Friday, April 30, 2010

the urban indian...

...has moved on with the times. he has exchanged his horse for a tricycle and his mocassins for timberland sandals. and although she eats beef jerky, she likes it best in combination with sushi and steamed broccoli. she still pursues her traditional pictorial art, but is resigned to decorating the pavement, rather than ancient cave walls.
and although he may have forgotten how to build a tipi, he certainly remembers how to climb one.
(featuring this year's queen day's market hit: the indian dress-up clothes...)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

on marriage

sometimes, this is exactly what our marriage is like. we stand there, toes in the sand, looking at each other, you peering through the lens of a camera and me wearing sunglasses. at best, all we see are blury reflections of ourselves. at worst, a piece of plastic. and it is the arduous, continuous and repetitive, mundane and heart-breaking, sometimes discouraging and infuriating, often hilarious, surrealistic and moving, but always, always rewarding work of this marriage to keep putting away the camera, keep taking off the sunglasses, so we can actually see each other.

'hey! there you are... i know you'.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

on boundaries

In discussions on homeschooling, i am often told that children need boundaries (this usually arises when my conversation partner realizes that i am an insane wacko who is not providing her children with any), and that it is the parents' role to set them. When asked why such boundaries are required, people tend to give one of three answers:

a) because.
b) because it makes the child feel safe.
c) because it makes the parents feel safe.
(note that i have taken the liberty of grading these in increasing order of self-awareness on the part of the speaker)

My response to any of the above has traditionally been 'hhhmmm' (which is code for 'this is not quite right, but since i can't explain how or why i better leave it').

Until today, that is, when in the midst of a heated discussion on this very topic, the truth suddenly spat out of my mouth (it does that sometimes), and i heard myself say

'Actually, boundaries are just a poor substitute for being there'.

I didn't really know what i meant, only that it was true. But i've had the rest of the day to figure it out, and this is what i have come up with. Boundaries are indeed there to guarantee that both the parents and the child feel safe. But this safety is only required in the absence of the parents themselves. After all, if your mama is right there with you, by your side and engaged with whatever you're doing, even the oft-quoted 'playing with matches' feels (and is) very safe. What these boundaries do then, is send the following message:

'listen, honey, for reasons that i cannot go into at present, i cannot actually be there with you, to make you safe in the world, to guide you through life with my knowledge and wisdom, to learn together with you, to watch you explore and explore with you, to answer your questions and to have fun together, so... here is a plan B that i have come up with: i am going to build you a cage, made of seemingly random rules, restrictions, regulations and prohibitions, and you will just have to trust me that if you stay in that cage, you will be safe. and you have to promise me, promise me for real, that you will stay in there, because otherwise the big bad things might come to get you, and i will be terribly worried'

And so it really is true: children living in boundaries do feel safe inside their little compounds. Until the day (usually referred to as 'puberty') when they rebel and run off into the big bad scary world, in which they feel pretty much the way escaped zoo animals must feel. Alone and very very unsafe. Forever and ever (or until they find another cage).

Somehow, the alternative of exploring the world hand in hand with one or more loving adults, until the day when you yourself turn into a loving adult, sounds like more fun. So next time someone tells me that their children need boundaries, i know what to answer : 'Actually, they don't need boundaries, they just need you'.

Friday, April 23, 2010

the wizard of oz

We were sitting on the grass in the little local park, right next to the playground. There were six of us, five children and i. We had set up the tent, trying it out in preparation for much camping this summer; we had spread our blankets, picnic, crayons, ant-catching equipment, buckets, spades and books. Next to us stood our bicycles, including the massive bakfiets that we used to transport all of the above. The sun was shining and the sky was as blue as the eyes of the princesses in Isabelle's drawings. All was quiet on the western front.

Suddenly the most incredible thing happened. First of all the entire contents of the sand-box of the playground was lifted up into the air, formed neatly into a whirling column and started to move towards us at great speed. An incredibly cold wind hit us in the face, and our eyes and mouths filled with sand. Then we saw the bicycles lift up into the air, move forward in Mary Poppins style and drop heavily onto the ground. I heard the children scream, and maybe i screamed too, and then the tent which was right beside us was lifted up really high into the air and flew away. I stood up and ran after it, managing to catch up with it just as it fell to the ground 100 metres from where we sat. The whole thing lasted less than 10 seconds.

And there we were, in shock. The children were crying, and all i could think of, as i tried to gather our stuff which had been spread all over the park, was that whatever it was, if its path had run 1.5 metres more to the left, i would have had five children lifted up into the air and dropped down again. Not a pretty thought. The most insane thing though, was the way everyone at the park just pretended that nothing had happened. The other children kept on playing, the mothers kept on sitting on their benches. If it hadn't been for my five little witnesses, i would have doubted my own sanity (yes, i know, i already have enough reasons to doubt my sanity...).

