maandag 31 december 2012

Twelve commandments for 2013

I'm still pregnant. By now we can be fairly sure that this boy is going to be a 2013 baby.

2011 was a year of upheaval, 2012 one of settling in. We're hoping to see a few new developments in 2013, the first of which should be arriving around the start of January. As for the other ones - we're open to change, but as we're not big on planning ahead, who knows what the rest of the year'll bring?

Recently I read Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project (the book, not the blog) and I found it inspiring. The happiness she's looking for is not the opposite of unhappiness or depression, but the opposite of being sucked into the daily grind. Many of the things she changes are small, but taken together it makes a fairly big dent in her daily dose of feeling good. I want that too, so that's what I'm going to do in 2013. I'm going to make myself happier. Because as Rubin writes:

"The days are long but the years are short."

The first thing Rubin advises to do is figure out your personal "commandments", the guidelines by which you live. As she points out, I already knew most of these - I just need to remind myself of them more often. So here they are:

1.  Do unto others as I would have them do unto me: be kind and trust others.

2. Remember to laugh at myself.

3. I will never regret time spent cuddling my loved ones.

4. Count to ten.

5. Listen.

6. Loved ones are worth honesty. Accept criticism.

7. I can only focus on three things at a time in my life.

8. Give inspiration a chance to visit.

9. Don't compromise yourself, you're all you've got (also: de mens lijdt het meest onder het lijden dat hij vreest - man suffers more from the fear of suffering than from suffering itself).

10. Carrying guilt around does not make me a better or more enjoyable person (or: don't be a martyr).

11. Mens sana in corpore sano, most importantly: go to bed.

12. Just do it.

So, in the name of good resolutions, I'm off.

Happy New Year everybody!!

donderdag 27 december 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture post: Christmas, the day after

We had an absolutely wonderful Christmas, more amazing than we'd ever expected. There were heaps of food, lunches, brunches and dinners, including one wholly traditional British one down to the sprouts and the duck fat for the potatoes (and, of course, the Christmas crackers), one Canadian one with Vietnamese influences, one American one with balloons for the children and one Dutch breakfast with a Christmas stol (we did that one ourselves). There was even a birthday dinner for me in there somewhere, with the best possible present: loud, snorting, crying laughter.

I like the whole family thing with Christmas (I know you're not supposed to, you're supposed to complain about the whole obligatory visiting thing and how only duty forces you into this, but I genuinely enjoy it. It's because I actually really like my and S.'s family, so there you go. My secret's out now.) Also, we usually ski at Christmas, which I also really, really like. So skyping with my family while they're running around sorting out their gear to get out on the mountains and I sit here all whale-like sweating in the blistering heat is ever so slightly painful. I wasn't looking forward to that, to be honest. Christmas in the Tropics without family just isn't the real thing.

But this year we had a blast. It's been brilliant. And this is purely thanks to all those lovely, wonderful people who invited us over and came to our place and got us and themselves into the spirit of things, made us laugh, seduced us to go to bed extremely late, gave S. whiskey and poured me sparkling apple juice, made sure there were presents for E., fed us sprouts and ham and pumpkin and fried rice with shrimp, taught us the After Eight game that doesn't involve kissing and caused the eyebrows of the gynaecologist to rise when he saw the weight gain between this and last week (I have to admit, it is fairly impressive).

These pictures were taken today - the day after. We're tired, we're happy, we're working our way through the left-overs and we're loving our blessed life in Singapore. Thank you. May all of your 2013 be a string of joyful Christmasses!













vrijdag 21 december 2012

Hoe praat ik over een bevalling in het Engels

"Dat klinkt haast als Singaporese toestanden", zei de doula afkeurend toen ik haar vertelde dat mijn verloskundige maar alvast de vliezen had gebroken in de hoop dat de bevalling dan wat sneller op zou schieten. Het hielp niet, dus aan het eind van de dag besloot de verloskundige me naar het ziekenhuis te sturen en inleid-hormonen te geven, zodat ik niet nog een nacht in de weeen zou zitten. Ongelooflijk vond de doula dat. "Het is helemaal niet raar als een eerste bevalling een dag of zelfs langer duurt." Trots wees ze naar haar collega. "Zij is net terug van een bevalling die drie dagen heeft geduurd, helemaal natuurlijk!"

