December 30, 2010

Let it Snow. Or Not.

There's a secret mathematical formula you only get to find out when you become a parent, but I am going to let you in on it in case you didn't know: kids + snow = magical nonstop fun. A pure white layer of the stuff is guaranteed joy for all. It's the law. Which is why, at the very first sight of a flake, I can't help but sing, loudly and boisterously, 'Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...!'

Mia is four, so this year, she knew what snow was and what you could potentially accomplish with it. But, she was also suddenly aware of the down sides, like when it goes down the back of your neck when you least expect it, or when you get pelted with it by naughty little boys at school. Bram (who is still two) seemed a bit in the dark as to what all that friggin' cold white stuff was exactly, and what on earth he was supposed to do with it. And, why Mama was taking pictures like her life depended on it with a big goofy grin on her face.

The very first snow was a bit of a let down. There was just enough to create a snowman of sorts, which ended up looking more like a large, white frozen pimple. Mia embellished it with most of the contents of our vegetable drawer and the stripey scarf (which Bram unknowingly donated to the cause) really helped give it a little character. Mia was thrilled.

She was less thrilled, however, when I told her she the snowman would come to life if we brought it inside. She told me how snowmen are supposed to come in, dress up in papa's clothes and have a rest in the freezer! Like the movie. Aha.

I figured the only way to convince her would be if she saw with her own eyes that not all animations are actually real life documentaries. We scooched the snow-boil onto a frisbee and brought it in, after which time she promptly forgot all about it. At one point, I brought her attention to her sad slushy creation, which had to be rushed outside
stat. The matter was never brought up again.

The next big snow was definitely more promising, and the mission this time was: build a bigger snowman.

The task seemed simple enough, but the snow had the consistency of extra dry powdered sugar so making the snow actually stick to itself in any way was virtually impossible. Bram, who prides himself on knocking down any structure Mia might erect, added an extra dimension to the challenge. It was my job to pile snow and keep Bram at a safe distance. Finally, Mia managed to build amass a snowman which anyone could easily have mistaken for a wintery version of Jabba the Hut.

Mission (more or less) accomplished. The kids posed with what we affectionately nicknamed the 'Snowmound', Bram resisted the strong desire to trample, but Mia seemed far from proud of her achievement. She almost seemed ashamed of the thing she had created.

The snow kept falling days after that, but it was quite a while before we went out in it again. When we did, the mission was yet again: build a snowman.

That was really the only thing we could do in the snow, since a snowball fight can only end in crying and pain, and making snow angels is just asking for trouble. In fact, coming in contact with the snow was something both kids were keen to avoid, so this particular snowman was pretty much my own work. We did manage to roll three actual balls of snow, and the kids cheered me on in the back-breaking process.

We piled them up, stuck in some veggies and twigs and Mia put on a scarf. Even the first snowman, the 'Snow mound', got some extra accessories in the way of dead branches for hair. A job well done, and we went back inside to warm up and admire our work from the window.

That's when it occurred to me, the snowmen did not look happy. In fact, they both looked like they were about to gouge each others' eyes out. My husband (again proving himself to be the wise one in our family) pointed out that snowmen are loners, and here we made two, standing right next to each other, side by side. I could only imagine what they might be saying to each other:

Snowman 1: Hey, who're you supposed to be?

Snowman 2: Well, obviously, I'm the Snowman. Who are you?

Snowman 1: (chuckling) I think you're confused, buddy. You see, I'm the snowman in this yard. You're on my turf.

Snowman 2: (chuckling a little harder) I think you've got a charcoal button loose, pal. I am clearly the more superior snowman here. I'm made of actual balls. You're just a pile.

Snowman 1: Well, I was here first, 'pal'.

Snowman 2: Oh yeah? If these twig arms could move, I'd give you what for!

Snowman 1: Oh yeah? Well bring it!

Oh, the horror. We've created snow-monsters and our reward is that we have to watch them hate each other every day as they melt. There's nothing sadder than melting snowmen...especially ones that couldn't stand each other. Oh, God, let it melt, let it melt, let it melt.

December 13, 2010

Moms Aren't Supposed to Get Sick

Any Mom should know, when she takes on the lifetime vocation of being a Mom, that getting sick isn't okay. So why did I do it?

The three basic requirements of the job of Mom are, as every Mom knows, 1) remove pee and poop when necessary, 2) never cook anything yucky like brussel sprouts and 3) be on-call 24/7 to provide unconditional love and nurturing when required. Getting sick is simply not an option.

Last week, I breached my Mommyhood contract by coming down with a cold. My children found this unacceptable, naturally. I should've read the fine print in my Mommyhood contract (which I signed just after the umbilical chord was cut), that clearly states that allowing myself to catch a virus of any sort would compromise my duties as Mom. Clause 13b.ii even states that losing my voice should never take priority over reading a story or singing a lullaby at bedtime.

I am in trouble.

My husband and I have a sort of silent deal that he is the only one of the Parenting Pair who is allowed to physically get sick. In fact, he has agreed to become sick enough for the both of us all year round. (He knows how to take one for the team, I can tell you.) But call me defiant, I just had to try being sick myself. I should've known the consequences would be disastrous.

The first time I tried to stay in bed was, to put it lightly, unsuccessful. My son Bram found it ludicrous that I was actually attempting to get out of my Mom duties and proceeded to pull me out of bed. I crawled back in, he pulled me out (he may be 2 1/2, but he's strong!). This happened five more times when I finally gave in and accepted the reality of the situation: I might be sick, but I'd better stop it and quick.

Being a sick Mom does have its advantages. Fulfilling the first requirement of the job is now a piece of cake - my entire sense of smell is gone, so changing dirty diapers is a breeze! The downside is, of course, when the kids are asleep and I finally do have a chance to indulge in, say, a glass of wine, I can't even taste it. I could be drinking a smooth, room-temperature glass of beet juice for all I know. Also, my ears are clogged so I am living with the constant sensation of being in a pressurized airplane cabin at high altitudes, but my daughter Mia's screaming capability in particular is significantly tuned down to a sort of soft, muffled peep. Lovely.

As I type this, my nose is running a 20k marathon, I have a coughing-fit every two minutes that would make a chain-smoker green with envy and a headache the size of Kentucky.
Yes, I'm a sick Mom...just don't tell my superiors.

This blog is dedicated to Tuchila, who told me in the friendliest way possible that I should get off my butt and start blogging again.

June 30, 2010

It's Atrocious!

Okay, being on vacation should not be an excuse to totally and utterly neglect my blog, but it IS.

I justify myself daily, saying to myself things like: 'I only see my parents once a year! I can't be at their house, eat their food and use all their shampoo and then go and hide behind a computer!' And there are times when I very possibly could write something, only as soon as I crack open the laptop, the kids' radars get activated simultaneously and suddenly drop whatever they're breaking doing so they can turn their attention to tormenting me. And even though papa's pretty cool, and Grandma and Grandpa are awesome, I am their one and only mom, which essentially means the person they most prefer to make doing anything (including going to the bathroom) impossible.

So at this moment, I have found a window. It's a teeny one, since I already hear little voices and footsteps thundering towards me from across the house. I have a few seconds left! Let me say this: I love you all and have not forgotten you!
Have patience!
I will return!

May 26, 2010

I Must Be Nuts

Next week, I will be subjected to one of the more challenging tests of good parenting, namely, traveling. Maybe I am nuts, but I have convinced my husband to attempt a trip to my parent's house with the kids. The whole ordeal should take about 24 hours in total.

I must be nuts.

3:00 AM: -The Challenge Begins
We'll manage to cram the suitcases, two strollers, the kids and finally ourselves into the car in a zombie-like state before heading to our friend's house, who will drive us the rest of the way to the airport. That's a three-hour trip in itself, but we're going to give ourselves an extra hour to get there, taking into account one of the three possible worst case scenarios:
1) a traffic jam caused by jack-knifed truck on the highway
2) a traffic jam caused by UFO sighting on the highway
3) the car breaking down, being abducted by aliens and then a traffic jam caused by a jack-knifed truck on the highway

7:30 AM - The Next Hurdle
So once we reach the airport and get checked in, we will have another three hours to kill. I will most likely want to kill myself by the time those three hours are over - I can only imagine how exhausted we will be by that time, and how utterly hyper and blitzed our kids will be. They will have been sleeping all the way in the car and will be pushed around like little monarchs in their buggies - they will be a couple of little Energizer bunnies, essentially. Mia will leap into 'I want! I want!' mode as soon as we enter the duty-free area, and Bram will be trying to mount everybody's luggage trolleys. And this will be just the beginning.

10:15 AM - What Have I Gotten Myself Into?
Once we are on the airplane, the trial really begins, and by that time, I will already be running on half a tank of gas, so to speak. My husband will be running on fumes. It's a ten-hour flight, no stop-overs, no escape. I am seriously considering having the flight attendant make an announcement on my behalf before we take off, just to give the other passengers a heads-up on the inevitability of the situation. I was thinking something along the lines of:
'Ladies and gentlemen, the young child who will most likely be humping your leg at some point during the flight is Bram, whose parents are sitting in seats 14 J and K. Any complaints or discomfort may be communicated to them directly. If you do not wish any contact with this child, we suggest you take another flight. Thank you.'

