If there is anything I learned by 4 1/2 years in Barcelona, it's to take life poco a poco - little by little. And it's that life lesson that I'm doing my best to apply here in the Netherlands - take things slowly and they will eventually all come together.
As we wind up week three, I feel like things are, in fact, falling into place. Admittedly this week didn't start off all that great and looking back it feels like months ago and not days ago. I had a huge meltdown on Monday, our anniversary. Not great timing. But since then I've been doing my best to take the bull by the horns and let the "Netherlands" know that I am in charge of things here - I will not let this new country, new culture and new everything get me down. Realistically I know that wasn't my last meltdown, but for now, all is good in the world and I'm doing my best to embrace this opportunity to experience yet another culture and country and for our kids to really become third culture kids.
This week was full of settling down kinds of stuff. Our BSN numbers (like social security) arrived yesterday so now we officially can have insurance, I can change over my drivers' license, we can sign the kids up for sports, finish paperwork for school, get officially signed up at the doctor's office, etc etc. It's our ticket to everything. So all of that will be tackled next week... like I said, poco a poco. But at least we've got the numbers and can start moving forward.
After Monday's meltdown, I was determined to make Tuesday better. The sun was shining and I decided it would be the day I would sign the kids up for sports. Ideally tennis and soccer. And I was going to buy a Dutch bike the same day. I had seen the sports club while riding my bike to the grocery store on Monday - while a huge complex, it was semi hidden by trees and had I not been on my bike, would likely have missed it many times driving by.
I went to what I thought was the main entrance of the sports club only to find it was a swimming pool. Score! Kids need mandatory swim lessons (it's law with so much water around here) that they pass a swim exam. Neither are thrilled to have to take lessons but I see too much benefit from it to even attempt to skip this one. Anyways, I didn't realize there was a pool here so not only killing two birds with one stone but THREE!
If only it were that easy. I've been spoiled thus far with so many people speaking English. I didn't have that in Spain and it's just been so lovely to have people understand me. Until I got to the pool. The woman who I think runs the swim classes didn't speak much English and what English she did know was mixed in with Dutch - she was acting as though she were speaking English but in fact was speaking kind of Dut-lish??? I got about every 4th word. In the end, what I did understand is that we would do a swim assessment next Wednesday to see what level they both would start in. Then we will figure out lessons. I thought I understood 4 hrs per day each Sunday for 14 weeks but I'm really really hoping that was a misinterpretation. Really.
I left there feeling a little defeated that I didn't know anything about the cost of classes, what day they would be (hoping they aren't Sun afternoons for the 4 hrs) and if they would be at the same time or different times and days. My hope is that when we show up next Wednesday that there will be lots of English speaking people since it's a popular sports day as it's a half day in Dutch schools (and in our school).
Behind the pool area were the tennis courts so I headed that way. I was surprised that there were no indoor courts given the horrendous weather. I figured odds are they would play in a short season unlike in Barcelona where they played outside every weekend from October til June. I approached the small clubhouse which didn't have a main desk and asked about lessons. The woman running the bar area didn't know but gave me some papers and said to call the number and speak to Peter. Again, I left there feeling like I hadn't garnered much but at least it was a start. I'd contact Peter via email when I got home.
I continued walking as I saw a soccer field further ahead. This place is HUGE! But wait, there's another tennis club next to the first one??? This is all in the same sports complex so I thought that was weird. Though I did remember my landlord saying there were two across the street from the grocery store (which is where I was) but I guess I thought there would be more than a 4 foot wire fence separating the two clubs. I figured I might as well check this one out too. My understanding is this one is more elite than the other. Not necessarily our cup of tea but if I can get information here that I couldn't get next door, then I don't really care. But no, this one had even less information and weren't very friendly, so they are now officially off my list.
I finally made it down to the soccer field. There was a building at the end that looked like the main office for soccer. I walked all around it. There seemed to be no one there. I saw a person nearby and asked her. She had no idea where anyone was (yet she had a key to one of the supply doors so obviously worked there or something. There was a poster on the door with information so I took a picture and figured once again I would email to get more info.
