Jul 22, 2012

Things That Keep Me Up at Night, Dutch Education Edition: Part II

Nate in front of his school
First of all, thanks everyone for your support, encouragement, sympathy, and love. My original intention in writing Part I was to possibly help other people who might be considering a similar experience, but it quickly turned into self-therapy. And what's more, that post has led to a couple of conversations that have been tremendously helpful for me. Thank you, all you awesome people.

Time for Nate. Don't worry, this won't be nearly as emotionally harrowing, or long. 

Nate only recently started school here. Preschools tend to have waiting lists, since they are free and available from the age of 2. It took until February to find a spot for him, so before that he spent big chunks of quality time with his dutch teacher, aka the television (fyi: Sesame Street is called Sesamstraat, and Big Bird is blue). Preschool was 4 days a week for about 2 1/2 hours at a time. This was Nate's first experience with school, as well as being left somewhere with no English spoken, and it was just a bit more scary than fun for him. The wonderful thing about living here is that most of his teachers could speak English if he really needed it. He spent a few months at the preschool, where he varied between loving it and crying to go home. 

In May, he started going to the public school that Mia and Sam go to on Fridays. In the Netherlands, you can start primary school (or elementary school) when you turn 4. Literally, the day you turn 4, or the day after in most cases, and it doesn't matter when it is during the school year (unless it's during a vacation). Nate's birthday is May 29th, so that means he started school on May 30th. And it's full-time, 5 days a week. The poor kid was exhausted the first few weeks, but he LOVES it. He teacher is fantastic with him, and after a brief withdrawn, observant phase, he is opening up and talking and being happy and wonderfully well-adjusted. Thank you third child. 

Being the youngest gives him a huge advantage. He still speaks the least Dutch, but he is learning in an entirely different way than the older kids. He mixes Dutch and English more, walks around singing Dutch songs, and is totally comfortable making mistakes and mispronouncing words. In other words, it's more of a natural language acquisition in the way a baby or toddler would learn-- through mimicking, babbling, singing, and playing. And with him, it does seem dramatic and sudden. 

This week, Nate had his first ever play date here, with his best friend from school (Nino) who only speaks Dutch. There didn't seem to be a problem with communication, and they get quite a kick out of each other. We're all big fans of Nino now. Today on the metro, Nate started chatting it up with another little boy in Dutch. Yesterday he relayed a conversation he had with Nino that was apparently hilarious, but it was all in Dutch, so I just had to take his word for it. 

So that's Nate. His last day of school was Friday, and he was really sad about it. And isn't that exactly what you want as a parent? 

