Is it safe to skate on the pond?

A few morning’s later, on our way to school, we pass a group of 20 or so people playing an impromptu game of ice hockey on the frozen pond in the park.

 ‘Can we go ice skating now?’ Asks my eldest, zipping her jacket up tight. 

‘We don’t have our ice skates but we can walk on the ice,’ I say, my voice wavering, betraying the thoughts of plunging through the ice.  I cross my fingers as if that will protect us and pull the Bakfiets up to the water’s edge.

Tentatively, we test the ice, none of us quite trusting what we are seeing. A dog sprints out, sliding across the surface in chase of a ball. We take a few more steps. 

‘It’s slippery,’ says my youngest. 

The kids playing hockey squeal and laugh as they chase the puck. I can see the water moving under the ice, several inches down.  I feel invincible and totally vulnerable at the same time.  I grip my daughters’ hands tighter.

‘When are we going to be on the pond?’ asks my eldest.  

‘We’re on it now,’ I say pointing at the water underneath us and around us.  ‘We’re right in the middle.’

My eldest runs and slides and jumps.  

‘Don’t jump, darling,’ I call out, wishing I could just bite my tongue and let her have this.  My heart races.  I remind myself that this lake is only knee deep anyway so even if the ice cracks it will be okay.  The ice creaks and cracks under our feet.  I ignore it.  My youngest slides around like a cat on roller-skates.  The ice creaks and cracks and I see a bubble of water dance in a pocket of air under the surface.  The ice creaks again.  I usher the girls back to the edge of the pond.  

‘It’s time for school,’ I sing-song, pretending this was the reason we were heading back to firm ground.

My eldest stomps her foot in disappointment and the ice cracks.  She jumps onto the ground and pulls the broken shard up out of the water.  My youngest is intrigued by the ice and the two set about collecting shards to make ‘ice sculptures.’  I breathe deeply and let them go, ignoring the fact we are late for school. 

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Does anyone else have trouble Wrangling Kids at Bedtime

‘Okay, pyjamas on please,’ I say for the third time, watching my eldest, jump naked from bed to bed. My youngest is pretending she can’t hear me as she busily closes the blinds.
‘Girls, pyjamas,’ I say, but apparently, I’ve moved to that magical realm where I don’t actually exist right now. 

I go back into the loungeroom.  I light the candles on the coffee table and light the fire.  I burn through 6 matches before it catches.

‘What are you doing?’ asks my youngest enticed out by the light.

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We discover the perks of a Cold Climate

‘Look, Mama, the fairy tree is frozen! Do you think the fairies are playing in the ground with the root children?’  asks my youngest as we cycle through the park.  The Root children, by Sybille von Olfers, is her favourite book at the moment.  We’ve read it so many times I know it by heart.  There is something lovely about the idea of bulbs resting in the earth, sewing their new dresses as they wait for spring to come so they can dance and play in the forest in a burst of bright rainbow colour once again. 

‘Mama, when are we going ice skating?’ asks my eldest, impatiently, not at all interested in the potential magic happening right in front of her.  Her eyes peek out accusingly from the layers of wool I’ve bundled her up in. 

‘Now, darling, that’s where we are going.’ 

 ‘I love ice skating,’ she tells me when we arrive at the ice skating rink, ‘I want to go ice skating every day.’  She whizzes off around the rink, the chair she’d been using for balance long forgotten.  We do not see her again until it is time for hot chocolate.  

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Is it too much for your kid or simply a new challenge to overcome?

‘I don’t want to go to school,’ wails my eldest.  

‘I’m not going to school either,’ echoes my youngest.

‘Why not,’ I ask my eldest and try to tune out the barrage of whining that comes from my youngest, something about if her sister doesn’t go then she shouldn’t have to go because that’s not fair etc, etc.

‘I want to go to an English school,’ she says and then bursts into tears.  ‘I only have one teacher who speaks English, they all speak Dutch.’

‘Are you having trouble understanding what they are saying?’

‘Yes.’

‘Does it feel really hard?’

