I was born in Ireland and brought up in the UK. In England, I was identified as ‘Irish’. I accepted this as my identity. I experienced feeling like an outsider before I grew to embrace my differences. What confounded me greatly was when I returned to Ireland to go to university and discovered that I actually wasn’t very Irish.
It transpired that in both countries, I was identified as having the accent, upbringing and understanding of the other one. I was a permanent foreigner. It was enough to make my teenage head implode.
I left Ireland soon after graduating. Wanderlust made me do it. I’ve not found my way home yet... I am slightly unsure where this might be.
My path led me to the land of tulips, clogs and windmills. I now live in the Netherlands, in Dutch suburbia, with my husband and kids.
I would never have guessed that I’d settle in such a quiet environment, yet it is decidedly tailor-made for our family’s needs.
There is an air of 1950s childhood where we live. It is normal to see unsupervised gangs of school kids roaming the neighbourhood, cycling their bikes to school and generally living their best life, fuelled by bread and cheese.
Our kids are happy here. Our daughter speaks Dutch, English and her own invented words. At her playgroup, her friends speak oodles of other languages. It doesn’t seem to slow down their games.
The school my son attends is in a whole other league of amazingness. It’s a little country school on the edge of the tulip fields. You would drive past it without knowing how extraordinary the staff are. The class sizes are tiny and they are able to meet his every need. He has carefully and cautiously adapted to speaking Dutch and now chats in either language.
They are thriving.
I have no doubt in my mind that our kids’ stories could have been dramatically different.
We are fortunate to be able to live here. This thought helps on the dark days, when I’m struggling with a task that is unnecessarily complicated. There is a level of unavoidable stress that comes with living in another country. It’s an irksome part of the deal.
The glossy version of parenting and the glamfab life abroad is served to us through a scroll of shiny snaps. The mundanity of daily parenting life, bringing up a family with no family around, swirled with the insanity of doing it all in a different country is an alternative Instalife story.
I am studying Dutch to try to keep up with my kids. It turns out that my "baby brain" was the permanent sort though, so it’s slow going. One of my goals is to be able to chat with my kindly neighbours in their own language. Their English is fluent, but I feel like I owe them this effort for gate crashing their tranquil neighbourhood.
I want to understand the world around me, without relying heavily on online misinformation-translations to serve me up a daily dose of confusion.
I need to be able to read and understand the feckin’ school newsletters.
I missed the, "Come admire your kid’s work in class day", because I forgot to translate the bloody letter properly.
He will never forgive me.
Oh sweet, sweet parenting guilt.
Hello old friend.
The challenges are part of this amazing experience to live in another culture. I know I am not alone here and our story is a familiar tale to many families. We live in a multicultural place, where numerous languages are spoken around many dinner tables at home.
I’d hazard a guess that anyone who has ever relocated has experienced feeling this sensation of unbelonging, of floating in a bubble of otherness.
To gaze in total incomprehension at the social disgrace you’ve just made of yourself, but not really know which cultural rule you’ve broken. It’s like being an adult-sized toddler in a complicated world.
I get used to being in a permanent state of flustered embarrassment. It helps keep my senses sharp... it is the pay off for striving for the best place to raise our kids.
We are only beginning to understand how this life lived abroad may affect us and our smalls. I found out recently that there is a name for this, being brought up between cultures – third culture kids.
I didn’t even know it was a thing...
Now my kids are kids of a "third culture kid".
What culture does that make them from?
They have dual passports for countries that they don’t live in. Will they crave to settle and reject their passports, adopting the Dutch culture as their own? Where will they call home?
I believe we are offering the very best country to have their childhood in. They have a privileged upbringing and the tolerant Dutch culture has been very inclusive to them. I hope this means that they will also be more inclusive themselves. They have a potentially exciting future, but have we also overcomplicated it for them? I’m guessing in their teenage futures we will hear regrets about the fact that we don’t blend in. The 5-year-old already dies with shame when he hears me speak Dutch.
I’m doing it all wrong and I am different.
These things are not ok with him.
He asked me where he was from the other day.
I said that he is lucky as he has an Irish mum and an English dad.
So he is 50% Irish and 50% English.
He confidently added,
“And Dutch. So I’m 50% Irish, 50% English and 50% Dutch.”
And I love this.
I love his self-assuredness that this is also his culture.
I also adore that he is 150%. That’s about right really.
Will these rootless wildlings of mine embrace this blessing of living alongside other cultures and become more free thinking as a result? Without a strong connection to a culture and roots to ground them, they may feel like they float above the rules... Motherofjaysus, am I bringing up future delinquents, lost citizens of everywhere and nowhere?
I want them to have a place.
To know where their home is.
Their place is with us.
In our home.
For now, we have settled.