Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Smoking and Children: The Dutch Attitude (Part II)

Photo Credit: Mi Sio
Over a year ago I wrote a post on this blog about the Dutch attitude to smoking around children and my personal experience with parents smoking on the school playground whilst waiting to pick their children up.

In fact, things were so bad that the school pupils were being used to pick up the cigarette butts -which I found appalling. (I'm keeping my language tame here when I say that). Whilst many parents were complaining about the example this gave the children, the school refused to take any hard line saying the school playground was public so they couldn't ban it. Instead of asking parents politely not to smoke in the interests of our children's health and set an appropriate example, the school added a note to the school newsletter to say that the children had cleaned the playground of cigarette butts and could parents please keep it tidy and not drop any more......flabbergastingly unbelievable.

Well, I have good news. We changed schools. Not because of this, although this kind of school policy certainly didn't help to make us feel any more comfortable with our original school choice. The new school has taken a stance on parents smoking on the school playground. The school acknowledges that it is a public area so it cannot ban smoking outright but states in the school rules that smoking on the playground is a nuisance for other parents and children alike. The director has asked that if parents have to smoke that they do it right away from the school playground.

Now, that wasn't so painful was it? And the best bit? Parents actually listen. In my first month in the new school I have not seen one parent smoking on the school playground. Thank goodness common sense prevails at some schools.

However, I still notice a lot of smoking around me at places like zoos and amusement parks and am always amazed at just how oblivious many are that they are smoking over prams and pushchairs and blowing smoke in children's faces or worse still holding their cigarette in their hands at just the right height to be dangerously close to a child's face.

Legoland Windsor - raising the bar
with their smoking policy
Photo: (c) A van Mulligen
There is an example however, that Dutch attractions geared at children should be looking at -  Legoland in Windsor, England has taken a stand and has banned smoking everywhere in the park aside from a designated smoking area which makes for a very pleasant change indeed. This is their smoking policy:

Smoking Policy

LEGOLAND Windsor wishes to be at the forefront of reducing smoking in public places due to the fact we are designed for families with young children. There is one designated smoking area in the park near to Fire Academy. This is the only area where smoking is allowed in the park.

Smoking is not allowed in any other outdoor space, queue-line, restaurant, shop or attraction and cigarettes are not sold on site. You will be asked to put out your cigarettes by our staff members.

The policy above also applies to electronic cigarettes.

Since my post last year smoking has once again been on the Dutch political agenda with a small majority voting in February 2013 for a total ban on tobacco in cafes and bars. Which some of you may remember they already did in 2008. However, the law was then reversed for small cafes without staff members by the high courts. And now the law is being put back into force for all cafes and bars, regardless of size or staffing. For what it is worth of course, as according to the Ministry of Health the smoking ban is currently largely ignored by around 40% of establishments.

On 1 January 2014 the age limit to buy cigarettes in the Netherlands rises from 16 to 18.

So there are positive steps to try and reduce smoking, however it does remain prevalent.

The Dutch attitude to smoking is a strange and complicated thing indeed. But I am relieved to see that in my own little corner of the world there is the recognition that smoking and children don't mix.

Is smoking around children tolerated in your part of the world? Have you seen changes in the attitude to smoking in the last year?

Sunday, 27 October 2013

My 365 Grateful Project #4 to #7

#5 Whilst I don't have a photo to share of my grateful moment for Wednesday this week, the moment is a memorable one. We went to the Circus Theatre in Schevenigen to see the Bob the Builder show and I was lost in the moment watching my two year old dance and clap with complete abandonment to the theme tune of Bob. Oh, for the days of carefree boogying whenever the mood takes.

We had another family photo session with Vinita Salomé. this week - and the session was so much fun! I already banked some special moments from the morning with her - it was a great opportunity to stop everything and cherish what a beautiful little family I have. Gratitude at it's most obvious.

My eldest son made up a game for him and his brother to play using Duplo, dice and two counters. It was spontaneous, self-driven and extremely imaginative and creative. Long may it continue!

