Power Girl

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Completely unexpectedly my girl has decided that she wants to come out running with me. Something to do with the upcoming school sports day and the need to become really ‘strong’.

Naturally I leap at the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with my daughter. But ever since my son burst into tears because he could not keep up with my running (on his bike!), I am a bit hesitant to let my children accompany me when I go for a jog. I do not like to be perceived as a drill sergeant, allthough sometimes I am just that.

But then my daughter mumbles ‘Vita Parcours’. Of course, our own local hill here in Switzerland boasts one of those running trails, interrupted by sturdy wooden exercise equipment. Great idea! Off we go!

She looks absolutely adorable in her too short dance trousers – she has grown a ‘bit’ since we bought those in the Christmas holidays – and her brothers too big running shoes that she insists on wearing. I better not tell her that though, as she is – completely unlike me – prone to mood swings. But all stays well in the world, so minutes later we skip through the forest.

It turns out to be great fun to look for the signs that will explain our next set of excercises. We stretch away at some stations and jump on and over tree stumps and wooden barriers at others. My girl turns out to be very fit. And strong. She relishes in showing me how well she can do push ups on the ground and pull ups while dangling high above the ground.

She is positively shouting with joy after she finds out that I can not do any of these things. I can just about manage to hang limply from rings and bars for about ten seconds, but that is it. Push ups are a definite no no. I never had much strength in my arms. End of.Now that I am home again, sipping a cappucino and typing up this post, I think I never want to go this fitness ordeal again. I should just stick to what I do best: running.

Not my daughter though, she disappears into her room to work on a fitness rota, comprising multiple weekly visits to the forest fitness trail. Oh dear. If I fall silent on this blog, it probably means that I can not lift my arms far enough to reach my keyboard. So unless I too become ‘strong’ very quickly, I will have to learn to type with my toes.

Picnic

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Criss-crossing the Netherlands on various day and weekend trips these past few weeks has rekindled my love for the motherland. It almost feels like I am seeing the low horizons and endless skies for the first time.

Over the past six months I have been pretty much blind for what the Netherlands have to offer. Moving back after eight exciting years living abroad felt a bit like an anti-climax. No new horizons to explore, no alien culture to conquer and going to the supermarket was like a deja-vu. My surroundings felt way too familiar to really appreciate them. The fact that we moved to a new village in a part of the country that I had never seen before, did not change that feeling one bit.

My eyes were not ready to see beauty close to home, nor was my heart ready to let new people in. After the draining months of prolonged farewells, an exhausting move and a month of unpacking boxes and trips to the skip, I simply was not ready to look at the world with expectant eyes.

Luckily autumn came to the rescue, giving me a perfect excuse to hibernate. Within the four walls of my rented house I could easily pretend nothing much had changed. Armed with my knitting needles 500 grams of wool and endless cups of tea I could just about face my new life.
But now it is spring and the sun has been shining bright for at least six weeks. Fresh, almost see through leaves have magically appeared, countless tulips open their flowers and little lambs are frolicking left right and centre beckoning me to come out of my shelter. And I must admit that after visiting the famous Keukenhof, I am feeling a lot more upbeat about Holland.

Even the ubiquitous tulip/wooden shoes/windmill paraphernalia that I find in most places I visit can not seem to dampen my spirits. The little multicoloured windmill my friend bought me a the tulip festival has quickly become one of my most priced possessions. I love how its moving vanes and tulips set the scene just outside my back door.

Last weekend I mingled with tourists from every corners of our planet to have a wonderful Easter stroll round the Museum Square in Amsterdam. The sky was the brightest of blues, the façade of the Rijksmuseum looked truly magnificent and I did not even have to wrestle my way in to get a look at the paintings, because I can do that any day, so in effect it can wait for a rainy day. No, I just sat and watched and ate an ice cream and it was lovely.

The rest of my Easter weekend I spend visiting friend in Zeeland, the far south western tip of the Netherlands, where the land is so flat and the villages so few and far between that the sky really takes centre stage. I used to live in this beautiful corner of the world and felt the roots I grew tug at my feet. Life seemed simpler, or at least gentler in this peaceful corner of the world. I surprised myself by enthusiastically taking various pictures of a photogenic dike with typically Dutch houses and a windmill.

