Mandie van der Meer is a writer, teacher and editor of ACCESS Magazine – a lifestyle publication for the international community living in The Netherlands. Mandie expects her first child in August this year.
She recently sat down with Every Mother Knows to tell us about her passion for writing and new adventure into motherhood.
How did you start your career as an editor?
Books, magazines and newspapers – and how they’re made – have always been of great interest to me and I always saw myself in an editorial-type role. During high school and university I volunteered as an editor and writer for the school newspapers and literary magazines. I studied English and journalism in university where I could perfect the art of writing, editing, and teaching writing to others. I loved it!
Passion for work comes from doing something you love. How did passion influence your career choices?
Like many Americans of my generation, I grew up with a promise: “You can be anything you want to be, if you work hard for it.” For a long time I followed what I wanted – writing, editing, teaching – and worked hard for it. I felt strongly that my career should add value to the world, and that my career should mean something to me, something more than a paycheck. I still feel a strong connection between career and identity, that what a person does for a living has a great impact on who they are mentally, emotionally, even spiritually. However, in the last ten years or so I’ve been learning that this is not true for everyone, and is a philosophy certainly influenced by culture and upbringing.
There were years after graduate school where, for various reasons, I ended up working as an administrative assistant. These years were financially beneficial in big ways: excellent health insurance, bonuses that paid off my debt, a salary that afforded me a nice apartment. All very ‘adult’ accomplishments, for sure. But spiritually, I was empty, disappointed, and frustrated with the feeling that my talents were being wasted. I saw no future on that path. And neither did prospective employers. I felt there was an inevitability about my career, that I would never get back to a path of editing and writing, and I went into depression over it. It would not be until I moved to the Netherlands and could start fresh that I could even imagine the possibility to again do what I love.
I recognize that my perspective on career may make me sound privileged, even snobbish. Maybe we should all just feel lucky to be employed at all, as my mother would say. I’ve had many conversations over the years with my mother about my attitude on work. She was never truly in a position of choice as a single mother; she worked in order to support a family; the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of work was somewhat irrelevant for her. The stability of the job was the appeal of the job. For me, I had a seed planted in my mind and in my heart that the process and the product of my work must matter to me and to others. I have stubbornly not given up on this idea.
What was the path that took you to your current role as editor at ACCESS Magazine?
I found ACCESS Magazine at the Expat Center in Leiden just a few months after moving to the Netherlands. The magazine was beautiful, informative, entertaining, and gave me a sense that there were others like myself trying to make a home here. I was delighted to read that ACCESS was looking for volunteer writers. I offered to write articles and got the chance immediately. It turned out that the editor at the time would be leaving soon, and I was asked to take her place. I volunteered as editor for one edition, then prioritized my Dutch studies, and eventually made it back to ACCESS to continue in this role.
What do you enjoy about your role as editor?
Just about everything! The Executive Director of ACCESS, Deborah Valentine, is a wonderful boss. Fair, smart, humorous, open, open-minded, and passionate. She is very conscientious about the delicate work of volunteering in a professional capacity, respecting the time all the volunteers give while also maintaining standards for the services ACCESS offers the international community. The people I work with have all made the job a pleasure, and when someone leaves to move to a new country, we really feel the loss of that team member.
For my part, I absolutely adore finding and creating stories that matter to the international community in the Netherlands. And I learn so much about my new home country as a result of this work. I’m even teaching my Dutch husband about his homeland! Finally, I enjoy the process of creating something with the potential to educate, inspire, or even comfort others, and the reward of holding each issue in hand once it’s published.
What is your typical day at ACCESS Magazine?
It’s hard to describe a typical day because of the phases of production for a magazine. As a team we begin brainstorming the big ideas at the start. What is the theme? What are the articles? But the closer we get to printing, the minute details take up all my time. Think of it as an upside-down triangle with the wide base at the top, then working your way down to the smaller point.
As the editor I occasionally write articles for the magazine, but my main task is to help the contributors shape their writing. This is where my writing, editing and teaching experiences all come together. I understand the experiences and efforts of the writers, and I also think about the audience receiving much of this information for the first time. Then there’s the role of ACCESS and making sure the magazine represents the mission, vision and values of the organization. On a daily basis I try to balance these – writer, reader, context – while sticking to the deadline. Something I still find difficult!
You will become a mother for the first time in August this year. What are the first thoughts that come to mind when you think about motherhood?
Grateful. I am grateful for the chance to experience pregnancy and to bring this person into the world. There were many years where I could not imagine myself in a capacity to sacrifice for another person in the way that my parents sacrificed for me. Now, with my husband at my side, I am ready to give this love and grow with my child, teaching them and learning from them.
It will be difficult, no doubt. And I will have moments of panic, and I will make mistakes, and I won’t always be patient, and I will probably give too many hugs, and I will probably always bring my child late to tennis or swimming or birthday parties despite my best efforts. Alongside difficult times, my husband and I will do our best to create a supportive, positive home for our child.
I also think a lot about how far away we are from my family in the States. I try not to worry too much right now about the distance, but I know it will be important to me that my child grows up feeling close with the American family, feeling like New York is also home.
How are you preparing for this new adventure?
I’m taking it all step by step, starting with my physical health and strength. I go swimming once a week now, and go to pregnancy yoga lessons. It’s always been hard for me to include exercise in my routine, but some motherly instinct has kicked in and I know I need to get ready for the delivery, and the tough months to follow. I also take lots of naps, which I know won’t be available to me soon!
How do you think having a baby will impact your career? And your lifestyle?
We recently joked at the ACCESS office that my level of perfectionism will likely go down once I’m trying to work and care for a baby at the same time. I may not get so hung up on the details or the ‘best’ way of doing something with greater pressure from home. I hope I’ll get even better at practicing and cultivating a ‘good is good enough’ attitude at work.
The greatest change, however, will be my regular routine, which will affect both work and personal life. I struggle quite a bit to create consistency in my days, but the needs of a baby will naturally change my everyday schedule and how I organize myself and my obligations. In the beginning I expect to find this challenging, but I also believe it’s for the best.
What are the 3 most important things you wish to pass onto your child?
Wow, only three? (laughs)
Create balance in all things, where possible. I’m hoping to raise a person who is confident, comfortable being alone in a restaurant with a book or just to people-watch, but who is not an arrogant jerk with all the ‘right’ answers. I hope this child thinks of others but not too much about what others think of her/him. I hope my child is a critical thinker but not the kind of person who confuses criticizing everyone and everything as proof of intelligence. I hope s/he will have a sense of humor and not be ashamed to laugh out loud, but who won’t make a habit of laughing at others. I hope they take pride in their work, and know how to enjoy rewards and fun afterwards.
Be kind and be nice because that’s what makes the world go ’round’.
Honor diversity. Where a person is from does not determine that person’s value, or how well that person should be treated by others. Listen with open ears, an open mind and open heart, especially when it’s hard to understand.
Complete the sentence: Happiness for Mandie is… community.
Community with compassion, patience, and a willingness to learn and grow.