Saturday, August 15, 2015


One of the things that's been coming as a constant surprise to me as a parent in the Netherlands is how many things I end up paying for.  It's not just the occasional branded hagelslag (Minions) or the Lightning McQueen juice, which I admit I do sometimes shell out for (mostly not, though).  And it's not the extra trips to the toilets or the snacks that I still sometimes bring when we're out for a longer day.

No, the things that end up costing me a disconcerting amount of money are memberships.  Some of these are unquestionably worthwhile:  the library (€60 per year) and of course there's my train pass  (€65 per year).  I am considering taking kidlet for swimming lessons (€87 for 10 lessons), though the fact that he is still terrified of water means that I'll probably wait another year.  There are the wonderful-but-questionably-valued ones, like a membership to the Burger's Zoo in Arnhem, which is really wonderful but a bit of a pain to get to even if there is no whining two-year-old being dragged along in your wake.

Then there are the memberships to the playgrounds:  De Brakkefort and de Leemkuil are outdoor places that are only open for four months of the year, so memberships to those places are relatively cheap (€15 per year, but it is per person instead of per family and after kidlet turns 3 that means I'll need to get 2 if I want to take him, 3 if I want to include my husband).  Then again, they are tons of fun, especially de Leemkuil, which has jungle gyms and incredible wooden climbing things that take kids to dizzying heights.  And for the stormy, rainy days, there is the Pret Inn (€96 per year) an indoor jungle-gym bonanza full of random ball pits, things to climb into and out of and over, and the giant circus-tent like thing which every kid could spend hours scampering up and sliding down.

Now, you might be wondering why I would spend perfectly good money to take kidlet to playgrounds when there perfectly good free ones all over Nijmegen.  Well, first of all, the paid playgrounds are much, much better.  It's not so much the newer equipment (though that is a perk) as the fact that they are much better-maintained, and the weeds are limited and things aren't visibly rusty.  There're always other children around to join in a game of tag (or whatever the toddler equivalent is), the spaces are comfortably shaded from the full sun, and you never have to worry that your kid is going to step in a dog turd that some inconsiderate asshole left behind.  (Seriously, what is up with the Dutch not picking up after their dogs?!) The last alone makes paying for a playground membership worthwhile, IMHO.

But yeah, in a nutshell this means that I could easily be spending almost €400 a year just to take kidlet to places.  And while it's a bit of a drag for me, I could afford it--it would mean working more and being extra-careful with the groceries, but there's no reason why I can't swing a membership to a place if I really wanted to--I can't help but think that there are a lot of families for whom this is an insurmountable financial obstacle.  And while being able to play in an awesome playground, rain or shine, is not strictly necessary for having a well-rounded childhood, being able to tire out your kid so that they leave you alone long enough to bang out a blog post (or make dinner, or watch your favorite TV show) unquestionably goes a longer way to improving the parent-child dynamic than many people realize.

The ability to give kidlet experiences is one of the reasons I continue to freelance, even though we could hack it without the extra money.  But it's made me acutely aware of how early stratifying along class lines happens, and makes me wonder, even as we have ourselves a wonderful time in these places, whether that's a good thing.  

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