Warning: I might be deported before I finish this blog post.
No vacation just goes against the grain for Europeans. Here in the Netherlands going on vacation is sacrosanct - everyone takes a vacation at least once a year, many more even more than that. You even get money toward it from your employer, I am pretty sure it is law. Each month your employer pays you an additional 8% of your salary and puts it away for you, then in May they pay it out to you and it equals roughly a month's pay to fund your vacation. When I first moved here and heard of this my mouth was on the floor for about a week. Your employer pays for your vacation. But then I saw what I have to pay in taxes and how little you actually earn in Europe as compared to the US and I was able to close my mouth again. If employers didn't pay for it, most Dutch people couldn't afford a vacation and then they would probably rebel and cut off the Queen's Head. So the government forces employers to pay, it's more about the Royal Family's survival than about travel. Still, it's pretty cool that much no matter how rich or poor you are, Europeans have the opportunity to go on at least one vacation away from home a year. But because of that staycations are almost not done.
When I was growing up we took vacations but most vacations had a purpose to them. We went to Ft. Lauderdale to visit my grandparents and to Miami to visit other relatives. My parents went to Chicago and North Carolina to the furniture markets. Sure, they took us camping once or twice and we went to Canada a few times. When I was little my brothers attended summer camps in New England, Canada and North Carolina and we would drive them there and pick them up and stay somewhere for a few days on the way home and the way there, but they were usually small hotels, often in college towns and I would spend the days at the hotel pool and we would hit a museum and some historic site and that would be about it. I was lucky as a kid that I had no shortage of relatives who would put me up for a week or two in the summer and I spent loads of time with people like Cousin Linda, Aunt Patty and Karen and when I got a little older I also went to summer camp. The first time I can remember going on a vacation, with no hidden agenda except to relax and enjoy someplace must have been when I was maybe 11 or 12 and I went with my Aunt Patty, her girlfriend Karen and her kids to Ocean City, Maryland for a week. We went to this little motel and went to the beach all day and the boardwalk all night. This was in the late 70's and Karen was a struggling single mother, going to college at night and struggling to support her 3 kids. They really didn't have a lot. I can remember being fascinated when I went grocery shopping with them and they paid with food stamps. I asked my mom what they were and my mom just told me to shut up about it. I think once our parents took us to DC because it was important for us to see the nation's capital. Come to think of it though, I didn't go on that vacation, I think I stayed at Linda's then. I do have a little paperweight of the capitol building though. When we were much older my dad took us on family vacations (which were fun but often in some way disastrous (hurricanes, family squabbles, etc.) to Nags Head, Cape Cod, Cancun, Disney. Don't even get me started about the Great Bacon Episode of 1992, that falls under whatever is Jewish for Omerta. So it is not like I never went on vacations but it wasn't the same idea as it is over here, where you go to a different place and experience it just for the hell of it. I am not sure if that is a US/European difference or if it is a sign of the times, probably both.
Here though everyone goes on vacation. First of all we get a lot of paid vacation comparatively compared to the US. The bare minimum is 4 weeks but depending on age, length of employment or your company wanting to offer better benefits you can get more. I get about 6 weeks and Leo 4. Plus my company gives you an extra week every 5th year of service, so next year when I hit 10 years I will get 7 weeks. Most people take a bare minimum 3 weeks in the summer, a week either at Christmas, Easter, or spring to coincide with kids' holidays. In the summer everyone goes somewhere. Basically from April until September the opening line of any conversation with a Dutch person is "do you have vacation (actually they use the Britishy English term - holiday) plans? This year when I tell people we are not going anywhere, you see a look of surprise register and then an uncomfortable "er, um, well sometimes it is nice to just be at home for a few weeks."
But we are doing it, we are breaking the social compact and not going on a vacation this year. Of course the reasons are financial more than anything else. Sure if I were Angelina Jolie I would just pack my brood and go whereever the wind took me (and I would eat something and have less tattoos), but unfortunately I live in the real world and have to make decisions not on my whims but on what is best for our family. And this year that means no vacation. We have had a lot of home improvement type expenses this year, we had to replace our furnace and the winter did a lot of damage to our house and we have to paint the outside. Last summer we had to rebuild our shed, all of which of course cost a crazy amount of $$ to do (sorry should be using the Euro symbol but I have to press, shift, control and 6 other buttons to type it). There have also been a lot of family-type events this year. Leo's nephew had his Bar Mitzvah in Israel and in October my nephew is getting married in the US. These events are important to us to attend but are very costly. We still really need live-in help for Maya (well, need I am not sure but it is convenient this way, there are no after school programs for special needs kids here and our support system is not so elaborate here that we have another doable solution) and live-in help helps to de-stress us and helps us actually spend more time with Maya since we have help in the house to help with things like setting the table and cleaning up after dinner that I can usually go upstairs with Maya straight after dinner and get at least 1.5 hours of mommy time in which is important to me. Plus I don't live the cheapest lifestyle, I like Maya (and me) to have nice clothes and good shoes and there are just certain things I won't compromise on. I buy steaks from the butcher because I'd rather have tender meat I can eat then tough cheaper crap that I will throw away from the grocery store. What can I say? I am an uppity woman.
