When I was a little girl, I loved coloring books and could spend hours with my crayons, meticulously coloring between the lines. It didn´t require much thinking. The assignment was clear and I got the job done. If I simply stayed within those lines, all turned out well. Lately however, life is not as simple as coloring within the lines.
At this point, I can firmly say that I am done with COVID. But that shouldn’t be news to you, right?
EVERYONE. IS. DONE. WITH. COVID.
I think I can safely assume that we all agree on this one.
Currently in the Netherlands, 86.2% of the population is vaccinated.
A large group declines from taking the vaccine. It is a diverse group of people that have different reasons for not taking the vaccine. Tensions between the vaccinated and unvaccinated are growing. Now that flu season has kicked off numbers are spiking again and the government has issued a series of new measures to try and control the virus. The most important measures: keeping 1,5 meters distance (6 ft ); face masks in public buildings, schools and stores; the government strongly advises us to work from home and non-essential stores, gyms, theaters etc. close at 17.00 (5 pm). There has been growing unrest as some take their grievances to the streets and clash with the police in violent encounters.
Enough is enough!
Oddly, it is not the virus that makes me weary.
It is the people that I’m fed up with.
I don’t think I have ever experienced this much negativity and madness in my life. I have never seen more distrust. And I certainly know that I am privileged to be able to say so. I’m done with seeing how we treat one another. I don’t think I have ever seen my country this divided.
So here is what I am going to do to get through this crisis.
I’m going to respect other opinions. Even if I don’t agree with them. Even if their choices make me angry and I inwardly need to restrain myself from slapping that person in the face. I‘m going to respect them and assume the best. I will presume that we all are trying our very best to survive in the best way we think we can.
I’m going to assume that we are the same. That we’re trying to live by our beliefs and make the best possible choices for ourselves and our families. I’m going to believe that we still have much in common. I am not going to lose friends over this. I will keep my eye on the bigger picture. When this is all behind us, I want to be able to talk about what we went through with my neighbors and friends. We should be able to grieve and celebrate in unity.
I wasn’t going to write about this.
I was going to write about coloring books.
About how I used to love picking up a good box of crayons and coloring between the lines and how everything was clear and structured that way. Lately it feels like I am back in kindergarten, sitting nicely at a table with my coloring book and box of crayons and all the other kids are going NUTS. The teacher left the room and some of them started scratching across the coloring pages, others are scribbling on the table or doodling on the walls and some are just running around in circles stabbing each other with their pencils.
I just want to yell at them to CALM THE HECK DOWN.
But I realize that we are all different and we all deal with crisis in our own way. And that people need to do whatever it is that they need to do before the teacher shows up again.
In whatever way, they are coping.
When this is all over, I just want to be able to sit with my friends, at the same table, with our boxes of crayons.
Tell me, how are you (still) coping with COVID? How do you deal with vastly different opinions?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by our contributor in The Netherlands, Mirjam. The image used in this post, “Crayon Heart” by mjcollins photography is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 and is used by permission from Creative Commons.
Sitting with my feelings
I consider myself a highly sensitive person.
Some might even call me too sensitive. I cry easily when I watch movies and get teary eyed when something moves me. If you would have asked me, I would have said, that I was totally in touch with my feelings
But it took a pandemic to realize that I wasn’t really processing my feelings: I was simply DEALING with them.
Oh, I was GOOD at dealing with my feelings.
I stomped around the house when I was angry, ranted about my grievances, had heart to heart talks ‘at’ my husband and retreated in my bedroom when I was feeling really sad.
All of that for a brief moment, than I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and it was business as usual.
Because I was REALLY GOOD at dealing with my feelings, getting over ‘it’ and wiping my single tear away.
There was a lot tugging at those bootstraps, as I occasionally shoved a bag of chips down my throat before breakfast or decided to kill all my extra time, by binging Netflix series. Sometimes I felt an awkward lump in my throat or a heaviness in my step, but I just kept on stepping until I was, once again, OVER IT.
I was doing GREAT.
The pandemic gave me a new perspective on myself. My rollercoaster of a life came to a halt. I was in between jobs and stuck in a house with my family. And it was quiet. No job appointments, no social gatherings, no family outings. I had all the time in the world time to take care of myself.
In the absence of all those demanding voices, I became aware of my own silent cry.
“You know that bad experience you had? You haven’t really processed that, you have just moved on. You’re still full of anger, frustration and grief and you are carrying it all around in your body. You smile but the corners of your mouth are getting heavy, like those bootstraps you keep pulling on.”
I started to listen to what my feelings were trying to tell me. I allowed sadness, discomfort and anger to show their faces.
Now, it’s becoming okay to sit in the discomfort of negative feelings. I’m allowing them to exist.