7:30 PM CET / 11:30 AM - Who's Idea Was This Anyway?
So assuming we survive the flight without anyone suing us for unwanted sexual intimidation by Bram, we should arrive in Seattle where my parents will be waiting for us. (If they don't happen to encounter one of the aforementioned worst case scenarios, that is.) So next to being utterly spent, I will get all emotional since I haven't seen them in almost a year, so I will cry. And then, my mom will cry. And my dad and my husband will roll their eyes at each other and laugh at those silly gals they married. And then the kids will start complaining that they have to pee or that they fell over or something, and then it's off to the next step in our adventure - the ferry.

2:30 PM - Make It Stop!
My parents live on an island in the Pacific Northwest. It's a gorgeous island where my husband and I believe we should emigrate to. We can only get there by ferry, which means you have to be there on time, or they just won't let you on. Obviously, if you're not physically there, they can't let you on. It's common sense, really. Anyway, it takes another three hours to get from the airport to the ferry terminal. I plan to pretend to be awake during the ride, listening to my mom tell me about stuff she told me last week on Skype, but I will actually be sound asleep. If the kids aren't sleeping, I'll pretend they are.

When we get to the ferry terminal, the kids will probably have another burst of energy since they will be rested and refreshed after their long nap in their comfy carseats. I will be suffering from self-inflicted whiplash from all that head-nodding I was doing in the car. I will have no time to think about that though, since I will be on alert-mom-mode, making sure the kids don't hurl themselves off the ferry dock onto the jagged rocks below, for example.

5:00 PM - Is It Much Farther, Papa Smurf?!
Once on the ferry, I will continue to simulate being in a conscious state as the big, heavy boat hums its way through the Puget Sound. It'll be yet another perfect opportunity to run after Bram some more, to make sure he doesn't hurl himself into the sea. I will also most likely get to convince Mia that she really won't fall into the toilet if she has to go pee-pee. Whether or not I try to eat a bowl of clam chowder or go straight for a liter of beer at this point is really all down to speculation. 

6:30 PM - Alls Well That Ends in a Puddle...
It's a guess, but I by this time, we should be walking through the front door of my parents' house by now. Make that: stumbling through the door and falling onto the carpet in a puddle of mindless dribble. After that, it's a matter of forcing ourselves to stay awake for a few more hours while our soft, warm, inviting bed beckons us. And when we finally do get to sink into a deep, well-deserved state of REM, it'll be seconds before the kids and their European bio-rhythms are wide awake and read to roll...

It'll be worth it. It'll all be worth it. It will.

I must be nuts.

May 22, 2010

I'm A Goofy Goober, Yeah.

Spongebob Squarepants. You either love him, or you hate him. Personally, I love him, not only because of his childlike mannerism or naiveté, or even the fact that we both have a split between our teeth, but because I can relate to him on a deeper level. You see, I too, like Spongebob Sqaurepants, am a goofy goober.

So what makes me a goofy goober? It comes down to little things, those seemingly insignificant things that I find myself doing on a daily basis. Things like going 'weeeeee!' out loud on the swings, running around like a child, blowing bubbles. You may be thinking, yeah sure, you do those things because you're a mom and your kids expect it of you. But the thing is, I have enjoyed goofy activities like this before I became a mom - doing them around my kids just makes me seem less like a wacko in the eyes of society today.

But why does society frown on acting goofy as an adult? Why does society dictate that, once we hit the age of 30, or maybe even 20, that blowing bubbles is no longer acceptable? It's like those signs by the cash register that say 'No alcohol under 16' (this is Europe) - if it was up to society, they'd also have signs saying: 'No blowing bubbles over 25'!

I have accepted the fact that I am a goofy goober. So has my husband, thank God. My husband, who had lost all contact with his inner-goofy goober years before we met, has been known to let his guard down and be a goofy goober again, every now and then. I have been a major influence on him as far as goofy gooberness goes - he knew that I was a goofy goober (a trait that goes far back in the Hennessey gene pool, incidentally) when he married me (even the third time). He accepted that life with me would involve regular amounts of goofy gooberness. Now that we have kids, that amount has increased tenfold, which helps him to rediscover his inner-goofy goober every day anew. For someone who is not born with natural goofy gooberness like me, it's a challenge for him. But it's a challenge we face together.

Being a goofy goober makes me a better parent, I'm convinced of that. You have to be a goofy goober at times just to cope with the challenges of parenthood. I mean, how else can you come up with songs about doing a pee-pee on the potty? You can't. Not with a straight face in any case. It takes a degree of goofy gooberism to accomplish a task like that.

I believe everyone has a goofy goober within them, it's simply a matter of letting it out. Ask yourself this: when is the last time you giggled inanely, ate ice-cream that had a face on it, or played with your food? When is the last time you flew a kite, sang along to a Disney movie or ran after an ice-cream truck? When is the last time you made a daisy chain, finger-painted or did the puzzle on the back of the cereal box? Yesterday? Last week? Last year? Too long ago to remember? Then you might just need a new mantra. Memorize these few lines and by doing so, you can create a portal through which the goofy goober in you can emerge:
I'm a goofy goober, yeah.
You're a goofy goober, yeah.
We're all goofy goobers, yeah.
Goofy goofy goober goobers yeah.

We're all goofy goobers. Yeah. You, me, the mailman, the pope. Your mom, your neighbor, even that guy who picks his nose behind his newspaper on the subway in the morning. When you're chewing a piece of gum, can you remember how to blow a bubble? When you're going out to get the mail, why not try whistling a tune? If you feel like making pancakes, why not make them in animal shapes? Add some food coloring to your glass of milk! Draw mustaches and missing teeth on the photos of people in the newspaper! Fold a paper airplane out of that jury duty notice! Be a goofy goober! Yeah! Do it today! (It'll be the best day ever.)

May 19, 2010

Neglected Responsibilities...

I have suddenly realized, in one of those rare moments of clarity I sometimes experience, that I have been receiving awards left and right, but have been neglecting my duties to pass them on! What kind of selfish self-loving blogger am I?!

My very first award was the 'I Love Your Blog' award, bestowed upon me by the hilariously illustrious Naked Writer, whom I adore to bits and pieces and recently bestowed the prestigious 'Your Blog Makes Me Lose My Boldily Fluids From Every Single Orifice' award. I thank you.
(*note: I removed the picture of the award since it looked as though that was the award I was awarding others, which it is not.)

Then I received the 'I Love Your Blog' award again, this time from the quick-witted and charming Jacob, who e-louminates me and inspires me to think outside the box - which can mean anything from reminiscing about old romances to visualizing Fred Flinstone with his pants down. I thank you.

Then out of nowhere, perhaps simply for posting a recipe for meatballs in which I managed to incorporate a picture of myself playing the kazzoo, I received the Versatile Blogger Award from the hysterical, down-to-earth (and quite possibly my new mom role model): Midwestern Mama Holly. I thank you too.

I thank these three from the very bottom of my soul and give them the biggest, most virtually soggy kisses possible!

Now the responsibility part.

7 things about myself:
- My husband and I got married three times and in three different places over the past 11 years: once in Connecticut, once in New York City and once in Terneuzen (in the Netherlands).

- I was threatened with deportation almost 10 years ago and had to give up my U.S. citizenship in order to stay in this country; it was not my choice, but it remains a decision I regret to this day.

- I have two kids, which I still can't believe I actually made myself. From scratch. All by myself!!! (Okay, I had a little help.)

- I (still) smoke and I drink coffee as if it were the elixir of life.

- When I was a kid, I wanted to be a playwright.

- I spend hours working on completely useless research that will in no way whatsoever aide anyone in understanding the world any better. Right now I am trying to unravel the uncanny parallels between the mid-to--late 70's detective series ''Columbo' and one of my favorite parody shows of all time, 'Police Squad (in color)'.

- I officially have no pets, however, there is a very fat stray cat who frequents here and regularly leaves dead mice on the doormat.

And now, the 15 bloggers I've discovered and think are fantastic. Since I don't want to burden the bloggers who gave me my awards in the first place with the same award and the same obligations, and therefore creating a vicious cycle of re-giving, so I will secretly add them to my list, since I do think they're fantastic:


The Writing Womb

Are You Kidding?

Okay, now the list:

1: Crap I've Made
2: The Muffins Blog
3: Darth Mommy
4: Discovering Love in 365 Days
5: I Shoulda Been A Stripper
6: Handmade By Mother
7: Quiet Girl Gallery
8: Yes, His Name is Gary!
9: Dating Atlanta
10: What Max J Has to Say
11: Keesha-Fashionista
12: teeksplace
13: left of average, south of normal
14: In  the Middle of the Puddle
15: Intuitive Gardening

15 1/2: At the risk of being a total narcissist, I am including my own recently re-birthed blog, Today's Rant. My last post was in 2008, and so much has happened to me since then, that I read it now as if someone else wrote it.

So there you have it. I am honored to have been given these awards from such awesome bloggers, it makes me feel appreciated, loved and just all fuzzy on the inside.

