Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: Good riddance!

If I were a lizard, then 2016 was a dark tunnel I crawled through. It was a tunnel filled with unexpected jagged edges and razor sharp experiences that slowly ripped away my outer layer of skin.

When I crawled into the tunnel this time last year, I would have never expected to encounter the things that I did. 2016 was suppose to be my year -- to celebrate me and enjoy life, but instead I survived life.

I was sick a lot of the year to top it off and I struggled with my new body that my chronic disease has given me. I had to come to terms with the fact that this was the new physical me no matter how hard I tried to fight it. It was so hard to look into the mirror and accept what I saw. I struggled for endless nights thinking of new ways to try to get the weight off. I became obsessed and lost sight of the fact I just needed to be healthy, no matter my clothing size.

I also had to begin searching for a new job, which sounds quite exciting.But after 13 years of being in he same job, it was frightening. I wasn't the person from 13 years ago when I was last applying for jobs. I had to face reality that I was no longer the 20 something bouncy, full of confidence young women, but a middle aged, insecure woman who applied for job after job and received rejection after rejection. I had to find the positive in each rejection I was lucky enough to get several interviews, but for two of them I was deathly ill.

Even more painful was realizing that my kids were transitioning from little kids to big kids. They no longer wanted to do some of the special things we would do. They no longer wanted me to kiss them goodbye at school. They began to have strong opinions and talk back. They began to challenge me and confide in me their big people fears about life. My son realized we are all mortal and asked me every night before bed if I would die in my sleep. I could no longer protect them from the truths of the world. I could only hold their hands through the experiences and guide them. Gone were my babies, and I had to mourn that period.

It seemed 2016 was against me in every facet of my life.

I'm not gonna totally bash 2016, there were definitely good times. I look at  my kids and I see all the good 2016 had to offer. They are happy and healthy and that is all I ever want for them. And they grew into a new life phase with confidence.

But 2016 was a dark tunnel and somehow I emerged, and if I were a lizard, you could say I shed my old self in 2016. I look at myself now with this new shiny skin and know that I would not have this new outllook on life without the sucky year of 2016.

I came out stronger, wiser and able to face 2017, no matter what it brings. I have no expectations anymore. If there is one thing 2016 taught me, it was just to take one day at a time, that is all we have.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

When my son saw me as different

When I became a mother, I never took into consideration that my kids would be growing up in a culture different from my own and where often I am looked at as an outsider. I never in a million years would have thought my kids would think of me as an outsider, or different from them.

But it happened today, my son was embarrassed by me because I was different from the other mothers. It was open day in his class and the students had designed a quiz for the parents to participate in. Walking up to school, my son asked me if I could please not participate in the quiz.

Immediately I knew why, he didn't want me to speak Dutch in front of the class. So I asked him if this was the case and he innocently said, "Yes Mommy, you don't sound like the other mothers when you speak."

My initial reaction was hurt because my own son was embarrassed by me, but of course, I understood. I understood that it was important for him to fit in and not be teased because his mother spoke Dutch with a funny accent. I explained to him that I understood and promised not to participate.

When we arrived in his class, he told me to pretend that I didn't have my mobile telephone so I could not participate. He sat quietly at his desk, looking down drawing while the rest of the class geared up for the quiz.

I wanted to be there so badly, to participate and laugh with all the other parents, but I had to do what was best for Luca.

I bent down and whispered in his ear that I loved him and that I needed to get to work. I asked him to please participate with the rest of the kids. I took the pencil from his hand and put his drawing away in his drawer. I grabbed his hand an led him over to a group of his friends and their Dutch mothers.

I asked if he could join their team and he immediately lit up. He jumped right in and began to discuss the quiz answer with his friends. I blew him a kiss goodbye and bit my lip hard hoping to hold back my tears.

I stood there for a moment pretending that I was that mother circled by my son and his friends. I imagined what it would feel like. For those few seconds I lived vicariously through that mother and became enveloped by the laughter and teasing that was going on.

