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!





Friday, September 5, 2014

My 15 minutes of fame

This time last year, I went back to work full time after five years of staying home with the kids part time and working part time.

I won't lie and say it was a difficult decision to make to go back to work full time. I was ready, both kids were in school and I had a need. I had a need to find me again. I had lost myself in five years of wiping dirty butts and noses.

Again I will be truthful,  I was at rock bottom, lying in the murky swamp of insecurity. I was drained of all self confidence as a mother and I had lost the person I was before having kids. I needed something to help me pull myself out of this funk, and working full time did this for me.

It wasn't easy at first. I missed my babies, but then again, they were in school all day. I thought to myself what would I be doing for those 8 hours they were in school. The answer came quickly: laundry and cleaning. So, after the first week of full time work I began to realize the importance of moments in life, especially as a parent.

I think I have written about this before, but it is such an important realization in my life, I will say it again. Life is about quality not quantity. My life is now about the beautiful moments with my kids, either on weekends or at bed time. I know most mommies might be cringing now thinking "wow you never see your kids".  But I do, I see them all day in my heart. 

Enjoying my babies
Since the day my babies were born, I never really enjoyed them they way I enjoy them now. I know horrible, five years of neglected moments, but another thing I have learned as a mother is not to look back. I have my special moments now especially when I walk into my door from work every evening. 

When I walk in the door after work, I suddenly become a rock star and my two biggest fans are waiting patiently for my arrival. They yell and scream my name when they hear me come in. Most of the time at least one of them jumps on me and swings from my neck. They are my groupies and I am  the center of their world. I am their Michael Jackson, their Katy Perry, I am their Mama Gaga!

At that moment, I am the happiest. I wallow in their familiar smells. I give them a day full of kisses. I cherish that moment and that feeling. I tuck it away in my heart so I can take it out and remember on a hard day at work or when they are grown up.

I get all I can because like everyone else, my 15 minute of fame fades fast. They run off quickly to finish their Lego Death star or Rainbow Loom bracelet. I fade into the nightly routine and my moment is gone.

But not the energy. I feel that love so intensely that cleaning up the dinner dishes isn't so bad and beginning the laundry is a piece of cake. I could hardly believe it, I now GET energy from my kids!

However going back to work is not only about these moments. Of course, its about finding "me" again too. A year has passed, and well I haven't found "me" back but the person I discovered in her place is so much better. I found Me 2.0 and I love her! 

It is really like waking up after five years in a coma. I am starting over and work helped me find my way. I feel valued again, I feel productive and this allows me to have the courage to follow my dreams. Most importantly, I can set an example for my daughter. I want her to one day remember me as a strong woman with the courage and strength to pursue my passion.

This is just me, I am sure other people have other ways, but for me, going back to work is what did it. Over the past year my confidence has risen from the dead. I will never be the most confident person, but that's Ok because that is another thing I learned so far as a mother, no one is! Me, Mama Gaga, resident rockstar is happy being a full time working mother who loves spending time with her kids.






Friday, June 13, 2014

Finding my uniqueness

You never know who will cross your path and actually, I think that is one of the most exciting things about life.

And I am so thankful that so far in my 40 years, I have crossed paths with so many people who have enriched my life in so many ways, and that includes someone who crossed my path recently at our storytelling event last month.

That was when I met Amber, she was one of the six brave ones to sign up as a storyteller. And what a fascinating story she told, I will never, ever forget her story.

But that was just the beginning because after the event I got to a talkin' to Amber, who is a life coach, and she invited me to a workshop she was giving the following week. The workshop was called "Finding Your Uniqueness" to help build your confidence and change your behavior. And I need a lot of both, so I signed up!

The next week I attended Amber's workshop and to be honest I had no expectations. I was open for anything, ready to learn. Especially since I began to realize that my behavior strongly effects the way my daughter sees herself.

This realization scared the H-E-L-L out of me. Of course, I am more confident now than ever, but I was still a long way from where I thought I needed to be. And not to mention, I was struggling with ways to help my daughter build and maintain her confidence. She is a tough cookie now, but I know there are things out there in the world that can make even the toughest cookies crumble.

So I walked into this workshop with four complete strangers and walked out connected to four very special people and feeling confident about myself. I can not put into words how it happened but we were guided safely through very simple behavior changes leaning heavily on our intuition to guide us. Amber created such a safe environment for us and calmed our fears. Because depending on only your intuition can be a very scary thing. I can tell you, it was hard at first, but now I have enough confidence in myself to trust it. I was right every time that I used it in group exercise lead by Amber.

