“Mama, why is that lady in the window naked?”
This is not one of my proudest parenting moments. Being a savvy traveler, living overseas, I consider myself fairly street wise and seasoned. We spent a week in the Netherlands wandering the tulips at Keukenhof, seeing the windmills in Kinderdijk and watching pottery hand-painted in Delft.
Our pièce de résistance would be the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
I’d spent two weeks prior to our visit to the Netherlands preparing our daughter to see the Anne Frank House. She’s only six, so I kept the discussion fairly simple but direct: “There were bad people, called Nazis, and they didn’t like certain people here. They took them to concentration camps and treated them badly. Some of them hid, one of them was Anne Frank and her family.”
Our daughter was fascinated with the idea that a little girl was hiding from “bad guys” in a secret place. (The idea of a secret place–such as a treehouse–is enticing to a wee one. I think the reality will sink in as she gets older.)
The line was short because we’d arrived at some ungodly hour when only soldiers and police are awake. We settled in to the line with coffee and pain au chocolat. Easy enough.
We entered the Anne Frank House, began the tour, and read every placard to our daughter, explaining the history of the building and the elaborate scheming it took to secure these families in the attic. Our daughter was emotional and in awe.
But six year olds don’t really understand time well. She’s still telling friends and family Anne Frank lived in the house for “two whole weeks.” Sigh. I’m hoping the time frame solidifies with time. We walked out somber but thankful for the freedom we have to wander the streets at our leisure, and proceeded to do so.
Until the day turned.
As we wandered a street about five blocks from the Anne Frank House, we noticed signs for a dutch pancake house I’d read about on blogs. We wove our way through the alleys towards the pancake house, and our daughter began giggling. I asked her what was funny. She replied, “People are funny, especially women with long hair.” Confused, I disregarded the comment.
Half a block later, in the midst of a stunning little square, there was an exquisite church. I stopped to snap a photo. Our daughter was tugging at my shirt and giggling hysterically. I turned around.
Within eight feet of where I was standing, snapping a beautiful early morning picture of an old church, was a LARGE sign: “TITS and ASS.”
My daughter, a beginning reader, was sloooooowly pronouncing the words. “Mama, I see ‘and.'” “That’s ‘t-t-t-i-i-i-t-t-t-sssssssss’ and…”
I glanced to my right. There was a woman waving at our daughter in the window… with NIPPLE CLAMPS on.
My breathing went shallow and I could feel my blood pressure rising. This is it, I’m going to have a stroke. I’m going to DIE in the middle of the red light district with my six year old pronouncing “TITS” and waving at a lady wearing nipple clamps.
Within five seconds, a lady exited one of the brothels in just a towel angrily chasing a customer.
At this point I was paralyzed due to the shock and probable stroke that was about to happen.
And then, her towel dropped.
There’s my six year old, noticing the chaos but stuck on “ASS.” My husband, who’d been trying to adjust the F-stop on the camera the entire time, suddenly realized I was paralyzed, our daughter was still trying to pronounce “ASS” (the double letters get her every time), and there’s a mostly naked prostitute chasing a customer around the square. He calmly grabbed both our hands and said, “Let’s go get some ice cream! It’s 11am here, but it’s 3pm somewhere.”
That night, when I asked our daughter what she liked best about our day in Amsterdam, her response was, “Mom, I liked the Anne Frank House. But I read TITS too, so cool! What’s tits? And why were those ladies only wearing underwear?”
My response: “Well, the Dutch keep their houses very, very warm.” Oh GOD!
Shelby Van Voris is a wife, mother and public health professional living overseas. She chronicles her travels, mishaps and all things expat at ShelbyVanVoris.
Photo: Moyan Brenn