‘Yes,’ she wipes her face and then tightens her jaw.  ‘I’m staying home.’

‘You are both going to school.  I know it’s a hard thing.  I have my dutch school today, and it’s really hard.  I haven’t done my homework and I don’t want to go, but I need to.  Sometimes we have to do hard things.  Remember when you started kinder, you didn’t want to go, but after a while, you loved it.  And when you changed classes, you didn’t want to.  That was another hard thing, but you did it, and you know, after a while you loved that too.  And then when we came to Amsterdam, you started at a new school, and you didn’t want to do that either.  But you stuck with it, and now you miss it, that’s how much you grew to love it.  Let’s give this school a little more time, you know, you might grow to love this one too.’

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How to fit dates in with your kids

‘Mama, why are the birds walking on the water?’ My eldest asks as we ride through the park on the way to pick up her sister from school.  The cover is on the bakfiets and I have to lean towards her to hear her over the wind.  She is drawing pictures in the foggy condensation on the plastic windows.

‘Because the water is ice, sweetheart. It’s been so cold the water has frozen.’ 

Groups of Dutch kids stand by the water’s edge.  They are plucking shards of ice from near the bank and then casting them across the iced surface, watching them skid and bounce and shatter. 

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How to embrace the long and winding road that can be toilet learning

‘I don’t need a nappy anymore,’ chants my youngest as she skips into the room.  She’s been at her first Montessori kinder now for 4 days.  They have toilets and the children are encouraged not to wear nappies from about 18 months of age.  They have special underwear that is more absorbent than normal knickers, but that still let them know when they are wet.  

‘Is that right, darling?’ I say, bending down so that I can celebrate this new milestone.  

My eldest, however, is devastated.  A gastro bug has swept through her school and only ten minutes earlier she had agreed to put a nappy on because she couldn’t get to the toilet fast enough.  She is humiliated and she is angry.  The offending symbol of babyhood is whipped off followed by inconsolable tears.  Sometimes life really is cruel.

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When does being polite mean we can’t ask for what we need?

‘You should get glasses,’ says my husband.  Without turning I know he is looking at the very attractive brunette sitting two tables from us reading her kindle.  

‘I’ve always wanted glasses,’ I say, knowing that our reasons for me wearing glasses will not be the same.

‘Then you could pretend you were a librarian,’ he said, his eyes widening slightly, mischief and desire mingling in the creases of his eyes.  The same eyes he’d like to have nipped and tucked so that when he is 45 he’ll look 35.  

‘A straight-laced librarian with a naughty side,’ I say drolly.  I’m sure this is the plot of at least a hundred porno’s.  ‘Are you going to bend me over the card catalogue?’ 

‘No, you’ll be wearing a short skirt and leaning over to put away a book.’  He laughs, delighted with himself.  I look around at the darkly lit, nearly empty restaurant, the brunette has been pulled away from her book by a tall, silver haired, dapper man.  

‘Swedish?’ I ask my husband.

‘Maybe.’

‘Norwegian.’  I conclude as I hear him mention a city in Norway I’ve never heard of.  I’m intrigued by Norway.  I’ve never been, but I want to go.  My husband tells me it is cold and expensive but I still want to go.  Images of forests, lakes, mountain cabins and wilderness, there’s a wildness there that excites me.  We watched a clip about the seed storage facility they built miles under a mountain.  It houses copies of all of the worlds seeds, ‘there’s something comforting says the man on the video, knowing that if something should happen, the worlds crops will not be wiped out.’

My husband and I talked about buying a property in Tasmania, somewhere we could go off grid. I fantasise about living off the land.  Growing our own food, setting up polytunnels, and orchards, keeping animals, working hard, but being self sufficient.  And the idea that somewhere in Norway the worlds seeds are being stored makes me happy.  

‘See,’ I say to my husband, as he searches for hotels in the Canary Islands, ‘even if you are sitting alone, people will still talk to you.’  My husband loves to be alone.  Thrives on solitude.  In his ideal world, the only people he would have to deal with are those he does business with and his family.  I mean this is a man who fell in love with a t-shirt on line that read: ‘Not shy, I just don’t like you.’  If they’d shipped it to the Netherlands, he’d have ordered it in an instant.

