In 2007, Lucie Cunningham set out with an idea to start Delft MaMa. She never imagined the impact it would have on the community and countless lives over the years. We sat down with Lucie, Delft Mama’s founder, to learn more about her personal story, how it all got started and how things have evolved. Read more
In See you at DULI, we met easy-going Carolina Nesi of DULI, a place where you can find international/multilingual books for children and adults, as well as workshops and courses aimed at both children and adults. Carolina has a passion for books and it shows in the book-filled interior of the small shop. The centerpiece of the shop, however, is a long table that can seat children and/or adults for courses and workshops. This piece focuses on one series of workshops for parents: the Parents’ Evenings at DULI.
Engaging topics made accessible
Sitting with Carolina over a cup of coffee, she described how she started to feel suffocated by the lack of adult stimulation in the daily grind of raising young children (sound familiar?). This was her biggest motivation in setting up Parents’ Evenings at DULI. Held in the shop after-hours, these evenings create a space for parents to participate in a discussion, usually of a philosophical nature, led by an expert in the field.
Carolina admits that English is not a strong language for her, and she was committed to ensuring the workshops would be accessible to a diverse group. To facilitate the accessibility, group sizes are limited, with an expert giving a presentation to no more than 10 people seated around the table. The presentation is interspersed with opportunities for questions and discussions. In fact, as a deaf person who normally struggles with lipreading and following conversations in a group environment, I found it easy to follow along with everyone in this format.
Starting last spring, the Parents’ Evenings covered topics ranging from happiness to internet safety and international childhood. When asked how she chose the topics, Carolina replied that she simply asked people what they were curious about. She then looked around for experts that best fit the topics. While the coordination of it all can be quite daunting at times, Carolina maintains a ‘learn-by-doing’ attitude as she plans more Parents’ Evenings in the coming months. [From the editor: there’s a sneak peek at the autumn Parents’ Evenings schedule at the end of this article!]
So, what are these Parents’ Evenings like? Last April I joined one; let’s take a look!
A first-hand look at Parents’ Evening at DULI
“Raising a Child of the World”—held at DULI last April—was led by Dr. Ute Limacher-Riebold of Ute’s International Lounge. Ute was perfectly suited to lead this talk both personally and professionally. Her research focuses on multilingualism and international families, and she herself grew up as an expat and is raising her expat family in the Netherlands.
The description of her talk referred to “third culture kids” – children who grow up in a country/culture different from that of their parents (first defined by Ruth Hill Useem). I’d read a bit of Pollock and van Reken’s Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, so I was curious to see what Ute would bring to the table (no pun intended).
There were six of us in attendance, all of us representing different nationalities and language backgrounds. After starting with introductions, we learned about collective experiences of international children growing up outside their parents’ home culture.
Ute likened our international kids to plants in pots—a plant in a pot is much more mobile than a plant in the ground. However, it needs special nurturing in order to thrive. Depending where that plant-in-a-pot is located, different kinds of nurturing is needed. When transitioning to a new place, our kids also need different kinds of special nurturing to ensure that they can adjust well and thrive in the new environment.
Throughout Ute’s talk, we had opportunities to ask questions and share our own observations. Ute’s personable approach made us feel that our input was valuable to the discussion. The setting of the talk created a feeling of information-sharing rather than being lectured at by an expert. I left feeling empowered with more tools in my mama toolkit to help my daughter thrive as a multilingual and multicultural child.
Parents’ Evenings at DULI in a nutshell
Parents’ Evenings give us the opportunity to explore engaging topics in an accessible format, and allows us to bring up burning questions with an expert in the field. On top of that, it is a chance to have stimulating and eye-opening conversations with a dynamic group of people. All in all, a fabulous night out.
I look forward to seeing the new talks Carolina arranges next. On my wish list is a talk about balancing personal goals with the responsibilities of parenthood. What kinds of topics are on your wish list?
Ute’s International Lounge – The homepage of Dr. Ute Limacher-Riebold, showcasing her work and current offerings—including, consultancy, book club meetings, and courses.
TCK World: The official home of Third Culture Kids – describes Ruth Hill Useem’s research in this area and provides some useful links for networking with other TCKs.