Daarom hebben wij geen doula. Ik gruwel van het idee om drie dagen te moeten bevallen, zeker nu ik weet dat het daarna minimaal drie maanden duurt voor ik weer een volle nacht slaap krijg. Nee, doe mij dan maar het medische circus met alle pijn maar ook het vlotte verloop van dien. (En die pijn is trouwens ook nog open voor discussie.)

In de hele discussie en mijn queeste in Singapore naar doulas en informatie viel me iets anders op. Of eigenlijk viel me iets op toen mijn moeder een bozig artikel uit het Brabants Dagblad opstuurde met als titel: "Pijnloos bevallen nog geen regel" en als onderwerp: ondanks de medische richtlijn die expliciet bepaalt dat een bevallende vrouw mag beslissen of ze al dan niet pijnbestrijding krijgt, zijn er nog minimaal dertig ziekenhuizen waar de artsen of verpleegkundigen dergelijke verzoeken niet automatisch inwilligen en op hun eigen beoordeling af gaan. 

In Nederland woedt de strijd om pijnbestrijding (het krijgen ervan) nog steeds.

In Singapore strijden de vrouwen ook om pijnbestrijding (het afwijzen ervan). Er is hier een sterke stroming van vrouwen die een natuurlijke bevalling voorstaan, dat wil zeggen, thuis, zonder pijnbestrijding en zonder medisch ingrijpen.

Een bevalling is hier absoluut een medisch evenement. De gynaecoloog stond paf vanmorgen toen S. en ik hem vertelden dat wij vrouwen (meervoud) kenden die kindjes van vijf kilo vaginaal hadden gebaard. "Vanaf vier kilo adviseren wij een keizersnee", antwoordde hij geschokt. De zwaarste baby die hij ooit - via keizersnee - ter wereld had gebracht woog 4600 gram (de moeder was een forse Filippijnse). 

Ik heb hem maar niet verteld dat E. tijdens haar periode in mijn baarmoeder uberhaupt nooit gemeten is om te zien hoe zwaar ze was. Dat de hoeveelheid vruchtwater niet wekelijks werd gemonitord. En dat er niet, zoals vanochtend, een hartfilmpje van twintig minuten is gemaakt is om te kijken hoe de zaken ervoor stonden. (Goed.) 

Regelmatig snappen wij elkaar ook niet zo goed, de gynaecoloog en ik. "Wacht, dus je vliezen zijn thuis gebroken?" vroeg hij verbaasd. (Ja, in een bed dat we op bierkratjes hadden gezet om aan de arbo-regels te voldoen, maar dat heb ik er maar niet bij verteld.) "Waarom niet in het ziekenhuis?" Tja, geen idee, eigenlijk. Gewoon, omdat de bevalling nog niet goed op gang was. Dus dan blijf je voorlopig nog thuis. "En... het bed dan?" vroeg de gynaecoloog voorzichtig. 

Dat hadden we beschermd met een matrasbeschermer uit het gratis kraampakket van de zorgverzekering, legde ik uit. "Dat klinkt alsof je thuis wilde bevallen", zei hij en zijn wenkbrauwen rezen de lucht in. "Nee hoor", verzekerde S. hem, "wij wilden heel graag in het ziekenhuis bevallen, net als nu. Maar een thuisbevalling is nu eenmaal de norm." 

Het is dat de gynaecoloog een Singaporees is, anders was zijn klomp gebroken.

De neonatale sterfte in Singapore bedraagt minder dan de helft van die in Nederland (die in Nederland is overigens ook zeer laag). Dat zal zeker iets te maken hebben met het feit dat een zwangerschap en een bevalling hier als een medische kwestie worden gezien, en niet als een natuurlijke gebeurtenis. (Dit is overigens een klassiek verschil tussen de visie van gynaecologen en die van verloskundigen en doulas, veroorzaakt door het feit dat een gynaecoloog alle probleemgevallen voorbij ziet komen, terwijl doulas en verloskundigen voornamelijk de bevallingen zien die goed gaan.) 

