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Monday, 19 December 2011

Grades in daycare? Seriously?

Klara loves going to her daycare. Her best  friends Pieter and Robin are there, and she is happy to be and play with the other children. I remember when we first came to see the daycare we chose for her so I could write my MA thesis. It was recommended to us by a friend of ours, and it also was conveniently located opposite of our house. While I was worried to leave my (then) one and only child with strangers, I also thought that a daycare for 2 days a week could actually be beneficial for both of us. Klara, on the other hand, saw the children in the group, and there was a smile on her face from one end of the room to the other. The daycare made a good impression on me. It was tidy, the children played happily with each other, there was no crying and no problems.

Klara started going to one of the 2 baby groups they had there for 2 days a week. At first, I came to nurse her, and picked her up earlier. Gradually, I left her there for the whole day, and weaned her off. She was so happy to play with the other children, and didn’t want to go home. We also added another day. Soon she was big enough to be bored with the baby group, and joined the toddler group shortly after her second birthday.

And this is where I start to be somewhat upset about this daycare. For the toddlers, they had a rather rigid schedule where everyone did everything at the same time. The children ate together, slept together, played outside together. And maybe, such a schedule is not a bad thing at all. But at home, we encourage Klara to basically choose her own activities as far as possible. She sleeps when she’s tired, she eats when she’s hungry. We are not extremely organised people, so we can’t expect to suddenly become someone we’re not.

But it seems that this caused problems at daycare. First, I need my sleep, and I need it in large quantities. So, wherever I can, I sleep. Since Klara goes to bed between 8 and 9pm, she sleeps so I can get my sleep, too. This, however, often results in our being late for daycare. I have often been told off for this. The nurses say it’s  preparation for school, so the children get used to a schedule. Also, I was told that children should go to sleep between 7 and 8. The thing is that my husband comes home from work at 8pm, and it sort of is more important to me that Klara gets some time with her father than to get her to sleep at a certain time.

Same thing with my arriving late. I don’t work, and sleep really is important to me. So I get my sleep whenever I can, especially now that I have a baby who often wakes once or twice during the night and wants to drink. OK, so it disrupts their schedule and Klara can’t play before she gets to eat with the children. Seriously, this is not my problem. We pay for the daycare so so we could work or have some time for ourselves. The fact that they have some kind of schedule doesn’t really interest me, it’s their thing, not something we do at home.

And preparation for school? I am not interested in getting my children “ready” for school, either. In fact, if I could, I’d skip school altogether so they’ll be spared the bad experiences I had. And I bet many parents feel the same way as I do. I don’t know who invented the gap between doing something “for fun” (a.k.a. playing) and doing something because it is expected (a.k.a. “learning”). Children learn all the time. They learn through play, and through having fun. I am teaching Klara letters and numbers, and she thinks it’s as much fun as playing with her doll. It doesn’t matter to her. And children really will get enough time of schedules, classes, and whatnots so they don’t have to start early. Same thing with missing daycare parties: Klara didn’t go her Sinterclaas party, and will not go to her Christmas party. She will, however go with her parents to see her extended family or go on vacation to see something really interesting.

Today, something happened that upset me even more, and was the actual trigger for this blog post. As I was about to leave, one of the nannies approached me and gave me a sheet of paper. On it were listed various activities, like sleeping, eating, playing, socialising, speaking, etc. Under every activity there was an evaluation from 1 (the best) and 6 (the worst) and a short description of the child’s achievements.

At first, I didn’t see anything bad with it. After all, they wrote down observations of Klara, and they actually got a lots of things right as their evaluation was consistent with what I had discovered about her. But then I told this to my husband. I tried to explain what happened today, and I said: “Oh well, it’s an evaluation, and it has some sort of grades on it”. I said it. Those numbers were “grades”.

While I think it’s not such a bad idea to listen to the nannies and hear what they discovered about my child, such a grading system is something different. Seriously, Klara got a 3 because I bring her in late, and she likes to cling to me when I want to leave. Also a 3 for not using the toilet all the time (although they said she is interested in using the potty, and tries really hard), and a 3 for not speaking in clear, structured sentences. Seriously, people, she is 2 years old! She talks in 3-word sentences, and in 3 languages. She can tell me that her diaper is dirty, and to go to the potty, and sometimes even pee into it. For my understanding of what a 2-year old should be able to do, this is actually very good. I am proud of my girl. She’s doing great!

But the daycare doesn’t think so. Klara’s group contains children between 2 and 4 years old. Most of them are Dutch. And all children are evaluated with the same form, regardless of their age and cultural background. So, Klara is evaluated together with Dutch children and many of them are older than her. It’s ridiculous. It’s like grading somebody who just learned a language together with a native speaker. It’s not fair. I wouldn’t be so upset if the forms took age and background into account. But they don’t and so Klara’s achievements don’t look as impressive anymore but it’s not my point. I don’t want her achievements to “look” great, I want her to get a fair evaluation.

Luckily, as I now know, not all daycares do this.  I hope the next one won’t.  
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Monday, 12 December 2011

What I’m reading

I haven’t read anything for a few months. In fact, I haven’t read anything since “Dance with Dragons”. Until now. I have borrowed some books from a friend of mine, and I was so book- hungry that I started to read them right away. The books are very different. They tell different stories, use different writing styles, and affect the readers in different ways. So here are the books with their reviews.

