Thursday, April 17, 2014

Not Gonna Buy It

The above picture explains why we, despite having a kidlet, don't get advertisements for the Bart Smit or any other toy store:  kidlet's favorite toys at the moment are some cooking cast-offs (wooden spoons, an enameled bowl) I picked up at our local kingloopwinkel, a bunch of pom-poms (sauteing them is the challenge of the week), a tiny enameled pot, and a scrap sheet of fabric.  He seems to be indifferent to the balloon, but I'll take that as an improvement over being afraid of it, as he used to be.

It's also why I've been on the fence for more than 2 weeks about getting a play kitchen for kidlet.  Never mind the space constraints--they'll always be a problem for us.  It's the fact that he's so happy "cooking" with mommy with his own cooking gear (supplemented by a whisk or a potato stamper) already--the cardboard box that we keep the things in doubles as his "stove", and if he's sitting next to the kitchen I'll sometimes give him real food to play with.  I'm not sure if getting him a play kitchen is fulfilling my own desires (never had one as a child), or enhancing his life.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Slaap, kindje, slaap

One of the things I'm pretty proud of as a mom is not falling victim to mom-guilt--you know, that feeling that you should be stimulating/talking/playing/doing more with your child than you are, especially after reading obnoxious posts about people with perfect lives. I must confess that every now and then I do look at kidlet and wonder if there's anything more I could/should be doing, but really, he's such a happy and good little boy that the question never really crosses my mind.

However, we all have our Achilles' heel, and mine is song.  We almost always play the radio for him, so he does get music--I'm pretty sure he knows all of Madonna's hits by now.  Sometimes we think to put on a classical music CD.  But since he's always been an easy sleeper (I know, you want to kill me) I never really had an opportunity to sing all of the lullabies, or kinderliedjes, in my repertoire or Karel's.  And on the rare occasions that he needs a song to soothe him, well, let's just say his tastes run a bit morbid.

It's been bugging me a bit because last week, Karel bit the bullet and ordered me two cases for storing up to 840 CDs, and I spent a good 5-6 hours organizing and indexing all 500+ CDs in our combined collections.  Included in this mess of Bach and Beck, Telemann and Plain White Ts, were 5 or 6 CDs full of kinderliedjes that I used to play to him back when he was still a little baconoid.  These days, though, between practicing walking and going to the library, more often than not there is no real quiet moment to sit and listen to the songs properly.  Not that I can figure out what the words are without the lyrics in front of me, anyway.

I know that it won't hurt him in the long run, and besides, "Scarborough Fair" is a perfectly legitimate ditty.  It's just that he's already getting an abnormal upbringing as it is--most people have their kids in at least part-time daycare by now; our days are usually a mix of snacks and small meals; I let him look at things*--that denying him, however inadvertently, this bit of Dutch culture just seems wrong.

*This is part of the reason why, despite doing less, I still don't have enough time to do everything.  When we're out walking, I give him as much time as he needs to look at stuff, to make up his own mind about the things he sees.  It means our walks take about three times as long as they need to, but IMO letting the kidlet figure out how things work means it'll be less difficult for me to explain why he can't just run out into traffic.   

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Problem

Most Dutch people are nice, friendly, open-minded, tolerant, well-educated, etc etc etc.  But as with any large group of people, you have exceptions, and the less-nice, less-friendly, close-minded, intolerant subtype of Dutch person is featured in the clip above. You don't really need to know that much Dutch to figure out that the people the guy is interviewing hate foreigners, by which they mean Moroccans and Muslim people.  But the one woman who protests that she's not a racist, she's never had a problem with [people], except for [same people as listed earlier] is the one that caught my attention and really made me think:

If you're not a racist or a homophobe, why would you ever use words like...well, you can watch the clip.  For me, and it might just be a personal thing, that's like calling someone a n*****.  It's just not something you do.  You may think I'm being a PC-doesn't-get-the-big-picture-American, but I do get it.  Believe me, do I get it--all those wonderful names I've been called in the US, not to mention people still asking me, "But where are you from?"  None of the latter were racist, but it still stung.  

