Thursday, April 16, 2015

Living by the Sea


Spring is (finally) here and we have had a couple of truly warm days. I have really become a sun-worshipper, as soon as the first rays of warm sunlight hit us I bring out my summer outfits and run to the nearest terrace, garden, park, playground, outside location.

Last Friday we went to a beach with a close friend of mine (and Yu) and it hit me. I live by the Sea. I was one of those girls who grew up in the 90's dreaming of becoming a Marine biologist. I actually wanted to work at the Sea World. That place really impressed me in all the good ways as a child and I thought it was doing a great job at taking care of animals in a humane, scientific, state-of-the-art way. (Then I saw Blackfish and all those ideas were shattered.)


Ever since then I fantasized with the idea of living by the water, one of those dreams that you have there on a shelf and never really actively pursue. But then, there are those dreams that you do pursue and I did go live and study in Barcelona, first as an Erasmus (Biology) student, and later to go to Vet School.

After which I moved to The Netherlands. If I start counting, that makes it almost 10 years of living by the ocean and I did not even notice. Did I assimilate it? Was it so much a part of me that I did not stop to think about it at all?

It makes me really happy and grateful to realize that maybe unconsciously, seamlessly some of the things I thought I'd do when "I grew up" I'm actually doing.

Do you have any dreams or places that have pulled you once and again?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Reading, Finding, Doing.

Yesterday I finally finished the book I was reading (Moranthology, by Caitlin Moran). It took me almost a year. Finding the time for reading is becoming harder and harder, but leaving books unfinished gives me an unsettling feeling. I really liked some of her essays, and some others I found very entertaining. I particularly loved the one where she referst to libraries "cathedrals of the soul". So right. To quote her:

“A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life-raft and a festival. They are cathedrals of the mind; hospitals of the soul; theme parks of the imagination. On a cold rainy island, they are the only sheltered public spaces where you are not a consumer, but a citizen instead”
A couple of weeks ago I participated at the 'Writers unblocked' event organized by Catarina and Tamkera (Portuguese and Nigerian expats who write at 'CraftieMum' at 'Naija Expat in Holland'respectively). I do not really think of myself as a writer, I have no formal education in anything creative and mostly I just use this space to share and vent and as a sort of personal journal.


However, it was really nice to meet other bloggers going through somewhat similar life experiences (living outside your home country, assimilating a new language and culture, raising a family in a new setting, feelings of homesickness, adapting) and sharing our writing. I had to overcome my shyness, go on the stage and read out loud. (I did not fully overcome it I guess, because apparently I read very, very fast, but then again, that's also the way in which I normally talk).


 I continue to take a lot of walks with the kid, I love it because of the things I discover, like little free libraries, magnolias in bloom and nice places. Speaking of which, just 2 weeks ago a baby-friendly café, complete with toys and playground opened in The Hague.


 I was so happy I went immediately... I had just written about the need for these kind of spaces and there it was. Bij Mijs, (Laan van Nieuw Oost Einde 100) is a small gift/toy shop with a place for the babies to play and for the parents to relax. And it is also open on Saturday's. I love serendipitous finds like this one.


Last Saturday the boy and I went on a real, formal date probably for the 1st time since our girl was born. We had been out together without the kid to run errands, or for lunch with friends, but not like this. For the girl's birthday some friends gave us tickets to the movies and we decided it was about time. We first stuffed our faces in chocolate (hot-chocolate, mini-chocolate mousse and a tasting of different bon-bons) at Hop en Stork. It was really nice to spend time with each other, it reminded me of those first months of our relationship, when we first started going out.

To celebrate Easter we took the kid to a petting farm for the first time, I made zucchini and goat-cheese quiche, we went for a long walk to a park. How was your long-weekend?


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why don't moms stop judging each other? #notmywar


 If there is something I really do not understand it is the judging that goes back and forth among women, and particularly, among moms. This episode brings you the Stay-At-Home versus Working-Mom war of snide comments. Ever since Yu was born, I have sporadically been on the receiving end of such comments.

One of the first friends that visited me, someone I took a class with told me, as I listened in shock:

"Well, it is better for you and for the baby if you work as soon as possible. It is good for your peace of mind and the best for the baby. Also,  the baby will get his germs out of the system earlier."

