Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Help, My House is Shrinking!

I have lived in my current home for ten years. It's a milestone and a time to reflect. A decade ago there were two of us living in this house. Now there are five of us. And a whole bunch of toys, and a double pram, and a play house in the garden..... in short, our house seems to have shrunk before our eyes.

For the full story pop over to Amsterdam Mamas and read my article "Our Shrinking Home".

Saturday, 1 December 2012

5 December: Who Has the Rule Book?

For those living in the Netherlands (or Belgium for that matter) you will already know that Sinterklaas in currently in town and the country is gearing up for Pakjesavond on 5 December. That's present evening to you and me.

Well actually when I say Pakjesavond on the 5th December I actually mean any random evening that falls vaguely near 5 December. And there is the first of my questions about the whole Dutch 5 December thing..... why is it that Pakjesavond can be celebrated any evening it is convenient for families? You can't move Christmas and celebrate it five days early because it is more convenient. So why is this the case for 5 December?

The answer is obviously related to the fact that 5 December is not a national holiday. Which leads me to my next question: why isn't 5 December a national holiday, or at least a national half-day holiday?

Instead, everyone has to work but in general heads home early in time for the good Sint to deposit his sack of presents on their doorstep. However, to celebrate Pakjesavond with the whole family it is more convenient to celebrate it during the weekend before. So here's my next question: how do you explain to children why you are celebrating early when they know that Sinterklaas does his present round on the 5th?

And let's go back to the beginning, to two Saturdays ago when the white bearded man and his blackened face helpers landed on Dutch soil. It's a big TV event every year with live coverage of Sinterklaas arriving in a different Dutch town on a boat.

Whilst this is going on on Dutch TV Sinterklaas is simultaneously arriving in other Dutch towns across the length and breadth of the Netherlands. And how is this explained away? My son sums it up:
"The real Sinterklaas is the one on the TV and all the others are 'help-Sinterklaases'". Of course. Santa could never pull that one off.

A bowl of kruidnoten which lasts 0.3
seconds in my house
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
From the moment Sinterklaas comes to the Netherlands children are allowed to leave a shoe out by the fireplace (or another random point in the house if you are fireplace-less) with a drawing or poem for Sinterklaas propped in it, as well as a treat for Sinterklaas' horse. In return a little present is left in the shoe as well as sweets, pepernoten, kruidnoten or other sugary treats. And this is where the next question must be posed. Why do some children get to leave their shoes out almost nightly, whilst other children get one shot at the ritual? Kids talk in school so how is all this reconciled? Do some kids think they have been 'less good' than their friends if they aren't allowed to put their shoes out as many times as their classmates Bart and Emma?

And finally the Sinterklaasjournaal. It's a daily news program about Sinterklaas related happenings for kids. It's fun. It really is. A whole fantasy world made into a news show for children. My kids love it. I can use it as a threat motivation to get them ready very quickly for bed. It's great. Until you think about it.

The Sinterklaas coins that every
Dutch child is on the lookout for
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
The children of the Netherlands are teased for two weeks about whether or not Pakjesavond will go ahead. This year the steamboat loaded with presents is still in Spain. It's broken. So instead Sinterklaas brought lots of special coins with him from Spain so he could buy presents for the children when he got here. The Dutch economy gets a boost and the kids get their presents. Win-win. Except that it went horribly wrong.

When Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands he gets off the boat and makes a tour around town on his horse whilst his helpers (Zwarte Pieten) thrown pepernoten and kruidnoten and sweets around into the waiting crowds. Only this year the sacks got mixed up and instead of throwing sweets the special coins were thrown (of course this didn't really happen - it only happened on TV and the good people of Roermond got their fill of sweet goods - didn't they?). There was of course panic but no fear because the children of the Netherlands were called upon to look for Sinterklaas coins. Any coins found are to be put in their shoe for Zwarte Piet to collect. Problem solved. And so many of the coins have already been recovered. Until they all went missing again until it turned out that Sinterklaas had taken possession of the coins and is now spending them on everything except presents for the children. Are you still with me? (forgive me if things have moved on but we are two evenings behind watching the Sinterklaasjournaal).

Meanwhile children across the country have been and are stressing about whether they will get presents on the 5th December (or the random evening chose by their parents as a substitute). Can you imagine your children worrying about whether Santa has any presents to deliver to them on Christmas Eve, unrelated to whether they have been good or bad? A nationwide conspiracy to tease and stress children out. Why?

Well, because it's fun. Right? Isn't it? Well, actually it is and it isn't. And this year I have heard some serious rumblings of dissatisfaction from parents around me. Such things as "too much stress for the children", "my children are bouncing off the walls with excitement", "this whole Sinterklaas thing should be scrapped", and my favourite, "I can't wait to see the back of his particular bearded man. I'd happily escort him out of the country myself."

I have gone from loving the excitement all this brings for my kids to wanting the 5th to hurry up and pass. It's been a lot of fun singing songs and hearing them excitedly talk about finding Sinterklaas coins in school (and I did manage to get hold of a few in my change doing my grocery shopping even though I always 'pin' my shopping - wink, wink, know what I mean?) but the pepernoten rush and the teasing is starting to grow old now. Don't get me wrong this particular Dutch celebration has grown on me over the years but two and a half weeks of hyped up, sugar injected children is too long. The kids just need to know all will be well, which it will be, because it is every year.

Do you celebrate Sinterklaas? What do you think of this Dutch celebration? Do your kids watch the Sinterklaasjournaal? Share your thoughts and comments!

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Third Culture Parenting – Parenting Outside Your Own Culture

I recently guest posted for Bringing up Brits on the topic of raising kids who were born in a different country to the one I was born in. I asked Meghan Peterson Fenn, author, expat and blogger, to reciprocate and guest post about life as an American bringing up children who are, in essence, British. What she had to say about parenting in the UK was an eye opener for me for sure. Over to Meghan......