Without moving away from the Netherlands and living abroad for almost a decade I do not think I could have ever seen my country, nor understood the identity of our national symbols with such fresh mind. I always laughed at this windmill fantasy of Holland, but actually seeing an antique windmill in a spring green field adorned with lambs and narcissus, these days almost moves me to tears. Tulips are indeed absolutely wonderful and I love the fact that you can buy arms full of them for very little money so my house is never without in vase filled with tulips in the spring.

Wooden shoes are of course a bit of a nuisance. No one actually wears them. Or may be some farmers still do, although the reason eludes me, as wooden shoes must be the single most uncomfortable shoes in the world. I must try them on one day, just in case I am totally wrong.

As far as national symbols go, we have done all right in the Netherlands. Our easily recognisable, quite decorative and brightly coloured windmills, tulips and wooden shoes don’t need much explaining around the world. Come to think of it so don’t the gondola’, the boot shape and the Colosseum of Italy, nor the cowbells, cuckoo clocks and pocket knifes of Switzerland. England our first expat country is probably the trickiest of all places we lived to define by just a few symbols. Cricket, cream teas, school uniforms, rose gardens, liberty prints, cooked breakfast are all part and parcel of English culture, but which one to choose to unify it all?

One image that springs to mind is the ability to have a picnic in the rain. And I mean to sit and eat completely unperturbed when the heavens open. I have witnessed, on more than one occasion how people just flip open their umbrella’s while they continue eating. No panic, no screams, no running for cover. My favourite school trip with my son’s class was one to the seaside at the end of June when the rain was pouring down, but the kids just went on with it, making sand castles, playing chase and jumping the waves. Of course we all had an ice cream, even though our lips were blue and we were shaking violently from the cold. We were at the seaside after all.

So I dare the tourist crap making industry to come up with one of those little glass domes with a pick nick scene inside. The minute you hold it upside down or shake it, instead of snow, rain should fall and umbrella’s should magically open. Or even better, let them produce a whole series of these with different rainy scenes (the beach, the camp ground, the Easter egg hunt, the summer fair, the diamond jubilee to name but a few).

It will be an absolute delight to look at them. Especially on – the not infrequent – rainy weekends when on Saturday I will be getting soaking wet watching my son’s hockey game and on Sunday I will be getting soaking wet coaching my daughter’s rowing team. Because how wet, cold and miserable I might be when I get home, it could be infinitely worse. I could have been picnicking after all.

 

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

I’ve added this post to the June 2015 Expat Life link party. Click on the picture above for more great expat blogs.

BBQ

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May be inviting 20 plus people for a BBQ, without owning a BBQ, wasn’t the best idea. And may be, just may be, planning this BBQ on a Sunday, whilst at the same time being out from dusk till dawn on the Saturday before, wasn’t such a great idea either. Our worst mistake however, was feeling invincible and certain we were going to pull it of.

It wasn’t until last Monday, weeks after I invited both our families for a Whitsun BBQ, that Mr S. casually mentioned that we do in fact no longer own a BBQ. Apparently we (well Mr S of course) threw it out whilst we were living in Italy. We were way too polite to try and light the BBQ on our Italian balcony and smoke out the neighbours, so by the time we left Italy the unused and unloved BBQ was covered in rust (according to Mr S) and not worth taking with us to the new destination.

In Switzerland we had one of those lovely brick built fire places, complete with its own chimney. BBQing became our second nature. We (well actually Mr S) loved charring burgers, or grilling the hell out of some ribs. Lovely.

Luckily our rental place in the Netherlands doesn’t come with a build in BBQ, because Mr S. long since dreams of buying himself a ‘proper’ gas BBQ. And not just any old gas BBQ, but a really, really big one. As this is an important purchase, he decides to take a day off.

After he had a nice little lie in and three cappuccino’s, Mr S is ready for some serious online investigating. For a while he is completely lost to the world, but then the 12yo, who doesn’t need to be in school until ten on a Friday morning, decides to take a look as well. Within minutes both the boys have a in depth conversation about ‘flavourisers’, titanium, extra burners and are watching promotional films of outdoor kitchen with lovely names like the QR4200, or PL250A.

