(I accidentally deleted this post. It should precede the previous two posts. Anyway, this is a repeat if you are following my blog. If not, read this, then “Dutch Flat”, then “Penthouse” if you like chronology and are up for the read.)
Back in my college days, I thought couch surfing was cool. When I moved to the college town of Moscow, Idaho, I spent the first few weeks sleeping on the floor in a corner nook of a friend’s one bedroom apartment. Traveling light; just me, my sleeping bag and a suitcase of belongings. I stayed with another friend named Skott for a short period, setting up camp on her living room floor. I felt adventurous and free, like I could roll with whatever the universe provided, surrounded by friends with the same happy-go-lucky outlook on our young lives.
Couch surfing with the nuclear family is adventurous in its own right, but I’m fairly certain it doesn’t make many people’s bucket lists. Children need routine and a stable environment. Forty-something year olds need routine and a stable environment. Yet, when you relocate to your husband’s homeland, it is only natural to stay with family for the “transition” period. The only thing we knew for sure, was that we had been granted six weeks to stay at the former Ecuadorian Embassy. Wait. My husband is Dutch, not Ecuadorian. Why would the Ecuadorian’s host us?
A few year’s ago, my brother-n-law and his wife purchased a building that formerly housed the Ecuadorian Embassy of Den Haag on the first two floors, and a private residence on the top two floors. He and his wife transformed all four levels into a modern residence with regal proportions and detailing. The ceilings stretch skyward capped by crown molding with fleur-de-lis that subtly decorate the white ceilings. Traditional crystal chandeliers hang from the ceilings while modern cubed lamps made of onyx light up the recesses of the dining room and living room. The regal living room and dining room are connected with sliding doors, that when opened, create a space large enough for a sizeable international gathering.
Each night, save three or four in a six-week period, the six of us ate by candlelight in the formal dining room with chafing dishes offering up three course meals that I helped cook during the majority of our stay.
Although my brother and sister-n-law are an international couple who have lived all over the world, the house is decorated sparingly. Where art does exist, it does so boldly. Four large wooden panels from Mexico hang on the wall of the dining room, each displaying an angel painted in bright colors. The panels are weather-worn window shutters, re-purposed as canvases with the knots and nails left in place. In the master bedroom, two built-in art nooks are home to carved statues illuminated by spotlights.
The ground floor, which is half below ground, accommodates a home office, yoga studio, laundry room, storage room, half kitchen and bath, tool room and bicycle storage.
The bedrooms and studies are located on the third and fourth floors. My little family was easily tucked into a fourth floor bedroom large enough for two beds, chairs, our multiple suitcases, Ezra’s toys and room for morning yoga stretches. It was only half as big as our nephew’s bedroom down the hall. We were living in the lap of luxury.
Yet, amidst all this luxury, this family lives simply and works hard. They rarely eat out, and although generous, have the Dutch mentality–frugal with daily expenses, always turning off the lights and conserving whenever possible. They only have one car, and ride their bikes to most events.
Their 13-year-old son is an articulate, well-educated young man who speaks four languages fluently and is studying a fifth in school. He excels in all of his courses at the international school, studies guitar and is in a striker position on a league soccer team that practices twice a week. Despite this rigorous schedule, multilingualism and intelligence, not to mention that he has traveled in his young life to far more countries than I, he is not arrogant. He is kind and friendly. In fact, he and Ezra have become fast friends, and Ezra likes to go for play dates with him whenever he can.
Our stay was just long enough for Ezra to consider this palatial residence as his home away from home, and he feels comfortable being dropped off for the afternoon with his cousin, aunt and uncle. When I come to pick him up after half a day, instead of running into my arms and screaming “mommy! You’re here!” he asks me to come back later.
We are so thankful to have such a wonderful connection with our family and this extended stay was key to creating that bond. If you think you can take it and life circumstances allow, I suggest such an experiment with your adult brothers or sisters if the relationship allows. Keys to success: set a pre-determined end date so everyone can see the horizon of returning to normal and regaining their privacy; respect the rules of the house; chip in on household stuff whenever possible so that your stay is a benefit to everyone; make sure to have parties and fun events in the mix.
As our embassy stay came to an end, my in-laws, worried about where we would stay next, spontaneously decided to go on a three-week vacation in rural Belgium. Thus, their worry subsided and we had a place to stay.