What is it about having children that makes us community property?

‘Hey,’ says a man on the street. I look up from my phone, he continues talking but I can’t understand a word he is saying. I grab my eldest’s hand as we are moving from the roadworks onto what is a busy street and look at him puzzled.

‘Get off your phone,’ he says in English, gesticulating at my daughter and the busy street.

‘Excuse me?’ I ask, confused and surprised at his vehemence.

‘You, you’re dangerous. It’s a busy street, you should be watching.’

‘I didn’t ask for your opinion, Sir.’ I offer, turning away.

‘I should report you to the police,’ he continues, his face screwed up tightly, his eyes bulging at me like a pit bull.

‘Go on then,’ I say, holding my daughter’s hand more tightly now. I watch the man walk off continuing to rant and gesticulate wildly, outraged at my audacity. I wish I’d been composed enough to say to the man ‘please don’t attack my self-worth, I don’t have a lot of it to spare.’ I wish too, that he’d have been able to hear that and respond with empathy. But empathy was not being served.

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Amsterdam, a city where wheelchairs are cars, cars are bikes and nobody wears a helmet.

As I drove home in an uber from my Alexander session, my body was busy confusedly exploring its new positioning in the world. ‘Your ankles have much more movement than you think,’ says Paul, my adorable teddy bear of a teacher who hugs me a lot, giggles like a buddha, and has fast become a highlight of my week in this crazy country we now call home. The car I was in, stopped to give way to a wheelchair. This, in and of itself is not really so strange, nor worthy of commentary, had he not given way, there would have been much to say. But he did give way, so that point is moot. Perhaps, I thought to my self, she is simply crossing the road and there is no pedestrian crossing anywhere nearby. But that was not the case either. What was unusual about it, was that the lady in the wheelchair was zipping along the road as though she were driving a car.

Up ahead the lights changed to red, and I swear, her break lights flashed on as she pulled to a stop. A bike pulled up beside her and then the cars lined up behind them.

Here in Amsterdam, bikes are akin to cows in India.

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Dutch bugs think fresh Aussie bods are an easy target.

We are all sick within a week of arriving in Amsterdam. Mum gets it first, a gastro bug that leaves her pale and shaking. She spends the night on the toilet but feels okay the next day, well okay enough to potter around the house in her pastel rainbow-coloured t-shirt nightie, the white hoodie we’d managed to find at H&M, because she doesn’t own a jumper and Amsterdam is celebrating a scorching top of 8 degrees C, and the pair of ankle socks we’d bought at the market. Okay, we think, a little cocky, this is not so bad.

My youngest is next to fall victim. I brush the clammy curls from my youngest’s forehead, and read to her, while she begs me to put something on her dry toast. Dr Google suggests apple but then diarrhoea foams in her nappy. I strip her off, change her clothes, strip the bed she is lying on, and much to her horror, we revert back to dried toast. When her weak cries for prosciutto or peanut butter or whatever it is that her sister happens to be eating get too much, I press play on the iPad and distract her with Doc McStuffins. Within 48 hours though, she is better. My husband is struck down next, however, he lays prone in bed for almost a week. He looks ashen, the lines on his face a little deeper, a grey-flecked beard sprouting messily across his chin. Everything about him looked tired and grey, like his charcoal pyjamas, which Mum had accidentally shrunk in the dryer and then tried to stretch back out. He looked exactly like Robin Williams when he was trying to remember that he was Peter Pan.

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You really can make your childhood dreams come true, at any age.

‘What instrument would you like to learn?’ asks my Dad. I am 12 years old, maybe, and my younger brother has just started learning the guitar. I’m jealous. Looking back, I guess I’d made my feelings pretty clear and am pretty sure there may even have been some spectacular tantrums or possibly even one of my world famous ‘cats bum’ sulks (a humiliatingly accurate description provided thoughtfully by my step dad who has clearly witnessed more than his fair share).

‘The piano,’ I say. I loved the romance of the piano. The long, sleek lines and the monochromatic mystery of the keys. Keys that when played in a certain way could produce music so light and ethereal it lifted my heart carried if somewhere light and free and wonderful. I wanted to make music like that.
‘No,’ my father told me, in no uncertain terms, ‘it’s too expensive. Pick something else.’

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Finding the right school when you don’t speak dutch is like finding a needle in a haystack.

My daughters are now enrolled in four schools and on the waiting list for another six. To be fair it’s across two different countries, but still, it’s a lot of paperwork, a stupid amount of money, and a whole lot of stress.

I thought I was done with the school issue. My husband and I have been having the same debate (read argument) for the last four years. Private school versus Waldorf education. I’m pro Steiner, but my husband has equally strong views, both about that ‘hippy school’, and about the superiority of private education. Of course I am the one doing the reading, filling out the paperwork and dealing with the school meetings, so his opinion has very few time constraints, mine keeps encroaching on my day, filling the hours I am supposed to be spending writing.

In Melbourne, we had time to luxuriate about our different opinions, my eldest has been enrolled in both his and my preferred schools since she was a year old. We’ve been more lax with our youngest, because once one is in, it’s much easier to get the other in. Having just moved to Amsterdam, and then deciding we like it here and might actually like to stay, has really made life difficult. Our eldest turns five in September. That’s only four months away, as each school likes to remind me. And each of the schools we want has at least 10 other kids ahead of her. Of course, it’s made all the more difficult because 1) she doesn’t speak dutch and so cannot go to a dutch school and 2) I am really fussy about schools. I eliminate half of them because I don’t believe in their philosophies – where as my husband is inclined to just ‘apply everywhere and we’ll see where the chips fall.’ Of course, I’m the one filling in the paperwork, so it’s very easy for him to say that!