Time to hit the shops, or shop, because apparently our rather large village, only has one shop that sells half decent BBQ’s. With the warmest weekend so far this year upon us, it is eerily quiet in BBQ Land. After long humming and hoeing and looking at various ‘outdoor kitchens’, we find out why. Most of the BBQ’s are out of stock. And although forty pallets of BBQ’s and BBQ accessories are due to arrive any minute, the sales guy has no idea whether or not Mr S’s desired model will be in this shipment. He thinks it ‘likely’, or even ‘highly likely’, but can’t be sure.

Mmm, time to come up with a plan B. After some frantic browsing on the net, I find a shop, about half an hour’s drive from our home. According to their website the ‘3000 titanium pro’, should be in stock.

An hour and a half later, Mr S triumphantly walks in with a box, the size of our kitchen. The only thing between him and total happiness is a gas bottle, but that will be easy to fix later on. First he needs to piece together the monster BBQ, which Ikea fashion, comes in exactly 271 different pieces.I decide to keep my distance and hide behind a magazine at the back of the garden. Mr S is whistling. Assembling is FUN!

But then it gets quiet. All I hear are some sighs and whispers. I am probably just imagining Mr. S is muttering swear words under his breath. swearing. Any time now the whistling will start again.

But of course it doesn’t. Loud swearing and some throwing around of screwdrivers follows. As it turns out, the very expensive BBQ that Mr S just bought, is probably a display model that someone assembled and then disassembled a while back. And just like Ikea furniture, once disassembled, you can never put it back together again.

With clenched teeth and loads and loads of counting till ten, Mr S. manages to get the ‘titanium pro’ back in the box again. Silently we lift the box and carry it to my car, where it just about fits, if we pull the seats down. Of course customer service closed 5 minutes ago and the shop isn’t open on a Saturday, so there is nothing we can do.

We’ve got tons of meat, garlic butter, potato salad, corn on the cob, a special BBQ cook book, a rain cover, beautiful stainless steel thongs, but no BBQ. It takes Mr S about six cans of beer and myself a bottle of Chardonnay before we see the funny side of the BBQ fiasco (there isn’t a funny side of course, but who cares after six cans of beer and a bottle of Chardonnay).

On the morning of the party we decide to just play it cool and pretend we completely planned a BBQ-less BBQ event.And it works! It honestly turns out to be one of the best BBQ’s ever, with Mr S in an orange ‘I love BBQ-ing’ apron presiding over the hob, frying everything he manages to get his hands on. It is utterly brilliant. Who needs a BBQ?

It isn’t until I need my car the next morning to go to work, that I realise the downside of the ‘hob-be-cue’ being such a success. Knowing Mr S., the urgency now gone, probably means he won’t take another day off to return the faulty BBQ. I will probably have to drive around with the blasted thing filling every inch of my car, the caption BBQ Land visible from almost every angle.

So we’re throwing another BBQ party and all 17 or so members of Mr S’s field hockey team and their families are invited. I doubt we can pull it off without an outdoor kitchen.Oh and did I mention the party is next Saturday?

zzzzzz….

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A weekend of domestic bliss! Even a Sunday night spent wading through the spillage of the blocked downstairs toilet doesn’t seem to shake us. We just watch the football with our wellies on.

During the past few weeks Mr S. and I have had our ups and downs. Yes, we are getting used to living in the Netherlands again, but it definitely doesn’t feel like we’ve arrived. I am sort of kidding myself that I am loving it here and that we should buy a house, make a pact to stay here for a least a decade and buy tons of new furniture to cement the deal.

Mr S. on the other hand is not so sure about the whole living in the Netherlands thing, so doesn’t want to buy a house yet, let alone think about how long he is going to stay. Needless to say, furniture never even enters his head.

However hard I try not to push Mr S. – and I honestly do try – most weekends start with me wanting to discuss buying a house and more often than not telling him which one I would like to make an offer on. This weekend of course is no exception.

To my surprise however Mr S. is not only willing to discuss houses (as long as we don’t have to decide), but he also agrees to look at some furniture with me. Now! So we decide that after fifteen years, two home births and four moves we will treat ourselves to a new bed. And not that we’re pining for our lovely place in the Alps, but we head straight for ‘Swiss Sense’, a Dutch chain of bed & mattress stores that, as we are about to find out, have nothing to do with Switzerland whatsoever.According to the sales guy the ‘Swiss’ in ‘Swiss Sense’, is purely for marketing purposes. It just sounds nice. The beds are in fact produced in the Philippines.

