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.)


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)
Belgian Waffle
Diary of an expat in Singapore
Yoga Nijn
Eveleins's Blog
8000 Gotham Tales
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

zaterdag 17 november 2012

Ja hoor: Hij Is Er

Zojuist gearriveerd per boot uit Spanje: 1 goedheiligman en 6 Pieten. Ja, hij is hier ook - of eigenlijk: al! Want bij jullie moet hij nog komen. Niet gezien: de peentjes die die arme Sint en Pieten hebben moeten zweten in die gloeiende hitte van de tropische Keppel Bay jachthaven. Maar misschien dat het paard (ook al niet gespot) zich daarover had ontfermd?

E. vond al die rondrennende blonde (!) kinderen heel spannend, snapte dat gedoe rondom die man met die rode hoed niet helemaal, maar had na de eerste pepernoot de kern van de zaak onmiddelijk in de smiezen. We sloegen de viering op de Hollandse Club over, omdat E.'s ogen toen al zo groot en rond waren als pepernotentaartjes en haar wangetjes bol stonden. De laatste pepernoot stond ze af aan haar moeder, nadat ze tevergeefs had geprobeerd die nog in haar mond te krijgen.

Eenmaal thuis, volgde ze het Sinterklaasjournaal aandachtig - maar ik geloof toch dat voorlopig niemand de plaats van Sassa kan innemen in haar hart. Zelfs niet als ze met pepernoten strooien. Die trouwhartigheid heeft ze van haar vader.

vrijdag 16 november 2012

Pain and relief

There is one thing about giving birth in Singapore that I am REALLY nervous about. It's not the rumoured compulsory enema (my doctor said he doesn't mind about cleaning up after the baby's arrived) nor the apparently equally compulsory shaving of the private bits. Nor is it the fact that there'll be no family present except for S. (that is actually quite as I like it) or the fact that rumour has it I might be pressured into having a C-section if the gynaecologist wants to get home on time for dinner (the only mum I know who had a C-section in Singapore definitely was a case of medical necessity, so I'm a bit sceptical as to the truth of the story). 

No. It's the epidural which I'll almost certainly have. I didn't have one the first time round.

I did write a birth plan when I was pregnant with E. It read: "Has arranged to give birth at St. Antonius hospital Nieuwegein. Does not mind pain relief. Would like to try a birthing stool."

In the Netherlands home births attended by midwifes are the norm. It's possible to give birth in a hospital (still attended by the midwife who's been monitoring the mother-to-be throughout her pregnancy), but if there is no medical necessity, you have to partly pay your own way (it's not that much). 

About half of all first time births turn into a medical necessity at some point. So did mine - E. was taking her time coming out, so the midwife advised to have some hormones to speed the process up. The thing is: midwifes are not allowed to do stuff with needles. So I had to go into the hospital and the gynaecologist took over.

"Do you want an epidural?" The gynaecologist asked me. I told her I'd let her know if the pain got too bad. Then the pain got so bad I forgot. (No, really.)

This shocks almost everybody I've told the story to. 

The non-Dutch women are shocked that I didn't ask for pain relief. Some think it was bravery, or the preference of a natural birthing process. It wasn't. I'm scared of needles. Especially if they go into my spine. What I mean - the spinal cord. The core control centre of every movement of my body. Sticking foreign objects into. Scary. 

Dutch women are shocked I was offered an epidural. I have not heard from one other Dutch woman who was ever offered pain relief - usually you have to fight hand, tooth and nail to get anywhere near needles and quite often by the time you get there, the doctor'll tell you that it's too late (I know many, many women this has happened to). The only women (could also be woman) I know who've managed to have an epidural in the Netherlands are expats. 

And I said no! 

And I survived! 

Yes, it hurt. But somehow (well, with a little help from a stern nurse who told me to shut up and breathe, and a lot of help from S. who huffed and puffed and held my legs for hours while watching Star Wars - thank you George Lucas for extended versions) I went "into the zone" and "into the pain" and time stopped and I forgot about needles and birthing stools and then I had a baby. 

