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Delft mama of the week: Elizabeth

Our Delft mama of the week, Elizabeth, has worked as a political consultant, a NASA tour guide, and a lawyer, volunteered for the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Ghana, traveled to 30 countries and 45/50 US states, and even been inside the Space Shuttle. Now she is a travel writer and full-time mom living in the Netherlands.

In 2015, Elizabeth’s husband, Jeff, was offered the exciting opportunity to complete his PhD at TU Delft, and Elizabeth and her two older sons eagerly joined him. They saw Delft as a charming town in its own right and an ideal base to travel around Europe. A third son joined the family and their travels in 2016.

Elizabeth is clearly enamored of the Netherlands and of Delft in particular. She describes it as “a real town with the advantage for expats that everybody speaks English and that you can find friends. There are a million little restaurants in every price bracket, and there are parks hiddeneverywhere. You can go climb the windmill, go to the farm and buy eggs, or see sheep at the petting zoo. These are just so many opportunities in this special town.”

A half year before arriving in Delft, she found the Delft MaMa Facebook group and connected with fellow Coloridan Caroline. When she first arrived in town, Caroline helped connect her to Delft MaMa friends and resources, giving her an invaluable piece of advice: “surround yourself with expats who are excited to be here in Netherlands, as your local friends will largely determine your mood.” Elizabeth has put this advice to good use, not only finding supportive friends, but also making herself a valued member of the Delft MaMa community. She co-coordinates the weekly Delft MaMa newsletter with Karen, and in the coming months, you may have the chance to read an original post or two of hers on the Delft MaMa blog.

Elizabeth believes that “Delft MaMa is a wonderful resource that provides something for every personality type. If you are a one-on-one person, there are many events. Ifyou need mom friends, you can go to a Mom’s Night Out. If you need friends for your children, there are playgroups. If you are just are looking for advice, you can ask on the Facebook, and the newsletter details what’s going on locally in the coming months. When I travel, I usually look for something like Delft MaMa, but a lot of places either do not have an equivalent or the local international family group is not on the same level as a support group.”

Elizabeth is thriving in Europe, but the decision to move to the Netherlands was not so straightforward from a professional perspective, as her visa status precludes her from working locally. Elizabeth’s optimistic and driven personality, though, have helped her to embrace this difficulty and turn it into many opportunities – that to spend more time with her children, blog actively, and pursue other endeavors close to her heart, particularly traveling.

Elizabeth’s blog, Dutch Dutch Goose, started as a way to share her European travel experiences with family and friends and as an outlet for her creative and professional talents. Dutch Dutch Goose soon became a popular resource for families around the world. Her post on traveling from the US to Europe on the Queen Mary 2 with children was a particular hit, given the lack of information available on this topic online. Thanks to the success of her own blog Elizabeth was also asked to become editor-in-chief of BebeVoyage, a global community of parents providing local, practical advice on traveling with kids.

Elizabeth and her husband traveled widely before having children and have decided to use travel as an educational tool with their children. They firmly believe that “the places we see and people we meet during our different travel experiences help make our children better human beings. Exposing our kids to so many different tastes, modes of transportation, ways of living, and cultures is the most wonderful gift we can give them.”

Elizabeth is also always challenging herself and looking for ways to grow and learn through travel. For example, this careful planner took a trip this year without having organized any specific destinations or itineraries. You can find more about how the family managed this adventure in spontaneity here.

Through her blog, Elizabeth also shows families around the world that travel with children may be challenging but that it is both a feasible and a rewarding experience. For Elizabeth, there is no need to travel for many weeks or to a distant location to make a trip great, as visiting a nearbyfarm or museum can be just as valuable.

There is also no need to force your children to immerse completely in every aspect of a trip. Instead, do your best to ensure your children are comfortable and enjoying their time traveling, even if this means allowing them to look at the iPad on some museum visits or play at a local playground for some hours rather than visiting a site. Elizabeth notes, “I find that the kids absorb so much of the little stuff while traveling, like going to playgrounds and to kids cafes, as opposed to all the big tourist sites. At these places, they get a better picture of the local culture, differences in parenting, and differences in interactions between the kids.”

