Saturday, 16 May 2015

Exat living



Living the expat life has opened up a myriad of possibilities in my mind. Whereas ten years ago I would only dream of buying a forever family home in the Netherlands, I now imagine myself living almost anywhere in the world. Considering I moved back to the Netherlands only a year and a half ago, these dreams of expat living are not always welcome (nor welcomed).

Certainly not by my almost 14yo son who is having a blast, living in the Netherlands, where he can cycle to school and most of his mates in less than ten minutes and has all the freedom and independence he craved for while living in Switzerland. The 12yo is also beginning to see the benefits of her Dutch life, being able to choose a secondary school all by herself and having the luxury of also making friends outside of school.

Even Mr. S and myself, though reluctantly at first, are starting to find our feet. It is really nice to have our own home again after years and years of living in rental accommodation. Having family and old friends close by is lovely and we are both becoming more and more involved in local sports clubs, which is something we definitely missed living abroad.

The minute though I set foot outside the Netherlands, I instantly want to be an expat again. So when I visited my dear friend P. in England a few weeks ago, I immediately starting plotting to get myself over the pond for a spot of expat living again. The compartment in my brain (and soul) that is labelled 'How to behave in the UK' opened up and out it all came - down to every scone eating, tea drinking, pretty dress loving bit of it. I always find it so tricky to leave.

As coincidence would have it off I went to Rome only a week or so after visiting England. Although I found living in Italy tough at the time (struggling to speak Italian, finding it difficult to make some local friends), here too I realised there is a secret Italian lurking somewhere inside me. One that relishes in driving too fast all the while honking the horn and - dare I say it - swearing. I also love (love!) sipping cappuccino's in fluorescent, mirror adorned little bars, whilst eating sweat pastries that I would loath anywhere else in the world. I really don't have a sweet tooth. ,

Mr S. , showing off his fluent Italian, did not stop chatting with everyone he met. His inner Italian came  out when he insisted- like a true Italian - to wear jeans and a long sleeve shirt on a sweltering hot day. And point blank refused to drink cappuccino after 11.00 in the morning. He even took the food ordering  for the whole table, acting like a true capo della famiglia. Adorable.

Together we dreamed about living in Rome (we would have a ball) all the while maintaining that we will retire to Cornwall, finding ourselves a cute little cottage to enjoy the (our?) sunset. It isn't until I am home a good few days that I realise that although I have loved the expat life (and probably always will) it is the day to day talking to my neighbours, tending my own garden, meeting friends at the local supermarket, reading the news paper, being opinionated about local affairs and having a bit of time to build relationships is what I missed living abroad.

In my expat life friends would leave with sometimes only a few week's notice, I couldn't speak to my neighbours because I didn't speak their language well enough, I couldn't read the local newspaper, nor listen to the local radio. And although I tended some lovely gardens they were never mine to play around with. I bought shiploads of Ikea furniture in three different countries, but rarely something I really liked and mostly items that only looked sort of  right in one house but never in the next. 

So may be, just may be, I should stay put for the next couple of years. Find out if I am capable of growing some roots again, watch my teenagers grow up and make their way in life, tend to my garden, paint some furniture, make some new friends and keep them close. And may be, just may be I will find that cottage in Cornwall some day.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Wings



It has such a nice ring to it.  'Give them roots and wings'. That is exactly how I have always wanted to raise my children. Firmly focussing on the roots bit until they are at least 20 of course. But as it turns out, all that my 12 yo daughter wants in life is a pair of wings.

Flying on her own to go see her best friend E. back in the UK has been top of her 'bucket list' (who can live without one these days?) for the last eight months or so. At first Mr S. and I thought it would be a passing phase. Becoming an Olympian rower, a Michelin starred chef and the owner of a small holding in Scotland seem to all have blown over. But no.

So she spent most of her Christmas holidays behind the laptop researching ticket prices, all the while figuring out how long she would have to safe up her pocket money before she would be able to take off. She was positively shocked on finding out that 'minors' can not book plane tickets at all. Not until they are at least 16 or so. Before that - oh horror - your parents have to get involved. And we did. Of course we did. We bought her a plane ticket for her 12th birthday in January.

The last three months she has lived in anticipation, counting the days. Composing endless 'packing lists'.  I just found the last one in her bedroom, every item ticked. At least I now know that she has packed '2 pairs of underpants', '1 teddy bear', '1 jumper', '1 pair of PJ's' and 'M.F.S. (Midnight Feast Stuff), as she never lets me go anywhere near her suitcase. I am just hoping that at some point during her stay she will actually get a fresh pair of knickers out and puts them on. Something she at times struggles with at home.

The last few days before the big weekend, the 12yo seems oddly calm and confident about the whole undertaking. I on the other hand don't feel at all cool and collected thinking about my precious daughter up in the air all by herself. The awful plane crash in the French Alps, which dominates the news for days on end is not helping either.

As I tug her in the night before D-day, my daughter informs me hat she has invested some of her savings into bubble gum and sweets, because 'to relax on the plane I am just going to really pamper myself'. It sure sounds like a plan! What is there to worry about?

