On Motherhood & Sanity


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

on moving (again)



We are leaving soon. I know that now. It is not written anywhere, but by now I can read the signs. It wont happen just now. Many months will pass before we even know where. And then, only then, perhaps not even then, time will transform itself, and with it, so will our lives.

The time change I can predict and describe. The transformation of our lives, I can only wait to witness as a by stander.

First, time will be slow and heavy. Every evening I will welcome my husband to a tired home. One that has lived a full day and is ready to drink some warm milk and go to bed. He will be tired as well. His embrace will be heavy with the weight of the wait. The children will welcome him with excitement, knowing that with him comes the night, and rest, and only then will we get another full day to fill. In the silence of the dark we might not speak of it, but it will be there. We will scrutinize time for any signs as it lazily and distractedly waits before giving anything away.

Some months from now it may choose to give us something. The sign may be clear of muffled, and then we will patiently and quietly wait some more. I will try to plan, without really knowing what to plan for. We will continue trying to believe in the permanence of our home, fully knowing we are only playing a part, like characters from a play.

And then one day, somewhere in the not so distant horizon, time will pull off this lazy cloak and reveal our fate. Then this 80 year old maid will turn into a frenzied child. The world will revolve around us at high speed. It will be impatient, spoiled and demanding. So we will run, and run and run.

Soon after all-hell will break loose. How the children react to this, now no longer babies, will very much determine what this part will look like. All I know is that there will be a rough period. A rough ride.

But once it is done, once the fairground has closed its doors and dimmed its lights, I will find my old friend again, the time I’ve learned to cherish and love. The one that likes to sit for tea once the children have left for school, the one that stays up with me late into the night, making time for me to read a book or write to a dear old friend.

But for the time being, time and I are playing it cool. Playing chess if you like; she makes a move, I make a move. She plays in the garden with the children while I keep an eye on her. Sometimes we sit down for coffee. But we both know this will change. Its just a matter of time.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

On aid and Tourism

So I’ve been in Brazil for a few days now, and everyone back at home keeps asking about the caipirinhas and the beaches, in the meantime I’ve seen little but the inside of an office. The aircon is on so high I’m actually wearing a jumper most of the time.

Low and behold, the gods smile upon me and I’m scheduled to leave Brasilia (a place created by the gods to punish those who ambition power. A capital of power shaped to resemble a fallen angel, set in the dessert, erected through large blocks of cement, with no trees to take refuge under).

I’m schedule to be in Rio de Janeiro for the Friday, which of course means that any free time I might get over the weekend will happen in a rockin’ city by the sea, with legendary beaches, filled with famously cultivated bodies, and caipirinhas.

In short, I’m happy.

I’m meant to work all of Friday and fly off mid-day Sunday (security UN rules don’t allow to cross the road to the airport after nightfall, betcha that’s not on the LonelyPlanet© Guides), that still leaves me a full Saturday and Sunday morning, and the fact that as a result of complete chance my hotel is ON Ipanema beach, and five minutes away from Copacabana.

What more could I ask for? you say…. And the Gods answer.

Word got out and before I knew it I had a protocol lunch scheduled for Saturday with some government reps, and then a fairly important meeting with the head of the domestic workers syndicate for the region comes through, but she can only meet me Saturday afternoon, so I say yes.

Still, I’ve got the morning, I’ve got the mid-day and some afternoon.

The Gods giggle.

Saturday morning: after a stroll by the beach watching the surfers try to charm the waves, I get dressed up and head off to my meeting. To my surprise we are having lunch in one of the oldest restaurants in Rio, Cafeteria Colombo, a beautiful room filled with smoky mirrors, and one of the secretaries I’m meeting is a famous actress and bossa nova singer, so we end up having the typical feilloada in the most spectacular scenario, while talking about inequality in Brazilian society, regularly interrupted by shy passer by’s who want to take their picture with this beautiful celebrity.

Half way through she decides to invite us to her next event, a demonstration of indigenous groups who are trying to reclaim an old beautiful mansion that used to house the museum of indigenous culture.

I hesitate, it’s my time off, but in the end I go along.

The event takes place on the grounds of the palace which is now but a shell of its former glory. Only traces of it’s old beauty remain. I’m white and look foreign, so I immediately become an important guest in a demonstration that has attracted only a handful of participants. We are shown around by the regional representative for indigenous people, in his jeans, light yellow shirt and full colored feather head dress.