But that wasn't all, I learned one of my hardest lessons in life, one that will benefit my daughter greatly: I learned how to take a compliment. You see, where I come from (and I actually heard in a lot of cultures around the world), women are quick to demean themselves when they are complimented. For example, if someone tells me I am a good mother, instead of saying "Thanks" I say "No way, I make a lot of mistakes."

To be honest, I felt very uncomfortable when people gave me a compliment. It meant I had to think fast to try to find someway to put myself back down again. Crazy, isn't it?

Through a simple group exercise,  I learned how to accept the unique qualities about myself.  I allowed myself to own them. I was proud of myself. And if I am proud of myself, my daughter will learn how to be proud of herself. And when I receive a compliment now, I can simply say "Thank-you" and feel good that someone else has recognized something unique about me.

Better yet, I learned how to trust my intuition and recognize all the positive qualities in my daughter and help her see them in herself. This is a gift I can give to her everyday and hope that she can use later when she soars from underneath my protective wing.

I guess you could say I found more than my uniqueness, I found a way to accept it and to own it. And to tell that self-depreciating-annoying-little-voice to go away, and let me shine! Most importantly let my daughter see me shine, so she can embrace her uniqueness too!

For more information on the Finding Your Uniqueness  workshop, you can contact Amber at amber.rahim@yahoo.com. or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/1429052980700151/


Friday, May 23, 2014

Because I said SO!

My friend Donna came up with this amazing idea and asked me to help her with the organizing. She wanted to host a storytelling night for parents who are writers. Her idea was to have a place for parents to come together and share their experiences through stories. It was a fabulous night, I will write a post later about the experience including the details for the next one. We called the event "The Witching Hour" and the theme was "Because I said So." Each storyteller had ten minutes to share a true story and this is how I filled my ten minutes.

There are so many things my mom didn’t tell me about being a parent. Like, she didn’t tell me that after you have kids most days you either forget to brush your hair or put on clean underwear. 

And why would YOU put on clean underwear, when you only shower once every couple of days? 

She Ab-so-lutely forgot to tell me how you can never sneeze again after giving birth without peeing in your pants. And obviously, she never warned me that the more kids you have, the more sleep deprived you are. 

And why didn’t she at least give me a hint about how honest kids can be, especially when your muffin top is hanging out. 

Most importantly why didn’t she tell me that some days you just feel like running away. And there is no where to go, except maybe to the toilet, the only room in the house with a lock.

I could go on forever. But honestly, I understand why she didn’t tell me these things. I think if she had told me even a few of these things there would be a VERY big chance I would be the 40 year-old CEO of Google right now, wearing Vivienne Westwood on my 20 year-old hot body and attending galas all over the world with my husband who thinks I am the bees knees.

Instead, she didn’t tell me, and I have two kids, my career is on hold, I barely fit into yoga pants on a good day and I rank at a close number 4 on my Baby Daddy’s love list, just behind my kids and a cold beer.

Yep, she actually knew what she was doing when she held back all this info from me. 

But you know what, she may not have told me, but she definitely taught me a few things. For one, she taught me how to recognize when my babies need a mommy hug or how to love life even when it doesn’t seem to love you back. 

Come to think of it, I could go also on forever listing the things she taught me. I will spare you the sappy stories of how much I appreciate my mom finally after 40 years. But I will share with you the most valuable tool she gave me for motherhood: the Parental Power Phrase.

I think all you parents out there know what I am talking about. Those really cliché phrases our parents used to say. So cliché it made your skin crawl everytime you heard it. 

However, in most cases, it’s the most powerful phrase that comes out of a parents mouth. It can potentially end battles, disputes and stand-offs that probably even the big man upstairs couldn’t resolve. 

And what I learned from my mom wasn’t really what she said, but how she said it. 

My mother’s parental power phrase was Don’t make me stop this car. Oh my goodness to this day, the mere thought of these words makes me shiver. 

You see most of time my two brothers and I got along, but there was something about the car. 

Every time we got into the car it was like Saturday Night Smackdown was taking place and the backseat was the cage match. My brothers would hit, slap, argue, you name it, once the seat-belts were clicked and my mom was backing out of the driveway. It was ON!