“My ‘Dam Life. Three Years in Holland” by Sean Condon.
“My ‘Dam Life’ tells the story of Australian author Sean Condon and depicts his life in the Netherlands where he moved with his wife because she got a job. He describes their struggles with getting an apartment, a new job for both of them, and the difficulties in obtaining a visa. It is a personal story, written in diary-style. It is witty, funny, entertaining. Those of you living in the Netherlands would find yourself recognising some of the situations. Then again, the book was written 2003, and since then many things have changed. Also, the facts Condon tries to spread throughout the book, are not entirely accurate: no, Dutch is much closer to German than it is to English. And, neither Grolsch, and especially not Heineken can be considered “foremost beers”. In fact, I should ask the question, whether they could be considered “beers” at all. But this, of course is a matter of preferences.
Also, “My ‘Dam Life” is, while funny, sometimes irritating. Why wouldn’t the protagonist find a job? It seems to the reader that while Sally (Sean’s wife) tries to make ends meet, he just does… not very much, really. OK, so he writes his book, and does some freelance jobs here and there, but it’s her who gets things done.
All in all, “My ‘Dam Life”, while entertaining, should not be read as a travel guide. If somebody’s interested in Dutch culture, they should read something else. This should be read for entertainment only, and then be put on the shelf, and forgotten.

“The Island” by Victoria Hislop
While there are many books about the effects diseases have on people’s lives, “The Island” tackles one of them, that has not found it’s way into literature-apart from the Bible: leprosy. As it was believed to be a highly contagious disease, leprosy colonies were created to keep the ill ones away from the healthy. One of such colonies was Spinalonga, in Crete, Greece.
“The Island” tells the story of young Alexis, who is trying to find out about her family roots. While Sofia, Alexis’s mother never talked about her past, Alexis is passionate to learn about it She sees this an opportunity to sort things out with her boyfriend Ed. During a holiday in Greece, Alexis, armed with a letter from her mother, visits Foutini, her mother’s friend, in the small city of Plaka. There she finds out that she has ties with the former leprosy colony Spinalonga.
Hislop has done a great deal of research on leprosy, and the history of Crete. Her story is extremely interesting and well-paced, her writing style is beautiful without being pompous. It is an interesting read for several reasons. First, it tells the truth about leprosy- that is was not as contagious as it was thought to be. That the inhabitants of Spinalonga, while being separated from their families and friends, and shipped over to the colony, managed to have satisfying lives. Nowadays, leprosy can actually be cured, although it’s still present in the modern world. And then, for me, it’s extremely interesting to have read a book about someone discovering about their families and roots.

“The Discovery of Heaven” by Harry Mulisch
As soon as I opened it, I knew this was no ordinary book. Contrary to the previous ones, which I wanted to finish as soon as possible, here I wanted to cherish every sentence, every word, every expression.
“The discovery of Heaven” tells the story of Ono and Max who are responsible for the birth and upbringing of a rather exceptional boy, Quentin. Unbeknownst to them, their lives are being meticulously planned and managed by a higher Angelic being, so it would lead to Quentin’s birth and the fulfilment of his mission. It’s extremely hard to tell this story. It involves rather interesting narrative twists and turns. It also involves allusions to numerous famous works of arts, artists, writers and scientists. It is also a book about family, politics, fate, religion, art, and so much more. Since it takes place in the Netherlands, it can be considered a book about the Netherlands as well.
It’s a book that will make you think and sometimes it’s downright scary- not horror-like scary, but metaphysically scary. I actually wanted to check every name and every detail in this book to make sure I understood everything about it. I didn’t. But this only makes me want to read this it again. And possibly, again and again and again. “The Discovery of Heaven” is brilliant and a pleasure to read, a must for all literature lovers.
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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Dear Santa. A mother’s letter

Dear Santa Claus,

I am writing to you on behalf of my two girls. They are still little and don’t know how to write yet. I would like to tell you that both of them have been behaving exceptionally well so far, and that I am very proud to be their mom. And since it’s me writing this letter, I’m not going to ask for toys, clothes, or other material things. Instead, I’m going to ask you for things for myself, so I could be a better mother. So, here’s my wish list. Those things are not really for me. They are meant for my children.

Patience. Lots and lots of it. I need as much as you can spare, and more. I need patience in order to stay calm and explain things rather than start screaming. I need it in order to wait for the next develomental step instead of worrying when are my children going to start walking, talking, or doing anything, really. So, patience is always a good thing to have.

Courage. I need that, too. Because I need to teach my children to know good from bad. To teach them courage I need to be couragious myself. I need courage to show them how to stand up for themselves, and do the right thing even when it’s difficult. I need courage to come to their rescue if they need me. And I need courage whenever I decide something that is not socially eccepted because I considered it a good thing. So, lots of courage, too. If you please.

Eyes around my head, and additional extremities. Do you know the feeling when you turn your back for just a second and your child does something she’s not allowed to do, or something that could harm her? Or you’re never fast enough to come to their rescue? Do you? Then you know why I need those additional eyes and hands and legs. Telepathic abilities and a screaming decoder (a device that translates screams and temper tantrums into polite requests) would be nice, too.

