Home: One Year in the Netherlands

Hello again, readers! I’m currently in the middle of writing part two of my Childhood in the Netherlands series. I am in fact, pretty excited to get all of my thoughts on the Dutch education system out into the world. Spoiler alert: I have a lot of positive things to say. However, I realized late last week that a very important date was approaching and I felt it necessary to commemorate it with a post. Today, June 13, 2019, marks our one year living in the Netherlands anniversary!

To mark the occasion, we decided to go downtown for a family date night. We rode our bikes around, took a photo in front of St. Bavo’s, and had dinner at an Irish pub. Maybe you could argue an Irish pub is a strange choice to mark this occasion, but they have philly cheesesteaks (yup, also ironic I suppose), and I really wanted one… so there you go.

I don’t think I owned a raincoat before we moved here… now we have the family collection

Looking back on the past year I’d say it’s gone by extremely quickly, and has been pretty transformative. I might even say as transformative as the year Joe was born? Newborn… new country? Which one is more shocking to your sense of self? That’s too deep of a question for me today, so as Tyrion Lannister said, “Ask me in ten years.” Side note– that obviously means there is already a GOT sequel in the works for 2029, right?–

So over all, I’d say this past year has been a time of slow adjustment. Luckily, and perhaps not surprisingly given his young age, Joe adjusted faster than anyone. Heck, he’s pretty close to fluent in Dutch now, he thinks herring is tasty, and he rides his bike like a boss… just give the kid a Dutch passport and call it a day. For the adults however, it’s still a work in progress. I’m pretty sure it took me six months to figure out the small things, like where the brown sugar is kept at Albert Heijn (next to the coffee, and it’s called bastered suiker 😲). Big things, like how to efficiently pay your taxes, still require us to hire someone to help.

Happily adjusted Joe

Despite the uncertainty and general sense of discomfort that a year of feeling out of place will do to you, there are so many things I really love about my new home. It was hard to do, but I’ve paired the most important down to this:

  • It’s beautiful Seriously, when I named my blog “This Place is Nice”, it was for good reason. There’s this very casual beauty pretty much everywhere you go. Flowers sprout up out of the cracks in the sidewalks, cows and sheep keep you company as you ride your bike through wooded paths, and there were so many rainbows this past winter I lost count.
  • It’s simple I mean this in the best way. It’s a little like stepping back in time. Children ride their bikes outside with their friends, families have dinner together, omas and opas pick their grandkids up from school and take them out to the park. Work/life balance is very important here. Many people work only four days a week so they can spend more time with their families, or pursuing other interests. “Papadag” (a day set aside for dad’s to take off work to be with their children), is quite common as well.
  • It’s safe Of course, whenever I say this, I always preface that I know anything can happen anywhere. I lived in major US cities all of my life, so I’m certainly not naive to crime. With that said, I feel very safe here. If you watch the local news, the most commonly reported crime is bike theft. Gun laws are very strict, with gun ownership seen as a privilege rather than a right. As a parent, and a decent person with half a brain, this helps me sleep better at night. In fact, the prisons here are so underpopulated, many are closing and being reopened as art centers, hostels, or refugee housing. Ironically, I have actually seen more fist fights since moving here than I can ever recall seeing in the states. My theory is that people are more comfortable to duke it out because they aren’t worried the other guy has a gun?! Either way, I’ll take a few people throwing punches in the Ikea parking lot (true story), over mass shootings anyday.
  • It’s home Get ready for a pretty mushy story. I was recently reflecting on what “home” means to me. We’ve moved around enough that I have yet to connect it to one specific place. I guess that hipster song “Home” is true to me- it’s wherever I’m with you (the Joe’s). However, one day many months ago I came across a little sentimental treasure I’ve carried around for years. It’s a small seashell dove that was at one time one of many that hung from a wind chime. A dear friend of mine, who sadly passed away very unexpectedly while we were teenagers, gave it to me shortly before he died. I had the wind chime hanging in my bedroom but it fell not long after he died, and all of the doves except one shattered. I wrapped the lone survivor up and have carried it around all of these years. I told myself I’d hang it up again when I found the right “home”. We moved apartments many times over the years, even buying one and staying in it for a record breaking three years, but those places never felt right. Well guess what? When I found the dove months ago, I immediately knew it belonged here. I gave it a nice spot hanging in the sunny kitchen window. When I look at it, it makes me smile, and I can’t help but think…this must be home.