Furthermore, “the best trip for me is one where each member of the family has something that peaked their interest, and we have all gotten along and enjoyed ourselves as a family.” During our interview, Elizabeth described how a trip to Brussels’ train hostel that was requested and largely planned by her eldest son fits the bill.

To summarize some of her expert advice, Elizabeth encourages parents to know their kids and make them comfortable, know that disasters happen and don’t let them ruin trips, plan the right balance of activities parents are interested in and child-friendly activities in an itinerary, and allow children to absorb the little details during trips that show cultural differences.

One word that kept popping up during our conversation was “gift,” with travel as a gift, living in Delft as a gift, and even her local un-employability as a gift in disguise. Elizabeth also described her time interacting and talking to her kids while biking as a daily gift and one of the highlights of her life in the Netherlands. I hope all Delft mamas can also recognize and take advantage of the multitude of gifts in their lives and embrace challenges with as strong a positive attitude as Elizabeth. Indeed, it is this zeal for life and focus on uplifting values like joy, discovery, and gratitude that make Elizabeth so charming and her blog posts so delightful to read.

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10 things living in The Netherlands has taught me

In the summer of 2016 my family and I moved from the sunny Costa del Sol to the not-so-sunny town of Delft, and  I wasn’t sure if we’d made the right decision.  I knew that my husband’s work opportunities would be better, my children’s schooling would be a LOT better and that I wouldn’t have any trouble continuing my writing. I also figured that living in such a creative town, and close to other business hubs like The Hague, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, my career could only ever progress. But Holland? Could I be happy there?

Yes I like cheese, clogs are funny and tulips are pretty – but what did I know about The Netherlands? What could the country offer me?

Well actually, it turns out that ten months into our three year placement here it’s taught me a lot. I now understand why everyone thinks it’s so cool and I know (freezing winters aside) I will be happy here. Here are ten things that living in The Netherlands has taught me…

 

 

You don’t need to have good weather to have fun
I’m half Spanish so sunshine runs through my veins…closely followed by mojitos. When I look back at the best times of my life there’s always been a blue sky. Yet living in The Netherlands has taught me that it’s fine to go outside. Even if it’s a bit drizzly and cold. Once I’d invested in a decent winter coat, thermals and thick boots I was ready to explore the amazing scenery. We’ve trekked through fields of tulips, woodlands and farms, canal boat rides, city walks and plenty of food markets – and although it’s been cold it’s also been lots of fun. And as for going out with friends in the evening, I just swap my sangria for gluhwein and it’s all good!

You don’t need a car
In Spain we had a car – in fact we had two! Then we moved to the tiny cobbled streets of Delft, with its multitude of bicycles and parallel parking beside canals and we changed our minds. And you know what? I love not having a car now. I walk over an hour a day and my backside is pert and round. I get fresh air (maybe too fresh) and I get to see the beauty of the town. The trains, buses and trams are (mostly) on time and reasonably priced and best of all I don’t have MOTs and insurance to worry about. I’m sure life will get even better once I get myself a bike…but one step at a time. Literally.

 

 

Kids should be given freedom
To be fair, my kids have always had freedom because I practise the parenting art of ‘do the least possible and tell everyone you are making your children independent’! But in Holland that is a thing. It’s actually their way of life and it’s encouraged for parents to let their children do as much as they can by themselves. Cycling to school, going to the park, going shopping…you see children as young as six years old going about their daily business alone and it’s fine. It feels safe here and you know your children are respected; in fact kids are given as much importance as adults. Apparently children here are also the happiest in the world (they don’t get homework in their pre-teen years, which I’m sure also helps). Take a look at the book ‘The Happiest Kids in the World’ if you don’t believe me!

