Well, there are many. I’m kind of a nervous person.
Living in Ghent presented me with two very specific fears to overcome. One of them I think I’m doing a pretty good job with already. One of them… eh, I need some time.
First: steep stairs
Every single house we looked at back in August had steep stairs connecting the floors. Sometimes the stairs had no risers, sometimes they had no railing, sometimes they had neither.
“Oh, that’s a strange way to arrange open-shelving on the wall like that. How am I supposed to reach those top ones? And why is there a hole in the ceiling leading to the next floor?”
I have an extreme fear of heights. I say this, and people usually respond something like, “Me too, I get a bit nervous when I’m standing on a cliff/rock-climbing/looking out the window of a skyscraper/etc.” No, mine is different. Farrell will gladly tell whoever is listening about the time I got stuck in an old minaret in Cairo back in 2008 because I was too afraid to continue up or down.
Fast-forward five years from that and there has been little improvement in my stair/heights phobia. It became clear after a few days of house-hunting in Ghent that steep, scary stairs were inevitable in whichever house we ended up renting. I didn’t see this house before we moved in, but Farrell warned me, “It has the worst stairs of any house we looked at.”
The first few days were rough. The first set of stairs curves slightly and is narrow and steep. The second set much more closely resembles a ladder; the steps are narrow and there are no risers. There’s a railing, but it ends halfway up to the third floor. I can’t place my whole foot along any of the steps, I have to walk up and down them in an uncomfortable side-step. Our bedroom is on the third floor, and at first, Darwin’s crib was set up there with us. I couldn’t imagine navigating those stairs in the dark to deal with him in the middle of the night. But that created another problem, I couldn’t carry Darwin up and down any of the stairs because I was too busy clutching the walls with both hands. I had enough trouble just dealing with transporting myself, what was I supposed to do with a 25-pound baby?
(I know, Darwin is huge for his age. 10 months!)
In the morning, when Farrell got up for work, he’d take Darwin downstairs and I would follow. That’s where we would stay until he got home from work at night. I set up a makeshift sleeping area for Darwin in the living room. It worked for the first few days, but imagining those two floors laying stagnant during daytime hours started to bug me, especially with all of the unpacking and organizing we had to do.
Farrell moved Darwin’s crib to the second floor, where his bedroom would be. We left lights on at night so I could watch every careful step. I used the Ergo carrier during the day to leave my hands free to clutch the railing as I put Darwin for a nap on the second floor. I strapped on our extra-large duffle bags like a backpack to move our things upstairs. I felt like a sherpa ascending Mount Everest, conquering such a monumental vertical challenge.
And then? It became easier. I didn’t have to grip the railing so fiercely. I didn’t have to watch my foot landing just so on each step. I didn’t need both hands to stabilize my balance. I didn’t need the Ergo to carry Darwin. I even pulled off some pretty huge victories (if I do say so myself), like carrying all of the pieces to a Malm dresser up to the third floor, and carrying a surprisingly heavy desk down from the third to the second floor.
I have to admit, I still haven’t taken Darwin up to the third flood on my own, but I consider the fear of these stairs specifically to be overcome.
Now, onto the next looming fear: bike-riding
This one is also irrational if you consider my history. My dad loves to cycle. Loves it. A few summers ago, he cycled from Virginia to California on his own in 42 days. Let that sink in, a man in his 50s rode across the entire United States on his bike. Needless to say, we went on many bike rides when I was younger. Six, 12, or 20-mile bike rides were normal for a leisurely Saturday with my dad. I almost completed a 100-mile charity bike race, but I hit a bad patch of road somewhere in New Jersey and dislocated my shoulder. I haven’t ridden much since I went to college and subsequently starting moving all over the world.
That needs to change; now I’m in bike-friendly Ghent. I already have a bike, I bought it second-hand back in August.
But, now it sits outside my house, chained up and hardly used. Farrell reminds me of this a lot.
So why aren’t I taking advantage of Ghent’s bike lanes and bike racks and bike stoplights and bike everything to explore my new city? Cobblestones, tram tracks, rain (I saw a woman eat pavement after her wheel got caught in the tracks during a rainstorm), not knowing the hand signals or traffic rules regarding bikers (who gets the right of way? a tram, a bus, a car, a biker, a pedestrian?), the fact that I first have to go to a bike shop and get some kinks worked out and a kid seat installed, which involves either having Farrell go with me on Saturday, or strapping Darwin to my chest and walking my bike there any other day (but not Sunday, and not during lunch, and hopefully not at the same time that they’re only open for half the day) and interacting with someone who I first have to apologize to for not yet speaking any Dutch. Haven’t I mentioned before that I’m embarrassed at my foreignness? Therefore, not a whole lot of biking yet.
It’s getting better, slowly. We rode to a shop near our house that sells farm-fresh dairy products so I could buy raw milk to turn into yogurt. I survived the bike ride just fine. Baby steps.
What sort of challenges have you had to face in a new location (whether you were visiting or there for good)?