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Monday, 29 April 2013

How I met the witch, almost got arrested and started a blog

Imagine a woman, standing outside, fighting with her extremely cute little girl to stay in the stroller. There’s another baby in the back of the double stroller, luckily sleeping soundly while her sister kicks, screams and pumps her arms.

You see her. What would you do? How would you react? Would you have sympathy, ask whether she needs help, or would you judge?

Almost exactly two years ago, I am that woman. And, unfortunately for me, the Woman in the Black Dress chooses the latter. She suddenly materializes before me. I never saw her coming. I only see her when she asks: “Are you the babysitter?”.

I stand straight. Even though my girl is having her first full-blown temper tantrum, I am still proud mom. “No”- I say, and even manage a smile- “I am the mom”.

The smile soon disappears from my face when I hear what she is saying: “I saw you from my window. You are abusing your child.” My heart stops for a moment. I manage to tell her to mind her own business and hope she will go away.

She doesn’t. Instead, she says: “I am going to call the police. You are abusing your children. No child should behave that way. My children never did!”. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. The police??? I hope she doesn’t mean it, but she gets her phone out of her bag and dials.

She speaks on her phone, in Dutch (which I didn’t speak then), and then she tells me that the police will be here shortly. By this time I am trembling and am close to tears. No, actually I am standing there, crying. Klara notices my confusion and suddenly stands still.

I call my husband and he can’t believe me. He says that that woman is just trying to threaten me. “No”- I say “she actually is calling the police right now”. My husband promises to be there in a few minutes.
In a stroke of luck, the ladies from daycare are getting ready to to go home. They are tired after a whole day with a bunch of children. They see me crying and ask what happened. I tell the story, and they are absolutely shocked by this woman’s behaviour.

-“Do you have children on your own?- they ask her.

- “Yes. I have adult children, and they have never behaved like that. Never. And children need to be protected.”

The nannies from daycare look at her. She is standing there, hands on her hips, in a triumphant gesture. She tells the ladies that I am a young mother (I am petite and never wake makeup, and look younger than I am), and that I need professional help- a shrink.

The nannies tell her in return that she is very quick to judge, and that maybe she has forgotten that children this age do have temper tantrums. At this point, we present a unified front against her.

The police arrived, and with the nannies help, I tell my side of the story. She tells hers. The police don’t really know what to do, they write down my name and address, and tell me that the lady thinks I was too harsh on my child. The nannies vouch in my favour, telling the police that they know me and Klara really well, and that I would never hurt a child.

 My husband arrives, wants to talk to her, but she is gone. I swear I hear the sound of a flying broom hissing by. Klara is confused, Julia is still sleeping. The nannies bring juice for Klara and water for me.
Then the police leaves, the nannies go home. My husband takes Klara on his bike, I walk home with Julia, still shaking and in shock.

In the night, I can’t sleep. I toss and turn and think. The Woman in Black, or as I have started calling her, The Witch, has made a point: I did need help, but not the way she thought. I needed friends. I needed a support network of likeminded people. And, I needed a platform to vent and to tell my stories. In short, I needed a blog.

This happened almost exactly 2 years ago. I am still somewhat traumatized. But I contacted expats organizations and made friends quickly. I started a blog, got interviewed, my articles were published on several websites. I am now a happy, if not slightly sleep-deprived mom of three beautiful children. Klara continued to have temper tantrums but even they got better. With Julia, we applied for more daycare days, allowing me to rest and enjoy some time for myself.  In your face, Witch.

But I think I have to be thankful. If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have met my wonderful friends. I wouldn’t have started this blog. I wouldn’t have dared to have a third child. Thank you, Witch! 

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Friday, 26 April 2013

A Very Special Friday with Lynn of Nomad Mom Diary

I met Lynn through Delft MaMa and we became friends straight away. She was chairwoman of this organisation, founder and writer of a great website called NomadParents and now she started an extremely funny blog called The Nomad Mom Diary.

Also, as much as it pains me, in just a few days, Lynn will be moving to Oxford, UK where both she and her husband got new jobs! In this post, Lynn writes about why being mom of a multilingual child sucks sometimes. Mainly because you never know what language will come out of your child's mouth. Lynn says that she will never admit that she doesn't know what her children are saying. If you judge her, your punishment will be to click on her blog, read all of her posts and suffer from laughter-induced belly aches. You will also have to like her page and get her updates for ever after. But you may want to do that anyway.

What the heck is she saying?

Everyone talks about the upsides of raising multilingual children. Just ask me. I’ll tell you how they’ll be smarter and prettier and just plain better than all of their peers. It will be research this and studies have shown that and I’ll never let you get a word in edgewise. Do you know why? Because I live in fear that you’ll ask if I understand my kids.

I don’t want to admit that I don’t understand my kids half the time. Their brains might be capable of making the language switch but mine is not. By the time I figure out the language du minute, they have gone and switched on me again. This has led to some interesting moments in our house.

There are times when I manage to overcomplicate the simplest request. When my 18 month old came and requested a “khoep”, I spent five minutes going through every cabinet in the kitchen. Cookie? No. Cereal? No. Spoon? No. She wanted a “cup”. A word perfectly pronounced in my own language, and I am the moron who can’t figure it out.

