Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Growing Up

Kids these days are different than a generation ago.  We've all seen article after article about how they aren't anything like us kids of the 70s and 80s and it's true.  In some ways they are more mature and in others, incredibly naive.  They don't have the common sense or survival skills that we had in our generation... mainly because they haven't needed it.

But what are the consequences to them not learning how to fend for themselves?  To learn coping skills and to figure out how the world works, on their own terms?  You read about kids who's parents say "we" are applying to Harvard - because the parents don't know how to let go of their child and let them figure out their lives.  They call up the school and get them out of trouble rather than letting them suffer the consequences of their actions.

It's also a result of society today.  We've coddled our kids because we are afraid to let them go.  We are afraid of all the crazies out there, of all the harm that could come to them if we don't keep an eagle eye on them 100% of the time.  It's not that we don't trust our children, but we don't trust the other guy, the one that could hurt them.

I could go on and on.  But the point is, it's a very different generation than we were.  At some point though, we have to let them try to fly.  They may crash and burn and they may soar, hopefully the latter.  But without letting them try, we can't let them succeed or learn from their failures.  The hope is that the failures don't have fatal consequences - none of us want that.  But we need to let them take chances or they will never grow up to be the leaders of the world.

Aidan's at an age now where we are letting him take more and more chances.  We are letting him test those wings and see where they will take him. And I think living abroad has lessened our fears, at least a little.  I think of the parent I would be if I had stayed home in the States and the parent I am here. That's not a judgement on any other parent in the States - that's saying that I think I would have been a different parent there than I am in Europe.

With us now living in the suburbs again, it's a little easier to give our little bird a push towards independence.  Sometimes this seems to come with a lot of "can I watch (xyz)?" or "can I play (abc)?" and "I want (an iphone, tv in my room, ps4)".  He wants to grow up before we are ready for him to. And it's hard sometimes to find the happy medium of our little boy and the tween he now is, getting ready for more independence and maturing every day into the young man he is becoming.

It's amazing to watch how he's maturing.  The questions he asks are more thought provoking.  Some often annoying (how many times in one day can we discuss the iphone that he's dying for?)?  But all coming from a boy who is growing up fast.  Next year he starts secondary school and I expect us to see even more changes as he will no longer be the oldest in the school but looking up to the older kids and learning from the behaviors he sees.  As it is, he's regularly talking with a boy that he's befriended that goes to the secondary school and already picking his brain on what to expect.  Planning ahead!

We're letting him do more things on his own. He plans his own playdates (or at least makes the calls and tries to coordinate as best he can).  He is riding his bike 1.5 miles to the skateboard park which requires him to ride his bike through the center of town on his own.  And he's allowed to roam our neighborhood by himself.  And we know this is just the start of so much more that's coming.

I know some of you probably have kids his age that are already doing these things but you have to remember that for the last 5 years, he was a city kid who was not able to do them because of his geographical location.  It's hard to let a 9 year old roam city streets on his own.  And while he had great city smarts living in Barcelona, he's forgotten what it's like to have suburban skills so we know we've got to work on those too.

He's become a citizen of the world and that is also something we are incredibly proud of.  This is a life lesson that he could not have learned had he stayed home in the US all this time.  As a result, I find that our conversations are very different than I would expect at 10 years old.  He sees the world from a very different perspective than you or I - it's a much smaller place than we have grown up with.

Unfortunately some of this growing up also means he needs us less and less and is becoming more independent (some of these things are also really good like not having to tell him to take a shower in the morning 5000 times!).  Hopefully his desire for independence means we are doing something right in how we are bringing him up!

Not little boys any more...

When we left the US almost 5 years ago, we had a toddler and a little boy with us.  How far we've come since then.  It's hard seeing these guys growing up so quickly but as we take on this new adventure in the Netherlands, I'm excited to see what happens next!


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sint Maarten Day

With just about 3 months under our belts here in the Netherlands, we're now at our first Dutch holiday. Sint Maarten.  Almost identical to Halloween (and comes only days after we celebrated the American goodness of that holiday), we were excited to start learning more about the traditions celebrated here in our host country.

