Too Flogged To Blog

What I haven’t written here over the last couple of days speaks volumes; to me, anyway.

We didn’t even manage to take any photos on Thursday or Friday, but are rectifying that today with a selection of shots of the three children together. You can’t imagine how proud I am of my little bunch; not to mention their mother. It’s twee in the extreme, but she’s given me the most amazing, precious gift I could ever imagine.

OK, I promise I won’t descend into that level of tweeness again.

The last few days have been hard work. Thank the civilised Dutch state for kraamzorg, that’s all I can say. When you have a new baby, an immobile wife and two healthy, energetic children to take care of, you’re grateful for absolutely any chore that can be taken off your hands. Even something as simple as emptying the dishwasher is a relief not to have to do, when there are so many other similar tasks competing for one’s attention. No single task takes a long time, but combined, they somehow take from dawn till dusk (and beyond).

I got almost six hours of sleep last night, so I’m feeling on top of the world compared to how I felt yesterday.

Grietje, the kraamverzorgster, has taken Eloïse and Lucas to the park, which has freed me up for an hour. A whole hour, just for me! Sarah is sleeping upstairs with the baby. Yes, he’s still the baby. His first name has been decided and is set in stone. The others, well, let’s just say they’re currently set in wet cement. They may still change over the course of the weekend, but, one way or another, we’ll be ready to announce his full name on Monday.

Eloïse and Lucas have a play date this afternoon, so I’m hoping to spend a little more time with my new son today. Although it’s his arrival that gave rise to the whirlwind of activity of the last few days, he, himself, is actually tranquil and undemanding, blissfully unaware of the somewhat coordinated chaos reeling around him.

We’ve had the meconium nappies and his poop has traversed several hues to arrive at its current brownish orange. He’s peeing like a trooper, maintaining a good body temperature and suckling well on the boob. In other words, all is as it should be with him.

I took Eloïse and Lucas to the zoo yesterday afternoon. We got there late in the day, so I bought a year membership for the whole family, so that we can return as many times as we wish over the next twelve months.

My main challenge this summer is going to be keeping the elder two sufficient entertained and physically exercised. The good thing about a summer birth is that the family’s diary is almost empty, so there are few external obligations and appointments to keep.

The bad thing about a summer birth is… that the family’s diary is almost empty, so there are few moments that Eloïse and Lucas are away from both of their parents, which makes it hard to keep them busy without resorting to the television. At this stage of the proceedings, time spent with Eloïse and Lucas is mostly time not spent with the baby, so it’s a real juggling act to ensure that everyone’s emotional, mental and physical needs are met.

And with that, it’s time to move on to other duties.

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And Then There Were Five

Sarah woke me at 05:30 this morning with labour pains. Successive contractions were just a couple of minutes apart, so I got straight on the phone to Laura, our midwife, and Jacky, our doula. This is the same birth team that supported us in 2008 and smoothed Lucas’s entry into the world.

Poor old Jacky had been at a long birth the day before and had had just one hour of sleep, the poor thing. She didn’t complain, though, and got straight on her moped to drive to our house.

Laura has to come from Bloemendaal these days, so she arrived a little later, at about 06:20. At least the roads would have been clear.

In my haste to fill the birth pool, I forgot to first insert the sterile liner, so I had to halt the filling process, pump off the water I already had and then fit the liner before starting again.

This all took rather more time than I would have liked, but I was still ready in time for Sarah to want to get into the pool and continue her labour there.

This labour was more intense than either of the previous two. The contractions were coming just a minute apart, a frequency that Sarah never came close to in either of her previous labours. By way of contrast, Lucas was born during contractions that were still five minutes apart. Sarah barely had a chance to draw breath after each one before the next one hit, causing her to bellow and gasp for breath.

There was a lot more pain this time around, too. At least, the deafening yells and fingernail marks left in my arm gave me that impression. Sarah’s unsure, though, and it’s hard to be objective, because one will always remember a birth that has just happened much more vividly than one that occurred years ago. She’s certain that the labour was harder this time, however, because the frequency of the contractions left no time to relax and prepare for the next.

