Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Getting help

It's no secret that kidlet is weird--the kid is great on long trips, for example, goes to bed without a problem most nights, loves olives and sunny-side-up eggs (but won't touch hard-boiled ones). But there's weird, and then there's worrying, and kidlet's particular brand of weirdness has had us mildly worried for a while. But it wasn't until I discovered that I'd have to register him for basischool next year that we decided to take the leap and have him independently assessed. Sending him to school next year when he's still using nonsense-words (in either language) just won't do.

And this is where the consultatiebureau really morphs from something merely very annoying to something that is a godsend, because all it took was one phone call, explaining what we've been observing, and someone came to our place, agreed that further assessments were needed, and an observer was placed in kidlet's peuterspeelzaal class to see if we were merely being overly-worried parents.

The observer, a licensed child development specialist, assured us that some of our worries would resolve themselves eventually, but some of our worries were justifiable ones and that it was a good thing that we'd called them. Early intervention can work wonders, but only if parents recognize that something is wrong, and  sometimes what's taken for granted as "of course it takes longer" can cross the line into an actual developmental delay, and the things that we should be worried about, according to the specialist, were straddling that line.

I'll admit, when I first had him, it was a PITA dragging a kidlet all the way to the consultatiebureau every month--even though we had a car by that point Karel was away more often than not, and I didn't get a bike again until last year, so that meant I either had to walk 40 minutes, or take a bus, beginning and ending my trip with a 15-minute walk. Suffice it to say that, while I was always glad for a healthy-baby report, it didn't always alleviate the peevishness from schlepping a kidlet around for almost an hour, just for people to tell me that everything was normal.  But they've been nothing but wonderful for us, outlining a plan of monitoring and interventions for the next six months that seems like a cross between .

For now, not much will change: kidlet will start seeing a speech therapist at the very least, and if there is space for him we'll increase his peuterspeelzaal time to three mornings a week. There was a recommendation that he attends a peutergym to allow him to move around in the ways that he seems to want to, and improve his kinesthetic awareness.  Hopefully this will be enough. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Paris! With an almost-3-year-old...

Paris!  What can I say? Despite being underwhelmed by it the last time I visited (though that was due largely to the fact that I was out €200 before I even got there and therefore could barely afford to eat) when I found out that Karel had never seen Paris properly, I was horrified and therefore decided that, rather than have an anniversary dinner in the quiet comfort of a gourmet restaurant appended to a hotel with kidlet being baby-sat by his aunt and uncle and cousins, we would drag a 3-year-old on a 5-hour train ride through a smog-ridden city and eat cheap food and walk until kidlet keeled over with exhaustion.

So you might be thinking that this might be a horror story about navigating Paris with a 3-year-old.  But actually, well, kidlet was very well-behaved the entire time.  When our train was stuck in Roosendal for over an hour, and then we had to take the slow train to Antwerp, there was only a minimum of fussing.  Then from Antwerp, we had to go to Brussels, which was another long slog and it was almost 3 pm by the time we were able to explain to someone at the Thalys (French high-speed rail company) what had happened and what we were trying to do.  It was slightly complicated due to the fact that I used e-tickets on my phone because printing stuff involved a headache-and-a-half (drivers for the printer not up-to-date with Windows 10, etc), and the Thalys service counter in Brussels Central for some reason couldn't look up the ticket information even though it was right on my phone, so our only recourse was to go to the main Thalys desk in Brussels-Midi.  Fortunately, news of the snafu at Roosendal had been sent down the pipeline well in advance, so one quick explanation to the people working the desk and we got a piece of paper and permission to board the next train to Paris.  And we were lucky to run into a sympathetic conductor--maybe it was just because we had kidlet with us--who was able to find seats for us in the first-class compartment, so that was nice.  So basically, by the time we arrived at our hotel we'd been on the road for 10 hours straight and it was a relief for all of us to crash and sleep, pretty much right away.

The next morning I'd planned on taking Karel and kidlet to the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame.  It was a beautiful day and kidlet got up at 6 am because he's kidlet and he always, come hell or high water, gets up at least an hour too early.  Karel had paid for breakfast at the hotel (ibis), so it was convenient and made more sense than wandering through the streets of Paris trying to find a place that doesn't charge €10 for a croissant, orange juice, and coffee.  I mean, yeah, the breakfast at the Hotel ibis was €10.50 but at least you had choices (croissant, madelines, pain au chocolate, fruit, yogurt, cheese, cold cuts, eggs) and decent coffee.