Sint Maarten is celebrated in much of Europe and in a variety of ways.  No matter the country, the origin is the same.  Sint Maarten is considered to be a friend of children and to the poor.  Celebrated since around the 4th century, the legend that is most famous is that Sint Maarten cut his cloak in half during a snowstorm in order to help clothe a homeless man.  As he died on November 11th, this is why Sint Maarten is celebrated on this evening.  In older times, children and the poor would go door to door looking for food for the winter.

Here in the Netherlands it is celebrated similar to Halloween, it's a holiday about the children.  They carry their handmade lanterns (or store bought ones) door to door.  They are not in costume but instead they sing a song at each home and are then given a candy treat, similar to Halloween.

Sint Maarten Sint Maarten
De koeien hebben staarten
De meisjes hebben rokjes aan
Daar komt Sint Martinus aan
Sint Maarten Sint Maarten
The cows have tails
The girls wear skirts
Sint Martinus is coming
Supposedly the boys learned some songs at school though when I asked them, they both denied it. Typical boys.  But since they didn't know the songs, I didn't really feel comfortable throwing them to the wolves in search of candy.  My plan was to kind of toss them in with a group of kids that would eventually come to our door and we would just tag along, learning as we go.

Let me back track for just a moment here.  Back in the States, we always celebrated Halloween.  It's the start to the holiday season in my mind and we were always out enthusiastically trick or treating.  When we first moved to Attleboro, I was sooooo excited for our first trick or treaters and bought bag upon bag of candy for our first year there, ready for the onslaught of kids that would be coming to our house.

Unfortunately we moved into our house in Attleboro on October 29th.  Our street was under construction and only our house and one other was complete.  Though it was the last street in a neighborhood full of homes, no one knew we were there since we'd only moved in 2 days before.  We literally got one trick or treater that night much to my disappointment.  The following years more than made up for it but I remember how disappointed I was that first year when only one little girl showed up at our door and that was it.

So fast forward 15 or so years to our first Sint Maarten in the Netherlands.  Yup, only one group (of 2 kids) came to our door.  We never got that opportunity to throw the kids out with a group of kids to enjoy the holiday.  Aidan didn't really care, but unfortunately Liam was fairly devastated by this turn of events.  I've told him that he's just going to have to work on his Dutch to be ready for next year...

I'm not sure if there just weren't a lot of kids out (my babysitter said she didn't get many either) or if it's that many of the kids did their thing on Halloween and so the families opted to skip Sint Maarten, but I'm hoping the next holiday goes much better.  Sinterklaas!  More on that coming soon!


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Halloween in the Netherlands

While the increasingly cold weather is not one of my favorite things, I do love fall.  And I love it for several reasons.  The foliage, breaking out the jeans and cozy sweaters after a long, hot summer, apple pie, soups and the start of fire season (the last 5 years of which we didn't have or need a fireplace and now we have one but it doesn't work).  But what I really love is the start of the holiday season, starting with Halloween.

I've always loved the holidays but living in our neighborhood in Attleboro, made me love them even more.  It's a neighborhood that doesn't do anything half assed - we go big or we go home.  From neighborhood Easter egg hunts to luminaries at Christmas and everything in between, our neighborhood does the holidays right.  And it's a big piece of what I miss from home each year.

One of our favorite memories from home is trick or treating in our neighborhood.  Now to trick or treat in our neighborhood meant buying a minimum of 500 pieces of candy, no exaggeration.  Given we only have about 75 houses and not all of them have children... well, you do the math.  A lot of kids are driven in to our neighborhood from neighboring towns.  It's part annoying (all the cars when the kids are walking around our safe neighborhood) and it's part heart warming to know that other parents think our neighborhood is both safe and fun for their children - not to mention all the great candy!

Anyways, we've always loved Halloween in our neighborhood and it was hard to move to Spain where it's not really celebrated.  The boys' school put on a really great Halloween party every year but it wasn't the same as going door to door to trick or treat.  There is just something really special as a kid when you get to dress up and go door to door collecting candy.  To be someone or something else, just for a day - whether it's a princess or a pirate or something really scary!  To let your imagination run wild.

