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Month: February 2017

Life After Motherhood…Dream On

I really wanted to be a mother and, as a woman who generally gets what she strives for in life, I took for granted that kids would magically appear when I wanted them to. Luckily for me I found getting pregnant easy, I had an easy pregnancy and I had a relatively easy birth. Those supposedly difficult stages that mums-to-be around the world agonize over were the easy bits, but for me the tough part was yet to come – motherhood itself.

No matter how many times you are told by a friend that being a parent is difficult or you read the warning words in books, blogs and articles such as this one…they don’t actually sink in. You think they do, you try and brace yourself, and you are convinced that you are ready.

But you aren’t.

It goes without saying that the sleepless nights, endless tantrums and aching monotony of baby days that act as foggy bookends to those flickering fleeting moments of joy and wonder that motherhood brings were difficult – but I was told about them and I knew that they wouldn’t last. No, what I wasn’t prepared for was that it wouldn’t only be sleep and freedom that I lost…I would lose myself.

Motherhood is a vortex, a black hole that we tumble into as soon as our pregnancy test turns blue, where nothing matters but our child. Mother Nature made it that way – that’s why our children survive until they can walk and talk and wipe their own behinds. But then we finally look up, like startled meerkats, and exclaim ‘shit, what’s happened to my life? Where did everyone go?’

When you shine the spotlight on your babies you fall into the shadows. And your dreams? They dissipate so fast it’s as if they never really existed.

But can we get them back? Can women mix success with motherhood?

This isn’t an article about post natal depression, working mothers or finding the work/life balance. This is my story….and it’s a story about dreams.

Since I was a old enough to hold a pen I have wanted to write. I still have the stapled-together ‘books’ I wrote when I was ten years old; as a backpacker I filled my bag with notebooks which in turn I filled with stories peppered with the adventures I was living day by day; and in my twenties I wrote articles for work and attended writing courses – but I was always too busy to write that elusive novel I promised myself would happen one day.

I was too busy…oh the irony! The occasions in my life when I did have the freedom and time to sit, alone, dreaming and conjuring up new characters were squandered to the frivolous and the fun. ‘You can write your novel next year,’ I told myself. ‘You have all the time in the world’.

Except I didn’t…because then I became a mum.

With a needy baby in my arms I realised that I had twenty years of raising kids ahead of me, how on earth was I ever going to be a mother and work and attempt a social life AND write a book? It was over. My writing ship had sailed – I would be a retired old lady surrounded by cats before I found the time to convert my scribbled notes into the novel of my childhood dreams.

Yet the strange thing about having a busy mothering life full of ‘have to’s’ instead of ‘want to’s’ is that you soon appreciate the tiny slivers of time that you have to yourself. When your days are filled with the cries of demanding small people and your nights are a merry-go-round of dream feeds and night terrors, ricocheting from the toddler to the baby to the toddler in the dead of night like a demented marble in a pinball machine – you realise that to stay sane you need an escape. So where can you go that doesn’t mean deserting your family? You can climb inside your mind…and that’s how I finally wrote my novel and became a published author.

Lots of people ask me where I found the inspiration and the time to write ‘The Path Keeper’, my first book of a Young Adult Fantasy Romance series (no, there are no vampires). And the answer is simple – I thought about it, planned it and wrote it all in my head as a way of managing motherhood.

When my baby took an hour to feed at 3am, I was thinking about my book. When I had my lengthy work commute stuck in traffic every day, I was thinking about my book. When I was hanging out the washing or cooking dinner or sitting in front of Teletubbies with the kids at the crack of dawn, I was thinking about my book.

How much ‘white space’ do YOU have in your day? Do you use your quiet mind time to zone out? Or worry about stuff that hasn’t happened yet? Or do you, like me, plan?

Instead of arguing with my husband about what to watch in the evenings, or getting upset if he wanted to go out, I would write; and when my toddler insisted that 5am was a good time to get up, instead of being angry about it I wrote my book while she played. I turned the moments that were a source of tension, resentment and anxiety and made them about what I wanted to do. Motherhood was so much more bearable that way.

