At the risk of shocking any delicate or prudish regular readers of this blog, or just anyone who is ‘normal’ and not a stinking hairy hippie like me, let me warn you – I am going to write about pubic hair – I know, how repulsive! And it is something to be terrified of I have just discovered. So please, don’t go any further, don’t freak yourself out with the reality of those short curlies, stop reading now…
I am with a friend and we are about to embark on a well deserved day off from the kids. This has been a long time coming, that’s why it’s so deserved. I actually received a homemade voucher from P for Christmas for a day at the spa. It’s taken me 7 months to actually use it and now I’m here. I book the day price, with lunch. It appears that having your feet tickled and chewed on by a shoal of fish is part of the deal. My friend is a little concerned about the fish, from an animal welfare point of view, but it’s a freebie, we can’t refuse! And quite frankly a day off from childcare, no shit to clean up, no wailing, no one shouting ‘mummy’ 100,000 times is a huge break in itself. I’d happily take a bath with a trout if it was part of the deal.
It is a naked spa, as most are in Holland. I’ve brought a towel, but first I’m told I have to pay extra for a dressing gown. This is so that I can sit in the restaurant ‘decently’, apparently.
Now we’re in and we start to look around at the various saunas on offer. Wow, I haven’t been to a sauna in years, not since the old squatty days when I first moved to Amsterdam. This is like another world. It is a vast complex of luxurious tiled opulence. It’s like something out of a movie. There are so many variants of the sauna/steam room to choose from, log burning, Finnish, colour therapy, Himalayan, etc, all around a lavish central swimming pool and there are even more baths and saunas outside.
At first I am so distracted by my decadent surroundings and the mountain of salt scrub in the shower that I don’t notice, but now as I wander from sauna to plunge pool to sauna, I can’t help but see what’s going on around me. I am out of date, I know that, but now I realise how out of date. Everyone seems to be hairless.
“Are we the only ones in here with pubes?” I whisper to my friend
I have a good look around, and confirm, no, I’m not having a paranoia attack. This is real. Women, men, all of them, whether they’re in their 20’s or 60’s. All the same, just at slightly different stages of the bald to stubble ratio. Doesn’t it itch like hell when it starts to grow back?
I have no problem with nakedness in general. I’m a child of the 70’s with those ‘radical’ types for parents. I have been indoctrinated early on. My mother thought nothing of stripping off in front of me and running up mountains with groups of her friends on spiritual quests to celebrate the goddess of the moon. Luckily for me she didn’t go as far as my step-mum, who made the crazy decision to take my brother and sister on holiday to a naturist camp – when they were teenagers!
Nakedness was a pretty every day thing for me, which is why I’m probably better at handling the whole ‘going Dutch’ thing in the sauna. Well I thought I was ok with it, until now, but I’m starting to have a rethink. I am feeling the pressure. The peer pressure. Why the obsession? I’m wondering, peering down at my own slightly overgrown bush. I trim a bit round the edges, but that’s it. My friend and I are most definitely the odd ones out here and as soon as I can between steamings I grab that dressing gown and cover up.
The dutch word for pubic hair is schaamhaar, very closely related to the verb schaam zich which means to be ashamed. Is it just a Dutch thing, or has this trend for the full on wax job gone global without me noticing?
I’m still worrying about it when we eat lunch on the terrace. Luckily we don’t look like freaks anymore, safely wrapped in our luxury dressing gowns. I’m glad I was forced to pay the extra 8 euros now. The woman on the reception was right. I could never have faced the cheese-board without it. How indecent!
“So how was the spa?” asks P when I get home that evening
“No one has any pubes, nowadays” I reply
“Yeah, I know” says P
“What, how do you know?”
“Well, I’ve been told…That’s what people do now.”
So it’s true. The general population has been tricked into living in a make-believe prepubescent world. I’m starting to feel glad that I am so out of touch.
“From now on” I say “I’m going to let it all hang out!”
The 70’s live on! Power to the pubes! We’re adults. Let’s not let a few stray hairs scare us.
Are you with me?