Little dove has finally found a home

Well, that’s all I have to say for now. I hope I’ve done this lovely little country some justice with my words. I’m incredibly grateful to be here.

Take me out to the… honkbal game?

Last week, I wrote the first of a series of posts on childhood here in the Netherlands. I mentioned a few of my favorite kid-friendly places to go, and I am always on the lookout for more. My hope is to add one or two posts a month on this topic.

The Netherlands is a small country, but there is never a shortage of really interesting things to see and do (with or without kids!) We have the Museumkaart, which I highly recommend for anyone- especially for those trying to keep their families busy during the many school holidays. €65 for adults, and €33 for kids gets you a full year of access to over 400 museums all over the country. With this, there is really no reason to ever claim you’re bored while living here. Not to mention of course, the plethora of free natural beauty that surrounds you… but I digress.

Despite all of these amazing things, we were a little bit sad to say goodbye to some of our favorite American pastimes when we moved. To be fair, we moved from Chicago, which I think many would argue is one of the top sports cities in the world. Cubs, Bulls, Bears, White Sox, Blackhawks… you know, a bunch of world famous winners and losers (but very lovable losers, of course).

We have a family history as Cubs fans ❤️

I think Joey was also a little sad thinking that Joe might grow up without the opportunity to play on a little league team as well. It was a big part of his own childhood, and maybe one of the biggest reasons he was excited to have a boy?! But seriously, girls are allowed on most little league teams now, right? If not, add it to the list of reasons we left America.

Well, being the researcher that I am, I googled “baseball in the Netherlands” before we moved. I was surprised when something called “Honkbal” popped up as a result. I thought it might be some kind of goose competition? With a little more clicking around, I found that honkbal literally translates to baseball- and hooray!- it’s somewhat popular. Not like, Ajax Football popular, but still, it exist! We were even more pleased to find that our new home city, Haarlem, has a pretty active honkbal scene. It even hosts an international Honkbal Week, every other year at a stadium just blocks from our home. Pim Mulier Stadium isn’t quite Wrigley Field, but it’s comforting to still see stadium lights from our living room windows during baseball season.

It took some time to get around to it, but the Joe’s finally went to their first honkbal game last weekend. They were accompanied by our very kind neighbor, who also happens to be an enthusiastic honkbal fan and coach. If you’re wondering, I stayed home enjoying some wine while cleaning out the shed (cause that qualifies as “fun” in your 30s).

Probably can’t pronounce their names correctly… but they’re heroes to this kid!

Believe it or not, there are actually a few different honkbal leagues and teams to choose from, even right here in Haarlem. I really have no clue as to the differences, and I won’t pretend I do. In this case, the Joe’s saw the Kinheim team play. They actually managed to stay the entire game, and even though Haarlem lost (Cubs fans aren’t known to bring good luck), fun was had by all.

If you’re interested in going to a game yourself, particularly if you’re an American looking to fill the baseball void, check it out! Important things to know:

  • What/Where: Kinheim Honkbal, Pim Mulier Stadium Jaap Edenlaan 6, 2024 BW Haarlem
  • How much will it cost? Free entrance! Really, it’s €0 to see a game.
  • Is there food? Will my kid(s) eat it? Yes! There is an inexpensive cafe with snacks, ice cream, and beer. Also, unlike MLB parks, you can BYO everything. So really, it can be a €0 day out with the family.
  • What can kids do? Maybe your kid will watch the game? Joe watched a few innings. Then he ate ice cream, explored the entire stadium, played FREE foosball in the cafe, and even got to go out on the field and in the dugout after the game.
  • What can parents do? Watch the game! Drink beer! Enjoy spending €0!
There’s a good chance your kid will get a ball!