Meghan Peterson Fenn

"Raising children can be difficult at the best of times. The way we parent is determined by many factors and our cultural environment and heritage are definitely important. I am an American mother raising my three children in the UK with a British husband. Because my children were born in England, I haven’t had the experience of bringing them up in the USA so it wasn’t until I visited my parents in my home country that I realised just how ‘English’ a mother I am.

The way I parent is greatly influenced by British parenting culture and although I try and put an American spin on some things, where possible, I am more of a British mother than an American mother.  Even though I did not grow up in England, nor am I a British national, the way I parent is certainly more English than American.

For example, it is not accepted to reprimand your child by spanking in the UK. In the USA, it is more accepted (spanking on the bottom – NOT hitting your child) and therefore more common and parents are not shocked when they hear of it or see it happening. I think it is actually illegal in the UK! It is also common practice to treat your child as an equal and as a friend in the UK. Parents are more tolerant in general whereas in the US, there are more definite rules and lines that children are not meant to cross and parents, in general are stricter than parents in the UK.

It is also not as acceptable in England to offer parenting advice to friends and family. This can be a real No No with some parents who take offence when offered suggestions or advice and view it as interfering rather than helpful. British people like their privacy and find it impolite to interfere. However, when asked directly, I’ve found they are happy to offer parenting advice. And similarly, when it’s done online where there is a layer of anonymity, British mothers are more open to giving and receiving parenting advice.

These are just a few examples of things I’ve come across while bringing up my children in Britain. What have you discovered? Are you like Amanda – British and raising children in the Netherlands? What challenges have you had regarding raising your children within a different parenting culture?

I very much consider myself to be a third culture parent and sometimes wish I had the strength and gumption to be more ‘American’ in my parenting style. But it’s hard to go against the flow especially when you want to fit in and make friends and you want your children to fit in and make friends as well. I know my mother thinks I don’t discipline my children at all and she thinks the British parenting style is far too relaxed. In the past, this has caused a few difficulties with our close relationship and has had a knock-on effect with her relationship with her British grandchildren.

There are those parents who parent however they see fit no matter where they live or what the parenting culture calls for. Look at the Tiger mother, for instance.

How much does our cultural setting influence the way we parent?  How does that effect our relationship with our children and our own families ‘back home’? I am also very influenced by my British husband and the way he parents. But I suppose that is another blog post topic altogether!"

If you want to learn more about Meghan Peterson Fenn, author of Bringing Up Brits: Expat Parents Raising Cross-Cultural Kids in Britain head over to www.bringingupbrits.co.uk. You can read an excerpt from her Bringing Up Brits book here.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Choosing to Live Away from Family

This post is inspired by a post on Just. Be. Enough about choosing to live close to family and a follow up post by Abby entitled "Choosing to Live Far from Home". One post talks about living close to your parents, in the town you grew up in, and the other talks about how it is to move away. There are pros and cons to every decision you make in life.

Growing up, my family (my parents, my brother and I) did not live particularly close to our extended family. My dad is one of twelve children and my mum one of five so you can imagine that in terms of numbers my extended family, particularly now as the family tree has grown, is considerable. Considerable but scattered.

We lived in the south of England and my dad's family live in the north of England and Wales. My mum's family was closer but still a couple of hours drive away. The four of us were pretty self sufficient because we had to be.

I stayed annually at my grandparents house in Lancashire for a week or so in the summer holidays as well as a recurring stay with my maternal grandparents. My brother and I loved that we could help out in the cafes that our grandparents owned in Bath. The visits make up childhood memories that I cherish.

Somewhere in the festive period we saw all our extended family. But my grandparents were not weekly babysitters, we didn't see our aunts and uncles on a monthly basis. The distance didn't allow that. But nonetheless I have very fond childhood memories of my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. They were very present despite the distance.

Fast forward to the time when I have three little children of my own and I'm living in the Netherlands and the idea of grandparents is a huge topic in our household. The reason being is that in general my children see their British grandparents more than they see their Dutch ones. My in-laws live half an hour away, if that. Excluding my father-in-law who has a good bond with his grandchildren, my in-laws have no role in their grandsons' or nephews' lives. It goes to show that geography is not the be all and end all in determining how a relationship functions.

It also goes to show how language barriers can be overcome. Dutch is my children's mother tongue but English is the first (and only) language of my family but this doesn't effect the strength of their relationship. My children speak English with their British and American family and we work hard and willingly together to keep it up as a competent second language, despite not yet learning it in school.

The desire to be a grandparent is a huge factor in making the relationship with grandchildren work. Wanting to be an aunt is more important than the physical distance. Communication is a huge factor in making any relationship work. Letting grandchildren know you are thinking about them even if you are not there makes a relationship strong. Regular visits, telephone calls, using Face Time or Skype, letters, cards and text messages is what makes the grand-parenting bond strong. Asking after your nephews shows you are interested. It shows you care. Despite geography. Despite not sharing a mother tongue.

Expats make a choice to move abroad. To live away from family. It's never a conscious decision to put physical distance between kids and their grandparents, but it comes with expat territory. It doesn't mean the end of the grandparent relationship. Where there is a desire to stay close, geography will not hinder a relationship. As Abby put it in her post,

"....of course as we all know, geographic proximity is not a guarantee of closeness."

My children are walking proof of that.

How do you keep the relationship alive with your children's grandparents? Are there any positives in living away from your extended family? I would love to hear your views and experiences!

Choosing to live away from family throws up many challenges - from the moment you know you are pregnant abroad, to birth and far, far beyond - for more stories about parenting abroad check out our Kickstarter page for Knocked Up Abroad Again.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Christmas Gifts Crafted by Creative Expats: La Petite Lulu's Soft Toys

Meet Beckett the Bassett Hound
who is soon to join our family
(c) La Petite Lulu
It's nearly here.... the festive season is approaching fast. Sinterklaas is about to hit town so it's time for those gift ideas I promised courtesy of creative expats. This week something very special for the little people in your life. Or come to think of it, for the big people too.

