Friday, 27 September 2013

A Letter from my Future Expat Self

September 1999

Dear Amanda,

In an unexpected turn of events you will move to the Netherlands in a year's time. It's a country just across the North Sea, but don't be fooled by the short distance: it's a different country for sure.

Remember when you were holidaying in Turkey and kept hearing what you thought was a strange dialect of German? Well, that was Dutch, and now you need to learn it. It's actually not the same as German at all and by the time you have immersed yourself in the Dutch language your German language skills will have gone out the window. Similarities sure, but absolutely not the same.

So, if you want to be taken seriously and feel even a teeny bit integrated in your new home, you need to learn Dutch. Get cracking. It's not the easiest language for a Brit to learn because some sounds just don't exist in the English language. This is why you'll avoid saying where you live for the first three months you are in the Netherlands - Voorschoten will be impossible for you to say correctly until you master the 'sch' sound, similarly you'll avoid telling people about any trip you make to Scheveningen.

Whilst you get the basics covered, don't worry because Dutch people speak brilliant English, and will attempt to practice with you at every opportunity. In 2013 somebody will come up with the idea of a badge that lets Dutch people you want to speak Dutch with them and not English, but that's way ahead of your time. Therefore you will have to act as if they haven't spoken English at all and continue in Dutch as best you can. Keep at it, after a few years the Dutch will stop talking English to you.

And whilst we're on the subject of practising, find someone with a bicycle you can borrow. Yes, a two wheel pedal yourself type bike. The Dutch cycle everywhere and as you currently don't, starting now will avoid you making a fool of yourself when you buy a bike in 2002. Even the expat woman who will become queen in 2013 thinks nothing of hopping on her bike to open some park or building. Get on your bike.

There are those that will tell you moving to the Netherlands is easy, that it's like living in England. Those people never moved to the Netherlands. They settled there for a while and stayed in an expat world. Moving there permanently is not easy. It is foreign. It is abroad. It is an alien culture. Of course, there are harder places to adjust to, but you will experience culture shock. There will be days when you feel so lonely you'll want to throw the towel in. There will always be a reason to turn back, abort your journey, pack your bags and book a single ticket back to England. But don't. Hang in there. You'll get through everything thrown at you. Good days will start outnumbering the bad days and eventually you'll have worked yourself right through the culture shock spectrum. You'll wake up one day and realise you're home.

One day you'll have a husband, three children and a family home. You'll have been open to a home birth without pain relief, your children will go to local Dutch schools, you'll talk almost exclusively daily in Dutch and you'll have the career you always dreamed of (not much time to do it in but you can't have it all). You'll realise you're an expat at home.

I promise you it's the right move to make. Don't doubt it.

Good luck!

Lots of love,


P.S. For future reference, when your future mother-in-law asks you if you have 'E K Ya' in England, your answer is "yes but we call it Ikea". Don't shake your head and look at her as if she's from another planet.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Learn. Share. Connect.

If you are a regular reader but are not yet connected on Facebook come on over and 'like' the Expat Life with a Double Buggy Facebook page. Alongside my blog postings I also share my articles about expat parenting and highly sensitive children, as well as great articles by other (expat) writers. Furthermore, I share the odd parenting gem from my own fun filled toddler/school boy chasing days and I'd love to hear more from you about your expat parenting experiences.

So if you're an expat parent, or a future expat parent, or an overseas grandparent on Facebook come and say hello at

“Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone's hand is the beginning of a journey.
At other times, it is allowing another to take yours.” 

― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

MKB First Birthday Celebrations - The Dreaded Dutch Birthday Circle

In honour of Multicultural Kid Blogs' first birthday I have written a post about my very first Dutch circle party. I often wake up in a cold sweat from the memories of it that are imprinted deep down in my mind. It's been thirteen years but it's like it was yesterday...... it goes like this:

"Growing up in England my birthday celebrations evolved from children’s parties at home with traditional party games like pass the parcel, musical chairs, pin the tail on the donkey and musical statues. As I got older I remember birthday parties turning into birthday treats. I went with a few friends to a musical in a London theatre (James and the Giant Peach is one such memory) or the cinema. As my teenage years went by such trips turned into two separate celebrations – a family dinner and drinks with friends. Combining the two worlds during a birthday was never on the cards. Until I came to the Netherlands........."

To read the rest of the post head over to the MKB site  and if you link your own birthday blog post, or leave a comment about your wish for the coming year you are automatically entered for the great giveaway.

MKB Virtual Birthday Party

Multicultural Kid Blogs Virtual Birthday Party!