A home looks better when you fill it with flowers
You know what makes me happy (apart from chocolate and silence)? Fresh flowers. And the best thing about The Netherlands is that flowers are cheap. If you go to the market before they close you can buy a bunch for as little as a Euro! I’ve quickly realised that the dustiest of houses look pristine if you fill them with enough tulips and roses. It also smells better too!

I’m lucky to have English as my mother tongue
Have you ever tried to speak Dutch? Well luckily you don’t need to, as the clever buggers all speak about five languages and feel so sorry for you as you splutter your way clumsily through every sentence that they insist that you speak English. Even the films on TV and in the cinema are in English – lucky us!

 


You can eat crap and still be slim
Dutch people are not fat. Dutch people love their beer, waffles, pancakes, bitterballen, bread and cheese. It must be all that cycling and lack of driving that keep them trim!

Beaches are not just for the Med
I was shocked that The Netherlands had such great beaches (OK, so my geography isn’t great). Although it’s standing room only when the sun makes a rare appearance, places such as The Hague’s Scheveningen is a Hipster paradise full of cool beach bars, restaurants and sand finer and more golden than anything the Costa del Sol has to offer. I wouldn’t bother bringing your snorkel, or getting in the freezing sea in general, but you can still get a mean cocktail or two.

Women are a force to be reckoned with
Being an expat (or ‘trailing wife’…don’t you just love that term?) it’s rare for me to move to a country because of my husband’s work and get asked what I do. It’s a sad fact of life that when you are a mother, and married to a businessman who travels a lot, people rarely expect you to have your own career as well. Except in The Netherlands. How refreshing to be asked if I was here for my studies or my own business. How wonderful to have the opportunity to tour universities and schools talking about my books, host panels at literary events and get to discuss gender politics, entrepreneurships and business opportunities while surrounded by like-minded working mothers. Hurray, an expat location with an advanced mindset.

You can be rude and still have manners
Just ask the Dutch. So friendly, so helpful, so smart…yet so direct!

Europe is actually one big playground
And the best thing about living in The Netherlands? We are at the centre of Europe. We are a short train ride away from Belgium, France and Germany. We can hire a camper van and drive to Italy via Switzerland. Or we can be in the UK in 40 mins by plane. Weekends have just got a lot more fun. So who cares that the weather is cold, the language tricky and the food a bit stodgy? It’s a magnificent country with great people and loads to do…and if you get bored of it you are just a few hours away from other amazing countries. Yes I miss my siestas and balmy nights of sunny Spain – but pancakes on a Dutch beach in an anorak isn’t so bad either. I might even treat myself to some cheap flowers on the way home.

Natali Drake is a published author and freelance Marketing consultant. You can attend her FREE talk about the Rise of Young Adult fiction and its place in today’s society at the American Book Centre in The Hague on 1st June 6.30pm, where she will be also answering questions and signing copies of ‘The Path Keeper’ – her first book from her thrilling fantasy romance series.

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What’s your time worth?

Yesterday I worked fifteen hours without a break. No, I’m not a life-saving surgeon or the Prime Minister – I’m a working mother who is underpaid and undervalued. Who am I undervalued by? Myself.

In 2012 I began to work as a freelance Marketing Consultant while living in Spain. My girls were aged nearly three and five at the time and in full time nursery. I had survived the sleep-deprived baby years, my energy and health was improving and my kids could finally (more or less) feed themselves and wipe their own butts. It was time to forego the part time work, take the plunge and finally use my years of experience to become self employed.

‘My days are my own!’ I silently rejoiced. ‘I will finally be paid for everything I do outside of my mummy duties.’

Oh how wrong I was.


The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have time to work – nursery was 9-5. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have clients – I had plenty of work coming my way. The problem was that I underestimated how bad I was at valuing my own self worth, and what a pushover I would be at volunteering my time now that I didn’t have a boss managing it.