Time. It’s not like I expect them to stay babies forever, you know. But each second I am not with them, is a second where I’m missing something. They grow up so fast… and I have plans. Plans to work, plans to visit places, and plans to do things. There are only 24 hours in a day and I need my sleep, too.

It can’t be that difficult, right? It’s not like I’m the only person with such requests. Alternatively, if that’s not possible, you can just turn me into Supermom overnight. Or give me the strength to become one all by myself. 


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Monday, 21 November 2011

Sibling present at childbirth?

A friend asked me what did I do with K. when I went into labour with J. I answered: “We took her with us to the hospital”, because that’s exactly what we did. That answer seemed pretty obvious at first but then it got me thinking.
Actually, to avoid having to take K. to the hospital, we had planned a homebirth. But then, my water broke, and it was yellow. The midwife said that while this was no emergency, her rules required her to transport me to the hospital. And so we woke up K., put her into her car seat, and off to the hospital we went.

When we had the 36th week appointment with my midwives, we asked them whether it was possible to take K. to the hospital with us if it was necessary. They told us that this was no issue at all. And so, when we arrived, the midwife’s assistant didn’t give us any weird looks for taking such a small child to the hospital. She even brought a bed for K, who unfortunately refused to go to sleep. This was all too exciting.

I must say that K. behaved really well. She wasn’t fussy, she was smiling at the midwives, and showed a deep interest in the beeping machines. My husband was there, playing with her, and making sure she was not interrupting me. I actually liked having her there. Her presence reminded me why I was doing all this hard work: to have another sweet, perfect little baby girl.

Only after J. got out, all dirty and screaming, did K. look at her, and said: “No, no!”. She seemed not to realise what was going on, and was somewhat confused. Then my husband took K. home to sleep a little, and I stayed at the hospital with J. When they came to pick me up 12 hours later, K. saw her little sister again, all cleaned, and dressed up. This time, she seemed proud and happy to have a little sister. I was proud of her to make it through J's birth so well.

My friends reacted in different ways. One told me that she couldn’t imagine to have her son there during birth, as she was in lot of  pain while in labour with him. Another one said that she could have just left her daughter alone with her husband, and gone to the hospital herself, if she didn’t have anybody to look after her child. I was thinking about that, too, but then I decided against it. Another one said that she wouldn’t want her child at birth. Frankly, I didn’t give that one a lot of thought. But it’s a legitimate concern: after all, giving birth is not an easy experience and we don’t know how children react to it. And then, another one had a home birth, and her older daughter didn’t even wake up. So, different opinions, different approaches.

Also, I started asking myself questions. Like, what would happen, had there been any complications? What if the birth would have ended with a C-section? What if it had been more painful? What if I had more children? In the end I felt so lucky to have had a quick, easy labour without any problems and complications. I was also lucky because K. behaved really well and didn’t interrupt me at all.

But I wouldn’t have wanted K. to witness her own birth (38 hours in total, 3 hours of pushing, lots of bleeding, and a long recovery). I wouldn’t have wanted her to witness a C-section. I’m OK with her seeing a easy birth, but you never know. It might change into really stressful really fast.

And then, witnessing a birth might be easier for some children than for others. It depends on their age, their character, and family relations. Would I have done it again? Definitely, had I known that it’s going to be like this. Had things been any less perfect, definitely no.

For all of you pregnant ladies from my toddler group, in the Netherlands, taking your child to the hospital with you is an option you can consider. Otherwise, ask friends to take care of your older child. Ask family to come around your due date. Consider a homebirth. Consider leaving your husband with your child. You have many choices. Think about them, and make the decision that’s best for you and your children. 
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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

When it comes to parenting, you just can't win!

It is hard to be a parent. We are tired, and every day we have to make tons of important decisions that will impact the lives of our children forever. We also get tons of advice from family, friends, nurses, and also strangers. Often, Internet forums are the place to go. 

Imagine you are looking for help and support in those forums. You want to meet parents in a similar situation or ones that had experiences similar to yours and managed to solve their problems. However, sometimes you can meet another type of person. The type that criticizes, offends, and generally thinks that they are so much better than everybody else.

Whatever you do as a mother, you are always wrong. You had a natural birth? Wrong! You had a C-section? Wrong! You're nursing? Bad, bad, bad decision! You're formula-feeding?How could you? You're a mother and you work? You're egoistic and only think of your career. You've decided to stay at home with your children? You're stupid and only capable of mommy-talk. This happens in all aspects of being a mother: starting with pregnancy, birth, to raising children, and even nutrition. 

Seriously, people, I don't get it! Moms and dads are looking for help and all they get is the feeling that they're bad parents and that they never do enough for their children. Does it help them? Not really, because now they're feeling even more guilty than before. All their decisions are bad, their methods, parenting styles, ideas, they're bad, too! You can't win as a parent. Your decisions will be criticized, because suddenly strangers feel free to stick their noses into your life just because you have children.