Even as the kids become older and words become clearer, they still know how to throw you for a loop. The other day my 3.5 year old asked if she could “go upstahs”. “Where?” I said. “Upstahs,” she answered with an innocent look on her face. “Who are you, Posh Spice? We say “upsteers” in this family,” I responded.

I have put a lot of time and effort into teaching her California dude-speak, and I won’t have her throw it away to talk like the neighbor’s kid. (Also, I greatly resent her ability to pick up an accent I have spent my whole life trying, and failing, to master. That just isn’t right!)

Let’s not forget the language favoritism that they show. It never works in your favor. Clean up? Forget it. The daycare teacher calls “opruiming” and your little one becomes a singing hoover. Meals are ruined (I said NO PEANUT BUTTER, ONLY PINDA KAAS), grandparents ignored and talking toys are twice as annoying.

So you won’t find me at the pub on a Friday night. I’ll be home watching webinars with a glass of wine in hand and reading up on the latest literature. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep up the façade of genius parenting of brilliant bilingual children. You will never get me to admit that I don’t know what the heck she is saying.

Lynn is a  mother of two pepto-bismol colored princesses who sometimes speak the same language as she does. She spends her nights writing what she really thinks about life, the universe and everything. Oh, and sometimes she talks to her husband and kids. But only when she is stuck for ideas. 

You can find her blog here.If you don't die from all the laughing, please like her blog on Facebook (and I know I DO like her blog!), and follow her on Twitter (Yes, you want to do that, too!).
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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

An expat mom's small victory- we have a passport!

These are our passports- mine and the children's!

This was supposed to be a rant post. You know, the one where I complain endlessly about the ridiculousness of international beaurocracy. The one where I describe in great detail how hard it is to get things done when everybody tells you something different, and in different languages.

But this won’t be that kinds of post. It will be a victorious post in which I describe in great detail how we managed to get Markian a passport and a Polish passport at that.

But first, I actually do need to rant, because what would a blog post be without a rant? So I don’t know if you read Anabelle’s post about her difficulties with getting married. Not due to problems between her (French) and her husband (Portuguese). But because, despite the EU has done a great deal to help couples like hers - and mine, getting any formalities done is still a pain in the neck. Besides, my experiences of getting married were rather similar, and also required international cooperation between three countries, help of both of our families, and lots of nerves. I still think it’s a miracle that we arranged a whole wedding in all of 4 months.

Another thing that annoys me even more is the way authorities deal with children who have a dual citizenship. I really wanted Klara to have both passports- a Polish and a German one. And then, as we like to say in Polish, “the stairs began”. Each country had different ideas on what had to be done in order to get a passport for a child. Some required us and the children to be registered in our home countries. Others didn’t want it and required proof of not being registered. It took thousands of phone calls, going to embassies, and asking both of our families to help us out with acquiring information and getting the necessary documents.

Another thing is that some countries prefer the children to have only one nationality, and the children then are required to choose. While for some expats this is not important, it is to me because I want my children’s many cultural identities to be mirrored in their official documents.

Getting passports for Klara and Julia was a nightmare, and we realized that we needed to go through it again. We are invited to a wedding in June and we’re taking Markian with us- this is a topic for another blog post. The wedding is in Italy and of course, we needed a passport for him.

Thus began the phone calls to embassies and family, the questions, the getting documents ready. We didn’t have all the documents to get a German passport for Markian. We didn’t have everything ready for a Polish one, either. Until I called the Polish embassy where the kind man explained that since this is Markian’s first passport, the document is not needed. He listed all the documents I needed and I had them all. We went to the embassy, anxious that we missed something or that the kind man on the phone forgot to mention some Very Important Document or other.

None of that happened. The lady smiled, took our 27 euro, and told me to come back next week to collect the passport. This Monday, I did just that. The passport is only valid for a year, but we can use it without problems, and we have a year to get all the necessary documents for a “real” passport (his is only temporary).

I am proud. Not only did the help come from my own country (thank you, Poland!), but Markian is the only one of my children to have a Polish passport. Again, yaaay for Poland!

What about you? Do your children have dual citizenship? Was it just as hard to get formalities done? Can you relate to this story?
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Monday, 22 April 2013

Connecting by disconnecting

The last few weeks have been busy. There were blog posts to be read and written, emails to be checked and responded to. There were projects that needed tending to and general other stuff to be done. I don’t know why I am working like crazy like now, when I have three children (one of which is a baby), a house, and a husband.

Maybe it’s because of my fear of being left behind and having difficulties with getting back on track with writing. The day I went into labour, I got an email from the institute I occasionally work for asking me to give not one, but two trainings in late March and early April. On top of that, I had two sort-of-work-related appointments on that very same day. Needless to say, I had to cancel all of these things. The Universe just couldn’t be sending me a clearer message: forget work, you’re a mom of three now. I’m still hoping to prove the Universe wrong.

The other reason is that after this birth, I’ve been feeling very well. I am now back to my old weight, and my old self, even if I am pretty much sleep deprived.

