Thursday, November 29, 2012

That's What's Up

That's What's Up (Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros)

  After a nine hour flight from Amsterdam Schiphol to Minneapolis, a two-hour layover where I changed my children into footed PJs at 2:00 p.m. local time, my family greedily stuffed our faces with Chick-Fil-A sandwiches and chicken nuggets while ignoring the groans of our fellow Delta passengers: “Oh my, that smells so good!  Can we have some?” Like a starving vulture devouring its prey, I could only keep myself from glaring at the woman across the aisle while thinking to myself – “Honey, you have no idea how long I’ve waiting for this meal.”  Baby Girl, despite my snuggly efforts, was too excited to sleep during the last 2 ½ -hour leg of our journey, but I didn’t mind.  There was electricity in the air of this 4:00 p.m. Delta flight reminiscent of a Southwest-Airlines-5:00 p.m.-on –a-Friday-atmosphere.  The friendliness of the plane hit me like a bolt of energy.  Obviously war weary, V and I had paraded onto the tiny plane holding Little Man in his car seat, while I carried Baby Girl in my arms. Eyeing my husband and the seemingly-large infant carrier in the small confines, a tall gentleman in a bulk-head seat boisterously commented, “You sure you don’t want to gate-check that thing?” which resulted in an eruption of laughter from the first five rows of passengers.  My husband smiled, walked past, and the man turned to me and comfortingly said, “Don’t worry Mama, your journey is almost over.”  I smiled and nodded at the honest statement and enjoyed the recognition of my efforts from this stranger.  In my jet-lagged, exhausted state, I gave a word of thanks: English.  I’m so glad I knew what he said.  He was being rather nice and harmless.  In my experience the Dutch usually just ignore everyone around them but will take the opportunity to point out what you’re doing wrong.  If he had spoken Dutch to me, I would have assumed he was making fun of my children in footed PJs, everyone would have laughed, and I would have ducked my head in embarrassment because I wouldn’t know what else to do.  God Bless America and the English language.  I breathed a sigh of relief and the 2 ½ hour flight breezed by.               
    We arrived at DFW as the sun was setting and took the shuttle over to the rental car offices.  “I’ve never rented a car in DFW before,” my husband snickered.  As he was talking to the pleasant woman behind the counter, I told him I wanted to get some water out of the vending machine.  He handed me a five-dollar bill we’d had in our kitchen since last January.   We didn’t have any other American cash.  I eyed the machine suspiciously and tried to insert the bill, but it wouldn’t accept it.  All the drinks were $2.25.  I walked back over to him and told him the machine wouldn’t take it, but that it accepted debit cards.  He smiled, “Of course it does.  This is America!”  I put the card in, only to notice the minimal charge on a debit card was $2.50.  My $2.25 bottle of water cost me $2.50.  Of course it does.  This is America.  I shrugged my shoulders as all other Americans do and walked away with my water, the price of convenience.  The Dutch would never have accepted the machine stealing .25 from them. 
  We loaded the car:  three large suitcases, two car seats, a travel crib, and two carry-ons with room to spare.  I grabbed the keys out of V’s hand, “I’m driving!” I said with a wink.  “Have at it,” he smiled back.  We exited DFW and zoomed down the highways.  I haven’t driven on a highway since January and the experience thrilled me.  Everything was jumbo-sized: the cars, the parking spots, the wide lanes for traffic.  I felt so confident and happy knowing where I was going.  I turned up the radio. 
  My two prior blog posts were dedicated to songs from a mixed CD Nikki had brought me when she came and visited me in October.  I picked them out from the CD thinking, “Oh wow!  These songs are great!  I’ve never heard them before and not only do they speak to what I’m feeling right now, but the world needs to know about them!”  The 3rd and 5th songs I heard that night on the radio were “WhatDo I Stand For?” and “Make This Place Your Home”, respectively.  Oh-kay. . . so The Netherlands is (and therefore, I am) a little behind-the times.  Whoops.  Oh well.  I still like the songs and I wouldn’t have changed anything.