A few things about schools in general here:
  • The school year is long. Summer vacation is 6 just weeks. There are a few more week long vacations through out the school year, but it's not like year-round school. 
  • The school day lasts from 8:30 or 9 until 3 or 3:30. Except for Wednesdays, which end at 12:30.  For everyone. 
  • Most children start school at the age of 4 in Group 1, which is the equivalent of pre-kindergarten. Group 1 is optional, though most everyone does it. Group 2 is compulsory, and is equivalent to kindergarten. (Because Nate started Group 1 in the second half the year, he was technically considered to be in Group 0, and will start in September in Group 1). 
  • It is very hard to get approval to home school, as far as I understand. But the public education system is considered to be very good. All schools are free; the government subsidizes private schools so that all children can have access to them. Technically, I think, you are assigned to a neighborhood school, but can choose the school you want your child to attend, and put your child on a waiting list for that school when they turn 2. 
  • There are no school lunches provided, as far as I can tell, though you can pay for a milk or yogurt drink. So this means we pack lunches every day. The good thing is lunches are very simple here and usually consist of bread, fruit, and juice or water. The immersion school is very picky about this (I guess for the sake of cultural indoctrination), and my kids are terrified to vary from this prescription. So no carrots or crackers for us. 
  • Staying at school for lunch is optional, and you have to pay for supervision. The schools contract with a company to provide supervision while the teachers take their lunch, and you can either pay to leave your child, or come pick them up for lunch. As far as I can tell, the majority of the kids stay for lunch.
  • In the morning, the kids come into class and shake their teacher's hand and say good morning. At the end of the day, the teacher brings them outside, and shakes each child's hand and says "tot morgen" (until tomorrow). My kids hate it; I love it.
  • With so much water everywhere, every child in the Netherlands learns to swim. Once a week kids are bussed to a nearby pool for swim lessons. At the immersion school this was free, but I don't know if that is the case at the public schools. 
  • They also do gym once a week, and at least at the immersion school the kids shower after both gym and swimming. We were told that if they forget their swimming suit or gym clothes, they will wear their underwear. I don't think this is meant to be a threat or a harsh punishment. We see kids naked or in their underwear at the wading pools all the time, so I think it's meant to actually reassure the kids that they can still participate even if they forget their gym clothes. My kids of course,  are not reassured by this at all. (And we have forgotten their gym clothes once and you should have seen the terror in their eyes when they realized. With our long bus ride to school, there is no way that I can make the trip back to bring them their clothes, so it really is a tough love situation. Lucky for them, gym was cancelled that day.
  • One interesting thing about the Immersion school. The kids that go there are from from all over the world. I once heard Mia and Sam talking about which languages their classmates speak: Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Arabic, French, Vietnamese, Chinese, Bulgarian, Italian, Burmese, and Russian were the languages they listed off. Many of these kids already speak more than one language.
  • Finally, after school, many of the teachers come outside and smoke on the playground. Seriously. But many of the parents are smoking too. 

Time for some videos from the school year. You are under no contractual obligation to watch these, except for those of you who signed the Generic Video Obligation Clause, in which case you are. I'm talking about you, Mom.

Here is a video you will appreciate if you've ever sat through a school music concert. This was at the immersion school, and Mia and Sam are sitting down in the front left. Keep an eye on the guy sitting in front of me-- he gives his wife a look that says it all.

Another video of a performance,  this time from Mia's street dance clinic. Something went horribly wrong with the formatting, and it inadvertently kicked the awesomeness level up a few notches. Trust me, you will not want to miss this one.

And here is a video of them speaking Dutch. First off, let me just state that we have no idea what they are actually saying. Secondly, we had to bribe them with cookies and extra tastes of the dough before they would agree to say anything on camera. The opinions expressed may not represent the views of reasonable, adult human beings. No children were harmed in the filming of this video, but trust, it's not because we didn't want to. 

This was at the end of the year costume party at the public school- I tried to get the bar in the background, but you can't really see it. Beer and wine were offered for the adults, lemonade for the kids. Welcome to Europe!

Finally, here's my favorite thing: parking at the school. Look at all those bikes! 

This concludes Part II, and everything I've ever wanted to tell you about what we learned in school this year. And now I'm curious: say your kids have just 6 weeks of Summer vacation, dream come true or big bummer?

Jul 16, 2012

Things That Keep Me Up at Night, Dutch Education Edition: Part I

1st day of school-- September 2011
Last Friday was essentially the last day of school for us. Yes, it's July 16th, and Summer vacation is just starting. And actually, Nate still has another week of school, and Mia and Sam will have a half day this week.  The official, for-reals, absolute last day anyone has school is July 20th. So I suppose it's time I got around to writing about our experience with school this year, seeing as how it's almost over.

Also because the number one question I get asked by friends and family back home is about the difference between the Dutch and American school year calendar.

OK, no, it isn't. It's whether or not the kids are speaking Dutch yet. 