I sit with my feelings, I process, I heal and then, when it’s time: I move on.
Let’s be real with each other: what are your healthy and/or unhealthy ways to deal with negative feelings? I would love to hear about it!
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Mirjam Rose of the Netherlands.
Photo credit to Sophie Burden. This photo was actually taken on a walking tour of Delft, Netherlands when World Moms, Mirjam Rose and Jennifer Burden, met with their children in 2018!
I worry about you.
I worry about not being the best mother for you.
About not giving you what you need.
I don’t have a manual.
All I have are my instincts, my feelings and my love for you.
No one tells me that I am doing a good job.
But there are plenty of hints and questionable looks suggesting that I am not.
So I worry.
My mind floods with fear that you might need more.
Something, someone to help you flourish.
And I worry that my love for you is not enough.
I carry this load and observe you daily, in silence.
I sigh of relief when I see you smiling and enjoying yourself.
My heart cringes when I see you struggling.
I’m afraid to share my thoughts, my worries.
To speak out about my growing sense of trouble.
About the signs that I see.
Am I seeing signs?
Or am I overthinking?
I struggle with acceptance.
Not because I can’t accept you for who you are.
Their silent question marks,
weigh on me like judgement.
And I have a hard time shaking that off.
I battle with misconceptions and harsh opinions of strangers.
But when I look at you,
I can tell every little aspect of you that makes you so precious.
I see your infinite worth.
You are like that one flower in the flower bed.
The flower that keeps drawing my eye
Uniquely shaped yet oddly colored.
The flower that I admire the most.
This piece is a combination of my own struggles and the struggles of the mothers that I face around me.
Mothers who have a child that is struggling or going through a rough time;
Mothers who have a child that is developing differently;
Mothers who have a child that has special needs.
I would like to ask you to withhold your judgment or quick advice.
Just see her, and respect her process.
After all she is just like you.
She loves and wants the best for her child.
Do you ever worry about your child’s development?
How do you cope? What are strategies that help you?
This is an original post written by Mirjam for World Moms Network
Today is my birthday.
It also marks the day that I’ll start to remain vague about my age.
A few years ago I turned 40,(No, I won’t give you specifics.)
And I remember a slight panicky feeling in my chest the night before.
I thought I was officially old.
But there was a life after 40 and it was a good one.
Some of my friends are approaching 50,
and they are making me feel pretty darn good about my age.
I have come to terms with myself and who I am.
The 40 something version of me is more outspoken and less anxious.
I feel older, wiser, and more at peace with myself.
Life has shown me that it is ever changing.
When I become too comfortable everything shifts and a new process begins.
The perfectionist in me has learned that there is no endgame, no specific goal to achieve.
I am an ever continuing work in progress.
But I do have the urge to be hopeful, helpful.
To spread kindness and positivity.
I want to fulfill my hopes and dreams.
I want to love and to be loved back.
Never stop learning and continue to grow.
My birthday is always at the same time of the year,
that I start to reflect and set my goals for the next year.
Oh, and what a crazy year it was.
This year I will just take a moment to count my blessings.
I have no specific birthday wishes or wishes for 2017,
only to be extended the grace to enjoy a fulfilling life.
I want to live my live to the fullest,
and not being held back by fear at trying to fulfill my hopes and dreams.
And I want to dance be silly and artistic.
Now excuse me while I go and eat some cake!
What are your birthday wishes?
Have you set your goals for 2017?
This is an original post written for World Moms Network by Mirjam in the Netherlands.
When your family makes a move to another country across an ocean, one of the main priorities of a mom is making sure her children are having as smooth of a transition as possible to their new surroundings. When just walking down the street to get in the car can be an experience in hearing a new language, it can be a very intimidating experience for children to adjust to their new surroundings. School can be one of the hardest adjustments to make no matter where you move.
A year ago, I had a fourth grader and a second grader in a public elementary school in the U.S. Their typical day was to get to school before the 8:05 a.m. bell and then have seven hours of constant instruction all day long with the exception of a 30 minute lunch and a 15 minute recess. Then, they would come home, and we would hurriedly try to get the homework done (30 minutes of reading per night with a reading log to sign, 15 minutes of math practice per night with a math log to sign, and then whatever other homework was assigned for that evening by the respective teacher). Most days the homework was interrupted by running to after school activities, trying to eat together as a family, and getting to bed at a decent time.
To most parents, this sounds pretty typical…at least for the U.S. But, what I am not including here is the attitude my kids had towards school in the U.S. I did not mention that on top of the work and instruction and the meager 15 minutes of recess they would get a day that they were also taking a four hour long bench mark test for one subject about every week (yes, even my seven year old second-grader!). They could lose their little 15 minutes of recess and have to sit in silence because they talked too much in the cafeteria at lunch. They were being constantly assessed and assigned (major or daily) grades, and then tested again. They HATED doing their homework and they begged for just some kind of free time to just chill out.
