Why I Wanted A Piano in the House

I hear the piano being played as I put the vegetables in the oven to roast.  It is rough and loud, it is my eldest.  She likes to take the lid off the piano and hit the keys to watch the mechanisms move inside.  After a few minutes the piano goes quiet.  I put the chicken into the oven, wash and dry my hands and head up the stairs.  The piano starts up again, only this time it is a soft, melodic sound.
When I get into the lounge room, I see my youngest bent over the keyboard, her eyes are closed, and as she plays each key she brings her ear as close as she can to her hands, listening intently to each sound.  It is beautiful to watch.  This is why I wanted a piano in the house.

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When Moving Forwards into the Unknown is too Challenging

‘Higher, Mama,’ she says, her tone tight and sharp. My eldest’s frustration levels are maxed out with the amount of Dutch spoken at her school. She feels confused and misunderstood, I imagine it is like her world feels as though it is spinning wildly out of her control. Some days she cries. Most days she is angry.

‘Not like that,’ she snaps.

‘Please don’t talk to me like that,’ I say biting my tongue to stop the sharp retort that wants to be let free into the world. I breathe in and out slowly and keep pushing the swing. 

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Silence and Children, always a worrying combination.

The house is silent, too silent.  I wipe my hands on the tea towel and climb the stairs in search of the girls.  They are not in their room.  

Raucous giggles emanate from my bathroom, so I climb the flight of stairs to my bedroom.  I follow the wet footprints and discover my daughters, finally getting along, jumping wildly in a puddle in the base of the shower.  Looking closer, I discover it is a puddle of pee… 

In my head I am lying on a beach somewhere tranquil and remote.

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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.  

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Homeschooling… No, well, maybe…

‘I’m going to school today,’ says my youngest, dancing down the stairs to the kitchen. She’s been home sick for the whole week, and while I’m hanging for her to go back so I can write, so I can work, so I can rest, burdened as I am with the virus she so kindly sneezed all over my face. There’ nothing like being splattered with a loved one’s mucus. But she fell asleep at about 3pm yesterday, slept until after 5pm and then went back to sleep again at 7.30pm. Unheard of for her. This is the girl who I had to force to drop her day sleep at 2 years old because whenever she slept she would remain wide awake until well after 11pm. Enough to destroy what was left of her mother’s sanity. So I was not quite so convinced that school was a good idea just yet. Not matter how much I wanted it.

Her older sister, who had decided the night before that she would not be going to school today as it was ‘unfair’ that she had to go when her sister did not, woke up with a raging fever. She’s a powerful little being. I am not sure if she too was sneezed all over or if she just willed the fever into existence to prove a point.

As soon as my youngest got wind of this strange turn around, and realised that she would be going to school while her sister stayed home, the water works started. ‘I don’t want to go to school,’ she wailed so loudly I’m sure our neighbours were left wondering what strange and unusual punishment we had concocted for our three-year-old.

My husband was clear, she was well enough for school. As she writhed around on the floor, I considered it might be possible, but I was reluctant to send her back too early. Plus, there was no way I could get her sister into the bike to go and pick her up from school should we be wrong. So home she stayed.

A year or so ago I started following a delightful blog about a woman who had seven children, for that I was ready to erect a statue to her. But she also chose to homeschool. I was wondrous and amazed. I love my children but the idea of homeschooling makes my ovaries want to crawl up into my spine. My biggest challenge as a mother has always been the relentlessness of it all. When they were both home from school, trying to get any time to myself was near impossible and it exhausted my spirit. I loved playing with them, and caring for them, not so much the washing, folding and putting away of all of their clothes, and I definitely grew to despise scraping egg yolk from tables. I love setting up spaces for them, creating cupboards that make sense of their toys, and shelves to organise all of the creative outlets we explore together. We collect spring blossoms to hang on their book tree (a book case shaped like a tree, branches and all), we paint, we craft, we colour, we cook and take care of our plants, but when my husband is a away for weeks at a time and they are sick, I return to those earlier dark days, of sleep deprivation and relentlessness and my spirit shudders. No reprieve. No time. No space. ‘I want…’, ‘I need…’, ‘get me …’

And so I admired this woman for being able to embrace the everydayness of her life, the relentlessness of her tasks, the unfinished state of her projects, the lack of personal space, within her body, and in her home. Those babies of hers are always around her. Always. And she seems happy.

‘I could never home school,’ I told my husband one night, the blue glow of my phone dancing on the wall, as I read another post of hers. I laughed with her at the unfinished washing, and the sense of chaos that life with young children can create. I admired her, but in the way that I was grateful her life was not mine.

