Saturday, July 21, 2012

Surrounded by Children

As a couple being in a long, healthy relationship – married or not – the all-important question about kids will eventually pop up. Do we want one/them or not? Living the lifestyle we live, Mark and I have postponed that question, or more importantly the answer, for years. But, the clock is ticking… I will turn 37 this year and we feel it will have to be decided soon. I have come as far as wanting to have the kid(s) before I am 40 or not at all. To us, it is the most important and difficult question of our lives and coming to a conclusion is not easy. Instead of “just” answering with yes or no, like land-based people with a steady income, job, house, family, school system, health care arrangements and routine, we have to (re)consider our whole gypsy lifestyle, finances, plans (?), living quarters, location, amenities, hygiene, and more. While mulling everything over and spending time in Belgium, we are surrounded with plenty of little ones to be inspired!

I was only in Belgium for a few days, when I found out about the “SIS-camp”, a long weekend old friends and Scouts leaders organized to spend time with their families and with each other. For me, it was the perfect time to reconnect with these great men and women and to meet their – many – kids. The weekend was fun-filled with activities, relaxation in the sun (yes, back then there was sun) and exchanging life stories. I got to play with kids of all ages, hear “different” visions about having and raising kids (nobody could live without them anymore or regrets having them) and find out whether there is a mother figure hiding inside.

The family Collaert is small. My only brother has one daughter and then it is on to cousins to hang out with kids. It is important to me to spend some time with my only niece Lena. I first saw her in 2009 when she was nine months old, then again when she was 1.5 years old and this time, she is three and a half. She is growing up fast and all I can do every year is send her a birthday card, which in itself is hard enough to do from countries like Panama, where random mail boxes are non-existent. After her shyness during our first encounter, we are best friends now and each time she visits her oma and opa, aunt Liesbet gets to play with her!

Last weekend, Mark arrived and both of us visited my good friend Rosy and her husband Peter. It has been a tradition to spend the whole weekend with them, each time we visit Belgium. This time, there was a big difference: their eight month old daughter Yanou. Like many friends before them, they “gave in” and decided to have a baby. They are travelers by heart and planned to not change their lifestyle too much. Being at their place for a couple of days, Mark and I experienced life with a baby, just as it is. Yes, husband and wife still spend quality time together and yes, they go on excursions with the whole family, but … everything takes much longer and life has changed enormously, with different routines and a whole bunch of extra responsibilities and less time for oneself. The weekend was great and interesting, but whether we want kids ourselves has to be seen in the (near) future!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Vacation at Home

Time flies when you’re having fun and that’s my excuse for not writing a blog in such a long time. Mark and I have left the San Blas islands almost four weeks ago! Finding an arrangement for Irie was quite the challenge after planning (and reserving) everything very carefully and months ahead of time, but I’ll leave that ordeal for another time. We hope she is safe on her mooring ball. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing, since communication seems to be a problem. If anybody is around to take a quick look at her mooring lines, we would appreciate it…

To get from the middle of Kuna Yala to Panama’s capital took a while and required careful planning as well. We spent the night before leaving the country in a homey B&B to be on the safe side. You never know around here and you have to account for anything. Transportation to Panama City included a 40 minute boat ride with a lancha and a 3.5 hour trip by jeep. To acclimatize for the Westernized time to come, Mark and I visited the Albrook Mall – easily the biggest shopping mall we have ever seen. Just strolling the main aisle on the lower level took hours.

Our frustration with the problematic internet situation and our decreasing tolerance for a hot and humid climate, made us leave for the United States two weeks earlier than planned. Mark and I were both ready for a break from the tropics and the boat life, after living aboard 1.5 years non-stop. Everybody needs a little vacation once in a while, even we do! :-) This decision also meant that I was able to be with Mark’s family and friends during this leg, instead of spending just 12 hours in the airport on my way to Belgium. We stayed at Mark’s parents’ place, where we caught up on some of the tasks we were unable to do for months. We ordered boat parts and other goods, went shopping in real stores, researched stuff (hurray for working internet!!!) and ate fast food (and healthy home cooked meals as well). We also spent a fun filled weekend with Mark’s best friends and joined Mark’s sister and her husband in Connecticut for a handful of days.

When it was time for me to fly to Belgium, I was ready for the change in culture, language, company, familiar environment, “long lost” friends and activities. I brought the sun with me, as they say in Belgium and after months of crappy weather here, the temperatures turned pleasant. Of course, it started to rain while I write this. I am quite content with the dry and crisp air, the pressurized showers, the space around me and the happy summer vibes. Belgium is awesome in the summer. Of course, it is always great to be the subject of attention after people haven’t seen you for ages! I can’t believe I have been back for almost two weeks. Every day, there is something nice or special to do, see, experience or eat! Or to take care of. Next week – on Friday the 13th – Mark will join me and then, our vacation can start in earnest.

Boston from the air.

Lunch in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with Mark's parents Carol and Stan, and niece Jo.

Family dinner at Tim and Kristen's place.

Typical American BBQ - with a buffet of yummy food and good friends - on a sunny day.

Ryan mans and masters the grill, while the rest of us relax - and trust him.

Scott and Lisa's new car has a lot of "specials" (gadgets?).

Enjoying the lovely weather on the property Dru and Brian maintain in Connecticut. Could we live like this?

Tasty and healthy dinner with Mark's sister Dru and Brian.