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Month: March 2017

Delft mama of the week: Marie

I met Marie for first time last year when she started hosting the Delft MaMa playgroup. She is currently the playgroup coordinator and she’s taking part in several other DMM projects as well.

We sit down together on display on the window of Hummus in Delft and order hot beverages. It’s Saturday and she’s coming straight from mindfulness yoga. It fits the first impression I had of her: a calm mom oozing nothing but serenity, but Marie tells me laughing her yoga classes were a gift from her husband, who hopes she can find it easier to relax a bit. Marie has been called too serious all her life, because of her amazing drive and ambition, so she has made a conscious effort of finding ways to loosen up a bit. To her luck, becoming a mother has been one of the things that has helped her in her quest.

Marie has been calling the Netherlands home for a few years. She used to travel a lot first for her studies: a scholarship took her from her home in the US to Paris when she was only 16, and later during her undergraduate studies Marie spent a semester in Brazil, two summers in Russia and one summer in Paris, where she also completed her master’s degree. Later in life her project based work took her from Scotland to Singapore and everywhere in between. She loves Brazil and says Vietnam is one of her favorite countries. But the love of her life, a Chinese man Junzi, Marie met by coincidence in the Netherlands.

When Marie was expecting their son, now a 1-year-old William, the married couple decided to settle down in Delft. Earlier having spent her time visiting new countries and cities every two to three weeks, Marie was sure she’d go out of her mind in such a small place as Delft. She had good friends in The Hague and in Haarlem, but she was missing a closer safety net. “When I first had William, I wasn’t meeting others very much, but I knew about Delft MaMa. When he was 5-6 months old, I decided to come to the playgroup”, Marie says. Meeting other moms allowed her to create her own social circles in Delft and thanks to this simple plan followed by action she’s much more involved in the community and to her surprise has yet to feel bored in the beautiful medieval town.

Marie speaks several languages fluently (English, French, Portuguese, Russian) and is constantly pushing the envelope with useful things to learn. She is currently taking Dutch lessons and teaching herself Chinese and she’s soon traveling to China with William to stay with her in-laws for a month to get more immersed in the language. She has always been hard-working and extremely driven at school and at work. Before becoming a mother, she describes herself as having been “definitely workaholic”. As one might assume, it has been a big adjustment fitting in the stay-at-home-mom shoes.

Lately Marie has been increasingly thinking about returning to work. The original plan – to return to work when William was three months old – didn’t go through. She realized the plans she had made before the birth of her child weren’t what she wanted and she listened to her heart instead. “Outsiders often think I’m calm, but I feel it’s the opposite! The main struggle now is should I go back to work or should I stay with William,” Marie explains.

The struggle is familiar to if not all, to most mothers. Marie says she knows she shouldn’t compare her own situation to her friends who are working in very prestigious positions around the world, but she can’t help but think about the opportunities she had, the good schools she went to and the professional ambition she to this day has. Now that William is one year old, Marie started to apply to again. She has sent out tons of applications, but hasn’t gotten that much interesting feedback. “It’s always difficult when you’re used to having a job and now I have to think how much I want a certain job and how much I want to stay at home with William. He’ll never be young again, but maybe if I stay out of work too long, I might have more difficulties finding a good job”, Marie says.

She often thinks about why work is so important for people in general. In the more distant past people didn’t define themselves by their work, but now it seems to be one of the first questions people ask each other. Before Marie didn’t mind this question at all, but lately she noticed how defining this question sounds. “It makes you think why do we value work so much as the value of the individual, when it doesn’t represent much at all. Of course it can, but oftentimes it doesn’t,” Marie says and explains how these days a specific job isn’t always what someone chooses to do, as it depends a lot about circumstances one can’t control. “If I’m philosophical enough I’d say would it matter if I’m working or not? What I’m doing is probably more valuable than what a lot of work people do,” she rightfully says at the end of our talk.

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My six insights on The Netherlands

When one thinks of The Netherlands the first images that comes to mind may be bicycles, flowers, windmills and cheese. In fact, it does make sense and I was imagining exactly these kinds of things before coming to live here, but the truth is I have learnt that this country is way much more than that. As I had never thought about living here, I wrote a quick list with six things that was only possible to understand after moving to this foreign land.

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Style and Comfort – Creating your Child’s Wardrobe

When I found out I was having a girl I was so excited and imagined all the cute outfits I could put her in. I remember creating a Pinterest file designing her perfect imaginary wardrobe, I think I had about nine months of dressing her in what ever I wanted, before I realized that my little girl had her own ideas of what she wanted to wear. When she was two it was nothing but superhero costumes. At two and a half she just wanted to dress like a boy and by age three she was crazy about Hello Kitty.

