Changing or shaping – it depends on how old you are.

Changing or shaping – it depends on how old you are

When we set of for Belgium in Nov 2010, we were full of optimism – why would you go otherwise?

Friends and colleagues knew more than we did – Wow you’re brave – was a regular expression. Others lived the dream with us ‘Wonderful, what an adventure, you lucky things’ And indeed we were and are and have been – brave, be-wondered (new word), adventurous and adventured, lucky – well no, fortunate yes.

Hold on – not lucky!?

Exactly, I firmly believe you make your own luck. There are exceptions like winning the lottery (though again you had to buy a ticket to be in), but invariably where we end up is where we take ourselves.

Happy us (Ok it's NYC but hey...)

Join the front of the queue or stand back until the course is a safe one – well trodden, predictable and, well, if we are honest boring. Most of life’s joys lie in the hidden corners of our lives.

Like having children – there is nothing predictable about that adventure and anyone who thinks otherwise better look at just how quickly the world is changing around us; and then of course throw in the infinite possibilities of the children you will have and then raise with the habits you will draw them to and those you will repulse them from.

Many of my joys, if not all, have been from stepping out from the usual path including my marriage with Chrissy and having our own amazing children.

My sporting and outdoor adventures have followed a similar pattern – my most memorable being largely spontaneous and largely uncharted (running the Heaphy track with 2 others – at a weeks notice, and an impromptu 28 km circuit around Lake Rotoiti –South island – prior to a friends wedding).

And then there was Belgium. Easy, right?

Life isn't always a box of chocolates

Well, as readers of this full blog would know, not exactly. None of it was Belgium’s fault. Entirely the blame lies with me.

Somewhere in in the aging process there is a change that takes place. Until a certain age an adventure to a new land and way of life – well it ‘shapes’ your life, enriches it, opens you to possibilities, blah, blah, blah… Then there is a stage at which such an endeavor no longer shapes your life – it changes it – BAM, BAM, BAM!!!! Clearly if you’re not ready this hurts.

And there I was, and here we are.

For the girls this has very much created a time that will shape their lives in ways we can’t imagine from here – and increasingly the third culture kid phenomena is being observed and understood globally.

For me, everything has changed. New Zealand is still home, but I am no longer fixed there like before. I won’t comment for Chrissy – if she chooses to comment in her blog, I’ll let you know. I’ll get back to New Zealand, but I’m not really in a hurry.


Looking back much of the tension after our arrival I think was driven by the unrealized, deep down, recognition (I know that sounds oxymoronic but hear me out) that there was no going back. To return was futile; we came to create something new and exciting. Our company Chairman often says “It is what It is”. “It” took us quite some time to adapt to that fact as far as Belgium was concerned.

So 24 hours after completing my first mountain bike in Belgium since we came here – I now realize it was a bit more symbolic than just a ride. I had finally said to that deep down part of me “It is what It is”, and that deep down part of me accepted it (again without me realizing). A week earlier I had declared that I would only listen to the French speaking Brussels radio station (Pure FM), whilst commuting so I could improve my French (sacre bleu) – this was more than wanting to be able to understand the commentary on the six nations, I’d finally shifted to an attitude of ‘well you’re here, make the most of it’.

So the two events are connected and represent a sea change in my stay here in Belgium.

Seeing the light?

On the drive to the airport I was thinking about our plans to go to Croatia for a summer break – and how the fact that I already live somewhere that I can’t understand the language means I no longer have language as a reason not to go somewhere; liberating.

For our girls this will and has already shaped their lives. They are well down the track in accepting that they can travel and communicate wherever they wish – as I left this morning they were conversing in basic Dutch inspired by having been to see K3 – the enormously popular Belgian trio of women who appeal to all the sub-teens. They go to school with Dutch, Spanish, Americans, Germans, Czechoslovakians, French, Indian, Austrian, Chinese, and talk of places we didn’t even know existed until our high school years. What that leads to I have no idea, but I know they won’t live in one place forever.

Edie and Olive - going crazy in NYC (one of my favourite all-time pics)

However, to view this as the dream start for their lives is as fraught as our optimism in coming here. Everything is just a beginning and it very much has to do with what paths are chosen. And more important than bringing them on this journey is that they understand where the reward in life is; somewhere off the beaten track and before the precipice.

And then, as I understood and then forgot whilst standing in “Belgium’s headlights’, sometimes you still need to jump – your life can’t simply become a predictable series of ‘adventures’, because that is oxymoronic and pointless.

