Sunday, July 29, 2012

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

     It is mid-July and has been raining for 13 days straight.  The temperature has not risen above 62 degrees and my father-in-law’s words to me, “Some years, The Netherlands just stays cold all year,” are ringing like a fire alarm in my ears.  My daughter’s Dutch teacher a few weeks ago said to me, “Oh, I hope we have a summer!” I feel like Pete Campbell from Mad Men talking to his secretary.  I have expectations, and although they do not appear unreasonable from my perspective, perhaps in this particular environment, I am viewed as a spoiled brat.  “What are you even talking about?” I want to respond, with a deathly serious tone in my voice.  No summer?  As if the result of the earth turning on its axis optional?  It’s the equivalent to hoping the sun rises tomorrow.  The secretary just shrugs and tells Pete, “I’m sure it’s nothing,” and goes on about her day.  Everyone here knows this.  Perhaps this is why the Dutch are seemingly unemotional.  With this unpredictable weather – usually too cold, persistently windy, and consistently overcast, they have learned to not let it affect them. I, on the other hand, am about as collected as a pregnant woman – ridiculously moody and always just a tad uncomfortable. 
   To add to the fun of completing yet more rainy day projects (a term, I’m beginning to think doesn’t really motivate or excite people like it does in the U.S., it would be like saving projects for a humid day in Houston or a sunny day in L.A.), my husband spent last week in the Ukraine.  With his departure on Sunday morning and return on Friday evening - I was nervous about the looming 132-hour-shift with the kids I found myself facing.  In the end, it was actually pretty successful and I used the time to get creative with the kids and myself.  As the rain fell outside, we completed art projects in the morning and drew with sidewalk chalk on the front porch in the afternoons (sticking close to home so we could dart back inside when the rain fell again in the evenings).  I alternated Yoga and Jillian workout videos and completed Rosetta Stone Dutch lessons.  I started reading a new book and went to bed early.  I think it was important for me to realize that I could keep my kids entertained for a week while maintaining my own sanity (well, for the most part) without my husband home.  I do think it was lonelier than I realized, though.  A lot of Expats complain about the loneliness of the experience, but I had originally found the opposite to be true.  Between commuting to work and sitting in a library-like office in my solitary cube in Texas, I had a lot of quiet time to myself.  Even on busy days with meetings, I typically still had an hour lunch break to sit and read or run errands by myself.  Here, I am never alone taking care of my two kids around the clock, which has been one of the biggest adjustments.  After V returned on Friday evening, we had a good weekend, but as the rain started to fall (again) on Monday morning, I found myself in a cloud of disappointment when his plans to work from home that day were spoiled and he had to drive into the office.  As I watched my daughter decorate the letter L during “art time” that morning I stared out into the wet backyard garden and realized, perhaps for the first time, I was really kind of homesick.  I miss being warm, driving, and drive-thru windows.  I miss my local library and Barnes and Noble where I can drive and park to entertain my children.  I miss stores that are open past 5 p.m.  I miss having someone to talk to besides my children (who although, are entertaining, aren’t exactly the best conversationalists) and my husband.  Poor V.  I have a lot of frustrations, and he’s the one who gets to hear them all, even if they’re ahem, about him.  I guess it’s good from a ‘communication’ standpoint for our relationship, but I’m sure it gets old, too.   
   Although I’ve never seen a rainbow here (hum, perhaps the 40-days-straight of rain promise doesn’t apply here?), I think I’m about to enter into a new chapter that’s filled with more color and sunshine, even if the rain still falls.  I am soon going to have distraction upon distraction in the form of friends visiting me here in Leiden during the next few months, the thought of which, makes me very happy and filled with hope.    
  I’m excited, anxious, and thankful for the opportunity to host visitors.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone from home and I feel like a freshman in college.  You probably all remember your first day at college.  All the emotions you felt as you said goodbye to your family and moved into your dorm room – excited, relieved, scared, apprehensive, questioning, hopeful you name it – were the same feelings I felt the day we arrived in The Netherlands.   (Cue flashback blurriness and marimba chromatic scale music. . .)
     My children, my Dad, and I arrive in The Netherlands at 8:00 a.m. in January.  It’s still dark outside and I can tell through the windows of the jet bridge, that it is cold and drizzly.  My Dad successfully loads our 7 checked suitcases and travel crib onto two luggage carts, while I push my baby’s stroller.  My sweet 21-month old daughter must walk herself, there are no more hands to hold or carry her.   She pads through customs in her footed pajamas.  We near the sliding glass doors.  I know that on the other side of those doors are my husband, which I have not seen in three weeks, and my new life, of two years.  The frosted doors slide open.  My Dad, with the help of some friendly Dutch customs agents maneuvers the massive piles of luggage and my daughter, baby, and I follow.  We are all disoriented, tired, and confused.  I see a large, looming, Starbucks.  And then I see him, my smiling husband, and he’s holding two red tulips in his hands, one for my daughter and one for me.   We walk to him and embrace.  I’d like to cry out of just pure joy of seeing him again, but I’m so exhausted from taking care of my newborn baby and daughter for three weeks without him, while wrapping up my job, moving out of our home, and flying across the world, I just can’t muster the tears.   I’m happy to have the trip over with.  I’m anxious for what is to come next.  
