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Illustration: Maya E Shakur for FREDERICK & SOPHIE

In the Marvelous Misadventures of a Third-Culture Toy Store Family, Pris writes all about her messy, mobile, and TOYful family life around the world as she and her husband Markus build Frederick & Sophie while raising their Third-Culture Kid, Indy!

Location: Dubai

Arms up and hold on tight! Frederick & Sophie’s roller-coaster ride has taken a sharp curve into 2022! I can’t wait to write down their new Absolutely Awesome Adventures to see where Frederick, Sophie, Wally, and George will end up next (yes, this is also always a surprise to me as a writer)!

 

When it comes to my own roller-coaster ride through 2021, I occasionally found myself thrown out of my car, hitting my head, stomach churning. But, there were also moments where I found myself grabbing on in excitement. There were the ups of gratitude for my family’s health and finding a new home in Dubai, the downs of loss, as shared with so many people around the world in this seemingly never-ending story of Covid, and there were the loops, teaching me that there is no jumping off. Somehow, someway, I have made it to here, strapped down, reaching that highest part, pausing for a fraction of a second, thinking about the many lessons I was given in 2021, all encouraging me to ride into 2022 with delight.

 

1. Be authentic about where you are and give yourself permission to go on an amazing expedition (from right behind your laptop).

 

Covid continued to make travel feel rather uncomfortable, but an amazing expedition can happen from right behind your laptop. It has been my Dream (yes, capital D) to turn the Frederick & Sophie blog stories into a children’s book series. Stories to hold and cherish, made to inspire kids around the world to imagine, wonder, and believe in the magic that lays within themselves. But … (hello, inner voice) could I – just Pris – be a children’s book writer? I worked as a journalist, columnist, copywriter, and I am the ultimate bookworm , but does that automatically imply that I can write a book? At the beginning of 2021, I carefully started (over)thinking out loud, talking about a Frederick & Sophie book with Markus, who immediately said, “Yes, please..,” and with Maya, the illustrator who brings my blog stories to life through her incredible illustrations. I researched the ins, outs, and rules of children’s book writing. I became a member of the SCWBI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I signed up to Gotham’s 10-week online Children’s Book Writing course. The course not only introduced me to the creative and business side of children’s book writing, but it also allowed me to explore fantasy, that fiction genre involving magical elements, set in a fictional universe, and sometimes inspired by mythology and folklore. I’ve always loved reading fantasy books (for children, young adult, and adult), but I never really dared to share my fantasy scribbles and ideas with the world. Gotham changed that. The first assignment of my course was to write a letter from my child-self. It was an assignment that unleashed my inner child, and she kept adding monsters, fairies, dragons, time-travel, wizards, talking wardrobes, even a mammoth hanging in a chandelier to all my other assignments, submissions, and discussions. How could I have ever not written fantasy stories? As Frederick and Sophie would say, “It’s terribly terrific in every way!” In class, I created Fairy-Manny George. An Exceptionally Responsible Manny (at least, that’s what his business card says), who looks like any other grown-up human, but who is a fairy with an i-Wand 340. Unfortunately, he is not really good in magic. One windy day, he flew right into the Frederick & Sophie world, and I can’t wait for him to engage you in his accidental troublemaking. 

 

2. Show up to the moment that you are in. Not all cups need to be full all the time. Be present enough to pour whatever is needed into the cup that needs filling in the moment. 

 

As a mom-wife-entrepreneur-writer-learner-online school tutor-bookworm, I had a hard time accepting that I couldn’t stay awake 24/7 to do all, at high speed. When I wrote a blog story, I felt rotten about not sending out those 12 e-mails to suppliers, web developer, or our warehouse. When wrote e-mails, I felt rotten about not researching and buying new toys. When I created new illustration assignments for Maya, I felt rotten about not being able to run to the dry cleaner/grocery store. When I did a Les Mills 28-minute online cardio class to stay healthy and in shape(-ish), I felt rotten about not working on my next assignment for my writing course. When I sat down with Indy to go over an Ancient Civilizations project, I felt rotten about not fixing a website problem or adding new content to our social media accounts. When I read a novel before bedtime, I felt rotten about not having written that new blog story/created social media graphics/ study/ work on my children’s book draft. Moral of this part of the paragraph: I felt rotten most of the time about the one thing that I wasn’t doing instead of experiencing the joy of what I was doing right now. If Covid has made me more aware of anything, it is that every day is a precious gift, but to accept that I can only do so much and not pre-fear what hasn’t been done yet, is easier said than done. Flexing that muscle of staying in the present and saying, “I love sharing my thoughts in this post right now, I love the taste of this cup of coffee,” is an ongoing process. I have grown more comfortable with being in the here and now. There is delight in filling the one cup that needs it in the moment.

