Triangle

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Some days being back in my home country mystifies me. Behaviours, or unspoken rules, that after living abroad for eight years strike me as really weird are in a Dutch context of course perfectly normal. I am the one that needs to adapt, or am I?

Just this morning while I was contemplating how lovely it is to be able to take my 10yo daughter to school on my bike, I almost bumped into an au pair from the Philippines trying to steady a heavy carier trycicle with three blond children aboard. Poor thing. Whereas I at least have long legs and a past rich of cycling expeditions, head first into gale force winds with rain slashing in my face, she has not.

Is it so much more natural, or normal to see an American au pair in a big four wheel drive Volvo collecting a couple of kids from the international school in Switzerland, or children being picked up by a private chauffeur every day from our school in Italy? Not really no. Still the image of this tiny Filipina struggling to keep her monster bike afloat, strikes me as really weird.
Just as weird really to find myself severely overdressed at my neighbour’s fortieth birthday party. She had send out handwritten invitations, hired a caterer and erected a party tent in the garden. So it wasn’t an informal, bring your own booze type of get together and yet at least half of the guests were wearing jeans and a top.

In the Netherlands it is considered perfectly all right to wear jeans, trainers and the latest knitwear wherever you go, be it a party,  the theatre, a restaurant, or a graduation ceremony. Ten years ago I would probably have thought nothing of it, but after living in England where everyone wears something sparkly and festive to go out and Italy where you wouldn’t be seen dead going into town wearing flip flops, or out to dinner wearing the same clothes you had on all day, I feel it is much nicer if everyone takes the effort to put on something special before going to a party.

My English friends will smile when I confess that I do struggle with the bluntness of my Dutch countrymen. Although my English mates have always found me cringingly direct, Dutch people can be forthright to the point of being rude. Over the past couple of days waitresses and shop assistants have told my 10yo daughter off in what I perceived as a very unfriendly manner. Yes, she was touching some things in shops that she perhaps shouldn’t have, picking wax of a candle in a cafe and hiding under a clothes rack just for the fun of it, but before I even got the chance to tell her to stop, someone beat me to it. And not in a gentle way with a smile on their face, no, more in an old fashioned headmistress kind of manner.  I didn’t like it and have decided to take at least some of my business elsewhere.

Instead of being one hundred percent Dutch as most of the people I meet these days, I have become part English (I love their politeness, eagerness to queue and – dare I say it- their over the top Christmases) part Italian (I love the fact that they all love my children and always make me feel like the guest of honour in their cafe’s and restaurants) and part Swiss (sometimes it is nice if everyone just obeys the rules. I for one really enjoy spotless clean swimming pools and dog poo free pavements).

A friend of mine send me a lovely story the other day in which a circle from circle country gets on a plane to go live in square society for a few years. On moving back this little circle dicovers that although he hasn’t become a square, he certainly isn’t a circle any more. Instead he has changed into a triangle, without quite realising it.

So that’s what I am: a triangle and proud of it. I even found some lovely other triangles to hang out with. Joking about our inability, at times, as square pegs to fit into round holes, really makes my day. As does fantasising about a little lady moving back home to the Philippines one day taking with her a Dutch carrier tricycle and telling everyone around her exactly what she thinks of them.

Guinea Pigs

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I dreamt about guinea pigs last night.Something, I might add, that is very, very unusual for me, as animals don’t figure largely in my life. Until three weeks ago that is, when my daughter finally got to choose two guinea pigs. Now I feel like a new mum.

Within hours after their arrival in our household I completely and utterly surprised myself by cooing over the guinea pigs, like I would over a new born. It is completely ridiculous, as Mr. S. doesn’t hesitate to point out, but I can’t help myself.

At bed time I no longer give my daughter a good night kiss. Well no, I might eventually still give her a kiss, but not until I have talked to the guinea pigs at length, arranging their toys and ensuring myself they are tucked in nicely in their straw burrow.

This all really annoys the 11yo, who a.) is the proud owner of the guinea pigs, as she can’t point out often enough and b.) feels she should be far more important to me than two guinea pigs. It doesn’t help that she has a bunk bed, of which she occupies the top bunk, while the guinea pigs live on the bottom bunk.

So now when I come to tuck my daughter in all she hears is me busying myself with the guinea pigs. She can’t see me from her position in the top bunk, nor can she see the guinea pigs, who always happen to do some incredibly funny tricks, just around bed time.

I am, by the way, not the only one who has completely been won over by the guinea pigs. My son can also quite often visits the guinea pigs in their rodent enclosure. He even went so far, as sitting in his sister’s bedroom for around two hours, when he came home early from school to an empty house. According to my son, the guinea pigs, who, despite them being girls, have been christened Ollie and Cheesy make great companions.