We’re going to the parent conference at school. It seems a bit heavy to call it a conference. My daughter is five years old, how serious do we need to be? It’s just a chat with her teacher. In any case, I love it. I am not an idiot, I know the teachers are banned from telling the truth. I know there is a positive propaganda machine. If a kid is a pain in the ass, they’ll tell us he or she is “energetic and inquisitive”. Whatever, who doesn’t want to be schmoozed? What parent could resist a bit of sweet talk about their source of pride and joy. And at A’s school they are particularly versed. We’re told cute stories of fun and creative wizardry. I come away beaming with pride.
I’m still normal me however, I get home and reach for the fish-fingers as usual. It’s not as if I’m going to turn into some all singing gourmet super mum sensation just from a half hour of being gently buttered up by the teacher. However my parenting has been given just enough positive charge and I’m going to stretch myself just an inch further than normal. I’ll leave the frozen chips where they are and make my own! Yep and organic too!
Potatoes chopped, chunky, skins left on, drizzle of olive oil, pinch of salt. There. They come out looking oven-crispy-good.
We sit down to eat. S is two and a half and he’s already learnt the crucial Dutch art of eating chips with mayonnaise. In fact I’m a bit of a convert myself. S has a huge splodge of mayonnaise on his plate. He holds up each piece of fish-finger for me to “blow it”. This continues with every chunk of broccoli etc, until he’s absolutely sure that everything is stone cold as is my entire untouched dinner.
When you’ve just had a baby where’s the greeting card that tells you “Welcome to parenthood – Hope you like cold food”?
Now S is taking his fork and he’s about to scoop a whole dolop of mayonnaise straight in his mouth.
“What are you doing?” I say “you can’t eat mayonnaise on it’s own! Yuck”
“I want chips” he says
“Here they are, right here on your plate!”
“I want different chips”
“No no we’re having these chips. They’re nice. Try them with mayonnaise”
“I want different chips”
“We’re not having different chips”
“I want different chips”
“We’re not having different chips, we’re having these chips”
“I want different chips” now he’s crying
“Just ignore him” offers P.
I look away. A is being the good example over at the other side of the table. She’s eaten all her chips and she’s munching her way through the veg. It’s tempting to give S a good old fashioned talk down in the style of “why can’t you be more like your sister?” But I’ve read enough parenting books to know that this is a big-bad-outlawed-crime of badness destined to give him a huge CHIP on his shoulder.
“They’re yummy” she tries to encourage him
“I want different chips” he growls at her
If he says “I want different chips” one more time I might have to go and stick my head in the oven.
“I’m taking you up to your bed!” I pick him up under my arm
“Just wait there outside the door” says P. “He’ll calm down”
“Are you going to stop shouting?” I ask with my leg bent towards the staircase so he knows I mean business.
We go back to the table.
“I want different chips” he whispers. Well I suppose I did only specify to stop shouting.
“Just eat them or don’t eat them, it doesn’t matter.”
“I want mayonnaise” he hovers with a knife covered in mayonnaise in front of his mouth.
“Look, you don’t eat mayonnaise on it’s own!”
More tears. Eventually we all just stop talking about chips. The kids brush their teeth and are on their way up to bed.
Suddenly S is hungry. He refuses to go upstairs to bed.
He wants to try the pale looking cold chips that are still on his plate. He eats them all.
He wakes up in the night crying. I go in to see what’s wrong and he’s sweaty.
“Do you want to sleep in our bed?”
He cuddles up close and keeps shifting around, agitated, but I tuck him in under the duvet and we all go back to sleep. I’m woken up again by his arm on my head. He’s patting my face. I look at him, but his eyes are closed.
“Mayonnaise” he says in his sleep.
I’m putting the kids to bed. Things are following the usual pattern. We read, I put S down in his cot, then go back into A’s bedroom for a goodnight kiss. She has a cute look on her face. She’s squirming a little, smiling a crooked smile and she’s twiddling the tail of her rabbit.
“Night night, dafty” I say
“Verliefd” she says
That shakes me out of my regular evening zombie-state. She’s 5 and she’s talking about love!
“Verliefd? Who are you verliefd with?”
She tells me about a boy in her class. We’ll call him J.
“And is he also verliefd with you?” I ask
“Yes I think so.”