   We picked up Chipotle on our way to my friend’s house, where we were going to stay for our week in Texas.  Both kids had fallen asleep and we carefully transported them from the car to the baby cribs set up in the bedrooms upstairs in her house.  It was great to see my friend and be in the comforts of her home.  She has a daughter in-between my children’s ages, so her home was appreciatively equipped with baby gates, kitchen locks, and multiple toddler toys.  “Mi casa, su casa,” she said.  She gave us a tutorial on the alarm, showed us the snacks and breakfast foods in her pantry, and equipped her kitchen table with two extra highchairs borrowed from her sister’s twin boys.  We said goodnight and V and I headed upstairs to crash along with our children. 
  4:00 a.m. and both kids were up; therefore, V and I were up.  Jet lag bites.  Everyone knows this.  I traveled a lot overseas when I worked for American Airlines and jet lag was a bit of a beast on the first few days of any audit I conducted.  Jet lag with two children under three years old is multiplying the beast times three.  At 4:00 a.m. the four of us were in my friend’s playroom, building foam alphabet mats and trying to find the quietest American toys we could (not an easy task).   The openness of American homes is desirable to Americans.  Our Dutch home is narrow and each room has a door that segregates each living space.  Not exactly airy and spacious, but at the same time, the noise that comes with small children (or noise while children are sleeping) can be contained.  My friend has a lovely, large home with high ceilings and of course, no doors connecting the living areas.  4:00 a.m. equates to 11:00 a.m. Netherlands time and my children were being as rowdy and loud as they would have been across the ocean.  After an hour of playing with them, trying to shush them and with the rest of the morning looming like a marathon before me, I turned to V and said, “We’ve got to get out of here.”  At 5:00 a.m., we loaded up the kids in the car and drove to Wal-mart.  Oh yes.  We did, because we could.  I despise Walmart, but at 5:30 a.m. it’s not that bad.  Plus, we needed a temporary pre-paid cell phone because our Dutch cell phones wouldn’t work in the U.S., anyway.  (At least, not without some seriously horrific roaming charges.)  After running errands before the sun was up, we headed over to Chick-Fil-A for breakfast at 6:00.  (And yes, for those of you keeping track, that’s Chick-Fil-A twice within our first 24-hours of arriving in the country.  Healthy.  I know.)
   By 10:30 a.m., we were at the dentists’ office, which means we were taking care of business before we had seen my parents, but it had to be done.  We hadn’t been to the dentist in a year.  Yes, there are Dutch dentists, but do you really want to go to a dentist in a foreign country?  Do you really want to go to a dentist you don’t know in your own country?  This was the first of many doctor’s visits we’d attend to during our week-long visit to Texas
  At 2:30 that same day, I had my hair appointment with Uncle Oscar.  Blame it on the jet-lag, being up at 4:00 a.m., or just the relief of seeing this man so special to my life, I cried when I saw him.  I think he almost cried too.  As he put foils in my hair, his co-workers fired question after question to me about life in The Netherlands.  I answered them and he told them that I had written a blog post about him.  As the next question was about to be asked, he stopped his co-worker short and told me he had stopped smoking months ago.  I was so happy for him and glad to be talking about life in DallasC to D!  Pay attention and focus, this is why you are here.  Reconnect and embrace!  He made my hair look beautiful (and, to the delight of my husband, I’m not as brunette as I thought I would be).  Later the next week, he cut Baby Girl’s hair (fixing the haircut she gave herself the first time I left her unattended with scissors – add that to the list of things Mom’s Only Do Once) and he also gave Little Man his first haircut. 
  We planned to host a party for all our friends and family in Dallas.  In my excitement of preparation, my sister, nephew, V, the kids, and I made a trip to Costco.  The experience can only be equated to visiting Oz.  We were like Japanese tourists taking photos of Baby Girl sitting next to her cousin in the double-wide grocery cart, their four legs dangling from the seats.  (So this is how you grocery shop in America with two kids.)  We threw bags upon bags of snack mixes, Pirate’s Booty and chips into the cart.  We added platters of pre-sliced cheeses, meats, boxes of crackers, cases of beer, and bottles of wine in the cart.   In the end, the cart was almost too heavy to push through the parking lot (Ha!).   The party itself was a whirlwind of an event, and so many of our friends from all over DFW and even friends from Waco came to see us.  I am still humbled by the love shown by so many people who made the effort to come and visit with us for the brief amount of time.  I wish I could have spent hours with everyone that was there, but it just was not physically possible.  I later relayed the event to a friend and she said, “It was probably like a wedding, where people come from all over but you only have time to say hello, thank you for coming, and to give a hug,” and she was right.  I guess I’ve been to a lot of weddings like that as a guest, and its okay.  Hopefully everyone that was there felt the same.
