Fourier Analysis is a mathematical tool which can do a number of things: separate out signals from noise; help identify patterns or trends in data; filter out all unwanted data and focus on a single signal; use approximations to make generalizations; make approximations of real world signals (think electronic music); combine harmonics to get a stronger signal. That's what I'll be trying to do here!! Won't you join me with your comments?

Monday, October 1, 2007

To Hell in a Handbasket...

One of the things that Jenn-in-Holland and I unfortunately share is our attitude towards the lack of respect and out-of-control behavior of the youth that are in the urban communities in Holland. I cannot tar all Dutch youth with the same brush, and I suspect that behavior in the more rural areas of Holland is more observed and therefore more controlled. But in the area known as the "Randstad", which is a triangle of communities bounded by Amsterdam-the Hague-Rotterdam, the behavior and total disrespect for people, property, environment, etc. is appalling to the point of being shocking. And what is even worse is the attitude of adults, teachers, parents, and even the local law enforcement. It is more than just a "les affaire" attitude, as when confronted with the mischief of children/youths the adults responsible shrug it off with a "let kids be kids, why make a big deal of it, there's nothing you can do so just accept it" mentality that is pervasive across the social spectrum.

It is evident on Dutch school campuses, where children are left to their rough physical games and bullying has become such a social problem that educational classes are held that require parents and students to attend. But part of the responsibility should also lie with the teachers who do not interfere with the games and set rules and boundaries that the students are held to. At the Primary school where my kids attend, the International Stream is a department encompassing slightly less than half the school population. Dutch and International kids mix during recesses and lunch times. And there have been confrontations and cultural issues as well as personal space problems. But the attitude of the Dutch teachers is to "let the kids work it out", with no guidance or example being given by the adults.

It seems that the bigger the city, the bigger the problem. The graffiti and trash in the city centers is simply disgusting. And it cannot be blamed on the population density alone as there are comparable size cities in neighboring countries of Belgium and Germany and the differences are quite striking (and almost nauseating). The Dutch like to label themselves as being tolerant, with lenient attitudes about prostitution, smoking and soft drugs. But this "toleration" is taken several steps too far when the communities turn such a blind eye to the beginnings of real anti-social behavior. And the blame here lies with the parents who do not supervise where their children are after dark or question why they have spray paint on their hands and clothes. I guess it would interfere with the "freedom of expression" that kids are encouraged to have.

Possibly we have experienced more problems in my family because we are foreign and especially with my husband being German. But it makes my blood boil when I hear 7- and 8-year old children yelling at my girls in Dutch "I hate Germans! Filthy Germans go back to your own country." and other such things. I guess I should have realized how it would be already 20 years ago when we booked a vacation via a Dutch tourist agency. We of course ended up in a hotel and on bus tours with Dutch nationals. With our limited language skills, it was obvious that we were foreigners and my husband has an unmistakable German accent. He was confronted by a man in his 60's who demanded of him "Ik wil mijn fiets terug", which translates as "I want my bicycle back" It seems taht during the Nazi occupation, the soldiers limited the mobility of the Dutch population by confiscating all modes of transportation, including and especially bicycles. This man's anger at this outrage was directed 40+ years later at my husband simply because he was German. I guess the infamous Dutch toleration extends only to Dutch citizens. How can we blame the younger generation for their attitudes when this is the example they have from their grandparents?

Tonight my anger is stirred up by the regular neighborhood terrorists. I know that is a strong word in this day and age, but it defines how I feel. We live in a fairly "upscale" neighborhood in one of the "wealthiest" villages in the Netherlands (which basically means that the housing prices are over-the-top outrageous). Our house is an end house in a row of 4 connected houses. We live on a corner and have an exposed brick wall at the side of our house. Unlike some of our neighbors, we did not choose to put a fence around our house and front yard. Instead we have a kid-friendly lawn with grass in front and on the side of the house. It makes it easy to park next to the house where the sidewalk is only 1.5 feet wide. You are able to fully open your car door and get in and out without banging your car door on a fence or into some bushes. And our front lawn provides no barrier to the door and there is no wall in front of our kitchen windows.

