Illustration: Maya E Shakur for Frederick & Sophie

‘On the page’ has always been my happy place. Here, you'll find me talking to my characters about their plot and place. Or write down that impossible thought before breakfast and all the little things that add a bit of happily to the everyday. It's where I share my observations, musings, and rants about writing, raising a third-culture city kid around the world, mixed-marriage misunderstandings, being an introverted intercountry adoptee without any sense of belonging (or direction). And ponder about the things I should have said but didn’t, and the things that sounded like a good idea at the time, but really weren’t. Mostly, it’s where I am when I’m going where I have never been before.

Location: Vienna, Austria

If today would be a story it most likely would start with, “A disturbingly short time ago, in a land uncomfortably close by..” From an uncertain political climate, mass shootings, financial crises to a coronavirus pandemic that continues to sweep the globe, these are the strangest times. Face masks, social distancing, and lockdowns have become the new anxiety-inducing normal. Things I once took for granted (and often grumbled about) – standing in line at Starbucks, sipping from a too hot coffee-to-go in the metro, or writing this post from any place but my home office – seem to me like impossible luxuries. With no end in sight, and the big picture being rather fuzzy, it’s difficult to hone in on happiness. Yet, I believe that although these might be the strangest times, it is also a time of gratitude. Not only can practicing gratitude be a way to feel the little joys of life and internalize a sense of happiness amidst challenges, gratitude is also motivating. And motivation feels exactly what is needed to get through the dark and stormy night. With Thanksgiving around the corner, I decided to take stock of what I am thankful for today.


1. My Health


The coronavirus pandemic has given me an enhanced appreciation of my own and my family’s good health. Markus and I already didn’t drink alcohol or smoke, but we now also cook nutritious meals at home instead of getting take out food or eating out. We found online exercise programs with strength and dance classes that we can do alone or together. I cut out drinking copious amounts of Red Bull light, and we reduced our intake of processed foods, carbs, sugar, and anything dairy to almost nothing. I carefully call our increased acts of self-care the isolation silver lining. 


2. My Tribe


Although I was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, I was adopted as a five weeks old infant and grew up in The Netherlands. I never met my biological parents and know nothing about them. While growing up, I sometimes imagined them being spies that had to give me up for adoption because they had to go on dangerous missions. Being adopted was something that made me look different from my parents, but it was also something that sounded rather adventurous. It wasn’t until I became a mom myself that my adoption turned into a deep emotional feeling. Here I was, head over heels in love with Indy, celebrating his wonderfulness, and feeling a terrible sadness at the same time. For the first time in my life I looked at eyes that looked like mine. The realization that Indy is my first blood-relative ignited excitement and tremendous grief. I felt the joy of a new life and the loss of a life that never was but could have been. A life I had no say in being part of. A life with the person I grew inside, with her culture, family and language. I will never know the exact reasons why my parents gave me up for adoption, but being pregnant with Indy, holding him for the first time, made me realize how difficult it might have been. Having a family of my own has added a layer of appreciation, gratitude and connection to my everyday. I treasure Markus and Indy more than anyone could know. Home to me is not a place, it’s the two people who continuously talk through any series we watch. Which leads me to my next point…   


3. Watching a Series Together


Markus, Indy, and I recently started watching Netflix’s latest reality TV offering, Country Ever After, and we love it. I think it’s because we recognize ourselves in the country-versus-city perspectives on parenting and life of country singer Coffey Anderson and his hip-hop dancer wife, Criscilla (Markus would survive in any forest, whereas I would most probably run into the Blair Witch and never be heard of again). What makes watching Coffey, Criscilla, and kids challenging is the fact that Markus micro-manages them (“No, Coffey, if you want to set up your tent, first look for the poles…”) and Indy narrates and asks questions (“They walk into the ice cream store, Everleigh picks the blue ice cream, she doesn’t add sprinkles,” Where did Paw Paw go? Is that really fish water?”) throughout every single episode. I’m the one shouting, “Sssssssssssssshhh, guys, I can’t hear anything!” and, (to Markus) “Stop micro-managing people in the teeveeeeeeeee!” Which makes Indy shout, “Ssssh, mommy!” *insert my face saying, “Really, dude?” It’s most annoying, and if Markus and Indy would not be here, I’d miss every single second of it. 


4. The Kitchen Table


The kitchen table is our place to put our minds to rest and simply be. Here, we talk, read, eat, and play board games. Indy and I always try to win from Markus because there is nothing more fun than winning from Markus. You might think I make this up, but play against him, and you’ll know it’s true.