And suddenly I was no longer just a mum…I was a writer. I was fulfilling my dream. I had stopped moaning and complaining about how trapped I felt and had found my private sanctuary inside of my imagination. Writing my book saved my sanity, the relationship with my family and my self esteem. I had returned!

Finally, after two years of staying up late (well, I had got used to not sleeping anyway) and sneaking to the spare room in the evenings to finish one last chapter – I had a book! Now, what was I going to do with it?

Another strange thing about motherhood that no one tells you about is the guilt. I felt proud with my achievement, but I also felt immense guilt. By juggling my job and my writing I had ignored my family – I’d put my enjoyment first and prioritized a self-indulgent hobby over my role as a mother and wife. So in my mind I had to make it mean something, I had to make sure it got read or it would have all been for nothing. And that’s how I officially became a published author while working and being a mother of two (now a bit older) children. The struggle it took to complete my book drove me to find an agent, it made my skin tough enough to spend a year being rejected by over forty publishers and I finally received an offer for a THREE book contract by UK publishers Accent Press.

I’d like to say that that was my Happy Ever After but in fact this is merely my beginning…because now I’m a few chapters away from finishing the second book ‘Son of Secrets’ and I’m busy promoting ‘The Path Keeper’ in four countries. It’s even being translated into Turkish with other languages in the pipeline.And guess what? I love it! I am interesting again! I feel powerful and proud and energised…and, most of all, I am the old me again!

So I hope this article has been a little light at the end of your tunnel. I hope you read this and think two things:
1. My dreams are still there, I’m not letting go of them just yet and…
2. Well, if she can do it, then so can I.

Being a mother is just one of many things I can be – it doesn’t define me and I won’t let it end me. In fact there is no end. The best thing about dreams is that they keep going on and on and on – just like us mums do.

‘The Path Keeper’ by N J Simmonds is available to buy from all good bookshops and online or visit njsimmonds.com for the latest news and appearances. Natali will be hosting a variety of events during her book tour of The Netherlands in March and April 2017 – follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to find out more.

 

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Bilingual parenting with a distance – and theories thereof

Note: this is me navigating clumsily in the realms of bilingual parenting. Not an advice whatsoever. If I’d like big words, I’d say don’t try this at home, but you’ll might have to. So let me know in the comments, theories, practice, shoot away!

I’ve been struggling with the languages lately.

Well, with my mother language. My children do understand both, Dutch and Hungarian well, but since we live in The Netherlands, they don’t speak nearly as much Hungarian as Dutch. They don’t sound like other 5-6 year old Hungarian kids. It’s all very understandable and “no wonder” – to me – but I do have a hard time explaining it to grandparents, my parents.

A hard time.

And I’m sure a lot of us had the firm belief – before actually getting children – that we would take advantage of the bilingual parenting, and the thousand and one positive effects of it as well – when it came to that. Living in a different country than our own expands our minds to other cultures and solutions, so it’s highly recommended (if at least for a while).  Then you get kids, and you are still positive and enthusiastic – all the while you have a hard time keeping your eyes open. As those little feet start to run, not so subtle comments and advises might start to flow from “back home”. About remembering your roots, history of your nation, and gifting your beautiful mother language to the next generation.

Well, I for one, agree with them.

But why leave everything to one person? Let’s delegate here. I’d certainly would like to do all of the above, with the involvement of my parents and extended family – even friends with kids. It’s a big responsibility to be the sole language provider.

I say that, all the while I feel like I have been doing it all by the books (and will continue to do so):

  • Talking in the second language at all times with the children.
  • Reading in the second language every day.
  • Playing a round of Q&A in the second language every now and then.
  • Only watching TV-shows, movies in the second language.
  • Having other children around can who only communicate with the second language (that’s a tough one).
  • Taking trips and meeting with others who enjoy speaking that other language.
  • Sending letters with snail mail to other Hungarian children who live abroad, in other countries.

But all this is not enough, as they are not forced to speak Hungarian with everyone. I’m not making them answer me only in Hungarian, because I want to communicate with whatever means we have. I want to teach the LOVE of this, the feeling of being understood, without the pressure “you have to say it right”. Am I nuts? Most probably.

Creating is always way out there beyond understanding

But I also don’t like the idea being left alone in this quest, all by myself, while it’s apparent that in mixed families it’s harder to keep the minority language alive. So family “back home” needs to step up.

