maandag 31 december 2012

Twelve commandments for 2013

I'm still pregnant. By now we can be fairly sure that this boy is going to be a 2013 baby.

2011 was a year of upheaval, 2012 one of settling in. We're hoping to see a few new developments in 2013, the first of which should be arriving around the start of January. As for the other ones - we're open to change, but as we're not big on planning ahead, who knows what the rest of the year'll bring?

Recently I read Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project (the book, not the blog) and I found it inspiring. The happiness she's looking for is not the opposite of unhappiness or depression, but the opposite of being sucked into the daily grind. Many of the things she changes are small, but taken together it makes a fairly big dent in her daily dose of feeling good. I want that too, so that's what I'm going to do in 2013. I'm going to make myself happier. Because as Rubin writes:

"The days are long but the years are short."

The first thing Rubin advises to do is figure out your personal "commandments", the guidelines by which you live. As she points out, I already knew most of these - I just need to remind myself of them more often. So here they are:

1.  Do unto others as I would have them do unto me: be kind and trust others.

2. Remember to laugh at myself.

3. I will never regret time spent cuddling my loved ones.

4. Count to ten.

5. Listen.

6. Loved ones are worth honesty. Accept criticism.

7. I can only focus on three things at a time in my life.

8. Give inspiration a chance to visit.

9. Don't compromise yourself, you're all you've got (also: de mens lijdt het meest onder het lijden dat hij vreest - man suffers more from the fear of suffering than from suffering itself).

10. Carrying guilt around does not make me a better or more enjoyable person (or: don't be a martyr).

11. Mens sana in corpore sano, most importantly: go to bed.

12. Just do it.

So, in the name of good resolutions, I'm off.

Happy New Year everybody!!

donderdag 27 december 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture post: Christmas, the day after

We had an absolutely wonderful Christmas, more amazing than we'd ever expected. There were heaps of food, lunches, brunches and dinners, including one wholly traditional British one down to the sprouts and the duck fat for the potatoes (and, of course, the Christmas crackers), one Canadian one with Vietnamese influences, one American one with balloons for the children and one Dutch breakfast with a Christmas stol (we did that one ourselves). There was even a birthday dinner for me in there somewhere, with the best possible present: loud, snorting, crying laughter.

I like the whole family thing with Christmas (I know you're not supposed to, you're supposed to complain about the whole obligatory visiting thing and how only duty forces you into this, but I genuinely enjoy it. It's because I actually really like my and S.'s family, so there you go. My secret's out now.) Also, we usually ski at Christmas, which I also really, really like. So skyping with my family while they're running around sorting out their gear to get out on the mountains and I sit here all whale-like sweating in the blistering heat is ever so slightly painful. I wasn't looking forward to that, to be honest. Christmas in the Tropics without family just isn't the real thing.

But this year we had a blast. It's been brilliant. And this is purely thanks to all those lovely, wonderful people who invited us over and came to our place and got us and themselves into the spirit of things, made us laugh, seduced us to go to bed extremely late, gave S. whiskey and poured me sparkling apple juice, made sure there were presents for E., fed us sprouts and ham and pumpkin and fried rice with shrimp, taught us the After Eight game that doesn't involve kissing and caused the eyebrows of the gynaecologist to rise when he saw the weight gain between this and last week (I have to admit, it is fairly impressive).

These pictures were taken today - the day after. We're tired, we're happy, we're working our way through the left-overs and we're loving our blessed life in Singapore. Thank you. May all of your 2013 be a string of joyful Christmasses!













vrijdag 21 december 2012

Hoe praat ik over een bevalling in het Engels

"Dat klinkt haast als Singaporese toestanden", zei de doula afkeurend toen ik haar vertelde dat mijn verloskundige maar alvast de vliezen had gebroken in de hoop dat de bevalling dan wat sneller op zou schieten. Het hielp niet, dus aan het eind van de dag besloot de verloskundige me naar het ziekenhuis te sturen en inleid-hormonen te geven, zodat ik niet nog een nacht in de weeen zou zitten. Ongelooflijk vond de doula dat. "Het is helemaal niet raar als een eerste bevalling een dag of zelfs langer duurt." Trots wees ze naar haar collega. "Zij is net terug van een bevalling die drie dagen heeft geduurd, helemaal natuurlijk!"

Daarom hebben wij geen doula. Ik gruwel van het idee om drie dagen te moeten bevallen, zeker nu ik weet dat het daarna minimaal drie maanden duurt voor ik weer een volle nacht slaap krijg. Nee, doe mij dan maar het medische circus met alle pijn maar ook het vlotte verloop van dien. (En die pijn is trouwens ook nog open voor discussie.)

In de hele discussie en mijn queeste in Singapore naar doulas en informatie viel me iets anders op. Of eigenlijk viel me iets op toen mijn moeder een bozig artikel uit het Brabants Dagblad opstuurde met als titel: "Pijnloos bevallen nog geen regel" en als onderwerp: ondanks de medische richtlijn die expliciet bepaalt dat een bevallende vrouw mag beslissen of ze al dan niet pijnbestrijding krijgt, zijn er nog minimaal dertig ziekenhuizen waar de artsen of verpleegkundigen dergelijke verzoeken niet automatisch inwilligen en op hun eigen beoordeling af gaan. 

In Nederland woedt de strijd om pijnbestrijding (het krijgen ervan) nog steeds.

In Singapore strijden de vrouwen ook om pijnbestrijding (het afwijzen ervan). Er is hier een sterke stroming van vrouwen die een natuurlijke bevalling voorstaan, dat wil zeggen, thuis, zonder pijnbestrijding en zonder medisch ingrijpen.

Een bevalling is hier absoluut een medisch evenement. De gynaecoloog stond paf vanmorgen toen S. en ik hem vertelden dat wij vrouwen (meervoud) kenden die kindjes van vijf kilo vaginaal hadden gebaard. "Vanaf vier kilo adviseren wij een keizersnee", antwoordde hij geschokt. De zwaarste baby die hij ooit - via keizersnee - ter wereld had gebracht woog 4600 gram (de moeder was een forse Filippijnse). 

Ik heb hem maar niet verteld dat E. tijdens haar periode in mijn baarmoeder uberhaupt nooit gemeten is om te zien hoe zwaar ze was. Dat de hoeveelheid vruchtwater niet wekelijks werd gemonitord. En dat er niet, zoals vanochtend, een hartfilmpje van twintig minuten is gemaakt is om te kijken hoe de zaken ervoor stonden. (Goed.) 

Regelmatig snappen wij elkaar ook niet zo goed, de gynaecoloog en ik. "Wacht, dus je vliezen zijn thuis gebroken?" vroeg hij verbaasd. (Ja, in een bed dat we op bierkratjes hadden gezet om aan de arbo-regels te voldoen, maar dat heb ik er maar niet bij verteld.) "Waarom niet in het ziekenhuis?" Tja, geen idee, eigenlijk. Gewoon, omdat de bevalling nog niet goed op gang was. Dus dan blijf je voorlopig nog thuis. "En... het bed dan?" vroeg de gynaecoloog voorzichtig. 