   We surprised my mom at her work.  After hanging out at the Dallas Zoo with my friend we were staying with, V and I decided to stop by the Highland Park Library where my mom works.  I cleverly sent Baby Girl into the library check-out area.  She ran around the circulation desk as V, Little Man, and I hid behind the stacks.  My Mom instantly recognized the crazy running infant as her granddaughter and elatedly chased her down and embraced her in a huge hug.  It was the most precious moment! 
  After the wonderful visit to the library I eyed the houses in Highland Park as we made our way back to Central Expressway.  I had always considered the houses in the area as the ‘old’ and majestic part of Dallas.   It’s still majestic, but I was shocked at how fresh everything looked.  Considering Highland Park was incorporated in 1915, years after the house I live in now was built, and that with the final major land development in Highland Park was completed in 1924, the city and its houses are just babies compared to the architecture I pass through on a daily basis.
   I noticed other strange things, like how a lot of public buildings have carpet and how the sidewalks (in comparison to The Netherlands) are impeccably clean.  Our patio in our Dutch backyard always has a constant film of green moss (think, pond scum?) and I’d never think of going outside without my shoes on here.  We pranced happily shoeless around the pool of my friend’s house.  On the flip side, while the sidewalk leading to Five Guys was spotless, I noticed a layer of grease covered all surfaces upon eating there.             
   Our small family hit a major milestone during our visit.  Little Man had taken a few tentative steps before our flight, but he really started walking when he reached America.  My Grandma (affectionately known as “G.G. – for Great-Grandma” by Baby Girl and Little Man) was witness to even more confident steps in her living room.  I was so proud that Grandma could see his first few steps before he tore through all her Gone With The Wind DVDs that were at eye-level to a 13-month old.
   V and I were invited to a happy hour with his Dallas co-workers (an event I thoroughly embraced considering I have not met any of his Dutch co-workers.), while my Dad and his girlfriend were affectionately responsible and privy to the exhaustion that is: Get Little Man ready for bed.  Maybe it’s just him or maybe it’s just all little boys, but it takes two people to dress a restless little boy in his pjs for bed.  Either way, I was thankful for Dad and Barbara taking care of Baby Girl and Little Man on our one night out.       
   We shopped and shopped.  I went to Target and bought Crayola Washable markers, Goody hair rubber bands, Johnson & Johnson bath soaps and lotion, and Playtex sippy cups.  Do they have markers, rubber bands, kids soaps, and sippy cups in The Netherlands?  Of course. . . but they’re just not washable, effective, pleasantly-smelling, or spill-proof as their American counterparts, respectively.  I went to Bath and Body Works and stocked-up on a cornucopia of lotions to last through the next year.  As I entered the store, I couldn’t help but notice the exuberant lighting, the inspiring displays, and the stimulating color explosion, all of which assaulted my senses.  I picked out “short” jeggings from American Eagle and entertainingly watched my daughter eye the disco ball that adorned the entrance of the store.  I shouted across Little Man’s stroller as the bar-like-volume of music screamed through the speakers in the store as I handed my coveted jeans to my husband and told him that I’d wait outside with the kids as he paid for my long-awaited plunder.  America wants you to spend money and they will stop at nothing to catch your attention, alarm your senses, and speak to your psyche.  It’s kind of fun, especially if you’re aware of it.                  