Half an hour later I hear her calling me from her room, something she hasn't done in a long time. I find her in floods of tears. 'What if the plane crashes and I never see you and daddy again? 'And 'what if I am too scared tomorrow and then we have wasted all that money?' I get into her bed and tell her that most people would be scared before such a big adventure. And also that being scared now means that she is really preparing herself and as a consequence of that the journey will be fine. Fortunately she believes me and nods off almost immediately.

We're both up at the crack of dawn the next day. We check and double check that she has her boarding pass and passport and then we leave way too early for the airport as she 'really' does not want to be late. Miraculously there are two other girls her age at the 'unaccompanied minor desk', who are also going on a little adventure. That helps!

After filling in countless papers, I have to hand her over to an air hostess who will guide my daughter through customs and will make sure she boards the right plane. A quick hug and she is off. I wander aimlessly around the airport (you are required to stay until the plane takes off), talking to the universe, asking it to keep my daughter safe. I also end up more or less hugging my phone for the 1 hour and 15 minutes she up in the air,  following the picture of her plane minute by minute until my friend in the UK sends me a picture. They've got her! Yay!

The weekend is rather uneventful on our side, but filled to the brim with fun where my daughter is. At regular intervals we receive pictures and message like 'They had fun at the swimming pool disco and have now turned themselves into Tracy and Stella who work in a beauty salon', 'Yo Lisa at Yo Sushi! Giddy with excitement,  bless her' and 'The girls are bath bombing, face masking and hair curling'.

Before I know it I am back at the airport, ready to collect her. I am still following my daughter's plane on my phone, albeit a little less religious this time. All of a sudden there she is again, walking towards me with a hitherto unknown swagger in her step. My daughter has grown up fast these last 54 hours without me and it shows. She truly has conquered the world and now it is hers for the taking. I am just hoping she will allow me some time to catch up.








Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Help Yourself!





It is never a good sign when I get the urge to buy self help books and an even worse one when I actually cross the line and purchase these types of books (I can never buy just one). But at the start of this Easter weekend I did. A couple of hours happy reading later I am positively buoyant with good intentions.



I am not only being enlightened by Dr. BrenĂ© Brown (Professor - and I a not making this up - in feelings of shame at the University of Houston) about 'The Gifts of Imperfection', I am simultaneously encouraged by Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo that I can transform my house (and head)  into an oasis of calm. I just need to tidy my house for the next six months, and then I never need to tidy again. In my life!

But back to buying these books and why I only buy them when I am feeling less than chipper. These books with their easy, step-by-step action plans, at first glance offer the perfect solution for when I am feeling low, stressed, exhausted and overwhelmed. Instead of some painful soul searching and facing up to the fact that I at times am my own worst enemy, I just need to sit down, drink wine and read a self help book to completely and painlessly transform my life.

As I at times can drive myself completely crazy by my constant perfectionism and fear to fail 'The Gifts of Imperfection' (which of course can only ever work as a title when spelled in capitals) jumped out at me. Especially the subtitle 'Letting Go of Who You Think You Should Be', was music to my ears. As it turned out it proofed to be rather hard work to actually read it.

Not that I read more than the first two chapters, but even just these took a lot of wine. The book talks a lot about compassion, shame, the need to belong and the dark side. Especially Brené Browns' dark side. Which turned out to be that years ago she gave this awful talk at a high school and that for the first time in her existence she didn't bottle it up, but - Hallelujah - shared her misery with her sister with whom she, as a direct consequence of her new openness, now has this deep and meaningful bond. Really?

For some light relief I swiftly decided to give book number two a go. 'Jinsei ga tokimeku katazuke no maho', or 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying', straight away commands me to be perfect. Because if you do not strive to perfection when tidying you might as well not tidy at all. Which - I have to admit - sounds rather intriguing.

Author Marie Kondo orders me to start with sorting my clothes, by collecting all my clothes, shoes and coats from drawers, storage, laundry and putting them on the floor of a calm room, preferably at seven in the morning when I am still fresh and can concentrate on my 'inner voice'. I need to one by one pick every single item up and if I don't shiver with joy, I need to thank the T-shirt, trainers or dress for the service it has provide me and throw it away. No mercy.  If I have done my clothes, I can move on to more difficult possessions like furniture, books and finally photo's.

Mmm. Not sure whether I can do all this keeping a straight face, while listening to my 'inner voice' (and visualising the Japanese author who lives in 40 square metre bed-sit).  But I am going to give it a damn good go,  Next time that I feel stressed and overwhelmed (and silly). Which won't be any time soon I fear, as after the long and lazy Easter weekend filled with painting the 12yo's bedroom, dining with friends, a real day trip with the family discovering more of the Netherlands and drinking quite a bit of wine, I feel more relaxed than I have felt in weeks (months?).

And If I try the 'Life-Changing Magic of Tidying' method some time in the future (and I seriously doubt I will ever find a calm room in our house) I am already pretty positive that when I'll pick up the 'Gifts of Imperfection' I won't feel a shiver of joy. I will thank it for a wonderful Easter weekend before taking it to the nearest charity shop.

Sunday, 15 March 2015