I wondered how this phase of our three month trip would be for my twelve year old daughter. Even worried about it a bit. We all know how to be a tourist. But when you’re twelve, you only have so much patience for medieval towns, churches, castles and even less for museums and art galleries. But, because you’re a good kid you try hard and show interest in the things the adults get all excited about. But at least there’s stuff going on and something external to you is telling you what to do, where to go, and what to do next.
But now we’re in a small house in a nice quiet neighborhood on the very outskirts of a city that’s smaller than what she’s used to. She’s missing her dog very much and feels every bark and woof in the neighborhood like a physical blow. She’s not an urban kid. Loves all kinds of animals, being outside, doesn’t care about getting dirty and whether her hair is a tangled knot. She’s used to having friends around.
So we had been in our house exchange a couple of days. Her dad was away on business and her mother was preoccupied with muttering at the car’s GPS and various household appliance manuals all written in Dutch. As a result, my daughter had been spending too much time with her laptop computer. She was getting bored and flounced into the kitchen one morning. “What’s for breakfast?” I run through the healthy options. No tourist food like she got in Copenhagen, Milan, Genoa, Venice, Como or Bellagio. No chocolate filled croissants, hotel buffets of baked goods, bacon, pancakes, deli meat, danish pastries, et cetera, et cetera. I could feel her deflate and she disappeared back upstairs with no breakfast.
So I wandered up there awhile later to have a chat about how we’re in a new phase of the trip, how she needs to find her own amusements that aren’t glowing-screen related, and that, you know, maybe she’d like to walk around the neighborhood and see if she can find any girls her age? She looked at me like I’d asked her to parade around the neighborhood in her underwear.
But that’s all behind us and my twelve year old has had a day she’ll remember all her life. Not a Nobel Prize winning sort of day, just a regular day that turned out amazing. And turned into more days like that – in fact, as many as she’d like. And all because of a trip to a medical clinic.
It was one of those things that felt like a big stupid hassle…to me…who was the cause for the trip. A minor issue, but one that required a trip to a neighborhood clinic. Which wasn’t a small deal to organize…a call to the Canadian health insurer. Then googling local hospitals. Then a phone call to the hospital to see if that’s where we should go. No. We should call a “house doctor”. That number didn’t work. So…call the nice lady back and she speaks enough English to understand and kindly connects us directly to the clinic. Fantastic. If we pay in cash we can have an appointment in an hour. So because we don’t want to leave the kids home alone with no form of communication to us (my husband trying to set up cell phones for us in Holland has been a five day Olympic event…so far), we ALL go.
As we near the clinic my daughter spies a sign for “Sunflowers Ranch” and she can see that there are guinea pigs. Like I said, we’re on the outskirts of town. I need to wait awhile so I suggest my husband take the kids over to check it out. They come back all excited because they’d seen guinea pigs and rabbits which they’d tried to pet with their fingers through the fence. Can we please go back when it’s open?
Turns out this “ranch” is a rescue animal sort of operation that relies on donations and the help of girls roughly my daughter’s age. Not only are there guinea pigs and rabbits, there are mice, snakes, hairy chickens, other birds, dogs, ponies, sheep and horses. And my daughter is welcome anytime to work alongside the Dutch girls looking after the animals all day long. They are training the rabbits to do tricks for the weekly “public” days the neighborhood preschool set comes in to play. They are training the horses to “sit and stay”. They are constantly running after the sheep since they’ll get out of the pasture the first chance they get. She came back from her first day announcing “I can’t remember when I’ve laughed so much with girls my own age. It was SO MUCH fun!!” Yesterday she cantered her horse and jumped over a log. “Do your new friends speak English?” I ask. “No. Not really. Andrea translates for us and the rest of the time we just laugh.” When my husband went to collect her one day the girls had hijacked Andrea’s car and were trying to drive it away over the pasture with the music blaring so loudly my daughter said “the door was vibrating!” Andrea seems to me a special person with extraordinary patience. My daughter proclaims “this is the best job ever!!”.
I couldn’t have paid for or organized anything better for my child, and to me it’s a huge lesson in the serendipity of what I think is a negative event or hassle. Small and big events are going to shape me and my family… if I let them.