I marvel sometimes (as I am sure my parents did) that I have been able to survive some of these jumps, but daily I need to remind myself that is no reason not to ‘jump’ anymore. Everyday is discovery.

I re-tweeted a quote from Deepak Chopra last week rephrased it’s like this

– If you treat every moment of your existence as a miracle then happiness will follow –

It found me at a good time.

Thank you Belgium. Thank you Chrissy. Thank you my amazing daughters.

Our happy little Belgians - and friend Milla

Thank you ‘change’, without you I’d have none of this. Nothing.

So what do you plan to change today?

Go make yourself lucky.



It’s just after 4 in the morning and I’m blogging about Patience. I’m sure there is something ironic about that, though it eludes me for now, oh well.

People who know me well, will know I don’t have a wonderful history of being patient. Now that I’m starting to develop better skills in this area I realize that it is one of the key gifts I can pass to my children.

Funnily I have Belgium to thank for this.

Firstly, why do I consider it so important?

Well, for me what usually sits at the middle of most of my ‘stressed’ moments, and many of the ones in the past where I used to get angry, was a lack of patience.

And most everytime I could see the replay of my childhood; watching my father curse a queue of traffic, a nut that wouldn’t go on a bolt, a drawer that wouldn’t open, a child who couldn’t complete a task as readily or as well. And not surprisingly, I picked all of this up and thought that was the way to behave.

Secondly, being patient makes me a nicer person to be around, I feel better when I am, operate more effectively, and keep stress at its lowest possible level, it has to be worth a few more years with my girls J , and for them it has to be a life skill of immense value.

Belgians have a different view on patience to anything I have encountered before. I wonder whether their somewhat phlegmatic approach to things – which can drive you insane on first, second and one hundredth encounter – is the reason that despite their smoking rate they live to old age quite nicely thankyou. Stress just doesn’t seem as prevalent as it does back in New Zealand. Belgians take their time over things in a way Kiwi’s seldom would.

People stand patiently in queues, wait at pedestrian crossings whilst people dawdle across, consider dining out as something that lasts the whole night (a single table turn is the accepted practice here – Chrissy waited almost 2 hours for a main course the other night – and so did everyone else), are happy to sit on a single beer for a whole afternoon, and a number of other subtle little signs that really show that ‘time’ is not a reason to get upset.

Of course it is not perfect, neither is every one in Belgium, Belgian.

It is in my mind part of why it has taken to so long to form a government over here (they have haven’t they?) – what’s the hurry?

The traffic jams here are something else – not because of the size of them (though my commute can vary from 35 minutes to 2 ½ hours!) but because people drive into the middle of intersections with know where to go as the lights change to orange then red. The only time I really encounter obvious impatience is when I refuse to drive out onto an already jammed intersection and wait patiently for someone coming from across the other direction to do the same so traffic can start to move freely. I do this at the personal cost of being honked at as if I am unreasonable. I typically conclude the person honking can’t be Belgian!

The other thing that is ironic is that whilst exhibiting all this patience, jumping a queue or pushing in for service is quietly accommodated as well, no-one really complains.

We have both become a lot better at getting to the front or ensuring we get served ‘in proper order’ – so certainly patient does not mean you are not assertive.

One downside to Patience is I do think that without focus and priority it can be a disaster, or if not a disaster it can lead to some bad habits. Most evident over here is the time it does take you to get served in a lot of places, the disinterest shown by people in serving you or assisting (which in fact is probably not disinterest but just a lack of urgency ‘what’s the hurry’). This can manifest in many different ways, from phone calls to friends or family whilst you wait in line, conversations with other staff with no regard to you or the queue, and then of course the wonderful tradition of shutting up shop for lunch or otherwise – I mean really who needs a hot lunchtime siesta in Antwerp!

Anyway, I’m pleased to report my driving has improved (slower, more patient, not concerned about being passed), I plan more for the ‘longest’ something might take rather than the optimal / fastest time something ‘should’ be done in, get less frustrated on a daily basis, ensure I build time into outings and don’t overcommit, enjoy the girls more and allow them time to develop skills (so what if it takes them 5 minutes longer to do up their shoes than I could do it in?), and generally get more done with much less stress and more enjoyment.

The simplest way to reality check your impatience is to ask the next time you are stressing about being held up in traffic – “and what will I do with 10 minutes I would have had at home without this traffic jam?”. Remarkably putting 10 minutes on the end of your day is not that difficult, in fact if you keep the stress down, you may not even need it.

Hard not to like really.