Third Culture Kids: Growing up among worlds, written by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken (sends you to Amazon.de page)
From the editor:
Curious about upcoming Parents’ Evenings at DULI?
Thursday, 13 September | Elegance of Living – Introduction to Access Bars. Aimed at creating a world of consciousness and oneness, where everything exists and nothing is judged, Access Bars is a gentle hands-on technique that quiets the mind.
Thursday, 18 October | The Science of Happiness—led by Mrs. Anna Blasiak—introduces us to scientific facts about happiness; and we discuss the role of our actions and attitude on attaining happiness.
Thursday, 22 November | Book discussion of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen. And Listen So Kids Will Talk.
[Editor’s note: 22 November has been changed to 8 November.]
For more information, contact DULI. Happy discussing!
Ever since I started writing about the moms of the week for Delft MaMa blog, I’ve been asking those who I interview to nominate other mothers to be the next moms of the week. The list is ever-growing, but sometimes someone is nominated multiple times and it’s time to get to know them better. This is exactly the case with our mom of the week, Olga, who has been nominated by others who look up to her every now and again.
Although Olga lives in Rijswijk these days, she’s one of the Delft MaMa pioneers. She joined the playgroup that used to gather at St. Olofspark back in the day. Olga joined after she got someone call the police on her, so her journey so far has been not only long, but a noteworthy one as well. “I reached out and it was fantastic. It’s all the support you get. If you have a problem, you know someone who may know the answer, or at least they might know someone who knows the answer,” Olga says.
She’s sitting across the table from me in Bagels & Beans on the Markt, which she chose for us to meet. Olga orders macha latte, a very trendy drink indeed. “It’s Japanese green tea powder,” she clarifies while sipping her healthy looking drink.
Olga was born in Poland, but partly grew up in Germany. Her parents spoke several languages to her in her youth and when Olga did Erasmus exchange program in Hamburg, she met her German now husband, Nikolai. His studies took him to Winnipeg, Canada, where Olga followed, just to try her wings since given the chance. She loved her time in Canada, although she spent that time working in telemarketing and customer service, which is ironic because Olga has always found talking on the phone difficult. In the end she’s glad she did it, as it gave her a yet broader perspective of the world around her. After the year in Canada, the couple moved back to Germany, where their first-born, Klara (8), was born and soon enough the family settled in Delft. In the years to follow Klara got company from her little sister, Julia (6), and little brother, Markian (4).
By the time they settled down, Olga had lived on two continents, four countries and countless addresses. It’s no wonder when figuring out her national identity, Olga found it very natural to refer to herself as a European Mama for her blog.
Having studied German in the University, she wasn’t exactly sure what was in the future for her. Before she started blogging, she thought blogging was for people who mainly wrote about themselves. Little did she know there already was a whole community out there with similar feelings and experiences to her. Accidentally, she tumbled into blogging and over the years found her audience growing. “What I don’t understand about blogging is that everyone tells you to find your niche and stick to it. After a while I get bored about a subject,” Olga says.
Even with blogging, Olga has been following her own intuition and has been writing about what she gets inspired about. Currently she’s responsible for one major parenting newsletter and writing paid articles about various subjects, ranging from motherhood to tech. She’s also working on publishing her grandfather’s text about his experiences. “It’s his story in a holocaust. He lived in Ukraine, but moved to Warsaw when situation was getting tough there and they thought it would be safer in Poland. They got caught in Warsaw uprising and his first wife died. I was thinking what would have happened if she survived. I wouldn’t be here. I think I owe her my life in a way,” Olga says and struggles finding the words about what she means to her.
Personally, I’ve known Olga since 2011, and every time I meet her, she leaves me with more questions than what I had in mind before meeting up with her. Even though this time I came to her with a bunch of questions, when our time together is up, she still manages to intrigue my curiosity to the point that this expectation is yet again met.
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.
The first time I met her was just before Christmas. She made me and a bunch of other Delft mamas dance zumba and encouraged all of us in every turn. She was nominated to be the Mom of the week by another mom, and after witnessing her contagious joy, I had to make an appointment for the interview with this Tanzanian wonder.