It's a party, y'all! Multicultural Kid Blogs is officially one year old as of today. To celebrate we are hosting a virtual birthday party and YOU are invited! The Party Be sure to visit the participating blogs (see list at the end of this post) to see what they are bringing to the party, plus link up your own posts on the MKB site! The Giveaway Like any good host, we don't want you to go home empty handed, so we are offering some great prizes to three lucky winners. See the end of the post for details on the prizes.

 To enter, visit the MKB site to: 1) Link up a birthday-related post or 2) Comment on the MKB site to tell us your wish for the coming year!

Party Hosts

Party Favors

Prize #1
Mas Canciones en Espanol - Music with Sara - MKB Birthday Party GiveawayDigital download of Más Canciones en Español from Music with Sara

Prize #2
Set of 2 books from National Geographic Kids - US Shipping Only

Prize #3
DVD Fiesta Whistlefritz - MKB Birthday Party Giveaway

Lively Spanish immersion program DVD recommended for children ages 2-7 from Whistlefritz

Now it's your turn! Visit the MKB site for a chance to win one of these prizes by linking up your birthday posts or commenting to tell us your wish for the coming year!

Monday, 23 September 2013

MKB First Birthday Celebrations

The Multicultural Kid Blogs group is one year old and we're celebrating with a week chock full of giveaways, a virtual party and lots of great posts about firsts and birthdays across the globe. For more details head over to the MKB first anniversary page.

It all kicks off tonight so join us at our first ever Twitter party!  Come discuss what raising a world citizen means to you!  Follow the hashtag #mkbparty, or simply follow along in our Twubs room.  We’ll be giving away some great prizes, so don’t miss it!  You can find all the latest on our Facebook page.

Happy first birthday MKB!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Being Introvert. Being Me.

Since I delved into the world of highly sensitive children I have learnt so much more about myself. Since I became a mother, I have learnt to accept being me.

For as long as I can remember I have been labelled as shy. It has negative connotations. Shyness is a negative trait. I have long wished I wasn't shy. Over the years I have put images on my vision board time and time again to motivate myself to do something to be more extrovert, to learn to enjoy networking events, to love talking on the telephone, to get out there and mix with others in the world.

The reality is not so simple. My idea of a nightmare? Put me in a room full of strangers and say, "go mingle". Put me in a room full of family and friends and I'm still not wholly comfortable. Don't get me wrong, I love the fact that I am surrounded by loved ones, but being in a large group doesn't put me at ease. I'm drained by groups. I'm exhausted by crowds. I feel uneasy.

Small talk doesn't come easy
Photo Credit: Linden Laserna
Making small talk is something I find hard to do. It is a huge effort. I need time to think and small talk, conversations with strangers, doesn't give me that time. When you ask me how I am, more often than not it won't cross my mind to ask you how you are doing too. The effort of interacting, of thinking on the spot is a mind boggling effort for most introverts that no extrovert could ever comprehend. It's not because I'm not interested, I really am. It's just not in my nature to make small talk with you and by the time I realise I should ask how you are, you've moved on, lost interest, grown bored of trying to pull basic information out of me.

I'm way out of my comfort zone talking to strangers. Add to that having to communicate in a foreign language and I am often floored by the fact that I converse with anyone outside my family. But I do. On a daily basis. In a language that is not my mother tongue. It used to be a lot harder. For a child, shyness can be crippling and stressful. I know firsthand.

I was the child that hid behind my mother's skirt tails. I was the child that needed an hour to warm up at my grandparent's house. I was the child in school that rarely put their hand up when the teacher asked a question, even though I knew the answer. I was the kid that dreaded hearing the teacher say "...and then you'll give a presentation on it...." I hated those forced debates we had in the classroom, one group pro and one group against one controversial statement or another. I hated it when our religious education teacher, Mr Strang, declared we'd make a play of the bible story we'd just covered. I felt guilty for acts I never committed. I was the child that felt a classmate's humiliation. The stress and dread was real in each situation. Being centre stage was not in my nature. It's still not in my nature. All grown up but I'm still shy.

Becoming a mother is learning to know and accept yourself. Becoming a mother is like holding a mirror up to yourself twenty four hours a day. You can't expect your children to love themselves if they don't have that example. Motherhood has taught me that my own childhood was not about shyness, it was about being an introvert. Introvert covers it better than the dreaded S word. I'm not flawed. There is nothing wrong with me. The fact is that I am an introvert. It's not a negative thing. And because I recognise that now, and accept introvert is what and who I am, I can pass that message on to my sons in a positive way.