May 18, 2010

Not So Swedish Meatballs

Okay, everybody has to eat. Today, I am sharing with you an illustrated version of one of my favorite meals, 'Not So Swedish Meatballs'.

This recipe is enough to feed four people (or six, if two of them are toddlers). Delicious with potatoes or pasta and some fresh veggies. Mama tip of the day: the more color in your meal, the healthier it is! *wink*

500 gr. ground beef
one red onion
one egg
one cube of beef boullion
sweet soy sauce (I swear by Indonesian Ketjap Ajam)

Put all the mince meat into a mixing bowl. Add pulverized bread crumbs and one egg and mix together. (If you're queasy about mixing by hand, you can use a spoon...sissy.)

Roll balls out of the mix - you should be able to make about 30-40 balls, depending on the diameter.

Don't fortget to wash your hands before doing anything else, like playing the kazzoo...

Pour some olive oil in a deep frying pan and add one chopped red onion. Drop the meatballs in one by one so they stay intact. (No one likes mushy balls, now do they.)

Pour some sweet soy sauce (I use Indonesian Ketjap Ajam) over the balls as soon as you drop them into the pan. This is what I like to refer to as my patented instant marinade.

Add a swig of wine to the balls to intensify the flavor

(and take a swig yourself!)

Add your favorite spices (I love Mrs. Dash so much, I would adopt her if I didn't already have two kids) Let the balls simmer for about 15-20 minutes.

Add some perky tomatoes for color and flavor.

Add the cube of beef boullion by crumbling it by hand over the meatballs. Do not add any water! You'll be diluting the sauce later with yoghurt.

About five minutes before serving, pour a generous amount of yoghurt* into the pan.

Stir in well and serve with veggies and pasta!

Yum yum!


 * If you have a little bit of yoghhurt left and don't feel like putting it back in the fridge, pour it into the sink! It's a super eco-friendly all-purpose cleaner!

May 13, 2010

Knee, Myself and I

Has anyone ever said to you: 'Make the most out of life, tomorrow you might get hit by a bus!' In my case, it wasn't a bus, it was a car. Not that that makes any difference in the long run; the end result is basically the same, I'm sure.

It was like a cartoon. For a moment, I was Wile E. Coyote, about to cross a seemingly deserted street. It was one of those carefree mid-summer evenings back in 2002. I'd worked all day and was on my way to the train station along a shady sidewalk. At the last minute, I decided to take Nat King Cole's advice and direct my feet to the sunny side of the street. It was a decision I regret to this day.

As soon as the pedestrian light turned green, I stepped off the curb. There was a zzzooooooom and a screeeeeech and then a whaaaaam! I remember thinking: 'Ok, this is not really happening'. But it really was. I remember every minute detail - first a flash of metallic blue of the car, then the continuous summersault I managed to do over the hood of the car, then the unmistakable sound of glass shattering as I collided into the windshield and then pavement flying beneath me as I was being launched about 6 yards from the car. I finally came to a stop and despite feeling incredibly disoriented, I managed to recognize the contents of my purse which was strewn all over the street. One of my sandals was lying near me, the strap was broken due to the force of the impact. People around me were frozen in shock. A young girl was even crying! I was so embarrassed, I wanted to get up immediately, grab my belongings and get the hell out of there. Only when I tried to stand up, I couldn't. Something was very very wrong with my knee.

Almost eight years later, I am 'handicapped'. I put 'handicapped' in apostrophes because I have this notion about what a handicapped person is, and I do not feel I fit into that category. The fact remains, however, that my knee hurts all the time (the pain ranges from tender to excruciating), is partially immobile and chock-full of arthritis. Prognosis? I'm 34 years old with the knee of a geriatric, and it's only going to get worse.

After years of therapy to treat, among other things, my beloved Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (I actually had it twice, due to pig-headed denial the first time), the best piece of advice I ever got was not from my shrink but from a career counselor. She suggested, whenever I want to do something that might be tough on my knee, I should discuss it with my knee first. I laughed when I first heard this, but now I find I am often in discussion with my knee, (whom I call Mr. Knee), about some physical activity or other I'd like to attempt.

A typical conversation between Mr. Knee and I goes something like this:

Me: 'Hey Mr. Knee, want to go to a market this weekend and try to sell some mialeentje stuff?'
Mr. Knee: 'No.'
Me: 'Oh, come on, it'll be fun!'
Mr. Knee: 'Don't wanna.'
Me: 'Oh please! It'll be just us two...'
Mr. Knee: 'Don't feel like it.'
Me: 'I promise I'll sit down a lot!'
Mr. Knee: 'Well...maybe. I'll think about it.'
Me: (a bit later) 'So, did you think about it?'
Mr. Knee: (groaning) 'oh... ok fine. But I'm going to have to give you hell till Tuesday.'

Starting my own business was fulfilling a dream I'd had since I was a kid, but being an entrepreneur is clearly not Mr. Knee's ambition. When I go to market to sell my wares, it involves a lot of walking, carrying, standing, more carrying, kneeling, bending. In fact, simply picking up a pencil that has fallen to the floor and rolled under the table presents an enormous challenge for me. When I think about it, my daily routine involves just about everything Mr. Knee and I can't actually do together anymore. It's like we broke up, but are still living together in the same flat, forced to live harmoniously when we've actually grown apart. We don't even have the same taste in music anymore. At the end of the day, Mr. Brain and I decide what Mr. Knee has to do, but Mr. Knee protests and will express its discontent by blatantly taunting me with intense throbbing, swelling, stiffness and just plain pain for the days that follow. But Mr. Knee gets its way too sometimes - it has managed to wipe a few of my dreams clear off the table.

I used to be a singer. Although the accident did not damage my vocal chords in any way, the idea of performing onstage is something Mr. Knee disagrees with whole-heartedly. I used to do art direction for film. Mr. Knee does not like the idea of spending days on end building a film set. I used to take walks along the beach. Mr. Knee does not like uneven surfaces. I used to travel around the world gathering inspiration and styling ideas for my job as a fashion designer. Mr. Knee would rather stay home and wash its hair than have to weave in and out of crowds of people in busy shopping street, let alone stand in lines, carry heavy shopping bags, climb up stairs, climb down stairs, get into metros, step over dog-poo... Mr. Knee is pretty much against any physical activity whatsoever and would really prefer it if I just confined myself to a wheelchair right now and got it over with.

Needless to say, I've had to make a lot of adjustments for Mr. Knee. But my life as it is now is not exactly Mr. Knee's utopia either. Without telling Mr. Knee, I got pregnant. Twice. So now I have two toddlers who have trouble with the concept of basic communication, let alone understanding that mama's knee hurts too much sometimes to bend down and pick them up. But if my two-year-old Bram should hurl himself onto the ground and throw a fit in public, which he has been known to do, I have little choice but to bend down pick him up. Mr. Knee opposes this kind of thing, but my children tend to be louder and more dramatic about getting what they want, so they usually win.

Anyone with a limitation has undoubtedly heard someone say to them: 'Don't dwell on what you can't do, just be happy about what you can do!' This just makes me cringe. It's like saying to someone who is clinically depressed, 'You should just smile more!' I am 34 years old. I should be able to do all the things I can't do. I don't pay that much attention to the things I can do, since I can do them. But what I can't do stops me in my tracks, forces me to come up with a less painful alternative, it frustrates me, saddens me, brings up bitter memories, makes me feel insecure, inferior. A cripple. It is next to impossible to simply shake those feelings of helplessness and utter frustration off and think: 'Chin up, at least I'm not dead!'

After therapy, when the worst memories had ebbed away and the claim against the insurance company finally ended, I really hoped Mr. Knee and I would get along again. I don't speak up about our conflicts too often, which tends to confuse people around me when they suddenly see me walking with a pronounced limp. My loved-ones know better though, and know how to support me, now that I know how to let them. To admit I need help is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do; in fact, it's so hard, I still can't seem to do it.

In case you were wondering: no, I have not overlooked the most important aspect of this tale, which is: I am alive. That is a fact I should be, and am, thankful for. So why all the moaning? Every so often, I am a cripple. Emotionally and physically, since for me, the two are indisputably connected. When I don't pay that much attention to Mr. Knee, I feel glorious. If Mr. Knee makes its grievences known, I feel weak. Sometimes I'm strong. Sometimes I'm helpless. As estranged as we might be, Mr. Knee and I still make up one whole human being together, and will just have to develop a symbiotic relationship we both can live with in this particular body.

I can just imagine what our next discussion will be like:
Me: 'Mr. Knee, I'm putting my foot down.'
Mr. Knee: 'What is it this time?'
Me: 'I still have a lot I want to do, dreams I want to fulfill, and you're just going to have to come with me, whether you like it or not.'
Mr. Knee: ' we have to?!'

May 09, 2010

Mother's Day Facts

I have been a mother for exactly 3 years, 3 months and one day.
Essentially, this means:

I have a brain so I can think about the kids.
I have a mouth so I can communicate with the kids.
I have a nose so I can smell when the kids need a clean diaper.
I have ears so I can hear when the kids are crying.
I have eyes so I can see when the kids are doing something they shouldn't be doing.
I have a lap so the kids have a place to sit down.
I have legs so I can run after the kids.
I have arms so I can carry the kids when they've fallen asleep.

