Thursday, August 30, 2007


Born on the 29th of August 2007 at 15:20, after a ground-breaking labour of 3,5 hours, in the bath, at home:

One very stubborn instinct-driven mother
One amazingly trusting and reliable father
One fantastically loving and sweet big sister

... and one beautiful little nameless buddha of a boy

Friday, August 24, 2007


(I am not entirely sure this post required visuals but who can resist the challenge of making an old, sad, almost-on-its-way-to-the-trash shallot look a star)

40 weeks and 5 days: nothing is happening. And I mean really nothing: not a twinge, not a sigh, not a breath of anything even vaguely indicating the onset of labour. I walk on the beach (almost) every day. I do yoga. I meditate. I read fiction. I write non-fiction. I try to pretend I'm not waiting. I wait.

Deep down though, I know we're not there yet. For one thing, the genetics are against me. Isabelle came 12 days late and had to be coaxed out (not too gently either). My brother was born two weeks late. I was born a month late (which taking into account a substantial margin of error probably means two weeks late). My mother was born 10 days late. There is a pattern here.

More importantly though, there is the shallot; which is my metaphor for the 'end-of-the-end' of pregnancy. Here is how it goes: in order to give birth, one must reach a state of complete surrender, a complete ego meltdown. This process resembles somewhat the peeling of a shallot: layer by layer, many tears, no idea how many layers to go, more tears, more layers.

There is relinquishing control, first over when the baby comes, then over how the baby comes, then over life as we know it. There is the meeting with old ghosts, old layers of unresolved grief and anger. There is fear. Fear of small things, then of bigger things, then of huge things. Finally, at the heart of the shallot, there is the ego's worst nightmare: my own death. I believe that once I surrender to that one, let it in, accept its presence, the baby will come.

So, not quite there yet. But peeling on with a steady hand.

Monday, August 20, 2007


We actually put our name down on the waiting list for an allotment, and went to visit the ones which are for sale immediately (because, suspiciously, no one else on the list wanted them) on Sunday. We are rather infatuated with this one. It hasn't been touched in over a year, but both Marc and I had a kind of 'this just might be our garden' feeling when we walked through it. It has a rundown woodshack that made us think of Russian datchas, a rather large and well-preserved green house, and an old apple tree ladden with apples just by the entrance gate. The rest of the allotment is one big swamp. Literally. I know it's going to have to be a gut thing, but still, I'd like to have some opinions (preferably from the gardening folks among you). What do you think?

meet Marcus

Isabelle's new sock monkey. She ordered it from this catalogue three days ago and made me promise to make it the very same night. Which I didn't, due to 'tired/can't be bothered/let's watch Inspector Morse' state of mind. Then, having gone to bed at the catholic hour of 11 pm, I woke up at 1 am, completely WIDE AWAKE. After trying with no success to go back to sleep, I crept downstairs and roamed the lower ranges of the house (not, as you might think doing anything vaguely useful such as packing a just-in-case-hospital-bag (still not done!), selecting music I might want to listen to at some point in the next two months or so, or even tidying up the local pigsty, no, I was collecting all the seashells that have made it into this house in the past few months of almost daily beach walks, getting them into one big pile on the dining-room table, in preparation for labour) (yes, I know, my sanity level has definitely dropped beyond 'questionable' by now). I roamed until 5:30 or so, then finally collapsed into bed, to be woken up a very short hour later with a 'Mama, where is my monkey?', 'Mama, did you make my monkey?'. I must have mumbled something along the lines of 'too tired, sorry, next time better...' because the next thing I know, there is this wailing siren in my bed (literally and figuratively). So what did I do? Did I, like any normal person, say to Marc 'remove the child, I must sleep', roll around and go back to oblivion. No, I did not. Instead, I got out of bed. Crawled downstairs. Put two chairs in front of the sewing machine. Made a sock monkey.

To give her credit, she did help me stuff it.

And was very patient with how long it took, as well as all the swearing that went with the process. She even did some personal coaching in the form of 'Mama, as soon as you're done with this you can go to bed...', the effect of which was somewhat tempered by the repeated 'Is it done yet?' that burst out of her every ten minutes like a mad cuckoo.

Anyway, it was worth it in the end. Although not a 'thing of beauty', Isabelle is mad about her (obviously, Marcus is a girl) and drags her proudly around everywhere we go. Plus, I got to sleep most of the rest of the day, with everybody's blessing. Including Marcus's.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

self-portrait with eye-patch

There is a tiny wound over my right eyebrow which I call the 'worry wound' because although it does not worry me, I tend to unconsciously worry it when worried, with the result that it bleeds profusely all over my clothes once every three days. Anyway, I decided to just cover it with a band-aid to give it a chance to heal.

