Alright, alright. So. Truth confession-time. I’m behind on my blog. Yup. I said it. I am. Looking back on 2013 ‘aspirations’ my goals were to post at least three times per month, and you, dear readers, can see I fell short. Accept the excuse or not. . . but my little job with Expatica takes precedent in the timeslot in which I cram my entire adult life into the hours post-kids-going-to-bed-pre-my-bedtime. Even though, we stay up late . I’m behind on my TV watching as well, if that makes you feel better. (And for those of you who’d like a little courageous or crazy daily, please like Expatica, ExpaticaNL, ExpaticaBE, ExpaticaFR, etc. etc. on your FB page or follow Expatica, ExpaticaCH, ExpaticaDE, ExpaticaES on Twitter – add wink, smile and a little nudge in the ribs. I am. The guy, behind the guy, behind the guy.) Just kidding. Enough of all that corporate promoting. Back to real life. Me. Family. And my continued journey in the Netherlands and all the fumbling and excitement that ensues.
January 1, 2014. The original contract my husband signed with his job expired December 31, 2013. SO. That means, we’ve been given the gift of time here in the Netherlands. Whoo hoo! We’ll see. I know I’ll instinctively let my mind wander and wonder to what I would have been back in Texas. . . sun. Warmth. Friends. Family. Or continue on accessorizing my wardrobe with scarves and funky hats with “new” friends that are edging their way towards junior year-status.
But anyway. Looking back, we survived our trip back to the States in November and endured the suffering aftermath. Sounds dramatic. It was. Nah, but until you’ve done it. . . I can’t expect anyone to understand what traveling through time-zones with two toddlers does to them and you as a parent. I’d love to go into it, but I’ll spare you the gory details. Either you’ve done it and you know, or you haven’t and you don’t care. Please suffice to say, if you were up for 10 days straight until 2 or 3:00 a.m. (ahem, with one child) and up again at 6:00 a.m. (with the other) you’d probably be a little insane and vow to never put yourself or your children through the agony again. Just kidding. Not really.
During my family's first trip back to the States in 2012, ten months after our move, we were crazy with happiness. My husband, children, and I immersed ourselves in the American culture like a warm bath after trekking through a freezing winter rainstorm. We indulged ourselves on fast food, shopped as if we were out of style, and glued ourselves to the TV, connecting with our old pals – Kirk Herbstreit, Robin Roberts, and David Letterman.
Our second trip back, almost two years after we made the Netherlands our home, was quite different. With the confidence I gained throughout the additional year – making friends, finding a job, establishing myself in the community, and finding my identity as an expat – I felt a little uneasy in America. I looked at old things with a curious perspective.
|Orange Juice - in America
Nikki and I park the car and are in the middle of a grocery store in America. My college roommate and best friend squints her eyes and leans towards the refrigerated rows of plastic, cardboard, and glass containers. Happy oranges, green fonts, and sunshiny citrus groves smile and wave back to her – begging for attention. I cock my head, observing this carefully calculated marketing exchange with amusement. She stands upright and faces me with disbelief marked on her face. “They are out of the Minute Maid medium pulp orange juice with the plastic handle in family size!” The thousands of orange juice jugs sigh with disappointment behind her. I raise an eyebrow. She turns and grabs a jug off the middle shelf and throws it into the pick-up truck sized grocery cart. She steers the 4-wheeled monster towards the impossibly long canned goods aisle. I suppress a giggle. But not well enough. With a friendship of fifteen years between us, nothing slips past.
“What? What are you laughing at?” she pointedly asks me, a tug of a smile on her lips.
“Do you know what kind of orange juice I’ve been drinking for two years?” I reflect her stance, hands on hips, as a playful challenge is dancing a jig on the shiny tiled floor between us. Pop music is bouncing off the walls of this arena-sized store.
“Orange juice. Just orange juice,” I say with a smile.