The Eiffel tower and Notre Dame were amusing just because they were sights you have to see for yourself, but I have to agree with Karel that the best part of the day wasn't the sights, it was walking through the streets, meandering along and looking at things that caught our fancy: a bag of dried lavender buds, for instance.  We were able to bribe kidlet into going quietly into Notre Dame with the promise of ice cream that we'd seen on our way there.  It was getting to see the sketchy parts of Paris and cramming ourselves into the Metro along with all of the other commuters.

The next day we wandered slowly through Montmarte, the neighborhood our hotel was in. Our destination was the Basilica du Sacre Coeur but we had five hours to find it before we needed to get our bags from the hotel, so we were in no rush.  It wasn't as if it was hard to miss, either--the church sits at the top of an enormous hill, flanked by gardens. We went up the hill the hard way--on foot, yes, even kidlet, who seemed more determined than ever to reach the top--but there were tram cars ferrying passengers up and down the hill. Entrance to the basilica is free (always a perk) but you had to pay €6 for the privilege of climbing 300 stairs to the dome--which, to my mind, was definitely worth it for the view, though on the day we went it was drizzling a bit and the rain had turned the marble as slick as ice, so going down--especially since kidlet still has the outsized head of most toddlers--was a challenge, to say the least.

Food was still shockingly overpriced.  Granted, the portions were probably a little bigger than they are in the Netherlands, but still:  €12.50 for a grilled-cheese sandwich is outrageous.  If it'd been me and Karel alone, no doubt we'd do a lot more walking to find places to eat that are off the beaten path--food tends to be cheaper the farther away it is from tourists--but kidlet, tough though he may be, can only trek so far. But the indifference and bad service that people always seem to complain about when they visit Paris wasn't really an issue for us.  Contrary to perceived wisdom, I think we actually got better service because we had kidlet.  I mean, people actually gave up their seats on the Metro when we got in.  And then the proprietor of a cafe we stopped at for coffee gave kidlet one of those Eiffel Tower miniatures that they sell on the streets, and two free cookies. The Rough Guide was right about Parisians loving children--though I think part of it was also that we weren't trying to wrestle a huge Quinny stroller into the rush-hour Metro.

We opted to bring what we called the kiddie-backpack, one of those child carriers people typically use for hiking, instead of the stroller (the one pictured here is not ours--it's just an example of the type of heavy-duty child carrier we have). Part of this was because Parisian streets are not nice to strollers--there are cobblestones and potholes, and some of them are very narrow and most of them are crowded.  Part of  this was because tucking a Quinny into the baggage compartment on the Thalys is nigh-impossible.  And it turned out that, in Montmarte, the hills are so steep that stairs are used rather than normal methods of paving them, so a stroller would have been nearly useless anyway.  Not to mention that there's no place to park strollers if you want to go inside places like the basilica or Notre Dame, and that if you're going to a cafe it's a lot easier to squeeze between tables if you're not pushing a stroller around.  We took it with us everywhere we went, even though kidlet spent most of the time running around--empty, it's bulky but lightweight, so it wasn't too much of a burden and it was nice to have for the times when kidlet couldn't go on any more.

Suffice it to say that Paris was fantastic.  It's true, what they say about doing things with people you love.  And passing on the sense of adventure to kidlet--well, what could be better?

Friday, October 23, 2015

What is Discipline?

It always irritates me a little when people brag about how, when they were little, they got smacked around and came out all right in the end.  It bugs me when people admit to spanking their kids--don't get me wrong, now that kidlet's almost 3 I experience the urge to smack him a good one at least once a day, so I totally understand the sensation of being powerless over a kid's obstinate "no".  And it really, really pisses me off to see some parent punishing their child and read comments lauding that parent for "good discipline".