Anderszijds blijkt uit onderzoek dat doulas een rustgevend effect hebben op moeders en dat thuisbevallingen het herstel van de moeder bevorderen. Beiden verlagen de kans op postpartumdepressies enorm (het zou me overigens niks verbazen als in Nederland de rol van de 'postpartum doula' door kraamverzorgsters wordt overgenomen.) 

Maar in beide culturen moeten vrouwen nog steeds strijden voor het recht om zelf te beslissen hoe en waar en wat zij willen tijdens de bevalling. In beide culturen voelen vrouwen zich onmondig en nemen ze zich voor om het bij de tweede anders te doen.

Terwijl ik over al deze zaken nadacht, viel er ineens een linguistisch kwartje. Want het verschil tussen de Nederlandse en de Angelsakische/Singaporese wijze van denken zit al besloten in de terminologie die de talen gebruiken.

Wat wij een "bevalling" noemen, heet in het Engels een "natural delivery". Een "delivery" noemen wij een "bevalling met pijnbestrijding". Onze "natuurlijke bevalling" heet in het Engels een "vaginal delivery", de tegenhanger van een keizersnee of "Caesarean (section)". Het is zelfs terug te zien in de terminologie om het verloop te beschrijven: Waar mogelijk kiezen Engelssprekenden voor een medische term. Waar mogelijk gebruiken Nederlanders een vriendelijke huis-, tuin- en keukenterm. Onze "harde buik" of "voorwee" is een "Braxton-Hicks", onze "knip" is een "episiotomy" en onze "kraamverzorgster" is een "confinement nurse".

Het cultuurverschil in taal gevangen.

woensdag 19 december 2012

Singaporeans do things differently: Speaking English

I am the proud owner of a Certificate in Gateway to Mandarin Level 1. This means that I have exactly zero ability to speak Mandarin, but at least it'll get me into Level 2 and maybe then I will finally master the second or "surprised" tone.

(I tried to tell a Chinese friend I was happy to see her, a sentence which includes the word "renshi" or "getting to know", and I discovered today that if mispronounced "renshi" might also mean "buying and selling people". Which, I suppose, explains her horrified expression.)

However - lack of practical ability notwithstanding, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly and intuitively I managed to grasp the grammar and sentence structure.

I blame this on Singlish, the local variety of English, which E. is rapidly mastering and I more slowly am getting to grips with. 

"Just put lah at the end of every sentence", people'll tell you if you ask about Singlish. That certainly helps, just as tacking on "like" at the end of your sentence will make you sound Irish, whereas slipping "like" into the middle and pausing will make you sound like you emerged from nineties-era Los Angeles. There are some very common Malay and Chinese words that get mixed into Singaporean English as well, such as atas for snobby or tai tai for rich housewives, and some lovely local expressions such as blur, meaning a bit vague, not all there, and catch no ball for "I don't understand". 

But there's more to Singlish. The grammar is different too. (Which actually could qualify it as an official language, I believe, if anybody would take the trouble to elevate its status. But we're not in the European Union anymore, Toto.) 

The most obvious form of this grammatical difference to expats is the "can" and "cannot" substitutes for "yes" and "no". However, a lot of verbs carry their own versions of "no" - "want" comes with "don't want", "have" comes with "don't have" - which is exactly the way it works in Mandarin. 

In Singlish, questions are often formed by taken a statement and substituting "what" or "where" for the thing that is being asked for: "You go where?" ("I'm going to Orchard Road") or "You buy what?" ("I'd like to buy some pumpkin, please"). Again, this is exactly as laoshi (teacher) taught us to build sentences in Mandarin class. 

Now it turns out that my valiant attempts at getting to grips with the local lingo has actually prepared the groundworks for learning Mandarin - the language I always sort of hid away from, thinking it too difficult to even think about attempting it (and neither Level 1 nor Level 2 does anything with characters or proper reading yet, it's all conversational). 

It's not that I am a language genius (I never did master the subjunctive in Spanish, leading my Bolivian friends to think that I am a very serious type person, I mumble my way through German declinations and the last time I even attempted to speak French the French person kindly answered in Spanish). 

