Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Busted by German airport security

During our travels, both Mo and I got reprimanded in a small German airport.

It was my fault. I had told Mo that it’s fine to have something in your pockets, as long as it isn’t metal or electronic. Oh, was I wrong!

First, Mo was patted down for his pocketed contraband...

Orange Tic-Tacs!

And then it was my turn. I was “hiding” a plastic R2D2 figure, one of my crutches for keeping Curly entertained during long lines.

“What is in your pocket?” the security officer demanded.

“R2D2,” I replied.

“What? Let me see it!” the German barked.

I handed over the tiny droid.

As he carefully studied the figurine, the stern man suddenly melted and then actually giggled. “Ah! R2D2!”

Monday, February 26, 2018

Dyslexia article on Scary Mommy

Please visit my article today on Scary Mommy. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

As always, feel free to share.

What I want my child with dyslexia to know.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

What's it like to live in the Netherlands without speaking Dutch?

I responded to this question on Quora, and my answer received 5,300 views and 59 upvotes!

Here's what I said.

It’s easy to visit the Netherlands without speaking Dutch. Living here is a bit different. Yes, most people speak English so you can get around. But there are some notable exceptions.

-- You will be functionally illiterate, especially in the beginning. You won’t be able to read your bills, official government documents (immigration papers, drivers license info, immunization notices, etc.), menus, the push/pull sign on doors, etc. My apartment came with a bunch of cleaning products and it took me a full hour to translate all the instructions (the brands were completely different from what I knew). Kind of a pain when you just want to clean the bathroom.

-- If you have young children, they won’t be able to talk with their local peers -- because kids don’t learn English in school until they are around 10. Likewise, it’s hard to find kid’s activities in English or children’s movies that aren’t dubbed in Dutch (whereas movies for grown-ups are kept in their original language with Dutch subtitles).

-- Some people don’t speak English or don’t speak it well. Like my elderly neighbor who really wants to talk about our shared gate. Or the tailor two streets down. A bus driver. The woman who runs the ice cream stand. It’s overly simplistic to say that everyone speaks English here.

-- And by not speaking the local language, you miss out on ease dropping and chitchat. Sounds silly? Perhaps. But if the waiter cracks a joke and you’re the only one not laughing, or if there’s a big news event that has everyone chatting in line at the vegetable market, or that bus driver wants to talk about the weather -- you’re going to miss out. And it can feel very isolating.

That said, I’m glad my boys are forced to learn some Dutch. And as a resident, I’m trying my best to learn, too. Why wouldn't I try to learn the language of the country I’m living in? The Dutch make it very easy for English speakers to live here, but it’s helpful to learn some of their language too.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Dutch telephone trouble

When calling any business in the Netherlands, it was typical to get a recorded message. And naturally, everything’s in Dutch.

I understand: “Press one for [something, something], press two for [hunh?], and press three for [yikes!].”

My strategy was to stab at the keypad at random and just hope not to get disconnected.

Yet even when I got a receptionist on the line, it wasn’t always easy. Here’s an actual transcript of my attempt at making an appointment:

Me: You are located on the Geldropseweg, correct?

Receptionist: No!

Me: Really, it’s not the Geldropseweg?

Receptionist: No. We are on the [in a more guttural accent] GEL-DROP-SE-WEG.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Culture shock in the cookie aisle

When my family moved back to the U.S.A. after three years in the Netherlands, we expected some reverse culture shock.

After depending on my trusty Dutch bike for transportation, I assumed the biggest adjustment would be getting used to driving a car again. And yes, that was a bit nerve-racking the first week. But muscle memory took over quickly, and it really wasn’t a big deal.

To my great surprise, I nearly had an anxiety attack in the cookie aisle of the American grocery store. I didn’t expect that returning to a place where I speak the language and know the culture and hold a valid passport would be quite so disorienting. And it was a grocery store of all places!

My family and I immediately marveled at how huge the grocery carts were and how wide and bright the aisles appeared.

And then, I was speechless. So were my children.

OK, they have Oreos in the Netherlands. They’re in a small box (one sleeve of cookies) at the very top row of the cookie section of the store. But there is exactly one variety.

Not so in an American grocery store. The Oreos here took up more space than all of the cookies, jams, jellies and Nutella in our neighborhood Albert Heijn.

Mint Oreos. Peanut Butter Oreos. Golden Oreos.

“Birthday cake Oreos,” my 10-year-old whispered.

Smores-flavored Oreos. Lemon Oreos. Double-stuffed or thin.

We expected some aspects of American life would be harder than we remembered -- but never thought cookie choice would be one of them!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Friday, February 9, 2018

We don't speak that kind of English

After just six weeks in 4K and second grade, we yanked the boys out of the only school they’d ever known and moved them around the world. The timing wasn’t ideal, but the job and our visas determined the schedule.

