Tag Archives: language


(at home, in Dutch)

It’s taken us so many months to get to this point that sometimes I don’t believe we’re here. But we’re in our rented house in Oostzaan, with our possessions around us (many of them not even in boxes; some of them even in plausible locations).

One thing we still don’t have is internet connectivity. I’m typing this on my laptop to save on a data key and post from work. If you’re trying to email us, be mindful of this. I can read emails during the day, but my replies will be either short or composed offline. Martin has no net access at all, poor thing.

The move was an enormous effort, but what has really been hard is how much of it we have had to do separately. It started when I went off to work in Amsterdam for the month of July. Though that was pleasant in many ways, it was also profoundy disorienting for both Martin and me. We’re used to having one another as backstop in so many ways. When things went wrong last month, each of us felt so deeply isolated.

The week of the actual removal was more of the same. The schedule was as complex as a ballet:

  • I returned home on Thursday 26 July, and was (as usual for the commuter lifestyle) fried on Friday the 27th. Nonetheless, we packed our possessions into boxes all weekend.
  • Monday 30 July the kids went to their childcare places. I packed, and ran errands in town.
  • Tuesday 31 July started with Martin going to the van hire place to get a van for the move. Although he had arranged it well in advance, it took him longer than we had hoped to get it home, because the paperwork was not in order. Then he helped me with two items I couldn’t manage on my own and went to work, taking the kids for their last days at their childcare places. And I started packing boxes into the van. I had it most of the way packed when it was time to take the kids for a final farewell to Mother Goose, the nursery they’ve been at since Alex was 9 months old.
  • The morning of Wednesday 1 August, we put the last items into the van. Then Martin’s family came over and we had a last lunch together. And in the early afternoon, Martin drove the van away with all of our things in it. That night, he took the ferry across from Newcastle to Ijmuiden. In the meantime, I cleaned the house, packed our suitcases, and played that we were camping out with the kids.
  • It was very early on Thursday 2 August when I got the kids up and into a taxi to the airport. We flew to Schiphol, touching down just about when Martin arrived at the new house from his ferry. So by the time the jet set had had lunch, taken the train to Zaandam, and taken a taxi from there to Oostzaan, he’d done the checkout with house owners. The kids explored their new home, and we started unloading boxes from the van. It was a quick turnaround – three hours later, he was gone, and I was alone with the kids in a strange house, in a strange country. Not that they were discontent – I put the pedals back on Fiona’s bike, and she and Alex spent the entire afternoon playing with bike and scooter in the garden.
  • Friday 3 August was setlling in time. I unpacked many, many boxes, put lots of things away. The kids and I went out to the grocery store (on foot), then they persuaded me to go for a bike ride. We rode for about an hour all told (well, Fiona and I rode. Alex rode his scooter). In the meantime, Martin arrived in Newcastle on the ferry, drove north to Edinburgh, met up with his parents, tidied a few more things in the Scotland house, and flew across to Schiphol.
  • Saturday 4 August was much more relaxing, apart from the two hour bike and scooter ride in search of a bike shop (we were going in the wrong direction entirely!

And what details should I tell you about?

About the house, which is beautiful, but huge? The space is good, but I worry that we will become too accustomed to it; barring a lottery win we can’t afford to buy something this size next year.

I could talk about Fiona, who thinks she’s died and gone to heaven. Instead of only riding her beloved bike when (a) the weather is good, and (b) there’s a parent to keep an eye out for her so she can travel the 30 meters to the letterbox and back, she can step out into the sunshine and ride it all the time, back and forth from the front garden to the back. Alex comes out too, and the two of them play long elaborate secret agent games on their vehicles.

Alex is mostly absorbed in Pokemon Diamond version (at which he is very good, though too hard on himself), but he’s been taking time out to ride his scooter, eat Dutch cheese, and watch Sonic the Hedgehog DVDs (it’s comforting when he’s tired).

I could mention the kindness I encountered from Dutch people throughout the difficult day’s travel to Oostzaan, from the friendly immigration officer to the forgiving train conductor (turns out you need a discount card to get a reduced fare for a child…I didn’t know) and the charming and funny taxi driver. The lady at the Albert Heijn meat counter who started giving the kids lunchmeat (which they loved), and the fellow customer who chuckled at Fiona’s earnest explanation of how “lekker” is “yummy” and “heerlijk” is “scrumptious”, and the meat was “lekker heerlijk” – yummy scrumptious.

I could talk about riding on the road with Fiona, who is remarkably brave for someone whose previous riding experience was all helmets and sidewalks. I keep myself between her and the traffic, of course, and Dutch drivers are very careful of cyclists (I also only allow her to ride on very quiet roads). But she is in transports about cycling next to me on the road, which is a layer of maturity and togetherness she can’t get over.