 

3. The most powerful way to change the world is to live in the front of our children the way we would like the world to be. – Graham White …Also, Better an oops than a what if.

 

When Markus and I became parents, we sold everything we had in Amsterdam, and we moved to Los Angeles with three suitcases, a giant Newfoundland dog in a giant crate, and a 5-week-old baby in a carriage. Not your average newly-parent move, but one that we were determined on taking. We wanted Indy to know that life is an adventure, filled with both wonders and challenges to overcome. We wanted him to cross bridges and breathe in life from all angles not just one. We wanted him to discover the beauty and strength that laid inside of him through a multitude of cultural experiences. We wanted him to know that the world as we would like it to be, is just like us: all over the place, a mix of different people coming together from different places. It’s “both/and” not “either/or.”

 

We never regretted any step of our multi-cultural family’s entrepreneurial adventure around the world. Indy sat with us in business meetings in Qatar, New York, and Milan. We negotiated price and timelines, he negotiated, “Water without bubbles, please,” as he played with Lightning McQueen and Transformers underneath boardroom tables, behind desks, and in ateliers on socks (he always had a terrible disliking for shoes). When Indy became a school-going child, we lived in Berlin where he attended pre-school and first grade at a traditional brick & mortar private international school. It wasn’t a match. Instead of forcing Indy to continue, Markus and I researched and looked at academic alternatives. 

 

We have been a Laurel Springs online school family since 2017, when we moved from Berlin to Milan, and Indy became a Grade 2 online school student. Indy’s curious, independent, and sensitive nature suited a personalized online curriculum, and online learning allowed us the flexibility needed to grow our family businesses, be together, and continue a life around the world. As a K-12 online accredited private school, Laurel Springs encourages students to take ownership of their education, fosters accountability, and empowers students to design their unique learning path and pace. Students may access their lessons at any time, making it possible to pursue interests and passions outside of school. It’s no wonder that many Laurel Springs students are professional athletes, ballerinas, musicians, or actors. And there are of course the diplomat, military, and entrepreneur kids whose lives are lived around the world. So far, Laurel Springs has been an enriching family experience. As a multi-cultural “both/and” family, diversity is very important to us. Indy’s classes display diversity in subject material and his teachers are open-minded and compassionate. 

 

Indy not only has grown academically but as well in confidence. His curiosity fueled his drive to learn more. His calm nature and determination to grow on resulted in him being an A+ student, rewarded with a recommendation by his Grade 5 teacher for The Academy, a rigorous academic program built for distinguished scholars. After conversations with the Academy’s 6th grade teachers and working ourselves through the application and selection process, we were excited to hear that Indy had been accepted for admission. As parents, Markus and I were nervous about whether the program would be too focused on only academic achievements. Would there still be enough time for imagination, reading the adventure novels he loves, play, personal development, and interests outside of school? As the first semester of grade 6 comes to an end, we could not have been happier with our family choice to say better an oops than a what if and give The Academy a shot. Markus and I watched Indy grow and thrive through The Academy’s classes. He explored Game Design, deepened his interest in space, and discovered a passion for Ancient Civilizations and Mandarin. He listened to symposia speakers, renowned in their fields and relevant to the times we live in. Dr. Sandro Galea, physician, epidemiologist, dean and Robert A. Knox Professor at Boston University School of Public Health, and author of The Contagion Next Time, discussed public health and the forces that influence it: poverty, environment, structural racism, poverty, nutrition, education, exercise, and isolation. He also raised the question of how we can prepare for the next pandemic with possible answers involving not only an investment in medicine, but as well in housing, anti-racism, and education. It was a symposium that increased Indy’s awareness of the world’s challenges and division and fueled our dinner table conversations about what we could do to change it as a family and as entrepreneurs. 