Whatever you do, it will be wrong. but keep on doing it anyway, because the way I see it, you're probably doing a tremendous job!
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Monday, 14 November 2011

The Little Kid Info Fair 2011 in Delft

The Little Kid Info Fair took place on November 12th, 2011 at the UNESCO- IHE in Delft.
It was dedicated to parents of children between 0-4 years old. The Fair provided information about topics like childcare and primary education in the Netherlands. I had the chance to go there and have a look at the Fair. Many different companies and organisations concerned with children were represented. Among them were: Delft MaMa, Global Photos, Poppedijn, and many others. At their stands you could ask questions, get information leaflets, and meet friends. Cupcakes and tea/ coffee/juice were sold as well.

Apart from gaining information and networking, it was also possible to attend workshops about Primary Education in the Netherlands, Raising Bilingual Children, and Daycare and Preschools. The reason I actually went to that Fair was the workshop about Bilingual Education, by Eowyn Crisfield, teacher and self-proclaimed “renegade bilingualism advocate”.

I found this workshop extremely interesting. Most of what I heard was consistent with my instinct and knowledge about languages (and I studied languages and communication, after all), but it was great to have this confirmed by a specialist. In her speech, Eowyn Crisfield discussed the many myths and misconceptions surrounding bilingualism. She started with the importance of knowing the theory of bilingualism, for both the parents (so they know how language actually works) and others (so that parents can explain why they decided to raise their children bilingually). She then went on to talk about setting both communication and literacy goals for the children. Eowyn Crisfield advises everybody to prepare Family Language Plans specifying in detail which languages will be dealt with when, and how.

Then, it was time for questions. Interestingly, of all the families present, each had a different family situation: some were raising their children with just two languages, some with more. Some families intended to stay in the Netherlands for longer, others might be going back to their country. Those questions were answered in an individual manner. I found this talk very interesting, and came home even more convinced that we’re doing the right thing- and doing it the right way, too.

After the talk I went home to be greeted by a hungry J. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay longer. But I met friends there, and had a great cupcake with some orange juice. It was very nice, and educational as well!
All participants of the Fair had the chance to win a free photo shoot with Nomad Photos after filling in an evaluation questionnaire. The first 50 people to sign up for Eowyn Crisfield’s blog could win a free Family Language Plan. Maybe I’ll be lucky?

Here are some more links to the companies and organisations represented at the Fair with short descriptions:

Delft MaMa: is a non-profit organisation launched by Lucy Cunningham helping international mothers and mothers-to- be get settled in the Netherlands. They provide support and information for such moms, but also playgroups and regular meetings are organised. Those playgroups are a great way to make new friends, and meet some extremely interesting people as well.

Global Parents: started by Lynn Morrisson and Emilie Yane Lopes, it’s a great source of information about all things Dutch. Pregnancy and birth, childcare, a whole community of parents, and personal stories and experiences. A daycare finder for all the Netherlands and a review section for products and places are included as well. Also check out Nomad Photos , their sister site. If you’re looking for maternity photos, a family photo shoot, or just a gift certificate to give to a friend, they’re all possible.

Piekaaboe is a cute little shop in the old part of Delft. They sell baby and maternity clothing, toys and nursing accessories. Their maternity clothes are beautiful, and I’m actually still wearing some of them. The only thing that I would criticise about this place is that it’s rather little, and it’s hard to go there with a stroller.

Poppedijn is a toy shop specialising in toys made of natural materials and fabrics. Although I have never been there, it seems to me that they have a big variety of toys, books and accessories for children of all ages.

Information about speaker Eowyn Crisfield: she is a English teacher, language consultant and speaker for Passionate Parenting where she gives workshops about Raising Bilingual Children. She also provides services for schools and companies, advocating for bilingual education. She blogs at: http://onraisingbilingualchildren.wordpress.com/.
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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

M is for multilingualism, D is for dilemma

I would never have considered the idea of teaching K. letters when she was 2 years old. I have read so much on hothouse parenting and how you should never push your child to do something they're not ready for. Reading and writing, I thought, they can learn at school. "Let her play" was what I was thinking.

But one day I was wearing a t-shirt. It had "POLO JEANS" written on it with big, purple letters. K, was fascinated by the weird forms. She couldn't ask me about them, but she could use her finger to point at the letters. The "O's" were particularly exciting. At some point I started explaining: "This is an O. And this is an A". I focused on the vowels because they were easier to explain: Ooo, Aaaa, Eeee. Easy.

I showed her that she can find letters in books as well. And I showed her a "K", and I told her: "This is K. It's the letter your name starts with". She loved this! She then requested to know the letters of all other family members. And so I showed her: "This is T for tata" (daddy in Polish), and "This is M for mama". Then I added "B is for babcia" (grandma), and "D is for dziadek" (grandpa). Then, Pieter and Robin, K.'s best friends, joined the group, representing the letters P and R, respectively. 

This worked beautifully! K. learned many letters in the shortest of time, and I was so proud of her! And then she also wanted her daddy to teach her letter. And this is where the difficulties started.

Because, the fact that something can have two names is one thing. But that the names for that thing can start with two different letters is another thing altogether. Because K. pointed at "T" and said "Papa". And "Papa" does not start with a T. "Tata" does. We were all very confused. 

We set out to find a solution, and then we found one: we were going to put together a list of all the words that mean the same thing and start with the same letter in both languages.That wasn't easy. It was hard to find such words because Polish and German are very different. Then it often happened that words were pronounced the same way, but the spelling was different, take "Giraffe/żyrafa and Computer/komputer as an example. 