So how can you merge Style and Comfort into the perfect little wardrobe? I feel like I am far from knowing the answers, but here are a few things I have learnt along the way.

 

Style

Children need to love what they are wearing. Through colour, texture, pattern, a little creativity throw in some accessories and your child can shine with their personal style! It is fun to teach children about colour in clothing and about different colour schemes. Monochromatic is a great word for kids to learn and say while sporting pink from head to toe. You are never to young to learn about neutrals or how to match like colours or contrast light and dark.

 

Similarly, talking about texture is equally intriguing for kids. Fuzzy, smooth, soft, bumpy, ruff, scratchy are all fun to explore while distracting little fingers from pulling shirts off the hangers in the department store.

Kids also love creating their own clothes. One white HEMA t-shirt, a pack of iron on transfers, your aspiring young artist’s drawing and you have the cutest one of a kind graphic tee. Here my little “Odette” has made her own swan princess t-shirt and wears her white tutu to pull off her look. She couldn’t be prouder to wear her masks which we bought at So-Low and decorated herself.

My son had to play the part of the prince and for that a cute black vest (H&M), a simple white band collar button down (Zara), linen pants (H&M) and shoes (Hema).

 

Accessories are a simple, playful and can change up a look in an instant. It is also where you and your child can explore your creativity. I found some cotton jersey fabric at the market for three euros, I decided to try my luck at making little buff scarfs that double as a headband for the kids. My sewing skills are limited but this really was the easiest project and involved sewing only one seem, you don’t even have to finish the hem it rolls on its own.

 


Girls tend to accessorize themselves very easily with necklaces, bracelets, tiaras and fairy wings, while boys aren’t left with much.

Try cute hats, suspenders, neck bows, vests, capes wings and tales and your boy will be just as excited as the girls to prance pretty. Make simple accessories together, it takes no time at all to  string a beaded necklace or glue some cat ears on a headband. Think accessories for everyday life, it is nice to have children look in their costume box before they go out and add a special something to really jazz up their outfit.

 

Comfort

Most of us are familiar with those beautiful Pinterest photos of woolen sweaters, tiny printed floral dresses and perfectly matching tights. As lovely as they are to admire, at five my little princess detests wool sweaters, saying they are too itchy. She will absolutely not wear those cute perfectly matching tights (stockings) either, saying she hates the way they feel and puts her nose up at any lovely corduroy overalls (dungarees), trousers or jeans.

The fact of the matter is, children are going to play, explore and are going to get dirty and if they are anything like mine, they will want something comfortable that allows them to move.

My daughter’s uniform seems to be a pair of leggings, a cotton long sleeve t-shirt for the base, layered with either a dress, tunic or circle skirt – and if I am lucky – a lovely cotton cardigan.

I think it looks adorable on her and seems to be the winning combination that allows her to hop, run, skip, scooter, climb, with out any constraints.

 

 

On the other hand for my son who loves to be warm he is comfortable in wool sweaters, jeans and his fox hat, which I made for him quickly at Halloween and still hasn’t taken it off.

Here my daughter is wearing her simple cotton tee, a darling deer tunic (H&M), her lovely deer antlers of her own creation and red Mary Janes from Start-Rite. When she adds some leggings, she is ready to be on the move. My son is in a fox sweater from Filou & Friends , his fox hat (mama made), a hand-me down plaid button down shirt and sage green cords from his sister that she never did wear.

Budget

I know that you can have great comfortable style for your children with out breaking the bank. For me it’s hard to spend a lot of money on kids’ clothes especially when they outgrow them so quickly. It is nice to spend money on gender neutral classics that can be passed down to their sibling. A great toggle coat in red or navy is classic and adorable for either girl or boy.

 

Personally I love cute shoes, but they can be expensive. I either wait for a sale or order off Limango, a great discount webshop. For affordable basics I go to H&M, HEMA and C&A and usually those come in organic cotton.

 

Here my tiger who came to tea is wearing a pair of leather booties with funky mustard laces a steal from Van Haaren, a pair of jeans on sale from WE with suspenders (H&M) and cotton tee from HEMA with an iron on transfer I sketched.

 

My daughter is in a very inexpensive navy blue shift dress with a white Peter-Pan collar from the French discount grocery chain Monoprix. I love their children’s clothing line, you get that chic French look at a fraction of the price! Her baby blue ribbon is from the market, her knee high socks are one of her many unloved tights I cut, and her navy Mary Janes are from Pepino.

 

 

I spend more money on unique pieces, a special dress or a really cute jumper and for styles that can be repurposed as they grow. A style like this starts off as a dress, turns into a tunic and later maybe a swing top.

 

 

Vintage finds are real scores: I look on Etsy and have raided my mother-in-law’s trunks.  This red hand knit sweater and t-strap clarks was my husbands and it really goes to show some things are worth hanging on to.

