Getting Chicken Pox After Being Vaccinated

Sometime ago, I had brought Petit-Homme to be vaccinated against the dreaded chicken pox. I learnt last week that the vaccine is not a complete shield. In a zealous frenzy, the virus took down at least 11 kids (at last count) in Petit-Homme’s class at crèche (including PH).  None of them had been vaccinated to my knowledge, and a few adults I spoke to were not aware the option to do it existed in the Netherlands. The last kid standing was unaffected as she had contracted it at 9 months, at another daycare (hurray communal child care!). Fortunately, he breezed through it easily with fewer than 20 spots on his body (only one on his face) and only mild itchiness and fever for a few hours. Crèche allows chicken pox victims to attend so I can attest to some very interesting sights and stories this week – a number of kids were blanketed in spots and some were forced to stay in bed with high fevers. Given that, I suppose even if the vaccine wasn’t 100% effective, it was better than nothing. (I had gotten a shot too, and so far no illness to remark upon..)

Funny how a £1 thingy can turn into your most hallowed possession

Funny how a £1 thingy can turn into your most hallowed possession

As most would know, calamine lotion is the chicken pox sufferer’s best friend for its instant itch-relieving powers. So I went scurrying around for a bottle. Guess what, the first pharmacy I went to said they “no longer sold it” for unknown reasons, and the second drugstore said “What’s that? How about some aloe vera?”  No one there had even heard of it. Bottomline, it seems to be almost impossible to purchase calamine in The Hague (though admittedly I didn’t search beyond those two stores as my British supplies mule was arriving in DH that same day with a precious bottle.)

I’m still very much a fan of immunizing kids against chicken pox. True, it’s only “one week of agony” but when life is already so full of unavoidable diseases, why not try to eliminate those we can?


What is more valuable than gold in the Netherlands?

One can per customer per day

One can per customer per day

Holland is suffering under the weight of its own reputation as a paradise for lactose aficionados. Baby formula shortages have been causing screaming frenzies and fights in stores for several years now. While it is true that some people have been buying formula to “export” to China, it is totally confounding as to why producers have not been able to keep up with the demand. At supermarkets nationwide, Nutrilon-brand formulae are kept in tight security, next to the packs of cigarettes at customer service (!!). Nutrilon is now a rationed product – Asians pick them up under intense scrutiny.

Stores here have taken to discriminating against people of Oriental origin, deliberately targeting them as raiders of the lost ark. There have been discrimination suits leveled at retailers and yet the war goes on. At Kruidvat, you have employees refusing to sell milk to Chinese people, while across the street at De Bijenkorf, you have sharply suited employees hired for their Mandarin-speaking abilities. In short, they shun Chinese custom at the cheap and cheerful drugstore, while they pad the red carpet for Beijing busloads vis-a-vis haute couture.

On its way to sacred status in NL

On its way to sacred status in NL

Yesterday night, there was another burglary at Petit-Homme’s crèche, targeting the formula stock. The baddies made off with a heap of baby formula and other knick knacks like iPads and cash. It is almost as though we were living in a communist regime where the shortage of basic necessities leads to anarchy.

This is quite the problem for Dutch retailers yet it is a huge opportunity for producers and everyone else on the distribution chain to capitalize on torrential demand. It is hard to understand why people in this day and age are still fighting tooth and nail over milk.

Tissues Just When You Need Them

Morning traffic

The other day I was in a hurry. Just like most other days. I decided to give Petit-Homme a glorious chocolate-topped biscuit to eat en route to crèche in his pram. Yes, I’ve embraced the Dutch habit of offering kids chocolate at breakfast, basically because I’m confused. I’m confused because the moment I walk into the foyer of his crèche, I know that the zen in the air (and the menus posted weekly) should transcend me to organic farms and low-sugar, risotto, quinoa, bulgur, granola, hippe living. On the other hand, everyone here keeps talking about chocolate sprinkles. So I decided to compromise and keep the chocolate but ditch the sprinkles.

On the first day of this surrender, Petit-Homme gnashed his two chocolate biscuits with all the salivatory gusto he could muster. The smoking guns disappeared, but numerous trails of incriminatory evidence were left dribbling from his chin onto his bright yellow spring jacket. In short, chocolate lava everywhere.

Without heart we would be mere machines

Back to the original point that I was in a hurry. No tissues, no muslin, not even a scarf. As I stood by the side of the road scraping the goo away with my bare hands, a man driving slowly past in a Giulietta stuck his arm out and I was quite surprised to see a pack of Tempo. He left me cheerfully with the entire pack of tissues as traffic was rolling on. Truly, an unexpected gesture of kindness!