Other things were easy, like names: (R)obin, (P)ieter, (O)li, (W)itek, (E)nder, (D)aniel. Some animals also came in handy: Löwe/lew, Tiger/tygrys. Easy! So were technology and instruments: (A)uto, helikopter/Hubschrauber, Gitarre/gitara. Some words were more difficult: What about „I“? „Instrument“? Too abstract. „Internet“? How do you explain that to a 2-year old?

This problem only got more complicated when K. showed me a "V" in a Dutch book. There is no "V" in the Polish alphabet. I knew the answer, of course: „V“ is for „Vater“ (father), and for „Vogel“ (bird) and there are many others. But, as we follow the OPOL (One Parent, One Language) method, I wanted to keep the alphabets seperate as well. Again, I thought of a solution, and then found one: „K.“- I told her- „This is Daddy's letter". She understood, and  went to her daddy, so he could teach her all about the letter "P".

It seems logical to us that, if there are mom's and dad's langauges, there should be "mom's and dad's letters, right? Therefore, my husband is responsible for : „V, X, Q, ß, ä, ö, ü“ and I take care of the weird Polish letters „ą, ę, ć, ł, ń, ó, ś, ż and ź“. 

For now, we have solved this problem. But I keep asking myself questions that require answers. For example, some sounds are pronounced differently in Polish and German. The Germans pronounce their„O's“ and „E's“ in a long, closed way, while in the Polish language those vowels are kept short and open ("oh")- in German as opposed to the Polish "O" that is similar to the "O" in the word "oven".

We also have to think when to teach K. (and later J.) to read and write. According to Tracey Tokuhama- Espinosa, children should not learn to read and write in 2 languages at the same time if those language use the same alphabet. But this is the case in Polish, German and Dutch. So, the question remains: Polish and German come before or after Dutch? And in what order? 

I wouldn't be asking myself all those questions if I had monolingual children. But multilingualism and multiliteracy (the ability to read and write in many languages) go hand in hand. And putting those two things together makes a lot of sense but is not easy.

On the other hand, it is exciting to follow K's language development. She makes progress, and she can talk about things in a way that blows my mind, although her vocabulary is still rather limited. So I hope that while she makes progress with speaking, she will make progress with reading and writing as well- in her own time. I am excited that she shows interest in letters at all!

Update: I wrote this almost a year ago. In the meantime, many things have changed. K. is becoming more and more vocal. She has learned many more letters, and almost knows the whole alphabet, just because she considers learning it to be fun. She sees letters everywhere (a zigzag is a "M" for mama to her, and any oval shape is an 'O" for Oli- her uncle). Also, I have noticed how worried and scholarly I sound in this post. Thankfully, I have long ago reminded myself that the goal now is not to teach her reading and writing right  (have I mentioned that she is almost 3?), but helping her to become familiar with shapes, and sounds of letters. She can now recognise simple words: Mama, her own name, her sister's name, the titles of her favourite poems. And for an almost 3 year old, that is awesome, and more than I could ever imagine!

How did you teach your child to read and write in many languages? I'll be happy to read about your experiences!
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Saturday, 8 October 2011

Have you seen the stroopwafel man?

Ladies and gentlemen, for those of you who are living in Delft, I have some bad news. You have probably noticed that the nice cute little stand on Paradijspoort selling the best stroopwafels in town is no more. This is not entirely true. The stand is still standing. The man behind the counter, however, is a different one.

And he seems to be a man with a Vision. His vision did not include stroopwafels and that is a pity. He now sells poffertjes. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of poffertjes, especially when served with a huge amount of sugar and butter. The guy also sells soft ice cream, drinks and sweets. So basically, everything was like it used to be. Except that the most important thing is now missing.

You see, the place was famous for it’s stroopwafels. It was the only place in Delft where you could easily buy stroopwafels  that were made fresh just for you, and served at just the perfect temperature. Of course, you can always rely on good old Albert Heijn for this, but it’s not the same. And the ones they sell at AH are not fresh, and the size is totally wrong.

Imagine what happens, when you’re doing your grocery shopping at the C1000 in Zuidport and are overcome by a totally irresistible craving for stroopwafels? You know where to find them, and when you reach the stand, the guy tells you that he no longer sells stroopwafels, and that you can have poffertjes instead. Is it not totally frustrating?

After all, you can buy poffertjes everywhere, any time, if you want. But the stroopwafel place was special. It was my dirty pleasure, a place where I went to eat something sweet when Klara was at daycare. What a bad surprise it was to find the stroopwafels gone. When I asked the poffertjes-guy why he didn’t sell stroopwafels anymore, he explained: “But poffertjes are good, too!”. Yes, they are, but this doesn’t answer my question. And his motto is now: ‘pancakes and more’ so why wouldn’t he sell stroopwafels, too?