We have success at one school, but they want an immediate payment. It’s not our first choice, it’s not actually in our top 5. We decide to gamble her place, and take another spin on the education wheel. But we are already paying for two different kinder programs, the one she was attending in Melbourne because you have to give a full terms notice and we didn’t know if we were going to need to come back, and the one she is attending now, here in Amsterdam. I’m sure we could have bought first class ticket to anywhere in the world with the amount of money we’ve spent on school application and acceptance fees.

At this point it looks like I’ll be homeschooling, and my sanity is not sure this is a viable option. I call my husband, who has been chasing our number one school option.

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Delicious, Organic Food, Noordemarkt is a Food-Lovers Paradise

‘You’re going to like it in Amsterdam,’ says the text message from my husband three months before we fly out. He is already there, having flown out just after New Years.

Photos of a market flood through, fresh fruit and vegetables. ‘All organic,’ he says. And a butchers display. ‘Organic!!’ he says.

‘Looks good,’ I type back, followed by a list of questions I have for the butcher, about the type of cuts, and the farms he sources his meat from.

‘I’ll do my best to find out,’ says my husband but I know he won’t ask the questions, it’s one area in which he embarrasses easily.

‘This is the organic grocer that’s walking distance from our house,’ he sends a little while later.

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When ‘a’ is an ‘e’ and you have no idea how to pronounce your address

‘Where are you?’ asks the Uber driver over the phone.  My mum and I are at Ikea, picking up a few bits and pieces for the house. ‘Near the uitgang,’ I say pronouncing it oo-it-gang.  The uber driver laughs, ‘I know where you are.’ I don’t recognise or understand a thing in this country.  I […]

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The Venice of the North

‘Lets hire a boat,’ suggests my husband one Saturday morning. Our nanny and her fiancé had done so the weekend before and then her fiance had spent the better part of the last week researching boats to buy.

I looked out the window at the grey sky, not sure if it will be too cold for a boat ride, but the girls are dancing around yelling about boats and pirates and my husband is already pressing buttons on his phone.

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A Massage on a Houseboat? Only in Amsterdam…

After a particularly stressful week, my husband, sweetheart that he is, books me a massage. He sends me an address, and I follow the google maps lady through twists and turns, over bridges and around canals to an address that does not actually appear to exist. The google maps lady tells me I have arrived, but as I followed the numbers up and down the street, I cannot find 145a. I pick up my phone to call my husband, only to watch him emerge from the houseboat moored in the canal running alongside the road. He wore that blissed out look that only comes from really good massage.

‘Where are we?’ I ask my husband as he hugs me. The very neat denim-clad, barefoot man, whose name apparently was Jeroen (ye-roen, like a strange combination of run and ron) was now waving me aboard. I cross the gangway, as you do, feeling confused, unsettled, and like I might actually end up head first in the water. Jeroen, by contrast, with his shaved head, open face, and peaceful vibe, looked steady and sure. He struck me as someone who meditated a lot. I really should meditate more, I think as I shake his hand.

Inside, the boat is all wood panelling and instruments.

‘The sound doesn’t travel’ Jeroen explains, pointing to the instruments, ‘My son can play the drums at any hour and no one outside the boat can hear it. That’s why a lot of musicians live on houseboats.’

I want to be a musician living on a houseboat. ‘Have you always lived on a houseboat?’

‘My partner and I moved here when the kids were small.’

‘And it’s okay for kids to be on a houseboat before they can swim?’ I ask, mentally packing our bags and preparing to move. Jeroen’s answer will be the key to my success when I pitch my husband this lifestyle change.

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Biking in the Netherlands is Key to Survival

‘Ooh, I want one of those,’ I say, pointing at the screen of my husband’s laptop. A woman rides a bike with a cart contraption on the front where her children are sitting, smiling happily. ‘And maybe those kids too,’ my girls had been marathon tantrumming all afternoon. They can sense the change, it has seeped into our house, filled all the available space with a silent anxiety. ‘Is it wrong that the only thing that excites me about going to Amsterdam is that I can have one of these bikes?’

‘Whatever makes you happy, my love’ says my husband, shaking his head – but his smile goes all the way to his eyes.

‘I want one with three wheels,’ I say to my husband as a two-wheeled bakfiets (a bike with a tub at the front for children – or dogs, tools, the dozen plants you hadn’t meant to buy, the slightly too big christmas tree you have no idea where it will go once you get it home, the friend of yours who happens to be visiting and doesn’t want to ride a bike, oh, the possibilities really are endless), flies past the bike shop that we are currently standing in. I’ve never seen anything like these bikes. And even though I haven’t actually ridden a bike in more than 5 years, I want one, with the passion of a child in a toy store.

The very tall Dutch man at the store shakes his head. ‘The three wheel bikes, they are, different to ride.’

‘I’d still like to try,’ I say, my heart sinking a little. This was my dream. How hard could it be?

‘It’s like driving with a trailer,’ says the man, as I climb onto it. Having never driven a car with a trailer, all I offer a blank nod, which is clearly not what the man is hoping for. ‘The handlebars move from side to side, like this,’ he says, showing me how the handlebars arc out to the left to turn the wheels right.’

My eyebrows shoot up. ‘So I turn left to go right and right to go left?’ the quaver in my voice obvious.

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