Dat hadden we beschermd met een matrasbeschermer uit het gratis kraampakket van de zorgverzekering, legde ik uit. "Dat klinkt alsof je thuis wilde bevallen", zei hij en zijn wenkbrauwen rezen de lucht in. "Nee hoor", verzekerde S. hem, "wij wilden heel graag in het ziekenhuis bevallen, net als nu. Maar een thuisbevalling is nu eenmaal de norm." 

Het is dat de gynaecoloog een Singaporees is, anders was zijn klomp gebroken.

De neonatale sterfte in Singapore bedraagt minder dan de helft van die in Nederland (die in Nederland is overigens ook zeer laag). Dat zal zeker iets te maken hebben met het feit dat een zwangerschap en een bevalling hier als een medische kwestie worden gezien, en niet als een natuurlijke gebeurtenis. (Dit is overigens een klassiek verschil tussen de visie van gynaecologen en die van verloskundigen en doulas, veroorzaakt door het feit dat een gynaecoloog alle probleemgevallen voorbij ziet komen, terwijl doulas en verloskundigen voornamelijk de bevallingen zien die goed gaan.) 

Anderszijds blijkt uit onderzoek dat doulas een rustgevend effect hebben op moeders en dat thuisbevallingen het herstel van de moeder bevorderen. Beiden verlagen de kans op postpartumdepressies enorm (het zou me overigens niks verbazen als in Nederland de rol van de 'postpartum doula' door kraamverzorgsters wordt overgenomen.) 

Maar in beide culturen moeten vrouwen nog steeds strijden voor het recht om zelf te beslissen hoe en waar en wat zij willen tijdens de bevalling. In beide culturen voelen vrouwen zich onmondig en nemen ze zich voor om het bij de tweede anders te doen.

Terwijl ik over al deze zaken nadacht, viel er ineens een linguistisch kwartje. Want het verschil tussen de Nederlandse en de Angelsakische/Singaporese wijze van denken zit al besloten in de terminologie die de talen gebruiken.

Wat wij een "bevalling" noemen, heet in het Engels een "natural delivery". Een "delivery" noemen wij een "bevalling met pijnbestrijding". Onze "natuurlijke bevalling" heet in het Engels een "vaginal delivery", de tegenhanger van een keizersnee of "Caesarean (section)". Het is zelfs terug te zien in de terminologie om het verloop te beschrijven: Waar mogelijk kiezen Engelssprekenden voor een medische term. Waar mogelijk gebruiken Nederlanders een vriendelijke huis-, tuin- en keukenterm. Onze "harde buik" of "voorwee" is een "Braxton-Hicks", onze "knip" is een "episiotomy" en onze "kraamverzorgster" is een "confinement nurse".

Het cultuurverschil in taal gevangen.

woensdag 19 december 2012

Singaporeans do things differently: Speaking English

I am the proud owner of a Certificate in Gateway to Mandarin Level 1. This means that I have exactly zero ability to speak Mandarin, but at least it'll get me into Level 2 and maybe then I will finally master the second or "surprised" tone.

(I tried to tell a Chinese friend I was happy to see her, a sentence which includes the word "renshi" or "getting to know", and I discovered today that if mispronounced "renshi" might also mean "buying and selling people". Which, I suppose, explains her horrified expression.)

However - lack of practical ability notwithstanding, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly and intuitively I managed to grasp the grammar and sentence structure.

I blame this on Singlish, the local variety of English, which E. is rapidly mastering and I more slowly am getting to grips with. 

"Just put lah at the end of every sentence", people'll tell you if you ask about Singlish. That certainly helps, just as tacking on "like" at the end of your sentence will make you sound Irish, whereas slipping "like" into the middle and pausing will make you sound like you emerged from nineties-era Los Angeles. There are some very common Malay and Chinese words that get mixed into Singaporean English as well, such as atas for snobby or tai tai for rich housewives, and some lovely local expressions such as blur, meaning a bit vague, not all there, and catch no ball for "I don't understand". 

But there's more to Singlish. The grammar is different too. (Which actually could qualify it as an official language, I believe, if anybody would take the trouble to elevate its status. But we're not in the European Union anymore, Toto.) 

The most obvious form of this grammatical difference to expats is the "can" and "cannot" substitutes for "yes" and "no". However, a lot of verbs carry their own versions of "no" - "want" comes with "don't want", "have" comes with "don't have" - which is exactly the way it works in Mandarin. 

In Singlish, questions are often formed by taken a statement and substituting "what" or "where" for the thing that is being asked for: "You go where?" ("I'm going to Orchard Road") or "You buy what?" ("I'd like to buy some pumpkin, please"). Again, this is exactly as laoshi (teacher) taught us to build sentences in Mandarin class. 

Now it turns out that my valiant attempts at getting to grips with the local lingo has actually prepared the groundworks for learning Mandarin - the language I always sort of hid away from, thinking it too difficult to even think about attempting it (and neither Level 1 nor Level 2 does anything with characters or proper reading yet, it's all conversational). 

It's not that I am a language genius (I never did master the subjunctive in Spanish, leading my Bolivian friends to think that I am a very serious type person, I mumble my way through German declinations and the last time I even attempted to speak French the French person kindly answered in Spanish). 

It's just that I have this strange aptitude when it comes to English to pick up accents and colloquialisms almost subconsciously (I cannot for the life of me do an accent in Dutch, not even my own regional one). Non-native speakers aren't supposed to do able to do this, but I think my brain got re-wired during my toddlerhood in Singapore, where, apparently, I navigated deftly among Dutch, English, basic Tagalog and a smattering of, yes, Mandarin in daily life. 

I forgot all of that as soon I crossed the treshold to our new Dutch home. (Well, not the Dutch, obviously.)

But in a roundabout way my ease with and love for the English language has made learning Mandarin a bit easier. Now I just need to find somebody to teach me proper Singlish vocabulary, so I can actually talk to people.

maandag 17 december 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture post: Week 37 and counting

This is S. and me and E. a month or two before everybody else found out her name.




This is S. and me and E. mere days before she'd pop out. As you can see, in the best Dutch tradition we'd prepared the bedroom for the possibility of a home birth by raising the bed higher off the floor by putting beer crates underneath, in order to be in accordance with labour regulations (the ones concerning midwives not bending too much and straining their backs, there are no labour regulations for women giving birth).




This is one of S.'s favourite pictures of me and Elsemieke, shot by the wonderful Eun Leij of Kekke Kiekjes (she shot the first picture shown above as well, actually).




In fact, S. liked it so much, he copied it yesterday. Here is me and Sonny Boy at three weeks before the due date.


vrijdag 7 december 2012

Lessons learned: Avoiding gender stereotypes

"That's very European", an Asian mother commented when I told her I was trying to avoid gender stereotypes around E.

It does sound a bit high minded when written down, but basically what it comes down to is not limiting the colour scheme to pink, picking generic lego sets over the flowery houses and enthusiastically imitating airplanes whizzing around shopping malls (go on, picture that, a towering eight months pregnant Caucasian woman running around with out-stretched arms making vroomvroom noises among quiet and reserved Asian shoppers).

At home, with us, this seems to work. E. loves drawing and puzzles and books. She'll build towers out of lego and has recently discovered the joy of building blocks. She tidies up behind herself (especially when reminded) and she always wants to help out with cooking. She loves all manner of bikes, from her own balance bike to huge Harley Davidson motorcycles. When doing the laundry she prefers S.'s clothes to mine, but shoe-wise she definitely goes for the heels. I try not to stifle her ideas and play to fit in with a pre-conceived notion of what she should like and do.