“How do you know?”
“He tells me.”
“So what’s the difference then?” I ask “Between him and your other friends? How do you know that you’re verliefd?”
“I don’t know” she giggles
Wow it’s starting to look a lot like she is in love.
“Well when I’m older, when I’m grown up I’m going to live with him.”
I can’t argue with that. You like someone, they like you back. You grow up and then you live together. It’s simple. Unfortunately my withered screwed-up adult brain has blown apart the logic of this love formula, but I’m not letting my horrible cynicism spoil it. She’s sublime.
I just give her a squeeze.
Over the next weeks A is cheerfully inventing a happy future.
Now whenever we talk about being grown up, what job she wants to do, where she wants to live it’s always the same.
“But then…when I’m living with J…..”
She seems pretty sure of the facts. And maybe it is simple, who knows?
Even the teacher has mentioned it, “Oh yes, childhood crushes can be so strong..” The two of them play super-girl and super-boy all day at school but so far they have never played together outside of school.
Walking out of the classroom one morning I see J’s mum.
“A says she is verliefd” I whisper
She nods knowingly. “Let’s arrange a playdate.”
Mondays are out – work, then Tuesdays – swimming, then Wednesdays – work again, then Thursdays – grandma. We end up having to wait a week. Should 5 year-olds be so scheduled up to the eyeballs?
The Friday in question comes up. A wakes up, runs into our bedroom. Normally she’d jump up on the bed and we’d have to endure a fantastical imaginary birthday party for her rabbit or we’d get a wriggling foot in the face, but now it’s all about J.
“Is it today? Is J coming to play today?”
I’m never at my best at 6.30 in the morning so there’s no chance I’m going to match her level of eagerness. I’ve got a permanent sleep-deprivation hangover, but on this occasion I’m going to try my damndest not to be an old crab. I squint at her.
“Yes, after school”
We get into the classroom. I’m sitting behind A in the circle and the teacher starts the morning singing. I see J coming in a bit late. He joins the circle and he’s looking all around him. He spots us on the other side of the room,
“Hey, there she is over there!”
I almost choke down a nervous laugh. What is this? Am I going red? They’re the ones pointing at each other across the room but now it’s me that’s getting all embarrassed. I never realised that the heart flutterings of my 5-year-old daughter would put me in the hot seat and reawaken my childish awkwardness.
It’s time for us to say goodbye and something makes me hesitate,
“Don’t think about the playdate too much. You don’t want to be disappointed if it doesn’t work out. Okay?”
“Yes” she says
“Bye, see you after school.”
I go and buy croissants. After school I’m there on time to pick them up. As soon as I walk in I see the two of them sitting next to each other on a bench. A is looking perplexed. J has blood on his lip. He spots me coming over and he’s shaking his head from side to side in a definite “no”.
A runs up to me. She’s upset.
“What is it?” I ask
“I don’t know, maybe he doesn’t want to come.”
“Someone knocked into him and he fell over and hurt his lip.”
“Okay, let’s go and talk to him”
I go and sit on the bench with them.
“Are you alright?” I ask “Is it painful?”
“I don’t want to come to your house” he answers
His dad pops his head round the door of the classroom and J runs to him.
I turn to A, “well never mind, he probably just wants to be with his daddy because he’s hurt himself. We’ll ask him to come another time.”
She’s trying to be okay with it. She walks towards her teacher to go and say goodbye, but she doesn’t make it. She turns back and bursts into tears.
“It’s okay, it’s okay”
“But….I…wanted…..to show him everything…..” she sobs.
I can hear J’s dad trying everything to persuade him.
“Look, she’s really sad now J, are you really not going to go?”
“Just for half and hour, I’ll go shopping and then come back and see how you’re getting on?”
“no” J shakes his head.
I’m struggling a bit not to show my own disappointment. My poor girl.
“Quick, let’s see if someone else can come and play” I suggest
“Okay” she nods through the tears.
And she does. Another girl, her good friend is standing just nearby and really wants to come over. She asks her mum who agrees and it’s suddenly all so straightforward, the two girls are skipping along the pavement singing. Well done, I’m thinking, what a comeback!
