Content warning: Be careful what you ask for, this post is a doozie!
About 12 years before I met Betsy, she stepped off a plane in Florida, jet lagged and hungry after a 12 hour flight from Budapest. She had just returned to the states after teaching abroad for ‘round about 7 years. For the first five, she taught IB and GCSE English in Singapore, the two after that she taught IB English in Hungary. In these years she worked, coached, played and developed life-long bonds with some extraordinarily lovely people who would go on to serve and lead international schools around the world. (I’m sure it’ll come as little surprise to y’all that this period of her life formed her into the beautiful human that swept me off my feet a couple of years ago).
Fast forward to Nov. 8, 2016, just 4 months after the proposal and 4 months before the wedding, we sat stunned and sobbing in our old Florida home. After the sickening reality of who and what had just happened sank in, Betsy began reaching out to everyone she knew abroad to find out if there might be any openings anywhere but here. There were, in fact, positions at a few schools and a few positions at one school in particular that happened to be located in the first nation to legalize same sex marriage – The Netherlands. Throughout the fall and winter she submitted her resume, letters of recommendation and participated in a flurry of Skype interviews (final interview was early in the morning on January 21, inauguration day). A few weeks later, after about a dozen sleepless nights she got the call – “you’re hired!”
In the months between Nov. 8 and Jan. 21, we’d talked to a lot of folks – each other, friends, family, acquaintances and complete strangers – and we kept coming up with the same conclusion; we want this.
Some of y’all have been following this journey and have asked for more insight about the logistics of what we are doing. Lordy be, there are so many moving parts!
The engine driving this hover craft is Betsy’s job. Without this, I have no idea how we’d have the privilege of making this leap. Betsy’s connections, commitment and skills as a devoted high school literature teacher is how we got this ball rolling.
Because of her job and sponsorship, I, her wife, will also have a live/work permit for our life in Leiden. I do not yet know what I will be doing – that search will be infinitely easier once I am there and have my work permit in hand. I am hoping for something new, something that draws on my seminary education while still utilizing my decades of website design and social media marketing experience.
Thank goodness for our sponsor, Betsy’s school, and the folks there who are handling most of the puzzle pieces that would otherwise baffle us in this transition. The paperwork is significant, though not ridiculous. We had to provide serious, double plus, pinky swear proof that we are who we say we are. That meant we needed to both provide birth certificates with an Apostille seal procured from our states of birth. Then, once in hand, for me to be able to live and work there, we had to provide our marriage certificate (thanks Obama) with the Apostille seal. Bets had to submit an FBI background check (thankfully the Panamanian noodle incident was stricken from her record). Our fur kids would require their own reams of paperwork, but we will get to that in a second.
Here, too, we got all flavors of lucky. We were told that a lot of incoming faculty wait until they arrive to spend a couple of weeks searching for an apartment. Everyone we asked advised us to rent for the first year or two and then if we decided if this was our forever nation we might look to buy. I was intensely comfortable to nail down our rental as quickly as possible so we watched the school’s intranet closely for posts about rentals, while also spending countless hours on sites like Funda and Pararius. Pretty early on we saw a posting on the intranet for a place owned by a former teacher that was exactly where we wanted to live (near a park in Leiden) and after a couple of weeks of emails we had signed a one year lease on a perfect place on Rijnstraat just a block from Plantsoen Park.
Stateside, we decided pretty early on that we wanted to keep Betsy’s house that is just a five minute walk from Manasota beach. So we had months of work to get it ready and within a few day of posting it on Craigslist, we hit the tenant jackpot! We moved out of our home on July 1st and have been living on the goodwill of family and Air BnB hosts for the last two weeks. When we get to Holland, we will be staying in a groovy Air BnB in the Hague before we get to move into our for-real home in Leiden.
Quarantine is not required to ship our fur babies to The Netherlands. However, there have been five bazillion hours of paperwork, two extra-large, airline approved crates, 15 digit European chips (in addition to their already installed, 9 digit US chips), a whole new round of shots, a USDA certified health certificate (which had to be government approved within 10 days of the dogs arriving in The Netherlands – thanks FedEx for the paper routing to and from Tallahassee), an embarrassing pile of Benjamins to ship two, 60+ pound boxer-bulldogs the 4,624 miles from Miami to Amsterdam, not to mention a flurry of frantic phones calls to check and double check just about everything. Because our fur babies are of the snub-nose variety, there are only a couple of airlines equipped to ship them safely. With the (required) help of an official (and wildly helpful) pet carrier, we’ve made all the arrangements for Sookie and Louie to be dropped off at their pet terminal on Friday morning, after which we will head over to our own terminal and each take our day-long journey to Holland. We will arrive at Schiphol about an hour before they land.
We have too much stuff….no, really, we have way too much stuff. We still have too much stuff even after jettisoning and storing lots and lots of stuff. After a big old yard sale, about 13 trips to our local thrift shop (NOT Goodwill), selling our camper and cars and recycling what was left of the product from our business, we STILL have too much stuff. About six weeks before our scheduled flight, movers arranged by the school where B will work arrived to pack up our allowed 8 cubic meters of stuff. We are also hauling four huge suitcases, two small suitcases and an unauthorized amount of “personal items” through the airports and city streets of The Hague.
