The best bit about deciding to move to Amsterdam is telling people that we are moving to Amsterdam. Almost everyone thinks we are brave and adventurous. The school gate chat is very rewarding and I bask in glory between 8.55 and 9am each morning after my older two kids have disappeared in to their classrooms.
“You won’t come back,” one friend says. “I know someone who went out there for a year and that was four years ago. Her kids are all bilingual and the Dutch education system is AMAZING.”
“And if they go to international school they will spend their school day with kids from all over the world. They will be GLOBAL CITIZENS.”
“You won’t need a car. You won’t ever need a car!”
It is all very gratifying. That is, until someone pipes up, “What do they think?”
I shrug. “The Dutch have a very liberal outlook. I don’t think they’ll mind.”
“No – your kids. What do the kids think?”
There’s always one, isn’t there.
“They… don’t exactly know the full story. Yet. We are going through a process with them. Of familiarization. Talking around the subject. So it’s… like their idea. This one knows, don’t you?”
We look at my two year old, in his buggy. He is reading his big brother’s Lego Star Wars magazine. He does not have a suitcase with him, or clogs, or a bunch of tulips. Not even a joint.
The truth is, I am terrified of telling the kids. We are about to uproot their entire lives. We are removing them from this amazing school, supportive friends, the familiar safety of home. We are taking them away from their grandparents. What if they are devastated? What if they scream “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO US??? WE HATE YOU!!” I worry that my well-rehearsed monologue on the good of a second language to the connectors of a young brain may fall on deaf ears. There is more than a good chance that my 7 and 5 year olds will not give a flying fuck about their brain connectors.
As a back-up, I next-day-delivery three Amazon Fire tablets as leverage, in case The Conversation does not go well. My lawyer advises that it is unlikely we will be able to claim for the tablets on the relocation budget. I shelve plans for a conciliatory DisneyLand trip.
A week later, we still have not told them. My lawyer and I have since had another overnight trip to Amsterdam without the kids to go to a school open day. We have brought back chocolate sprinkles for the kids to put on their morning toast. They enjoy this, but not enough to voluntarily suggest we move to Holland.
I have a coffee morning with a group of friends, in which my Amsterdam revelation is rather less gratifying.
“Didn’t your mum move here to be closer to you and the kids?”
“Well…. yes, she did.”
“How did she take the news?”
“She’s… never been to Amsterdam. So she is EXCITED.”
“And your kids?”
The Amazon Fires have arrived, so I am READY for this question. “They don’t know yet, “ I say with confidence, “but they will be fine. We’ve bought them tablets.”
A silence descends upon the coffee morning collective.
“Lauren,” says one, eventually. “I know you are worried about their reaction. But honestly, medicating the children is not the answer.”
So, withholding the information from the kids has been deemed the wrong course of action, as has bribery. The suggestion of medication lingers in my mind for longer than it probably should before also being discounted. By now, almost everyone knows that we are moving to Amsterdam, apart from our own children. It is only by the grace of God and the unpopularity of my blog that no-one has yet mentioned anything to them.
I turn to my friend Dr Genevieve Von Lob, who happens to be a clinical child psychologist and has just written a book about mindful parenting. (Yes, I probably should have gone to her first. Shoulda-coulda-woulda.) Genevieve suggests that, given we have already been to Amsterdam twice and have told everyone else, we are honest with them as soon as possible.
“It’s just respectful, isn’t it,” she says simply. “This is happening to all of you; they have a right to know, to prepare themselves. To have time to ask questions. Present it as an adventure, which will be easy – I can tell you are really excited about it, and so they’ll see that too.”
So, one rainy Sunday afternoon, whilst the two year old is sleeping off a cold at nap time, we sit on the sofa with the seven year old and the five year old. We tell them that we have some very exciting news.
“About Holland?” says the five year old. She is keen to get this over with as it’s her turn to choose the DVD.
“Yes! Clever Daddy has been offered a job in HOLLAND!”
The seven year old puts a consolatory hand on My Lawyer’s shoulder. “Oh Daddy – you’ve been fired from your job!” It says something about My Lawyer’s hierarchical position in our house that this is the seven year old’s logical conclusion.
We explain that we don’t know how long we will go for, that we can all help each other learn Dutch, that we will take all our stuff with us to our new home. We tell them that we will all go to Holland at half term to see what it is like and to choose somewhere to live, see some schools. The idea of changing schools is hardest for our five year old, who is something of a big cheese at her current school. She is a bit tearful until we tell her that most Dutch schools have no uniform and no homework. The biggest sticking point for our seven year old is Tiger the Goldfish. Will we have to leave him here in England? We actually do not know the answer to this and My Lawyer does not help matters by launching into a rant about the merry bureaucratic dance of the pet passport. We promise to investigate the pressing issue of goldfish immigrants.
“Any more questions?” we ask them.
The five year old asks if she can watch Shimmer and Shine. The seven year old asks if he can have some time on my iPad.
And that’s that. We don’t even have to wheel out the tablets, medicinal or otherwise.
Later, My Lawyer asks the seven year old if he’d had any inkling about the move.
“Not that we were moving there,” he replies, “but I knew you were plotting something about that country.”
I don’t doubt that there will be tantrums and meltdowns about this move in the future, but right now I am immensely proud of the kids. It was the right thing to do, to give them the same respect we give to each other as adults as we plan our big move. They are part of the team; they deserve nothing less.
I hope they remember this when they find out I told the internet before we told them.