 

Seasons

As a kid I always loved the change of season, with it brought fresh colour palettes, new textures and fabrics in clothing. There was nothing better than celebrating the seasons when I received a new raincoat, rain boots and umbrella, and to my joy my children feel no different.

I love getting excited about colour and for this spring I tucked away our rich colour palettes from winter, brought out pale muted colours with pops of intensely saturated colours.

 

 

In these princess and dragon inspired looks my daughter is wearing a dress I splurged from Filou & Friends,  H&M leggings and the perfect pair of riding boots I bought from Decathlon for practically nothing. She picked out her own fuchsia pink umbrella, which I cringed at the time but it actually looks so cute with her pale pink rain coat (Cadet Rousselle.) My son is in a pinstriped navy pant from HEMA and a baby blue button down from H&M. His hat is form Zara and his scarf we made from one of his dad’s. I quickly sewed him up a dragon tale from scrap felt I had in fun shades of green and pale blue. We found his umbrella for 5 euro at Bristol. His boots are Hatley. His favourite colour is yellow at the moment so what better than a bright yellow raincoat from Pluie Pluie.

 

There you have it what I have learnt so far: if you can be a little creative, make it fun and comfortable, accessorize and play with the seasons, kids can have a unique style that both of you will love!

 

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Being a Multilingual Mom to Multilingual Kids

Congratulations, you’re raising your children to speak two or more languages. Maybe you have questions. For example: “Am I screwing up my kids for life?” or “How on Earth will I ever manage this when parenting is so overwhelming and I have to do it in two languages?”

I’m here to tell you: “Don’t do it.” Your kids will be so confused that they’ll end up not speaking any language properly. They’ll have language delays, no friends and will surely end up in prison.

OK, by now you probably have noticed that I’m joking, right?

So here’s the truth: it will be amazing. Yes, really. I promise. And how do I know that? At almost four, almost six, and seven, my kids are fluid in Polish, German and Dutch. And they surprise me every day with their linguistic abilities. In fact, I’ve never been very confident about my parenting skills, but I knew that I can raise my children to speak three languages. Because to me, it was the most natural thing to do.

I was born in Warsaw, Poland. When I was three years old, we moved Cologne, Germany where we stayed for two years. I attended a German kindergarten and learned to speak the language like a native. After we came back, we still spoke Germany every Sunday, at least until my brother was born. He couldn’t speak German so we stopped. But I kept the knowledge of the language alive, through school and lots of TV.

Moreover, my parents are multilingual themselves. My mom spent a big part of her childhood in the Netherlands (what a coincidence, isn’t it?) She went to the International School of the Hague where she learned to speak English. My father was raised in France. Both of them still speak the languages they learned while abroad. And they also learned other languages along the way.

At home, I grew up in a highly multilingual environment. My parents listened to the BBC in English. They argued in French which I didn’t speak then. At some point, my mom taught me English using “Winnie the Pooh” which I knew by heart in Polish.

Image: pixabay.com

And all the time, German has stayed with me: I chose a secondary school with an intensive focus on this language, and then studied it at University. During a student exchange program in Hamburg, I met the man I’d later marry.

When I was pregnant, my mother-in-law asked me “Which language will you speak to your daughter?” It’s funny but that question never even occurred to me. Besides, when there are strollers to be bought, clothes to be picked… and did I mention I was still in Germany at that point but my husband moved to the Netherlands? We had a whole international move to plan on top of that. So please forgive me if simply assumed that I’d just start talking to my daughter when she made her arrival and see what language came out.

But my mother-in-law’s question made consciously decide in favour of Polish. Not because I couldn’t raise my kids in German. It was just that my husband was already the designated German speaker, so I could teach my kids Polish.

The reactions we got from extended families were varied. My parents were happy to have multilingual grandchildren. My in-laws were worried they wouldn’t understand theirs. The joke’s on them though because my kids are fluid in all three languages. And my eldest is learning English at school.

So how are we raising our kids? We’re consistent, but not obsessively so. We show that we respect each other’s languages. My husband even took a Polish class to better understand his children. We’re very confident in our choice to raise the kids with so many languages, even though we’re completely at a loss in other areas of parenting. We’ve gotten some ridiculously ignorant comments, which we were more than happy to ignore.

Since their German and Dutch are being taken care of at school, the whole responsibility for Polish falls on me. To get some help, I hired a private Polish tutor. I teach them reading and writing in this language and I even downloaded a Polish schoolbook for my eldest. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But yes, it’s also worth it because as soon as they can read I can give them Polish books to devour, which will make my workload somewhat easier.

