We've spent the past few days visiting old friends, touring historic WWI sites and we've had a day resting and starting homeschool work at Jean-Paul and Sophie's. Here's a recap...
We started Monday with a real treat for the kids: a visit to the local pool. When we asked George which he preferred, Versailles or the pool, he quickly answered that the pool was so much better than touring an old palace. We are trying our best to balance what we adults want to do, what the kids want to do, historical tours, memorable experiences, and fun. Those things can all be packed into one event, but this morning was just about kids, and this pool was more than just your average pool. It had multiple pools inside and out as well as a crazy water slide. This slide, which the kids did countless times, is a concrete walled windy path going downhill that ends in spiralling torrent of water which one can barely get out of alive! I came down the first time with such force into the spiral pool that I knocked the legs out from under a teenage boy who proceed to fall back into the insanity with me. It took me multiple tries to get my feet under me and work my way out of the pool-of-death. This much fun would never be legal in Canada.
After the pool we drove an hour east of Mons to visit another former Rotary Exchange Student, Laurie, her husband, Xavier, and their son, Alexi. It was 30 degrees so we relaxed by the pool drinking award-winning Belgian beer while the kids swam. After a brief tour of Namur, we returned to their home for a quiet and lovely dinner. I didn't know Laurie when she lived for a year in Haliburton, and Barry was away in Holland the same time she was there so they had only met briefly, but it's amazing to see how the connection of Rotary has kept us in touch with her for so long. We have hosted two of her children in Haliburton/Ottawa over the years, and perhaps one day we'll send George or Molly to stay in Belgium for a while. Imagine how that would improve their French!
Yesterday we spent the day touring Ypres and Passchedale with Jean-Paul. It was a moving experience to tour the town and wander the fields where so many Canadian and other soldiers fought in WWI. Even though the day turned sunny and warm after rain, I still picture in my mind that Flanders Fields are covered in inches, even feet, of mud and filth, debris, dead bodies, barbed wire, land mines, etc. This land holds such gloomy thoughts for me that it's hard to imagine it in the sunshine, even though that's how I saw it.
The kids weren't quite sure what to think of it all. The museum in Ypres was well done and I think they learned a lot about the war there, but when we visited the Menin Gate, they saw it was covered in names of more than 54,000 Commonwealth soldiers who fought in the area and who have no graves. How does a parent explain where 54,000 bodies disappear to? After this, we took them to a cemetery filled with rows of white headstones and then we took them to Passchedale to hear about the Canadian in that battle. I think by the end of our tour their heads were spinning with the thought of the numbers. Mine was spinning too. It's truly overwhelming.
After our big tour yesterday, we decided a day of rest was needed. We also decided that we should start the homeschooling. Our slow morning progressed into an English grammar lesson, then a break, then a walk, then a stroll through town, then some math. The lessons went well and I think the kids are seeing how manageable the educational plan is....but this is only day one!
As a reward for good work, Molly and I had a little girl time strolling through town. Molly said the boys couldn't come because they rush us through the stores. I agree. Mons is a pretty town with shops for tourists and locals. We visited many, but we especially liked the one filled with jewelry and funky household items. With the reality of small back packs to carry for 6 months, our desire to purchase anything was pretty low. I wondered if this notion would bother Molly, but it didn't seem to. The only thing she requested was stickers for her textbooks - she said her other teachers used them when she did a good job on her work!