The Problem:  if you're not trying to insult someone, using these words gives them legitimacy.  It means that the very categories you're trying to break down and abolish still exist.  You can qualify it all you want--"Oh, I don't mean him," or "I wasn't really talking about them"--but the fact is every time you use the words you are reinforcing the idea that "we" are on this side of the line and "they" are on that side of the line.  Social science is not my forte; I don't pretend to understand any more of this than what personally affects me.  But it just seems stupid to say that you're not a [whatever]-ist and then insult someone by calling them a [whatever].  If you truly didn't believe that [whatever] people were bad, then why would you use the words to insult someone?  Who usually happens to look like [whatever]?   

Most people just don't understand the power words have--the immigrants the people refer to in the clip invariably mean people like me--visibly different--and not the white person with blonde hair and blue eyes (unless she's got a headscarf), even if they've been living here for 20 years and still can't speak a lick of Dutch. Even if I, or people like me, are not included in the group that has been deemed "other", there lingers the inescapable possibility that one day the tables might turn, the wheel might spin, and one day it will no longer be acceptable to be Asian. It doesn't have to make sense, and there doesn't even have to be a reason why--the Balkan War and the Rwandan massacres show how easy it is for neighbor to turn on neighbor, friend to become foe.  "But it could never happen here!" people say. I am not one to indulge in paranoid fantasies about the end of the world--that's what Karel is for--but I do know that that these wars and purges do not just happen overnight.  They are built on fear and misunderstanding--which is granted legitimacy, in part, because the words are still being used.  

Words have power.  Use them wisely.  

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Long Weekend Away

I know it's de rigeur to feign some kind of terror about the impossibility of going away for a weekend with a 16-month-old kidlet, but honestly, my biggest challenge was figuring out which swimsuit to bring, since swimsuits are neither common in the stores nor very affordable.  But even though kidlet stuff wasn't very hard to pack, it was still a lot.  We brought with us some of his "on the road" toys (pompom balls and pipe cleaners), a few of his favorites (stacking cups, Bosley), and some books.  He needed his sippy cup, underlayment sheets for his diaper changes, diapers, swim diapers, swimming butterflies (a requirement that I was able to evade).  A spare outfit, because kidlets; socks, his latest shoes, the Pack 'n Play, the umbrella stroller...and with the exception of his spare outfit and an extra paif of socks, we ended up using everything.  And of course, there was food, and food, and food (two crates), the electronics stuff (iPad, cell phone charger, camera charger), the clothes, the twoels fro swimming, etc. etc.

Privacy concerns prohibit me from explaining why we went to Center Parcs this weekend, but that was where we were.  Center Parcs, in case you've somehow managed to miss the commercials for it, is a sort of vacation park, where everything is available in one neat and tidy little package:  you rent a little cabin and are free to take advantage of many of the amenities on the campus.  The place where we stayed featured a "tropical swim paradise", a climbing gym,  a marina where you can rent boats, and of course, a bike rental place.  I'm not sure if you have to pay for things separately; tickets to the water park (Aqua Mundo) were included in the price of our cabin, but I believe you have to pay for the other amenities separately.

Somewhere in the back of my mind is a snark about the Dutch and their coffee, but all joking aside, the place was very well-designed, cultivating gezelligheid like an expert gardener coaxing roses into bloom.  The houses were spaced just far enough apart to give you the illusion of privacy, but the view from any one set of windows would invariably include a look into another cabin.  Being a party of 10, two adjoining cabins were rented, one with a miniature pier sitting on the lake, the other with a concrete hut designed for barbecuing.  Each family had their own cabin, but somehow, in that Dutch-hive-mind-fashion (in which nothing is discussed but everything happens as if it were) it was decreed that we would spend the morning in one cabin and the evenings in the other.  Each cabin contains a remarkably complete-yet-not set of supplies that Dutch culture determines to be "required for living":  housekeeping essentials, including a vaccuum, drying rack, feather duster, a broom for sweeping outside, and a dustbin for sweeping inside; in the kitchen, as mentioned above, the coffee machine, but also the electric kettle and of course the obligate kaasschaaf.  Alas, a flessenlikker was nowhere to be seen, compounding my suspicions that this bit of inburgering wisdom is either completely outdated, or an urban myth.  The cabin we stayed in thoughtfully provided a high chair and a reiswieg, but the mattress for the reiswieg was about as soft as a brick, so we stuck with ours.