In the end, I spent about an hour and a half at this complex. I didn't get anyone signed up for lessons. This is the learning curve I was talking about and trying to be patient. It's a simple task and yet it's so difficult that I wanted to just go home and hang my head in defeat because the one task I wanted to complete was not. Just one task.
So I decided to press on and go buy my bike. I'd been riding my hybrid mountain bike around town and little grandmas are cruising past me at warp speed (I hear those bikes are electric so perhaps that's why but they were pedaling too!). So I decided to bite the bullet and get myself a Dutch bike. More on the bike itself later (that's a whole other post). But let me tell you about Harry, the owner. He was awesome. All those feelings of defeat - he made me feel better. Like a big teddy bear, he just made me laugh and smile and feel good about the world again. It turns out he lives in our neighborhood and his sister lives here as well and he knows everyone and has assured me he's going to introduce me.
I bought a bike and Harry promised to deliver it the next day. I left the shop feeling really good about the day despite the earlier shortcomings. It's amazing how one good thing or one bad thing can really change the perspective of your day.
The following day was Wednesday, here that means half day school. EVERY WEEK. Yes, it's killer.
But I'm determined to make the best of it and spend some quality time with the boys. While work is very important to me, I've been realizing that I have not been good about prioritizing the kids the last several months over work and moving and right now they need this time with me. Though I will admit, it's often painful. Ok, it's really really good and then there is that one moment where they start to fight and it all goes to shit. But overall, good times.
But before I could spend the afternoon with them, I had a coffee morning with the moms at the school. I'd met a handful along the way the last few weeks but was looking forward to hopefully connecting with more. It was not all I had hoped it would be. Essentially the women I had already connected with are likely the ones that I will remain connected with and the rest, well, the rest didn't impress me upon this first meeting. They were all nice enough but I wasn't drawn to them to pursue more than a passing hello kind of relationship. You never know though.
And during this first meeting, which apparently was not just a typical coffee morning but also complete with agenda to discuss things like the Christmas party (already - I mean it's barely after the 1st of Sept!) but "best" of all was talk about the bathrooms. A solid hour about the bathrooms and how they are not being properly cleaned and so some parents have taken on cleaning it and would like volunteers to help. Ok, this is going to sound snobby but I'm saying it anyways. I don't even clean my own bathrooms - that's why a cleaning lady comes every 2 weeks. Much less am I going to clean a school bathroom. And never ever ever in my life have I heard of parents having to clean a bathroom in ANY school... ever. But they've obviously set a precedent here. Coming from Barcelona where the bathrooms are immaculate, I was curious about the disaster I heard about so I asked Aidan later that day - his response... they are fine. So there was a solid hour wasted of my morning hearing about what a mess these bathrooms are. Yes, this is my introduction to the mom's coffee morning. I think I'm one and done on the big group one. Yup.
And so being Wednesday, I stuck around the (painful) coffee morning until it was time to pick up the kids at 12 and we went into Almere (which is the town where their school is) to the shopping area. I needed a new vacuum, a slow cooker and an iron. I know, super exciting right. But I promised to take them out to lunch and then to the toy store too.
But first and foremost was lunch. We haven't eaten out beyond take out pizza since we've arrived. I don't "speak" Dutch menu yet. But thanks to google translate and the fact that written Dutch is not all that bad to interpret (at least from a menu perspective) we were able to figure out what it was that we wanted. While I can't pronounce any of it, I can figure out bits and pieces. It's a start. Poco a poco, right? We each got a burger and (fabulous) fries at this great little place in the shopping area - definitely will return at some point.
The toy store was bigger than we had in Barcelona and was complete with a wall full of legos. My kids' dream, right? Liam got a set but Aidan decided to hold on to his money for a particular set he saw at a different toy store the weekend before. After that is was off to Media Mart for my new vacuum. When did I get to that point in life where a new vacuum excites me? It's sad. But it did put a smile on my face. No slow cookers there though so still on the hunt and not finding what I want on any of the Amazon European sites.
