Thursday, May 31, 2018

Travelling Around the World for Family, Love and Belonging

We finally did it! After planning for fifteen years to take our kids to Europe to meet their extended family, we just bit the bullet and went for it. And it was perfect.

But how can I possibly sum up the thirty-one cities, four languages, sixty beloved friends and family, and what seemed like ten years' worth of experiences in a little blog post with just a handful of photos? I can't. I can't possibly. So I'm just going to drop some photos here. I have left out the countless churches, castles, cities, landmarks, and amazing wilderness areas we saw and leave you with what really matters:

There is nothing in the world better or more important than love and a feeling of belonging.

At the airport getting ready to take our kids on their first airliner ever. We were pretty much giddy with the excitement.
WHOAH. Those first three are some amazing numbers to contemplate.

Some family you are born into and some you choose. Our Swiss family picked wild bear-leeks for our dinner!
When the kids discovered that their father's childhood home in Germany is actually quite similar to their own and their grandparents'. And they felt comfortable, there.

Accompanying their Pappa to his favourite tree in the whole wide world.

Everybody we visited took time to show us the things they care about. It was a time of really connecting to our roots, both new and old. Markus' uncle and aunt harvest about 600kg of organic honey every year, which they sell locally.

This trip included a bit of a pilgrimage to the graves of our three European grandmothers who died since the last time we came to Europe. Tending the graves of those we love was a very important part of our journey.

Grocery shopping was a whole new experience!

Speaking of people we love - we did not forget to send a few postcards!

We were fortunate to be able to bring flowers from the homes of our grandmothers to their graves. This particular grandmother financed half of our trip, before she died. We saved all the money she sent us for birthdays over the past 15 years and put it towards our plane tickets. We were sorry we didn't make it over before she was gone.

Our family took us to so many amazing places - often many places in a single day. Sometimes it was exhausting, but as I look back I know that this gave us a chance to connect with them; to see their world as they wanted us to, and to give them an opportunity to see us in their world.

We pulled up an audio of my Grandmother's laughter on my cell phone, and listened to it beside her grave. Then we sat around "having lunch with her", for all that that is worth. It's everything. Grieving the loss of someone can be a weird and complicated adventure, but I'm glad we've found ways to do it as a family.

Our family cottage in the Netherlands is near some bronze-age grave mounds. That was a long-awaited destination and we reveled in being there.

Some regular old cottage maintenance was needed, too. Nice to be able to be involved.

And then the cousins descended on this beloved cottage.

This family is very dour.


The amazing but unsurprising thing is that no matter where in the world you live, or what your personal history is, family is family is family. My kids had never met most of these people before, and we came from Canada and all over Europe to convene at our beloved cottage... and just feel like we belong together.

And belonging was easy.

Even when the French and Canadian cousins found each other out wandering among the heather and grave mounds in the foggy midnight and sang together in the darkness.

I haven't always belonged. I got kicked out of art school here over 20 years ago, so this time I took my kids to see the place I used to ride to every day, bike laden with supplies and hopes and dreams. We found this gilded sculpture there, which I thought was apt. I'm glad I got kicked out. Those teachers weren't my people anyway.
My friend and former neighbour took us to meet her horse and we had tea with the farmers - what a wonderful opportunity for my kids to meet some locals and to be accepted casually at their table.
I was thrilled that my kids had to learn to hand-wash their laundry as many Dutch people do, and as I did when I used to live there.

One of the greatest joys for me was that my parents also came to Europe, and met up with us for a day to visit the rather boring neighbourhood where I used to live. Living and studying in the Netherlands was a wonderful time for me - the place where I learned to fight for myself and to fail and get up again; the place where I gained my independence, and the whole time I lived there I wished that my family could know something of my life. Now, at last, they have.
Speaking of independence, my kids found theirs, too. They had amazing experiences on this trip, including many grand adventures (even a day-trip to Paris with my aunt!) and a new bond forged with many cousins. But they tell me this was their favourite day: The day they made a long bike journey to the North Sea together - just the two of them. They bought themselves fries there, found some shells, and returned. This was the day they found their independence.

Yeah that's my kid - just walking on the edge of the North Sea after a nice bike ride with her brother. Because when we give our kids freedom (no matter how scared we parents are about it!) they find their dreams.
While my kids were off gallivanting in their newfound freedom, I spent a week installing my current large art project, what.home, in Amsterdam. My friend Igor (whom I met at that art school I got kicked out of - see? Not all losses are losses after all!) and my dear husband helped me hugely to do this first installation. What a joy to spend some time being creative with some wonderful people; to reassure myself that despite leaving the Netherlands as a disgraced art student in the 90's, I still belong in the art world here, too.

Home. We flew home. For all the amazingness of finding ourselves at home in the people we love in Europe, this land and water and the air we know the smell of is the place our bodies belong.