The overwhelming task that lay before me – each step to be approached and passed like mile markers on a stretch of highway in the desert – prevented me from indulging myself in too many heartfelt, tearful, fully-aware goodbyes. It was a sunny day in January 2012. I had less than 12 hours remaining in my hometown –
Dallas. The place I was born, raised and visited
during college holidays. It was the city
where I returned, fell in love with my husband, bought my first house, birthed
our children, and worked for nearly ten years.
My entire house had been packed up and the goods shipped across the
ocean. My two dogs and husband anxiously
awaited the reconciliation to occur the next morning. In a smart black skirt and fishnet tights I
saw my husband’s 2000 Explorer being hauled away from my office building at
lunch. The security guards dancing with
excitement, waiting for a confrontation with the suspicious tow-truck driver,
until I informed them of my plans to move to The Netherlands the next day –
thus the need to get rid of everything that
was not necessary. We had already haggled with CarMax over
the value of my car – a fair but lower-handed struggle considering we had no
return purchase as a bargaining chip.
The Cars for Kids tow truck driver waved goodbye as I stood in the warm
parking lot, grateful for the donation.
Later that afternoon, I packed up
my last few belongings in my cube, hugged my co-workers one last time, pressed
the lobby button in the glass elevator, and greeted my Dad, who was waiting to
pick me up from my last day at work.
“You okay?” he asked suspiciously.
“Yup! Just fine. Let’s go pick up Baby Girl,” I said
determinedly. My To-Do List still
running through my head.
We weaved the SUV through the familiar streets of my childhood, and arrived at her school. I’m sure I passed the building every day on my way to high school. I never noticed it until I was a mother. We pressed the individually assigned security code and entered – for the last time. My daughter started attending daycare when she was 3-months old. I cried and cried the first day I dropped her off. As Miss Betty held her arms around me, she talked to me in a honeyed-voice dripping with years of experience, “There, there. During the first week, we don’t worry about the babies, it’s the Mamas we worry most about. Don’t you fret, child – your Baby Girl will be just fine. You take care, now.” and she handed me a tissue. To my surprise and delight, she was right. My little Baby Girl was just fine and I too, improved in a weeks’ time. For the next 19 months, my daughter was showered with an endless supply of affection from these wonderful, caring ladies. We spent Baby Girl’s first birthdays and holidays together. They celebrated my 2nd pregnancy and anxiously awaited the birth of our son. They sunk with disappointment and cried when I told them our plans to move overseas. I adored these ladies as much as they adored my daughter – they made my apprehensions and confusion of being a first-time parent, a hugely less stressful experience in so many uncountable ways.
My Dad and I entered her classroom and there she sat – playing in a circle with all her friends. My innocent Baby Girl – what was I doing? Taking her away from everything and everyone she knew? She was only 21-months old – too young to understand, but old enough to know that things were different. I hugged her teachers, the principal, secretaries, everyone as we left. Tears brimming over everyone’s eyes – for the first time – my heart got the best of me. My To-Do List nearly complete and crumpled deep in my pocket – completely forgotten during this significant moment of time. We drove to my Dad’s house, my Baby Girl oblivious to the huge blow that would be coming to her tiny little world. I knew a move overseas would be a positive experience – the lessons and opportunities would be boundless and amazing. Everything would work out and be wonderful. But as we drove to my Dad’s house with her tiny voice singing the ABCs from the backseat, my head and heart ached.
We flew over the big huge ocean. We settled into our house. I tried my best to entertain her and my 3-month old simultaneously, but even as Raffi belted out of my stereo speakers accompanying us as we walked around our house for hours (her pushing her play grocery cart, and my baby in his stroller) – it was clear that this stay-at-home-mom-gig was a far cry from her regular routine of vibrant learning and playing with kids her own age. I needed help. She needed social interaction. In April 2012 we decided we needed to enroll her in daycare at least one day a week.
V and I searched the neighborhood for options and we discovered one at the end of our block that had been rated highly on a local Expat website. We attended an open-house one evening. Flustered and running late (as always), the director opened the door. Confused by the term ‘open house’ – I had pictured a large group of people, mingling, sipping fruit punch out of tiny cups while attempting to hold adult conversations – I realized that it was actually a private tour. My family, and one other expecting couple were the only ones attending. Fun fact about me – when I know, I know. My wedding venue? I researched online and I had limited the options to one. We visited and I was sold – it was exactly what I wanted. Our family home in
Texas? When I saw it from the street, I knew it was
the one I wanted. We walked into the
Dutch preschool that cool spring evening and I had that certain feeling. I knew it was where I wanted my daughter to
go to school – despite my anxiousness of enrolling her in a school where they
did not speak English and she knew no Dutch.
I knew it was where she needed to be.
Despite her love of her preschool in
Texas – the
transition to her new Dutch preschool was a little rocky. I saw tears I had never seen before as I
dropped her off. I cried the entire
block home as well. I berated myself –
what are you doing? Dropping your
vulnerable daughter off at a school where she knows no one and doesn’t even
understand what they’re saying. Mantras
such as “Oh, children are so resilient!” and “They’ll soak up a new language
like a sponge,” provided little comfort to me in my equally vulnerable
state. Weeks passed. Months passed. Baby Girl started to look forward to
one-day-a-week daycare excursions. We
packed her bags, she became accustomed to routine. Considering I’m at home with the kids all
day, I have limited contact with adults.
When I would pick her up at school, I’d talk with her teachers in the
garden for much longer than probably necessary.
They indulged me in talking about my daughter, America,
and how I was finding living in The Netherlands. One rainy day in July, my husband had been
out of town for a week, and I had had a particularly stressful night and
morning with the two kids. Baby Girl
could feel my sadness and she hugged me for an extra-long time during drop
off. As the rain drops fell, she wrapped
her tiny arms around me, and in my exhausted-state, I missed my husband. My eyes watered at her sweet nature as I
encouraged her to sit by her friends for breakfast. I took a deep breath, smiled a little too
widely, and hastily said goodbye, trying to mask my unreasonable
vulnerability. Before I was out the
door, the director chased me down. “Are
you OK?” she said with a concerned look in her eyes. “Yes, yes. I’m fine. I’m just quite tired,” and I turned for the
door but stopped and turned around again.
“Thank you, though,” and I nodded.
She nodded back.
I reflected as I push my son’s stroller back to our house, and a small, awe-filled smile replaced the frustration I had previously felt on the walk 20 minutes earlier. I never thought that I would find a school with such loving, caring people to take care of my daughter. And I had. Twice. Like in
my daughter’s Dutch teachers love her, but they also help take care of me. A confusing, overwhelming experience becomes
manageable and enjoyable – and for that, no matter where in the world we live, I
will always be grateful for the love and support of teachers who touch my