The past week’s spring-like temperatures of 15C have fired me up with a post-winter enthusiasm that has prompted two trips to the recently re-opened local garden center. I went under the pretense of just looking. The warming sun’s rays have also prompted me to wash our winter coats and boots for storage and dust off the boys’ baseball caps – and pledge to wash my windows.
Delicate purple crocuses and slender green daffodil stalks have peeped through the mulch bark border along our garden’s edge. Our hydrangea plants have green buds, and decorative grasses have sprung up in the space that was only rocks last week. Each day, I can tell the flowers are a little taller and the ground is getting a shade greener.
Over the weekend, Radek hooked up a children’s trailer to his bike and we took three-year-old Samuel for a first-ride of the season, an ambitious 40-kilometers that left my leg muscles aching the following day. Our scenic route took us through the woods in Statenice, up by the airport, through the magnificent craggy rock formations in Sarka into the Stromovka park, across the Vltava, past the zoo and finally across the river again via ferry to bike through Roztoky’s tiche udoli (quiet valley) and end at the Unetice brewery.
The scenery was breath-taking, and the outdoors was hopping with activity. We weren’t the only ones with spring on our minds. During the ride we passed whole assortments of people enjoying the weather, some serious bikers, people out walking dogs and local policemen patrolling on horseback. We saw families picnicking with hammocks in the park and children trying out new rollerblades on the relatively smooth path from the zoo to Klecany where the ferry docks. Older Czechs with walking sticks and canes stopped and smiled at Samuel when we passed. Biking with the sun’s warming rays on my back, winter was a distant memory.
While half of my enthusiasm stemmed from spring cheer, the rest likely corresponded to the conspicuous absence of two-thirds of my offspring. While we were in Prague celebrating spring, Anna Lee and Oliver were living up the last days of winter. On Saturday, they’d had left for a week-long ski trip to the Krkonose mountains with their Czech elementary school. The school’s annual “lyzak” (ski course) was offered for children from 2-5 grades with a special exception for first-grade Oliver as the brother of a third grader.
I had my reservations about letting the children go for a week to ski without us, especially after watching the ambulance during our family’s spring break at Lipno make back-and-forth trips from the ski slopes to the nearest hospital. With the mild weather this winter, ski slopes in the Czech Republic were kept in operation only through the use of technical snow, which was icy in the morning and heavy and slushy by the afternoon. The conditions were ripe for broken arms and legs.
The ski trip was a regular extension of Czech children’s out-of-school physical education with about half of Anna Lee’s third grade class attending. We’d committed to it last November, before we’d known what kind of winter we had in store. Both Anna and Oliver were excited. At least, I figured, the kids would have a chance to ski a few days more before they traded skis for bikes. And they’d be learning the valuable lesson of independence and self-reliance that the Czech school system fosters early on with its out-of-school overnight activities.
Waiting beside the bus, I took a deep breath, gave them both giant kisses and reminded them to put sunscreen on their noses. Then I waved as hard as I could until the bus finally pulled away.
Then, Radek, Sammy and I got down to business. With only one child at home, things were simple. Without his older siblings to influence him, Sammy was at once agreeable – he ate what we ate (Vietnamese Pho, green salads and spicy Thai pumpkin soup) without protest. He got his wheelbarrow and gardening gloves and helped cart away branches from Radek’s spring trimming. He rode in the bike trailer without complaint, glad to pedal when he could and happy to sit and watch the scenery. He was delighted to choose not one, but two bedtime stories, and to have the luxury of both parents reading to him.
A friend sent me a whats app message: “How’s your week going? One child – no child, right?” I hated to admit it, but having only Samuel at home threw me back to my first days in Prague as a new mother to one-year old Anna Lee. The possibilities seemed endless: swim lessons, trips to the park, visiting with friends. This week I could finally do what I hadn’t managed to do in years.
But there were drawbacks. At the brewery instead of going to the playground to interact with the other children, some of whom he knew from our neighborhood, Samuel sat contentedly on my lap, waiting to go home. At home, instead of rushing up the stairs to the playroom to see if his toys were where he’d left them the day before, he pulled on my arm and begged me to go up with him. He wanted me on the street to help him ride his big-boy bike and to play tennis with him in the garden. At bedtime, without the comfort of Oliver on the top bunk, he expected me to lay down with him until he fell asleep.
Time passed. Samuel went to preschool, I taught. We spent afternoons on the road in front of our house, practicing on his bike and waiting for Radek. He talked his blend of Czechlish, and I answered him in English. One day turned into the next.
Then, Anna called to say that she was worn out from skiing. She missed us; she was ready to come home. It was only Tuesday. The next night, she and Oliver called together. He was homesick, hungry and thirsty. He’d already spent the pocket money we’d given them on sweets and drinks. I suggested he drink water from the tap. Anna offered to buy him a lollipop with her last 16CZK. I suggested they forget the lollipop and asked Anna if she could read him a story instead and settle him into bed. She told me that she needed to sign off and promised to find his teacher.
On Saturday at noon, we’ll go to the school and pick them up. I’m ready. I’m sure they will be too. Although I’ve missed them dreadfully, I know that this week has been an important one for them as well as for us back at home. We’ve gotten a re-taste of life with one child, and I can’t deny that it’s been fun.
But, I’m ready now for the chaos and the madness of life with our whole family together again. We won’t be able to bike 40-kilometers; if we make half the loop together, it’ll be impressive. I’ll be back to cooking more and relaxing less. Cleaning windows will have to wait.
Unless, perhaps, I can convince the three of them to do it for me.
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