Triangle

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Drawing (and story) by Naomi Hattaway

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 café 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 café’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 discovers 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.

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.

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.

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.