What do I have over 5,000 pictures of on my computer?
The kids.
What's the last thing I hear at night?
The kids.
What's the first thing I hear in the morning?
The kids.
Who do I talk to every day?
The kids.
What do I talk about every day?
The kids.
What do my husband and I talk about?
The kids.
What do I talk to perfect strangers about?
The kids.

What is my floor ridden with?
Kids' toys.
What do I kill my back picking up every day?
Kids' toys.
What do I tend to find buried in the sandbox?
Kids' toys.
What do I regularly trip over?
Kids' toys.
What do I secretly wish I had more of?
Kids' toys.

What is my business all about?
Kids' clothes.
What do I spend every day thinking about?
Kids' clothes.
What am I constantly washing pee stains out of?
Kids' clothes.
What am I regularly wiping snot off of?
Kids' clothes.
What is always full of sand, dirt, pine needles and dead flowers?
Kids' clothes.
What is the laundry hamper incessantly full of?
Kids' clothes.

What am I most proud of?
My kids.
What makes me laugh so hard I often pee myself?
My kids.
What moves me?
My kids.
What inspires me?
My kids.
What do I love more than anything?
My kids.
What makes me feel loved more than anything?
My kids.

And that's a fact.

May 07, 2010

Rain, Rain, Bugger Off.

It's raining. This sucks. The weatherman did tell me it would rain, but I wrote him a letter saying I didn't want it to, and included a petition signed by more than a thousand fictional people who agreed with me. He obviously didn't read it, because it still rained, despite my protest.

Mia seems convinced it would still be a fun idea to go outside, where it's absolutely gushing down rain and there are gale-force winds blowing at about three-hundred miles an hour. I'm afraid if I let her go out, she'll either be swept up by a gust of wind and carried away to Kansas, or a house will blow down right on top of her, showing only her curled-up red-and-white-striped socks.

Bram is so stir-crazy, he's bouncing off the walls. I decide to take them for a drive to distract them, and on the way back from going nowhere, I think it would be fun to make a sort of roller-coaster ride out of it by applying the breaks a few times in a row so we'd all lurch forward, as I cry over-enthusiastically 'Weeeee! So much fuuuun!' I find out the hard way that this was a very poor idea because Bram barfed his breakfast all over the floor as soon as we walked back in the house.

Now, Bram is creating a 'no-environment' for himself by doing all the naughty things he knows he's not supposed to do in a row. Mia is complaining that she has an owie on her foot and needs a band-aid pronto. Upon inspection, I see that her wound is nothing more than a freckle. I try to explain to Mia what a freckle is, by showing her the one on my face. She persists that it still hurts, and is now convinced mama needs a band-aid too. Mia is pleased, since her owie has miraculously healed once the band-aid is applied. I am not so pleased, since I'll be wearing a band-aid on my face for the rest of the day.

I decide now to preoccupy them by reviving the toys in the toy box in the kids' room. It's something I've been procrastinating because the toy box is so full of toys, it's actually quite dangerous to try to take one out. All the toys are piled on top of one another so precariously, that if someone were to disturb the pile by, for example, breathing too close to it, the toys would in all likelihood cascade on top of them and bury them alive. The only way to actually play with any of the toys is to dump the entire contents of the toy box onto the floor. This on its own provided some entertainment, and the kids actually started playing with stuff they hadn't seen since they were newborns. Success!

Now is a perfect opportunity to get some mialeentje marketing done! I switch on the computer and am about to go online when I realize I don't hear anything. Oh my god, it's silent... Have they killed each other?

I go in the room to check, which I should never do. As soon as she sees me, Mia decides her owie hurts again and starts crying. Misery loves company, so Bram decides he too is unhappy with the current activity. They both need a hug simultaneously, but do not feel like sharing mama or taking turns, resulting in some pushing, a significant amount of screaming and a whole lot of discontentment in general. I need to come up with a new activity, stat.

Jumping on the bed! They love to jump on the bed. I lure them to the bedroom and initiate the fun by jumping on the bed myself. Mia joins me without hesitation, but Bram looks a little apprehensive. Suddenly, I am regretting this idea, for fear that too much verticle motion might cause him to repeat this morning's barfing incident. I decide to take the risk and help Bram up onto the bed, figuring if he spews, it's about time I change the bed sheets anyway.

So we start jumping. Giggles and smiles fill the room and, for about thirty-five seconds, things are good. Then, I witness the inevitable - Mia and Bram bump heads. I should've seen it coming, since their heads are proportionally huge as it is, and the way they were cavorting all over the place, it was bound to happen. There was a millisecond of silence before Mia started wailing like a banshee. Bram (who is blessed with a titanium alloy skull) simply shook it off and immediately began jumping again, which caused Mia to fall off the bed and wail even harder. One more band-aid, coming up.

Now it's finally time for Bram's nap. Best case scenario, Bram goes down for a couple hours so I'll only have one child's needs to cope with. But Bram is two, which by definition means he will not do anything I want him to do. He has his own agenda, which would be fine if he were a 42-year-old man in a suit and tie, but not when he is a two-year-old boy who needs his diaper changed. Naturally, on this particular rainy day, Bram did not agree with my plan of going down for a nap. I put him to bed anyway, and subsequently listen to him lament for an hour from the confines of his crib. If he had an aluminum mug, you can bet he'd be banging it against the rungs of his prison-like confinement. I, on the other hand, was ready to pull my hair out at the sounds he was making. After much suffering and plugging of ears, I give in and take him out of bed. He was a free man.

A DVD it is, then. Which Disney favorite will it be this time? I may be the one with the remote, but Mia is the one with the power:
Me: 'Okay, kids, time for... Wall-E!'
Mia: (throwing her head back in protest) 'Noooooo! No Wauweeee!!'
Me: 'Okay kids, time for... Toy Story!'
Mia: (rolling over in agony) 'Nooooo! No Toyshoriee!'
Me: 'Okay, kids, time for... Finding Nemo!'
Mia: (getting impatient and irritable) 'Nooo-ooooo! No Nee-moooo!'
Me: 'Okay, Mia what do you want to see?!'
Mia: 'Doggie.'
Me: 'Sweetie, we have fifty different movies about doggies - which one do you want to see?'
Mia: (disappointed in mama, who is obviously not good at mind-reading at all)'Dogg-gie!'
Me: 'Okay kids, time for... Bolt!'
Mia: (throwing her head back and close to tears) 'Nooo! No doggieeee!'

Rather than going into a discussion with her about her definition of a doggie, I decide to put on a more challenging movie to get them completely engrossed: 'The Dark Crystal'. (If you don't remember this mid-80's movie because you were either too stoned, or not interested in the whole Jim Henson-plus-Brian Froud-equals-mystical-muppets thing, it's a semi-dark, rather weighty fantasy movie with extravagant muppets and Frank Oz does his falsetto voice for about 98% of the characters.) 'The Dark Crystal' works like a charm. Both kids are glued to the TV, overwhelmed by the bizarre puppet-critters and trippy colors. This should hold them for a good half hour at least. Okay, back to that marketing I need to do.

Instead of doing any marketing, though, I write this blog post. I am aware of the precious time I am wasting, but I can't seem to stop writing. They say you should never snuff out the flames of inspiration, and knowing me, the content of this post will keep me awake tonight if I don't get it off my chest. It's still raining, the kids are quickly losing interest in the freaky muppets and I am running out of ideas. On top of that, the weatherman is predicting rain all week. I'll just have to write another letter to him. Will you sign my petition?

May 06, 2010

The Urinator, Awaaaaay!

In an attempt to get involved in the coincidental theme that my two favorite bloggers, Patricia and Jacob have unintentionally initiated, I am dedicating this particular post to a phenomenon with which I have recently had to cope with on a whole new level: my son Bram's 'piemie'. (I just can't bring myself to call it by its official name yet - he's still my baby...!)

Bram has been aware of his fascinating appendage for some time now, a fact I have tried not to pay too much attention to, for fear it become an obsession before he's even anywhere near puberty. But, I realize it's a part of his body like any other, and should be explored in a healthy way - like my mother said, 'It's just as important as his nose!' (Well, perhaps it's just a bit more important.)

The discovery of his piemie and all it can do is just as interesting for me as it is for little Bram, but it doesn't make my job any easier. What is my job as Bram's mom? Essentially it's to provide food for him to eat, a place for him to sleep, a lap for him to sit on and clean diapers about every fifteen minutes. You see, Bram's piemie might be the size of a slightly overweight earthworm, but he has the peeing capacity of a drunken British football hooligan on vacation in Ibiza.

Bram can pee through anything. The force with which the pee shoots out of his piemie is something a Jedi knight would be jealous of. It doesn't matter what kind of magical mega-absorbing brand diaper I put on him, he can still manage to pee right through it, as well as several more layers, at a time. Nothing escapes the wrath of Bram's pee - his diaper, his PJs, his sleeping bag, his sheets and the protective spongey layer on top of his mattress which is meant to absorb the excess pee. Bram's pee penetrates this layer with no difficulty whatsoever and continues to leak about three inches deep into the mattress.