The short answer is: yes, and seriously people, it's super weird.  The long answer is, well...the rest of this blog post. I've been working on this post for a LONG time. Or rather, I've been not working on this post for a long time-- dragging, and avoiding, and procrastinating, and generally not wanting to write about it. It finally occurred to me that I didn't want to write it because it's just not funny. Oh, I wish it was. Trust me, I would love nothing better than to entertain you with the sheer hilarity of it all. As I told a friend recently, this post is mostly about sifting through the emotional consequences of dragging your kids through an international move to fulfill your own selfish desires-- you know, comedy gold. Also, there are aspects of their education here which I'm still trying to sort how how I feel about; it's not so easy to articulate. Anyway, this is the story of our first year in Dutch schools. It goes like this:

Way back when, when we found out we were moving to Amsterdam, it didn't look like we were going to get the rockstar relocation package which, among other things, includes paid-tuition for a private international school. Mostly we were OK with this, since of our intentions in moving abroad was to fully expose our children to a new culture and language. I had scoured blogs and articles about families living "alternative" international lifestyles, and they all sung the praises of the "resiliency and flexibility" of their children who never resisted or dug-in their heels to change, and were always blissfully curious and adventure-seeking. My kids are going to be resilient and flexible too! is what I told myself. And if not, I'll force them, because that usually works. 

I researched a little about schools in the Netherlands until I got overwhelmed/scared. Not because schools are bad here (the Netherlands ranks well above the US in education), but because, you know, it's in another language. It got a bit more difficult to ignore that nagging feeling that this might be hard, like really freaking hard. Best not to think about that, I told myself. Remember how resilient your children are in your imagination? Focus on that. So that is what I did when it was time to finalize the details and sign the contract. We were incredibly fortunate to have Mark's company pay for our relocation, but they couldn't foot the bill for private education, and neither could we. And so, we put our kids in public school here, mostly by choice, partly by no-choice. 

Either way, in our minds, our kids were so lucky to be have to this amazing, life-altering experience of leaving everything they knew and loved, to be plucked down in a foreign land and in a school where they couldn't understand a word being said. Naturally, they were thrilled about it too!

No, sorry. That was a lie. They were positively terrified.

But I'm jumping ahead, and here's where I have to condense things a little, or this could take years. Once we arrived, we found out we had 4 days to find a school because the school term was ending, and all the school offices would close. After running around in circles trying to figure out the maddening bureaucracy of the education system here, being told constantly that schools were too full, and shedding many buckets of tears, we finally returned to one of the first schools we ever contacted, and not only were they amazingly helpful, but they had room for our kids, and had also looked into government programs for helping our kids learn Dutch.

That's how we learned about the Dutch Immersion school that Mia (9) and Sam (6) went to this year.  It is offered as part of the public education system for kids who are non-native Dutch speakers above the age of 6. It is approximately a 1 year program, and the focus is on intense language acquisition. They also do some math, physical education, swimming, and cultural instruction. After 3-4 months, they start attending a regular public school once a week, and after about a year they are ready to attend regular public school full time.

So this seemed like the perfect solution: Mia and Sam would attend the immersion school, and eventually attend the local school on Fridays, until the next school year. Nate (3 at the time) was still young enough that attending a Dutch preschool was the best option to learn the language. (More on Nate in part II.) 
Except the kids were terrified. And I admit, that I was too. Just a little. 

They complained loudly, and often, all through August. "Why do we have to learn Dutch? Why can't we just go to an English school? When are we going back to America? You call this stuff syrup?" (Syrup here tastes a lot like molasses.) 

And I would worry to myself, inaudibly, but just as often, and mostly in the middle of the night. What am I about to put my kids through? What if this scars them for life? Will they ever forgive us? Why am I turning out to be such wimp? 