Isabelle: Mama, waarom heb je een pleister op je oog?
Mama, why do you have a band-aid on your eye?
me: Zodat mijn wondje niet meer bloedt.
So that this little wound stops bleeding.
Isabelle: Mama, nu ben je een echte piraat...
Mama, now you are a real pirate...

Man working in our local supermarket: Wat heb jij nou op je oog?
What's that on your eye?
me: Ik ben een piraat.
I am a pirate.

crafting craze

So maybe 'craze' is a big word, but in view of the fact that I haven't touched my sewing machine for over 7 months, the fact that I have never really taken the time to become a 'natural craftster' (whatever that is), and the fact that we are talking TWO items in TWO days, let's say 'craze'.

This is also a big first because it's my first quilt ever, and I'm quite proud of it. It's for in the baby box. Here is a view of the back.

The other item was an order from Isabelle. She said she needed a new 'pinpas', which is standard Dutch for 'debit card', and Isabellian for 'wallet'. Some might say it's inaccuracy, I say it's a synecdoche. Anyway, here it is, she chose all the fabrics and trim, and Amy supplied the instructions. Me, I just lent them my hands.

Friday, August 17, 2007

sea fantasy

Two days before my due date, I am full to the brim with child.

And I dream endless sea dreams, dreams of making my way alone in the dark to the sea, of walking through the surf, so that the waves washing over my feet and the waves crashing through my body are one, and my feet beating the sand of the beach drum out the rhythm of my opening, crushing the broken shells as I rise to meet the wave-pain; and the seagulls asleep and the surf song lifting my cries, carrying them out to sea. I dream of the seal-women's whispers, reaching into the conkshell ear of my child. I dream of seaweed for scent, of seaweed for hair, of seaweed for trail. I dream of salt on my hands for strength, salt on my lips for sustenance. I dream of kneeling at last to bear my child in the worried wrinkle on the forehead of a dune, I dream of thick dune grass and soft white sand for our bedding. I dream of the sea.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

60 mm.

Two months ago, I turned 33. I meant to post about it at the time, but it slipped through my fingers and got lost in a fold of time. The most amazing gift I received on that day was Marc's Nikon D70 camera, together with his 60 mm. macro lens. This is the only lens that I have ever used, and possibly will ever use. And should you ask why I only ever use this one lens, I would say: 'because it sees and shows the world from the exactly right perspective'.

But this is not a post about photography. Or only tangentially.

It is about writing, and mothering, and meditation. All things I am currently doing. All things I intend to continue doing. All things that to some extent define me at this stage in life. All things which I often think of as perpendicular to each other, eating on each other's space, conflicting with each other's needs, and sometimes together, sometimes separately, creating the tension at the basis of the fear and anxiety that has been accompanying me throughout this pregnancy. Thinking about how to combine, how to integrate, how to weave them in with each other. And finding enormous inspiration for doing so here, here, here, here and here. And in the heart of a friend.

In placing them side by side, day after day, again and again and again, I have accidentally stumbled upon the secret link between them, the silk thread that holds them together. What makes mothering, writing and meditation deeply fulfilling, spiritually expanding and intensely true is one word: detail. Love is in the detail. Poetry is in the detail. Stillness is in the detail.

And how very appropriate for one like me whose eye forever scans the horizon in search of unifying principles, great theories and all-encompassing truths to stumble thus on the smallest truest truth of all. How humbling a discovery, and how exciting too.

I know that with this gift in my pocket, I am ready at last, ready for the baby, ready for the changes, ready to enter this new phase of life with the 60 mm. macro lens of my heart screwed on tight.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

portrait (by Marc)


Remember her? You Dutchies might know her as Juffrouw Ooievaar, but where I grew up she was Adèle de la Cigogne, from Le Petit Echo de la Forêt. Our local supermarket is currently selling puppets based on characters from this hilarious 1970's children's TV show, and we have acquired the entire set. Obviously, whatever we might try to make you believe, the puppets were really meant for Marc and me, but Isabelle promptly confiscated them all, and the house has been resonating with fascinating dialogues between grumpy wolves, prim storks and hard-working beavers.