Time and time again I would find myself looking at my watch thinking ‘how can it be 3pm? I haven’t done any paid work yet!’

Then things got trickier. I received a three book publishing contract for my fantasy romance series ‘The Path Keeper’ and I temporarily moved to The Netherlands with my family. I continued working and getting new marketing clients, but now on top of work and mummying and writing my books I was now also promoting them. I was up until midnight every night trying to squeeze it all in…but my bank account didn’t reflect the amount of hours I was working

After a long hard think I had to admit where I was going wrong. Tell me if I’m alone here, but I think it’s fair to say that the self-employed, especially women, and ESPECIALLY mums are really really really crap at saying no.

I’ve often wondered why us mums are the worst when it come to recognising our own self worth. Is it because for years we’ve happily worked for free changing nappies and feeding babies and forgotten that our time is actually worth something? Or is it because once we finally escape the baby years and re-enter the workforce everything (yes, everything) seems easier and more fun than dealing with screaming newborns and tantruming toddlers, so we don’t see it as hard work but actually an escape? And who wants to charge people for work that doesn’t feel all that difficult?

Once I began working for myself I was so eager to please and prove my worth, show that my time out of the workplace hadn’t affected my ability, that I was putting in more hours than I needed to and earning a fraction of what I did pre-baby.

So at what point do we drop the guilt, the sense of obligation and our embarrassment and say to clients/people in need of our time – ‘no, I can’t do that’ or ‘yes, I can….but not for free’?

Work is one thing and one thing only – an exchange of our time for money. That’s it. What we choose to spend time on outside of our allocated working hours is up to us, it’s our right to say no if we think volunteering on three school trips in one month on our only day off is too much. It’s ok to sit and watch TV on a Saturday night instead of answering emails or helping our neighbour with their CV. It’s perfectly ok to say ‘I’m sorry, I can’t’ and be kind to ourselves.

Our kids get enough of our time without having to thank us…so why should anyone else?

What happens if we let things go and say no? Nothing. No one is judging us, if anything they are realising that our time is precious and only we have the right to decide how it’s spent. Hey, they may even pay us what we deserve!

So I have made a vow to myself – from this day forth I shall no longer do things for free. Unless it directly benefits my family, business or my books I can’t (literally) afford to do anything more for nothing. I can’t.

But of course there’s always an exception…such as this article. Of course Delft Mama haven’t paid me for it, and it’s 9pm and I’m still working after having been awake since 6am. Dammit! There’s only one thing for it then, I’ll have to use this as a big advertising tool to shout about my next author event in The Hague on 1st June.

There, that’s better, I don’t feel like I’ve given away my time any longer. And now for the tricky part – how do I say no to  the PTA?

Natali writes as N J Simmonds and the first book of her YA fantasy romance series, The Path Keeper, is now available at all good English language bookshops and online (the second book ‘Son of Secrets’ is out February 2018). She will also be presenting a FREE talk about writing at the American Book Centre in The Hague 1 June at 6pm and signing copies of her book. For more information on her work, and up and coming events, visit njsimmonds.com. And to find out more about her Marketing Consultancy services visit natalidrake.com

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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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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.

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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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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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Travelling with kids

Spotting the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

Coming from far away New Zealand, we are eager to explore as much of Europe as we can while we are living in the Netherlands. But with three kids in tow (aged 9, 6, and 4) this involves a rather a different way of travelling than when hubby and I roamed Europe for three months in our pre-children days. All our trips during our time in the Netherlands have been on a fairly tight budget, with a lot of planning done in advance, and we have managed to accumulate a lot of shared family experiences and special memories together. Here are some of the things we do when travelling with kids to ensure success.

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Introduction to childcare in The Netherlands

In the last 4 years my children have been cared for in two different daycare centers and one preschool (peuterspeelzaal), and I’ve got only good things to say about them. Children in The Netherlands start going to school at 4 years of age and there are a few options for childcare before that time comes. They are meant to suit different types of families according to their preference, time and budget.

