The Confab: Getting Animated with ‘Wallykazam!”s Dave Palmer

Parental Intel, The Confab Monday, March 17, 2014

On Thursday, March 20, MMM turns 4! To celebrate the blogiversary we’ll be hosting Four Days of Fab Giveaways, kicking off today. Up for grabs will be products (from people) I came to know through blogging these last four years; ergo, some good stuff, yo! Stay tuned to the blog and MMM’s Facebook page for updates, announcements and info.  You don’t want to miss this. Trust.

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I met Kristin Wald almost immediately after the launching the Ms. Mary Mack blog in 2010, and she’s been squarely in my corner ever since. She’s a mother of two, a (now not-so-new) Brooklyn transplant in Montclair, NJ, and a woman unafraid to stand up and raise her voice about the important and sometimes controversial things.

K-Dubs, as I often call her, is smart, compassionate and genuinely kind. I’m glad I know her (and actually got to meet her in “real life” at BlogHer ’12!). She’s also one of those people always willing to help connect you with other good eggs in this world.

Exhibit A: Dave Palmer. He’s a multiple Emmy nominated director, animator, writer and illustrator, best known for his work as Director of the breakthrough preschool series Blue’s Clues, and the hit animated children’s series The Backyardigans.

K-dubs knew I wanted to bring back The Confab feature on MMM , and she also knew Dave, so doing what she does best, Kristin made the email intro and here we are, interviewing the man about being the Supervising Producer of Nick Jr.’s new show Wallykazam!, which premiered in February to the highest ratings of any preschool show on Nick Jr. in almost a decade. (It’s currently number one rated preschool show on Nickelodeon.)

So thanks, K-dubs! And welcome back to The Confab, friends. Time to chop it up with the talented Mr. Palmer.

Dave Palmer headshot | Ms. Mary Mack

Q:  You’re a director, an animator, a writer, an illustrator — plus, Emmy-nominated many times over. How did you even get started in this line of business? Is it something you’ve wanted to do since childhood, coming up watching cartoons on Saturday mornings?

Dave Palmer: Well, everything in my bio — spanning almost 20 years in the animation industry (egads!) — really stemmed from not being able to get a job in animation after I graduated from Ithaca College in 1991.  I moved to New York in 1994 to attend NYU’s Graduate program in Film Animation, with the specific goal of making contacts in the industry.  And thankfully, that’s what I did almost right away, which led to some brief freelance work on commercials before I stumbled on the opportunity to work on the Blue’s Clues pilot in the summer of 1995.

As to what led me to pursue a career in animation — like most kids, I watched a lot of cartoons on Saturday morning, and at any and all other times that I could.  My favorites were the classic Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny shorts, as well as the Pink Panther, Jonny Quest, the Charlie Brown specials, and others.  And of course, I loved Disney films.  My parents would take my brother and me to see movies at the local drive-in, where we’d see Disney double features — Herbie The Love Bug or Escape to Witch Mountain, paired with an animated film like Robin Hood or The Aristocats, which I adored then, and still do.

I was always interested in drawing as a child, and had some facility in that area at an early age — I remember moving to a new school in the 2nd grade, and having kids rave over something I was drawing, which was a great ice breaker for a shy kid, as I was.  So I kept drawing, and took classes where I could, and had some aspirations of being a classically trained artist when I got older, but I don’t think I ever associated drawing with the cartoons and films that I loved until I was about 11 years old, when I saw Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings at the local second-run movie theater.  It blew my mind.  It was so different from the polished, kid-friendly, funny Disney films that I loved — so raw and violent and rough around the edges.  The mixture of paintings and rotoscoping and hand-drawn animation, for me, really revealed that you could turn art into film.  And that’s what started me thinking about animation.