Eventually, it was felt that Sarah was having trouble surrendering to the birth process and she was encouraged to step out of the birth pool. I sat on the edge of the bath, while Sarah squatted in front of me. The full force of gravity was now able to assist, and with a deafening roar, the baby’s head left the world inside Sarah and entered into the strange realm inhabited by the rest of us.

After one more booming roar, the baby lurched out into Laura’s hands. In all of the excitement, I forgot that we didn’t know the baby’s sex, so it didn’t occur to me to look at its genitals until a couple of minutes later. Its massive, swollen balls left me in no doubt.

We helped Sarah back into the pool, so that she could relax in the warm water with the baby.

I asked Laura to call the children up from watching TV downstairs. A minute later, they appeared with smiles on their faces to admire their new baby brother. Then, they quickly disappeared again to continue the much more interesting pursuit of watching Toy Story 3.

After a period of relaxation, we manoeuvred Sarah out of the birth pool again — no mean feat, I can assure you — and helped her into the bedroom and into bed. There, she would complete third stage labour, a.k.a. placental expulsion.

After the placenta was delivered, I called Sarah’s friend, Rachel, who came over and expertly turned a large chunk of Sarah’s placenta into a tasty smoothie, which Sarah then happily drank. I tried some myself, out of curiosity. It was a little bit salty, but not objectionable. Rachel had mixed strawberries with the placenta to mask the taste of the organ.

The remainder of the placenta will be dried and turned into nutritious capsules for later use.

Jacky stayed for a while after the birth to help clean up, but then went home to get some well-earned sleep. Rachel quietly made some soup for the family. Eloïse and Lucas exploited the fact that Papa had a lot on his plate, utilising the situation to obtain a glut of television viewing, from which they regularly reappeared to demand yet more dried mangoes.

Laura remained to complete her paperwork, writing her account of the birth and then returning upstairs to weigh the baby, who was now stirring a little.

Grietje, our kraamverzorgster (maternity nurse) rang our doorbell at about 13:30. We were very happy to see her. Maternity nursing is one of the greatest benefits of the Dutch healthcare system and we’d be lost without it. Grietje will be helping to shoulder some of the burden over the next few days. Not only have we swelled the ranks of the family by one, but Sarah is pretty much an invalid at this point, so I’m going to be hard-pressed to meet the demands posed by the other four members of the family.

Grietje left again at 17:15, and things rather went downhill after that. I’ve been running around like a loon all evening, attending to Sarah, changing nappies, sorting out food, brushing teeth, getting the children ready for bed, pumping out and deflating the birth pool, dealing with washing and a load of other things.

I’d love to pretend that the day has been all sweetness and light and wax lyrical about the wonder that is childbirth, but the truth is that it’s been a very hard day. Lucas, in particular, is struggling to adapt to the simple fact that his mother can no longer do simple things like wipe his bottom and brush his teeth. He’s demanding that she still perform these duties and throwing a tantrum when she explains that she can’t. There have been a lot of tears this evening on all sides and I’m afraid he’s going to have to learn his lesson the hard way, which will be tough on all of us.

Our new son was born at 08:54 CEST, weighed in at 3800g (our heaviest child to date, by quite a good margin) and measured 52cm. He’s doing very well and is a very undemanding little chap. I don’t think he has cried for more than a total of sixty seconds since being born. He’s certainly been better behaved and more even-tempered than any other member of our dysfunctional family today.

I’d like to tell you our new son’s name, but I don’t yet know it. I’m glad Sarah managed to wait until Wednesday to give birth, because under Dutch law, that means we don’t have to register the birth until Monday. That gives us the weekend to come up with the name. We have a short list, of course, but it needs to be pruned further in the coming days. For now, his working, pre-launch title is Nemo.