To give you the raw, in-the-moment feel for things, here is an excerpt from an email I wrote at the time to some friends: 
So, the kids: With out other people to distract them, they focus intensely on each other, which most of the time is a bad thing. Since we've arrived, they have each gone through a difficult period as a reaction to the move. Mia became intensely volatile. There was a few weeks where she would get angry and scream that she hated me multiple times a day. Often before we even had breakfast. Sam already had a short fuse before we moved, but his temper has turned into something nasty. There is no build-up for him. It is instantaneous fire-breathing hell-bent destructive fury. And even Nate has become clingy, whiny, and demanding. Luckily, they've moved through these phases at different times, so they weren't all in a bad place at the same time. 
The kids started school last week, and seriously I didn't think we would survive even one more day at home together. I have never looked forward to something so much. At the same time, it was pretty gut-wrenching and difficult to leave them there. The night before I had the sad realization that I was sending Sam off to his first all-day school experience with almost no preparation. In the states he would be going into kindergarten as a 6 year old with speech difficulties, possible attention issues, and no reading skills. Here, he is in the equivalent of 1st grade, and is having to learn and read in a different language. Did I mention I worry about attention issues with him? I dropped him off with this feeling of despair; that I'm just throwing him to the wolves to be eaten alive. Everyday I asked him for a thumbs up or thumbs down report, and it took 4 days to give a thumbs up. His teacher hasn't talked to me about any major problems, so I guess we'll just wait and see. I still wonder how it's all going to work out for him, learning to read in a 2nd language when he doesn't even read in English yet. Also, since they spend the entire year learning dutch, and focusing a little on reading and math as well, it means that both kids will probably be a little behind next year. For Mia, I'm not so worried since she has done so well in school, but with Sam I really worry about that. I worry that it will mess up his earliest experiences with reading and writing, and he will never enjoy them and always struggle, and blame us forever. Does it sound like I am tormenting myself by dwelling on the worst possible outcome? Well, yes, I tend to do that as a parent. It's hard not to, especially when I'm in completely new parenting situations, and I don't have a lot of clear examples of how this is going to work out. 
Mia is so difficult for me to handle now, that most of our disciplinary interactions leave me in tears because she is so nasty and disrespectful. I know it sounds cliche, but even in high school I don't remember being as rude to my mom as she can be to me. Now, much of the time, she's very helpful and cheerful, it's been good since school started mostly. But when she gets in her mood and I need to get after her for doing something bad (usually hurting Sam or Nate, or calling names), she turns on me and won't let up until I'm the one in tears. And it's quite a wound to my pride to even have to admit this. Lecturing does NOT work with her at all. I've tried writing her letters, and she hates that. She will not talk about what upsets her so much. She's almost 9, and just in the past little while I can tell that our relationship is changing. She doesn't want to hold hands or cuddle with me as much. She's started to tell me things about me or Mark that she thinks are annoying. I can tell she is entering the tween zone, where toys are not as fun for her, but she hasn't figured out yet what to replace them with. (This is another thing about the move that is stressful for me-- we don't have any extracurricular activities right now, and finding some is quite an undertaking here with the language barriers.) Basically, I've got a sassy drama queen maladjusted to a  stressful international move, and there are days where I wonder if my family is going to implode here. 
Most of the time, I try to pep-talk myself, and focus on the positive experience that it's going to end up being for everyone, and try to convince myself that I am the kind of person who can turn our dreams into reality without fearing the unknown. But there are little moments that sneak up on me and either leave me crying or scared out of my mind. 
That was at the beginning. There were many days I dragged them to school and deposited them inside the threshold, and walked away pretending not to hear their begging and crying.  Then I would get on the bus and cry myself. 
"Don't make us go. They yell at us," they would say. "That's just Dutch; it's just the way it sounds," I would respond. 
"We don't learn anything!" 
"You just don't think you learn anything. but you do."
It was a painful adjustment, that first month of school, punctuated by the onset of nervous habits, increased outbursts and tantrums, and excessive clinginess. At times it seemed my kids were case-studies of anxiety-induced neurosis, and I was getting no sleep.