So here I am, trying to let my child be who she wants to be. When she told me that papa was a princess and mama was a knight, I didn't correct her. (She corrected herself: of course we weren't a princess and a knight, all three of us were horses!) We fib a bit to even things out in the examples we set her ourselves. Whenever I go off and leave her with S. we tell her that I go to work (which, in a very broad sense of the word, is true). Lately, S. has been picking up the slack that I leave in the wake of my whale-like body. He cooks, he tidies (I bite my tongue - well, sometimes anyway).

I'm actually not sure if she's completely aware that she's female and that other toddlers are male, and that there is this whole divide in humanity between men and women, as that isn't something that ever seems to come up in conversation (apart from the odd time when she sees either of us taking a shower). Last time I asked her if she was a boy or a girl, she got confused by the terminology.

But whenever we go out and I give her a choice of clothing, she'll pick something pink. Or frilly. Or white with a colourful pattern. Definitely a dress or a skirt. And always pink or flowery socks. And whenever we're at a playdate she'll make a beeline for the dolls and the toy kitchen and start cooking, bathing and changing diapers on the doll before putting it to bed. She loves to push prams, both real and fake ones. So, in the spirit of letting her be her, I am letting her be girly.

But it does feel like she's missing the point.

woensdag 5 december 2012

Singaporeans do things differently: Free-range children

"Oh, she's over there", I pointed E. out to the British grandparents who were sitting next to me. E. was purposefully walking off towards the horizon by the side of an Olympic size swimming pool. The grandparents looked concerned. They shifted on their chairs.

"The Dutch child barrier lies much further out", their son, our fellow parent-friend, comforted them. He held his hands about twenty centimeters apart. "This is the American barrier", he moved his hands slightly further apart: "This is the British barrier", he opened his arms as wide as they'd go: "This is the Dutch barrier."

E. looked round and decided to amble back towards us. "If I run after her, she'll keep going", I explained. "But if I just wait, eight times out of ten, she comes back on her own." The grandparents nodded rather unenthusiastically, clearly not impressed by my parenting philosophy.

Where American and British parents are always a step or two behind their children, Singaporean parents prefer to be right next to their children. They are close enough to catch them when they fall. Strange Singaporeans rush in when E. topples over to help her out, and since I am generally a few meters away, they usually get there first.

Then they are very surprised when E. pushes herself off the ground, dusts her knees and simply gets on with things.

"So independent, lah!" they'll admire her. And when she smiles at them: "So happy!"

It's true. E. loves to run around, explore and skip along with S. and myself. At playdates she'll rush off to have a look at all the amazing toys and she adores to play with other children. She doesn't let things like toppling over or getting into a toddler scrap distract her from the bigger picture which is doing her thing, having fun, discovering the world.

More than one Singaporean has commented that they'd love their child to be more like ours.

Maybe so. But I dread the day we'll be in a restaurant and instead of respectfully listen to us, she'll make a scene. Because that's what all this autonomy and independence and happiness is leading up to: a willful, stubborn child, who has complete faith in her own opinion.

I should know, I was a Dutch child too once and I remember my parents sighing and looking wistfully at other dining families in foreign restaurants. "It's always the Dutch kids screaming", they'd nod at each other. (Writing this, I'm thinking we can't have been that bad, as they kept taking us four out to restaurants in the first place - or maybe my parents are masochists.)

Singaporean children are protected from pain and hurt, but at the same time also taught to withhold emotions in a public setting. I am the only mother at daycare to extensively kiss and cuddle my child upon pick-up, just, you know, because she's there. And I've missed her. And she looks cute. Singaporean parents generally reserve displays of affection for the home.

This goes for displays of distress too. A Dutch preschool teacher, who teams up with a Singaporean teacher to lead her class room, told me that where Dutch teachers will let children fall and get into scraps and only intervene if there is actual crying, her Singaporean colleagues will try to prevent hurt and crying. But once there is pain and crying, the Dutch teacher will comfort the child and let its emotions run free, whereas the Singaporean teacher will pick up and cuddle the child and then sternly tell it: "You've been comforted. No need for crying."

Both are trying to teach a child resilience: the Dutch through letting the toddlers experience the consequences of their actions without intervening, thereby fostering an independent nature, the Singaporeans through teaching toddlers trust and respect for their elders.

I wouldn't mind if E. picked up some of that respect along the way - although in fairness and although I like to call her a little wild animal, she isn't actually. She's much too loving to leave us alone for very long. She knows that we grow sad without her.

Eight times out of then, at the edge of the barrier, she'll look over her shoulder, smile cheekily, then run back and throw herself into our arms.

maandag 3 december 2012

Snipperdag - Thinking day

Today I am taking the day off to ruminate on life, last Saturday's inspiring Tedx Women conference, several possible writing assignments that I've been looking at and really should do more than look at, the start of my personal happiness project (no time like the present, especially in the face of a life changing event in a month's time) and last but definitely not least to do my taxes. For 2011.

So see you all on Wednesday!

ps. A 'snipperdag' is something that probably only exists in the Netherlands because in some jobs some people get ridiculous amounts of time off (like I did in my first job...) It means to take leave from work for a day, just... Because. To think a bit, to do a bit of gardening, to laze around mid-week and relax. It's no wonder we are known for our preference for life over work in the work-life balance if taking a 'snipperdag' is not only accepted but congratulated as the best way to ensure mental and physical health.

ps II. In fact, after three months in my first job, my boss sidled up to me and said: "You haven't taken a single day off yet this year. Shouldn't you go home? Maybe this afternoon?" My leave that year amounted to almost ten weeks, so in fairness, if I didn't get a head start on taking days off, I'd never get rid of the load by the start of the next period.

ps III. I did manage to take ALL of that leave the second year, though. I am a good student.

ps IV. Obviously, I was paid peanuts and could barely subsist on my salary. Huge bonuses and generous amounts of leisure time generally do not co-exist in the same office.

vrijdag 30 november 2012

Nablopomo 2012

Today is the final day of the National Blog Posting Month 2012, a tongue-in-cheek spin-off from Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month.

I have made it, yay me!

And thank you all for being there with me! My page views have doubled over the past month, not least because of the interview at Expatsblog and Bookjunkie's Liebster Award. I hope you have enjoyed your visits and will come back to check on me every once in a while. (If you feel particularly moved you might head over to Expatsblog and review this site with stars and everything! They have actually nominated me for their award, and reviews feature heavily in the final decision.)

This month I have mainly blogged about parenthood (motherhood, as I am female), a departure from the norm, when I try to stick to stuff that has something to do with Singapore. I find I have a lot to say about the subject.

So what did you think? Should I move into mommy blogger territory more permanently? Should "Lessons learned" be made into a regular feature, like "Repeating history" and "Singaporeans do things differently"? Or are you actually gagging for more local info and would you prefer me to dig deeper into travel and tourism stuff? Or are you just here for Blondie and don't bother too much with the words bit? (In which case you're probably not reading this, so never mind.)

Let me know what you thought, which posts you liked best, what you'd like to hear more about, and which topics I should leave well enough alone in future.