As for the Aqua Mundo, the only attraction we had tickets for (i.e., the only attraction that was of any interest to our nieces) and hence the only one I availed myself of--having a 16-month-old kidlet in tow doesn't make for easy climbing or safe sailing, anyway--it was nice, and quite surprising how many water slides can be crammed into one building.  The chlorine was present but not overwhelming, with lots of plants and rocks hiding the entrances to the slides, making it seem a lot smaller but much prettier.  You might think that, with a wavepool full of babies in "flotation devices" that the water might be foul, but it wasn't any dirtier than any other public pool--certainly there was no poop in it, though there were relatively large quantities of sand carried in by kids and their parents from the sandboxes.  But by far the most surprising thing was the fact that there zero attendings standing at the tops of the slides, okaying you to push off.  There was only a light--red (stay put) or yellow (proceed with caution)--and yet everybody, from the most rambunctious kid to the curious old guy, had the patience to wait their turn and not get ahead of themselves.   My only quibble with the entire place is that the changing room--like all Dutch swimming areas, there is no men/women divide, but lots of little private changing rooms--is a pain in the ass to get into and out of if there are a lot of people, because you have to go through a changing room in order to traverse between the walkway to the water park and the walkway to the entrance/exit.  I lost kidlet's shoe in there the second day; finding it took less than a minute, but it was 10 minutes before a changing room freed up so I could get back out.

Kidlet proved himself to be surprisingly adaptable, accepting the strange mealtimes and strange activities and strange people and completely fucked-up routine with an equanimity that surprised me.  And barring one screaming session at midnight on Saturday, he was a perfect little angel for the entire time.  Karel might be inclined to disagree--after all, the little bugger was awake at 6:30 almost every morning, prattling and pontificating about the end of the world or whatever it is babies talk about--but he wasn't screechy, and pleasant enough once I got him dressed and fed and out and about.  Plenty of exercise, attention, and naptime makes for a very happy kidlet, even if none of it goes according to the playbook.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Total Woot

A couple months ago the Jamin (candy store) in Nijmegen started putting up a section for American candy.  They had Nerds, Pop Tarts (note to the USA--you're doing breakfast wrong), and Twizzlers, which are like a tasteless, tougher, version of Dutch snoep string-candy.  There was actually a decent selection, but really, none of it was what I consider to be trademark-American-Candy--too-sweet, filled-with-everything, calorific overindulgence.  Where were the York Peppermint Patties and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups?  Why Pop Tarts, and not Butterfingers?

As you can see, the Jamin has partially rectified the situation by stocking Reese's (and just to confuse you, it's Reese Witherspoon but Ree-sees Peanut Butter Cups).  It's weird because I honestly don't even like them that much.  But man oh man--those little cups of chocolate and peanut butter do bring back some memories.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


I think I've gushed about Marktplaats a gazillion times on this blog.  It's how I found most of kidlet's baby clothes, some of kidlet's toys, and a lot of kidlet stuff, in general.  Yesterday's haul included a reiswiegje and an iPad (the original).

A reiswiegje is a compound word; like most compound words in the Germanic languages, once you figure out the parts, it's easy to come to a conclusion about the meaning.  Therefore, some of you might have already figured out that this is a little (-je) travel (reis) bassinet (wieg), and inferred that we're taking a trip shortly.  Except this is Dutch we're talking about, and things tend not to translate so nicely.  Because the actual object it refers to is what I've always known as a playpen.  Indeed, it was even listed on Marktplaats as a "Graco Pack 'n Play", although the one we ended up getting wasn't nearly this fancy, consisting only of the playpen area.

In my admittedly limted experience with Dutch babies, these things are used exclusively as folding cribs--if you have a visiting baby, you whip it out and voila, baby bed (whether or not the baby will actually sleep in it, as opposed to screaming bloody murder for 3 hours, is a different matter...not that I have any experience with a baby screaming bloody murder in a reiswiegje).  Or if you're going somewhere where baby beds aren't provided, you can fold it up and take it with you.  For its enormity--and the thing is pretty big, taking up almost 1/3 of our dining area when it's all set up--it does compact quite nicely, though it's still quite a big package.  

