I planned on writing this from Denmark but only started in Hamburg before flying back to Israel via Holland. We are now back in Holland after being in Israel. Yes, it’s been quite the few weeks. I’ll continue …
So Denmark and all that was during those wonderful 10 days. The drive to Denmark was long, longer than the Tom Tom says but this is because we stop and start, stop and start and there was lots of road works on the highway (Tom Tom doesn’t know this) and it was Friday afternoon. The kids need breaks from sitting in the car and Guy and I do too. We try to find rest stops with parks so they can run around. We are planning our big drives around their naps and that seems to be working once they are asleep. I am now in the back seat and it’s taken about an hour to get both girls to sleep. Lots of foot massages. I’m still waiting for mine. I do catch myself occasionally in a moment of utter gratitude to Noa and Lina. They really are brilliant travellers. They adapt quite quickly to new places, people and foods, are very sociable with all our friends and strangers and have made Danke Van their home despite her smallness. They are colouring, crafting and playing with their new Playmobil figurines (bought some very cheaply at a second hand store in Denmark after buying some more expensive ones at Toys R Us the day before. Lesson learnt!) and they generally just go with the flow. The meltdowns come and go but at least we are on a wild adventure. Same, same but different.
Our arrival at my friend Line’s house in Vissing, Aarhus, Denmark was an absolute treat. Line, an artist and teacher, and her two beautiful daughters had chalked out a welcome sign for us on the road outside their home. It was breathtaking and so heart warming. And certainly set the tone for our stay there. Such hospitality and love. We ended up parking Danke at Line, Jeppe, Laura and Alberta’s house for over a week. They moved into their new home last November and had recently installed a grand pizza oven in the back yard for Chef Jeppe. This was in our favour not just for the delicious cuisine that came out of the oven but for the fact that a fence had been knocked down and now Danke was parked perfectly in the garden alongside the back entrance to the house. We slept there but showered and ate in Line’s home and had our own entrance that didn’t disturb the family too much (I hope!).
The four girls got along well and somehow communicated sans actual language. We arrived very late Friday night and after Noa and Lina and Alberta fell asleep, the adults and a very tired but determined Laura aged 8, ate dinner at 11pm outside with a fire. We couldn’t really see what we were eating but that made it even tastier and more special. The conversation was buoyant and though Line and I had not seen each for 16 years and had only kept in very sporadic touch – the way I remembered her and loved her had not changed. The feelings I had had about her all those years ago, sitting in our shared kibbutz room, drinking red wine and doing puzzles, and my memory of her being and spirit was the same. And the sweetness of both of us having two daughters and raising women was also illuminating.
A definite highlight for me was singing with Line in the tiny church down the road from her house. When Line and I realised that we both love to sing and can sing rather well we agreed that we would need to make the effort and make it happen. I had to leave a very distraught Noa who didn’t want me to go which was very difficult to do but I knew how important it was for Line and I to have this time to sing. Both Line’s daughters had been baptised in the church so it possibly held some holy association for Line to be there. As for me, I quite like churches, especially small ones in small towns that are quite ancient and aren’t frequented by people very often. These sacred spaces hold the powerful intention of those before me and I can always sense this when entering a church. Though it is not my religion, I can connect to the devotion of others. Line and I sang hymns and a Hebrew song my mum used to sing to me, and children’s lullabies. We connected on a very deep level with each other and ourselves and quite possibly the universe.
Throughout this journey so far and even before we left I have thought about a film I saw years ago by Sam Mendes – Away We Go. In this film (that I highly recommend) a couple in their mid thirties find out they are pregnant and decide to travel across America to visit their friends, see how they live and ultimately find a home for themselves. Though Guy and I are clearly not in our mid thirties, nor homeless (we just renovated our Sydney home and absolutely love it!) we did make a rather rash decision a month before our departure from Sydney and bought some land in an eco village on the Gold Coast (an hour by plane from Sydney). In short we were on holiday, visited an eco village, fell in love and then within five days bought 3000sqm of land at a very good price.
So now we are planning to build a house there and perhaps go and live there when we return to Australia in January. The thing is – I am not sure I am ready for such a move. Guy is ready to give it a go but I have my parents and sisters to consider. And to be honest, never in my wildest dreams did I ever want to live on the Gold Coast or Queensland for that matter. Byron Bay maybe but Queensland … no. And remember we have a great life in Sydney right? Why fix what isn’t broken?
