Monday, January 28, 2013

No Baby I Don't Want To See You Hurt

Snow Baby
   “REALLY?!?!” I shout at the top of my lungs.  I’m outside my house, shoeless and jacketless in the snow.  I can already feel the bruise forming on the outside of my hand from pounding on the window to try to get their attention initially.  “REALLY?!?!” I shout again.  Two toothpick girls wearing furry hoods in the pack of newly-teenaged mischievous youth turn around and stare.  The boys responsible for the stunt, the six skinny males ahead of them (I can only imagine them trying to impress said ridiculous females) stop and turn to look at me, too.  Their long legs and sprinter-like pace had advanced the group like a pack of cross country runners halfway down the street by the time I had whipped around the corner of the living room, tore open the front door, and bounded out onto the sidewalk. “You’re going to STEAL THE HEAD?!?!?  That’s my KIDS’ snowman!”  The girls stop giggling.  The guys shrug and continue down the street.    I am beyond angry.  I am hurt and offended.  I think about my daughter upstairs sleeping during naptime.  I am confused.  How am I going to explain this to her?  That the Snow Lady we lovingly built yesterday, her first one, and my first one in 25 years has been the victim of harassment, abuse, and beheading?  I feel like our family has been attacked and I am responsible for protecting us.  In other words, I am irate.  I throw my hands up as I turn back towards my house.  My dog is looking at me pitifully from behind the foyer doors.  Tyler, the epitome of grace and compassion at all times.  “Whatever, Tyler. . . you bark at the trash truck and it's really done nothing to you.”  He is unmoved.  
  I think that was the boiling point, or rather. . . the freezing point in this case.   I explode on Facebook.  These kids don’t represent kids.  Or Leiden.  Or boys.  Or youth.  They represent THE NETHERLANDS, in my head.  I defended you, I thought.  I’ve been happy ever since I got back from America.  I embraced you, your culture, I spent holidays here, I biked in the snow, and I tromped through the sludge for a week and a half wearing tights underneath my jeans to keep warm.  We played along with your Sinterklaas traditions, I told people at a party last Friday that I like it here. . . much to the chagrin of many other Expats, and then this, this is how you repay me?  Yes.  Okay.  So I admit.  It was a bit of an overreaction and just perhaps. . . my subconscious was struggling more than I realized with the whole. . . snow/cold thing.  I’m from Texas where snow lasts 3 days tops and even when the ice and snow was on the ground for three whole days. . . once. . . the whole town FREAKED OUT and became completely insane with cabin fever and frustration.  You remember, Texas readers.  February 2011.  Superbowl at Cowboys Stadium.  Jerry Jones could not even control the ice.  Last winter, when the snow was covering the sidewalks outside our house I played along like a normal Texan.  I stayed inside.  At least until we ran out of food.  And then I struggled to push a stroller through the snow, fighting back tears, asking myself. . . what have I done?
  The year, I was ready.  In my previous life. . . my ‘winter preparation’ included wearing fishnet tights and knee high boots under the normal skirts I wore to work.  Maybe add a black or pink peacoat and to just walk quickly from the heated car, through the office/daycare/Kroger parking lot, into the warmth of the building.  This year, here in The Netherlands, the kids and I have a stock-pile of tights and fleeces to wear under our clothes.  We have multiple coats, hats, scarves, boots, and mittens with strings (yes, my first week here a year ago, we bought Baby Girl mittens and I had to ask the store clerk what the string was for.  “To put it through the jacket arms. . . it keeps the kids from losing the mittens.” I was thrilled.  “What a great idea!  I wish I had a string on my gloves!” I responded. She smiled at me half-heartedly.)  We have a rain suit that doubles as a snow suit if you add extra layers underneath.  We have multiple stroller covers (last winter, after a desperate trip to entertain my kids in the local library and as the rain started to fall, I sprinted down our shopping street and breathlessly rushed into our local Prenatal (baby store) and gave my first rendition of what would become my Clueless Speech – “Hi, I’m new to the country. . . do you have something to cover this double-stroller with to keep my kids dry and warm?” In response to my desperation she said, “Oh yes, it’s right up. . . “ and cut herself off.  “Actually, just wait here, I’ll be right back.”  She glided up the stairs and came back with a double-stroller plastic cover.  “Oh my goodness, thank you so much. . . um. . . okay. . .one more question, if you don’t mind, how do you put it on?”  She graciously opened the package and helped me put in over my sleeping 3-month old and curious 21-month old.  We walked back home through the rain, accomplished and relieved.)  This year, in addition to my pimped out stroller, I even have a more-efficient bike equipped with its own detachable stroller with rain cover.  We were ready for The Netherlands winter.   