First up is La Petite Lulu's wonderful handmade soft toys for babies and children. Unbeknown to my children they will each be the proud and happy owner of a unique cuddly animal on the 5th December. That's if I can wait that long to give the softies to them and not put them in their shoes before pakjesavond. I've seen them with my own eyes, and felt them with my own hands - they are unbelievably cute, so soft and brilliantly unique. I know these are the toys that my boys will have stashed away in years to come as a memory of their childhood.

Luana, an Australian expat living in the American state of California, lovingly crafts these softies from recycled fabrics and they are all incredibly affordable, even if you take postage from the USA into account.

Some of you expats here in the Netherlands may know Luana already as up until March this year she called the Netherlands home. That's how I came to be a follower of her expat adventures from pregnancy through to first time motherhood via her La Petite Lulu blog. And now, whilst her son is napping Luana is busy crafting these little masterpieces.

Custom made Monty the
(c) La Petite Lulu
From dinosaurs to cars, and fairies to flowers, La Petitie Lulu has a range to fulfill every boy or girl's wish. However, if your child's favourite animal or item isn't on display.... she's happy to take custom orders. That's how Monty the Monkey was born - I asked Luana if she could make a monkey and two days later she sent me a photo of her creation. You can't get a more unique gift than that!

Here are just some of the cuties she has created:

Monty's cousin Moe
(c) La Petite Lulu
Little Gray Car
(c) La Petite Lulu
Blossom the bird
(c) La Petite Lulu

Bernard the beaver
(c) La Petite Lulu

To make one of these little treasures a member of your family head on over to her Etsy shopBut wait, one more thing before you disappear... for readers of this blog there is an exclusive discount of 15% off La Petite Lulu's softies. Just enter the code DOUBLEBUGGY at the Etsy checkout.

**I would just like to mention that I am not receiving any commission for promoting any items in this blog series - I am just sharing the love for creative expats because their products are awesome!! :-)**

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Gift Ideas Courtesy of Creative Expats

Tis almost the season of giving...
Photo: Desing123
The season of giving is almost upon us. If you are here in the Netherlands then the good Sint is about to hit town and children are about to go insane with excitement as we build up to pakjesavond on the 5th December. Then of course we have Christmas a few weeks after. I'm already in gift buying mode on full throttle because much of the gift list will have to be sent to other countries, by virtue of the fact that I'm an expat.

So I've found some gifts that are worth sharing with you for the festive season, and the creators or business owners are all expats or have an expat link.  Whats more, and something I am soooo excited to share, watch this space for exclusive discounts for some of the amazing gift ideas coming up over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Love, A Police Trailer and A Dream Career: Life as an Expat

Moving to Netherlands
Fancy reading an interview to learn more about expat life in the Netherlands? Well then today is your lucky day because there just happens to be an interview with me on Expats Blog.

If you want to read about borrowed police trailers, falling in love with a Dutchman, making the switch to a dream career and the difficulty of leaving family behind then head over to the interview now.

And whilst you are there please take a second or two to leave a kind word about this blog or my A Letter from the Netherlands blog to help me win an Expats Blog Netherlands blog award. It takes a minute tops and sharing the love is certainly appreciated!

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Passing on My Britishness: Roast Dinners

A traditional roast dinner - British style
Photo: Ronny Stephan
My Dutch boys also have British nationality so I want to make sure they have some idea of what being British means. It's a tough idea to put into concrete actions and a topic I have touched upon a few times before (see my guest post for Bringing Up Brits for a start).

Right now as I write there is a chicken roasting in the oven, roast potatoes cooking, sprouts and broccoli ready to be cooked and stuffing balls ready to be put into the oven shortly. The whole lot will be finished off with gravy. It's a very traditional Sunday roast. It's something British that I miss and something that makes my childhood Sundays particularly memorable.

Growing up we sat down as a family on a Sunday lunchtime to eat a roast dinner almost weekly. Always with a pudding, which was usually the only day of the week that my mum made a dessert. A crumble, or home made rice pudding, or a fruit pie. And today, as a tribute to my Britishness, our meal will be topped off with an apple crumble and custard.

It's a little bit of Britishness that I can easily pass on to my children. And make our own family tradition at the same time. In twenty or thirty years time I hope that my sons will look back at Sunday lunchtimes with the same amount of fondness as I do.

*Passing on your birth country culture and traditions is the theme of a set of blog interviews I am doing for a new series - so watch this space or, better still, if you would like to get involved and are an expat parent then contact me to be interviewed! It's all very painless I assure you.*

What food do you cook at home to share the tastes of your birth country with your children?

Friday, 2 November 2012

Getting into the Christmas Spirit: Free Entertainment

Waterways, lights and houses - all to
get you in the mood for the festive season
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
If you go down to your local Dutch garden centre today the chances are that the attempts to get customers into the Christmas spirit are in full swing. They call it their Kerstshow. The displays of Christmas villages in my local Intratuin are pretty awesome and what's even more impressive is the fact that the festive displays keep my children entertained for an afternoon at a time - and it costs nothing for looking. Gratis. Yep, that's free entertainment!

My kids are in awe of the trains chuffing their way around the towns full of twinkling Christmas lights, grazing animals, playing children and snowy trees.

What's more is that the Intratuin encourages you to arrange your children in front of some of the displays to take a photo yourself which you can turn in to a personalised Christmas card - something I notice is getting more and more popular in the Netherlands. Three little boys in one family we saw were getting up close and personal with some singing reindeer for a photo - climbing into the display for that special festive pose. Keep your eyes on that that letter box Oma!

The festive scenes which captivate children - particularly the boys if there's a train involved
(c) The Writing Well
Of course the idea is that you're so impressed with what you see that you go home with arms full of  illuminated houses, singing Santas and the materials to make your own Swiss ski slopes right there in your front room. But you don't have to. You can just look. 