And so my brain kept spinning and coming up with all these ideas and my body just couldn’t keep up. I only noticed it when my Internet connection broke for a few hours. My boy was hungry, and so I sat down to nurse him, and took my Kindle to read for a while. I am reading “Turning International” and it’s a very good, helpful book for expats. When I got to the part where she describes ways to deal with expat stress by doing breathing exercises, I found myself doing them as well.

And then I had a revelation. I put the book away and looked at the baby in my arms. Really looked at him. Now, I am not a person who enjoys having a baby. Babies are cute, yes, but they cry and they poop, and they can’t wake me up with a kiss and they can’t have discussions with me.

I am also not a fan of the mindfulness philosophy that is so popular nowadays, because I believe that we don’t have to be in the present all the time. Some moments are just not worth giving them attention. I prefer to keep my energy for moments that matter, just like this one.

I look at my little boy, and he is indeed perfect. He has little fingers and little toes and a soft warm little body, and a little soft head that smells of baby. There is nothing like baby smell, and his hair is light and soft as I smell it. I touch his cheek with mine, and he loves it. I kiss his hands, and feet, and head and feel very, very happy.

I think of Klara and decide to be more patient with her. Her energy and her will power are sometimes too much for me to bear, so patience is what I really need. I think of Julia and how it would be good to spend more quality time with her. She is the middle child, and her sweet nature makes it so easy to just overlook her.

I decide not to turn on the computer before the girls go to daycare unless they want to watch ballet. We already use the iPad to do our yoga exercises (which often resemble a game of Twister and are tons of fun and additional cuddling), and maybe we could watch ballet there as well so I wouldn’t be tempted to check Facebook all the time.

I tried it out today and noticed that I was much calmer and more patient with the children- even though I haven’t slept well last night. It is a good feeling not to feel rushed. It is an even greater feeling to spend some real quality time with the children. Next time I’ll feel rushed again, I’ll remember to do two things: to disconnect in order to connect with my children. And.. to take more deep breaths. 
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Friday, 19 April 2013

A Very Special Friday with Ute of Expat Since Birth

Markian is now 5 weeks old. He is a sweet baby, not crying more than necessary (although as any mom of a baby can tell it's still a lot), and I have some things figured out and am still working on others. Remember when I promised you a guest post with great advice on raising children? Here it is! 
Ute is my friend and neighbour, but she is also a fellow blogger at Expat Since Birth and multilingual mom. Her advice is just what I need right now- and it's  for every mom with more than one child. Thank you, Ute!

Welcome, newborn!

Even if you’ve already had two children, bringing a new baby into the house is still a big milestone for the whole family!

When a child becomes an older sibling there are many things going on, and as parents we would like to help our children not to feel neglected. The best thing to do is to put ourselves in our first borns shoes. Empathize with your children. And never forget: your first and second born may be older, but they are still very young and they’ll act their age (and maybe younger).

The oldest children do already know what it is like having a sibling. But they will still feel the transition from oldest sibling to one child to oldest sibling to two children and your youngest child will now become older child too. 

There are several ways to help your children to smoothe this transition. If you have to juggle your newborn’s needs with older siblings, no matter how old they are, you need a good strategy. While some older siblings might not need to be cuddled or looked after that much – because they’re more independent – others might need their mum even more right now. Age and character determine how our children cope with the new situation. And each family needs time to readjust, to get used to the new family dynamics and parents need to be very patient and empathetic with all the children.

Baby is there, but we were there before!
Make sure that the newborn is not always the center of attention. Tell your friends who come to visit, to take some time to talk or play with the older siblings too, to maybe bring some gifts for them too, in order to celebrate their new status as „older sister/brother“. We always celebrate the newborn, but why shouldn’t we celebrate our older children as well? They deserve it. Personally, I like the habit here in the Netherlands, where people congratulates the whole family for the newborn. Also siblings deserve this, therefore: Gefeliciteerd met de geboorte van je zusje! or Gefeliciteerd met de geboorte van je broertje!

First mum, then the rest...
The biggest challenge for a new mum is to manage to give her children one-to-one time and attention in the first period. You’ll be probably constantly feading or changing the newborn and recovering from giving birth. You’re tired and happy at the same time and feel overwhelmed about what just happened. Take all the time you need and don’t be afraid to tell your older children that mum is tired or hungry or that she just has do feed baby. Mum’s needs come first, because if mum feels good, the rest of the family will too!

Your big helpers
Involve your older children in the care of the newborn. Make them to your big helpers. You could form a team that takes care of the newborn. Show them how to handle the baby gently, how to kiss, hug, hold him, how to talk to him (babies like quiet, not to loud sounds), how to sing to him, play with him etc. I used to place my son on the ground while holding or feeding his sister(s), to be sure that if I had to leave the room, everyone was safe. – If you still think that they are to young to take some care of the baby, the older siblings could practice some baby-care duties on their doll. You could even reward them for taking good care of their babies. Age appropriate tasks help also to give them a self-esteem boost. They can choose the baby’s outfit, the lullaby to sing at bedtime (and maybe sing it to him). You can let them feed the baby or prepare everything to change the diapers (and maybe let them change them?), prepare the bath, bed etc.