This time, I haven't even bothered writing a birthing plan. I trust my doctor. He knows what I want, and I trust him to a good judge of the medical side of things. I've just looked it up and neonatal and infant mortality is lower in Singapore than in the Netherlands (which is not that surprising, since it is actually quite high in the Netherlands. Such a very comforting statistic if you're pregnant). He promised there'd be no enema's, no shaving and no pressuring into C-sections and yes to breast feeding support. I told him I have no principled stance on natural birthing or pain relief. My priorities are health and safety for both mother and child.

I also made S. promise to grab the baby as soon as it's left the womb and not to hand it over to anybody but me until we have spent some serious quality time together. This is OUR CHILD. Other people should BACK AWAY SLOWLY. 

So, basically, I feel that I'm all set and all planned. (Well, except for the newborn diapers that I still need to buy.)

It's just... Needle in my spine. Brrr. And I'm still curious about the birthing stool thing.

NaBloPoMo November 2012

donderdag 15 november 2012


S. werkt hard. Hij is meestal zo'n twaalf uur van huis (het kantoor ligt op drie kwartier lopen van ons huis), regelmatig ook langer. Er zijn dagen dat hij E. niet ziet, omdat ze nog slaapt als hij weggaat ("sorry, meeting om half acht") en alweer in bed ligt voor hij thuis komt ("sorry, belangrijke call om acht uur").

Dat vindt E. niet zo leuk. 

Niet dat ze er ooit iets van zegt, ik denk niet dat ze door heeft dat ze het niet leuk vindt, maar ik weet wel dat ze beter slaapt en gezelliger is op dagen dat het gezin compleet is. Gisteravond werd ze om negen uur wakker en wilde pas weer gaan slapen nadat papa een kus was komen geven (S. was net thuis). Daarna gingen haar oogjes pas om half acht 's ochtends weer open. (S. was al weg.) 

"Papa is werken", legde ik uit. "Papa stout", besloot E. Niet dat S. niet naar zijn werk mag - maar hij had haar geen kus gegeven voor hij wegging. En dat hoort.

Het schijnt dat sommige kindjes jaloers worden als de ouders aandacht aan elkaar geven, in plaats van aan het kind. Niet E. - die duwt ons juist naar elkaar toe. "Papa mama kus", instrueert ze dan. En: "Mama papa kus." Om zich daarna innig tevreden tussen ons in te nestelen. 

Bijna vier weken waren E. en ik in oktober in Nederland. Zonder S. Die moest werken. We spraken hem elke dag op skype, gesprekken waar E. elke dag vol enthousiasme aan begon om na vijf minuten af te haken en buiten te gaan schommelen. Of appels te plukken. Of de keukenvloer aan te vegen. 

E. genoot van het Hollandse leven. Ze kan nu zelf haar jas aan doen, ze is groot fan van haar muts (die node wordt gemist), ze at haar buikje rond aan kaas en dronk haar maagje vol met karnemelk, ze deed niets liever dan fietsen en in de kruiwagen en naar de vijver en naar buiten. Ze was wel een beetje ongedurig. Of het de kou was, allemaal grote mensen die haar overgoten met aandacht, de vreemde huizen waarin we verbleven, de lange autoritten, ik weet het niet. Het was natuurlijk ook vreemd allemaal, en lastig, al die nieuwe mensen met al die nieuwe regels en gewoonten. E. was haar ritme kwijt. Ze sliep onrustig, ze zocht de grenzen op en ze hing aan mij. 

Tot we aan kwamen in Singapore, waar S. ons en onze vracht bagage stond op te wachten. "Papa!" riep E. en begon te stralen en te draaien in het rek van het bagagekarretje waar ik haar had gestald. Ik viste haar eruit en ze sprong in zijn armen. 

S. ging een taxi regelen, terwijl ik neerzeeg op een plastic stoeltje en op de koffers en het kind lette. Maar E. sprintte zonder omkijken achter haar vader aan. 