Silent Sunday

Friday, 25 October 2013

How To Piss off the Dutch*

Sinterklaas: the children's December celebration is
under fire in the Netherlands
The best way to rile a Dutch person is to ask them why they need two Santa Clauses and suggest they scrap one, namely the white bearded one with those very questionable black helpers who arrives in the country on a boat from Spain in November. And to be honest I can understand why they are pretty pissed off at the moment.

My disbelief at what is currently hitting the news does not stem from the fact that there is once again a huge debate about Zwarte Piet, racism and slavery. The issue has been on the table for many years, there is open discussion in Dutch society about Zwarte Piet and questions have been raised many times over about whether the appearance should be altered, including from prominent Dutch figures. Traditions, in general, move with the times, things change and Zwarte Piet, I'm sure, will continue to change too.

What actually riles me about the discussion this year is that it is spearheaded by someone who seems to have very little understanding of the Dutch and what the celebration of Sinterklaas is about.  What riles me is the clumsy manner that a nation is told that their tradition is inferior to the Coca-Cola Santa that dominates the Christmas festivities of other countries, and that they should scrap their celebration on the 5th December. Verene Shepherd (UN representative) asked why the Netherlands needs two Santa Clauses. This is what pisses me off. Such a comment can only be made by somebody who is completely ignorant to the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, somebody who has not yet done their homework.

"Shepherd calls on prime Minister Mark Rutte to put an end to Sinterklaas. The prime minister has the power to influence the group that maintains this habit. If the Dutch government recognizes the Sinterklaas tradition is outdated, they should instruct the groups organizing it, to stop, according to Shepherd. And what is wrong with  one Sinterklaas? Why does The Netherlands have two?  Shepherd wondered in the program, referring to Santa Claus." - NL Times

The reality is that the Netherlands does not have two Santa Clauses. It has one Sinterklaas. I am yet to meet a Dutch family that has Santa Claus or Father Christmas visit them on the 25 December. Any Santa Claus figure that makes an appearance at Christmas time is purely commercial and is in no way a Dutch tradition. The Santa Claus that countries such as Britain and America know and love is known as the Coca-Cola Santa here. 

If the Dutch weren't already pissed off about being accused of being racist, the suggestion that they should stick with the Coca-Cola Santa Claus and do away with their own tradition certainly did the trick. Nothing like attacking a folk to get them heading to a Facebook page to express themselves at a rate of 100 likes per second….

*The title of this blog post is stolen from inspired by The Head of the Heard's post How to Piss off a Brazilian.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Old McDonald Had a Dutch Farm

'Knor' or 'oink'?
And on that farm he had a pig. Depending on whether that farm is nestling in the Netherlands or in England the pig says knor or oink.

A Dutch cow, standing in a lush green field in the Netherlands does not moo; it goes boe, (pronounced boo). An English sheep would have little problem understanding a Dutch tourist sheep, they seem to speak the same language and will happily baa together.

The same cannot be said of chickens. Tok says the Dutch chicken, which I think may draw a blank look from her English counterpart. Cats and dogs seem to transcend the language barrier but whilst a neighing English horse may seem more than a little negative to a Dutch horse, he may in turn believe he is the butt of a joke as the Dutch horse retorts with hihi.

'Waaaaa' is as scary as a Dutch lion gets
A Dutch speaking mouse pieps (pronounce as peep) and an English mouse squeaks. A mighty lion roars in English, and says waa in Dutch. Yes, it is difficult to imagine a scary Dutch lion.

If you are rudely awoken by a kukelekuu then your sleep has been interuppted by a Dutch cockerel. An English one will announce it is time to wake up with a cockle doodle doo.

The busy bee on the lavender in your Dutch garden will zoem, but will happily buzz his way around an English garden.

Language is certainly a funny thing and I for one am not certain how to explain to my sons why an animal living in the Netherlands makes a different noise to one he would meet in England. So far, they have not asked, accepting it is what it is. But if they do I will be directing them to their father who can explain why the Dutch animals make such strange noises..... after all a pig clearly does not knor. A pig quite obviously oinks....... even a Dutch one. Right?

