vrijdag 28 november 2014

Things that made me cry after I had children

I never used to cry. I tried sometimes, but it felt very fake. So I'd just stop and move on. It's not that I was never sad, but I just never teared up.

Then, pregnancy. Hormones. How times have changed!

This is when I realised something had changed:

This made me cry today (twice):

This made me cry with laughter (mostly at my idiot self - I definitely used to be one of the people who didn't know):

What makes you cry? I have a big box of Kleenex, so do share your videos :)

NaBloPoMo November 2014

donderdag 27 november 2014

Announcement: We're off on holiday

Dear all,

we're going on another weekend break on a tropical island (don't we live the high life). I've just finished packing the bags, Blondie has finished packing her bags, I need to finish an article and then fold the laundry while watching Rock of Ages. (Yes. Again.)

All this to say, that I won't be finishing the NaBloPoMo as we will be on a wifi-less island. In fact, we may not have mobile coverage. But I hope that this month has brought me back into the swing of things, and I'll once again post according to my self-imposed schedule. I'm very happy that you guys are still around reading!

We'll be back on Sunday, hopefully tired and rested, feeling rosy and salty and smiling.

Big hug until then,


ps. I just finished a tiny post for tomorrow. But no promises after that.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

woensdag 26 november 2014

Mama Monologue: Battles I have lost

"No Blondie, we are only going away for three nights, so you only need to pack three pyjama's."

"Big Boy, no jumping from the back of the couch to the tiles, stick to the rug."

"No Blondie, I only read two 'last' stories, this is really really really the last one."

"Big Boy, please spit out your food on your plate."

"No Blondie, you cannot have more broccoli, papa likes broccoli too."

"Big Boy, you may have the blue tiara and the pink necklace, let your sister have the sparkly one."

"No Blondie, we are not taking your Bumble Bee costume with us on holiday."
"Yes, I know I said to bring a nice dress but that is not a nice dress."
"Yes, it is nice."
"Yes, it is a dress."
"No, it's a costume."
"Bumble bees don't go on holiday."
"I know you're only pretending to be a bumble bee. We're still not packing the costume."
"No, we are not packing your Elsa dress either."

NaBloPoMo November 2014

dinsdag 25 november 2014

Lessons learned: packing for travel with children

Today's post is not so much a lesson learned as a discovery made.

I am, even if I say so myself, rather good at packing bags for travel. Even when cycling from home to Rome carrying all the necessities on the back of our bicycles, I still had room to spare, and unworn clothes when we reached Rome (this was on purpose, as one needs to fare la bella figura in Italy).

For me, the trick turned out to be deciding what was essential (money, passport, phone, tooth brush and paste, deodorant and a spare set of underwear) and reminding myself that anything else could be bought upon arrival. Or even at the airport before leaving. I have not worried about packing since.

The discovery came after I had children: I still do not worry about packing. I was fully expecting to have to lug a household's worth of goods every time I decided to move myself two inches, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy. Grab the diaper bag. Grab the kid. Leave. (Now that the kids have to physically move themselves while wearing SHOES AND UNDERWEAR things are different. But that has nothing to do with packing bags.)

For longer haul travelling, I employ the same trick as before. I look up our destination, figure out what we absolutely need to survive, pack that, and relax.

Of course, I do a bit of packing after the essentials (in case you're interested: money, passport, phone, tooth brush, tooth paste, deodorant, spare set of underwear, two spare sets of clothing each for the children, diapers, sleeping bag and lovey for Big Boy). You know, like swim suits, swim goggles, some toys, a dress, a skirt here and there - I'm not setting myself up for a clothing hunt through a Bali tourist shop when we could be lying on the beach. I'm just saying, if it comes to that, we'll survive and it'll be an adventure.

My mother used to sigh and ask why I had to dress like a homeless person (this was the age of grunge) but it has left me with a underdeveloped sense of the importance of looking nice. This works out well when the goal is to pack 'n relax. (Except in Rome. Because when in Rome.)

But what if you travel from tropical Singapore to cold Europe? The same rule still applies, it's just that the essentials include one set of warm clothes for each person. And you might want to look into shoes and snow suits (reminder to self: look into shoes and snow suits). But other than that: you're good to go.

In fact, once I showed up at an airport without a passport or an airplane ticket, and the Dutch Marechaussee very kindly issued me an emergency passport after which the airline people found my ticket in their reservation system and off I went on my holiday*. So arguably, the only thing you really need to pack is a tooth brush and clean underwear.