Big time!

But how, right? Distance is at play here, grandparents (at least my parents) find more than enough reasons not to travel, and with school being mandatory from age 5, we are also bound to dates.

Well, I’m not slowing down just because of some rocks on the road. Lately I’ve been asking around a number of Hungarian mothers living abroad as I felt the time has come for us to focus and try something new. They were big help – everyone had theories 🙂 We just throw ourselves in deep water, and we see how this will turn out – because so far there was only talk. Now comes action.

The first step is as follows:

  1. My parents do come to visit, and on a couple of days they take our daughters with them
  2. The kids and grandparents will be immersed into their little Hungarian bubble for a couple of days, and…
  3.  A very good friend of mine and her own daughter will come to our house – and we all spend a couple of days together.

This is how it’s going to go down in the spring holiday, and we are all psyched. It’s really exciting for me, my parents, my friend. The kids of course (!) are more than okay with this, it’s actually funny, we talked about it like it was the most normal thing in the world. Of course they know everyone well now, do fly like birds, and have been practicing sleepovers for two-three nights with oma and opa. So, it’s all good.

When this first tryout works, we’ll go for the longer immersions:

  • a week in the summer holidays, later two,
  • an exchange later on with my friends and their kids,
  • the focus here is on kids with whom the only mutual language is Hungarian. Those pen pals are in for a treat – they can be exchange students at our house, without all the usual bureaucracy.

All in the name of the second language.

Past experiences and the bright future

Myself, I remember I had relatives relatively far from home as a kid, so once (!) we’ve spent a week there with my sister without “papa-mama”. That was fun, although we were also older, maybe 8-10 years. And there were no language barriers, but it’s always exciting being without parents, isn’t it? It must have been fun for my parents too 😉

Being Hungarian means being restless and impatient for life, so (along with my parents) we can’t wait that long. My girls are now 5 and 6,5 years – and although they are super verbal (the older is speaking since she grew lips), and they do understand just about everything you throw at them in Hungarian, speaking is a different matter.

What are your practices, dear fellow mothers of the bilingual realm? Let me know in the comments! Talk about theories, your practices, experiences – I’d love to read your wisdom.

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Delft Mama of the week: Masha

If you aren’t a native English speaker like myself, when you first start talking to Masha you’ll most likely think you’re talking with someone from North America. But after a while she might say something about Russia and you just have to ask, and that’s exactly what I did.

The first 18,5 years of her life our mom of the week grew up in Tomsk in the Russian Siberia. She chuckles about telling people she comes from Siberia, but she says the winters were cold, but the summers were hot, too. Masha moved to Vermont in the United States on the brink of adulthood following her big sister and to continue medical science studies there. Another 18,5 years later Masha, her American husband Ryan and their children Alice (5,5) and her 1,5-year-old little brother, Sasha, packed up their two dogs and belongings and moved to Delft.

The family wanted to move to anywhere in the EU, but their friends in Breda got them interested in the Netherlands. In the end the choice was narrowed down to Delft and Leiden. One of the reasons the family chose Delft in the end was no other than the existence of such a thriving and functional parenting community. “Delft MaMa made it feel like this is the place to go”, Masha says.

She has been attending some of the DMM activities ever since the first week after the touchdown. Masha got involved with the Facebook group even before moving here, but only met her first moms at events such as high tea and DelftMaMa Cinema Club. “One of the moms got me a ticket to the movies, although she didn’t even know me”, Masha explains with gratitude in her voice.

Because Masha works from home these days, her schedule allows her to meet up with other moms and toddlers whenever she feels she can squeeze it in. She tells me the best thing about being a mother in the Netherlands is to have more time for her family, as moving here meant being able to cut down a lot of extra responsibilities. Now Masha only has to manage herself at work, which makes her working life easier compared to the past.

