When you think of The Netherlands what do you think of? Windmills right? Maybe those windmills are surrounded by colourful tulips....and cute girls with braids in their hair sporting pointy hats and wearing yellow clogs?
Of course there is much more to The Netherlands than my ridiculous mental image...but is it even slightly realistic? My family went to the most famous and iconic place that we could find in The Netherlands to test it out - Kinderdijk.
Kinderdijk is a group of 19 huge Dutch windmills in Southern Holland. They are national monuments and a UNESCO World Heritage sight.
I cannot help but feel a weird giddy happiness when I find myself surrounded by the iconic symbols of a country that I am exploring. Even though I love the ( rather unrealistic ) idea of my family being a cool international savvy crew, blending in with the locals and taking the road less traveled....I just can't help myself, I love all the touristy stuff! Like the Black Forest in Germany and the Sound of Music in Austria, the most famous windmills in Holland were a promise of travel joy.
The only problem that I had standing in my way of blissfully living out my international iconic dreams....was myself. My expectations can get wildly out of hand. My brain starts picturing tulips, and meadows, and clogs and windmills in the sun....and with that picture is a smiling, happy family where everyone is polite and courteous. No one is pushing, whining, complaining, fighting, having a melt-down or pooping at inopportune times. No way, they are so happy and grateful to be traveling the world, and they understand the significance and excitement that each adventure brings......
Ok, so maybe other families can exist like this, but so far, our journey was nothing of the sort. My traitorous brain however, frequently got caught up in all the glorious idealism possible in iconic foreign places, that the crash back to reality can put me in a foul mood. And then I ruin everything with my own grumpiness. I want so desperately for my family to have wonderful experiences on our journey around the world, that I forget the point....it's a journey. It's a journey to learn patience with each other, and courtesy, and how to have fun when you're tired and totally out of your comfort zone.
Because we'd had a recent disastrous trip in The Netherlands when all of our plans went awry, for this excursion to the land of Dutch dreams I made a deliberately conscious decision inside myself to have a good day, no matter what. I tested the idea that a good day did not have to involve perfection from all those involved, but rather the right kind of attitude coming from Ross and I.
To ride bikes along the Kinderdijk is about as cool and perfectly Dutch as I was ever going to get, I was very excited! Bicycles can be rented at the café inside the souvenir shop. These are traditional Dutch bikes - old beat-up things with no gears, back brakes and plenty of rattling going on.
We were up for the adventure!....only we had one problem, my 11 year old daughter couldn't ride a bike.
I know I sound like a terribly neglectful parent, and in that moment I was certainly bemoaning the lack of this particular skill in her life. We had given her a go at bike riding when she was in kindergarten. Just like all the other kids, she went with her class to a little road skills place to test out some new 'driving' skills. She'd tried twice, fell off twice, cracked it completely and refused to get on a bike after that! All the other little kids were wobbling around the tracks, but my little independant and stubborn 5 year old just walked around the roads with her head held high. After that, it was just too much effort to get her interested in bike riding, so I'd told myself that she could live a perfectly happy life without ever needing to ride a bike. Over the years she'd given it a go occasionally without much success. How was I ever to know that our future involved a trip to The Netherlands!?!?
We convinced her to give it a try (a long process with much pleading and bribery), strapped baby Bohan to my back and set off. We managed to make it about 10 meters down the road before she crashed into a bush, 'cracked the sads' (this is Australian for throwing a tantrum) and ran off!
Hmmm, the dreamy day was off to a wobbly start. Ross, my hero, came to the rescue. He took Amira's bike back to the shop and offered to carry her on the front of his own bike. So we set off again, with Ross struggling to ride straight with a tall 11 year old perched on the front of his bike, me carrying a big fat heavy baby on my back, and my 5 year old Rushton pretty much trying to run everyone over on the way! Oh boy, watch out, the Gilberts are doing something wild again...like riding bikes together!
Well, it was worth it. The scenery was so beautiful, and since I definitely couldn't control everything on this ride, I tried my best to enjoy every moment. Rushton made me laugh (and freak out) as he rode his wobbly way down the road, swerving to only just miss any oncoming riders by centimeters! Bo fell asleep and so I wasn't able to have a break from carrying him. I knew that as soon as he woke prematurely, he would cry a lot and make the experience awful. So I carried him the whole time we were there, moving very gingerly everytime we stopped.
Some of the windmills are set up as museums, and so as we rode along the path we were able to make stops and explore. Such a cool way for us to learn about Dutch culture and history!
And there were cloggs!!! The kids had a great time playing and trying them all on. Maybe they are more into enjoying cheezy iconic tourist traps than I give them credit for.
It was such a fascinating place to be! Some of the open air museums were set up to replicate the old Dutch way of life. We got to see a glimpse of what life had been like for the families who'd lived inside the windmills 300 years ago.
Our day at Kinderdijk was truly wonderful. Not because things were perfect or easy-breezy. Not because none of my kids complained, whined, 'cracked-the-sads', cried or fought (because there was definitely some of that going on). It was wonderful simply because of our outlook and attitude. This proved to make all the difference, and it coloured all of those iconic experiences that I was hoping for and made a memory for my family in The Netherlands that we can treasure and laugh about and simply feel happy and glad of the experience for years to come. Dreams do come true, sometimes, imperfectly, but it is definitely possible, even for those of us who are struggling and learning on our journey.