Tuesday, November 3, 2015


I fell in love.  But it wasn’t love at first sight.  The first time the Dutch doctors popped my third child into my view (despite their “Ah, mooi”s) I screamed at the crying, gooey alien.

Five months earlier I’m lying on my back with gel on my stomach and my husband's hand clasping mine. Cosette is bouncing up and down on a chair in the dimly lit room, staring at the black and white screen hanging from the ceiling. The ultrasound technician speaks.  “Ja - so. Must I tell you? You see it’s a boy, yes?” she proudly says. She smiles at my daughter. My eyes widen.

Cosette speaks my mind, “A boy? Oh NO!!! It’s supposed to be a GIRL! We don’t need another crazy boy like Holden!!” My eyes close. I try to breathe.

The technician is confused and flustered. “Another boy? What do you mean?” She blinks.
Tears well in my eyes. “Yes, yes - we already have a boy, but he’s at home because we can’t take him anywhere!”  Tears spill over. There is a running faucet on my face. During the next two minutes I relive three years of frustration and exhaustion - the sleepless nights, the flighting to put Holden in the stroller, to keep his shoes on, to put his clothes on, to keep his pajamas on, to change his diaper, the screaming, the chasing - at home, at the museum, at the park. The struggles to get him to sit, to eat, to read a book - the loud, active, son I already had.  I went into this third child thing with the complete and total faith that the universe would not send me another son. Of course, I adore Holden, he’s funny and loving and wonderful - but at this moment in time, all I can think of is the exhaustion. Cosette becomes agitated - no doubt a result of her mother sobbing like a fool. Vinny ushers her outside the room and leaves me alone with the tech. I scold myself for being so ridiculous and selfish and I wipe tears with the back of my hand.  “I’m so sorry. My son is just a handful - two handfuls, really. I’m just tired.  I’m sorry. I’m so glad the baby. . . that he’s healthy. Truly I am. I’m sorry, I’m so very, very tired.” I repeat.

She smiles. Her hair is short and she wears those funky glasses the Dutch are famous for.  “You know. My daughter is two handfuls, too.  It doesn’t matter boy or girl.” I give her a half-hearted smile. She doesn’t know what genes I’m playing with.

With my first two pregnancies - I knew what we were going to have. We had dreams about the sex of our children and they had come true.  Vinny had told me he had a dream about our third being a girl and I took that as confirmed. I felt horrible (like I did with Cosette), I craved sweets (like I did with Cosette) and I had visualized it all - the baby girl, her name, her nursery theme. After the appointment, we walk back to our house in a daze. My mother - who we had surprised at Amsterdam Schiphol airport just a few days earlier with our news of pregnancy - is at our home, taking care of Holden as he sleeps.  I by-passed her and go straight upstairs. “So,” she said. “I take it, it’s a boy?” she smiled. Vinny nods.

“You know. . . “ my husband says tentatively that night, “. . . it was always a 50-50 chance, right?” and he raises an eyebrow without looking at me - folding clothes and putting them into a suitcase. I’m lying in a ball, on the bed. Again, scolding myself for being so selfish, but reason is no match for a hormonal, pregnant woman.

“No. It wasn’t. I knew it was a girl, and now it’s not.” Two fleeting thoughts enter and scamper out of my brain like the mice in my kitchen - “It’s all the Netherlands fault” because, sometimes. . . as an expat, you like to blame anything that goes Not Your Way on the country - Gah! and second, “Well. . . we could always try again for the girl.” Heh. No. The two pesky ideas gulping down poison and dead by morning. 

I always like the idea of surprises - but in reality, I’m terrible at them.  I know it is a good idea to find out about the sex of the child half-way through the pregnancy.  Over the next months, I become accustom to the idea.  I hold my Baby Girl a little tighter - knowing she’d be the only girl I have and just. . . not knowing what to expect from another little boy.  My Dad is surprised at my reaction, “Weell, Cea-leeest, I thiiink it’s a goood thang, be-cause you’re goin to be at home with Howl-den and ah-think it will be good because he’ll haaave ah brother!”  I hadn’t really thought of it.  I had only thought of Cosette and her desire to have another sister. What did Holden really think? What would our family look like with two boys? Maybe. It could be pretty cool. Then we had to decide on a name.

We bought French name books (the girls names we had picked were French - to go with Celeste and Cosette, naturally), we peruse websites for others.  Although Vinny suggests a lot of American names, I want to capture our expat life in his name, plus he is half Dutch by heritage. We bought a Dutch name book when I was pregnant with Cosette. We open it again. I find it.  I share with Vinny and he loves it, too.  Brecht.  It was just “Dutch-enough” but I hope it is easy enough for Americans to say.  It’s kind of like, Breckt! Just like Americans say don’t say e-ch-o - they say echo. The ch is the same, I reason!  But. . . truly, the Dutch way of saying it, Brecht - with a push of air between e and the ch - is like a breath of fresh air.  It’s beautiful and calming.  There’s no rushing it, and it’s basically everything I feel about living overseas - and hope for my new baby.  Vinny and I had also visited Cafe Brecht in Amsterdam the previous December (named after the famous German writer, Bertold Brecht) and found it eclectic, fun, and relaxing. It is the perfect name. 
Once we have the name, His name - I feel more connected to him.  I love being pregnant overseas.  My biggest complaints about being pregnant in America - the nosy people, the eyebrow raises at my size vs. my due date (hello, I’m 5 feet tall!), and the unrelenting Texas heat - are non-issues in Europe.  I walk the streets of Leiden not only inspired by the beauty around me, but also without comment or question of my growing body.  I am so thankful.  And I walk.  I walk and walk and walk. Pushing a double stroller, biking my kids around town - I do it all, with baby in belly.  I am proud and strong.  I can do this.

“You know - they don’t have private recovery rooms,” Holden’s preschool teacher warns me one day as I pick him up from school.  Record. Scratch.  “I’m sorry?” I say.  I had registered at the hospital within walking distance to my house. I figured it would be fine.  With this newfound information, I send an SOS to my expat friends to confirm.

“She’s right! - I was in a room with another woman who left her screaming baby in his crib while she went outside to have a smoke!” one friend tells me.
Another one said she had called her husband in the middle of the night on the second night, begging him to pick her up.  “I was in a room with three other women and their screaming babies, it was awful!” she says.

