woensdag 26 november 2014

Mama Monologue: Battles I have lost

"No Blondie, we are only going away for three nights, so you only need to pack three pyjama's."

"Big Boy, no jumping from the back of the couch to the tiles, stick to the rug."

"No Blondie, I only read two 'last' stories, this is really really really the last one."

"Big Boy, please spit out your food on your plate."

"No Blondie, you cannot have more broccoli, papa likes broccoli too."

"Big Boy, you may have the blue tiara and the pink necklace, let your sister have the sparkly one."

"No Blondie, we are not taking your Bumble Bee costume with us on holiday."
"Yes, I know I said to bring a nice dress but that is not a nice dress."
"Yes, it is nice."
"Yes, it is a dress."
"No, it's a costume."
"Bumble bees don't go on holiday."
"I know you're only pretending to be a bumble bee. We're still not packing the costume."
"No, we are not packing your Elsa dress either."

NaBloPoMo November 2014

dinsdag 25 november 2014

Lessons learned: packing for travel with children

Today's post is not so much a lesson learned as a discovery made.

I am, even if I say so myself, rather good at packing bags for travel. Even when cycling from home to Rome carrying all the necessities on the back of our bicycles, I still had room to spare, and unworn clothes when we reached Rome (this was on purpose, as one needs to fare la bella figura in Italy).

For me, the trick turned out to be deciding what was essential (money, passport, phone, tooth brush and paste, deodorant and a spare set of underwear) and reminding myself that anything else could be bought upon arrival. Or even at the airport before leaving. I have not worried about packing since.

The discovery came after I had children: I still do not worry about packing. I was fully expecting to have to lug a household's worth of goods every time I decided to move myself two inches, but it turned out to be surprisingly easy. Grab the diaper bag. Grab the kid. Leave. (Now that the kids have to physically move themselves while wearing SHOES AND UNDERWEAR things are different. But that has nothing to do with packing bags.)

For longer haul travelling, I employ the same trick as before. I look up our destination, figure out what we absolutely need to survive, pack that, and relax.

Of course, I do a bit of packing after the essentials (in case you're interested: money, passport, phone, tooth brush, tooth paste, deodorant, spare set of underwear, two spare sets of clothing each for the children, diapers, sleeping bag and lovey for Big Boy). You know, like swim suits, swim goggles, some toys, a dress, a skirt here and there - I'm not setting myself up for a clothing hunt through a Bali tourist shop when we could be lying on the beach. I'm just saying, if it comes to that, we'll survive and it'll be an adventure.

My mother used to sigh and ask why I had to dress like a homeless person (this was the age of grunge) but it has left me with a underdeveloped sense of the importance of looking nice. This works out well when the goal is to pack 'n relax. (Except in Rome. Because when in Rome.)

But what if you travel from tropical Singapore to cold Europe? The same rule still applies, it's just that the essentials include one set of warm clothes for each person. And you might want to look into shoes and snow suits (reminder to self: look into shoes and snow suits). But other than that: you're good to go.

In fact, once I showed up at an airport without a passport or an airplane ticket, and the Dutch Marechaussee very kindly issued me an emergency passport after which the airline people found my ticket in their reservation system and off I went on my holiday*. So arguably, the only thing you really need to pack is a tooth brush and clean underwear.

But mostly, I have not had to go emergency shopping, or handwash in hotel bathrooms. Usually, we pack what we need, we use what we pack, and we all go home happy. Pack the essentials, pack everything else on the list, check the essentials, do not think, do not question, check the essentials, leave.

This Thursday we're off on to another tropical island and I have promised Blondie she could pack her own bag.

*It also involved making a police report, and included a healthy dose of panick, and a tiny airport located a 15 minute cycle from my house, and I strongly advise anybody against trying this themselves.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

maandag 24 november 2014

Picture Post & Plaatjespost: My favourite shots

After Blondie was born, my mother handed me my own baby album. When we moved to Singapore, she slipped the first year of our lives in Singapore into my suitcase. It has been wonderful to compare Blondie's life with my own, and she loves to hear stories from when mama was little. 

So, sometime over the past year, I have started to collect photographs of our wee ones to put into an album, so they can leaf through it. Since I was going through our files anyway, I have also started a file named 'Embarrassing', stocking pictures for use when the time comes for graduation and wedding speeches. 

Having gone through all of those pictures several times, the funny thing is: there were no hidden treasures. I knew exactly which ones were my favourite pictures and those ones have remained my favourite pictures. Many of them have already been featured on this blog (here and here and here, for instance, or here and here and here or if you want to go really far back here and here and here and, finally, here).

But here are a few of the past year that I just adore. 