"Can we do this at home mama?" "Erm, no.... we'll come here weekly instead until
(c) The Writing Well
I honestly cannot remember these kind of displays at Christmas growing up in England. 
Has it changed? Have garden centres started cashing in on this kind of Christmas activity in Britain? Where can you go in your host country to get into the Christmas spirit already? 

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Dutch Balancing Act: Home v Work

The balance between home and work
is not always easy
(c) Kriss Szkurlatowski
This is a subject that gets the discussion going.... the work ethic of the Dutch. Lazy or efficient? I'd go for the latter for sure; they work the fewest hours in Europe and achieve one of the highest productivity rates. On top of that they're home for family dinners too. They are surely doing something right.

Whatever your viewpoint the Dutch do seem to have this whole work life balance thing sussed. And I've just written an article on this topic for Amsterdam Mamas for their October theme of balance.

So if you want to read The Dutch Balancing Act, hop on over to Amsterdam Mamas. And whilst you are over at Amsterdam Mamas have a good look around. It is such a great community over there it makes me want to move to Amsterdam!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

ExpatsBlog.com: An Expat Blog Awards Nomination

I'm thrilled to say that hot on the heels of the Expatica blog award nomination comes another award nomination. This time it's from ExpatsBlog.com.

To help my blog earn an award you simply follow the link through to the listing of Expat Life With a Double Buggy on the ExpatsBlog.com site and leave a rating and a comment. So if you're a regular reader and like what you read head on over and comment away. And whilst you're over at ExpatsBlog.com......

ExpatsBlog.com provides a list of expat blogs by country to help expats find relevant posts to read. A great place to start if you're looking for bloggers and information in your host country.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Letting Off Steam in Autumn aka Losing Your Car Keys in the Woods

The changing colour of the leaves
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
Whilst many around me are moaning about the change in weather as autumn makes its mark I'm actually fine with the change of the season. There's something about the leaves changing to red, yellow and orange and falling to the ground. I like the swirling leaves on the paths. I like the candle lit evenings as they draw in earlier as each day in October goes by. I think there is something attractive about every season and autumn is certainly no exception.

With two boys now in school the autumn projects of course now start and collecting starts in earnest. I've already covered kabouters but there is of course much more to the autumn season. Like finding leaves for rubbings and collecting horse chestnut seeds or conkers for... well just for the sake of it really, as the Dutch don't do conker games like the British. I've got a list of autumn craft ideas at hand for the autumn break next week....

With the thought in mind that we could educate at least two of our boys on the finer elements of autumn we set off for a walk in the Panbos, the woods in Katwijk, armed with wellington boots, a pram rain cover and an umbrella.

Taking in the view
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
Autumn in action
(c) Amanda van Mulligen

Toadstool housing kabouters?
(c) Lars van Mulligen
Muddy puddle stomping - always a
hit with little boys
(c) Amanda van Mulligen

The boys were in their element. Lots of running around, exploring, collecting leaves and fir cones, examining mushrooms and toadstools which were growing in abundance and the all time favourite boy's pastime of stomping in muddy puddles. We also played a bit of football and in general had a relaxing, fun afternoon.

Until we got to the car. That was the moment my husband discovered he no longer had the car keys. Given the running, climbing, playing and general exploring that had taken place the search ground seemed suddenly enormous and the outing was suddenly not so relaxing........

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Autumn's Here: The Kabouters Are Out

The leaves are turning more and more orange and red as each day passes. The evenings are getting darker and the sun seems to have left for a long vacation of its own, leaving the rain and wind to their own devices. Yes, autumn is here and in the Netherlands that means it's kabouter season.

My five year old is about to start a project on the theme of kabouters in school and my two year old is off to his first kabouterfeest tomorrow in pre-school.

When my eldest had his kabouterfeest..
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
A kabouter is the Dutch equivalent of a gnome or an Irish leprechaun. Adorned with a full white beard (the males in any case) and a red pointy hat these little mythical beings live underground or in mushrooms. They usually have big, round bellies and pouchy, rosy cheeks. Some kabouters bring good luck. Others are a bit naughty. But not to worry because they seem to be quite shy of human beings.

I'm sure I'll learn lots more about kabouters from my eldest son in the coming weeks...and spare a thought for my two year old tomorrow.... dressed in red & green clothes with a white beard, rosy cheeks and a cushion stuffed down his trousers....

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Bringing Up Brits Guest Post: Standing Out From the Dutch Crowd

Meghan Fenn, author of "Bringing Up Brits", a book about the cultural aspects of expats raising children in Britain, has a blog of the same name. She shares the cultural issues she faces as an American raising her British born children in Britain. Her husband is British, and she's finding that her children fail to identify with her American background and culture, seeing everything from a British perspective.

It's a fascinating topic. How, as an expat, do you share your own birth country and culture with your children when they were born elsewhere? It's an issue I've written about before on this blog. It's not easy to instil a sense of foreign identity into children when they come into so little contact with the culture, people, language and traditions. She also gives a great insight into how the British come across to a foreigner. It's quite eye opening.....

So I was delighted when Meghan asked me to write a guest post for her blog. You can read "Standing Out From the Dutch Crowd, British Style" over on the Bringing Up Brits blog, and check out lots of other great posts and join in the discussion whilst you're there.

How do your children stand out from the crowd in the place that you now call home?

Friday, 21 September 2012

Amsterdam Mamas Feature

Following my nomination for the Expatica Expat Blog Competition, Amsterdam Mamas ran a mini-interview with me about why I started blogging, my favourite post and what surprises me about blogging.

