Monday, 28 July 2014

Our Wedding Anniversary

Today, seven years ago, my husband and I got married in Hauwert in Noord-Holland. Family came from near and far to celebrate that day with us and it's a day we're still paying for we'll always remember.

But what is more important than that one day seven years ago is all the days that have come after that day. And the days that led to our wedding day.

Leaving everything behind to move to a new country for one person is a big step. Building a new life overseas is a mountain to climb. Living life as an expat is not always easy. Sharing a home when your mother tongues are different takes patience. Sharing a life with someone from a different culture takes work.

But I would do it all again in a heart beat.

Happy anniversary Mr van Mulligen.
x

Thursday, 24 July 2014

24 Things I Spend my Days Saying as the Mother of Three Boys

Nobody warned me before I became a mother about the sentences that would come out of my mouth once I had children. Nobody told me about the words I would utter being a parent to boys. Nobody thought to enlighten me about the bizarre topics of conversation that would become commonplace in a house with three boys aged seven, four and two. Nobody. So let me be the one to forewarn you – this is what mothers of young boys really spend their days saying:

1. “Have you done a poo? No? Really? Why do you smell like that then?”

2. “Which one of you has eaten the toilet roll this time? I just put a new roll in there. Like half an hour ago.”

3. “Stop running from the garden through the living room in your muddy shoes.” And then three minutes later, “For the love of God, stop running from the garden through the living….” Repeat all summer long.

4. “Put your brother down, he’s not a doll.” Then screamed loudly, “Noooo, don’t put him down like that!”

5. “Why is the garden dug up?”

6. “What are you going to do with that slug?”

7. “Take that rope from around your brother’s neck. Right now.”

8. “Dirty underwear goes in the laundry basket, not under your bed.”

9. “Seriously no. Just no. You cannot have a snack, it’s been twenty minutes since you ate breakfast*/lunch*/dinner/a snack*.”

10. “Stop calling everyone a poophole.”

11. “Put your pants back on.”

12. “What do you say when you burp*/fart*/cough*/sneeze*/spit* in your brother’s face?”

13. “Did you flush the toilet? Did you wash your hands? Really, the toilet and tap working silently now are they? Let me feel your hands. Go back and wash your hands. With soap.”

14. “Green food is not poisonous.”

15. “What’s that in your hair? Weetabix? Great, it’s turned to cement.”

16. Don’t throw snails over the neighbour’s fence. And definitely not whilst they are sitting in their garden.”

17. “Slugs don’t go over the fence either.”

18. “Get a tissue. No, not your sleeve, a tissue. Don’t you dare put that in your mouth. So gross. It’s a bit late now for a tissue isn’t it?”

19. “Get your hands out of your trousers.”

20. “Of course you can’t find your gym shoes*/wallet*/swimming stuff*/bed*, your room looks like a bombsite.”

21. “No, strawberry flavoured sweets do not count as fruit.”

22. “Get the Fat Controller out of your mouth.”

23. “Put your bum on your chair before you fall and break your neck.”

24. “Do you want to end up in hospital?” (As clarification, this is not a threat, merely a hint that what they are doing threatens their life or at least a limb.)

*delete/use interchangeably as appropriate

What have I missed? What odd things do you spend your days saying as a parent?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

MH17: A Plane Has Crashed

"A plane that took off from Schiphol has crashed in the Ukraine." I told my husband as I saw a pop up from Sky News on my IPad.

"What?" he said, grabbing the remote control to put the television on.

The true horror of what lay behind those uttered words would unfold not only over the following hours but over the three days since. The first reports were that "tientallen Nederlanders" were on board that plane. That in total 298 people were flying to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam on that plane. That plane which now lay gruesomely broken in thousands of pieces over square kilometres of desolate Ukrainian soil. That plane and everything in it.

298 souls that would never return to their loved ones. 298 people who boarded a plane and never reached their destination.

And then events unfolded that seemed surreal. The plane had been shot down. It was flying over a war zone. Pro-Russian separatists had shot the plane down. The Ukrainians had shot it down. Nobody had the capability to shoot it down. Denials. Blame. But still 298 bodies.

And then tientallen Nederlanders turned into 193. The Dutch Prime Minister stated that this loss of life would invariably mean that many Dutch people would know someone who was effected by this unimaginable tragedy. A friend of a friend. A neighbour. A work colleague. A family member.