He is not too bad this guy, until he starts jotting figures on a piece of paper. Although ‘every bed in the store can be combined with every mattress and top layer’, when we do suggest a different combination, it all of a sudden seems to get a.very complicated and b.very expensive. But we do like the bed. We do however definitely do not trust the salesman, so we leave.

But then we find an even bigger ‘Swiss Sense’ store that is open on a Sunday as well. The weather is absolutely gorgeous as we head out around two. Which is just as well as the store (one of fifty furniture stores in a massive arcade, which is pretty much how I would picture hell if I believed there was one) is very quiet. As soon as we enter the store, the manager dives upon us.

Before we have had the time for such much as a cursory look around, this guy is bombarding us with information. He talks about pocket springs, bonnell springs, foam mattresses, memory foam, latex foam and different seams. He also talks about different zoning in mattresses and shows us five booklets of different upholstery fabrics. All I want to do is lay down. At the rate that this guy keeps going, I would be able to sleep anywhere.

I soon realise that bringing an engineer to a bed and mattress store is a very bad idea. Mr S. actually seems to enjoy talking about different types of coils. ‘Let’s buy this one here’, I mutter under my breath to Mr S. when the sales guy finally draws breath.
Luckily my husband agrees and an hour and a half later of testing different mattresses and top layers (‘toppers’ in bed & mattress store jargon) he too is willing to pay the guy extra if only he would shut up. Although I now know everything about Talalay natural foam latex and have laid down on a ‘topper’ made of camel and horse hair, which is more expensive than my car.
When at the end of the process the guy is willing to ‘do us a deal’, we just nod.Whatever, we’re buying the bed. Three hours after we entered the shop, we are finally set free. The sun have never shone brighter!
We have the best time ever driving back. Hours later we are still in high spirits. So when the water from from the downstairs toilet floods our hallway, we just laugh. Who cares? We have just spent the best couple of thousand euros in our lives. Not only did the money buy us a very nice bed, but more important, it bought us fifteen years of not having to set foot in another bed & mattress store again!

Over it

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Four new soup bowls sitting on my work top brighten my spirits without fail. Not because they are beautifully formed and exquisitely glazed, which by the way they are, but because of the German lady that made them.

‘Are you German?’ Friend P. and I must look very stunned at this question, because the lady in the pottery shop hastily switches to speaking French, trying to guide us round the entire contents all in one sentence. Friend P. is English, I am Dutch, we were probably speaking English on entering the shop, which is in France, because that is where we are on holiday. So German? No.

When I frantically try to unearth my school French in some far away corner of my brain, friend P., who speaks fluent German, surprises the lady with some very interesting remarks about the pottery industry. From which it takes only a very small step to discuss the painful break up of the German pottery lady and her French ‘beau’.

Within minutes of us entering her shop, the German pottery lady completely spills the beans.Of how upon coming to France thirty odd years ago for a pottery course she fell in love with this French pottery artist and how they were perfectly happy until he ran off with a Vietnamese girl. Oh dear.

Before we can commiserate, however, the pottery lady tells us how important it is not to drown in one’s sorrows. No, it is vital to learn from such life events and to move on. If only her French ex-lover would do the same. Moving on that is, or even better, buggering off to Vietnam altogether. But no, she points, every summer he, his Vietnamese wife and their children spend around three months in their pottery shop, which – didn’t we know? – is right next door.

By now two little red spots appear on the pottery lady’s cheek bones. Good thing she moved on and is in a good place now. She grabs some bowls and plates of the shelves. ‘See this spiral motive?’, she points. ‘I love it, because for me it represents emotional growth and the fact that life is a journey and one shouldn’t dwell upon the negative things, but continue to move forward’.

Not much more German is required at this point. All we have to do is nod and smile and wait for more. ‘No she doesn’t miss Germany at all’, the lady continues. She visits once a year, or since her mother turned 90 three years ago twice a year, in October and March, and that is enough. She truly loves France.