If you want to know the answers to those questions then head on over to Amsterdam Mamas. and whilst you are there read the interviews with the other family related competition entrants, including two of my favourite expat blogs in the Netherlands, Adventures in Integration and Invading Holland.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Smoking and Children: The Dutch Attitude

In a recent 'trending topic' survey in the Dutch Fabulous Mama magazine 96,1% of those asked responded that they hoped that their children wouldn't smoke when they were older. Pretty obvious then that amongst mothers the idea of children and smoking isn't a popular or pleasant one. 75.2% of those asked in the same survey strongly agreed that smoking is a bad example for children. 14.3% followed suit with a milder conviction. 

Photo: Jorc Navarro
And yet... the place my children come in to most contact with smokers and cigarette smoke is on the school playground. A notable amount of parents stand on the schoolplein waiting for their kids with a cigarette in their hand.

It is a topic that has been raised many times by parents. The school say they are not in a position to ban smoking on the school playground (how ironic does that sentence sound?) because it is actually council property and a public area. They did state they could try and discourage it but to date aside from a newsletter bulletin asking parents to place cigarette butts in the bin after the school kids had cleaned them all up from the playground, I have seen nothing on the topic. I kid you not: kids picked up all the butts.

The common sense seems to be there. But the willingness or courage to ban smoking in certain places seems to be absent (you only need to look at the situation in Dutch cafes to know what I mean by that!).

Smoking was a hot topic here when the results of Dutch infant mortality rate were published (in the European Perinatal Health report of December 2008). At this time it was stated that 13.8% of pregnant Dutch women continued to smoke throughout their pregnancy. (A 2010 report gave the figure at somewhere between 10% and 17%). Of course there are countries where smoking is far more prevalent than the Netherlands, and smoking during pregnancy much higher, but as this is the place I live I do notice a fair few pregnant women smoking around me and it never fails to shock me.

How is smoking around children perceived where you live? Is smoking on the school playground whilst waiting for children to finish school common and seen as acceptable? What about smoking during pregnancy - is that a taboo in the country you call home or an accepted part of the local culture? 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Pregnancy Tests, Gizzards and Cycling: A Cultural View of Pregnancy

"Un test de grossesse s'il vous plaît ," I said, having consulted my dog eared French dictionary for the French word for pregnancy test.

"Oui madam," replied the petite, middle aged woman behind the village chemist counter. She opened a small drawer in front of her and pulled out a box. She babbled something fast at me in French and I smiled and handed over a fifty euro note.

Two days later we replayed the same scene, undoubtedly depleting the village's entire pregnancy test supply, whilst simultaneously getting tongues wagging about a potential impending baby boom in the area. From what we had seen of the local demographics there was more call in the area for Zimmer frames than baby products.

Two positive pregnancy tests under our belt and we were confident that I was pregnant. My Dutch partner and I were going to have a baby. And then panic set in. We were on holiday in a remote French village, suddenly pregnant in a foreign country without internet. Did we need to tell someone? Were we supposed to go to the doctor? Were there things I shouldn't eat or do? I had already indulged in the local delicacies, including wine, pate and 'gésier de poulet' (I had no idea what I was ordering, and even after a text from my dad translating gésier as gizzard I was none the wiser). Wine surely wasn't handy.

We called our GP back in the Netherlands. The doctor's assistant summed up what we needed to do,

"Firstly congratulations! When you get back to the Netherlands register with a midwife. Don't go and see a French doctor - you'll be told you can eat anything and everything but you can't. Avoid non-pasteurised cheeses, alcohol, pate and anything from the inside of an animal." Oops. She had just listed the main constituents of my diet for the past week.

Pate best eaten in moderation during pregnancy - according
to the Dutch but not such an issue for the French?
Photo: Neil Gould

"And what about cycling?" my husband asked.

"No problem. Cycling is fine. Just don't fall off!" she replied.

An English friend had been told to avoid cycling during the critical first twelve weeks of her pregnancy. However, after seven years in the Netherlands I knew that asking the Dutch not to cycle for twelve weeks would be like asking them to chop a leg off. It's just never going to happen.

Already during the first week of pregnancy I was learning that culture plays a big role in having a baby as an expat. There were plenty more culture shocks to come during the next nine months.

I came to learn how the Netherlands is very much a midwife based maternity system - a big shock for many American expats - and midwives encourage home births and natural births (in other words, without pain relief) wherever it is safe to do so. I love the mentality that a pregnant woman does not have a medical condition - and should not be treated as if she has.

Before our babies are even born there's a cultural maze to walk our way through - and that's just the beginning!

What notable differences have you noticed with how various countries handle pregnancy and child birth? 

Lou Messugo

Friday, 14 September 2012

Expat Blog Competition Nomination!

I am delighted and flabbergasted to announce that this blog has been nominated for Expatica's "i am not a tourist" Expat Blog Competition. The fact that I am sitting in a list with the most amazing expat bloggers that the Netherlands has to offer is an honour in itself. Added to the fact that this blog is a new venture that I started at the beginning of this year, I am truly delighted that "Expat Life with a Double Buggy" is already striking a chord with other expat parents out there. This blog is still in its infancy, and I'm still finding my feet with it so I'm chuffed to bits.

Writing a blog (let alone two) whilst being a full time mum to three small children is a challenge. But this kind of recognition certainly makes it all worth while.

As part of the competition I had to nominate my favourite post, and I found it tough. I eventually chose What If My Kids Had Been Born in England? A recent holiday (spurred on by my own childhood vacations) to Cornwall got us thinking about a move there in a few years. Which in turn got me to thinking about how different life would be had I not moved to the Netherlands; if my kids had been born in England. It's fascinating how a birth country can mould the formative years of a child. So that's why I wrote the post, and why I chose it as my favourite.