What noises do animals make in your second language? Are the sounds wildly different than in your mother tongue?

This post has been adapted from a post originally published on A Letter from the Netherlands.

Monday, 21 October 2013

My 365 Grateful Project #3: Creativity, Imagination and Adventure

All three boys spent this morning playing with Duplo. I initiated the building of a town and they went with it. We had a shop, a snack bar, a school, a police and fire station, a doctors surgery, an airport and a farm. And they literally entertained themselves for two hours with the goings on in the town. It was amazing to take a step back and watch the creativity, the imagination and the adventure held within my sons. 

Monday Morning Coffee Time: Herfstvakantie

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 is herfstvakantie in our part of the Netherlands. That means school holiday time - autumn break. And it means there are lots of things going on for children. It's actually turned into a busy week for us. 

On the agenda, as the main attraction,  we have Lego World in Utrecht. We went last year (in Zwolle) and there were some very happy boys in my midst. In fact, the biggest boy of all (aka the husband) seemed to have a fabulous time indeed, showing his sons exactly what you can do with a few Lego bricks, imagination and some time on your hands.... This year my youngest will also be old enough to get stuck in. I think I'll head to the Lego Friends section and think about what might have been had Lego come up with idea a few decades earlier.....

We also have a trip to see Bob the Builder planned. He's on stage with his friends. 

In between we have some playdates arranged and then to cap it all off we have another theater show which is part of De Betovering festival in The Hague. We've got tickets for 'White' (Wit) and even mama and papa are looking forward to that one..... Hopefully they'll be quiet time too for some Halloween crafts that the boys want to do. A quiet day will be welcome after all this I'm sure.....

What do you have planned for the week?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

My 365 Grateful Project #2: Seeing the Beauty in Little Things

This photo was actually taken by my three year old today. My gratitude moment today stems from the fact that my sons are growing up with an affinity with nature. They see the small things, revel in the unusual that Mother Nature has to offer. They see the beauty in little things. Like their mother does. Of course, whilst out walking today they also splashed in every puddle they could find, and stomped around in as much wet, stinking mud as they could. Their trousers are in the washer as I write......

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 19 October 2013

My 365 Grateful Project #1: Education, Reading & Being Bilingual

#1 Grateful for the education system my sons have access to

Over on 4 kids, 20 Suitcases and a Beagle, Kirsty just posted about the #365grateful project. I immediately had a light bulb moment and wanted in. Being a stay at home mum (with the stolen hour here and there to do some writing) can sometimes feel like sitting in a rut. Same thing, same time, most days. School and back eight times a day...... and sometimes I need a kick in the butt to just treasure the amazing moments I do have in a day. I wrote Freeze the Day last week and the post I read today by Kirsty seemed to fit seamlessly together with that. So here's the beginning of my own 365grateful project.

Today I took my eldest into town and we stopped by the library for some books. He's learning to read and write at school at the moment. I sat with him on the library floor for a few minutes listening to him read the first pages of some of the books we found, to see if they were the right level for him. He's taken to reading like a duck to water. He loves it and he's so proud of himself for being able to read pages and pages at a time, putting the story together for his little brothers. Not only is he reading Dutch books, but English ones too - we found a couple of English early readers at the library too. 

How grateful I am for the Dutch education system, and the fact that education here is not only a given but compulsory. So many children across the world don't have that privilege. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

Freeze The Day

Suddenly summer seems to have slipped by like a passing whisper, leaves are fluttering from the trees and landing softly at our feet as we go about our daily business, pepernoten line the supermarket shelves and the endless debates about Zwarte Piet begin once more, blogs are awash with pumpkins and Halloween and there are tweets galore counting down the shopping days until Christmas. 

It struck me last week as I watched my youngest turn two that time really is slipping by so fast. I found myself wanting to freeze the day. 

To pay attention to every little detail of my day. To not grow impatient during the morning battle to get three children out the door for the school run but cherish the stolen hugs between doing buttons and laces up. 

