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.
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.
We’ve already visited our first few high schools in Amsterdam with Axa, and there is so much to love. You might remember last month’s post about choosing whether to stay at her current bilingual Dutch school for the next six years, transfer to an international school, or go Dutch. She’s leaning heavily towards the latter, which is exciting and overwhelming and nerve-wracking all at once. In fact, she’d like to go all out and do Gymnasium, which is a full-on classical college preparatory education complete with French, German, Greek, and Latin. As her languages-loving, nerdy mother I couldn’t be more happy for her (and I can assure you it is her own decision, although of course she knows I’m thrilled with it).
It's called melata honey, and has the distinction of having passed through the bodily orifices of not one, but two different species of insects. Small insects up in the mountains eat the sap of trees, which passes through their digestive tracts and is deposited (see how palatable I made that sound) on the leaves of the trees, where the bees collect it and further process it into honey. How wild is that? You can't make these things up.