   We drive through the Dutch countryside via a large highway.  We maneuver through a picturesque neighborhood and pass a large church with a clock on its tower.  We drive past large, square apartment buildings which look like they were built in the 60s or 70s.  Then we turn onto our street.  There are three-story continuous brick homes with tiny front yards.  These homes are 100-years old and survived the bombs of WWII.  We pull up to our new home and my Dad is standing outside waiting in the drizzle.  There just wasn’t enough room for our entire luggage to fit inside of our Dutch car and he had taken a taxi.  We unload and I step inside.  It is empty of furniture, but I can tell that V has made an exceptional effort to make it homey, despite the pile of cardboard boxes in what was to become our dining room.  New vases of red, orange, and blue decorate the mantels and hold happy yellow and pink tulips.  Luckily, our air shipment had arrived, and the card table has been equipped with a new purple tablecloth and there is another vase full of colorful flowers.  There are more flowers in the sink.   
   I slowly discover my new home.  There are hardwood floors and chandeliers.  There are three floors and original stained-glass doors leading from the dining to the living room.  I am in love with the house and all of the unseen opportunities it holds.  My daughter becomes equally excited as she discovers her stuffed animals, play kitchen, and easel are here.  The house is a little cold and empty, but I’m not worried.  Our furniture will be here soon.  And in the meantime, well, we’ll just do the best we can. 
   The next few days were a blur of broken hours of sleep and trips to the Dutch doctor in attempts to buy or borrow a nebulizer for my little baby.  (The American imported one fried the minute we plugged it in despite our conversion efforts).  He has bronchitis and I am equipped with months upon months’ supply of breathing treatments from our pediatrician in Dallas.  We can not just walk in somewhere and buy a nebulizer, like we did at CVS on New Year’s Day at home.  The pharmacies tell my husband over the phone that he needs a prescription.  We make a doctor’s appointment and my Dad, husband, daughter, son, and I walk over to the hospital.  We meet with our family doctor’s assistant (pediatricians are non-existent in this country) and attempt to explain the situation, but the doctor still refuses to give us a nebulizer that will fit the European outlets.  My 3-month old baby is weezing and I am distraught that no one will help me help him breathe easier with the medicine I have.  The doctor gives us a prescription for an inhaler and my family and my Dad trek over rivers and through the woods, literally, to the closest pharmacy – before 5:00 p.m., in order to get it filled. 
    Three days later, we drove my Dad to AMS and said goodbye.  I had another friend come and stay for a few days in February as we were still making do with our boxes disguised as play things for our daughter, but those two brief visits seem like decades ago.  Like a college student, I’ve spent an entire semester or so growing, learning, struggling, succeeding, and navigating my new world.  Now, it’s time to show off what I’ve learned.  It’s also strange, like Parent’s Weekend at college, to think that people I’ve known for a large chunk of my life are going to be here.  For six months I have been living in a world that I can call mine – as isolated and dysfunctional as it seems, sometimes.  To think that people from my old world will be here in my new world is unreal and exciting.  I hope they’re impressed with the university tour – “So this is where I sleep. . . this is where I eat. . .”
   I remember visiting College Station for my sister’s graduation.  After the ceremony my family headed to an apartment where most of her fellow cross-country members hung out a lot – lovingly known as the Track Shack.  I had been there before, as it had been home to many members of the team for years.  Think of the dirtiest college apartment you’ve seen and double it.  But that particular day, when my family and I entered, we were encountered with a surprise.  The boys had cleaned the apartment and had graduation presents on the coffee table for my sister.  Even these boys knew the importance of impressing my parents during one of their few visits into town and into their home.  My house in Leiden is far from dirty, but I want it to be perfect.  I’m menu-planning, rearranging furniture, hanging curtains, buying new soaps, and getting suggestions on where to go and what to do.   In all honesty, these are all things I would do or needed to do anyway, it’s just exciting to do the tasks with the intention of hosting friends soon.      
  So while the clouds may still be looming and the rain continues to pour, I am looking forward to the other side of the rainbow, like Dorothy, linked arm and arm with her best comrades, she enters a world surrounded by friends in a newly discovered territory.   

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