Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What I learned from breaking my son's heart

The last thing a parent wants to do is to break their child's heart. Our instincts tells us constantly to protect them, to love them and to keep their heart safe.

However there comes a time in life when parents have to make difficult decisions and the consequence is a broken heart.

Recently, I had to make such a decision that broke my seven year old son's heart into a million pieces.

It all started during his end of year meeting with his teacher in group 2 (kindergarten). He struggled the entire year and the teacher wasn't sure he was ready to go to group three (first grade). We all decided to let him go with the agreement that we could always hold him back later.

And that was what happened, he struggled for another two years and I watched my confident little fire cracker wither into an insecure little boy who began to hate himself. I watched him walk into his class in group four every morning with his head low trying to go unnoticed.

So we were relieved when his teachers agreed we should keep him back another year in group four to mature and be with kids his own age. He was born in late December and had he been born a week later he would have been a year behind anyway. Another big reason to keep him back.

But we knew this would devastate him.  We also knew this was the right thing to do for his future and that the benefits certainly out-weighed the hopefully temporary pain.

It was the hardest thing I have done yet as a parent. My husband sat on one side of our son and I sat on the other surrounding him with our love and support. Then we told him.

It felt like we had chopped off his arm. He wasn't just crying, he was oozing with disappointment. We spent an hour trying to explain to him the "whys" and every now and then through his sobbing he would ask a question. Yet there was no way to explain to a seven year old about the future.

Our hearts ached with him, we felt his fear, disappointment and feeling of failure. My husband repeated over and over that my son had done nothing wrong for this to happen. We said he just needed time for his brain to grow. And he understood a little more each time we said it. My husband told him about his own experiences of being held back in school and soon the tears were replaced with giggles.

No matter how much he laughed, or how much he tried to dry up his own tears, my baby boy had a broken heart. It was obvious in the following days that he was at the lowest point of his life. He knew that in a few weeks the friends that he spent years with would soon move on and he would be left behind, all alone, with strangers.

As a parent, it is so hard to watch your child walk around like this. We were also in a sort of mourning with him even though we knew it would all turn out positive later. As his parent I felt like I failed him somehow. If only we had held him back two years ago, he wouldn't have even noticed. If only I had fought for my son harder, then his heart wouldn't be hurting so badly today. My head was full of ways I had failed my son and my heart was full of guilt from not protecting him from this pain.

Then my husband had this brilliant idea to let my son spend his savings to buy a Star Wars Lego ship to distract him. We told him it was a reward for trying his best the last year. And it worked,  he came home every day after school to build the star ship. After a week of building the ship, he was ready to talk about the decision we made and his future. Each day he was able to express his concerns and we were able to help calm his fears. We watched his sadness turn to anger, and his anger into acceptance.

And his teachers were amazing support for him. They planned a party and gift for him on the last day of school for his classmates to say goodbye. His classmates were also super supportive. Every morning since the news broke, they went to my son at his desk and put their arms around him or talked to him about how they would still remain friends.

The other parents were amazing too. I received so much helpful advice and even hugs. Yes Dutch people hug! I also went online to the community from Amsterdam Mamas Education Facebook group and received the best advice ever on how to navigate through this situation.

For the first time in my 13 years in The Netherlands, I didn't feel alone, and we as a family will not go through this journey alone. My son is loved and this love and support will get him through these dark days. I have also learned what it feels like to make a difficult decision and how to find the strength to follow through. And the world has taught me that good people still exist and especially in a place where I am an outsider.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Time My Son Said I Was Sexy

I love to be called sexy, except when it comes from my seven year old son.

While sitting next to me, my son hugged me and said, "Mommy, I think you are sexy."

After I finished choking on my tea, I realized I needed to treat this statement like walking through a mine field. If I could carefully navigate myself around the trigger words, I could possibly come out unscathed.

"Um, Sweety do you know what the word 'sexy' means?" I asked.