Photo Credit:T Rolf
To take my son's hand when he offers it on the way to the shops and cherish the warmth and innocence of that gesture. 

To not be preoccupied by Facebook whilst my three sons build a zoo with Duplo but to get down on the ground with them and help them with their masterpiece. 

To fully understand the depth of emotion behind a playground tussle and not wipe away the tears from my son's face and move on to the next job waiting for me. 

To commit the picture of my son cuddling with his favourite rabbit for comfort to memory.

To laugh with my children as they splash around at bath time and not scold for making puddles on the bathroom floor. 

To fully immerse myself in their bedtime story and not see it as a chore off the list when the evening is hectic. 

I suddenly wanted to capture the madness that is life with three young children, because as each day passes something is lost that I will never get back.

One day they won't want a bedtime story from me. One day doing up laces and buttons will be something my children do themselves on automatic pilot setting. One day they'll walk themselves to school. One day they'll refuse to hold my hand in public. One day I'll be fighting with them to take a shower, and the idea of splashing in the fun of a bubbly bath will be a distant memory. One day their favourite cuddly toy will sit forgotten on a shelf in a cupboard, filled with holes and split seams from years of dragging and holding. One day the Duplo and the Lego will be put away for good, bundled up for for other people's children to play with. One day my sons won't shed tears so openly. 

But until those days come, I am learning that every now and then I need to freeze the day we're in. Freeze the moment. Cherish it. Notice the passing moments. Suck in all the magical details. Realise what is left behind as each day turns into the next. My children will never be the same tomorrow as they were today. 

Nobody sums this feeling up better than Gretchen Rubin - two minutes of pure parenting emotion

Monday, 7 October 2013

Happy 2nd Birthday

Dear O,

Two. In the blink of an eye, you've suddenly turned two little O. I could sit and ponder how two years have flown by so fast, how quickly the little bundle of baby you were has turned into this running, babbling little toddler. But I won't. Because it won't change a thing, and every year I've had with you and your brothers leaves me wondering how you could all grow so quickly.

New Born Little O

You've been in our lives for two years; you brought us tears of joy, tears of frustration, many sleepless nights, moments fraught with worry but most of all you've brought us joy. You bring a smile to our faces in so many ways; the way you wrap your little arms around our necks for a cuddle, the way you stroke the top of your brother's head when he hits it against the climbing frame, the way you give us wet kisses and try to say 'dank je wel' when we hand over your beaker, the way you sing the theme song to Nijntje whilst swaying your head side to side, the way you boogie whenever the mood takes you, the way you point to the sky and shout 'gaaaaaaa' when you hear an aeroplane, the way you adopted the word papegaai to 'papagaai' and 'mamagaai'.

Little O, you made sure we knew you were around from the moment you were born. You wouldn't lie in your Moses basket, you cried and screamed incessantly. You wanted only to be held by one of us, all day, all night. Sleepless nights took their toll and we landed in the hospital with you. Silent reflux the paediatrician said. A few nights in hospital would help you get into a rhythm of sleeping at night the paediatrician said. Without mama or papa the paediatrician said. Less than two weeks old and my mothering instinct screamed no way. We took you home again. We gave you medicine and slowly but surely there were longer periods of night sleeping. We all got some sleep again. The crying stopped. The screaming stopped. After a few months you could lie in your bed on your back again without the pain. And then you began to shine.

You smiled, and laughed and gurgled at us. You sat up. You began to discover the world around you. You started crawling, getting into every corner you could, getting into mischief wherever you could. You began to take little steps. The steps got bigger and faster. You said mama and papa. And then Nijntje and bol. Suddenly there were cats and cars in your world, and waving and shouting bye bye became second nature. You started blowing kisses. You began calling your eldest brother Sassa. You started careering around the garden in the Little Tikes car and free falling from the slide, with no fear or apprehension or idea of the potential dangers. Fun became your main interest. And good for you little O, that's what being a child is all about. Playing, having fun. Making sure you squeeze out every smile and laugh that you have inside you. And lucky for us your laughter is infectious. And how contagious it is. Every day.

