This may be my favourite room in a house full of rooms I love. Having moved over twenty times since we were married in 2003 (I wish I were exaggerating), Tony and I have come to realise that although we have many things in common, our decorating tastes, although overlapping, are not identical. So when we moved into our new house, we decided that we would each get a room to decorate exactly how we pleased. The other party could serve in an advisory capacity, but the person to whom the room belonged had total autonomy when it came to layout and decor. This arrangement has worked out beautifully. So go ahead and step through that right hand door in the hallway to enter my room.
Surprisingly enough, I have not been obsessing about the lottery every spare moment since we turned in Axa’s form almost a month ago. There were even some times when I forgot about it completely. However, as the time drew near for the blessed event, I did start to think about it more–several times a day by the final week. I had at least one nightmare where she got placed in a school that wasn’t even on her list. I was at pains not to mention the lottery to Axa (well, at least to not bring it up more than once every couple of days), since I didn’t want her to stress about it. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it myself. I don’t do especially well when significant life events are up in the air (who does?), and finding out where Axa would spend the next six years of her life is a significant event. It reminded me a little of when I was Mormon, and we turned in our mission papers, and then waited for that big white envelope that would tell us where in the world we would be going.
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.
I am usually not the one in this house who goes on business trips. Because they are just not really a thing when you work part-time at a small nonprofit with a small nonprofit budget. While Tony’s business trips do occasionally include some perks for me, usually I’m the one at home single parenting while he’s gone. Which is OK. It’s part of the life I’ve chosen, and I don’t mind too much being home alone with my (increasingly independent) children when Tony travels.
We are coming up on two years in Amsterdam, which means almost one year at our new house, in our new neighbourhood. Are we still happy with our choice to pick a little house in the city rather than a bigger one with a garden farther out? It’s still a resounding yes! The longer we live here, the more we love it.
Schinkelbuurt is a delightful little neighborhood of Amsterdam that is also somewhat unknown. Possibly because it’s so little. It’s just that red-highlighted triangle with a tail in the bottom left corner.
Axa refused to visit the final school on our list, so I got an unexpected reprieve. And we are done! I must say that it has been an extremely educative process for me. I’ve learned more about the Dutch education system and the individual schools, but also come to understand better the importance they place here on school choice, both for parents and for children. The advantages of offering so many choices are obvious, I guess. Ideally, each student will find the program and school that is the perfect match as far as academic level, educational method, subject emphasis, individual accommodations, distance from home, and that indefinable “click” between the student and the school.
One of the best things about the way they do this whole high school thing here is that it’s so kid-focused. Whenever we walk into a school on an open day, it’s Axa who is greeted and handed a flyer, folder, bag of brochures, pen, water bottle, or whatever they’re handing out at this particular school (she promptly hands it all over to me to carry for her, but still). The students and teachers focus on talking to the visiting kids, although they are also polite and willing to answer the parents’ questions. Because let’s be real, the kids are 11-12, and sometimes they are more interested in the bowl of snacks on the table than in asking insightful questions about their future education. Yesterday I shared a rueful smile that transcended culture and language with a Dutch mother whose son had just grabbed a giant handful of potato chips out of a consumer research survey on whether Lays or generic chips tasted better.
There is one especially aggravating thing about this whole process: We spend by far the most time and effort on schools in which we have little interest, and to which it is very unlikely Axa will go. After all, 95% of kids get placed in one of their top three choices. It wasn’t very difficult to to choose those top three; we had a fairly good idea of which ones they would be based on their websites, programs offered, test scores, and proximity to our house. The visits were more to see how the school “felt” to Axa and rank them either one, two, or three.
While I was chatting with Donna Bardsley at Amsterdam Mamas after she interviewed me last week about this whole process, she said something that I can’t stop thinking about. She had asked me during the interview what I thought about the Dutch education system, and in particular about the streaming system that separates kids out by ability at the age of eleven. I’d responded fairly positively (as I have on this blog), partially because I’ve always had an inherent hesitation about publicly saying something overtly negative about the culture in which I live at the time, and partially because I really do see some clear benefits to the system. But the thing that Donna said was that the parents who tend to have positive things to say about the system are those whose kids have ended up with a VWO advies.
The Welsh have a special word for homesickness. Or I should say, a special word for a special kind of homesickness. Hiraeth can be defined as longing for a home that no longer exists, or that never was. It is homesickness tinged with grief or sadness over the lost or departed. I guess it’s a form of lost love, but more for a place than for a person. It’s a longing that by definition cannot be filled, because its object is in some way unattainable, whether it has been lost or never existed in the first place, or has yet to be created. It’s a sort of slippery, indistinct concept, but for people who have felt it, I think, unmistakable. And those who have moved from one country to another, for whatever reason, are particularly likely to be among that number.