Feb 27, 2012

The Art of Squelching Childhood Dreams or Why We're Now Members of the Royal Dutch Riding Association

So on Saturday I took Mia to her first horseback riding lesson, and I can honestly say that I never thought I would be typing those words in a non-fictional setting. But desperate times call for dressage classes, as I like to say now.

You see, there's a war being waged at our house, and this equine development is just the latest counter-defensive strategic use of special force I've employed ever since I became an enemy to my children's happiness.

It wasn't always like this. I used to be interested in making my kids happy. In fact,  I once even went so far as to read an article online about the 3 Essential Ingredients of a Happy Childhood, or something to that effect, but was interrupted by my kids who were apparently unaware that one of the essential ingredients for a happy mother is to never interrupt her when she's wasting time on the internet.

It went something like this: 

(Me: reading)

"Mom! Look at me doing this thing 50 times in a row!" 

"Oh really?"

"Mom! When can we go to Disneyland?"

"Uh huh. That's great."

"Mom! Can I get a Twitter account? Jazlyn has one!" 

"Leave me alone! Can't you see I'm reading about how to make you happy?! And seriously, Jazlyn? That is a ridiculous name."  

And that was the end of that. But in case you're interested, I do remember the author's cute summation of the three vitally important, bare minimum requirements to prevent your child from becoming an ax murderer, or a reality TV star. They are: Time (unstructured play), Mud (outdoors), and Livestock (pets).  From what little I read, you should put your children in a barn and check on them in about 18 years. They'll be just fine!

But according to my kids, the author is at least 1/3 correct, and this is the part where the happiness war comes in.

It seems my children are convinced that having a pet is essential to their happiness, well-being, and ability to play nicely and do their chores without being nagged. But I'm convinced that not having a pet is essential to my happiness, well-being, and ability to not nag kids to do things like help care for their pet. Not to mention that the 2nd essential ingredient for a happy mother is not having to clean up any more poop than is absolutely necessary.

I admit that my stance doesn't make much sense, considering that I come from a family that picked up neighborhood strays, and indulged every childhood whim for a dog, cat, hamster, rat, bird, or bearded dragon (we had all of those). For Christmas the year before last, my sister compiled a list of all our former family pets and their cause of demise (because these are the kinds of gifts one gives in my family), and there was a alarmingly high incidence of poisonings, strangulations, and deaths by rolling down the stairs in a lunchbox. So perhaps I've seen too many animals die in my lifetime, or maybe I just got that need out of my system at an early age. It could be that I'm intimidated by the process of getting a pet in another country. But I'm pretty sure it's just a poop thing.

So when I get the "can we go the pet store today?" or "when can I get a guinea-pig?" questions, and it's my happiness vs theirs, the battle is on. Insert your favorite war metaphor here, because I certainly don't know any. All I know is, crushing your child's happiness takes a remarkable amount of concentration and skill. It's kind of an art form. It's much harder than going out and just buying them a guinea-pig, let me assure you.

It's important to reply in such a way that they don't actually realize you are saying no.

When we lived in the States, I would say, "What are you talking about? We already have pets! Remember the Ferrel cats that live under the deck? Just be careful, they could give you a disease."

This one works well, "I trapped a spider under a cup yesterday. Why don't you go see if it's still alive."

Avoidance is one of the best tactics: "This is not an appropriate time to talk about this. Now can you please shut the bathroom door?" (3rd essential ingredient to a happy mother? Peeing in privacy.)

Or, taking a cue from Jack Handy, "Oh honey, guess what? I went to the pet store today, and it had burned down and all the animals were dead. Bummer. Hey, I know, let's take riding lessons instead."

Which leads me to my current tactic: stalling. I admit, I'm in dangerous, last-resort territory. When I found out that there was a stable in the middle of Amsterdam that offered riding lessons, I didn't think I would ever try to use that information as an empty peace-offering in an emotional high-stakes battle with my kids. It took a while to realize it could actually be a weapon in my arsenal for dream squelching. But when I did, Mia played right into my hands. So much so that I'm pretty sure now she  wants a pony instead.

I think my next move will be to actually put my kids in a barn for the next 18 years. I should check with the stable; maybe they offer that service.

All that to explain these pictures.

Oh my, what have I gotten myself into?

Stay tuned, soon we'll be signing Sam up for sailing lessons, and joining the Amsterdam High Society club, all to avoid getting a Wii. Anything to keep my kids happily unhappy.

Feb 24, 2012

List #3: Snapshots of the Uninspiring Variety

I was overtaken with an inexplicable need to capture the very mundane details of my life one day recently. And could I withhold such mundanity from the world? No I could not. Here's a little photographic tour of our apartment one day last week.

1. Nate eats at least 300 pretzels a day. Correction: Nate eats the salt off of at least
300 pretzels a day. That kid's blood pressure has got to be through the roof. 

2. Discarded snow gear. At this point the snow
 had been melted for 4, maybe 5 days. 

3. The laundry room master bedroom in it's natural state.
P.S. I love those windows.

4. Paperwork: my nemesis, especially when most of it is in Dutch.

6. Nate's ability to desalinize an entire bag of pretzelsin less than an hour is
matched only by his ability to trash a room in the same amount of time.

7. I walked past this vase one day and noticed someone had
dropped this little duck in it. He looks happy, I think.

8. Special delivery: The Feelings Book for Girls. Yep.

More things I don't have pictures of, but are mundane.

9.  It turns out I'm disabled.  One day I was reading a little funny blurb that mentioned Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, and my first thought was ha ha, if I was going to make a politically correct joke about my insomnia that's exactly what I would call it. But suddenly I thought ohhhhhh, I bet that's actually a thing, and I have it.  Sure enough, thanks to Google and WebMD, I can start applying for a handicap placard for my bike. Yessssss.

