Ten years ago, on October 21st, I became a mother. I was only 25 and we had been married for 4 years (yes, I married young!). I never was the kind of girl that always dreamt of having kids and being the perfect mom. If I dreamt of anything, it was of being a farmer. Or living in a far-away exotic country. Or both. But I was curious. I wondered what it would be like to have a child growing inside of me. I wondered what it would do to me to have a baby. And mostly, it felt like the most natural thing, to want to have a child with the man I loved.
So there he was, on a Thursday evening in October, our son Leon. And he was wonderful! It’s funny how you cannot imagine what it will be like to care for a baby, and how natural it feels as soon as he is there. I loved to be a mother. It opened new worlds and made life more interesting. And more exhausting, that too.
When Leon was barely one year old, we moved to Peru. And soon after that, our second child was born, a girl this time: Malou. I expected things to be easier this time, as I was an experienced mother now. But I underestimated the challenge of taking care of a baby and a toddler, in a hot and foreign country, where I could hardly communicate with anyone – as I didn’t speak much Spanish yet. After one year in Peru, we were asked to move to Iquitos, the hot and humid jungle city. It was a very interesting city to live in, despite the challenges of the climate and the poverty of the people around us. The river Amazon was nearby and floaded half of the city for part of the year. The jungle was overwhelming in beauty and so full of life. We even made a few boat trips into the jungle, with our two little kids!
It was in Iquitos were I started to learn to be content with life, to live in the moment and to find something to enjoy in every day. It took me some time to accept that I was ‘just’ a mother and housewife and that taking care of little kids was a good and worthwhile thing to do at that time in my life.
Yet another year later, we moved back to Tarapoto, back into the same house! It was crazy, but I must say moving often really helps to keep your house organised and free of clutter :-). We always hoped to have a third child at some point, but I wasn’t ready for that until Malou was about 3 years old. In the meantime, I had been reading a lot about parenting – this time I would do things differently. The book that influenced me most was Our babies, Ourselves – How Biology and Culture Shape the Way we Parent, by Meredith F. Small.
Olivia was born in The Netherlands, in March 2010. It was great to have her and she needed all my attention. Of all three, she was probably the most challenging baby. She was very attached to me and needed to be close to me at all times. I have carried her around in a sling for hours a day, even when we were back in Peru, where it was always hot. But according to the book, this was perfectly normal, so I wasn’t worried, just exhausted most of the time.
By that time, Leon was 5 and Malou almost 4. They both went to a local Montessori preschool in Tarapoto, a great place with lovely teachers. When it was time for Leon to move on to the ‘big school’, we sent him to a local primary school. But that didn’t last long. We didn’t like the school and Leon was not learning much. Following the example of an American family we had become friends with, we decided to homeschool instead. This was a new chapter in motherhood, as I was now not only a mother, but a teacher as well! And I loved to homeschool. I loved to have the kids around, think about how to teach them and live and learn together. You can read more about our homeschooling here.
And then, in November 2012, we left Tarapoto and moved to Arusha, Tanzania. It was not an easy decision, but we decided to leave the homeschooling behind and send Leon and Malou to an International School. We wanted to give them a chance to learn English by being immersed in it, to experience life at school and to make new friends. And honestly, I don’t know how I would have managed teaching them in the midst of moving and settling in.
It has taken me some time to leave the ‘ideal’ of homeschooling behind and to accept that school has taken over their education. The hardest part was perhaps to ‘let them go’, to accept that they have a life of their own, outside the home. But now that I see how happy they are at school, how extremely well they are doing and how many opportunities for learning, friendships, music lessons and sports the school offers, I am perfectly at peace with having my kids in school.
And now, 10 years into being a mother, all three kids are in school full-time. It feels like the start of a new season in life. Sometimes I tend to think that my work is done – they are out of diapers and into school, I can move on. But no, they will always be my children, I get to spend the rest of my life with them! I helps me to think of my role as a mother that way. My main goal is to have a close and meaningful relationship with them – everything else comes from that. I learned this invaluable lesson from the book Hold on to Your Kids – Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate.
Back to my dreams now. I have been blessed with three wonderful children, I am with the love of my life and together we have lived in several ‘exotic’ places, including where we are now. I never managed to become a farmer (I don’t even do very well with gardening!), but I did study agriculture and hope to be working with farmers in the near future. More about that soon!