When we moved to the Netherlands we had a tiny baby and 2 year old in tow. Our lives were already, in the nicest possible way; a fucking full-on, daily shit-show of survival and insanity.
Arriving in our new country we had a blissful few days in a hotel, waiting for our stuff to arrive and playing at being tourists. Then we shifted into, ‘we live here now’ mode and set about unpacking. It was the usual moving in / countless trips to Ikea / try-not-to-end-up-in-divorce, fun.
There were posters around our neighbourhood warning us of break ins. As well as these menacing cautions, there was a giant flashing board at the end of our street, alerting us that burglars had been seen in our area.
Where the hell had we moved to?
We had chosen this peaceful backwater of Dutch suburbia for its safe, quiet (dare I whisper it? Extremely dull), place to bring up a couple of kids. And here we were being warned that our home was at risk of a severe case of Dutch kleptomania.
Bit worrying these posters, but maybe it was preventative? Or had every home in the area already been ransacked? It was one of those new country things, where you enter a naive state of ignorance.
We realised that the most painless way to deal with the culture shock that had come with the move, was to pull up our giant mama pants and get the hell on with our daily lives, learning as we went.
By our, I mean me. My husband doesn’t wear mama pants.
That I know of.
He goes to work and pees alone, so technically he can wear whatever pants he wants to.
I usually have a child showing me a lego build, while the other one sits on my lap “doing my hair”, when I grace the porcelain throne.
Mama pants are part of my job requirement.
There were oodles of interesting things that I had to discover in our new country. On day 1 of being alone with the kids, the first thing I learnt was that the Dutch police are very helpful and ridiculously attractive. I think there is a Dutch rule where they have to be above 3 meters tall and built of superhuman proportions.
On my first solo expedition with the kids, I took our google translated version of these warning posters very seriously. I started, ‘Operation Go Outside”. I double locked all the doors and windows and left my keys in the backdoor. I had to get the naked toddler to put his clothes and shoes on: A full scale tactical mission.
With the baby in the sling, I chased him into the garden through the sliding doors, which closed with a resounding click behind us.
My keys were safely on the inside of the door.
I was locked out.
Day 1. Hour 2 of being home alone in a new country.
It was early morning and already 30 degrees. The kids were in a state of undress and I had no water, sunblock or necessities. The Mary Poppins nappy bag was on the kitchen table. I could see it clearly through the window.
I told my sorry tale to my neighbours, who smiled sympathetically and then called the cops. They didn’t speak English. I had zero Dutch. And I had a feeling they thought I was telling them I wanted to break in. Maybe they thought I was using tiny, nude humans as a decoy?
When the police arrived, they tried and failed to break into my home. They complimented me on my home security and smashed my window for me. They then called a replacement window guy, helped me screw a temporary board across the giant hole and cleaned up the glass.
I really made the area classy with our boarded up window and screaming young ones. I doubted the burglars would be casing out our joint anymore.
By this time my kids desperately needed a nap, and as they only slept in their double buggy, I headed out for a walk around the nearby lake.
As I began to relax and enjoy the fresh air and sunlit water, both kids peaceful at last in the stroller, sirens started blaring out across the water.
It was extremely alarming.
My already frayed nerves exploded with anxiety.
I thought there was going to be an air strike.
Had nuclear war being threatened in the week that I hadn’t read the news?
Perhaps a plague of zombies was imminent and the locals were warning each other…..
I was genuinely afraid. It didn’t help that there wasn’t a soul about to ask.
I headed home with ‘end of the world’ scenarios playing on a loop inside my freaked out head.
So much for just getting on with it.
Culture shock = 1
Mama in her giant pants = 0
It turns out that in a Dutch Government counter terrorism and public security move, on the first Monday of every month, all ‘public warning sirens’ are tested for almost a full minute and a half. In every town. The locals get used to hearing these sirens, and know that if they hear them at any other time, that there really is a plague of apocalyptic proportions heading down the canal.
But for me, on that first day?
I genuinely thought that I was going to die.