Monday, May 19, 2008

Shifting Simulacrums

I have rounded the bend and seen the sun rise from a new horizon.  Or could it be the horizon has always been the same and yet I have not yet taken it in from this perspective?  It may be that the overseas move has finally started to work it's magic on my mind, but I will not be so grand as to admit this chosen adventure has had an affect on me.  Though this one thing I will admit, things have changed.

In an effort to pull myself out of a pit of self-pity and descending depression I turned to what reason I had maintained and attempted the age old cure: exercise.  What better way to feel better about yourself and get some energy back but by working off those extra pounds accumulated by sitting on the couch in front of the English BBC channel in an attempt to avoid the foreign not-so-niceties and popping bon-bon's to console my guilty conscience.  Yes, my conscience was still capable of producing guilt which is a quality I am proud to admit I possess an abundance of.  Without that forcing me to face reason in the eye I may never have lifted a foot again.

Is there not an ideal life we all imagine ourselves living?  Even a life we may "show" others we are living?  There was a point in these last few weeks in which my mind came out of those lofty clouds and realized I was nowhere near that life I'd imagined creating for myself, my family.  I served up a good helping of humble pie and sat back to watch a film clip of my past revealing embarrassing lies to myself.  Yes, I had thought I was on the road to this "reality" but at some point I had disengaged the gears and was coasting with the navigation system set on scramble.  Fortunately, somewhere along my journey I looked out the window and witnessed a bit of scenery I did not like the looks of.  In the blink of an eye I witnessed my children growing without me.  I was missing moments which could have been spent on the playground or dancing barefoot on the living room floor to sweet little voices singing princess songs.  Suddenly I understood the looks on the faces of crouched and wrinkled faces who watched us as we passed them by in hurry to get to the next "must-get-it-done" place.  They gazed at my children with a look of longing, a longing which could only be for the days they had once spent with their own small and beautiful children who'd now grown and possibly even moved to a far away land.  I was living in the midst of those moments and not enjoying them to their full capacity.  Would I one day be resting my weary legs on a park bench and watch a young frazzled mother rushing her children along and have the thought cross my mind "if only I'd spent that time enjoying their innocence and youth more" or would it be possible for me to watch that woman pass by and recall more happy moments than can be recalled singularly but blur themselves into years of happiness with my many young children?

Strangely enough it was not the fresh and frequent trips to the playground or living room ballroom or even the loss of over 20lbs which made me realize my life vessel had finally found the proper detour and I was in the midst of transformation.  It was the easy transition into a portion of lifestyle I've only dreamed possible of those I most admire.  There is a particular type of friend with whom I have always held the most respect for and this friend (plural) often has many qualities to be admired.  Shamefully I admit most of which I had once found myself, if not equal to, on the path to perfecting.  But one thing never ceased to amaze me and placed these women on a pedestal at least one step above mine if not lifting them into the clouded realm reserved for goddesses.  What could this unreachable quality possibly be?  I will admit that it could even be interpreted that the woman of Proverbs 31 accomplished the same task (verse 15), the one verse which I would shake my head at and loose hope at ever being able to achieve.  Okay, let me be more honest and tell you that I'd shake my head at that Proverbs woman and convince myself that she was a tad overzealous in her endeavors, at least when it came to that particular passage.  What needed to be done in a day could always be done at a sane hour of the day, namely after all the sweet dreams you could squeeze out of the night had been exhausted.

The transition happened with a clarity of vision and rational thinking, so was too smooth of a decision.  It dawned on me that the exercise I needed to achieve each day was not being met due to time constraints and conflicts of interest during the day (one of those being the extra playtime moments).  It stood to reason that if I could just wake up an extra 30-40 minutes earlier in the morning I could go for a brisk morning jog in the sweet spring sunrise and still have enough time to shower and get the kids ready for school.  I had motivation enough to pull me away from those sweet moments of sleep the first few mornings and that is when the sunrise shown down on me.  I had rounded the bend.  Suddenly I have turned into a person I had once deemed if not impossible to become, at least insanely fanatic (the thought I used to convince myself I was not in need of such regime or in my less than finer moments that I tried to convince myself I could never achieve it even if I eventually wanted to). 

It is an accomplishment that even if it does not produce the results desired (an extra 20lbs shaved off my figure) it has already given me the vision of a foreign sunrise which will never be forgotten.  Once an accomplishment as monumental as this has been hurdled, the next hurdle will look less daunting.  In addition, I feel great.  It seems the fresh morning air has not only boosted my confidence but also my immunity and energy.  Now I can catch up on all those other Proverbs verses . . . sigh . . . well at least get the house mostly clean and the essentials bought for a tasty meal for my family, Italian style, tonight.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Most Memorable Mother's Day

The last two weeks have been spent in luxurious sunshine!   Remarkably, the nice weather for once coincided with the children's holiday.  We've been spending time between the lake, our back yard, and various sites within our neck of the woods.  To end our adventures and excursions I requested we take the train down to Scheveningen beach for a Mother's Day treat.  It seemed the perfect way to finalize our May vacation and give the kids (and mom) a special time to remember.  The word "remember" doesn't seem to do the experience justice.