What “Pimp My Ride” Means in The Hague


You know those sleek car ads that feature stubbly men in leather jackets gliding into minivans named otherwise (crossover, utility vehicles, tanks etc..) in the quest to fool you that notwithstanding leaking diapers and sniveling noses, you will never lose your cool?

I’ve always fancied those kinds of self-denial mantras – that if we accessorize well enough, and surround ourselves with enough cute gear, said cool will never be lost. But now, I’ve discovered an entirely new level of cool. Cool is not the overtanned, anorexic lady of the manor shrieking at her imported nanny over creases in her daughter’s fuschia tutu, while running late for her overpriced salad lunch at The Club.

Cool is the mother of three hauling a double buggy solo up the tram, rushing to multiple doctor’s appointments and playdates, feeding offspring en route, without breaking a sweat. Supercool is not ever arriving late, and having showered.

So, we adapt to our environment. Given that our gas guzzling SUV is not the fastest means of maneuvering in The Hague (tight streets, merciless one way system), I got me a new set of wheels.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would be torching the asphalt in a 7-speed Gazelle with bright yellow kid seat in tow to the soundtrack of Petit-Homme shouting “More! More!”, but what the heck, I still got my leather jacket… (just no stubble yet).

Ketchup or Icing Sugar for Breakfast?

Ducks, the best friends of every toddler

Ducks, the best friends of every toddler

One of the clearest gourmet divides between the continent and the Anglo-American world, is the need for ketchup. I can’t have ketchup without fries, the same way butter with bread just makes the union all the more holy. No one is interested in ketchup around here. Its all about mayonnaise. If you pester your servers for some, you’ll get a miniscule amount and pay at least 50 cents for a serving. I guess I’m resigned to this now and have contemplated never leaving home without ketchup sachets. Only the fear of having to mop up a gooey mess in my handbag prevents me from such folly.

Shake it, baby

Shake it, baby

We were in Center Parcs Erperheide recently. (This is a forest getaway consisting of “cottages” in the midst of lush foliage, lakes and plenty of man-made structures to amuse kids of all ages.) In March, there wasn’t much verdure to speak of but the cold nullified any longing for it as it focused our attentions on the indoor entertainment.

The highlight of any place for me is often the buffet joint. It was interesting to see every table kitted out with a vat of icing sugar (poedersuiker) but not a ketchup bottle in sight. I had to cajole the staff into bringing me some, upon which one dish was whipped out with great ceremony. (The next day I remembered to ask for two dishes.) We didn’t touch the sugar as I am particularly susceptible to scaremongering articles about child obesity, diabetes, sugar addiction, hyperactivity, dodgy teeth, etc. Our neighbours however, were shaking that bottle like there was no tomorrow. Part of why kids around here are supposed to be the happiest in the world?

No winter in Europe for me

No winter in Europe for me

Anyway, this place was a cultural jolt in more than one way. Never mind the ketchup thing as I’ve totally scaled my expectations way down and am over-the-top friendly to staff throughout the continent just to finagle this. What really shocked me was the sight of smokers throughout the park. This is a place where hordes of babies and young children roam like hens in a coop, yet cigarettes are brandished freely right outside Baluba (an amusement centre) and “smoking areas”. I mean, smoking areas!

Don't you try to fleece me

Don’t you try to fleece me

Petit-Homme enjoyed himself to the max. He was howling with delight at the baby swimming class (best €5 euros I’ve ever spent in my life) and spun himself giddy on the carousel (most short-lived €20 euros I’ve seen to date!) despite tumbling once under the treacherous hooves of his spirited stallion.

Overall, an experience which taught me yet again, that what makes you happy, is what makes your kids happy. (So don’t get them hooked on ketchup if you intend to stay in Europe for the long haul. But too late for us as Petit-Homme eats ketchup even with dim sum.)

Vaccinating Against Chicken Pox

I hope I never have to know what chicken pox feels like. At any rate, I’m doing my best to save Petit-Homme from having to experience this unnecessary malady. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never had chicken pox despite my mother’s numerous attempts to expose me to the virus by hauling me to diseased relatives’ houses (she was a pioneer of the “pox party” before it became trendy.)

Today Petit-Homme watched the nurse stab him with the chicken pox vaccine with much curiosity but did not emit a single sound! He was rewarded with a Donald Duck plaster. Just FYI, the vaccination is not compulsory in the Netherlands (costs €55 if you insist on it). As the prescribing doctor explained it, the government conducted their cost-benefit analysis and figured that the “cost of vaccination would outweigh that of hospitalization”. Here, even measles vaccination is not mandatory and I have heard of some pitifully sick babies who went on to spread the love far and wide.

