A few weeks ago, I took the train to Amsterdam for a singular purpose: to visit the Vondelpark. I went straight from Leiden Centraal to Amsterdam Centraal, and hopped on tram 1, 2, or 5, destination Leidseplein.
Being on the streets of Amsterdam – more of a rarity nowadays than I care to admit – always floods me with memories from my five years as resident. The tram rumbles by Dam Square and I remember huge crowds: One celebratory, on the day of the Dutch Royal Wedding in 2002, and one angry, when the people rose up to protest the war in Iraq a year later. We pass through Spui, and I can almost taste the witbier on my lips. I lean forward with a start when I realize the book market is on today. I was once a bright-eyed 23-year-old wandering those stalls, determined to make my own reading collection more sophisticated. The tram stops and starts down the Leidsestraat, and I marvel at the number of shops that have changed. Then I gasp – is that a Starbucks?
We arrive at Leidseplein, and I hop off with my bundle of baby. I meet a friend and we take the short walk south to the Vondelpark entrance. It’s a beautiful summer day and we stroll amid unleashed dogs and impatient bikers. We pass the film museum. The terrace is just starting to fill up with late morning sun worshippers lighting their cigarettes and urging on the early aging process. We head to the Groot Melkhuis and walk to the back, to a place entirely unfamiliar to me: the sandbox.
I have taken this pilgrimage with my 11-month-old son Adrian. Together, we experience the marvels of the sandbox, and the community plastic toys it contains. We walk around the zoned out nannies and hyper moms, and avoid the overzealous gardener trimming shrubs with a massive chainsaw. Then we sit down for lunch, and Adrian gets to feed the pigeons for the first time. Amsterdam pigeons, no less.
It’s soon time to leave, and we walk back to the tram stop. I say my goodbyes and hop on, this time directly into a group of loud, singing youths tormenting the rest of the afternoon commuters. I grasp Adrian’s head protectively and lean against the wall. A timid voice behind me asks, “Wilt u zitten?” I smile, grateful, and slide into the seat. I glance discretely at my benefactor. She looks to be about my age when I first came to Amsterdam. Now I’m the woman with the baby surprised by the kindness of strangers.
I reminisce on the way back to the train station, watching the familiar streets go by in reverse. For a moment I have a sharp pang of nostalgia: How I wish I could ride my bike, instead of taking the tram! But the delicious weight of baby wrapped against my body is a reassuring reminder of my changed role. And the Vondelpark remains, willing to facilitate new, mommy-friendly memories.