There are people representing different tribes and selling some arts and crafts, so I take this opportunity to buy souvenirs for the kids. We are then taken to the opening ceremony, and somehow end up being a part of it. After a rather long speech, a peace pipe is passed around. An ex smoker myself I hesitate again, but figure what the heck. It’s filled with a bitter and unpleasant mixture they have put together during the speech, (although I’m pretty sure some of the other pipes going around have marihuana on them, which made for some happy Indians).

We leave hurriedly to meet our domestic workers federation women. A small house off a large highway, we sit and chat while sipping dark bitter coffee, (in honor of their line of work the house actually has two kitchens they tell me). They tell us how furthering their schooling translates into their ability to love themselves, and respect themselves more. What it feels like to be finally a part of something, to attend meetings where their voice is heard. They’ve gone from being too shy to answer the phone to representing their colleagues and advocating for their rights, and I think about how lucky I am and how much I take for granted.

Over dinner by the sea side, still working, my colleague apologizes that she will not be able to show me around on Sunday as she has to attend a march for religious tolerance, so of course I join her. Sunday morning, Copacabana, usually invaded by half naked bodies jogging or playing volleyball, is now filled with people of different creeds; there are Catholics, Muslims, Candombl√©, Jews, and other things that I have not heard off before. It’s a bit of a party, and in good Brazilian fashion kick off is delayed by a couple of hours.

A couple of hours left, I am sitting by the seaside, drinking coconut water straight from the fruit while a Rasta man plays lazy tunes on a saxophone. The sky is cloudy and moody. The water is full of boy-men who are trying to domesticate the waves. The breeze carries the tunes away ever so slightly. And so pass the last hours of my version of tourism in Rio, before I move on to the favelas of Recife.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Kissin’ U~ guest post from TalesfromthHood

I'm really excited that the first guest post on Motherhood & Sanity is from a DAD. I've often visited him on his blog Tales from the Hood to rant about the complexities of development work, so now I guess it's his turn.
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I hate Nickelodeon.


I’m serious. Give me rat-infested accommodation at the foot of an active volcano.


But spare me from Nickel-frickin’-odeon.


And of course, either the cause or effect of me hating Nickelodeon is that my kids watch it incessantly. If I sleep in for even ten minutes past normal, if I don’t haul my arse out of bed at the arse-crack of dawn, get downstairs and turn on the news, by the time I’m sipping my first coffee of the morning it will be with Jimmy Neutron annoyingly omnipresent in the background. When I walk in the back door at home after a hard day of explaining basic aid work to marketers, SpongeBob and the Fairly Odd Parents will be there to greet me along with my kids.


But more than anything else, I blame Nickelodeon for getting “Kissin’ U” by Miranda Cosgrove stuck in my head.


* * * * *


Okay, I can admit that she was mildly amusing as a precocious tween, opposite Jack Black in School of Rock. But even by the time she’d graduated to Drake & Josh, Miranda Cosgrove was full-on annoying.


Now that her album (Sparks Fly) is more or less mainstream in the tween world – and I offend myself by even being aware of the existence of this album – she’s reached new annoying heights. Annoying, like karaoke emanating up from the floor below until 3:00 AM, or like the snake-charmer outside a famous temple.


For those who don’t have children or who, for some other reason are not familiar with Nickelodeon’s format, they typically will promote their child prodigy singers by playing length-edited music videos between episodes of Victorious or Big Time Rush. The video that seemed to get the most airtime over the summer was – you guessed it – “Kissin’ U.”


It’s the typical, drippy teen-pop that you’d expect. More or less a modern remix of what we might have heard 20 years ago from Debbie Gibson or Tiffany. And the problem is, I can’t get it out of my head.


Gah! I’ve listened more hours of AC/DC, Def Leppard, Black Sabbath, Cinderella, The Black Crowes, Stevie Ray Vaughan, My Chemical Romance, the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Billy Idol, the Virgin Marys, Wolf Mother… you get the point… than many others my age.


And yet, I cannot seem exorcise “Kissin’ U” from my brain.


Give me impoverished, desolate, dangerous places; let me eat bugs or cubes of congealed blood; give me armed guerillas and minefields; let me miss my flights and be stuck an additional two nights in Dhaka; give me dysentery and giardia.


But spare me from Miranda Cosgrove and that annoying song, “Kissin’ U.”


I have this sort of revenge fantasy that all the Nickelodeon teen pop is actually written by a bunch of fat, tattooed rednecks, out in the woods drinking Bud Light© and pissing themselves laughing:


Bubba: “Hey Cletus, check this first verse out – ‘Sparks fly, it’s like electricity; I might die when I forget how to breathe...’


[All laugh hysterically. Bubba falls off stump in a drunken stupor.]