"It means 'I love you' mommy. You're sexy."

Whew, what a relief my hunch was right, he had no clue.

"No, honey, that's not what it means, " and I prepared for the obvious next question.

But to my surprise something very different came out of his mouth. The conversation went from 0 to 100 in just one minute.

"Well I know what the 'F word' means," he said proudly.

Holy hockey sticks. I wasn't ready for this conversation. He was only seven. I was shitting golden bricks at this point and just wanted to run away.

I had no idea what to say. I really hadn't thought about ever having to have this conversation with him. What was the correct thing to say? I didn't want to scar him for life.

I remembered how my mother told me about sex: she simply handed me a book called "How Baby's Are Made" that started out with cartoon chickens having sex and ended with a cartoon mommy in bed and a cartoon daddy on top riding her like a Harley Davidson Night Rod Special.

After seeing this book, I vowed to stay a virgin at least until 50. I never, ever wanted a cartoon daddy on top of me.

So I asked him, "Where did you hear that word?" Here in The Netherlands, the word is used sparingly, but it would shock me if he knew what it actually meant.

"MOVIES," he said in a threatening way.

"Ok, Luca, what do you think it  means?"

"You know mommy."

"Yes I do, but I wonder if YOU know."

And we went on like his for a few rounds until he told me.

"It means 'neuken'."

Ok, "neuken" is the Dutch word for the F-word, so indeed he could very well know what it meant.

My head began to whirl and I was speechless. I opened my mouth to say something and nothing came out.

Then he started laughing and said "I saw things on TV, Mommy."

WTF, I thought to myself, what could he have seen on TV? Surely the Lego Ninjas weren't getting it on.

But I had to face it now or later. I had to face the fact that my kids were no longer babies and this was just part of their growing up. I had to get some Mommy Balls and just tackle the issue head on. I was prepared to be honest and talk about it.

I said, "Ok, Luca what did you see on TV?"

"Well you know, this..." and he began to kiss and lick all over his hand.

"Ok Luca, that is part of it, but there is more to it."

"No Mommy I know, I saw it. And you and Papa have sex too too.  I see you in the hallway sometimes."

He had me for a second, but then I came back to reality and began to laugh uncontrollably. First of all, the hallway? The hallway has seen about as much action as a convent on prayer night. So he had to be talking about when daddy gives mommy a kiss goodbye, which I didn't realize were so steamy.

I finally stopped giggling to notice that Luca was beaming.  He was so proud of himself for knowing something so adult. I grabbed him up and hugged him. Thank goodness his curiosity was satisfied for the moment and it seemed neither one of us was ready for him to grow up too much just quite yet.

He scooped up his Toothless stuffed toy and returned to his imaginary world full of dragons and ninjas.

And I went straight to the internet. So when Luca was ready to grow a bit more, I would be ready to guide him and shatter his dream that mommy and daddy don't have sex in the hallway before work.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

If I had one wish...

If I had a fairy godmother and she gave me one wish you know what I would wish for?

I will give you a hint, it wouldn't be to be rich or successful. And believe it or not, it wouldn't be to look like a supermodel or to wear my skinny jeans again. My wish would be to have total confidence in myself when it comes to being a mother in a different culture.

If my fairy godmother asked me what I would wish for, I would say, to be one of those mothers like I see in the school yard, strong and confident who is not afraid of making mistakes and confident enough to know lessons are learned from mistakes.

I  wish to have the confidence to raise my kids in a foreign culture and fit in with the other mothers. Maybe even make a friend or two along the way. I wish that my son's teacher wouldn't attack me in a language that is not my mother tongue and I wish for the confidence not to leave the school crying and upset.

My wish would give me the ability to laugh at such people and not them them hurt me. Maybe people would be more kind if I were more confident and could speak Dutch better.

