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).
The year you turn twelve is an important year in the Netherlands. In fact, if I were to be melodramatic, I would say it can determine the entire course of your life. Because they have a sort of Divergent thing going on here, where kids get “tracked” at the age of twelve into a certain educational level which determines where they go to school, which types of higher education will be available to them in the future, and accordingly, for which sorts of jobs they will be qualified. That’s pretty heavy for a twelve-year-old. And my little eleven-year-old will be twelve in just a few short months.
Sometimes February gets a bad rap. I remember my Seminary teacher telling us one gloomy February that more Seminary teachers commit suicide in February than any other month. I still wonder if actual studies have been done on suicide rates among Mormon Seminary teachers, although I realize now that she was probably just making a point about how much she was not enjoying getting up at 5:30 every weekday morning to teach grumpy, sleepy, inattentive teenagers.
Still, February isn’t the most advantageously positioned month. It’s cold, dark, and dreary. All the nice things about winter, like endless cups of tea or curling up by the fire or wearing cute hats and scarves, are getting old, and all the nasty things, like lack of sunshine, excessive precipitation of whatever sort, and being sick, are feeling interminable. In fact, since the beginning of the year almost everyone I know here, whether at work, home, my kids’ school, or just random acquaintances, has been sick at least once. I had a cold that lasted two weeks, and left me hoarse and coughing for another two.
Our amazingly cool friends, Sarah and Aaron Zipp, were featured on Househunters International this week. We got to watch their episode from their couch in the very apartment they chose during the show. Our kids even got a cameo at the end as part of a scene where they demonstrate a caber toss during Highland Games in the park.
It was even more fun to watch the Zipps in their show, since we are presently engaged in our own version of Amsterdam househunting. Less than a month ago, our landlady told us she would be moving back from Germany and would require the use of her apartment, necessitating that we move out. It was a bit of a shock, especially since she neglected to give us proper notice. Fortunately, in the Netherlands, as in many European countries, renters, employees, and other underdogs are generally quite well protected by law. We were informed by our realtor that we had every right to stay another year. However, we had no desire to live in the house of a hostile landlady, or make her life unduly difficult, so we negotiated moving out six weeks after our original contract expires (so by May 15), and started looking for another house.
One of my favorite things about living in Amsterdam is the sheer amount of stuff to do. In my bad moments, I used to call central Florida a “cultural wasteland.” To be fair, it was possible to find things to do there other than theme parks and the beach, but we certainly weren’t doing them every weekend. Here in Amsterdam, every weekend I have to choose between several different activities that all sound wonderful. From museums to concerts to festivals to educational expositions, there is just so much going on. And if I widen the net just a little, to cities reachable by train in less than an hour, I have Rotterdam and The Hague, as well as places like Haarlem, Utrecht, Amersfoort, and Leiden, all of which have their own vibrant cultural scene. Truly an embarrassment of riches.
Once we had decided to send our children to school in Amsterdam, we were faced with the rather overwhelming prospect of finding a school that would be a good fit. Fortunately, as usual, the internet came to the rescue. There’s a wonderful expat parenting group called Amsterdam Mamas that has the answers to any question you might have when moving to or living in Amsterdam.
Besides the website, there’s an extremely active Facebook group where you can ask questions on anything, including what to expect when giving birth, which local restaurants are most family-friendly, or even what to do when your upstairs neighbor won’t stop banging on the ceiling (ask me why I want to know). There are a number of offshoots to the main Facebook group, including Amsterdam Mamas Book & Film Club, Amsterdam Mamas Write, and Dutch Education. It was to this last that I went to with all my questions about–Dutch education. I spent a couple of weeks poring over past posts and absorbing everything I could.
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.
I’ve been quite looking forward to this post. It’s time to tell you all about my new job! First, a note on how I found it, because it’s a fun story. My father-in-law worked as a civil engineer at Chevron for most of his career, sometimes in some very exotic places. So when Tony was a kid, he spent a couple of years living with his family in Indonesia. Those of you who have been expats know that fellow-expats you meet abroad often become good friends, and you end up keeping in touch long after life has moved both of you on to different places. Fast forward 20 years, and the mother of one of Tony’s friends from his time in Indonesia posted a job opening in The Hague on his Facebook wall (Thank you, Nita!). I read it and thought, wow; that job sounds like it was made for me.
I’ve already showed you some lovely examples of the Dutch obsession with flowers. And it goes beyond just having pretty gardens. In fact, 80% of the world trade in bulbs comes from the Netherlands (which is also the world’s top producer of onions; for the statistically minded, visit this website for more facts about the horticultural dominance of this tiny country). They also love to incorporate flowers into other events. Many of the floats at the Canal Parade were covered in flowers, and there is an annual 42 km Bulbflower Parade that we missed in a fog of jet-lag this April, but I’d like to attend next year.
I’ve tried several variations on work-life balance over the years, and found most of them to be fairly out of balance. When the children were small, Tony and I ran a business together, whilst juggling full-time care for a baby and a toddler. We thought a lot about hiring an au pair or a nanny, but moved around too much to ever really manage to do it. So my memories of those days are a bit of a haze of sleepless nights and management meetings, and never having quite enough time to do everything. Still, it was fun and exciting, and I do look back on those days fondly. And I learned some pretty mad organizational skills.