Alexandra & Ava
You are from St.-Petersburg, Russia and you met your Dutch husband in Canada. How long have you been living here, in Holland? And what do you like/dislike about the Netherlands in general?
This August, it’ll be ten years since I’ve moved to the NL. Time flies. In the beginning, there was a lot of getting used to. But now I consider the Netherlands my home. Of course, there are some things I’d prefer to be different. But there are not many of those. One thing that I regularly get upset about is the Dutch medical care system. But on the other hand, I think there are so many positive sides of living in the NL. We don’t fully realize how good our life here, in Holland is.
Any specific cultural differences you find interesting/funny/difficult?
Hmmm, I’m not sure. I’ve lived for so many years in the NL, so I’m very used to everything. I remember though, in the beginning, I was annoyed by people who acted friendly and offered to meet up outside the uni or work. But they never actually kept the promise. However, later, I heard from my Dutch friends who moved abroad, to the States, for example, the same story. I think it’s not that much a cultural thing but a thing of having your life, circle of friends and letting strangers/foreigners in.
Which Russian qualities would you like to see in the Dutch community when it comes to pregnancy/ kids/ parenting? And what could Russia learn from us?
As I mentioned, the Dutch medical care system is far from perfect. I think there could and should be more of medical (and emotional) support to pregnant women and moms. I talked with other expats from very different countries, and everybody’s major complain is the medical system out here. From the other hand, I like the relaxed attitude of the Dutch. In Russia, when it comes to kids, there are so many ‘rules’ and restrictions. For example, if you breastfeed your baby, you can’t eat many products as they may cause allergies. Or kids are usually overdressed not to catch a cold. In my opinion, Russians can take a step back and relax a bit more when it comes to taking care of children.
What has changed in your life since you became a mother?
My whole attitude towards time. Now I know the value of minutes. Time is money, indeed.
What do you want to teach your children/child? What Dutch and Russian qualities do you ‘teach’ them?
I don’t think there are some particular cultural qualities I’m teaching. Those things are more individual, personal. My parents and my in-laws are very generous people, and it has nothing to do with the countries where they live/come from. I’d definitely like my kids to be kind and generous. And I want them to know that the whole world is out there waiting for them. If you really want something and if you work hard – you’ll get it! I truly believe in it. I want to support my children in all their choices and adventures. But they also should take complete responsibility for every decision they make. That’s a valuable lesson I’m grateful to have learned myself.
What do you like to do together?
Ava is an über outgoing kid. She likes to be among people. So going for a cup of coffee (for me) and fresh orange juice (for her) is always a good idea. Playgrounds are fun, too. Reading is another favorite activity. Being a child, I loved listening to my mom reading. Now, I am a mother, and I enjoy reading to my daughter as much as I used to enjoy listening to my own mama. It’s fantastic what books do. You re-live your childhood and yet you see all the stories in an entirely new/different way. I can’t wait till the kids are old enough to start with Winnie The Pooh and my other beloved books.
What’s the best thing about being a mother?
The best thing about being a mother is being a mother. There’s nothing that could be taken away. Of course, all the worries about your child are tiresome. But they magnify the intensity of motherhood, of joy, of happiness. I love it as it is, with all ups and downs.
ALEXANDRA & AVA ARE WEARING:
How would you describe your child?
Ava is extremely determined. She knows what she wants and how to get it. Even though, sometimes it makes my life a home-made version of hell, I’m very proud of her for having her own opinion and doing things her own way.
What did surprise you about motherhood?
How natural it comes but also how hard it is. I think no one can be fully prepared for it. But it’s certainly the most beautiful thing nature has given to women.
What are you looking when it comes to toys and playing?
Books. In my opinion, books are crucial in a child’s development. Besides, I like her to play with any toys that stimulate the imagination. We also have a rule of no phones, tablets, etc. for kids (except for watching cartoons). We are explicit and strict about it.
What are your favorite places to take your kids?
My hometown, St.-Petersburg, Russia is excellent when it comes to kid-friendly places. Children theaters, museums, shows, a dolphinarium – those are fantastic. Last time we were there, we went to a children’s theater. There was a show about a mama chicken and her babies. Ava loved it. But most surprisingly, my mom and I absolutely adored the show too (and actually shared a tear or two) Here, in Rotterdam we do different stuff, which is also cool – going to a farm, zoo, library, children-friendly cafes, and, of course, parks and the beach.