All of these apparently make our house an irresistible target to the neighborhood children who love to ring doorbells and run away. A rather "harmless" game, except that often I have to descend 2 flights of stairs to answer the door, and it doesn't happen occasionally, and the kids don't stop at doing it once. No, they keep on doing it until you come out and chase them or contact their parents. We have tried the strategy of ignoring the bell, going so far as to disconnect the doorbell one time. This led to the escalation whereby apples, tomatoes and eggs were thrown at our house. We even had to gall to go away on vacation therefore leaving the door unanswered, only to come back to find that eggs and dog excrement had been thrown on our front walls and left to dry in the summer heat. Despite high-pressure steam cleaning, the evidence of this calling card is still visible years later.

There's one teenager who lives a block away around the corner. He is serious trouble-in-the-making. Whenever his parents have a party, and he has friends over, their favorite activity is to come and disturb our peace. My kids are in bed usually by 9PM. This kid is usually just getting started. So the doorbell rings, and rings. Trash cans are knocked over. Balls are kicked and thrown against the side of the house. Bushes and plants are tramped on in their effort to run away when we do come to the door. It happened again last week in broad daylight. After the third ring on the door, I got my keys and ignored the teenagers who were running away. I went, for the 10th (or more) time, to call upon this boy's mother. I make a big show of coming up her sidewalk, slamming the gate to the fence she has in front of her windows, ringing her doorbell loudly several times in order to be sure she would have to interrupt her conversation with her friends. When she answered the door, I asked her if she knew where her son was. Her reply was "I guess he's at your house again." When I assured her he was, she said she would call his mobile and get him to come home. No apology. No outrage or shame on her part. Just matter-of-fact why-are-you-bothering-me irritation. Unfortunately, she did not reach him before he and his buddies had started writing obscenities on the side wall of our house. This time it was chalk. Next time it will likely be spray paint. As I returned home, the teen, who is already taller than me, got in my face (as in two inches away) and started yelling that I was going to be sorry for bothering him (obviously his mother had called). I yelled even louder, causing some of my neighbors to look out of their windows. I wanted witnesses. As my husband was out of town that week, I did not take it any further, but simply took pictures and added them to the documentation we have of these kinds of events.

Why do I bother documenting it? Why have I not called the local police right away? Well I used to, whenever things were getting out of hand. One of the last times, the operator I spoke to was obviously looking at her computer and she said "Well, it seems you have made a number of complaints and called us on several occasions. Is this really necessary?" Since then I have only called once and that was to alert the police and fire department about the boys setting fire to the old Christmas trees on the sidewalk in front of our house at 2AM. I now have a list of phone numbers of most of the parents of the offending kids. I call the Moms when the nonsense starts up. If they are not home, I am sure to call during dinner time and keep calling until I get an answer to let the parents know that their child is again disturbing my family.

Last week a new family moved onto the block, with a little boy between the ages of my 2 girls. This afternoon he was playing with some of the other kids and they of course got him to be the one to ring the bell. I did not see him clearly the first time. But I did the second time. I immediately confronted his mother who called him home. He showed up later with his big sister and denied ever doing it. But I had seen him from my kitchen, when I was standing where he could not see me. His sister defended him. I told them both that he was lying and that this was not acceptable. I had seen him clearly. I saw the label on the back of his jacket when he ran away. But he still denied it. And his sister did not believe me. And I am sure his mother, who could not be bothered to come and speak to me with him, also does not believe me. So there's another new little terrorist what has made us a target.

And yes, terrorist is the right word. Here's a common definition: "One who systematically utilizes violence and intimidation to achieve personal, religious or political objectives, while disguised as a civilian non-combatant." I think that
describes very well the situation we are finding ourselves in with these hooligans. And I know it will only escalate. The cars have been vandalized with scratches, broken antennas and mirrors. But it is only a matter of time before it gets worse. We lock our bicycles inside the garage, a luxury Jenn doesn't have. But when the girls have been riding outside and left their bikes on the playground, they have been stolen and ridden off right in front of them. The mother of one of the two boys responsible said "It was only a joke, he didn't mean anything." The other one wasn't home. He son was left to play on his own. What can you expect from children if this is how the parents are?

