In May, Meredith Mull Aggarwal replaced Marie Kummerlowe as the new Delft MaMa Chairwoman. Delft MaMa has made many changes in the past few years as it takes on more activities serving the expat community in Delft. What does it take to steer the DMM ship? Lynette Croxford sat down with both women to talk about their experiences “behind the wheel”. You can also see Marie’s recap of 2018 here. I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to seeing what the new year will bring. I wish the best of luck for both women in their roles!
Renny Wiegerink works with Dutch and expat women in her business, Auryn Acupunctuur en Advies voor vrouwen (Acupuncture and Advice for Women), which is based out of her home in Delft Noord. From the eastern part of the Netherlands, she moved to Delft 25 years ago. She knows how it feels to have to move around in a strange place/culture. A long-time collaborator with Delft MaMa, Renny values being able to share her experience and knowledge as a native Dutch person with expats. When planning the Delftian Entrepreneurs Series for the DMM blog, I knew I wanted to start with Renny. Grab a cup of your favorite beverage and join us! Read more
When I first started to write about the Delft moms of the week, to be honest I didn’t have the slightest idea how to interview people, let alone write about the amazing mothers in our community. The first mothers were mere pictures with one or two lines of text running underneath, usually photographed at playgroups or workshops. Gradually, I started asking people more questions and eventually I realized I was doing a mini Delft MaMa version of the world-famous Humans of New York blog that had been online for years.
Most of the mothers I’ve photographed and interviewed are mothers that I’ve known at least by name beforehand. After doing it for a while, I felt it was too much pressure for me to go choosing who to interview, so I simply started asking the mothers to nominate their friends to be moms of the week, which led me to meet yet another round of fantastic women.
I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to mothers from all continents in the world. Those that are mothers of newborns and those with a teenager or two. I’ve listened to life stories from as many perspectives as there were mothers, and each and every one has been open about who they are and how they look at their lives.
And the things that I’ve learned…
Whether it’s mothers, women or people in general, we are all ultimately almost shockingly similar. Surely there are differences that make us individual, but I simply mean I have been able to relate to every single person I’ve been talking to, in one way or another. My simple conclusion is that it does not matter at all where someone comes from: we often have similar struggles, challenges and things we find joy in. Children mean the world to every mother I’ve spoken to, and as much as I’ve aimed to highlight the mother behind the children, the topic often turned onto the children.
Many international mothers in Delft region are at a transition, looking to take the next step, as much as their toddlers. They are often unaware what the next step should be, yet many times they have very clear ideas on where they want to end up. Instinctively we seem to know it’s important to stay in motion, no matter the speed, as long as we keep on moving with an open mind.
Becoming a mother has woken many women to question the ideals of motherhood, the roles of mothers and women in the society and their own dreams and motivations. We start by raising children and end up being raised by our children into better versions of ourselves. For many of our moms only parenthood has taught them what needed to change for the world to be better for their children – or what would make it better for future mothers.
It’s essential for me to say I’ve learned an incredible amount from all the mothers, and I’m grateful for each and every one who agreed to be in the spotlight and allowed me the time to grow as an interviewer and a writer. Whenever I asked mothers to nominate each other, many of the mothers nominated me to write about myself. I always thanked them for their suggestions and replied that I was going to write about myself the moment I was writing the last piece for the Delft MaMa blog as a farewell. Evidently, that is now.
The Dutch-Finnish children, Viola (9), Felix (5), and Jonatan (4) me and my Dutch husband, Emile, are lucky to be the parents of, are all school children at this point. This said, I have less and less chances to get to know newcomers. It’s important to make room for the new moms (and dads!) with fresh perspectives, who are recently discovering the joys and challenges of motherhood in a foreign country.
Luckily for the readers, for a while I haven’t been the only one writing under the title “mom of the week”, as Marie and Agnes joined in on it too, so this is not the end of the series as far as I can tell. It’s simply my time to put the pencil down at this blog. My only regret is that I know dozens of wonderful women that should’ve been in the spotlight. However, this is something many of you can fix by grabbing that pencil and continuing this series.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the people I’ve interviewed: “A lot of our moms are doing something interesting. There is so much potential around us!” Let’s keep on discussing our ideas openly with each other in the future as well!
Tarja van Veldhoven
The day I met Tatjana was full of rain, clouds and gray – a typically glum Dutch scene. As I walked to our meeting, the clouds abated, and rays of sunlight shimmered on the rainy surfaces to make Delft’s canals even more picturesque. Tatjana’s warm smile welcomed me for a cup of coffee and the day seemed to take on a new light. At risk of sounding trite, I could easily compare Tatjana to the lovely sunshine on that August evening. She is an open, warm and optimistic person, who brings out the best in her surroundings and attracts people to spend more time in her radiant glow.
Tatjana’s sunny personality, though, is not the result of a golden childhood or easy lot in life. Indeed, our Delft Mama of the week has weathered many storms over the years. Born in Yugoslavia, Tatjana’s first years were spent under a communist regime. As the Cold War ended, Yugoslavia imploded. In the war that ensued, Tatjana’s family had to flee the Serbian army that invaded their hometown in Croatia. As Tatjana recounts, “ when I was 11 years old, my home town, Petrinja, was destroyed. We lost our home, and my father only managed to save two photo albums before we fled. We were refugees for four years.”
Life as a refugee entailed not only this initial loss but also the strain of constant moving. According to Tatjana, “I moved almost every year to a new place and would have to change schools. As a kid you are trying to look at everything in a positive way. You start going to a new school and meet new friends, which is nice, but when you are constantly forced to move and start all over again, you feel that enough is enough.”