As any day on the beach should be we enjoyed hours in the sun, warm sand between our toes and bobbing up and down in the cool waves.  The children made sand castles and found crabs buried in the moist sand after the tide went out.  Lillian was wonderful and even napped on the beach wrapped in a towel under the shade of our umbrella.  It was one of the few naps she'd gotten the whole vacation.

I have described the beach from our brief encounter with it during our travels last August, but it worth it to mention a few things in detail again.  The beach has been frequented as the place to bathe since record can seem to recall.  The wealthy were often fond of visiting as is obvious from the exorbitant buildings lining the promenade.  Below the stone paved promenade is a boardwalk lined with one restaurant after another, each with their separate tables, couches, pillows, and whatnots to lounge on in the sun while sipping your cocktail or eating your treat.  Beyond this is the wide sandy beach and the ocean with a faint trace of a distant land on the opposite side.

Though most of our visit was spent under the shade of our own umbrella amongst the hundreds of sunbathers on the sand we soon determined it was time for a nice dinner before the long trip home.  My wonderful husband reserved a table overlooking the beach and under the shade of an umbrella with a menu befitting a Mother's Day gift dinner.  Once all of us had arrived at the table and began to settle in is when all havoc begin.  We'd run out of cash (you'll learn that not all places in Europe accept the card form of currency) so the leader of our small band dutifully sought out a cash machine while our order was being prepared.  It was during this time that 5-year-old Amara told me, "I have to go to the bathroom.  I know where it is."  Normally, this would not have been something to blink an eye at, but I should have been tipped off by the sentence she tagged on at the end.  As all the rest of us had recently used this bathroom and it was only a few visible paces behind me I had no doubt she knew where it was and I let her go.  Several minutes went by as I watched people play on the beach and sailboats glide by in the distance before that feeling arose in my mother's heart.  Something wasn't right, what was taking that girl so long?  I left the other two at the table and poked my head into the toilet room only to reveal no Amara present.  Just then her father rounded the corner and I asked him to have a look in the men's room.  He came back out and nonchalantly stated she wasn't there, but at the mention of that room he'd be right back.  In this time I suddenly became aware that she was nowhere within my line of sight and when he came out I manically stated she was gone and I must go find her.  His only choice was to stay at the table with the other children and wait to see if she'd come back.  I set a quick pace and checked the nearby restrooms which then led me to pace up and down the beach and back to the only restaurant I'd seen with a security guard.  It was a monumental moment for me to rationalize in my mind that my child was lost among a throng of beachcombers and vacationers and I was not going to be able to find her without the help of the authorities.  I remained calm throughout this decision and followed the path towards the beach police headquarters only to find it locked up and abandoned for the night.  It was at this precise moment that I felt my throat constrict and my heart rate exceed the quick breaths I needed to draw in order to keep my legs from collapsing.  It was adrenaline which raced my feet across the long spans of sand back to the table.

I knew it before he even had to say it, my child was lost.  She had still not come back to the table.  He met me on the sand and held me as I sobbed.  No, I did not sob.  According to him I "blubbered" and I will admit that from this moment on I was either blubbering or deferring into the basket case.  Instead of insisting that I sit down while he continue the search he rightly reasoned I needed to finish it, if not driven for the end product of finding our daughter, at least to give me something other to do besides wait with only the horrible thoughts that found their way into my subconscious.  I was sent with an escort, Catherine, to help me further my search and we came upon the same security guard as before and I interrupted to tell him the police station was closed and my daughter is lost.  He brings me into the depths of the bar and offers me a seat and some water while he calls the police for me.  I stare at him as if he must think I'm some incredibly insensitive woman who would sit and sip water while my daughter is out meeting who knows what fate.   In reality, I'm sure I looked like a needed a seat and some water.  The fateful call was made and I found myself spilling out the description of my daughter, what she was wearing, was she wearing shoes, how long had she been missing.  What had probably only been 20 minutes seemed like hours.  While waiting for the officers to meet me at the bar my eldest daughter makes the statement, "At least I've still got one sister left."  What was probably meant as a reassurance of some sort was taken as if biting into a lemon with mouth full of sores.  I bit down on it though and refused to puddle into a sobbing mess on the floor for the sake of this precious daughter whose had to witness more than she can comprehend already.