  After a record-breaking ‘warm’ December (mostly in the 40s Fahrenheit) the first snow of the year fell on Tuesday, January 15th.  I was happy.  V worked from home that day.  Around lunchtime, we bundled up the kids, put Little Man on my back, and encouraged Baby Girl to walk to the Jumbo grocery store and back.  We snapped photos.  We were excited.  We went to the grocery store stroller free in the snow.  I felt accomplished. 
Biking In The Snow
   Two days later, my daughter was scheduled to go to her Dutch-English pre-school on the other side of town.  I was hoping to take the car that day, but V had an early client meeting, and thus he needed the car.  It was a stressful morning.  “Are you sure you’re going to be okay?  She could just stay home, you know,” he tried to convince me.  Baby Girl looks forward to going to school, she has a routine, it sets the mood for the rest of the day, and I had already told her what we were doing.  By this point, I feel like I can do whatever I need to in order to take care of my kids.  If that means biking them across town in the snow, I’ll do it.  “V,” I responded, “It’s not about what I want/what’s easiest for me!  We’ll be fine.”  In a rush, he took the car and I, equally determined, completed my morning routine and loaded the kids in the bike.  The cold did not affect me.  I was sweating underneath my super-cozy coat, hat, and gloves after three minutes.  I noticed my front brakes weren’t um, quite working at all at the end of my block – no biggie, they’ve been a little tight for a while, and the back ones were okay. But upon approaching the bridge crossing the canal closest to the DeValk windmill in town (wow. . . things I never thought I’d say/write) I realized that switching the gears down to a more manageable gear (left = lighter, pedal more quickly) I realized. . . that the gears were completely and totally not shifting.  Even though my seat is already adjusted for a full-length leg pump, I hop off my seat and put all my body weight into getting me and my two children up and over the frozen swans below.  This is a problem.  I made a successful trek across town, pedaling through snow-filled and unsalted neighborhood streets.  The snow had turned to powder and pedaling was like trying to maneuver my bike through sand.  We arrived, I dropped Baby Girl off at school and I headed back into town.  Next stop – Fiets 2000. 
  Fiets 2000 had sold us V’s bike a few months after we purchased my bike off of Markplaats (the Dutch equivalent to Craigslist).  The guy who sold us V’s bike was very kind.  After explaining that the Dutch don’t care about women’s or men’s bikes, “I’ve always owned a women’s bike, myself. . . the seats are much more comfortable,” he admitted, we picked one out that seemed nice, and would fit V’s height.  “Do you want to take it for a test ride?” he asked.  “Where?” V and I asked.  “Why here – on the street, of course?” he responded.  There are bikes and cars sharing the same space.  V and I look wide-eyed at the street then at each other.   He caught the glance.  “Okay, so, you not okay with that – there’s an alley across the street.  This is good, yes?”  We nodded eagerly.  V wobbled down the alley until he caught his balance.  A wide grin spread across his face on his return “test drive.”   “You want to try, yes?” the tall Dutchman turns to me.  “Uh, okay!” I say.  My bike, with three wheels and the kids, is at the end of the alley – we’re all eagerly watching Daddy ride.  I hop on to the two-wheeled bike.  I shakily pedal towards them and I jump off like a circus performer.  “No, no.” he says.  “It’s too tall!” I protest.  “No, he says. . . you need to have the seat up, so your leg can extend, otherwise – too much work.  And when you stop, go forward,” he jumps off, both feet on the ground, straddling the bike in front of the seat.  He continues the most basic of huffy-bike-riding lessons – “When you start. . . have your pedal up. . . so it is a full rotation.”  I like this guy.  I wave to him now when I see him as I pedal into town.  I think the crazy American woman with the bright green bakfiets and the circus side-saddle dismount made an impression.  I was really hoping he’d be there on Thursday morning.  But alas, he was not. 