Introverts need reflection and quiet
Photo (c) Amanda van Mulligen
Boys, it's okay to be introvert. It's okay not to want to play in large groups on the playground. It's okay not to want to raise your hand in the classroom and be the centre of attention. It's okay to need time in your room alone, even if we have company. It's okay to want things to be familiar around you, to be wary of the new and unknown. It's okay not to want to tell your story, to shout from the rooftops. It's okay to think before you speak, to reflect on things before you share them. It's okay to be quiet. It's more than okay to be an introvert.

I am an introvert. My children are introverts. It doesn't need to change. We don't need to change. As a mother I will reinforce this every day. I promise to make sure my children do not spend their childhood feeling like they don't match up to society's expectations. I will make sure that my children don't feel that they are not good enough because they don't shout loudest. I will make sure they don't feel inferior because they don't feel comfortable standing before the class to share their story. I won't allow them to feel crippled with the fear that there is something wrong with them. I will teach them ways to make space for their thoughts, to understand their needs. I will help them accept their introverted selves. I will make sure they are not labelled with the S word, that they don't see their quietness as a flaw.

I promise to raise my children with the understanding that the world needs introverts, just like it needs extroverts.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

I'm A Boy Mama

I was fascinated by a blog post called '10 Ways to Embrace Being a Mother of Boys" by Chelsea on the Moments A Day site (if you're not familiar take a peek - it's a fabulous parenting resource). She is the mother of two boys and experienced gender disappointment firsthand. Go take a read of the post, I'll wait; I've lots to do in the meantime....

Done reading? So, if you're the mother of boys, and solely boys, does the article resonate with you? Did you always envision you would have a daughter one day?

When I read Chelsea's post I sat with my mouth open, never having contemplated that being a mum to only boys could need some getting used to and extra work. It never crossed my mind that a job as mama could be made tougher by the fact that you're the only female in the house.

And never having dwelt on the fact that parenting only boys requires a mind shift for some I guess I hadn't really thought in depth about how I feel being a mama to three boys. Until now.

Photo Credit: Shannon Pifko
I can honestly say I love being a boy's mama. I can't imagine being the mother of three girls. Or a mixed bunch. Aside from the fact that I have had nearly two years to get used to being the only female in the house, I don't feel like the odd one out.

When I was pregnant for the third time I had a sneaking suspicion I was carrying a baby that would give me a trio of young males to mother. The twenty week scan showed my hunch was right. Was I secretly hoping for a girl? In all honesty, I thought it might be nice to have a little girl to add to the pair of boys I already had but when the sonographer said, "clearly a boy," I wasn't disappointed. It wasn't a surprise. And I liked the idea of another little boy - plus it made our hectic life that little bit easier as our ready supply of boys clothes was endless and boys toys already filled our home already.

Once he was born I had a fair few people saying,

"Oh, another little boy is also okay."

As if there was a possibility that it actually wasn't. For us a third boy was no way a disappointment - we could already vouch for the fun you can have raising little boys. Three boys was more than okay with us.

Then we had a run on questions like,

"Will you try for a fourth? For a girl?"

Er no. We're okay thanks.

When I read Chelsea's piece on it being hard to be a parent to only boys it started me thinking. Why don't I have a problem with having three children who are all the opposite gender to me?

I think it's because I wasn't really a girly girl. At least not as a teenager. My best friends from age fifteen onwards were generally male. Not in a tomboy way, but I preferred their straight talking, honest company. I have one brother. No sisters. In short, I've been more comfortable in the company of males for as long as I can remember.

Photo Credit: (StockXchng) Melodi2
So the leap to being comfortable as the mother of three males wasn't such a big one I guess. I would much rather be on the floor chugging a Thomas the Tank engine round the tracks than singing a K3 song into a toy microphone (if you don't know what I mean with K3, count yourself lucky). Pink bedrooms, dolls houses and Hello Kitty doesn't stir any wistful longing for female company at home. Plucking stones and sticks from jeans pockets before they head into the washing machine is okay with me. Kicking a ball around is fine too. Probably because I really like football, it was me, not my husband that was part of football team growing up. I spent my childhood standing on football terraces. Football has been a part of my life for more decades than I care to admit. So kicking a ball around with my sons? No problem at all.

I'm certainly not saying being the mother to boys only is easy. It's not. In her post, Chelsea has great tips for connecting to sons if it doesn't come naturally. I struggle with the endless questions on topics outside my remit like dinosaurs, Spiderman, volcanoes and bugs. Google has become my best friend. And believe me I'm dreading the teenage years which will hit before we know it. Testosterone everywhere. I'm guessing moody, pimply, hormonal males in the house may not be the most fun you can have as a mother...... but I know from experience a teenage girl is no more an inviting prospect than the one I face - my own mum will testify to that!