NaBloPoMo November 2012

donderdag 29 november 2012

Work situation update

It's probably my continental European background, but I feel really weird paying for university by credit card.

But yes, I am (once again) back at university. As an Economics student this time, distance learning at the University of London, program overseen by the awe-inspiring London School of Economics. So we'll see if I do last the distance. (Pun intended, obviously.) 

I have secret hopes of writing my bachelor thesis on the medieval relic trade, marrying all my interests in one fell swoop. Except that Patrick Geary got there first. 

In other news: the expat interactive map is finally online, yay Z24! Go find out where you should move to (if you should move at all, you whiny Dutchies). 

And my post on happiness, babies and work situations is going to be published in the Singapore American Newspaper, who'll hopefully let me contribute to their paper more often.

All of these just sort of happened. And none of these have anything to do with my actual wild fantasy plans for which the books on my desk are currently piling up (this is not a sign of progress. Progress would be if they'd be randomly spread around the house with notes sticking out of them, because that would mean I'm actually reading them). But there's always hoping.

I still have six long and wonderful weeks before the second child is born! And everybody assures me that that will be a breeze compared to the first one! So none of my projects are on hold. Full steam ahead, I have exams in May!

Ps. Did I mention I'm studying Mandarin as well? 

NaBloPoMo November 2012

woensdag 28 november 2012

Het fijnste moment van de dag

E. heeft de magie van knuffelen ontdekt. Dat wil zeggen, ze heeft ontdekt hoeveel haar moeder van knuffelen houdt.

En dat is VEEL.

Zelfs na de hele nacht tegen S. aangekroeld te hebben gelegen, laat ik hem 's ochtends slechts met moeite gaan. Wanneer ik E. ophaal van het kinderdagverblijf, sta ik haar met open armen op haar te wachten (die ze regelmatig vakkundig ontwijkt om de schoenenkastjes leeg te halen op zoek naar mooiere schoenen dan die van haarzelf).

"Wacht maar tot je zelf kinderen hebt", zei grootmoeder Tamtam altijd als zij uitgeknuffeld was en ik niet.

En die tijd is nu aangebroken. Niet dat E.'s knuffelbehoefte die van mij matcht - zij stelt ook prijs op fietsen, met auto's spelen, legotorens bouwen en winkelwagentjes in- en uitladen, om nog maar te zwijgen van gillend door fonteinen rennen.

Maar E. heeft ontdekt dat als ze voor het slapen gaan om een knuffel vraagt, dat betekent dat mama langer blijft. En dat als ze dan ook nog eens gaat babbelen, dat mama dan helemaal vertederd de tijd vergeet. En dat ze dus langer wakker is. Score!

Dus nu knuffelen E. en ik uitgebreid elke avond, terwijl we de dag bespreken. Als S. op tijd thuis is, ligt hij er ook bij. We zingen samen liedjes en tellen in drie talen. En ik heb heus wel door dat ik word gemanipuleerd - maar dat komt mij eigenlijk wel goed uit.


NaBloPoMo November 2012

dinsdag 27 november 2012

Lessons learned: The unexpected uses of road-race cycling

"Do you remember how to do that puffing thing we learned last time in prenatal classes?" I asked S. last night.

"Yes", he said confidently. I eyed him a bit suspiciously. "Really? Because I've completely forgotten."

"Take a deep breath in, and then release in four short bursts - like this", S. demonstrated. "It's a technique for getting more oxygen into your blood and it makes you feel a bit of a high", he went on. "By emptying the lungs forcefully, the intake of breath gets deeper, until you're left with a surplus of oxygen."

"How do you know all this?" I asked him. I may have pregnancy dementia and I may not quite remember every single minute of E.'s birth, but I was fairly sure this bit had not been covered during the prenatal classes, of which S. had only attended the obligatory partner-class anyway.

"It's a well-known technique for cyclists going uphill", he explained.

S. loves cycling. And he's fairly good at it as well, good enough to have spent time in racing teams during his youth and first years at university and even at one glorious moment beating Lance Armstrong in an uphill battle during a training camp. (This happened during the time Armstrong was, according to the USADA, probably artificially strengthened.) Then one day S. looked at the odds of becoming a professional cyclist and decided to become a professional psychologist instead.

But his cycling experience keeps popping up at the most unexpected moments. Such as the stormy winter's day we drove from the Netherlands to Switzerland, normally an eight hour drive which took us eighteen hours instead through blizzards and over German highways covered in snow. It was scary and slippery when I or my uncle was behind the wheel, but when S. was driving I could close my eyes and not notice the difference from a sunny summer's day. He is an amazingly good and steady driver.

This too is due to his road racing past. In the peloton, which propels itself forward at speeds between 30 (leisurely) and 70 (downhill) km per hour, the distance between the unprotected cyclists (well, they've grudgingly acquiesced to wearing helmets) is at most a couple of centimeters. So anticipation and steady handling are not just admirable skills, but necessary for survival. (If you don't have them, you'll get kicked out of the peloton because you're just too dangerous.)

Driving a big, sturdy car is a breeze compared to that environment.

There are other side benefits. Such as S.'s love for pasta and his understanding of nutritional values, although in that respect we are unfortunately on opposing sides of the spectrum, me wanting to slim down and him trying to beef up. But either way we eat and enjoy mostly healthy stuff.

There is S.'s pigeon-like homing instinct and intuitive grasp of logistics, carefully honed during his years as a bike messenger and eventually giving him the subject for his bachelor's thesis: how to train operators to best deploy a finite number of ambulances during peak hours.

There is the utterly practical benefit of him being able to fix our bikes, because when he was a teenager he couldn't always afford to run off to the mechanic and has taught himself how to fix and tune the bikes instead. And his accompanying horror when I don't clean my bike properly, which he will then do for me, sighing in frustration that I just don't notice the dirt (interestingly, in all other household matters this is reversed).

He even helps me out with stretching exercises and understands how certain parts of the body connect to each other, so when my back started to do its familiar aching thing due to a growing belly-buttock imbalance, he was the one pointing me towards yoga and pilates.

But that his cycling experience would mean that he is actually better at labour than me, the pregnant, class-taking, well-preparing one - that I hadn't seen coming.

NaBloPoMo November 2012

maandag 26 november 2012

Lessons learned: Dutch, expat and school birthday parties

We have finally, finally come to the end of six weeks of celebrating E.'s second birthday. Of course, this whole drawn-out process was entirely my own fault, because I wanted to have my cake and eat and then have more. More! MORE!

Well, I've had enough.

But I have discovered some interesting differences between "normal" Dutch birthdays and what I suspect is the expat way of celebrating tiny tikes growing older. And we just had to do both, I brilliantly decided.

Dutch birthday
E.'s first party was in the Netherlands at the house of grandfather Tamtam. We hung a festive streamer, decorated her high chair with balloons and made sure we had candles and a lighter. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and extended family showed up with cakes and presents. We spaced out the giving of presents over the whole day but at the end her absolute favourites were the blue balloon with a girly-face drawn on it by grandfather Tamtam and the pink balloon that uncle D. had decorated with a boy-face later that day to accompany the poor lonesome girl.