We gave the kiddos a two-week break, one on each side of the pond, and then it was straight to international primary school. 

We were shocked and thrilled at how welcoming everyone was  teachers, administrators, students and parents. People came right up and introduced themselves. The kids received hand-drawn welcome cards from their classmates, and everyone already knew their names and home country.

That’s not to say it was all easy peasy.

When I picked up Mo on his very first day, he was frustrated and upset.

“You didn’t put me in the right class.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, thinking he noticed that he was one of the oldest because of his late August birthday.

“My teacher isn’t speaking English!”  

He told me how he got in trouble for throwing garbage in a plastic storage bin. 

They ate lunch in the classroom, which was strange for him. When he was done, he wasn’t sure where to put his bread crusts and empty juice box. So he asked the teacher and she replied, “Put it in the bin.” 

Of course, she meant the garbage bin. 

But in Mo’s barely 7 years on the planet, the word “bin” always meant a clear plastic storage vessel. Not a garbage can. So when she told him “Put it in the bin,” he looked around, shrugged, and threw his rubbish in her storage container, thinking he was following directions. 

She promptly admonished him by writing his name on the chalkboard, thinking he was being a smart alec  which is all fairness, he often is. Just not this one time.

He recounted how confusing it was when she asked him to, “Get in the queue.” The what? To him “Q” was a letter and a letter only. 

Suddenly, zee was zed. Color was colour. And maths was plural.

I tried to explain the difference between American and British English. 

His response: “Well it’s not Wisconsin English. And I’m sorry, but I don’t speak British.” 

The funny thing is, soon my boys did start speaking British. Words like “ice lolly” (Popsicle), “plaster” (Band Aid) and “trousers” just appeared in their vernacular. 

When Curly came home with a sticker, I asked him how he earned it. He replied, with a hint of an accent, “For tidying up and sitting smartly.”

It wasn’t for another year that Mo made me nearly fall off my chair. He was sitting at the kitchen table finishing up some homework. He casually looked up and asked, “Mum, can I have a rubber?”

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Dutch Life: Next Level Biking

We lived in the Netherlands for three years and often witnessed incredible cycling feats. Here's just one example.

Most mornings on our bike commute to school, we would end up behind the same couple on their way to work. They were a little older than me, maybe late-40’s.

What I found so remarkable is that they rode side-by-side, holding hands! They managed to ride perfectly distanced apart, never veering away, never crashing.

Though it didn’t look especially hazardous or exotic, I knew I was witnessing some next-level biking.

And then came the jaw-dropping finale, at the same intersection every day.

Where the two roads crossed, they would kiss! Still moving, still pedaling, still amazingly perched upon two rotating wheels apiece. And then she turned left and he turned right, and they were off to work for the day.

No matter how many times I watched, I was astounded.

Now, I consider myself a pretty seasoned cyclist. For three years, I spent between two and four hours a day balanced on my trusty old Gazelle. But if I tried a maneuver like this -- which to the Dutch was a simple, mundane, everyday goodbye -- I would be lucky to walk away with some road rash and a dented bike.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Fumbling Abroad: Poland

Our travels yielded some gastronomical adventures.

On a shopping trip with friends in Poland, I was delighted by the beet soup, pierogies and potato pancakes.The Polish beer wasn’t bad either!

One night, I reached for the spread next to our bread basket. It resembled a sort of herb butter, reminiscent of a delicious tomato basil version I’d tasted back home.

“What’s the yummy spread?” I asked, about to scoop some up.

My friend tugged me in the other direction, laughing at my near miss. She’d been to Poland multiple times and acted as our de facto guide.

Turns out, it wasn’t butter at all, but straight lard in a dish. Those little bits of color were random meat scraps.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Fumbling Abroad: Morocco

I love how traveling pushes you out of your comfort zone. And it's always interesting to see how the boys react to out-of-the-ordinary situations.

For example, they didn’t even flinch at the nude beaches in Croatia.

But in Morocco, where women were covered from head to toe, it was a little different story.

As we stood to exit the plane in the ancient walled-in city of Fez, I noticed Curly was about to walk right by a woman in a full burqa, including black mesh over her eyes. 

In my head, I begged him, “Please don’t say anything, please don’t say anything!”

But as he passed her, he flinched. There was no doubt, he noticed her big time.

“Mom!” my 6-year-old yelled. 

I tried to usher him past. “Keep walking, Bud.”

“But, Mom!” 

He nodded his head toward the woman, in the most unsubtle way possible.

“Shh, keep going.”

But I just couldn’t keep him quiet.

“I just saw a real…”

I shushed, helpless.


Oh boy.