Keep talking...
Tell your older children everything they want to know about the baby. Why does it need so much sleep? How many diapers does it need per day? When will it talk, walk, eat indipendently? Etc. During bath-time and diaper change you’ll have the chance to discover the newborn together with his siblings and help them to bond.

One-on-one time
The first weeks the newborn needs your full attention, but you still can try to use the time they sleep for yourself or your other kids. Try to find a moment for each child during the day. If your older children go to daycare or school, make sure that when they come home, you’re not feeding or changing the baby. Keep this moment free to welcome your older children and to have a chat and some one-on-one time, doing things you both enjoy. We used to arrange some special mum-child or dad-child moments in the weekends. While one of the parents could stay with the babies, the other one would go for a walk with the older one. It doesn’t have to be a big thing: running errands, a visit to the playground or to the park without the baby will help to rebond with your older child(ren).

Don’t push...
Give your older children some time to grow into their new role. They probably won’t always be thrilled about the baby. Babies are not always fun for their siblings and that is ok. It doesn’t mean that they are jealous. They just need some time to accept the new situation and to build relationships with the new brother or sister. And this will take years, not days, not weeks.

Some rewards and positive reinforcement
Talk a lot with your children, don’t let them feel excluded. You may also consider allowing them something new, now that they’re „big kids“ they deserve to feel the advantage of it. Point out all the advantages of being the older sibling: they can already talk on the phone, tidy up, help mum, slide, walk, drink, eat by themselves etc. Praise your older children when they act like their age. Reinforcing their good behaviour with compliments and attention when they show patience (while you’re busy with baby) or cooperative (helping you with the baby or the household) or empathetic (telling you that baby needs to be changed or fed etc.) will help the whole family to find a new balance.

Ute is an expat-since-birth in her forties living in the Netherlands with her Swissgerman husband and three children. She has a PhD in medieval French literature and worked at the Italian Linguistics Department at the University of Zurich (CH). She's multilingual and she speaks and writes in German, Italian, English and French fluently and is fluent in Dutch. She has never lived in her parents' home country (Germany). She's very Italian in her heart, a bit Swiss, French and Dutch. You can visit her blog (and I really advice you to do so, it's one of my favourites!), or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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Wednesday, 17 April 2013

PressReader- a review

Courtesy of PressReader

I didn’t realise how much I missed reading newspapers in Polish until I had the chance to review PressReader, thanks to some luck and Ute of Expat Since Birth. It is an app allowing you to download more than 2300 newspapers from over 100 countries directly on your iPhone, iPad, Android or computer. To review this app, I used my iPad.

PressReader is extremely easy to navigate. You can choose your country and will be shown a list of newspapers from that country. There is also a search option, allowing you to search by newspaper title, language and date. The options tool will allow you to change the settings to adjust your reading experience to your liking. Moreover, PressReader has many interactive features such as clickable links as well as the possiblity to listen to the articles. The voice (I listened to the Polish and German versions)  is rather articificial, but clear and understandable.

Courtesy of PressReader

The newspaper is then downloaded on your device. You can choose to keep the original newspaper layout, or decide to use SmartFlow, making for a more iPad-friendly experience.

I wanted to read something in Polish so I chose Gazeta Wyborcza, the biggest Polish newspaper. Such fun reading newspaper in my language again! Newspapers often come with many sections and the Wyborcza is no exception. I didn’t want the whole newspaper and I was very happy that PressReader allowed me to choose the sections that interested me. The quality is exceptional, with pictures and print perfectly visible and readable. I was especially impressed with the vibrant colours of the pictures- especially useful if you want to read the lifestyle section.

Courtesy of PressReader

With PressReader, I am able to receive the newest edition of the newspaper of my choice, delivered directly to my iPad - it’s quick, convenient and environmentally friendly! In fact, reading the newspaper on my iPad was a much better experience than reading it in paper.

The only thing that I have to point out is that while PressReader offers thousands of newspapers to choose from, the majority of them are local newspapers or tabloids. I wanted to download some German newspapers only to find out that there are almost no good quality national newspapers. Magazines are also missing from the list.

However, I am hoping that the number of newspapers will increase with time and even now, with the huge variety of newspapers to choose from, I am sure that everybody will find something to read. Otherwise, PressReader is perfect for all of you who miss reading newspapers in your own language, or in the language of the country you used to live in.

Are you interested in PressReader? Check out the website and download the app. You can also follow PressReader on Facebook and Twitter.

Disclosure: I was not paid for this review. 
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Monday, 15 April 2013

Let’s make each sunny day a national holiday!

It seems that my attempts to fire winter have finally worked! It is much warmer now, and even though it’s raining today, it is pretty much what I consider normal here. Rain is normal. Do you know what is NOT normal? Snow in mid - April.

Yesterday, the weather was so perfect, so beautiful that we took our chances and ventured out to Scheveningen beach. We must have looked funny, with the girls in the huge red double stroller, and me with Markian in the baby carrier. We met with friends of ours, sat down in one of the beach cafés and enjoyed ourselves.

The sun was shining, I was snacking on tapas, having great conversations with our friends and loving every moment of this day. The children were playing in the sand. Life was beautiful. And, amidst of all this fun, I had a revelation.