The police had arrived and assured me they already had men searching the beach and boardwalks.  A police officer has never looked so friendly in my entire life.  After getting through more description I reasoned to him that we had best get back to the table she was last seen at and where her father was probably waiting more than impatiently.   I had several photographs of her on my camera I was willing to show them and I thought of the photographs Madeline's parents had taken of her near the pool the day before she disappeared.  As I was pulling up the photographs he took a radio message, looks at me and says, "Sit down here.  We think we've found her."  And they left . . . left me to sit and to rest my mind and wonder . . . wonder just in what state had they found her.  I looked up and down the beach for clusters of paramedics huddled around a small lifeless body.  My husband looked up at the looming hotels with their many shaded windows.  The wait was immense and I busied myself by finding the best photograph I'd taken of her still on our flash card.  The tables around us shifted in their chairs with an overexerted attempt at silence.  It seemed hours until I watched the friendliest looking police officer carrying my small child in his arms towards me.  I leapt out of my chair and wrapped her up into my arms while we both began to blubber anew.  She unfolded her end of the story which, combined with the police version, involve her wandering quite a distance down the boardwalk until a "big man who made the food" found her crying.  He took her into the restaurant and fed her french fries with ketchup (her preferred meal) and told her that he was going to call the police ("but they weren't going to put you in jail he told me").  Supposedly the man who found her said he was the giant in the princess story and that seemed to endear him into her heart.  She told the police officers all of our names ("and middle names too but I couldn't remember mommy and daddy's"), but failed to mention our last name.  They'd asked her where she lived and she told them Minnesota.  We all had a hearty laugh over this which was sorely needed.  They'd asked her what language her mommy and daddy spoke and she replied "English" which was the first time she'd spoken English in the duration of her rescue.  Once done recalling the highlights of her ordeal she looked up out of tear-stained eyes and replied, "But, Mommy, I really need to go potty still."  I gladly escorted her to the toilet room this time and even joined her in the stall.

I wish I could end at this paragraph, but as my dear husband and father of my children stated, "Everything that could possibly happen to you as a mother happened to you on this one Mother's Day alone."  I will rest the poor grandparents hearts who have made it this far and tell them that, no, we did not visit the hospital.  Instead we experienced something that one could only experience in Europe.

After finally finishing our cold meal we packed up our beach things and headed to the tram platform to catch tram 9 back to Den Haag Central.  Unfortunately it seems the rest of the beach decided to pack up at the same time as us.  Clusters of humans littered the platform and I found a pocket which fit our family comfortably as close to the front and track-side as possible.  As luck would have it the tram pulled up and opened one of its doors right in front of us but the rest of the clusters on either side were not so willing to give up the chance and pressed their way through the doors simultaneously.  In an effort to keep the family together I pushed Amara into her fathers legs and yelled to her to hang on as he was washed into the tram with the rest of the wave.  Again, a stroke of fortune slapped Amara across the face with a bag and she let out the most convincing howl of pain we couldn't have dragged out of her if we'd tried.  Suddenly the onslaught of humans became aware of this precious little person in their midst and echoes of sympathy spread throughout the crowd to make way for the kleine kind (little child).  And all it took for me from the back of the next wave was to say something to the effect of "hey, that's my kid" and I was pushed in along with our remaining offspring.  Once crammed into the old tram like a pack of sardines the old woman who had whacked my kid across the brow with her purse took it upon herself to caudle my eldest who had been swept a bit further from me while the tram jumbled along towards our next step of the journey.  People made an effort to ease the families needs and kicked a 20-something-cute-thing-in-a-bikini out of one of the few seats so I could sit down with the "baby" at which point I rescued my eldest from the smothering arms of the kindly grandma.  She then looks up at me with a pale face and tells me her tummy isn't feeling so good and I immediately began looking for possible spots to deposit her stomach contents other than my lap or on her little sister and pointed out a spot just behind her which only had thonged feet (easily washable was my thought).  The hot and packed tram continued to jostle this way and that down the tracks all the while I'm trying to convince her she's going to be just fine and blowing on the nape of her neck.  Shortly before arriving at the station my daughter turns rapidly aft and leans over hesitating just long enough for me to yell out a warning to those who might be the owners of the thonged feet.  Retching and splattering where soon followed by sounds of gagging and screaming as the passengers flung themselves from the vicinity of the vomiting child.  What space was barely capable of containing the crowd it had originated with was now vacant and held enough space for 10 more.  What happened to those extra ten I'm not sure, but I half wonder if they flung themselves out the open windows in an effort to escape the warm wafts drifting through the entire tram.  Her own father, a distance from us now, was amid the panicked throng of escapees and admits to a feeling of trying to blend in with the offended rather than admit he was related to the perpetrator of the disaster.  The final stop couldn't come soon enough and when the doors opened mass exodus ensued.  We retreated with the rest of the crowd undoubtedly leaving a very unhappy tram driver and his tram out of commission for the better half of and hour.  The child was approached by a nice young man who sympathized with her briefly, but her only concern was for her own sandals which had been splattered along with the rest.  Oh well, easily cleaned, right?  Along our path from tram to the train back to Amsterdam people pointed and stared at the family they'd welcomed onto that fateful tram who had spewed sickness along its aisles as a token of thanks in return.

When all was said and done we returned home much worse for the wear around 11pm and all hopped in the shower before crashing into our pillows to fall asleep from shear exhaustion and severed nerves.

Scheveningen.  That name will never bring me to recall the same peaceful images again.  In fact, my creative husband has decided we can one-up the Dutch pronunciation of the difficult word by adding a particular hurly-burly sound at the end: ScheveningEEEECH!