The weekend passes and we’re back at school. A seems to have forgiven J for the heartbreak on Friday and they are sitting together. J’s mum says,
“Sounds like it was a bit of mess on Friday”
“Yes, it was” I answer “I guess these things can happen at their age”
I turn to the kids who are listening “Let’s just do it spontaneously” I say
“Yeah” says J’s mum “Next time, just play together when you feel like it”
Then she tilts her head toward me and whispers, “This Friday”
“Yes” I whisper back
When Friday arrives again, I’m not counting on anything and A is relaxed. No build up, we’re being cool. When I get to school to pick her up I go up to J and ask him,
“Do you feel like playing at our house today?”
“No I can’t” he says “I need to take some old iron to the scrap-yard”
“Oh, do you need to do that right now?”
“Yes, I have to. I’m going with daddy.”
J’s dad arrives and explains. He’s going to the scrap-yard, but I won’t take long and then he’ll bring J over to our house. He looks at A.
“Actually, do you want to come with us in the car?” he offers.
She nods, but her smile has vanished and I can see she doesn’t want to go. She may even be about to burst into tears for the second Friday in a row.
“A listen, you don’t have to go to the scrap-yard. It was just a suggestion. You come home with me and J will come over in half an hour.”
These two kids certainly know how to complicate a playdate but now seem finally to have come to an arrangement.
J’s dad brings him over and they run straight into the garden. I serve them both some croissants and slices of orange. They take the food into the little wooden playhouse.
“Bye” they say and shut the door.
Every now and then I pop my head outside. I can hear their conversations which go along these kind of lines:
“Let’s catch some more fish.”
“Throw them in the net!”
“Where’s the bucket, quick, they’re swimming”
“No, help, that’s not right!”
Raptures of hysterical laughter………
And so it goes on for the next two and a half hours.
The start might have been a bit rocky but judging by the non-stop hilarity things are back on track. Obviously laughter is the recipe for a good friendship.
Maybe I’ll crack a few jokes when P gets home later.
It is April 30th, Koninginnedag (Queen’s day). This is the one day every year where the people of the Netherlands abandon licensing laws and take to the streets to sell all their old junk.
Aside from the obligatory lurid orange that must be worn I have always loved Queen’s day. Over 10 years of living in Holland and I still can’t quite handle the intensity of that orange colour. It’s so orange; it’s on the edge of being alarming. From a distance it looks like there are hundreds of people in those high-visibility vests and there must be some kind of massive rescue operation in progress. Queen’s day is like the biggest street party / jumble sale you can imagine, a sea of orange inflatable crowns and comedy sunglasses coupled with plenty of rummaging. It’s a great chance for kids to strut their stuff, they drag their drum kits and guitars out into the road and busk a few coins. You might pick up an antique camera or a pair of new shoes for a euro a piece, grab a couple of tomato plant seedlings, then stop off for an 11 year old to make you a pancake or tell you a joke for 50 cents. If the weather changes and you need a wind-cheater which is often the case, you can simply buy a jacket with some loose change, and dispose of it again at the end of the day, or keep it in your cupboard with all the other junk and sell it on Queen’s day the following year. Unlike the rest of the time in which I find Holland to be an overly bureaucratic country, a country with no mountains except paperwork mountains, today the normal law of the land is suspended.
We have set out our wares, toys, books, baby clothes, shoes, and we’ve baked flapjacks. We’re here with the neighbour’s kids who have brought the 20 cent grabbelton (lucky dip). The sun comes out. S goes shopping with daddy and picks up a toy Swissair airplane that seems to keep him happy for the rest of the morning. A is wearing her party skirt printed with tropical fruits and a garland of orange flowers. She scoots up and down with her friend. They buy a skateboard for 2 euros.
An English couple passes by and spots all our English kids books. A grandma buys a wooden xylophone for her granddaughter. A heavily pregnant woman is interested in the baby dungarees, but haggles me down 50 cents. She eyes my old baby-names books.
“What are your children called?” she asks
We obviously pass the test, because she decides to take the books.
My homemade flapjack is selling like hotcakes. You see how I do that? Blending the British baking tradition with this very uniquely Dutch occasion. What seamless integration! I am the Queen of Queen’s day.