What are the things you can’t live without since you became a mother?
1. A baby monitor app, it allows us to sneak out for dinner at a nearby restaurant without asking my mother-in-law to babysit.
2. YSL Touche Eclat is fantastic when it comes to covering tracks of sleep deprivation.
3. My blender – Ava loves making and drinking smoothies.
What’s your advice to all newbie moms?
For the moms of newborns, I’d say: “This too shall pass.” When Ava was born, I thought my life would stay like this forever – sleepless nights, constant worries, non-stop breastfeeding and pumping. But it all changes so fast, children grow at an incredible speed. Plus, another good advice is to go with your gut. It’s an old cliché, but usually, clichés are true. And this one is not an exception. Nobody knows your child better than you do.
What do you find challenging as a parent and how do you try to solve the difficulties?
I try to practice what I preach. But it’s not always easy. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to follow my instinct. I was spammed with pieces of advice and worrying comments. Everyone -grandparents, friends, and relatives had something to say. I was stressed, and it gave me an impression that I wasn’t a good enough. Now, I’m way better with filtering that. I know who I am and where I stand.
How do you prefer raising your child/children, what works for you?
It’s a difficult one. But I think we are quite intuitive parents. I read a lot of books about children’s phycology. But mostly we rely on our own experience and understanding of ‘good and bad.’ And we take all the decisions together. I wouldn’t do anything major in Ava’s or her brother’s upbringing without consulting first with my husband.
As a mother what would you like to do differently?
Not per se as a mother, but I wish Ava could see her Russian family more often and get more of my culture.
What’s your favorite moment of the day?
Any quiet moment when she’s relaxed and content. I also really like mornings.
How do you unwind? What is a nice treat for you?
Yoga helps me to unwind both physically and mentally. It’s “me” time with no interruptions allowed. After a yoga class, I often go for a cup of coffee on my way back home. So this is a small treat as well. Having a lazy evening with my husband, just the two of us or meeting with friends is precious. And nobody has yet diminished the benefits of shopping, haha!
What do you do to make sure everything is ‘in balance,’ work, family, friends?
I think that this balance is an urban mothers’ myth. There always will be some part of your life, which will “suffer” while the other will be prioritized. I guess the key is to learn to accept this.
How do you combine motherhood and work?
I was lucky to be able to give my daughter my full attention for the whole first year of her life. Then, I went back to work but part-time. Having own business is both a curse and a blessing. From one hand, I can be very flexible, but from the other, the work is always there, including holidays and weekends. It works for me this way, but it’s not a perfect balance. I don’t know how it will go with the second child. But I’m planning to take less time off this time.
Do you still make any special/traditional dishes from home? What is your most favorite Dutch dish?
I have to be honest here – I don’t really like cooking. Through the week I cook something simple and healthy (at least I try). And when we have a special occasion, my husband does all the cooking. I’m lucky he’s a great cook, and he does enjoy it a lot. So no, no special Russian or Dutch dishes. I do like to make desserts but the easy and healthy ones. For example, from the Rens Kroes’ books.
Name a couple of your favorite things in general. List a top 5.
Besides my family:
1. New York, I’m in love with the city. I can go back there every single month. At my home office, I have a wall covered in posters and photos of New York. And I have this quote written out – it’s by F. Scott Fitzgerald “the city …in its wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty of the world.”
2. Going back home to my family and friends. Besides, St. – Petersburg is a magnificent city, one of the most beautiful, regal cities in the world.
3. Well, I’d better say traveling instead of listing all the places I love. So yes, traveling makes me very, very happy.
4. Books. I’m a bookworm. I used to read loads. Now, I have way less time, but I still enjoy a good book tremendously.
5. As I have only one position left I squeeze here a few other things: a nice dinner, a good glass of red wine, a great movie, and going with my little family to the market each Saturday.
Can you tell a little about how you decorated your kid’s room?