I start to panic.  My wheels start turning over the birthing tidbits I had learned over the years - most Dutch women give birth at home, and even those who give normal birth stay in the hospital for less than 48-hours.  The two or four-woman recovery room was standard practice.  I am planning a C-section and know I will be in recovery for at least three days.  I’ve accepted a lot of cultural differences, but sharing my pain and space with others is not something I am interested in.  I switch hospitals mid-pregnancy for one with private recovery rooms.  “I mean - if my kids come up to visit, I don’t want them bothering anyone else” - I reason.  Plus, in the new hospital, Vinny can spend the night.  In the other hospital - with three other women and newborns - it wasn’t an option. 

Vinny and I take a tour of the new hospital.  It seems similar to my old one in Dallas.  The staff is nice and attentive.  After looking at the rooms, I ask “Where is the nursery?”.  They look at me with questions behind their eyes.  “You know. . . the nursery - where the babies sleep? In their beds?” more blank stares. “Like, where are the babies? There must be a window where I can see the newborns. . .” and I trail off.  They point to a dark closet.  And then it dawns on us all at the same time.

“Oh no - the babies stay in the rooms with the mothers.  If there’s a problem or something, we can help and we take them back to our office - but no.  Usually they always stay with the mothers.”  This is new.  Okay. I nod. Duly noted.   

It’s the day of the birth.  I go from the prep room to the surgery room - just like In Dallas. The air is tense as they put the epidural in and I decided (as if there was any doubt) that I NEVER want to do this again. Three times is plenty. They ask me if it’s a boy or girl and I tell them it’s a boy and his name is Brecht.  “Oh no!!!! They shout - it’s bad luck to say the baby’s name before he is born.  We’re minutes away from the birth, and I’ve been living in this country almost three years, but I’m still doing things wrong.  They go about their prep but I start to panic.  Where is the curtain that separates my eyes from. . . everything else? “Please don’t let the curtain be a cultural difference. Please don’t let the curtain be a cultural difference.” I chant in my head.  But eventually - it’s up and things are progressing at a pace and procedure I’m accustomed to.  I’d never seen my other two children before they were cleaned up and wrapped up all pretty.  I’m an ex-CPA for a reason. . . I’m feeling a few more things than usual - the Dutch are light on pain meds, and all of a sudden - there he is - in all his purple gooey-ness!  And I freak out from surprise - a culmination of a lot of stress and anticipation.

They clean him up and put him by my head.  The hospital insisted that I didn’t wear contacts (which I complied with) or make-up (which I did not comply with).  He’s adorable and cute and I’m so thankful that everything went safely and successfully.  I’m having trouble seeing him through my awkward glasses and I’m distracted by the tugging.

“Um, I had anti-nausea medicine in Texas,” I say to the guy at my head.

“Oh. Ja? Would you like some?” More tugging. Damn those Dutch and their I’m-So-Tough-Going-Light-On-Pain-Meds. . .

“Yes. I believe I would.”   

The night of my surgery, the doctor gave me encouragement to ask for something stronger if needed. The nurse came in later and asked my pain scale, “I’m an 8” I said.

“An 8?” she said with an eye roll.

I prop myself on my elbows as determined as I could be. “Yes! I’m an 8. My entire stomach feels like it’s on fire. This is the most pain I’ve been in, in my entire life - please give me something stronger than paracetamol!” (Tylenol) She comes back with a syringe of morphine. “Can’t you just put it into the IV?!?!?” I plead.

“Oh no - this will work much faster, “ she says.  I have the bruise where she put in into my leg for six months afterwards.

The third night after the baby is born, I’m in my hospital room. Alone. Vinny decides to stay at home with the other two children that night. It’s been a hectic week. My Dad flew in from Texas to help with both Holden and Cosette, but it’s a big job. Vinny is exhausted going back and forth between the hospital and me and the baby and keeping things going at home.  The baby has been pretty peaceful, but tonight he isn’t doing well.  He keeps waking up, and I - in my C-sectioned recovery state - am having trouble getting him in and out of his bassinet by my bed. I call the nurse multiple times - in, out, in, out.  Every time I ask the nurse to put him back in his crib he wakes up.  I call her again to take him out.   Brecht is crying - I can’t get him to calm down - I call the nurse for the seventeenth time that night. He’s crying. I’m crying. She takes pity.  “I’ll take him for a bit, yes?” she says to me.  It’s nearly 2:00 a.m.  I am The Special Case.  I tell her okay. I don’t know where she’s going to take him. I guess to her office in this nursery-less hospital. I feel alone, helpless, and inadequate. I close my eyes and go to sleep. 

A couple hours later she comes back in. The baby is crying. “He needs his mother,” she smiles at me.  She lays him on my chest, pops up the sides of my bed, turns down the light and leaves.  The baby, my Baby Brecht sleeps.  We sleep and sleep and sleep.  I awake with him still on my chest, in my arms.  After the most stressful, lonely evening of my life, I awake to this angel snuggling on top of me. I don’t know if this would ever happen in America - I feel like anti-liability rules would trump a simple humane solution.  I hold my Brecht and think there’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be. I am grateful for giving birth in a Dutch hospital.  At that moment - thousands of miles away from my homeland, and a few miles from the rest of my family, the grace of these Dutch nurses gave me the answer my son needed - just me. I fell madly in love.

Note: Vinny’s mother passed away before our wedding, but we held true to the mother-son dance. I danced with him and we invited all other mothers in attendance to dance with their sons.  The song we chose was More, by Frank Sinatra.

More than you'll ever know, my arms long to hold you so,
My life will be in your keeping, waking, sleeping, laughing, weeping,
Longer than always is a long long time, but far beyond forever you're gonna be mine.
I know I've never lived before and my heart is very sure,
No one else could love you more.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Am I Wrong

The sun has beat upon Texas for months.  Last Wednesday, I awoke to the sound of raindrops on my windowpane, like kisses from heaven.  Little Man, Holden rushes into our bedroom at 6:30 a.m.  "Holden!  It's raining!" I smile into the darkness.

"What?  What you say, Mama?" he responds.

"Let me show you," and I scoop him up into my arms.  I unlock and step out the front door.  We stand on the porch, sheltered from the drops.  The parched, Texas ground sips the water falling from the sky.  He squints into the early morning light and listens - I see his memory racing towards something familiar.  His eyes widen, smile stretches, and face glows.  "Mama!" he whispers, "It's a beautiful day in America!"

