Being expat

When the surprise at Christmas is not the one you expect and the lessons we learnt

Sometimes it takes a moment to sink in when something unexpected happens. And it takes some more time to accept it and look at the positive side of it…

It was so for me and my family when we realized on the 25.12. that someone not invited, and surely not Santa!, had walked into our home while we were sleeping.

What happened

Someone took my husbands’ wallet and my sons’ phone. The fact that the burglar didn’t consider taking our children’s tablets and cellphones who were laying right next to my son’s phone, all recharging for the next day, made us hesitate to believe what happened. We thought they were just misplaced, but we quickly realized that this couldn’t be the case as my husband always places his wallet on the same spot and my son always puts his electronic devices on the same spot to upload.

It was an unfortunate combination of coincidences that lead to the burglar having an easy job: we forgot to lock the door on our backyard – the famous achterom in Dutch houses – a door we never use, and only open occasionally for the window cleaners*, and we left the door to the backyard unlocked. Someone let out our dog before going to bed and closed the curtain without locking the door. – It’s one of those things that happen when you’re distracted and tired…

The burglar could just walk in, grab something, apparently he/she was just looking for cash and something that’s easy to sell, and walk out again.

I must add that two days before what happened, the alarm went off twice at our neighbors’ house, without anything happening. Although it put me into an alert mode, the rational part of my brain kicked in and tried to distract me from being overly worrying. Nevertheless, for some reason that evening I decided to take my handbag upstairs. I shouldn’t mention that this precaution of mine was being observed with amusement, but how grateful was I for my premonition the morning after !…

My children were the first ones going downstairs that morning and didn’t notice anything unusual at first. It was only when my son couldn’t find his phone, neither my husband his wallet, and when closing the door of the living room we realized that the door to the garden wasn’t locked and the curtain wasn’t closed…. that we became suspicious.

We started looking for the wallet and phone in the most funny places, also because we couldn’t believe that our dog seemed not to have noticed anything. – It took us a while (and a breakfast) to accept that no, our very attentive dog probably had enjoyed a good night sleep in my daughters’ room that night and that yes, someone had been in our house while we were sleeping. (I still want to believe that our furry companion noticed something and went downstairs interrupting the burglars… he just didn’t bark…)

What happened next

I immediately checked the movements on our bank account and my husband printed out the scanned IDs for the police and embassy to file. We called the local police to report the theft. They took a protocol, checked the doors, windows, reassured us and left.

I am very thankful for the way they addressed our children: they were asked and listened to. It is so important that children who make this kind of experience are taken seriously and listened to! 

How to cope with the after…

I didn’t feel personally attacked or unsafe at any moment, which is new to me, because I experienced similar situations before and was expecting to react in a more emotional way. But maybe because this time I had to make sure to stay calm because of my children, or maybe because I had developed a coping mechanism, no idea, but I was very rational and calm.

I had the urge to clean the room, the doors and all that was possibly touched though. I don’t have OCD, but I know from previous similar incidents that the cleaning is a way for me to find closure. I’m sure my psychologist friends have their very own theory about this, and leave it to them to interpret more into it.

All I know is that for us it was important to make sure our home felt “ours” and safe.

We talked a lot that day. We came up with stricter rules concerning safety – but I had to stop my children from wanting to install cameras and other devices… I was amazed on how our children were discussing about possible scenarios, the many ifs and found their very own way to process what just had happened.

One very important step we took was to inform people about what just happened. My children texted and called their friends, I shared it on my personal facebook page, only my husband wasn’t ready to share it (and still isn’t) : everyone has his or her very own way to react and cope with things. In my experience, talking and sharing is an essential part of processing this kind of experiences. It surely worked for me and my children. My husband has his very own way of processing.

That day we almost forgot to have lunch – no festive Christmas lunch for us to remember this year. When we finally sat down to eat, I was happy to see that the children were hungry as I took it as a sign that they were feeling better. – I guess my husband and I just were more aware of the more scary ifs and needed a bit more time to process those in silence.

