This month Matthijs turned four, unfortunately on the 11th of September so we celebrated it on the previous Sunday. That was easier than midweek and avoided him having a celebration at school, a party at home and starting a new class all at once. We kept the numbers small too as we were both still tired from the birth of Falco but compensated by getting a really jolly cake (classic trains and balloons) with lots of icing in violent colours. I went to choose it in the shop and picked the jolliest one that was Pokemon-free and which did not actually singe my retinas. We also put up LOTS of decorations and Matthijs (and in fact Daniël) did pretty well on the prezzo front from all the visitors. I think that I shall say that the boys want racks and storage space, preferably in another house, for their next birthday.
Matthijs’ present from us was a puppet theater: he has been playacting the bedtime stories, with the help of various stuffed fauna for some time now. The first production of the newly formed Matthijs and Daniël playhouse was a short modern piece in which a random puppet would pop up and ask in a very loud voice if we “wanted a head”? If you said yes then Matthijs popped up. Entertainment is a tough world and he begrudges the puppets their speaking parts…
This month was also Matthijs’ first schoolday. It was the first time for Papa too and he blew it by getting us there ten minutes late. We stood in the door of his new classroom looking in at a ring of children going through their morning rituals: songs about what day it was and much handraising with right and wrong answers. Matthijs was already rather nervous and stood there finely balanced between the intense desire to join in with and impress a group and the fear of the unknown and of losing face. He was almost vibrating with tension and I was worried that he might cry, which, though of course a healthy expression of emotion (yes, right, sure) would lose him status with his future classmates. We were both a little intimidated by all the structure (own seat with name on the back, own placemat, own hooks for rucksack and coat).
He finally dared to go in and engage with the class when I told him that his playschool teacher would look in on him during the day. When I went back to check on him at midday (the school is 0830 to 1500 and some children go home for lunch) he bravely stayed in class to eat his sandwiches and had a generally good day. His teacher is a very caring, but strict, no-nonsense kind of person and he got into trouble with her the following day because he tested the borders (pouring his drink on the floor, not listening etc.). He also gave me a tough time about coming home for lunch, first screaming that he wanted to and seconds later screaming that he did not. After a couple of rounds of this nonsense I dragged him bodily (still screaming) all the way to the bicycle. When he stopped yelling and promised solemnly to be a good boy that afternoon I allowed him to stay.
Reintroducing him to the classroom (where they were all eating sandwiches, supervised by a rather ineffectual father) after all that nonsense was not much fun and some of them started chanting “Maa-thijs, Maa-thijs” which raised my hackles because it sounded like he was becoming the scapegoat of the class. I stared down the chanters and asked one of the ringleaders what HIS name was, which shut them up. Fortunately he had a good afternoon, but that night in bed he told me that he did not want to be four any more, that he missed his old classmates and was worried that he would not get to play in the school garden any more. This all cleared up the next day (when he also chose to stay over at school for lunch), particularly as the class was learning “row, row, row your boat” and Matthijs could sing it very tunefully in utterly faultless English, impressing both teacher and classmates: a perfect situation for a “performer” like Matthijs.
Next monday he was already starting to get the hang of it and impressed the teacher with his physical agility during gym, his personality (very up-front and assertive for a four-year-old) and his brains. I was happy both to hear that he was doing well and that his teacher has taken to him. So important….
We took advantage of the sunny Indian Summer and went to the local (big) playground. Daniël is absolutely fearless and climbs as high as he can (very high) slides down poles, rappels down ropes and whizzes around on merry-go-rounds that scare children much older than he. Those older and larger children, and their parents, regularly warn us that he is up to something, but we have become very relaxed about it. When he is clambering around he moves with great concentration and precision at his own speed and NEVER FALLS. This in contrast to his walking on level pavements and around the house: he gets distracted and falls on his nose every three meters.
He is also working a lot of things out in that little round head of his. He completely flabbergasted me by suddenly saying : “Lot ducks pappa: One, two, three, four” when there were indeed four ducks. Of course I still occasionally count with Matthijs (though he has 1 to 10 pretty solid these days) but I had not done so with Daniël yet. When I was playing a game with coloured beads with him I casually named the colours and he immediately interpreted them correctly and was naming green, blue, red and yellow beads and other objects within minutes. He has started to work on language and it is making apparent to us how immensely much he has learned from us and from watching Matthijs. He now definately understands colours and will even say “red, white” for something that is both.
Daniël cracked Marjolein up when they were out walking: they went by a Physiotherapist’s practice which had a model skeleton hanging in the window and Daniël piped up with “Oma, oma” (Dutch for Grandmother: my mother is “Gamma” and Marjeolein’s mother is “Oma”).
Matthijs is exploring the concept of “friendship”. This means that many of his schoolmates are his “best friend”, but also snails, beetles and spiders. Marjolein resolutely maintains a stiff upper lip when introduced to aimiable arachnids and suggests with much forced jollity that they should “have a walk in the garden”. Imaginary giants and bears are particularly friendly and often hand out sweeties and recently (undoubtedly as first stab at working out the adult equivalent of sweeties and cakes) “new cars”.
Daniël is making great strides. His language is now at the two-three word sentences stage and his vocabulary grows by the day. He has been taking his potty into the toilet when Matthijs goes for some time, and had already done a small pee. We were not expecting much because Matthijs was three and half before he got out of nappies. Now Daniël suddenly said that he wanted the potty and did big pee. He got a sweetie for that and decided to go again. This time he delivered a neat little poo, was massively congratulated and we did ice-lollies all round to celebrate. Daniël, never one to let a good thing go, then produced another pee and got another sweetie. I decided I wanted a photograph of him on his potty at which point he produced yet another poo… More ice-lollies etc. etc. After that he did yet another pee and I ended up chasing him and Matthijs up to their shower amid cries from Matthijs (who had profited from Daniëls new skill) of “Do another poop Daniël”.