Living in the suburbs of upstate New York, however, I didn’t have any clue about how to break into the industry. For me, saying I wanted to make movies was like saying I wanted to be an astronaut — I just saw no path that would lead me to my goal.  Years later, as I was applying to colleges, my Mom pointed me toward Ithaca College, which has a wonderful film program, because she heard that they had (and still have) a robust internship program in LA.  So that’s where I started my journey, although I didn’t take that LA internship back in 1990 — it took me another 23 years to get here!

Wallykazam on Nick Jr | Ms. Mary Mack

Q: How did the new show Wallykazam! come about? Is it a long process to go from show idea to the actual program airing on network TV?

DP: Wallykazam! was created by Adam Peltzman, who is an extremely talented writer.  He and I met on Blue’s Clues, and worked on The Backyardigans together as well, and we had spoken over the years about working on something together.  Around the time The Backyardigans was wrapping up, Adam sold the Wallykazam! pitch to Nick Jr., and got the opportunity to make a five-minute short, so he asked me to direct it.

Nick Jr.’s plan at the time was to produce shorts for a few select pitches, air them all, and then decide which would be further developed for series.  We did the short in New York in 2010, and that’s where Adam started to develop the voice of the show, and we really developed the look and animation style of the short.  We played with some pure 2D styles, but the animation studio we were working with suggested working in more of a 3D space.  We then started to experiment with CG characters in a world that was made up of flat cards, arranged with depth — like a kid’s shoebox diorama — with a shallow depth of field so only the area right around the characters would be in focus.

Those ideas evolved throughout production, and we eventually settled on a mixture of 3D characters and 2D elements.  We finished the short that summer and waited until the end of the year before we heard that the shorts wouldn’t actually go on the air.  That was the bad news.  The good news was that Nick Jr. really liked the short, and wanted us to produce a longer pilot. So in 2011 we went into production on a 16-minute episode, which was produced at the Nickelodeon animation studio in LA.

The pilot, which I directed, took a few months to produce.  We were already getting the feeling that Nick Jr. liked the show even before we finished the pilot, which was nice, but it still took another few months to get a series pick up and it was probably a year later we were fully in production.

Long story, short: yes, it was a long process. But our story isn’t the longest or most difficult development story I know, so I consider us lucky to go from first short to series premiere in about 3-4 years!

Q: How incredible is it to have a firm hand in creating a world in which kids immerse themselves and fully believe? Would you say that’s one of the best parts of your job?

DP: Creating a world and characters that our viewers can immerse themselves in is definitely something we work really hard at on Wallykazam!, and it’s something that’s very important to me personally. The greatest strength of TV as a medium is that you can spend so much time with the characters (and in the worlds) you create and really develop them deeply over many seasons.

For a Preschool show like ours, we don’t really get to do long character arcs like you can for older demos, where the characters age and change over time, but you can (and should, I think), still develop well-rounded characters by reinforcing their personalities and revealing additional layers over time.

The goal for me from the beginning of my career has been to create characters that kids identify with, and fall in love with, and become completely invested in, the way I was invested in Bugs Bunny and Charlie Brown in my day.  I heard something while working on Blue’s Clues that’s stuck with me: the acme of character-based comedy is when your audience knows the character so well that they laugh before they even see the punchline.  The idea that the mere set-up would cause the audience to imagine what the character would do and start to laugh, and that we could create such strong characters, really resonated with me.

Q: What makes Wallykazam! different from some of the other quality kids’ shows on air now?

DP: That authentic, living-world feel we’re going for is one thing that sets Wallykazam! apart, for sure.  The delicate balance between character and curriculum is pretty rare, and to be honest, not appropriate for every preschool show, but it’s right where we want to be.  Something else that’s pure Wallykazam! is its sweet, funny and weird tone.  We go to some odd places in our show, and create some strange and silly situations, and I love that we get to play in a world where those things feel like they truly fit.