We already have some lovely photos of Nemo in the birth and postnatal phases. We hope you’ll enjoy them. There are a few more great shots, but, because they expose a lot of Sarah’s body, she first needs to either approve or — more likely — reject them for public consumption.

On that note, I’m going to bed.

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Broadening The Band

My domestic bandwidth has finally caught up with the halcyon days I experienced at Google in 2003 – 2004. It was somewhere around then that we, Googlers in the Mountain View office, were first able to access the Internet at speeds in excess of 100 Mbit. The bottleneck had shifted and now it was the Fast Ethernet card in my workstation.

Once a gigabit card had been placed on the PC, ISO images would fly across the link, the download completing within a few minutes. I can still remember being in awe of the speed, which was very unusual back then. Very few people had the luxury of being connected to the Internet at work — forget about at home! — by such a fast link. Even gigabit Ethernet cards themselves were still far from the norm in workstations and servers. Most people weren’t connected to a gigabit LAN, never mind a WAN.

Time normalises everything, though. In a time-stretched corollary of Moore’s Law, we now find ourselves at the point that we can order affordable commodity Internet access with greater than Fast Ethernet speed. Actually, it’s been available for quite some time in Amsterdam, but I saw no need for it. I have historically upgraded our bandwidth only as we developed a need for it.

Last week, then, finally saw the upgrade of our cable link to 120 Mbit downstream and 10 Mbit up. This fat pipe dwarves our DSL bandwidth, which is a mere 12 Mbit downstream and 1 Mbit up. I expect we’ll cancel the service in a few months, although it does provide us with a static public IP address, which our cable provider does not.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the new bandwidth very much. BitTorrent, in particular, is benefiting from the extra breathing space.

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The Hypothetical Eleventh Month Fuck-Stop

What a week.

Take my advice: If you’ve got young children and you are planning to have more, stop fucking at the start of November and don’t reconvene until January.

The timing of late July/early August for being heavily pregnant and giving birth is less than ideal. Not only are you going to mess up your summer holiday by having to wait for your latest offspring to be born, but your children’s school year will be drawing to a close when you’re at your most docile and lethargic. The time is packed with activities, end of year parties and emotional farewells. Each brings with it its own set of chores and responsibilities, such as cooking, buying presents, etc.

Swimming lessons, guitar lessons, gymnastics class, Little Gym, choir… all ended in the last few days; well, choir was actually a few days before that, heralding the climax to come.

This week was show week at the Little Gym, which is a lesson in which all of the parents are allowed into the class to watch the children demonstrate what they have learned during the semester. The whole family therefore made the trip twice this week, once for Eloïse and once for Lucas.

Eloïse’s school broke up on Thursday. She has graduated from the kleuterschool (a kleuter is a child aged roughly 4 to 6, for which there isn’t a good English equivalent) and will start after the summer in the eerste klas (first class). The Geert Groote School is a Steiner school and the numbering of the years is different to that used by other Dutch schools. The eerste klas is the equivalent of groep drie (group three) in other schools. There’s a clear separation in Steiner schools of young children from children who are ripe for traditional academic learning, so when Eloïse returns in September, there will be an initiation ceremony attended by all of the children in the school, during which the new eerste klassers will be welcomed by all of the older children and pass through an archway of arms.

Anyway, saying farewell to Eloïse’s kleuterjuf was an emotional experience. She has meant so much to Eloïse and therefore to us, too. Eloïse has thrived in her care, become self-confident and is now prepared to enter the next phase of school life. I must have blubbered about ten times in the course of last Thursday. I thought Sarah would be the emotional one, with me taking the piss a bit, but she managed to stay dry while I experienced one wave of emotion after the other. Contagious pregnancy hormones, perhaps?

All of the older children, who are moving on to the eerste klas, were given a bead by the children they are leaving behind. The beads form a pretty necklace and memento of their time in the kleuterklas. The tears are coming again, even as I type this. Eloïse might be ready for the eerste klas, but I’m not sure I am. She’s taking it in her stride, but I’m watching my little girl irrevocably close one chapter of her young life and start another. Words fail me to describe how immensely proud of her I am.

