Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Nostalgia and Perspective

Our little boy started toddling a while ago. I loved to just sit and watch as he circled the couch with his hand gently using the back for balance. When he came to the corner, he would take three steps to the storage box we use as a coffee table. He would circle the box carefully with his hand on top until he reached the corner. Then, he would take the three addition steps by himself to reach the other corner of the couch. He enjoyed circling the couch and would often do it many times while giggling or babbling.

When baby boy was taking these steps around the couch one day when I realized the passing of time. One night your baby goes to bed and wakes up a toddler. One night your toddler goes to bed and wakes up a child. Soon that child grows into a teenager who is then eager for college. And then you stop and wonder when did they grow up? I now have a a little girl who is no longer a toddler and I now have a toddler who is no longer an infant.

It was during this moment that I noticed Maman Cele (my worker) who had walked into the room. I turned to her and sighed audibly. I told her I was sad that our baby boy would no longer be a baby. Maman Cele gave me a confused look and said, “Don’t be sad.” I assumed she did not understand me. I explained I was sad that my baby is growing up. Again, Maman Cele gave me a confused look and said, “Don’t be sad, rejoice.” I must have given her a look that said I was still confused because she continued, “Be happy your baby is alive. Each day he grows, he is alive.”

It was at that moment that I was ashamed. I live in a country where the mortality rate is astronomical – 1 in 7 children die before reaching the age of 5, and WHO estimates put the rate as high as 28% . It should be noticed that an official census of the population has not been taken of the country in a long time, thus the mortality percentage estimates are based on the numbers reported which means the mortality rate could be higher or lower based on an unknown total population.

Here before me stood a woman who has lost a child and who loves my child(ren) as fiercely as she loves one of her own. She was not sad that our baby boy would no longer be a baby but she was rejoicing that he is alive each and every day. That was a tough lesson for (nostalgic) me but I was definitely thankful for the new perspective she gave me. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

St. Nicholas Day

Every evening over the past few weeks little girl has told me "Santa is coming." And every time it caught me off guard. You see, our family has not talked about Santa before and our kids have never received gifts from him. So each time little girl said he was coming, I played it off by talking about how yes he did come in her Peppa Pig book or yes we did see a statue of him in the grocery store. But I have never encouraged her imagination. So imagine my surprise when I was proven wrong!

On Friday (December 4th), it was my turn for carpool and I picked the kids up from school. When I got to sweet pea's classroom, she bounded out of the room and squealed that Santa came and brought her presents. I looked at the teacher for more information but she was busy speaking to another parent. So I gathered all the kids up, got them to the car, buckled them in, passed out snacks, and started plying the kids with questions.

Me: So, you saw Santa today
Girls: YES!
Me: What do they call him in French. Père Noël? (Father Christmas)
Elijah: No, St. Nicholas (Ni-cola...like Ricola the cough drops but with an n)
Girls: Oui! St. Nicholas donné-moi des bonbons (he gave me candies)
Elijah: St. Nicholas was big! I even measured him! He was so big!
Ruth: Il donné des bonbons à mes amis. (He gave candies to my friends)

*The kids proceeded to correct one another on their pronunciation on St. Nicolas (NEE-cola vs. NI-cola...I couldn't tell the difference but they could). This followed by the kids pulling out their bag filled with small taffies and a package of Speculoos cookies and caressing it with much relish.

After talking to some of the other moms, one was able to talk to a Belgian friend to get more information. December 6th is St. Nicholas Day, a day where the patron saint (Catholic) is celebrated. He comes to town mid-November and travels to churches, schools, and businesses delivering treats to all, usually special cinnamon biscuits (Speculoos). On December 5th, there is a feast in his honor at all households where he could show up as an honored guest if he wanted. That night, children place their shoes by the chimney or in the foyer by the door along with hay and carrots for his horse and beer or coffee for him. During the night, St. Nicholas will go door to door with his assistant Père Fouettard (Black Peter) who will place chocolate letter candies or small toys in the shoes for all good children. For the naughty children, they will wake up to see a birch branch stick for which their parents are to punish them or if they are especially naughty, Black Peter (either a black man or a man with soot covering his face, interpretations vary) will place the child in the sack and send him to Spain! Sometimes when St. Nicholas is in a hurry, he will leave a bag of gifts on the door step and will knock on the door as he is leaving.

St. Nicholas and Black Peter
What? You were expecting something a bit different, weren't you? 
He wears a Bishop's rope and red cape with a miter 
After learning more about the holiday and knowing that our girlie goes to a Belgium school, I now realize that she had been studying him over the past few weeks, even learning cute songs which I mistook for regular nursery rhymes (I had to look them up after paying attention to the lyrics). So, we decided to celebrate the holiday by making cookies and setting out our shoes for candies. Since girlie is only 3 and actually saw the character I felt kind of bad saying he wasn't real when in fact, he was very much real to her, I didn't mind playing along this year. Especially since it emphasizes that "Santa" has nothing to do with Christmas which is a celebration for Christ. So we can keep our Advent countdown traditions, birthday party, and Christian songs separate.

Cookies for the feast

Making cookies

Making cookies

St. Nicholas came!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


As many of you know, my father died when I was only 4 years old. It was on this day, December 1st, 30 years ago (1985). While I do have a handful of memories of him, I do not have much more. I own 8 photographs of my father and me together. I have a few more of a combination of my mother and him, but not many. This is all I have and it is more than my younger brother. There is not a single photo of the two of them together.

When I found out that our baby was going to be a girl, I became obsessed with the idea of making certain that she had more than 8 photos of her with her father. It became a passion of mine, photograph after photograph after photograph. But one day I looked at all these photographs and realized something was missing - me. In my personal desire to give my daughter what I never had, I took away something from her, our photographs. I cannot go back into the past and add photos of us together but I can make new ones and plenty of memories to cherish forever.

(Source: Jocelyn Frey)

(Source: Jocelyn Frey)