Of course, there are advantages to being the only female in the house. The girly things I want to do means I get to have me time, like a monthly escape for a facial for example whilst the boys drag their father skateboarding and to train museums.

And I take heart in the fact that we, mothers of boys, have the chance to show and teach our sons about what are considered in society to be feminine traits - like it's okay to cry, to show emotion, to not like rough, physical contact on the school playground. We can help shape their sensitivities and be role models to our sons, not accepting the stereotypical view of boys that society tends to have. That's our important role whilst papa does the active stuff. (If you want an excellent read about sensitive boys then you can't go wrong with Ted Zeff's book - see affiliate link above.)

For now, whilst my three are so young, I'll take the toy cars and Lego over horses and pink jewellery boxes. I'll keep Googling about T-rexes and beetles and scouring the internet for a Spiderman costume. I'm more than contented with my lot and I guess if I'd have had three girls I'd probably be writing my own version of Chelsea's post....

Monday, 16 September 2013

Monday Morning Coffee Time - Vitamins and Watching Leaves

Molly over at The Move to America has had a wonderful idea for a weekly social link up with a 'Monday Coffee Morning' where she shares what her week has in store for her. Nice idea huh? If you want to join in, grab your coffee cup and head over to Molly's.

I plan for this week to be a quieter one that last week, when birthday celebrations dominated the week. As promised I did actually make eccles cakes, after a long Monday I spent my evening in the kitchen - which actually I really enjoyed. The kids were already in bed so I could put my own music on and get lost in my own little baking world. The result was well appreciated at home and at my husband's work.

Eccles cakes - a British kind of treat
Photo: (c) Amanda van Mulligen

However, the business of the week left us all feeling a little drained, and as school has only been back two weeks we are now faced with the inevitable and obligatory round of back to school bugs that start rearing their ugly heads. So we're all fighting colds. Lacklustre is one word to sum how I feel up at the moment. So this week will be focussed on vitamin boosts, fresh air and positive thinking. We will not be brought down by colds....

We're waiting for the leaves to colour
Photo: (c) Amanda van Mulligen
This week we'll also be watching the leaves closely on the trees. We are looking at for signs of colour change for a family photo shoot with Vinita Salome. If the leaves cooperate we could be doing an autumn session at the weekend. If they stubbornly stay green (which I suspect they will for now) we'll be moving the session. And of course it needs to stay dry, which judging by the last week is a big ask in the Netherlands at the moment...

What do you have planned this week? Whatever it is, I hope it's a good one.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Choices, Critics and Meddling Politicians: Parenting Today

The uproar caused by George Osborne in the UK has reached the Dutch press this week too. The Conservative chancellor has managed to rile stay-at-home mothers with his frivolous remarks about mothers choosing to stay at home to look after small children making a lifestyle choice.

In an effort to boost dual income households childcare vouchers up to 1,200 per year per child are up for grabs when both parents are working.  To quote The Telegraph,

"Mr Osborne said: “This Government is on the side of people who want to work hard and get on in life.”

Which obviously does not include stay-at-home mothers.

There has been a similar uproar in the Netherlands over the past few months too following Jet Bussemaker's comments that well educated stay-at-home mothers should feel guilty about their debt to society and that all women should be financially independent of their partners.

Day care or stay at home? Your choice will always
start off the critics
Photo Credit: Afonso Lima
Of course it's a government's job to keep the economy going and stimulate the job market but thoughtless comments from well-meaning out of touch politicians rile me. But that aside, what really riles me is that no matter what you do as a mother it's not right. If you work full time you face criticism that day care is essentially raising your child. If you stay at home you're wasting your education and not contributing to the country's economy.

How about we, as a society, including politicians, butt out and let each family make a decision that works for them. That means not penalising families financially because one of the parents chooses to stay at home and look after their children. It means not making parents feel guilty about the choice they make, whatever that may be. A little more acceptance and tolerance that what works for one family doesn't work for another. Some families have no choices open to them, staying at home is not an option because of financial restraints.

I'm a stay at home mother and that was my choice. Financially, we have that luxury. I don't regard it as a lifestyle choice. I wanted to raise my children, watch them grow, be here for their first words, first steps. I work from home, writing when I can, but it fits in with my family and not the other way around. And I'm happy with that. I'm happy with the choice I made and I don't feel any pressure to leave my children in day care and get back into the workplace on a full time basis.

