The Seesaw of Thirty Nine

Thirty nine is (in no particular order of importance):

  • Knowing that opportunities are fewer, every door no longer open yet having the courage to throw myself into the deep unknown.
  • Feeling wistful about leaving this town, our home for fifteen years, and being excited about all that awaits.
  • Enjoying what must be the mellowest years of parenting and being deeply aware how numbered the days are.
  • Knowing that I am much more than what I do, yet being terrified what losing one part of my identity will mean to me.
  • Asking big questions, being at peace with small answers.
  • Enormous privilege of being able to learn from those fresh and new to life (“it is good to be alive”, my son, age 5) and those with wisdom and softness of years (“it will come”, my mother, age 67).
  • Knowing that achievements are not all they are cranked up to be, yet feeling the need to achieve more.
  • Feeling connected with the world stronger and broader than ever before and deeper than ever being pained by its sorrows and horrors.
  • Having some greys and still being occasionally mistaken for a student instead of a lecturer.
  • Using three languages on a daily basis switching seamlessly between them and at the same time being unsettled not knowing what language I dream in, love in or what language that book that one day will come should be in.
  • Being anxious about starting all over again yet knowing that we do this every single day.

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Everything I need to know about life I learn from my 5 year old

Nestor {from the back of my bike, where he is always the most inspired to talk}: “Mama, leven is leuk.”

I {Instead of the only life motto you need, I hear a grammar mistake. Adults are funny like that.}: “Yes, darling, life is good. Het leven is leuk.

Nestor: “Nee, dat bedoel ik niet. Ik bedoel” (No, I didn’t mean it like that. I meant: It is good to live.)

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Filed under Daily gratitude, Out of the mouths of babes, Raising multilingual children

Latest Nestorisms



Nestor: “Mama, M (the new kid in his class) does not speak Dutch, only German and English. I think he is really sweet so I am helping him learn Dutch. Today I thought him to say “In a galaxy far far away”.

I: “Very sweet of you, Nestor. And very useful, indeed.”


I: “Nestor, what would you like to do today?”

Nestor: “Build technology!”

There is no hope for this one either. {The photo below is Una’s first technical design of a boat made from milk carton. At the age of 6. }



Nestor: “Mama, I am so happy you were born.”

I: {sometimes there just are no words}.

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Filed under Out of the mouths of babes, Raising multilingual children, Uncategorized

As though there was ever any doubt (Take 2)

Seriously, was I just a carrier? (see Take 1)

(I got the photo below from Louise, showed it to Una, and she asked: “Hey, who are those people with Nestor?”)

Mark5yo    N5yo

Mark (5 year old)         Nestor (5 year old)

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Filed under Family, Growing up too fast, Uncategorized

Latest lessons learnt while travelling

{Hello, anyone out there? I am still alive and kicking despite the radio silence on here. I have a million stories written in my head, most of them half-finished, I will get to putting (some of) them on here. Or not.}

One of the stories lingering in my head is made up of many pieces, collected over the last year or so. As an academic, one of the (few) job perks is travelling to far and near places, scientific tourism as a colleague of my puts it. I have written that before becoming a mother I LOVED this perk. I got to see new places (without paying for it myself), attractive tourist destinations (Mexico – my very first transatlantic adventure, Rhodes – the conference rooms were quite empty, Lago Maggiore – oh, the beauty, Madrid – so full of life and vibe I did not want to come back), places less traveled and less exotic but so worth a visit (Tallinn, Heidelberg, Birmingham) and perhaps best of all, places I get to see old friends again (Montreal, Raleigh, Munich, Novi Sad). With the generous number of vacation days we get, it was never an issue to extend the stay for a couple of days and explore the place. Or even drag the family along and make a holiday out of it (Rhodes, Barcelona, the Baltic).

I have also written about how much this all has changed since becoming a mother. I have mostly written about emotional changes, but there were also behavioural ones. Never before had I asked to see someone’s superior or yelled like a lunatic at an airport official, waving the breast pump ice pack, all in front of my boss. I am still not sorry about that. Actually, I am sorry I did not yell louder.

These days, the travels are less frequent and shorter (by choice), there is less new (by the community inertia it is mostly in same places) and less eventful (I am less hormonal and likely to yell), but there are always aha-moments and new insights, that are probably always around but I oversee them in the “sameness” of my rich everyday life. I thought I would share a few, collected over the last year or so. They are rather random, mostly unrelated and I may or may not be proud of each one.

