Yesterday I was talking to someone and she asked how long we have been in Europe. I always remember the exact date we arrived because it is the day before Halloween. ‘Oh!’ I exclaimed in surprise… ‘that’s tomorrow!‘.
Pic from 4 years ago before we left the US in Disney World.
And so it is today. Four years ago today we arrived here bleary eyed not speaking a lick of Dutch nor ever setting eyes on this village where my husband had found us a home. Would we like it? Would we hate it? I was filled with optimism and a bit of luck. I didn’t know it then, but we were destined to be the kind of expats who meld into their community without relying on the support of other expats. We were going to find our way and make our place with our Dutch neighbors.
Pic from just now as I sit here typing this: Nope, didn’t plan the shirt.
I never saw that coming, really. I read about loneliness, alienation, and depression as possibilities. I was prepared but what I have ended up with has been the opposite and that was a shock. A welcome one, but still a surprise.
They say when it comes to parenting the ‘days are long but the years are short‘ and I think in our situation it’s more often than not like ‘the days are short and the years are shorter.’ What I’m about to say is in direct conflict what many expat blogs and websites preach – but it’s how I feel and I make no apologies: The reason the days and years feel so short to me is because I truly do feel like we are on a long-term vacation from reality in many ways.
You know how when you’re on holiday the days go by SO fast? Well that is what it has felt like for us these past few years. We have lived not knowing when this dream is going to end. We’ve tried to extend it to the best of our ability- knowing full well that it can’t last forever. It won’t- I know that, but I have to admit that my heart wold rather stick its’ head in the ground and say ‘la la la I can’t hear you.’ My heart has found a home which is probably the kiss of death when it comes to expat life.
My husband and I do talk about what is next- and to be honest it’s still TBD. We’re not curbing the truth to family and friends who think to ask (rarely does anyone ask anymore- which is how I like it) ‘So, how much longer are y’all staying over there?’ . I won’t lie and say that I haven’t perused US realty websites and made an inquiry to a real estate friend of mine regarding her area. I’ve looked- which is more than I have been physically able to do in the past 4 years. I haven’t wanted this holiday to end. I haven’t been able to stomach the idea of packing up and leaving thinking- ‘Did that even happen?‘.
My husband has been missing the ability to follow his favorite sport teams in real-time, and I know that his situation is more challenging than mine with work. All I can say for his behalf is thank you for sticking it out. I know you miss a lot about ‘home’ and your constant personality trait of putting others before yourself has most definitely been put to the test these past four years.
But today instead of dwelling on the inevitable end (which I do think will come in 2018) I want to celebrate our past 4 years. In such a small amount of time my little boys have grown up and learned to speak (and prefer) a language different from my own. We’ve been to more countries and regions than I can honestly sit here and tick off in my head. We’ve had more learning curves with other people and other cultures (some good, some bad) than I can even comprehend. We’ve paid off all of our credit card debt. We live a slower life, eat better, walk more, ride our bikes, drive less and buy less.
Through it all though- I have remained living on the edge knowing that this is all temporary. I have lived grateful for each day (no matter how rainy here in the NL) that we have been accepted by this community in Oisterwijk. I have gone to bed at night thinking I am damn lucky to be living my childhood dream abroad- and allowing my children to have this experience from the get go.
I do not let a day pass that I am not filled with gratitude to my husband for making this all possible. There are nights he has to have late conference calls (such is the curse of time zones) and I honestly do not get (too) annoyed. It’s all part of the job. It’s all what allows us to be here. It comes with the proverbial territory. Don’t bitch or bite the hand that feeds you- if you want the corporate machine to keep giving- be grateful.
So I work on that a lot with the boys: Always be grateful for what you have. Be thankful to those who provide for you. Pay back with kindness. Be open. Be generous. Please grow up to be good people with open eyes and questioning minds.
As we head into our fifth year- we talk about where to go on holiday- and the posh indifference of how we throw out ideas does not escape me: What about Spain? (oh, I don’t know. We’ve been there). or ‘Ok- maybe Romania?‘ ‘Mmmm. Might be hard to plan with the weather….’
Believe me- those kinds of conversations and what they actually sound like DO NOT ESCAPE ME.
All I can say in our defense is that I remain, as always completely grateful to even speak the words. Additionally my gratitude is unending for all of our visitors and family who have remained supportive- we’ve been beyond fortunate to have so many relatives that love what we’re doing and are happy for us to have this experience.
Proost to the past four years and here’s to however many days we have ahead!
A special thank you to the many people of Oisterwijk and beyond who have been so welcoming that we truly feel Oisterwijk is a home:
Our entire de Coppele family (teachers, aids, administration, classmates and friends) , Ibeau, FitXpert, Change of Address, Nevelo football, ’t Pedi-Kuurhuys, my beloved AH delivery service, discount airlines Transavia & RyanAir for allowing us to buzz around affordably, the wonderful centrum of Oisterwijk, our huisarts (who has never denied me a medication that I asked for!), ‘t Molentje, Suzanne & Thea and everyone else who has come along our path to make us feel welcome.
** How could I forget to mention Inge, Anouk and Lennie from P&D care? They’re the fab expat relo team that suggested Oisterwijk to us in the first place 🙂