Cletus: “That’s perfect, man. Way to release your inner teenaged girl. Here, what do you think of this for the chorus – ‘’cause when I’m kissin’ you my senses come alive, it’s like the puzzle piece I’ve been tryin’ to find...’”


[More hysterical laugher. Roscoe opens up two more Bud Lights, hands one to Cletus…]


* * *


Some of you may remember the awesome post about “Musical Stockholm Syndrome over on the Esteyonage blog, last November. Read it. As anyone who’s ever searched through a bin of pirated music looking for the extended Elton John collection or for whom “Careless Whisper” evokes memories of being evacuated knows, Esteyonage is dead on. It is totally the Stockholm Syndrome. For music. And now I know that parents are at-risk, too.


I’m pretty sure that Chris Cornell could kick Megan Cosgrove’s cute little ass in the real world, but no amount of Soundgarden can get “Kissin’ U” to stop playing in the background of my brain. I ran for one hour today and listened to Iron Maiden the whole way. But even before the chords of “Number of the Beast” had totally faded away, I was already humming the chorus of “Kissin’ U.” I have a few minutes in the evening to pick up my Telecaster to try to master the guitar solo in “Hells Bells”… but the intro to “Kissin’ U” wants to come out instead.


A few weeks ago in a moment of resigned weakness I bought and downloaded “Kissin’ U” from iTunes. Hurts me to admit it, but it’s catchy and maybe even a little bit cute. I have an iPod playlist that’s “child-friendly” – music to listen to in the car when the kids are in it. It’s mostly classic rock (my wife got grumpy with me for getting our daughter singing “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas). But “Kissin’ U” is on there. My kids roll their eyes and complain about “Back in Black”, “I Wanna Rock And Roll All Nite”, or “Edge of Seventeen”, but they light up and sing along when “Kissin’ U” is up. (Some days that fact alone makes me wonder if I’ve failed as a parent.)


I’ve embraced my musical Stockholm Syndrome, though. I can’t say which of the global hell-holes I’ll be deployed to next. But I do know – and I’m chagrined to say it – “Kissin’ U” will probably be on my playlist for the trip. Somewhere between Alice in Chains and Fatboy Slim.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On false first impressions & women who save the world


‘you give him pigs tail, mama!’ she commands at me in her no nonsense and self assured way.

I smile. Usually I take what she says seriously, less and less so with time, but I plain refuse to feed my two year old pig’s tails to stop him from grinding his teeth.

‘yes mama!’ she insists with a mixture of annoyance and motherly patience, ‘ my husband did too, he eat pig tail, now he don’t do any more’

Parith is clearing up the kitchen as we speak. It is early in the morning, and I am holding onto my cup of coffee like a castaway to a float. I struggle to keep my eyes open, meanwhile she has vacuumed the floors, put away the dinner dishes, and carefully replaced yesterday’s food with new sweets on the makeshift altar she keeps behind the espresso machine.

She’s my age, one month younger really, or at least we think she is. But she treats me like I’m one of the children she has to look after. She bosses me around in a maternal manner, which would be annoying if it was not also sweet. She carries on talking as the children rampage through the kitchen knocking the cereal box onto the floor. It’s contents scatter on the recently cleaned surface, like it is a challenge to see which star can make it the farthest. The children run away screaming over who gets to keep the grey hippo cuddly, that really neither of them wants.

‘hey! Number one and number too!’ she playfully scolds them as she takes a broom and attacks the mess on the floor with the determination of a bullfighter going into the kill. I look at her in awe. The chaos that so often overwhelms me slides off her skin onto the floor, and gets broomed away as she chatters on about this imaginary world she lives in. Watching her always makes me envious of her energy

‘I feel like an old woman next to you’ I say, as I slowly take a sip from my cup

‘you no old mama!’ she laughs ‘you more old in Cambodia, there you very old. Now you young mama’ which -of course- means that I looked older when she met me, back in Cambodia. Back when the beasts, cordially numbered by her, where younger and did not let me sleep night or day.

Parith was born one month after me, but she could have just as well been born one hundred years before. She was born two years before the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh changing the country’s history forever, and turning it into an emblem for genocide. This woman that stands before me lived through it all. She is also the oldest of nine siblings, and mother to two children. She has been looking after children her whole life, and in line with the Asian sense of group responsibility, she continues to look after them as much as she bosses them around.

She went to school, but not for long. She learned how to read and write, but has forgotten. She learnt English from her son because it is the best way to make money. In Cambodia, lawyers and doctors are working as drivers for the expats, because it pays better.

Parith can sow, that is her hobby and her passion, and she has sown M the princess many a beautiful outfits. She wants to earn enough money to open a restaurant back in Cambodia. She knows the money she makes here will make all the difference to her, to her family and her clan. She’s not a victim, she’s an unsung hero, and a survivor.