  • Letting be frees you. It really does. For years I have been fighting the sometimes overwhelming pain of being away from my children when travelling. I have been wishing it away, wishing to be able to compartmentalise better, to be more professional and less dramatic, to be able to, like my friends/colleagues/justaboutanygrownup, enjoy the luxury of travelling alone, sleeping for more than 15min or reading more than a paragraph at the time on the plane. It did not work. I did not get any “better” at any of it. I probably did phone Mark less frequently as time went on, somewhere along the line I must have realised that hey, he is exhausted from solo-parenting two small children and could probably use the time better (read sleep) than listen to my woe is me. So, as fighting it did not work, I thought I’d, wait for it, stop fighting. And instead of looking away from a mother with a small child in a metro and frantically searching for something important to read to take my mind of of, I have started doing the opposite, looking at the mother and child, perhaps smiling at them or even offering small help if appropriate (doing something however small for another person does wonders to our ego obsessed selves). And let the sharp pain in my chest wash over me, make me slow my step down for a second, and let it be.
  • No matter how unknown the place, how much concrete there is and how many red traffic lights and side streets to get lost, just keep running and a beautiful, green, open space will eventually appear. You may find a running path there, maybe even a river, but you’ll certainly find like-minded runners.
  • On one of the travels, I woke up feeling particularly sorry for myself. I grumbled inside that I had to work on a Sunday, I was missing my kids, I fretted how I would fit in since I get (way) too talkative after my second glass of wine (it was one of those posh, by invite only conferences where a bunch of old men discuss the future while wine starts flowing from noon). Then I went for a run, and saw the sun rise behind Lago Maggiore. I could use a ton of hashtags for it (and I think I did in my FB status) but it basically boils down to that that stepping off your soapbox, getting some perspective and realising you are so incredibly privileged and blessed should be done much more often. It is really good for you.
  • The world is still made for men (just in case my stance on this wasn’t clear from the above). Progress and all. Finding an article for a woman (stockings, nothing extravagant) in an airport emergency supplies shop proved impossible. There were emergency  ties, emergency shaving kits, emergency socks, emergency fragrances (male and female, but if we are honest, these are again emergency supplies for men). Schiphol, I am deeply disappointed, you should know better than that. World, so should you.
  • I like to think that I have grown in the past decade(s), from my obnoxious, all-knowing 18 year old self to a more emphatic person, more understanding of human weaknesses and mistakes (probably due to making many myself along the way), looking for good in people if you will. During my last work trip, however, I realised that I still, as much as back then if not more, get so much satisfaction from putting an asshole in his place.



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Filed under Mindfulness, not such a zen mama, Reluctant academic life, work-life (im)balance

The year I let go of letting go

I don’t let go very well, we know that by now. Probably in general, but in particular when it comes to motherhood. I am acutely aware that the days I have with my children under the same roof are numbered. Una is turning 9 this year, half way one might say. More than welcoming and celebrating the changes and milestones, I hold on to what went too fast, painfully fast, as though I can stretch the time, live it and feel it a little bit longer. And for a long time I have been subconsciously beating myself up for it, and fighting it, saying things that make it sound like I am embracing what is coming and letting go of what has been. Fake it till you make it sort of thing.

Somewhere over the holidays, while reflecting on the year that past with the full heart and full belly, it dawned on me that somewhere along the line I must have realised how ridiculous this fight against my very core has been. I do not want to let go, and how should I? They are my babies, my heart. Every moment that has passed is one moment less I have to love them.  This is a simple life truth, that no self-improvement book, no New Age fad can ever change*. And somewhere along the line I seem to have let myself feel that, be at peace with that, what a relief.

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before? 

Ran a half marathon!

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don’t think I made any last year? For 2016, not really a resolution but I want a little more patience and a bit less internet time.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No. I was talking to a friend a couple of months ago how no one around us is having babies any more.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully no one really close to me.

5. What countries did you visit?

New: Canada. It made a nice dent on my travel scratch map. Loved it, from the moment I got of the plane, joined a really loooong passport control queue, an officer came and took a family with two very small very cranky children to the front of the queue and than another officer came and took all the foreign passport holders to the front of the queue. So that is the Canadian hospitality people talk about. I was there for a conference and only visited Montreal but it had such a nice vibe, friendly locals and great autumn weather. I also got to hang out there with Maja and her family there one evening and when Milos and the kids went back home the two of us had a nice dinner together, lots of talking, laughter and tears.