But mostly, I have not had to go emergency shopping, or handwash in hotel bathrooms. Usually, we pack what we need, we use what we pack, and we all go home happy. Pack the essentials, pack everything else on the list, check the essentials, do not think, do not question, check the essentials, leave.

This Thursday we're off on to another tropical island and I have promised Blondie she could pack her own bag.

*It also involved making a police report, and included a healthy dose of panick, and a tiny airport located a 15 minute cycle from my house, and I strongly advise anybody against trying this themselves.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

maandag 24 november 2014

Picture Post & Plaatjespost: My favourite shots

After Blondie was born, my mother handed me my own baby album. When we moved to Singapore, she slipped the first year of our lives in Singapore into my suitcase. It has been wonderful to compare Blondie's life with my own, and she loves to hear stories from when mama was little. 

So, sometime over the past year, I have started to collect photographs of our wee ones to put into an album, so they can leaf through it. Since I was going through our files anyway, I have also started a file named 'Embarrassing', stocking pictures for use when the time comes for graduation and wedding speeches. 

Having gone through all of those pictures several times, the funny thing is: there were no hidden treasures. I knew exactly which ones were my favourite pictures and those ones have remained my favourite pictures. Many of them have already been featured on this blog (here and here and here, for instance, or here and here and here or if you want to go really far back here and here and here and, finally, here).

But here are a few of the past year that I just adore. 

Switzerland holiday, January 2014

Big Boy adores pink flowers, balloons and hair accessories, as well as cars, balls and death jumps. (March 2014)

Photoshoot at my all-time favourite photoshoot location, the white garden at the HortPark. 
(June 2014)

Big Boy in heaven. (July 2014, picture by a friend)

 Blondie in the even bigger ball pen. (July 2014, picture by Man Tamtam)

Blondie and myself at the CNY lights* (February 2014, picture by a friend)

*CNY is Chinese New Year, and the streets of Chinatown are covered in lanterns depicting the year's zodiac sign (horses and coins in this case, my zodiac sign in fact). 

NaBloPoMo November 2014

zondag 23 november 2014

This made me smile: Koref clothes change

We were in Koref for the weekend. Halfway through, I had to ration Blondie's outfit changes to make her clothes last the full weekend (I tried to ration Big Boy's mud-jumping, but then decided that he is still of only-diaper wearing age). It was hard to keep up with pictures amidst all the costume changes, but here are pictures of roughly half of their outfits.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

zaterdag 22 november 2014

Repeating History: Sinterklaas in Singapore

Today, we inaugurated Blondie properly into the Dutchies favourite tradition: Sinterklaas. I'm calling it "repeating history" as I used to go to these festivities as well at the Hollandse Club, but when Man Tamtam asked "What memories were jogged?", I had to tell him - none.

What I remember of the arrival of Sinterklaas is at school, the Hollandse School in Singapore, and we'd all be standing around on the steps watching as Zwarte Piet cycled Sinterklaas in his rikshaw up the hill from Orchard Road. We'd all be wearing these home-made Zwarte Piet-caps out of cardboard and crepe paper, and shouting and dancing with glee.

Nowadays the children wear proper store-bought suits and hats. Much more durable - I remember our main worry while waiting for the saint to arrive was holding on to the caps while not squashing them.

'Sinterklaas' both refers to the festival of gift-giving on December 5th and to its main protagonist, Saint Nicholas, formerly bishop of Myra (Turkey) and patron saint of sailors, drunkards and unwed women. He is also the patron saint of Amsterdam (no surprise there) and the origin for the name "Santa Claus", though Sinterklaas does not actually have anything to do with Christmas other than being a Catholic saint (perish the thought!).

Somewhere in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, when all of Europe was really into inventing traditions, the Dutch decided to stake a claim to this saint. In the process, he got moved to Spain, outftted with a white horse and a steamboat to get him from Spain to the Netherlands every year) and accompanied by a bunch of henchmen called "Black Petes", about whom there is a big debate raging back home (and rightfully so, let's hope their looks go more chimney sweeper and less uniformly black in future, but I digress).

As the Dutch are both pragmatic and mercantile, Sinterklaas arrives about two to three weeks before the big day, and then hangs around until the big day, offering lots of photo ops, and product placement opportunities. The arrival of Sinterklaas is a nationally televised event. (YES.) A day or a week later, he will arrive in cities around the Netherlands and around the world.