This is the weekend, I was thinking. But what if such perfect weather suddenly hits on a working day? Millions of people will miss the rare opportunity to enjoy the sunshine. So, I came up with a solution so brilliant that it will blow your minds.

Let’s make each sunny day a national holiday!

We all know this won’t affect general productivity since sunny days are so rare here. On the contrary, it may give employees the energy they need to go one working when they can’t go on vacation. And, imagine what togetherness this would create!

This would be a perfect opportunity for some Dutch-expat exchange! Speaking of expats, they could certainly use a free sunny day especially if they’re from Italy or Spain or other countries known for their perfect sunny weather. As for the Dutch people, they surely won’t mind another day of going outside to celebrate?

For moms, this would make for a perfect opportunity to spend a day with their husbands and children (or not), and it doesn’t matter whether they’re working in or out of the home.

It doesn’t matter where you come from, where you work or what you do. Where rain tends to cause isolation, sunshine will bring everybody together in a celebration of one perfect, beautiful day.

Now, the only thing left to do is to persuade the government to act. Who’s with me? Give me a shout!   
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Friday, 12 April 2013

A Very Special Friday with Giselle of Kids Yoga Stories

Giselle is yet another blogger whom I met through the Multicultural Kids Blogs Facebook page. She is the author of Kids Yoga Stories.  She draws from her experiences as a teacher, traveler, mother, and yogi to write yoga-inspired children’s books.  She lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter.  Her books can be found at www.kidsyogastories.com or on Amazon worldwide.

I am nearing the end of my post-partum period and am feeling as good as new but I really appreciate all the great advice Giselle gives in this post. It's quite long but packed with great advice and tips! I actually followed some of it in the first few days. And now, she inspired me to start doing yoga with my children. I've already downloaded some apps on my iPad and we just started yesterday! And don't you just love the pictures of her little baby girl?

14 Essential Tips for Expat Moms
To be honest, the first three months (or “fourth trimester”) after giving birth to our daughter came as a huge shock to me.
Like many of you, my husband and I do not live in the same country as our families.  Our parents are in Canada and Australia, and we live in the United States.  And my husband’s job demands long hours, and our friends here don’t have babies.  So when our daughter was born last year, I took a crash course on raising a child basically on my own.   
We moms need to build healthy strategies to succeed in the first months of our child’s life.  I found my inspiration and strength within the ancient wisdom of yoga.

Ways to survive and thrive in the fourth trimester:

Wrap your baby.  Swaddling our baby was a miracle. Creating a womb-like environment for our daughter made her settle quickly and sleep longer.  And when done properly, it is a safe way to keep your baby warm during cold nights.Dr Karp talks about the fourth trimester in his practical and informative book and DVD, Happiest Baby on the Block. 

Image of my hubby and daughter, a couple of days after  birth.
Wrap your belly.  For the first six weeks, I followed the Ayurvedic tradition of wrapping my belly described in The Yoga of Birth by Katie Manitsas.  The hospital gave me a belly wrap, but I’ve seen them for sale at maternity and baby shops.  I can’t exactly explain why, but it felt like I was containing my energy, and it accelerated my internal healing.  It just felt good.

Rest.  In the afternoons, I often found myself in Corpse Pose (Shavasana, lying on my back, with my arms and legs stretched out) with our daughter skin-to-skin on my belly.  It was a fabulous way to bond with our daughter and allowed the intensity of the day to wash away.

Breathe.  The practice of a long inhale-exhale (counting to four in and counting to four out) was a savior to me during and after birth.  I often find myself breathing shallowly into my chest and have to be mindful to take full and deep breaths.  It helped me to go inward and find my inner strength to remain calm with our new baby.

Meditate.  I found peace in sitting cross-legged on a bolster or on the couch for a few minutes, with our daughter resting on my lap.  It was the opportunity to sit quietly and breathe--nothing fancy.  Even 2-5 minutes made a difference in clearing my mind and gave me the strength to carry on to the next cycle of feed-play-sleep.

Rejuvenate.  The restorative poses of yoga were especially useful to allow my body to open up and rejuvenate.  My favorite pose was Legs up the Wall, with our daughter lying on or beside me.  Make sure to take the time to shut down and reboot in whatever way that works for you (for example, practice yoga, read a book, go for a run, see a friend, phone your best friend, or get some fresh air).  

Image from our hike in Mammoth Lakes when our daughter was six weeks old.

Massage your baby.  The book Loving Hands: The Traditional Art of Baby Massage by Fredrick Leboyer has colorful images and detailed instructions for massaging your baby.  The benefits of touch and massage at an early age carry on into later years.  The bedtime massage ritual became a signal for nighttime sleep for our daughter.  The practice also helped me to be in tune with our newborn and helped us to get to know each other more intimately.  Try massaging your baby with almond oil in a dimly lit room while playing soothing music (we loved the Ambient Station on Pandora).

Repeat positive affirmations.  “This too shall pass” became my mantra for the challenging times of being with our infant (crying, feeding, putting to sleep, or driving to the doctor’s office).  Raising a little one alone was extremely intense, and the reminder that each difficulty would pass helped me to live in the present and enjoy the moment.

