May started very well, with Marjolein and Daniel having a beautiful
warm day for their joint birthday party. It was Daniel’s third
party. He had already had a party at school, a kid’s party with
his buddies at a big playground (see April) and now he got another
load of loot from the grownups that came to this party. We really,
truly make an effort not to spoil our children, but if you do not entirely
flout the conventions they end up getting more toys, books and software
than you can shake a stick at… That said, it was a fine party
and good weather, so everyone sat in the garden. The children behaved
very well and the whole company (20 warm bodies) ate (weight watchers)
Boef Bourgignon with every sign of enjoyment.
The next day we gently woke up, rather late, to find that Matthijs
and Daniel were singing songs about how sweet they thought each other
was. Creeping up stairs to determine if these could possibly be OUR
children we discovered that they had carefully made an extremely impressive
robot out of Daniel’s birthday Knexx. Falco was playing cheerfully
in his room. They were absolute little angels ALL DAY. Scary.
We then started preparing to go on holiday to France. It is very nice
to have a big red box of a car (a red Sharan). You can just stuff everything
into it, strap down the toads and go.
We stopped off at my mother’s house in Brussels, gave it a once-over,
slept over and departed rested the next day. That meant that the children
did not have a single long continuous journey and reduced the stress
levels a lot. We got to the camp-site rather late because we ended
up going through vast numbers of minuscule French towns. It still stuns
me how huge France is and how many tiny little towns there are full
of denim-clad farmers whose lifestyle has not significantly changed
in the last 200 years. The camp-site was stuffed with Jeeps (Dutch
Jeep Club) and the boiler of the caravan would not turn on. That got
us down a little, but we had a very nice meal in the site restaurant
and the Jeep people were friendly, though of course mad. They roared
off home the next morning and a chap came and replaced our gas-bottles
so we could take hot showers. The weather also got nice and warm (not
hot, but lovely and sunny) so we ate outside practically every day.
It was a very nice campsite, middle of nowhere, well spaced out, good
swimming bath, stacks of safe play-areas for the toads within walking
distance and visual range and forest walks around about.
It was quite the cure for our previous, extremely tiring and enervating,
camping holiday in France. We went this time with low expectations.
We expected to have a tolerable time chasing children; but we actually
managed to sit and talk to each other, we swam and enjoyed ourselves.
Marjolein took two fat books, expecting not to get through even one
of them and ended up having to visit the camp library because she had
read them though.
We also managed an outing to the local theme park Nigloland. It was
a typically French combination of a very nice park (as in trees, flowers,
deer) with Disneyland type rides. There were jungle boat-rides, a monorail,
a Jurassic Park with giant, plastic, animatronic dinos, a sea lion
show and decent coffee and food all over the place. It was an excellent
day out and both we and the kiddos had a truly fabulous time.
On the final day it started to rain, so we packed up a bit earlier
than planned and trundled gently home via Brussels again. The weather
picked up again and we managed to stop off in Belgium and sit in the
garden with some friends we had not seen for almost two years. We were
back in the Netherlands for Whitsun weekend and stopped off at the
Macdonalds by Schiphol to give the monsters a final treat. All in all
an excellent holiday, that also demonstrated that we can start doing
more things with the kids and perhaps even have a little time for each
Back in the Netherlands we set off in to visit some friends we had
not seen in a while and I asked Matthijs in the car why he thought
we were going to visit them, expecting something along the lines of "have
fun, nice food" etc. Matthijs, once again more thoughtful than
you might expect, said "so that we will not lose them, so we will
stay friends with them."
Falco’s speech is progressing steadily. He is an excellent mimic
and soaks up vocabulary very rapidly (often long before he understands
it). This extends to the Spanish vocabulary he gets from his "Dora
the Explorer" DVDs and some French he picked up on holiday. He
counts well in English and Spanish but in Dutch he tends to skip over
the number five for some reason. He also continues to be amazingly
good at jigsaws: he has now conquered a 50 piece puzzler.
Talking about discotheques at the dinner table Matthijs chipped in
with "with those big balls with lights in" and Daniel, demonstrating
his acute observation and visual memory elaborated with "yes,
like with the sea lions, with little square mirrors all over".
There was indeed a disco ball in the sea lion show in France.
Poor Daniel was under the knife again this month. He was back in hospital
to have his ear sorted out. Marjolein was once again struck by how
enormously brave he is. Daniel can get pretty upset about unimportant
things, but when he is in a genuinely scary situation he sets his little
jaw and carries on unflinchingly. When the anaesthesiologist gave him
the mask he took it and breathed in the gas without hesitation, even
though he hated it last time. He was on the table for half an hour
and then Marjolein could go to him in the recovery room. It was a hard
awakening as the throat tube had hurt his throat and made him cough
a lot, but after sitting on Mama’s lap for a while he felt a
I was managing the home front, but while waiting to collect Daniel
and fuzzy with lack of sleep I totally forgot to collect Matthijs from
school. I had just realised and was setting off with my ears burning
with shame when he turned up, having carefully walked home on his own.
