Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving... sort of

I've got to say that Thanksgiving just isn't the same when the kids have to go to school. We let Aislin play hooky and would have let Dylan do the same, but when it became clear to him that going to Leiden meant missing both show and tell AND the coveted position of line leader (which equates roughly to being the class despot for a day), there was no question that school would win out. I'll tell you, true love is adding two hours to your Thanksgiving commute so your five-year-old can be first in line three times that day. Ms. Karen let me know that Dylan made the most of his status that day, though. Once she found him standing on a chair clapping his hands in the manner that the teachers do to get the kids' attention, utterly in vain, not a single student heeding his call. Another time she overheard him chastising another classmate that he was going to have to send her to the principal's office if she committed some unknown offense once more.

But I digress. It was gratifying to get to repeat our trip to Pieterskerk in Leiden again this year for the polydenominational "service of remembrance" since most of our American holiday rituals aren't replicable in the Netherlands (my kingdom for a pumpkin pie) and there's something extraordinary about getting to walk in the Pilgrims' footsteps on a day that otherwise goes unnoticed by everyone around us. We swear that someday before we move we will visit the Pilgrim archives to see if we're related to the Pilgrims. It was especially cool to get to share it with Mom and Dad, who my siblings were kind enough to share with us for the holiday. I spent a good chunk of the service having to feed Avery in the bathroom, but Dad took over after a while and stood with her at the back of the church.

As it happens, Dad had one of the consummate Dutch experiences while walking three-week-old Avery around the back of the church. An older Dutch woman approached him to coo over the baby. At that moment he happened to have Avery up on his shoulder, gently bouncing her. Like any Dutchwoman worth her salt, she couldn't resist conveying her wisdom and passing her judgment. "You know," she informed the pediatrician and emergency room physician who has testified in child abuse cases, "bouncing a baby like that damages their brain."

I have a little too much of the Dutch in me because I know I would've given her the deep satisfaction of engaging her; I have already run that futile gauntlet in numerous instances in which my childrearing was brought into issue by complete strangers in this country. My father is a far better person than I. His response was something along the lines of a wide-eyed, "Really? Oh my! I'd better be really careful, then."

Unfortunately we hadn't tried to procure a turkey before Leiden, so we were left to seek one out at the largest grocery store in Utrecht at about 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving day. Of course, it's not like Utrechtians are all out there beating down the doors for turkeys or anything... So Jeff and I went into the Albert Heijn and sought poultry. I took my usual tack of searching quietly amongst the refrigerator cases, but he took the bull by the horns and made the most of his Dutch language classes by approaching the guy with the big chef hat behind all the roasting chickens and asking, "Heeft u een hele kalkoen?" (Do ya have a whole turkey?) Despite Jeff's impeccable (?) Dutch, the gent responded in English, "Oh, are you celebrating Thanksgiving? Sorry, we don't have any left." So we got a big roasting chicken instead.

At least Mom brought us both pumpkin and Crisco, so we had a real honest-to-gosh punkin pie with homemade crust to save Thanksgiving from culinary ignominy and prove that a holiday ain't a holiday without Mom.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Playin' the Bongo

Yes, she's already got Bongo wrapped around that fat little finger. I mean, do you see that knowing smugness in her eyes? She knows she's set.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dylan waxes poetic about Avery's feet

You have to figure the last few months have probably been a little confusing for Dylan. When we were going to get the 3D ultrasound in July we psyched Dylan up for the few days preceding the appointment, explaining that we were going to get to see little sister. During a long silence in the car on the way to the appointment, our oversight became clear when his little voice piped up from the back seat with exquisite trepidation, "So are we getting little sister OUT today?" We got that one explained relatively easily.

Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that when we left for the hospital and told Dylan we were going to bring his sister home with us, his response was along the lines of, "Naaaawwww, you're joking!" Caitlin accurately caught the tenor of his initial response upon meeting his new sister for the first time:

He warmed to her quickly, however, and within minutes was asking to hold her and explaining to her all the things he, the big brother, would be teaching her about -- trains, dinosaurs, cooking. He also inspected her various parts and carried on a running commentary about her soft hair and tiny fingers until reaching her little, pink bare feet upon which he exclaimed sweetly:

"Oh, and her feet are like little rats..."


