82. Round trip to Belgium12 April, 2022
Beveren, april 8, 2022
Quite unexpectedly we took the decision that I would travel to Belgium for a few days. It just worked out just as well; only 1 house occupied and another one that would be taken today. It was now or only in the winter that I would still manage to get to Belgium. And just myself, because someone has to take the ‘honours’, of course. It has not been easy to visit the family and friends close to my heart due to the travel restrictions over the past two years, especially when another lockdown was declared over the winter. Especially the fact that I can’t watch my granddaughter – “Nieta” in Spanish (pronounced ‘njeta’) – develop and grow up, either through video calls, makes it more difficult. Also, the knowledge that every visit to my parents could be the last, gives me a certain feeling of guilt because of the choice we made to live and work in Spain. Even though it is a conscious choice, every now and then it’s hard to swallow when I see how Liv literally takes her first steps in the wide world. Even though my heart melts when I see a video of a dancing Liv, wonderfully on those shaky legs, with those clumsy movements of both her hands that are supposed to work together, typical of a 1-year-old. Missing those moments, not experiencing them live, is sometimes hard. So the choice was quickly made to fly over for 3 nights. Wim gives me every opportunity to do this, happily takes over Lavinia completely, and tries to take all the guilt away from me for leaving him alone. When I receive a message from him the first morning with ‘good morning, good day, glad I can cross off another day without you’, my heart beats a little faster with warm love for him. What a man I have!
So I took the plane to Eindhoven very early on Tuesday morning. It was especially surprising to find out that I was the only one at the airport in the Netherlands who still wore a face mask. It only really dawned on me after I squeezed my way to the exit with my way too big suitcase full of toys. I thought I deserved a coffee. So I lined up neatly, wondering what I was missing. It was very strange to see full human faces again in a crowded place like an airport. Mouths that moved, and noses, of all shapes and sizes, as if I had stepped into another world. After more than two years of seeing only masked people around me on the streets and in the shops, this struck me as shocking. It never occurred to me that this is no longer necessary. It took me a while to overcome my fear.
The reunion with our best friends was wonderful, cuddling, laughing, catching up, in short: coming home.
I had only planned a visit to the children on Wednesday. It was wonderful to see my son in his own apartment for the first time. How he made me coffee, how I was a guest at his home, chatting pleasantly about small things, that I could see with my own eyes that he was doing well. That he is happy, and that he is building his own life. That does a mother’s heart good, right?
A few hours later I unfortunately had to say goodbye again, but the prospect of seeing Liv – my granddaughter – again after 9 months, softened everything.
Her large dark eyes with immense curly lashes, which many women would envy, looked at me a little suspiciously and expectantly. She was sitting on her mommy’s arm and leaning against her. I couldn’t hug her fast enough, and as soon as she finished her lunch, I could finally hold her in my arms. Her soft skin, tender bottom, her lovely baby scent. God, what a great feeling that was. Her eyes were a bit teary because she was a bit sick. Perhaps that’s why it took her a little longer to feel comfortable with me. An afternoon nap would do her good, and in the meantime I had a nice mama-daughter chat. A cup of coffee, talking about what’s on my daughter’s mind. With gratitude I could once again establish what a beautiful wife and mother she has become. It was nice to talk to my grown children, about life, about the world, about their world, about my world. Only now am I experiencing motherhood as I had always dreamed it would be. It makes me warm.
Only after her long afternoon nap did Liv’je come loose. She clearly felt better. I went to her room to lift her out of her crib. Her sweet face that looked at us expectantly, her cheeks that still felt nice and warm from sleep. I sniffed her soft-sweet baby scent, sniffing like a dog, a scent I hadn’t smelled in a long time, and which catapulted me back into the distant past of a quarter of a century ago. We played stretched out on the floor, the grandma feeling came up. Suddenly I found myself again in that world of playing, acting crazy, cuddling and dancing. With my too big and heavy body, I twisted myself to sit and lie on her level, to sing together, to read books, to hide balls, to admire her toys, her crazy mouth and cheerful chatter without words to answer. It was a pleasure from start to finish. When I left, she waved me goodbye, with her signature hand-waving motion. I can’t imitate it, but it’s so cute. And so I’m just as proud of my granddaughter as any grandmother, because, really, Liv is the cutest, without a doubt. I wish I could take a box of her scent home with me so I can sniff the beautiful memory of that day every now and then…
I had planned my last visit day in Bruges, in my hometown to visit my parents and oldest brother. A visit to Belgium is not done for me without eating a real pack of greasy French fries from the chip shop. And I hadn’t got around to that yet, so I did enjoy going to the chip shop with Dad. He thought it was a bit of a strange idea, but I could get him to do it anyway. I don’t know if he’s ever done it before, but he really liked it. He even suggested going on foot. On my arm, even though he didn’t want to because “this is just for old people after all!” Yes daddy, 86 isn’t old, but how often do you get the chance to grab the arm of your only daughter to the fryer? So he happily chimed in. It turned out to be a nice afternoon, where he even skipped his siesta, because he preferred to chat with me. His photo albums of his military service were brought out, and I admired the young, beautiful and powerful man I saw in the photos, with the face of my young daddy. A period in his life that had such an impact and that he is so happy to share. I enjoyed this rare we-time with pleasure and amazement.
The visit to mom in the retirement home was also a joy. As soon as I pulled down my mask she recognized me and shot full of emotion. There followed a big warm hug, while she gave me kisses on my neck. I had my old mom back for a while. Tears of emotion and gratitude for this beautiful moment, rolled down my cheeks. The moment when she took my face in her hands, and looked into my eyes full of love for seconds, will take the most beautiful place in my heart. Soon the cruelty of her dementia took over again and she fell into agitation and a search for…?… Moments later, when I came out of the toilet, she cheerfully walked up to me with twirling hands. A moment I had to seize. I promptly asked her to dance. And quickly put Andrea Boccelli on. We danced very close to each other, we danced in the past, with the same intimate feeling as when Mom and I had a best friend bond. We were one again, in the same experience of time, mom was back, for a moment. Beautiful, so beautiful, that music can be so disarming. I had to enter her world, that is the only way to make contact, real contact. There’s no point in trying to pull her into my world. And hers is a limited world of emotions, closeness, and hugs. I loved stroking her hair and rubbing her back, just as she certainly did to me so often when I was a kid.
It was beautiful, wonderful.
This short trip has given me so much energy and a mental boost that I’m going home singing. With a suitcase full of memories, deep in my heart. The guilt about leaving Wim alone with our resort has receded into the background. It’s not necessary, it’s okay, I can enjoy, I can let go for a while, and I’m so grateful that I got this opportunity and grabbed it.
Now I am flying back towards the sun, towards Wim, towards my heart and soul, our baby Lavinia. And I’m already looking forward to meeting new people and being pampered.