The internet tells us it was a dust devil. All i can say is, it's time to get the Wizard of Oz out of the library. Again.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

the ice-cream season

... is officially open!

Monday, April 19, 2010

the hike

Sam and i went on a station-to-station hike. It was a 14 km hike, from Driebergen-Zeist to Maarn, through woods, woods and more woods. The sun was shining, and the pine trees smelt so sweet. There was a little breeze that loved us, and millions of promising blueberry bushes. Little light-green things were waking up wherever you looked. I think it was the happiest day of my life (except for the day i gave birth to my children) (and my 7th birthday, spent in Odessa with my grand-father, when i got the light-blue checkered dress and the orange umbrella with the orange fish handle) (and the day i quit my job at the university) (and the day i decided it was possible after all to homeschool Isabelle) (and the day when i saw my dad for the first time after many many years) (and a whole bunch of other days...) (but still...).

Since it was 14 km, and we had started around 10 am, we figured we'd be done by lunch-time; so you can imagine our surprise when we sat down to partake of our third light meal (the one where i was finally allowed to get out the roast chicken) at 2:30 pm, to discover that, according to the map, we weren't yet half-way. By the time we reached Maarn, it was after 7pm, and the sun was displaying distinct setting tendencies. There are only two logical explanations: either we crawled through the woods on our bellies, or the route description does not take into consideration the eight or nine breaks that we just had to have in all those absolutely-perfect-cannot-afford-to-walk-past-it spots.

(We'll just have to remember this when we are planning the 25 km hike)

The greatest difficulty we encountered, funnily enough, was linguistic. Both Sam and i have been in this country for so long, and are generally considered by the locals to be so fluent that i don't think either of us expected to be stumped by the route description. We did our best of course, but 'flauw links'??? (turns out it is not the name of a political party) (though we could think of a few the epitath would fit like a glove). The romantically named 'greppel', which we assumed to mean 'delightfully meandering riverlet' turned out upon our return to be the much more prosaic 'ditch'. While the 'vennetje' we had understood to refer to the heath turned out to be a pond. (It is therefore little short of a miracle that we made it to the end at all...)

But the one that still puzzles us completely is the 'schuine kruising'. If anyone would care to explain...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

old but irresistible

fooling around in 2009...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

soundtrack I

"every time your eyes meet mine, clouds of qualm burst into sunshine"
kd lang

it took a while. there was much to choose from. there were serious precedents to be considered. the pressure was high. it had to be just so. representative. attractive. neither too much nor too little. good to dance to. good to wash the dishes to. good to wake up to. but at long last, inspired by the swinging fun we had at the speeldoos tot pierement museum yesterday, i decided to stick my neck out. and so, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, i bring to you the first hit of this spring season. enjoy!

(actually, the CD version is better, but couldn't figure out a way to upload that, plus you would have had to miss out on the prancing, not to mention the soap bubbles...)

Monday, April 12, 2010


in the botanical gardens of brussels, i sat on the grass with 1.5 brothers of mine. there were magnolias everywhere, and scented pine fruits. there was also a great sadness, about i don't know what.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


isabelle has recently learned how to blow soap bubbles inside other soap bubbles, with the help of a straw and a soapy plate. i know how to do that too. layers on layers of soap fantasy, nearly touching, sometimes meeting and collapsing, rainbow-coloured and offering their beautiful distorted reflections of reality. i certainly know how to do that. what i don't know how to do is stop my bubbles from bursting. and once they burst, i don't know how to stop tears from dropping onto the empty soapy plate.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Sunday, April 04, 2010


i wish there was a way to upload a smell, so you could enjoy the freshly baked bread, the scented daffodils, and the crown of my boy's head. yum. hope you're all having a lovely holiday.

Friday, April 02, 2010


do you know that one tight-rope suspended breath, just before something begins? (or has it begun already?) Alice Munro talks about 'the way the skin of the moment can break open'. (i wish i had written that. but since i didn't, i'm glad she did.) anyway, right before that, right right up before that, that one breath, that's the best moment. but so fleeting, so impossible to hold, and so often only visible in retrospect, that i might have spent half a lifetime, chasing beginning after beginning, just for a glimpse of it. and failed to catch even that.

at the train museum in utrecht, on the right from the entrance hall, there is a wall of old-fashioned suitcases, piled up ceiling-high. and inside some of the suitcases, fairy-like scenes have been recreated, with classical music playing while the hologram cherubs and swans cavort in their miniature gardens of cardboard and moss. you can climb on a wooden ladder, and peek inside. it was the best thing at the museum, isabelle and i agreed. right there, at the very beginning. actually, just before the beginning.

Thursday, April 01, 2010


Ga maar!
(or how to turn a five-minute walk to the supermarket into a two-hour empowerment workshop for two-year olds)

(and no, i couldn't get better pictures because it's hard to photograph when you are instructed to move and then instructed not to move every few seconds...)