We sang birthday songs, and tried to get E. to blow out candles (but she likes her fire burning, thank you very much). E. was universally adored by all present and her company and smile were the prize all people present sought to achieve for themselves. She spent the rest of the week happily playing with her new toys and books and jigsaws.

There were no goodiebags, although in retrospect we should've had little containers ready to get people to take home left-over cake.

Because we did not manage to finish the cakes. Not even by diligently keeping at eating them for the whole following week.

Expat birthday
E.'s second party was held at Tiong Bahru Park playground, where S. and I set up shop with lots of cakes, grapes, crackers, crisps 'n dips. Again we hung a streamer to alert people to our presence. We had invited all the toddlers she hangs out with, and their parents too. They all brought sunscreen and presents.

In fact, E. received so many presents that we ended up not unwrapping them so as not to spoil her joy. We're now spacing the gift-giving over weeks, pretending it's Sinterklaas (our version of Santa Claus) dropping these wonderful packages off on a weekendly basis.

During the party, we sort of just turned E. loose on the playground, and the other kids followed. Although one or another or several parents would at all times make sure our little herd was fairly safe, the general preference seemed to be for adult conversation (of which even I had a bit, yay!).

At the end, I forgot to distribute the goodiebags, about which I had been agonizing and which had been assembled in the wee hours of the night. (Being awake in the wee hours of the night is not good for remembering things the day after.)

We did not manage to finish the cakes, and since I baked most of them myself I felt no guilt in chucking them after we came home.

School birthday
E.'s third (and final) birthday party was held this morning at her school. I had baked another "kwarktaart" or yoghurt pie (I am using the word "bake" in the loosest sense possible, since it's actually the fridge that does the necessary work, not the oven). I had prepared more goodiebags, this time with Dutch Lady milk and home made pepernoten and some weird Japanese sugary sweets and a small package of Jip and Janneke raisins which I imported from the Netherlands (a theme! They were themed goodiebags!)

My goodiebags were woefully inadequate compared to the Hello Kitty sweets-and-toys filled backpacks, which were handed out last week for another girls' birthday. But they stacked up fairly impressively compared to the treats I've seen Dutch friends post on Facebook for their toddlers' birthday. Those poor Dutchies don't get cake AND goodiebags, they just get some small stuff, you know, a packet of raisins, some apple slices, a lollipop here and there.

My presence had been requested at 9.30 am during the morning snack break when the children would have the cake and sing.

All kids convened on the dinner tables. E. was seated at the top of the room at her own table behind the cake with candles. The kids sang. E. expertly blew out the candles. Everybody ate.

There were no left-overs.

The best part: E.'s face radiated happiness when she noticed me squatting down next to her. She kept stroking my face and repeating in wonder and joy: "Mama is hier. Mama is lief."


NaBloPoMo November 2012

zondag 25 november 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture post: Sunday morning vitamines



Sunday morning: while expat Singapore slowly gets out of bed and ready to slope off to their fave brunch spots to lubricate their parched throats with bubbling prosecco, E. and S. lurk their well-deserved vitamine C-filled kiwi juices at Amoy Food Court. 

All right, so E. hasn't actually done anything to deserve a pint of kiwi juice. It's still healthy. (Unfortunately, it's also mine.)

NaBloPoMo November 2012

zaterdag 24 november 2012

Plaatjespost & Picturepost: Ice ice Blondie



This is my current favourite picture ever of E. And even though I've taken photography classes (I and II), and have a spanky intimidating DSLR camera and in general dislike intensely to use my mobile for pictures as I tend to tremble and wobble and squint at the not-quite-visible picture on the screen, this particular day some sort of universal benevolence beam shone at us.

I have not had to change or photoshop a single thing. This is the actual picture as taken by me by the Dutch roadside with my wobbly mobile. Go figure. 

I do know however why E. looks so adorably cute. It's the scarf, handmade* with yarn carefully picked to offset her particular colouring. 

And there's more where that scarf came from! So contact me if you want to spare your child from freezing in the best-looking way possible.

There's a hat to go with it as well!



This DSLR taken picture however has been extensively photoshopped, contrast, colour temperature, rotate, you name it, I've fiddled with it. But the hat actually does look like that. I just needed E. to resemble herself as well.

* Not by me, obviously. But the artist is still working on setting up an Etsy store, so I've taken it upon myself to see if I could get some word-of-mouth going.

NaBloPoMo November 2012

vrijdag 23 november 2012

Lessons learned: Sometimes other people are right

Parents want to do right by their child. But as all parents discover, it's actually not that easy to know what your child needs.

Newborn E. didn't like to go out for a walk with me. Within ten minutes she'd be crying her little eyes out and no amount of singing or soft rocking could convince her to stay put. More experienced parents were stymied. A kid who doesn't like the pram? Weird.

Then we went to stay with the grandparents Tamtam and grandmother Tamtam took her out while delivering the church newsletter. I waited in trepidation for her imminent return with my crying six-week old. Ten minutes past. Fifteen minutes. Half an hour. After an hour grandmother Tamtam returned with a happily gurgling baby. 

I looked in the pram in wonder. Then I saw that contrary to my instructions grandmother Tamtam had not only put a hot water bottle but a woollen blanket and two instead of one baby caps on E. I had been monitoring her body temperature very carefully, and she was doing good, so according to the expert advice she didn't need all those extra layers. In fact, those layers could be dangerous as they might overheat her.

I was incensed. What if she had overheated and died!

"She looked cold", grandmother Tamtam shrugged. She assured she had had one eye trained on E. at all times, ready to whip off the woollen blanket in case of steam coming out of her ears. But she wasn't surprised that didn't happen. "It's freezing outside in the snow." 

I looked in the pram again. E. did look very happy. She yawned. She stretched. She fell asleep and slept for an astounding six hours, all cozily wrapped up in her woollen blanket.

From that day on, we've erred on the side of warmth with E., who apparently really detests feeling cold. She used to get a hot water bottle and three blankets when we went out walking (it was a really cold winter) and we'd even get up to refresh her nightly hot water bottle around midnight to ensure good sleep. E. adores the weather in Singapore. She has been thriving ever since we arrived here, as shown in her growth stats.

All of this as an example of how hard it is to know what your child needs. And that I have discovered that even though S. and I know E. best, sometimes other people are right. (Yes, yes, and often S. is right too, but let's not say that too loudly or he might hear us.)

For the last two months I have been subtly and lovingly bombarded with the message that I am not strict enough with E. Or that my boundaries aren't firm enough. Or that I'm sending mixed signals. 

This is quite possible. I can even see it happen sometimes. She'll be messing around with her food, colouring the table white with yoghurt, so I'll take the bowl away after a few warnings explaining that she doesn't seem hungry and then she turns those big blue eyes on me, slowly filling with tears... 

I do believe children need firm boundaries within which they can feel safe and be free. Pamela Druckerman writes that French parents know how to put authority in their voices, to which their children respond without having to be bribed or threatened. It's quite clear that I don't.

S. says that my voice sounds as if I'm trying to appeal to E.'s better side. As E. has only just turned two, her better side is still under construction, so this doesn't really work. I am trying to be more authorative, less ambiguous, less accommodating and more decisive. 

But however often people would tell me I'd make a good teacher, I always knew that I have no natural authority when it comes to children. And when I coached a team of six- and seven-year-olds in floorball, this point was brought home to me even more forcefully. They liked me - they just didn't listen to me.