By mid afternoon we’re winding down. The landscape of the street is changing from jumble sale to beer festival. I reckon I could sell anything to these drunken folks, but I’ve had enough, so we pack up the bakfiets (container bike) and head home. The kids run off to the street party and go on the bouncy castle. I unload the leftover bric-a-brac and turn the telly on for a few minutes to see what’s been going on in Amsterdam. Today is also the day of the coronation. Queen Beatrix is retiring and handing over to her son. I realize that this is a historic event for the Netherlands, but personally I’m finding it hard to get excited about the new King, the very non-descript Willem Alexander. I am not a royalist at the best of times but now I’m even further out of the loop. What I know about Willem-Alexander is this:
He cares a lot about water. He attends all kinds of international conferences where he speaks about water and sanitation, and probably dam-building, being that he is Dutch. He is noteworthy for being not very noteworthy .i.e. he is a normal man, which makes him very appealing to the Dutch. Be normal! I hear it all the time. It’s a no-nonsense; don’t show off personality trait that seems to feature highly on the Dutch agenda. Aspire to be normal.
There is a common Dutch saying that goes:
Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg
This translates as, “behave normal, that’s crazy enough”
So here he is with his Queen, Maxima (who by the way makes him a lot less normal. She’s originally from Buenos Aires and her father was a minister in General Videla’s government which makes him party to the all kinds of alleged ‘disappearances’ of political opposers of the regime. Probably not the kind of break with normality that might be desirable to spice up Willem-Alexander’s image.)
They are on a canal boat. This is perfect. Only in Amsterdam could a new King conduct his inauguration parade by boat. Willem Alexander and Maxima smile and wave. He is in a ‘normal’ suit and tie. She is wearing a glittering crown. It’s a regal as it could be with the wind lashing through their hair The three young Princesses are also waving. They have fixed smiles and they’re doing a great job considering that by the time I tune in, this floating parade must have been going on for hours.
Then we cut to a big crowd of people (in orange of course) gathered abound a stage and the Concert Gebouw Orchestra playing. And back to the boat, that seems to be docking. The King, Maxima and the three daughters are getting off the boat. The Orchestra is playing. What’s going on now? DJ Armin van Buuren who is some mega-world-dominating DJ usually found in Ibiza is taking centre stage. The violins segue into boom, boom boom. Cut down to the orange masses and there’s all that arms in the air stuff going on. This is weird. Or is it just me? The royals are on dry land now and making their way along a walkway and up the steps. I’m expecting the hardcore trance to announce their arrival onto the stage in some kind of spectacular crescendo. The King and Queen and the little Princesses arrive, they walk onto the podium. And nothing happens. Mr. van Buuren keeps going, the music bangs on. The crowd continues to jump up and down in their inflatable orange crowns.
Willem-Alexander and Maxima keep on smiling, but it’s all a bit awkward. They snake about through the Orchestra shaking hands with the musicians and shouting into people’s ears, like fans backstage at a festival. Maxima tries to keep her composure and look like she loves the music but her tiara bobs up and down inelegantly. The three Princesses smile and wave through their bewilderment. They look so small. There are still a few hours to go before the banquet in the palace. I bet they’re getting hungry.
I turn off the TV and go outside. The street party is in full swing. I grab a beer and watch my kids running about bare-foot. There’s a throng of children squealing and jumping on the bouncy castle. The orange is fading as evening draws in.
I’m glad I’m not a real Queen.
If you like this post please visit my other recent post about the coronation on ExpatsBlog:
Yes indeed, there it is a headline grabber to hook you in.
But here’s the real story.
It is an average morning. I am on my way to work. I lock up my bike at the station and throw a few coins to the busker who is playing guitar. He’s quite upbeat considering it’s 7am and drizzly. He’s giving ‘yesterday’ by the Beatles a positive and charming overtone, smiling at all the passengers as they rush by. It’s one of the favourites I sing to my children at bedtime, so it makes me smile thinking of them probably just waking at this moment.
S will probably be driving P mad with his regular morning meltdown about being first to open the cupboard or it could be the speed at which the milk is being poured into his bowl that is all wrong. Small crucial details to a 2 year old that if you get wrong can ruin the morning.
