Thursday, June 7, 2012

This Ain't No Place for the Weary Kind

The Weary Kind

   The birds here must be exhausted.  I’ve never lived north of well, Highway 121 in Texas until now.  Currently, the sunrises at 5:23 a.m. and sets at 10:00 p.m., and we haven’t even hit the equinox.  Desperate to understand where in the United States Leiden, The Netherlands is similar to as far as latitude goes, I googled latitude of major North American cities. I found that there is nowhere in the United States that is equivalent to where I am now.  Nowhere.  At 52 degrees north, the nearest North American city is Moose Jaw, Canada.  I don’t even know where Moose Jaw, Canada is – but it sounds pretty ridiculously far from civilization.  So, there we are.  Birds chirping at 3:30 a.m., and our bedroom is not equipped with the black-out curtains which are found in the bedrooms in the front of the house.  This was the driving force behind moving our baby from our room into his own room.  After he started taking cues to start his day from the sun and birds, without ceremonial ado or a lot of heart-wrenching reflections, he started sleeping in his crib out of practicality.   He’s still not sleeping through the night, while disheartening, is completely expected.  Actually, considering I’m the mother of two sweet babies 18 months apart, I have rarely slept through the night since 2009.   
   While I still reminisce periodically about 8-hours uninterrupted sleep, in all honesty, like any mother, doctor, or finals-cramming college student, my body has proven to run pretty efficiently by now on broken hours of sleep.  The biggest challenge and surprise I’ve been overcoming for the past few months, is the total physical exhaustion I encounter on a daily basis.  Most people recognize the feeling.  You’re lying in bed the morning after a difficult workout.  You pushed your limits at the gym or ran a few miles too many before your body was ready.  Maybe you’ve just started a new routine with an intense trainer, picked up a new (or old sport), or perhaps it’s January 2nd and this is the result of a hopeful new resolution.  Your eyes open wide and you stare at the ceiling.  Your eyelids are the only part of your body which can move without pain at this particular moment.  The cause and effect is clear.  You knew it was coming, perhaps, not quite as severe, but you take a day or two off and start to feel great.  You’re stronger, happier, and proud of yourself for accomplishing a small goal.  I remember talking with my co-workers, just a few months ago, about how I’d hope to put the kids in daycare at least once a week to give me a break.  We discussed the possibilities - perhaps I’d ‘work out’ or run errands.  I laugh at this now.  “Work out.”  I would agree - my ideal day to myself in the U.S. included a fantastic run through the neighborhood and a bubble bath at home.  That’s what Americans do.  We schedule time for such events, whereas in Europe just everyday life is a workout.    
    Our first few weekend here, we ventured outside our home to explore our new town.  The double stroller hadn’t arrived from America yet, so with confidence, we loaded the baby in his stroller so he could sleep, and strapped our toddler to my husband’s back.  We grabbed a steamy cup of coffee from the walk-up service, crossed over picturesque canals, and weaved our way throughout the cobblestone streets.  As we navigated through the market vendors, our eyes feasting on wheels of cheese, endless bouquets of tulips, and loaves of freshly baked bread, I prided myself on our resourcefulness of carrying one child.  I smiled at the ladies pushing their love-seat sized double strollers down the bricked sidewalks.  I marveled as to why no one else had a sling.  It seemed pretty handy as we weaved among the stalls and people.   It wasn’t until we returned home and had repeated the act a couple more times before I realized the truth of all this.  Pushing two kids around town (which, inevitably results in at least a 2-mile round trip) is hard work.  Carrying one while pushing another is making a difficult task even more unreasonably exhausting and therefore, ridiculous.  
  So.  To expedite the trip around town, we invested in a bike.  This is what the Dutch do.  We’re going to try it.  Ah, biking.  It still amazes me.  As I’ve mentioned before, everyone here rides a bike.  It’s no wonder that Americans are overweight, but to the same tone, it’s no wonder that Europeans are not.  It’s not a conscious effort on their part or an unconscious effort our part I don’t believe to be healthy or fit - it’s just a result of the system.  Cycling and walking is built into European society, whereas, in America it’s not.  Between the enticing bike lanes, the lack of parking, the fact that you will never drive over 10 miles per hour through town, etc. – it’s just not the efficient way to go.   With that said, cycling myself plus two kids all over town is more challenging than I had expected.  For months I had watched mothers zoom by me in their bakfiets as I pushed my strollers.  They looked happy and healthy, no trace of strain or exhaustion on their faces.  I’ve never seen a Dutch person gasping for breath.  They make biking around town look like an effortless, even pleasurable experience.  Of course they do.  They’ve developed and maintained the muscles to do such things since they were 4.  I’m not afraid of physical exertion – I was in marching band throughout high school and college (insert funny comment here), and ran a ½ marathon 7 months after my daughter was born, but this is a whole new ballgame.  It seemed like such a simple answer – of course I’d bike my kids around town! – We only have one car and I can’t get that American-made 2-ton double stroller with the 6 cup holders on the train.  But yeah, here I am, winded after every time I take my daughter to school on the other side of town.   I’m sure the neighbors have noticed.   On the last turn onto our street, with my two precious babies snug and peacefully asleep inside the neon green carrier, I just stop pedaling.  I am gasping for breath, my shoulders collapse, and hang my head.  I’m happy and tired and thankful that we made it back home again.  Jiggity Jig.  I can only hope that I will gain the endurance after a few months to prevent the laying-in-bed-eyelids-thing from happening every time.                 