I think he is losing customers because of this. After all, everybody expects stroopwafels and they would not be fooled into buying poffertjes. Maybe it’s not so bad though. Maybe I won’t go there so much and eat less sweets. So maybe, after all, there is a silver lining in this black, black cloud.   
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Friday, 30 September 2011

The reason why I hate phone calls

Imagine two different possible scenarios:

Scenario 1: K. wants to play, J. wants to eat. Both girls are screaming. I am trying to meet their respective needs and get really stressed out because there is the two of them, and only one of me.  So I am never fast enough which results in even more screaming. And lo and behold, this is the perfect moment for a phone call! Ring, ring, goes our phone. I hope it's nothing of importance and ignore the ringing. But at some point, it becomes unbearable. They call again, and again. I can't bear it anymore and answer. I am not really present, I hear nothing, I have no idea what is being said to me. Not really what you might call a friendly phone call.

Scenario 2: K. is in her daycare, J. is sleeping. At last, I have time for myself. I want to relax. I make myself some tea, and take the book that I have been trying to read. I find myself a nice spot on our sofa, and start reading. Such peace and quiet, such an exciting story, but no! Somebody decided that they're going to call me at this very moment! I think that maybe this is important. Maybe K. is sick and I have to pick her up. Maybe they're calling to hire me.  Maybe it's a friend who wants to meet for lunch or coffee. Something important so I pick up the phone, but it's not. Again I am angry that somebody is calling me in the middle of my book when it doesn't happen often that I can read a book, all by myself. But it won't happen now, either because the phone is ringing. 

The phone, that's the thing. I don't like it. I get stressed when it rings, I don't like it that I am not able to see the face of the person I am talking to. I get stressed out by the fact that I don't have the time to think of a suitable answer. Somehow, the phone was not made for me. I prefer either meeting a person face-to-face, or electronic communication via emails or chats. 

The telephone can be a perfect tool if you want something done fast without leaving the house. I can also always be reached via mobile phone if it's important. The clue is "important". If it is not important, it can be dealt with per email, or it can wait. I usually don't call to make polite conversation. Phone calls are for special occasions. And yes, "Would you like to meet for a coffee" is an important occasion!

There are people who like phone calls, but I am not one of them. I prefer other means of communication. Emails, chats and text messages are easier, and more pleasant.  Anybody out there who hates phone calls?
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Monday, 29 August 2011

How to write a bestseller on parenting

This one is going to be mean. I mean, really mean. I am going to make fun of people. This time, it’s the authors of parenting books that got to me. So now I am getting back at them. Just before I start, I would like to mention that I have read some really wonderful books on parenting. I loved reading them not only because I am a mother but also because they were fascinating. They were books showing the development of a child instead of giving suggestions on how to raise children. I liked them because they were telling me: ‘those are the facts. Now, it’s your turn to figure out how to put them to good use’. Other books? OK folks, here it comes.

Basically, everybody can write a book on how to raise a child. And nowadays, everybody does. There are thousands of books, thousand of methods, thousand of approaches to parenting. But, regardless of those differences, all books have something in common. If you want to write a book on raising children, just keep these simple rules in mind, and everybody will be thrilled, and the money will start flowing in. Are you ready?

1)      Start with describing why your method is the best. Not why it could be beneficial for children and parents, not how your method could possibly help the parents develop a better understanding of their child’s needs, no. Your method is the best, it’s the cure for everything. It will change the world, don’t you know it?
2)      Always tell parents that everything they do is wrong. They don’t have any idea how to raise their children, but luckily, YOU do. A good idea to do this is to introduce model families and point out their mistakes. Make those mistakes sound funny or ridiculous (‘Would you believe they actually did that…’).
3)      Also, it is clever to make the parents feel guilty. Happy, confident parents will NOT buy your precious book and we cannot have that, can we!
4)      Never do this directly, but always by implication. If then parents come to the conclusion that they are stupid, horrible, and totally unworthy of having children, you can always say they figured it out themselves, so it wasn’t your fault.
5)      Remember, YOU are the knight in shining armour and the good witch put together. Armed in your infinite wisdom and boundless experience you come to the rescue of parents who are at a loss. Luckily it is never too late. You arrive just in time, and with your magic wand you fix these horrible situations. After that, the parents change their ways and become better people. Describe such situations.
6)      Your children are always awesome, they behave well, they play the piano, the violin, the guitar, they sing like nightingales, they love you and each other, get only the best grades and have a fulfilling social life. They are basically angels in disguise. Of course, imply (do NOT, under any circumstances, say this directly!) that this is because of your fantastic method. Also, imply that if people don’t stick to your method their children will become quite the opposite.
7)      Think of how to answer criticism. I know, it’s weird but some people really don’t get you at all, and they might have problems with your awesome methods. So think of some points that might come up and address them in such a way that the person in question has no other choice but to embrace your wisdom.
8)      Cherry-pick your studies. Choose only those that support your claims. The rest is not important. Even better, you can skip science altogether. After all, who needs science when they have YOU!
9)      Always give the impression that all families and patients who apply your method are grateful for it, and cannot thank you enough. Also, your method ALWAYS works. Not most of the time. Not with most of the patients. Always.
10)  At the end, take some time (and many pages) to reflect on how your method can change the world and make it a better place.

Simple, isn’t it? So keep to these 10 simple points, and go write your book! I think I will.