Voting for the Expat Blog Competition is open until 9am on the 1st October, and the three winners will be invited to the Expat Fair on Sunday 7th October. Want to cast your vote for an expat blogger in the Netherlands? You can submit your vote by visiting http://www.expatica.com/iamnotatourist/blog_vote.php

Friday, 7 September 2012

De Peuterspeelzaal (aka preschool)

My middle son started preschool (peuterspeelzaal in Dutch) this week at the tender age of 2 years and 4 months. It's been an emotional week... for me at least because I was suddenly faced with a new phase and although I have been through this once before with my eldest son it still felt weird to realise my son is no longer a baby. He was delighted to spread his wings a little and start school "like his big brother" and he's far too busy even to wave goodbye once he gets playing there.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Long Way to School

My School Bus - In the Eyes of My Son
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
My eldest son recently asked me if I had once also been five years old, like him.

"Yes, a long time ago!" I told him.

"And did you go to the same class in school that I am in?" he asked.

"No. I went to primary school in England," I said.

"Oh! That's a long way to drive," he exclaimed.

I'm not sure at what age he will actually grasp what it means that his mother isn't Dutch and has lived most of her life in England so far.....

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Sharing my British Roots

A Place I Once Called Home
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
It's not often that I get the chance to show my kids directly where I came from. To show them my roots. Where I grew up, where I went to school, where I played out on the streets with my younger brother. I'm talking about way back when, in the days when I called England home.

It's been twelve years since the Netherlands became my home. My children have no idea what it's like to live in England and it's possible that they never will.

So this summer, after a holiday in Cornwall, we took a detour to Watford after visiting a friend nearby to take a tour of my British roots.

We went to the flat that was my first 'out in the big, wide world alone' dwelling. A one-bedroom flat I bought along Whippendell Road. It's a hop, skip and a jump from Vicarage Road, home of Watford Football club where I attended almost every home game for more years than I care to mention.

Now someone else's family home
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
Then we drove past the business park I worked in for a year, following the road up to Croxley Green. From memory I directed my husband to the house which was the last family home I lived in before the members of the family I grew up with all went their separate ways to form new families of their own. The house had been slightly extended, built upwards over what was my parents' bedroom. The front door and windows were new. But in essence, the house looked the same as it did so many years ago. A dark blue car was parked under the tree that stands in front of the house, the same place my Dad's Renault stood when it was broken in to multiple times - every time a Phil Collins CD disappearing until my dad got fed up replacing it. The same parking space I used at the end of so many fun evenings with friends.
My former secondary school
(c) Amanda van Mulligen

We turned down the road at the side of the house and I remembered the surprise we got one morning when we came downstairs to find our garden wall blown down after a stormy night. The road was filled with cars, parked on both sides making driving there a slalom affair. We headed past Croxley station, past the pubs on the green where I spent many a social evening and down Scot's Hill to my former secondary school, St Joan Of Arc. It looked the same as it did over twenty years ago. Did I say that out loud? Twenty years? How can it be so long since that school was like a second home to me? How can it look the same as it does in my mind's eye? Awash with happy memories.

Then it was through Rickmansworth High Street where Boots the Chemist still occupies the same space  it did over two decades ago. Natwest Bank has the same home at the end of the High Street too. It seems that in a world of change, some things do actually stay the same.

On to Mill End where we also used to live, close to my former primary school. The house looked in desperate need of updating, some care and love to be poured in to it, but the school looked familiar. Bigger than I remember it and certainly not on the same scale as Dutch primary schools which tend to be smaller but more in abundance than British primary schools. We passed the community centre where I used to attend drama classes. Something that seems incredulous now to my introvert adult self. There was even a picture of my drama group in the local paper, but I cannot remember why. Memories. A car trip down memory lane.

My roots. My life in England. My British upbringing. And what did my children make of it all? All three boys sat in the back seat fast asleep.

How do you share your birth country roots with your children? 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Do Ducks Fart?

Ducklings: can they or can't they?
Photo: (c) The WritingWell
I took my sons to feed the 'local ducks' after school on Monday this week. I had some stale bread. The sun was shining so we dawdled home and took a detour after picking my eldest up from school.

As we approached the oversized pond a pair of black coots and their offspring swam nonchalantly over to us and waited for huge chunks of old bread to be lugged at their heads (my two year old has not grasped quite how small the pieces of bread should be, or that he can throw it gently near the ducks). As my two older boys were throwing slices of bread a larger white duck came waddling over to get in on the action.

My eldest turned his attention to the newcomer and proceeded to throw bread at for the white duck. When the duck had finished his meal he shook his feathers and flapped his wings (when I say he, I don't exclude she - who knows?). My eldest son started laughing,

"Volgens mij mama heeft hij net een poepie gelaten." ("I think that duck just farted.") Then he stopped giggling and looked very seriously at me to ask,

"Laten eendjes wel poepies mama?" (Do ducks fart mama?)

"I imagine so," I replied, blindsided by the unexpected question.

Before I became a mother, I had never contemplated whether a duck passes wind. It has never come up before in any conversation I have ever had. It's not a topic du jour. Now it's a question I am pondering in two languages. I told my son I imagined a duck could fart (though I didn't use that word with him - it's not a word a bilingual five year old needs to add to his vocabulary - his Dutch vocabulary is already more than sufficient on this subject....) but actually I don't know. So I googled it. I wish I hadn't.

I do now know that a Duck Fart is a cocktail (and a nice sounding one at that) but whether ducks actually fart.... none the wiser. I read on one site that they don't. They can't get rid of gases so if you give them gassy food they explode...... Another site assured me that ducks do indeed fart - why on earth else would there be bubbles in the water around ducks? *sigh*

I would like to be able to go back to my curious son and give him the correct answer. So.... question of the week:

"Laten eendjes wel poepies?"

Saturday, 16 June 2012

What If My Kids Had Been Born in England?

I've been thinking. How different would my children already be if they had been born in England instead of the Netherlands. So, instead of three little Dutch boys with a British mother, they were three little English boys with a Dutch father.

The most obvious different is that their first language would be English, and not Dutch which is the case with my eldest. My school going 5 year old speaks better Dutch than English (whereas it was the other way round when he was a toddler because he was home with me) and now has a Dutch accent when speaking English. In England, they would not currently be bilingual.