I could describe my trial of my commute on Saturday evening, when I discovered it takes about twenty minutes to bike to the office and about an hour to walk back with a bike with a flat tyre.

I could talk about our attempt at a Sunday drive, which ended at the side of a road with two children throwing up (carsickness and dehydration, in ascending order of age). We abandoned the trip, but went cycling and scootering instead in the afternoon, and found a little beach on the local lake. It was about 20 minutes’ ride from the house, and the kids gleefully threw off clothes and went in (Alex in his shorts, Fiona in her underwear – there were plenty of little girls there in just bikini bottoms). Then we rode home to where Martin was setting up the office space, all but glowing from the fun of it all.

Or I could describe what life is like in a country where I don’t speak the language – how much it is like being deaf, in that I am excluded from verbal communication. Indeed, I don’t always even hear when people speak to me, since I won’t be able to understand it even if I do hear it. Not everything is easy.

For good or ill, we’re in the house, and this is the new home.


I in ur sonnet, doin ur ritin.
How do this hapn? I just a kitty.
Main job of catz are just 2B pritty!
(‘Cept with the doggies, then us be fitin.)
Course back in da old days catz was workin
Eatin ur mouses an axin fr milk…
Now giv me treatz or me clawin ur silk!
An bring em here fast, none of ur shirkin.
U humanz r comin under r powr
Uzin ur money to pamper n feed us,
Learnin from websitez how much u need us.
R clvr planz is comin to flower!
Now mousie are safe in his tiny holz
Nless u go catch him. I da boss. LOLz.

This started a rather large thread of LOLcats pastiches and original poems on Making Light.

Alex’s Turn to Be Funny


Taken 26 February 2006

At the dinner table tonight, apropos of nothing whatsoever: If you want to look like a robot, this is what you have to do. First you put a box on your head, with a square hole in it. Then you put socks on your hands. Then you take off all your clothes.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Fiona learns to be silly

Bit by bit, Fiona’s nature is unfolding before us. She has always been a centred little thing, with a certain poise to her gestures and a grounding of deep silence to her warmth. She’s the kind of girl who loves her cuddles, but loves her quiet times with her books as well.

This is not to say that she is never silly. Witness our conversation yesterday:

F: Mommy!
A: Nony!
F: I not Nony. I Nona!
A (deliberatly misunderstanding): Nana? 1
F: No, I not nana!
A: No? What are you, then?
F: I apple!

  1. Our household name for bananas.

She’s also just old enough to find Martin’s and my long-running game of randomly swapping the words “nose” and “knee” funny. She certainly did this morning.

You gotta laugh. I did.


Taken 24 February 2006

In other news, last Monday I was picking the kids up from nursery. Alex, who has only now become interested in representational art, presented me with a picture of a number of space ships and aliens in battle, with lines connecting them up to show their alliances and actions. Even his drawings are social. Fiona, less obsessed with diagrams than appearances, drew a swirl of circles on the page, looked up at me and said, “Datsa moon, Mama!”

It was her first drawing of something, at two, while her brother has only started getting serious about it at 4 3/4. How can my children be so very different?

Snappy comebacks from the under-fives

At dinner:

Alex: (quoting Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) Look out! Behind you! It’s a Dementor!
Abi: (refusing to look behind her) I doubt it.
Alex: You have to look behind you!
Abi: No, I don’t
Alex: Yes, you do. Otherwise you’re cheating.
Abi: No…going off of the script isn’t cheating. It’s called improvising.
Alex: It’s called ANNOYING.

Rident omnes

Assumed Knowledge, Geek-Style

I’m not sure we’re doing right by the kids, in fannish terms. I think we may be giving them a less than complete basic grounding in SF&F types and memes. This will harm them in later life, in certain circles.

Fiona is fine. No worries there. She, contrary to most stereotypes, is clearly a science fiction girl. Whenever she sees a hooded and cloaked figure, she exclaims “Star Wars!” We don’t know if she’s thinking Obi-Wan Kenobi, Emperor Palpatine, Jawas, or Anakin Skywalker, but she’s definitely got the dress code crystal clear. She also calls all explosions “Star Wars”.

No, it’s Alex who seems to have missed out. I first noticed this when I was talking to him about Hagrid, from Harry Potter, and he hadn’t realised that Hagrid is a giant. He wasn’t clear what a giant was, either. I explained that it was a special kind of person who was very, very tall.

I explained that giants appeared in a lot of stories, from the Bible (Goliath) to Narnia (I’m trailing the film heavily around the house, having brought it up in light of the centaur that appears in the first Harry Potter film as well.) Then I explained that other special kinds of people in these stories were dwarves, who were very, very small.