A will be getting ready for school. Putting on her tights and her favourite ‘twirly whirly’ skirt. At the moment she is following a trend amongst the girls in her class. They seem to always wear dresses or skirts. I thought it odd for a while until I had a chat with some of the parents who said that this was what all their daughters wanted and they’d mostly given up arguing. So it seems that gender is on the agenda for 5 and 6 year olds. I have agreed with A that she can alternate between trousers and a skirt every other day.
I pick up the SPITS newspaper as I walk into the station and up to the platform.
P is dealing with the morning mayhem at home, I have made a lucky escape and it gives me the time to relax on the train and peruse the newspapers.
I shouldn’t have bothered.
The headline immediately disturbs me. There is a full page picture of a female football player smiling a big grin under the headline SEXY SOCCER. My heart sinks – another average day and another very average case of sexism. The SPITS may not be the pinnacle of journalism but nonetheless it’s read by about 2 million Dutch commuters per day. An article about women’s sport where the headline has to immediately denigrate all the effort, hard work and skill of getting to the top of their game and simply refer to their body is insulting but unfortunately also not surprising. Later that day I mention this article to a friend and I’m told that I’m ‘reading too much into it’. SIGH…The objectification of women is so normalised that we don’t notice it anymore and when we do we are told that it’s no big deal, we’re so surrounded that we assimilate and overlook.
I flick past page 19, the movie review page which today is a feature on a new release and displays a promotional shot of the movie, 3 svelte bikini-clad young women and their pimp. I find the sports section. I’m expecting the article to continue in the same vein. I’m ready to be outraged by more blatant sexism, more objectified representations of the female form. But it turns out the article is a bit simplistic but ok, mainly focusing on the rise in popularity of women’s football. There’s an interview with American player Abby Wambach, described as the female Messi. Now we could just discuss her as an international football star in her own right but we better throw in a male comparison for our poor readers who are otherwise too simple-minded to understand. Wambach won the best player at the recent FIFA awards but the fact that Messi also won the men’s award is a constant reference point throughout the article, just to make sure we get it. Yes she’s a brilliant footballer because he’s a brilliant footballer.
But hey, I’m sure Messi has the same problem. No doubt he struggles to be recognised for the talent he is and every article about him is peppered with comparisons to Abby Wambach. It must get annoying for him.
There’s a picture of Wambach hugging her team mate. She looks muscular and has short hair. Yes I know, shocking for a woman and especially one with her public profile! The article goes on to mention Alex Morgan, who according to SPITS is talented, successful, good-looking and a media-hit. After all she has more than a million followers on twitter! I look again at the front cover and I notice that it’s the ‘media friendly’ long haired Alex Morgan who is in the picture. Wambach obviously needs to focus more on her hair and make up and less on winning awards for her football skills if she wants to up her social media profile and to be the face of the SEXY SOCCER headline.
But on the whole the article is more balanced than I had expected and there’s not a lot of reference to the sexiness of either Wambach or Morgan. That’s what makes it even worse that they went with such a cheap lazy headline. I have no experience here, but isn’t the headline supposed to be the promise of the article. Here are a couple of my own suggestions next time boys:
Fifa la Wambach!
Football’s new heroine!
Soccer finally scores big time for US
Shit I’ve been so busy getting annoyed by the newspaper that I get off the train at my stop and realise I haven’t got around to putting on my mascara.
After years of ignoring my problem the time has come to take action.
I’ve got a crop of verrucas on my feet. They’ve been there for a very long time, but weren’t bothering me until recently. A couple of years ago I had them frozen and I thought that would be it, but they were just dormant, obviously so deep I didn’t notice them and now I have a new small dark-centred spot on the second toe of my right foot.
It’s 8am. I ring the doctor. To get an appointment for the same day, you have to ring my doctor between 8am and 8.30am. The answer machine tells me I am in a queue and will be answered shortly. I put the phone on speaker and shove the kids into the bathroom to brush their teeth. S is resisting. He grabs the brush, licks all the toothpaste off and wiggles it about on his tongue.