But something did grab me in those five minutes of driving around the eco village. I was rather gobsmacked and felt like I had found my utopia of living – land, community, a ‘moshav’ in Australia. Earlier this year I had also had an epiphany of sorts about life. I was trawling through Instagram (I was new to the app) and came across an account by a woman I know of from Melbourne. She and her husband and three children live on an organic farm in regional Victoria and she posts the most beautiful images of their idyllic life. I came downstairs and told Guy that I don’t envy anyone’s life, I love ours and I don’t like envying anything, but that this pushed my buttons. You see, I too had a dream, a daydream of sorts where there are jars of jam on a windowsill, five kids running around, and land – big land with trees and plants and vegetables and fruit and chickens. Okay – the five kids won’t happen (unless we adopt which is also a dream) but the rest, well that is still a dream. And it occurred to me looking at all those images that this woman was doing it, living it and being it. And if I didn’t do it now when did I plan to do it? Was I going to be one of those people that had lots of dreams and talked about them passionately but never realised them or at least gave them a go? When Guy and I had this conversation, this land of ours could have been in NSW but now it is in QLD and I guess I have to accept this and try it on … we will see.
So back to Away We Go … What I have realised on this trip is that in a way Guy and I are on a bit of a study tour ourselves. We too are at a crossroads and though for us it is not about parenting per se and/or finding a place in Europe where we want to live (we are not moving here despite my love affair with Dutch living) – it is about lifestyle choices and the way in which we want to raise our daughters, so away we go to explore and observe and experience other ways of living. We have spent time with three girlfriends of mine and their husbands and kids. Each family has two children and as I have already noted Claudia and Wolf live in Hamburg, Germany, Jorien and Sebastian live in Zwolle, Holland, and Line and Jeppe live in Vissing in Aarhus, Denmark. Three countries, three very different cities. What has been so wonderful, aside from spending such quality time with all these good folk, is that our conversations can span from controlled crying to work life balance to favourite TV shows/music/films/books/podcasts to ageing parents to our childbirth stories to politics to religion and death. We are all at a similar stage of life and no matter where we live we are all experiencing similar stuff especially around parenting small people and raising the next generation of humans.
Without going in to details about my friends’ lives (this is my blog not theirs) there are certain cultural practices that I have definitely taken note of and hope to assimilate into my own life. (These are my generalisations based on my experience and what I’ll take from each city.) The Great Danes are renowned for having the highest standard of living. I will remember the slowness of the Danish life, the gentleness, the quiet, the stillness of everything underneath the big Danish skies. Life felt a lot simpler. It often felt like I was looking through the cleanest, clearest lens and I now look back on those eight days like they were a dream.
Dutch parenting has been widely acclaimed as producing the happiest children and I certainly like their more relaxed approach. Kids playing on the streets all day, the sharing of bikes with neighbours, chocolate sprinkles on toast for breakfast… It felt like everything is done in moderation – no extremes, just steady on and enjoy the ride. And there is a real sense of community that travels beyond the neighbourhood. One chance encounter really epitomises what Holland represents to me. Jorien and Sebastian’s over the road neighbour had a baby while we were staying there. We knew the neighbour was in labour when the midwife arrived for the home birth. The following morning a puppet stork was hung on their window notifying the neighbours that the baby had been born. So typical Dutch – community and transparency but so subtle, minimalist and creative. I also think this video on the many ways you can bike ride in Holland is so reflective of what it is to be Dutch. I have a wee crush on Holland and it has only intensified since our being here.
And finally the Germans – well they don’t always get the best wrap but I do love their general sense of order, cleanliness and as Guy put it, there’s a sense of abundance about everything. As I have already written, Germany is so personal to me that it is hard to see it beyond my history and family connection.
And finally, (need to post this before it is a book!!!) I have also noticed in all three countries that yelling is not really part of the dialogue and though a good scream is worth mountains of emotional freedom, it has been very humbling hearing and observing life in more subtle tones. I am looking forward to traveling further south (ITALY! SPAIN!) where people speak with their hands and raise their voices more frequently. Let it go!!!!