Saturday, April 26, 2014


For the first time in at least fifty years, the celebration of the Dutch royal house is pronounceable:  Koningsdag.  This is because last year, Queen Beatrix abdicated her throne in favor of her son, King Willem.  Luckily for everybody, King Willem's birthday (26 April) falls close enough to the original Koninginnedag (30 April), so the celebration can continue the way they've always gone, in all the DJ-blasting-orange-wearing-massive-crowd-party glory.

Oh, and the giant yard sale.

Just to make it all the more confusing, the original Koninginnedag was on Queen Julianna's birthday, and not Queen Beatrix's.  Queen Beatrix's birthday falls in January--not exactly party-weather here in the Netherlands.  When Willem took it over, his first act as ruler of the Kingdom of the Netherlands was to decree that Koningsdag would be on his birthday.  Given that there is only a difference of four days, this was either spectacularly lame, or egotistically brilliant.

But regardless of your opinion about his decision, the celebration remains the same:  1 million people will descend upon Amsterdam, wheere several pleinen are set up with massive stages for world-acclaimed DJs.  Much beer will be drunk; many people, too.  You will wear orange.  The King and Queen and their entourage descend upon one flyspeck town or other, wave and smile and shake hands with local dignitaries and pose for pictures with babies. (Getting hit by a car is not part of the celebration.)  And, if you have stuff you want to get rid of, you take it to the local park, set it out on a blanket, and sell it.  The celebration of the royal house by any other name, etc.

In Nijmegen, the crowd turns out at the Goffertpark, which is the largest open expanse of grass in the city.  I must confess that, until last year, I had no idea about this.  The years before I got pregnant, I was working and too glad just to have a day off; the year I was pregnant I was exhausted with first-trimester hormones, so it wasn't until last year, when we (kidlet and I) needed some fresh air and noticed everybody heading to the Goffertpark and followed them.

The primary reason I go to these sorts of things is because they're a great place to get kidlet's stuff.  I picked up 4 pairs of kidlet pants and 3 long-sleeved t-shirts for €5 (some his current size, others a size or two ahead).  Wooden toys, pricey even at secondhand shops, are sold for €1-2, or even less, depending on how desperate the seller is to unload his junk.  And, let's be clear--it is junk.  You're not going to find any hidden treasures here.  Real antiques (as opposed to collectable kitsch) are already being sold by antique dealers, and while you might luck out with a pair of genuine leather shoes or a stylish jacket, chances are you'll get exactly what you pay for.  There is a point at which the frustration of walking at a snail's pace while the person ahead of you oohs and aahs at every single piece of crap being sold cancels out the thrill of the hunt, though.  At that point, you find a gap in the blankets and cut through the rest of the park, secure in the knowledge that next year, there will be another one.

Nevertheless, it's fun, and in between the massive hordes of crap are cheery carnival rides and cotton candy vendors and the kibbeling kramen.  Kidlet woke up early this morning, so I was able to squeeze in a load of laundry and buy us a bottle of fresh-squeezed juice before we trotted off to the Goffertpark.  We had a nice picnic lunch once I was able to launch us over some sellers and into the empty green space, and shortly thereafter we found a nice little wooden toy toolbox for kidlet to play with, which he loved immensely and was content to sit in his stroller and play with for the next 45 minutes, while we wound our way back to the park entrance.  (Ordinarily, it takes me 5-10 minutes to walk the distance, so I'm not kidding when I say "snail's pace".)

Sunday, April 20, 2014


We are not religious.  Karel and I are atheists, and while some of my family (extended and immediate) may be Christians, most of them are so distant that it doesn't matter, and the ones that are less distant don't care enough to proselytize.  So when I first moved to this little weird country, with its proclamation of tolerance and religious acceptance (Geert Wilders notwithstanding), it was a little surprising to discover that the succession of holidays in the spring include:  Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Pentecost, and the Ascension.  I'm still not sure what the Pentecost is about.

But okay, you live here, you go with the flow.  The Flow, in my case, includes mad-long two-day excursions (Easter Sunday and Monday) with giant brunches and impressive dinners, filled with people I am legally related to but somehow can never remember the names of.  Thus, I learned that Easter is a big deal here--as if the booklets of ads put out by every large chain weren't clue enough.

What I didn't realize, much to my chagrin, is that it's a Big Deal in the US, as well.  If I hadn't had kidlet and therefore logged onto baby websites, I'd have never known this.  As I said, not being religious, Easter got filed under holidays like Rosh Hashannah (there are apparently a lot of Jews on the Eastern Seaboard):  someone else's religion giving me a day off, and chocolate rabbits going on sale the day after.  It never occurred to me that you're supposed to exchange presents, put up elaborate decorations, and eat tons of candy--i.e., celebrate a pastel version of Christmas.

So a few things about Easter in the Netherlands:
  1. Egg hunts are very much a thing.  Not just in expat circles, either--several moms at the egg hunt we went to the other day said that their kids were already egg-hunted-out.  
  2. You cannot find egg-dyeing kits anywhere.  Egg stickers?  Sure.  An egg-painting kit?  No problem.  But dyeing eggs is apparently too messy for the fastidious Dutch.  
  3. It is traditional for snobby folks to attend a rendition of Bach's St. Matthew's Passion.  You don't have to be religious to appreciate good music, but it probably helps if you like Bach (I don't). 
On a personal level, I'm never really sure what to make of Easter. It just seems like a really weird holiday--to commemorate the gruesome, horrific death of the Son of God, by...painting eggs and petting bunnies?  Okay, okay, so you go to church, too--but I can't be the first person who is somewhat baffled by the disconnect between a crucifixion, which is ostensibly the thing that we are celebrating, and the general cuteness of the paraphrenalia that surrounds the holiday.  (And yes, I'm aware that Easter coincides with pagan ideas about the spring and fertility and all that, and that these pagan ideas are where the bunnies and chicks come from.)

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.