Now, the crazy thing is, his diaper his more often than not virtually dry even though his clothes look like he just dove into Niagra falls. How can this possibly be?! It can only mean one thing: Bram has been blessed with the super-human strength of Power Peeing. Maybe this is the reason why he still hasn't started talking yet - he's been too busy developing his peeing-power, which will undoubtedly aide him in saving the planet one day. I can just hear the cries of citizens in distress crying out,
'Is it a leaking faucet?!
Is it a hole in the roof?!
It's Bram - The Urinator!'

The first thing that I am met with when I go into his bedroom in the mornings is an overwhelming aroma of boy-pee. So obviously, Bram has either peeed through everything again, or a bum has been living undetected under Bram's crib for the past month. Well, there ain't no bum under there. Bram is just so happy to see me, he starts jumping up and down in a puddle of his own piddle. The only thing he wants is for me to pick him up so we can have a big morning cuddle, but his entire body is soaked with slightly luke-warm pee. Naturally, my maternal instincts outweigh my desire to remain pee-free, so we cuddle. As you've probably guessed by now, Bram isn't the kind of man who does things half-heartedly, including cuddling. I get the biggest squeezes in the mornings from Bram, which is the best, but they do tend to make his pee to leak through my bathrobe and onto my PJs as well! Like I have nothing better to do than run yet another load of wash! I mean, I need to watch Columbo re-runs and pick the balls of my sweater, for starters!

This summer, we plan to start Bram's potty-training. I pray to the Mother God (that's the Big Man's assistant, who was hired specifically to watch over moms in particular) that Bram's Power-Pee won't destroy us all in the process. To be honest, I'm a little concerned for my safety and the preservation of my house - what if he pees a hole in the wall or something? I've never potty-trained someone with super-human powers before. I'd better go join that 'parents of super-human power-peers' support-group on Facebook. Any tips from people with super-human power themselves are more than welcome!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have laundry to do.

May 04, 2010

Letting Go (the Skinny Of It)

Now before you click away this post, let me reassure you: this is not going to be about my journey of self-exploration that got me from the total mess of a human being to the well-balanced Martha Stewart-like person that I am today. It's about my body and how I seem to be letting go of it, or rather, how it seems to be letting go of me. (Okay, men, feel free to click away now - unless you want me to let you in on an age-old femine secret that will undoubtedly aide you in understanding the female psyche once and for all.)

The other day, I was going to take a shower. Just as I was undressing, my son Bram barged into the bathroom, which, incidentally, is something we encourage in the hopes this will familiarize him with the concept of doing pee-pee on the potty. Anyway, he barged in and saw me naked. He has seen me in the nude before, but now that he is a bit older and has developed some more brain cells, he must've experienced it on a different level. If you're wondering what he did, I'll tell you: he laughed. Seeing me in my birthday suit made my two-year-old son crack up.

Now, I am well aware that my son's uninhibited sense of humor should not in any way be a device with which to measure my own self-confidence, and yet I felt compelled to take a scrutinizing look at the fleshy exterior I had admittedly been neglecting the past few years.

 Hello, full-length mirror. Behind the greasy fingerprints and drool smears (I mean on the mirror), I managed to get a good look at my body. There I was, looking to me something like Mrs. Potato Head with a couple of tea bags dangling from her shoulders. Where the heck did my boobs go? I was sure I had them last year... Not to mention my waist - it seems to have packed up and left town, leaving lots of room for the rif-raf to move in and start constructing mega apartment buildings. Dare I turn around? I dare. Lord, there are less craters on the surface of the moon! Okay, let's move away from this particular hemisphere. What the -! Is that long, wirey grey hair actually growing out of my scalp?! Omg, there's another one. And another! Since when did I have grey hairs?! Wait, when did I stop dying my hair? A-ha. Mystery solved.

Has it really come this far? Have I actually let myself go? Is this the fate that every engaged man dreads his wife-to-be will someday succumb to? I sucked in my gut - that looks a bit better. But how long can I actually go around without breathing? Not long enough. Seeing as I was already in the process of torturing myself, I decided to pull out that one piece of clothing and subject myself to the test that will determine whether or not I should send myself off to a fat-farm this very afternoon. Yes, (ladies, you know what I'm talking about) it was time for the 'skinny me jeans' test.

Every woman has a pair of jeans she wore long, long ago when she was young and thin, affectionately known as her 'skinny me jeans'. These jeans may never be discarded, since they are required for a periodic trying-on session; the result of which can cause the woman in question to be hurled into a fit of either unadulterated rapture or send her careening into a full-blown depression.

Every now and then, (coincidentally, just around the time the woman in question is about to get her period) the 'skinny me jeans' emerge. The trying-on commences. One foot goes in. The anticipation builds. The other foot goes in. Suspense can be cut with a knife. The jeans get pulled up, slowly, gradually, until they reach that oh-so crucial point: the lower thighs. Oh, fellow pear-shaped ladies, how we loathe those lower thighs! If the jeans can't even make it over the lower thighs, you can pretty much forget trying to get them up at all. If that happens, you've failed the 'skinny me jeans' test and you might as well go and eat an entire cheesecake.

So there I was, trying to pull on my 'skinny me jeans'. The pulling continued. The pulling became jerking. Jerking turned into wrenching. I had reached my mid-lower-thigh area and was starting to chafe my skin. I had no choice but to proceed with the 'lying down on the bed and yanking' method (see, I'm not making this up - if there's a copyrighted stock photo of it online, then it's true). I threw myself down on the bed, sucked my gut in so far I was close to imploding, and started yanking. I cringed, I grimaced, I broke a nail. But my efforts were not in vain. Hallelujah! I made it over my upper-thighs! My 'skinny me jeans' were on! Now came the next obstacle... zipping the fly.

Instead of getting up from the bed and letting gravity have an adverse effect on my accomplishments thus far, I decided to remain lying down in the sucked-in-gut position to attempt zipping up my beloved 'skinny me jeans'. This was a momentous occasion in itself, considering the number of times my 'skinny me jeans' and I even made it this far. It was a delicate procedure, seeing as vulnerable tummy flab could potentially get caught in the zip, resulting in physical as well as emotional agony. I felt for that oh-so familiar zipper-puller thingy and started to zip. Nothing happened. For a moment, I considered forgoing this stage of the test and just wearing an extremely long, baggy sweater over the unzipped 'skinny me jeans'. But I knew it wouldn't fly. My conscious simply wouldn't allow it. I pressed on. The zipper began to move. And under the control of my steady hand and my relentless determination to succeed, it zipped.

Now, don't think I could actually stand up at this point. My 'skinny me jeans' were on, and zipped, but that didn't mean I could actually wear them in public. The excess skin that had been forced upwards was now hanging over the waistband of my 'skinny me jeans' in such a mass that no sweater I owned could conceal it. Not to mention the fact that the 'skinny me jeans' were rapidly cutting off the circulation to my upper body.

What mattered was that I had passed the 'skinny me jean' test. This time. After more pulling and perspiring, I managed to get my 'skinny me jeans' off again, folded them neatly and returned them to the back of my closet, where they will remain until the next time my self-image is in doubt (which should be some time next week).

May 03, 2010

It's 'A-Parent'...

So, my husband and I went on a date. Yes, an actual date, away from our home and our kids. Now, I know you're asking yourself: 'Are parents actually allowed to go out anywhere without their children??' It's indeed a common misconception that parents, as individuals, have needs that do not in any way involve their kids. Be this as it may, my husband and I found at one point that we simply could not justify not going out.

Because we are married, my husband and I need to talk about and justify everything we do before we do it. Going out on a date without sufficient reason to do would simply be unacceptable. Last December, when I turned 34, I suggested my husband take me out to celebrate. At the time, however, both kids were down with the swine flu, so that didn't happen. Then, our wedding anniversary came around, which was arguably a perfect opportunity to go out. But, for reasons I can't remember, we didn't go out again. Then it was my husband's birthday, and we didn't go out. Then a whole series of occasions came and went, ranging from semi- to very special, and when we added these to the list of special occasions we hadn't celebrated in the past six months, we decided we couldn't justify procrastinating any longer. We had to go out.

Once the reason to go out was established, we reviewed the criteria that a parent must meet before even considering the possibility of going on a date:
1) You need a babysitter.
2) You need money to pay the babysitter and still be able to afford to go out.
3) You need to be able to stay awake long enough to go out, complete the date and come back home.

We finally decided, after some diplomatic contemplation and discussion, that we met the criteria. On a date, we would go.

I capitalized on this opportunity to squeeze myself into something sexy for our date. Since becoming a mom, my wardrobe has gone through a rigorous transmutation - what used to be a closet full of slinky, close-fitting garments now consists exclusively of baggy jeans and bally sweaters. Fortunately, the sentimental sap in me held on to a little black dress or two; neither of which fit. In fact, nothing in my closet seemed to fit. I finally settled on skinny jeans, paired with a loose-fitting but semi-transparant black top with only minimal traces of Bram's dried snot on it. I couldn't resist polishing off the ensemble with a pair of heels that had been slowly gathering moss at the bottom of my closet. I was dressed, and I felt completely uncomfortable. Mission accomplished.