This country I call home is a small country. And true enough as passenger details emerged my social media timelines filled with more and more horror as people I am connected with in some way realised their colleague had lost a family member, that they had lost a former boss, a colleague, a friend. Not just a former boss, colleague or friend but also his entire family, his wife and two small children. A couple from my home town were also aboard. My Whatsapp pinged angrily with disbelief.

There's a dark cloud hanging over the Netherlands, which becomes darker still as the international media brings stories to light that no family member should ever have to read. Details I can't get out of my head. Images that turn my stomach. That break my heart. That turn these beautiful sunny summer days dark.

There really are monsters roaming this earth, despite what I tell my sons, that monsters do not exist, that they needn't be afraid. But the reality is we should all be afraid. Terrified of what we human beings do to one another. What we are capable of. Time and time again.

I wish I could turn the clock back. Tell that pilot not to fly over a war zone. Tell those passengers not to get on that plane. Tell those waving them off to hold their loved ones a little tighter, tell them just how much they are loved. But I can't. No one can. What has happened is real. It has taken a few days to sink in. But it is real. The unimaginable loss is real, not just for Dutch families but for so many families scattered across this globe of ours. And there are so many of us who feel helpless. I wish there was something I could do to help those who have lost someone dear to them in a godforsaken place in the Ukraine.

Rest in peace. That's what we say when loved ones are lost. But I wonder how that is possible in these circumstances. There is no peace to be found in the way these lives were lost. There is no peace to be found in the way bodies are being treated three days after that plane came down. There is no peace to be found as 'soldiers' pose with the cuddly toys of the children who will never become adults. There is no peace to be found as personal possessions of the dead are rifled through and stolen. And there is no peace in knowing we as human beings are capable of these actions. The best we can hope for is justice. And that is by far not enough.



Wednesday, 16 July 2014

How Do Children Address Their Teachers Across the Globe?

A BBC article back in May relayed that Prof Jennifer Coates stated that calling males teachers 'sir' but addressing female teachers as 'miss' gives female teachers a lower status than males in British schools, and is sexist. In general, British teachers are indeed referred to as Miss or Sir or Miss/Mrs or Mr and their last names. Apparently (and those of you in Britain can clarify better than I can) some schools are moving towards pupils addressing teachers by their first names, trying to close the distance between teachers and their students, which is how it is in the Netherlands.

In the Dutch education system children address teachers by their first name, using juf or juffrouw in front for a female and meester for a male teacher. When I was in school it was quite the game to try and find out our teachers first names - and if we did it was an occasion for hilarity. Looking back I have no idea why - maybe a sense of taboo in that we weren't supposed to know their names. No such fun for Dutch school goers.

But it got me wondering. How do children in other countries address their teachers? So I asked the amazing Multicultural Kids Blogs bloggers.... and this is how teachers are addressed in countries across the globe - showing that how we address our teachers is truly cultural.

Brazil

"Generally in Brazil students use the first name of their teacher. If the students are still quite young they often put 'tia/tio' ('aunt/uncle') in front of the name. Tia/tio is a universal term of respect that young young people use for their elders, regardless of relationship." Stephen Greene, Head of the Herd

China

In China children use teacher's last name and add Lao Shi (teacher) after it. If it is a foreign teacher then they say "teacher" and add teacher's first name (e.g. teacher Varya - well, I go by teacher V because no one can pronounce my name properly!). Varya of Little Artists

Equador

"In Ecuador they say Miss _____ (first name) an Mister ________ where I went to school." Diana Limongi Gabriele of Spanglish baby

Finland

"In Finland it's first names or even nick-names all the way with teachers, no titles or surnames. The whole society is very informal - I don't think that even the president would flinch if someone called him by his first name." Rita Rosenback of Multilingual Parenting 

France

"In France, it depends on the teacher. It can be "Madame/ Mademoiselle/ Monsieur X" or it can also be the first name and adressed as "vous" or first name and tu (=you) (but the last one is more for the kids in pre-school)" Eolia Scarlett Disler
"My niece in France uses the polite form "vous" and mrs C: Madame C. She is in primary school." Annabelle Humanes
"It's also very common for kids to use the terms "maîtresse" and "maître" for female and male teachers respectively, meaning simply "teacher" (for primary school age 6-10). Pre-school (3-6) usually use first names and secondary use Monsieur and Madame." Phoebe from The Lou Messugo Blog  
"In France students will say simply -maîtresse or maître (meaning teacher - femine/masculine) by itself when asking a question or trying to get his/her attention. In Maternelle (Pre-school) the teachers went by their first names for the students. Beginning at Elementary..it changes to to Madame or Monsieur (plus last name of teacher)." Jennifer Poe-Faugere