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Ten ways to entertain kids during the Delft winter

There is no avoiding it – winter is coming,  or already here depending on your point of view.  Though there is some debate as to the exact start date of winter, with many using 21 December as the “official” start, for this Dutch Australian living in Delft, it feels like winter as soon as the temperatures start to drop and the days get shorter…..from about October!

Despite the cold days with limited daylight, there are still plenty of ways to entertain kids during the Delft winter.  De Donkere Dagen van Delft (or Dark Days of Delft in English) is the name of a series of events held around the city from 13 December through until 15 January.  You can find the full listing of the Dutch language events here but here I’ll highlight a few family-friendly ideas not only from this website but also others from personal experience.

2016 Lichtjesavond Delft (Light evening – 13 December)

Experience the charm of the winter when Delft turns on the lights!  The evening of 13 December is a wonderful time to wander the streets of the city, and there is a special kids programme from 4pm at the Doelenplein and the Beestenmarkt. The Christmas tree on the Grote Markt willl be lit at 7pm.  Enjoy traditional winter delicacies such as cheese fondue, hot chocolate and glühwein.

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LEF Restaurant and Bar

Every Sunday afternoon from 2-5pm from 6 November to 26 February, “Tante (Aunty) Paprika” entertains the children at LEF Restaurant and Bar  while parents can relax with a drink.  I haven’t tried this personally yet but it seems like a great idea!

Pathe Delft

Christmas holidays seems to always be a great time for family movie releases.  Two that are on my “must see” list are Sing and Moana (called Vaiana in the Netherlands).  Unfortunately for english-speakers, it’s often difficult to get screenings in the original english language at kid-friendly times (as parents of Dutch children seem to opt for the Dutch dubbed version) but perhaps we can campaign for our own screenings at Pathe Delft for MaMa?

 

DOK Delft (Library)

A lovely way to pass time in the winter is by curling up with a good book. DOK Delft , the central library, has plenty of books for all ages in several languages.  It’s also a nice place to just hang out on a cold day, check the website for opening times in the winter period.

Delft Museums

Why not take the kids to the Prinsenhof or Vermeer Centre for a dose of culture?   With an annual Museum Kaart you can also visit lots of other museums throughout the Netherlands, but check first, not all places accept this (Vermeer Centre doesn’t).

Ice Skating Rink Delft

After being based on the Beestenmarkt for many years, last year there was no ice rink, but it’s back for 2016-2017, bigger and better in a new location in the Schoemaker Plantage.  Open from 16 December 2016 to 16 January 2017, you can find out more information (in Delft) at the Winters Delft website.

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Indoor Playcentres

There are now two indoor playcentres in Delft – Avontura and Kids Playground.  Though I’ve not yet personally visited the first, I’ve spent many hours at the latter with my girls.  Though usually busy and noisy, it’s a great way for kids to burn off some energy indoors.

Delftse Hout

Rug up and take a walk in the beautiful Delft Forrest.  It can be magical in the winter.  Take a snack and your camera.

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Kids Disco at the Rietveld

Each school holidays, the Rietveld Theatre holds a “Dans & Grietje” kids disco, along with craft activities for a bit of a rest between songs!  There is also usually some kind of interactive workshop as well, in the past it’s been drumming or dancing.   For children from 4-11 years old, we’ve been many times now and always enjoy it.  This month it’s held on Thursday 28 December from 2pm.  Make sure you reserve tickets in advance as it usually books out.

Skate on the Canals and Sled in the Snow

I would like to add ice skating on canals and sledding in the snow – but it’s uncertain each year whether this will actually be possible.  We did get a few flakes in February 2016…

dsc_0013It’s been a few years since we could use our sled, but we still have it ready and waiting in the shed!

sophia-taking-her-little-sister-for-a-sled-ride

Do you have any more tips to add?  Or your own feedback on these activities?  Please comment below!

Renee

 

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