So there you have it! The first of my “Things to do with your kid” recommendations. It seemed only right that my first post would be something as American as honkbal… I mean baseball. If you do decide to go, let me know what you think! Actually, let me know before you go and I’ll go with you. It’s probably better than staying at home to clean out my shed.

Childhood in the Netherlands: Part 1

As I’m sure is common with most parents contemplating a big change, one of the biggest concerns we had with our big move to the Netherlands was how well our son would adjust. I don’t remember what exact terms I searched for, but after a general google of “Netherlands childhood”, I was very happy to find that Dutch kids have it pretty good. So good in fact, that UNICEF ranked the Netherlands #1 for childhood well-being and happiness.

Exhibit A: A happy kid in the Netherlands

So what exactly does that mean? If you look closely at the report, you’ll see that many factors such as health and safety, family relationships, quality of education, and social satisfaction were major factors in UNICEF’s study. Now that we’ve been here awhile (almost A YEAR?!), I have my own ideas about it. As both a parent and educator, this is a topic I have a lot to say about, so it’s safe to say this will likely be a 2-3 part series.

One of the first things that struck me upon moving here is the way children are not only accepted, but truly welcomed, just about everywhere. For example, many of the restaurants here not only have a “Kids Menu” (and not always just chicken nuggets and fries), but also a sort of kids-corner. They are usually small and tucked away from crowds, but as a parent of a young kid I have to say it’s pretty awesome to have places to go that have a few toys and books to help keep my kid entertained. I’ll never understand why this hasn’t caught on in the states. I’m not suggesting that we turn all restaurants into kid zones with ball pits and noisy toys, but believe me, having a few things to help keep kids happy will help keep ALL CUSTOMERS happy.

I can think of one coffee shop in Chicago that had a little train table and toys for kids tucked in the back. That small gesture kept me returning again and again. Joe was happy to play with the trains, and so I was happy to fork over $5.00 for a latte and a few minutes of peace to read a book. If you’re in Chicago and reading this, the coffee shop was the Buena Park location of Dollop. If you go I highly recommend the brie, pear, and fig jam sammy 🙂 .

In addition to these little corners, museums often offer kids tours and workshops, even from as young as 4 years old. These events are meant for kids only, and parents are told to go take a hike (literally) or have a coffee somewhere. Shortly after we arrived last summer, a volunteer giving tours at a local cathedral saw that Joe was really interested in “all the old dead guys” buried in the ground. She proceeded to take him on his own personalized history tour for almost 30 minutes while I trailed behind, watching as he was enthralled with someone other than me telling him cool stuff.

I am also consistently impressed with the kid destinations here. These range from the big (Linnaeushof– Europe’s largest playground, Hans & Grietje– A Hansel and Gretel themed pancake house/wonderland?), to the small (Kweektuin– free local park with castle ruins, a petting zoo, nature playground, and cafe/playcorner).

A visit to Linnaeushof: 350 attractions, 12.50 euros. Everything is powered by the kids, and they may learn some traffic rules in the trike town. Cheaper than Disney- same result of happy and exhausted child. 10/10 stars, will visit again

Simply walking around my neighborhood is a reminder of how welcome children are. There are probably half a dozen free little libraries with children’s books in them, and neighbors do thoughtful things like hang tire swings in trees that are open for everyone to use.

Thanks neighbors!

Above all, the most striking difference I’ve seen here for children is a real, true, sense of independence from a young age. Children seem to learn to ride a bike around the age of 4 (or younger, there is one speed demon I regularly see jumping ramps who is barely out of diapers), and they begin venturing out to meet up with their friends without adults by age 7. Birthday parties also seem to be kids-only events. Joe was invited to his first birthday party back in October, and I was surprised to see that even though the attendees were 3-5 year olds, they were happily dropped off by their parents. We stayed for that first party, but I’m looking forward to the next one so I can take myself out to coffee for a few hours!

Stay tuned for the next part of this series. I’m excited to share my observations on the Dutch education system (including my surprise that “Spring Fever” week at Joe’s school was going to be his first introduction to Sex ed!)