Let's get something straight, here:  good discipline is not punishing a child when they do something wrong (more on this later).  Good discipline is structuring your life so that your child learns how to live.  Good discipline is not merely not-giving your child a biscuit every time they ask for one; good discipline is telling your kid what you expect of them before you go into the store and then giving them a hug when they do it.  Discipline, after all, means "to teach"; it means teaching them to get up when they fall, to try again if they fail, that you--and by extension the world--have certain expectations of them that they have to meet in order to become members of society; that they can't always get their way and that crying about it won't solve problems.  Good discipline, in other words, is a way of life, a mindset that you either embrace, or not.  If you don't live a disciplined life, then no amount of time-outs or spanking will ever give you a disciplined child.

Punishing a child is something in the framework of good discipline, but it is not the end-all-be-all of discipline.  It is something that needs to happen, occasionally, to teach a kid what not to do, but if you're disciplining your child then they'll have already figured out what they should be doing.  You can't punish a child into good behavior.  Bad behavior needs to have consequences, of course--but only insofar as it teaches the child what not to do. Teaching a child how to behave is not the same thing as smacking them until they stop doing anything.  And spanking a child--well, like I said, I understand the urge to.  But I'm an adult.  I know better.

Which leads me to the other point:  respect is not the same thing as fear.  Respect goes two ways.  If you respect your child's person--if you respect their wishes, stop tickling them when they say so, and respect them the way you want to be respected--then odds are they will respect you.  This is not to say that you should bribe your child for good behavior, but just to say that children are people--or trying to be people--and the way to get respect is to give it.  You can't tell a child "no TV" all the time while playing World of Warcraft for three hours straight and then expect them to listen to you when you tell them to eat their dinner. You can't tell a child it's not okay to hit his brother while spanking him for doing it.

And this is not to say that your kids will end up brats if you do these things or not.  Kids are resilient and pick up a lot more than we give them credit for. As long as you're doing some kind of parenting, your kids will probably end up all right, despite everything you're doing or not-doing to screw them up.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Home improvement

I gotta say, it's amazing what a couple of screws and some white paint can do for a space.

We--or rather, Karel--has been on a bit of a home improvement kick recently.  It started with the little things, like (FINALLY) sectioning off the loose cords that we have running through the place, confining them with little runners and basically making the place safe for humanity and toddlers with giant heads. Then he mounted the TV to one of our walls, making it safe and freeing up a ton of extra space in our living room again.  I have a place to hang the drying racks on the (rare) occasions when they're not being used. We replaced out closet with the Algot system from IKEA. The ugly hole under our water heater (we have a tankless water heater) got plastered over, the gap in the concrete floor got filled, and a bookshelf--with a space for our stand mixer--got put up.  Karel built a custom drawer system in the space where our dishwasher had been, and now, over the past few days, he single-handedly emptied the pantry (except for the washer), painted the space, and put up a ton of new shelves. It's not quite finished yet--we'll be picking up a second Raskog cart from IKEA soon--but it's already a ton better than it was before. Still on the list of things to do is to build kidlet a lofted bed, build him a new bookshelf/desk system for his room, patch up the hole in the wall of kidlet's room, and install a bunch of new Algot shelves/baskets in our room to make better use of the space we have.  That, and painting EVERYTHING.

The goal is, ostensibly, to make the place sell-able.  Nijmegen is a lovely city but it's far away from Deventer and should Karel luck into finding a job elsewhere, we'll probably have to move, and the place will be much, much easier to sell if it looks neat.

But more than that, well--I think of all of these changes as being reflective of the state of things in our minds and marriage.  Before that--things were okay. We hung in there.  It wasn't great, but it was okay and it was what we were used to, and we didn't really make any plans to change it. It wasn't that we didn't have any plans (I had lots of  plans), it was just that all of the plans required at least a few days of concentrated effort and Karel, until recently, had always been an all-or-nothing kind of guy.

I won't go into what sparked this sudden transformation, but suffice it to say that home improvement isn't really just about home improvement as it is about life improvement.  Encoded in the now-brilliantly-efficient kitchen and our vastly more relaxed space is a lifestyle that's more effective, and therefore, more relaxed.  Neatness is built-in, rather than constantly-striven-for.  And we are truly happier than we've been with where we live for a long, long time.  