Want E.'s wereld was juist weer compleet gemaakt en dat wou ze graag zo houden.

NaBloPoMo November 2012

woensdag 14 november 2012

Lessons learned: having it all, part II

I am living expat wife life. You would not be the first to assume that means love, leisure and laughter without responsibilities. And I do have nicely painted toenails and shiny hair, thank you very much.

But all parents have to make choices when they have children, as I wrote yesterday. There is always a trade off, whether you continue working (as I did the first year of E.'s life) or stay at home (as I did the second year).

So on to the burning question: Which do I prefer?

Before E.

Before E. was born, I had been working as a freelance journalist, slowly getting myself into some sort of cycling shape as well as playing floorball a couple of times a week, hung out with S., traveled all over the country visiting friends (sometimes only to spend the afternoon sitting and sipping tea on a sunny balcony), watched movies, went dancing and read a lot of books.

The first year: working (part-time)

After E. was born, life quickly contracted into three areas: work, E., S. Coming out of pregnancy leave, I started a job at a newsagency for four days a week. S. had begun working on the project that would ultimately bring us to Singapore.

Weekdays ran along a tight schedule. S. used to get up before 6 am to get to work on time, and I would get up at 6.15, tiptoeing around the house so as not to wake E. before I'd had my shower and breakfast. At 7 am I'd wake her, dress her, shovel her breakfast down her throat, put her in the pram and leave the house by 7.30 to get to daycare at 8 am and run back to the train station to catch the 8.10 train (which would usually turn into the 8.25 train, meaning I'd be late) in order to be at work at 9 am. Then I could relax for a bit.

S. picked up E. in the afternoon, meaning he'd have to leave work by 5 pm in order to get to daycare before 6.25 pm (the cut off point for pick up - if we'd miss it three times, she'd be kicked out). Then he'd rush the hungry baby home, heat up one of the meals we'd have prepared before and feed her. Once I got home around 7 pm, I'd take over so S. could finish his work and change his clothes. One of us would bathe her and put her to bed, while the other one did the grown-up cooking. We usually sat down at the table around 8.30 pm and went to bed at 10 pm.

It was a stressful, tiring life, not to mention heart wrenching to leave E. at daycare for all of her daylight hours.

It was also a very fullfilling life. I loved chatting with my colleagues, being challenged, learning, writing and hitting deadlines. I felt satisfied and accomplished at the end of my day. I looked forward to work as much as I looked forward to my days with E. I imagine it was the same for S., who had his own 'daddy day' bi-weekly.

The second year: staying at home

When E. was almost one year old we moved to Singapore and I became, effectively, a stay-at-home mother. Oh, I've done some freelance work, I went to a few conferences and I'm still writing (even if only at this blog) and have kept up my reading on energy and Singapore so I still can form an informed opinion and at the very least don't bore S. to death with navel gazing mummy talk. But I don't have an office, or colleagues, or a regular pay check.

I miss those. I miss those badly.

But our home life is much more peaceful. My being at home, taking care of E., making sure there is food on the table, clean clothes in the wardrobe and a social life to enjoy for both of us has meant that S. can concentrate on his work and on his cycling and piano playing. That might sound unfair as if he gets all the good bits and I get all the drudgery, but it isn't, since it makes him a much more enjoyable person to be around.

E. goes to daycare in the morning, ensuring me a few hours of freedom to do the stuff I need to do (shop at the market, do our admin, see the gynaecologist, go to prenatal yoga, do the occasional writing, take photography and Mandarin classes) which make our lives run smooth. In the afternoon, I do the laundry, cook, visit friends and write blog posts while E. naps.

The verdict: working vs. staying-at-home

Which do I prefer? I have no easy answer. In a family consisting of two adults with careers and children, there are choices and sacrifices to be made.

In the first scenario, often seen as the best solution, all of us sacrificed a little of everything: a little of both our careers, while E. sacrificed time with her parents. Although she didn't seem to mind to much (our little social butterfly), it broke my heart on a daily basis. All of us gave up on most of our hobbies and lots of our social activities, which had to be crammed into the weekends. And we'd be tired on the weekend.

