Over the almost two months of living in the Netherlands, Nikki and I have posted hundreds of pictures to Facebook and Instagram, showing smiling faces and delicious half-eaten stroopwaffels. We have seen Gothic cathedral after Gothic cathedral. They’re gorgeous. The train rides demand smiles. We’re having a great time.
But, it’s not all perfect. I just don’t know how to take pictures of our struggle. Even if I could, I likely wouldn’t want to post them. It would be a lie, though, to say we don’t have any struggle. How does one capture the struggle in order to be entirely honest about the experience? For me, I need to use words.
- We’re asking a lot of the girls.
- We have asked them to re-think school. Moving from a facility in which they are supported by adults and peers alike in Spring Lake Public Schools, they now have to rely on a screen and their own drive. Sure, there is a lot of benefit to self-reliance, but it can be draining and, well, no fun. It’s so much more fun to see their friends in school. It’s so nice to raise a hand to ask a question and be guided to the answer. Here, questions have to go to a mom and dad who, from time-to-time, end up feeling “stupid” that we don’t know the answer to a 9th grade question; therefore, our responses can be short, a little snippy. Of course, that doesn’t help the initial frustration at not knowing the answer, but it is what it is. It takes some deep breathing (sometimes, walking away) to regain composure and get on with finding the answer to the problem.
- We’ve asked them to find friends. Of course, language is a bit of a barrier, but so is the time itself. We’re already two months in. At this point, when we push the girls to make a friendship, we’re also having to admit that we’ll only be here for another four months. Certainly, we adults can understand the value of friends no matter how long the connection, but I think it ends up a bit more challenging finding the value when the friendship seems like it will be short. Still, Nia is on a basketball team. Each time practice rolls around, it gets a little easier. Ellie is in pole vaulting class and, while there are no girls in the lessons, she’s around people her own age. Kaiya and Ellie, thankfully, have now been with two other American girls living here in Utrecht. They’re very nice and they’ve been together a few times and have started a real connection. Though it takes intention, the value of making friends is becoming more clear to the girls. But it’s NOT easy to transition from childhood friends–friends they’ve had since they could say the word ‘friends’–to being forced into a position of making brand new friends quickly.
- We’re asking a lot of each other.
- My speed is to go, go, go–as if I’m on a vacation at all times. Nikki will then, appropriately, remind me that the girls need structure to their lives–the Netherlands, included. She has to constantly remind me that downtime is okay, desired even. By getting downtime, our very active times can be more enjoyable. When I slow down enough to appreciate the concept of slowing down, I know it’s true, but I have such a hard time remembering it in the moment: so much so, that I can get upset that we’re not moving around enough–that we’re not to the train earlier or that we’re not speeding through school to get out to the park. This has caused a few huffs, a few rolls of the eye. We have had to communicate our way through all of this. Two months after arrival, I’d say it’s happening less frequently, but still happening.
- We’re asking a lot of our pocketbooks.
- Money is stressful. This is true for us at home and it continues to be true for us here in the Netherlands. Nikki and I did our work before leaving, even supplementing the generous Fulbright grant with other generous local grants and gifts, but it’s still stressful to live and experience another culture–especially knowing that there is an end to the experience. Traveling the places, eating the foods, experiencing the events will NEVER be less expensive than it is right now, living in the country, but it would be a lie to say it’s cheap. So–that leads to tough conversations about “museum versus trampoline park” or “weekend away in Belgium versus a Saturday in Rotterdam”. Please don’t get me wrong: we KNOW our fortune at these decisions. We know our fortune of being who we are and where we are, but the truth of our experience remains: we are in this constant conversation about the value of an experience and how much it costs to have that experience. That’s–well–stressful.
All of this demands great conversation. I’m pleased to say that, while not perfect, it is a strong suit of our family. It’s something, though, that we need to keep working on throughout our time here. This experience is shining a light on gaps in our communication which the routine of our Spring Lake life covered up. In the long run, Nikki and I know that noticing those gaps, those speedbumps in the ease of life, is better than ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist.
What we’re doing is WONDERFUL. The Facebook and Instagram photos are not lies. The happiness you see is REAL. The joy is REAL. But they’re not full truths, either. Certainly, this is the case for every person in every setting, but it was time to come clean with the truth: this kind of change to normalcy is tough in occasionally unsettling and frequently wonderful ways.