Switzerland holiday, January 2014

Big Boy adores pink flowers, balloons and hair accessories, as well as cars, balls and death jumps. (March 2014)

Photoshoot at my all-time favourite photoshoot location, the white garden at the HortPark. 
(June 2014)

Big Boy in heaven. (July 2014, picture by a friend)

 Blondie in the even bigger ball pen. (July 2014, picture by Man Tamtam)

Blondie and myself at the CNY lights* (February 2014, picture by a friend)

*CNY is Chinese New Year, and the streets of Chinatown are covered in lanterns depicting the year's zodiac sign (horses and coins in this case, my zodiac sign in fact). 

NaBloPoMo November 2014

zondag 23 november 2014

This made me smile: Koref clothes change

We were in Koref for the weekend. Halfway through, I had to ration Blondie's outfit changes to make her clothes last the full weekend (I tried to ration Big Boy's mud-jumping, but then decided that he is still of only-diaper wearing age). It was hard to keep up with pictures amidst all the costume changes, but here are pictures of roughly half of their outfits.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

zaterdag 22 november 2014

Repeating History: Sinterklaas in Singapore

Today, we inaugurated Blondie properly into the Dutchies favourite tradition: Sinterklaas. I'm calling it "repeating history" as I used to go to these festivities as well at the Hollandse Club, but when Man Tamtam asked "What memories were jogged?", I had to tell him - none.

What I remember of the arrival of Sinterklaas is at school, the Hollandse School in Singapore, and we'd all be standing around on the steps watching as Zwarte Piet cycled Sinterklaas in his rikshaw up the hill from Orchard Road. We'd all be wearing these home-made Zwarte Piet-caps out of cardboard and crepe paper, and shouting and dancing with glee.

Nowadays the children wear proper store-bought suits and hats. Much more durable - I remember our main worry while waiting for the saint to arrive was holding on to the caps while not squashing them.

'Sinterklaas' both refers to the festival of gift-giving on December 5th and to its main protagonist, Saint Nicholas, formerly bishop of Myra (Turkey) and patron saint of sailors, drunkards and unwed women. He is also the patron saint of Amsterdam (no surprise there) and the origin for the name "Santa Claus", though Sinterklaas does not actually have anything to do with Christmas other than being a Catholic saint (perish the thought!).

Somewhere in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, when all of Europe was really into inventing traditions, the Dutch decided to stake a claim to this saint. In the process, he got moved to Spain, outftted with a white horse and a steamboat to get him from Spain to the Netherlands every year) and accompanied by a bunch of henchmen called "Black Petes", about whom there is a big debate raging back home (and rightfully so, let's hope their looks go more chimney sweeper and less uniformly black in future, but I digress).

As the Dutch are both pragmatic and mercantile, Sinterklaas arrives about two to three weeks before the big day, and then hangs around until the big day, offering lots of photo ops, and product placement opportunities. The arrival of Sinterklaas is a nationally televised event. (YES.) A day or a week later, he will arrive in cities around the Netherlands and around the world.

Today, he arrived in Singapore, at the Marina Bay South Jetty. (Sinterklaas likes a bit of an entrance.) We took Blondie and Big Boy there, who were much more interested in pepernoten and balloons respectively, after which Blondie and I took the bus to the Hollandse Club for the real welcome, including gift and lunch.

Blondie, not enrolled in the Hollandse School and sadly lacking in Dutchie friends, took a bit of convincing to get into the proceedings. And she was deeply disappointed she did not get the opportunity to tell Sinterklaas and Black Pete that she thinks they are very nice people, and thank you for the pepernoten. But she loved the band.

We need to get her started on the Sinterklaasjournaal, if we want to save our Blondie for this Dutch tradition because in a few years, she's going to have to do the whole rhyming poking fun at people while giving them presents gig. Sinterklaas only gets better when you get older - the magic never ends.

ps. I know I missed yesterday. There were deadlines, melt-downs and a dinner party at my house. As it turns out, I am not superhuman after all.
psII. All photos taken with my phone and published without editing.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

donderdag 20 november 2014

Lessons learned: why I am happy I don't live in Scandinavia

Oslo mother: "When my partner got an offer in The Netherlands, it was very easy for us to decide to leave, as we were in the middle of this commuting with no day care spot for [our daughter] in sight."

When I read that on Slate, it pulled me up short. Somehow, Norway (and Sweden) had lodged themselves in my mind as the ultimate states for young families. A year's paid leave from work, a guarantueed job once you get back and for the non-child bearing a shot at a new career, industry or job because you get to fill in a whole year for a maternity leave, not a measly four months.

In Sweden in particular men step up too. The way the maternity/paternity leave is rigged, it ensures that fathers take up a lot of their parental leave too (two months out of the twelve are reserved for men only, so if the father doesn't take two months leave, the child has to go into daycare at ten months. And there are generally no spots before the child is one year old.)

It all sounds like a dream come true.

And then I read that quote. And it set off a cascade of thoughts.

