May 01, 2010

I Laughed, I Cried, I Kissed Thirteen Euro Goodbye...

Yesterday was 'Koninginnedag' or Queen's Day, the one day of the year where the entire country is clad in orange to pay homage to Holland's 'queen bee', Queen Bea.

To an ex-pat like me, it's a confusing day. Apparently, it is a celebration of the Queen's birthday on the 30th of April, which is not actually her birthday at all. It's actually in the fall, or something, but it's celebrated in April because the weather is supposed to be better...

So what happens on Queens Day? Queen Beatrix and all her entourage parades through one lucky town somewhere in Holland, shaking hands with boyscouts and showing off her hat. It's also the day where the 'Vrije markt' or Free market takes place, meaning anyone and everyone can empty their garages and attics onto the street and sell their junk without a permit. (This is a huge exception in a country where you need a permit to breathe the air.) But what it has to do with the Queen's birthday has me stumped. Maybe it represents some kind of benevolent gesture by the monarchy, that the common peasant can also earn a bit of cash on her Majesty's birthday.

But aside from selling your crap in honor of the Queen and the celebration of it not being her birthday, there are all sorts of activities for young and old to participate in throughout the country. It seems to me that the main requirement for the adult activities is a colossal amount of beer. For the kids, it's a lot more complicated. There need to be pony rides and dressing up and fire-engines and making noise and toddler discos, to name but a few essential ingredients. This year, Mia and Bram were invited to attend, and compete in, the local 'decorate-your-bicycle-and-make-as-much-noise-as-you-possibly-can' parade.

Seeing as they are both crazy about their tricycles and ride them around incessantly, I couldn't imagine a better way for all of us to enjoy the day and have a memorable, positive experience. I was wrong. And I was right too. I'll explain...

In the days leading up to the parade, the entire Stolk family was involved in decorating the aforementioned tricycles. I went to the store and bought thirteen euro worth of plastic bicycle ornaments, which my husband and I painstakingly attached to the trikes under the uncompromising instruction of our children. Mia shoved some peacock feathers in the back of her trike, threw some flowers in the basket on her handlebars. Bram and I wrapped some old Christmas decorations around his handlebars and hung some flags along the back. Both kids adorned their trikes not only with sparkle, but with a huge amount of love. I was convinced: the parade was going to be a hit.

The day before the exciting event was about to take place, it reached temperatures of up to 80 degrees. Pretty exceptional for the end of April, and a promising prospect for the outdoor festivities planned for the next day. My wonderful mother-in-law, 'Oma' Rik, showed her unconditional love and support by accompanying us. I was blindly confident, it was to be a lovely day for all.
On the day of the parade, it rained. No, it didn't just rain, it poured. It pelted. It continuously drizzled, then it cat-and-dogged, then it just poured some more.  Unphazed by the adverse weather conditions, Mia was just thrilled to be a part of it.

Mia pedaled her way to the group of kids gathered at the starting line, who were mounted upon the most extravagantly embellished bicycles I had ever seen. I was convinced, as I gawked at the constructions most of the children were riding around in, that if those bikes were decorated by the kids, well then my name is Martha Stewart. After all the effort Mia put into decorating her tricycle, I knew she could kiss a prize goodbye. But, I told myself, we weren't here to win, we were there to participate and have a good time.
Outside in the cold. And the rain.
Without an umbrella.
And, I had to pee.

For at least a half an hour, kids, 'omas', 'opas', moms and dads, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters stood there getting drenched as the mayor of the town commemorated a bunch of total strangers, who were called up one by one to receive totally irrelevant awards. Kids all around me began to get restless. One kid in particular was making it very clear he did not want to be there anymore, and that kid was Bram.

Bram had wriggled his way out of the seat-belt on his trike and made a break for it. He scurried through the crowd, dodging this way and that, protesting loudly as he ran. He tried to escape down someone's driveway, then attempted to mount an elderly man's lap. When he realized his efforts were futile, he promptly threw himself down on the wet pavement and began to wail. My husband and I looked at each other and knew, it was literally raining on Bram's parade. He needed to go home.

Thank goodness for 'Oma' Rik! While trying to retain the kicking-and-screaming Bram, I explained to her and Mia that we were taking him home, and that I would come back a.s.a.p. She agreed to escort Mia, who didn't even seem to notice Bram's screams and the persitent rain. Amidst the impatient bicycle horns and bells, I hurried through the sheets of rain to the car as my husband cleared the path like a police escort, barely managing to hold the flailing and fussing Bram in my arms.