The move was hardest on Holden. Cosette, at five years old, misses her friends terribly, but she understands the move.  She remembered my parents, our friends, our visits to Texas. She's sad about leaving the Netherlands, and can express it. We talk about our memories of Europe. We appreciate the happy things in Texas. Holden, who was three months when we moved to the Netherlands and three years when we moved back, didn't know what had happened.  All he knew was that we moved him away from his entire life – his home, his friends, his school, his teachers, his museums, his grocery store, his parks, and his playgrounds.  For the boy who resists change in his daily routine, this was a very bad thing.  Our first month back, we were housed in a corporate apartment while we fixed up our house and waited for our furniture to arrive from the Netherlands. We were used to staying in apartments in Europe during our travels – and I did our best to make it fun. I had never been a full-time Mom in America (much less with three kids), and after V went back to work in Dallas on the third week – I tried to imitate our daily routine in the Netherlands as best I could.  We took walks – in the sun and in the snow. We listened to Dutch SkyRadio on an iPhone app and had dance parties.  The majority of our toys were in the sea shipment still in transit, so I went to the Dollar Store and bought workbooks, puzzles, and art supplies.  But by day three of being full-time-mom-of-3-in-Corporate-Apartment-in-America, I could tell I was dealing with a completely different challenge than. . . all of the above.  Holden had become the most difficult version of himself – a screaming, angry, mess. Before 9:00 a.m.,  I called my husband with tears brimming at my eyes – "Let's call the local preschool. I hope if he's enrolled in school, he'll calm down – it won't be the same, but maybe it will help."  Meanwhile, that afternoon, I held him before nap time. He was inconsolable, a loose cannon in the apartment, ready to explode.  I rocked him and sighed. There are few words you can utter to a three year old that stick. But I had to try. "Holden, I know you're upset. I know you're sad. You miss your friends, our old house, your school, our Jumbo, and the museums. But I want you to know – that we're all the same.  Our family is still here – me, you, Daddy, Cosette, Baby Brecht, Tyler, & Dash – we're all here.  And we're together.  And that's what's important." His three-year-old eyes looked at me and blinked. I stare back.  For a silent moment, he seems to understand.  He too, takes a deep breath, and the tension in his body collapses. I lower him into his travel crib, and shut the door quietly.

Two days later, our family tours the preschool. It's in the church I grew up in, just a mile from our house. The director is warm and friendly. I explain our background and how we've just moved back from overseas.  As we explore the details of the school, I become increasingly confused until I begin to feel like an expat in my own country. Before we left for the Netherlands, Cosette was enrolled in daycare while I worked full-time – so I know about the importance of labeling, making your own bottles, and the strict security procedures.  But preschool in America was unfamiliar territory.  In the Netherlands – I signed one permission slip upon registration that stated – you can take Holden wherever you like.  I'd pick him up from school and they would have been to the market, the local farm, or the playground.  It was easy – the teachers loaded the children in strollers and walked all over town. The school provided all snacks, lunches, and diapers.  I'd pick him up everyday and talk to his teachers - "Ja! Hij slaapt goed, ate goed!" There were no boo-boo grams or documentation about his BMs.  And I was really okay with this.

As we go through the tour, the director tells me I need to provide a nap mat.  "A what?" I ask her. "A nap mat." she repeats.  I've never heard of such a thing, much less owned one.
"Okay – sounds great.  I'm sorry, but where could I get one?" I ask.

"Oh, anywhere, really." she replies.

Accustomed to specific stores carrying specific inventory, I press further. "No really – where can I find this thing?"

"Target – or perhaps Buy Buy Baby."  Okay.  This is helpful.  I purchase one the next day.  And a lunchbox.

A few days later, we drop Holden off for his first day of American Preschool.  I've signed about thirty forms, given a blood sample (not really, but. . . ) and have his labeled change of clothes, nap mat, and have packed his lunch.  Everything goes in a separate bin, and he walks into his classroom with a fearless attitude.  I'm nervous, but proud. I mean – we've lived overseas! American preschool at a church I've attended for 30 years should be cake.  Then I get a phone call.

"Ms. Bennekers?" she says.  "Yes?"

"I'm so sorry to bother you, but I noticed that you sent Holden to school with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."  My eyes blink.  Where in the world is she going with this? Cosette's teachers in the Netherlands questioned the peanut butter and jelly sandwich but what's more American than this?

"I'm afraid I forgot to mention this during the tour – but we're a peanut-free and nut-free school," she explains.

I cock my head into the phone.  I'm really confused. "I'm sorry. What did you say?" I respond.

"I'm not sure if you encountered this in the Netherlands. . . ." she takes the acknowledgement approach, "but here we're a peanut-free school," she repeats.
My mind is dancing over peanut knowledge gained over the past three years. . . FB posts about peanut-free Halloween candy? And that's really about it.  Are they afraid Holden is going to share his sandwich?  That's terribly unlikely.

She reads my mind, "I don't believe anyone in his class is allergic, but the peanut allergy could be triggered via the air."

Now I'm stunned. "Really?  In The AIR?" I exclaim with a mix of disbelief and amazement.
"Oh yes," she retorts.  "I think you'll find a lot of schools around here will have similar policies. . . "

I feel like I'm completely out of date.  Not only have I stumbled upon an advanced strain of allergy intolerance, but I've also learned that the Great American PB&J has become offensive.  I press end call and shrug.

The next few weeks, I continue to embarrass myself at his preschool.  After living in a biking culture for three years, my kids are still learning about parking lots and I'm still learning how to corral three kids to and from the car. We pick Holden up from school – baby in the stroller and Cosette holding onto the side.  I sign him out, and he takes off down the hallway.  Another Mom opens the glass doors. Holden squeezes past her daughter, through the door, and shoots down the sidewalk, towards the parking lot. I panic. I race after him, screaming his name, while pushing the stroller as Cosette runs to keep up.  Holden barrels towards the road when he takes a sudden turn down the adjacent sidewalk.  The Mom stands stunned, probably amazed at the speed of my child and at the volume of my shrill voice shouting his name.  I grab Holden and tell him (for the 400th time in three weeks) about the importance of parking lots and staying with me.  The other Mom, still mortified at the scene before her and her role as the tipping point, shakes her head and repeats a stream of apologies.  With my head and heart fluttering, I try my best to console her, "Don't worry – he's used to being yelled at!"  Nice. Real. Nice.   