Rich or poor everyone here seems to take a summer vacation someplace. Camping is very popular for families here and you see tons of Europeans hit the roads with their rented campers and head off to France or Spain or even closer to home with their campers and live outdoors with other families. Folks with more means rent or own houses abroad (I always joke that in July and August, the entire Dutch population is in France and Spain, the entire German population is in the Netherlands and the French are in France (snotty bitches).
We used to go to the US often and of course we love that but these trips end up costing us tons of money and and sometimes I think the costs go much deeper. The reason? Well for one, we shop a lot when we are in the US. Everything is so much cheaper and I always feel pressured because I am there for such a short time and won't be back for a year, that I have to stock up on everything from clothes, shoes, books, toys, spices that we end up spending a bloody fortune. And although we have a lot of generous friends and family who graciously put us up (sometimes for weeks), it is difficult to stay in other people's houses for weeks at a time. I am always a little bit on edge, worried that Maya will get into what she shouldn't and because of that I end up yelling at her and losing my patience with her on almost a daily basis because I don't want people to think "that kid is wild." And it is hard for Maya to relax in these situations too mostly because I am on edge (which makes Leo on edge) but that combined with her being over excited causes her to, for example, relentlessly (albeit good naturedly) push pets to the point of exhaustion and I get so worried that their owners are irritated with her that I spend the whole time saying "stop it Maya, stop it Maya, stop it Maya, stop it Maya." that our hosts think I am the meanest and most harpy mother in the world. And let's face it, that cannot be fun to have stay in your house. Since we come from abroad we come for several weeks and after the last one or two trips I have seriously rethought our once per year US Expeditions where we end up putting out our family and friends and while we always still have a good time I think it is just too much. I love my friends and my family and I want them to keep loving us. That means hotels which means shorter trips to the US less often.
So for all those reasons we have decided to stay home and I will admit, the European in me feels a little guilty and a little bummed out about it. Maya has been in her short life to many places and she is also used to having a summer vacation, it was weird for her to think we are not going anywhere this year. But the truth is we hardly go anywhere in the Netherlands because we always go abroad on vacations and the rest of the year we are too
Maya has 2 more weeks of school and then her 6 week summer vacation begins. Maya has never had 6 whole weeks of vacation without school or therapy group so that will be a first for her. Leo is taking the first 3 weeks off and I am taking 2.5 weeks (and we will overlap for about 10 days) and also our new au pair will arrive (in two weeks time she will be here) and Leo's brother and his family will come somewhere in the middle for a few days. I have already started making a list of some things to do which Maya might like and because we are
- De Efteling - by far the best amusement park in NL. A kind of cross between a Disney Theme Park and a Story Book land. It is all about the fairy tales in the Efteling and Maya has been talking about going for months. This will be a winner.
- The Dolfinarium - animals and sea life spell a winning formula for Maya.
- The Cobra Museum - I've never taken Maya to an art museum and this one is small and they are offering a lot of summertime activities for kids so what a good way to introduce her to the world and beauty of art. If that is successful I may try and take her to the Rijksmuseum to get a peak at the Dutch masters.
- The Beach - self explanatory
- The Pool - I have many good memories of going to the swim club with my mom in summer. As a kid summers were about going to the pool every day.
- Blijdorp - Rotterdam's famous zoo which is supposed to be the best in NL and one of the best in Europe. Maya has been to Amsterdam's zoo Artis many times but Blijdorp will be a fun treat for her (especially if we go by train)
- And for sure we will fit in a few cinema trips and other fun things for her.
And--no packing and unpacking, no airports, no lines, no passport control, no full body scans. -- all good things!
To be honest I am looking forward to it. Less is more!
Wishing all my readers out there a glorious summer whether it's vacation or staycation!