Thursday, July 26

Standing On the Corner

On a rainy day, to make the journey to Andrew's speech therapist becomes, rather than a 15 minute bike ride, a two-bus journey. We catch the first just outside our street, ride it for two stops and then transfer to the second bus. It's not difficult and since Andrew enjoys cupping hands around his mouth and shouting "STOP BUS STOP!" as the big vehicle approaches, getting the the chance to call two buses in rapid succession is a heady bonus.

Tuesday morning, while Andrew and I waited for the second bus we chatted away about all the things he could see: cars passing on the road, the rain drops on the bench, the broken glass on the ground, the way the wind was bending the trees. Given that he is pretty irresistible when he is prattling away, a woman who had been waiting alongside and watching the exchange leaned forward and said to Andrew "Hallo!".

At which point he completely clammed up.

I quickly explained to her that Andrew doesn't speak much Dutch, and will hardly speak English to a stranger. She smiled and said she understood, and then as is inevitable when a Nederlander hears my accent, she asked, in English, about us. Were we on holiday or did we live here? Where were we from? The perfunctory get to know you questions rolled off her tongue and I answered in kind.

In that exchange I was struck once again by the permanence of a Dutch life. This woman, like most of the Dutch I know, was born here in The Hague, grew up here in The Hague, had raised her children here in The Hague, and will be living here in The Hague for the remainder of her days. Her life is not a rarity. I find this same story (change the location) again and again as I swap travelogues with my friends in the local culture.

It sits in strong juxtaposition to my own life, this staying put, and I am as fascinated by the idea as I am afraid of it. In truth, I simply cannot imagine it.

Even as a child, growing up in the Salt Lake City valley, I didn't have a single home. I had several. We moved often enough in those early years as our family grew, that I attended 4 different elementary schools. At my insistence upon reaching middle school age I stayed in the same school, but moved house an additional four times in those years before completing high school.

I suppose I was set up for the nomad life long before I was choosing it for myself, and I continued the forward momentum of relocation even after Don and I married. This time the nomadic spirit kept the two of us moving from Utah, to Nevada, to Arizona in pursuit of educational goals. Then from Arizona, to Texas, and back to Arizona in a single calendar year in pursuit of the ideal we're-done-with-school-now-what-do-we-do-with-the-rest-of-our-lives JOB.

When we found ourselves with 2 children and our first mortgaged house in Phoenix in 1998, I think we both cringed just a little over the idea that we might be settling down. For real.

Five years further down that road, we had been in Phoenix for a total of eight years, and in Arizona for a complete dozen. For all intents and purposes, we had settled in and established our lives there; we had indeed arrived at that grown up place. With Andrew's arrival, we were a family of five, living the happy suburban life in Phoenix. Good jobs, beautiful home, kids established in school, deep connections formed, lifetime job prospects confirmed, 2 cars in the garage. The bliss list is endless. We had done it, we were settled and content. And yet, itching to do something different. To change it up. To move.

Our path to here--life in The Netherlands--is a story in it's own right. A story which I intend to share soon. But the fact of the matter is, I know this is not the end destination for us. I have a deep seated urge to keep moving in my life. Literally and figuratively. In this way, as in many others I find myself more than a bit on the outside of the culture I am living within. Certainly though, I find myself in good company with the other "internationals" and expats here. In fact, my nomadic life pales in comparison to many others.

I don't know where we will be next, or when that will be, but I know--for me--there is more to see, more to experience, more to be than can be found in one place.

Thus, here I am, standing on the corner, and wondering what is just around the bend.


  1. What a beautiful piece. As you know, I long for the expat life.

    Isn't it amazing that the woman you met who had never left the Hague could speak Dutch and English?

  2. SMID-
    I continually am in awe of the lingusitic skill of the Dutch. Perhaps it is because this is such a small country and they understand that they must speak other languages to be able to communicate in the world at large. But I am more prone to believe that there is a language learning gene in thier DNA. It is not uncommon at all for the Dutch to speak English certainly, but also Spanish, French, German, and others with fluency. It is an enviable trait.

  3. Oh jenn, this is so me! So, so, so me! I'me sure you know that anyway.

    You know how a rolling stone gathers no moss? I've always seen myself as that stone, rolling and rolling, and now I am part of a family of stones rolling. Your children are so lucky to be living the life that you're giving them. And their experience with another language will be a gift that will last forever.
    I just love this post!

  4. I loved this post too, however, I don't think staying in one place is just a Dutch trait: I work with a staff of people who have (almost all of them) grown up here, their parents also grew up here, and their kids are all now returning to the area to live.

    I think it's early training, and being exposed to possibilities. I fantasize regularly about moving, was doing so after just a year or so in the area. Whenever we go on vacations, I dream about buying a house and try to figure out how to find a job....

    Great post.

  5. This is totaly not the same thing, but my husband is pondering a job in a new city. And people keep saying to me, you want to move, that's crazy, this is home. And I feel like it's time to move on, to somewhere new. I'm glad someone gets that.

  6. What a great post! I moved a lot as a child and would do it again. My husband rarely moved and hates it. He hates change, and so do some of my kids. Thankfully I hate cleaning out and sorting and packing more than I desire to move again, lol. And I really could never see myself leave this town, unless it changes drastically. (the cities are moving in on us!)
    We had 3 of our children in Germany, 1 in Virginia and 3 in Minnesota.
    I also lived in Pheonix for 9 years before I married. I wouldn't bring my kids there, though.

  7. I wandered a lot before having DS, and my DH and I wonder if we'd start that again after DS is grown (which is not that far away now).

    I both like the wandering, and the being settled.

    I wonder if I'm becoming stodgy and wanting roots.

    Great piece.