I hurried out of the classroom with a smile on my face and the tears were no longer controllable. I know my son loves me and I really do understand why he felt the way he does, but it still hurts.

I know in my heart one day I will be the coolest mom in the class because I am different. In the meantime, I will keep being different and be myself in hopes that one day they will do the same.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The moment I belonged

It was like bolt of lightening striking me on the head - the moment I truly felt like part of the Dutch society.

I have patiently waited for 14 years to have this feeling and I was about to give up, and then BAM: I am sitting at a table with seven Dutch ladies at a cooking class talking about life, love and our family, in DUTCH!

The journey to get to this point in my life started about a year ago, when I became friends with my daughter's school friend's mother. Over the past year we have met for dinner a few times and we cultivated a friendship.

This is something I had hoped for for years. I wanted desperately to feel like I belong here, that I am a part of the community. And I tried a lot of different ways to obtain this feeling, but I was never really let into the tight circle of the Dutch culture. It made me very sad and I always felt like an outsider. I felt like that kid on the playground that no one picks for their team.

Don't get me wrong, I have made so many friends over the years. Great friends, really special people that have touched my life in many ways. But they are all expats who tend to move away and never really set down roots in Amsterdam. They leave and my heart breaks.

During the past year my friend invited me several times to her cooking club, but I never had the courage to go. However she didn't give up on me and I finally said yes.

I was so excited and also trying to keep my hopes under control. I was nervous because I was the outsider. I was scared by going to the club it would make me feel like more of an outsider. And to put icing on my anxiety cake, my friend - the only person I would know there - was sick at the last minute and couldn't attend.

I almost cried after our phone conversation, but she promised that her friends would take care of me. I was desperately thinking of ways to get out of it, I even took my time getting arriving to the class.

I walked up to the door of the cooking school and felt a bit of symbolism. I felt so small and scared and somehow found the rocks to ring the bell. I was greeted by the sous chef and lead into the most amazing space - a huge modern kitchen and an old fashioned dining room at the far end overlooking the Herengracht canal of Amsterdam.

The ladies greeted me immediately and I felt a warm blanket of hospitality wrapping me up and carrying me into the class. They asked if I wanted to speak English.

"No," I said bravely. "No, I would like to speak Dutch and if I don't understand you, I will ask in English."

The chef/teacher lead me to a table to make a fancy French passion fruit and custard dessert. My assigned cooking partner immediately began to explain what I should do and soon we were cooking side-by-side and chatting about life.

Not even for a second did I feel uncomfortable. I felt like I was with a group of my girlfriends at home. It wasn't until we sat down at the large rustic dining table did I realise the significance of this moment. It was so surreal, this is what I had been waiting for years and it was happening. I was part of a group of Dutch women having a good time, laughing and connecting.

As we ate our four course meal, each one talked about their lives and struggles. Each person had such an interesting story, it was almost magical. I just sat back and listened and tried to contribute to the conversation in my best Dutch when possible.

For a moment I gazed out on the canals watching the boats glide by against the backdrop of the brownstone Amsterdam houses, and I thought to myself life here is good and I as a small town girl from a country very far away, I was so happy to be a part of it, even just for a few hours.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Growing old pains

The most embarrassing thing happened to me last week on my first visit to a  physiotherapist.

I was having problems with my upper back but I didn't want to go to the physio because I was too embarrassed to take my shirt off and lie on a table in a bra.

The pain continued so I made an appointment with the physio.

I get into his office, get up the nerve to take my shirt off and sit there in my belly rolls and bra. He first massaged my shoulders and my back and I was thinking wow I could really get use dto this. i couldn't believe that i was ever too shy to come. He then said he wanted to show me some stretches to help prevent the pain from coming back. Great I said, bring it on!

He placed his hand on my head and that was when I remembered that I just sprayed fake color on my hair to cover up the gray. I use this spray in between hair appoints.  However, at the slightest touch it comes off on your skin at the slightest touch.

