festive November

In November the festive season begins in the Netherlands with St Maarten and lasts until New Year. Sweety and present-crazed children and desperate parents….

St Maarten is on the 11th of November here in North-Holland, just when the southeners are celebrating the beginning of Carnival. In Haarlem the children make lanterns at school and go door to door singing traditional(-ish) songs in exchange for sweets.

Matthijs’ cousin Ramses was a bit too old to take part, but manfully soldiered on to “take care of the little ones”: pride warring with the prospect of loot. This year the neighbours daughter Hannah was old enough to join in and had the daunting task of making herself heard over the strident voices of our monsters. Most smart children rattle out the shortest possible song and stick their hands out. Ours are in it for the performance (Matthijs more than Daniel) and so we had to impose a two-song-per-doorway limit. They were also rightfully proud of their lanterns: Matthijs was now old enough to be macho and had a sinister black bat: the stereotypes are emerging, all the boys made bats, all the girls made flowers. Daniel had made a truly charming fish, on which he had painstakingly and exactingly stuck paper scales and lots of glitter.

Saint Maarten had no sooner finished than we were locked into the run-up to Saint Nicholas, the Dutch Chrimbo-person. St Nick turns up half way through November and hangs around making a nuisance of himself until his birthday, also known as “Present Night” on the 5th of December. That means weeks and weeks of songs and lots of opportunities for the toads to put our their shoes by the chimney in the hope of getting some (small) loot. Naturally Daniel got the two Saints thoroughly mixed and kept on insisting he was putting out his shoe for Saint Maarten.

The local shopping street had a visit from St Nic so we bundled up the monsters to go and see. Matthijs was particularly anxious to hand the holy man a stack of pictures he had drawn. He succeeded and even got to shake hands. Daniel was utterly uninterested and spent his time looking at peoples shoes, probably hoping to find lost ginger-nuts (the Black Peters scatter them around).

Naturally if you allow your beasts to put their shoes out every day you go utterly crazy so we follow the usual pattern of just Saturdays and Wednesdays. However we did decide to motivate Dear Daniel to use the toilet by saying that he could put out his shoe every day that he was dry. It worked better than we had could have imagined. It was like turning off a tap and he put his shoe out (and got it filled) every blessed day. Naturally we had to allow Matthijs to put his shoe out too.

They started waking up super early too: Marjolein came down one morning and found Matthijs fully dressed and starting on his chocolate letter. Daniel was still in jams and just finishing his: priorities, priorities. Of course on the other days they got up just as early but were NOT dressed and had to be dragged bodily to school.

My brother always tells the same ghastly old jokes and of course Matthijs has started to pick them up. He has one that goes: “Why can’t the Chinese use telephones? Because there are so many Wings and so many Wongs that someone might Wing the Wong number’. Boom, boom. Matthijs got it almost right but started with “Pappa, why can’t the Chinese use televisions…”. Marjolein fell about. Now of course we live in fear that joke telling is the next big thing… He also tries out home-brew proto-jokes: “Mama, why do houses have pointed roofs? Because they are built that way (collapse of stout party).

He had his first report card from school this month. Good scores all round, excellent in vocabulary and sentence building. Good at numbers, shapes and colours. Surprisingly only average for gross motor skills (climbing and agility), but good for fine motor skills. In the “Social Skills” group he got good marks for self-confidence and assertivity but poor marks for obedience and contact with the teacher. He was also (unexpectedly) poor marks for playing: in general and particularly for initiating games and joining in with other children. It is not the picture we get at home, but perhaps it has to do with him being able to dominate the extensive ongoing pirate/knight/monster fantasies he runs with Daniel. All in all a slightly surprising report, both better and worse than we expected. Watch this space.

Drawing was back in fashion, unfortunately in Daniel’s case murals were al the rage and we now have a large, indelible, wobbly, green monster on our dining room wall. Marjolein tried to be stern but it is such a classic (we had expected this to happen three years ago) that she could not help laughing. Tsk tsk.

Looks like Daniel will need speech therapy. He has a perfectly good, even extensive vocabulary and grammar but rather loose lip and tongue muscles. He is on a waiting list and in the meantime we just have to keep at the blowing and sucking exercises. Saint Nick also provided an electric toothbrush to stimulate his mouth muscles. There is always a technological solution… I married a geek.

Falco is going great guns. He had his post-natal checkup on the sixth with a Mumps/Measels/Rubella shot. He was 11.7 kilos and 79 cm long. That means he is closing on average height but still above the curve for weight. Just like his brothers… He was angelic in the clinic and had no bad reaction to the innoculation.

He is, just as the others did, starting to display some “character”: saying “no” to him gets howls and tears. At the end of the month he started walking. There was not a clear transition, but two steps gradually became four and six. He also climbs on and off the sofa very ably and managed to come shooting out of his baby chair too. So we bought more extensive straps have started strapping him in very firmly.

I turned 42 this month and celebrated quietly with just a few people and we went out for the evening. We are gradually winning back our social life and Marjolein is looking forward to Falco going to playschool next summer: two more mornings of peace (and perhaps extra sleeeeeep).

We also had great fun on the beach this month. It is great to live so close. The monsters were entirely kitted out with rubber boots but naturally played chicken with the waves until they were UTTERLY soaked.

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