Luke's South American Diary
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December 1996

11 December 1996

We have all, (except, miraculously, Elena) had a virus recently - cough, sore throat, aching bones, the usual sort of thing. Coincidentally, Julie's mother arrived for another visit nursing another (different) virus, and Maritza has more recently contracted yet another version of it, along with most of our friends and acquaintances, so it has sometimes seemed like all the world has been sick. It has been especially noteworthy just because of how few illnesses, colds, etc, we have had here in this idyllic climate. In addition, there have been several cases of cholera and denghi reported recently as close to home as Caracas itself, exacerbated I imagine by the record-breaking wet season we have had this year, and which also seems to be continuing into December.

Maritza's illness coincided with Julie being away on a business trip, so Julie's mother and I were holding the fort with Elena in our debilitated state, although I have to say that in recent days Elena has been remarkably well-behaved, so it was actually relatively easy. For the first time she did not cry at her regular pediatrician appointment (apart from briefly when the vaccination needle went in), and it seems she is in the best of health, even having made up some of the missing weight gain. On the day when I had her all on my own, she was almost perfect, including going to sleep in her car seat on the way down to the airport (almost unprecedented), and on the return trip chattering and gurgling quite contentedly on her own in the back of the car (equally unprecedented). Even so, I still find feed times somewhat stressful (especially when she contrives to hold her food in her mouth as long as possible, which she still does from time to time - Maritza maintains she does it when her large back teeth are cutting, but I think it is probably just power-games, or sheer bloody-mindedness).

Julie's mother is convinced that Elena is a genius, from the number of words she has command of, and the apparent quantum leaps in understanding she sometimes makes (her favourite example is when she told Elena that they could not read her book until Daddy came back and switched on the lamp, at which Elena calmly toddled off, switched on the lamp herself, and sat back down with the book). It is certainly true that she does do very well for her tender age, forming some basic sentences and repeating whole lines of nursery rhymes (eg "rain, rain, go away, come again another day", when it rains).

Meanwhile Christmas is well under way: Elena has already seen Santa on numerous occasions; bizarre snow-scenes with snowmen and reindeer have sprung up all over tropical Caracas; gift-wrapping services occupy each corner of each shopping mall; poinsettias have taken over all the garden centres and most offices; traditional hallacas are on sale in every restaurant; and huge queues patiently await "101 Dalmatians". In a word: Christmas.

31 December 1996 Back to top

I recorded a tape of Elena's babblings at the beginning of December, as requested by my mother, who feels she is missing out on them, but it is already out of date as every new day brings a new word and ever more sophisticated phrases. Even we were a bit taken aback when she counted to 10, with little or no prompting, which I imagine 20-month-olds are just not supposed to do. I am desperately hoping she does not turn out to be a real whizz-kid, with all the responsibilities that entails - just a little above average intelligence would be just fine. But however bright she might be, she was still, after three weeks and endless corrections, calling Grandma "Granddad", which considering that they are in the throes of a vitriolic divorce is hardly politic. We were finding it difficult enough ourselves to remain politic over these shenanigans, with Julie being constantly called on to take sides, and to listen to the maudlin recriminations of her mother after several too many drinks. I just hope I never have to go through anything similar with my parents, although given their phlegmatic and stoic natures, (quite the opposite of Julie's parents), it would seem almost inconceivable.

Having said that, we actually got through Christmas with much fewer problems than I had anticipated, and the change certainly seemed to do Julie's mother good. Christmas Day was quiet, insofar as that was possible with the local tradition of noisy fireworks. Elena added significantly to her already groaning pile of toys, and, predictably enough, discovered chocolate in a big way, so life will probably never be the same again (although it may have its use as bribes if we can handle it well). Next door are gearing up for a New Year party even as I write, so I am not expecting any sleep tonight. . .

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