I couldn’t blame them, their days were jammed packed, and if they didn’t perform and take the benchmark tests, then there was no telling what kind of score they would get on the STAAR standardized test given in Texas. The test which is supposed to prepare the students for academic excellence. During the battery of STAAR tests, the walls were covered with black bulletin board paper, and labels were taken off of water bottles in case the students may get any answers from the walls or water bottles….water bottles, really!!??
Yes, they take the labels off the water bottles so the kids can’t even see any numbers during the tests. They sit for hours on end and cannot even read a book when they are finished in case someone who hasn’t finished may see a word on a page and give them an answer on the test. They cannot talk during lunch during the testing time for fear they may exchange answers. All of this in the name of academic excellence and getting my children ready for the “real world”.
As an educator, I understand the need for assessment of students. There has to be a marker to know the level of understanding of a child. I do believe there is a time and place for assessment, but not all the time, and not taking up so much of the very precious finite time of elementary students. I understand how the high stakes standardized testing began. The idea was a good one. There were schools that were performing very low in contrast to schools which were performing very high. The concept was simple: give the same test across the board to all public school students and that would get everyone on the same page. However, somewhere along the way, high stakes testing turned into scrutinizing teachers, pressuring students, and increasing the rigor of these tests every year. This led to more practice testing in the classroom which led to less recess time and more stressed out teachers, students and parents. It is as if the testing is a runaway train that I fear no one will be able to stop.
My third grade daughter had a panic attack here at her new school the third week because she didn’t know if her presentation at school with three classmates was going to be for a major or a daily grade. Her teacher had to call me, and I had to go to the school to pick her up. That is when I explained the type of system we came from where the children were literally graded on every. single. thing. Her teacher explained to me that the children are formally assessed here a few times a year, but the majority of the time is spent with hands-on activities, and cooperative learning and interaction with one another in the class. The children are mostly graded informally through demonstration of knowledge on a topic. The teachers actually take the time to get to know each child as an individual…not just how to get them from point A at the beginning of a school year to point B at the end of the school year. I felt myself let out a huge breath that I didn’t even know I was holding. It felt as if the pressure I had felt for my children lifted, and it also lifted from them as well. Imagine, elementary education given in an age-appropriate manner!!!
Last week, my son came home and told me he had to finish his spelling homework. Without me telling him to do so, he went to his back pack got out his book and sat down to complete it without complaining and without any nagging. My daughter came home with a project about an author study. She had her snack after school and immediately sat down at the computer and began to type in her author’s name to do a computer search for information. Who are these kids? They can’t be mine…my kids were getting burned out in fourth and second grade. They hated homework and school. This fifth and third grader here in The Netherlands are completely different children. I have two children who LOVE to go to school here and who are learning and who are not having so much pressure to perform…
The school my children are attending here is an international school which follows many of the Dutch school guidelines. One of the things both of my children love the most here is that the school offers them TWO recess times per day. A 15 minute recess in the morning and a 30 minute recess after lunch where they have unstructured play time, and no one is having them sit inside and finish work they didn’t complete (like our old school). They have time to be outside in the fresh air and run and play or just talk…it doesn’t matter…there are no right or wrong ways for the kids to have recess.
They also are dismissed from school each Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. This is another HUGE perk for my kids. I have seen with my own eyes their attitude about school changing and their engagement in their school work go up. I have seen that their teachers are actually learning about my children here. Social skills here at their school are just as important as the academic skills. They both have homework, but it is assigned if work was not finished in class or if there is a special project to do for a particular unit. There are no logs to constantly sign or meaningless worksheets coming home.
Some may say, how are they going to be prepared?? Are they learning enough? I would have thought that also coming from the system we were in last year. I would get daily updates in my email about test grades and classwork. Here, the grades are not entered into the computer, and I have found that I have taken a step back. In turn, my children, have felt that pressure ease as well. They are taking tests at school, but they are meaningful, and not four hours long every week. My daughter gets to go to the school garden to see science in action with her class and learn about fungi and insects.
There have been many articles written about the correlation between recess and academic achievement. Almost all of them say that more recess and break time for children equates to better learning and attention in the classroom. This particular article is written by an American teacher who taught in Finland and found that for every 45 minutes of instruction, the students (and teachers) would get a 15 minute recess. He was skeptical at first but saw the results with his own eyes. And really, isn’t this common sense? We as adults, need to step away for a few minutes and have a coffee or talk with friends. We know when we have been pushed too far and need a break. Why do schools constantly push students even when the students have reached the point in a lesson where they are not paying attention anymore?
