Last week my husband and I submitted our resignations from the Mormon church. It was the final step in a journey of several years. As soon as we clicked the final button to make it official, I felt a familiar, quiet peace in my soul; it's a feeling I was taught as a Mormon to recognise as confirmation that a decision was right and true. Like I said, there are pieces of my Mormon past that will always belong to me. But if I could go back and tell my young Mormon self one thing, it would be that her life would turn out better than she could ever imagine.
There are quite a few Dutch customs that would seem, frankly, crazy in the U.S. Some of them involve the impressively wide range of stuff Dutch kids are permitted, nay, encouraged to do (cycle several kilometres to school by themselves, take public transport all over the city, etc.) Others involve acts of defiance against the weather (the impossibly long ice skating race, Elfstedentocht, which happens only when the ice is thick enough on waterways between eleven northern cities, or the wildly popular leap into the frigid North Sea on New Year’s Day).
Before I start I just have to say that this is kind of a vulnerable post. It’s a topic that is fracturing my entire self-concept and leaves me feeling very open to criticism. I don’t know why I’m writing it at all, except that I spend so much time thinking about it. So anyway.
A few weeks ago, an article titled Are We Different People in Different Languages? was circulating Facebook amongst various of my international friends. It’s a brilliant article on creative writing and multilingualism, and I recommend it if you’re interested in either of those subjects. But the discussion online was centred mostly on the title of the article. Several of my friends agreed that yes, people had told them their personality changed based on which language they were speaking. Some languages, it seems, brought out people’s funny side, while others made them more assertive or outgoing. Personally, I recall being very flirty in Arabic (a million years ago when I used to still be able to speak Arabic), which was not necessarily the ideal personality emphasis for a young Western woman in the Arab world.
We visited a couple more schools with Axa this week. By now we pretty much have the drill down (and she knows to keep her eyes out for where they have the cookies). I am starting to feel more confident about the process, and a bit less shell-shocked. After all, at the end of the day she just writes down all her choices and then we wait for the lottery. And none of my agonising or nit-picking about this or that advantage of this or that school will make much of a difference, if at all. I’ve also spent some more time researching exactly how the lottery works, which has been somewhat reassuring. For the truly nerdy (or desperately anxious) among us, here’s the link to a pdf of the analysis (in Dutch, sorry) of how the lottery went last year.
When we decided to make a long-term move to the Netherlands, one of the things we had to think about was what to do for the kids’ education. Our family default has historically been homeschooling, and we’ve had a rocking good time all over the world doing that. I can’t take credit for the thoughtful, well-read, interesting, articulate people my children are; they have largely accomplished that on their own. But I like to think I’ve put the fewest possible barriers in their way. I’ve tried not to dampen any of their natural passion for learning, and they’ve spent many hours at the library, and many more outside, catching frogs, swimming at the beach, climbing trees, and playing in the dirt.
When I was dating Tony, one of the interesting things that he told me about himself was that he had lived with his family in Indonesia as a teenager. While living there, they spent a summer visiting family in a little town in Idaho, where their exotic expatriate exploit made them instant celebrities. An article even appeared in the local newspaper about the American family who were living in Southeast Asia, and had now brought their international selves home to grace tiny Aberdeen Idaho.
It became an even better story after the same thing happened to us. In 2008, we moved our little family to Chiusa di Pesio, Italy so that we could reconnect with our Italian roots and claim our long-lost Italian citizenship. It was the first time such a thing had ever occurred in Chiusa, and our very existence there caused something of a sensation. It seemed that everyone had already told everyone else our story. Still, in due time, we were visited in our home by a local reporter, who wanted to publish an account of us in the weekly paper, just in case someone had missed it.
I’ll start out this post with a story from when we were living in Ireland a couple of years ago. We had taken the children to the park down the street, and while we were watching them play, we struck up a conversation with a fellow parent. We never did get down the Irish accent, so as always, it came up pretty quickly that we were American. He remarked that he had considered visiting the United States. We smiled and nodded, since most people responded to our nationality with either an account of their visit to America, or an expressed desire for such a visit. But our new acquaintance went on to say that he’d decided against a trip to the United States, because he was worried about how dangerous it was.
Do as the Deltonans do. So we did. We went to the 4th of July Parade. It’s been a couple of years since we spent a 4th of July in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Two years ago we were in Ireland, and I was surprised at how much the Irish got into celebrating OUR independence day. They even had special “American” foods (pancakes, maple syrup, and root beer festooned with American flags) on sale at the grocery store. When we went to Church, as the only Americans in the congregation (along with the missionaries) we were wished a happy 4th of July from the pulpit.
Yes, we’re currently on tornado watch, due to tropical storm Debby (note to self: find out if they usually get through a whole alphabet of storm names in a season). I didn’t know we had tornados in Florida before we moved here (among other things. This was obviously not the most well-researched move). Someone was killed by a tornado in south Florida yesterday, and when I saw the picture of her house, I freaked out a little. Or a lot.
Fortunately, this was not the first time I had heard of tornados here. Mormons in general are known for being a bit fanatical about disaster preparation. Not only are we enjoined to have a 72-hour-kit full of necessities like high-energy food, flashlights, emergency blankets, solar/hand crank radio, etc., but also a three-month supply of the normal foods we eat, and a full year supply of longer-term food storage like wheat and dried beans.
I don’t know that I’ve ever moved somewhere I couldn’t find lots of things to like. But Florida seems to have more than its share of fun and beautiful things. First of all is the scenery. Maybe it’s just that we’re coming straight from tumbleweed country, but Florida feels like a jungle. All I can see out my back window is trees. Out of the front window I see my neighbors across the street, and then more trees.
We spent Axa’s birthday at Daytona Beach, which according to itself is “The Most Famous Beach in the World.” It was certainly the widest beach I’d ever seen–wider even than L.A. They have a parking lot right on the sand (which we were of course too cheap to park in). Then there’s another strip of sand where the ice cream truck drives up and down (I kid you not. This was a little much for me). Then they have the rows of umbrellas and beach chairs for rent, and then there are still yards and yards of sand until the water finally starts to lap up shallowly over more sand, before the waves start in earnest. The kids had a great time, although I forbade them from the water (well, at least past their ankles). We had to have a little lesson in how the Atlantic Ocean is different from the Mediterranean Sea, in which they could swim as if it were a bathtub.