Throughout the following months, I realized Holden had created his own defense mechanism.  When he'd talk about his old school he'd say, the name of it, "Far away." or "Eiffel Tower. Far away."  He'd still ask me if we could go to our friends' houses or the museums. But it was less frequent.  Far. Away.

After a summer off, Holden recently started preschool again. "Mama – I so nervous for school," he'd say. But once we arrived – he didn't want to leave.  I attended the back-to-school-night and all the rules and regulations and suggestions for efficiency and convenience made my head spin – but like Holden, I was happy to start a new year, with a few familiar faces.

Last night, before we ate dinner, the kids suggested we pray before we ate, just like Holden does at his new preschool. We held hands together and recited "God is great, God is good. . . " After we concluded, Holden's eyes sparkled.  "Okay. Now we sing, Smakelijk eten!" - the song he sang at his old Dutch school before him and his classmates ate a meal.  Together as a family, we sang the Dutch song. Pleased with our rendition, Holden picked up his fork and smiled, "Smakelijk eten allemaal!"

P.S. Holden's favorite song is Am I Wrong. . . and for anyone who's ever met Holden, you know how appropriate that is.  
Am I wrong
For thinking out the box from where I stay?
Am I wrong
For saying that I choose another way?
I ain't trying to do what everybody else doin'
Just 'cause everybody doin' what they all do
If one thing I know, I'll fall but I'll grow
I'm walking down this road of mine, this road that I call home
So am I wrong?
For thinking that we could be something for real?
Now am I wrong?
For trying to reach the things that I can't see?
But that's just how I feel,
That's just how I feel
That's just how I feel
Trying to reach the things that I can't see (see, see, see)
If you tell me I'm wrong, wrong
I don't wanna be right, right
If you tell me I'm wrong, wrong
I don't wanna be right
If you tell me I'm wrong, wrong
I don't wanna be right, right
If you tell me I'm wrong, wrong
I don't wanna be right

Friday, September 4, 2015

It's Been a Long Day Without You, My Friend

June 2014  - The sun is shining on a bright Dutch day. The North Sea wind teases the leaves of the school courtyard. Summer beacons. I feel happy and hopeful. Not only for the warm, long summer days that stretch ahead, but also because this is the last day I will be picking my daughter up from this school. We've found another school across town that she'll be attending in the fall.

The new school was recommended by a friend and we called for a tour. My husband and I weaved through the small playground, smiling at the line of bicycles and tricycles set out for recess. After ringing the doorbell, the principal met us with an outstretched hand, led us to the conference room, and offered us a 'koffie'. Her smile was warm, her short cropped brown hair matched her crisp suit.  Professional and attentive, she answered each question with concern and understanding.  This time I knew the questions to ask – "Do your teachers speak English?  Okay, but would they mind speaking English to me?  How large are the class sizes? I read on-line you have English classes, do you find the other children are responsive to these lessons? What is the division of the age groups? Are the four-year-olds separated or are they in a class with five and six-year-olds?"  I nodded with each answer and felt a sense of relief spread across my shoulders.  She was saying all the right things. Despite the trek across town, pregnant or with a newborn, I knew that I wanted our last few months to be enjoyable and worrying about my oldest daughter's safety at school was not okay.  We met the welcoming teachers, saw the children sitting and working in their stations, and felt the overall calm in the school.  This school was perfect.  We turned in our paperwork for the new school immediately.  And in an awkward, but not unpleasant meeting, we gave notice to her current school that we wouldn't be returning in the fall.
As restless as the trees, I shift from one foot to the other on the paved courtyard. I stare at the kindergarten door - willing it to open. I stand, guarding my treasures - my son asleep in the bike, one hand on my handlebars, the other on my bulging belly.  For a split second, I wonder if I am doing the right thing.  My daughter had only been at this school a few months, was it really right to yank her out just to start all over for a few months before we moved back to the States?  Was I giving it a fair chance?  The door opens and our eyes meet. My smile catapults to the ground.  She's wobbling, supported by her teacher with two huge band-aids covering her tiny knees.  "What now?" are my final words.  "She fell on the playground," is the explanation I receive.  "They pushed me!" my baby says to me.  And any doubt, any hesitation, evaporates.  I load her into my bike, and we ride home. Not looking back.

August 2014 -  Baby Girl's first day of Kindergarten at her new Dutch school. Just like first days of school around the world, there's shuffling, rushing, loading, excitement, stress, and anxiousness.  The entire family loads into the car – I'm about two months away from my due date.  I could bike – but when the car is available, the American in me, is going to choose the more comfortable option.  It takes us about twenty minutes to traverse the city via vehicle, even though it is only a two mile distance.  Weaving through the city centre takes time – stopping for bicycles, pedestrians, and lights.  Unlike America, drive-thru drop-offs are unheard of since biking and walking is the primary mode of transportation.  Even parking lots in the Netherlands are rare, and her school is no exception.  After fruitlessly searching for parking along the street in the adjoining neighborhood, my daughter and I jump out of the car armed with promises to meet up with V and Holden in a bit.  Hand in hand, Cosette and I follow the sounds radiating from the courtyard.  Teachers are singing into microphones while students, parents, and faculty crowd.  "Celebrate good times, come on!" blares from speakers.  Baby Girl nestles her head into my belly and I lean down to hug her, balancing my weight carefully to keep from falling over.  "You're going to do great.  I'm so proud of you." I reassure her.  The Principal spots us among the crowd and welcomes us.  I run into a friend from book club.  She tells us how much she loves the school.  I feel comforted.  In my small expat world, running into anyone I know, ever, is cause for celebration.  I take it as a good sign.  The music stops.  Announcements are made. Doors open.  My husband and son catch up just in time.  As a family, we head to her classroom with many other anxious parents.  We find her seat in the circle, already labeled with her name.  The teacher is calm - she looks at her students with sense of pride.  After allowing the parents to linger, she encourages the parents to go to the window and wave.  We give Cosette a hug and then file out to wave at the window.  Lots of kisses are blown.  A few tears (from parents and children alike) spill over and then we file back into the school for a reception of coffee.  Another Mom speaks to me.  "I'm so sorry. Spreek jij Engels?" I smile.  "Oh. You speak English?" she asks.  "Yes. Sorry?!" and although at this instant – she knows I'm an outsider, she's still friendly.  She has twin girls, who turned four over the summer.  As a mother, this is her very first day of kindergarten.  It's the same.  Parents lovingly saying goodbye to their children.  It's universal feeling of excitement and loss.