Internally, we’ve often referred to Wally’s world as Middle Earth for Preschoolers — a place where there is something amazing to discover in every dark forest, or over every mountain peak.  The world should feel vast but safe, unexplored but oddly familiar, and every episode should ideally feel like we’re getting a glimpse of one piece of a much longer narrative about Wally and his friends.  And in that world there is this amazing artifact that can create words, and those words have weight and heft and power in that world.

Q: Do your three kids think that you are the coolest dad in the world? I know your children are young, but do you see the “animation bug” in any of them yet?

DP: Our twins don’t get it yet — they just turned 3 — but my oldest is 6, and he understands that I work on Wallykazam!, although I don’t think he understands exactly what I do every day. He actually draws beautifully, though, and has a terrific eye for color and spatial relationships.  (I must sound like every proud parent whose child brings home drawings, but I love his them so much.  We have his drawings up on the walls all over the house, and I hung some in my office at the studio, too.)  He seems to have some interest, but the other day he asked me if someone could have two jobs when they got older. I said, “Well, some people do. Why?”, and he said, “Because I want to be a soccer player and an animator when I grow up.”

Q: What do you hope kids — and by extension their parents — come away with after experiencing Wallykazam’s world?

DP: First, I hope kids laugh. I hope they laugh their tiny socks right off! And their parents, too.  I’d also like them to really connect with Wally and Norville, and truly think of them as friends.  And if those two things happen, I know kids will come back to our show again and again, and they’ll learn about a lot of specific phonemes, but if they take away any one thing from Wallykazam!, I hope they’ll adopt Wally’s love of words and language.

Q: This last question may be a little prickly, but do you think that kids today are spending too much time in front of screens (TV and iPads, etc.)? Is there a “too much” when it comes to animation and TV shows for our kids?

DP: Absolutely, yes.  That goes for everyone, not just children.  We’re becoming very screen-centric as a culture, with communication and entertainment and information at our fingertips 24 hours a day.  I personally find it really hard not just to avoid looking at my phone for an extended period of time, but I do try. And my wife and I are diligent about limiting our kids screen time.

The bottom line is that I love making TV shows for kids, and someday I hope to make movies for them, and after that TV shows and movies for older kids and adults, as well.  I love the visual storytelling of TV and film, both as a creator and a consumer, but I know that the things I create and consume should be enjoyed in moderation.  I’m sure the same could be said of folks in other fields.  The great pastry chefs of the world would love as many people as possible to enjoy their work, but I don’t think any of them would suggest that their desserts should be eaten at every meal, day after day.

I understand how alluring what we create is for kids, and I hope that the children who enjoy our show are balancing their time with us with plenty of outdoor play, imaginative play, building toys, and drawing, and reading books, and playing games with their family and friends.

It means so much to us that folks are watching, and we know that those few hours a week that our viewers spend with us are precious, so we really work hard to provide a show that is as funny, warm, engaging, and smart as possible, to really justify that investment of time.

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Catch Wallykazam! weekdays at 1 p.m. ET on Nick Jr. And read more about Dave Palmer on his website here

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Release the doves and rainbows, people — it’s Giveaway Time! So, for Day 1 of Four Days of Giveaways, the prize will be a 30-day supply of Honest Kids juice pouches.

Honest Tea is another fantastic company that I have been so fortunate to meet (in person too!) in my four years of blogging. Shout-out to Jordan over at HT for always being so generous with his time and help! Looking forward to keep the fun rolling with these folks.

To be entered to win, just leave comment below about your animated show faves — could be something your kids enjoy now or a cartoon from the way, way back that you could not miss on Saturday mornings. The randomly-selected winner will be announced Thursday, March 20. Good luck!

Global Mamas: Scotland

Global Mamas Thursday, March 13, 2014

Globala Mamas Scotland map | Ms. Mary Mack

We’re profiling one mother from every country on the planet. (Current tally: 19 down, 173 countries to go!)