Pre-children I worked full time, had a higher monthly salary than my partner and was focussed on a career. That all changed when I became pregnant. My mind was set the day my first son was born. The original plan was for me to return to work on a part-time basis, my mother-in-law to look after him for one day a week and the other days for him to go to day care. Once he was born I hated the idea of leaving him. I hated the idea of missing so much of his development whilst I sat in an office making very little difference to the business world or the Dutch economy in reality. My priorities changed. Life changed.

And I am grateful every day that I had that choice to stop working and stay at home. I would make the same decision again and again. Others wouldn't. Their choice. And that's the beauty of the society and the age we live in - we have choices. Let us exercise those choices without others attempting to make us parents feel like whatever we do it is wrong. Let the focus be on family and not politics or economics. Make it easy for mothers and fathers to make the choice that works for them and their children. By all means make it easy for mothers to work full time, but don't label stay at home mothers lazy or criticise part time workers with the same breath. Let's accept the choice of parents to stay at home with their child and not criticise full-time working mothers for putting their children in day care so they can make a living or have a career.

Us mothers have our own internal critic to battle with everyday - we don't need others to add to it......

Monday, 9 September 2013

Monday Coffee Morning - Party Time

Molly over at The Move to America has had a wonderful idea for a weekly social link up with a 'Monday Coffee Morning' where she shares what her week has in store for her. Nice idea huh? If you want to join in, grab your coffee cup and head over to Molly's.
This week has a bit of a party theme going on. There's my husband's birthday tomorrow and my two eldest are off to a friend's birthday party on Wednesday. So I, for some reason, said I would bake something for the husband to take into work tomorrow to celebrate his birthday (in true Dutch style). Initially he told me last week on the phone he would bake an apple tart to take in and by the time I had finished laughing I think he'd forgotten he'd said it. I met my husband in 1999. I have not ever seen him bake an apple tart in the time that has passed. In fact, I've never really seen him bake anything. Ever. So ever the loving, helpful wife, I'm making eccles cakes, in true British style.

Aside from that it's the second week back at school and I could see last Friday that the first week was starting to take it's toll on all five of us as getting out of bed got harder and harder each morning. So this week is about getting back into our stride, getting used to school routines. And keeping our fingers crossed that my eldest has as good a week this week in his new school as last week. It's always a gamble to make a big change, especially when there's a sensitive kid involved but so far so good - he loves it.

The other thing we've got going on this week is a Skype session with the lovely Vinita Salomé about out upcoming family photo session. We had the idea of an autumn session - lots of coloured leaves to kick around - and today has certainly reinforced that autumn is here. From nowhere it is rainy, grey and a wee bit chillier than it has been. The leaves will be dropping in no time I'm sure!

What are your plans for the week? Whatever they are, I hope it's a good one. 

Sunday, 8 September 2013

An Afternoon at the Embassy Festival in The Hague

Yesterday all five of us went to The Hague to take a look around at the Embassy Festival on the Lange Voorhout. The aim of the festival was to showcase the many nationalities that live in The Hague through cultural activities. Culinary delights, music, readings and art were promised. And certainly delivered.

It was the first such festival to be organised and I hope it will be an annual event - it was a really pleasant afternoon out and the kids enjoyed themselves too.

At one end of the site there was a stage hosting pop/jazz/soul/folk musicians and at the other a classical music stage dominated proceedings. Worlds apart yet both entertaining and drawing crowds. The children loved getting creative at De Zoep's stand where a collective art wall wall being created. We loved trying new wines and listening to live classical music - something we haven't done since becoming parents!

Instead of me talking, let me show you our afternoon through photos.

De Zoep - responsible for the art wall

Collective art wall
My creative geniuses at work for the art wall
Three van Mulligen art works...
Mesmerised the children!
The classical music stage

Getting ready for the children's museum night
Buitenhof looking beautiful in the evening sunshine
A little fun on Spuiplein on the way back to the car

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The Start of The Era of Me - A Guest Post for The European Mama

The climb to the top of the parenting hill
Photo Credit: Andrzej Pobiedziński
I have written a guest post for Olga over at The European Mama on the topic of motherhood and how it gets easier. I wrote from the top of a parenting hill I'd been climbing for more than six years and the view from the top was great. Six and a half years of pregnancies, births, tiny hands and feet and helpless faces. But that is all changing. I'm welcoming in a little time for me. Of course, from the top of that same hill I see more hills to be tackled in the future but one day at a time....... celebrate the little things!

"It finally feels like my time has come. A new era of me has begun. After three years of doing things almost exclusively in my “mama” role the last month or two have been more about me....." Hop over to The European Mama to read the rest of the post and bathe in the light at the end of the parenting tunnel.