Playpens, on the other hand, are permanent fixtures, usually made of wood or something nice.  They do not have a nice mattress on the bottom, usually being lined with a blanket.  They might have some beads-on-a-stick built in to the walls.  And it is called a box.  Regardless of what it's called, though, unless you have a lid on it, the kid inside will invariably through all of his toys outside and then start whining about how bored he is.  
We therefore have a Pack 'n Play, but it is not a playpen, though don't tell that to kidlet, who had the time of his little life in it this morning when we tried it out to see what he thought of it.  We never had a box--we considered getting one for all of five minutes back in 2012 when I was going kidlet-shopping, but we quickly came to the conclusion that our apartment is tiny and there would be nowhere to put it.  As for where we're going...well, you'll just have to stay tuned.  And hope that I remember to bring my camera.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Where the F*ck is Doornenburg?

One of the best things about living in Europe is the fact that there are castles everywhere.  Literally.  Even in the middle of nowhere, which is where Doornenburg is.  At one time--1300 years ago--it might have been a relatively important city in the border area between the Netherlands and Germany.  Of course, back then there was no such thing as the Netherlands and Germany, which means that Doornenburg was in the middle of nowhere even back when everywhere was nowhere.  

I imagine that it must be a pleasant bike ride through the Ooijpolder to get to Doornenburg, but since they don't rent fietscars and I'm notoriously clumsy on a bike (plus the flaky weather) we elected to drive.  Over the river and through the woods--now replaced by new housing developments--it was, into and out of several villages that are well off the beaten path, and to Doornenburg.  We spotted the castle from a good 2 km away, but there was still some winding about to do before we reached the parking lot.  

The castle itself comes in two "pieces", both of them surrounded by a moat and accessible only via bridge.  The main entrance, pictured above, opens into a courtyard which used to house the tax office, the stables, a barn, and the chapel.  Now, as you might expect, the stables and chapel have been converted into a coffee shop (not "coffeeshop"). The barn is still a barn, but the tax office is completely closed, though they do have a pillory on display, in which you can stick your head and hands in and pretend to be a commoner who couldn't pay his taxes.  

We got there a bit early, before the tour of the castle--the actual castle, the place where the lord and his lady lived--began (13:30) so we took a walk around the moats.  It would have been nicer if the weather had cooperated, but of course this is the Netherlands and it always rains on the one day when you want to go out. There were, however, poems cut into giant iron tablets you could read all the way around, if poems are your thing.  The castle itself might have been interesting had it all been original, but most of it was destroyed during the Second World War.  Most of the building is therefore a reconstruction, and most of the furniture is a mishmash of antiques from other places, or reconstructions of medieval stuff.  Nevertheless, it is an impressive structure, full of "secret" stairways and impressive rooms and neat displays of medieval artifacts that may or may not have been found on the site (missed that part of the explanation.  

Parents here might be wondering whether it was wise to bring kidlet.  After all, it's a castle with a guided tour, meaning lots of standing still and being in one place.  Well, kidlet isn't walking just yet, so he's not able to get up to too much mischief.  There were, happily, several wide open rooms with no cordoned-off areas, so I let him crawl around on the floor, mumbling to himself, in those rooms.  For the most part, he was happy to do his own exploring, though I still had to devote one eye and ear to keeping him out of people's ways.  But by and large he was quiet, squawking only once.  By the time we reached the rooms with cordoned-off spaces and places one was not supposed to be in, he was thoroughly tuckered out and it was only with a well-timed biscuit that a meltdown was averted.  During the summer months, they have more child-friendly activities, but kidlet--being all of 16 months--is much too young for those. 

It is a nice castle, and I imagine that living in it--which the family did, until the 1800s--must have been exciting in its own way.  It makes for a nice day trip--something out-of-the-way and not something that tourists would necessarily be familiar with; while I'm sure the tour guides would be willing to try to accommodate you if you didn't understand Dutch, I'm not sure that the experience would be improved in English.  Because it is so out-of-the-way, then, the groups will probably be small (ours was about 10 people) so it's easy to ask questions.  Cost is €7.50 per adult, €5 for a child between 4 and 12, and free for children younger than 4.  The tour is not handicap-friendly.  We had to leave kidlet's stroller in the first room, and carry him around to all of the other spaces.  Somehow, despite that, he ended up more tired than we did.  Which was kind of the point of the whole thing.