We are still Americans. We will still be Americans when we get there. We will always be Americans. We are not, nor are we required to renounce our citizenship. We will carry our American passports everywhere we go. One day, if all goes as my heart of heart hopes, I hope to apply for dual citizen ship. But that is years off and for another post further down the road.
Whew, that’s all I’ve got for now, y’all. We still have a few more days State-side and about 12 days of errands yet to run!
Feel free to ask about anything we’ve left out..like all the insurance papers (especially those in Dutch), sim cards for our iPhones, shutting off utilities and picking them back up over there, consolidating bank accounts and opening accounts abroad. Bets and I will both do our best to respond. Your call is important to us…please stay on the line.
“Life is available only in the present moment” – Thich Nhat Hanh, Taming the Tiger
Liminal space; it’s one of my favorite phrases, a notion I find rather fetching, but as it turns out, it’s a space I do a miserable job of inhabiting.
In less than 60 days Betsy and I will hop on the plane that will be taking us to our new life in Leiden. We have so much yet to do – paperwork for us and our two rambunctious dogs, check-ups for us and the aforementioned fur babies, sorting and selling and packing all the things and saying a host of “until we meet agains.”
And we are SO stinking’ excited. And yes, also freaking out a little bit.
Nearly every evening, we watch YouTube videos filled with windmills, tulips and boats puttering along quaint canals. Sometimes we unfold the rumpled photos of the house we’ll live in over there and talk about what of ours we’re taking and where it might sit in the scene. We take turns reading aloud from a handful of books about our soon-to-be home while one of us cooks or does the dishes or tries to sneak just one more decades old t-shirt into the Goodwill bag.
I have a countdown app on my phone that I peek at every day, as if I’m not keeping track in my distracted head. When we are with friends and family, nearly every discussion turns to our expat plans. More than a few invitations to hang out have been declined in favor of getting ready to go. With all the planning and packing, googling and gawking, we have little time to walk the 1800 steps to beautiful Manasota Beach.
Yeah, we are having a blast fiddling with the future, but I’m keenly aware that I’m not giving myself fully to the present moment of the rapidly waning days in America. Some days I want to crawl out of my own skin to hurry up and get there. I wasn’t sure how to settle my spirit, so I sat down to make this list:
1. When I wake up, sit still with a cup of coffee and look, listen and languish in the fleeting darkness.
2. Drive to work in quiet, notice the landscape of Florida, especially the bougainvillea, the Spanish moss, sand everywhere all dotted with lizards, spindly legged birds and post-card palm trees.
3. While at work, give my full attention to each task, even to the things everyone knows I won’t care a whit about in just a few days.
4. Go out to lunch and eat at my favorite pizza joint, taco stand or greasy spoon.
5. Stop at the grocery store on the way home and pick up a disgustingly, deliciously American snack.
6. While making or eating dinner with Betsy, share what did happen during our individual days, not what is going to happen over there.
7. Spend an hour or two a night mindfully going through stuff – linger over old photos, flip through a book or two slotted to give away and take time remember to why I loved that thread bare t-shirt in the first place.
8. Go on a few dates with my amazing wife – dine out, goof off at the pool hall, dance like fools at a concert by our favorite band or catch a blazing sunset with our toes in the sand.
9. Spend as much time as possible – in person, on the phone, via Skype or even in private messages online – with every single person I love. Be fully present to their lives and listen deeply to their stories.
10. Hug everyone who is a hugger.
Content warning: the views expressed in this blog post are expressly those of an author seething with frustration about her home country while wearing rose colored-glasses about her future home.
In just about 70 days, I will hop on a plane with my wife to begin the next chapter of our lives together. It has all the promise of a grand adventure, but it doesn’t come without a portion of sadness, a pinch of anxiety and just a dash of WTH are we doing?!
I am paying closer attention to life around me and I’ve been thinking deeply about what I will and won’t miss. Truth be told, there are only a handful of things I will miss, most of them not things at all. But we will get to that in a moment.
Right before I began writing this post, I quickly consulted the oracle of Googly goodness to see what other folks have said they miss about America when they are abroad. I bet it will come as little surprise, but what I mostly found were a bunch of whiny, privileged, consumer-driven lists about fast food, phone service and freon. While I’m a woman of a certain age and I will miss my A/C on the occasional warm day in the Netherlands, I can say with a high degree of certainty that I will not miss anything on those other lists. But for now, here is the list of what I think I will and won’t miss. Actually, lets start with what I won’t miss.
What I won’t miss
More than a few acquaintances have expressed gape-mouthed astonishment that we are giving away or selling most of our things. And for a couple of broads with nearly a century (combined) under our belts, that’s a lot of stuff to let go of. And you know what, I really won’t miss that sofa, or those plates or that rug, the pants I never wear or the shirts I’d forgotted I even had. Very few of the things I own are of intrinsic or emotional value. Most that are, will make the voyage. Some we will have to let go, like our camper that has brought us so much joy in such a short time. But these are just things and by my way of thinking, life is too short to be possessed by our possessions.