Fortunately it is a pretty safe walk (one quiet road to cross) but
I still felt like a pretty useless father for a while. Matthijs was
fairly cross with me too…
The next day Marjolein’s mother came to baby-sit as we were
going out to Star Wars episode 976: "Revenge of the filler between
the films with the decent story and the films with lots of special
effects". She brought a present for Daniel "because he had
had a tough time" and we asked him if he knew why he was getting
a present. "Because I had a tough time" he answered (naturally).
When asked what that had been, he paused for quite a while and then
came out with "because my head went under water (in the swimming
bath on holiday)?" Obviously the hospital was not too traumatic.
Actually Daniel is always a brave little fellow. Two days after the
operation he had to go in for a check-up and to have his bandage removed.
That involved pulling loose a sticky plaster that was attached both
to his (tender and battered) ear and all the little hairs around it.
The doctor’s assistant came in and started pulling it loose (with
some difficulty) and caused him sufficient pain to start him screaming
and gripping Marjolein’s fingers as hard as he could. He did
not however try to bat the assistant’s hand away: pretty restrained
for an agonized five-year-old. A somewhat more intelligent/competent
assistant then showed up to find out what the row was about and said
that the specialist would do it. Daniel then went and sat quietly and
trustingly on a chair so that the specialist could have a go: quite
amazing under the circumstances. Fortunately the specialist had a spray
that dissolved the glue, so taking off the sticking-plaster did not
hurt at all. Marjolein’s relief at that was of course tempered
by a strong desire to biff the first assistant. We have a brave, brave
Daniel will need his courage, because it is quite possible that he
will need more surgery as they have not yet put back his bones of
hearing. There was a build-up of thick fluid in his ear, this is
not unusual in young children as the Eustachian tubes are rather
constricted and it was quite possible that the bones would be displaced
by that, meaning yet more surgery. The current wisdom is that it
is better to wait until the tubes have grown and the ear has fully
settled down (when he is about 10) before putting back the bones
of hearing. In the meantime he must manage with the just the ear-drum
and nerves (which should provide some level of hearing) and have
a shunt to remove the fluid.
On the 25th Marjolein was fetching Matthijs from school when she was
approached by an old lady who was looking for the voting station. Marjolein
explained that she was a week early (voting for the European Constitution
on 1st June). The lady was astonished that she had mistaken the date
and Matthijs then chimed in helpfully with “Old brains ay?” We
are going to teach them tact soon, very soon.
It was “Park Day” in Haarlem and a nice sunny one too.
It stayed nice until the end of the day so the monsters had a fine
time at the local park playing games and eating ice-creams. Highlight
of the occasion was a display of medieval life by a group of highly
convincing enthusiasts, who were dressed in period clothes and cooked
appropriately ancient food over a wood-fire. Best of all were the ones
got very slowly and intricately dressed up in suits of armour and then
went and bashed each other. Matthijs plucked up the courage to go and
talk to them and they kindly posed to have their picture taken with
him and let him hold a ginormous sword: he looked as if he would burst
with pride. Naturally Falco then grabbed one too, but Daniel (who is
less courageous when it does not matter) stayed well away.
On the last day of the month we went into school to hear from the
psychologist who has been observing Matthijs. Her findings were quite
detailed, but nothing particularly new. The psychologist emphasised
that the fact that Matthijs understood things very quickly meant that
he often assumed that much of the teacher’s presentation would
be redundant (as it often is) and therefore failed to listen: this
is the famous three-times problem. She said that the teacher should
check to see whether Matthijs had fully understood what he had to do:
not just asking “did you understand?” but also “tell
me what you understood”. She pointed out that missing out on
the instructions often caused him to lose track and given that he was
on a shorter, condensed form of the class work, if he then restarted
based on what he saw his neighbours doing he would end up doing the
ordinary class work too and not make the progress he should. She also
said that bright children often find it had to choose between a number
of possibilities and that the teacher should limit the number of alternatives
he was offered as much as possible: not what the teacher expected,
but very recognisable for me.
We already knew that Matthijs will never have a problem with the academic
content (except perhaps where it involves much rote-learning) but that
he needs to learn to work. The psychologist said that this is a typical
problem for smart children. Most children already develop work-methods
and the associated behaviours in playschool, but Matthijs has never
needed to do things “by the numbers”: he has always understood
them immediately. I recognise this: I have the same problem myself.
I have great difficulty being systematic and methodical. I did not
start “applying myself” until well into university work
and I am still poor at it.
All in all it was a practical and useful report. We will be following
up with the school to see what actions we need to take.