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A tree doesn’t apologise for itself it is simply a tree…

For as long as I can remember I’ve been apologising for myself, for my life. ‘You apologise too much,’ says my husband, his brow furrowing in confusion and frustration when I say to him, ’I’m sorry you’ve had a bad day.’

‘How is that your fault?’ he asks every time.

‘It’s not, its empathy,’ I explain. Which of course makes no more sense to him than the original apology. Empathy is not something he understands, neither the theory or the practise. For him, it’s a waste of time, but bless him, he’s been rote learning how to say empathetic words because he knows that they are important to me. Sometimes it helps, sometimes I want to slap him, but it’s the best he can do.

Other times, though, I wind up apologising for my life.

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The new 20 somethings and social media

I scroll through my Instagram feed. I’m meant to be sleeping, and I really should be doing one of the many things that will actually help me get to sleep, but I’m not, I’m looking at Instagram. Suddenly I am face to face with the inside of my fridge. That’s strange, I think slightly delirious, did I post that? I didn’t post that. Why would I post a picture of the inside of my fridge? I know it is my fridge because even though it may be a well-organised piece of machinery, mostly because every Saturday after the Farmer’s Market, I cook and prep and set the fridge and freezer up for the week ahead in a weird game of Tetris that only I seem to know the rules to, it is not always clean.

Let me be upfront, I am a terrible cleaner, okay, I’m not, but I really hate doing it. I have strong memories of having to vacuum the kitchen, family room, bedrooms, bathroom, laundry, toilet and hallway before school every morning. Mum swears she only made me do that for a week to prove a point but I am sure it was much longer than that.

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On doing it all and the gift that is accepting help

We have an au pair. Yes, we have officially become that family. The one I only ever heard about in books and movies. The one I’ve heard people talk scathingly about and judge for ‘outsourcing’ their responsibilities. The one my husband has been suggesting we evolve into for years and I have stubbornly, dragged my feet (and my adrenals), kicking and screaming as I insisted, No, No, No, I could do it all, I would do it all, and in fact, I should do it all. I cannot do it all. My body has made it very clear that I should not be doing it all. And most importantly I’ve discovered, I do not actually want to do it all, not alone anyway. I’m not a very nice person when I’m doing it all.

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The power and freedom that comes with success

‘Wie kan ik helpen?’ asks the older woman behind the fruit and veg stand. Her long grey hair is plaited over the front of her head, and down into a long braid over her shoulder. It’s the same every week. Her face has the look of someone who has spent her life outside, working too hard. It’s weathered and lined, and a little stern, but it softens into a smile when she tells you which are the best vegetables to buy that week.
‘Mij, bedankt.’ I say, my stomach flipping about, but I am determined to get through this experience using as much dutch as I can muster. I get a smile, earlier than normal, and I feel like I’ve won a prize. As if I’ve somehow crossed over from tourist to tolerated expat.

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There were three in the bed and the little one said…

‘Mama, Mama,’ It’s 3am, and my eldest’s voice can be heard without the monitor. By the time I get down the stairs to her room, pillow in hand, because who am I kidding, I’m not getting back up those stairs tonight, she is crying.

‘My stomach hurts,’ she wails.

I aim the gizmo out her brow, no fever. I palpate her stomach, and she jumps a foot in the air when I get to her left side. Not appendicitis.

‘Want to sleep with me on the couch?’ I ask, my eyes open but not really awake.

‘She climbs in beside me, and I wrap my arm around her. She pushes my arm away. Close, but not too close, she’s always been like that. ‘Sit with me Mama,’ she would say and so I would snuggle up to her. ‘Don’t touch me, Mama,’ she would say, scowling at my neediness.

I close my eyes and slip back into sleep.

‘How come I can’t sleep with you?’ asks my youngest five minutes, ten minutes, an hour later, I’ve no idea, time is nonexistent now, I just know its night time and I’m not sleeping.

‘Hop in,’ I say lifting the blanket at the other end of the couch,’ knowing before she says anything what is coming.

‘I want to sleep next to you.’

‘There’s not enough room, darling. You can sleep next to grace and I’ll sleep at the other end. But Grace isn’t well, that’s why I’m next to her. Remember how I slept next to you when you were sick.’

‘Okay,’ I love that she doesn’t fight with me on this. She simply snuggles in under the other end of the blanket, the cool pads of her little feet pressed against mine.

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