do you have a big (or little) brother (or sister)? If so, how do you comfort each other when you are lonely?

Part 4
Go on. Get back to your seat!”

What's wrong?” I ask Matt, rubbing my eyes on his arm.

Don't you feel the plane going down?”

Before I could question anything, Mom was right beside me.

Come now. We're landing. The 'fasten seat belt' sign is back on.”

Is that all? I take Mom' s hand.
I buckle up and then ooooh owwww! My ears feel like heavy cotton is clogging them up. I grab the sides of my head and bend down to my knees.

Mom hands me a lollipop. Yeah, I only get these at birthday parties! And it's cherry!

My tongue and lips are just about all red and sticky when the wheels pop out from underneath the plane.

Bang. Screeeech.

Dank U... Merci d'avoir choisi... Thank you for choosing our airline,” a voice says from the loudspeaker.

Are Grandma and Grandpa here? Are we far from their house?” I ask trying to stay still until the plane comes to a complete stop.

They're probably on their way. We still need to clear Customs.”

What's that?”

It's like Security again and we have to show that we don't have anything we're not supposed to have.”

Like what?”

"Umm, like cheese, sausage, plants.”

The seat belt light goes off and everyone stands up. The overhead compartments fall open. Everyone is grabbing and passing bags around. A brown duffel bag seems to float right over my head. Louis must not want to lose his bag. His name is all over it.

Now that everyone has a hand on a bag, we stand still in the aisle. We ...stand ...still. I try to step forward but Mom tells me to stay still. Then why aren't we sitting?

Instantly, the girl in front of me moves ahead. We all start to march forward.

Have a nice stay.” “Have a nice day.” “Enjoy your visit.” “Watch your step.” “Have a nice stay.” “Have a nice day.” “Enjoy your visit.” “Watch your step.”

Bonne journée,” I answer when I get to the door. The stewards and stewardesses smile back.

Hallways and hallways later, moving floors and real walking later...

There's our baggage carousel!” Dad points out. But, it has nothing to do with horses. It's more like a huge checkout counter at the grocery store. The suitcases come out and down a slide and continue around a big circle. And, if no one grabs them quick enough, they go right around again.

That's mine!” My favorite pink superwoman flies slowly right past us. At least three pairs of legs are now between the carousel and me. Dad nicks my heel with the luggage cart.

We're at a suitcase superstore!” Only Matt laughs at my joke.

Mom tells us to go sit down. All the legs that were blocking my view are now gone. I see the backs of Mom and Dad, her sweater wrapped around her waist, Dad's jacket on top of the cart with the pink,green, and blue suitcases.

Now what?!” Mom asks. I don't hear Dad' s answer because, unlike Mom, he's talking in a normal voice.

He starts to walk off pushing the cart. Mom follows. Matt nudges my shoulder to follow him.
No one talks. I want to ask if Grandma and Grandpa are here yet. The silence holds my mouth shut.
We arrive in the Customs line very quietly. Men and women in blue uniforms look at everyone's passports. Our turn. Dad hands over our little blue books. The man scans them. We have already bought them, I think.

No, we don't have anything to claim. We are missing one of our bags, though” Dad says.

Is that right? Step over here folks.”

Oh good,” Mom smiles, “This nice man will help us find our luggage. It feels good to be back, doesn't it?”

Matt and Dad nod. 

You'll have to wait here until we find your bag.”

Why can't we just come back for it tomorrow?” Mom asks.

It's regulation, M'am. It should just be a couple of minutes.”

No problem, then,” Dad adds.

We wait. We sit. We stand. We pace back and forth.

Are Grandma and Grandpa here yet?” I finally ask.

Oh, they've been here for a couple of hours now,” Mom answers in her very serious voice.

A different man in the same blue uniform walks over to Dad.

It didn't get on the flight? Will it get on the next one?”

Yes, sir.”

Can we at least go now?” Mom sounds just like my teacher the time she found me lost in the museum.

Well, I'll have to write in an exception in our log book. My colleague will do it 'cause my shift is about over.” I grab Mom's hand because I think she may run after the guy.

We wait. We sit. We stand. We pace back and forth.

A woman in the same uniform hands Dad our passports. “Have a nice night, folks.”

Bye,” I say.

No one else talks. The silence holds my mouth shut again until...

There they are!” Grandma and Grandpa holler running. She might just lose her handbag at that speed.

Are you ok? How was the flight?!”

Grandpa spins me around fast. I hear Mom's voice come in and out. I think she said,

We're all great. It went really well.”


What do you think?
  • Have your ears ever popped when you were on a plane, an amusement ride, or in an elevator?
  • Have you ever seen your parent(s) get frustrated or impatient? How does it make you feel? What could you do to make them feel better?
  • Even after all the hassles of air travel, the family was just happy to finally see the grandparents. Can you think back about a moment that felt horrible at the time, but now doesn't seem like such a big problem?




Thursday, October 11, 2012

Third Culture story, car, buying a car, purchasing a car, family car, European car, Michelle Nott
My first small European car



I had to finally buy my very own car so I could drive four states away to my first job out of college. My dad and I walked into one dealership, looked at a few models, chose one, signed some papers, walked out. I drove my new car home in time for lunch. I could literally pack my entire life, including four seasons of clothes, a box full of wine (I had recently gotten back from my “nannyship” in France), and my teddy bear. That same car drove me up and down I-75 countless times. It carried my wedding dress and flowers. It held my first baby to and from her pediatric appointments.