Somehow I hadn't realized that that lack of natural decisive guidance ability would spill over into my private parenting practice. So all of you well-meaning people, I appreciate the advice. And I know you are right. I am trying. It's just doesn't come to me naturally, this whole authority thing




NaBloPoMo November 2012

donderdag 22 november 2012

Repeating history: Being outside




This is toddler me, sitting on the back steps of our bungalow on Cassia Drive in 1983. We're still moving in, that's why there are chairs stacked behind me. Later on, there would be a huge church pew standing there, which my parents have lugged with them all over the world until it got eaten by woodworm outside of their current Dutch home. 

This is what our old place looks like now: 


Times have changed. I don't know any expat actually living in a house, or a "landed property" as they are called in Singapore. Most of them live in condominiums, guarded apartment blocks with loads of facilities like swimming pools, play areas, fish to feed, tennis courts, garages, gyms, BBQ pits and function rooms for events. 

Some of the expats live in HDB flats, Singapore's public housing, where 80 percent of the local population have their home. These are generally cheaper, a bit smaller and come without the plethora of amenities available at condo's (neither are there any sleeping guards at the gate). On the other hand, every HDB estate comes with bus- and MRT-stops, playgrounds, a wet market and local shops attached, as well as a hawker court where you can buy cheap meals from stalls. Usually there's also a public pool close by, which isn't quite free, but nearly.

We don't live in either a condo or an HDB flat and we are certainly not one of the lucky few to have snagged ourselves a shophouse or a black-and-white colonial villa. We live in a serviced apartment.

This generally elicits jealous looks, as a serviced apartment is basically a hotel, but in the shape of an apartment. That means that every morning housekeeping comes by, cleans our house, changes the sheets and towels (even though we hang them back and not leave them crumpled in the wash basin as instructed) and does the dishes. It also means that whenever we have a problem with the A/C or light fixture or anything, maintenance will whizz up and solve the issue. We have a pool, which we share with a nearby hotel and where towels are provided, we have a tiny gym that comes with sauna and hot tub and every morning breakfast is served. All of this is lovely.

I used to read about people living in hotels in those Jackie Collins-like trashy novels and wonder what it is like. Now I know.

And, honestly? It's not all it's cranked up to be. The apartment is small compared to condo's we've seen, the kitchen is obviously designed to make tea and not much else, we've only two bedrooms and no storage space apart from the fitted wardrobes, two of which are dedicated to suitcases and boxes. S.'s bicycles are in our bedroom, where we also hang our clothes to dry. We never have breakfast downstairs, as it's much easier and relaxing to just have a bowl of muesli at the dining table. We're almost never in the pool, as there is no shading, the seats are generally taken by the people from the hotel next door and there is no paddling pool for E., so she gets bored very quickly. The cleaning is lovely, really, as are the new sheets on the bed, but it is done to their specifications, not mine.




But what really gets to me is the constant lack of privacy. We can't put any pictures up. For a while we only got monthly key cards, which we had to renew whenever they stopped working. It is annoying when I discover I can't get into my house after I've just lugged up the weekly grocery shopping but now have to head down again, wait my turn at the reception desk, get issued a new key and return to my by then defrosted fish and melted chocolate. Internet stops working on a weekly basis, which means I have to renew our wifi-connection. It's not unusual for me to come home and find random people in the apartment "fixing things" or "checking on things", reminding me that I don't know who has access to our apartment. Because it's not actually our apartment. We just live in it. 

We'd love to find our own place, but S.'s company prefers him to stay put. So we're staying put. Which is okay - it is a life of leisure and luxury, where there are a host of people at my beck and call and I never have to deal with plumbers or fumers or A/C type men or cleaners. Trust me, I'm counting my blessings.

But when I look at pictures of my own youth, we were always outside, in the garden, mucking about with water, sand, mud. E. doesn't get that, on the 23rd floor in the trendiest district in town. Whenever we are in the Netherlands, she'll cling to the back door until we let her out. There is a little wild animal inside her, trying to get back to nature, loving nothing more than getting well and truly dirty. We've caged the beast, and that makes me feel sorry for her. I had not expected our life in Singapore to be like this. I had expected to replicate more of my own free range youth, running around the backyard naked, drawing chalk pictures on the steps of our porch. 

Singapore has changed. Even if we did move out, we'd most likely end up in another apartment.

So bizarrely, this is what I miss most while living and parenting in the tropics: being outside.



NaBloPoMo November 2012

woensdag 21 november 2012

Lessons learned: On happiness, babies and cultural differences

It is by now quite undisputed in academic circles that having children will lower your level of happiness. This is due to more anxiety, less (disposable) income and more time pressure to get everything done. (And, especially in the beginning, to lack of sleep on top of that.)

However.

Different studies report different drops in happiness levels. And the depth of the drop can be traced back to the cultural framework. Because each culture has adopted its own Right Way of Dealing With The Work/Life Balance. (If there even exists such a thing, as Forbes Woman argues alongside myself.)

Generally, it goes something like this: man and woman get married*, their happiness spikes, they decide to have a child, the child is born, happiness flies out the window. Generally, again, fatherly happiness drops quicker than motherly happiness and is also quicker to recover.

* Almost all, if not all, research has been done looking at heterosexual couples having biological children. I have not found (and admittedly not looked very hard for) research on adoptive parents and/or same sex couples.

This mom/dad divide has everything to do with equality and traditional gender roles.

One of the most recent studies on parental happiness to make worldwide headlines, In Defense of Parenthood, has found that actually, no, parents are not more unhappy then the general population. This is due to the fact that dads are quite happy. Mothers not so, the researchers admit, which is "not unexpected as the pleasures associated with parenting may be offset by the surge in responsibility and housework that arrives with motherhood." (The researchers found no difference in happiness levels between childless and child-bearing women.)

The countries that have managed to counter this effect best are Sweden, Denmark and, interestingly, the US as Rebecca Asher recounts in Shattered. Modern Motherhood and the Myth of Equality. The first two have done it by equalizing the opportunities for caregiving during the first months after birth (in Sweden part of the parental leave can only be taken by the father - if he forfeits, those months are not tranferable), the US has done it by not arranging for any maternity leave it all, effectively equalizing opportunities as well. Slate's Kate Roiphe got told off by Norwegians for using them as an example for equal opportunities, she recounted during a recent doublexx gabfest, because it is still the women taking a year off, thereby setting themselves up as primary carers and the men happily trundling along their chosen career path.

So do these parents manage to keep up their happiness levels? No, not really. They still have the same anxieties, the same stress and the same worries - now it's just both of them, instead of mainly the woman.

Both the Scandinavian contingent and the US have another thing in common: Both parents are more than likely to work full-time. So how does part-time work influence happiness levels?

Take a look at the Netherlands, where part-time work for women is not just a common occurrence, but actually regarded as a natural consequence of having children. Men have this right too, and do use it in steadily (but oh so slowly) growing numbers, but there is still a dearly held prejudice in the business world that this means they are less career-oriented. So yes, working part-time or flexible does seem to have a negative effect on the steady progression of a career.

So is it true that Dutch women don't get depressed? Is part-time work the answer to parental anxiety and time pressure and the recipe for happiness?