For myself, I had two options: (1) Undergo blood tests to see if I had already developed immunity to it – then return for a jab if the result was negative ; (2) Just get the vaccination. Since (1) would involve quite a few treks back and forth the clinic, only to possibly end up in the same boat, I opted for (2).

The Reams of Paper Needed to Process our Meds ...

The Reams of Paper Needed to Process our Meds …

Unfortunately, the provarivax gods were not cooperating and I was somehow unsurprised to learn that there was only one vaccine left in the entire international health clinic. (Sidebar – someone needs to do something about just-in-time delivery in NL: shops, grocery stores and pharmacies are always “out” of what you need! I’m not even kidding. Three days before our trip to Canada, Albert Heijn’s bakery was out of stroopwafel! That’s like Chinatown being out of soy sauce). I digress. I decided that Petit-Homme would get his today and I’d return later.

So, up to the second floor for the doctor’s prescription. Back down to the ground floor and a 20 minute wait for the vaccine to be dispensed. (see here for pharmacy grumbles). Then back up to the first floor for a nurse to stick it in.

Hopefully it will all go well. I’ll need to get mine ASAP as if PH does develop a mild case in 7-10 days (happens in 1-10% of people, how’s that for a vague statistic), he will be contagious and it would be unhumorously ironic if his immunization were to cause his mother to break out in spots. At any rate, I would thereafter be able to more graciously allow infested humans into my house – after having to deal with one awkward incident where a guest announced that she would be attending a party chez moi with her highly contagious baby ….

Flying With or Without Your Toddler – Which is Easier?

We just recovered from our second transcontinental flight with Petit-Homme. He breezed through the first one last year easily, but this time around it was an entirely different ball game. He is now almost 30 pounds and as wriggly as a worm on steroids.

flightIncluding transfers, our flights took about 15 hours to reach Quebec City. My main concern was how PH would sleep. We ended up creating a makeshift bed in the corner out of a down jacket, pillows and blankets (front seats of Comfort section face perpendicular walls). The passengers in our small cabin were surprisingly kindly. Not a huff of exasperation nor rolled eyeball (that I could detect, perhaps wilful blindness on my part) despite a few moments of fatigued shrieking (vocal by PH, mental by me). The demographic of our section was overwhelmingly male, white, middle-aged. Petit-Homme busied himself prancing back and forth handing out empty wine bottles along the aisle. I am no longer anxious that others will be perturbed – I’ve put up with your kids, now’s payback time!

While KLM Business treats you well (excessive cheese and unnecessary cutlery), KLM Economy is friendly but stingy with “adult food”. It took 30 minutes and grudging responses from our attendant to get a pastry for Petit-Homme. She said she’d bring one “if there were extra”. She was forthcoming with a few cans of Olvarit puree, so parents with little babies can rest easy knowing there will be baby food on board. After a long wait, she came back twice to ask us if we were still interested in the chicken pastry for him. (Yes, yes, and yes.)

Due to safety concerns, they made us rouse him from a hard-fought slumber every time there was slight turbulence, just so he could be held in our arms. I’m not sure what others do in this case, but weighing the pros and cons of a cranky little child, ergo cranky entire cabin, I secretly declined at times. Instead I held him down on the floor while he slept during softer episodes. (justification – staff were themselves clanking around in the galley instead of being strapped down tightly.)

Finally, our exhaustions and frustrations were put into perspective by a kindly man sitting across from us. During the flight, he had surprised me by being extremely encouraging with many smiles and teases for PH. At the end, we discovered that he was actually en route to Toronto to meet up with his family, and his baby that he had not seen for 6 months as they lived in different countries! Due to visa restrictions, they could only practically meet in Canada. So, everyone had to fly around in order to spend a few precious moments together in a country that none of them had ties to.

As hard as it was to endure this trip, I can’t begin to imagine how it would be like to suffer a long separation from your cherished little darling, and then to see him completely changed –  perhaps even unaware of who you are.

The Difference Between a Drugstore and a Pharmacy

In the Netherlands, there are two types of establishments purporting to sell you your pharmaceutical needs. Essentially, a pharmacy (apotheek) sells you drugs and some useful things. Conversely, a drugstore (drogisterij) sells you useful things (shampoos, vitamins, candies) and some drugs.

If you visit a doctor and need prescription medication, you need to get these at the apotheken readily identifiable by the shimmering green cross hanging on its outside wall. This green cross is a universal beacon throughout continental Europe signifying that help is close at hand. (But first, they will separate the wheat from the chaff by seeing how long you are able to wait before collapsing.)

