Saturday, January 11, 2014

In My Life

My husband and I strategically set the alarm for 6:15 a.m.  The computer has been quietly humming throughout the evening, unaccustomed to its place of honor by our bedside.  We awake with unusual gusto.  Like small children on Christmas morning, Vinny and I are alight with excitement.  Before the sleep is rubbed out of our eyes, the computer is on the bed, glowing in the European morning darkness, and we await our debut.  Children still nestled snug in their beds, we are hoping our early morning efforts will result in an uninterrupted viewing we’ve been waiting months to see.  Our breath catches as we see the De Valk Windmill spinning, images of ourselves hand-in-hand walking on our street, and then. . . as the narrator starts to flash images of Vinny’s baby photos on the
Vinny as a baby in the Netherlands
screen, we hear him.  Holden.  Screaming.  Our breath exhales.  Shoulders deflate. Weary eyes meet each other’s, then pass to the clock.  6:18 a.m.  With a sigh and a shrug, Vinny flips his feet over the bed and pads to Holden’s tiny room. The stomach-bug circulating through the Netherlands has not escaped our household. Holden’s crib, sheets, pajamas, and teddy bear are covered in vomit. Cosette, upon hearing the commotion in her brother’s room, begins crying from the next room. Vinny and I divide and conquer. He attends to Holden and I enter Cosette’s pink-curtained room to comfort her. 
               I imagined my friends in Dallas, quietly putting their children to bed. Opening a chilled bottle of wine, and nestling with their spouses on their deep slip-covered sofas to watch our episode at 9:30 p.m. CST. 
               At 6:25 a.m., a bath is given. The washing machine is loaded.  The six of us (dogs included) pile into our bedroom.  The show begins again.  “Mama! Mama! Mama!” Cosette shouts as she sees me on the screen.  “DADDYDADDYDADDYDADDY” Holden chirps.  The dogs jump and place their front paws on the bed to compete for attention.  Our bedroom is pitch-black, the sun won’t rise for another two hours.  Vinny and I gaze at each other above the heads of our children as the unheard commentary and unseen images stream on the computer before us.  With a sigh and a shrug, we catch interrupted glimpses of ourselves on the internationally acclaimed television show House Hunters International. 
               Our incredibly journey lead to this.  How did I find myself, a native Texan, in a bedroom in Leiden, the Netherlands?  How were my small children, both born at Medical City at Forrest and 75, watching themselves on international television?  Credit must be given to an accounting degree (from Baylor University), our dogs (Tyler & Dash), and my husband (not a native Texan).       
               I graduated from Baylor University in 2001, a simple two-hour drive down I-35 from my hometown of Plano, Texas.  At the time, it was ‘far enough and close enough’ to home.  I brought my freshman welcome group home for a slumber party my first month. I attended my Mom’s Pampered Chef parties mid-week, and drove back to Waco as the sun rose.  After five years, I graduated with a handful of friends I’d keep a lifetime, memories of cheering for really bad football, and a Masters of Accountancy.  After four and a half years in public accounting, I landed my dream job as an internal audit position for American
AA Audit team in Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Airlines.  I basically flew around the world auditing the different locations the airline flew to.  It was a fun, eye-opening, and addictive job.    
               At the time, I lived in Addison Circle with my dog, Tyler.  I loved it – Addison, the community feel, the fact that there was a restaurant and bar downstairs from my apartment.  I was enjoying the single life, just me and my dog – then I saw them: Vinny and Dash.  Dash was just a puppy and I totally fell for the old trick.  Buying a puppy to meet girls?  Yup, I’m that girl.  Vinny and I dated for three years before we were engaged.  Tyler and Dash walked down the aisle at our wedding.      
Vinny grew up outside of New Orleans and graduated from LSU in Baton Rouge.  You’d think that was enough culture-clash, but there was more.  My husband was born in the Netherlands and his parents immigrated to the United States when he was two years old.  He can trace his Dutch family history back 300 years.  Although he bleeds purple and gold and makes a mean crawfish etouffee, he had always wondered what his life would be like if his parents had stayed.