Although Masha travels a lot for work, the family is constantly planning trips together to various different European countries. Their next vacation will be in (hopefully sunny) Lisbon. Masha has a bucket list for traveling and for places she wants to visit. “I love art and I want to visit more museums. Recently I’ve been reading a lot about my favorite artists of which many are less known Russians or Americans”, Masha says and explains that because of her chemistry background, she finds style and technique more fascinating than anything else. When I ask her what her favorite art style is, she says without hesitation:“Photography! I used to do photography and I’ve done a lot of imaging for work in microscopy level. There is a darkroom photo printing technique called liquid light where you apply the film on the paper and your printed photo looks much more like a painting.”

For now, family, work, dogs and traveling are pretty much filling up the days of this incredibly hard-working, intelligent and efficient lady. When I ask about their plans of staying in Delft, she says jokingly “maybe for the next 18,5 years! I’m very slowly making my way to the Caribbean.” Masha ends up the conversation with the same humorous note she’s had on throughout our talk together: “when I retire I should be south enough to end up there.”

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Book review: Dutched up! Rocking the clogs expat style

There is a certain expat wisdom in almost every page of the book “Dutched up! Rocking the clogs expat style”. It’s a collection of stories by beloved women bloggers who have all had their share of living in the Netherlands. The book is brought together by two mothers, the European Mama Olga Mecking and Lynn Morrison of the Nomad Mom Diary.

What happens when you throw together the stories of 27 different writers from all over the world? A colorful soup of stories from a vast variety of perspectives, is what happens.

This is both the book’s strength and its weakness. If you have any experience of being a foreigner in the Netherlands, you’ll easily come across several stories that will give you a good chuckle. There’s something for everyone and almost definitely you will find yourself at the same wavelength with certain writers more than others. At the same time the book suffers from a slight repetition, as many of the expressions used are stereotypical. Doe maar gewoon (be normal/less is more) is one of the most famous Dutch sentences and it also hasn’t gone unnoticed by the bloggers as it repeats itself throughout the book. This echo leaves a reader hoping for a bit more effort in the editing process.

This said, the book is wonderfully segmented in well-thought categories. It all starts with the culture shock, goes through topics from learning the language, working and raising a family in the Netherlands to farewell stories among many other subjects which are known to every expat. All in all, the book can be viewed as a bundle of wisdom: “How to deal with leeches” (guests that just won’t stop sucking your hospitality), how to deal with Dutch spouses, kraamzorg or Dutch doctors, to name a few.

Personally, having lived in the Netherlands for over a decade I could easily relate to many of the stories. I do, too, get funny looks in the land of giants, because my bicycle is so darn small and cute and I have, too, accidentally combined the words “dag” and “hoi”, thus telling someone “die” at the end of a conversation. Some stories are surprising and unexpected, such as Kerry Dankers‘ “How to steal back your bike” or Molly Quell‘s awkward conversation with her doctor on “That’s a helluva exam”. You cannot but help reading them out loud to anyone who happens to be around, all the while trying to hold yourself together from folding in double with laughter.

In the end it hit me: now this book is quality entertainment, because I’ve been through similar experiences, but if I got this book in my hands when I first moved to this country, it might’ve saved me from many painful experiences. Depending on your perspective, the book can play either part, the entertainer or the savior – possibly even both. Can’t wait to see if the writers will cook up a part two eventually…

The book is available on Amazon, through The European Mama shop and soon also available at The American Book Center in The Hague.

Dutched up! was first published in 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Delft MaMa takes The Hague

Delft MaMa, represented by a group of kind-hearted volunteers, was one of the 140 institutions present at the largest expat fair in the Netherlands.
This annual event organized by The Hague Online in partnership with ACCES  celebrated its 10th edition.

“… have you heard about the most thriving parenting community in the South of Holland? … ” “Delft MaMa is…?” “New in town..?”

and so the day went by at the Feel at Home International Family Fair past Sunday the 5th of February.

From 11 am until 5 pm the City Hall of the Hague, hosted over four thousand people coming from every corner of the world.

Many were the visitors that stopped by to meet and greet a small representation of the people that build our community. Amongst crayons, boxes of raisins, bubble blowing bottles and face painting, our Delft MaMas got engaged with families coming from Canada, Italy, India, China, Japan, England, Hungary and The Netherlands, to name a few.

Complicity smiles and tips about parenting in a third culture environment where joyfully shared.

We hope we will see new faces in the upcoming events real soon!

A big thanks to everyone involved in making this fair a success, before, during and after.     