  “Hallo. . . sprek ya Engles?”  I say to another Fiets 2000 employee.  “A little bit,” he says.  (Note:  The two official responses are A. “A Little Bit”, and B. “Of Course”. . . these two responses also correspond to A. “Yes, I will entertain you with my vast knowledge of the English language but at the end of our conversation, you will not find an answer to your question” or B.  “Yes, I will willingly help you solve whatever problem you have.”)  I trudged on.  “Okay, so I am unfamiliar with biking in these conditions and it seems as if my front brakes aren’t working and my gears are having trouble shifting.”  I nod to him, desperately.  “Ah, yes.” He says.  “They are frozen.  There is nothing you can do.”  I am sweating in this snow.  It is 10:00 a.m. and I have already had a heck of a day. I am about to respond when I hear a wailing from the bike.  Little Man, now alone in the stroller is apparently really cold without his sister in this (what turns out to be 25 degrees Fahrenheit outside) and he has a dirty diaper.  The wailing turns into an all-out fire alarm and this guy. . . this Fiets 2000 guy says my situation is hopeless.  “Frozen?!?!” I respond.  “Can I put some WD-40 on it?”  I ask.  “Nah – nothing can be done in this weather.” he repeats.  “You need to park the bike where the gears can defrost.  Yes?”  I sigh.  Where oh where is my favorite Fiets 2000 employee, the one who takes sympathy on ridiculous Americans. . . “Okay.  Thank you.  Dank u wel.”  I say to him.  Little Man is screaming his head off.  I rush to a near-by friend’s house in a panic.  She’s in the middle of a one-on-one Dutch language lesson and I apologize profusely for interrupting.  “I’m so sorry – I just need to change his diaper and I couldn’t do it outside in the snow. . he’s so upset and so cold. . . I guess the department store has a place to change babies, maybe? Or I could have biked to the library, but it’s so much further. . . I’m so sorry to interrupt.” My friend is so kind (who is also a mother) and her Dutch teacher looks mortified at the screaming frozen baby and harried mother in her student’s living room.  I change his diaper and we leave amongst a blizzard of apologies, thank yous, and promises to talk later.
Playing in the Snow
  Little Man and I head to the library, where I take the Fiets 2000 employee’s advice.  I detach the stroller and roll it into the library.  It makes a puddle on the floor the size of Lake Michigan (which, I do feel really bad about) BUT, on the flip side, it worked.  When we attached the stroller an hour later, my front brakes worked.  (The library is used to frozen strollers in their children’s area. . . again, the reason why libraries in America have carpet and any public area ever in The Netherlands. . . does not.  Too pedestrian. . . too rainy/snowy/windy/dirty).  Little Man and I biked over to Baby Girl’s school, picked her up, and we all rode home together. . . them snuggly as bugs in a rug, and me sweating like a pig in the sub-freezing temps.