Eventually, that amazing resiliency I was hoping for kicked in. Gradually, slowly, they relaxed, stopped complaining (as much), made a few friends, and when they didn't think anyone was looking, kind of enjoyed themselves. Mia was still adamant that she wanted to move back to the US, and there were still a few outbursts, but by the time we went to England for Christmas, I was feeling pretty good about how things were going. As I would tell most everyone at the time, each day got a little bit better. I was surprised they weren't speaking Dutch fluently, but their comprehension had reached the level where they were approved to start attending our local school on Fridays. They were scheduled to start in January. It seemed we were going to get through this. 

By now, you've all heard the term 'double-dip recession' right?  

Yep, that's where we're going. 

Of course they didn't want to start at the Friday school. It was a new school all over again-- new teachers, new friends, new routines and rules, and they were not excited about doing all that for a second time in 4 months. 
So as expected, at first it was hard. but then it started getting worse. Especially with Mia. 
On Thursdays after school she was all smiles, but often by the time we got to the end of our bus ride, a completely different child got off. A disaster of a child, and we all dreaded what was coming. Sometimes it was tantrums, sometimes it was endless teasing and taunting of Sam and Nate, a lot of times it was yelling, but it always dissolved into an epic melt-down by bedtime. I started to hate Thursday afternoons. Friday mornings were the worst though. The crying began as soon as she woke up, and lasted until I had to shove her through the door of her class and run away. Sam would put up his own kind of fight-- dragging and stalling, running away from me at school to hide.  

I would come home on Friday mornings and feel drained for hours, from the sheer emotional exhaustion of holding it together for my kids. I didn't always hold it together though. Those were not good days. 

Friday afternoon would bring happy children and relaxed moods, and we would repeat the cycle every week. I knew their teachers were trying hard to make them feel welcome, and the kids at school were being friendly, but no matter how non-nightmarish is was on Friday, they would have an entire week to forget. They were the new kids every week.

In February, it was time for parent-teacher conferences. I braced myself for the meeting with Sam's teacher. I knew what she was going to say: he doesn't pay attention, he's never on task, he's way behind, we can't understand him, his pronunciation is a mess. You've made a big mistake. This kid needs serious help. 

I wasn't prepared to hear: We love Sam! He is a joy to have in class. His Dutch is coming along wonderfully. He always pays attention and knows what's going on. OK, his handwriting is atrocious, but everything else is wonderful. 

Um what?!

And I was also surprised to hear from Mia's teacher: She never speaks. Ever. She's extremely withdrawn. I can tell she is smart, but she will not try anything vocally. I'm quite concerned about her. Is she like this at home? 

It was like I didn't even know my own children. They behaved so differently at school. In Sam's case I was thrilled, and also a little bewildered. In Mia's case,  entirely disheartened. 

Soon the Thursday night-Friday morning drama started to spread to other days, and we were dealing with outbursts all the time. Mia would tell me she hated me at least 3 times a day. She started coming home and changing into her pajamas immediately, lost all interest in doing things she used to enjoy, and hated to leave the house. She wanted to watch movies all day long. 

Suddenly all that resiliency and flexibility were nowhere to be found. It seemed my little girl was falling apart. I talked to a friend and found about 9 year old angst (turns out it's a thing). We got a book about feelings. Still, things were touchy for a long time. 

Some excerpts from my journal:  
Mia's birthday was this week. She spent the day wishing she was 10. I guess childhood is losing its grip on her. She had another big emotional breakdown this week over school-- the process of learning Dutch has been quite traumatic for her, and when she's upset about something she will do just about everything she can to make sure everyone around her is miserable just like her. So we had a rough day this week, and I held it together and dealt with her with love and super patience, until is wore me out and then I had a little private breakdown. I hope that girl starts speaking Dutch soon. If she doesn't, I 'm not sure if we'll all survive it. 
...Once again feeling like the world's crappiest mom lately. Being told "I hate you" by Mia multiple times a day might have something to do with it. I'm sure Pinterest does too.  
...Mia is my child who breaks me. She pushes every button she can, she has so much turmoil inside her, and deals with it all in the most dramatic way possible so as many people (but especially me) will be pulled into her misery. For the past few months this has felt like a daily occurrence, though I know we've had some good days, but I'm tired of the struggle. I am never enough, I cannot do enough, and I am at a complete loss as to how to deal with, and love, my own child. All I can do is get up and try again and again. 