“Go get your shoes quick” I snap at A. “We’re in a hurry”
The assistant is busy and will answer your call shortly
I try to wrestle S out of his pyjama bottoms to put a clean nappy on him.
“No no no!” he shouts at me
Holding firmly onto his left leg I manage to open the poppers and pull the old nappy off. I try to lie him down on the sofa but he screams uncontrollably, tears are bursting from his eyes, he’s red in the face and he’s rotating from side to side.
To any innocent person who had never met a 2-year-old before he would look like he was having some kind of seizure.
The assistant is busy and will answer your call shortly
“Keep still” I’m pleading with him. A has to be at school in 5 minutes.
OK shall I push him down flat with all my force or just carry him to school with a bare bum?
The assistant is busy and will answer your call shortly
“Help! I can’t handle this anymore” I’m starting to have my own tantrum.
I run to the door to find my jacket, run back to S, try to lie him on the sofa, he pushes me back and escapes again, I run back to the door to help A with her boots, I run to the kitchen to grab an apple and stuff it in A’s bag.
The assistant is busy and will answer your call shortly
P is on his way down the stairs and supposed to be leaving for work, but I‘m starting to panic.
“We’re late! We’re always bloody late! I’m just trying to get his nappy on! I can’t stand this!”
“Ok go, just go” says P “leave him here, I’ll wait”
I hold A by the hand and run out and across the road to school.
A is taking her coat and hat off in the hallway. The phone is still in my pocket. I can hear the same message still on repeat.
The assistant is busy and will answer your call shortly
We go into the class and A takes her place in the circle. The teacher starts her gentle lyrical singing. The room hushes and the children start to join in. I quickly move to the doorway of the classroom, turn the speaker phone off and hold it to my ear. The display tells me that I’ve been on hold for 11 minutes, so I’m not giving up just yet.
The assistant is busy and will answer your call shortly
…“Good morning, Dr. Meeuwvis, how can I help you”
“Um yes I need to make an appointment” I’m whispering in the hallway next to the open door of the classroom. As quietly as I can I try to explain to the woman on the other end of the phone that I have several verrucas on my feet (I’m actually using the word likdoorn which I think is the Dutch word for corn because I don‘t know the word for verruca).
I get an appointment, hang up and look around to see if anyone has heard my conversation. Then I creep back into the classroom and stand behind A until they sing the goodbye mums and dads song. I give her a big hug and head back home.
S has got his nappy on! Yippee!
Now for the trousers and shoes. P and I spend another half an hour coaxing him out the door with apple flavoured rice cakes. For a crazy moment I forget the crucial rules of managing a 2-year-old and I open the front door. No!
“me do it, me do it”
More screaming. We have to close the door again. Go back inside and spend 10 minutes of S trying to reach the catch, lifting him up, fiddling and straining, him pulling at the handle. Now we’re out and we bundle him in the bike. He goes rigid and won’t get in. We give him biscuits. He screams when I try to get the safety belt over his head, but I just have to go at this point and zip up the front of the bakfiets (bike with a front container). He’s kicking and yelling under the plastic cover as I cycle along.
The doctor is a stand-in trainee doctor today. A young man of about 30.
Yes they are ‘wratten’. Foot warts.
This sounds a lot more harsh than ‘verruca’ which is a rather pleasant word, and could almost be a girl’s name. Now the doctor offers to freeze them for me and I agree.
He fetches a huge tank of liquid nitrogen, some small sticks and cotton wool. We discover that I have a total of nine ‘foot warts’. He dips the cotton wool into the liquid nitrogen. There’s a white icy fog billowing out of the tank. He presses down hard onto the sole of my foot. Wow this is intense! It hurts like hell! S is looking at me closely. I grimace at him but try not to cry out. I breathe out in a long controlled out-breath. It reminds me of all those breathing exercises I learnt for giving birth. The doctor takes a new stick and continues on to the next spot.
S is standing glued to my leg with his toy bunny in his mouth. He peers at the white marks appearing under my feet,
“Mummy got a ow-ie”
When we’re finished with all nine we wait a minute or two and then the doctor repeats the whole process again.
“It’ll take a couple of weeks to heal”
I shake the doctor by the hand and we leave.