“Other special people [my attempt at nonhuman character for the four year old set] in stories are elves, who are, um….foofy.”

Alex heard the word “elves” and put his arm over his head, with his forearm hanging down from his nose like a trunk.



Alex has been going to his nursery, Mother Goose, for almost four years now. As he has become more verbal, he’s brought nursery rhymes and songs home with him. Sometimes they’re the standard ones – “Baa baa black sheep” and suchlike. Sometimes, they’re not.

His favourites right now are “Heyyy, baby…I want to know-ow-ow….will you be my girl?” and “Jadda”, which is a string of nonsense syllables I can’t reproduce, but which does NOT finish “bing bop pop.” (I think it should and add it in when he sings that, to his massive indignation.)

He brought home another verse to “Row, row, row your boat” the other month. I understand that it’s become common, but I had never heard it before:

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
If you see a crocodile
Don’t forget to scream

Now, this is the sort of thing that gets me going on inventing my own doggerel. I quickly added another verse:

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
If you see a hippo there
Feed it some ice cream

He loves it. He’s tried to convince Goose that it’s an official verse, with about as much success as he had sellng this rewrite I did of Hey Diddle Diddle:

Hey Diddle Dat
The fiddle and the cat
The moon slid under the cow
The little dog cried ’cause he was sad
And the dish and the spoon said, “What now?”

I can’t wait to see him try to get them to accept my latest offering, invented last night with Fiona in my arms:

Rockabye baby, in your mom’s lap
When the wind blows, your arms go flap flap
When the bough breaks, it’s a good thing you fly
Since otherwise you’ll fall, and then you would cry

And yes, I know I am messing with my descendents unto the tenth generation with this stuff. But it’s so much fun!


Alex wanted to go to our local play park today. Usually, we take the bus to play parks further in town, where there’s rather less broken glass and rather more takeaway coffee.

And rather less grafitti. Our local playpark is a hangout for teenagers after the little kids go away. I have some sympathy – there really isn’t a lot else to do in Gilmerton – but I do wish they’d leave the permanent markers at home. (Not to mention not wrapping the swings over the top bar of the swing set .)

As Alex was playing, I was idly reading the grafitti. There was a lot of “love” stuff (RM + KS 4EVR and its ilk), and some “fan” writing (EMINEM, HFC). The third class of inscription, the “insult” inscription, was also well represented. (name obscured) is a fat geek who muckz around wi an even bigger geek and Jonathan is a fat pie eater, for instance.

But among what I presume to be insults was REECE IS TIDY. There was also, just to be confusing, REECE IS UNTIDY. Two or three other people were also labeled as “tidy”, though only Reece seems to be untidy.


Alex and Food

Alex has an interesting relationship with food.

Yucky vs Yummy

Like most toddlers, he’s neophobic. No, that doesn’t mean Keanu Reeves in a black trenchcoat appears in his nightmares. He just doesn’t like new foods.

He has a clear understanding that there are foods one likes (yummy foods) and foods one doesn’t (yucky foods). As we often discuss at the dinner table, “Mama say yum, broccoli. Dada and Alex say yuck, broccoli.” He was discussing the different kinds of food with me yesterday, revealing his understanding of jobs in the process.

“When I’m a little older, I have a new job and you have a new job and Dada have a new job and we make big monies and we buy all the yummy food and we buy all the yucky food and put it in the bin.”

Real Food

Also like most toddlers, Alex loves his sweets. We’ve been drilling it into him that you can’t have dessert until you’ve eaten some “real food” (amount to be determined by the Court of the Parents, from which there is no appeal). We first introduced this in a restaurant, where he was angling to have a chocolate sundae for dinner. We explained that he had to have some peas, fish and chips first, because that was real food.

So one day last week, he brought home a square of the cake they’d made in nursery. He didn’t eat it after dinner (can’t recall why), but the next day I packed it, along with some sandwiches and fruit, for lunch while we were out geocaching. We stopped for lunch and I opened the box. He looked inside, inventoried the contents, and gave me a testing glance. “Sandwiches are real food,” he said. Translation: I eat the sandwich and I can have some cake, right? I agreed that sandwiches were real food, and he tucked in with enthusiasm, keeping an eye on the cake as he ate.

Even funnier was the pantomime he went through yesterday. I had bought a new pair of boots, and had just taken them off in the living room. He put his feet into them (a comic sight) and declared he was off to the shops to get some sweeties. He was halfway across the floor toward the dining room table (the shop in this game) when a thought struck him.

He turned around quickly and rushed back to the living room. Kicking off the boots, he turned to the TV table. “Real food,” he said, and started picking up handfuls of air and stuffing them in his mouth. “Eat, eat, eat…” Then he put the boots on and went to the shop for sweeties.