One night Mia told me that she was struggling with math, and had been copying her friend's work; she didn't understand any of the problems. Because the kids in her class are different ages and come from such a diverse educational background, there isn't any group instruction for math. Instead each child is given a workbook to work on at their level. The problem was, there was absolutely no explanations or examples. Somehow she was supposed to teach herself how to do 3rd grade math. Her teacher would come around to see if she needed help, but Mia's insistence on not speaking Dutch was getting in the way.

Aaahhh, things were beginning to click.

Mia is not one of those flexible kids.
She fears new and unknown situations, and doesn't like not knowing what is going on, or what to do.  
When she is overwhelmed or intimidated with a task or challenge, she immediately tells herself she can't do it,  and gives up. This usually involves a big tantrum or emotional outburst, until she eventually tries it. It is a painful, drawn-out process. 
She feels the need to do something well, even the first time, and is very afraid of doing something wrong or looking stupid.   
I somehow thought that moving here would help her get past all those things. Maybe it will eventually, but for now we have to learn to deal with her anxiety. (You can imagine how much she is looking forward to our trip this August. Spoiler: she's not.)
Only recently it occurred to me that before moving here, she was a super star at spelling and reading, while struggling a bit with math. Once she started school here, her strength in spelling and reading didn't mean much in a different language, and her struggles with math intensified because of the language barrier.  Basically, her strength was minimized, and her weakness magnified. Also, I'm sure on some level she was jealous that Sam seemed to be adjusting and learning Dutch just fine. Add to that  everything else, and being 9, and it's amazing she was ever happy.

So we got her a dutch tutor. I helped her with math. Slowly the drama started to decrease, and things did get a little better, for a while. The last month has been difficult again on Fridays. Last Friday was her last day and she cried the whole morning before we left. Maybe in a few months I'll have another epiphany and will figure out what was going on, well after the fact. The person who invents some sort of bio-metric digital sensor that works just like a thermometer, but gives you the emotional/developmental reading of your child-- that person will be a bazillionaire. 

So, somewhere in there, the kids started to speak dutch. It wasn't sudden-- they'd been throwing words and little phrases around for a while, translating things for us, and calling each other names. But one day, a teacher came up to Sam after school and started speaking to him. And he responded in Dutch. I listened to them have an entire conversation I didn't understand, and was completely floored. It is the strangest thing to hear words coming out of your child's mouth that you don't understand but other people do. Especially with Sam, I'm used to it being the other way around. Another day, we met some kids on the way home selling cards for a fundraiser. Mia asked them all about it-- what they were selling and how much, what it was for and which organization. We bought their cards. It was the first time I had ever seen Mia talk in Dutch without any resistance. And then I realized one day that Sam was reading in Dutch. Wait Sam, you can read?! And then one day he read me a children's Early Reader book in English. Blew my freaking mind.

Things like this started happening more and more, but it still amazed me every time.

So where are they now? Mia has told me that she doesn't remember when she didn't understand Dutch even though 10 months ago she didn't understand or speak it at all. I don't know how high their fluency is, but they are comfortable enough to make fun of us and our feeble attempts to speak Dutch. Sometimes they speak Dutch to each other when they don't want us to know what they're talking about. They still aren't entirely comfortable expressing themselves, and will revert to English if they are unsure of how to say something. Sam is reading in Dutch and English. Mia has forgotten how to spell words she used to know in English, and occasionally forgets words in English entirely. That difficult guttural Dutch g sound? They pull it off effortlessly. Mia's principal told me last week that Mia was reading above her grade level. Now they are in the last level of the immersion program. They will continue in September, and hopefully transition to the local school full-time in October. They still swear they hate going, although Sam mostly says he hates it because Mia does. He actually really likes it. 

