Wednesday 21 December 2011

Happy Christmas!

I want to wish everybody very happy holidays. With family, friends, teasing smells, scrumptious tastes, merry carols and enticing stories. A touch of magic. And maybe a dusting of snow.

I hope to see you all in the new year, with new energy and new inspiration. Happy 2012!

PS if you want a pretty little gingerbread house just like in the picture, check out my food website, Kamel-food for more pictures and the recipe!

Thursday 15 December 2011

Breakfast talk

‘Tijm, come and eat your breakfast.’
The lego click, clicks.
‘Tijm, stop with the lego and come to the table. Now.’
Step by step he saunters over.
‘Do you want cereals? Or toast?’
He thinks for a moment. ‘Cereals. Weetabix, chocolate stars and raisins, but no milk. And marmite toast.’
Without thinking I mix his usual blend of cereals and put the bowl in front of him.
Immediately he bursts out. ‘No rice crispies, I said no rice crispies.’
‘What do you mean no rice crispies? You always have rice crispies.’
‘I Said No Rice Crispies Mama.’
I try to remember what he said. No idea. ‘But you eat rice crispies every day. Why not now?’
‘Because I said, no rice crispies!’
‘But you like them. Just eat them.’
‘No mama, today I don’t like them.’
‘But yesterday you did like them?’
He thinks for a bit. ‘Yes, yesterday I liked them. And tomorrow I will like them.’ Then, shouting. ‘But today I don’t!’
I sigh.
‘Eat them anyway. They are already in the bowl.’
He screams. ‘No mama, I said no rice crispies today. No!’
‘Tough luck. I am not making anything else. Eat them anyway.’
Tijm squeals, louder, hysterically.
‘Mama, take them out. Mama. I don’t like you today. I said no rice crispies. I won’t play with you today mama. Mahama?’
‘Stop screaming. Eat your breakfast. This is not a hotel. I am fed up with you ordering me about. Eat up!’ Now I scream too.
‘Mama, be quiet. You hurt my ears. I don’t like you today. Stop talking mama. Stop.’
I say nothing.
‘Mama,’ he screams again. ‘Stop talking.’
I still say nothing.
‘Mama. Mahama. I want you to say yes.’
‘I want you to take the rice crispies out. Now.’
‘Mama, I want you to say yes.’
‘No. Take them out yourself. And give them to your sister.’
Angrily, he keeps screaming, muttering away. I leave the room, preserving the very last energy and self-control I have left.
When I come back he has taken out all the rice crispies, one by one.
I stroke his hair. ‘Enjoy your breakfast?’
He nods, his mouth full.

Sunday 11 December 2011

And now he’s four

In England birthday parties are serious business. It starts with the guest list. Where in the Netherlands the rule is to invite as many as the age of your child, here no limits apply. And once your child has been invited, not asking back would not be polite. Then location. Pokey English rooms would not take an invasion of the kind, so a soft play area or gym is preferred. At the start of the party presents are whisked away invisibly. They will be opened later, in private, so impolite awkwardnesses can be avoided. One should never, like me, forget to attach a card. One also, again like me, shouldn’t forget to make notes while opening. A written thank you will be expected.
Then, it’s playtime. No party will pass without Pass the Parcel, where paper is ripped, presenting layer after layer of little gifts, so no one will feel left out. There is, often, a bouncy castle.
Only towards the very end, tea is served. A birthday tea of white and brown triangles, cheese, ham, jam and marmite. No peanut butter, there might be an allergy. Bowls of carrot sticks, cucumber, crisps and sausages. Pitchers of squash. While the kids fill up on the soft inside of the bread, the mothers watch. Who grabs a carrot that the kids won’t touch can expect avoiding looks. After tea the highlight of the party is brought in. The Cake. Home baked, off course, by any self-respecting mum. After Happy Birthday the cake disappears mysteriously. At the door it is handed out, rolled in a napkin, in a colourful plastic bag filled with sweets and cheap plastic toys, that will hover round the house for a few days until reaching their final destination, the bin.

As a foreigner I was going to do it differently. I thought. Well, I did not want to risk my son’s social status, so I invited all his friends. And more, I realised when I added up numbers. And actually, maybe we should intercept those presents at the door as well. We did hold the feast at home, keeping our fingers crossed that the weather would allow overspill in the garden. After some cursing and swearing at the oven and sticky moulds a few shop bought pound cakes, with the help of eighteen small children, five colours of icing and many, many sweets, transformed in a colourful train with pretty messy carriages. The sun made an appearance and the garden hosted bag and egg races while the mothers made their own tea and ate home baked muffins. During the baking of eighteen pizza’s dressed by as many children a puppet show was staged where Sinterklaas played Father Christmas. At the door no-one was disappointed when they did not get a bag but a book. With on top their own carriage, rolled in a napkin, because we forgot to serve the cake in the merry chaos. We sang Happy Birthday and Lang zal hij leven and it was the best party on either side of the Channel. Said Tijm.

The English mothers complimented, extensively. The Dutch mother flopped down on the sofa and dreamt of soft play area’s with bouncy castles and little white triangles that required no baking.

Friday 2 December 2011

Cloudy days

A depression hangs over the British Isles. Grey clouds pack together and smother the sun. Tiny drops spit down. The days get shorter and colder. While we press our noses against the back door and stare at the muddy garden I feel trapped in myself. The dark clouds drape a grey veil over my eyes and I am losing myself. Who is this mad, freaky woman? Who lost her patience miles ago, and whirls through the house like a cranky tornado? Who rushes from euphoria to desperation, driven yet stressed, till only exhaustion remains? From a distance I observe, and I think, this should be different. Better.

One morning I come down, hairs still wet, and in the kitchen Tijm bounces towards me. He points. ‘Mama, the sun is shining, look, mama. It’s lovely out there.’
Looking out the window I blink my eyes. A blue sky grins at me. Tijm has his wellies out already. ‘Mama, let’s go!’
I put the kettle on. ‘Shall we have breakfast first?’

Not much later we’re off to the park. The air is crackling, frost glitters on the grass and sunshine polishes the world. We wear hats and mittens. In the park we turn into a muddy track. It is only nine o’clock and all sounds are frozen still. We climb over the sluice, pass the sandy wall and stop at the cascade. Despite the cold the sun beams away the grub from inside my head. I breathe the sharp air and feel my senses awaken. My brain rolls a merry tumble in my head. Hello, it cheers. I’m back.

Tijm scampers away to collects sticks. We play pooh-sticks, we toss sprigs and branches in the water, and see which one is the first swirling down. Linde's stick get's stuck and Tijm wins. We play, again and again. The children run round collecting more. The water sparkles, the trees rustle and the world shines. Linde slumps in the mud and screams. I pull her up and kiss the scare away. Jasmijn whinges in the buggy, with cold fingers. Biscuits buy her peace. Like small white clouds the problems sail through my head. Confident I blow them away and the sky stays clear. We cross the stepping stones, one by one. I hold Linde and Tijm’s hands and step by step we brave the river. I turn back, get Jasmijn, and then the buggy. We fall, tumble and roll. We smile. We are covered in mud but the cobwebs are cleared from my head.

That afternoon the clouds return. The sun is hidden, far away, as if it was never there. I stand in the kitchen, the clock chimes four and I turn on the lights. Night is coming, but bedtime is far away. Tijm and Linde jump from chair to sofa, Jasmijn bawls hungry in her playpen. Slowly I count to ten and try to go back to the park. Back to that place inside me, where I was this morning, where the sun shines. Where I can be a nice mother and enjoy life without getting lost. I know I can do it. It’s just so darn difficult.