Remember that I wrote this for fun. As I said, there are many wonderful books about child development. And, there are many methods of raising children. Psychology has many approaches to the human psyche, and none of them is the best. Just like no book on parenting will work for all parents and children.. However, what really maddens me is that how authors of parenting books claim to have the ultimate method for raising children. They don’t. There is no ‘one method to raise them all’. Parents can choose from a huge variety of methods and approaches. We could read the parenting books, and learn from them, and maybe even adopt some of their advice. But don’t expect more from us.
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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Cycling in the Netherlands

 I wrote this post so long ago and I don't know why I haven't translate it into English. Please forgive me and here's the translated post. I revamped it a little and added pictures. Hope you enjoy it. PS. Since I wrote this, we had another child, lost a part of the trailer. I didn't really cycled as much as I could have. I am still willing to try, though.

Bikes are the most popular means of transport. Everybody cycles, regardless of their age of social status. Businessmen cycle to work in their fancy suits. Students cycle to school or university. Moms and dads put their children on their bikes and take them to playgrounds.

I am writing about this because never have I seen bikes in such a huge number and in so many forms. For children, you can buy seats or trailers. There are even special bikes with build-in boxes, the so-called bakfiets. As if this wansn't enough, the Dutch are great when it comes to putting the maximal amount of stuff (including people) on a minimal amount of bikes. Often it looks very dangerous, but I can't help but admire their creativity.

In Warsaw, I didn't cycle a lot. There weren't enough cycling paths, and cycling on the streets was far too dangerous.When I moved to the Netherlands, I bought myself a bike. I wanted to cycle better and as I was pregnant, I wanted to move. I got my daughter to daycare, got on my bike, and went to the park. I didn't cycle a lot because my belly was getting more and more annoying. I tired easily, but felt much more comfortable cycling.

When winter came, I didn't cycle and J. was born. I couldn't cycle in the post partum period, and the weather wasn't inviting either. So my poor bike stood closed up in the shed. Later when the weather got better, I still couldn't cycle because when K. was at daycare, I had J. with me at home, and I was too afraid to cycle with a child.The poor bike waited and waited.

Until one day, we bought a trailer. We took the children for a little ride. My husband had the trailer attached to his bike, and I cycled behind them. I was afraid (I have balance problems and am not a great cyclist), but soon could cycle without problems. The weekend after that, we did the same. We went to Voorburg, around 10km from our place, and then we went for a long walk. I was less tired than I expected to be. 

The weather is not nice right now, but I hope that I will make many cicycle trips with my bike. J. will start daycare in September and I will be able to cycle alone.

Hope you'll enjoy some more interesting bicycles here:

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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Multilingualism in my family

This was my first post on multilingualism. I was just starting to read on this topic, and wanted to introduce it by sharing my family's multilingual story. I've come a long way since.My girl daughter talks more and more, and uses full sentences. The little girl is still little, but she says "mama", and "papa". I loved translating this post, because then I see the progress that we have made.

- K. do you want some bread?- I ask my elder daughter, using the cute version of her name. She jumps enthusiastically up and down, and answers. „Ja, ja!”. She is only two (now three!), but already she's been confronted with three languages. I speak Polish with her, my husband uses German, and Dutch is spoken on the streets. Our friends speak English, and some of them are French-speakers. What comes out of such a language mix? Isn't it too much? I have been thinking about this a lot. In our case, three languages are of crucial importance: Polish, German and Dutch. We want our daughters to communicate in all those languages, but we also expect them to be triliterate, which means being able to read and write in three languages. How can we achieve this? 

Unfortunately, research on multilingualism is scarce, although studies on bilingualism can be found easily. After a long search I  found „Living Languages: Multilinguality Across the Lifespan”, in which author Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa describes her own experience of raising multilingual children, but she also presents all the research on this topic. This book is not perfect, but it does describe the many methods and approaches to raising multilingual children.

We have picked the OPOL (One Person, One Language) method, by which one language is attached to one person. There are others, for example the ml@h (Minority language at Home), where the language is attached to a place. Another approach would be to pick a time where one language is spoken (for example, we speak one language on Mondays or during dinnertime. The rest of the week (or day), another language is used). When I lived in Germany I went to a German daycare. My parents used Polish when addressing me at home, and we spoke German on the streets. When we came back to Poland, my parents proclaimed Sundays to be German days, but only at home.

We try to give our children the opportunity to speak all three languages. Having family in Poland and Germany helps a lot. The girls go to a Dutch daycare, so that they can learn Dutch. There are many schools that support multilingual education, and  checking them out is a good idea.  We are considering sending our big girl to such a school. Because Dutch children start school when they're 4 years old, the nurse at the Consultatiebureau suggested to us that we send her to preschool, with a stronger focus on Dutch. The nurse explained that multilingual children start speaking later and face more problems at school because of that. We declined. First, 4 years is really early for going to school, and I am not sure whether I support such a system. And by that I mean I am not willing to send my daughter to any kind of school if it isn't necessary. Also, I am not worried about her Dutch. She will speak it, sooner or later. I think she will have less contact with Polish, and right now, this is now the language worth concentrating on. Also, it is true that multilingual children face problems at school, but they then usually catch up very quickly. They also have a bigger capacity for abstract thinking, and can learn languages faster.

