Tag Archives: children

Papa, Do You Have a Bike Helmet, Too?

As I mentioned in a recent post, I now write for the Bike Citizens Magazine. My first article has been published, here’s a little intro – click on the link below to read the full version.

“Papa, do you have a helmet, too?” my two-year old daughter asked. For a brief moment I did not know what to say. Because while she wears a bike helmet every time I take her on the bike, I am not wearing one myself, not when I’m bringing her to the day-care nor on my commute to work. As parents often do, I rescued myself by telling a half-truth – that I wear a helmet when riding my race bike.

In fact, by not wearing a helmet, I am making a wise, rational, scientifically supported decision. Wonder why? Read my article about it in the Bike Citizens Magazine!

The helmet goes with the rest of the racing gear

The helmet goes with the rest of the racing gear

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What I learned from my daughter

This is my 200th post here and I’ve done my best to make it a special one. Its been almost two years since I became a father (and I am about to become father of 2 very soon). I never really knew what to expect from being a father. Don’t think any guy ever knows. I had some expectations, like that it would be tiring and difficult. I was hoping it would be fun (it was in fact the most awesome experience ever). But not in my wildest dreams have I imagined that being a parent will be so enlightening and instructive. I seriously have the feeling I’ve learned from my daughter at least as much, if not more than she has learned from me. Here’s a short and non-comprehensive list of the things I’ve learned from my daughter Noura.

Assertiveness
If she wants something, she just says “I want”. “I want hug papa”, “I want cookie”, “I want sleep”. She is really good in not overthinking her wishes, not trying to conform with other people, not caring if it is the right time or not. “Read book with papa now”. It is not a question. It is a statement. Its up to papa to consider whether papa wants to read a book as well or has a better idea, and how he is going to “sell” his alternative. I wish I’ve been that assertive when it comes to getting what I want or at least being able to say it out loud.

Focus
They say children are easily distracted. Not true. They are just open to new opportunities. But try to distract a child that is really busy with something she or he enjoys (like my daughter and food). Not going to work, at least not without a fight. If Noura is into something, the rest of the world just ceases to exist. So, I’ve seen her potty-training her teddy bear for half an hour. She wasn’t for a second bored with it. The cycle of “bear pipi-bear on potty-bear wipe behind” was repeated endlessly and she enjoyed herself fully. Guess the secret is to be doing something you like and enjoy.

Listening to your body
The few times she was really sick it showed instantly. Normally, Noura has the appetite of… well, I can’t come up with a cute animal to compare her with, but let’s just say she enjoys eating and is really good at it. But if she does not feel well she just says “no” to food. Which is really smart, because when you’re sick you’re not in the position to do proper digesting. I, on the other hand, have on numerous occasions woken up not feeling too well, had breakfast out of habit and spent the rest of the day regretting it.

Letting go
Don’t know how about you, but I occasionally get stuck on something and can’t let go. Like an argument I had with my wife, a bad day I had in the office or some other silly frustration that keeps nagging me. Getting stuck is rather counter-productive, as it serves no real purpose and stands in the way of enjoying the things you do get right. My daughter, as probably all children, has an amazing capacity of letting go. No cookie? But hey, there’s a bird on the balcony! Who cares about the cookie?! Wish I could let go that easily.

Joy of life
The most valuable lesson I have learned and keep learning from being a father is to enjoy life. Actually, this is what all the other lessons are all about. There are so many fun, pretty, special, interesting things around us, so much we take for granted and do not even notice how wonderful the world is. Children do notice. I hope my daughter always retains that amazing capacity to enjoy what life has to offer, and that she will keep reminding me to enjoy it with her. Noura – thank you!.

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Can we have the right for dignity?

I’m sure everyone noticed that last week’s news was particularly bad. In fact, it was absolutely horrible. Here in the Netherlands the scale and impact of the MH17 disaster only now begin to be realized, as the victims are brought back for identification, and a seemingly endless caravan of funeral cars rolls on the road.

Sadly, these dignified images have been preceded by much less dignified ones. I’m sure you’ve seen those, too – it was pretty impossible to avoid them. Even the national news showed every obscene detail from the scene, without editing anything out. Why do they do it? We know there was a disaster. We know it is gruesome. We know it. But do we really need to see all the details on the evening news? Just a few years ago, showing parts of dead bodies on national TV would have been unthinkable. The dead were shown covered in a sheet or pixelated, preserving their dignity as a token of respect. Now, the mainstream media seemingly fight a losing battle with Twitter and Whatsapp for who is showing the most eerie images.

Its not even myself I am concerned about. Yes, my stomach turns if I see the victims of the tragedy of MH17 scattered in a field, but at least I am a grown-up person, well capable of dealing with it. But I have a daughter, who’s just one year old. Right now she’s too young to realize the horror of these images and too young to ask questions about them. It won’t take long though before she does ask questions about what she sees on TV and in the newspapers. And its me who will have to provide the answers. Some day I will have to explain to her that the world can be a bad, bad place at times. But I was hoping that I have a few more years before I have to have this conversation with her, and I would like to choose that moment myself and not to be forced upon me by some news editor chasing the ratings.