Today, he arrived in Singapore, at the Marina Bay South Jetty. (Sinterklaas likes a bit of an entrance.) We took Blondie and Big Boy there, who were much more interested in pepernoten and balloons respectively, after which Blondie and I took the bus to the Hollandse Club for the real welcome, including gift and lunch.

Blondie, not enrolled in the Hollandse School and sadly lacking in Dutchie friends, took a bit of convincing to get into the proceedings. And she was deeply disappointed she did not get the opportunity to tell Sinterklaas and Black Pete that she thinks they are very nice people, and thank you for the pepernoten. But she loved the band.

We need to get her started on the Sinterklaasjournaal, if we want to save our Blondie for this Dutch tradition because in a few years, she's going to have to do the whole rhyming poking fun at people while giving them presents gig. Sinterklaas only gets better when you get older - the magic never ends.

ps. I know I missed yesterday. There were deadlines, melt-downs and a dinner party at my house. As it turns out, I am not superhuman after all.
psII. All photos taken with my phone and published without editing.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

donderdag 20 november 2014

Lessons learned: why I am happy I don't live in Scandinavia

Oslo mother: "When my partner got an offer in The Netherlands, it was very easy for us to decide to leave, as we were in the middle of this commuting with no day care spot for [our daughter] in sight."

When I read that on Slate, it pulled me up short. Somehow, Norway (and Sweden) had lodged themselves in my mind as the ultimate states for young families. A year's paid leave from work, a guarantueed job once you get back and for the non-child bearing a shot at a new career, industry or job because you get to fill in a whole year for a maternity leave, not a measly four months.

In Sweden in particular men step up too. The way the maternity/paternity leave is rigged, it ensures that fathers take up a lot of their parental leave too (two months out of the twelve are reserved for men only, so if the father doesn't take two months leave, the child has to go into daycare at ten months. And there are generally no spots before the child is one year old.)

It all sounds like a dream come true.

And then I read that quote. And it set off a cascade of thoughts.

As it turns out, in Norway your child may only enter daycare in September, regardless of the birth month. And the child has to be one year old. If you miss the sign up deadline of March, it means you have no slot for the next year. So that means mid-year moves or new careers in different cities are out as long as you have pre-school children. Seeing as how Blondie was born in October, that would have meant not one but almost TWO years at home with the baby. And since her brother was born a few months after she turned two, I would have been back in and out of work in a matter of months.

Somehow, I don't think that several years of forced home leave would have contributed to my happiness. Especially when I think back on my ecstatic happiness when I first started back at work last year. Big Boy was six months old at the time - not an option in Norway, and frowned upon in Sweden.

By now, I have really done it all, but I've never had it all. I have stayed at home, I have worked full-time, I am working part-time now. It's a struggle, each and every option, but at least I have had the opportunity to try all of them, and to find out which suit me and my family best.

This is where the cascade of thoughts stopped: the Scandinavian idyll does not allow for different strokes. The Scandinavian idyll, as being sold to us today, advocates one way. The Right Way.

The right way is full-time work for two parents with the children in highly qualified day care centres (because the grandparents work full-time too). No village of uneducated neighbours, friends and family taking turns and taking care of the wee ones, but an all-knowing, high quality state making sure all is set up to best promote the values that have been democratically decided to be of the highest importance: equality and prosperity.

Reading over that last sentence, I think I know another state which closely resembles that fatherly (for want of a gender neutral term) description. But I digress.

I am still learning how to navigate parenthood and economic viability. But I feel blessed that I have had these different options and different life styles to try on to see how they fit. I am grateful that other people have let me look into their lives and (patiently) answered questions on how and what they did. And I have seen that almost everybody, in Singapore, Netherlands or Scandinavia, like me, is still trying to figure things out.

I could fill a blog post with how horrible it is to part-time work from home with children around. (Other people do that so much better.) I could just as easily write about the pain of missing out on my children's lives because I am at work, or the agonizing boredom of having a two year old as your only company for days on end. I have lived all those lives, and hated each one at times.

I don't have an answer (in general, it is safe to assume I have no answers, unless you're asking about early medieval saints, and even in that case, I would advise you to double check).

But at least, I got to try it out for myself. I think in the Scandinavian model I would not have had that opportunity.