The key word here being better, because I believe there is no better, I believe there are particular solutions that work for each family and specific situation. Also, was my friend trying to convince herrself of her choice? As for the germs part, yes and no, either she gets them now, or she gets them later. We are not living in a bubble. We go to playgroups, to the library, to swimming class, music class, the health center. We take tramways and buses and walk. The germs are everywhere. She knows them (it is one cold after the other). Also, it's not like I haven't been looking for a job. It's not so easy to get a job, any job. And I do not necessarily believe in working for the sake of working. (And I am very aware we are very lucky / privileged to be able to live on one salary).

Then, there is also the classic:

"I went back to work because I needed to use my brain. Don't you miss the adult conversation? I don't know how you do it, I was not able to spend the day oohing and aahing and singing nursery rhymes". 

No, really? I did not get a brain transplant when Yu was born and I certainly did not stop being a bit of a smart ass. I like having opinions and if we are being all honest here sometimes I have opinions on subjects I have not fully researched and know barely nothing of. I can talk about all kinds of subjects. Even with friends who also happen to be moms the kids are not our only conversation topic. I did not lose my interests in becoming a mom. Sure, carving time out to do things like reading is hard, but it is about making the things you want a priority (and sometimes the dishes suffer while they wait to be washed). Also, when I worked at an office we did not exactly have super interesting adult conversations where we discussed foreign affairs and climate change and strategies for peace in the Middle East. We talked about birthdays, and weekends and holiday plans and life. Also, I don't spend my day oh-ing and ah-ing (though I do sing a lot). I read to the baby, I talk to her about what we are doing, where we are going, I explain things to her and tell her little stories. I do not treat her like she is stupid (Have you seen Dora the Explorer? "-This is a backpack. In the backpack we keep our pencils-". Wow. Unless this programs were designed for alien children who have never seen a backpack in real life I really do not get why babies and small children are referred to in such a condescending tone, as if somehow they were less capable of understanding how and what things are by experiencing them).

And then there is the implication that women who choose to stay at home will not be respected by their kids because they are not working. Wait what? I was taught to respect my parents, not to be all religious here but  respecting your parents is one of the 10 biblical commandments. That is how far in time the tradition of respecting your parents goes back. I hope to be the best version of myself, to be the best model for her and show her the world as I know it, to make possible her development in the best possible way and to let her be her own person. I hope one day she will respect me for it, for the things we do for her. Not because of my professional achievements, whatever great, at least not only, and not mainly.

On the other side of the spectrum you hear a lot that line about how "it is selfish if a mom continues to pursue her professional interests ". And that is also unfair. I can imagine it is always going to be hard to leave your children for the day, be it at daycare or at school. What is true is that children need love and care, and that taking care of children used to be a communal endeavour (where aunts, grandmas and other family or tribe members were involved). The notion of a nuclear, closed family unit where the woman does most of the work is a very new and occidental one.

Not everyone has the privilege to live on one income. Not everyone who would like to work can afford daycare. There are as many situations as there are families and we are all different people. Some can feel "trapped" staying at home, others might thrive and flourish. Some others might not have a choice. The rainbow has many colors and shades and nuances.

Maybe instead of judging each other and bashing each other down we should start asking more questions, like this one from Renegade Mothering: "What would happen if we stopped looking at individual choices of mothers and began focusing on the social and cultural conditions underlying those “choices?”.  (But really, read the whole article)

There is no better. Finding balance is hard, and there are no perfect solutions either. We are all juggling many balls, but we are all trying to do the best possible choice within our possibilities. And that choice can be different for all of us and that is just fine.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Baby & Toddler friendly cafés in The Hague and Amsterdam


Lately I've been having some trouble finding places to go with the kid. When she was a small baby and happy to be on my lap it was just a matter of finding a café where the stroller would fit. Bonus points for places where there is a baby-changing station available. For this, the major department stores have you covered: Bijenkorf, V&D and HEMA (the one in the Hague gets extra points because it was just renovated and they built a little wooden house, 'het winkeltje, complete with a station for watching movies, wooden memory toys and a cash machine). A favorite place, though, is the Marks & Spencer. It has a million high chairs, tons of space, a lot of light and the food is nice. I imagine I am taking a stroll in London while I'm there (a girl can dream). But what really makes the M&S win is their baby cleaning area. It is actually a whole room with a sink, diaper mat and a huge armchair for the mom (where you can breastfeed or soothe a small baby if needed); and it is clean. Oh and at Pathé film theaters (most unexpectedly, because who brings their baby to the movies? Who can do that?) have changing stations too.