Once the babysitter arrived, my husband and I proceeded to drill her on the do's and don'ts essential to the survival of an evening with our children. I stuck post-its with detailed instructions on everything I thought the babysitter might come in contact with, then duplicated these instructions again onto a piece of paper which I put on the fridge. We made sure she understood some crucial facts about our children, for example, that Bram will want to watch 'Toy Story' exactly three times in a row, and Mia will only drink anything from the pink cup. Definitely not the blue one. (For the love of God, if your life means anything to you at all, I beg you, don't give her the blue one!)

I gave the babysitter my mobile phone number. Then, I wrote down my mobile phone number on a post-it and stuck it on the fridge. Subsequently, I sent a text message to her mobile phone number with my mobile phone number in it. Just to make sure, I asked her if she had my mobile phone number. When she said she did, I asked her to call my mobile phone number to make sure she really had my mobile phone number. On the way to the restaurant, I was suddenly convinced the babysitter didn't have my mobile phone number, so I sent another text message with my mobile phone number. Just in case.

After being seated at the restaurant, I made sure my mobile phone was in plain view at all times during the meal, and checked it regularly to make sure it was still on. Then I checked to make sure the reception was good. I considered calling the babysitter to make sure everything was okay, since she wasn't calling me, which could mean everything was fine, or it could mean that Mia swallowed something poisonous and Bram fell and cracked his head open, but she didn't have my mobile phone number, which was why she wasn't calling me. My husband is extremely sensible, and was able to exterminate my worries by saying 'Oh, unclench. They're fine'. That was good enough for me, and I was able to turn my full attention to a three-course meal of food I didn't have to prepare, served on dishes I wouldn't have to wash. Divine.

Since becoming parents, my husband and I are allocated exactly three-and-a-half minutes per person to ingest our food at dinnertime. The rest of the meal is spent making sure some dinner actually makes it from the kids' plates into their mouths, and that they don't poke their eyes out with the silverware. During the meal on our date, I found it possible not only to eat my food in the tempo I saw fit, I could do it without having to navigate around a child on my lap. It was a strange, surreal sensation.

When the bill came, the waiter waited patiently at our table as I rummaged around in my purse to find my wallet. To get to it, I had to remove a variety of items lying on top, including a green Hot Wheel, an extra pair of Mia's panties (in case of an accident in public), two snotty hankies and a Hello Kitty sock (Hey, I was looking for that!). Another strange sensation swept over me, which was hard to identify at first. Then it occurred to me: it was the uncanny experience of paying for something other than groceries! Truly bizarre.

On the way home, I had visions of our living room resembling something similar to an episode of 'Malcolm in the Middle', with bits of food stuck to the ceiling, children hanging from the rafters and our babysitter tied up and gagged in a corner. What I was met with was pure serenity. The kids had eaten their dinner, the babysitter actually managed to work the remote control for the TV and was now reading a book while both kids were sound asleep in bed. If I hadn't been so dumbstruck, I would've asked the babysitter what her secret was...

This experience taught me something I already knew: parents are parents all the time, even when they are away from their kids. Parents like to talk about being parents, parents want to be friends with other parents, and parents write blogs about being parents. It's amazing how much child-rearing I can achieve without even being in the same room as my children, not to mention in a subconscious state! I understand now why I will always be my mom and dad's little girl, and that poor Mia and Bram are destined to the same fate.

Going out is not a way to escape my parental duties, it's a way to intensify them. I figure, the next time a special occasion comes around, we'll celebrate it next year...

May 01, 2010

I Laughed, I Cried, I Kissed Thirteen Euro Goodbye...

Yesterday was 'Koninginnedag' or Queen's Day, the one day of the year where the entire country is clad in orange to pay homage to Holland's 'queen bee', Queen Bea.

To an ex-pat like me, it's a confusing day. Apparently, it is a celebration of the Queen's birthday on the 30th of April, which is not actually her birthday at all. It's actually in the fall, or something, but it's celebrated in April because the weather is supposed to be better...

So what happens on Queens Day? Queen Beatrix and all her entourage parades through one lucky town somewhere in Holland, shaking hands with boyscouts and showing off her hat. It's also the day where the 'Vrije markt' or Free market takes place, meaning anyone and everyone can empty their garages and attics onto the street and sell their junk without a permit. (This is a huge exception in a country where you need a permit to breathe the air.) But what it has to do with the Queen's birthday has me stumped. Maybe it represents some kind of benevolent gesture by the monarchy, that the common peasant can also earn a bit of cash on her Majesty's birthday.

But aside from selling your crap in honor of the Queen and the celebration of it not being her birthday, there are all sorts of activities for young and old to participate in throughout the country. It seems to me that the main requirement for the adult activities is a colossal amount of beer. For the kids, it's a lot more complicated. There need to be pony rides and dressing up and fire-engines and making noise and toddler discos, to name but a few essential ingredients. This year, Mia and Bram were invited to attend, and compete in, the local 'decorate-your-bicycle-and-make-as-much-noise-as-you-possibly-can' parade.

Seeing as they are both crazy about their tricycles and ride them around incessantly, I couldn't imagine a better way for all of us to enjoy the day and have a memorable, positive experience. I was wrong. And I was right too. I'll explain...

In the days leading up to the parade, the entire Stolk family was involved in decorating the aforementioned tricycles. I went to the store and bought thirteen euro worth of plastic bicycle ornaments, which my husband and I painstakingly attached to the trikes under the uncompromising instruction of our children. Mia shoved some peacock feathers in the back of her trike, threw some flowers in the basket on her handlebars. Bram and I wrapped some old Christmas decorations around his handlebars and hung some flags along the back. Both kids adorned their trikes not only with sparkle, but with a huge amount of love. I was convinced: the parade was going to be a hit.

The day before the exciting event was about to take place, it reached temperatures of up to 80 degrees. Pretty exceptional for the end of April, and a promising prospect for the outdoor festivities planned for the next day. My wonderful mother-in-law, 'Oma' Rik, showed her unconditional love and support by accompanying us. I was blindly confident, it was to be a lovely day for all.
On the day of the parade, it rained. No, it didn't just rain, it poured. It pelted. It continuously drizzled, then it cat-and-dogged, then it just poured some more.  Unphazed by the adverse weather conditions, Mia was just thrilled to be a part of it.

Mia pedaled her way to the group of kids gathered at the starting line, who were mounted upon the most extravagantly embellished bicycles I had ever seen. I was convinced, as I gawked at the constructions most of the children were riding around in, that if those bikes were decorated by the kids, well then my name is Martha Stewart. After all the effort Mia put into decorating her tricycle, I knew she could kiss a prize goodbye. But, I told myself, we weren't here to win, we were there to participate and have a good time.
Outside in the cold. And the rain.
Without an umbrella.
And, I had to pee.

For at least a half an hour, kids, 'omas', 'opas', moms and dads, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters stood there getting drenched as the mayor of the town commemorated a bunch of total strangers, who were called up one by one to receive totally irrelevant awards. Kids all around me began to get restless. One kid in particular was making it very clear he did not want to be there anymore, and that kid was Bram.

Bram had wriggled his way out of the seat-belt on his trike and made a break for it. He scurried through the crowd, dodging this way and that, protesting loudly as he ran. He tried to escape down someone's driveway, then attempted to mount an elderly man's lap. When he realized his efforts were futile, he promptly threw himself down on the wet pavement and began to wail. My husband and I looked at each other and knew, it was literally raining on Bram's parade. He needed to go home.

Thank goodness for 'Oma' Rik! While trying to retain the kicking-and-screaming Bram, I explained to her and Mia that we were taking him home, and that I would come back a.s.a.p. She agreed to escort Mia, who didn't even seem to notice Bram's screams and the persitent rain. Amidst the impatient bicycle horns and bells, I hurried through the sheets of rain to the car as my husband cleared the path like a police escort, barely managing to hold the flailing and fussing Bram in my arms.

It only took about fifteen minutes to get Bram home and get back to the parade, by which time it had ended. Utterly disappointed, I turned into the street where the finish line was to find it completely abandoned. I had missed the entire thing. Bram didn't get to participate, thirteen euros of plastic crap was down the drain. We all got wet, and, I managed to take only two measely photos (which is a record for me)! A memorable and pleasant day for all? Hardly.

That's when I heard a familiar voice call, 'Mamaaaaaa!' It was Mia, drenched to the bone and wearing a smile broader than the Grand Canyon. She had reached the finish line, all by herself, and was carrying a bag of sweets that she had rightfully earned by doing so. 'Oma' Rik was also wearing a smile, which warmed me to my very core. I felt raindrops mix with the tears on my face, and gave my mia a Grand Canyon-size smile back, plus an even bigger hug.

Photo of Queen Beatrix courtesy of the Reformatorisch Dagblad

April 26, 2010

My First Born and Her First Love.

I can't believe it. I don't want to believe it. Mia has a boyfriend. She's not even four years old yet and she has a boyfriend. Wait! I'm not ready for this!!