5. International Online Schooling


As an entrepreneurial, traveling, globally mobile family, online schooling was a natural choice. Indy went to a private international school for pre-school and grade 1, but since grade 2, we follow the US curriculum of accredited online private school, Laurel Springs. From attention to unique learning styles, individually-graded assignments, and college counseling services, to one-on-one relationships with teachers, and real-time school events and clubs, Laurel Springs combines the benefits of a traditional school with the flexibility and personalization of online learning. It’s the perfect option for diplomat kids, army brats, children who are professional athletes, musicians, or performers (the Jenner kids are alumni), and children of modern-day entrepreneurs like ourselves. We have a Laurel Springs teacher and student services in the US, and Markus and I are Indy’s active academic coaches at home. We have been able to live and work around the world, travel as a family, and take our school with us wherever we went. Markus teaches Math, I guide Indy through Social Studies, Science, Health, and English (Literature, Language Arts, Writing, Spelling). It’s not always easy to be parent-teachers and entrepreneurs (before writing this post, Indy and I had to discuss his next Social Studies project: built a museum exhibit about the exploration and early colonization of early America) but being part of Indy’s academic journey, watching him grow into this incredibly imaginative, curious, thoughtful, intelligent, empathetic, worldly human being is something I would never want to give up. Indy is now in grade 5 and school has been not just a global adventure, it has been a family learning experience and family bonding time. Especially with the pandemic forcing schools to change to distance learning, I feel thankful for our online learning environment. 


6. My Imagination


I’m known for not just thinking out of the box but for turning that box into a talking origami Triceratops (his name is Bob and he doesn’t like bugs). Being able to think seven impossible things before breakfast and having the freedom to use my imaginative muscle as a means of creation, hope, and joy is everything. 


7. Creating Frederick & Sophie


A lifestyle toy store wrapped in the wondrous world of two imaginary precocious characters brought to life through products, stories, and illustrations, was one of those seven impossible things in the previous point. Finding beautiful toys that inspire a young child’s (and its grown-ups’) imagination, working together with positive and imaginative people like incredible illustrator Maya E Shakur of Studio Maï and web wizard Michael Schestag , and watching the Frederick & Sophie world slowly come to life, is the stuff that magic is made of.


8. My Ability to Write


My love for writing grew out of a love for reading and stories. But, next to a love, writing to me is also a need. I write to make sense of my ponderings and observations, create magical places and characters, and share my wonderlands. I can’t really separate my ‘writing life’ from ‘life.’ I turn everything I see or hear into story and slip in and out of other worlds in my head. Without my ability to turn my feelings, experiences, and memories into words and stories on paper, I would most likely sit in a corner, rocking back and forth, mumbling to myself. So, big thanks to my writing skills for keeping me sane(-ish).


9. Books


And bookstores. And libraries. One of my favorite pastimes in Vienna is to pass by English bookstore, Shakespeare & Co, and browse through its many titles. Located in a cobblestoned street, the small shop is stacked to the ceiling with piles and piles of books, and while climbing the ladder to the top shelf, you can easily imagine yourself in Diagon Alley. It actually wouldn’t surprise me if I’d run into a house elf or a goblin here. As we currently go through a second lockdown, I am grateful for all the wonderful books we have at home. Surrounded by pages filled with characters, adventures, thoughts, opinions, worlds, and stories, I feel that right here, right now, in the middle of my living room, in front of my book cabinets, is a pretty wonderful place to be. At the same time, when you have to stay where you are, books give you someplace to go.


10. Coffee


Once upon a time at Starbucks, I witnessed a man shouting, “Who drank my coffee?” Someone had taken several sips from his Latte. I immediately went into Agatha Christie mode, giving every customer a hard stare because they could all be caffeine criminals. That’s how much I love coffee. And that’s why I take my coffee with me to the restroom.


11. Sweatpants


Elastic waistbands might sound trivial, but imagine getting through Thanksgiving dinner in a corset. See? You are thankful too.


12. My Tale So Far


My tale is one of challenges and triumphs and a hop, skip, and a jump through tidal waves and over mud-puddles. Every experience, the good, the bad, and the ugly, has added the courage, understanding, and appreciation needed to love the life I am living, to live it on my own terms, move in forward motion, and become the person I was made to be. 


13. Today


I know that I’m in the good old days before I’ve actually left them, and I am most, most thankful for having today. 


These truly are the strangest of times but maybe, just maybe, these are also the best of times.


Illustration: Maya E Shakur for FREDERICK & SOPHIE / Illustration Styling: Priscilla Obermeier