• Emmy Ciabattoni

A Pedacito of Visiting Where I Was Born: Lisse, The Netherlands

I arrived at the Schiphol Airport and passed my passport to the customs agent, who said something along the lines of "Welkom op je geboorteplaats!" I stared at him, dumbfounded. We were just speaking in English, but this didn’t sound like anything I’ve ever heard before.


“Welcome to your birthplace!” he repeated. “You obviously don’t speak Dutch.” I was embarrassed. Ashamed, even. In my defense, I only lived in Holland for two years. And also, I was only just a baby. Heck, I could barely speak English let alone Dutch. I didn’t feel so bad, after all.


The agent let me through customs and I finally made my way to the baggage claim, where I met my dad. I hadn’t seen him for months. I had just finished my semester abroad in Spain and my dad proposed that we meet here, for the final hoorah, before heading back to the United States. He’s a pilot, so he can go anywhere, anytime. Ah, the life.


That’s what brought him to the Netherlands in the first place, actually—he was working for Northwest Airlines in the United States until they laid him (and many others) off. He then found a short-term job working for KLM, a Dutch airline, for a couple of years. My mom agreed to tag along. I give my mom so much credit; she hadn’t traveled much throughout her life, and here she was, pregnant and about to have her first baby, in a foreign country.

Because of her father's KLM pilot contract, Emmy was born in Holland when her pregnant mother moved to The Netherlands
Because of her father's KLM pilot contract, Emmy was born in Holland when her pregnant mother moved to The Netherlands

In the United States, women are usually given three days to recuperate in the hospital; in Lisse, they gave my mom eight days. When the doctor heard that my dad would be away and working when my mom would return home, he let her stay an extra two days so that she wouldn’t be home alone. Every time she rang her bell, her male nurse would come running—literally sprinting—to her bedside.


A representative from my dad’s company came to visit my mom in the hospital and shower her with gifts. During her time in the hospital, she was very well attended to; she was blown away by their kindness.


There were a lot of funky customs that came with having a baby. When a baby is born, the Dutch say that the stork has visited. Where my parents lived, it was tradition to place a toy stork or (in their particular neighborhood) a flamingo in the front yard. My dad figured that the neighbors agreed that it was close enough.


Once we were home, neighbors kept dropping in; they brought us Beschuit met Muisjes. Beschuit is a round, hard biscuit made from twice-baked bread. The bread is buttered and topped with Muisjes, or anise seeds covered in a sugary coating. Because a girl (me) was born, the biscuits were topped with pink and white Muisjes. My parents loved the sprinkled biscuits.

In the Netherlands, Beschuit met Muisjes is made for a baby girl
In the Netherlands, Beschuit met Muisjes is made for a baby girl
The Muisjes are sugar covered anise seeds that are colored pink if the baby is born a girl in the Netherlands
The Muisjes are sugar covered anise seeds that are colored pink if the baby is born a girl in the Netherlands

In the end, my parents were both incredibly impressed by the kindness of the hospital staff and our neighbors. Apparently, more people visited us in the Lisse hospital than in our own country, when my brother was born.


Anyways, I couldn’t wait to see the house where I was born. I’d heard so many stories about the tulip fields covering our backyard, the windmills spotting the landscape, and riding bikes to feed the horses down the road. It all sounded so magical.


I remember pulling up outside the gate, just staring inside the big windows from the end of the driveway. We probably used to sit inside that living room, learning how to walk and playing games. I can’t say that it felt like I’d been there before; it didn’t. It all felt very unfamiliar to me.

The driveway to the house where I was born in Lisse, Netherlands
The driveway to the house where I was born in Lisse, Netherlands
The pond behind my house in Lisse, Netherlands
The pond behind my house in Lisse, Netherlands

When my parents first arrived in the spring, the tulips hadn’t bloomed yet. My mom saw rows and rows of what she thought were weeds. Dutifully, she started pulling them out until the neighbor came running, screaming in Dutch, out of her house. Upon the woman’s reaction, my mom figured out that the “weeds” were actually tulips.


Most days of the week, my dad would ride his bike, with me in the basket, down the road to feed the horses. Together, we’d feed them carrots and apples. He was dying to see if they were still there and crazy enough, they were! We’ll never know if they were the exact same horses that we used to feed (although my dad says they look incredibly similar), but it’s possible. The mini-horses can live up to thirty-five years.

This tiny horse near my house in Lisse, Netherlands loves his ears scratched
This tiny horse near my house in Lisse, Netherlands loves his ears scratched
These horses in Lisse, Netherlands are waiting for their carrots
These horses in Lisse, Netherlands are waiting for their carrots

Our next stop was the hospital; my dad drove and led the way, he didn’t need GPS. On the night I was born, he sped past thirty (he counted) red lights in order to make it to the hospital on time. He knew the way.