‘What would you do, just not answer?’ I ask, curious how he handled unwanted social interactions.  

‘No, that would be rude,’ he says.  I smile.  I can’t help it, I’ve seem him yell at airport staff because they weren’t “following protocol”.   ‘I’d just finish up and leave,’ he says without looking up.   

‘It’s funny how we can’t just say, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I was hoping to enjoy my meal on my own.  I really don’t feel like talking.  I hope that’s okay.”  I mean heaven forbid we offend someone.’  I wonder at all the things people do because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, all the things I have done.   ‘I’d probably end up in a conversation I didn’t want to be in, that would last an hour and a half.’  My husband laughed, he’s seen it happen.    

The brunette keeps chatting with the silver fox. 

‘He’s trying to pick her up,’ says my husband. 

I watch as the man, casually pushes his jacket sleeves up, and leans back a little too comfortably in his seat.  A move I’ve seen many men make.  He is dressed smartly.  He looks good and he knows it.  

‘Maybe he’s just lonely.’ 

‘You’re so naive, I know men.’

I laugh, ‘you know you,’  

My husband lets out a loud guffaw, stopping just shy of slapping the table.  ‘You don’t like people,’ I continue, ‘how can you possibly know people?’

He puts his arm around me and hugs me, ‘You’re funny,’ he says.

‘I have my moments,’ I say, as I always do, kissing his cheek.

We push back our chairs and as my husband signs the check, the brunette knocks back what is left of her coffee and then high tails it out of the restaurant.  

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Different cultural attitudes to nakedness

The sun is warm on my skin and I don’t want to move.   Except that the concrete tiles are cold.  I turn my head and look about me, searchingly.  Perfect.  I roll myself up and grab three of the seat cushions from the nearby table.  The courtyard is empty except for my husband and I.  The other guests have all departed, hunger satiated, to retire by the pool on the sun lounges.  Its a much more beautiful view, for sure, but I cannot be bothered moving.  

I look up at my husband, he is on a daybed in the shadows, his jacket wrapped tightly around him, eyes glued to his iPad as he watches another world war II documentary.  I don’t understand how he finds that relaxing, but he tells me he does.  It’s a bit like when we go for a massage, I want something to release the knots in my muscles but I want it to be relaxing.  He wants someone who will literally bruise him.  He pretends he is training for the day he is tortured, this way he knows he will not crack under pressure.  Why anyone would want to torture him, other than me, I have no idea.  I went to lie next to him but it was too cold.  Instead, I grabbed the remaining cushions and fashioned myself a kind of nest. 

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The simple joy of making biscuits

‘Are they ready yet?’ Asks my daughter as soon as she slides the chocolate biscuits into the oven and closes the door.  She hasn’t even taken her oven mitts off. 

‘Not yet, they need 10 minutes.’ I say.
‘Oh,’ she says pulling up a chair and sitting down to watch her chocolate biscuits cook.  The girls have a little oven in their kitchen.  It’s at their height and the dials are easily used by them.  It sits on a cupboard I found out on the street, which has since been painted and repurposed as their kitchen bench.   

She is making chocolate biscuits for when her friends come over to play.  She made invitations for them yesterday and hasn’t quite understood that it can take a little more time than this for her friends to actually appear at our house. 

‘Is it 10 minutes now?’ she asks a minute later. 

‘Lets make the ganache.’  By the time the biscuits are ready, there is more ganache on her face than in the bowl.  She decides not to wait for her friends to arrive before eating the biscuits.

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Are you brave enough to get a Pixie cut?

‘I thought you were growing your hair long’ laughs our nanny as she walks through the front door and spies my hair.  