Focus on 1 to 3 things.  It was hard to accept the fact that I couldn’t think clearly for the first few months after giving birth.  I was inspired by one of the yoga sutras that talks about the power of “single focus.”  I found that by concentrating solely on creating good sleeping habits, breastfeeding, and reading books to our daughter for the first few months helped to keep my thoughts and actions focused.  Otherwise, my monkey-mind would get the better of me. 

Actively relax.  Everyone says to sleep while your baby is sleeping, which I found hard to do, at times.  On those days when I couldn’t sleep for the 30 minute window during the day, I turned to the ancient practice of Yoga Nidra.  There are many cd’s and YouTube videos available.  I remember reading years ago that NASA research found that 20 minutes of Yoga Nidra, which actively relaxes each part of the body, was equal to 4 hours of sleep.

Take a Mom and Bubs class.  I enjoyed the Mom and Bubs Yoga class at a nearby studio.  I have to admit that I ended up breastfeeding through most of the class, and the effort to get to class was sometimes challenging.  Do what’s right for you.  Other classes might be a better fit for you.  It’s a great opportunity to take an outing for the day and meet other like-minded moms.

Surrender.  I found that the more that I resisted my life as a new mom, the harder it was.  Embracing the journey of being the main caregiver of a newborn was key.  One of the yoga sutras talks about a balance of “effort and surrender” in our lives.  Surrendering for me meant accepting a not perfectly clean house, lying down with our daughter in the front room, breathing deeply through our newborn’s crying episodes, and accepting that I couldn’t do the things I could do before giving birth.  Life is different with a newborn.  Don’t resist.  Embrace.

Be kind to yourself.  As simple as that, be kind to yourself, unleash your creativity, and explore your passion every day.

Ask for help.  They say it takes a village to raise a child, which is sometimes difficult if we are living away from our families.  With today’s technologies, we can connect with people all over the world as if they are in our front room.  I found that a phone call or Skype with my mom was just the push I needed to keep going, to change one more diaper, to wake up again after one hour sleep, or to strap on the breast pump.  Join a local mother’s group, too, if that works for you.  But don’t drive yourself nuts if those groups don’t jive with you.  Ask for help in the way that works for you.  You owe it to yourself and your baby.

As you see, yoga is so much more than the physical postures.  This ancient wisdom also teaches us about breathing, mindfulness, relaxation, mantras, and the guiding principles to becoming a happy, responsible, and compassionate human being.
Integrating the principles of yoga into new motherhood brought me peace and calm.

I would LOVE to hear from you if you have any other ideas for thriving in the fourth trimester, or if you have any questions, please email me at giselle at kidsyogastories dot com.

Other resources:
For recommended books for new moms, check out this list.
For more ideas for creating a yoga-friendly environment for your toddler, check out this article.
For further reading on the principles of yoga, check out The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translated by Alistair Shearer.
For other articles on yoga, parenting, travel, and books, click here.

Check out Giselle’s yoga-inspired children’s books on her Kids Yoga Stories website or on Amazon worldwide .  Get free kids yoga resources in your inbox by signing up for her weekly newsletter  or check her out on Facebook , Twitter , and Pinterest.