I hobble into the lift. S has a great time pressing the buttons and then we go outside hand in hand.
A is five. She was three when her brother S was born. She saw my pregnant belly grow and in the later stages move and writhe about. She knew that there was baby in there and she used to talk to him and introduce herself.
“Hello baby, I’m your sister” she would say.
She wanted him to know her. When he ‘popped out’ she was asleep. I was taken to the hospital because his head was not sufficiently engaged into my pelvis. So for the second time I was denied a home birth. All credit to the midwife for being thorough, when I arrived at the hospital things seemed to get steadily worse. The baby had moved into a superman pose, his arm up above his head and no amount of shoving seemed to persuade him to conform to the proper birthing position. When I say shoving the real truth is a doctor half submerged her arm up my vagina in a move that reminded me of classic veterinary TV shows involving cows. They tried their best to manually move his arm out the way – weird to think he had already been shaking hands with another person before even being born! He kept his hand above his head and proceeded to wrap his elbow around trapping the umbilical cord so that with every contraction he squeezed the cord between his shoulder and his head and cut off his own oxygen supply. We heard the heart rate go down as each contraction got longer. Needless to say the doctors couldn’t leave it any longer and I had to have a c-section. Having a c-section is just as weird as a ‘normal’ birth, all these blue masked people around you and the bright lights. You feel everything, the squidging, the slicing just without the pain and you can imagine the blood and guts on the other side. I thought it’d be the easy option, but I surprised myself by yelling in my best Dutch,
“Is it OK to scream in the operating room?”
I was given the go ahead so I screamed myself dry. I was disappointed to be cheated out of a second birth since everyone goes on about how much easier it is the second time around but hey on the other hand I accepted it, I knew I could have done it the other way too. I had a first birth under my belt and so there was the proof of my real warrior woman status.
The first time around was very different. There were minor complications that landed me in hospital but I ended up with a more or less natural birth. Granted I was very naive and had perhaps listened to too many positive stories about tranquil water births at my prenatal classes. Coming from a hippie dippie family I was aware of the facts, but in a very innocent way. I witnessed 3 births by the time I was 10 and I even dug a hole for the placenta planting ceremony after my sister’s birth. Birth was beautiful and soulful. But this was no match for the hard core reality of the deal and nothing nothing prepared me for the agony of having my bones ripped brutally apart like that. Nonetheless I did it and I did it with style. Apparently I was cracking jokes between the screams. I had been going to kundalini pregnancy yoga and I had practiced my mantras, so after two days of contractions, a few hours waiting in the corridor of the hospital and another 10 or so in the labour ward, I stood up at the side of the bed, clenched my fists and shouted,
“I am a strong and capable woman!!”
The Caribbean midwife in the London hospital chuckled at me and opened 2 sachets of sugar from the tea trolley which she poured down my throat. After a minute or two she advised me it might be an idea to stop shouting quite so much as I was losing all my energy out the front of my mouth by screaming instead of using that energy to push. I love a good drama, but she had a point and I focused in on the pain. I concentrated on the downward impulse and I think the scream turned into a low-pitched growl like a bear. Finally the most amazing person I was ever to meet arrived.
5 years later the baby girl that I gave birth to is lying in her bed and we’ve just read a bedtime story. Quite out of the blue she asks,
“When you have a baby in your tummy, how does it actually get out?”
I hesitate and think how to answer this. I won’t lie to her but I want to keep it simple. I’ve thought of it often, as soon as she was born infact, the fact that she’s a girl. What a destiny to be dealt this particular biological hand of cards. To tell the truth it terrifies me already. I tell her what I can.
“The baby moves down here” I say touching her abdomen “and it comes out through there.” I point.
“The fanny!” She literally looks astonished.
I quickly try to go over some basic facts, that it takes time, that the body is amazing, that it stretches and expands and even changes shape. She’s 5, I’m not going to let her in on the real truth of the searing pain and the blood and the vaginal stitches. Let’s spare her the details. For now.
She looks at me, laughs a brief nervous laugh and then snuggles down between her rabbit and her huge teddy who she calls big mamma.
“Night mummy” she says and hugs me tightly.