Germany

"In Germany at kindergarten, kids use the first names and Du."Annabelle Humanes

"In Germany, students adress teachers by using Herr/Frau and surname, using "Sie" as the polite form (Herr Schmidt, koennen Sie...). Teachers address students by their names, but when the students are over 16 years old, they also get "sietzt"- address using "Sie". Sometimes teachers would use first name and Sie." Olga Mecking

Italy

"In preschool (3-5) in Italy children use just teachers' first names." Galina Nikitina of Raising a Trilingual Child 

Latvia

"In Latvia you commonly avoid using name or surname but simply address them as teacher (skolotāj) and use the polite form "jūs" which is akin to the German "Sie" or French "vous". Talking to a third person you'd say teacher and then add the last name, though by high-school when talking with other students you'd just use the surname or name of the teacher. But you'd never address a teacher that way as it would be considered disrespectful." Ilze Ievina 

Morocco

"In Arabic class it's usted or usteda and French maitresse. No names just the word teacher." Amanda Ponzio Mouttaki

Poland 

"In Poland, it's Pan/Pani (Sir/Madam) and the pupils get called by their names. In secondary school, the students sometimes adress their teachers with, "pan profesor", or "pani profesor"- even if the teachers are not professors" Olga Mecking 

Russia

"In Russia children use full names to address teachers: first name + patronymic. How does a patronymic form? Let's say a teacher's name is Ivan, and his father's name is Mikhail. His full name will be Ivan Mikhailovich (which is rather like "Mikhail's"). Last name + first name + patronymic is what you will find in Russian documents. It is very common to use full names when addressing an older person, co-worker or a stranger, though less common than in the past. In the last couple of decades there is a tendency to use only first names, but not for teachers." Liska Myers at Adventure in a Box 

"In Russia we address by first name with patronymic (a variation of father's name that is added after 1st name in our passports -it is a general official way of calling people)." Varya of Little Artists

Spain

"In Spain our kids just use the teachers' first names." Kara Haberbush Suro of Our Whole Village

USA 

"When we lived in the US kids used first names but we lived in San Francisco and it really varies by region. In other parts of the US, kids use either Ms./Mr. and the first name or the last name." Kara Haberbush Suro of Our Whole Village
"Ms. First Name in Berkeley California." Stephanie Meade of InCulture Parent 
"In the US, children (elementary school age and up) typically refer to their teachers as Mr. or Mrs. My children go to a French International School where the elementary school English teachers are referred to as Mr. and Mrs. and the French teachers go by their first names." Aimee, of Raising World Citizens
"My children go to a Mandarin immersion school in California, and they call Chinese teachers their name (given or surname depending on teachers' preference. I believe in mainland China they would always use surname) + Laoshi, which means Teacher. Their English teachers use Miss/Ms/Mr + given (first) name." Sophie Beach
"East coast US, more old-school: Mrs./Dr./Mr. (Last Name). I think calling them by first names would get them in big trouble!" Homa Sabet Tavangar

Monday, 14 July 2014

Dear Juf


Dear juf L & juf C,

"It's your problem at home, solve it there, we have no issues in school." That's what we heard a year ago from our son's teachers when we talked about the negative impact of the school environment overloading our highly sensitive boy.

Last September our son started in a new school, in a new class - in your class. "What happens at home is relevant for school and vice versa. Of course it's relevant how he behaves at home after a day at school. We want to help, we need to work together," you said.

And that is what you have spent the last school year doing: supporting, brainstorming, helping, nurturing and making sure Mr S not only learned to read, write and do sums, but also how to feel more comfortable in his own skin. You've spent the last eleven months helping him recognise his own emotions, showing him tools he can use to deal with his moments of overload in the classroom.

You have never once made me feel like I'm crazy, over protective or unable to cope - all the things I was made to feel a year ago by my son's teachers.

You've taught us all this last school year that a child goes to school for so many more reasons than to read and write. Done right school nurtures a child, the whole child, not just the part that shows up in the CITO results.

In the space of one short school year you took an unsure six year old, wary of a new school, of a new classroom, new classmates and a new teacher, held his hand and within weeks showed him just how comfortable he can feel in his own skin, when he's allowed to be himself, allowed to be authentic.

