We spent the first two weeks of October in the US visiting with my family. Several uncles and aunts and cousins, that I only see every five years or so, were also there to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday. After the kids spent nearly the entire summer in southern Spain with their grandparents, I was beginning to worry about how little English was spoken. Pretty much all of Ian's words were in Spanish, and Nora had to be reminded at the dinner table to speak English. Like most of my parental worries, this one was also unfounded. After an American fortnight, Nora is now principally playing with Ian in English, and Ian knows several English words, like "cookie" and "down", and follows English instructions where before he only followed Spanish ones. He just turned 18-months old.
Last month, I wrote this tongue-in-cheek fear-mongering piece about worrying about an oxygen mask for my child traveling on my lap. So imagine my surprise when Lufthansa, on all four of our flights, introduced another element of safety that I had totally forgotten about. They issued us a baby life vest! Who knew my baby needed a Schwimmweste!? Has there ever been a plane crash where the life vests were actually used to save lives? I've never heard of such an event. I'm pretty sure the average survival time for a human, even with a life vest, floating out in the northern Atlantic is measured in minutes. So that's "comforting".
We learned the hard way how important it is to have a bassinet when traveling long distances. As have done in the past, I called up Lufthansa the week before we were to fly and I requested the bassinet. The operator informed me that they no longer did reservations like that, and that if we wanted those seats, we'd have to pay 40€ per seat to get the three on that row. Or, she said, we could request them upon arrival at the airport and hope no one else had paid for them. Being the cheapskates that we are, we decided to press our luck. Upon arrival at the Bilbao airport, we hurried over to the Lufthansa desk, and the woman there said that, yes, we could have those seats. Woohoo!
After we had found our gate at the Munich airport, we were killing time taking turns watching Ian walk around in cordoned off areas where passengers weren't supposed to go. Then they called us to the gate. That's never good. They informed us that another family traveling with an infant had paid for the seats, so they were going to bump us!
No! They did let us keep two of the four middle seats on the bassinet row, but put one of us behind the other two. Having the longer legs, I was chosen as the parent to sit with both Nora and Ian and the other couple with their baby.
Ian mercifully slept for the first three hours of our ten hour flight from Germany to North Carolina, which allowed me to eat my meal and even get a little work done on my laptop. But then he woke up and the trouble began. All in all, I have to say that he behaved extremely well, but he is a one year old boy. Right above the bassinet, Lufthansa had some little trays holding postcards with Lufthansa planes on them, complimentary propaganda. Ian immediately began throwing them at other passengers. I was left with the problem that if I took them away from him, he'd cry, but if I let him have them, he'd throw them. So I ended up holding my arms up like a soccer goalkeeper and playing missile defense, doing my best to block each projectile launched. It was pretty exhausting.
Nora stayed awake for the entire flight. The inflight entertainment was pretty bad, but she watched the same hour of Disney Jr. cartoons about three times before getting tired of it. I think Candy Crush™ took another hour or two of her attention, and the rest is a blur to me. She kept asking how much longer until we landed. "Just seven hours, sweetie." Ugh. She asked, "Have we landed yet?" when we were descending at 1,000 feet, 800 feet, 600 feet, 400 feet, 200 feet, and then fell asleep and missed the landing altogether.
On the same day we arrived, my Uncle Steve and Aunt Linda had arrived with my cousin, Daniel, who is nine years old. Although Daniel has older siblings, they are quite a bit older, so he exhibits a lot of Nora's traits of being accustomed to having his parents all to himself. My father, gracious host that he is, had arranged some treasure hunts for Daniel and Nora to go on: a series of strips of paper (clues) hidden around the house, each suggesting where the next clue was, culminating in a hidden toy of some kind. This turned out to be the perfect bonding experience for Daniel and Nora, since they made the perfect team: Nora knew where all the locations were, and Daniel knew how to read the clues. They very quickly became inseparable.
Nora and Daniel, first cousins, once removed.
Ian's favorite cousin was his second cousin, Emily.
My grandmother with three grandsons and five great-grandchildren.
Ian learned how to say "Grandma".
Ian got to play on a driveway for the first time, an essential part of any suburban American childhood. The tricycle was unfortunately too big for Ian and too small for Nora.
Walking with Grandma in Downtown Morganton.
That deaf dumb and blind kid ain't got nothing on these pinball wizards!