And actually, well, yes, its myself I am concerned about, too. Because if God forbid I make the news in the wrong way, the last thing I want is for my mutilated remains to be on public display. We now have the right to be forgotten. Can we also have the right for dignity? Please?

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The most awesome experience ever

In the blogosphere its almost mandatory to write a post with your “bucket list”. I’m sure you know what a “bucket list” is, but just to be on the safe side – its a list of things to do before you die (“kick the bucket”). Some call it a “wish list” or “list of things to do before I’m 40”, it all boils down to the same – a list of cool stuff you’ll do some day.

Me – I am not a big fan of the “bucket list” concept. Yes, I too have a whole list of places I want to visit and things I would like to do some day, like visiting Paris (after 12 years living within 3 hours train ride from Paris I still didn’t get around to go there). But publishing it sounds so… silly is the word I am looking for, I guess. Because what will happen if I write them all down in public and end up not doing any of them? Even if I will do lots of really cool stuff instead, it would still feel like sort of a failure. Besides, if I’d publish it, I’d have to maintain it – crossing off things I’ve done, adding new ideas – and I’m just too lazy for that.

I write this blog mainly to share the experiences I have already had, so instead of a bucket list, I thought I’d write about some of the coolest things I’ve done. I even made a draft post, telling about how I quit smoking, climbed the Mont Blanc (was very cool, but the Weisshorn was a much bigger challenge) rafted the wild rivers of the Altai mountains, got a degree in rocket science, worked on a pearl farm in the Pacific, travelled around the world and so on. But then I thought – hang on, why am I doing this? Why not just go for the Big Prize, describing that one experience that surpasses all the other ones, the most awesome experience ever?

In the past year, I’ve been living in a whole different kind of experience, one that just keeps growing and becomes more and more amazing with each day, even as I think it just can’t get any better – fatherhood. Among my friends here in Holland, I am the first to have a child. Especially in the past few weeks, as we were celebrating my daughter’s first birthday, I was often asked how it feels being a father, and whether I miss all those things I could just do when I didn’t spent most of my time changing diapers and cleaning milk bottles. Things like, well, pretty much everything – sleep, going to the movies, having a night out, basically what some perceive as “having a life”

Honestly – I don’t miss it all that much. Well, to be completely honest, part of the reason I don’t miss it is that I actually still do all those things. This is largely thanks to my daughter being such a wonderful child, that sleeps up to 13 hours straight. Having a lovely and understanding wife, and fairly sharing the responsibilities helps a lot, too. Most of all – I don’t miss the pre-fatherhood life because being a father is so much fun. In fact, it was a huge surprise to me that it can be so enjoyable.

I thought that it would take 3-4 years before being a father really becomes something you can call “fun”. But I was totally wrong – I was having the time of my life from day 1. And I’m not going to pretend changing diapers is “fun” – it is not. There are some who claim that if its your own child, it doesn’t smell, or at least is not so bad. That’s just nonsense. It smells, and badly. The nice part is that you get to see how happy your child becomes when he or she is clean and dry, and there’s nothing more rewarding in the world than making your baby happy.

Yes, there are times when you have to get up at night because your baby is crying. Not fun at all when you’re getting up for the umptheenth time and its 4 in the morning. On the other hand, then I think about what its like to be a baby. You’re alone in your bed, perhaps not even hurting but just waking up from a bad dream, you can’t even speak, its dark and you’re really-really scared. You cry and then, out of the dark, comes a friendly giant that picks you up, cuddles you, whispers calming words in your ear, and rocks you back to sleep. Well, I get to be the friendly giant (I am only 1.73 tall, and don’t get to be a giant that often, so its an added bonus) . I am the stuff fairy tales are made of. For my one-year old daughter, I am absolutely all-mighty. And she adores me like a god – that smile on her face when she wakes up and sees me is better than all the wildest parties in the world that I missed because I have to be there for her in the morning.

There’s a song by Matti Caspi called “My Second Childhood”. And its not about being senile – its about re-living ALL your experiences together with your child as he or she grows up. When you think of it, its pretty amazing. I mean, do you remember learning how to walk? Or tasting an orange for the first time? Touching a cat, hearing a bicycle bell, smelling a banana, seeing a teddy bear “clap” his paws (extremely funny) – think about doing all these things for the first time, but now being aware that it’s the first time you’re doing it. That’s what it’s like to be a father – and it’s the most awesome experience ever.

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Baby vs hamster

I have a hamster. And a baby. And these two are not very different. In fact, I think that having a hamster before getting a baby has prepared me quite well for parenthood. Because in many ways, hamsters are like babies.