  8. jennifer-
    Yeah, I think I had this characteristic pegged in you. I wonder sometimes if my kids wanted to be rolling stones but it's too late now, I have set it all in motion for them too.

    Thanks so much. All day long I have been humming "I'm a wanderer" to myself. I think it sums me up just right. As you see, I have a bit of wanderlust.

    It's great to be on the verge of something new. Nervewracking, sure, but also quite an amazing thing.

    Yup! Me too. Hate the packing and sorting, but I do love the challenge of the new adventure.

    I think you can have both, the wanderlust and the roots. I think that's what makes each place feel like home, you make connections and settle in, but you still know it won't be forever. I like the idea of comfort but the idea of forever makes me a little light headed.

  9. Oh Jenn, this is breathtaking. Just perfect. It is good to be standing on the corner, wondering what might be coming around the bend.

  10. anno-
    Thank you so much. That means a lot coming from a writer and an adventurer such as you.

  11. Hi Jenn,
    I know why you have to keep's because you run out of cheese sellers to flirt with, so you have to go and find some more....Lol

    Cheers Mark

  12. I envy your "nomadic" lifestyle. You've seen so many things, met lots of people and lived in lots of places.

    I married a man from my home town. Lived in the same house my entire childhood. Moved 45 minutes from our hometown and have lived in the same house for 5 years (the length of our marriage).

    I have only lived in two places my entire life and I'm 28!

    To be able to travel would be wonderful!

    We always want different than what we have, I suppose.....

  13. haha you know I am on Facebook and I recently saw you can add an application to show your heritage.
    I figured that it would be very boring for me to add: I am Belgian, my parents are Belgian, my grandparents are Belgian etc... And they've all lived in more or less the same are. Well my grandparents moved since they grew up in "Flanders fields" which was war area and they were refugees. After the first world war, they migrated to Canada...but they came back!

    Jan and I have moved more than 1 hour away from where my parents live and where I grew up. Most of my classmates still live in the same town or area though.
    Since Belgians/Dutch usually can commute to work, ...we never move for our jobs unless if we take an expat position. So if your partner comes from the same area as well...why would you move away and start over again? I wouldn't have if it wasn't for my boyfriend.

    We're also very attached (Belgians much much more than Dutch) to our house! We invest in our house as our dream place to live. Personally I've been renovating our house over the last 2 years and it's not over yet. I could only invest that energy and time because I plan to stay here for the rest of my life.

    Yes, the average European has pretty deep roots :p. I don't think I could hop around the world easily. I hate moving.

  14. Gorgeous post, Jenn!

    I'm a bit of a nomad myself. Growing up, we pretty much always had the same house, but we were always away from it. For the first 20 years of my life, I only spent two years in the US without leaving the country for some great adventure.

    My husband's family, on the other hand, was all born in Utah (including his parents and grandparents) and they are all. still. here. And Brian, on the other hand, is just itching to get out of here.

    We've just sold our house of three years, and now we're just sitting... waiting for that next big adventure, which should come our way in about a year. We have no idea where life is about to take us, and we wouldn't have it any other way!

  15. Beautiful post, Jenn. Just lovely! It really must be exciting to go somewhere new and really experience it by living there for a space of time longer than a vacation. I wonder, too, where you'll go next. Wherever it may be, I hope you continue to blog about it!

  16. Jenn -

    I love that post and it sums up how I feel beautifully! We have only been here in Phoenix for four years and the itch to do something else is driviing me crazy!!!!!

    In fact we keep dreaming about where we may go after I finsih my PhD and it is hard to think we have to wait another three years!

    Whenver I mention the desire to move around - people always bring up the kids and how much instability that is for them. I think that my gilrs are reslient beings and that the change and opportunites are better when we do move them around! I hope I am not wrong in my assessment! I just know that there is more out there for us - now I just need to patient and focus for three more years!!!

  17. wonderful post Jenn.

    When I was little my family moved around all over the place - so I went to four different primary schools and three different high schools. In a way I'm glad - I don't find the thought of moving or changing as terrifying as some - but, on the other hand, I sometimes envy people who've made lifelong connections from staying put.

    In my twenties I lived and worked in Asia teaching english - and loved travelling - I always thought that when I had kids I'd bring them along with me on my great adventures. Hasn't happened. Having kids has made me a bit fearful I guess, of so many things! But reading blogs like yours and Jennifer's...makes it all seem a lot less terrifying!

  18. well, by the time I get around to things, it's all been said! But I'll repeat: lovely post. I know the itch well - at least in a minor version. We're starting to wonder if we should move, but just residences. Out of sheer itchiness to do so. I love the concept of moving 'cross continents, but the logistics scare the bejeezus out of me :)

  19. This is a topic about which I am so torn. I also have spent much of my life moving around from place to place. I've lived in more places in the US than I can count and I've also lived in England, Italy, Ireland, France, and Canada. I lvoe to experience a place and I just don't think that it's possible to do that as a tourist. There is so much more of the world I want to see..

    Having said that, there is something to be said about having a hometown. I don't have a place I call home. I've always joked that "home is where you keep your cats". However, I talk to people who have fond memories of the houses that they "grew up" in and their neighbors whom they have known their entire lives. I also wonder if moving around as much as I would like would be detrimental to MJ. Of course, experience of the world is a wonderful gift to give her, but does it have to be at the expense of stability?

    Right now Jim and I are committed to our current location for 4 more years (I call it being up for parole soon) and we've been discussing where to go next... I just wonder if I'd ever find a place to settle down.

  20. I've been thinking about this a lot as well lately: the ups and downs of a nomadic lifestyle. And although I wouldn't trade my life for any other I sometimes envy that feeling of permanence that that Dutch woman had. Of feeling a deep sense of connection with one's surroundings and that sense of belonging that I will never be able to quite understand or emulate...

    Great post-- you really have a way with words!