Parith is one of many women around the world that jump on a plane and leave their families behind, in order to provide a better life for them. Women that look after other people’s children, while someone else is looking after their own.

So don’t get confused.

When she first arrived many Dutch women, unfamiliar with these realities, felt sorry for her. They tried to speak to her pain, tried to identify with her. She looked at them with a mixture of surprise and contempt.

Once her year working for us was up, she came to me for help, to find another job, to stay a bit longer.

She now has a better paid job, and gets to go home a couple of times a year. She is one of the lucky ones, yes, but it is women like her, with her courage and determination, that really make a difference. They should not be pitied, they should be praised.

She continues to live with us, filling our lives with this imaginary world of spirits and potions she comes from, spicing up our food as much as coloring our lives.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

on why family outings should only take place in my head

We went to see James and the Giant peach today. A beautiful performance organized by The English theatre with the Illirya group. It took place at the gardens of the Oranjerie, by the Castle of Duivenvoord. The castle opens it doors for this open air theatre once a year. G and I had done it the year before, and I had kicked myself for not bringing the kids when I realized how laid back the whole things was. This year not only did they have a children’s play on, they had a one-day-only matinee session.

I bought the tickets three months in advance.


The setting is stunning. You park by the actual castle, and make your way over the bridge and through the gardens to the “small house” area, where you can have a family pic-nic, while enjoying the garden, the pond, the fish, the sculptures and other amenities before the play even starts.

- “momma, why are all the ladies naked?”

- “because it’s art honey” could be heard in the background


In the Hague it is not so easy to see theatre in English. Which is fair enough since they have a local language of their own, it’s called Dutch, but no one speaks it outside of Holland, and everyone inside Holland speaks perfect English, so given the fact that we are just passing through, we have absolutely no intention of learning it.

After a whole week of biblical rains, (as in trees fell over and so did the division wall between our terrace and the neighbours’), today the sun was shining and it was beautiful. Which was really important because, although I was ready to “dutch it”, meaning, stick it out come rain or cold, I had been sick all week, and I’d finished working Friday past midnight. I was tired and sick and really didn’t feel up for too much “dutching it”. Saturday we woke up to sun filled morning, and feeling a bit better myself, was extremely enthusiastic.

While preparing the sandwiches my 4 yo kept asking when we were going, I kept saying a bit later. Eventually she got tired of asking and put her foot down

“I want to go right now!”

we’ve had this discussion before, like when she wants to go to a birthday party three days before it takes place

“there is no play now, we have to wait”

She does not have a lot of patience, as in the moment she works out the fast forward function our DVD viewing days are over.

Finally we get everything ready and everyone into the car. Hub’s 1950s motorcycle breaks down, (again) so we have to leave him behind with the promise to come back for him if it doesn't start up. I take a wrong turn but (bless the iphone map function) manage to make it there through an extended and –of course- blocked for construction detour.

In Holland, the second you leave the city, you are immediately surrounded by green fields, canals, cows, sheep, windmills and boats. But we had promised M the princess a castle, and she was impatient.

- “what are we doing now momma”

- “we are looking for the castle princess”

two minutes later

- “what are we doing now momma?”

- “we are still looking for the castle. We will keep looking for the castle until we find it, so there is no need to ask again until you see a castle”

- “but I can’t see a castle momma!” she sounds exasperated. Clearly I am making no sense to her. I take a deep breath.

Eventually we make it there, and it turns out we can't go into the actual castle, which turned into a little drama I'll spare you. Then we are hungry, and we go from hungry to starving in 30 seconds flat, so instead of enjoying our walk through the gardens we run over to the “small house” to set up the pic-nic. As soon as we are settled and finally start munching on our carefully prepared healthy stuff, cookies come into our radar vision

- “I want cookies momma"

- “you will have cookies when you are done with your sandwich”

- “when is the theatre coming?”

- “in a bit”

- “but I want it now”

- “I want it now too honey, trust me, I want the play to start right now more than life itself”

“but can I have cookies?”

Then finally, the play starts, but five minutes in, front row, with a myriad of men and women dressed up as spiders, crickets, and all sorts of fun things, she's at it again

- “when is the theatre coming momma?”

- “this IS the theatre sweetie, it has started”

…..silence...

- “but when is it starting momma?”


Long story short, both monkeys sat ON me for the entire length of the play. They were scared of the evil aunts, and hungry, and thirsty, and the sun bothered them. Continuos "what's happening now momma?" distracted and confused me. I didn't get to see the end because we were in the (black and sparkly) mobile loos for the third time.

