Circus Tricks - How do you juggle ex-pat life, children and still try to follow your dream? (Illustrations by Sarah-Leigh Wills and copyright Rembrandt & Kiki 2014)

Circus Tricks – How do you juggle ex-pat life, children and still try to follow your dream?

Jane Archer-Wilms, British ex-pat, explains how she puts pen to paper, publishes and promotes in between the pooey nappies, playdates and pick-ups.

Breed. This was the standard answer if you asked the 16 year old me what I wanted to do when I grew up. Obviously university and some sort of a career in between but, essentially, I wanted to breed.

Fast-forward 20 years and I have bred. My husband Mattijs and I have three fantastic little boys and my life is fulfilled….. right? Nearly right.

After studying English at university, I became an English and Drama teacher, working first in the UK and Germany, then moving to the Netherlands in 2002 to be with Mattijs. We lived in Leiden and I worked for many happy years at The British School in the Netherlands. After our second son Benjamin was born in 2010 we decided together that I would stop working.

In the end it was not really a difficult decision. After Sam was born in 2007, I gradually worked less and less, so by 2010 I was working 2 days a week. But I just couldn’t seem to get the balance right; I was feeling guilty that I had to leave school meetings and parents’ evenings early to get the boys from crèche, then feeling guilty forty five minutes later being (yet again) the last parent to collect the boys from crèche. On the days I had with the boys, I felt I had to fill them with educationally and culturalIy stimulating activites. In hindsight I think The Teletubbies would have provided just as much for their core development. I have huge respect for parents who manage to successfully (or even unsuccessfully) juggle the work-child-life balance.

By the time Max came along in 2012, I was fully entrenched in the stay-at-home mum role and had no regrets about the decision. Then I met Marlies (Veenhof, co-author Rembrandt & Kiki). Marlies was then a Dutch primary school teacher working one day a week. We had children the same age and her eldest was in Sam’s class at school. We clicked immediately and shared many mornings and afternoons taking the children out, bemoaning our lack of sleep and drinking bucket-loads of tea whilst helping with the children’s jigsaws.

Rembrandt &  Kiki

(Photo: Jane Archer-Wilms)

It began to emerge, as we became more and more honest with each other, that however much we loved the children, and without a doubt had made the right decision for our families in terms of stopping work (Marlies also became a full-time mum just after her youngest was born), there was still this little niggling feeling that it maybe, just maybe, wasn’t quite enough for us. It was quite embarrassing to admit, even to each other, because I had for years hankered after stopping work to ‘bring up the children’.

We both agreed that putting our skills to good use but fitting it in around the children, their peuterspeelzaals, schools, sports and playdates would be the ideal solution to our (luxury) problem.

So began the creation of Rembrandt & Kiki, a bilingual children’s book series. We had no idea then just how much time the books would take up. We had no idea of the processes involved in getting a book published. We had no idea of the help we would need from our husbands. But most of all we had no idea that we would get so much pleasure from creating these mischievous bilingual twins.

Our daily lives are now busier than we could ever have imagined. Our decision to self-publish means that we fit in some marketing while the little ones take their afternoon nap. We take inspiration from the humour of our children; we’re laughing along with them but secretly thinking ‘this is something Rembrandt would say at the farm’! We discuss the nuances and translation issues of the two languages whilst changing nappies, and our children happily trampoline whilst we put the finishing touches to the business cards.

Despite this manic juggling of raising children and starting our own company, I cannot think of anything better than living the two dreams at once. It may well feel like we’re precariously walking the tightrope at times, but this is one circus that I want to be a part of.

Rembrandt and Kiki

(Illustrations by Sarah-Leigh Wills and copyright Rembrandt & Kiki 2014)


Please, read also Amanda’s Book Review: “Rembrandt and Kiki Move to the Netherlands” / “Rembrandt and Kiki Verhuizen naar Nederland”

Jane Archer-Wilms
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