“Welcome back to Prague, land of unpredictable weather,” I texted my friends who were arriving back from their summer holidays to various sunny destinations like Spain, Italy, Turkey and Greece. Since we hadn’t left the country for a long holiday this summer, I felt it was my duty to warn our friends of the recent turn-for-the-worse in Czech summer weather pattern, so as to make their transition home a bit less shocking.
Although the summer started out promisingly, at least for those of us of the relaxing-by-the-pool mentality, after a few weeks of record-breaking temperatures in early June, the skies darkened and rain entered Central Europe. It hit hard enough to create a flood-disaster state in Moravia, followed a few weeks later by floods in northern Bohemia. The hardest-hit region was near Liberec, a few kilometers from Radek’s hometown. On one weekend trip to see babička we spotted evidence of the flooding in the water-logged fields along the highway.
As the summer wore on, the rains came and went in Prague. Fortunate to miss the devastation of the flooding, which resulted in several deaths, evacuations of entire villages and millions of crowns in damages, at home we measured the effects of the heavy rainstorms on a more minute scale. We fought slugs off our crop of strawberries and picked loads of juicy cherry tomatoes that had reddened in between storms. The sun reappeared in spurts, just long enough for Anna to spend a few sun-soaked days at her friend’s family chalupa (summer cottage) and to make preliminary attempts to forage the forest for mushrooms.
The weather wasn’t the only part of our summer that proved unpredictable. As my due date drew closer, my very pregnant self was desperate for cooler weather. Yet despite a record-breaking heat wave in June (temperatures in Prague reached 33.3C, higher than they’d been in 80 years), the baby stayed put. Neither trips to the zoo or carrying heavy groceries had the desired effect of getting labor underway. We finally agreed to meet my OBGYN at the Krč hospital to see about inducing labor on Sunday, June 13.
Although I’d already had some contractions on the way to the hospital, up until the moment my doctor actually inserted the labor-stimulating pill, I didn’t really believe that we were going to deliver a baby that day. Both my previous labors had been unplanned and 100% natural. However, since my second labor with Oliver had lasted only one hour from the time my water broke to the moment he entered the world, getting to the hospital in time was a major consideration. Without knowing when the baby might arrive, the doctor and I were nervous about whether I could get myself to the hospital and find child-care for our other two children. After considering the implications to the baby and to my existing kids, I conceded reluctantly to be induced.
Our third child, Samuel Lewis, arrived in just over two hours, right as temperatures began to ease up, which was fortunate considering the hospital’s lack of air-conditioning and belief that newborns should be warmly bundled at all times, despite sweltering weather. The Czech health care system is fastidious regarding the treatment and care of newborns. I’d been reduced to tears after Oliver’s birth by a stern nurse at Krc who fussed when I left a window open so I could get some fresh air and criticized the way I’d recorded his feedings.
I’d been elated after the births of my first two children; however, when Samuel emerged, I could only say a prayer of thanks that he’d arrived healthy and whole, and wonder what in the world we’d gotten ourselves into with three children under the age of six. Although I’d insisted on keeping Anna Lee and Oliver with me when they were newborns, when a night nurse offered to take Samuel for a few hours between feedings so that I could rest, I passed him over gratefully. My emotions were still raw when the children came barreling down the hall to visit me, rubbing their sticky, sweaty hands all over me and whichever part of the baby they could manage to touch.
Surprisingly, speaking Czech and interacting with the doctors and nurses was smooth this time around. I found myself chatting easily, and it was hard to believe that I’d been nervous when I needed to communicate in the hospital after Oliver’s birth. Even though my spoken Czech wasn’t necessarily better than it had been three years ago, a few more years of exposure to the particular language of infant-care in Czech and a few more rounds of dealing with Czech doctors made the experience much smoother and less-stressful to handle on my own.
With Samuel, I was treated as an “experienced” mother. No lactation consultants appeared to observe my breastfeeding technique, the doctors skipped me on their routine morning checks, and I even convinced them, without much effort, to release me half-a-day early so that Radek could bring us home before he left for his annual summer work conference. Yet all the freedom made me feel a bit uncertain of my mothering instincts. When on our first walk through the neighborhood a neighbor mentioned the baby had really yellow eyes, indicating a strong case of jaundice, I was surprised to find myself wishing the hospital staff had been a bit more rigorous in their checkups.
Sammy developed a few minor infections including jaundice in his first weeks, which sent me running to our pediatrician more than once to confirm that nothing was seriously wrong. Although our pediatrician paid us an initial welcome home visit, I hated to make her drive to us every time I thought the baby’s infections needed attention, so I quickly got into the routine of loading all the kids into the car. Getting out in town with three children proved more difficult than I’d anticipated. Just finagling three car seats took practice and patience; however, by the end of July, we started getting used to operating as a family of five.
Rain followed us on many of the short trips we took during the summer. For our first trip out with Samuel, we planned to attend the 3rd annual bilingual picnic on Kampa, but realized only after we’d arrived that the picnic had been postponed. We met several other families who’d also thought the picnic was still on, so the outing turned out to be a neat way to introduce the baby to some of his future bilingual playmates.
Later in the summer, we took Anna Lee and Oliver to babička‘s for the week, and Radek and I decided to hop in the car for an impromptu long-weekend to Paris. Despite the arduous 10-hour plus drive and a few rain showers that sent us ducking for cover into cafes, the trip managed to recreate a little of the romance in our relationship that we’d missed juggling all the changes that accompanied Samuel’s birth. Although I’d love to return to Paris someday with only my husband, I know those days are a long-time coming, so I was grateful for the chance to have a few days out of the Czech Republic to get a new perspective.
This past week, it was only 9C on the morning of the first day of preschool. I debated whether I should pull out the children’s winter jackets and scarves, but I voted to be optimistic and sent them in sweaters. Any chill in the air was dispelled with the kids’ effusive enthusiasm. Anna was eager to see her teacher after the summer break, and Oliver was anxious to finally experience life at školka, which his big sister had talked about all last year.
Going from a house full of sounds and laughter to a morning of silence with the “big” kids at school was another extreme that I wasn’t expecting. Still I took the moment of quiet to reflect back on the season we’ve passed, and the autumn that we’re about to enter.
For members of the half-n-half community who dare to brave the elements, this weekend there’s another chance to mingle with the bilingual community in Prague at the rescheduled picnic on Kampa, Sunday, September 5, from 12:30-16:00. If the weather cooperates, I’ll be there to usher in another season that promises to bring at least as much excitement as the last.