The apple of her eye is Nigel, the little boy who lives nextdoor. When I say 'little boy', I actually mean 'dangerous hoodlum'. Never have I known a little boy who has a death wish like Nigel. Every time I see him, he has some new gash on his forehead or series of bruises on his arms that make me wonder if he is even familiar with the concept of pain. This is most likely the reason Mia likes him. Nigel is a 'bad boy'.

Our neighbor, Nigel's father, has piled up old rocks and branches against the fence that separates our properties, which is the idea place for Nigel to grace us with his dare-devil talents. He seems completely unphazed by the imminent danger of jumping head-first into a pile of jagged rock and sharp branches, especially when encouraged by Mia's squeals of delight.

When our neighbors moved in, I heard the sounds of children playing nextdoor, and the prospect of playmates for Mia and Bram just a few meters away was promising. But, when I met Nigel, I was sure of two things: 1) there was no way Mia was going over to his house to play, and 2) there was no way he was coming to our house to play. I am positive, broken bones or broken furniture would be the inevitable result. My husband just recently had to reinforce the fence that separates my daughter from this budding Evil Kinevil, and if he can trash a fence, then you can be sure he can trash just about anything.

So it's become a very Romeo and Juliet kind of situation - the two lovers (Mia and Nigel), professing their admiration for one another at the insurmountable barrier that separates them (the fence) under the scrutinizing supervision of the evil parent who forbids their love (me).

I had no idea this relationship had even begun till the other day, when I heard Nigel's unmistakable voice screaming at the top of his lungs: 'Miiiiiiaaaaaaaa!' There he was, on top of his mound of branches, clad in a pirate's coat and bearing proudly some fresh cuts and scratches. Mia answered his call without hesitation by skipping to the fence and standing there, watching him perform his perilous feats. I observed it all from a distance, keeping an eye on anything sharp he should happen to get hold of, making sure he didn't try to poke Mia's eye out with it. When Nigel found a broken bottle to dazzle Mia with, that was my cue to enter the scene. When he saw me, he put on a broad grin, pointed at my daughter and said 'My Mia'.
Excuse me?
Did he say what I think he just said?
'My Mia'?!

Could this be but a foreshadowing of what's to come? Is my daughter slipping away from me already? Because this is just the beginning, isn't it? Before I know it, she'll be a teenager, and she'll be bringing home boys. Teenage boys. First, boys with scooters, then, boys with cars. Then boys with leather jackets and motorcycles!!! And then Mia will be going around with a leather jacket with 'Property of Nigel' embroidered on the back! If Nigel is any reflection of the type of boy Mia likes, then I'm seriously considering getting her to convent now.

But, as always, I should not underestimate my daughter. Mia knows what she's doing, which she made clear yesterday. As anyone who knows Mia knows, Mia goes ga-ga over flowers. Seeing as my husband and I are trying to teach Mia not to pick every single living thing in our garden before it even gets a chance to bloom, she has discovered another way to get her daily flower fix: yup, you guess it: Nigel. Nigel's yard is full of posies that Mia wants, so under her exact instructions, he runs around gathering any and all flowers she desires and hands them to her through the fence. Once she's got the flowers in her hand, her interest in Nigel seems to diminish. Mia gets her flowers, I get my peace of mind, and Nigel, well, Nigel gets another injury somewhere on his body in the process.
So, everybody's happy.

(I think I'll find out where the nearest convent is, just to be on the safe side...)

April 23, 2010

'Me Time'

I love my kids. I love them with every inch of my soul, every drop of my existence. They are my inspiration, my reason for being. But I also love dropping them off at pre-school and leaving them there for a few hours, because that's when I get some well-earned 'me time'.

'Me time'. I never seemed to need it before I had kids. Back then, it was 'me time' all the time. I had so much 'me time', I didn't know what to do with it. Frankly, I was bored of it. I was with myself all the time, why should I spend extra time with myself?  And when my husband and I were together without kids, we not only had an abundance of 'me time' for ourselves separately, we also had an excess of 'us time'. At one point, we were sick of the sight of each other, we had so much 'us time'.

Now, things are different. 'Me time' is valuable commodity around here. Especially since the kids don't take 3-hour naps anymore in the afternoons. My husband and I battle for 'me time' regularly. Sometimes I will use going to the bathroom as an excuse to get an extra bit of 'me time', when it isn't actually my turn. And I'm convinced my husband will sometimes invent a chore that needs to be done outside in order to steal a bit of 'me time' for himself.

And when I finally do get those few precious hours of 'me time', I blow them. I vacuum, wash dishes, do the laundry, work on mialeentje marketing. 'Me time' isn't supposed to be wasted on household chores and work, is it? 'Me time', I'm sure, is for having a massage or a facial, enjoying fresh flowers, having a laugh, catching up on fashion trends in the latest issue of Elle, that kind of thing.

The thing is, though, that I get all that stuff during my non 'me time', with my kids I mean.
Having a massage, for example: If I should lie down anywhere, the kids see that as an invitation to jump on my back, which is better than any Thai massage you could pay any amount of money for.
As far as a facial goes: having kids pretty much means going around without make-up on anyway, so my face is in such good condition lately, I don't even need one!
As for fresh flowers: My daughter Mia can find a flower within seconds of being outside, with which she'll decorate the house and herself. So I am pretty much surrounded by fresh flowers, even if they are in the form of weeds, every day.
And catching up on fashion trends? To be honest, I never really paid any attention to trends anyway. I prefer to make up my own, and watch what Mia is doing. She is my trend guru when it comes to gathering inspiration for mialeentje.

Come to think of it, who says 'me time' has to be when you're by yourself? I tend to find lots of 'me time' opportunities throughout the day, like when the kids are busy playing in the dirt or when my husband is venting his frustrations about lousy drivers. For a moment, I can enjoy the sound of a breeze rustling the leaves or a particularly pretty birdsong and recharge my batteries until one of the kids get a dirt clot in its eye or my husband realizes I'm only half listening to him. So it was just a few seconds of 'me time', but a valuable few seconds nonetheless!

So, as it turns out, I actually get plenty of 'me time' satisfaction when it's not officially 'me time' at all! I guess I should re-define what I understand to be 'me time'. It's a time to rest, to think, to ponder, to dive into the lake of me... make that a dip my toes in the shallow end of the lake of me (a dive would simply take too long to manage in the few hours the kids are away). No, real deep self-exploration and peace of mind can only be achieved during an extended period of time of 7-9 hours, and the only time I can manage that is when I'm asleep. I guess I'll just have to rely on my subconscious to ensure I get the 'me time' I'm entitled to...

April 20, 2010

A Conversation with Mia

Mia: 'Mama?'
Me: 'Yes, sweetie.'
Mia: (a little louder) 'Mamaaa?'
Me: 'Ye-e-s?'
Mia: (even louder, and slightly irritated) 'Mamaaa!'
Me: 'Yes, Mia, what is it?'
Mia: (bordering on hysterical) 'Mama! Mama! Mama!'
Me: 'Mia, I'm right here, listening. What is it?'
Mia: 'Mama?'
Me: 'Yes?'
Mia: 'Muk.'
Me: 'Muk? What is muk?'
Mia: 'Mama, muuuk!'
Me: 'Mia, you need to take your pacifier out of your mouth when you want to say something, otherwise I can't understand you.'
Mia: (takes her pacifier out) 'Muk.'
Me: 'Can you ask me properly?'
Mia: 'I...'
Me: (silent)
Mia: '...want...'
Me: (waiting patiently)
Mia: '...Muk!'
Me: 'Mia, do you mean you want milk?'
Mia: 'Yeah! Muk muk muk!'
Me: 'Mia, try saying it like this: m-iii-lll-k.'
Mia: (concentrating) 'Mmm-iii-ulllk'
Me: 'Good! Now can you ask me properly?'
Mia: 'Mama! I...'
Me: (nodding)
Mia: '...want...'
Me: (smiling and nodding)
Mia: '...Muk!'
Me: 'Can you say: Please, mama.'
Mia: 'I...pyeeez...want...mama'
Me: (knowing where this is headed)
Mia: 'Pyeeze...'
Me: (stifling a giggle)
Mia: '...Muk!'
Me: 'Ok, Mia, now put all those words in this order: Mama, I want milk, please.'
Mia: 'Mama, pyeeze...'
Me: (nodding some more)
Mia: '...I...'
Me: (waiting some more)
Mia: 'I...want...'
Me: (nodding, waiting)
Mia: 'pyeeze...Muk!'
Me: (thinking: at least she got the 'please' in there) 'Ok, Mia, yes. You may have some milk.'
Mia: (seconds later) 'Mamaaaa!'
Me: 'Yes, sweetie?'
Mia: 'Mamaaaa!'
Me: 'Yes, Mia, what is it?.'
Mia: '...Muk!'

April 19, 2010

Men are from Mars, Women are from Upstate New York.

My husband is a man. Which means: 1) no, I am not a lesbian, and 2) no, I am not a single mom. It also means that, because my husband is a man, he is incredibly focused, but totally incapable of doing two things at once.

My husband's wife, a.k.a me, is a woman. That means: 1) no, he is not gay and 2) no, he is not a single dad. It also means that, because I am a woman I am able to do two things at once, but my timing sucks.