This scenario is the way of the compromise, and in my case it made for both a stressful and a fullfilling life.

In the second scenario, I sacrifice my career, while S. sacrifices time with E. This makes for a peaceful home, a happy hard-working S., a playful and enjoyable E. and a sort of happy but restless me. All of us get to do the stuff we enjoy and to go out and socialize. But I feel left out and left behind by society, however often I tell myself that I will be really thankful I got to spend this time with E. and her brother-to-be (and I do honestly believe that). But I miss being that part of me that exists outside of our family.

So I don't think this staying-at-home thing will last. Neither do I think I'll want to work full-time either again while my children are at home. And I have discovered that to me, family life and happiness is more important than a career.

I guess that means I fit right into the mold of Dutch women. But as I am making this choice consciously, having lived different options, I think I just might be quite happy inside my box.

NaBloPoMo November 2012

dinsdag 13 november 2012

Lessons learned: having it all, part I

This is what my summer of 2005 looked like:

9 am: get up. Start writing thesis.
11 am: have breakfast. Continue writing thesis.
3 pm: have lunch. Still writing thesis.
5 pm: stop writing thesis. Get dressed for run. Run to university sports centre. Alternatively, take bike to university sports centre to be on time for fitness class.
7 pm: get changed. Go to floorball practise.
9 pm: take a shower. Go home. Have dinner, prepared by S.
10 pm: watch mindless telly with S.
11 pm: cuddling with S. Sleep.

I managed to finish the last three chapters of my five chapter thesis in six weeks. (The research and first two chapters had taken two years.) I was as physically fit as I have ever been in my life, ready to take my place at the European stage of floorball, playing at the qualifying rounds for the European Cup for national champions.

I had no social life. Neither did I expect to have one.

I cannot excel at any more than three areas of my life at any given time. This is why, when in 2008 I had the chance to follow my calling as a journalist, I stepped back from playing floorball at the highest level and shifted to the second team. I wanted to pour energy into S., into my social life and into my career. That's three.

Honestly, if I want to properly excel, I can only do two, as I did during the summer I wrote my thesis and fleetingly played floorball internationally. It didn't make me very happy though. I like my social life.

So, when Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote in the Atlantic that women still can't have it all, I wasn't surprised. Ms Slaughter decided to give up her high-powered job in order to be with her children (she went back to her less high-powered job not across the country instead). In Singapore too a conversation on women and work is gaining momentum, the brunt of which concerns (the almost non-existence of) part-time work. Many families are only able to solve this by hiring a helper or having grandparents help out.

In the Netherlands there is an abundance of part-time work and our model is often held up as exemplary. However, the financial position of Dutch women is quite precarious, and although almost all women do at least some work, very few actually reach influential positions. So Dutch women aren't having their cake and eating it either.

Neither are Scandinavian women, often held up in the Netherlands as the epitome of having it all. Although they generally do have full-time jobs and are encouraged to reach for the top positions, they give up social life (this is anecdotal evidence, no link, sorry!) and voluntary work, outsourcing care and community to professionals. These are areas that are closely connected to having a purpose in life, leading to satisfaction and happiness. So not even Danish women (Denmark usually topping the geographical happiness lists) are having it all.

There are many things on governmental and societal level which can be done to make a parent's life easier. Part-time work is one of them, affordable daycare is another, encouraging men to take up their fair share of the burden, quotas for women for top positions and accepting and acknowledging the ebb and flow of career focus over the lifetime of any person without penalizing breaks or times when other matters require attention.

But even in places where almost all conditions are met, women are agonizing over how to juggle all their roles and responsibilities, how to have it all and do it all and do it well.

All of this led me to the question: why do we women expect to be able to have it all in the first place? Life is about making choices. Then making peace with those choices. Policy cannot give us peace of mind, a sense of accomplishment, or a satisfying life. We have to give those to ourselves. Guilt, however virtuous it might make us feel, will not make us or any of our family members happier. We have to own up, choose our path, suck it up and start walking.