You showed him he could put his trust in you, tell you how he's feeling without fear of flippancy or mockery. Yes he could read and write by Christmas with your guidance, and the sums he can do get harder every week but he's also grown emotionally. He has much more of a grip on his sensitivities.

Raising a child takes teamwork and we're thankful that you've been a major part of our team this school year.

Teaching a highly sensitive child takes patience, understanding, empathy and an ability to peel the layers of a child away to see the real reason for a fear that seems irrational to the outside world, to understand an outburst that seems to come from nowhere, to mop up tears that fall without warning. And you've done just that. You've seen beyond the barriers, beyond the facades that a HSC is adept at putting up. On so many occasions he's come home smiling, full of the fun he's had, proud of the fact that his bucket is empty, or almost empty, proud that he worked with you to stop his bucket spilling over.

Of course it hasn't been all sunshine and roses, but when it's got tough, when it's gone wrong, you have been an ally. You've put no extra hurdle in our way, you've stood on Mr S's side all the way. It's made a difference to our home life. You've made a difference to life over the last eleven months.

Thank you.

The van Mulligen family.

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Future of Zwarte Piet

We are usually spared the whole Zwarte Piet debate until around October or November time when Sinterklaas is due to hit Dutch shores but this year the summer is already poised to be filled with Black Pete discussions.

Last week an Amsterdam court ruled that Zwarte Piet is a racist figure, and consequently the Amsterdam council may like to rethink the intocht (the arrival of Sinterklaas in November in the city) and revisit the appearance of the iconic Dutch figure. The court has expressed that the council should consider the negative feelings that Zwarte Piet evokes for some people. In short, Zwarte Piet is a negative stereotype. Some agree with the court ruling. Some don't.

Last year the anti-Zwarte Piet lobby was more vocal than ever and even the United Nations waded into a debate that had longed stayed at a national level, stepping on more toes than it ever could have imagined.

Behind the scenes, not just in Amsterdam, but in the Netherlands as a whole, a new image of Zwarte Piet is being discussed and worked on. What this means for 2014 remains to be seen but it is likely that the stereotypical slavery items such as the gold hooped earrings and the black curly hair will be the first to go. There has also been lots of talk of ditching the black face altogether in favour of different colours - rainbow Petes if you will. I saw an example 'Purple Piet' in a newspaper article and I have to say it looked pretty good.

As I stated last year in a blog post the time for change has come and Zwarte Piet will evolve - that is sure to happen. It is something that has been happening over the decades anyway in a slow and subtle manner. But it is a fact that any dramatic immediate change will be met with fierce resistance.

However the Zwarte Pieten look when they arrive this November from Spain with the good, holy Sint I do hope that someone else will be doing the explaining for us parents who will be the ones left with confused children asking a billion and one questions. The same children who do not see Zwarte Piet as a racist figure, the same children who fortunately wouldn't know what racism is if they fell over it on the way to school, the same children who are blind to the implications of the colour of a person's skin and see Zwarte Piet as a fun clown like figure. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the evolution of Zwarte Piet, far from it,  but I hope that whatever changes are made the children are put first - after all Sinterklaas is a children's celebration.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

World Cup 2014: Oranjegekte

Having beaten Costa Rica last Saturday in what I can only describe as a bit of a nail biter, the boys in orange play again this evening, 10pm Dutch time to be exact. Against Argentina in the semi final, for a place in the World Cup final. World Cup final people. I'm on the verge of a breakdown just thinking about it.

The Dutch population, almost entirely as a whole, has been preparing in the only way they know how - by turning everything orange.


Houses have turned orange subsequently turning the streets orange. Food and drink has turned orange. You can buy orange burgers and orange puddings from the local supermarket, and of course the obligatory tompouce which turns orange just for such a special occasion. Clothes have turned orange. There are even some people that seem to have actually turned orange.

Yes, oranjegekte (orange madness) just builds as each hurdle to the World Cup final is jumped over. Admittedly, it did seem to take a little longer to get going this year. Expectations were low and many companies must be kicking themselves (and presumably everyone in their marketing departments) for a missed opportunity to jump on the orange bandwagon. But expectations are now high, higher than high. The nation is in a frenzy (except those odd few who couldn't care less about football. When I say odd I mean.. never mind, you know what I mean.)

How far you join in the orange craziness apparently actually depends on the amount of serotonine that is present in your brain - the more you have the more likely you are to follow the crowd - in this case a crowd clad in orange. (And yes, that was the result of an actually study, in case you are entertaining the idea that I make this stuff up).