And the first time I remember her using the parental power phrase, wow that was something.

We were all three buckled into the backseat of our Pontiac station wagon. Me, being the oldest and 

the only girl, I was ALWAYS commanded to sit in between my two brothers to keep them from fighting. Yeah…that worked well.

My middle brother was the one leaning over first, instigating the fight by pinching my little brother. They were arguing back and forth. I had tried to stop the fighting by grabbing their arms, I was almost three years older and much stronger. This only made it worse and I remember hearing from the front seat, “Cut it out kids”. 

But this time it was intense, they just wouldn’t stop. I could feel the car rocking from side to side each time they attacked. 

My mother, gently turned off the 8 track and said in a firm voice “Don’t make me stop this car.”

Then it happened. The ultimate sin when riding in the car: My middle brother accidentally in his fighting frenzy kicked the back of my mom’s seat. 

Before we knew what happened (must have been from the whiplash) my mom had pulled the car over on the side of the road. 

On the way out of the car she somehow turned into this Wonder Woman like figure. She had superpowers that I couldn’t understand. I believe all three of us were thinking the same thing: Who was this woman? You could feel her frustration and anger radiating into the back seat.

My middle brother made it worse. He tried to hold the door shut when she went to open his door. 

She used her superhuman strength and pried the door open. In a flash of light, she grasped my brothers face in one hand and held herself up with the other as she towered over him. 

Her face was glowing red and her eyes were bulging from the sockets. She was twice her normal size, you could see the veins on the side of her head pulsing so rapidly. I thought her head would explode into a million pieces.

She held his face for a few seconds, but to us it felt like an eternity. I think we didn’t know what she was gonna do at this point. My sweet little ole mama had turned to the dark side. 

After a deep breath, she asked probably the most important question in my brothers life at the time. 

“Are YOU gonna make me stop this car again?”

My smallest brother and I were looking at my middle brother, pleading with him through our thoughts, just say no, just say no, just say no.

My brother immediately started crying and apologizing over and over like a broken record. 

“Good,”my mother said. She gently shut his door and on her way back to the drivers seat she had morphed back into my sweet, calm mommy, who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. For the first time, I looked at my mom and thought, wow this woman is BAD ASS. And from then on every time my brothers would even THINK about fighting in the car, my mom would simply say “Don’t make me stop this car.”

Of course, as we grew older, the phrase changed with our phases until we grew up and the Parental Power Phrase was no longer needed.

So this brings me to the part of my story when I tell you about how I first tried to use my very own Parental Power Phrase. 

It was back about a year ago during the Penis vs Vagina war in our house. My son had somehow become obsessed with the fact he had a penis. I don’t know, maybe it’s a genetic thing with men, but he loved to talk about how he had a penis. 

One night it was pajama time and my son was getting undressed. Once he was in his "nakkie" he started taunting my daughter, "You don't have a penis! You don't have a penis! You will NEVER have one! HaHaHa!"

This was the worst thing you could say to my daughter at this point in her life. Just before the Penis War had begun, she realized she was different from her best friend, her brother. For 3 years she thought she was just like him and when reality began to set in, she really had a hard time accepting it. 

Anyway, my daughter was (and still is) one tough cookie and immediately fought back, " I don't have a penis, I have a...what is it called Mama?" she said.

I said "Sweetie, it's called a vagina and we love our vagina's. It doesn't matter if we don't have a penis, a penis and vagina are equal, they just look different."

Of course I try to stay out of their battles most of the time, but all I could see was my son in 30 years: woman-less  desperate, lonely. And my daughter in less years than that: A woman always feeling inferior to men. A little dramatic, well maybe, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

I was shocked at how aggressive my son was and I could see it in his eyes that he really thought everyone should have a penis because they are the most awesome things to have, next to maybe Legos or a T-rex.

Then he started chiming, "MAMA doesn't have a penis, MAMA doesn't have a penis."

Ok, so much for me being the Switzerland of the house, I felt like I had to set him straight. Not only for his future self, but also for his future girlfriends.

"Honey, a penis is the same as a vagina, they are just shaped different. Just like a T-Rex and a Velociraptor. They don't look the same but they do the same thing, eat meat. A penis and a vagina do the same thing, they both pee-pee." (I know not totally representative but I was hoping to save that convo for a few years later.)