A former model, a former bank employee and a current zumba teacher, Feliciana, is the mother of Lisa (7) and Max (5) and the wife of Belgian Jonathan. The couple met in Tanzania where some years later Lisa was born. “I always had my family around me when she was born. When [few years later] I had Max in Brussels, I had to do everything by myself from day one, and it was quite the challenge. In Tanzania there’s always someone and you can’t resist the help”, Feliciana tells me over her hot cup of fresh mint tea. She continues explaining how life is easy in her native country, despite poverty, because people live day to day, not taking things too seriously, just enjoying the present moment, because tomorrow is always a mystery.
After living in Brussels the family moved to a small town close to Washington D.C. for a few years before arriving to Delft just two years ago. As much as Feliciana enjoyed her time in the US, she tells me the moment she arrived in Delft, she felt there was something special about this city. “It’s easy to move around, communicating is easy, although I’m learning Dutch now. The Dutch people aren’t very open, but they are very friendly. I enjoy family life here, the environment, the culture, the friendships and the community around me. At the moment I’m very happy here, despite the weather. I used to shave my head, but after moving to Brussels I used to have a runny nose all the time. Having hair makes a big difference, just like dressing in layers”, Feliciana says. Turns out, years of living in colder climates don’t make you cold resistant, but you do learn to deal with it differently.
Feliciana started zumba after Max was born. She was trying to find a hobby that was not too demanding. She loves jogging, but after having some issues with her knees, her doctor told her it wasn’t a good idea to run. She tried yoga, but found it rather uncomfortable. Patiently Feliciana kept on looking and eventually heard about zumba and decided to give it a try. It must’ve been love at first dance, because only a few years later Feliciana was the one giving the lessons to other zumba enthusiasts. She tells me one of her favorite places in the world to do zumba is the powder-white beaches of Zanzibar – the island along the coast of Tanzania – while the sea breeze cools you down. The turquoise water and and white sand sounds like a dream. I ask her to describe zumba to me. Feliciana answers without hesitation: “Zumba is a lot of fun! Afterwards you’ll feel relaxed and it’s not hard. You don’t need to squat or something, just move and enjoy the music. Zumba makes you enjoy life and be happy.” In Delft Feliciana has her Zumba Maisha, which accordingly is Swahili for “Life”. She gives lessons at the Lijm & Cultuur, Womanhood studio and soon also evening lessons at the VAK in the center.
From the looks of it, her plate is full with balancing family life in a new country, teaching zumba and learning Dutch, but this is only half of Feliciana’s story. Apart from trying to do what’s best for her family, she also sees herself in a position of being able to help others. She’s currently setting up a project in Tanzania with the help of her sister, who is a primary school teacher, and some friends. Feliciana has a name in mind for the project and it’s “Love” in her mother tongue. “Love” is aiming to help especially the most vulnerable people; the mothers and single caretakers of children, such as grandmothers. “Now I have to write a business plan. Pigs are a good business at the moment in my country”, Feliciana says excitedly and continues explaining that they will first have a try-out with five women. These women will be educated to care for piglets and turn them into pigs that they can then use as their income by raising and selling. All the ham is currently imported to Tanzania, so Feliciana is already gazing into the future. She hopes her women will eventually be providing ham to local hotels, and sees no problem of expanding the pilot to other animals in the future, as long as the results are promising. If all goes well, Feliciana and her team will have their own industry, a market and can expand while helping the locals on grass-root level.
You’d think with this Feliciana’s plate would surely be full, but she’ll leave you gasping once again (and not because of zumba this time). She’s also looking to start another project in Tanzania that includes building greenhouses to small villages to provide work, food and water regulation to people themselves, instead of being depended on the rain. In the long run employment and independence will improve the conditions in the village and give the villagers more chance to concentrate on giving better education to their children. Feliciana tells me a lot of children are simply left behind, especially girls. She once had a chance to send a girl to a tailoring course. The girl improved, earned an internship and was later employed. “All her friends at the same age already have five children and are stuck in villages in terrible conditions”, Feliciana tells me. By adding education and tangible chances, dependence becomes less.
It’s not a surprise people back in Tanzania have encouraged her to go into politics and run for president, but Feliciana simply laughs at this. “I don’t want to work in politics”, she says and brushes it off with a smile and carries on by saying: “I just want to see these things come alive and work. That’s how I spend my life and hopefully make a difference in people’s lives. You don’t need to make big difference all the time. Sometimes small things are enough.”
