Thursday, May 26, 2011

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As parents, we dream of giving our children all we had growing up and more. We want to hand our children all of our good memories, sprinkled like a path in front of them, so that they can experience the same joy we did...and, quite frankly, so that we can relive that joy with them.

Every once in awhile, I think, “I wish my girls could have the more care-free afternoons as I had as a kid.” In first and second grade, my daughters can easily spend an hour on homework - reading their English books, doing their math and/or French worksheets, studying for spelling tests in both languages (sometimes on the same day) – an evening of cerebral gymnastics. Given that we do not usually get home until almost 5 pm, there is hardly the same down-time once the work is signed off, baths are run out and dinner is made, eaten and cleaned-up by 8pm. I long for the days of bike-rides around the neighborhood until all us kids somehow simultaneously heard our mothers call us in for supper. Then, we would do homework (maybe 15 to 20 minutes worth) and that wasn't until fourth grade.

More often, I think, “My girls are learning so much more than I did.” My eight year-old has already been in school for the past six years (free education starts in Belgium at 2½ years old). Both girls speak, read and write in two languages and are exposed to others throughout their day. Their study skills could rival many high school students (I know because I used to teach them). One Friday, I reminded my girls that they could play as soon as we got home, because they could save their homework for the weekend. To which my eldest replied rather sharply, “Mummy, I am allowed to read my English book.” Of course she could and she did until I made her put it down for dinner. Her little sister likes to play “secondary”, or high school. She walks around the house with her folders carried low in front of her and her back pack on. She announces she needs to study. While I clear a spot for her at the kitchen table, she pulls out her pencil case, whips her hair onto her back and says “shhhh”. However, like with all children, homework is occasionally met with a struggle. Usually the two days the classes go to either the gym or to the swimming pool tire them out the most. Sometimes, I actually tell them to go to bed without finishing their homework (bad mommy or just realistic?). As school only goes until noon on Wednesdays, this is our afternoon to catch up and to attend ballet class, guitar lesson and ice skating practice. “Down time” for them. “Run around time” for me.

Every once in awhile, I think, “I wish my kids went to local school, as I did, so their friends would live closer.” On weekends full of birthday parties, my husband and I can be found driving separate cars with kids and “cadeaux” anywhere from our town in Wallonia to Waterloo to Leuven to Brussels and anywhere in between. By the time we get home, it is time to fix dinner, cave into take-away or stay in the city and enjoy a restaurant. I long for the days when my farthest friend lived a ten-minute drive away. The cross-town traffic never forced us to recalculate a route home.

But more often, I think, “My girls are exposed to so much more than I was growing up.” Almost as many accents exist as do their classmates. Children of a variety of nationalities and cultures (even within the same nationality, i.e. Belgium) sit in front, beside and behind each other listening to one common teacher. These children's parents have jobs in the local community and in the European and International communities spread around the circumference of Brussels. When venturing to yet another birthday party or play date, we may drive into Flanders, Brussels and back to Wallonia. Each region has its styles and traditions. (For example, I learned that a Flemish child would not have a sleep-over party on a Saturday night because that would cut too much into Sunday's family time – not really a bad idea). So, instead of staying put in our own little village, we are all discovering a new neighborhood, a new park, a new museum, and new traditions.

With all the work and activities, one daily routine is consistent over generations and cultures. Dinner time. Topics of conversation are slightly different, however. We may talk about an up-coming holiday and what their classmates might be doing to celebrate the same time of year. This topic also often leads to what is happening in each religion or moral class, about the Jewish symbol a classmate lovingly drew and colored as a gift to my oldest daughter, or the fact that a classmate of my youngest daughter does not believe in any religious holidays.

We have spoken about riots in Cairo because a classmate moved back to her home country. We have talked about violence in South Africa because another classmate had moved back to his family's home. We started talking about the beauty of Greece after mentioning that a classmate is alone with her brother in the Orthodox class. So, rather than peddling around the neighborhood, their minds are peddling around the globe.

I once asked, at the start of the school year, what class came after Religion. One of my girls answered, “It's recess. We all meet back up to play together.” (Why more of the world can't “meet back up to play together” is beyond me).

And so, when I start to think how much I wish my children had the same childhood I had, I stop. I remind myself that no one can have the same childhood I had, because it was mine. My girls' childhood is different but it is theirs. And, each one of them is having a personal, unique experience. To me, playing baseball in the middle of the street was a big thrill. I would not have traded it for the world. Yet, my big thrill now is seeing my children explore the world I didn't have.

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