It's just that I have this strange aptitude when it comes to English to pick up accents and colloquialisms almost subconsciously (I cannot for the life of me do an accent in Dutch, not even my own regional one). Non-native speakers aren't supposed to do able to do this, but I think my brain got re-wired during my toddlerhood in Singapore, where, apparently, I navigated deftly among Dutch, English, basic Tagalog and a smattering of, yes, Mandarin in daily life. 

I forgot all of that as soon I crossed the treshold to our new Dutch home. (Well, not the Dutch, obviously.)

But in a roundabout way my ease with and love for the English language has made learning Mandarin a bit easier. Now I just need to find somebody to teach me proper Singlish vocabulary, so I can actually talk to people.

maandag 17 december 2012

Plaatjespost & Picture post: Week 37 and counting

This is S. and me and E. a month or two before everybody else found out her name.




This is S. and me and E. mere days before she'd pop out. As you can see, in the best Dutch tradition we'd prepared the bedroom for the possibility of a home birth by raising the bed higher off the floor by putting beer crates underneath, in order to be in accordance with labour regulations (the ones concerning midwives not bending too much and straining their backs, there are no labour regulations for women giving birth).




This is one of S.'s favourite pictures of me and Elsemieke, shot by the wonderful Eun Leij of Kekke Kiekjes (she shot the first picture shown above as well, actually).




In fact, S. liked it so much, he copied it yesterday. Here is me and Sonny Boy at three weeks before the due date.


vrijdag 7 december 2012

Lessons learned: Avoiding gender stereotypes

"That's very European", an Asian mother commented when I told her I was trying to avoid gender stereotypes around E.

It does sound a bit high minded when written down, but basically what it comes down to is not limiting the colour scheme to pink, picking generic lego sets over the flowery houses and enthusiastically imitating airplanes whizzing around shopping malls (go on, picture that, a towering eight months pregnant Caucasian woman running around with out-stretched arms making vroomvroom noises among quiet and reserved Asian shoppers).

At home, with us, this seems to work. E. loves drawing and puzzles and books. She'll build towers out of lego and has recently discovered the joy of building blocks. She tidies up behind herself (especially when reminded) and she always wants to help out with cooking. She loves all manner of bikes, from her own balance bike to huge Harley Davidson motorcycles. When doing the laundry she prefers S.'s clothes to mine, but shoe-wise she definitely goes for the heels. I try not to stifle her ideas and play to fit in with a pre-conceived notion of what she should like and do.

So here I am, trying to let my child be who she wants to be. When she told me that papa was a princess and mama was a knight, I didn't correct her. (She corrected herself: of course we weren't a princess and a knight, all three of us were horses!) We fib a bit to even things out in the examples we set her ourselves. Whenever I go off and leave her with S. we tell her that I go to work (which, in a very broad sense of the word, is true). Lately, S. has been picking up the slack that I leave in the wake of my whale-like body. He cooks, he tidies (I bite my tongue - well, sometimes anyway).

I'm actually not sure if she's completely aware that she's female and that other toddlers are male, and that there is this whole divide in humanity between men and women, as that isn't something that ever seems to come up in conversation (apart from the odd time when she sees either of us taking a shower). Last time I asked her if she was a boy or a girl, she got confused by the terminology.

But whenever we go out and I give her a choice of clothing, she'll pick something pink. Or frilly. Or white with a colourful pattern. Definitely a dress or a skirt. And always pink or flowery socks. And whenever we're at a playdate she'll make a beeline for the dolls and the toy kitchen and start cooking, bathing and changing diapers on the doll before putting it to bed. She loves to push prams, both real and fake ones. So, in the spirit of letting her be her, I am letting her be girly.

But it does feel like she's missing the point.

woensdag 5 december 2012

Singaporeans do things differently: Free-range children

"Oh, she's over there", I pointed E. out to the British grandparents who were sitting next to me. E. was purposefully walking off towards the horizon by the side of an Olympic size swimming pool. The grandparents looked concerned. They shifted on their chairs.

"The Dutch child barrier lies much further out", their son, our fellow parent-friend, comforted them. He held his hands about twenty centimeters apart. "This is the American barrier", he moved his hands slightly further apart: "This is the British barrier", he opened his arms as wide as they'd go: "This is the Dutch barrier."

