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Delft mama of the week: Tarja

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!

Yours truly,

Tarja van Veldhoven

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Delft mama of the week: Tatjana

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.

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Delft mama of the week: Susan

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.

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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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Delft mama of the week: Olga

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.

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Delft mama of the week: Sine

Sine invites me to her house for the interview. When we step in the elevator she tells me many of her neighbours are older people. She loves it, as they are very curious about her son, Arda (4). Just like herself, her husband Faruk also originates from Turkey. When biological grandparents are a plane ride away, living among the elderly is giving their family some invaluable contacts that otherwise might be harder to come by.

It’s the first time I visit Sine in her home. The Sun is shining outside and laying rays on the two yellow armchairs in front of their living room windows. The style of the home is impeccable and it feels welcoming. Sine tells me she could’ve chosen her career path differently and pursue one of her dreams of becoming a designer. She sure has the eye and the taste level for it. However, Sine chose another one of her passions and decided to study English language and literature at the University of Gaziantep in southern Turkey. That is also where she met Faruk.

When I listen to her stories, she comes across like a bit of a nomad. Both of her parents are from Circassian descent, both of whom are born in Turkey. Circassia was a sovereign nation until the mid-19th century on the shore of the Black Sea with its own rich language and cultural heritage. Her name, Sine, is a typical Circassian name, so although born and raised in Turkey, her parents valued their heritage and Sine was already happily living between two worlds.

Her first experience outside Turkey by herself was her three-month trip to Alaska through a work and travel program and afterwards she knew she couldn’t settle in Turkey for good. During their University years Faruk applied U.S. Green Card lottery and asked her to try as well. She calls her last year at the University her “lucky year”, because not only was Sine granted a chance to study in Denmark, but she also won a Green Card. Instead of spending an entire year in Denmark, she spent three months there and then moved to New York with her husband.

The nearly seven years they spent in New York were great but tough. When Arda was born, the grandparents from both sides would fly from Turkey and babysit him one after another. “In New York we had fun, but we did work a lot. When I was studying in Turkey, I was reading about American history and about the American dream, but in New York life was different. You don’t have much time to spend with your family,” Sine points out. When Arda was born, Faruk didn’t get to see him almost at all. Luckily Sine’s work at a non-profit organization was more flexible, but in the long run something needed to change. Out of all places, the family relocated to Oklahoma.

The first three months in Oklahoma were great, but soon enough Sine realized she misses the big international community around her, which she had gotten used to while working in Manhattan. Some years in, Sine realized she wasn’t very happy in Oklahoma. The window of the opportunity to move to another country was closing in, because Arda was getting older and soon they would have to think about settling down for a longer period.

In 2014 the family visited Maastricht during their holiday in Europe. It was then the spark for the Netherlands was ignited. In 2016 Sine’s husband arrived in Delft for a job interview and in September they moved to this picturesque town. It wasn’t a smooth transition, especially with the housing and picking a school, but one of the aspects that made the move easier was a great online community happy and quick to answer Sine’s questions. “I found Delft MaMa when I was searching for how to do something in Delft. Whenever I had questions in my mind I asked them. I joined the group before I came here and they helped me a lot about many questions, and got me socializing quickly”, Sine says. Sine also took part in a DMM organized soft-landing in Delft, or SLiDe program for short, and after seven months of experience on living in Delft she felt confident enough to mentor another Turkish newcomer.

Because of her keen eye, Sine has been volunteering for the DMM even further to help with the 10-year anniversary preparations. “I like doing things like decorating and currently I have enough time to help with these kinds of things. A lot of other organizations in the Netherlands require a lot of Dutch. Delft MaMa is more international”, our mom of the week points out.

People often ask Sine if they moved to the Netherlands, because statistically some of the happiest kids in the world live there, but she tells me it wasn’t the reason. “To me it seems the kids are happy, because from my point of view it’s such a luxurious thing to spend breakfast time with family in the morning, then bring the kids to school that is at a walking or cycling distance, have time to stay at school for a moment, go to work and be back home for dinner.”

In the end, when I ask about Sine’s cultural identity, she says to me she feels more Circassian than Turkish, more American than Turkish, but when she must say where home is, it’s Turkey. “Maybe in 10 years I’ll say I’m more Dutch, who knows. To me, it’s having the best of both worlds. I want my son to grow up in an environment with people from different cultures. We had that in New York and I loved that aspect so much. Delft is no New York, but it has a big international community. I feel so lucky,” Sine says happily.

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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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Delft Mama of the week: América

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Delft Mama of the week: Feliciana

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.

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Delft Mama of the week: Fenia

It’s a sunny Friday morning when I park my bike in front of the tall, red EWI building at the TU Delft. She greets me by the entrance with a big smile on her face and an energetic spring in her step. She has been working as a post-doctoral software engineering researcher for about three years at the TU Delft. She knows an incredible list of languages: Greek, English, some Dutch, Java, C, C#, Scala, VB.net, PHP, ASP, Javascript and SQL. After this alphabetic exercise it doesn’t come as a surprise that she’s also one of the webmasters of Delft MaMa. And today she is our mom of the week, Fenia.
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