The flight back was shorter, only seven hours. Again, we were nervous when we got to the airport. I asked the person at the check desk to give us the bassinet row, and he said, "Sorry, we can't do that. The flight is fully booked and all the seats are assigned." I demanded to speak to his manager. Putting a baby on any other row makes the flight worse for everyone. While we were waiting for the manager to come, the agent I was furious with discovered that we were already assigned to the bassinet row! Hooray! The original agent in Bilbao had assigned us to that row for both transatlantic flights! Thank god. Since the flight back was a night flight, Ian slept almost the entire time, which was positively delightful. The entertainment selection was much better on the return flight, so Nora stayed entertained watching cartoons for the entire seven hours. I, too, watched some movies. I was afraid to go to sleep because Ian was entirely capable of falling out of the bassinet if he tried. Unfortunately, we had a five hour layover in Germany. That may have been the worst part of the whole trip.
The result of binge watching cartoons for seven hours.
Upon returning to school, Nora made this entry – the writing is the teacher's – in her weekly journal. It reads, "I'm sad because I miss my grandparents." The big eared creature with long golden locks and blue tears must be Nora herself. Awww!
Over the past few weeks, we've been having a pretty big row with Nora over dance classes. Last year, she flat out refused to enter. Nora suffers both from general shyness and timidity around strangers as well as what can best be described as separation anxiety from her mother. For her to enter the dance class is a bit like going outside on a cold day, but for her to leave her mother's side and enter dance class is like going all the way from a toasty warm bed to being outside in the
cold. Much harder. Every time she fails to go in, she promises she'll go in next time, but then next time also fails. It's the age old battle between the present and future selves.
Two of her best friends from school go to the class, so it's not like she doesn't know anybody. She did actually go one time, when her friend's mother took both girls to the class, and Nora loved it. Not only that, but she's got some natural talent for it, following the instructions better than many of the other kids. That's what makes it so excruciating for us as parents when she can't get through the door. We can so clearly see the dark future where her best, and really only, friend makes other friends in all her extracurricular activities and leaves Nora behind, where Nora doesn't develop any skills, like dance or foreign languages or music, that her peers are learning, etc. etc.
It's difficult to draw the line between "It's okay, sweetie, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do" and shoving our little bird off the branch for some terrifying free fall that may lead to a necessary survival skill. Everyone can probably remember something that they were forced to do against their will as children that they were later glad they had been forced to do. I think we've decided to make future dance classes mandatory, no backing out. We'll see how that goes.
So this happened this month...
[we join the scene with a discussion of princess outfits already in progress] .... Marga: "I'm sorry, what did you say? I didn't hear you." Nora: "No, you heard me, you just didn't understand." Marga [indignant]: "I beg your pardon young lady, but I'm pretty sure I know more English than you!" Nora: "I said 'wand'." Mommy: "Wand? Erik, what is 'wand'?" Erik: "That stick Harry Potter waves around." Marga: "How is it spelled? W-A-N-D?" Erik nods. Marga: "I apologize, Nora, I really didn't know that word." Nora smiles smugly.
Nora schools me in Spanish nearly every day, so it was amusing to see it go the other way. Kids...
to the entrance. I let him down from his stroller, and he walks right into the classroom and picks up a toy and starts to play. If I don't go up to him to kiss him goodbye, he won't give me any sort of salutation. He is completely free of the social anxiety his sister suffers from.
As far as we know, Nora has never been "in trouble", e.g. punished with a timeout, in her years of daycare and preschool. Ian, however, has already had to be punished at daycare. Apparently he had an altercation with another child over a toy and mutual biting took place. Who bit first is unknown.
Ian does show some violent tendencies that his sister never did. If he's doing something he shouldn't, like twiddling the knobs of the oven, and I tell him not to do that twice and he ignores me, I will pick him up and put him outside of the kitchen. When I do this, he gets really pissed off and will attempt to punch me in the face. And sometimes he will try to bite me, but he does the same thing when he wants to kiss me, so I can never tell when he grabs my arm and opens his mouth if he's coming to love or hurt me.
Lord help us! Ian can reach the light switches now!
This reminds me of one of my favorite videos from The Onion: New Wearable Feedbags Let Americans Eat More, Move Less.
Ian's language development is coming along at a good pace. Very often he will say a word perfectly in context, often one that is repeated from what another person just said, but it always makes us do a double take. Like saying, "Good night" or "Bye-bye".
An important part of raising children is teaching them responsibility, and that means assigning them chores to do. For example, we make Ian load the dishwasher.
It's also very important to teach your children, from a very young age, a healthy exercise regimen.
At one point during our visit to the States, the children gained access to a piano. They immediately sat down together and created this original composition. It's a little avant garde for my tastes.
The state of the offspring is strong!