Mother is often unkind. Then she yells for no reason, calls a son rude or a daughter a cunt; she doesn’t want to come or she doesn’t want to go back. Just as often, mother is touching when she scans a son’s face with her hand, when she gently says she is “not well,” and especially when, pushing the syllables out of her mouth with difficulty, she says : “Sorry.”
While Jolanda Schouten has nothing to apologize for. Four years ago she suffered a brain haemorrhage. Her husband Klaas hopes that she will improve a bit, until she is back at “twenty percent” of her old abilities.
Documentary Life isn’t always about tulips, fortunately broadcast on the EO for the full hour and a half Monday night, shows what happens when a member of a high-speed family suddenly comes to a stop. Because the Schoutens are not people of half work, director Barbara Makkinga shows. They are bursting with energy, run a multi-million dollar tulip business and two of the four children, Irene and Simon, skate at the highest level. They are used to going on, working hard and being hard, to themselves and each other. Now suddenly Jolanda is in her wheelchair, who needs to be helped with food and who requires slow attention.
The role changes of Irene (who took bronze at the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang three years ago) are telling. One moment we see her explode with frustration after a second place and call her opponent “just a bitch”. Shortly afterwards she crawled onto the nursing home bed with her mother and tries to share what she has experienced. “Do you remember what sport I do?” Her mother doesn’t quite know what to do with that question: “Nurse?”
This is how it swerves Life isn’t always about tulips back and forth between (to be honest a bit much) painful scenes around the powerless mother and scenes in which other family members show their sharpest side. Father Klaas can give his wife soft kisses with endless patience, but he can also travel with his son Simon to a skating competition in Lapland to ridicule the leadership of Simon’s team for a long time: „Are you participating to win or to do nothing? What a shame! I am ashamed!” He holds the team responsible for his son’s disappointing seventh place.
Simon, who always tries to reach his mother with sweet self-mockery, stops skating, partly because the intention is for the two sons to take over their parents’ farm. For that they have to buy out their sisters. That has to be done quickly, because expansion plans – the Schoutens want to go from 20 million to 60 million tulips a year – mean that the company will be worth much more in five years’ time. “Then those guys will never get that financed again,” says the advisor. On the other side of the table is daughter Catherine, who is businesslike enough to say she’d rather be bought out in five years. She points out that the men in the house can work so hard mainly because she takes care of mother a lot.
There follow withheld annoyances and also fewer withheld annoyances – without it being to Family dinner-like states. One of the brothers says that father decides in the end. For example, Catherine encounters the silent triumvirate of the men in the house a few times. She does what a daughter does. She turns to the side and asks, “Mom, what do you think?” But that makes no sense anymore.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad of 8 June 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of June 9, 2021