10. I've finally picked a New Year's Resolution (what can I say, procrastinating is kind of my thing). There is a piano in the lobby of the Central library in Amsterdam, with a sign inviting anyone with a fair amount of skill to tickle its ivories (interestingly, libraries are different here in one major way, in that you are not expected to be quiet). My goal is to work up the nerve to go play on that piano some time this year, and hope they don't enforce the skill thing too strictly. So, should I play Chopsticks or Heart and Soul? 

11. This is not so much mundane, as kind of creepy: I had a dream that a gay, wealthy, old man with a highly contagious skin disease (Maurice Sendak? warning: link not suitable for kids) threw a party to find a trophy wife to inherit all his money. All the hot girls said no. I said yes, and immediately contracted leprosy. But it was worth it to be able to put my kids through college, and to buy that island to live on for the rest of my quarantined, filthy rich life. So the answer to whether I would consider marrying entirely for money? Sub-conscious Me says yes. No judging; Maurice and I had a deep intellectual connection. 

12. In another post, I mentioned Sam being sick and my hope that no one else followed suite. No such luck. Nate started throwing up within a few hours. Funny, the 3 year old managed to make it in the bowl every time, but the 6 year old? I think he threw up everywhere but the bowl, every time. Thanks Sam. 

That's it for the Bardsleyland edition of the February Blahs.  How about you? 

Feb 23, 2012

List #2: Seen in Amsterdam

Things I saw in Amsterdam this week:
  • 2 tourists rolling joints in a park. After 7 months, it was about time.
  • A smart mother checking her kid's shoes before going inside. If Amsterdam should be famous for anything, it's dog poop. It's true what they say: the Dutch are very tolerant. Of poop all over the place. And I will never understand this particular idiosyncrasy. 
  • My clock at midnight which read 0:00. Still getting used to military time.
  • My new favorite sandwich (seen and eaten): a warm roll or ciabatta with goat cheese, honey, toasted pecans, and roasted pear. Oh my. 
  • About a billion gloves littering the streets. People of Amsterdam: if you're missing a glove, go walk outside. You'll find another one, or 20. Just watch out for the dog poop. 

Feb 22, 2012

List #1: Things to Do

  1. Find a doctor and dentist in Amsterdam. Done. Time to complete: 7 months. 
  2. Write a blog post. In progress. (Congratulate yourself for multi-tasking.)
  3. Work through pile of laundry backing up after Sam's bout with a stomach virus this week. 
  4. Pray to the vacation gods that no one else gets sick on our trip to Paris next week. 
  5. Plan our trip to Paris next week. 
  6. Put away pile of movies from Sam's sick days. 
  7. Ask other people if they still cry every single time they see the opening musical montage in UP. If not, try not to feel like a loser. 
  8. If you still feel like a loser, watch the opening scene of Finding Nemo. Have another good cry. 
  9. Thank the movie gods for Pixar. 
  10. Now, have a good long stare at that book on your desk. You know the one... The one about having The Big Talk with your 9 year old. Stare at it some more. Now, pick it up.
  11. Practice saying things like "beautiful secret" and "special kind of hug" without giggling. 
  12. Seriously, practice some more because you can't even type that without giggling. 
  13. This is getting to be a long list. Make another list of everything you can put off until later. 
  14. Great! You've got some time on your hands now.
  15. Don't think about things like complicated expat taxes, or French people who are mean to obnoxious American tourists. 
  16. Instead think about organizing that one closet, or unpacking that last box of picture frames you thought you couldn't possibly live without. 
  17. Now, see #13. 
  18. Check Facebook and Pinterest. If it's on your list, it's not wasting time. 
  19. Try not to feel silly when you "like" someones status or pin. 
  20. And, yes, that was actually a huge waste of time. 
  21. Curse the Internet. Use lots of pseudo-swears. 
  22. Speaking of swearing, learn some French swears. That could help with #15.
  23. Try to find a picture to go with this blog post. 
  24. Here's one:
  25. Include a link for Yarn Bombing.
  26. Try not to waste time on Wikipedia. 
  27. Fail.
  28. More pseudo-swears.
  29. Twenty nine things? Think about how busy you are.  No wonder it took you 7 months to make a dentist appointment. Reassure yourself that it has nothing to do with being a loser who still cries at Pixar movies. 
  30. See #8.

Feb 14, 2012

So Winter Came and Went

I'm about to break my own blogging rule, and talk about the weather. And I'm going to post pictures of said weather. And then we're all going to politely pretend like it's the most fascinating thing we've ever talked about, like we do with every grocery checker we talk to. OK?

Nate and I went for a walk this morning in the snow, but by this afternoon, it was almost entirely melted. It's amazing how warm 36 degrees (2 degrees Celsius) can feel after 2 weeks of sub-freezing temperatures. We almost went out in sandals.

We now know that there are two items that every person in the Netherlands owns: a bike, and a pair of ice skates.  When it freezes here, all those canals turn into skating rinks, and suddenly everyone is a figure skater. Biking in the snow is not so fun, but walking on the canals is actually a blast. Plus it was all we could do, dumb foreigners that we are who didn't bring our ice skates that we don't own (this is inconceivable to the Dutch). 

In front of that tree is a pond, and those are the ice skaters. Notice the bike. I love this place.

The freeze wasn't quite deep enough for the Elfstedentocht to take place, but for a few days the entire country was taken over by ice fever. The 11 city, 120 mile race hasn't happened since 1997, but if the ice ever gets 15 cm thick across the entire course, the race takes place within 48 hours. That is some crazy Dutch speed-skating love for you. According to some reports, it was even supposed to fix the EU crisis. Now that would have been one incredible race.