We traveled to the Netherlands together before we were engaged. Vinny was on a short assignment for work, and I traveled along.  It was summer 2006 and he introduced me to his distant family.  I met his aunt, uncle, and three cousins at a birthday party.  We met his grandmother for breakfast and she showed us childhood photos of his mother.  We toured around the Netherlands – exploring Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague.  One day, when he was at the office, I traveled to Delft and Leiden alone.  I fell in love with the city of Leiden.  It was small and adorable.  It boasted a huge windmill just a few blocks from the central train station. The water shimmered in the canals, reflecting the gorgeous summer sun.  I strolled through the University of Leiden botanical garden and a mental seed was planted.  I hoped one day, we would live in the Netherlands – and Leiden was my ideal city. 
My husband applied for an international rotation with his work in 2008, but the U.S. economy fell apart and the program was cancelled. We returned to the Netherlands during the summer of 2009 after we were married.  I wanted to see Leiden, again.  I wanted to show Vinny the town I had explored on my own years
Vinny outside the DeValk windmill
in Leiden 2009 (our 'reunion' is filmed
outside it & we tour it during
 the HHI episode)
ago.  He fell in love as well and unwilling to let go of our dream, he applied again in 2011 when our daughter, Cosette, was 9 months old.  As we waited for an answer, we discovered we were expecting again.  Just a few months before Holden was born, we found out that we were accepted into the program.  Our dream of living in the Netherlands was about to come true. 
               Before we left, I was a full-time accountant for a well-known cosmetics company in Dallas.  I dropped my daughter and son off at day-care every morning.  My cube over-looked the Dallas North Tollway, I ran errands on my lunch break, and counted the hours until I could see my children again.  I wore suits, fishnet tights when it got ‘cold’ outside, and coordinated my eye shadow color with my blouse.  I drove fast, shopped for groceries once a week, and gardened. 
  Upon moving to the Netherlands, I knew things would be different, but I didn’t realize how much different they would be.  Sure – I was leaving my family, my career, my daycare, my friends, my house, and my language – but I was excited for the adventure.  In retrospect, my previous experience traveling for work and vacation had given me an inflated sense of confidence.  I quickly learned that traveling or even working in a foreign country was completely different than living. Few people cook or clean when on holiday, much less order internet, visit doctors, or register for residence permits.  My previous knowledge
Vacation 2009 - casually drinking a beer
on the Leiden canal where the market
vendors set up on Saturdays
(cheese vendor scene filmed in spot over my
right shoulder)
as an adult/employee/mom in America was seemingly inadequate. Day one, with shaking fingers and visions of singed eyebrows, I lit my gas stove with a match to cook my family’s dinner.  Day two, after finding our laundry room a humid mess, I stuck the dryer hose out the window, and embraced the new normal dry time of two hours.  Day three, I struggled to push the kids in the double stroller while dangling bags of groceries slipped from my shoulders.  For weeks, my mind involuntarily drifted over the ocean to parking lots, cars, and people to bag your groceries for you.  Daily, I climbed the steep stairs of our gorgeous home up and down, up and down. All. Day. Long. I cycled my children to the library, to preschool, to the playground.  I fell into bed exhausted every night.  But with time, I learned how to do these things.  I became stronger – physically and mentally.  I was no longer a tourist – although we frequent the museums and explore the cities and countries around us – I became an expat, and an expat Mom at that.

Our House Hunters International episode aired on December 3rd and will re-air on January 11th at 10:30 p.m.  Back in the U.S., Vinny and I spent many Saturday mornings addicted to the show.  One of the first questions everyone asked upon learning we were moving was, “So, are you going to be on House Hunters International?” and we just smiled.  It was a long process to filming - we first interviewed via Skype and then submitted multiple casting videos to audition for the show.  We waited months, but when I received the email announcing we had been selected for the show, I’ll admit, I was as excited as a West Texas Homecoming Queen.  The film crew came a few weeks later and we spent four long days filming and were up with Holden in the middle of every night.  We’re proud of the show – it’s a great documentation of our family, our home, and our journey.  It’s been a long road to get where we are today, but it has been a scenic one as well.     

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