 

As Indy’s first Academy semester now comes to an end in Dubai, work, learning, and family life around the world, have truly become a delightful fusion. It’s “both/and” in every way.

 

4. Success unfolds one baby step at a time.

 

Markus and I launched Frederick & Sophie’s toy universe in October 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. I wanted to excite the world with our stories and products, instead we faced a lack of toilet paper. Lockdowns made it not easy to ship around the world, warehouses could be closed at a whim, our toy suppliers suffered shipping delays, the price of wood went up and with it the cost price of our wooden toys, people weren’t in a happy place and who could blame them? Success can feel like an impossible goal in good times, in these crazy times it can feel like an urban legend. But, as I dived deeper into the why of Frederick & Sophie, that message of play, imagination, homefulness, and wonder, I began to see that my perspective of success only skimmed the surface. It can come in life’s big moments, but it also comes in tiny actions in the everyday. That beautiful toy that I found and added to our shop, one new blog story that I wrote, one e-mail from a client, one illustration from Maya in my inbox, finding that one Google keyword I was looking for, a new Instagram caption I came up with… when I slowed down, I noticed the small successes that unfolded around me every day. And slowly but steadily, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts from around the world found us, and shopped with us with joy, teaching me that success also arrives in smiles gained.

 

5. Solve it forward.

 

We received e-mails and messages from clients in big cities and small villages, thanking us for our exceptional customer service. It excited us because happiness is what toy-shopping is all about, at the same time, we felt that we weren’t doing anything exceptional. We were simply treating each client like how we would want to be treated in a moment of despair: with kindness, respect, and understanding for the frustration of delays due to international shipping madness. That birthday gift that got stuck in customs? We immediately shipped the same order with international overnight express courier to make sure it arrived in time. We contacted couriers for our clients, we didn’t ask them to call a courier’s customer service themselves. We answered, researched, searched, called, solved, and checked. Was it all profitable? Not in terms of money. But we did gain in smiles (see point above), so we added that to our happiness account.

 

It’s easy to be there when the ride is smooth but being there when a client’s ride is bumpy is crucial to me. I can’t deliver each order in person (I really wish I could…), but we can make sure that we are there right away with a listening ear and solutions when needed (especially during Covid times). We aren’t an investment vehicle, we’re a family-business, and we feel that each client is a guest in our home. 

 

This year, we’ll add a global shipping service to our site, offering lower international express shipping rates, the option to already pay for custom duties if applicable, and the possibility to see prices in local currencies. It has been my business philosophy that I need to make a profit to continue, but I don’t continue for profit’s sake. Too romantic? Maybe. Nevertheless, I still believe in the romance of commerce and the power of story. Commerce should not make you feel unwelcome, it should spark as much delight as gathering around the table with family over comfort food.   

 

6. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. –  Joseph Campbell

 

Oh, how I would love to borrow George’s i-Wand 340 and wave it around to end all sorrow: racism, disease, homelessness, wars… the list is long. But I can’t.

 

can choose to continue spreading joy through Frederick & Sophie, growing our wondrous world into a place where the beauty and strength of diversity reigns and people build bridges, connect, and communicate through play, story, and imagination. Where we listen to each other’s tales, be curious about our differences, and when in doubt ask ourselves, “What would love do?” It’s an ongoing challenge, one that I happily choose to take on. If 2021 has taught me anything it is that little by little, a little becomes a lot.  

 

No matter where the 2022 rollercoaster ride will take us next, I wish for you to not be afraid to get on. May we ride through darkness into moments of sparkle. May we find the space to say, “Yes.” May we all feel delight in tiny acts of creation, the warm laundry right out of the dryer, the smell of fresh coffee in the morning, the little hand we are holding, the smiles we receive, in doing things together, in figuring it out all by ourselves. Hold onto those parts in the everyday that are simply good as you ride all the way up and let go during the falls, arms up, eyes closed, and smiling, celebrating that there is another day waiting.

 

With love & gratitude,

Priscilla Obermeier

 
Illustration: ChuChu Briquet for FREDERICK & SOPHIE
 

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