Unfortunately, no. (I once heard the Netherlands are only second to the US when it comes to psychologists per capita, but I can't find stats on that.) In fact, Babette Pouwels of the University Utrecht has shown that where fatherly life satisfaction drops for an average of 7.5 years after the birth of the first child, mothers will take up to 15 years to get back on their happy feet.

However, there is more to the Dutch story. People who decide to have children are actually happier than average. The drop they experience, furthermore, isn't very steep - they simply drop down to the happiness level of the average population. And after fifteen years they get to be happier again than their childless fellows, on top of reporting more meaningful lives.

The reasons for the drop differ between men and women. Fathers are dissatisfied with the way their free time gets taken over by family time and by the fact that a large part of their income gets diverted to the children, whereas mothers are dissatisfied with their lower income in general and lesser job satisfaction. This presumably lasts until they get fully back in the workforce, approximately about fifteen years after the first child is born when the youngest one enters secondary school.

So no culture's Right Way is, in actual fact, the route to happiness. Parents will always worry and parents will always still be humans with their own needs and dreams and wishes which conflict with the childrens' needs and hopes and preferences and there is no perfect answer on how to do this thing and make our lives serene and peaceful again. (Though it definitely helps if your child is a good sleeper. Never underestimate the power of shut-eye.)

So why have children? Because they are bundles of maddening, gladdening joy. To feel that your heart has no limits. To become part of the fabric of humanity. Nobody said it would be easy and nothing worth doing is ever easy. Because outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens.

One last thought: All countries' happiness levels can be seen in the world happiness database. Denmark and Iceland usually come out on top, the Netherlands and the other Scandinavian countries are not far behind. A fair few of these countries are actually in the midst of a small babyboom, but their national happiness levels are holding steady.

So the drop in happiness after birth is not making much of a dent in the overall happiness of a country or a culture. Now isn't that a happy thought?


NaBloPoMo November 2012

dinsdag 20 november 2012

Lessons learned: Baby jet lag and the silver lining

There is a lot of information on how to make flying with a child more enjoyable (well - less horrible). There is not so much information on surviving baby jet lag. The reason for this is simple: there isn't much you can do. You'll just have to suffer through it.

General tips include: lots of sunlight, light meals, stick to the sleep-and-eat schedule that fits the outside sun schedule, get some light exercise (i.e. take a walk in the sun). 

We did that. We had lunch seated on the balcony watching the construction workers dig a new river bed opposite our house and we went to the Botanic Gardens where E. was entertained by the loveliest Singaporean children ever and I watched them benevolently from behind several glasses of ice cold drinks. (Their mother stormed out to make sure they weren't bullying the toddler, and was slightly wrong-footed when I explained her eight- and six-year old had in fact been quite the little guardian angels.) 

It still took a solid week for E. to get back into shape. Here's what makes it so bad: baby jet lag does not run along the same lines as grown up jet lag.

Grown up jet lag west to east means I get tired late and want to sleep all morning. 

Grown up schedule
2 am: get tired, go to bed.
11 am: wake up.

Baby jet lag west to east means E.'s body switches into continual napping mode. 

Toddler schedule
10 am: E. wakes up.
3 pm: E. is overly tired and cranky and badly needs a nap. So does mummy. Both crash.
5 pm: E. is woken by mummy to make sure she gets some evening sun.
9  pm: E. goes to bed again, late in the hope that it'll tire her out enough to get her to sleep through the night.
1 am: No such thing as sleeping through the night. Play! Play! Play!
5 am: Back to sleep. 

So just around the time I started needing sleep, E.'d wake up. The only way to shut her up was to crawl into bed with her and stare at the ceiling in the dark while singing all the nursery rhymes I know. And again. And again. 

Funnily enough though, E. has almost no jet lag when flying east to west. She'll wake up early for a day or two (just like me) and that's it. We're done. This is quite contrary to the common knowledge, which says that flying west should be worse than flying east. However, I have always found that the jet lag on the way home is the killer. Apparently, so does E.

There is a silver lining. I got to cuddle E. for hours on end, which, to my regret, is usually a much more restricted activity. E. now knows all the nursery rhymes. One expat mommy told me she gave her daughter a limitless amount of Elmo videos for a week and afterwards she knew the alphabet. 

I have heard about this thing where if you talk to your child during that eerie half-awake, half sleeping stage you can re-program them, sort of like hypnotizing. So maybe I'm just not making full use of the resources here.

But I was just so very, very, very tired. 

NaBloPoMo November 2012

maandag 19 november 2012

Liebster Award: a series of elevenses

And now for something completely different! Bookjunkie over at Singapore Actually honoured me by awarding this blog the Liebster Blog Award!


Of course, like all proper awards, it comes with strings attached. These are the strings:

1. When you receive the award, you post 11 random facts about yourself and answer 11 questions from the person who nominated you.
2. Pass the award onto 11 other blogs (make sure you tell them you nominated them!) and ask them 11 questions.
3. You are not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated you!
4. Make sure the blogs you chose have 200 or LESS followers (don’t think I’m quite following this rule though)

11 random facts
1. I cannot stand net curtains. To me, they symbolize everything about smallness of mind and the cramped bourgeois life I do not want to have or lead. I used to happily wave at people passing by on the street from behind my net curtain-less windows.  
2. Our Singaporean apartment on the 23rd floor came with net curtains. I have not bothered to take them down. I don't know if this means I have accepted my fate or that I have outgrown adolescent prejudice. Or that I am lazy.
3. I am undoubtedly lazy.
4. I also believe that paying somebody else to clean my house is good for the economy as we are re-distributing our wealth and thus enabling more people to have a higher standard of living, thereby growing the GDP of whatever country we're living in. 
5. But mostly I am lazy. Especially when it comes to cleaning floors. We do not eat off the floor.
6. My stance on clean floors changed radically when E. started crawling.
7. My opinion on practically anything is prone to radical changes. So please, don't ever take me (too) seriously and definitely don't take offense. I do not ever mean to give offense. 
8. I once did a psychological assessment for a job I knew would make me severely unhappy and that I would be utter crap at. I passed with flying colours.
9. I cannot be utterly unhappy. At the bottom of my personal pit of despair stands a trampoline which propels me upwards again if I hit bottom.
10. I believe people are in overwhelming numbers kind and good. I act on that belief.
11. My favourite colour is, and has been forever, green. It is the colour of youth and hope and spring. 

11 questions
1. What is the best trip you have ever made that you would recommend to others? Which country did you visit?
I am not a good traveller, because I find it impossibly hard to leave a place once I like it. And I like most places. So my best trips have been those where circumstance forced me to keep moving and discovering all the lovely surprises that were waiting around the next corner.

Those would be:
A. the hitchhiking tour along the Mediterranean coast, starting in Amsterdam, ending in Athens (we'd already booked the flight back from Athens before we left, so we had to keep moving). We passed through Germany, Austria, popped into Switzerland for a stroll, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece. We had little money, and due to the hitchhiking couldn't plan ahead, so we had to rely on strangers helping us out with lifts and information - and most people we met went above and beyond to make sure we had a fantastic trip. We did. (This is in a nutshell how we became the European Champions of travelling.)