The power of my wish could possibly change the world of my two children. They would have a mother like the other mother's in class. A Mother who knows exactly what to do and when to do it. A Mother who could help them with their homework and could be the class parent or volunteer to read on Fridays. Not a helpless mother, one who can't read much faster than a seven year old just learning the skill.

My wish would change my world too. I would have coffee dates, dinners to attend and friends. There would be laughs and stories exchanged about the craziness of raising our kids. There would be shoulders to cry on and tissues to be shared. My support group would form and I would finally be a part of something here.  I would no longer feel out of place walking my kids into school. I would have the confidence to fit in, whether they liked it or not.

It's hard being an outsider here, I often feel like I have one foot on one side of the Dutch river and the other foot on the expat side of the river. I am constantly straddling, not fitting into either side. Maybe my wish would allow me to be on one side of the river.

Who knows if it would help and anyway, tomorrow will bring another wish. This is just my wish for today.

Too bad fairy godmothers don't exist but that doesn't mean my wishes can't come true. I still have the stars...

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What my son taught me

"Mama, don't say I smell. The boys at school say I smell and it hurts my feelings. When you say I smell it hurts my feelings too."

Nothing in life prepares you for the heartbreaks you experience as a mother.  I want to protect my kids and shield them from all the nasty things out there in the world. I did for so many years, but then I released them into the world, hoping the cruel world spare them.

However recently it happened, I was unable to protect my son from the big bad world. My son poured his heart out to me about how he is picked on by the kids in his class.

First of all, my son is the highly sensitive one of my two kids, he has such a tender heart and truly cares about other people. I noticed recently that he was not his self when I dropped him off  at school. He would quickly sit in his desk and pull out a book or something to draw on, not really having contact with any of the kids in the class.

Normally, he would run around the class trying to speak to the other boys, not really caring if I left. But this changed. He sat quietly in his desk and now I know why.

He didn't want to be seen by anyone. He wanted to crawl in a hole and be invisible. He wanted his protector to stay with him. His feelings were crushed and he felt worthless (his own words).

He opened up to me during our Friday night snuggle ritual. I smelled him again and I knew immediately he pooped in his pants. For years he had this problem, and finally after I was diagnosed with celiac, we figured out he was too. One of the symptoms in children is continuous pooping in pants due to chronic diarrhea.

It's a frustrating journey that is far from over. Even after a gluten-free diet he continued to poop in his pants. He is seven and it was a real issue. He was losing friends.

That night, once we settled in for our snuggle session, I simply asked, "Luca you smell, did you poop in your pants?"

Then with tears in his eyes he told me how I hurt his feelings when I said he smells. He explained how the older boys in his class tease him. The call him "stinky" and no matter how many times he explained he has a food allergy they still called him "stinky".

He began crying after telling me how he felt and all I could do was hold him. I had no words at that point. I just wanted his pain to go away. I wanted his problem to go away. My heart ached and I could feel his pain as if it were my own. I closed my eyes and wished it away.

But after a few minutes I opened my eyes an it was all still there: the pain, the tears and a little boy I was no longer able to protect.

I failed. I failed my son. He was hurt and it was my fault. I gave him this disease and he was suffering because of this curse he would have for the rest of his life.

Not to mention for months I asked him repeatedly if it was him that I smelled. I had no idea he was hurting. How did I miss it?

I reckon I missed it because I was too busy focusing on covering up the problem and not solving it. I was too busy worrying about protecting my baby. I should have talked to him in the first place, I should have involved him. It was not just my problem or just his problem. It was our problem.

I held him tighter and we cried a little together. I told him about how I used to also poop in my pants and one particular time in the 4th grade I went the entire day sitting in my own poop in school. I told him how ashamed I was of myself and I was too scared to tell anyone. I told him how it just happened sometimes and I had no control.

And I told him even now, sometimes I have an accident, when I mess up and eat gluten. I told him that for 40 years I thought something was wrong with me, like some horrible cancer. Or sometimes I would just blame it on having babies.