Liam didn't really remember trick or treating in the US so it wasn't a big deal for him to just have a party.  And since he loves to dress up on a regular basis anyways, it was just an excuse to go out in public in one of his many costumes ;)  For Aidan, it took the fun out of Halloween.  He loved going to the party, but he lost the interest in dressing up for the holiday.  It made me sad to see him both growing up and growing out of such a fun part of childhood.

However.. while Halloween does not have a big presence in Europe, it's getting bigger.  Which is really funny because Halloween actually started in Europe, went to the US and then now is making a comeback here in Europe.  Some countries have always celebrated like England and Ireland.  But in others, it's a relatively new thing.  It's becoming more popular in the Netherlands apparently than it was in previous years.  This being our first year, I can't vouch for how it was before but given I was able to find some things in stores but not the huge amount that I would find in the US says something to me about it's slowly increasing popularity.

And here in our little neighborhood of Naarderbos (part of the town of Naarden), we are having trick or treat for the first time.  The timing couldn't be better with us just having moved here.  While the boys know that neither Spain nor the Netherlands is the US, it's always nice when we get a little piece of home along the way.  And when it's something that puts a smile on their faces, even better.

So we were sooooo excited to get the flyer in our mail from a neighbor offering to organize Halloween here.  I immediately replied and was also excited to find that the neighbor was an American who has been here for about 8 years.  I don't know much about her yet, but it's nice to know there is someone from "home" right down the street.

Anyways, we bought a few small decorations (in hindsight, apparently not nearly enough but more on that later) and the kids chose costumes.  Liam, a devil, and Aidan, a vampire.  In the end, Aidan decided to go with a more combo kind of costume - Camp Wekeela sweatshirt, Scream mask, nunchucks from a ninja turtle costume.  A mish mash of sorts.  But it's Halloween and his choice - he's 10 and can decide these things on his own.  Liam was beyond excited, counting down the days and then hours and minutes til it was time to go out (and yet he was the first one done for the night).

The kids each invited a friend over (who happened to be brothers) and when the sun set at 5:30, we were off and running just like in the US.  Well, sort of.  Since this was the first time the holiday was being celebrated in our neighborhood, not all houses were participating.  So we had a list of those that were and we were told that there would be orange balloons at each house that was joining the festivities.  We took off through our neighborhood with glow sticks and bags in hand, ready to enjoy our first trick or treating in 5 years.  The excitement was hard to contain!
Scott, Stanley and Liam

The 4 amigos, ready to go!

At first we didn't see many kids.  We went to a few houses and I have to say, for the first Halloween, some of these houses went all out with the decorating.  It truly put us to shame and we need to up our game for next year.  I don't know if it's habit or because pretty much everyone celebrates at home but beyond standard "fall" decorating of pumpkins, corn stalks and the like, we don't do much at home for decorating for Halloween (Christmas is another story).  Some people certainly do but I can't say it's the standard.  So I really wasn't expecting such great decorations and was totally blown away!

My favorite was a simple house though - no elaborate decorations.  In fact, it was a bit dark even though they had balloons at the end of their driveway.  The boys rang the doorbell but not much happened.  Then a fluorescent green head came out of no where (he must have been lying on the floor as the door was see through glass) in front of the kids.  You probably heard their screams in the US.  It was awesome and truly in the spirit of Halloween.  I laughed so hard that I almost peed myself.

The kids loved running down the streets and collecting candy from the neighbors.  As it got a little later more and more kids came out.  For only 36 houses (out of probably 200), there were a lot of kids out! And they were all having such a great time!!!

By just before 7, my kids were done.  They were ready to head home and check out their loot and play with their friends.  All in all it was a great success and we can't wait to do it again next year.  Though we'll make sure to stock up on decorations when we are home this summer (after all we did see the Halloween store was open when we were home in July!)!!