Stairs without railing...eek!
   After walking, pushing, and/or biking the kids around town, I’m at home at last.  It’s time to relax and unwind, right?  Not quite so.  From what I’ve seen, it appears that the Dutch don’t build out, they build up.   Truth be told, I have 35 stairs inside my house, which basically equates to having a Stairmaster workout, all day long.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my house with all its charms.  But as I explored the Dutch version of last fall, eyeing each home, all of them with at least two or three floors, the consequences of living life in a tri-level home never entered my realm of consideration.  The first floor is the living and kitchen areas.  The second is the bedrooms and main bath.  The third is the guest bedroom, office, bath and laundry area.  It’s a nice set-up, to be able to separate the three areas of your life with the floors.  There are 17 stairs from the first to the 2nd and 18 stairs from the 2nd to the 3rd floors. (Believe me, I know - I use them to practice counting with my 2-year old everyday).  The stairs are the width of a dollar bill, so even my petite 5 ½ foot shoe, barely fits.  The height is almost the same size, so if you’re not careful (especially on the stairs to the third floor) your knees can easily hit the stairs above.  After my buns were starting to not-so-much feel like steel, I put a pad of paper and pen at the top of each flight for a week, just to calculate my exertion and I discovered that I averaged climbing and descending the stairs at least 20-25 times a day.  Laundry days are even more (which, due to the largish-size of my family and the smallish-size of the washer, results in an every-other day washing event).  As if that wasn’t enough, while I felt comfortable letting my daughter climb our lovely carpeted, completely railed stairs at home in Texas, there was no way I’d let her ascend the stairs here unattended – as beautiful as they are, there is no railing on the left side of the first flight and there would be nothing to stop her from falling to the tiled floor 8-feet below.  So, I’ve been carrying my two children up and down the stairs for months.  “Hold on honey, I’m going to take your brother up first, and then I’ll come back and get you.”  I know it sounds a little ridiculous, but it took me about 3 months to do this effortlessly.  I’m not sure which I’m more proud of – the ½ marathon in a little over 2 hours, or being able to carry my kids without gasping for breath.  I think it might be a toss up. 

Dash doesn't seem to mind the steep stairs
  This all said, as with everything, it gets better and easier everyday.  I finally had enough of carrying my daughter up the stairs and have started to let her “hold Mama’s hand!” and climb up (but not down) the stairs.  I smiled and began to doubt my first attempt at letting her ascend the stairs as I had a death-grip on her precious hand.  I steadied her as her tiny legs climbed the intensely steep staircase.  We counted - “Fiiifteeen, Siiiixxteeeeen, and SEVVEEENTEEN! Steps” We cheered her accomplishment and then I had to giggle as she collapsed on the 2nd floor landing out of pure exhaustion.  I’m glad it’s not just me.  At least it made nap time easier for her.  

1 comment:

  1. oh so true. How do they do it, really?! I am consistently passed by elderly looking people on bikes while I am huffing and puffing up a "hill". And this is without a bakfiets;-)