Feliciana says fear of failure, or even failure itself don’t discourage her anymore. “Maybe I’m growing up or something”, she happily notes. She used to doubt her own ideas more, but lately just feels like “Bring it on!” I smile at this sentence, because that kind of attitude is exactly what fascinated me about Feliciana when we first met and kept me listening to her inspiring story and uplifting ideas for a good hour. Bring it on.
We have just arrived at Jans on Brabantse Turfmarkt and our mom of the week, Milena, and I sit down in a corner table for the interview. She makes me forget my natural awkwardness immediately and I enjoy listening to her sing-song type of voice. Her eyes light up throughout the interview, but especially when she speaks about the things closest to her heart, her husband Misa and their daughters Lola (8) and Nina (2,5). “We are privileged to have them. It’s a cliché, but I never knew a love like this before. However, when Lola was born, I had this feeling that if you were to give me another child, I’d say “Great!” There wasn’t the instant connection everyone was talking about. I felt good, but not ecstatic”, Milena says. The feeling gradually grew and within a week she finally had established a level of connection that made her feel emotionally secure. For the next years she found herself overcompensating for this. After two years with the support of her psychologist friend, Milena consciously made the decision of letting go of the guilt in order to start the healing process. She found out it’s very natural to have these feelings and over the years she managed to get to the point where she now feels it’s important to talk about this even if it helps only one person.
Milena and Misa come from Macedonia and they arrived to the Netherlands together 18 years ago to study architecture. Now, half a lifetime later, they have made Delft their home and they see their future here. Ever since becoming a mother Milena had to give up her hectic work as an architect, but has found many ways of utilizing her talents and nurturing future interests as well. She is the mom who first reached out on the DMM Facebook group to arrange a circle of mothers to babysit each other’s children. She is the mother who then created a concept called Business, work and kids.
Because of Business, Work and Kids, Milena was constantly bouncing between the Delft municipality, and the daycare and after a year and a half of hard work, she managed to do something that will hopefully benefit future parents: “I want mothers to have the benefits of putting their children in the daycare with the same benefits as putting them in the peuterspeelzaal that has the VVE* indication. This would mean that the parents will only pay a small fee just like with peuterspeelzaal, but they will also get a place where they can work in the vicinity of the children at the daycare”, Milena explains. Mothers would be able to put their children to part-time daycare from six months on contrary to the two years of starting age at the peuterspeelzaal. This would give the mothers the flexibility many yearn for when their children are small. The system would help mothers to remain working or return to work much easier. The daycare already has the necessary training and qualifications for the VVE. The only thing holding it back is the legislation and changing that is where the challenge lies. Thanks to Milena and those supporting her petition, this question will be put on for debate within the Delft council, but only starting in 2018. “For now we aren’t eligible for this, but future moms hopefully will be. I will continue trying to do something for mompreneurs, because I strongly believe it’s needed. This is the way for the community to thrive”, she says.
Milena strikes me as one of those people that not only sees a lot of potential around them in people and places, but also manages to grab chances when they are presenting themselves to her. In 2010 she saw that around the area where she resides a new project called the Creative Street was being born. The idea was to put shops, ateliers and other creative spaces together. Like many people, Milena applied for it and was asked to make a presentation of her idea. She did just that and was rewarded with working space for her idea called Atelier Zoet. “I had never made a cake in my life”, Milena says laughing and continues: “It was a lot of researching, home schooling and countless amounts of trial and error. I burned my fingers from the sugar so many times and destroyed so much chocolate.” She has shown me pictures of her cakes and it’s clear she has background in architecture. Her cakes are simply unique masterpieces.