 

 images of the video by Ildikó Wooning and Eva Sabina Amaral, editing by Ildikó Wooning. Pictures Shadi Parsa, Eva Sabina Amaral and Agnès Batllori

 

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Delft Mama of the week: América

She has a delicate voice, but a lot of power behind her words. She talks about politics, her enthusiastic boys, her upcoming wedding and about her love for running. You might have hard time guessing this elegant lady used to be a lead singer of a punk band and loved skateboarding and judo, but the fire and passion that has seemingly always resided in her becomes clear quite fast. And she’s our mom of the week, América.

Brazilian América met her Dutch soon-to-be husband Robert at a wedding of a Brazilian and Dutch couple. Two years later she found herself living in Delft and starting a family. At eight weeks of pregnancy the couple went to see the midwife for a sonogram. “Oh, I see something”, said the midwife and paused for a second. América and Robert both saw it on the screen; their wishes had been answered – twice. At first América got worried, because she had no immediate family around her, but eventually got used to the idea. Identical twins Sven and 16 minutes younger Thomas were born some 28 weeks after the first sonogram in 2014.

I ask América the question she probably has answered a thousand times by now: have you always been sure which one is which? “I was worried about it when we got home from the hospital, because they had been wearing the bracelet tags all along. My kraamzorgster helped me a lot though. She said “now let’s take a good look at them, you’re their mother” and ever since I’ve known which one is which”, América says. Now it even seems funny to her she could have ever felt confused in the beginning, because as identical as the boys may be, there is a big difference in them in her trained eyes. To make it easier for everyone else around, the parents dress the boys differently and gives them different haircuts too.

Our mom of the week fills her days with her boys by mapping the over 200 playgrounds in Delft (yes, you read that amount correctly) and soon she’ll start blogging for DMM, too. Alone with two toddlers, going out to a playground became a challenge, so she started making notes about her favorite ones. “I started to look for playgrounds that were closed with a fence, small and that didn’t have huge climbing racks”, she says. América was open at the consultatiebureau about the challenges going outdoors with her fast twin boys and to her aid, the consultatiebureau offered a volunteer grandma through their Home Starter program. América, Sven and Thomas have been enjoying the company of their Dutch grandma for half a year now for three hours a week. She speaks Dutch, helps América with things she needs the support in, but respects her ways of raising the children. “You’ll tell what kind of help you need. In the beginning she would not interfere, but now I ask her advice and she helps me. The volunteers respect your parenting and are there for the support”, América explains. The boys are very strong-willed and as a mother, América needs to be very strict and consequent with them. “By becoming a mom, I found out I’m really strong”, she rejoices.

América has a background in communication design and a vast interest in photography, handicrafts and history. She got her degree in Germany and stayed there for over a decade before returning back to Brazil only to find out she had hard time adapting back to her native land. Brazil had changed and so had América. Life with Robert took her to Delft and the years in the Netherlands have been good for them. However, in the upcoming summer the family is packing up their belongings and moving to Oman in the Middle East for a duration of a job contract. América tells me moving there means the couple needs to get married, fast I might add. When they found out about the need for a marriage certificate in order to move there as a family, Robert scheduled a babysitter for the boys, took América to Paris and properly proposed to her in a place that holds a lot of meaning to the couple. She smiles the entire time she talks about her family or her upcoming wedding, even though it has been one busy schedule trying to make it all happen. Her dress will be mint green, which is also the color for celebration in Oman according to our bride. And the wedding date? No other than Valentine’s Day!

After the wedding, the planning and packing will start. The family will be living in a compound with around 200 other families, but América is already looking forward to Oman outside the neighborhood. “In the beginning I was a little worried about moving to Oman, but then I started to learn about it and now I’m really excited about moving there”, she tells and continues explaining how she’s looking forward to the hot weather and maxi dresses, the outdoors, sand, camels and beaches, but most of all learning Arabic. “It’s a chance to learn it and get new influence of other ways of living. It’s good to open up the horizons”, she smilingly adds. Seeing how América takes up on a challenge and turns even the simplest things into something educational, useful or beautiful, I can’t wait to talk to her once she returns to Delft, a little over three years from now…

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