When I clad Avery in these soft leather booties for the first time a few days later (they're fantastic for holding socks on)...

...Dylan inquired:

"Mommy, are these shoes made of couch?"

Yes, Dylan, we've reupholstered Avery's rats.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Daar komt Sint Maarten aan

Our kraamzorg nurse let us know about this Dutch holiday that we somehow managed not to hear about until now -- Sint Maartens Dag (St. Martin's Day). She even hooked us up with the obligatory gear: a fishing pole kind of thing with a light on the end from which you suspend a paper lantern. Ours came as a freebie from a local grocery rather than being painstakingly crafted by hand because, let's be frank, we've lowered the bar a bit around here in the last few weeks. The kids go around much like trick or treating, and in fact, it appears that Halloween -- which isn't celebrated here -- might be bleeding over a bit because the dominant colors of St. Maarten gear were orange and black, and Dylan's lantern was a jack-o-lantern. At any rate, the kids typically run around in groups and have to sing the St. Maarten song at each door in exchange for a piece of candy or a tangerine.

We had the words to the song printed helpfully on the grocery-issue treat bags, but no tune:

Sint Maarten, Sint Maarten,
De koeien hebben staarten,
De meisjes hebben rokken aan,
Daar komt Sint Maarten aan!

(Roughly translated:
St. Martin
St. Martin,
The cows have tails,
The girls are in their skirts,
Here comes St. Martin.

Be it far from me to comment on the bizarre non sequiturhood of the lyrics, much less any ominous undertones...)

Aisie and Dylan dutifully commited themselves to memorizing the poem for the couple of days before the feestdag, November 11. It's amazing what the promise of a few pieces of candy can provide in the way of motivation. Come 5 p.m. tonight, they were ready to go.

Being the parents we are, we put Aisie in charge of Dylan and sent them out into the streets alone (okay, with strict instructions not to leave our little triangle and only to ring the bell where the light was on). Bolstered by the promise of candy, our fearless Dutch explorers happily ventured door to well-lit door. They quickly hooked up with another group of kids and managed to rake in a good haul even with their parentally-limited geography and lack of knowledge of the tune, which they managed to pick up from the other kids.

It bears mention that we
ourselves were unprepared for the St. Maarteners, not having gotten to the store to buy any candy. Thus while our own kids were getting candy from the neighbors, we had to do the grinchy Halloween thing of turning off the lights and pretending not to be home whenever kids rang the bell. We were hoping that we'd be spared the egging it'd cost us at home since it is a saint's day and all. Evidently, annoyed kids can resort to taunting you at the front door with this couplet:

Hier woont Juffrouw Kikkerbil,   //  Here lives Miss Frog's Butt
Die ons niks meer geven wil! // Who refuses to give us anything!
So a festive Armistice/St. Maarten's Dag to you, from Miss Frog's Butt.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hoera, een meisje!

Proving that she already has an impeccable sense of when best to make an entrance, Avery Sophia Lighter Steill arrived rather quickly this evening at 8:57 p.m. after a comparatively easy labor (I'll take 2 1/2 hours over 17 any day). We all think she's adorable.

At the hospital, we even got the traditional beschuit met muisjes (crackers with little mice, or candy-coated aniseseed) that the Dutch serve when a baby's born. I liked 'em -- although I might have eaten anything at that point -- but I think Jeff might have preferred anything but candy-coated anise seed. Yes, I finished his.

Happy Halloween

Proving once again that my kids are lucky to have the best aunts in the world (all five of them, although only two are implicated here), Meg and Caitlin made sure that they got to dress up for Halloween albeit one day late and while their parents were at the hospital awaiting the newest arrival. I guarantee they had more fun than we did. So here they are: Purrfect Kitty and Kung Fu Stegosaurus. Happy Halloween!