Throughout the year Cosette befriends many of the students.  I respect and adore her teachers.  I see my daughter blossom.  She's happy.  She looks forward to going to school everyday. With two other children and the trek across town - it's not always easy to get her there on time.  Every day I hope I'm able to find a close parking spot.  Everyday, I unload two (or eventually, three) of my children and walk her to and from her class - sometimes in the rain and many times in the cold.  I'm not always punctual, but I'm trying.  Her teachers seem to understand.  "Mama – I speak English to the teachers, but Dutch to the children" my daughter explains.  After the pressure to Only Speak Dutch at her last school, everyone seems OK with this arrangement.  I'm relieved.  She brings home pages and pages of artwork. She talks about her friends at school.  The 'class teddy bear' is a weekend guest, with instructions to let him sleep in her bed.  The American-In-Me puts Mr. Flip and all of his clothes through a wash and spin cycle first.

Days before I give birth, V has a work conflict and he needs the car.  I bike across town to pick up my daughter.  I'm proud and happy of my four-mile round-trip bike ride, five days before my due date.  As I lock up my bright green bicycle, I've caught the attention of a few other Moms.  The mother of the twins starts chatting.  I tell her my father is coming from Texas to help me when the baby comes.  "Oh, Texas?  You're American!" she says.  "That's a long way from here."  We may not know many things about each other, and I still find it interesting that Europeans sometimes can't differentiate between American and British accents, but I'm happy for the conversation.  During pick-up time, I usually stand off to the side of the hallway, waiting for Cosette.  The other Moms chat to each other in Dutch.  I remain quiet, excluded. But unlike a Middle School social, it's not cruel.  We smile and nod.  I know these women.  There's a shorter Mom with a red jacket that's pregnant, too.  There's a taller Mom with a purple jacket.  There's a blonde Mom with a slick black jacket.  We're all Moms that care about our children.  I'm an outsider.  Maybe I'd be an outsider in America, too – and there's a comfort in knowing that I'm labeled as an expat.

December 2014 - Rain drops flash in the line of headlights snaking their way along the winding canal.  "Ugh!  I should have known this would take forever!" I grip the steering wheel, focus my energies on willing the line of cars to move forward.  I'm unaccustomed to driving across town at this hour of night.  Cosette chirps from the backseat, "What's the matter Mama?!"

"Nothing honey, I just don't want you to be late for your first Christmas pageant," I glance in the rearview mirror with a smile.  The ancient gate of the city glows in the floodlighting on our right as we sit at the red light.  I breathe a deep sigh. Only a few more months in this beautiful city.  My son and baby are sick at home with my husband.  Forced with a 'divide-and-conquer' logistical decision, my daughter had originally picked my husband to attend her Christmas program, but she changed her mind last minute.  I was so excited.  For a full-time Mom, it's rare to leave the house and more than that, I welcomed the excuse to dress up for the occasion.  My heels alternate between pressing the accelerator and tapping the brakes.  We park in the neighborhood and high-tail it in our skirts to the church nearest to her school.  They must have been taking bets in the teachers lounge about the Late American, as the staff weren't surprised to see us rushing through the doors.  Instead, they smile and usher us to where we needed to be.  With program in hand, I grab the first seat I see, while Cosette is wisked away to the front of the sanctuary.  For the next hour, I am treated to a reenactment of the story of the birth of Jesus, in Dutch.  Joseph, Mary, Wise men, Angels, Shepherds – the whole bit.  As I sit there, by myself, armed with program and my iPhone Google translate, the reality of the moment overwhelms me.  My daughter's first Christmas pageant is in the Netherlands, in Dutch. And although the songs sound a bit different, the story is the same.  It is imperfectly perfect and beautifully simple.  Not only are we celebrating the birth of Christ in her public school, but also in a style refreshingly not Pinterest-worthy.  I watch angels in sheets and wire halos enter and exit the stage, sing along with my best Dutch accent, and laugh as hard as the other parents at the out-of-tune, but passionate solos.  Near the end of the program, the 4-year olds were about to take the stage.  A bit lost in the moment (or perhaps, unable to read the program), the mother in the red jacket brought me back to reality. She is racing from the back of the sanctuary to the front, to get a better view.  "Kome! Kome!" she motions to me to follow her.  Wedged between the other smiling Dutch mothers on the front row, we watch as our babies sang a memorable and enthusiastic version of "Kling klokje klingelingeling!"  Bells ring, children smile, and tears fill my eyes as I watch Cosette and her classmates celebrate and sing.  As the sanctuary erupts in applause, I long for everything to last longer.  We are saying goodbye to these people, this school, this city, and this country in just a few months.  I want more.  I want to hang on to this moment forever.  The pageant concludes and everyone meanders out of the sanctuary.  "Dag! Fijne avond!" my daughter and her friends chime.  I smile and nod a silent goodbye to the mothers.

August 2015  - For seven sweet, but long months, we've been waiting.  Waiting for American kindergarten to begin.  I did my best to fill our days with the American advantages – we've had countless visits to the library (the selection of books in English made both of our heads spin), trips to the Perot Natural history museum, visits with the grandparents and great-grandma, etc.  On the weekends, we've introduced the kids to baseball, ballet, and road trips through the beautiful State of Texas. They've grown to appreciate unlimited bowls of chips and salsa, sunscreen, and outdoor swimming pools. Everyday, Cosette tells me how much she misses her friends in the Netherlands.  Occasionally, we count the days until she starts school again.  We visit playgrounds and I wonder – where are all the people.  In the Netherlands, I rarely spoke to other people at the playground or at the store, but I was always around other people.  It's funny – on gorgeous days here in Texas, we go for a walk to the playground or to the neighborhood pool – and we're the only ones there.  It's isolating in two different ways.

The first day of school arrives. Again. But this time, it's American Kindergarten. I'm nervous in a whole entire different realm – mostly because I've been through it before – the competition, the rules, the pressure to conform.  The moment is special though – my brother went to the same elementary school Cosette is enrolled.  My mom comes with us to her granddaughter's first day of school and bakes her cookies for afterwards.  There are rules and papers and newsletters but at least I can read them without the use of Google translate.  I love and hate it, all at the same time.