In the several pharmacies I’ve had the privilege of huffing and sighing, I can promise you this behaviour was more than warranted. If you have three people in front of you, be prepared to wait at least half an hour. The pharmacists shuffle around, heads down, not acknowledging anyone, waving bits of paper in their hands – just going back and forth the pill cupboard and computers in anxious rumination.  When you do get to the front of the line, you’ll be amazed at the reams of paper and stickers that are required to dispense you a bottle of kids Vitamin D that doesn’t even need a prescription. By the way, things are out of stock very often, so if they have what you need, buy it in copious quantities.



My local pharmacy occupies a fair bit of space, thus requiring the employees to put in a lot of mileage to unearth a few bottles of skin cream. There are three cash registers but the staff use them interchangeably. What ends up happening is the queue sways to the right and left in rhythm to where the most alert staff is currently stationed. When I’m being served, I too do this “dance of the cash registers”. Two steps to the right (inventory check machine), two steps to the left, (typing out all my personal details), five steps to the extreme right (pointing out the Weleda oil), four steps back to the debit card machine, five steps to the left again (to continue conversing at the printer spitting out tomes). Instructions for usage are always in Dutch, but to their credit, the staff always take lots of time to translate it in English and to ensure you understand. (So, really, those aggravating non-Dutch speakers, like me, bear contributory responsibility for the growing lines)

To sum, if your request is somewhat benign and doesn’t require a prescription, try a drugstore for the basics like paracetemol, band-aids, and vitamins. They won’t have blood pressure medication, but if you can avoid the pharmacies, you may not need it.

Healthy Eating Habits at Crèche


Good thing I got my cake at home!

I’m happy to report that after two weeks at crèche, Petit-Homme seems to be settling in well. Morning goodbyes typically see 20 seconds of crying, and then he’s happy to play with his carers. I think what they say about not backtracking to comfort your child is true. I’m able to peek at him through glass panes after I exit the room, so I can assure myself that he has stopped crying. Going back in probably only reinforces the stress of separation.

Miraculously, Petit-Homme has been insisting on soothing himself to sleep now in his bed, instead of in our arms. Looks like he’s getting used to that independence at crèche – a really good thing as I was starting to wonder how to implement self-dozing!

He had a little birthday party the other day. The crèche has a low-sugar policy (really surprising given that many Dutch love their chocolate sprinkles on bread), so we were discouraged from bringing sweet treats. Health is a big deal at this place. For their meals, the kids get organic produce; quinoa, risotto, bulghur, free range chicken, salmon, fresh fruit and vegetable snacks.  The menus are posted weekly and there is an entire kitchen team dedicated to this endeavour. At Petit-Homme’s party, we were allowed to bring the teachers chocolate mousse cake, while kids tucked into yummy raisins. Petit-Homme even got a present from his teachers! As for his parents, we were forced to gobble down the two boxes of profiteroles we initially bought for the event. The sacrifices we make …

Entering the Era of the Professional Daycare

All parents want the best for their children. No exception here. However, I am dubious about bombarding little babies with all types of stimulation and remortgaging the farm to fund exclusive ‘education’ in the hopes they will end up with a scholarship to Harvard. Babies born in the slums of Calcutta can grow up to be tycoons while sons of senators may well languish in rehab. All this to say that when it comes to parenting, I reckon fear of not giving your best is a great motivator.

As a baby, my father was bound in cloth to the backs of his aunts while they went about their daily grind of harvesting rice from the paddy fields in the scorching tropics of South East Asia. I’m not sure if this impeded any sort of mental development but he did go on to gain an engineering degree from Cardiff University. My husband and I were babies before the advent of fancy infant schooling but somehow between the both of us, we’ve managed to scrape together a number of acronyms in law and physics. What gives?

A new pal at crèche

Today, our Petit-Homme started his first day at crèche in The Hague. Admittedly, we were influenced by this institution’s beautiful English brochures and intensive educational pedigrees of the ‘caretakers’. Although sparkling chandeliers are not quite necessary, they did top off a well-packaged theme of learning, caring and Michelin-munching at this childcare centre.

The Better to See You With

The Better to See You With

Lest it be thought our motivations were superficial, we toured another promising crèche with far fewer bells and whistles. Alas, too many safety hazards (lots of steep stairs, strollers helter-skelter and electrical  work buzzing in the open) and carers AWOL from their kids for several minutes in the search of fresh nappies, scared the living daylights out of us.

Petit-Homme hollered for 5 minutes this morning after I said goodbye (sneaking out is not recommended), but a peek in later showed him to be bouncing happily on the lap of his caretaker. According to their latest updates online, he’s been sleeping and eating well – fingers crossed!