Getting a Car in the Netherlands

Getting a car here has been a project.  Thankfully it's a project that was assigned to Josh :)  Knowing that we were going to be living in the suburbs, a car is essential for us here.  Unlike in the US though, we will only need one car, like we had in Barcelona.  However, we managed without a car in Barcelona for 3 years something that just isn't feasible here based on our location.

When we leased a car in Barcelona it wasn't all that difficult.  A friend of mine went with me to do the translations.  We found that private leasing wasn't very common in Spain which limited our choices. This is not necessarily a bad thing.  We ended up going with VW and overall our experience was a good one (though we just got back some money that was due to us back in August which is kind of putting a dark cloud on that experience as we are now at the end of October).

In Barcelona, they asked what kind of car we wanted, told us what they had in stock and started the paperwork.  They used Josh's contract and his W-2 in order to approve us for the lease.  And while it took a few weeks to get the car (because while it was built, it had to be transported to that location), the process over all was very simple.  In fact, they revised our contract several times, REDUCING the price of the lease - on their own volition.  It was a beggars can't be choosers situation where it was "this is the car we have, take it or leave it" kind of deal.  I never even test drove the car before getting it.

Before the kids and I arrived in mid August, Josh had started to do some research on getting a car here and started to look at cars at the start of the month. He spoke with co-workers, made some calls and figured out what our options were.  It turns out, from what we understand, that private leasing is even less common here than in Spain.  We thought we'd have no choice but to buy a car.  It's not that we couldn't buy a car, but the challenges were two fold - the first is that as non residents (though technically Josh was a resident but he wasn't officially an employee here until September) it was going to be impossible for us to get a car loan and secondly, we didn't want to have to deal with selling a car in a foreign country at a later date, whenever that may be.

So an ideal situation was to do a lease.  In the end, if I understand it correctly, we had to go through a third party in order to arrange the lease even though we will pay VW directly.  There were a lot of hoops to jump through and the car had to be ordered - I'm still not sure why it had to be ordered but I'm going with the assumption that it was because we wanted an automatic.  I guess with all the flat roads I probably could have managed in a manual, but it's not what I like to drive.  But the nice thing is that we were able to pick the color and features we wanted in the car... more on that later.

Now given we did not have official residence here until June (for Josh, August for the kids and myself) and Josh's contract didn't officially turn over until September 1, they could not order the car until that time.  We offered to put the required hefty deposit down further in advance (an insult given how little, if anything you put down for a lease in the US) for them to order the car earlier but no, they wouldn't. They drew up the contract and managed to sneak in the order just before the 1st, on August 26 (woah... don't do it too early now!).  But the downside was that it would take 7-8 weeks for it to arrive.

We've had a little (expensive given how little and bare bones it was) rental car for the last few months. It's gotten us from point A to point B and done what we needed it to do.  But we finally got the call about 2 weeks ago that our car was coming!!  And 2 weeks ago I went to pick it up finally!  Given I wasn't with Josh when he ordered it, I had no idea what to expect other than it was a Golf, black and it had a navigation system.

What I didn't expect when I went to pick it up was the "great reveal".  I met with the salesman who had been working with Josh all along and reviewed the features and books that came with the car, the numbers to call in case of a problem, etc.  And then he said to me, "do you want to see the car?" and it turned out it was right behind me in the showroom - who knew???  In Spain they had it in a corner of the showroom but it wasn't under cover and I figured it was only inside because we were in the city center and there wasn't exactly ample outdoor parking nearby.

So anyways, sign and all, my car was right behind me.  And it was covered with a tarp which made the reveal all the cooler.  I know, I'm a sucker for a good presentation!  And no, I didn't get to keep the cover!

What shocked me after the "great reveal" though was something that Josh and I have been laughing about ever since.  When Josh ordered the car, the salesman, in typical sales fashion, kept asking him if he wanted to upgrade certain options.  Some he did, some he didn't.  But what we didn't realize was apparently an upgrade and nor did the salesman ever ask about ... was the rear windows.  They are manual.  We laugh because we didn't even realize cars these days are made with manual handles.  And when you are upgrading your customer, wouldn't you ask "and would you like to have power windows in the back?" if it wasn't a standard item, which apparently it wasn't.  It's not the end of the world but just an ahhhh Netherlands moment.  And since neither of us use the back windows, it's not so much an issue for us. The kids, on the other hand, are less than thrilled.  When I told them that we didn't have power windows when we were growing up and it would be fine, Aidan's reply was "we didn't grow up like that so it's different for us."  I guess I can see where he is coming from but here you go Aidan, a little taste of what it was like to grow up in the "olden" days ;)

And the hammer that comes with the car (one on each side in the front)... again, I'm already a little concerned that this a standard item which leads me to believe cars falling into canals is a little too common!!!