The first day, we walk Cosette into her class, hang her backpack in her locker, and sit her down at her desk.  Her chair is decorated with her name.  For as excited as she was about starting school, she's become very quiet and shy. I put my arm around her and whisper into her ear – "The good news is. . . they all speak English?" and her eyes dart around the room.  "But Mama, I had that one friend in the Netherlands that spoke English. . . " and her voice trails off.  Halfway across the world, I know that today is the first day of school at her old school in the Netherlands.  My heart breaks a little as I imagine her friends going into their new class, the excitement they'd feel after seeing each other after the summer break.  "I know, honey, I miss my friends, too - but you'll do great."  I help her with her crayons, say goodbye, and meet the other parents in the cafeteria for the "Cheers and Tears" kindergarten parents breakfast.

In the cafeteria, I see a questionably familiar face.  It's hazy, but I know I know her. . . wait. . . our mental rolodexes are spinning.. . I have a flashback to Senior English AP class nearly 20 years ago.  "Hi, I'm Celeste!" and she tells me her name, which I already know.  We embrace.  I have a friend.  I have a friend!  A real friend from high school in my daughter's cafeteria.  Her son is starting Kindergarten too – and we're both thrilled to see each other after all these years.  I can't help but think, so this is the advantage of being back where we started.  To run into familiar friends in unfamiliar places. To go through a new adventure with someone who already knows me.

I meet my daughter at the front of the school in the afternoon.  She has a large smile on her face.  "Did you make a friend today?"  I ask my daughter.  And she says yes!  Yes I did.  I tell her I did too.  And we walk towards our parked car, hand in hand.

It's been a long day without you, my friend
And I'll tell you all about it when I see you again
We've come a long way from where we began
Oh, I'll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again

Friday, July 10, 2015

Been here Before?

July 7, 2015
Loads of groceries sit snuggled in the trunk of my SUV.  The air-conditioning blasts as my dashboard glows, indicating 95F outside.  Beams of orange and red stretch across the Texas sky. The sun says goodbye on another warm, humid day.  I’m driving across the neighborhood to return a book from the library I borrowed about Paris.  I pull up to a stop sign.  I see a mother and her two adolescent sons on bicycles approach the intersection.  The older son is nine or ten.  He teeters to a stop, nearly falling off his bike on a small incline in the pavement.  Although I had approached the intersection first, I instinctively let them pass before I accelerate the car.  The mother casts glances of apology and waves to me as she follows her sons across the intersection.  I feel like rolling down the window and shouting reassurance – “I lived in the Netherlands for the past three years, please – don’t apologize for your children!  You should have the right of way all the time!  And by the way - I love your blue Dutch-style Mama bike!”  But of course, I don’t.  I breathe.  I cast a glance at my daughter in the backseat. I maneuver our car closer to the always-open drive-thru book drop at my local library.

“What’s it like to be back?” friends ask.  Overwhelming? Confusing? Sad? Exciting? Comforting? Weird? All of the above?  Yes.  I think that’s it.

After moving overseas, I discovered there was an expat spectrum of happiness and acceptance.  On one end, there are those who love their new country and want to stay forever.  On the opposite end are the ones who wished they could have repatriated yesterday.  Of course – there’s everyone in between.  On a cold winter night, my girlfriends and I shared a couple glasses of wine and talked about. . . life.  Expat life.  Before my friend moved to the Netherlands over a decade ago, her guidance counselor at school had warned her “Once you move overseas, you’ll never see the world the same.”  My friend went on to explain “It’s kind of like the Matrix – once you take the red pill, you can never go back.  People may regret moving overseas, but the thing is, they can’t help that they said, ‘Yes.  I’ll do it.’  They’re just the type of person who takes the red pill.  That’s just who they are.”

I took the red pill. And so did my husband.  That’s the type of people we are. We’re back in Texas in our same home, reconnecting with our old friends.  We’re driving the streets I rode growing up and drove as a teenager.  My daughter is pre-registered for kindergarten in the same elementary school my brother went to.  But everything feels different.  A little awkward.  Like we want to tweak it just a little because we’ve seen it in a different filter.  And it was good.

For my children – America is the red pill.  They’ve gawked at ceiling fans, garage doors, and mailboxes.  They have now attended their first baseball game, movie theatre, and library story time.  We’ve feasted on Chick-Fil-A. . . and then I’ve climbed through the tunnels of the Chick-Fil-A indoor play area because my 3-year old refused to come down.  They saw fireworks and tasted their first s’mores last weekend as they celebrated 4th of July for the 1st time on American soil.

“Everything makes sense.  Once you’ve been there long enough,” I always thought.  Gawking at the helmet-less children in a wooden box bicycle many years ago on a visit to Amsterdam, I became that woman.

We’re still figuring out how to mesh our European and American lifestyles.  For the last five months, we’ve been a one-car household, like we were in the Netherlands.  I rode my bike to pick up my son from pre-school.  As I strolled into the classroom another Mom commented, “I saw you riding that. . . contraption!  You’re very. .. ambitious!”  And I batted my eyes. I longed for the Dutch language.  See, as an expat, you can do weird things or everything wrong and no one cares.  You’re foreign. Or at least, a Stupid American.  There’s comfort in that.  She continued, “Oh, and I saw your husband the other day. . . walking to the drugstore? And I realized – you all must be used to walking a lot more than we’re used to!” With that – I wanted to book the next flight back to Amsterdam.

We often wondered why.  Why do companies invest in moving their employees overseas?  It was never explained during our pre-departure cultural training.  Before we left for the Netherlands, my husband and I had considered ourselves well-traveled.  We had seen some things, been to thirty or so countries.  But in retrospect, we had always visited each country and viewed it with our American Glasses.  American Glasses provide a lot of insight, awareness, and some fun party facts.  But once you live overseas. . . you start to view America with a perspective of an outsider.  And that’s the red pill.  It’s not necessarily bad or good – it’s just different.  From getting groceries home, to education, to healthcare, you’ve lived and understood that’s there’s an alternative way to everything.  Ideas like “wouldn’t it be cool if you could bike everywhere?” morph from abstract concepts into concrete reality.  And that awareness sneaks up in un-suspecting ways and moments.  Like when letting a woman cross the street on her bike when you’re driving to return a library book.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