These two well-known character traits belonging to men and women can cause some really interesting - and yes, somewhat sticky - situations, as you are probably more than well aware, I'm sure. Being a man or a woman on this planet makes it pretty much impossible not to bump into someone of the opposite sex eventually. And as difficult as it is for most modest woman to admit, it's true, there's just no two ways about are hopeless at multi-tasking.

Seriously, last night, I managed to get both kids in bath (consecutively - not together), finish two chapters in the book I'm reading, make out a grocery list, pluck my eyebrows, and come up with the idea for this blog post, all at the same time. It is somewhat miraculous when you think about it, and yet second nature to us women.

My husband would not be able to do all these things at once. Not that he needs his eyebrows plucked per say, but the act of performing more than one task simultaneously is just not possible for him. He says so himself, repeatedly, when I ask him to do something for me, he'll cry: 'I can't do two things at once, woman!' But this cry is not one of frustration due to his lack of the ability to multi-task; it is one of pure annoyance, since the timing with which I asked him to do a task is more often than not, how do I put it: lousy.

As a woman, I have this uncanny ability of asking my husband to do something at exactly the same moment he is preparing to do something else, a 'project', if you will. I should know better. 'A project' requires a man's full concentration, which I definitely should know, since I read 'It's A Guy Thing: An Owners Manual for Women' by David Deida. I'm telling you, ladies, this book is a must-have read for women who feel compelled (or forced) to understand the men in their lives.

In his book, Mr. Deida answers several of women's faq's about men, and explains the elaborate details of his unstoppable aspiration to contemplate, commence and complete 'a project'. If a woman should interrupt this process, the results can be, well let's face it, disastrous. This is why I am eternally grateful for Mr. Deida's research, since it taught me when the correct moment actually is to ask a man anything while he's in the midst of a project. That moment is, quite simply, never.

Thank you, Mr. Deida. I'll try and remember that in future, but right now, I have to check my e-mails, do the laundry, wash the dishes, put Bram to bed and three other things I can't remember right now but will come to me, I'm sure...

*This post has only been slightly exaggerated for literary - and naturally dramatic - purposes.

April 14, 2010

I've Got Designer Genes.

When I was eleven or so, my dad and I were having one of those talks about what I was going to be when I grew up. I don't remember exactly what I said to him, but I remember at one point he told me I had 'designer genes'. I remember being shocked, since I was sure I didn't own a pair of designer jeans at all! Much later, it became clear to me what he meant, and that it was true.

My parents are both designers - my dad is an industrial designer and my mom is a photographer. My brothers are also both designers. In my early teens, I tried to rebel against design. You see, I wanted to be an artist, like my grandfather. I wanted to use pure mediums like charcoal and wear oil paint stains on my clothes and go around smelling of terpentine, like a real artist should! I wanted to roll up my sleeves and mix my own sweat and tears into my work; only then could I consider myself a true artist.

After art school, what did I end up doing? I became a graphic designer. And after that? A fashion designer. My dad was right - I really do have designer genes. It's undeniably genetic.

Now that I'm a mom, I am curious as anything about what my kids will grow up to be. They have such an interesting mix of creative genes in them! Next to all the artsy folk in my own family, my husband is the result of an artistic gene-pool as well (which is incidentally probably why we accept one another's eccentric behavior; we're just used to it). He is a professional musician and his parents were both artists.

Both of us can't help but assume our children will be artistic in one way or another when they grow up. Heck, they already are! My daughter Mia was able to draw with a crayon before she could even feed herself, and my son Bram can beat out a rhythm with his bottle that would make Steve Gadd green with envy.

When Bram plays a tune on the keyboard, Mia starts doing arabesques. And when they're finished, they applaud for themselves. They're natural-born performers.

When Mia wants a new dress, she will skip into my studio and point out exactly which fabrics she wants, how many pleats she wants and which trimmings she wants it to be trimmed with. Her gift for styling at three-and-a-half just blows me away.

When Bram empties out his box of blocks, he immediately begins constructing the world's most inconceivably high tower. He's two years old, and he has a dream.

When Mia sees anything that even remotely resembles a flower, she goes ape. She cannot resist the temptation to pluck even the teeniest weed or dead bit of grass if she thinks it would look nice in a bouquet. Her eye for composition is astounding.

But there are also times when my kids are about as artistic as a sack of potatoes. When Bram tries to paint, he seems to think the object of the activity is to throw as many paintbrushes as he can on the ground and then run all over the paper while giggling madly. And when Mia was recently introduced to the concept of painting Easter Eggs, she was much more interested in how quickly she could make them spin them around till they rolled off the table and broke. (Needless to say, we had a lot of egg salad sandwiches that day.)

I have to remind myself, they are still kids. They are doing what all kids are doing at the same age, so before I go and declare how amazingly artistically-inclined they are, I should probably take a step back and just let them do what they think they're doing, namely, making a mess and having a really good time in the process.

And at the end of the day, who knows, they might just both grow up to be accountants. Which is absolutely fine with long as they're accountants with a passion for music and flower-arranging, that is.

April 06, 2010

Third Culture Mom

Only a couple months ago, I found out I am a 'Third Culture Kid' , or as I prefer to call myself, 'Terminally Unique'. I was born in the U.S.A, but I moved to the Netherlands when I was 15 and became an adult in this country, which essentially means I don't feel really American... And even though I am now a Dutch citizen and have been living here for almost twenty years, I don't feel Dutch either. I'm a bit of both but neither one completely. It's confusing, I know, but that's what it's like to be 'terminally unique'. And it doesn't get any easier when you start raising kids.

But being a TCKid or 'Global Nomad' (as we're so lovingly nicknamed), is not just about feeling like you don't belong anywhere. If that were the case, we might as well be called 'Eternal Pre-Teens'. I've found there are three other especially tough things a TCKid has to cope with when raising children - there's the language issue, the cultural idiocincracies and the family dillema.

the language issue
Because my native language is English, but I live in a country where the first language is Dutch, my husband and I decided to raise our kids bilingually. It's a challenge, to say the least, since they both are taking a lot longer to get the hang of comunicating in general than other kids their age who are raised in a single-language environment. But, thanks to Holland and its wealth of government subsidies for bilingual kids, both Mia and Bram are benefiting from extra attention and speech therapy, so they'll be able to hold their own once they start school.

Besides raising my kids bilingually, I am also set on presenting mialeentje in two languages as well. Not only because I hope to reach the largest amount of potential customers by offering two languages, but also because I want to present my business just like I present myself. I just am both languages, in person and online. On my site, I label and describe everything in Dutch and English, and use little flags to make things clearer... I just don't know if that's helpful or utterly confusing.

the cultural idiocincracies
Dealing with a different culture is tough enough without kids, but once they come into the picture, it gets even more complicated. I'm talking, in particular, about the holidays. Just about every holiday is celebrated differently, named something different or involving different things in Holland, and ever since the kids were born, I've struggled with how to deal with this. I grew up with the American versions of these holidays, while my husband grew up with the Dutch versions. So which version do we go by? A perfect example is good ole Christmas versus the Dutch gift-giving holiday, Sinterklaas.

There are some fundamental differences: firstly, the man himself - in Holland, you've got Sinterklaas, and in the states, you've got Santa. Two completely different guys bearing gifts.  Secondly, the day - in Holland, Sinterklaas bangs on your front door and leaves behind a burlap bag of gifts on the doorstep on the evening of the 5th of December. Santie Claus, on the other hand, lands on the rooftop while everybody's sleeping and whips down the chimney on the 24th so that the Christmas tree is surrounded by presents on the morning of the 25th when everybody wakes up.

Then there's the issue of the good man's residence, his choice of vehicle and his helpers. Sinterklaas, who lives in Spain, journies to Holland by steam boat, accompanied by a few dozen acrobatic Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) who apparently are instructed to bring back the naughty kids in the same burlap bag that held the presents. Santa leaves his home on the North Pole and his staff of handy elves behind to make his journey by a flying-red-nose-reindeer-drawn sled. Let me tell you, it is not easy to mesh these two into something the kids will comprehend, let alone buy.

For now, my husband and I have decided to wait till the kids are actually able to tell us what they want as gifts before we worry about explaining the differences between the two versions. Call it procrastination if you will, I call it good sense.

the family dillema
So what happens when your nomadic parents pick up and move from one country to another when you've barely got a handle on your zit problem, then pick up and move back ten years later? You've got a family dillema on your hands, is what happens.

When my parents moved back to the states, we didn't have Skype or Facebook or cheaper rates for our mobiles. We had a very poor internet connection and e-mails in which you couldn't send an attachment larger than 1.5mb without the whole system crashing. Thank the Scandinavians for inventing Skype so that I, for one, can let my kids get to know their grandparents via webcam, or 'be there' for my brother's wedding in Phuket! It's certainly no surrogate for the real thing, but it certainly makes online communication a lot more worthwhile. Last year wasn't my first Skype Christmas, and it will most certainly not be my last.

TCKids, Global Nomads and Terminally Unique Syndrome... Put together it makes for a steadily growing phenomenon, now that the borders of this world are diminishing and people are having babies all over the place. Take another look at the people you know, you just might know someone who is terminally unique too - in any case, you do now.