Other: Italy (Laggo Maggiore), England, Germany, the Balkans (Croatia/Bosnia/Serbia), France. We spent the summer holiday Croatian island hopping, filled our vitamine D reserves, swam and dove in Vis, crashed for a few days with Jasmina, Zoki and the kids in their holiday house in Zlarin. For Christmas we went to Paris with Louise and Kevin. It was really neat sharing the best of it with the kids. We went to Euro Disney, was fun enough for the kids, but really disappointing with super.long.waiting.times.for.everything, from coffee to bathrooms and let’s not talk about the rides. But we went there in good spirits and I (or was it Louise :)) may have thrown in something in the line of “this is costing a freaking fortune, so fun will be had or else…” so it all worked out in the end. Una had a hard time seeing all the homeless people on the streets of Paris and had questions like “going to Disneyland was so expensive, why didn’t we give that money to these people who have no home?”. Indeed, why don’t we?

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

Patience, more of it, please. Let’s make that the resolution for 2015?

7. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Have you not seen #1? I ran a half-marathon!

I followed and completed the training for a mindfulness instructor.

9. What was your biggest failure? 

Hmmmm, I can’t think of anything I would really classify as a failure… I’ve worked a lot on the whole mildness thing, perhaps it’s working?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Thankfully not.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

New running watch?

14. Where did most of your money go?

Mostly the normal stuff, bills, mortgage, holidays.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Doing the mindfulness instructor training.

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?

“Take me to church”, Hozier. Nestor says “mama, this is OUR song”.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?

a. happier

b. the same?

c. the same?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Keeping in touch more often with a few dear friends.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Internet time.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

#1 25.12 – Louise and Kevin came over from sunny SA hoping to see some snow.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?

I did. With my family and my imperfect life.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

We caved in and got the Netflix subscription. What a mistake to make.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?N


24. What was the best book you read?

I have read quite a few books on the topic of mindfulness, loved Rob Brandsma’s essays.

And have I mentioned that I read “Ontdekking van Hemel” by Harry Mulisch? In Dutch. Schouderklopje for me.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?


26. What did you want and get?

Some clarity about the whole “where we are going to live next year thing”. Well, we still don’t know where we are going to live, but we made some decisions and took some actions and it feels good, whichever way things turn out.

27. What did you want and not get?

Teleportation superpowers. Flying is so expensive.

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 38. Low key – cake, friends, the best kind.

29. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

I probably wore dresses more this year than in my whole life. And I discovered that I love stripes (to Louise’s horror :)).

30. What kept you sane?

Running, mindfulness, more sleep than in the years before.

31. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

Rob Brandsma  – “the” mindfulness person in NL. Loved his books, his tweets and got to do the training with him.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?

The refugees issue. It made me question my conviction that I live in a country based on tolerance, equality and compassion. But I also met some incredibly caring, generous and energetic people who put so much of their time and energy in helping others. So it all balances out, thank goodness (as long as you stay away from comments in online news portals).

33. Who did you miss?

My dad. The past three years have soften the sharp edges of the pain but I miss him so very much.

34. Who was the best new person you met?

I met a really nice woman at the training, she lives in the same town and we will try to get a group together and practice what we learned. I met a couple of cool parents on the school ground (I really do not enjoy small talk while waiting for the kids and it is great having a couple of people you actually do like talking to), had a really nice group of students I gave lectures to last semester….

I discovered a couple of new blogs I love, does that count too?

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

Let it be.

36. Give a quote that sums up your year. 

“No matter how long your journey appears to be, there is never more than this: one step, one breath, one moment – now.” Eckhart Tolle



*Until Una gets that time machine actually going, that is.

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Filed under Cherished moments, Life in Delft, Mindfulness, not such a zen mama

That moment when you close the door behind the last guest, walk into your kitchen and your first thought “oh, who is going to clean all this and where do I even start?” gives way to a warm feeling of what can only be deep gratitude for all the dirty plates and the food that was on them, and the friends, little and big, who came from near and far, with broken leg and head cold, to eat that food and drink that wine with you, to celebrate the birthday of your child and sing to him and spoil him and eat too much sugar and laugh too much and talk too much. That moment is what feeds your soul. IMG_0138

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Filed under Cherished moments, Daily gratitude, Growing up too fast, Life in Delft