When my second daughter was born, we moved into a new apartment. I refused to send my eldest to a different daycare, knowing very well that the apartment we were living in was only temporary and that we would have to buy a house someday. I didn’t want her to deal with many changes at such a young age.
This is why, for three days a week, I’d strap both kids (aged two years and six weeks at that time) into their huge red double stroller and pushed them all the way to daycare, which was a kilometer away. In the summer, it was quite a pleasant walk, but the winters were a nightmare.
Additionally, my eldest was prone to temper tantrums so severe that their force almost swept me off my feet.
Half the time, I didn’t know what triggered her.
I thought it was my fault.
I thought there was something wrong with her.
And I had a baby to take care of on top of that. In short, I was struggling. I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I wasn’t entirely myself, either.
There were days when she screamed the whole time on the way to daycare. And then she screamed the whole way back home. When that happened in public, people would offer sympathy but mostly they ignored me. Sometimes they’d give advice in the typical Dutch no-nonsense manner, but they were never harsh or judgmental.
One day, I arrived at the daycare earlier than usual. I thought that my daughter was overwhelmed, maybe it would help if I picked her up a little earlier. It didn’t work. On the contrary, on that particular day, she decided she wouldn’t, under any circumstances, sit in the stroller anymore.
Despite the long distance, I would have no problems with her walking, but there were too many busy streets between daycare and our apartment. Also, there was virtually no way I could have maneuvered the huge double stroller on the narrow, cobblestone streets of Delft and taken care of a very active two-year old at the same time. Walking was out of the question.
I decided that I’d put her in the stroller outside, instead of inside like I usually did. I explained what was going to happen but it still didn’t work. And so we were standing there, her -- fighting to get out of the stroller, me trying to put her back in. Suddenly, a woman materialized out of nowhere. She was dressed in a long black dress and an equally black cardigan. It took me a while to realize that when she asked, "Are you the babysitter?" she was actually talking to me.
“Excuse me?”I asked her kindly in English.
“Are you the babysitter?” She repeated her question.
“No" I told her. "I’m the mom."
I was beginning to be somewhat amused by the whole situation. I’m petite, never wear make-up, and I know look younger than I am. Looking back, it's no wonder she thought I was an au pair. But then I heard what she said next:
“You are abusing your child. I’m calling the police."
I told her, in English, to mind her own business and that it was a huge mistake. She explained she was watching me from the window in her apartment. Seeing me trying to strap my fighting, crying and hitting child into the stroller, she took it to mean something much more serious than it actually was. She said I was too young to be a mother and needed psychological help. And then she took her mobile phone out of her purse and began dialing.
I called my husband and told him what was going on. He suggested that maybe she was just trying to scare me, but I didn’t think so. It was for real.
In the end, he told me he’d be there in 20 minutes.
In a huge strike of luck, around this time the daycare nannies were about to go home. Ironically, my toddler was now quiet and the baby was luckily still sleeping. I explained what was happening and they decided that they would stay with me until the whole matter was resolved.
The police had arrived at this point as had my husband. They listened to my side of the story as well as the other woman’s (whom I begun to call “The Witch”). The daycare nannies supported me and testified in my favor, saying that they knew me and my child well and that I’d never hurt anyone.
But as soon as my husband arrived and The Witch was done telling her part of the story, she was gone. Either she felt her job was done or she realized she couldn’t win, with both the experts and my husband on my side. The police left soon after that, having decided that I was not a child abuser.
We all went back home but I couldn’t get the experience out of my head. Having the police called on you is extremely traumatizing and will haunt me forever. Even now, each time my very active 2-year old son gets yet another black eye or bruise because he's fallen while rough housing, I’m terrified it will happen again.
Just recently, something similar happened to the wonderful and talented Charlize Theron. I admire and respect her and it saddens me greatly that people can be so judgmental.
Luckily, this story has a happy end. After this incident, I made new friends through an expat organization and a few months later, I started writing a blog called The European Mama.
The experience of writing about my adventures abroad has been life-changing. It led to many wonderful opportunities and I made many new friends all over the world.
But if I may impart some words of wisdom: If you see a mom struggling with her children, in most situations, you can safely assume that she’s not abusing her kids. Try to help first before dialing child services or 911.