Anyways, we are happy with our spacious little Golf which is a whole lot more comfortable (especially with the million speedbumps in this country) than the rental we had.  We've come a long way from our big SUVs and minivan in the States!!


Monday, October 27, 2014

October Break

As the kids are in a new school system, one that falls more into the British style, we have had to adjust to a new schedule - not just on a daily basis, but also as far as their school breaks.  A few weeks ago, the kids had their first school break.  Coming from a system that started in September with some long weekends thrown in regularly but no long break until December, it felt weird to have a week long break in mid October.  But given the kids started school in mid August, it was, in fact, time for a much needed week off.

I had originally thought I would take the kids away somewhere, Stockholm to visit friends or perhaps Venice since they had never been.  I thought maybe Rome.  I even thought of taking them back to Barcelona since their friends wouldn't be on break and they'd get to have a nice visit with them.  But poor planning on my end, expensive flights and swim classes and doctor's appointments meant that I couldn't pull it together.  Since we'd only been here just 2 months, it was not a bad thing to have to stick around.  We don't need to travel at every break.  It was one thing when we thought we were only going to be in Europe for 2 years, but now almost 5 years later, the urgency has diminished.

Since Josh was off the week before due to his surgery, I was on my own for planning the fall break. We overall took things easy.  Since nothing here opens on Mondays til around 1, we just laid low. Liam had a friend over and then we went to Almere to look at skateboard wheels for Aidan's skateboard.

Tuesday I had told the kids we would go into Amsterdam for the day.  Since Josh's injury meant that on weekends we couldn't do much walking, we hadn't actually been in to the city since before we moved here.  We have been to Amsterdam a few times over the years, but this would be our first time exploring it as "our" city.  We had no grand plan beyond getting breakfast at Sara's pancake house (our favorite) and perhaps a visit to Tun Fun.  We took the train in with Josh which was good - I knew we could do it on our own, but it felt good to know that Josh was an expert, so to speak, on getting us to Amsterdam Centraal.

Waiting for our train at Weesp

We went to Josh's office and I probably could have just left the kids there for the day as they had a "new" video game in the break room with something like 300 old school video games.  Alas Josh wasn't up for me leaving them ;)

Playing some kind of ninja game

We had our traditional breakfast at Sara's Pancakes - yum!!  And Aidan asked if we could go to the Apple store to look at new itouches.  Given he just got a new ipad this summer I really don't think we need to upgrade his itouch but I was willing to humor him.  And no, we did not upgrade it but left there empty handed.  

Blueberry and ice cream pancakes before 10AM... yeah that gets a thumbs up.

Yay Apple Store!!

However, it was a bonus that leaving the Apple store we happened across the American / British store. Yay!!  Happy day!!  The kids and I went (slightly) crazy at all the American "goodness".  Ok, none of it had any healthy redeeming value to it, but it was a piece of home and made us all happy.

So happy leaving the American store (100 euros poorer)

Of course, I didn't think of the fact that I would have to carry all this crap on my shoulder for the next several hours, but their smiles made it worth it and Aidan helped me out too.  Next time we should bring the granny cart so we can at least pull it along!  

In the end we did make it to Tun Fun.  There was a lot of whining on the 20 minute walk but I attribute that to rain and the ugly hungries.  They had a blast for a good hour in Tun Fun and then we headed back towards Josh's office before heading back home to Naarden.  Along the way we found an English comic book store which had to be explored (thank you Big Bang Theory for that new habit my kids now have).  It turns out there is also an English bookstore that I just found out about but I guess that will have to wait until our next trip into the city.