Glück im Unglück

I am so thankful for the very useful advice I got from my facebook friends: to look under the bushes and trees, to track my son’s phone etc. It was in fact after my son tracked his phone that we had visible evidence that someone had been in our house at 6:24 and walked away with his phone to a place Leiden, where at 7:30 they must have taken out the sim-card. This was the moment it really sank in. I had to go out again and comb the streets in the neighborhood.

For some reason I not only looked under bushes, trees and in the gardens –my neighbors must think that I’m a crazy lady… – but I also looked into the canals. Call it intuition, but at some point I went to a canal and a duck that was looking at me caught my attention. I walked towards it and that’s when I thought to look closer to the water. I spotted something among the cut reed not far away from the duck: it was my husbands wallet! The burglar had taken the cash, bankcards and IDs and thrown the rest into the canal. – Luckily the driving license was still in it: one less document to replace!

They only took material things, but yet…

We kept on repeating that they only took material things and not even the most precious ones for us, so we shouldn’t worry too much. We were lucky that nobody went downstairs while they were still in the house – it would have been a very scary encounter!

They only took a wallet and a phone, yes, but they took my husbands and sons’ ID cards. Knowing that someone knows your name and how you look like, knows when you were born and where is not nice. An ID card can be replaced of course, but what will they do with the actual one? Will there be someone using it? For what purpose? – These are questions my husband and son were discussing and trying to find answers for.

Of course, it’s only things they took, but they did this while we were sleeping upstairs. The home that is supposed to be our safe place isn’t that safe all the time. We all know it: there can be fire, a flood (we’re in the Netherlands!), anything and this house that is like a cocoon, our “home” can be gone in no time. It’s once again the rational thinking that helps keep things in perspective.

Lessons learnt…

A part from checking all the doors before going to bed (!), we learnt a few lessons this time, I just want to share a few: Our privacy can be invaded anytime. The way we react and cope will determine how we feel about it: If we take it personally and overthink the many ifs, we become a victim and feel powerless. If we choose to not take it personally and try to understand the why and how, we can make sense of it and even see the positive aspects of it. – For this incident, we imagined that the person who did this must have been desperate and lonely, or was looking for an extra kick and couldn’t find any other way to get it.
I’d say that another lesson is: to give all that happens a place and move on. I call it “put it in the right box and tidy up” way of thinking: whenever something unexpected happens that shakes us up, we have to process it, talk about it (a lot! – but not everyone is the same, some prefer to process it in silence) but also find closure, a kind of closure that I like to compare with the end of a game. When you’ve finished playing, tried all your strategies, you tidy up and put it away. – The place I give to this incident is right next to the other accidents, thefts and more upsetting experiences.

It’s also time to take the best out of it: we spent a lot of time talking and listening in our family… we would have preferred doing so with other topics, but that’s life. The interesting aspect of this all is that we had a very low key Christmas anyways: we played boardgames and exchanged very practical gifts that we anyway needed (like clothes and new mugs etc.). We decided weeks ago that what we need most right now is to spend quality time with each other and that’s what we did and what we do.

This incident didn’t rock our boat, it just gave it a little kick, nothing more than that.

After all this, I may say that movies like “While you were sleeping”, “Kevin home alone” etc. have a whole other meaning…

– Have you experienced something similar with your children? How did you manage to get back to “normal”? What was the surprising or positive fact you got out of it? Please share in the comments!

  • houses in the Netherlands have windows that you can’t open on the second floor or above, that are not reachable via a balcony or other window. For these windows – and the others too, of course – there are window cleaners who will come and clean the windows every 5-8 weeks.

4 replies »

  1. I’m so sorry this happened to you Ute. I hope 2019 will start out better than 2018 is ending. Frohes neues Jahr!

  2. Again, I’m very sorry this happened to you Ute and that tracking didn’t succeed in locating your son’s phone. I’m still amazed by your peaceful and calm manner in dealing with this trauma. It does you credit. Much love x

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