A festive vibe energizes the city. I’m on the number four headed towards the Nationale Bank stop. The passengers are filled with excitement despite the drizzle accumulating on the ancient tram windows. Darkness fell hours ago. I check my phone. 6:07 p.m. This is winter in Antwerp, days before Christmas. The tram eases to the stop. I descend the steps and walk on the glistening cobbles. The darts of moisture are in that in-between-stage, as any seasoned expat knows – it would be self-indulgent/wimpy to open an umbrella, but I left my hat at home. I glare at the rain
I walk to my friend’s house with a pot of bright pink flowers in my hands. I press the doorbell. Her shadow steps over a baby on the floor, points to her daughter on the couch, and approaches the door. She smiles. But not really. I give her a fierce hug and hold the flowers out to her. “I thought you could use these,” and tears brim in her eyes. “Is it that obvious?” she asks. “Um, yeah,” and my eyes water – her weepiness is contagious. She’s the second friend I’ve talked to in a week that just returned
“I can’t even imagine. . .” my friend says to me as we weave our six children across the road – dodging bikes, buses, and cars. The De Valk windmill – the symbol of Leiden – towers above our chaos with indifference. My friend has just returned to the Netherlands after a five year stay in America. We met years ago when we both lived in the Netherlands and had only four kids between us. When she messaged me a few months ago announcing her family’s plans to return I did a little happy dance. I’ve found that American Moms
“Have you heard of the Two Fat Expats podcast?” my Australian mom-friend asked me as she sips a cup of coffee. She has a baby on her hip while our other four children are running around my kitchen. “Go outside, guys! Outta the kitchen, this is mama-talking time,” and my three children lead her little girl out into our garden. I flip homemade tortillas and scramble eggs. “No, I haven’t. Fat Expats?” and I laugh. “Yeah, yeah – they’re brilliant,” and I make a mental note. Two Fat Expats. That will be easy to remember. The next week I’m ironing.
The minutes tick by on the dash. “Where are we going? Where are we going?” our children chant from the back seats. “Nowhere, yet,” my husband mumbles. “And don’t say anything, in case we don’t make it on time,” the GPS estimated arrival time edges closer to our destination’s closing time. “You think I don’t know that?” I roll my eyes but release an anxious breath. The sun is blinding as it descends during rush hour traffic. “Don’t worry,” I whisper. “We’ll make it,” and I pat my husband’s hand. “And if we don’t, well. It just wasn’t meant to
My phone alarm sounds at 11:25 a.m. – ding ding ding ding ding. I throw on my coat, adorn my earphones, and head into the cold – popping a King Mint into my mouth as I haul the empty stroller down our front steps. The sun is shining – that bright globe I’ve missed so much. My boots click on the cobbled road as I cross the street, passing by a lane of Antwerp city bicycles ready to transport anyone from here to there. I walk at a clip place – I have a habit of always cutting it close.
The metal gate glides open and the guard waves me through. I hand him my passport and he smiles. Asks me to pull my car off to the side. I turn the engine off and step into the cold, walk the short distance to the guard’s booth. Another mom traverses the second barrier, hands the French-speaking guard her ID. The two frozen men in the tiny booth joke they want chocolate in return for the favor. I offer Girl Scout cookies instead. There’s document signing, ID checking, photo-taking, etc. etc. etc. After giving them a blood sample and a promise
“Waar is de vuilnisbak?” the little seven-year-old girl looks at me with dark brown eyes. Her head is cocked. A mischievous smile plays on her round face. She is taunting, entertained, and curious. I bite my lip. Where is the what? “Ah, sorry,” I say in my best Dutch accent – flash a toothy smile in her direction. “Can you say that again?” She blinks. “Waar is de vuilnisbak?” she repeats. Her eyes tease me again. Her head leans another inch to the left, so it’s now horizontal to the floor. She’s so cute and yet. . . She knows
A wise friend once told me – there are seasons in life. There’s of course, the big ones like school, college, marriage, motherhood, etc. But then I like to think of the subsets – the everyday life. With each transition, there’s a learning curve and then there’s the stuff that goes a long with it. I remember my first time out of the house with two children. My daughter was 18 months old and my son was a newborn. I was on my way to introduce our baby to my husband’s co-workers at his office in Dallas. I’m on
Following my last post about a New Year’s Do-Over, I must admit that the real New Year’s Eve was fabulous (credit: The Husband). Following stops in Heidelberg and Austria, we head back west towards Germany on January 31st with a very important pit stop on the way to Munich. The fog drifts from the earth trapped in the belly of the Austrian mountains like a steamy bowl of cotton soup. We push our Volkswagon Touran through the water vapor until we start to climb. We weave our car along the breathtaking edge – the slope of the mountain stretching to