Wednesday Aidan had swimming but both kids had friends over.  It was a lovely, easy day and the kids were just great.  Made for a great day.  Thursday Aidan had an eye appointment but another mom had told me about the Lego World exposition being held in Utrecht, a city about 30 minutes south of us. Knowing the boys obsession with all things Lego, I knew we had to make this work.

So since we had to be in Hilversum for an eye appointment at 3:45, I took the kids to Utrecht for the opening at 10, knowing that Aidan's friends wouldn't be meeting us until closer to 12.  But since we had to leave by 2:30ish I wanted them to get to explore as much as they could.  And it was super cool! The complaint that Aidan had about Legoland was that there wasn't enough opportunity to just build. Here they had a place to build in every exhibit.  And yet neither of my kids really wanted to do it.  But they loved exploring all around the expo which was huge!!

Free lego guys!

Lego Star Wars - so cool!

Lightsaber battle!

This was a real guy not a statue

Same here

Caring big brother helping Liam

Bacon pancake

Old school legos - Aidan was shocked at what we used to play with ;)  No Star Wars legos for us!

Chima game - trying to find the chi

Aidan's friends from school met up with us and then the building commenced

Lego angels?

We made it to Aidan's eye appointment in the nick of time - still has to wear his glasses but at least his eyes haven't gotten worse.  It was raining on the way and we saw a rainbow which was cool.  We actually see them pretty regularly - if there is a silver lining to living in a rainy climate, it's rainbows on a regular basis.

The rest of the break was overall low key.  We did more than we had anticipated which was fun but exhausting.  We're looking forward to our Christmas break in just 7 weeks.  It's going to be an epic trip but I'm not ready to share the details quite yet but stay tuned.  In the meantime, we're enjoying fall foliage which we haven't had for the last 5 years and the change of seasons (which of course has made us all sick at one time or another).  


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Radio Silent

I've been a bit radio silent lately.  I can't say why for sure.  One day a few weeks ago, something just snapped inside me.  At the time, it probably wasn't something good.  But looking back, it's given me some time to do some much needed reflecting on my life and the direction it's heading.

A few weeks ago I was feeling so incredibly alone here.  And lost.  And depressed.  I was not in a good place - at all.  It took all my energy to get out of bed.  I was snapping at everyone.  I was most definitely not a fun person to be around.  I cried - a lot.  And I kept telling myself that this too shall pass.  That I had been in a similar situation when we moved to Barcelona and while it took a bit longer there to get myself to a better place (about 3 months), I did it and learned to love Barcelona.

And so I knew that this stage, while it felt more intense than the first time it happened, would go away (and for the most part it has). But in the meantime, everything was irritating me, especially social media. Now I'm the first to admit, I'm a social media addict.  Facebook is the first thing I check after my email every morning and the last thing I look at before I go to bed at night.  But like I said, something snapped.  It wasn't any one thing or any one person - just suddenly social media lost it's appeal to me.

I didn't want to be on it.  I didn't want to use it only I found that it has more of a hold of me than I would like.  Everyone and their brother seems to use Facebook messenger.  Suddenly I had no choice but to log on in order to get the messages that were appearing.  And so I started to resort back to the "old fashioned" method of communicating - email.  I'm not sure when email became old fashioned but I've been trying to put forth more effort in using that time I had on Facebook for actually communicating with people in a "normal" way.

It doesn't mean I haven't been on Facebook at all, just not to the extent I was on it before -  not even close.  And it's made me realize just how much social media has controlled my life in a sense.  In a way it's a relief to no longer have that "burden".  Maybe some of that time I was using can go towards that work I was saying I don't seem to have enough time for lately.  And I'm finding that social media is losing it's importance to me.  Those that want to be in touch with me know how they can reach me - they have my phone number and my email.  We whatsapp, we email and we talk on the phone.  I need that.  What I have loved about Facebook, I have started to resent - I love that I can go on and see what everyone is up to but at the same time, I feel as though I have lost the ability to communicate with all my friends the way we used to, making me feel at the same time, disconnected.