But then friend P. strikes gold when picking up an unidentifiable little blue dome. It turns out to be a salt shaker, a very clever little salt shaker. A salt shaker that the German pottery lady has come up with and designed all by herself and that has over the past couple of years become one of her best selling products.

Again she points across the small garden. ‘He copied it’. And not only does the French bastard produce and sell very similar salt shakers, he sells them cheaper. ‘When he first started making them he sold them for one Euro less than mine’, she says. That left her no choice. So she lowered her price, and than he followed suit and so on and so forth.The pottery lady sighs. Good thing she has responded to the lessons this break-up needed to teach her, dealt with the pain, grown from the experience and moved on.

We buy some more pottery than we originally intended and leave to find our bikes, all the while carefully avoiding to look at the shop next door, just in case the pottery lady is watching us. It is indeed very fortunate that she is truly and completely over it.

Florence

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I sort of knew this of myself. The recent operation on Mr. S.’s ankle, however, really brought it home. I am no Florence Nightingale.

Although to start with I didn’t disappoint. Driving to Rotterdam at an ungodly hour, listing to the duty nurse, getting the crutches out of the car and installing Mr. S. in his hospital bed for the day: no problem. Leaving him behind, mooching around Rotterdam, treating myself to a luxurious cappuccino and some cake: easy peasy. Hoisting Mr. S. in the wheel chair and wheeling him through the hospital and the parking lot to the car: quite good fun actually.

It isn’t until the next morning, that I realise I am a bit of an action hero when it comes to nursing someone back to health. I love the driving – carrying crutches – taping plastic bags around the wounded ankle – getting a stool in the shower – bit of nursing. I am less great at the endless cups of tea, coffee, sandwiches and other tidbits. I just forget.

Normally that isn’t a problem. Even if I forget to eat myself, the children and Mr. S. won’t starve, because they learned – years ago – that they live in a self service household. No matter when you enter the kitchen in our house, there is always someone making a peanut butter sandwich, or frying a couple of eggs. Dinner is the only more of less reliable service I provide.

I am even worse when it comes to listening sympathetically to stories about Mr.S’s ailments. Shortly after the operation I am patience personified. Of course it hurts, someone just made two holes in his ankle and scraped a bit of bone off. That is why the nurse gave us a stash of painkillers. I provide a glass of water, Mr. S takes a pill and all is well with the world again.

Just as I start to grow in my role as carer, Mr. S. reverses back from being a patient, to being his plain old self again. He starts to walk on his wounded foot without crutches, wobbles over to the coffee machine umpty times a day, as no one makes coffee, like he does, and decides to give up on pain killers, as they can’t be good for you.

He further demands to be driven to work, three days after his operation, as he is sick and tired of being cooped up in the house. So, I drive him to Amsterdam – again at an ungodly hour – before taking myself to work in Utrecht. When I call Mr. S. from the car on my way back from work, he picks up after the first ring. His ankle really hurts, he informs me. He even sounds genuinely surprised.

It would be great, if I could come straight away to pick him up, as he hasn’t called for the taxi to come and pick him up, as we agreed he would do. As he wobbles towards the car, leaning heavily on a crutch, I really have to delve deep to try and find my inner Florence. ‘I am really glad you told me to bring a crutch’, he tells me lovingly before he reclines his seat and closes his eyes.

Mr. S. grudgingly agrees to stay home the next day, as long as we both agree it is just the one day, because really there isn’t anything wrong with him. Right. As soon as I return home from work the next afternoon, he tells me proudly that he has been cycling. ‘It is so much easier than walking’. He beams from ear to ear. From cycling it is only a matter of hours until he declares himself fit enough for driving.

Mr. S. has been back at work for a week now. He still wobbles, but does he let that stop him? You guessed right. He is a bit disappointed his ankle isn’t healing more quickly and is sharing that disappointed liberally with his family. At which point, I really, really want to smack him. Not very Nigtingalelesque, I know.

Although when I see Mr. S. carefully putting a cushion under his hurting ankle and install himself – fizzy drinks and snacks handy – in front of the telly to watch a children’s programme about dogs with the 11yo on a Saturday afternoon, I cannot help myself but salute him. He is does try to put his feet up. At least for now.