But what about culture things? Or experiences? How would they be different if my children had been born and raised in England?

Well they certainly wouldn't have eaten sprinkles on their bread had they been born and raised in England. They wouldn't have eaten so many pancakes, and certainly not under the label of "dinner". They probably would have a better selection of healthier meal choices (read not everything fried with chips) whenever we eat out had we been living now in England.

My boys would know what a crumpet was without a lengthy explanation about a bread type thing with holes in it. Scones would be second nature. Hot cross buns at Easter time would be taken as a fact and Christmas crackers wouldn't be such a novelty.

Had they been British born, they wouldn't have had such a fine collection of orange shirts between them. They wouldn't have a clue what a Beesie was, seen an orange German helmet or seen a prince throwing an orange toilet. I can't imagine I will live to see the day that Prince Charles takes part in a toilet pot throwing competition, and I guess the real question is this: why on earth would he?

They wouldn't have scouted around flea markets on Queen's Day. Sinterklaas would have stayed a stranger.

None of my kids would have experienced being transported around on the front or back of my bike as past age eleven I cannot even remember owning a bike in England, let alone thinking about ferrying kids around on one.
Jip and Janneke would be an unknown couple. Dikkie Dik would never have become a familiar feline face and Nijnte would be called Miffy. They would have grown up with the bird on Sesame Street coloured yellow going by the name of Big Bird, instead of a blue bird called Pino.

Education System
My eldest would probably be wearing a school uniform (thus saving the knees on his day to day trousers) and I would likely be transporting him to and from school in a car. In England, he also wouldn't have already been a fully fledged member of the local junior school at the tender age of four.

They would be addressing their teacher as Miss Smith instead of Juf Krista if they were in the English education system and they would be unlikely to see their teacher in jeans unless on a school trip.

I'm going out on a limb to say that I assume my sons would not be so exposed to poop humour in England as they are in the Netherlands. They would know the voices of famous actors such as Tom Hanks from watching children's films in their original language, instead of Dutch dubbing which is (rightly) used for kid's programs. They would never have heard of Bumba, K3 or Kabouter Plop. They would never have seen Charlie and Lola speaking Dutch or Makka Pakka singing in Dutch.


This is what I call hills - something my Dutch boys are not familiar with
If my boys had been born and were being raised in England, they would most certainly know what a real hill looked like. As it is they think a speed bump is "high".

For my little Dutch boys an old, traditional windmill is commonplace, not something special. If they had lived in Watford like I did, a windmill sighting wouldn't be a weekly occurrence.

I am not convinced my eldest would have already had ice skates on and been on natural ice had we been an "English" family. And they wouldn't have been ferried around on bikes as babies.......

As my boys are still only little, there are lots more things we will come to experience that will make their lives here in the Netherlands different to the one they would lead in England. Some are positives (after all, Dutch children are the happiest in Europe), and a few are negatives.

But sometimes I wonder what impact being born in England would really have had on their lives, their personalities, their youth, their memories of growing up. Would their lives have taken a different path? It's an interesting train of thought!

What differences would have been evident if your children had been born in your birth country instead of the country you now call home? 

Sunday, 10 June 2012

A Strange Begin: Sleepless Nights and An Ambulance,

Photo: (c) The Writing Well
When my youngest son (our third) was born last October, the kraamweek (the week after the birth) didn't quite go as planned. We came back from the hospital on a Friday morning and our interim kraamzorg was stood at our front door to meet us. The first day home went as planned. Lots of rest, help, and time for my eldest two sons to meet their new brother.

The night however was a different story. Our new addition cried a lot at night. By that I mean unless he was being held upright he was crying. As soon as we laid him down his eyes sprung open and he began to scream. That meant, with labour and the birth included, I hadn't slept at all for three nights. I was a little tired to say the least.

Saturday night was a repeat of the night before. Four nights without sleep.

Then on Sunday morning I felt a little strange. It felt as if I was on the verge of slipping away into a dreamland, whilst lying in my kraambed. My kraamzorg (a trainee) came to bring me breakfast, was shocked by how I looked and flew back down the stairs to alert the experienced kraamzorg that all was not well upstairs. They both came charging back upstairs. I was conscious of everything that was going on around me but could not respond. No words came out, my head wouldn't move. My blood pressure was high and I had what I can best describe as the shakes. The kraamzorg called the midwife, who arrived quickly but then struggled to get an accurate blood pressure reading. Due to my unresponsiveness she called an ambulance, informing them not to come with sirens and lights.

A few minutes later I heard a siren getting louder and louder and my insides curdled. My eyes told those in the room that I was horrified with the arrival of an ambulance with "bells and tooters" blazing.

The next fifteen minutes were amongst the strangest of my life. Two ambulance personnel, a male and a female, began loading equipment on the bed. The room was a hive of activity with 2 maternity nurses, a midwife and my family milling around trying to help and get a grip on the situation.

After tests and questions the decision was made to take me to hospital in the ambulance, back to the maternity ward for checks. One of the ambulance crew said it seemed like I had gone in to shock. A birth and four nights with no sleep seemed a viable reason for this....

Somewhere amid the commotion I began to return to the land of the living and could communicate once more.

And so I made it downstairs with help from the ambulance personnel and my husband, and I was loaded on to a stretcher outside our house. Which is when I noticed that the arrival of the ambulance had attracted a sea of onlookers in the street and surrounding houses...... My husband took the baby in the car, as he would stay with me in the maternity ward to ensure that the breastfeeding could continue. My eldest sons stayed with kraamzorg until friends got there to look after them. It was chaotic, upsetting and stressful - for us all.

It was only the second time I had ever been in an ambulance. The first time was to accompany my brother when he had a serious asthma attack when we were out in Watford, England one night. It was certainly the first time I had ever been in a Dutch ambulance. By the time we were driving to the hospital I was compos mentis again, and well aware of the drama of the past half an hour, hour - who knows how much time had passed.