Image: pixabay.com

And if I feel overwhelmed by it all, I think of my parents, who raised me with so many languages (I now speak Polish, German, English, French and Dutch) while both of them were working. They used TV as a German-speaking baby sitter, only spoke German with me once a week. They knew nothing about OPOL (One Person One Language) or ml@h (minority language at home) or the time and place method. But they managed to successfully raise my brother and me with multiple languages.

According to many experts, it shouldn’t have been enough. But it was.

So dear parents, if you want to raise multilingual kids, take it someone who’s seen both sides of the equation. Raising multilingual children is hard work. But it shouldn’t drive us insane.

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Delft Mama of the week: Natali

I’m meeting our mom of the week at café Kek in the center of Delft. I’m early, but she’s already sitting by the table working. Behind her there are frames with cool drawings, including one with a feather.

Feather seems to be a reoccurring thing for our mom of the week, Natali. It’s also on the cover of her book, The Path Keeper, that came out recently. When I ask about the meaning of the feather, she smiles and says I need to read her book to figure out. After her first novel came out, she has already been compared to no other than George R. R. Martin. Natali has a book deal in her pocket for two more books, coming out in February 2018 and 2019.

Natali was born in London, but grew up in Barcelona until her 7th year when she returned to London with her mother. As a daughter to an English teacher and a Catalan graphic designer, language and art have always been steadily present in her life. Mirroring to her background Natali has had a great career in marketing and publishing, working for publications such as Cosmopolitan Magazine and Harpers & Queen (now known as Harper’s Bazaar).

Before settling down, Natali spent 14 months backpacking on her own. During this trip she met her English husband, Peter. Isabelle (8) was born in London, but Peter’s work took the family to the province of Malaga in Spain and the second daughter of the family, Olivia (6), soon followed. “I went from being a London girl having a really cool job to a relaxed mom in Spain,” Natali says and tells me that’s when she got into writing. No family and friends to balance the plate, yet raising two small daughters she had to find a way to work around it. Natali set up her own freelance marketing company, got extremely involved with the local wedding industry and worked in the lifestyle sector. “It was a really good fun, but then my husband got a job in the Netherlands, the children were getting into the age where as much as we love the beach, they needed more culture and diversity,” Natali explains their reasons for moving to Delft.

Before setting a foot on the Dutch soil for the next three years, Natali had already joined the Delft MaMa community. She deliberately looked for it, because she’s the founder of a similar mom group for English speaking expats in Costa del Sol, and figured there must be one in Delft too. Joining the parenting community before arriving was important as it gave Natali and her family a chance to establish friends and contacts before arriving.

Sharing her experiences to empower the mothers around her has been really important for our mom of the week. “For the last few years I have wanted to do a workshop called “moms with ambition” for women who are in that transitionary state of motherhood, having been somebody, being a mom, wanting to go back to who they are, were, but struggling, because they aren’t the same person anymore.” She sees the huge potential to do cool projects with like-minded Delft Mamas and has already been planning some workshops.

Her book is written for young adults, but many of her readers are over their 30’s. Natali points out something that many of us might not have realized before: “Empowering mothers and empowering teenage girls is very similar. We’re hormonal, making that transition, trying to discover or find themselves.” During her book tour she has visited schools and talked to a lot of teenage girls. Even if Natali can make one child think they can do it because of her encouraging words and outstanding example, it’s all that matters to her.

Since Natali was little, she has always been writing stories and drawing pictures. She filled a notebook after another during her nomad years, but only when she moved to Spain she tapped into something she had always loved and she got serious about writing. “You don’t realize you’ve always been something until you start doing it professionally”, Natali says. During her years in Spain she co-founded an online magazine The Glass House Girls that has tens of thousands of followers, she joined a writing class and started writing her book. “I never really lacked confidence. I always felt you should be allowed to do what you want to do, which is sometimes difficult as a mom. Going on the writing class enriched me. My teacher gave me a lot of feedback and told me I could write,” Natali explains. She surrounded herself with other writers and after years of writing, she finished her book. That’s when the work started. “When you’ve been three years writing something, getting a publishing deal feels like the end, but it’s actually the beginning. You then have to be very patient, because it’s a very slow process,” she states.

Although Natali doesn’t write like most people, she has come to realize the style doesn’t matter as long as what you have in the end works. She processes absolutely every aspect of her story in her head before simply typing it down. “Don’t worry about doing it right”, she says about her experience and continues saying experimenting is the key, but the most important thing is to have a story that is engaging. “Really open yourself up, pour yourself onto the pages. Don’t be scared or embarrassed about making yourself vulnerable, because you have to and that’s why it’s so difficult to be creative. You’re throwing your heart out and waiting for everyone to give their opinion and they are all different. That’s being an artist,” Natali sums it up with a profound insight.

If you want to meet Natali, she’ll be at the Comic Con in Utrecht 25-26 of March.

The Path Keeper is available on Amazon.com The book contains sex and strong language.

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