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.

April 04, 2010

The Easter Bunny

As a kid, the Easter Bunny was the only fantasy holiday creature I really believed in. Santa Claus was a little too far-fetched for me, the Tooth Fairy was just beyond comprehension, but the Easter Bunny had something special.

I remember one year (perhaps it was the year I started to doubt) when I wrote a letter to the Easter Bunny. I asked him (for some reason I assumed it was a him) to draw a picture of himself. The next morning, I didn't rush after my brothers in search of eggs or baskets, I went straight for the little folded-up piece of paper - the answer to my request.

When I unfolded the paper, I saw a true-to-life pencil sketch of a rabbit, very much like this one:

So the Easter Bunny wasn't some goofy-looking rabbit that stood on two legs and wore a kooky hat after all! It was a real rabbit! Every time I saw a real rabbit after that, I always sort of wondered: could it be him? And you know, I think that to this day.

My Easter Bunny experience had much more of an impact on my life than any gift under the Christmas tree or money under my pillow ever did. I find it important that my kids grow up appreciating nature and all its beauty way more than anything they can get at Toys-R-Us...

On this Easter morning, outside our little house in the forest, there are rabbits running around in the grass - baby rabbits on their very first jaunt outside the hole, and older more cautious rabbits sniffling around for a particularly yummy bit of grass. On Easter morning, we've got Easter Bunnies galore. Real ones.

*This beautiful sketch is by pandahead