However, having a mobile baby makes things more complicated. As soon as they can crawl babies want to be on the floor and discover the world. The problem is that more often than not the floors of the world are very dirty, hence the trouble. Libraries are an option, but even there people wear their shoes all over the place, including in the places designated for babies and small children. There are a few cafés in town that have books and a few toys for babies to play as well as high chairs (café Blossom, Mien Koffie en brood, Pim Coffee,  Paagman bookshops, some Bagels & Beans), but that will only do the trick for a quick stop to eat, the short amount of time that babies and toddlers will stay happy at the table. Of course there are also playgroups, but those are at very limited times of the day, often coinciding with nap times.

Blender (Ruysdaelstraat 9-11-13, Amsterdam)

Last weekend we discovered a Café and Concept store for kids and babies, Blender, in Amsterdam. It is the perfect place to go with babies and toddlers because they have a special playground area complete with slides, foam tiles and many toys. They even have a special menu for babies (though for babies on solids who eat fruit, cheese and bread, as there are no purées available and hardly any vegetables. I did not really appreciate that they would not allow parents to bring their own food but there is not even commercial baby food in jars available either). Attached to the café there is a shop that sells the nicest toys and hip baby clothing (for a price).


We really liked it, though, again, people keep their shoes on so it is not super clean. (If it was my business I would treat it like a veterinary clinic, have the floor cleaned at least 3 times per day, as necessary, and 2 sets of toys so they could be washed and disinfected every day).

Koffie en Kind (Laan van Poot 38, The Hague)

In The Hague there is a similar place called Koffie en Kind, in a way it is nicer because the whole thing is a paradise for toddlers. There is a train, a wooden kitchen, a little house complete with a crib so the kids will put their dolls to sleep (because we know babies will not sleep), a whole wardrobe of disguises, animals to ride, a doll house, and of course coffee and snacks for the parents.


The only downside is that it is only open on weekdays from 9:00 to 13:30 (and on Wednesdays only until 11:30). These places are nice to have available on weekends and afternoons as well... you never know when the kid will get bored and demand a change of scenery and some other kids as distraction.

We need more places like this! For someone looking to open a business / café, this is a total opportunity. The news would spread like fire and I can assure you such a place would be full in no time.

Bij Mijs, Laan van NOI 100, The Hague
Post edit: I just discovered a new place just like this. Bij Mijs (Laan van NOI 100, The Hague) is a shop/café with a really nice playground for small children and large tables and craft materials for the older ones. It really is just fresh out of the oven as it only opened mid-March, that is barely 2 weeks ago. I already went twice and I really really love it.

Bij Mijs

Monday, March 23, 2015

Walking around Amsterdam (and street art in Spuistraat)


Yesterday, as the weather was rather nice, we went to Amsterdam for one of our walks. We started the day having a late 2nd breakfast at a really baby-friendly café (we need more of those, but that's a whole other post).


After the kid had played to her heart's content (and was ready for her nap) we walked towards museum square, then turned at Weteringschans, passed Leidseplein and continued to  the Negen Straatjes and then Spuistraat (stopping for an Éclaire, which alas, was not as good as we hoped it would be).


Winter, crisp, sunny days are amongst mys favorite thing. You can smell the spring coming on every corner, the days are already so long it is 19:30 before you know it and there are flowers everywhere.

We saw the most colorful street-art and ended the day with an early dinner snack at the café of Hotel Die Port van Cleve where Heineken opened his first Heineken brewery, before driving home.

How was your weekend?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Attachment parenting, us?


 Parenting can be very confusing. You think you are going to do things in a certain way and you end up surprised at the choices that end up being best for your family or particular child.