Now the time with Atelier Zoet is more or less behind her, but the lessons learned Milena is taking with her. Because her atelier was subsidized, she needed to give back to the community, so Milena started making sweets with local kids and bringing them with the children to elderly houses. She tells me that the kids learned about traditional values this way. It was a nice project that showed her the potential of social projects in general. Back in 2012 it gave Milena an idea and with a little bit of talking she got a response from 300 elementary school children that would want to participate in the project. Four years later the first goal is to have about 100 children from all walks of life to work together. “The intention is to let kids see through each other’s eyes. It’s important to start this project with children when they are still discovering themselves. These school kids work together with children from refugee camps and youth centers in the area of Poptahof. The children will get to visit homes and see how people live here and from this to figure out what kind of an environment and services the residents need”, Milena sums it up. In order to make it happen, the kids need to learn about teamwork, how to listen to each other, how their lives are different from each other, but most of all what they all have in common, which surely is more than most of us realize.
The project is called “Pay it Forward” and years of planning of redesigning Poptahof is culminating soon. On the 30th of April 2017 Milena is taking part in the first national Pay it Forward -day and she’s aiming to make it big: after the children are done with the design, Milena is going to be building a massive 2 x 3 meters replica of it – wait for it – in chocolate. This chocolate city will be presented on that April day. Taking part of this project each child is committing themselves to paying it forward by doing any random act of kindness.
You can see how Milena is bursting with ideas and she seems to be full of energy. I’m not surprised she already has so many successes behind her. There are more projects she would love to initiate, but she also knows her limits. Currently Pay it Forward is taking her attention, but in the future Milena is already planning to get all Delft MaMa businesses together and do a presentation day. “Delft has a very strong expat community and we can really help small businesses. A lot of our moms are doing something interesting. Why not just bring them together! There is so much potential around us”, Milena says.
Milena is an excellent talking partner. She’s straightforward, sincere and she sees tangible ideas all around her. She’s the type of a person who arrived to the Netherlands and spent the first six months just learning the language. She’s the type of a person who requested to meet with the Mayor of Delft, and is going to be cooking dinner for her next year. In the end I take one valuable lesson in my heart from this whole conversation today and that is the value of empathy. Milena knows how to bring that up in others and that, ladies and gents, is an incredible talent.
*VVE = Voor- en vroegschoolse education (early childhood education)
The next Mom of the Week will be featured on 9th of December.
Whenever I interview moms of the week, I ask them to nominate one or more mothers to feature in the future. This time I was going to meet with one of those mothers who has been recommended to me over and over again. Manuela is well known among Delft Mamas, not least because of her collaborations with other mothers for work. She’s a mother of three girls: a six-year-old Sophia, Mireya who is almost five and a three-year-old Elodie. When she moved to Delft in 2010, she knew from her several previous moves that she needed to find a community around her the sooner the better, and she was referred to Delft MaMa where she instantly found her place. Read more
It was a chilly Tuesday morning that was going to turn into a warm afternoon. I met our mom of the week, Renée, at café Kek in the center of Delft right after she had dropped her daughters Sophia (9) and Isabella (7) off to school. She was cycling from Ypenburg, which by land belongs to The Hague, but the phone numbers were the familiar 015 of Delft. If she could have, Renée would have bought a house that was built half in Delft and half in The Hague. Ypenburg was the closest compromise. Luckily for her, the day was going to be a warm day (warm for Dutch September). Renée wasn’t quite ready to give up her feeling of summer just yet, after having spent the entire holiday in Australia with her girls.
Even though our Delft Mama of the week, Lucie, has a BA in English as a second language and she did a master’s in English in women studies, she never dreamed of setting up an international network of moms until she did just that. Our mom of the week is the mother of a 12-year-old Loic, but she is also the founding mother of Delft MaMa. Now nine years, awards and countless nominations later, the group Lucie set up has expanded from twenty moms to several hundreds of parents and her legacy is living stronger than she had ever imagined. Read more
Delft Mama of the week, Emilie, a mother of two girls (soon to be three) and a resident of the city since 2008, is the graphic designer behind the renewed Delft MaMa logo and website. “When designing the new Delft MaMa logo, a couple of iconic Delft images popped into mind. The blue heart struck me to be especially fitting as it’s in the heart of Delft, just off the central meeting place of this great little city. The universal symbol of the heart made me think firstly of a parent’s love for their child(ren), but also the open and nurturing community that is Delft MaMa. It’s a close knit group and once you join some of the activities, you start to see familiar faces everywhere around town, which is a really nice feeling!”
Photo credits to Emilie.