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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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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Sometimes you can’t be there for your kids.

‘Sint Maarten,’ explains our nanny, ‘is like the Dutch Halloween.’  It has absolutely nothing to do with Halloween of course, instead, it celebrates Saint Martin, a man who took his sword to his cloak, slicing in half, so that he might share it, along with his bread with a cold and hungry beggar he met on the road.  

During the day, children make lanterns and when the sun sets, they take their lanterns out onto the street and go from door to door, singing songs to their neighbors in exchange for treats.  I didn’t love the idea of all of the treats, but I did love the idea of the festival.  I wrote the date on the calendar and then of course, promptly forgot it.  

‘I thought we could go away for the weekend for your birthday,’ I say to my husband.  He doesn’t really care for birthdays, especially his own, and generally, prefers to be on a plane heading somewhere.  For the last four years, he has managed to be on a plane, away from his family.  I love birthdays, but his general disregard for them, along with his tendency to just buy whatever he wants, makes him incredibly difficult to buy for.  So this year, I figured I’d come up with a winner.  This year, I would take him away for his birthday.  That way he would be on a plane, we would get to do something fun, and I’d actually get to celebrate his birthday with him.  Which he would hate, but I would love.  ‘I was thinking we could go to Bucharest,’ I continue, knowing that it was one place he had not been and really wanted to go to.  

‘I was thinking we could go to Bucharest,’ I continue, knowing that it was one place he had not been and really wanted to go to.  

‘Too cold,’ he says, not looking up from his laptop where he is busily typing emails.

I close off all of the open tabs I have for hotels, restaurants and things to do.

‘Maybe we could go to that detox place Jeroen went to.  In Spain.’  Jeroen is someone he works with, and he had come back after four days away raving about this retreat.  My husband loves a retreat.  Somewhere that feels luxurious where he can practice yoga, get daily massages and ideally fast and get colonics.  Not exactly my idea of a good time.

‘Sure…’ I say, figuring I could opt out of the colonics and join him for the massages.

We settle on a place, book the accommodation, book the flights, and organize for our nanny to stay the weekend with the girls.  Everything is set.

My husband’s birthday, it turns out, is the same day as Sint Maarten.  By the time I realise everything is booked.  It is too late.  So I am in sunny Spain when my girls are making lanterns.  I am singing happy birthday with the waitress who has just presented my husband with a candle-lit chocolate cake for his birthday when my girls join the neighborhood kids and sing the Sint Maarten songs to everyone who answers their door.  I am not there to see my eldest’s face light up with delight at all the candy.  I am not there when my youngest, decides she is tired and cold and wants to go home three houses in.  

‘Look,’ I say, showing my husband the photos of the girls as they appear on WhatsApp.  

‘Nice,’ he says, without a second thought.

‘I’m sad.’

‘Why?’ he asks, genuinely confused.

‘Because we’re missing it.’  I wanted to be part of that memory, part of that experience.  It was the same way I’d felt when Mum had sent me the video of my eldest crawling for the first time.  I had barely left her side for more than an hour since she had been born, and she chose the one afternoon Mum had sent me away to buy some clothes that would actually fit, to crawl.   I felt sad and guilty and bad, as though I were committing a major parenting offense.  

‘I don’t,’ he says, completely unfazed and unemotional.  Sometimes I envy him that detachment.  The complete freedom he feels to just do whatever he wants, whenever he wants.  If he was there to share it with them great, if he wasn’t, great.  

Two days later, Sinterklaas arrives.  

‘The girls are making pictures for Sinterklaas to put in their shoe for when Sinterklaas comes tonight,’ messages our nanny while we are waiting at the airport.  

‘I thought Sinterklaas doesn’t come until the 5th December,’ I type back quickly, suddenly confused.  ‘Everything I read said that the shoes were set out on the night of the 5th,’  I say to my husband, as though there were something he could do about it. He shrugs, still nonplussed.  

‘Doesn’t this bother you at all?’ 

‘No.’

‘He arrives in the Netherlands today, but his birthday is the 5th December.’  Says the message from our nanny.  ‘They get the big presents on the 5th.’  

As we board our flight, my phone beeps.  A photo of the girls’ shoes lined up neatly in front of the fireplace, scrolls of drawings tied with ribbon poking out of each shoe.  Next to the shoes sit a block of chocolate for Sinterklaas and an apple and some water for his horse.   It’s darling and I want to cry.

At home, I ditch my bag and race up the stairs to my secret present cupboard, the one I’ve been filling since September.  Christmas thrills me and I select a necklace and bracelet, for each of the girls, some stickers, and new crayons.  Then I sneak back down the stairs.  I take a few bites out of the apple, eat several squares of chocolate, the same way my Mum did when I was young, and become part of an age-old tradition that keeps the magic of childhood alive.  

I take the drawings out and unravel them. Avarose looks as though she’s picked up whichever crayon was nearest to her and scribbled about on the page.  There is brown and blue and a little green.  It looks like she became bored quickly.  Grace meanwhile, has colored every inch of the page.  There is pink and purple and blue and yellow around the border and a picture in the middle, Sinterklaas maybe, and possibly his horse, Amerigo.  Maybe that’s what Avarose was drawing too.  I replace them with the beaded necklaces and bracelets, some stickers and new crayons.  Their favorite things at the moment.  Then I tiptoe back down the stairs to bed, impatient for the morning.

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How to Get Comfortable with Your Own Nakedness

‘I’ve booked us in for a massage at the deco spa,’ my husband says, typing something into his laptop and then turning it around to show me a luxurious Art Deco building with dark panelling, gold, lines and motifs that even Gatsby would drool over.  

‘Yay!  I so want to go!’  I clap my hands together.  I could definitely use this after the morning we’ve had. 

‘There’s just one thing,’ he says to me, winking, ‘it’s a naked spa.’

‘What?’ 

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When Moving Forwards into the Unknown is too Challenging

‘Higher, Mama,’ she says, her tone tight and sharp. My eldest’s frustration levels are maxed out with the amount of Dutch spoken at her school. She feels confused and misunderstood, I imagine it is like her world feels as though it is spinning wildly out of her control. Some days she cries. Most days she is angry.

‘Not like that,’ she snaps.

‘Please don’t talk to me like that,’ I say biting my tongue to stop the sharp retort that wants to be let free into the world. I breathe in and out slowly and keep pushing the swing. 

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