December 2003, by Susanne Middelberg

August 2007, by Marc

Saturday, August 11, 2007

life on the pavement: a lesson in acceptance

We are very happy people. No, really, we are; we have absolutely everything our little hearts desire. Except... a garden. Every year, in summer, Marc and I run into the 'garden issue'. Every year, the issue looks pretty much the same: we have a lovely roomy house with a large balcony, but the balcony is too hot (being full South, out of the wind and under a flat roof, it usually measures around 10-20 degrees warmer than any other area in our neighbourhood) to actually sit on during the day, and we can't use it at night either because it opens into our bedroom where there has always been a sleeping baby/toddler/four-year old (a situation which, in view of my girth and our parenting choices, is rather unlikely to change any time soon). We miss a garden. Yes, the beach is lovely, the parks are lovely, the forest is lovely, but you have to get there first, and, more annoyingly, you have to come back pretty soon after getting there because of the sleeping schedules of little people. Basically, in the summer, we would just like to sit outside.

Every year, the garden issue brings us to a multitude of plans:

- Moving far far East (well, at least beyond Utrecht) where one can get house + garden for pretty much the price of our house here (downside of this plan being that it requires not only a move but a) two new jobs, b) one new Art Academy, c) one new school, d) two new local grand-parents and many other essential items);
- Getting a house with a garden in our neighbourhood (this means either a much much too expensive house or alternatively a much much too small house);
- Getting an allotment: this one is actually our favourite one at the moment, it's pretty realistic and might actually really happen but with the end of summer in sight and a birth coming up any moment now, I'm guessing there shall be no concrete steps until next year.

In the meantime, the summer is here (if barely), and I'd like to sit outside. So I decided to make do with what I have. And what do I have? The pavement. It's not particularly romantic, not as green as one would hope, it occasionally has dog poo on it, but hey, it's here, it's in the shade, interesting people walk past, and with a couch cushion for comfort, some ice pops for flavour, some chalk for inspiration and some really good company, my garden issue is receding, receding, receding, almost gone...

39 weeks: getting ready

Reading Hello Baby, by Jenni Overend, an exquisite book on homebirth, involving entire family and children. It makes me cry every time we read it.

Trying out the birthing pool; we even managed to get Papa in to try it with us but that memorable event was unfortunately not recorded.

And, of course, measuring something or other.

Monday, August 06, 2007

summer tales

If you visit the Dutch coast this summer, and you happen to run into it, you should definitely visit the Zomersprookjes project. Some sixty giant glass shells, every single one unique in shape, strewn around the beach, and each telling its own story or poem. You can sit in the sun, with the noise of the surf everywhere, one ear glued to the glass, your toes making spirals in the sand, while a voice tells you about mermaids, or ships, or winds or waves. Or rootlessness. You can listen together,
or alone.
And sometimes, a story grabs you so, you might get stuck inside it.

on the beach

Friday, August 03, 2007

essential whim

I am slowly and a tad reluctantly preparing for delivery, which means attempting to deal valliantly with what shall be known from now on as the infamous 'Weeks 37-42 Existential Crisis'. And for some reason, I've noticed that when in crisis, there always comes a point at which it seems that if only I could get my hands on (i.e. BUY) this one very very specific item, all terrible nightmares, sweaty early mornings and hair-tearing weeping would magically cease. And do I listen when Experience, that oft maligned wise one almost loses her voice repeating that as yet, item purchasing has never solved a single existential crisis? Do I? Fat chance.

At first, the item in question (and it might be anything, I mean really ANYTHING, from organic cotton diapers to the collected poems of Sylvia Plath) is only dimly present, making its slow but certain way through the foggy suburbs of my mind. And then one morning (always in the morning), I wake up with the clarity of vision, and a mission. I MUST have it. NOW.

Today, it was the Venus of Willendorf. You know, her. I went to three stores that were likely to have her (had to think very hard what kind of stores would in fact be likely to). They didn't. Went to the one place where I'd actually seen her (or rather her replica), the store of the Gemeentemuseum, but they only had an absurdly over-priced, rather large version on a pedestal. A pedestal! I ask you, can these people be serious? I went online and found one which was a) a reasonable size (dear Marc, you can thank the goddess that I stopped short of ordering the 1,5 meter garden fountain version, the only thing that stopped me is that we don't have a garden), b) the right material (surely they didn't have bronze and silver in them days...) and c) the right prize. It was sold out. Until sometime in September.

Fate. Fate was against us (the Venus and I). So I sat down to lunch staring at her photograph on the screen. And suddenly I realized that there was something about her that had always really bothered me: she has no feet. Which is extremely worrying, and most inappropriate for a goddess. I mean, isn't the ability to carry oneself and to make contact with the ground precisely what being a goddess is all about? Then I remembered the Birth Art chapter from my wonderful new book; dug out the clay and got to work.

I am completely smitten. She is simply lovely. Just look at her. She is giving birth squatting. Look at those feet, look at those legs, look at that vulva, just look at her! The perfect birth attendant, exactly what me and my crisis needed today.