Thursday, September 10, 2015

BCC: Bullshit, we Can't Convey anything

The Dutch are infamous for terrible customer service.  Customer service, it is said, is rude (probably true, by American standards), can never help you in the way you want to be helped (likely to be true), and just generally makes a bad situation even worse (maybe this is true).

Somehow, though--maybe it's because I do most of my customer-service interactions when people are actually bright ad perky--I've managed to avoid getting too screwed over in terms of getting service. At the very least, (gemeente official business notwithstanding) I've come to terms with the fact that if I'm getting bottom-euro prices it's not because they've hired Service Sally to man the desk when it comes to complaints.

But even my luck runs out, and in our case, it was with BCC.  You'd think that a web retailer--and a major web retailer, at that--would have the ability to list merchandise that is out of stock as "niet in vooraad" instead of allowing you to pay for it and expect next-day delivery. And then, when you call them the next day, you find out (after a 2-hour wait on the phone, no less) that they are unable to give you any information on your order.  And when you reach out with Facebook, only then do you find out that it's out of stock and will take between 5-10 days to arrive.

And now, on the promised day of arrival (10 days yippee), lo and behold, the washer which was supposed to have been delivered this morning is nowhere in sight, and we just found out (via FB again, after over an hour on the phone and getting nowhere near customer service) that there was something wrong with the scheduling system and we'll have to wait for another 5 days.  I've been doing the laundry by hand for the past week (because the cleaners charges at least 27 euros each time) and it's just plain fucking nuts, especially since one of their services they claim to offer is next-day delivery.

Look:  I'm willing to accept a longer delivery time, but for fuck's sake don't dick your customers around like this.  Either say outright that it will take 5-7 days to deliver shit, or don't deliver shit at all.  And 'fess up to not having stuff in stock.  Yeah, maybe you might lose that sale, but two weeks without being able to do laundry is going to lose you a customer.  Several, if I have my way, and many, if there are truly that many pissed off people on their Facebook page.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Inheriting citizenship, part 2 of 2: why kidlet had a rap sheet before he turned 1

The consequences of a system that confers citizenship by blood rather than birth can be quite...well, I don't know if "amusing" is the right word, but in retrospect it definitely falls into the "you wouldn't believe it unless it happened to you".

What happened?

Well, in 2006 - well before we had kidlet, before I even arrived in the Netherlands - Karel went to Belgium for a year to work on a research project.  It was only a year, and since Belgium barely has a govenrment at all, he didn't bother to register a change-of-address (you can only have one official address) since he was going to be moving back to the Netherlands after the year was over.

Fast-forward 6 years:  I'm 8.5 months pregnant, living with Karel but not married to him (this is an important detail), and at my midwife's appointment the midwife asks me whether I've arranged for Karel to be recognized as Kidlet's father.  I stare at her like she just spouted another head.  She tells me that because we're not married, I have to grant Karel paternity, and that takes a little arranging through the gemeente.  "Just a few papers to sign," I'm told, nothing to worry about.

Because Karel is working essentially right up to my due date, and because I am too exhausted to lumber to town, though, we don't get this fixed right away.  But it's not a big deal, I'm told, because I can sign things at the hospital and over the next few weeks postpartum. So I have kidlet, more or less on schedule.  Because he came out of my body and because we're not married, he gets registered as an American, and Karel is assured that he can get it changed over the next few weeks.

Except:  remember the little research stint in 2006?  According to the city clerk we spoke with, before Karel could be recognized as the kidlet's dad, he first had to demonstrate that he wasn't married in Belgium.  Which is easier said than done, because if you never register your temporary residence then there is no way for the Belgian government to know that you were ever there, and not being able to provide proof of a non-event is (in Dutch circles) not the same as providing documentation that anything ever happened.

In the meantime, the Immigratie en Naturalisatsie Dienst received word that an unregistered American (irony, anybody?) had appeared at our address, and as this was highly improper, we got served with papers filled with scary-sounding-official-Dutch that told us to explain our case to the police department.  I call the IND, asking them what I need to do to get kidlet on the right side of Dutch law, and they tell me that if he has an American passport they can process him like any other American expat.