We are really lucky. Both of our families are multilingual. My mother speaks English as well as she speaks Polish. She also knows French, German, and understands Russian and Spanish. My father's French is as good as his Polish, and he also knows English and German, and understands Spanish, Italian and Russian. TV and radio,  in other homes considered to be "background media", in my home they were used for learning languages. My father watches the news in Polish, German and French, he enjoys watching Italian cooking programs, listens to the BBC in English. As a child, I watched cartoons and children's programs, and films in German. My mother "limited herself" to reading women's magazines in German and French, and listening to the BBC. My husband's parents speak fluent French, some English, and my husband's uncle and his children speak German and Farsi. 

I think my big girl (I can only write about her, because right now, the little one only says 2 words ) has a pretty good vocabulary, for a multilingual two year old, and she understand even more. I think she is doing fine, and is very communicative. But she is still little, and only at the beginning of her multilingual journey. Together, we will face many challenges and problems, but also joy and instances of success. I think we're doing fine. 

For further readings: Tokuhama-Espinosa, Tracey: „Living Languages: Multilingualism Across the Lifespan”, (2008), WestportCT; Praeger Publishers.

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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Traveling with kids

Traveling is not what it used to be. No spontaneous vacation, not packing-at-the- last- minute. We have children now, and traveling has become more difficult. We have to pack more stuff, not to mention the huge red double stroller. It has also become more expensive, the hotels became better. It is more difficult, but it is possible. 

Before I had children I thought that traveling with them will not be possible at all. I thought it was stressfull for children and parents alike. We have always traveled a lot, very often with very little preparation. When I was pregnant, I spend my time going between Hamburg, Bremen and Delft. This worked, but I was worried about my child. Since I was feeling quite well, and had no complaints, I just went. I even flew to Warsaw a few times. This can't really be described as vacation, but it was possible. 

When my first daughter was born, I could forget about traveling. I was too tired and I was thinking that maybe my traveling days are over. But when she was 6 weeks old, we moved from Germany to the Netherlands. I recovered, and she became a lot more quiet. I could relax more, go shopping and for long walks. And then my husband needed vacation. We decided to go to Nice, France. We stayed there for 3 days and I was surprised. Klara took it really well! When she cried on the plane, she got a pacifier or I nursed her. But mostly, she slept. We managed to see a lot.

Encouraged by this positive experiences, we decided to go to Spain. Then to Malta. This was followed by a trip to France (again) and the UK and then Spain again. Visiting family in Poland and Germany can't really be considered vacation. Neither can our short train trips to Dutch cities close to Delft. But we went there and it was good! We took her everywhere, and I have never heard a better art review than my daughter's short "Ga!" applied to a Picasso painting. 

Then I was pregnant again and my daughter would not be carried around everywhere anymore. Now she could run and we had to wrap our lives around her needs. Again, I thought "my traveling days are over". We then took the train to Germany to visit family there. she could play in the train, and my little girl was still little and didn't really mind where she was as long as we were with her. I thought: "OK, we can go by train, but flying would be difficult". 

And then we flew to Warsaw. Both girls survived the flight really well. The elder was in a good mood and slept through the whole flight back to the Netherlands. The little one was also happy, and slept as well. This was our first flight together. And it was possible.So were our next trips. What a relief!
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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A day with my two girls

I lie in my bed and think of the day ahead. Tomorrow is Thursday. Every Tuesday and Thursday I spend with my two girls.

I used to dread those days. I worried how Earth am I going to do things around the house and run errands, and cook, and take care of two little children at the same time? The answer came quickly: I am not going to. Because it is not possible, not at the expense of my children. So instead of trying to get everything done, I focus on what really counts: my children. In the end I have come to enjoy, even to love those days.

Every Tuesday and Thursday I spend my time cuddling, playing, nursing, reading books, singing, and listening to music. Often even literally rolling on the floor laughing. We go out for walks, we eat, we drink, we rest. They sleep, I rest some more. Those days are just for us, and I have learned to appreciate them. There are good days, and not-so-good days, and sometimes my goal for the day is to get everybody dressed, fed, and alive without losing my own sanity in the process. But more often than not, those days are wonderful. I look at my children, and every day I notice something new. That Klara can now put her shoes on by herself or learned a new word, and that Julia is becoming more and more responsive.

With two little ones in the house, my expectations of what I should be doing have lowered considerably. I managed to vacuum clean? Cool. That, and laundry? Wow. That, and cooking a simple dinner? I am awesome. That, and preparing dinner from scratch, and not something I just improvised from some things I happened to have at home? I am the Housewife Goddess impersonated. I take it slow because I have a long day ahead of me, and I need all my energy. For us.

I love those days for yet another reason. Because soon my children will grow up, and go to school, and my time with them will be less and less. So I try to make the best out of it now. And I hope they’re enjoying spending those days with me as much as I do. I do chores on other days, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. That’s when Klara goes to her day-care centre, and that’s when  I cook, I do shopping, I clean the house. I care for Julia, but soon she will join her big sister in the day-care centre, and I’ll have those days to myself. But Tuesdays, and Thursdays are for my children.

As I lie in my bed, and think about tomorrow, I smile. Because I know that it will be a great day.  
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Friday, 8 July 2011

Why this blog?

My name is Olga. I live in the Netherlands with my husband and two daughters. I speak at least three languages, every day, especially Polish (with my children and family), German (with my husband) and English. I thought his blog would be a great opportunity to share my personal stories, and write about things that interest me at the moment: parenting, multilingualism, and the experience of living in another country.

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