Although Mr. S. admitted the other day that our two furry friends are ‘quite nice’, he doesn’t really want to pick them up. He did the first days the guinea pigs were around, but since he found out they go to the toilet wherever, whenever, he is less keen. So most nights my daughter and I snuggle up on the sofa, each holding on the a guinea pig and a towel (to counteract the aforementioned toilet business).

The 11yo now insists she is going to teach Cheesy and Ollie some tricks and has devised an elaborate obstacle course to train them. Patience, she informs me, is key. First they have to be tamed. Instead of running over to her when she enters to room, the guinea pigs currently still run for cover. Lot’s of picking up and stroking and talking to them quietly, whilst feeding them treats is what needs to be done.

I should know this, as I have been trying to teach my daughter some tricks over the years (along the lines of: ‘flush the toilet’, ‘don’t drop your clothes wherever you take them off’, ‘put dirty crockery in the dishwasher’, ‘return home with your jacket, mittens, hat, umbrella’ and ‘keep your bicycle keys in the designated drawer’). She is always very polite when I point out the dirty clothes on her bedroom floor, or a floating turd in the toilet and promises me to really try and remember what is expected of her. And then she just gets on with whatever she was doing before.

I on the other hand get so annoyed that I – on more than one occasion – yelled at her. I have also binned all the dirty socks and undies lying around and laughed when she couldn’t find her bicycle keys for the umpteenth time. To no avail. But now I have a cunning plan. Instead of yelling at her, I will stroke her and feed her nice treats, whilst talking to her about tidying, flushing and keeping track of belongings. I bet you I can tame her. She will be putty in my hands.

Surprise!

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Surprise!

The combined birthday and wedding anniversary surprise weekend organised by Mr. S. last weekend featured sanding, painting and trotting around Ikea. It must be love, or otherwise I must be mad, but this week I  can’t stop smiling.

On my 46th birthday last May Mr. S. solemnly declared he was going to book us a weekend away. We were to go somewhere fun and exciting just the two of us. He told me September, but then got operated on his ankle and couldn’t see himself hopping around on crutches in some far away and exotic place. All right, October then. Since 14 October 2014 was our 14th wedding anniversary, October seemed a good idea.

In the meantime, however, we bought a house. The same house we have been renting for over a year now and still has the washing machine in the middle of the landing, ill fitted curtains in my bedroom, lights that don’t work, a huge climbing frame in the garden and boxes everywhere. So, instead of going away, he proposed a DIY weekend. No children allowed.

Except for the fact that the 13yo has a hockey camp and needs to come home on Friday night, which Mr. S. only tells me about on Wednesday night. So instead of going out, we stay in. And because we are fairly tired from traipsing around the Dutch equivalent of B&Q and lugging paint, wood, nails, light bulbs and countless other thing inside, we just have crisps, beer, some French cheese, crackers and garlic bread for dinner.

It is great. We completely pig out and not a single child in sight to tell us off. Just like the old days! Unfortunately Mr. S. chooses this moment of beer and carbohydrate fuelled euphoria to tell me he originally planned to take me to Rome. Rome! I would have loved to go to Rome, enjoy a balmy night under the Italian stars, eating delicious food, sleeping in an ancient palazzo.

Instead we decide to have an early start on Saturday to make the most of our child-free DIY weekend. And we do. I sand and paint a new storage ‘solution’, Mr. S. fits the washing machine, replaces lamps, hangs curtain rails and even offers to go back to the DIY store, because I forgot to buy enough paint brushes.

A good two hours later and with a triumphant look on his face Mr. S. walks back in. I had almost given up on him. He, however, bought himself an electric saw. In fact he bought himself the best sawing machine money can buy. Wonderful! Just what we need.

Around six we call it a day. I put on my high heels and some lippy, whilst Mr. S. manages to find a clean pair of jeans and a semi-presentable shirt. We drive to Amsterdam, have a beer on the waterfront, whilst watching an incredible sunset. We then go on to a tiny French restaurant where we have the most fabulous food and wine ever, followed by some more wine at home. We literally talk for hours. What a lovely night,

It was in fact such a lovely night that even a slightly hang over visit to Ikea the next day, can’t dampen my spirits. We don’t buy anything, as halfway the ubiquitous route through furniture hell Mr. S. decides he is going to make me a desk himself. Which he does. Now all it needs is about four coats of paint.

I also need to make some curtains, tidy the whole house top to bottom, drive to the tip at least three times and fit twenty hours of painting around my day job. When our modest Dutch palazzo is ready, Mr. S. and I will go to Rome. Or we’ll  go and sit on a mountain top somewhere, enjoying the view doing nothing at all. I doubt though whether we’ll have as much fun as we did this weekend. Turning our house into a home.