Here in Haarlem – Week 4

It is 7:30 on a Sunday morning here in Haarlem. It is still dark outside and the house is silent. The radiator is making its soft clunking sort of sound. Even our talkative cat, JoJo, is still asleep somewhere in the house.

“Somewhere in the house” makes it sound huge. By lower-middle class, suburbs of GA standards it is. I don’t remember how many meters it is or what that would equal in feet. It’s much smaller than we’re used to but somehow exactly enough. And right now it is blissfully still.

So what’s it really like moving to a new country at the ripe old age of 150? It’s amazing and terrifying and exhausting and mind blowing. The history and beauty here is astounding. I know we have history and beauty in the US (and long before we barged in) but we didn’t live on a street Nazis could have stomped down. We didn’t bike down the cobblestone streets of a city established in the middle ages. These are the thoughts that baffle me as I’m standing outside Game Mania while my kid talks Fortnite with the clerk.

It’s true most people here speak English. And nearly everyone I’ve met has been incredibly patient and gracious when I sputter out “Sorry, nee Nederland.” Even the elderly lady in the pet food aisle of the grocery store immediately switched to English to chat about how she spoils her cocker spaniel with treats. But it is still scary. I still find myself mentally whispering, “please don’t talk to me please don’t talk to me” as I avoid eye contact with store clerks or stall vendors… terrified they will speak Dutch. OF COURSE THEY WILL SPEAK DUTCH, YOU IDIOT! And when they do, and I look at them like a deer in the headlights, they either gesture and smile until we’ve figured things out or they jump into English like it’s no big frigging deal. And yet, I panic.

So everyone here speaks English but guess who doesn’t… the street signs. And for a girl who has a terrible sense of direction anyway, I am quite literally lost most of the time. A good friend said, “You aren’t lost, you are on an adventure!” This is perfect. Unless the wind is blowing my bike backwards and it is raining and I’m cold and I just want to get home. Those are the times I want to click my heels and be back on familiar territory in my warm, dry, not-about-to-tip-over car.

You know who else doesn’t speak English? The announcer on the trains. Your ass better be paying attention or you will go right past Heemstede-Aerdenhout and end up in Vlissingen Souburg. So while everyone else is reading or quietly chatting (only the American tourists are loud on the (clean, comfy) trains as far as I can tell), I’m staring at my phone, watching the little blue dot slowly move toward my station.

On biking: It’s true that once you know how to ride a bike, you always know. The tricky bit is DOING it. I know how to give birth to a child. Doing it again might be daunting. Okay riding a bike is nothing like giving birth but … it can be difficult when you are 150 years old. And that’s just the basic riding-a-bike issue.  Now try doing it on narrow bike paths with a billion (or a handful) of people passing you or WAITING FOR YOU TO GET OUT OF THE WAY. *sigh* What seemed like a lovely bike ride to the store is now a nerve wracking game of Frogger or Pacman or one of those games where I’m sure I’ll be run over or eaten. It can be physically and mentally exhausting.

Once I’ve reached the store I lift my bike into the rack, lock the lock and tuck my key away. I enter Vomar Voordeelmarkt to find my favorite 3.00€ bottle of wine and know it was worth the trip. Until I have to translate which checkout lane takes cash and which accepts bank cards and I’m asked if I want a receipt and I freeze because … “Sorry, nee Nederland.”

See what I mean? Amazing and terrifying and exhausting and mind blowing. Every. Damn. Day.

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Help me, Sweet Baby Amphictyonis!

Everyone: How’s the move to The Netherlands going?

Me: Closing on the house, selling almost everything (except Tony’s polyurethaned frog souvenir, Ben’s “One and Only Ivan” book, Charlie’s slingshot and my coconut monkey head), packing everything else, acquiring a billion suitcases for said treasures, figuring out how to ship them, getting temporary housing, getting rental insurance on temporary housing, registering kid #2 for one month of middle school, figuring out the appropriate amount of supplies to buy for a kid going to one month of middle school, scheduling last-minute physicals/eye exams/dentist visits, attending school open house x 2 kids, delivering donations, taking kid to sleep away camp, cleaning house for the new owners, finding an affordable and available Holland apartment, convincing Dutch landlords that we are awesome and should be their tenants, submitting change of address, cancelling utilities, driving the big kid to/from work, driving myself to/from work, picking kid up from sleep away camp, visiting every friend and family member possible because we are going to miss everyone something awful, and … remembering to breathe.

Everyone: Um … may I offer you a glass of wine?

Me: You pronounced bottle wrong.

 

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It’s the Happy/Sad Last Time Club!

We’ve finally crossed the line. The “Last Time” line. Technically, after 10 years here, last Christmas was the LAST Christmas we would have in this house. The house where Ben learned to walk. The house where the boys shared a bedroom just like their dad and uncle did before them. The house with Charlie’s name etched in the new driveway cement. But last Christmas was too early to make it official. Anything could have happened between then and spring. We were still in the, “You know, this might be our last time …” stage. So it didn’t feel real.

By early spring we’d moved into the “This is probably the last time…” stage. By then the kids were too old for Easter egg hunts anyway. And elementary school “graduation” parties seemed silly. After a decade here, milestones were changing. The kids were big enough to waffle between looking forward to a change and wishing things would stay the same. We were still floating in the probably stage.

Last week we drove from Atlanta to visit family and close friends in Florida. On the way home it dawned on us. As we cursed our way through northbound Atlanta traffic, we realized this was (99.9999% most likely) the LAST TIME we’d make this drive. This idea was met with mixed feelings. Love the family and friends. Hate the drive and traffic. Ready for a change.

Then we spent the weekend sweating our way through the final, most dreaded bits of Getting-The-House-Ready-For-Market chores.  We happily reminded ourselves this would be the LAST time we __________.  Fill in the blank with every nightmare chore from cleaning gutters to battling pine straw to staining the big-ass deck for the 3rd time. Done. Final. No more. NEVER EVER.

Ben was SIX MONTHS OLD when we moved here. There have been many “Last Times” already that we wandered through without blinking. I’m sure there will be a bunch of emotional “Last Times” knocking the wind out of us in the coming months.

However, like gutters and traffic and pine straw, there will most certainly be some pretty amazing ones as well. And that feels pretty damn good.

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Please wait…

As I struggle to get our birth certificates, names changes, marriage certificate, and adoption records apostilled (the secretary of state has to say the signatures on our documents are legit. Soooo many hoops to jump through for each state. Also, don’t ask me how to pronounce it. Apparently the obvious way is incorrect. Anyway …), and we slowly Marie Kondo-on-steroids every inch of the house, I have discovered a new (and embarrassing and ugly) thing to stress about. I want to get to the Netherlands before anyone else gets our spot.

It’s a tiny country, y’all! And I belong to many awesome Expat FaceBook groups. But each time someone posts that they are moving there I am insanely jealous and worried that there is only so much room and by the time we get there, we will find a Closed sign on the door. This is not pretty or kind, I know. But if everyone else planning to hightail it to Holland could please just wait a few months, I’d really appreciate because this stress does not spark joy.

365 Days …. But Who’s Counting?

My current situation is much like trying write a publishable book. It’s a daunting,  terrifying, one-in-a-million, unlikely sort of thing until…  you walk into a bookstore and see shelf after shelf lined with gazillions of books by people just like you who were brave enough to take the leap.

This is how I feel about my next adventure. It’s an insane, overwhelming, what-the-hell-are-we-doing sort of thing. But then I see how many have succeeded in making it work and how happy they are with their choices and I think Why can’t we?

So here we go. We are doing the thing.

365 days from now my husband, two kids, the cat, and I will be living in the Netherlands.