E. looked round and decided to amble back towards us. "If I run after her, she'll keep going", I explained. "But if I just wait, eight times out of ten, she comes back on her own." The grandparents nodded rather unenthusiastically, clearly not impressed by my parenting philosophy.

Where American and British parents are always a step or two behind their children, Singaporean parents prefer to be right next to their children. They are close enough to catch them when they fall. Strange Singaporeans rush in when E. topples over to help her out, and since I am generally a few meters away, they usually get there first.

Then they are very surprised when E. pushes herself off the ground, dusts her knees and simply gets on with things.

"So independent, lah!" they'll admire her. And when she smiles at them: "So happy!"

It's true. E. loves to run around, explore and skip along with S. and myself. At playdates she'll rush off to have a look at all the amazing toys and she adores to play with other children. She doesn't let things like toppling over or getting into a toddler scrap distract her from the bigger picture which is doing her thing, having fun, discovering the world.

More than one Singaporean has commented that they'd love their child to be more like ours.

Maybe so. But I dread the day we'll be in a restaurant and instead of respectfully listen to us, she'll make a scene. Because that's what all this autonomy and independence and happiness is leading up to: a willful, stubborn child, who has complete faith in her own opinion.

I should know, I was a Dutch child too once and I remember my parents sighing and looking wistfully at other dining families in foreign restaurants. "It's always the Dutch kids screaming", they'd nod at each other. (Writing this, I'm thinking we can't have been that bad, as they kept taking us four out to restaurants in the first place - or maybe my parents are masochists.)

Singaporean children are protected from pain and hurt, but at the same time also taught to withhold emotions in a public setting. I am the only mother at daycare to extensively kiss and cuddle my child upon pick-up, just, you know, because she's there. And I've missed her. And she looks cute. Singaporean parents generally reserve displays of affection for the home.

This goes for displays of distress too. A Dutch preschool teacher, who teams up with a Singaporean teacher to lead her class room, told me that where Dutch teachers will let children fall and get into scraps and only intervene if there is actual crying, her Singaporean colleagues will try to prevent hurt and crying. But once there is pain and crying, the Dutch teacher will comfort the child and let its emotions run free, whereas the Singaporean teacher will pick up and cuddle the child and then sternly tell it: "You've been comforted. No need for crying."

Both are trying to teach a child resilience: the Dutch through letting the toddlers experience the consequences of their actions without intervening, thereby fostering an independent nature, the Singaporeans through teaching toddlers trust and respect for their elders.

I wouldn't mind if E. picked up some of that respect along the way - although in fairness and although I like to call her a little wild animal, she isn't actually. She's much too loving to leave us alone for very long. She knows that we grow sad without her.

Eight times out of then, at the edge of the barrier, she'll look over her shoulder, smile cheekily, then run back and throw herself into our arms.

maandag 3 december 2012

Snipperdag - Thinking day

Today I am taking the day off to ruminate on life, last Saturday's inspiring Tedx Women conference, several possible writing assignments that I've been looking at and really should do more than look at, the start of my personal happiness project (no time like the present, especially in the face of a life changing event in a month's time) and last but definitely not least to do my taxes. For 2011.

So see you all on Wednesday!

ps. A 'snipperdag' is something that probably only exists in the Netherlands because in some jobs some people get ridiculous amounts of time off (like I did in my first job...) It means to take leave from work for a day, just... Because. To think a bit, to do a bit of gardening, to laze around mid-week and relax. It's no wonder we are known for our preference for life over work in the work-life balance if taking a 'snipperdag' is not only accepted but congratulated as the best way to ensure mental and physical health.

ps II. In fact, after three months in my first job, my boss sidled up to me and said: "You haven't taken a single day off yet this year. Shouldn't you go home? Maybe this afternoon?" My leave that year amounted to almost ten weeks, so in fairness, if I didn't get a head start on taking days off, I'd never get rid of the load by the start of the next period.

ps III. I did manage to take ALL of that leave the second year, though. I am a good student.

ps IV. Obviously, I was paid peanuts and could barely subsist on my salary. Huge bonuses and generous amounts of leisure time generally do not co-exist in the same office.