When did I stop referring to trips back to California as going “home”? Was it when I realised my son has spent half his life outside his (first) passport country? The day we bought a house across the sea? Little by little on walk after walk over miles and kilometres of foreign roads? I think the first inkling of the feeling must have begun long before all that, when the plane touched down in Istanbul half my life ago, and I realised how much bigger the world was than I had ever imagined.
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.
Dear Loved Ones Near and Far,
I confess that one of the main reasons I write this Christmas letter is not so much to let you know what we are doing as to find out what you are doing. Sometimes I fantasize about what it would be like to grow up and live my whole life in the same little village. And then I watch a moody European crime drama awash in small town secrets and decide I don’t so much mind my itinerant city life. But I do miss being able to see all the people who mean something to me and be a part of your in-person lives.
Dutch education is neatly divided into primary school (ages 4-12) and secondary school (ages 12-18). So there’s no in-between. The kids basically go to high school at age 12.
Now, I’m not usually one of those moms lamenting that they can’t just stay little.
But I admit that this whole school thing sort of threw me for a loop, hitting as it did (not uncoincidentally) squarely simultaneously with puberty. Yesterday she was a little girl. And today she’s a grown up young woman going off to high school in a couple of months.
A couple of weeks ago when all my Facebook friends were posting about seeing Wonder Woman, I went to book tickets on the spur of the moment for myself and Axa and discovered that, unaccountably, it opened weeks later here in the Netherlands than practically anywhere else in the world. Undaunted, I used the intervening time to get as many friends as possible to join me with their kids after the film finally opened. We ended up with 29 of us and a pre-movie dinner at Wagamama. Some of the kids were even persuaded to pose for a photo doing Wonder Woman arms.
Having a party in the city carries with it some challenges. Most of them have to do with transportation. Neither we nor many of our friends have cars, which can make transporting eight rambunctious boys a bit of an adventure. That’s why as far as I’m concerned, the perfect summer party is what Raj chose last year: pizza in the park a few blocks from our house, with the Minecraft ghast piñata his mother cleverly made out of toilet paper.
But the kid is growing up, and wanted something a bit more exciting this year. To wit: laser tag! The closest place that offers laser tag is under a bridge in the centre of the city. Which meant that I had to set out from school walking with all the boys.
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).
Welcome back to the biggest tiny house in Amsterdam. Half baths, 3/4 baths, 1 1/2 baths, I never really got all the bathroom fractions straight, even through all our years of renting various houses with various configurations of bathroom facilities. However, I’m fairly sure that the bits of tile, porcelain, and chrome in our little house add up to somewhere in the vicinity of one whole bathroom.
You already met our tiny little powder room toilet in the Hallway. We are, in fact, lucky there’s a diminutive sink in there; many similar toilets in Amsterdam houses don’t have them.
Last fall Axa participated in an academic competition with kids from schools around Amsterdam to design an invention. Another team ended up winning according to the judges, but the audience prize went to Axa and her classmates from Denise.
Their winning idea was a “Party Boat”. The boat would be made of recycled plastic. On the boat would be a dance floor that collected kinetic energy from the dancers and converted it to power the boat. It would also somehow collect the energy generated when they sang into the microphone. Besides being fun, the boat was meant to raise awareness of the “plastic soup” clogging the world’s oceans and threatening the lives of marine creatures and the health of the planet.
One of our major hurdles in buying a house in Amsterdam was finding a second bedroom with enough space to accommodate both children (a three bedroom was out given our price range, unless we wanted to live well outside the city). And by that I don’t mean loads of floor space for playing. I just mean fitting in two beds. A lot of the second bedrooms in Amsterdam apartments have enough space for a single bed and maybe a small wardrobe or chest of drawers. We thought about bunk beds, but really felt strongly that since our kids are older and it’s already pushing for them to share a room, they each needed a well-defined space of their own.