However, now we know why we are often sick, I said to him. He hugged me tighter and we just rocked back and forth until he said he was ready for bed.

Everything changed after that night. I stopped trying so hard to protect him. Instead I began to help him solve his own problem, starting with the pooping in his pants. And he began to help himself.

Now its been about a month since that night, and I am happy to report that he is no longer pooping regularly in his pants and the kids in his class who teased him are now his friends. One of the kids even came to his birthday party last week.

Life has changed for Luca. He no longer needs me at school and dodges my goodbye kisses like all the other boys do to their mothers. He is smiling and laughing and being a smart ass seven year old, like he should be.

My life has changed too. I no longer keep my babies in the nest, I am letting them soar through life. And I am flying right behind them.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dutched Up! Rocking the clogs expat style

It's here just in time for Sinterklaas and Christmas gifts! Dutched up! Rocking the clogs expat style

You have to check out this anthology on expat life in The Netherlands. It all started when two bloggers Lynn and Olga had an idea to gather stories from the fabulous expat women blogger community in The Netherlands. Their idea was to show the world what life was really like in Tulip-land through the eyes of expats.

And after almost two years of hard work, they did it!

Dutched up! was published this week and yours truly (Catina Tanner for those of you who don't know me) has a few stories in the book. I promise you will laugh, you will cry and you will be entertained. The stories are from 27 expat bloggers from all over the world with one thing in common - learning to live Dutch.

So get your copy today, you can even get it on iTunes! Or Amazon US or Amazon UK.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The day I ran the Amsterdam Marathon

Look at all the kids that stayed with their parents
Well, I actually didn't run the entire Marathon. To be honest, I only ran the last kilometer.

You see, my kids participated in the kids run last week during the marathon. They were so excited in days leading up to the race. Luca participated last year but this was Charly's first time. The plan was for them to run with their grandpa, an avid runner and I was to wait at the finish line, with a tea in one hand and waving a flag in the other. 

So we arrived at the Olympic Stadium and signed up for the race. My son suddenly decided that he would rather eat nails than run the race and my daughter begged me to run with her.

Jez, why did we even come? What happened to them running with their grandpa? First of all, I was still traumatised from the last time I ran in the Amsterdam Marathon. Just after Charly was born, I ran the 8K and ended up in 1,999th place out of like 2,005 runners.

No joke, I was dead last, and I am still haunted by the memories of that day. I can still see the 85 year old man speeding past me half way through the race. I remember seeing myself up on the big TV as I entered the stadium. Me, who just had a baby a year before, large and in charge, on a gigantic TV. In skin tight leggings! I looked like Humpty Dumpty in running pants.

So you can imagine my fright when my daughter demanded that I run with her.

But she wanted to run so badly and get a medal like her big brother. She had tears in her eyes begging me. I had no choice. 

Due to signing up late, we ended up at the back of the starting gate. Because of this, once the starting gun sounded off and we were only able to walk. I was thinking, this ain't so bad. I can handle this. 

Piece of cake.

Yep, until the crowd thinned, my daughter got balls and took off running ahead like she had fire in her pants. I couldn't even yell for her to stop. After a second, she disappeared in to the sea of hundreds of children (who by the way stayed with their parents). 

My son saw her take off, so off he went too. Leaving Mama in the dust. Which you wouldn't think would be a big deal, but I knew I had to catch them at the finish line before they wandered off lost in the crowd.

SHHHIIITTT! I had no choice. I had to run. No, I had to haul ass. I hadn't run in years and I was in no shape to be sprinting almost 1 kilometre. But I knew if I didn't that I would probably spend the next hour searching for my kids among thousands of people.

I sucked in my belly, tucked in my butt and took off. Of course, I wasn't prepared so I didn't wear a sports bra. So you can image the sight. Double D's flapping in the wind and I am huffing and puffing trying to desperately keep up with my kids.

My loyal kids who freaking abandon me! 