  1. They both smell. And both can’t help it, so you have to clean them. Admitted, cleaning a hamster cage has to be done less frequently than changing a baby’s diaper, and babies smell more intensely, but a hamster is still a good practice.
  2. Hamsters and babies are not to be left unattended. They tend to fall off tables, stick their noses and fingers into electric sockets and drown in toilets. Plus, you can lose them. Hamster are smaller, so easier to lose – again, excellent for training your baby-searching skills.
  3. When your hamster or a baby is outside its cage/box and it is quiet, you know its up to no good. Probably chewing on an electric wire or digging into your favourite plant. See point 3.
  4. A baby or a hamster has a natural talent for getting stuck in places you’d never think they fit in. Getting them unstuck is part of the fun of having them.
  5. Finally, babies and hamsters are totally dependent on you for food. Go on vacation and leave your hamster unattended – it will die. Having a dead hamster is bad, but much less dramatic than a dead baby.
A baby watching a hamster

A baby watching a hamster

Obviously, there are differences, too. The main difference is that babies grow up, while hamsters rarely grow beyond 10-20 cm (depending on the species). And while a hamster is easily replaced, replacing your baby is not that simple. I guess the point I am trying to make here is – thinking of having a baby? Train on hamsters first. If you can’t take care of a hamster, I’d suggest thinking twice before getting children.

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The 5-year old graduate

A few weeks ago I’ve been to my nephew’s graduation ceremony. He’s only 5 years old, but is already a graduate – he’s got his swimming diploma! Holland has more water than any other European country, therefore, all Dutch kids are taught how to swim as soon as possible. Not only are they taught how to swim, they must know how to stay afloat with clothes on, because as the Dutch reasonably assume, one usually doesn’t take one’s clothes off before accidentally falling into a channel. I wasn’t brought up here, and I didn’t pass these rites myself. So while I was theoretically aware of the concept of “diploma swimming”, I didn’t really know what to expect.

I thought there would be a few kids and their parents, the kids would show they are able to stay afloat and perhaps swim a couple of meters, and we’d all go home. I was in for a double shock. Firstly, the pool side was teeming with mums, dads, uncles, grandma’s and all other types of relatives. It wasn’t just me who was surprised by the massive show of support for the little swimmers. My wife, who was brought up here, was quite amazed, too. Apparently, in recent years, what originally was a modest ceremony, has grown out to be a hugely important event. There must have been at least 300 people there. Of course, our hero was supported by a team of 9 relatives, so we also did our best to show presence.

Image

The second surprise of the day came as the actual swimming started. It was just the A-diploma swimming (there’s also B and C), but it looked like a team of Navy Seals doing aqua ballet. They were swimming hundreds of meters in various styles, diving through hoops and dancing in the water. And they were dressed, too – including shoes! Mind you, the average age was about 5.5 and it was their A-diploma. By the end of the show I was wondering what they do for the B-diploma – pour oil on the surface and light it up? I guess the ones that get to their C-diploma alive are certified as deep-sea divers. With rescue qualifications. One thing I know – I won’t miss his next swimming graduation for the world.

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Kraamzorg – a great Dutch invention

Making new Europeans comes with many challenges as the birth rituals of a small European country can be quite mysterious from an outsider’s perspective. For example, most Dutch women prefer to give birth in the comfort of their homes. With the husbands running around with pots of hot water, like its a spectacle about life in 1211 AD (luckily, I was spared this barbarism). Or what to think of the maniacal fear of revealing the upcoming baby’s sex, that dominates the lives of most parents-to-be in Holland for months? Some even go as far as avoiding knowing themselves whether its a boy or a girl.

The real challenges, however, begin once a new European is made, as within hours of its birth the new citizen is confronted with the most dominant feature of the European continent – the all-pervasive bureaucracy. The newcomer has to be properly registered, listed and categorized, and mine is already receiving more mail than I do.

Fortunately, there are also positive sides to the story. Like the health insurance coverage of pretty much everything concerning birth and the availability of doctors, nurses, lactation consultants and best of all – the kraamzorg. Kraamzorg has no proper English equivalent – even the English Wikipedia lists it as Kraamzorg. Its best described as postnatal assistance, and it consists of a lady (though its technically feasible, I haven’t heard of men doing this job) who comes by the newborn’s house to provide the mother and child with an extra pair of skilled hands. For several hours a day during the first 10 days after birth these hands do the laundry, help changing diapers, assist with breast-feeding, vacuum and basically do their best to keep mother and child clean, safe and well-fed.

I think kraamzorg is a great Dutch invention and all my friends outside Holland who have children agree and are rather jealous at me (and mostly at my wife). And I’d like to thank our kraamverzorgster Serena, who’s been a calming factor in what would otherwise have been a rather stressful week. Thanks!

Now where did those diapers go?

Now where did those diapers go?

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