And, most importantly, enjoy the life we chose. Because nobody else will do that for us either.

NaBloPoMo November 2012

maandag 12 november 2012

Lessons learned: Sleeping through the night

Today's lesson is applicable in many more instances than just parenting. Actually, it's applicable to life, although many people (myself definitely included) tend to forget it on a regular basis. The lesson is: make sure you know what you're talking about.

For those who like to complicate things (or get the nuance right, depending on which way you're looking at it) this is called "hermeneutics" or the art of understanding text. As a student I have been subjected to many hours of analyzing texts and understanding words and the context in which those words were used and how that influenced the meaning. As a journalist too, it was my job to put news, facts and opinions into such a format that readers actually understood what was going on. So I know the importance of knowing what you're talking about and understanding what is being said. And still I forget and assume I know what's going on without making sure I am really reading from the same script as the other people involved. It's a human failing.

So, what does this have to do with sleeping babies?

I was getting worried that E. was turning into a bad sleeper. She was waking nightly, sometimes multiple times in a row if I went back to my own bed instead of staying with her (think: ten to twenty minute intervals, four or five times). It persisted, even after the baby jet lag left. That's when I really got worried, given that in two months' time there'll be a second night reveller in the house.

Talking to friends, I have always proclaimed E. to be a good sleeper, while friends complained about their interrupted nights. But during my last visit, a friend back home was jubilant, as she told me both her children finally have turned into good sleepers after they turned two. I congratulated her, as we do, since a joy shared is a joy doubled according to Dutch lore.

Then I started questioning her. 

And it turns out her two slept much the same as E.

They'd all generally sleep through the night, but wake up once or twice a week and having to be settled back. I thought sleeping well the majority of the nights signalled a good sleeper (glass half full), my friend thought that having to get up on a weekly basis signalled light and troubled sleepers (glass half empty).

Of course, there are some crucial differences, such as that her youngest woke up at an ungodly early hour and that I have never really minded being woken at night as long as I can get back to sleep afterwards (notoriously, drunk housemates would barge into my room to tell me of the night's exploits and I would let them). 

Then I understood why E. has turned into a rotten sleeper the last couple of months. Because, actually, she hasn't.

I have. 

My pregnancy predisposes to wake up at the slightest sound*. Which means that all the fussing I would usually sleep soundly through (there have been mornings when S. informed me that E. had cried out during the night and I hadn't heard a thing), now wakes me. So I go in to check on her, thereby waking her up properly, after which she won't fall asleep again without me holding her. For hours. See, now that is rotten sleeping. 

It crept up on us. First it was weekly, then it turned bi-weekly and then it was nightly. S. didn't enjoy months of two cranky women and decided to leave well enough alone. After baby jet lag hit, I broke down. I just couldn't take it anymore. So we've done what S. had been advocating all along: we finally turned off the baby monitor. 

This means I can't hear E. unless she's screaming her head off. She's fairly vocal, so I don't doubt she'll let us know if she really needs us. The thing is: waking her up from her night's crying doesn't make things better. On the contrary, it'll take her hours to fall back asleep while lying silently in my arms, she'll wake up tired and cranky in the morning and needs huge naps during the afternoon, meaning that her night bedtime gets pushed back too. Since we've turned off the monitor, she's been waking happily and timely, she's eating like a horse, naps for an hour and a half and afterwards is ready to do stuff in the afternoon, she's been social, outgoing and generally a joy to be around. 

And the fact I need to sum all of that up for you, signals the amount of guilt I feel for shutting her out during the night. But at least I'm sleeping again.

NaBloPoMo November 2012

* Of all the things to change with pregnancy, the light sleeping is by far my MOST HATED trait. It's the most nasty, because sleep deprivation makes all the other rotten stuff (nausea, achs, hormonal imbalances) seem so much worse.