We heard about the Belgian Flower Carpet. Every 2 years, a giant flower carpet is constructed in the middle of the Brussels Grand Palace. We were staying in Rotterdam in The Netherlands, and so Brussels was only a few hours drive away.
Did I want to go to the land of Belgian chocolate, Belgian fries, and Belgian waffles to see an amazing giant colourful flower carpet that is only created once every two years??
We set out way later than planned. The usual fussing around and struggling to get out the door. The kids were whiny and arguing from the beginning...not a good sign, but we pressed on. At one point, Ross turned to me and double checked that I really wanted to go. I was adamant, YES! I wanted to go to Belgium and eat delicious Belgian food and see a carpet made of flowers. I ignored the chaos coming from the car and set my imagining towards waffles.
And then....the car broke down.
We hadn't even made it out of The Netherlands yet. In fact, we had only driven about half an hour. Our car started seizing up as we were crossing a major bridge, and as we didn't fancy the idea of waiting for roadside assistance on such a busy road, we limped the car into the nearest little town, Willemstad.
We had membership with ADAC - a European roadside assistance company, and just as Ross was making the call to ask for help...his international credit totally ran out! I waited in the car as he ran across the road to a nearby Texco. He asked the man working there if he could please use his phone for an emergency, and the man refused...
Hmmm, Ok, what to do now? We were very blessed in this moment because another man who had been listening to Ross' conversation recognised his Australian accent. He offered the use of his phone because he had been to Australia and he loved Australians!! He was very helpful and kind to complete strangers. To complete, rather daft strangers who should have organised the whole phone situation a bit better before tripping off with 5 kids on an international roadtrip. But I suppose we live and learn. And I am always amazed and grateful when wonderful people come to the rescue. Maybe God places them in our path, or maybe the world is full of kindhearted generous souls who lend a willing hand when it is needed. I think both are true.
As it turns out, we had accidentally landed in one of the cutest little Dutch towns in the world. The sky was blue, there were windmills, canals, and cute little Dutch houses. We should have had a delightful stopover, and as I look at our photos, it appears to be so....
Unfortunately, the photos LIE! Well, they lie for me. I was increasingly frustrated and miserable. As I circled the streets with all of my lovely and whiny kids, who... let me put it this way; they were not having a cheerful or co-operative type of day, I struggled. Personally, I was trying to deal with the devastating loss of all that lovely Belgium food I had set my sights on...so close, but yet so far...and we ended up walking around for hours. At first I was hoping it would be a quick fix and then we could be on our way, but things were not that simple and as the hours wore on, I struggled to keep patient and cheerful. I struggled to deal with my own disappointment of something that was a one time thing. It was the last day for the flower carpet, so there was no going back later. I felt frustrated trying to keep my kids occupied and annoyed at once again having to breastfeed in the heat while perched on a rock. My kids were hungry, they were fighting, my baby was fussy, and I just couldn't muster up any kind of positive outlook.
I think that things were not as bad for everyone else as they seemed to me. I was going through some of those extreme traveling emotions that can hit without warning. My kids, although in my eyes they were being total ratbags, actually had some fun. They found some fascinating pebbles on the path, marvelled at how green the canal algea was, and laughed and ran around with none of the adult emotional weight that I struggled with. Looking back, I should have taken their lead instead of fighting to control everything.
Of course they were all busting for the toilet, and of course there were no public facilities. I had to walk into a restaurant and ask with a pleading look on my face if we could all please use the loo. The man was nice and showed us where to go. Afterwards I offered to pay some money as this is the custom in Germany if you use the restroom of a restaurant that you haven't eaten in, but the guy just looked at me like I was crazy and said 'no thanks'.
Hmmm, I was picking up some travel savvy tips; the Dutch are generous with the use of their toilets...but not so much with mobile phones...unless, they happen to love Australia and Australians!
After AGES and AGES of waiting, Ross finally finished organising the tow truck to take our poor car to a mechanic and we waited in town for our friend to come and pick us up. We walked around the cute harbor town, everyone was happy but me, I was too busy grumping about the fact that we would all get sunburned. We found a patch of grass and the kids had a fantastic time running around and playing, and in Bohan's case, eating shoes.
I have asked my kids recently what they remember about this day. All they remember is that we ate ice-cream, and that they escaped a potentially long boring day and were very happy to run around a patch of grass that had two cannons on it. I am grateful that they don't remember my bad mood.
In this instance, the kids are in the right. They found joy in the simple things around them in the moment. They didn't bemoan what could have been and they didn't focus on the negative around them as I did. They are imperfect and they are beautiful, just like life, and just like our travels together.