Even with all the emotional stuff, I'm here to tell you that a child's brain is an amazing thing. Dutch and English are remarkably similar, many words are exactly the same even, or very close. The sentence structure though? I would come home from my Dutch class terribly depressed about the prospects of my kids ever speaking it. If it seemed that difficult for me to grasp, how in the world were they going to figure it out? I mean, I was college educated and everything! But as it turns out, this is one of those areas where children excel, thanks to their crazy, language-absorbing brains. My kids, whose reading and vocabulary levels are far below my own, had a huge advantage just by being kids. But even still, I'm super, insanely proud of them. They now speak a second language, and some days I just can't get over that. Crazy! 

Incidentally, tomorrow is our 1 year anniversary of arriving here in the Netherlands. I know it sounds like I just whined and complained about the whole experience, but I don't regret it. Parenting is challenging no matter where you live-- we just added an extra fun layer to it all, thousands of miles away from our family and friends. We made it through a year more or less (maybe less), a little dazed, and trying to sort through what it is we just put our family through. It's been incredible, and hard. Like really freaking incredible, and hard. I admit even writing this has made me pretty emotional.  I could use someone to put their arm around me and tell me:
Stop crying, loser. 
Soon you will all be happily adjusted, the kids will find it strange that they once only spoke 1 language, and you will worry about having to go back to the US and the sorry public education system there. 
You've just been through the part that sucks, where you didn't get much sleep and you worried a lot and your kids went kind of ballistic. 
But, you will come out on the other side, amazed and happy. 
And that color really brings out your eyes, and what moisturizer are you using because your skin looks amazing! When it's not all blotchy from crying, I mean.  You really should stop that, it's all going to be OK. Just imagine that you are really resilient and flexible. I hear that helps.

* Next up: Part II, in which I give a quick update on Nate, post a boat-load of videos that will probably crash your computer, and inundate you with observations about the Dutch education system. Tantalizing, yes? 

Jul 6, 2012

Just Start With Your Name, And Some Pictures From Your Phone

Hello. My name is Donna, and I'm an infrequent Blogger. 

I've struggled with this problem for a while now; probably ever since my youngest child turned 1. In fact, that same child just turned 4, and he hasn't had a birthday post since his actual day of birth. 

 I asked said child how his recent birthday was, and how he took the personal rejection of not getting a birthday blog post. "I was freaking happy," he said. 

As you can tell, he's already exhibiting some real passive-aggressive coping mechanisms. 

Check it out: a blog update! I have no idea what that is! 

So shall we catch up?
It's been a while, so you know what that means: oh yes, bullet points.

  • Mark went back to Seattle in June for about 2 weeks. To demonstrate my fearless independence and super adult skills, I locked us all out within a few hours of his departure. I also got to demonstrate my astonishing acting skills when the locksmith charged me 125 euros, and I was like, oh that's totally reasonable and not at all exorbitant. It's practically pocket change. How droll. 
Waiting for the locksmith. On the upside, at least it wasn't like this:
June in Amsterdam
  • Are you ready to be jealous? Mark has a 4 week sabbatical in August, and we are going on an extended vacation through Europe. We've got the basic itinerary mapped out: Germany, Norway, and Portugal. (Why yes, we are going for the most random European vacation ever.) The logistics and details however... you know, the things that should have been finalized months ago when you're taking 5 people through multiple European countries at the height of travel season, and here they are, all un-finalized with less than a month to go. Yay! As fun as it might sound, it is entirely overwhelming to plan, not to mention unbelievably time consuming. And do you know what happens when I have to spend more than 5 minutes on the computer? Well there's this tendency that laundry has to propagate, that sticky things have of getting spilled, and that my children have of trying to kill each other. I turn around and the zombie apocalypse is taking place in my house. Welcome to what I affectionately call my Trip-Planning Shame Cycle of burden-guilt-yell/eat chocolate/fend off zombies-guilt-laundry-repeat. The end result is usually me in a fetal position, in some corner whimpering I don't wanna go on vacation. Please don't make me go on vacation.  I spent a few hours looking up hotels in Oslo last night, and my right arm started to cramp up from pointing and clicking. How lame is that? And now, I feel like a jerk for complaining about it. See what I mean about the shame? Time to go find some chocolate and some kids to yell at. 

