Well, I’m back from my book tour and trip in the Netherlands and I’ve finally had time to process my thoughts about it. I’m not exactly a quick processor with most things. I have to let them sink into my subconscious and let it do the job for me. Then one morning I randomly wake up and have an epiphany. So bear with me through my long epiphany post.
It was amazing, and quite odd, seeing Joop in his home culture. I always knew Joop was European and Dutch, not an American, but between his expertise in language, which made him sounds like he was from some vaguely northern Midwest location, and his adaptability, it was easy to forget.
But, hearing him speaking Dutch 24/7, watching him hanging out with his Dutch friends, and the ease with which he, after indulging in several beers for the King’s birthday celebration, threw me on the back of his bicycle and sped through the narrow Dutch streets…well, they were never things I had seen him do before. I can hardly ride a bike while sober.
I also had to shift my role with him a little. I was no longer his mother, because his mother was there, and she, like him is Dutch. Joop had some intense anxiety about his two worlds colliding, i.e, his two mothers living under the same roof. At first, I couldn't understand the anxiety because we his mother and I have completely different styles of parenting, and most things...as time passed, I understood a little more. (Hint: we swapped stories and now both have a better picture of...things...)
So before I left, I resolved to myself that I was going to be Joop’s adult friend visiting. And honestly, switching that role was easier than I thought. Partially because the Dutch mom is way more momish than me. For instance, I was not allowed to my own laundry. I resisted at first, but then Joop called me ungrateful, and I realized he was right. If someone really wants to follow me around and make sure I'm comfortable, and I'm complaining about it, that is pretty rude.
Secondly, Joop is no longer a child, and a natural part of raising children is parents shifting from the overt parent role to more of a mentor, and then even to being friends. I suppose it was a natural part of our relational evolution. Finally, I didn’t become a parental figure for Joop until he was nearly grown. I never had to change a diaper, potty train, tuck him into bed, or make sure he brushed his teeth.
What I saw between Joop and his biological parents was more of the typical struggle to figure out the balance that happens during young adulthood, which, I think was occasionally intensified by Joop and his father being opposite personalities. Joop has an uncanny ability to jump into anything and everything and learn as he goes, charm the world, and come out on top. He’s not much a planner, and when he does plan, things tend to go awry and stress him out. His father, on the other hand, plans all the details and bends the world to his plan. Lack of detailed plans and foresight makes him a little crazy. Joop sees his father’s plans as somewhat controlling and his father sees Joop’s charming spontaneity as irresponsibility. (In the extreme, both can be true, which can be said about any personality trait, but generally both behaved quite mildly.)
My own mother says parenting young adults, which I classify as those between 18 and 25ish, is the hardest age of parenting. It’s comforting to know, that in any culture, maintaining a positive parent/child relationship during the college years is difficult.
I enjoyed getting to know his parents through my own experience rather than through his personal prejudices. I quite understand his father Chrisiaan’s need for concrete plans and the annoyance he felt at Joop totally ruining said plans at the last moment. And his mother, Hanneke, wanted me to set the record straight on a few things about her. I’m not quite sure what those would really be. The one things that really surprised me about her, given how organized and in charge Joop portrayed her – and let’s be honest, Hanneke, you are the woman in charge! – was that Joop completely got his personality – in addition to his good looks and poufy hair – from her.
She rambled and bounced and giggled and yelled and laughed and cried and worried and stressed and blew everything out of proportion just like Joop. Her energy and zest for life rubbed off on everyone around her, just like Joop. And when she entered a sour mood, like Joop, it was just best to leave the room and let her stew, and then the next morning, or maybe ten minutes later, she’d apologize and tell you a funny story. Or maybe even dance.
I was living under the same roof with two Joops. Granted, one was much more organized and clean…and a morning person. It was enjoyable, if not a tad overwhelming once in a while.
Some of my favorite times were sitting out on their back porch chatting with them about Joop or cultural differences, amongst many other things. They had unusually good weather while I was there and we’d often sit on the patio talking until it got dark at nearly 10 at night. And then the parents would head off to bed and Joop’s friends would start appearing. (I didn't sleep much.)
We’d switch some topics, but everyone, no matter where I went wanted to talk about the cultural differences and what I thought about Dutch culture. With the younger crowd, things tended to get more philosophical. We talked about spirituality and God, but also psychedelics, metaphysics, and morality. And, of course, if they could come to the United States – all of his friends at once – and stay with me for a couple weeks. I’m trying to imagine a dozen giant-sized Dutch young men sprawling out on sleeping bags in my living room…
Young and old alike would ask me what my favorite thing about the Netherlands was, and being a slow processor, I didn’t know what to say. So I’d respond by saying Joop was my favorite thing.
And while Joop is still my favorite thing, and will probably always be favorite thing about the Netherlands, I now have an answer.
These talks, the open and inquisitive dialogue, and the relaxed ramblings that were exchanged over long hours – and many cups of espresso like coffee – were my favorite thing about the Dutch. They pulled no punches in telling their opinions, and I never once had to guess what a Dutch person thought, whether they were a soccer mom I talked to for 5 minutes about abortion or Joop’s Frisian grandfather that loved to talk religion. Sometimes it was frustrating trying to correct certain misconceptions about Americans, but I always found it fulfilling and engaging.
Here’s a list of a few other things:
So, for all you Dutch that kept asking me what my favorite things about the Netherlands were, there you go. And, I’m sorry it takes me a moment to gather my opinions. Once I have them gathered, I’m rather Dutch about it. I’ll tell you flat out.
The other question I was asked by everyone was what was my least favorite thing, but that’s a post for another day.
I live in Athens, Georgia with my son, my husband, and an ever revolving list of exchange students, who are a never ending source of entertainment and writing material.