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Meet Michelle Brown, mother of 3-year-old Ben.  Michelle originally studied cinema and photography at Ithaca College.  However, after graduating, she worked for a summer camp and her career path turned towards children’s and youth ministry instead.  In 2005 she moved from the States to Edinburgh, Scotland, to pursue a masters in theological ethics at the University of Edinburgh and to plan for her wedding  to her Scottish man, Paul. Five years later, Ben joined the family.  They three now live in Musselburgh, Scotland, and Michelle works part-time as a Children’s and Youth Worker in the Church of Scotland while taking care of Ben full-time.

Here’s her story …

Global Mamas Scotland_Michelle | Ms. Mary Mack 

Life before baby …
I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, but I always wanted to see more of the world.  During college, I studied in Stirling Scotland and also drove across the states to study in Los Angeles, CA. After college, I spent six months working in London, England and then two months travelling around Europe with some friends.  After that I moved to Boston.  I always thought I would be a filmmaker but after working at a Christian summer camp as a camp photographer/camp counsellor the summer after graduating, I quickly realized that working with children and young people was where my heart was.

I met Paul through friends while on holiday in Edinburgh, Scotland. I knew right away that I had met someone pretty amazing. Two years later, while I was visiting Edinburgh for a graduate school interview, Paul proposed! We were marriedtThe day after my dissertation was due.

My ideas about motherhood …
Growing up I was one of those kids with lots of baby dolls playing “mum.”  I definitely wanted a big family — three or four children.  I did a lot of baby-sitting and spent ten years working with children and young people, and  I thought I was prepared for being a mum.

Then came baby …
Even with the prenatal classes and books, I really was not prepared for the realities of those first few weeks getting to know the baby.  When I got home from hospital, I was visited by my National Health Service (NHS Scotland) community midwife Andrea everyday for the first 10 days after returning home.  She answered all of our questions, checked on my healing and Ben’s development everyday, and counseled me during the tough times.

The biggest change once Ben appeared was the complete shift of focus from everything else to this one small person. All of a sudden my work priorities, personal goals, housework, and everything else just were no longer as important. Paul and I had such a steep learning curve from the start with Ben while trying to work out his feeding issues (I wasn’t producing enough breastmilk) that it pulled us together as a couple while also challenging us as a couple. Parenting has made us different people as individuals and as a married couple. It is the greatest adventure we have taken together for sure.

The most challenging part of motherhood …
Whatever is currently happening is always the most challenging part of motherhood for me. But then he grows past that stage and onto the next, which is inevitably even harder than the last.  I thought breastfeeding was hard, but then there was weaning, then he was on the move, then bedtime was a struggle, then naps were getting more difficult, then toilet training, and just when I thought it could not possibly get any more difficult, we have reached the extreme tantrum stage.

He’s my beautiful wee angel one minute, and then he will turn into a terrifying screaming and crying child the next. When he is in full frustrated, angry, tantrum mode, he hits me and kicks me and I feel like a complete failure as  I attempt to stay as patient as possible reminding him that we have “kind hands and kind words” and that it is not OK to hit mum. I sit away from him until he is calm again.  Once calm, he eventually says “sorry,” and we move on, but I am always emotionally wrecked for the better part of that day. I am told by several mum friends that this is just a phase that will pass as well, but oh is it a hard and challenging time.

An older friend with teenagers has lovingly offered to swap children as she assures me that Ben’s current stage is nothing compared to what lies ahead!

On balancing work and life …
My job is quite flexible, which is amazing.  I work mainly from home on the computer or prepping craft projects, apart from Sunday mornings when I am responsible for leading the youth group and Sunday morning children’s ministry.

The volunteers, parents and the minister all understand about my having Ben with me, as professional childcare is far too expensive, so I have opted to be a stay-at-home/work-from-home mum. Thankfully my wee boy loves spending time in coffee shops (where I often have meetings) and loves the church toys so 90% of the time the work/parenting combination meetings are successful. I am very lucky to have such support from work and also from our family.