So I am finally nearing the finish, inside the stadium and I hear the announcer's voice echo throughout the stadium  "Mother of Charly please meet her at the finish"

Nooooo, really? Was this really happening to me again? Shame at the finish line? Was this being broadcast on AT5? I was freaking out, I had to run past hundreds of people lining the track, watching me, a 40 year old mother jiggling her way to the finish of the Kiddie 1K.

You sometimes hear about people gaining super human powers when under immense pressure. Yep, that was me. I am not sure where the power came from, but I went from 0 to 100 in a second flat zooming across the finish.

Here I was "Charly's mother," gulping for air, on the verge of a heart attack and looking frantically for my kids. Of course, Charly was still with the announcer (little traitor) and Luca was wandering aimlessly at the edge of the crowd.

I gathered them and off we went to collect medals. We  found the person distributing them and without thinking I held out my hand for one too. The lady gave me a funny look and then did it dawn on me, I just ran in a kiddie race.

There is a new rule in our house, either you run by yourself or you don't run at all. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mama is just fat

Sometimes it just takes a simple conversation to change your life. At least for me it did. After years of struggling with my weight and trying to muster up the energy and self-esteem to become healthy, a simple conversation between my kids and their cousin changed my life.

It all started during pajama time. I asked my kids and their 5 year old cousin to get ready for bed. We were spending the weekend at our camper which has as much privacy as a stage at the Ziggo dome. I tried to do the old slip my shirt off under my nightgown trick while the kids had their backs turned. 

I guess not only parents have eyes in the back of their heads. Soon the conversation between the three turned from who was getting dressed faster to a convo about my body. And this is how it went:

Cousin: Charly, when is your mama's baby coming out?
Charly: No cousin, mama doesn't have a baby, she is just fat. She eats ALOT.
Luca: But mama is sporting now, she is doing yoga.

Ouch. Ouch for several reasons: my daughter sees me as fat and my son is taking up for me. I wanted to cry. I wanted roll up into my giant fat rolls and roll away. I was ashamed I didn't take better care of myself and I was ashamed my kids had these feelings. 

I think what upset me the most was that my son felt like he had to take up for me. He shouldn't have to take up for me, that was my job. At that moment, I think he felt the burden of my weight. He is only six years old, he should be worrying about his Lego Ninja warriors, not his mama.

This broke my heart. And I realized I needed to lift this burden from his shoulders. I want my kids to be proud of me.

After crying inside, I realized I wasn't proud of myself. I wasn't taking care of myself properly. I was just surviving. I was just trying to make it through a day without falling over on my face. It's not easy being a mother.

But that is no excuse, there are millions of healthy mothers. I want to set a good example for them and I realized I wasn't doing enough. My kids are my mirror and that conversation made me look into the mirror and see a unhealthy, tired mother. Not the mother I wanted to be. I don't want to be some skinny supermodel, or even skinny at all. Its much deeper.

Matter of fact, I have made it a point to never talk about dieting or promoting the supermodel body idea. Actually, I worked very hard to try to show my kids how much I loved my body, fat and all.

But you see, it didn't work. I couldn't fool them. I was only fooling myself. And it was time I stopped the lying and faced the truth.

I have to get healthy. I have to get to a point where my body is strong and healthy. Not skinny and necessarily lose a lot of weight. Just the dangerous belly fat, which oddly enough, is what the kids are fixated on. Maybe in some freaky subconscious way, they know how dangerous it can be.

So here I am, trying my hardest to become strong and healthy. It is not easy by any means but with one baby step at a time, I am getting there. I still feel the pitiful look my son gives me when my daughter criticizes my belly. And yes, my daughter likes to grab my belly and say "ewwww fat."

But I hold them both close, look into their eyes and tell them, "Mommy is on her way. Mommy is going to be healthy." And that one day my belly won't be flat and totally fat free but it will be healthy. And I will be proud!