B. both of the cycling tours S. and I did, the first one from Cluny in France to Figueres in Spain, the second one from Maastricht in the Netherlands to Rome, Italy (passing through Belgium, Germany, France and Switzerland on the way). The first one was marked by butterflies fluttering around us all the way, the second one by slugs splattering underneath our wheels, since the weather that summer was atrocious. It was still a fantastic ride though. I cried when we crested the hill and had our first view of Florence basking in the afternoon sun.

One day we passed a lady with a four-year-old riding behind her on a small cycle attached to the mother's bike. When S. went past, the little girl started pedalling furiously, so much so, that the mother looked round in surprise because she could feel the speed picking up. She spotted S., understood, and went high on her own pedals to make sure he didn't overtake them. The little girl shouted in glee.

I can't wait until we're that family.

2. If you could choose, where would you have liked to be born?
I feel incredibly lucky to have been born in The Netherlands in the late twentieth century. I like my country. I like the freedom, the equality, the seasons and the culture. I might have a preferred a slightly less humdrum name in my passport than Geldrop though.

3. What is your dream vocation?
Journalist. Yes, I found my calling. Now all I need to do is find a job.

4. What blog or website do you read daily without fail?
Slate. I love Slate. I listen to their bookclub podcasts too, and the doublexx gabfest. I never fail to check my google reader either, and I'll always read anything posted by Expat Bostonians, Singapore Actually, Yannisms, Penelope Trunk and Belgian Waffle. Yes, these are all women with a flair for writing, sharing their private lives and thoughts.

5. What book are you reading now?
Frank Dikotter's Mao's Great Famine (it's a brilliant, well-written historical work on the atrocities of the Great Leap Forward), Do Chimpanzees Dream of Retirement by Jacob Burak (non-fiction on economics, personal finance and psychology - not much new stuff, but a good pulling together of known research written with an optimistic view of mankind) and Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy (I bought this at the Singapore Writers Festival and it is exactly what I hoped for: a not too serious, happily bumbling along detective novel). Obviously, the last one is getting preferential treatment over the first two, more worthier ones. I am also working my way through Martina Cole's entire crime sodden oeuvre. Yay for Singapore's National Library!

6. Do you play an instrument?
I used to play the harp, but I am not musical at all. To S.'s great bafflement, who cannot fathom how I can stand life without music. (Don't tell him, but I prefer the news stations on the radio. They tell me such interesting things!)

7. What did you like best about your childhood?
I come from a happy, close-knit family. My favourite traditions are most probably our annual Sinterklaas celebration and our annual, sometimes twice annual holidays in Switzerland.

8. What is your biggest regret?
That my heart is not as big and forgiving and loving as I would like it to be.

9. Name 5 of your favourite foods?
Drop (liquorice). Pasta red sauce as made by S. Spinach. Freshly made, warm chapati's. Yoghurt.

10. Name your favourite celebrity.
Whomever is still married to their one true love. I hate celebrities getting divorced. What kind of example is that to us mere mortals? So, Johnny Cash. Wonderful singer too. Go watch Walk The Line! It's brilliant! I am also currently cheering on Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

11. What is the most important value to you?
Kindness. And curiosity, a willingness to listen and learn and share. Forgiveness. We're all in this together.

11 blogs I'd like to nominate (in no particular order)
Yannisms
Belgian Waffle
Gweipo
Diary of an expat in Singapore
Yoga Nijn
Eveleins's Blog
8000 Gotham Tales
Nunicole
MamaWearPapaShirt
2012 with Evaleeva
Yummy Chrispytine

11 questions I would love to know the answers to!
1. What song or performer will make it onto every mix tape or spotify list you'll ever assemble?
2. What book or article are you still thinking about?
3. Where on the internet do you waste most time? And where on the internet do you find most interesting/inspiring/influential news and stories?
4. What newspaper/website/twitterfeed do you follow to keep abreast of current events in your geographic area?
5. And where will you take me when I come to visit?
6. How do you meet locals in your neighbourhood?
7. How would you describe your style?
8. What's your favourite hobbyhorse to get on? What do you love to hate?
9. What parenting taboos or practices have you come across in your culture?
10. What parenting practices do you think should be adopted from elsewhere?
11. When and what made you change your mind?

Looking forward to reading your answers!

NaBloPoMo November 2012

zondag 18 november 2012

Rant: More on pain and natural birth

Disclaimer: I have not been sleeping entirely well lately. One of the side effects is that I get annoyed by stuff. About which I then vent and rant. (V.v. satisfying that is, too.) Unfortunately, S. and I have been together for over nine years, so he knows all about my hobbyhorses. That is why you're being subjected to this one. My apologies.

There are two camps when it comes to labour pain. There is the camp that believes pain just comes with the territory and the camp that believes that women are be able to give birth without pain. Because, after all, childbirth is a completely natural process that women were built to perform and which shouldn't be unnecessarily medicalised. (Look at cats, is the oft heared refrain. Or women in a coma giving birth.)

The first camp divides into two subsets again: the tough subset (millions of women all over the world have gone through this before) and the yay medication team. The second camp generally advocates some sort of breathing technique, of "going into the pain", of accepting and letting your body do its natural thang. 

(There is also an interesting splinter group that believes in the existence of orgasmic birth. I am a fervent and hopeful believer, having had a normal birth the last time. But there's always next time!) 

Now, about this "natural thang" that your body does. 

It's not actually all that healthy or natural to start with. Evolution played a dirty trick on women. 

You all know human brains got bigger and humans decided to walk upright somewhere in the last few millennia. This means that the pelvis has been restructured and strengthened by repositioning and tying together bones, thereby making the birthing canal smaller and windier - that is, harder for a baby to get through. At the same time, the larger head means that the baby needs more space to come out.

Result: pain and helpless infants. Nowadays, babies come out at the largest possible size the mother will still survive giving birth to. But that isn't actually the moment they're fully grown yet, they need another couple of years to fully form. 

If nature would wait until the human baby's ready for the outside world like other mammalian babies who can walk within minutes of dropping out (warning! explicit content!), the mother would die in childbirth. This is not good for the survival of the species. Labour pain on the other hand isn't pleasant, occasionally it's even dangerous but on the whole, given more experienced females to help the birthing one through it all, it poses much less danger to humanity as a whole. So women have to suffer for the greater good.

Pain, however, is also subjective. Different people have different thresholds, fear plays into it, as does acceptance and expectation. So yes, a woman in labor pain can actually influence the level of pain she experiences. And maybe she can hypnotize herself out of her physical body experience. 

But let's just be clear about two things: 1. the pain is real and 2. human child birth is not a natural process comparable to that of other mammalian animals. A woman's body is actually NOT optimally designed to go give birth. It's just the best nature could do, given the constraints.

Having said all of the above, I am not against natural child birth. Or home births. Or midwives (I loved my midwives - and thankfully in the Netherlands the situation is getting beyond the one described in this Time article, as witnessed by the fact it was the midwife first offering me pain relief in the hospital). Or doulas. Or hypnosis. It's just not something I necessarily want for myself and I believe the scientific evidence supports my preference for having medical help on hand and trusting them to see me safely through. 

However, if you do believe the natural way is the one to go, more power to you! Go do your thing! Then rant about how wrong I am!

The world would be a boring place if all we did was agree all the time. 


NaBloPoMo November 2012