She shakes her head and returns to the task at hand. “There they are. We have dark red kidney beans at home. I needed light red ones. This will be perfect.” She nods with satisfaction. I roll my eyes. We both laugh.
After our journey, I created a list to compare the conflicted feelings I had upon our second return home. The familiar had become unfamiliar. Was I losing my American identity? Was I out of touch with my roots? Did I prefer Europe to the good ol’ USA? Perhaps. But then, after dipping a toe in the water, I’d find my subconscious take over. I’d fall in and redeem myself.
Top 10 Signs You’ve Embraced Your European Life (and 10 ways you know you’re still American!)
1. All five of your senses are violently assaulted the moment you enter a Bath and Body Works. Your eyes are blinded by sparkle and color. Your ears aren’t tuned to receive cheerful Christmas music. In November. Like a mouse, you hide from the chipper store attendant who tactically approaches you with three different hand lotion samples. And a bag. (Redemption: After a deep breath and shooing the shop attendant away, you fall victim to the buy two get one free sale. You return back to Europe with enough body lotion, shower gel, and aromatherapy bubble bath to last a year.)
2. You marvel at the size of American cars, the roads, the parking lots. You are amazed parking lots even exist for free. (Redemption: You fly down the highway, at 80 MPH belting out the lyrics to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” because you’re in your private bubble of transport instead of sitting in the silent car on the NS train.)
3. You absent-mindedly chirp a happy “Dank u wel!” to the Chick-Fil-A teenage employee as he hands you your number 1 combo meal. His eyebrows furrow, you catch your mistake, but not before he’s already helping the next customer with conveyer-belt efficiency. (Redemption: You eat your Chick-Fil-A sandwich (with pickles!), fries and coke at a dawdling consumption rate, matching the painstakingly slow pace set by most Dutch restaurant employees.)
4. You double-check with your hostess to ensure you can both shower at the same time in two separate bathrooms without the hot water running out. (Redemption: You take the longest, hottest, most exquisitely fabulous shower of your adult life. Complete with shower gel from Bath and Body Works.)
5. You become increasingly confused by new kids’ culture icons: Elf on the Shelf, Doc McStuffins, or Wreck-It Ralph? (Redemption: You get excited when your three-year-old daughter finds and watches Aristocats, one of your childhood favorites, on the transatlantic flight. You get really excited when she watches three times in a row so you can watch The Great Gatsby uninterrupted).
6. Your brain becomes confused at the bacon options at Kroger. You have trouble finding a loaf of bread that challenges the freshness you’re used to. Your jaw drops at the price of a golf-ball sized piece of Gouda cheese. (Redemption: You kiss the ground upon entering Target.)
7. You step off the plane after your transatlantic flight sporting a jacket, boots, and jeans. Everyone else around you is wearing shorts and sandals. You sweat as you enter the rental car bus and make friends with the Hungarian driver. (Redemption: You run to Old Navy, buy a cheap pair of flip flops, and head to the local (clean, licensed!) salon to get a mani-pedi.)
8. Your primary news sources for your college football team are Facebook posts from your friends and e-mails from your Dad. (Redemption: You dress your kids in American-imported college t-shirts and stay up until the wee hours of the morning cheering your Alma mater to its first conference championship).
9. You find yourself subconsciously listening to every strangers’ conversation around you because it’s in English. (Redemption: You drive to Half Price Books and stock up on children’s stories in English, and a few for yourself.)
|A Real Texas Truck
10. You determinedly walk across the parking lot because you think it’s ridiculous to drive to a store you can see. No matter if the parking is free. (Redemption: You nearly get run over by an unsuspecting Ford F150 truck, sweat through your jeans in the Texas October heat, but you’ve got the bath and body works sweet pea splash to refresh yourself after your trip to Half Price Books.)
Photo Credits (Kroger, Nicholas Eckhart, Flickr. Orange Juice, Manwithface, Flickr, Bath&Body Works, www.bargainmoose.ca)