The family also suffered financial difficulties, as her father, a Croat, was often the sole breadwinner. Tatjana’s mom is Serb, and her mother was not trusted and often discriminated against in finding work in Croatia. Tatjana told me, though, that “once people actually interact with my mother, their views change. At one hospital where she worked, as a Serb, she was initially an undesired employee. However, her colleagues cried over her leaving several years later.”
Despite these early experiences of the ugly side of human nature, or perhaps showing wisdom beyond her years in confronting these difficulties, Tatjana became a strong, positive, and, curious young lady. She studied political science in Zagreb and worked all sorts of jobs before and after graduating. Eventually she became a journalist working for some of the most significant media in her country.
After an early life already full of more than enough moves, Tatjana faced a challenging situation when a long-distance relationship with her now-husband, Eelco, become more serious. “When I first started dating him, the idea of moving from Croatia was not too appealing. After we decided that we really wanted to be together, though, it was logical that I come to the Netherlands.”
Moving to Delft almost perfectly corresponded with another big change in Tatjana’s life: she left her challenging and hectic life as journalist to become a stay at home mother. Tatjana and her husband welcomed a baby girl, Hannah, three months after her arrival in Delft. They see the experience as an adventure, and Tatjana seems refreshingly calm and relaxed about motherhood, relying on intuition rather than books or forums. She even recounted to me how on her most recent trip to Croatia, her friends voted her the least changed among the group since motherhood. She has kept her glow, but like most mothers looks forward to the days when she will have more free time to pursue her varied interests and talents including making clothing, photographing, going to concerts, exhibitions, theatre, reading, sports…
Tatjana is clearly enjoying her life in the Netherlands; “I am so happy that I actually came to live in Delft because I think it’s a perfect location. It is very close to the coast, and I take every opportunity I can to go to the beach. I also love being close to Rotterdam, which is my favorite Dutch city because it’s different from all the others; it’s really modern and a harbor city with an international feel.”
Tatjana had some local friends and acquaintances when she arrived in the Netherlands, and she was initially suspicious of what Delft MaMa could offer her. “I had heard about these international mamas meeting, but I thought it was a weird idea to become friends with people if the only thing we have in common is that we all have babies. I had joined the Delft MaMa Facebook group, though, and saw that a lot of interesting things were going on. This January, I thought maybe I should try to do something, and I started taking my daughter to playgroup.”
Tatjana has since become an active volunteer for Delft MaMa, heading the King’s Day Sale in April and frequently opening the playgroup. She has also met many new and interesting international moms, who she is building friendships with based upon shared interests. Now that she has received her official authorization to work, she is also on the lookout for new opportunities and new ways to contribute. She wants find a position that is “something very meaningful and will hopefully help people. I am now at this turning point, and I still have to decide which new path to take and which career is best for me.” I am absolutely certain that the path ahead will be bright and that the community will be enriched with Tatjana’s contribution.
When she opens her mouth, anyone would be under the impression she’s from Scotland. As a matter of fact, she often gets mistaken for Scottish even by the Scottish. However, once you ask her which part of the beautiful highlands she comes from, she’ll tell you she’s born in and bred in the flatlands of Holland, more precisely born in Amsterdam and bred in Zwolle.
As a little girl, Susan once had a very vivid dream. In the dream, she was running off a green hill out of the forest in a white dress with long hair and came alongside a cobblestone wall with a big tree. “I ended up in Ireland that was similar, but now I got a Scottish guy…” Susan explains. Only when she met her Scottish guy, Iain, and visited Scotland with him, she realized it was just like in her dream. Susan refuses to speculate the meaning of this dream, but it clearly has had a lasting impression on her.
Susan was just finishing school when she got a job at a new Irish bar in her hometown. This led her to get a job offer in Ireland, where she lived for four years, before returning to the Netherlands to study. Susan got her master’s in art, specializing in architectural history. It was a long stretch for her, as people had been telling her all her life that because of her dyslexia she doesn’t have what it takes to get through University. Somehow Susan managed to turn what others perceived her weakness into her strength and with the help of her University professor, she realized that because she observed the world differently, it gave her a big advantage as well. “I’m thinking very different than mainstream. In University, I did research my way; if I see a building, I can already build it in my mind. I didn’t know that people don’t do that,” Susan points out.
These days Susan is a busy mom of Aoife (8) and Fionn (3). Only through her daughter, Susan has started to deal with her own insecurities from her childhood and adolescence. Growing up, Susan felt a lot of people didn’t get her. “I see everything, I feel everything, I hear everything, I take everything in. I’m highly sensitive, open to everything. I learned that through Aoife, to be honest. She looks at the world the same way. She doesn’t fit in the regular schools and that made me look at my life. I think really quick, see things other people don’t see. I need to adjust all the time. It doesn’t make me cleverer, I just think different”, Susan casually points out and continues “Ever since Aoife, I can look at life and say “life isn’t that bad”. I always thought I was weird. Now I’m quite happy about my abilities.” She’s now also more forgiving to herself, since she learned to see things through her daughter.
Because of this amazing ability to take it all in, Susan is a highly creative person. She would love to do an exhibition for her photography “at least for the sake of trying out”, she says. She loves to create with her hands and looking at the things she has done or photographed, Susan clearly has a good sense of proportions, colour palettes and composition. Susan tells me she has made some bags and buttons, but doesn’t like repeating the creative process to make a product. It’s art all the way for her.
She’s soon pushing forty and since her kids are already going to school and growing up quick, she’s at the brink of her on blossoming. “I was thinking the other day about going for my PhD. People always told me I wasn’t good enough, but I realized there is the TU here, so I might! I’m going to look into it. My time will come,” Susan says with anticipation. Personally, listening to her for more than an hour, I cannot but agree.
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.
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.
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.