  But no.  All that did not break my spirit.  I still embraced my new-found winter culture and bought a new coat (75% off) to celebrate.  It snowed again on Monday and V worked from home.  After pressure from the winter books we’d been reading and my kindergarten-teaching-friend in Germany, I decided that Baby Girl and I were going all out.  We were going to Build A Snowman in The Netherlands.  We adorned our tights, boots, coats, hats, and gloves, and set out into our front garden.  My husband, who’d grown up in Louisiana, didn’t even know how to make a snowman.  Reaching back into my very earliest of memories, I thought of my own mother teaching me.  (Which begs the question. . . she grew up in El Paso. . . how did she know?) Either way, I told him  - “Okay, start small, compact and then just keep adding.”  My daughter looked on, amazed. . . we built a Snow Lady. . . complete with flip flops, a scarf, and a flower on her head.  We used the unused charcoal from last summer and a carrot from the fridge.  Pretty cute, I must admit, and Baby Girl was ecstatic.  I felt. . . like I had embraced it all.  I felt. . . accomplished. 
The Original Snow Lady
   The next morning, when I looked out the window, I saw the Snow Lady had toppled over.  I immediately called V, “When you left this morning, was the Snow Lady still intact?”  I accused him.  “Uh, yes.  I’m 90% sure,” he said.  I was skeptical:  Of V’s attention and of the toppling over.  I thought I had made it pretty solid, but maybe I didn’t?  I am from Texas . . maybe it needs a little more support.  I went outside and put her back together.  The kids and I went to the grocery store.  Upon our return, Baby Girl ran up to our sculpture. . “Hi! Snow Lady!” she smiled, and we went inside.  I was happy at her cuteness, read her three books, and put her to bed for naptime.  As I closed her curtains for naptime, I looked out the window and realized the Snow Lady had toppled over again.  I shook it off, turned on her lullabies and went downstairs.  Confused at my apparently-crap-Snow-Lady making abilities I sat at my computer which overlooks the garden and started looking at the weather forecast.  That’s when I saw him.  The Youths.  Darting into my yard, taking my Snow Lady head, and sprinting down the street.  All my insecurities came to fruition.  All my doubts were vanished.  My Baby Girl’s love and pride of Snow Lady, my frustration with biking in the snow, being house-bound for 1 ½ weeks, for the Fiets 2000 guys saying he couldn’t help me, and me playing along. . . thinking none of it mattered, culminated into me running out into the snow and shouting English at the top of my lungs to these youths.  I later apologized to my husband on the phone.  “I know. . .I’m being so ridiculous. . it’s just a snowman. . . I know it’s going to melt anyway, but I’m upset that she didn’t die a natural death and I don’t know what to say to Baby Girl” I sobbed.  “Honey, it’s okay. . . of course you’re upset. . . you’re the one who put the work into building it, and it was in our garden.  They were on our property when they kicked it over. . . they crossed the line.”  He made me feel better and I’m glad that my husband could at least kind of justify my feeling of hurt.  
   My Dad (also a Texan-native) suggested I rebuild Snow Lady in the backyard.  There are a few land mines back there because of the dogs, which was why we didn’t build it back there to begin with.  Determined to surprise her, I thought I’d rebuild Snow Lady last Wednesday while Baby Girl was at school. . . but as most people around the world know (ahem, or so this 30+ year old learned yesterday) is that you can’t build a snowman with week-old snow.  “What happens to it?” my Louisianan-raised husband asked on the phone.  “It just turns into sand. . . it doesn’t stick”.  I explained, remorseful.  So there we are. . . hoping it snows again, so Snow Lady can reappear magically in our backyard. . .  or for all this blasted snow to just melt and stay away. . . As for now. . . Snow Lady is visiting Baby Girls’ friends’ homes. . . wandering around Leiden.  We’ll see if she comes back again.  It’s the best excuse I can come up with. 

Snow Lady II and Snow Baby
Update:  Last Saturday morning, snow fell again, and during naptime, my husband and I were able to recreate Snow Lady in the backyard.  To avoid the mess of the back garden, we built large snowballs on the balcony and front yard and carried them through the house in the backyard.  Just to outdo ourselves, we added a Snow Baby as well.  Baby Girl was a bit confused at the reappearance, but loved it, too.  Rain fell on Sunday, melting all the snow, and I can honestly say, I was okay with that.  

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