I’m lucky as I had a chance to decorate Ava’s room twice. First, it was her nursery. Then, when she was one year old, we moved, and I could decorate a room for a toddler. Both bedrooms are very bright and colorful, though. The curtains full of big, vivid flowers and the posters of floating balloons on a wall are the central items in the room. When I was pregnant, I ordered a custom-made mobile featuring four elephants. The mobile is still there hanging from the lamp. I’ll never give it up, as for me it symbolizes the beauty of expecting my first child.
All in all Ava’s room is very girly, full of warmth and sunshine. I think the room matches its owner very well.
Her brother’s room is more boyish but also very colorful. I ordered a very bright wall-paper for one part of the room. And the dominant hues of the nursery are mint green and yellow. Very happy colors.
What’s important to you interior-wise, when it comes to creating a home?
I like when you enter a house, and you know immediately who lives in there. I prefer a house to be messy but lively, then tidy but emotionless. Almost two years ago we moved in a beautiful house built circa 1930ies. There’s yet much work to be done, but it’s a pleasure to decorate it. I like color, light, and warmth. We play with a classiness of the house mixing it up with the modern “Brooklyn Loft” style. As far as we got, we have quite an eclectic mix, which I’m proud. Books, photos, and dear to the heart items brought from our travels add a special personal touch to the interior. Come, visit:)))))
Where do you shop for your kid(s)?
I shop mostly online. When it comes to kids’ clothes, I’m happy with the high street brands like Zara, Next, and Mango. My absolute favorite, though, is Petit Bateau and an Italian brand Monnalisa, and Lulu Rain for dresses.
What are your favorite clothing brands and stores?
Dattie & Die is a great brick and mortar store (Lustofstraat, Rotterdam). I also like J Crew. Lately, I’m focused on quality. I’m done with polyester. So when I shop, I can buy at a vintage or thrift store, at a high street brand or a designer boutique as long as I like the design of an item and the quality of it.
How do you stay in shape, physically and emotionally?
I do yoga, which helps both physically and emotionally. I walk and bike a lot. That’s unwinding on the physical side. Talking to my husband, mom and friends helps when I need to calm down on the emotional side.
What was the first item you bought for your baby when you were pregnant?
I had an echo, and a doctor said that she could see the gender of the baby. I asked her to write it down on a piece of paper. Afterward, I stopped at a kids apparel store and asked a saleswoman to pick a onesie of the right color. The onesie was wrapped, and I couldn’t see whether it was pink or blue. When my husband came home, I gave him the wrapped. He opened it and pulled out a white onesie with tiny pink letters on it. That evening we found out that we are having a girl. For the baby boy I did the same, but this time it was a blue and green blanket.
What’s the nicest piece of art you ever got from kid(s)?
Ava draws all the time. But usually, she demands all her drawings backJ
When does your heart melt?
I don’t know. I have this absorbing emotion of unmanageable happiness. Probably, that is when my heart melts. I experience it at the most random times, like when Ava sits on my lap, and I see the curls on the back of her head; or when I zip her sleeping-bag, and suddenly she pulls out her small foot laughing at my reaction. I also have it when I come home after a vacation or a weekend away. I feel very blessed at those moments.
What city do you like to visit and why?
I studied Japanese language back at the University. I love the language, the history and the culture of Japan. But I’ve never been there. So it is (with all its cities) on the top of my bucket list. Besides, I can come back to New York and London millions of times, and I never grow tired of these cities. I’m a horrible Anglophile:)))))
What’s essential for you when you go on holiday with family?
We try to keep it easy and pleasant for the three (almost four) of us. So we pick one place, and we stay there making small trips here and there. It’s important to stick to Ava’s routine/ regime of meals, naps, play time, etc. We’ve noticed she really needs it.
What do you like about your partner as a father?
He is 100% in it together with me. He is a true partner in all aspects of parenthood. I like having that solid wall – him behind me. It makes me confident and calm. He is very much in love with his children. However, he knows how to set up the rules and stick to them. And that is extremely important.
How does your date-night look?
Nothing extraordinary. We go out for a good movie and/or nice dinner. Once in a while my mom or my mother-in-law lets us escape for a city trip of a few days. And the ultimate night out includes dancing, showing the moves while the old classics from the 60ies, 70ies, and 80ies are loud))))))
Who as a mother inspires you and why?
My mother, my grandmothers, and my mother-in-law. I admire their strength, wisdom, personalities and I’m forever grateful for what they gave and keep on giving me.