Once the play finished everyone was eager to move on to the next phase of their lives. I watched other families as they lounged lazily on their mats under what is probably the last bit of sun we’ll see until next spring, as we hurried off.

And back in the car:

- “I want water momma”

- “sweetie, I don't have any water, we’ll be home in ten and you can have what you want there”

- “but I want water now” the pitch begins to go up

- “there’s juice”

- “I don’t want juice”

- “there’s milk”

- “ I don't want milk, I want water”

- “there are strawberries or I can pee in a cup, choose!”

I’ve lost it. The perfect outing I had been planning for months has turned out –again- to be in reality nothing like the one I had in my head.

We get home and while Ms I’ll-die-if-I-don't-have-water runs inside, (and forgets to drink water), I stay behind in the car with No. 2 who has fallen asleep.

I’m beat, I’m dead, and I’m wondering if it’s worth it. If it’s worth trying at all. Maybe we should have just gone to the park around the corner. Done some arts and crafts in the house.

Night creeps in on us as usual. The monkeys are still recovering from the sugar rush of the “please shut up and leave me alone” goodies bag. I manage to corral them and bring them to their room. Lights are off, and out of nowhere M the princess states:

- “I liked the spider, and the octopus, but not the witches”

then No. 2 chimes in

-“ I liked the jelly fish, and the giant peach”… “and the birds”

-“ I liked the bubbles under the sea”

- “and I liked fishing”

and they go on and on. Then m the princess declares

-“ I love the theatre momma”

I leave them to continue sharing the parts they liked, and the adventures we'll live. The things we've done and the things we will or might do in their head are all one. One with James, the spider, the cricket, the ladybug and the giant peach, after today.

Apparently, it was worth it.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

i'm a bad mother and forgot to tell you about Trouble


Sleep deprived and much too overwhelmed over my four year old abandoning me in order to enjoy a successful, well adjusted life, I forgot to mention that No.2 (or as we like to refer to him, trouble) also started pre-school this week.

Which basically means that I’m back on the conveyor belt too. I became a freelancer when my kids were born. Which meant ‘going to work’ pretty much entailed taking my coffee mug upstairs. I stayed in my pyjamas till noon, and loved every minute of it.

This week everything changed. I have to get up, deal with the backpacks, the lunch boxes, the gym gear. It’s funny, it makes me feel like a proper grown up mom. I love setting out the snack the night before, we even lay out the outfits sometimes (this is more of a pre emptive strike, in an effort to avoid overly embarrassingly outfits, M has a strong and unique sense of style).

I feel all grown up.

M & I go to school on our bicycles. How cool is that. We cycle along the canal, say hello to the ducks and the occasional swan, push our bikes over the bridge, possibly the sole hill in all of the Netherlands, (we tried cycling it, but M makes it half way, then starts rolling backwards, and instead of putting her feet down to stop it goes into a panic, so I have to jump off my bike and ran to stop her, which is way too much excitement for me that early in the morning), then we park her tiny blue ‘under the sea’ themed bike next to all the big bikes. I’m pretty sure she is the youngest cycling to school, and we are both darn proud of it.



She loves the big-girls school. For some reason she is totally impressed by the fact that she gets to spend so many hours there, and keeps showing me her feet as proof that she is all grown up now, (I have no idea why). She also loves her lunch box, and was pretty disappointed when I took her home before lunch for ‘sacred Wednesday’ family lunch. She also tried to bring a lunch box to a birthday party on Sunday.

Meanwhile Tuesday was Trouble’s big day. I was worried because he had done a few test runs before the summer, when his sister was still in class, and kept insisting that they were both going to school together. He could not get around the fact that he was starting school, the school M had been going to, but they would not be together. Fair enough, they have pretty much done everything together until now. But he too surprised me.

He didn’t really need anything for school, but we thought he should get something special that marked this new beginning, so we got him the best 1950’s red and white jacket. When we pulled up for school (on his mini bike, no pedals), I couldn’t get over how grown up he looked, I kept thinking “who is this guy?”

Well, let me tell ya, the guy waltzed in, and once he located the cars I ceased to exist. Seriously, he didn’t even look up to say good-bye. He was also shoe-less when I came back for pick-up. There must be some Dutch school-foot connection that I am missing.

So there you have it. A simple story that probably bored most of you half to death, yet, a big (huge ) week for us.

Not only did we survive, but the added bonus is that when they get home from school, they embrace each other like they’d been away for weeks, and then wonder off into a world of their making, where she is princess Ariel and he is prince Eric, and they both live undventures under the sea.