When Ben took naps, I was able to have big blocks of time at home at the computer for emailing, writing up newsletter articles, planning lessons, etc. However, when Ben was around 2, the naps stopped and he wanted more and more of my attention and working at home became a real struggle. This often leads to me working very late at night once he is finally asleep for the day or getting up really early to get in an hour or two of work before he starts his day. It is exhausting!

Thankfully, his place in the government provided school nursery began when he turned 3. This has been a complete game changer for us. Now I get 2 ½ hours every day of the school week child-free to run errands and get a significant uninterrupted time at the computer for work. It is amazing what can be done in 2 ½ hours. I am so thankful for those hours as I am a much less frazzled mum who can be more focused on boy when he is back home from school.

I am managing this work/life balance as best as possible, but it is definitely hard some days. Still, it’s a real joy to watch him grow up and see him discover the world around him. I love that I have been able to be there for the little moments and the big moments each day with him.

The best part about raising a child in Scotland
The National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland has been incredible. Now, quality of care can vary depending on where you live, but for my experience, the midwives in Musselburgh were fantastic!

I had an amazing midwife with me in the hospital throughout labour. I stayed in hospital for two days and upon returning home I had my community midwife visiting me for ten more days. When I was discharged from the midwife’s care, I was then visited by Ben’s health visitor who would continue to be available to me via phone if I had any further concerns and who would check on Ben’s development again at his immunizations.

Meanwhile, we were never charged a penny for Ben. All of the care, classes and literature we received free from NHS Scotland. Our contribution to National Insurance each month from our paychecks and our income tax is all we have ever paid. Even this is so small when compared to what I used to pay in health insurance in the States.

The thing I most appreciate about the NHS is that I never need to worry about cost when it comes to my child.  If Ben is unwell or if I have any big worry about him, I get him to the doctor.  There is no fear of if we can afford it — the care is already there.

Best piece of advice I ever heard …
“Make friends with the other mums.” So true! The mum friends that I’ve met at my prenatal class, at the breast feeding clinic, at church, and through Ben’s swimming class have been a complete God-send. They truly are friends for life!  These lovely ladies are my support network, my cheering section, my shoulders to cry on, my coffee break pals, my sanity break, etc.  I cannot imagine being a mum without them all.

If we could jump into the DeLorean and race back in time …
I would tell myself that I am looking at a precious and wonderful gift who will grow to be a curious, funny, energetic, loving, clever and sweet pre-schooler soon. There will be tough times along the way, but there will be many more fantastic times too.  Parenting is a wild adventure. You never know where each day will take you, but always remember that you are doing a great job.

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Read more about Michelle and life in Scotland on her family blog here.

We’ve got over 170 countries to go (yeah, whoa.). So if you would like to nominate a mother who is living and raising a family abroad to be featured on MMM’s Global Mamas series, do let us know! Drop a line to: get[dot]msmack[at]gmail[dot]com.

Also, be sure to join the fun over on Facebook. There are giveaways, random polls, jokes, and more. Don’t miss a beat; Like us!

A Grandma by Any Other Name …

Life As Mom, Parental Intel Thursday, March 6, 2014

It’s like this running joke. A cliché gag we’ve seen played out typically on sitcoms: the mom who is so unprepared, so unwilling to be thought of as “old,” that she refuses to be called Grandma. Someone, either her adult children or  grand babies (or hell, she’ll do it herself ), comes up with an alternate — a kinder, gentler name to call this woman.

Now, she’s not trying to deny these young’uns. Of course she loves the kids. That’s a given. What she doesn’t love is being called Grandma.

So the nontraditional nickname creation begins …

Lucille Bluth | Ms. Mary Mack

Gangy.

Gigi

Gabby.

Momo.

Tootsie.

Jammie

Their actual first names. (whuuuttt?)

