08 January 2012

Holidays (and days...)

It's already well into the new year, and I have meant to write an update all throughout the holidays. We just got back to Leuven last night, at long last. It was a five-week journey for me and Gabriel and felt like even more, spanning several countries and several states and many celebrations. We've been all kinds of busy over the last weeks, happy busy and sad busy, travel busy and visit busy and organizing/cleaning/packing/renting busy.

First, we celebrated a fantastic "Christmas" day with my family on December 24th, after a fun get-together the night before to open our stockings. It's a joy to watch the five little cousins romp around and open presents and hold spontaneous Christmas-pajama dance parties (oh the stripes!). We had a delightful time over the course of several days talking and eating and dreaming (we're starting to talk about building a family vacation home in conjunction with my parents' move to Maine) and just enjoying one another's company. And did I mention the eating? As for gifts, the Mister and I gave "each other" a new camera (a Canon G12), which we've had fun trying out, and then he surprised me with a cool AirPlay speaker that we can use to play music/radio/movie or TV sound wirelessly from our computers, iPad, or iPod. I got a pair of slippers that are keeping my feet toasty right now, and some great books and travel-related items.

Christmas itself was a sad, quiet moment for us, because the Mister's beloved grandmother, our iaia, passed away that day. She had been sick for the past couple of months, at home with my in-laws, and in the hospital a few times, but the doctors couldn't find anything wrong. But just a little over a week prior to Christmas, they found a tumor in her intestines, and the end came quickly after that. We had really been hoping to see her one more time, especially knowing that on the 27th we were due to fly to Barcelona, but it didn't work out that way. We did make it in time for the funeral, literally hours after our arrival. She was a wonderful lady, with a lively appetite for life and listening and talking, and a gift for hospitality. She was my neighbor and friend during the years we lived between Barcelona and Belgium, showing me around the neighborhood and sharing countless memories of a long-ago Barcelona.

But I'll backtrack a moment. The day after Christmas, just before our departure, we had planned a no-kids lunch at a wonderful restaurant in Cambridge, which I thought was just that--a no-kids lunch. But it turned out to be a surprise celebration of my completion of the PhD! My family members prepared poems, both touching and humorous, in my honor, which moved me to laughter and tears in equal measure. They presented me with a beautiful necklace and I was so touched by their thoughtfulness. It was such a fun time together that we're already talking about doing it again next year. (Not the PhD part, obviously, but the nice-lunch-out-without-kids-after-Christmas part.)

Packing for the flight back to Europe was crazy as usual, given that we had accumulated gifts and purchases including lots and lots of books (as always) as well as bulky items like coats and shoes that are more reasonable to buy in the US. Not to mention a stack of baby clothes and cloth diapers that needed to get from Boston to Belgium now that there's a baby on the way. We managed to squeeze most of it in (and are thankful that my brother and sister-in-law are coming for a visit in a few weeks and are willing to bring another bag full of things). The flight itself went really well, with the tyke sitting in his own seat the whole way (the lovely Aer Lingus people managed to find us an extra one two days after Christmas!) and watching movies. We didn't sleep on the long flight, then all crashed in the Dublin airport and on the shorter flight to Barcelona. M. went straight to the funeral home and Gabriel and I slept for a couple of hours at home once we were there, then went to the funeral home for a moment in the viewing room and then the funeral. I was exhausted and emotional and confronted by a sea of faces, and as soon as I saw iaia's body--her but not her--it was incredibly hard. Death of a beloved family member, even someone 96 years old, is never easy.

We spent the next days in a blur of cleaning up the apartment, shopping for the upcoming Reis (Kings) holiday, visiting with friends and having people over for meals, not sleeping (toddler jet lag is the worst), and preparing the apartment for the renters who are taking it on for the next months. Plus! Organizing piles of baby clothes, both those that I had brought from the US, and those that were stored in our apartment. Deciding what needed to come first, on this trip, and what needed to be moved to an accessible place so we can bring them on later trips.

New Year's Eve we celebrated at my in-laws with them and some of their friends, mostly because all of our friends already had plans! But we had a delicious meal and a fun time ushering in 2012. Due to jet lag, Gabriel was ready to party, and hung out with us all the way through midnight, dancing to the music and getting passed around the table.

This past week we had another, more intimate remembrance of iaia when they interred her ashes at the cemetery. M's sister and her family had been away to their in-laws in Africa, so this was timed for their arrival. It was a windy, cold day, fitting somehow for the moment. Gabriel was overjoyed to see his cousins, and directly afterwards we headed to my in-laws for our last couple of days in Spain and the big celebration of the Reis holiday. More presents, more food (oh, so much food over the last weeks!), more time sitting around digesting food and chatting with family. This year, we had exchanged names among the adults for presents, and as I opened a small box I expected to see some jewelry, but I did not expect to see the gold necklace with a little cross and heart that iaia wore every day since I've known her. It turns out she had my name, and the family decided to give me this gift. One that saw me yet again bursting into tears. Oh! And M's parents, earlier in the week, gave me a gorgeous four-volume set of Catalan poetry as a PhD gift.

And then it was time to leave. One more packing session, two more airports, one more flight, one more round of goodbyes, and at long last we are home in Belgium. It feels very good to be here. Gabriel is enthusiastically pulling out all of his long-lost toys and new Christmas/Kings gifts, and we are sitting around enjoying a day of respite between travel and tomorrow's return to work/daycare/reality, eating dried pasta and tomato from a can because that's all we have in the house.

It's been an amazing trip: a PhD and ongoing celebrations of it, Christmas and New Years and Kings, plus a death and a funeral, Gabriel's first solo stay with his grandparents, all of this with a brand new year ahead of us. Meanwhile, my belly is growing bigger and the little one is kicking away pretty happily in there. I'm so, so thankful for how everything went on this long journey that I could barely contemplate for its intricacies ahead of time. I'm so thankful for a good-natured toddler, for a strong husband, and for a healthy pregnancy that has me feeling pretty darn good and able to travel, not to mention defend a PhD and chase after that toddler (but gives me a great excuse to eat lots and let other people carry the heaviest suitcases). I'm thankful for friends and family, and I'm thankful for the many places we call home.

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