As a former teacher before I stayed home with my children, I have seen the public school system in the U.S. change in the 10 years since I have left education. I have seen more stressed out children, teachers, and parents (myself included) since I was an educator. Seeing education in practice here at the school my children are attending, I see what elementary education was supposed to be. The way elementary education is taught here is what I was taught it was supposed to be in my university courses, and how I implemented it in my own classroom.
After moving here and seeing the attitude change so much in how my own children view school and how much they have learned, I am convinced of a less pressure-based environment, I feel that the meaningful instruction which takes place when the children are truly engaged in the lesson is so much more valuable than powering through a lesson in which the students are not paying any attention to because of no down time and constant pressure to perform.
Having time at school for unstructured play for my own children has made a world of difference in their academic lives. They are developing their social skills and problem-solving skills during their guaranteed recess time (which is not taken away from them as a punishment). Even when we are going to after school activities, we are not as stressed about long bench mark tests the next day. They may still have homework when we get home, but the feeling of all the stress and pressure seems to have lifted on all of us. And, they actually WANT to do the work because it is meaningful to them.
The conferences I had with their teachers last week reflect exactly what I am seeing at home. Both of my children are well adjusted and happy, and are performing at or above grade level in their classes. THIS is what I wanted for my children. I want them to enjoy learning. I want them to have friends, and develop into people that other people would actually like to be around.
Childhood is such a precious time when so much of one’s personality is developed. That time can never be given back. I fear that the lack of downtime and recess time at school is hurting elementary children. There will be plenty of time for hours of homework and test stress in high school and university level education.
I know that our time in the Netherlands will eventually come to an end because such is the life of an expat, but until we have to leave, we are ALL enjoying the lack of overload we were all feeling at our old school.
Does your child’s school give regular recesses? Have you noticed if it helps or hinders your child? Do your children have regular testing in their school? How does they handle it?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Meredith. You can check out her adventures as life as an expat in The Netherlands on her blog www.gettingonthebicycle.blogspot.nl
My mother used to say the same thing whenever I was sick: “Well, your hands are not sick.”
She expected me to do my chores and not to make a big deal about being sick. It was a motto she lived by. When I think of her in those days, I cannot picture her sitting down or lying in bed. She was always busy taking care of us and taking care of the house. I can almost imagine her feeling sick in the morning and saying to herself: “Well your hands are not sick,” and getting on with business as usual. I have tried to live up to this motto as long as I can remember.
This image of a mother that takes care of her family regardless the circumstances, was printed in the core of my being.
When I got diagnosed with depression, I was deeply conflicted within myself. Every moment that I needed for myself, every day that I couldn’t go on as usual, troubled me. I judged myself. There is always something the matter with you. Are you sick again? I felt like a sad excuse for a mother. I pitied my children and husband for having to live with me. Being sick has always been a powerful trigger for me to sink deep into depression.
In 2011 I got diagnosed with depression, which led to a long struggle with dealing with my depression and undergoing extensive therapy. Just as I started to feel a little bit better in 2013, I broke my right shoulder and as it started to heal, I had to have my gallbladder removed. After that, a long period of feeling sick and dealing with throat problems, led to a tonsillectomy in 2015. In 2016 my doctor referred me to a rheumatologist. The word rheumatoid arthritis was mentioned. I’m still in the process of finding a diagnosis and proper treatment.
But I am doing fine. In a sense, I am grateful. It is easy to find joy when you’re healthy and pain free. When you’re walking in the sunshine it isn’t as hard to be hopeful. I have learned to enjoy every single ray of light when walking in the shadows. I do have my occasional pity parties, and I indulge in them, because I allow myself to feel, to grieve, to be sad when I need to. But my pity parties end and when they end, I pick up positivity and make the most of what I have.
Depression always lurks in the shadows. But it is more a kind of melancholy that accompanies me, reminding me of its existence. It doesn’t bother me as much, nor does it scare me the way it used to.
I feel fine, I feel happy. We’re almost in the 11th month of 2016 and I have had approximately two days this year without physical pain. The other days have fluctuated between noticeable pain, manageable pain and excruciating pain. All things considered I still feel blessed. It could have been so much worse. I still feel privileged and grateful.
I have reshaped my image of what a mother is supposed to look like. No longer is she shaped like a rock, a bulldozer, a mechanical machine. She is covered in flesh, imperfect, she bleeds, she falls, she lifts, she cries, she smiles. She is shaped like a human.
How has your concept of motherhood changed since you had children?
This is an original post for World Moms Network written by Mirjam in the Netherlands.