Woof. (*long stare*)

For my parents, this wasn’t their first time at the grandparents rodeo. My nieces christened them “Grandma” and “Granddad” decades ago, and my folks continue to wear those names quite proudly.

On my in-laws’ side, The Youngster is their first grandchild, and they were also raring to go. Grand Land, here we come! Actually, just before our son was born, my husband and I tried to go “cute” with my mother-in-law’s name. How about GranJan? (Her name is Janet.) Quickly, we collectively rolled our eyes at that one. And, yes, I tried to blame that silliness on pregnancy brain.

No-no-no. The MIL happily wanted to be known as Grandma. My father-in-law was given Grandpa — a little distinction that my son doesn’t let you slip up on. Make the error of saying Grandpa when you really mean Granddad, and he will correct you.

It still makes all four parents giggle to hear the G-word from these kids. And to be honest, it kind of tickles me too. I only knew one grandparent: my maternal grandmother. Sadly, the others passed long before I came on the scene. I called her Ma — because everyone else did — but sometimes went for Gran or Gran-Gran. She was lovely and answered to all of it.

Curious, what do your kids call your parents? Is it a nickname you created? Is it a flubbed name (because of toddler lisp cuteness) that just stuck? Or is it a traditional cultural name like Bibi? Leave a comment below. As always, I’m interested to hear your take.

Global Mamas: The Netherlands

Global Mamas Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Global Mamas Netherlands Map Hoi | Ms. Mary Mack

We’re profiling one mother from every country on the planet. (Current tally: 18 down, 174 countries to go!)

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Meet Farrah Ritter. She’s an adventure-seeking expat mom from the States  living in the Netherlands with her family. Originally from Michigan, she and her husband relocated to the Deep South in 2006 and then jumped over the pond with their boys in tow. Her blog, The Three Under, started when Farrah was on bed rest with a difficult twin pregnancy, but has since morphed into documenting and sharing her family’s European journey with three little kids – Brody, (almost) 5, and Lincoln and Chase, 3.5 year-old twins. A sucker for the cities of Europe, Farrah loves to see the perspectives of others and experience the beauty of old towns and historic places.

Here’s her story …

Global Mamas Netherlands Farrah | Ms. Mary Mack

Life before baby …
To be blunt, I didn’t think I wanted children. It was almost a deal breaker when I was dating my then boyfriend (now husband)! I enjoyed working and going to graduate school, loved the freedom to travel and be on my own. I treasured my freedom. I couldn’t see myself as a mother. Plus, I was terrified of anything involving hospitals, doctors and needles. To me, the idea of pregnancy and childbirth was the last thing I ever wanted to experience. I didn’t see the bigger picture. It was only me and me alone.

My ideas about motherhood …
I honestly never thought about motherhood before becoming pregnant. My husband and I were married for about three years, and I was over 30, when we decided to add to our family. I didn’t think I was responsible or unselfish enough to give so much to another person. I didn’t play with baby dolls as a little girl —  nor did I want to be a “mommy.”

When my husband and I did sit down and talk about it, the idea seemed very abstract. After our first child was born we decided to have our second (and last) child. Two seemed good for me. However, the universe had other plans.

Then came baby …
After we had our first in 2009, I never imagined I could love so much. The end of the pregnancy was scary as I had preeclampsia and had to have him via C-section at 37 weeks. As frightening as it was, I felt it was worth it. I knew that we would have another child, that I would endure pregnancy (even though I didn’t enjoy it), but I felt that it was possible to double my love instead of dividing it.

The biggest change had to be how nothing else mattered but him. For once, I saw in my life a bigger purpose, an ability to love something so much that I put myself last behind everything else. I left my career in teaching without any remorse. I threw myself into caring for our son, thinking about our future and focused on nothing else but his happiness and wellbeing. For someone as selfish as me, this was easily the biggest transformation and change. Something I never imagined possible.