And this stranger was all but pressing my head into a pulp with his wet oily hand. I started panicking as soon as he placed his hand on my head. But what was I suppose to say, I thought about falling on the ground or something dramatic. It was too late. He had a tight grip on me and there was nothing I could do but hope for the best.

I began to sweat buckets and realized that not only was my hair color coming off but also my deodorant , at least its effect. I could smell myself instantly, the smell of embarrassment, fear and garden onions.

To make it worse, he was talking to me, he was being friendly and I was dying his hand a dark shade of medium brown. I was so terrified that I couldn't answer him when he asked me where I was from in the States, I just said south and couldn't get out Carolina. 

To my relief, he let up his grip and then asked me to place my hand on my head to try the exercise myself. GULP! Do I have to I asked him, and reluctantly placed my hand so lightly that he immediately pressed up against my hand to apply pressure. SHIT! Now my hands were gonna look like I wiped my butt without TP.

I removed his hand from mine and I noticed he began frantically wiping his hand on a towel and the crisp, white towel began to look like used toilet paper. At this point my face was on fire and I wanted to run out of his office shirtless and all. I couldn't believe I was ever worried about him seeing me almost naked. This man had half my can of Toni and Guy beautiful brunette on his hand.

He quickly said I could get dressed and that we didn't have more time. I literally threw on my shirt not even buttoned all the way and bolted for the door. I couldn't look at his face, so I mumbled I had to hurry for a meeting and would call for an appointment.

I escaped out into the street and I looked down at my hand to see the damage, even my nails were brown.

The bravest thing I have ever had to do was face him a few days later, but this time with a huge gray streak running through the top of my head.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

When you can't take away the hurt

I have said it many times before: The hardest part of being a parent is seeing your child hurt. Physically or emotionally, doesn't matter. It hurts. I hurt when they hurt.

And I hurt now for my daughter. In the past few months, I watched a confident, fiesty little girl whither away into an insecure, sad shell of herself.

It didn't happen overnight, it was a slow process and it wasn't until she told me she didn't ever want to go to school again, I realized there was a real problem.

She was being excluded in her class and not able to fit into a group. I guess i was blind to what was happening because she had always been such a social butterfly, the kid in the class everyone got along with. 

And actually, by having these qualities, she was separated from her group of friends this year and placed in a new class. 

Her kindergarten teacher said they had to split the group up in order to assure equal class numbers in the first grade. However, my daughter was the only girl in the group to be separated. 

We confronted the teacher last year and begged to keep her in the class with her friends. But the teacher said she was sociable and easy to get along so because of these qualities she would easily make new friends.

And here we are, my baby girl is an insecure and unhappy little person hurting every day at school when she can not find anyone to play with. Her new teacher is aware and has tried inclusion, but my daughter continues to be left out. We have invited kids over and had playdates but she still feels no connection.

I can not tell you how helpless I feel at this moment. I want to tell her class how cool she is, how much fun she is and they would be lucky to have a friend like her. But I can't, I can only support her and wipe her tears away for now. 

My husband will have a meeting with the teacher next week and demand she be placed back in the class with her friends. He is so good at being our children's voice, advocate. And I give the hugs and love, and hope soon the hurt will go away. Fingers crossed, this too shall pass.

Monday, January 25, 2016

My first milestone

Walking, talking, the first day of school, the first loose tooth, these are all milestones children experience. But recently I discovered there are milestones that we experience as parents.

I realized this when my baby girl read a full sentence to me for the first time. She is in Groep 3 (1st grade) so I was aware that she was slowly learning how to read.

I had been through the process already with my son, two years ahead of her. I knew that that by Christmas she would be able to read simple books and that a new world would open up for her. I knew she had a milestone coming.

But what I didn't know was that I too would have such a milestone. This happened one night at her bedtime when she began to read a simple three word sentence to me.

She picked up a book and with no effort, read a sentence. I know, it doesn't sound earth moving, but hearing her read this sentence took my breath away.