I try hard not to subscribe to any parenting philosophy. I like to have my own opinions, discuss and parent according to our own mish-mash, that we make up as we go. And I reserve the right to change my mind as well. People can get very radical (they don't call the phenomenon "mommy wars" for nothing). But there are no black-and-white solutions, no "right" way to do things  and every kid is different.  What works for one child, does not work for another. We are all trying to do the same, raise happy, healthy, children. (Anna, said it best*).


Yet, I found myself shocked at our  'attachment parenting' tendencies. When I first heard about the movement, I cringed. Hippy, dirty-looking parents (because soap is bad), hanging out in a field of flowers with their 7-year-old kids that are still breastfeeding and don't study math because they hate it; the kind of people who will only eat fruit once and if it has fallen off a tree and don't believe in discipline or limits because it could harm the fragile feelings of their offspring**. To each its own, but I did not see myself like that. And I swore I was going to raise independent children. Then I watched that documentary, Rauw*** (Raw) about a mother who imposes her diet to her son, and continuously tells him "the others are wrong, one day they will realize", where perhaps, the most telling moment of the whole film is when the kid tells her mom something along the lines of "everyone can make their own choices and they should be honoured and respected".


I always thought our daughter was going to sleep in her own crib from day one. I thought it was just a matter of putting her there, oh naive me. Then she was born too early and we wanted to have her close to us, so she slept in her Moses basket, by our bed. And she slept fairly well. When she was 5 and 6 months she started sleeping through the night, mostly (well, from 11 pm to 6 am without any feedings or wake ups in between). At about the same time we went to Mexico for a month, where she continued to sleep (on one of those giant American-style cribs); but when we came back she had grown so much she did not fit in her Moses basket anymore, so we decided it was a good time to transfer her to her own crib, in her own room.

At the beginning it went well, for a few nights. But then, she started to wake up every 3 hours, then every 2 hours. At one point she was waking up  e-v-e-r-y   s-i-n-g-l-e    h-o-u-r. This happened gradually, the lowest point happened sometime around November, when after trying everything from sleeping on a mattress by her side, to rocking her, stuffing her with heavy food (like potato) and milk, we went to see a baby sleep coach. You can imagine how tired we were, from bringing her back and forth to her crib, soothing her, only to have her wake up, again, and again, and again.


We read, and read, and read. We concluded this probably had to do with separation anxiety and maybe teething, which took a long time for her and started around that time. In the end, in a moment of desperation, Mark took the baby and put her in our bed.  I started crying, left the room in desperation and told him that if we did this now, there was no going back. I was also still very scared of SIDS and did not want her to choke under a blanket, pillow, or be crushed by us like a tiny piglet by its mom. But we really had tried everything and we were both so exhausted we could not continue functioning as it was.

She started sleeping better, waking up less. I started enjoying it. I read some more, realized that maybe it was OK if she still needed the security of being close to us, that she would become independent at her own pace and time.

 Co-sleepers are extremely expensive so we ended up doing the famous IKEA hack... which is quite simple really: just the cheapest crib, without one of the fences which is then attached to the bed with rope.

We hope  and assume that when she is mature enough for the change she will let us know herself. (Or we will reassess in the future). In the meantime she knows her room and crib very well, as she sleeps her day time naps there without any problems.

Did you end up doing things way differently than you ever imagined you would?

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* You should read the whole post, but I just had to quote this because it encapsulates these feelings very well:

"Yes, I worry, as any overly informed middle-class mother would, about their sleep, their appetite, the number of wet diapers, my breast milk supply, whether I’m giving them equal amounts of time and attention, whether we’ll crack the impossible equation that is childcare. Quite frankly, though, those concerns feel superficial. Below all this is a thick, solid layer of serenity. We’re ok. The kids are all right. We’re drilling down to the bare essentials: food, sleep, love, laughter. My daughters are healthy, happy children. My husband is an incredible, bright, loving father. Bath time is a party, playtime is hilarious, nap time is my fun time, their morning smiles are rays of sunshine."

** That is a caricature I invented in my mind, probably based on some documentary I watched sometime. I do not mean to be judgemental, I am just trying to illustrate a point.

*** The documentary (Rauw)  is in Dutch, but you can watch it here.
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