And so today, you turn two. Soon, you'll go to pre-school a few hours a week with your brother, the same familiar place I have to drag you out of now when we drop your brother off. It's the first little step to discovering the world outside the safety of your home, of meeting other boys and girls to play with, to listening to someone else other than mama or papa. It's a step that has come all too quickly.

When 'Sassa' was born, each new phase he entered was a hip hip hooray moment, it couldn't come quick enough. The first smile, the first clap, the first step and word, the first day at pre-school then junior school. Basking in the glory of every new step he made dimmed the realisation that our baby was slipping away into a school boy.

Over the past two years we have felt no rush to see you take your first step, babble your first conversation, start school, because we know all too well that every stage comes soon enough in it's own sweet time. And with every new stage you reach, something is left behind. With you, little O, every new phase comes too quickly and this time with the full realisation that the baby has gone. In his place stands a toddler. There will be no more crawling, gurgling babies behind you, no more first steps or first words. You are our last firsts, and that makes every moment even more poignant. Whilst you will always be the baby of the family, reality is that you are a baby no more. You're an energetic, fun loving, busy, adventurous little toddler with the ability to spread smiles and laughter around you like wild fire.
Happy 2nd birthday little O, I hope you enjoy your day celebrating the amazing little boy you are becoming. And never stop smiling.

Love mama, papa, Sassa & C,

Thursday, 3 October 2013

My Dutch Neighbourhood

I live in the Dutch equivalent of England's Milton Keynes. In other words it's what is known as a new town, created to quell the expansion of The Hague in the 1970s. Of course, before that time there was a Zoetermeer, but that was small, quaint and old style. Zoetermeer today is an ever expanding concrete suburbia with its fair share of social issues. But that's not what this post is about - this post is part of another great series through Multicultural Kid Blogs called 'Your Neighbourhood around the World'.

So without further ado... welcome to my little part of Zoetermeer....

This is a typical looking family house in my neighbourhood, though to be honest there are many different types of housing style locally from unremarkable family terrace houses, square houses with wood panel exteriors, to split level apartments.
This is a nearby street. Many streets are tree lined (the subject of a current battle as the council wants to chop many trees down in the neighbourhood because they have gotten too big for the streets - many residents are opposed) and lined with parked cars.....

This is one of the many local primary schools. Dutch primary schools tend to have a very local catchment area and be numerous but small scale. Children may start at age 4 but are legally required to attend school from 5.
One of the local supermarkets. Many Dutch have a tendency to pop into their supermarket on a daily basis to grab fresh food, instead of doing a huge shop on a weekly basis. This means supermarkets are generally small and compact.
This is the local basketball court where children ride their bikes, sit and talk and sometimes actually play basketball with each other. In winter it is filled with water and becomes the local skate rink and a real neighbourhood gathering point.

 A local playground. Again, small scale and numerous is the theme when it comes to neighbourhood play areas.

This is just about the most popular way of travelling where I live. There are almost as many bikes as there are people in the Netherlands and bike riding begins young.

This is one of the local Dutch snack bars where UFOs are served (unidentified fried objects). There are often long queues! I guess this the Dutch answer to Britain's fish and chip shops.

This building used to house our local library but it was the victim of budget cuts so disappeared a year or so ago. It remains open as the neighbourhood/police post to flag issues or suggestions. 

One of numerous local hairdresser salons in the neighbourhood. There seems to be a Dutch obsession with hairdressers. We have four situated in two little shopping areas in the local neighbourhood. This one is specialised in kids' haircuts and has an array of cars and scooters for the kids to sit in or on. My youngest was there last week for his very first haircut.  

This last picture, whilst showing more typical family homes in my neighbourhood, also shows a street sign for a national drink driving awareness campaign. "BoB" is the designated driver, someone who should avoid alcohol even at those neighbourhood BBQs.
Show me your neighbourhood around the world