   It was a wonderful, but difficult week in Dallas.  Even when we were on vacation around Europe, I stood fast in my determination to stick to naptimes and bedtimes with the kids.  Once we were back in the U.S., we pushed the kids.  We had naptime in the car, and put them to bed later than normal so we could spend time with family and friends.  Like the saying, “You give them an inch, and they’ll run all over you. . . “, the same can be said for the reverse.  Push them an inch, and they’ll come back at you like a hurricane.  It was hard on them, and therefore, was hard on me and V, but as an Expat, there is little choice.  But at the same time, I’m so proud of my little travelers.  After a week in Dallas, we boarded and American Airlines flight to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  After 11-plus hours on a plane, the 55-minute flight was cake.  At 2 ½ years old, Baby Girl snapped her airplane seatbelt on like a pro, and that night fell asleep in her travel crib without a fuss (the 4th unique house she’d gone to bed in that week.)  Our hostess commented how admirable that was. 
   As I’ve mentioned before, my husband went to LSU and has family in Louisiana.  A 10-day trip to the U.S. is challenging in and of itself, but we also felt that it was important to visit Baton Rouge during our visit.  Even though I grew up in Dallas and never attended LSU, I spent three months in Baton Rouge when I worked in public accounting.  Three months was all I needed to get me hooked to the culture, the food, and the people who lived in Baton Rouge.  V and I were married at the Houmas House Plantation outside of Baton Rouge.   Our celebration was complete with an 11-piece jazz band, crawfish etouffee for dinner, and the 2nd line as a wedding procession.   When we were planning our trip home this year, we decided that a trip to Baton Rouge was a “must do”.
   When I was pregnant with Baby Girl, I told V that we weren’t going to brainwash our child by wearing LSU gear before she could talk.  When we were packing for The Netherlands, I told V that he could just leave all his LSU stuff in storage, it wasn’t necessary.  But in our secluded, a little-bit-homesick-state, I will reluctantly admit that our small family marches around our Dutch home to the LSU fight song every Saturday morning.  (The fight song obsession was confirmed by his college roommate this visit, V was apparently THAT guy who aroused his hung-over roommates by patriotically playing the LSU fight song just a little too early on gamedays. . . glad he has a sober group of 1 and 2 ½ year olds to embrace his enthusiasm, now). 
  We walked up to the tailgate and were welcomed by friends we had not seen in years.  I received hugs, my daughter received an LSU tattoo on her cheek by a new-found friend and fellow-stay-at-home-mom I love and admire, and my son tangoed with a friend I spent Mardi Gras with years ago.  After months of hearing the LSUdah-da-da-duhhhh song around our home, V fulfilled a life-long dream, and after chasing the LSU Marching Band down to the heels of Death Valley, he put Baby Girl on his shoulders as The Golden Band from Tiger Land kicked-off the fight song.  Her smile of recognition was unforgettable.
   It was an exhausting, but comfortable trip.  I was happy to be home but yet, anxious to come home.  An American friend of mine visited me in Leiden last week for Thanksgiving.  She lives in Germany and she said, “I call both America and Germany home.”  I’ve made the reference before, but I’ll make it again.  Living in The Netherlands is similar to being in college.  You love going home to where you grew up because it’s familiar and you know what to expect.  You can reconnect to your past. Some things and people have changed, but it’s still relatable and you can embrace the changes.  College and The Netherlands is full of challenges, unfamiliarity, a little bit of loneliness and isolation.  In the end, you know you’re going to be transformed.  I read a passage in a book recently that referred to a town as “the place that tore me down and built me up.”  Armed with the love of friends and family I saw during my visit to the U.S. and my plunder of American goods (not limited to the party supplies for Baby Girl’s 3rd birthday from Party City) I feel more confident and excited to face the year ahead.  LSU was a place that changed V’s perspective and identity. I may be premature in saying so, but I do believe that The Netherlands may possibly be the thing that ultimately defines me.  My freshman year is over and with the love I received from my friends and family, the reminder that, this is only temporary, I feel like in 2013 I will be more prepared and more confident. 

Love it is our shelter!
Love it is our cause!
Love goes on forever!
Love will lead us on…
- Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros


  1. I'm so glad you enjoyed your trip home. Sounds like it was a bit of a whirlwind! I really enjoyed getting to see you guys at the party and catching up. Thanks again for hosting it on your busy trip home. Merry Christmas!

  2. It was so great to see you guys! Glad the trip went well and kudos to your little world travelers (uh, and to YOU GUYS, OBV).