It was like I had not said a word. He kept on dancing around, wiggling his little willy in the air and now, not only taunting my daughter, but he was taunting his very own mother.

"You don’t have a penis, you don’t have a penis.”

I'm not sure what happened to me, I guess it was my time to feel the superhuman power of being a parent. 

At that same moment the tears began to roll down my daughter’s face and she said in almost a whisper “Mommy why cant I be a boy.”

And then it happened, the words popped out of my mouth like a piece of toast from a toaster: “Well Luca if there were no vaginas, then you would have never been born.”

Oh my god, I thought to myself. Did I really just say that to my five year old? What the F? Did I really go there? What kind of parent was I? Yes I did and I had to get myself out. Oh god I wasn’t ready for the whole where babies come from convo.

“Mama, babies come from vaginas?” My son asked with his eyes twinkling with curiosity.

Here we go I thought. Where is my “How babies are made book.”? Oh yeah, they are five, I was gonna buy it when they were like 16. Me and my big mouth.

“Yes Luca, babies grow in a mommies belly and then when they are big enough, they come out through the mommies vagina.”

I know not the best explanation, but remember it was on the fly.

And then the questions came from both of them, why this and why that and how did they baby get in the belly? 

“Can a man have a baby?”

“No, Luca men cant have babies.”

“Why mama?”

“Like I said Luca the baby comes out of the vagina.”

“Why does it have to come out of the vagina? It can come out of the penis too Mama. It has a hole on the tip.”

And that’s when it came…my very first time using a parental power phrase.

“Luca because I said so!”

I had had enough. I was exhausted. I was defeated. And I needed out. Yes mama you taught me well.

Not sure if I had the force my mom had when she used the phrase, didn’t really matter as long as it was effective.

He shut up. The debate ended. Case closed. 

However, I looked over at my daughter and could see the twinkle in her eye. I would like to think 

for those few seconds she was proud to have a vagina. 

And, wow, how those four words had actually done the almost impossible. I had the power and it didn’t stop there.

“Mama, why do I have to clean my room. Because I said so.”

“Mama, can I take my light saber to school. No, Because I said so.

“Mama, can…..NO BECAUSE I SAID SO.

I was on fire!

I know, I know, it won’t last very long. It wont take long for them to catch on. One of them will figure it out and will tell the other one and then my super powers will vanish.

But until then, I will rule the world, well at least my 85 square meters of it! 

You might be wondering am I out of control? Yes, I am out of control.

Does it bother me? No I am loving this power. 

And you know why? BECAUSE I SAID SO!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Not-perfect Mother

Mother's Day is extra special day for me every year. No, not because my kids "honor and appreciate" me the one day out of the year designated to do so for your mom. You know the lady who pushed your big watermelon sized head out of her body after almost two days of labor. 

Who was the smartass who came up with celebrating mom one day out of the year? Everyone gets a day, even freaking secretaries (nothing against secretaries).

Ok, I am getting off my intended subject for this post, but seriously, what a jerk because we should be appreciated every day!

Back to the subject, so I was saying why Mother's Day is special to me and that is because I was told I would never be a mother. And through some miracle I am a mother, a mother who looks at her two miracles every day and thinks how lucky she is to be their mother. They take me on so many adventures and show me a world I would have never experienced had I not been their mother.

Sure, they are weird and not the most well-mannered kids in the world. They are far from perfect, just like their mother. 

Which brings me to how my son gave me the best Mother's Day gift ever.

Last night we were talking about my daughter spilling the same drink two times and I said, "Don't worry, no one is perfect."

And that is when my son said, "Yeah mama you are not-perfect either, but you are the perfect mother for me."

I melted and told him he was so right and I loved him. What a relief, he wasn't putting me up on some pedistal that one day I would eventually fall from. He accepts me for who I am. Wheww!

Then I thought maybe he heard this in a movie and was just repeating back what he had heard.

But of course at bedtime we were all getting our PJ's on together (we are camping so there is only one room) and my son asks why do I have to wear a bra. I say stupidly to hold them up because they are so heavy. 

So they want me to put them on a scale to see how many kilos they weigh. Then they tell me that one is bigger than the other, therefore, it has to be really heavy like "10 kilos". I told you they are weirdos.

I just laughed and agreed because yes I'm the Not-perfect mother and I love it lopsided boobs and all. Happy Mother's Day to all the Not-perfect mothers!