Amsterdam, The Reasons We Stayed.

I wake up to the birds singing, and check my clock.  5.50am.  It’s the best alarm clock.  I wonder if they are larks?  I have no idea and it throws me.  It’s a poignant reminder that I’m foreign here.

I do really like it here though.  I don’t know what it is exactly, something about the lifestyle, the cycling everywhere, the not having to worry about a car, the girls both being in school and the mental space in my head and in my life that that has created.  I feel more like myself again.  And there is something different here, about how you are expected to parent.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s an effortlessness to it.  A relaxed, good-enough attitude.

Yesterday, as the girls and I cycled around Vondelpark, deciding which playground to go to, I couldn’t help but notice the number of kids out and about, completely unsupervised.  A group of boys were playing soccer in the field, they couldn’t have been more than eight years old.

The girls decided on the tunnel slide park, and as we pulled up, I noticed once again, that all the parents were seated on the benches around the sandpit, while the kids dug in the sand, or climbed on the bars or chased each other around the trees.  No one was hovering, or even watching.  Two women were sitting, chatting, one of them handed over a drink bottle absentmindedly when her son returned.  She didn’t even pause in her conversation.  Other mothers were busy on their phones or reading.  There seemed to be an assumption that the kids will be fine.

I watched a video clip on Facebook, it had come out of the USA,  it showed a father sitting on a park bench on his phone while his daughter played.  Unbeknownst to him, a stranger came up and enticed his daughter away, carrying her off without a sound.  When he finally looked up, his daughter was nowhere to be seen.  It’s a fair point, I guess, but watching those kinds of videos tend to make me hypervigilant.  Those are the videos that make me feel like parenting is a relentless 24/7 job.

What was interesting though, is that in the video there was just a lone father and his daughter.  In the playgrounds around us, we are usually surrounded by dozens of parents and children, and the opposite of mob mentality seems to be at play.  Once, when a little girl tumbled, grazing her knees, it was not her mother that came running first, it was another mother, one who happened to be nearby at the time.  When the mother did appear, there was no awkward moment, and absolutely no judgement for her lack of attention, the young girl was simply handed to her mother to be comforted.  Parenting here seems to be a collective experience.  It’s lovely.

As soon as we arrived, my eldest raced off, straight up to the slide that is 2 stories above the ground.  She grabbed hold of the lowest rope and swung herself up onto the metal bar.  She paused, looking for the where to take hold next, and then she was off, swinging from rope to rope like a monkey.  I bit my lip as I watched her, knowing that if she fell and missed the net, it would surely involve a hospital visit, but that fear was mine, and I held it, nurtured it, and let her take a chance.  At the top, her grin was wider than the crescent moon that I can see now, setting low in the waking sky.  I can’t imagine this playground ever being allowed in Australia.

Yes, this is a place I can watch my children grow up in.  This is a place I can parent in without drowning in the collective anxiety.

‘I love this house,’  My husband says to me, later that night in the shower.

‘Me too,’ I edge him out of the hot stream with a grin.

‘What if we stayed?’ he asks, looking at me slyly.

‘I think I’d like that,’ I say without hesitation.

‘For two years?’

I nod, ‘I could do that.’

The next morning, my phone beeps with a message.  ‘I’ve cancelled both the April and the July flights.  We’re officially staying.’  A familiar flutter dances through my stomach, excitement.

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