Photo: Pam Roth
Once we arrived at the ambulance entrance of the hospital we seemed to whizz through corridors, past a sea of faces waiting their turn in queues in various departments, until we arrived in the maternity ward. Familiar faces came to help me from the stretcher to a bed and started hooking me up to an array of machines.

Lots of tests ensued from a gynaecologist and a neurologist and I had a few more 'attacks' like I had had that morning. The result was that I had to stay overnight in the hospital. I was devastated - it wasn't how the kraamweek was supposed to be! The kraamweek following the births of my first two sons are etched on my mind as wonderful weeks, a treasure trove of precious moments. And this time I ended up separated from the rest of my family, my husband home worried sick looking after our eldest sons who didn't understand anything that had happened, and me unable to properly care for my newborn.

Aside from a near collapse (luckily a nurse was holding on to me) walking back from the bathroom, the night passed without incident and the next morning I was allowed to return home. Kraamzorg returned. The kraamweek recommenced. The rest of the week passed without incident, but the sleepless nights continued.  So we turned to an osteopath.

He diagnosed our little one as suffering from silent reflux. He was having a rough time of it, hence the sleepless nights. I'd like to say that we got referred to the paediatrician, given medicine and all was well but the reality is that we struggled at night for many months and have only really had peace at night during the last month.

We've come through the other end - and the most amazing thing about all this is that our youngest son is a smiley, giggly, happy little boy - despite the less than easy start in this world.

Photo: (c) The Writing Well

Monday, 28 May 2012

Weaning Your Baby - Are there Cultural Differences?

I've spent the last few weeks up to my eyeballs and in pureed carrots, courgettes, broccoli and sweet potato. Not to mention chicken and fish blended until they are unrecognisable as edible substances. Yep, it's weaning time again. My only consolation is that this will be the last time I will be knee deep in mushed greens.

Baby weaning - are there cultural differences?
Photo: Alfonso Romero
I was talking recently to a Dutch girlfriend on the school playground after we had dropped our kids off at school and I told her that the kitchen and the blender were patiently awaiting my arrival to make batches of chicken casserole for the smallest member of my family. She expressed some surprise at the news,

"You make your own food for weaning?" she asked.
"Yes.... I did it for my two eldest too," I replied.
"You don't just give ready made pots to the baby?" she asked incredulously.

Erm, no. Later when are are out and about with him he'll get jars of food because it's easier. For now though I'd rather make my own stuff for many reasons (and if you want to know what they are: cost; I know what is in it; it's fresh; I can cook in batches....).

I mentioned my exchange on the playground to my husband later and he said giving ready made pots is the Dutch way........

Of course, there is always an element of personal choice when it comes to feeding your baby but it got me thinking. Are there trends and norms where weaning is concerned in different countries? Is is really the Dutch way to give babies jars of food from the outset? Is home made food for babies more popular or the norm is some countries but not others? What types are food are given first in other countries?

The Dutch are keen to get bread into babies as soon as humanly possible, I have noticed that.... but have you weaned a baby whilst living abroad? Was it done differently than in your home country? What advice did you receive locally?

I would love to hear your experiences of weaning overseas - and I am curious to hear from other Dutch mothers what they give/gave their babies as first foods - homemade or ready made?

Monday, 21 May 2012

You Know You're An Expat Parent in the Netherlands When...

Being a parent abroad means facing situations that you probably wouldn't face if you had stayed in the country you were born in. Being an expat parent means adapting...... Here are twenty things that make me realise I'm a Brit parenting in the Netherlands.

  1. You actually consider a home birth as a viable option.
  2. You think you can give birth without the help of pain relief.
  3. The whole idea of a maternity nurse spending a week in your home directly after the birth of your child is inconceivable. You reluctantly commit to her coming a few hours a day (half of your entitlement) but make sure everyone knows you are giving in begrudgingly. When your second is born you sign up for your full entitlement and dream up elaborate ways to get more hours out of your maternity nurse.
  4. When the well-baby clinic recommends your child eats six slices of bread a day you involuntarily take in a sharp breath.
  5. Your three year old speaks Dutch better than you do. 
  6. Your five year old actually corrects you when you speak Dutch.
  7. You are floored by the way your toddler can roll their "r's" and say "Scheveningen".
  8. You're amazed because there is no complicated school enrolment system* for your children. You fill in an application form and the school informs you within a week or two if they have a space for your child or not. You can't believe it can be that simple.
  9. When your child starts school you have no idea how the school system works because it's not the same as the one you grew up in. 
  10. You cannot get to grips with the idea that eating in a pancake house is "going out for dinner" and still see those Dutch pancakes as eating dessert before the main meal.
  11. You stop calling your GP for every minor ailment your kids get because you know the answer will be "Take paracetamol and if he's not okay in three days come back."
  12. There is more paracetamol in your medicine cabinet at any one time than you would conceivably use in a year in your own country. What's more you have paracetamol for every possible age range and for every orifice and  - you're not afraid to use it.
  13. Your kids cycle better and more than you do.
  14. The phrase you use most whilst walking to and around the local playground is "Watch out for the dog poo. I said WATCH OUT! OK, you can clean that when we get home...."
  15. Your children eat sprinkles on bread for breakfast.
  16. Your child brings home a different friend book to fill in on a weekly basis. But of course your child cannot yet write so guess what you spend your weekends doing....
  17. You wouldn't dream of driving to school. Instead, you join the masses and walk or cycle with your child to school.
  18. You have an impressive array of attachments for your bike, including a bike trailer and child seats.
  19. You race to the nearest lake when the temperature drops so that your children can wear their ice skates.
  20. Your child has a tendency to find the idea of poo sandwiches hilarious. 
*except in Amsterdam.....
    11. You don't call the GP....
    Photo: Andrzej Gdula

    What have I missed? What makes you realise you are parenting abroad, which ever country you are parenting in?