‘I was….  I am…’ I run my hand through the centimetre of hair I have left, ‘It’s just that I’ve had this bee in my bonnet about a pixie cut, and if I don’t do it now I’ll grow my hair to my shoulders, then get irritated with it because it’s at an awkward length and it’s taking too long and then I’ll cut it all off again.  I figure if I get it over and done with now, then I can let it go.’  I’m really very complicated, I think as the words pour awkwardly from my mouth.  

I’d like to be simple, to ease through life, steady, reliable, consistent.  Instead, I’m up and down like a yoyo.  I’m growing my hair long, I’m cutting it short.  I’m a writer.  Yes.  I’m writing a novel.  Also, I’m writing a picture book.  And, actually, now I’m writing a chapter book for kids.  I’ve also written a ten-minute play, and now, well now it’s time to focus once again on the novel.  

‘I’m starting a blog,’ I tell my husband.  

‘Good,’ he says, ‘I think you should.’  

‘I think I’ll start a blog,’ I say again, a month later.

‘Okay, great.’

‘Do you think I should start a blog?’ I ask him a few weeks after that.

He doesn’t answer.  I’m irritated, but not surprised.

A month later, I’ve started two blogs and am possibly collaborating on a third.  There’s an all or nothing thing about me.  It bugs me, but I can’t seem to find the balance.  I took up salsa dancing in my 20’s.  Some weeks I couldn’t be bothered and I would miss classes for a month.  Other weeks, I was so obsessed, I danced three nights a week until I could no longer stand.  

Sometimes I think I force myself to do things, just to chase the fear into the dark recesses, to prove to myself that I will not be beaten by it.  Eventually, though the effort exhausts me, and I collapse in a heap of fear and self-loathing as I watch too much bad tv and eat an entire block of chocolate (or maybe two, but ssh!).  

I went skydiving once.  It was the most terrifying thing I’d forced myself to do up until that point.  I didn’t really want to jump.  I remember that clearly, but I forced myself to. As if it would prove something. When the door was pulled open and the woman I was strapped to inched us closer to it, I decided I’d changed my mind.  Unfortunately, she didn’t hear me over the raging wing.  There’s a reason they ask you to tilt your head back and stare at the sky above you before you jump, because if you’re anything like me, when you look down at the patchwork quilt of earth just waiting to smash you to smithereens, you’ll never jump.  I didn’t realise until about halfway into the free fall when it occurred to me that I had not only stopped breathing but that I couldn’t actually recall how to get started again.  ‘Scream,’ the young, long dark-haired instructor with the fluoro stars stitched onto her gear told me, as we boarded the plane.  ‘If you find it hard to breathe out, just scream,’

‘Scream,’ the young, long dark-haired instructor with the fluoro stars stitched onto her gear had told me, as we boarded the plane.  ‘If you find it hard to breathe out, just scream,’

So I screamed.  As if I were being murdered.  

‘You’ve got some lungs on you,’ she said as the parachute opened, and the world became eerily quiet.  I’d have felt embarrassed if I wasn’t just thrilled to still be alive.  A friend of mine had also jumped, and when I caught up with her on the ground, she was jubilant.  I’d wished I was jubilant.  

Terror, has been my constant companion for so long, I don’t really know what life is without it.   I wish it had made me more comfortable with its existence, but mostly I just throw myself into awful situations as a way of ‘facing’ the terror rather than running from it.    

So when I rang the hairdressing salon to book an appointment for a pixie cut, and the woman suggested I come in that afternoon, my stomach jumped into my throat as if I was jumping out of that stupid plane all over again.  

‘Okay,’ I said weakly, not really sure now that I wanted to cut all of my hair off, but still unable to let go of the idea.  So, I got on my bike and cycled across town and let a strange man I didn’t know cut all of my hair off.

Do I love it?  I’m not entirely sure, but it’s done now and I feel relieved.  

‘You look like Grandma,’ says my eldest when I finally take the beanie off my head the next day.  

‘Thank you, darling.’

‘You look like Papa,’ says my youngest, touching my hair.

‘Do you think so?’

She nods.  ‘You look like a boy.’

‘You’ve got the face for it,’ I hear over and over again.  So I suspect I’m not the only one who is not entirely sure if they like it. 

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