The most challenging part of motherhood …
It was the surprise when our twins entered the picture. My oldest was just over a year old when they were born, and as I expected life to be interesting with two, suddenly we were jumping to three. I was terrified. We lived 12 hours away from our family, and I did not think I was up for the task.

Today the twins are 3 and my oldest is almost 5. I look back on that haze of the twins’ first two years and can’t believe we survived! Structure, self-discipline and routine became my life. Nothing else mattered. Daily life was survival. I doubted my capabilities of caring for three babies at once and had trouble seeing beyond the early years. I loved more than I thought possible, but the chaos was intense. Three boys under two years of age at once was something in a million years I did not expect nor plan for.

On balancing work and life …
My entire life I wanted to be a high school teacher. I was in my third year teaching in South Carolina when I became pregnant, and was already feeling disillusioned with my career choice. I threw all of my emotions and mental strength into teaching troubled kids, and it sucked the life out of me. The last year I taught was so difficult, I do attribute it to my high blood pressure during my pregnancy and have never regretted leaving it behind.

I am now in the early stage of realizing that my boys aren’t babies anymore. They aren’t as dependent on me as before. I am just beginning to formulate an idea of life while they are going to be in school. I ask myself, What do I want to do next? Teaching left a bad taste in my mouth, but I always enjoyed working. The trouble now, though, is what do I do? I am in a foreign country and do not speak the language. How to I join a workforce and contribute as a foreigner?

The best part about raising a child in the Netherlands …
The best part (and there are many) has been the school system. I am beyond thrilled with the quality and friendliness of the traditional public Dutch school that we chose, instead of going the International school route.

My oldest is now fluent in Dutch (after just a year!) and I am amazed. My 3-year-olds are speaking more and more Dutch daily. It’s a challenge for me to keep up with them.

I have embraced the bike culture. We traded in our minivan and suburban life for a small village and cargo bike.

The food is better for my kids. And friendships seem easier to make – and keep.

Also, there’s health care for everyone. There is a government service called the Consultatsie Bureau that provides early childhood vaccines and checkups. (However, there is some contention as to how “helpful” the CB really is, so the jury is out on that.)  I do miss having our pediatrician. Here you only see a pediatrician in an extreme situation. They are at the hospital. For everything else, you see your family GP.

Also, I do see quite a bit of involvement on the part of the Oma and Opa [grandparents].  They come to school for drop-off and pick-up. Extended family is very involved with childcare.

Overall I’m thrilled raising my kids here. They have gained insight to a new culture, have been able to explore all over Europe and learn a second language. I feel at home and at peace with where we are located. So much so that we just extended our stay three additional years. At this point we are in no hurry to return to the US.  I feel that we are doing really well.

The parts that I wish were different …
Dutch is a very difficult language, and although it is extremely helpful to be in a country where English is taught and spoken, I still do not like being helpless in the occasional situation where I do not understand what is going on.

Best piece of advice I ever heard …
My dear friend and postpartum doula taught me: Always remember that you must put on your oxygen mask first. You can’t help anyone if you do not take care of yourself. I think of this often, and thankfully have a supportive partner in my husband who encourages me to take time for myself. Know when to say, “I give up” for the day, take a step back, go someplace alone, do what I want. I am still an individual even though I am a mother. I have never lost sight of that. I matter too.

If we could jump into the DeLorean and race back in time …
I would tell myself: Don’t worry so much. You’re doing great. He’s going to be amazing. And … you think it’s hard now? Hahahah! Just wait until you see that sonogram next spring!

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Read more about Farrah Ritter on her blog The Three Under.

We’ve got over 170 countries to go (yeah, whoa.). So if you would like to nominate a mother who is living and raising a family abroad to be featured on MMM’s Global Mamas series, do let us know! Drop a line to: get[dot]msmack[at]gmail[dot]com.

Also, be sure to join the fun over on Facebook. There are giveaways, random polls, jokes, and more. Don’t miss a beat; Like us!

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