Yvette was presented with a book full of photos of the children who are moving on, together with a CD of them singing the songs she taught them. There was song and dance, and the children put on a presentation of Doornroosje (Sleeping Beauty).

At the end of it all, Eloïse emerged from the class, wearing a crown. All of the children had been crowned an eerste klasser that morning in a private ceremony not attended by the parents. She brought with her a folder containing all of her artwork over the last year. Needless to say, browsing through it later in the day had be sobbing like a man bereaved.

Happily, our goodbye to juffie Yvette will be temporary, as Lucas will be starting in her class some time in 2012. And then there’s a third child on the way, of course. It’s at time like this that you realise that you’re absolutely not finished having children.

Lucas’s peuterschool (a peuter is a child aged roughly 2 to 4), Het Speelhol, broke up a day later on Friday. His school year culminated in the Indiananpicnick in the Amsterdamse Bos. Amazingly, it remained almost completely dry, which I wouldn’t ordinarily consider noteworthy in July, but the weather here lately has been dreadful.

At the start of this year, we didn’t even know if Het Speelhol would make the end of the school year. It was threatened with closure by all of the government cuts, but thanks in no small part to the efforts of the parents, we received enough local government funding to remain open for another year. After that, who knows? We’ll have to come up with a new plan of action.

Anyway, I’ll finish the way I started, with a few comments on the wisdom of a summer birth.

Laura, our midwife, returned from holiday yesterday, so that’s a relief. I think Sarah had been suffering some stress over the thought of going into labour without a midwife (in which case, we would have had Laura’s back-up, whom we’ve never met, so that wouldn’t have been ideal), so it’s good to have Laura back in-country.

The atrocious July weather at least means it’s cool in the house, which is ideal for Sarah, who is almost always too hot. I can recall the sweltering birth of Eloïse in our Californian bedroom on a particularly hot day in May as if it was yesterday.

Sarah was much more stressed by the thought of missing out on Eloïse’s graduation, which was, indeed, probably the most momentous occasion for the whole family since the birth of Lucas. The move to the eerste klas is actually a bigger one than the (physical) move from peuterspeelzaal (playschool) to basisschool (primary school), because of the fundamental shift in emphasis from play to learning. There’s some overlap, of course, but the shift in emphasis is a strong one.

There are advantages to a summer birth, too; some of which are a double-edged sword. With the end of the school year, we now have few obligations. Our days are blissfully free of slavish adherence to a timetable. On the other hand, that means there are two children around the house who need to be kept busy. They’re very good at keeping each other busy, of course, but six weeks is a long time to be away from school with no prospect of a summer holiday. Never before have we remained in the Netherlands for the summer. And if the weather is going to stay like this in the weeks ahead, we’re going to have to be very creative.

Assuming the weather improves, it will be nice to be able to go out with a new baby in warm, dry weather. Sarah will also be able to recuperate at her own pace, without the urgency of an alarm clock bringing her shuddering abruptly into the day. Of course, Lucas usually beats the alarm clock to the wake-up call and he has no off-switch, so my main task this summer is going to be keeping our existing children out of Sarah’s hair as she concentrates on the new baby and her own recovery.

We’re 38 weeks and 1 day into the pregnancy now. Both Eloïse and Lucas were born within seven days of now, so the excitement is really building.

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First 100km On The Clock

We took the car out for a ride in the appallingly dismal Dutch summer weather yesterday, driving to Leiden to visit Naturalis.

We’ve now passed 100 km at the end of our first week of ownership and, I must say, the Sharan is proving to be a very pleasant car to drive.

As suspected, although I can play Spotify from my Nexus One over the car’s speaker system, I can only play, stop, rewind and fast-forward. I can’t even see the name of the track that is playing, or who it is by. Still, being able to listen to Spotify in the car at all still has huge novelty value for me, so I’m happy.

Here, Eloïse poses next to the skeleton of a camarasaurus.

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