It is Sunday afternoon and I am child-free. My Lawyer has taken the kids to Amsterdamse Bos so that I can have half a day not shouting at anyone. It a chance to take a deep breath, meditate, empty my mind of negativity and recharge for the coming week.
I go into the cinema to watch a subtitled Chilean film about a bereaved transgender woman, because nothing says Sunday afternoon like a subtitled Chilean film about a bereaved transgender woman.
As I’m waiting for the film to start, I get a text from My Lawyer:
“It’s all going okay, we did lose the baby but a nice Italian man found him.”
As I digest this information, I receive a text addendum:
“He just got stung by a wasp!”
The lights go down in the movie theatre. Another text arrives:
“The baby I mean, not the Italian man.”
Safe in the knowledge that the Italian man is fine, I put my phone away and watch Una Mujer Fantástica, in which Daniela Vega puts in a performance so affecting that she may be the first transgender actress nominated for an Oscar. Vega’s character, Marina, sees her partner die, on her birthday no less, and then endures a series of violations to her human rights by the authorities and abuse from almost every angle as she wades through a heavy swamp of grief. It is one thing after another for Marina.
I get home to My Lawyer later that evening and ask him how the rest of the day has been.
“It has been one thing after another,” he replies, sipping red wine. The smell of fried chicken lingers in the air. The IT Crowd is paused on the television.
“When did things take such a turn for the worse?” I ask.
It turns out that shortly after the Italian man didn’t get stung by a wasp, My Lawyer decided to call it a day and go home. The baby – actually three years old – went into the front box of Steve the Bakfiets, but the six year old pulled rank and insisted on riding the backseat, just above the back wheel. As My Lawyer took off, the six year old tucked her foot beneath her, into the turning spokes. Crunch.
Fresh from a film that examines the abuse and degradation of a fellow human being, I am a little underwhelmed at My Lawyer’s woeful tale. I mean, it’s bad, but the six year old is now tucked up in bed, we still have most of our loved ones, and all of our human rights remain in tact. Also, look: there’s wine! Although arguably, in Chile, the red wine is better. Imagine if Marina had lived in a teetotal state. She wouldn’t have even been able to have a decent drink – and, I guess, would have been executed on grounds of her gender identity. One thing after another.
On Monday morning, the six year old hops into our bedroom.
“Bad news, Mummy,” she says, proffering her foot in front of my face. I have been awake for less than 60 seconds.
Her ankle – or, where her ankle used to be – is puffed and swollen. She cannot put any weight on it.
“Is it school today?” she asks.
“Not for you,” I reply.
Dutch healthcare is based on mandatory health insurance. We’ve deciphered the system for My Lawyer and the kids, but I am still waiting for the appropriate form, and so am unable to get sick or injured. Still, as the primary caregiver, I’ve been unable to get ill or injured for the last eight years, so in many ways nothing has changed. Remember those colds you could really snuggle up with, before you had kids? I miss that. Those were the days, feeling gloriously shitty on your own.
My Lawyer is working from home, so he makes arrangements to work from hospital instead, and carts the six year old off in Steve.
I take the boys to school and we relay the sorry tale at the school gate. Many parents nod sagely; we are not the first to suffer such an injury.
“She’ll get a cast for a week if it’s sprained, longer if it’s broken,” says one dad, the voice of bitter experience. “And you need to get those shields on the back wheel to cover the spokes.”
I’ve seen these shields on back wheels before, but thought they were just a particular style feature. Turns out they’re actually a pretty significant safety feature. You’ve probably heard how the Dutch are famed for their devil-may-care attitude to health and safety, and to a certain degree that’s true, but there is an underlying pragmatism and base-line common sense in their approach that should really be spelled out to us expats at the registration stage. Most of us are from the UK and the US; we are not currently celebrated for our decision-making.
My Lawyer navigates the Dutch hospital administration with a parental prowess that had somewhat deserted him the day before. He has the foresight to pack activities for the six year old to keep her occupied whist they are waiting. The six year old is examined, x-rayed and proclaimed skeletally intact. Her ankle is badly sprained, and she will wear a cast for a week to aid recovery. As the cast is set, My Lawyer and the six year old bond.
“You know who you’re like?” says My Lawyer.
“Mummy?” says the six year old, hopefully. I imagine she said it hopefully.
“No,” he says. “You’re like me. Daddy did this to his ankle many times when he was a child.”
The six year old considers this. “Although I’m not completely like you, because I’m not a boy, and a cat has never been sick on my face.”
“No,” agrees My Lawyer.
“Because remember,” continues the six year old, “about that cat that sicked on your face when you were little.”
I don’t know why you had kids, but we had them so that My Lawyer could be constantly reminded of that time a cat sicked on his face.
They arrive home at midday. The six year old has been issued crutches.
“No one in this family has ever had crutches before,” she says. This might be her most exciting day in the Netherlands so far. “Please can I go to school tomorrow? People can sign my cast.”
This cheers me. The six year old, middle child, only girl, still hasn’t found her place here in Amsterdam. She is not yet home when she is home. This is the first time she has expressed excitement about going to school, and all it took was a light mangling of her leg.
My Lawyer is just sitting down to resume his working day when the doorbell rings.
“That will be the Ikea man with the flat-packs,” I say.
“Flat-packs?” My Lawyer pales.
“I want to answer it!” shrieks the six year old, grabbing her crutches.
She waves a crutch up to the intercom. “I can’t reach it.”
My Lawyer and I look at each other.
It is one thing after another.