And it doesn't mean that I don't see all the positives that go along with social media.  You wouldn't be reading this entry if it weren't for it's existence.  I get it and I utilize it.  But for now, I need to focus on the here and now.  I need to focus on my kids and their struggles in a new country, a new school and new friends.  I need to focus on helping Josh with his recovery.  And I need to focus on my adjustment here as well.

So if you don't hear from me for a little while, you know how to reach me... I'm not ignoring you, just reshifting my focus away from social media for the time being in order to redirect my attention towards the things, like work, and people that need me now, including myself.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Swimming Lessons

Whether you live by water or not, learning to swim is a life skill we all need to know.  Whether it be in a pool, the ocean, the sea, a river or any other form of water, knowing how to survive in the face of danger is essential.

Here in the Netherlands, we are surrounded by water at every turn.  Not to mention that we live below sea level with the majority of the country having been reclaimed from the sea.  Literally the name Netherlands means "Low Country".  Only 50% of it's land is more than 1 meter above sea level.  There are canals at every turn and all cars come equipped with hammers for breaking windows - which leads me to assume there are enough water related accidents to warrant this need.

And so it is essential here that kids learn to swim at an early age.  In fact, it is pretty much mandatory. It's not technically law from what I understand, but it's expected and if you don't have your swim certificates you are unable to participate in certain school functions, you need to use swimmies in public pools (even if you technically know how to swim) and quite honestly, it just makes sense to have.

Neither of our kids were thrilled with the idea of having to take swim lessons since they already know how to swim.  But knowing how to swim for fun and learning how to swim to survive are two different things.  And of course, at 7 and 10 they don't get that.  It was a top priority for me to get them enrolled in swim class once we landed in the Netherlands.

The swim certificates are A, B and C.  They may go beyond that but I'm really just concerned with these three.  The A level is usually achieved by age 5.  So Aidan is a little behind as far as they are concerned.  We had both kids assessed to see what levels they should test at and Aidan was very disappointed to see that he still needed to go for his A instead of jumping to a B or C level.

We put Aidan in private swim lessons figuring that he would prefer not to be in a class with 5 year olds. They implied that he would need about 10-12 half hour lessons before he was ready to take his A.  It wasn't that he couldn't swim properly, he just needed to learn the Dutch way plus what was expected of him in his exam.  As you can imagine, he was less than thrilled about this.  But I told him to work hard and maybe, just maybe he could do it faster.  I think he was the most surprised of all of us to find that he actually enjoyed the swim classes :)

We enrolled Liam in a 4 hour intensive class for 14 weeks.  Yes, FOUR HOURS every Sunday.  On the plus side, it's now my productive work time to catch up on personal things like my blog, photo albums, etc since I'm essentially stuck here for 4 hours.  He started the first week in October and I had to pull him out of the pool after the four hours - he wanted to stay longer!!  I was amazed at what these kids were doing within the first week - jumping off the diving board, swimming on their backs and so much more.  They assume that by age 5 (as all the kids in class are pretty much age 5 except Liam - only the Dutch kids are so tall, I think he assumes they are all around his age anyways) that they have a certain skill set in the pool and are expanding upon that. After the 14 weeks they are guaranteed the A level certificate.  And if they don't pass, they are able to take classes until they pass at no extra cost.  Worth it to us.  It's a big commitment for every Sunday but really it's only until end of January (with a few weeks off for Christmas) and with Josh pretty much out of commission, we aren't doing much on the weekends anyways right now, so the timing is good.

As I write this, Liam is in his third week of 14 and he still seems enthused about going.  Aidan had his 5th lesson this week and was incredibly thrilled and surprised when they told him last week (week 4) to bring clothes to practice swimming in and if he does well then he can take his A exam the following week, after just 7 classes or about half the time they originally predicted it would take him. He claims after A he's done.  Josh and I are planning to make him do the B and C which are just extensions of the A (which is really starting from square 1).  He's not happy about that but with his safety involved, it's something we think is incredibly important.  So you'll be hearing from me again soon when Aidan takes his A to let you know how it all goes!!