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Wednesday, 10 April 2013

10 wisdoms I learned from having three children

I wish I could tell you that as a mom of three I am now somehow wiser and calmer, or something like that. But I can’t. Because I am still pretty much my usual, disorganised, chaotic self. Which can be bad news (You don’t get wiser from having three children! Why do you have them?) or good news (you’re still yourself!). But a friend of mine asked me for advice (she’s expecting her third child very soon), and I decided to put together this little list of things I have learned from my life with three children.
1)      It’s Ok to feel unprepared or scared or panicky!
When I was pregnant with Markian, I often got asked: ‘Are you ready?”, to which I always replied: “No”. Sure, we had all the baby stuff at home, but from getting pregnant to giving birth, there is nothing that can prepare you for having a child. NOTHING. Sure, you can say: “Let’s try for a baby”, but when (or if) you will get pregnant is a totally different matter. The same way, you can buy baby beds and clothes and bottles and pacifiers, but nothing will prepare you for the child you’ll ultimately end up having.  Nothing can prepare you for having your first or your second or your third child. Does it sound like bad news? No, because you can start dealing with having three children once you actually have them. Less worrying, more fun.
2)    There will be good moments and bad moments
Having three children is like having one child times three, so everything will be more intense. You know the song: “ If one of us gets the measles, the other ones gets the measles, then all of us get the measles, and mumps, and kroup!”. Which is totally true. There will be moments when you may want to escape to a warm sunny island with a book, a cup of tea (or make it a bottle of wine) and no children. When you may have a temper tantrum yourself because all your children scream at the same time and there is only one of you.  But then, there will be other moments. Like the ones where you sit on the couch, baby in your arms and each of your other children on your side, cuddling and laughing and reading. And you will look at these beautiful little faces and you will feel as if you were hit by the Huge Hammer of Happiness because how can life be so perfect? And you will feel like the luckiest mom alive.
3)    Don’t feel guilty because you don’t have the time to do all the things that moms of one do with their children. In fact, don’t feel guilty about anything. You have three children. Which means that sometimes, the baby will have to wait until you’re done changing your two-year old’s diaper. And he will also have to wait until you finish your tea. Yes. Finish your tea. The other children will have to wait, too because, as I say, there is only one of you. Besides, you don’t have the time to feel guilty because you’re too busy playing with your three year old or explaining colours to your two-year old or feeding your baby, or just on occasion, doing sweet, sweet nothing.
4)   Your standards will get so low that you will feel like a great mom just because your children are dressed, fed and alive. Did you know that bathing every day is optional- no, not you. Your children. Did you know that they can have sweets sometimes? Or play with the iPad? Or that you don’t have to play with your children all the time when you had a rough night and just can’t stand any intellectual activity at the moment? Educational activities, wholesome food, laundry they’re all optional, at least for a while. There is always tomorrow. If your children are fed, dressed (outside, of course, who cares what they wear in the house), and loved, life is good. You are good.
5)  You will remember some of the things, and will have totally forgotten the others
I can now change a diaper in a matter of seconds, something that took ages to accomplish with my first. And I can do it with one hand. Changing diapers is easy. But you know what’s hard? Remembering to not put your child on the floor because he won’t sit and he won’t walk. Trying to remember not to give him bread because he can’t have it yet. Trying to figure out when they should be doing what. You totally forgot how little sleep you get with a baby. But you also totally forgot how good his head smells, and how soft and warm he feels in your arms. The way he smiles at you. And then, you’re actually pretty happy to experience this again.
6)    Don’t try to be a supermom. Unless you want to.
I often get asked “How do you do it all?” The truth is, I don’t. I have daycare for my children, a cleaner who comes in every week, a supportive husband and a great network of expat friends and professionals. I also have an extremely supportive family back home (Poland, my other home). No, I don’t do it all. Sometimes I skip the things that I don’t think need to be done. Sometimes I ask people to help me out. Sometimes we have take-away food for dinner. I am no super hero. I am just a mom who tries to figure out how this three-children-thing works out. A mom who also wants to keep her brain well and working so she keeps on blogging because it keeps her sane. A mom who loves playing with her children. Speaking of children, I realised that Klara can do many things by herself. That she can help with many activities. Amazing what you get when you’re not able to always help your child.  
7)    If anybody asks you if you need anything, you’ll need diapers and baby wipes. Yes, I’m serious. If you’re anything like me, you have three children in different stages of being diapered. Klara’s out of diapers during the day but still wears them during the night. Julia wears diapers day and night, but she’s only two and besides, she’s just learned to walk so it’s too early to potty train her. And then, there is my newborn who needs tons of diapers every day (and night!). So yes, you will need diapers and baby wipes. You’re welcome. Thank me later.  
8)     You’ll appreciate the other children even more.
The very cool thing about having three children is the fact that you can experience three different stages of development at the same time. So, I have my intense, vibrant tornado of pink frocks and blond hair that is Klara. She asks lots of questions, requires my full attention at all times and challenges me every day- in a  good way.  I have my cute, carrot blonde Julia who also has the world’s most perfect little nose. Seriously, it should be illegal to have a nose this perfect. She is calm, and the most smiley baby in the Universe. And then, I have my baby boy who is well, a baby and does all the things that babies do. Did I say he’s cute? I love watching them and I love seeing the relationships that already begin to form between themselves. Klara and Julia playing together on the iPad. We have now moved Julia to Klara’s room and they both sleep better. Klara trying to nurse her little baby brother. Julia has just learned to give kisses, and practices her newly acquired skill on her baby brother’s head. I love my children, I really really do. All of them.
9)    Laundry and other chores will still refuse to do themselves
I wish I could tell you that with your third child comes the privilege of no longer having to do laundry, make beds and clean. But I can’t because if I told you so, I’d be lying. While I get help, I still have chores to do. I don’t enjoy doing them but they have to be done, so I do them. Except for cooking but that’s no chore, that’s fun, at least for me. This one is sad, I know. I’m sorry.
10)  It’s not the end of the world.
You know how when you have your first child, you’re convinced that life as you know it will end? That you’ll never get a good night’s sleep again or will be able to finish a task or have an adult conversation? Suddenly, your child gets bigger and goes to school or daycare and you realise that you can actually enjoy many of the activities you missed from your former life. Then, you have your second child and are now totally certain that life as you know it will end and you will never be able to have fun again. Or work. Or travel. Again, you find out that you can still do all these things. And then, your third child comes along and again you find yourself thinking: “Now this is the end. No fun, no work, just children.”. Not true, either. You will be able to do other things. It just takes some planning, reorganising, and willpower. And time.

What have you learned from having children- regardless of how many you have? Besides, stay tuned for next week’s guest post. It will be about the same topic, but coming from an experienced, wise mom of three wonderful children! Now, she can give you some real advice!
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Monday, 8 April 2013

Questions, grammar musings and puns!

I’ve been slow to report on Klara’s multilingual progress. But I am so excited by what she can now do and say.  She has made a big jump that makes me want to scream and shout with joy!