My whiteboard at work

NaBloPoMo November 2014

woensdag 19 november 2014

Singaporeans do things differently: floorball and triathlon*

For a while I was very fit and sporty, in between finishing university and having my first child. I used to play floorball, a cross between ice hockey and indoor field hockey, a very fast and dynamic sport at which I sucked. Well, I wasn't very good. But I was dedicated, and it was a tiny sport so I would always be playing with people much better than myself and, basically, it was just so much fun!

Through a strange fluke of fate I was actually part of the team that played the European Cup qualifying games. At this time, the competition in the Netherlands was so tiny, we couldn't field full-size women's teams. So we used to field half-size teams for competition. Our club had two women's teams, one that topped the league, and, well, the other one. But for the European Cup qualifying tournament the club had to field a full-size team, so the other team got roped in as well. And I got to go!

We were the relief squad, to let the stars catch their breath. For two months, we practised defense, forming a tight human block in front of the goal. The stars meanwhile were having their own training camp: the World Cup in Singapore.

Yes, my new home country has a strong presence in the global floorball community too! When we moved to Singapore, I didn't bring my stick, but I was secretly hoping to get back into the game.

But it turns out that Singaporeans don't really do club sports or leagues, unless it's netball or dragonboat racing. (And both of these count an interesting number of expats among their members, including the almost obligatory 'Spanish Armada' dragonboat team.) Floorball unfortunately is mainly relegated to schools and universities.

The sport that Singaporeans seem to really have taken to heart is the triathlon. Which might be surprising, taking into account the following three facts about Singapore:
a) it is tiny with heavy traffic everywhere
b) it has a humidity of 85% all the time and
c) the temperature never drops below 27 Celsius.

So, obviously, I decided to do as the locals (and lots of expats, of course) and started training for my own triathlon (one of the tiny ones, not an Ironman, perish the thought). And, after three years, I finally have completed one!

It was good. We stayed on to cheer a few of the other athletes, and I saw a few people I know from training sessions. In fact, some of the people I used to train with before the arrival of Big Boy are still around!

The other day I took Blondie and Big Boy to the local sports shopping centre to buy a triathlon suit (yes, I now own a triathlon suit). While there, we spotted the floorball sticks and both Blondie and Big Boy grabbed one and I grabbed a ball, and we ran around the shop for a little bit.

Triathlons are nice and all, but I do really miss the excitement and the team spirit of floorball.

*This is not a very well-written or thought out post, and I apologize. I'm still hitting my roadblock.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

dinsdag 18 november 2014

I have a life outside of parenting

It might come as a surprise, but I do have a life outside of parenting. And I am not going to add in "barely", because it is not barely, it is actually a sizeable chunk of time and the reason that I am hitting a snag in my stride on this NaBloPoMo thing. 

So, what do I do when I am not minding the children, inventing new pasta sauces because I lack five ingredients for the one I intended to make or when I am not frantically googling "paint stain removal" because it turns out that the promise on the tube of the children's paint that it would be "easily washable from almost all clothing" does not include the cloth of my favourite dress.

I do research, email back and forth, receive texts to edit, and write things, like articles and speeches and other stuff with words in it.  

Today, I read all about ASEAN (the loose organization of ten countries in South East Asia) and exactly how far along they are in their path onto becoming an Economic Community in 2015 (the AEC - ASEAN Economic Community). Apparently, they've hit 79.7% of their target, which sounds impressive, But a lot of people (including the Asian Development Bank) are not that impressed at all. Then I talked to a lawyer who's looking into this to figure out what it means for Dutch companies (short answer: it's all still quite murky. But I'm going to stretch that into 1600 words, give or take). 

(I am sorry this is not a very interesting or coherent post, but like I said, I'm making this up as I go along today.)

The other day I was reading an older publication with a foreword by the Ambassador, and I thought to myself that it was a rather good piece. So I checked, and yes, I did actually write that. 

That was a nice moment. It reminds me why I do this in the first place. (It also makes me wonder why (OH WHY) I procrastinate, but I am working on that too.) It reminds me that I should stop worrying about ultimately inconsequential stuff (like my age, like how to navigate another project that has a bad vibe to it, like the fact that my favourite dress never quite fit the way I thought it should and why (OH WHY) did I finish the smarties?).