As we are still living ‘happily ever after’ and in all probability will grow old together, we’d better make a battle plan. A live in nurse, would be our best option, I think. Someone in an official white coat and in the possession of a very loud voice, who tells us when it is time for our medicine, or our nap. Someone with oodles of patience and enough authority to ensure complete submission. So we can concentrate on what we do best together: eat, drink and be merry.

Edelweiss

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Three days of solid hiking high up in the Alps and I still haven’t managed to spot edelweiss. Nor did I bump into a saint-bernard wearing a barrel filled with brandy for that matter. But I’m not fussed about rescue dogs.

I am however pretty desperate to see edelweiss grow in the wild. Ever since I set foot in Switzerland I have been surrounded by images of edelweiss. Every single souvenir you can buy in this country has some edelweiss painted on it, or carved in it. I know that my countrymen make a ton of money selling wooden clogs to tourists, while no one in the Netherlands actually wears these, but that can’t be the same with edelweiss. I just point blank refuse to believe that the Swiss are that calculated.

So in order to give my edelweiss-finding-mission one last chance I book a room in a mountain hut close to Wengen and start planning some serious hikes. Fortunately my friend S. offers to lend me a hand and together we manage to persuade some of our children that hiking is really good fun (don’t ask).

It’s a good thing that we packed hats, gloves and thermal underwear, because it is snowing (!) when we arrive at the top of ‘our’ mountain. So we carefully layer up before we set off on our first hike. It isn’t long before we bump into the first of many groups of Japanese tourists that are let loose in the Alps. Just like me, they get exited by every flower they see. But although we spot white flowers in all shapes and seizes, edelweiss eludes us.

A thick fog accompanies us on our second big hike. We decide to walk to the nearest village, a descend of a little over three thousand feet. It’s an exhilarating hike, following a tiny foothpath that meanders through massive avalanche guards, which presents us with a totally new perspective on the alpine scenery. This time too my eyes are firmly cast down. Partly because I don’t want to loose my footing, but also because I haven’t quite given up on the idea of finding edelweiss.

My friend S. is game and is busily flower spotting as well. So much so, that both of us manage to completely miss a herd of ibex that frolicking on the mountain side above our head. Luckily my son has been paying a little more attention to his surroundings. He enthusiastically points the ibex out. Hmm, may be I should look up too every now and then. As if to remind me of my resolve, five minutes or so later the sun makes it’s first appearance.

We get a first glimpse of the famous alpine trio: Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, towering magnificently above us. Eternal snow glistening on their peaks. The mountain giants – all three of them are well over thirteen thousand feet – never fail to impress me and for the rest of our hike my gaze is directed firmly upwards.

That night we celebrate the completion of a five hour hike with beer, hot chocolate, schnitzels, chips and humongous ice creams. After dinner friend S. and I feel refreshed enough to hike up to the nearest viewpoint. It doesn’t matter that the fog has rolled in again and there are no views to be had. It’s just a matter of pride to have stood on the top of the peak that lend our mountain hut it’s name.
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fter two days of hiking we let the children decide what they want to do. Needless to say they don’t want to hike. Instead we fly down the mountain on scooters. The obligatory trail winds it’s way through flower filled meadows. My heart beats a little faster, but my speed is such that I can’t really tell a daisy from an edelweiss.

As soon as I get home I wikipedia the elusive alpine flower. ‘Leontopodium alpinum (aka edelweiss) prefers rocky limestone places at about six thousand to ten thousand feet altitude’ it tells me. And also that ‘as a scarce short-lived flower found in remote mountain areas, the plant has been used as a symbol for the rugged beauty and purity associated with the Alps’. So it might exist after all. It just doesn’t want to be found. At least not by a novice alpine hiker like me. I can live with that.

But then friend S. calls me that evening. She is on her way home from the supermarket where she spotted row after row of potted edelweiss. I am appalled. Edelweiss, as it turns out, does want to be found by me. But only as long as I look for it in the supermarket.

Back to school

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The umbilical cord between my eldest son and me has finally been severed. It wasn’t a gradual process. Oh no. All it took was one blow. Days later I am still recovering.

After nine weeks of summer holidays the first day at my son’s new school finally dawned. It wasn’t a full day. In fact, he only needed to be at school from one till three to meet his form tutor and all 31 of his new Dutch classmates. As some sort of rite of passage he wanted to cycle to school all by himself.