It only took about fifteen minutes to get Bram home and get back to the parade, by which time it had ended. Utterly disappointed, I turned into the street where the finish line was to find it completely abandoned. I had missed the entire thing. Bram didn't get to participate, thirteen euros of plastic crap was down the drain. We all got wet, and, I managed to take only two measely photos (which is a record for me)! A memorable and pleasant day for all? Hardly.

That's when I heard a familiar voice call, 'Mamaaaaaa!' It was Mia, drenched to the bone and wearing a smile broader than the Grand Canyon. She had reached the finish line, all by herself, and was carrying a bag of sweets that she had rightfully earned by doing so. 'Oma' Rik was also wearing a smile, which warmed me to my very core. I felt raindrops mix with the tears on my face, and gave my mia a Grand Canyon-size smile back, plus an even bigger hug.

Photo of Queen Beatrix courtesy of the Reformatorisch Dagblad

April 26, 2010

My First Born and Her First Love.

I can't believe it. I don't want to believe it. Mia has a boyfriend. She's not even four years old yet and she has a boyfriend. Wait! I'm not ready for this!!

The apple of her eye is Nigel, the little boy who lives nextdoor. When I say 'little boy', I actually mean 'dangerous hoodlum'. Never have I known a little boy who has a death wish like Nigel. Every time I see him, he has some new gash on his forehead or series of bruises on his arms that make me wonder if he is even familiar with the concept of pain. This is most likely the reason Mia likes him. Nigel is a 'bad boy'.

Our neighbor, Nigel's father, has piled up old rocks and branches against the fence that separates our properties, which is the idea place for Nigel to grace us with his dare-devil talents. He seems completely unphazed by the imminent danger of jumping head-first into a pile of jagged rock and sharp branches, especially when encouraged by Mia's squeals of delight.

When our neighbors moved in, I heard the sounds of children playing nextdoor, and the prospect of playmates for Mia and Bram just a few meters away was promising. But, when I met Nigel, I was sure of two things: 1) there was no way Mia was going over to his house to play, and 2) there was no way he was coming to our house to play. I am positive, broken bones or broken furniture would be the inevitable result. My husband just recently had to reinforce the fence that separates my daughter from this budding Evil Kinevil, and if he can trash a fence, then you can be sure he can trash just about anything.

So it's become a very Romeo and Juliet kind of situation - the two lovers (Mia and Nigel), professing their admiration for one another at the insurmountable barrier that separates them (the fence) under the scrutinizing supervision of the evil parent who forbids their love (me).

I had no idea this relationship had even begun till the other day, when I heard Nigel's unmistakable voice screaming at the top of his lungs: 'Miiiiiiaaaaaaaa!' There he was, on top of his mound of branches, clad in a pirate's coat and bearing proudly some fresh cuts and scratches. Mia answered his call without hesitation by skipping to the fence and standing there, watching him perform his perilous feats. I observed it all from a distance, keeping an eye on anything sharp he should happen to get hold of, making sure he didn't try to poke Mia's eye out with it. When Nigel found a broken bottle to dazzle Mia with, that was my cue to enter the scene. When he saw me, he put on a broad grin, pointed at my daughter and said 'My Mia'.
Excuse me?
Did he say what I think he just said?
'My Mia'?!

Could this be but a foreshadowing of what's to come? Is my daughter slipping away from me already? Because this is just the beginning, isn't it? Before I know it, she'll be a teenager, and she'll be bringing home boys. Teenage boys. First, boys with scooters, then, boys with cars. Then boys with leather jackets and motorcycles!!! And then Mia will be going around with a leather jacket with 'Property of Nigel' embroidered on the back! If Nigel is any reflection of the type of boy Mia likes, then I'm seriously considering getting her to convent now.

But, as always, I should not underestimate my daughter. Mia knows what she's doing, which she made clear yesterday. As anyone who knows Mia knows, Mia goes ga-ga over flowers. Seeing as my husband and I are trying to teach Mia not to pick every single living thing in our garden before it even gets a chance to bloom, she has discovered another way to get her daily flower fix: yup, you guess it: Nigel. Nigel's yard is full of posies that Mia wants, so under her exact instructions, he runs around gathering any and all flowers she desires and hands them to her through the fence. Once she's got the flowers in her hand, her interest in Nigel seems to diminish. Mia gets her flowers, I get my peace of mind, and Nigel, well, Nigel gets another injury somewhere on his body in the process.
So, everybody's happy.

(I think I'll find out where the nearest convent is, just to be on the safe side...)