So to conclude, serotonine levels are raging across the land. In fact, I think we have a serious serotonine overload on a national scale. The Netherlands is orange. And I have everything crossed that those orange flags and banners will still be flying proudly tomorrow - and the boys in orange get to play their last match of this World Cup on Sunday. The alternative is unthinkable. All together now....

Hup Holland Hup. 

Monday, 7 July 2014

MKB One World Futbol World Cup Giveaway

The Netherlands is through to the semi finals of the World Cup and the country stands united in orange to cheer the Dutch team on.  Football is a sport that unites people: it unites a team, local communities, towns and when it comes to a World Cup even countries. Children in particular are united around the world in play. Football brings joy to so many, regardless of background, social conditions, religion or location.

And so I am delighted to be a part of the Multicultural Kids Blogs campaign to support One World Futbol in their mission to bring the healing power of play to youth worldwide through their nearly indestructible football. The One World Futbol never needs a pump and never goes flat—even when punctured multiple times—due to its ingenious technology. But what we truly love about their model is for every ball purchased, they donate one to organizations working with youth in disadvantaged communities worldwide.

Our Giveaway

Follow along by using the hash tag #MKBWorldCup!

As the World Cup reaches its finale (and fingers crossed the boys in orange remain a part of that through to the bitter end) I have a special giveaway planned with Multicultural Kid Blogs and One World Futbol. (You can read more about One World Futbol below). It's unlike a usual giveaway as this time you, the readers, use your collective power to vote to give a football away to a community in need!  I need your help so I can donate one of the One World Futbols (generously supplied by One World Futbol) to Koninklijke Kentalis (Royal Dutch Kentalis), specifically for the Weteringdreef, Zoetermeer location.

But here's the thing--there are 9 blogs participating in this contest, and One World Futbol will donate balls to the three blogs that get the most shares on their posts. So I need your help--please SHARE this post on Twitter, Facebook, G+ and Pinterest and contribute your power, your vote to help donate this One World Futbol.  Each share made directly from this post is tallied as a vote.  And whoever get the most votes, donates the ball!  Let's show how strong our voices are with our votes.

The voting is open until 6am on Monday, July 14 (NL time), to get as many shares as possible on this post.  (The tally will be made based on the number on the social share buttons at the end of this post).

More About Royal Dutch Kentalis/ Koninklijke Kentalis

Koninklijke Kentalis is a national organisation in the Netherlands specialising in providing diagnostic, care and educational services to people who are deaf, hard of hearing or deaf-blind, as well as to people with severe speech/language impairment or autistic spectrum disorders accompanied by severe speech and language difficulties.

Every morning I walk past the Koninklijke Kentalis residential care home with my three sons to get to school - and the power of play and sport is very evident there in the small garden behind the accommodation. The home on the Weteringdreef provides residential care for children who not only have communication problems but who also have learning difficulties or behavioural  or social issues. Some children spend the week here, some come for a few days in the week and all the children attend school, usually special needs education. You can read more about the specific location here (in Dutch) and more about Royal Dutch Kentalis and the work they do here.

So, please help me to donate a One World Futbol to Royal Dutch Kentalis in Zoetermeer. Here's how:

Tweet it, Pin it, share on Facebook and +1 it on Google using the links at the bottom of this post.

More About One World Futbol

One World Futbol Project is a B-corporation based in Berkeley, CA and was founded by Tim Jahnigen, the inventor of the One World Futbol. One World Futbol was inspired by refugee youth in Darfur, who had such indestructible spirits - and love for football! - despite their hardships. Tim Jahnigen wanted to give them something more, so he invented a soccer ball that would never need a pump and would never go flat, even when punctured multiple times. One World Futbol Project and its virtually indestructible ball have now reached 160 countries and continue to bring the healing power of play to youth worldwide. The Buy One Donate One model makes it easy for consumers to donate these amazing One World Futbols to needy communities.

Here is more on their work in one community in Brazil:




Participating Blogs


The following member blogs are participating in this contest. Visit them to see which organizations they have chosen. Remember, sharing is caring! The 3 blogs with the most social shares (as shown on the share counters on their blog posts) will get to donate a football to the qualified organization they have chosen!


Feel free to use #MKBWorldCup when you share!

And don't forget to visit Multicultural Kid Blogs to help them "unlock" an additional two One World Futbols to donate!