An American passport, though, is $200+ dollars that I didn't have, and assuming that I had a printer (I didn't) to print out the forms I needed to fill in, find the papers that I needed to have, and could take an entire day to go to Amsterdam (while breastfeeding a kiddo who won't use a bottle) and visit the American consulate, it would STILL have taken a minimum of 8 weeks for kidlet's new passport.  Our conversation with Nijmegen police was in 4 weeks.  Not to mention that, because of FACTA, I didn't want him to deal with having the IRS run a surprise audit on his bank account when he's 13 and working his first paper route, so I never intended for kidlet to be an American until he was aware of the consequences and could decide for himself.

So you can kind of see how things were really, really not looking good for us.  But then, in the space of 1 week, everything got miraculously resolved:  Karel finally managed to reach a manager who had an ounce of common sense and realized that the Belgian government couldn't say that Karel didn't get married if they didn't realize he was living there.  The police officer we spoke to was sympathetic and gave us a week to fix everything.  The manager that Karel spoke to had Karel sign a few papers two days later, and voila--Kidlet was Karel's son, got Karel's last name, and became officially Dutch.  The police dropped the investigation, and I never heard from the IND again.

As Kafka-esque as this whole thing was, though, at least it ended happily, and I'm married and carry dual citizenship now, so everything will be much easier if/when we have Kidlette.  But just imagine something like this becoming the norm in a country like the US...

Expats, immigrants, and inheriting citizenship, Part 1 of 2

I'm not the first to make the observation that "expats" are white and usually wealthy (or at least, they usually end up putting more in the tax coffers than they take out), and "migrants" or "immigrants" are not white, regardless of their class. If anybody wants to say white privilege doesn't exist, there's your proof to the contrary.  The right-wing/nationalist/white supremacists in most European nations love to hate on the Turks and/or Moroccans and/or anybody with darker skin, saying that "these people" are diluting the cultural purity or whatever the lingo for justifying hating brown/black people is in Europe these days.  Never mind the nice blonde lady who's been living next door for five years and can't speak a word of Dutch. No, the real danger to the country is from the people who've been living here for generations and have deep roots in the community.  (And, because of Poe's Law, yes, this was meant sarcastically).

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that Europe does inherited citizenships, and not birthright citizenships.  And I guess it makes a certain amount of sense; if you're going to encourage people to move across borders then having a family with multiple nationalities is kind of a pain in the ass. Only 30 countries in the world have birthright citizenship (mostly in the Americas), and US is one of them.  Everywhere else, if you're born to a [nationality] in a different country, you'll have [nationality] as long as you can't afford to change it.  

And while the process of becoming a Dutch national is merely expensive (810 euros as of 2014)--as opposed to expensive and confusing as f*ck-all, as it is in the US--the fact that it has to be done before your kids can get on equal footing, government-wise, with everybody else is grossly unfair and probably contributes more than most people want to admit to the discrimination that is faced by people with ancestries from Africa and the Middle East.  The fact that someone born within a certain country, grows up in that country, has a fulfilling life in that country, roots for that country in the World Cup, and yet has to buy citizenship (which isn't cheap) before they are allowed to vote in national elections or claim what citizens can take for granted is just a little disturbing if you think about it.  Not to mention that, if you want someone to be proud of the country they live in, having the nationality of said country is kind of a prerequisite to being part of the tribe.  It was a long time before I could be proud of the US of A, and part of that was because, until I was in my teens, I wasn't a US citizen.  I couldn't say, "We're all Americans" because I wasn't one.

I'm not saying that Europe needs to change their system--it would probably go some way towards solving the problem of people not integrating, though--but having to pay for the citizenship of a country you grew up in isn't exactly fair.  Let's not pretend that it isn't just a tiny bit racist, either.  The fact that the targets of the conversation in the US are mostly Mexicans (and, to some extent, wealthy Asians) only augments this.  You never hear people going on about all the British taking over Hollywood.

We were insanely lucky:  lucky that I was able to get in my language classes and take and pass the NT2 before a whole bunch of rules were changed, lucky that I was able to afford the 810 euros to add Dutch citizenship to my roster of countries I can call home, lucky that Karel was able to get kidlet's nationality re-arranged before we got in trouble for hosting an illegal American citizen (ironic, isn't it?).  But it's my opinion that these things shouldn't be a matter of luck.  Luck is for the casinos, not a way to live life.