Then, our family arrived in Belgium. I adjusted from driving my small yet spacious American-model car to a simply small European car. It was alright because I had just one small 11-month old child. I could tote her around in a fold-up city stroller which fit perfectly in the trunk, even with groceries.

Soon came small-model child number two. The car seats fit side by side, although they both sat at window seats. The one-child fold-up stroller was soon replaced by the practically double-decker two-child push cart (“chair” just doesn't tell it right), which snuggled into the trunk if I took off the front wheel. Once the extra-curricular transportation was on board, I could take them all around town, to parks, to playgrounds, to anywhere but the grocery story or to anywhere possible purchases would need to be delivered home. Once I forgot to take the double stroller out before food shopping and had to drive home with paper bags (when they still gave out bags) stacked in between the toddler and her baby sister, under their feet, and seated beside me like a passenger. Sharp turns threw vegetables onto my lap. Once home and the car emptied of its contents, including my daughters, I made a mental note to insist on a new, bigger car with adequate trunk space. That was over eight years ago.

As the girls grew, the double stroller was replaced by its predecessor, the fold-up city stroller, and parked in the garage. A relief fell over me as I never had to relive the moments of frustration after opening the back of the car after a big shopping day only to see the stroller forgotten in the back, or getting out to a beautiful chateau only to discover I had forgotten to put the double stroller back in. Never mind the stress of having to dismantle the stroller quick enough after paying my parking ticket. I never did find out just how much time one has in between paying and driving out of the gates...phew!

But the girls grew big enough to ride bikes. If I tilted each tricycle just right, they both fit. Even when my oldest could ride her first “big bike” (two-plus-training wheels), I could manoeuvre one bike and one tricycle in if I first took the top flap out of the hatch-backed trunk. Wanting to be just like big sis, my youngest was soon riding her first big bike. We were bond to the paths in our town.

Then, the school had the nerve to plan a bicycle safety day for both of their classes on the same day. I just stared at my car, my inner engineer straining not to let me down. Yet, there was no way. My husband finally offered to buy me the solution...a bike rack (yes, I was hoping for a new car, too).

So, I wouldn't have the panic of strapping the apparatus on the back of the car the morning of the much awaited/dreaded bicycle safety day, my husband diligently strapped it on the night before his business trip. I was set. I practiced taking the bikes on and off, strapping and unstrapping.

Once at school, I took the bikes down and opened the trunk to get the school bags. Then I ignorantly slammed the door down as usual, hitting myself on the head with the bars of the %^&# bike rack. A little dizzy, I drove home.

Last year, the children could choose to bring bikes or scooters. We bought my youngest a new scooter outside of any birthday or holiday festivity. She was thrilled, so was I.

Now that my first European car is almost nine years old, my husband (“Mr. I-get-a-new-company-car-every-three-years”) finally agrees I should get a new car. Happy dance all around. Let's go to the dealer...

I should backtrack slightly to the day I bought first little European car. We had gone to the garage where my parents-in-law had always bought their cars. (As mentioned in a previous post, they were also living in Belgium at the time, by chance). On my way, I had flashbacks of high school days when friends tried to teach me to drive a stick-shift. Then, the son of a friend of my mother's tried to teach me before I moved to France as a nanny. The result of these attempts, I walked my three young charges to and from school, rain or shine. So, when the dealer said straight away that there happened to be an automatic car sitting in the lot in Waterloo (a couple hours away), I said I'd take it. “But, Madame, you don't mind you don't choose the color?” “Nope!” I had heard there was always quite a wait for a new car, so I was excited to get it as soon as possible...5 weeks later I picked it up. Frankly, I could have walked to Waterloo faster.

So, fast-forward to the last several weekends. It must be known that buying a car in America is nothing like buying a car in Belgium. No one is running up to your car in the parking lot throwing out trade-in prices. There is no music. There are no balloons. We actually walked out of numerous dealerships because not one salesperson even said Bonjour! I'm guessing the sales team doesn't work on commission.

In the upteenth dealership, after approaching what looked like a salesperson (ok, the only guy there on a Saturday, really), we obtained some information in the form of a catalog. The car in which we were interested was not in the showroom. Next...

Finally, we found a dealer with the car we wanted parked in front of me. A good ol' station wagon model. That day's salesperson gave us all the details, possible price based on the options we would probably want - apparently anything after requiring a steering wheel is considered an option.

When we went back a later weekend, said car was no where to be found. Evidently, it was only there because someone had already bought it, and it was waiting for its owner. The first guy we spoke to wasn't there (maybe there's a Saturday rotation), so his colleague went through all the options again with us. I picked out my color (that was fun). And, he said he would call us Monday with a final price including a trade-in price.

Three weeks and many phone calls and e-mails later, my husband and I get back in touch with him (definitely not on a commission-based salary system). We do the bank transfer from the comfort of our own home as I have realised there really is no reason to step foot in the dealership at all.

And so, where I learned not to expect the loud, party atmosphere of an American car dealership on a Saturday afternoon, I was somewhat expecting a car in the near future. I'll have to tell you all about it at the end of January...yes, five months from now.

In the meantime, I could describe how to fit two backpacks, two swim bags, a guitar, a laundry basket, dry-cleaning, unexpected groceries (including a box of wine), oh and two kids (including the same teddy bear) into my current car...but it's not pretty.

;;
 
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