I am angry. I am frustrated. I feel helpless and isolated. My husband travels often and I have young children. I refuse to be so intimidated that I cannot leave my house. But at the same time, the doorbell ringing 6 times at 2 AM gets my heart beating fast and I can't get back to sleep. Firecrackers thrown under the car and in the trashcans make me stay alert to any night noises in the vicinity of my home. As much as I don't like to admit it, at times I am afraid.

We are getting a fence. I have told my husband we need to add the "Texas touch" to it and include barbed wire. I am only half-joking about this.


Goofball said...

My gosh, that sounds horrible and it clearly is going out of hand. You are correctly calling this terrorism / stalking/ repeatedly bullying.

I don't know what to say, I am just sooo shocked. I don't think I'd be able to cope with it for very long as it must be nerve racking. I wish I could give you a biiiiiiiiiiig hug now.

If it continues, I think I would continue documenting as much as you can and trying to find as much proof as you can (pictures, ...). And do confront the police with your documentation as this is noooo way acceptable or ignorable!

Damn, I am pissed off that this is happening to you. Grrrrrrr

Jenn in Holland said...

Oh, I am so glad that you had this to say. This is exactly what I am talking about and this is exactly what has kept me pissed for days over our little "incident".
It is unbelievable. And it is not right.
And I feel so helpless...

soccer mom in denial said...

THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Completely, utterly unacceptable. If I was one of those mothers I would have my kids crawling on their knees from down the street to your stairs, bearing gifts and flowers bought with their own money and offering to clean up the mess(es) they created. Seriously, that is just insane.

The only thing I can say is keep it up and don't give up. I'm amazed that being firm - and at times crazy - can get people to leave you alone. Really. It does works.

But one other thing - our Dutch friends (in their late 30's) told us stories of how they and their were raised that caused Craig and me to fall over. Permissiveness and tolerance of outrageous behavior happened even in the 1980's.

Rebecca said...

oh wow, FA, that is SO awful. I, too would be afraid in your circumstance - very afraid - and very angry - and very frustrated.

jennifer said...

Living with fear like that robs a chunk of your sanity, I can't stand it. I'm sorry you're in it.

Leslie said...

FA, this is just shocking. Absolutely shocking to me. I've never really lived in a big city. I grew up in a tiny town, went to a small private college and now live in the boonies. The only time I encountered anything remotely like this was while living in Kent, Ohio and I abruptly moved. I can't imagine how you must be feeling - violated, insecure, angry, frustrated. I think you're doing the best you can. I'm so sorry this is what you're dealing with. It's a shame.

anno said...

FWIW, this was happening in the mid-1960s, too. Then, though, it was guys in their 20s, on motorcycles, throwing empty beer bottles at our house. One day, it stopped. I always wondered if the four families of Texans on the street had something to do with its end. Those "Texas touches" can be mighty effective.

What you're dealing with is outrageous, and I'm sorry it's in your life right now. Good luck.

Space Mom said...

Wow, I had no idea that the Netherlands were like this!

I cannot believe that the police or families react with no care!
That is horrible.

At what point is freedom of expression should be tolerated to include destruction of property?

Jen said...

What a horrible situation to be in. With Jenn's post, I thought this was a one-time incident in her case, but clearly this is ongoing harassment. It's interesting, because Dutch teens have a reputation for wildness when they come here on exchanges and sometimes they're hard to place.

No wonder they chafe at the restrictions American parents and schools impose on them.

I'm especially sorry for your children getting the brunt of the German thing. But also for you. And being alone. UGH!

Anonymous said...

Eye-opening! And frightening!

I always say it goes back to the parents. I cannot imagine allowing my child a pass for these kinds of things. Do the parents not get that today's graffiti artist/dog poo thrower is tomorrow's incarcerated-for-lifer?

What a terrible situation for you. Try an electrified fence. I would.

Scribbit said...

Wow, that IS horrible. I can see the appeal of the barbed wire.

Gunfighter said...

Find the oldest one, beat him with a baseball bat, send him home with a severe limp... you know, as an encouragement to the others.