June 7, 2014 - I awake in a Best Western hotel room in Healdsburg, California. I glance at the clock. 5:30 a.m. I stare at the ceiling and groan at the irony of it all - I’m half a world away from my husband, kids, and dogs. I have no plans for the day until the wedding at 6:00 p.m. I could sleep until noon, if my body would only let me. Jet-lag is a beast. I swing my legs over the side of the bed and pad over to the window unit and flip on the heat. I peek through the black-out curtains. Grey. Foggy. Cold. In June. I’m used to this weather, but I’ve left my spring jacket and scarf in the Netherlands, clearly over estimating the ‘sunny California’ stereotype. I shuffle into the bathroom to grab another tissue. Maternity dresses bought in Barcelona hang on wooden hangers. I’ve been fighting a losing battle with a head cold for over a week. Pregnant, jet-lagged, and tissue-box-emptying head cold make for a rough combination. I rub my eyes and my mind becomes clear. Active. It’s racing. I lay back down. I tell myself I need to rest. It’s a big day. I need to sleep. But my thoughts are bouncing all over the planet – California, Waco, Brazil, Dallas, the Netherlands, and Puerto Rico. Words flash. Sentences come together. Feelings bubble over. I know what I must do. I’ll never sleep otherwise and this is too real, too honest to let it escape. I open my computer and begin to type.

Two months earlier – Vinny returns from his business trip to the United States the weekend before my birthday. I’m finally out of my 1st trimester, but I’m exhausted none-the-less. Cosette’s first week of school proves to be emotional and cycling a few miles a day with the two kids is a little tougher considering I’m carrying one more in my belly. I’ve still kept up with everything – laundry, house, cooking, cleaning, kids, and work, but it’s taken its toll. I want to sleep. Curl up on the couch next to him and never leave. I embrace all the goodies he’s brought back from the States – maternity clothes which were tucked away in my Dad’s garage, gifts from my best friend Nikki, and his Target purchases. I sit in the living room breathing and resting - watching him unpack his bags. I’m sentimental for home and friends. “I have another surprise for you,” he says – after the kids have gone to bed. “Ugh. You know I hate surprises!” I tell him. After nearly ten years, I wish he’d embrace this facet of my personality. “I know. I know. But I booked your flight for Julio’s wedding in June.” My face softens. “Really?” I whisper. “Yes. You need to go. I’ve already taken the time off of work so I can watch the kids. Plus, the direct flights to Dallas dropped dramatically in price.” He’s saying all the right things.

June 2014 - Two months later, I board the flight from AMS to DFW. It’s such a quick trip. I’m armed with confirmations, maps, and a credit card (in my name to avoid the rental car disaster like last time). Four flights, 6 days, 3 rental car confirmations. Maps of the closest Target, Buy Buy Baby, and Ulta (ahem, well cosmetics are cheaper in the U.S.) to Nikki’s house. Plans for a dental appointment, lunch with Dad and Grandma, and dinner with friends in Dallas. Maps, GPS, hotel confirmation, and phone numbers for my trip to California. I’m nervous about the drive from San Francisco to Sonoma Valley by myself (it’s a few hours, I’ve never driven in California, and I rarely drive anymore, period) – but V has done everything he can to make sure I (and baby) feel safe. I’m excited. Pumped. As I’ve mentioned before, solo trips to the United States to see best friends is pretty much the most ideal vacation ever.

Everything goes smoothly. I shop. I catch up. I eat lots of Mexican food. Everyone gets to see for their own eyes that I am pregnant. I’m able to tell my Dad and Grandma in person the name we’ve chosen for the baby. All my pre-ordered packages from DSW & Motherhood arrive on time. I even manage to squeeze in a pedicure the morning before I fly to San Francisco.   I pick up my rental car at SFO without a hitch. The GPS is exactly like the one we have in the Netherlands. I have 3 hours to get to the rehearsal dinner. The GPS says I should be there in an hour and a half.   The GPS is directions are consistent with Vinny’s directions. I’ve got Nikki’s mixed CDs playing in the car. I’m rolling. I’m happy. I get stuck in some traffic in San Francisco but then fly over the Golden Gate Bridge to the sounds of Sarah Barielle’s “Brave” pumping through the stereo. “Okay Baby!” I say to my bump. “This is exciting stuff. Things I thought I’d never do – drive over the Golden Gate bridge 5-months pregnant. Happy Babymoon to us!” And then. . . I hit traffic. I slowly watch my estimated arrival time expand. The original 90-minute estimate yawns and stretches in the dusty sun. It eventually settles on about 3-hours. I text Julio. “I’m so sorry, but I’m going to be late. I thought 3-hours would be enough time for a 1 ½ hour drive, but apparently not.

Arriving Late

I arrive at the rehearsal dinner, late and flustered. I see Julio flagging me down, showing me where to valet my rental car from across the road. “I’m so sorry!” I tell him. But he says to forget about it – he’s just glad I made it. The evening begins.
Glasses clink and a lovely breeze tickles our faces as we dine on fabulous cuisine on the California outdoor patio. I’m seated at a table with twenty smartly-dressed men from Dallas and Julio’s family from Puerto Rico. I had been nervous – “Vinny, I’m not going to know anyone there and I’m going to be all by myself!” I had stressed weeks before.
“Honey,” he gazes into my eyes, “of all the weddings to go to alone and pregnant, this is the best option. A gay wedding in California? Julio’s friends are going to be awesome! They’ll love you - don’t worry!”

Vinny’s assessment proves to be correct. Julio introduces me to many of his friends and we all smile and chat the evening away. Many have heard of me and there are many others who are curious as to who I am. Snippets of stories flash – “We used to work together in Waco. . . actually we were roommates. . . actually, we worked together again at American Airlines. . . we’ve been friends are really long time. . . Julio was in my wedding. . .” Each face glows with excitement. Loves and adoration radiates towards this couple. I’m the only girl at this gorgeous table besides his mother and aunts. I’m pregnant and have flow across the world. Everyone seems genuinely curious as to why I am here and wants to learn more, but none of the sentences spouting from my mouth truly captures the entirety of our relationship. Waves of memories flow. Images flash. The officiant sits across the table from me and asks the man sitting next to him if he is going to give his speech tonight. “No no,” he says, “I’m going to give it tomorrow night at the reception.” Apparently, my subconscious takes hold of this idea, and comes to fruition at 5:30 a.m. the next morning.
I text Julio a few hours before the wedding. “Happy wedding day!!! I woke up this morning and wrote something (a speech? A blog post?) about you. I’m sure you already have everyone all lined up, but I’ll bring it just in case. Love you and best wishes today!!!” Julio writes back and tells me to bring it and that he’s excited I’d speak from his side of the table. I’m excited, too.