That evening, Harry arrived with my new bike. Another thing I was way more excited than probably it warranted. But whatever it takes to make me feel good about life here, I will take. We chatted outside for a little bit and lo and behold his sister showed up at home, turns out she lives literally 2 doors down from me. Both absolutely lovely people and felt connected right away. His sister told me to come by any time for coffee or tea as she works from home as well. I haven't been able to bring myself to just pop over yet but perhaps this week will be the week I manage to do just that. After all, it's all about taking chances, if we want to make changes in our lives. But leaving to get Josh that evening, I felt good, really good about how our day had gone and the fact that not only did we get some things done, but I managed to take the kids to lunch by myself (I remember that first lunch with Liam in Barcelona and how much it stressed me out) and that I met some new people. Successful day. Check!
Thursday was no school... seriously. Wednesdays are half days because the teachers have continuing education in the afternoons. Yet, Thursday was a study day so the teachers could have continuing ed. Don't get me wrong, I want the teachers learning but what are they not covering EVERY SINGLE WEDNESDAY that they need a full Thursday off too???? And in the third week of school? Anyways, I told the kids I had to work in the morning but then we'd go to a different toy store (with more legos) so they could spend their money on what they wanted as they didn't see much the day before. And then we would come home and go for a bike ride with my new bike.
With the toy store done and even a little grocery shopping (painful with both kids as per usual), we came home and got ready for our bike ride. It did not start out well. At all. Aidan flipped out because I made him wear a helmet. Now mind you, Aidan has worn a bike helmet his ENTIRE LIFE when riding a bike, rollerblading or skateboarding. So why he thinks that he can now stop just because Dutch kids don't wear them is beyond me. And to any Dutch people I know, I mean no offense when I say it's stupid that your kids don't wear helmets. Don't get me wrong, I'm not wearing a helmet (also likely stupid but I'm an adult capable of making these decisions for myself), but to not have your kid wear one when riding a bike among traffic is just dumb. These bikers remind me of the motos in Barcelona - arrogant and entitled and less protected than those moto drivers were in Barcelona. And I'm fearful that I will accidentally take one out at some point. So you can bet my kid is wearing a helmet.
Anyways, tantrum ensued but we pressed on. There was a whole lot of swearing on his end. Eventually we made it to the Vesting and along the path is a small petting zoo that also sells ice cream / popsicle bars. So we stopped for a short break. The kids got popsicles and fed the animals and all was good in the world. And the teenagers that ran the place took pride in teaching the kids a few words in Dutch (not the choice words most teenagers would go with but names of the animals).
We continued on and Aidan's tantrum was now long forgotten. We rode a total of 4 1/2 scenic miles. We rode entirely around the moat bypassing one side for the fields below. While riding along the fields, we passed by tons of corn fields. Admittedly, Aidan pilfered 2 pieces. Turns out they are likely for feed only or else just not ripe - they cooked up bright orange instead of yellow (yet were yellow when picked and raw) and were hard, not soft like usual cooked corn. It was an adventure for him though and yes, I did have the talk with him that stealing is not right and that the farmer wouldn't appreciate it. It was a gorgeous ride and a total of 4 1/2 miles where they didn't stop except for the petting zoo. Given that just one week previous, Liam stopped every 10 feet, this was a huge step in the right direction with our riding.
You're probably getting bored by now hearing about our little adventures, successes and failures during week three but I'm almost there, I promise. Friday the kids were back to school and I had another coffee morning, this time just the moms in Aidan's class. He's in a class of 14 kids (that's his entire grade mind you) so given that not all the moms can/want to attend, there were maybe 6 of us. It was great. I felt much more connected with this group than with the bigger group on Wednesday. Between the few in Liam's class that I'm getting friendly with and this group, hopefully all will be ok socially at some point but it's still early to tell.
I went home and got some work done before leaving again to pick up the kids. I chatted with some of the moms from the morning for about 40 minutes before we managed to leave school. It felt good to connect at any level and just comfortable. Hopefully there are more afternoons like this to come.
Overall it was a good week. It was a rough start, a few bumps along the way, but a good end... then along came Saturday...