As it turns out, in Norway your child may only enter daycare in September, regardless of the birth month. And the child has to be one year old. If you miss the sign up deadline of March, it means you have no slot for the next year. So that means mid-year moves or new careers in different cities are out as long as you have pre-school children. Seeing as how Blondie was born in October, that would have meant not one but almost TWO years at home with the baby. And since her brother was born a few months after she turned two, I would have been back in and out of work in a matter of months.

Somehow, I don't think that several years of forced home leave would have contributed to my happiness. Especially when I think back on my ecstatic happiness when I first started back at work last year. Big Boy was six months old at the time - not an option in Norway, and frowned upon in Sweden.

By now, I have really done it all, but I've never had it all. I have stayed at home, I have worked full-time, I am working part-time now. It's a struggle, each and every option, but at least I have had the opportunity to try all of them, and to find out which suit me and my family best.

This is where the cascade of thoughts stopped: the Scandinavian idyll does not allow for different strokes. The Scandinavian idyll, as being sold to us today, advocates one way. The Right Way.

The right way is full-time work for two parents with the children in highly qualified day care centres (because the grandparents work full-time too). No village of uneducated neighbours, friends and family taking turns and taking care of the wee ones, but an all-knowing, high quality state making sure all is set up to best promote the values that have been democratically decided to be of the highest importance: equality and prosperity.

Reading over that last sentence, I think I know another state which closely resembles that fatherly (for want of a gender neutral term) description. But I digress.

I am still learning how to navigate parenthood and economic viability. But I feel blessed that I have had these different options and different life styles to try on to see how they fit. I am grateful that other people have let me look into their lives and (patiently) answered questions on how and what they did. And I have seen that almost everybody, in Singapore, Netherlands or Scandinavia, like me, is still trying to figure things out.

I could fill a blog post with how horrible it is to part-time work from home with children around. (Other people do that so much better.) I could just as easily write about the pain of missing out on my children's lives because I am at work, or the agonizing boredom of having a two year old as your only company for days on end. I have lived all those lives, and hated each one at times.

I don't have an answer (in general, it is safe to assume I have no answers, unless you're asking about early medieval saints, and even in that case, I would advise you to double check).

But at least, I got to try it out for myself. I think in the Scandinavian model I would not have had that opportunity.

My whiteboard at work

NaBloPoMo November 2014

woensdag 19 november 2014

Singaporeans do things differently: floorball and triathlon*

For a while I was very fit and sporty, in between finishing university and having my first child. I used to play floorball, a cross between ice hockey and indoor field hockey, a very fast and dynamic sport at which I sucked. Well, I wasn't very good. But I was dedicated, and it was a tiny sport so I would always be playing with people much better than myself and, basically, it was just so much fun!

Through a strange fluke of fate I was actually part of the team that played the European Cup qualifying games. At this time, the competition in the Netherlands was so tiny, we couldn't field full-size women's teams. So we used to field half-size teams for competition. Our club had two women's teams, one that topped the league, and, well, the other one. But for the European Cup qualifying tournament the club had to field a full-size team, so the other team got roped in as well. And I got to go!

We were the relief squad, to let the stars catch their breath. For two months, we practised defense, forming a tight human block in front of the goal. The stars meanwhile were having their own training camp: the World Cup in Singapore.

Yes, my new home country has a strong presence in the global floorball community too! When we moved to Singapore, I didn't bring my stick, but I was secretly hoping to get back into the game.

But it turns out that Singaporeans don't really do club sports or leagues, unless it's netball or dragonboat racing. (And both of these count an interesting number of expats among their members, including the almost obligatory 'Spanish Armada' dragonboat team.) Floorball unfortunately is mainly relegated to schools and universities.

The sport that Singaporeans seem to really have taken to heart is the triathlon. Which might be surprising, taking into account the following three facts about Singapore:
a) it is tiny with heavy traffic everywhere
b) it has a humidity of 85% all the time and
c) the temperature never drops below 27 Celsius.

So, obviously, I decided to do as the locals (and lots of expats, of course) and started training for my own triathlon (one of the tiny ones, not an Ironman, perish the thought). And, after three years, I finally have completed one!

It was good. We stayed on to cheer a few of the other athletes, and I saw a few people I know from training sessions. In fact, some of the people I used to train with before the arrival of Big Boy are still around!

The other day I took Blondie and Big Boy to the local sports shopping centre to buy a triathlon suit (yes, I now own a triathlon suit). While there, we spotted the floorball sticks and both Blondie and Big Boy grabbed one and I grabbed a ball, and we ran around the shop for a little bit.

Triathlons are nice and all, but I do really miss the excitement and the team spirit of floorball.

*This is not a very well-written or thought out post, and I apologize. I'm still hitting my roadblock.

NaBloPoMo November 2014