The news has attained a new level of grim these days, hasn’t it? Between lunatic politicians, terrifying Covid statistics, and entire countries living a nightmare, it’s enough to make you stop believing in fairies

Sorry Tink. You’re out.

I stop and remind myself to breathe gratitude for living where we do. It’s the first step to feeling less anxious apparently. 

Notice the positive.
Remember to be grateful.
Acknowledge that these are unprecedented times. 

In the midst of it all I am trying to self care, self medicate (but not too much) and avoid alcoholism, drug dependency or murder – it’s messy … And find the inner peace I need to carry me through to bedtime.

To help my anxious mental state, I’ve been listening to ‘positivity podcasts’ as I chauffeur the smalls through their days. The soft voiced mantra coach encourages me to take deep breaths and speak affirmations out loud.

 “I radiate positive energy”, I declare in the car on the way home from the school run.

“I choose hope over fear”, I announce at the roadworks. I’m not feeling it. Clearly more vigor is needed here.

“I am calm and in control of my emotions”, I screech with conviction as I pull up to a traffic light. I forgot the window was open and alarmed a gaggle of preteens on bikes .. I’ve never seen 3 kids cycle so fast when the lights changed. 

Very wise. I sounded very far away from being in control of anything at that moment.

I wang on about privilege to the smalls, and they stare through me with big eyes, request a snack, and ask a question about their own random subject of interest. I want to shield them from the truth, that the world we are living in is an unsustainable mess hurtling towards inevitable doom so complicated.

The boy came home from school and announced that there’s an ecological issue with crayfish. His sister nodded with the wisdom of a 5-year old and added that the hedgehogs are fucked too. 

Then they wanted to know if flying carpets were really real. 

My children are happy and healthy”, I tell the dishwasher.
They go upstairs to find their dad. 

The kids are in full time school and activities here in the Netherlands. An ‘intelligent’ lock-down applied.

(Though I would question the ability of many to be intellectually capable of making the right choices. That might be another tale, called ‘When your neighbours test positive for Corona and go on holiday anyway’.)

In our tiny patch of Dutch suburbia, it is all systems full steam ahead – with a mask and a force field of space around the grownups. I sweat gratitude for that: Homeschooling in Dutch was the stuff of horror and ordeal. My nemesis. The mental health black hole that we all fell down

I leach relief at having professional educators involved with our small charges’ growing minds. It’s diluting the crazy down to manageable levels, to nothing that a skilled therapist can’t sort out later on. 

Our days are a tidal wave of things. Of going and arriving and bags and reminders. A barrage of need and wants and places to be
and the endless,
endless,
endless call for help ….

With shoes and missing socks and itchy labels and hair ties.

“There’s a grasshopper on the ceiling that I need you to get rid of”, my husband pleads

“Today I will accomplish great things”, I solemnly respond and go back to giving the plants a bath… He retreats back upstairs to the safety of his office.

We have our daily schedules.
Our weekly schedules.
Our tick charts and all the routines in picture form on the wall.
My phone has endless reminder alarms. 

“Pack a snack for judo”, it pings at me. 

“Pick up time! Don’t forget you have kids”, it chimes merrily.

“10 minutes till we go” the ringtone trills!

I bite my nails and suggest everyone put shoes on. 

“Get in the car!” announces the phone in a siren at the kids. They are oblivious. 

I’m pretty sure my dream last night involved being chased by ringtones.

“Joy is right here”, I declare to their backs as they trail to the car. A gaggle of rage & whinging at the indignity of having to wear coats.

And these activities are what hold us together and keep us in one piece. 

“I embrace each day filled with the essence of new possibilities”, I trill shrilly at the postman on his bike. He ignores me. Maybe he is listening to his own podcast of joy.

One of the new activities this year is SWIM LESSONS.

The Netherlands is a sewn together tapestry of water. Something like a soggy ⅖ of it is under sea level. You can’t walk down a street without being accosted by a flock of water fowl. The kids need to learn to swim. Properly. 

Now I know a good business model when I see it. And the ABC Dutch swim diploma system has it down.

Your kid can’t go in a public swimming pool without arm bands. The lifeguards are militant about that point. So you can’t teach them to swim yourself. We did a bit at the lake during the summer and the boy practised the “desperate dog paddle” with great enthusiasm, but probably not enough to avoid drowning. 

Formal swim lessons it had to be. We signed him up, and then I got the bill…

I just paid out thirteen hundred euros for swim lessons.
You. Read. That. Right.
Read it again.

Eye watering it is not … Mind bending is what it is.

The choice was cheaper lessons, with more kids … and I have heard whispers of it taking over 2 years to get the swim diploma, if your kid isn’t a neurotypical learner … Or you do the fast track – tiny groups – guaranteed diploma at the end of it – method. 

I sobbed as I handed over the money. 

So long cash. Possibly also farewell Christmas presents this year.
Hello swimming.

As soon as he is done, we’ve to get the smaller one through the same diploma. She’s champing at the bit to get learning. But if we want to keep being able to pay for things like food, she’ll have to wait.

The swim lessons, it turns out, are annoying and stressful, according to himself.
“Why”, I ask?
“I have to breathe under the water and I can’t”.
“Are you sure the teacher said that?” He shrugged. I make a reminder on my phone to ask the teacher about this.

“Maybe just remember to breathe once your head is out of the water?”
That would make a good mantra, wouldn’t it?!

The phone helpfully pings and reminds me to bring his sister to gymnastics.

“Calm is my primary state of being”. I announce. 

We hustle out the door and I make a mental reminder to remove the grasshopper from the ceiling before dinner. 

I was born in Ireland, grew up in England and met my Cornish husband in Catalonia. We now live in the Netherlands, in Dutch suburbia with our two differently wired, small kids. I spend my days parenting, writing and being amazed at all the Dutchness around me.

11 Comment on “Just Breathe

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