From a Dutch perspective, this is a very common request. Children in the Netherlands start to cycle to school on their own when they are eight, or nine years old. Maybe their mums and dads still help their children to cross a busy road, but the kids will at least cycle part of the way by themselves.

Not my 12yo. Till he broke up last June, I had always driven him to school. In Italy only lunatics try to ride a bicycle and in Switzerland we had to climb several hundred meters to get to school. Although it is much healthier to travel by bike and it will probably do wonders for their independency, as a mum and designated driver, I have to say, it was quite nice to monitor their school life from up close.

Anyway, in the Netherlands you cannot be seen cycling to secondary school with your mum. That would the end of your budding social life. So, my son and I did a few trial runs and I bought him a way too expensive phone to make sure, if need be, we could at least communicate.
My 12yo – who is going to a new school for the fifth (!) time – isn’t the least bit nervous. This comes as a bit of a surprise to both him and me. I can still picture him looking pale and worried on first days in England, Italy and Switzerland. Having had an easy start and two great years in Switzerland, surely must have helped.

As my son has been asked to bring a significant object into school to help him introduce himself, he put a Swiss flag into his backpack before he sets off to school. I know I am nagging, but I nonetheless tell him about ten times to text me when (if?!) he gets there. He has obviously decided to humour me, because ten minutes later the words ‘made it’ appear on the screen of my phone. Marvellous.

It is a long afternoon. Till around half three I am pretending to be busy, walking up and down stairs, sort of unpacking boxes, creating more and more chaos as I go along. By four ‘o clock he is officially late. I manage to wait another five minutes before I call him. Of course he doesn’t pick up his phone. It’s at least another ten minutes before he finally turns up.

,,I fell off my bike”, he explains. ,,I was holding the Swiss flag in my hand, because it doesn’t really fit in my backpack. When I suddenly swerved to avoid bumping into this guy on a bike in front of me, the flag got stuck in between the spokes and I was catapulted off.”

Oh my God. Luckily he got away with just a few bruises and thank God it happened in a quiet little street. I need a drink. And my son deserves a coke. I am really proud of myself that I manage to get the drinks on the table, without giving my 12yo a lecture on responsible cycling. I really keep my cool. He doesn’t seem too shaken up by this accident and I am intent to keep it that way.

‘OK’, is all he is willing to share about meeting his classmates and form tutor. When pressed he reluctantly adds ‘fine’ to his description of the afternoon, before he – the can of coke in his hands -heads upstairs to his room. Half a hour later he is back, ready to go to field hockey practise. A quick wave and he is off again. On his bicycle. My lovely, independent 12yo boy.

Star

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My children have learned how to conjugate verbs in four, or in my sons case, five different languages. But do they use any of that knowledge to communicate with me? Nope. One word suffices to get their message across.

Depending on intonation, rhythm, volume and breaking up of the word in two, or sometimes even three non existing syllables, a single ‘mum’ cuts straight to the chase. ‘Mum’ sounding loudly and yet strangely muffled at the same time, means that one of my kids can’t find his or her P.E. kit, homework, guitar, or favourite jumper. It might by the way also mean that they can’t find the butter, chocolate sprinkles, bread rolls, or – my favourite – have run out of loo paper whilst sitting on the toilet.

With their head stuck in a kitchen cabinet, sock drawer, or laundry basket they expect me to magically pull whatever it is that they want (need!!!) out of a top hat. I can not seem to make them understand that stuff could also be at the bottom of a pile, behind something else on a shelf, or still in one of the zillions of bags shattered around our house.

‘Mum’ uttered in a kind of whiny tone of voice however conveys a different set of messages in our family. ‘I told you I have a tummy ache and you’re not responding to it the way that I want you to’, certainly is one of them. As are: ‘I left my rain jacket in some changing room somewhere and now I am cold and wet and it is all your fault’, ‘I failed my geography test and it is so unfair, because I did study for it and by the way, it is all your fault’, or ‘I left my lunchbox at home and you did not want to bring it and now I am soooo hungry and it is definitely your fault and did you know that you are the worst mum in the world’.

