Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Brits on the Beach

"don't understand this settlement behaviour," my Dutch husband uttered as we plonked ourselves down on beach towels on Daymer Bay beach in Cornwall, England.

There were couples, groups and families camped out on the overpopulated beach around us armed with fold away chairs with built-in cup holders, light portable tables, tents in every size and colour you could imagine, multi-coloured wind breakers, portable radios, enough reading material to make the nearest library more than a little jealous and large cool boxes brimming with enough to satisfy the most ravenous of hungers for many days should the world's food chain suddenly implode. One group parked on the other side of the beach to us had even brought their own full size BBQ and looked like they had no intention of leaving anytime that summer.

"You don't see this in the Netherlands," he muttered, genuinely bewildered as he looked around the beach.

Anyone beg to differ?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Doe Normaal Doesn't Apply to Sports

The phrase 'doe normaal' is widely heard across the Netherlands, and if it is directed at you then you have certainly crossed the invisible Dutch line of what is acceptable and what not.

You may also hear, "Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg" which in essence means "behave normally - that is crazy enough". Both common sayings make it very clear that there is a high regard in Dutch society for behaving 'normal', however you may wish to interpret that.

These sayings are in line with the reputation the Dutch have for not liking to stand out in a crowd - everything should be a bit average, a bit middelmatig. There's no need to boast about things, show people how exceptional you are in a particular field. There's no need to take yourself that seriously.

Unless of course you are the sporty type. When you can speed skate at gold medal level, play football or hockey to the highest of levels or swim like a world class fish then you can shout about it, or more accurately the people of the Netherlands will shout about it for you. Oranjegekte will take over and carry you to sporting wonderland.

Take the last winter Olympics and the unbelievable speed skating success of this little Dutch country. Look at this year's World Cup and the outpouring of pride that a third place bronze medal created, the happiness that a fantastic run and being so close to playing in yet another World Cup final brought to the land of orange.

For such a little country the sporting achievements are truly remarkable. And it is the one area of life it seems that doe even normaal really doesn't apply. And thank goodness it doesn't!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Is my Child Introvert or Highly Sensitive?

Understanding whenever your child is highly sensitive or an introvert can help parents get a better grip on the emotions of a child and how to get the best out of them whilst allowing them to remain true to who they are.

It's a fine line though between introverted and highly sensitive. it can be hard to see the wood from the trees.

I was asked to write a guest post on this topic for The Piri Piri Lexicon and what with it being a topic close to my heart I was delighted to oblige.

Head over to the Piri Piri Lexicon to read about the differences between introvert children and highly sensitive children. And then head back here.....

Is your highly sensitive child introvert or extrovert? Is your introvert highly sensitive? In what ways do you see it?

Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Cornish Coast Through the Eyes of a Child

During one of our summer holidays to Cornwall, England my Dutch husband was astounded by the English coastline. The Cornish coastline may have been Mars as far as this Dutch man was concerned. The cliffs and rock pools were nothing but an alien landscape to him.

As we stood atop the cliffs at Land's End, the sun beating down on us and a strong coastal breeze whipping the sea up against the rocks, he marvelled at the beauty of the seascape in front of him. The jagged rocks and the sea battled, the salty water forced upwards by the unforgiving hurdles in their path, an impressive sea spray spattering into the air. 

I know that Cornwall's coast is beautiful, don't get me wrong, but I was a little taken aback by the level of my husband's amazement. 

I knew what to expect; I spent many a childhood holiday in south west England. My husband on the other hand had no idea what awaited him at Land's End. He was awestruck by what he saw, mesmerised by nature's offerings at the very tip of England. Watching him was like watching a child in a sweet shop for the first time - bright eyes, excitement, open mouth, noises of delight.

Initially confused by his reaction to Land's End, in my eyes a fairly normal English coastal scene, I asked him what his issue was he found so novel about the cliffs and rocks.

"We don't have cliffs and rocks like this in the Netherlands," he responded matter of factly "we have flat sandy beaches. Think about it, we have to make dunes to protect the country from flooding."

And then the penny dropped. I realised I hadn't seen a cliff or a cluster of rocks for some years myself. Rock pools and cliffs are not a part of Scheveningen or Noordwijk beach.

My childhood holidays along the Cornish and Devonshire coast had blinded me to the astounding magic of the English coastline. I took it all for granted and hadn't stopped to breathe in its beauty: the majestic cliffs, the small and picturesque sandy coves and bays that litter the south of England, the numerous caves to explore and the abundance of wildlife taking shelter on the coast, and of course the magic of rock pools, especially when you are a child.

"This is so cool," said my husband armed with a net and bucket, scurrying across the rocks with two excited boys, "I've never seen a rock pool before!" 

My children echoed his excitement, carrying their own brightly coloured nets and buckets, as they watched a tiny crab scurry from its hiding place under a rock to find cover under slimy, green seaweed. My sons jumped from one rock to the next looking for little pools of water hidden between them. Their delight took me back to my own childhood holidays on Cornish beaches, hours spent combing rock pools with my brother. I understood then my husband's reaction to Land's End. 

How lucky he was to see the Cornish coastline for the first time as if through child's eyes.  

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.

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.


"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


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


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


"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 


"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


"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


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


"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 


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


"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 


"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


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


"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.