  • Speaking of yelling at kids... I have this ridiculous tradition of making a strawberry-rhubarb pie every 4th of July. I realize those make no sense together at the moment, but just wait. Despite being the most non-culinary person the entire rest of the year, for some reason on July 4th I feel the need to prove my patriotism by baking all day in the heat of summer. Then we have a party with lots of friends, pie, and root beer, and I miss all those things dearly.  We decided to continue the tradition in Amsterdam with more pie, some crazy expensive root beer I tracked down at the American/British import store, and some new friends we've made here. We showed up at the park, triumphant with my made-from-scratch pie (transported by bike by the way), with mouths watering to dig in. And then, Sam stepped in it. In the pie. We had put our picnic blankets down, spread everything out, and told the kids not to step in the pie, Which is exactly the opposite of what Sam did. And that's where the yelling part comes in. There's no picture of the defiled pie, thanks to my dead phone, but here is a picture of my kitchen in the middle of all the patriotic pie-making frenzy. If this doesn't prove how much I love pie America, I don't know what does. Actually it doesn't do it justice at all. Let's just say that there are many, many reasons why I'm no food blogger.

  • You're probably wondering about the dog? That's Wilbur. We're pet sitting for some friends. The kids adore him, and he's really ruining my plan of showing the kids how caring for a pet is unrewarding, hard work.  Dang it.
  • Sam lost his first tooth last week. Actually, he didn't so much lose it, as much as he fell off a slide and knocked it out. When I got the call from the school, I was supposed to be resting the ankle I had twisted after taking my bike off a sweet jump. Actually, I didn't so much do a sweet jump, as much as I biffed it going up a small curb. Which caused me to turn my ankle, and then tip my bike over, with the boys on it. Some guy came over to help us up, and I'm pretty sure that he was trying not to laugh. I don't blame him; all I could think of while lying on the ground, tangled up in my bike, was that I totally missed my chance to be on AFV. In other words, it was awesome. 
Totally looks like Alfred E. Newman?
  • OK, let me dwell on Sam a little more. Recently I asked him to clean his room while I was in the shower.  So naturally, when I got out of the shower, the room was still a mess, and Sam was gnawing on his door handle. I am not making this up. He's also developed a freaky rash all over his torso that is non-contagious, totally random, and takes 6-8 weeks to heal. And he owes me 20 euros for losing his 2nd backpack in 2 months. And he stepped in my strawberry-rhubarb pie (did I mention that?). Totally love that kid! 
  • I don't think that I've mentioned yet, I've been asked to play the organ at church. That's right, you didn't know I played the organ because I don't.  I took a beginner's organ course over 10 years ago, and thank goodness for the two things I actually remember from it. Basically, I sweat my way through every hymn, while everyone sings in a language I don't understand. One fun stories so far: once I decided to push a button in between verses of a long hymn, to change up the sound a little and make it interesting. What I didn't know was that it would increase the volume by about 4 times. I was pretty much committed at that point, so we sang the rest of the hymn at FULL blast, while I tried not to laugh myself off the bench. It's an Organ Circus each week. 
  • I signed Mia and Sam up for a yoga class. Yes, you may make fun of me now. 
  • And this concludes our session of Infrequent Blogging. Thanks for your support, and we'll see in another month, give or take 3.

This post brought to you by First World Problems.