‘Muhum’, or ‘muhuhum’ repeated over and over, combined with a rolling of the eyes is my children’s way of telling me that I have never been more wrong in my life than when I suggested they bring waterproof trousers on a day trip to the zoo in November. Or when I tell them I don’t want to watch Harry Potter at two in the afternoon on a gloriously sunny day, nor want to teach them how to bake at nine ‘o clock at night (but you always say we are going to .., but when I ask you, you never feel like it’).
My children ‘mum’ from dawn to dusk, preferably simultaneously, never doubting my superwoman powers to listen to my daughter playing guitar in her bedroom upstairs, while at the same time searching for my son’s maths book in the kitchen downstairs. They also seriously expect me to not bat an eyelid when they need me to hand wash their team sports socks that they forgot to put in the laundry bin a week ago. And didn’t I know they need those socks tonight? And all that while I am busy cooking dinner.

When I finally sit down for a spot of apathetic gazing at the telly, I hear a softly whispered ‘mum’ coming from upstairs. It is my 10yo daughter who should have been asleep by now. She needs to know whether we have any cardboard. ‘It is for a present for you’, she hastily adds when she sees my
face. I leave without getting too cross with her, but ten minutes or so later she lures me into her
bedroom again. Covered in glue, paper, ribbon and beaming radiantly she hands me a giant card. ‘To mum, you are a’ it reads, followed by a massive and very sparkly star. And you know what? I think she has a point.

Defrosting

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Pippi Longstocking would absolutely adore my kitchen at the moment. With the help of two brushes tied to her size 10 feet and a little detergent she could skate to her heart’s content. All because as a spur-of-the-moment thing I decided to defrost my fridge/freezer.

It seemed like such a good idea this morning. The fridge could defrost while I was doing the weekly shop. Upon coming home I was going to deep clean the beast, before packing it to the brim again. All would have been fine, if only I had turned the heating off, before I left the house. Remembering to take the drawers out of the freezer, would also have made a difference.

On a(nother) whim I decide to check out a different supermarket as it seems such a waste to drive to the nearest supermarket as it is only 300 yards from my house. I justify taking the car by driving fifteen minutes to another supermarket where I am going to do a really big shop. A hundredandsixty euro’s and three bags filled to the brim later, I feel like I have really accomplished something. It is not until I arrive back home that I realise there is absolutely nowhere to unpack the mountain of perishable goods. Allthough it is strangely balmy outside, considering we are nearing the end of october, I decide to leave everything in the boot of the car.

I let myself in, carefully avoiding the kitchen, because first I need to go and see my physiotherapist. It takes him a bit longer than anticipated to abuse my lower back, so instead of going home, I need to rush over to my daughter’s school to pick her up. Thank God she decides to go over to a friend’s house for a play date, because when I finally make it back into my kitchen disaster has struck.

Not only have the overflowing freezer drawers flooded my kitchen; the milk, butter and cheese left outside the fridge has completely melted and is leaving gooey blobs all over the units. Packets of ham have turned greyish and defrosted packets of peas and puff pastry have mingled into a sorry mess.

Luckily I discover real mushrooms in the fridge as well as white mouldy bits and non identifiable black, crumbly smears, completely justifying the chaotic defrosting operation.
My 12yo and his classmate look at me curiously when they find me smothered in food scraps and kneeling in a large puddle trying to clean the fridge. The last time I did this – in a different house in a different country – I could easily lift the shelves out, but never managed to make them slide back in again, so this time I am desperately trying to clean the shelves while leaving them in the fridge.

You have to be quite flexible to get rid of all the new growth, let me tell you that.
While I scrub, mob and wipe I have loads of time to ponder our recent new beginnings in the Netherlands. something that I have carefully avoided for the past two months. It is not all bad, I decide. Wanting to clean the fridge in my new home, surely is a sign of nesting, is it not? and mY heart is definitely defrosting, albeit slowly, as I am trying to fall in love all over again with my motherland.

Hours later, I contently look at my new sparkly clean and well stocked fridge. I have send Mr. S. to the nearest chippy for a couple of beers and some well deserved greasy treats. No one is allowed to touch the sanitized appliance again. Or at least not today. The cleanliness of the fridge is as fragile and easily disrupted, I fear, as are my baby steps on the road to accepting that life has changed once again.