It reminds me that I need to get back to work.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

maandag 17 november 2014

Plaatjespost & picture post: Koref Farm Resort (Johor, Malaysia)

I read about Koref Farm Resort in Malaysia's Johor at Cheekie Monkies, and I immediately booked ourselves a stay, because free-range rabbits are hard to come by in Singapore.

The good: the food was lovely (though not quite as organic as they make it seem in their online advertising), the rooms were clean, and the children adored feeding the fish. Koref also has the cleanest set of goats I have ever seen in my life (apparently they were to be filmed for some Chinese New Year's segment the next day).

The bad: The children adored sleeping in the same room as their parents so much, they made sure they were awake for every minute of that joyful experience.

The known: Big Boy is into escapism in the literal sense of the word.

The unknown: I really like nasi lemak with chili in the morning.

The I-really-should-have-known: There was water everywhere. There was water everywhere in the pictures at Cheekie Monkies as well. I just assumed there wouldn't ACTUALLY be water everywhere at this organic rice and fish farm. (I am not so smart sometimes.)

The fun: There was a teambuilding event going on at the largest hut, so we are now up to speed with Malaysia's Mandarin hit singles. (No, this is a GOOD thing. We danced and jumped around and tried to get the only person who knows Chinese - that would be Blondie - to tell us what the lyrics meant.)

The verdict: this is a lovely spot for people who like mud and dirt and brown rice (us) and whose kids have outgrown the immediate danger of drowning (not us).

! surprise twist at the end: Loved the Malaysian train station and railroad. Had some really good roti kahwin and teh tarik at Kluang Rail Coffee. Also, the auntie at the office manage to score us train tickets back to Singapore and let me use the office phone to call Man Tamtam who was already on his way to the bus station to see if they could hook us up with a ride back home.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

zondag 16 november 2014

Mama monologue: On the bicycle

"Are you comfortable? Have you got your helmet?"
"I will re-do your hair clips when we get to school, otherwise the helmet doesn't fit."
"I would really prefer you not to hold the hair clips in your hand."
"Are you sure?"
"Alright, we'll go back to pick up your hair clips. But this time we are putting them in the bag."

"Yes, you should always stop if the light is red."
"The light for the cars is green, so we can go too."
"I know the light for the cyclists was red, but it's okay, we're pretending to be a car." 
"Mama's and papa's have special knowledge of traffic lights. We know when it is safe to run a red light." 
"The special knowledge comes to us when we become parents. You should always stop if the light is red."
"Yes, except when you are already on the street, then you should run."

"Yes, that is a baby. Hello baby!"
"No, you cannot have a baby."
"Because you are a child."
"Yes, when you grow up you can have a baby."
"No, Big Boy cannot have a baby."
"Because he is a boy, he does not have a baby place in his tummy." 
"Yes, I like babies too."
"No, I will not have a baby for you. If mama has another baby, she is keeping it herself." 
"I will think about a cat." 

"Look, there are Nicholas and his mummy."
"On the street behind us."
"No, they are not in the white car, they are walking."
"On the street behind us."
"Look behind you."
"We are on a hill, Blondie, mama cannot stop and point." 

"Mama is going to stop talking now."
"Because we are going up the hill."
"Because the hill is steep."
"Because it is hard to cycle up a steep hill." 
"No, really, I have to stop talking now." 
"I cannot answers any more questions."
"Because I cannot talk I will only say 'no'."
"No, we are not going through the grass down the hill."
"Yes, papa can go through the grass down the hill."
"Because papa is a very good cyclist."
"No, mama is not such a very good cyclist."
"Yes, papa goes much faster than mama."
"I would like papa to come home too, Blondie."

NaBloPoMo November 2014

zaterdag 15 november 2014

This makes me laugh: Blondie dances

The first time Blondie saw ballet (a group of five year old girls performing at the Children's Day festival at her school), she went still. Then, trance-like, she rose, climbed on her chair and almost unknowingly her limbs began to copy what was happening on stage.

The months (three) until we finally could sign her up to become a 'pink girl' herself must have seemed like an eternity. But the ballet lessons have not disappointed. Blondie adores teacher Angel, she adores her little pink ballet outfit, and she will dance any chance she gets.

Big Boy also dances with neatly pointed toes and does his best to twirl and pirouette. Sometimes, we all join in and jump up and down together, but as Blondie says definitively: "That is not real ballet." 

NaBloPoMo November 2014