This was my baby and with those three words she grew into this little person. She was growing up and  I could imagine helping her pack her bags to go away to University or move out to be on her own. 

One major string that was connecting her to me snapped at that instant. Of course it's not a bad thing to experience this as a parent. No one wants their kids to be dependent on them forever, but it took me by surprise because it was happening so fast.

I wanted to take that moment and put it in a jar to keep forever. I wanted her to stop growing and turning into a little person, just for a while, just so I could catch up with her.

Then I realized this is the part of being a parent that no one can explain to you. No one can explain that you spend your entire life waiting for this person to come into your world, you carry them inside you for nine months and then you have to slowly learn to let them go.

No one tells you that you have to trust that you are teaching them the right things and set them free one day into the world hoping they will survive. Not only survive, but thrive and shine and be the person they were meant to be.

I look at my two "babies" and I think it's just a matter of time and they will be leaving my nest. Until then, I have decided to enjoy all the little milestones in between. And slowly let go...

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My big fat Albert Heijn sticker obsession

Turned this card in today for a fancy Japanese knife
Is there a support group out there for those addicted to collecting bestek zegels (silverware stickers) from Albert Heijn? If so, I need to join ASAP.

For you lucky ones who have no idea what I am talking about, Albert Heijn is a supermarket chain in The Netherlands that has a promotion: shoppers collect stickers from their grocery purchases in order to buy special edition knives and silverware (last year it was glasses).

So for every 10 euros you spend, you receive a sticker to stick on your collector's card. Once you reach 50 stickers you can purchase one of the knives or a one person set of silverware from the Villeroy & Boch collection.

I know, its the biggest marketing gimmick, but I can't help it. You buy 500 euros worth of groceries so you can pay 5 euros to purchase on overpriced piece of cutlery (I'm collecting the knives).

And for those of you not living here, Albert Heijn is no cheap supermarket. Normally, I would never shop there. I prefer the cheaper supermarkets so I can stay within our monthly budget.

But I walked into Albert Heijn just as the promotion started and I saw those sleek knives and I was hooked. You can even fill-up a card up to buy the ultra modern bamboo knife block. I was sold!

I filled three cards of 50 stickers in two months. Don't worry, I haven't spent 1500 euros on food in the last two months. I had enablers.

Colleagues have given me their stickers and a mother from my children's school gave me an entire card FILLED for Christmas! Best Christmas gift ever!

I am so obsessed I know which cashiers at which Albert Heijn will give you extra stickers. I even figured out ways to get them to give you extra stickers, like telling them how desperate I am to get the kiddie spoons before my due date in February. Ok, I haven't stooped that low, but I whined a time or two to get extras.

Just like any addict, I came to a point where I realized I had a problem. After only filling one card, I decided to give up and decided to buy myself a new set of knives for consolation. That was when it happened: Albert Heijn stickers fell from heaven! I was walking down my street and what did I about step on? You got it, AH stickers! Three of them! Thirty euros just lying there on the street.

I decided it was sign from the sticker collecting gods and I began to fill a new card. However, in order to control my problem, I no longer shop exclusively at AH. I decided only to buy my gluten free products there and if I fill up a card by the time the promotion ends in February, then it's meant to be.

But in the last 24 hours I turned in two of my filled cards and purchased the bamboo block and the fancy Japanese knife from the collection. For my first card, I like the rest of the Dutch population collecting, I bought the set of two knives (more bang for your buck). And I calculated I can fill one more card before the expiration date and I even picked out which knife I will get last (cue the Gollem voice) "My precious" bread knife.

My precious!
I know, psycho! I am trying to make excuses for my behavior, like how it reminds of me of my Garbage Pail Kids sticker collecting days. Or how I desperately need a new set of knives. However, in the back of my head, I keep thinking once it's all over I will have a knife block and four knives that cost 2000 euros but are worth maybe 100!

Crazy! It's sick and I am ashamed but seriously, if anyone has stickers they don't want, I'm up for negotiating. I traded half my lunch today for six!