The ceremony takes place at sunset overlooking the valley. Acoustic guitar music twinkles. The two grooms look dashing in their black tuxedos. The officiants’ voice recites the vows with confidence and the grooms repeat. Julio’s emotions shine through and every heart in the audience falls with his. In the end, there wasn’t a dry eye on the patio. Afterwards, we mingle and guests sip from wine glasses as waiters circle the stone patio. Julio laughs with his guests about his tearful breakdown. Mike admits he almost broke down when he saw Julio enter the ceremony. “When I saw him crying though, I knew I had to be strong. That’s pretty-much how our relationship works – if one is wavering, the other stands tall.” I smile with appreciation and at the fact that it was represented during the ceremony. After two glasses of cucumber water, I excuse myself to practice my speech. Minutes later, I find myself in the middle of a gorgeous table that stretches the length of the barrel room. Forty men and women who adore Mike and Julio surround them with their presence and love. Conversations are hushed. “Are you ready?” Julio asks me from across the table. I breathe in and out. “Yes.” I stand up and all eyes are on me. My paper shakes in my hand as I introduce myself. “Hi! I’m Celeste. . .” and I continue to ramble a few more words I don’t remember. Everyone smiles, anxious to hear what I have to say. I conclude with, “I’m more of a writer than a speaker, so you’ll just have to bear with me,” and everyone nods with encouragement. As I conclude, the room erupts with applause and I glance at Julio. We’ve made each other cry tonight. I’m still shaking with nervousness – I mean, I just voluntarily gave a speech! But I’m so proud of everyone in the room that has made this day special for one of the most special people I know.

Toast to Julio and Mike

Julio and I started our careers on the same day in August 2001. I, running late and flustered, rushed into the lobby of JRBT – a tiny accounting firm in Waco, Texas, apologized to the receptionist and with an air of defeat, plopped breathless into an armchair. A well-dressed and relaxed Hispanic man sat to my left. With gleaming skin and wide, friendly eyes, his warmth and hand extended my direction. “Hi, I’m Julio!” he proclaimed. Time paused. The entire momentum of my first day of work shifted. I reflected the beam of light and shook his hand. “Hi! I’m Celeste!” I smiled. At that moment, I knew we would be friends forever.

   Three days later, my original assessment was confirmed at 6:30 a.m. on the side of a darkened highway 84 as we left town for our first training in Dallas. “Bumpity, bumpity bump.” My little blue Toyota Carolla begged for relief. Oblivious, or just in denial, I drove a few yards further until Julio told me to stop. “Uh, Celeste – I think you have a flat.” I pulled over. The tire was shredded.   Flashes of being late for my second day of work, waiting for tow trucks while cars flew past on the highway, watching the sun rise as time ticked by scrolled through my head. “No problem. I fix it!” he said. And I wondered where this angel came from. “Puerto Rico!” he said.

   We worked side-by-side in tiny banks all over Central Texas for a few years. We drank bad coffee, ate chicken fried steak, and met friendly people that had never been outside of Texas. “Excuse me m’am, but do you have low fat ranch for this salad?” I asked a toothless waitress at a cafĂ© across from a bank in Valley Mills. “Honey,” she cocked her head, “I ain’t got low-fat nothin’”. And in response to her raised eyebrow, I just ordered the regular ranch. Julio snickered from across the table.

His lease on his expensive apartment in Waco ended and my fiancĂ© moved to Houston. Julio and I decided to save money and move in together. We eventually found a 3-bedroom duplex in Hewitt. Our backyard was enclosed by a chain-link fence and opposite that was a farm that stretched to the horizon. With cows. I bought a dog named Tyler that Julio spoiled and who befriended the livestock. If you had told us then we’d be living in the Netherlands and a high-rise apartment in Dallas later in life – I don’t think either of us would have believed you.  

My parents’ marriage and my engagement ended while I was living with Julio, which of course prompted a lot of drama on my part – poor guy! As part of my ‘recovery process’, I wrote a list of twenty qualities I really wanted in my future spouse - funny, smart, loving, thoughtful. I needed a guy who made me feel beautiful and who I loved spending time with. As I reviewed the list, my eyes grew wide with realization – I had described Julio. I ran into his office to explain my experiment. “Ahh – did you come here to confess your love to me?” he smiled. Desperate puppy dog eyes blinked behind mascaraed lashes. He laughed and shook his head. I already knew, but Julio was most definitely gay – with no hopes of conversion. I fell back into a chair, shrugged, and repeated the advice he most commonly chanted during our years at the accounting firm - “So, what can be done, that’s life?” I needed to find another Julio, but straight. This is not an easy order to fill.

   We parted ways and left the tiny town of Waco for bigger adventures – him to San Antonio first, and me to Dallas. Luckily, I met Vinny pretty quickly. “Oh, Julio – I don’t know about him,” I’d exclaim. “Celeste, try. He’s good for you,” and he’d mime spoon feeding me. I listened. I fell in love. Julio was officially an usher at our wedding, but in reality, he was more. Vinny and I had planned a gorgeous outdoor wedding on the steps of a plantation home outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As the rain gushed from the sky twenty minutes before the ceremony was to begin, the guests huddled on the front porch like scared rabbits, my own tears flowed. It was Julio who found my make-up artist and told her to “run!” It was Julio, along with my other bridesmaids, who hugged me tight and made me laugh as loud as the thunder above. The indoor ceremony was beautiful and Julio and I danced to Santana at the reception to the applause of my family. It was the best day of my life – not only because I married Vinny, but also because I was surrounded by the love of my friends and family. A culmination of years of laughter, heartbreak, and excitement for the promise of the continuation of love in the future.  

   From culinary adventures in Waco, to sightseeing in Brazil, to hosting my daughter’s baby shower – Julio fills my mind and heart with years of laughter and happiness. When it came to the decision to return the favor – to see him at the best day of his life – the decision was easy. A solo trip, five months pregnant, from the Netherlands are just details to help me prove my point. Julio literally means the world to me.

Julio and I both traveled alone and with each other when we worked at American Airlines. We can traverse the world courageously solo, but I also know that life’s journey is a lot more fun when you’ve got someone to carry your luggage, help you navigate, and a relive the adventures.   I’m excited that Mike is the man that will make and share in life’s plans with him. But more than that, I’m happy he’s found a love that’s good for you, too.