First, she asks tons of questions. When I read about the “why” stage, I always read how I should sometimes ignore these questions, and that it’s annoying and will drive me crazy. You know what? It doesn’t drive me crazy. It is delightful! I love all the questions- because I can finally have a full conversation with my witty, bright daughter. It has made wonders for our relationship! By asking questions, she can fully show me the depths of all what’s going on in her busy little brain. So, I get lots of “why”- questions which is typical for this stage- “why does the baby have to drink?”, “why did you do that?”, “why do I have to go to school?”, and my favourite one: “Why doesn’t laundry do itself?”.  I totally wished I knew the answer to that one.

We now also get questions related to her multilingualism. She can now distinguish between the languages, and is very confused when she hears somebody speaking a language they’re not “supposed to”. So when I speak German to my husband, she often asks me, in Polish, what I said in German- as if she didn’t understand me when I speak German. The same goes for Dutch. The cool thing is that she encourages me to speak Polish to my husband, and usually says that he can understand some Polish hence I should use it in my communication with him.

Instead of just repeating words and phrases after us, she begins to try to make sense of grammar. I wish the words she invents were translatable because they make me proud, and they also make me laugh and I’d just love to share them with you. It’s visible how she tries to understand how Polish works- with all its crazy grammar and rules. She does the same for German and Dutch but they seem somehow easier for her and she adapts quicker. But I am sure that she will learn the correct forms of Polish grammar as well.

And, finally, she makes puns, which is a delight to my ears! I come from a home where puns and play on words were like daily bread- in Polish, but also in other languages. A sense of humour and the ability to play with languages is a quality I really appreciate in people. I think my girl is hilarious, and she can do puns the same way we used to do at home. And, she also plays with the many languages she speaks. For example, we were at the dinner table, eating avocados. Klara loves avocado (sometimes). Suddenly she said, pointing at her avocado: “Javocado”. She took the German word “ja” (yes), and somehow decided that it would fit with the word “avocado”. The next step soon followed: “nievocado”- “nie” means “no” in Polish.

So, not only did she make her first pun at three and a half, it was also a multilingual pun. I already see her growing interests in languages. This kind of thinking is pretty remarkable, and I am sure that it comes from her being multilingual. I am so looking forward to hearing what she will come up with next!
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Friday, 5 April 2013

A Very Special Friday with Christi of Learning to Be the Light

I have met Christi through the Multicultural Kids Blog, and she immediately offered to help. She send me this beautifully written, thoughtful piece of writing where she reflects on how it would feel to live somewhere else and raise her children there. I think she has done a great job of describing all that goes through your head prior to a move- the beaurocracy, the uncertainty, the fear and the doubts, but also the hope and the feeling of privilege that comes with raising multicultural children. And she has done so in a  way that is witty and touching at the same time. Thank you! I believe Christi's blog is definitely a place to watch!

There we stand before the Great Immigration Judge and await a decision that, no doubt, will change our life's trajectory something fierce. I try to exude grace and class and all things sophisticated, but my palms are sweating and my toes are clenched like fists inside my Jimmy Choo stilettos. I desperately try to read the judge's face. He's stoic. The next words out of his mouth will either clear my husband for US citizenship or they will banish him from the US for a unknown period of time. This day has been 7 years in the making and while I always knew it would lead to this, actually being here is petrifying.

 I'd gladly go back to those dark weeks when we first received notice that our petition was denied. At least then I had a direction to spew my fear and frustration. This limbo thing, yeah it's not for me. But here we wait. That scene has not yet taken place. It's scheduled to go live in the coming months. I wish I had an answer for you, but I don't. Here is what I do know: I am fascinated with expat moms. Probably because I could very well be one sometime soon. My husband is from South America, I am from the United States. We live in Florida. But times, they could be a changin'. Immigration is set to hear our story in the coming months and decide whether or not we will stay here in the US or move abroad. This is just a little nerve wracking for me. 

Enter expat mom bloggers. Women like Olga who write these wonderful blogs about raising their multi cultural children away from their own homelands give me hope. They show me that the United States is not the only place that I can live my life and raise my family. It's silly to think otherwise, I know, but there it is. The glimpses I get into their lives reminds me that regardless of where we reside, we are so much more alike than different. These women teach me that wonderful people live beautiful, full lives outside my country's borders and I should not be afraid to embrace a different lifestyle. When I feel the panic start fluttering around the edges of my heart, I pull up a picture I saved to my phone of one such expat blogger's kids. It's evening and the sun it setting. The kids are in the driveway playing with colored chalk and neighbors are strolling the sidewalks, happy as can be. It's Anytown, USA. Only, it's not. It's somewhere in the heart of Europe.

 That photo full of simple pleasures gives me peace. It's my visual reminder that moving abroad would not mean family destruction, just family re-structuring. As a blended family with shared custody, I don't know what that would look like for us, but it's certainly not the end of the world. Moving beyond our comfort zones, whatever that looks like, is a vulnerable step. It's also the first step in a story that only we can write. New beginnings are liberating if you let them be.

Are you an expat parent? How did you get to that decision? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

Christi Madrid is a Florida based blogger who grew up in Northern Michigan. Together, she and her husband strive to rear their daughter to be a globally-minded citizen; confident and empowered in her world identity. Christi blogs about step parenting and her personal passion of Learning to be the Light at ChristiMadrid.com. You can also catch her on Facebook.
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