I will not miss the oil changes I always forget to do ’til she’s wheezing and sputtering. I won’t miss flat tires. I will not miss driving in rush hour traffic (or season traffic in Florida). I will not miss paying for insurance or gas. I will not miss my heavy carbon footprint.
Fast food, not even the fried chicken.
I am looking forward to walking to the farmers market twice a week to explore fresh, weird & wonderful food. Betsy is a fantastic cook and we are both over the moon to traipse around our new city and country learning how the locals eat.
I will not miss “debates” with “conservative Christians.” I will not miss the posturing and politics of “Christian leaders” who grow rich peddling fear and loathing. I won’t miss the Christian industrial complex that takes more cues from capitalism than Christ. And I’m really, really over politics masquerading as Christianity used to manipulate the masses.
Everything about America, from day one, has been about the bottom line. The truth is, America was founded, not on the quest for freedom of thought and religion (like our quaint little school books would have us believe), but on a quest for wealth, a lust for power and a desire for dominance. Sure, we penned some right nice ideas in the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution puts forth some grand democratic ideals, but in reality, if you are not a rich, white, heterosexual, land owning male, it was never really about you. Now more than ever, I can see that we are and always have been a government of the dollar by the dollar and for the dollar.
The glorification of busy.
It seems that the notion of sabbath taking, true and deep rest from our work, is shameful in America. We are on an ever moving treadmill of doing rather than being. I am ready for a a significant change of perspective and priorities.
Homophobia everywhere, every day.
Just the other night I sat with my wife at a pub in Florida, sipping a good beer, laughing with a few good friends, and right across the bar sat two disgruntled people who glared at us and pursed their surly lips as we dared to flaunt ourselves in their faces by just happily being ourselves, holding hands. To be quite blunt, this ever-pervasive experience tops the list of why we’ve decided to make the jump. I have mixed emotions about leaving y’all to fight the good fight, but I’m ready to just live openly and without the daily dose of ignorance and loathing, please and thank you.
Really, just stop. You know what it means, we know what it means. You embarrass me as a southerner, you embarrass me as an American. Read a book, listen to people, grow up and stop it.
What I will miss
The number one thing I will miss is not even a thing. I will miss my daughter more than I have words to convey. It is a tender ache already laced in and around my every fiber. Sure, she is thriving in her own life, deeply immersed in college, but I miss her every day and night just being a few hundred miles south of her right here on American soil. Though I’ll be just a six-hour flight away, it’s hard to untangle my heart from the notion that I will be living an ocean away from my Z. She will visit, almost as soon as we get there, and frequently I know (because Amsterdam), but this I’m sure will prove to be something about which I will need a great deal of reflection and meditation. And maybe a session or two of full-on Steel Magnolias ugly crying.
I will miss the smattering of loving family that still are crazy enough to claim me. And I will miss the handful of friends that it’s taken me a lifetime to find. I’ll be leaving behind friends in Georgia and Florida who feel more like family than most of my own kinfolk. Friends who, by all accounts, love me and root for me even when I forget how to be the good friend they deserve. Yeah, I will really, really miss my people.
The second thing I will miss is not a thing either…
I will miss Georgia. I will miss her troubled yet delightful cities. I will miss Atlanta and Decatur, both the familiar and the frustrating. I will miss her mountains to the north and her coastline dripping with magnolias and moss. I will miss the bloom of wisteria in the early spring and the first flicker of lightening bugs dancing between dogwoods of summer.
I will miss Florida. I have to be honest and say I did not believe that would ever be true. I will miss our little home and big yard and the many sacred spaces we have carved out together. I will miss the lushness everywhere I look. I won’t miss the miles and miles of strip malls, but I sure will miss the miles and miles of beaches, rivers to kayak and dark night skies framed by palm trees.
Oh and parks! Our nation’s beautiful national parks! Geeze o Pete, I hope the asshats in charge don’t destroy them while I’m gone because I really love my parks. Our parks, wildly diverse in their landscape and lore, are thin places if one but gives themselves permission to wander and wonder. Please enjoy and take good care of them while we’re away, m’kay.
Wild Goose is an event, both a place and a whole lot of people, that have helped me live into another way. It seems to be an example of best of this country could be if it really wanted – hopeful and diverse, open and warm, generative and rejuvenating.
At Wild Goose we:
showed up in our camper with very few things,
spent a lot of time walking,
shared our food, drink, umbrellas and really, all our stuff,
listened deeply to a lot of different faith journeys,
took a whole lot of sabbath,
welcomed everyone to be themselves just as they have been created
and draped anything & anybody that would stand still with peace and rainbow flags.
For just a minute up there in Hot Springs, we were reminded that a better way really is possible. Maybe even here. I sure hope here. But for now, we are getting ready for our own journey in search of that better way, on a little street, in an old neighborhood of a cool city in Holland called Leiden.