Monday, August 19, 2013

Sweet Child of Mine

Holden - At Keukenhof, one of the  most beautiful
 botanical gardens in the world.
  “Weeeell, Cee-laa-ste.  Yeew knooow.  Howlden ez jus ful o’ life,” my Dad, in his distinguished West-Texas-slow-as-molasses-slang speaks through the waves of invisible technology across the Atlantic Ocean into my headphones.  A tiny fuzzy microphone hovers inches from my smiling mouth.  Guglielmo Marconi is rolling in his grave at the ease of communication in the 21st century – thank heavens for Skype.  My Dad and I have been talking about my absolute exhaustion of chasing after my little baby boy.  For months.  “Yew knoow?” my Dad said, after his visit in March, “Ah D-cided that whut Howlen needs is a backyaaarwd.”  Thank you for the keen assessment, Daddy.  I’ll just order one of those off of Amazon – the UK site is in English, thus more user-friendly, but has free shipping?  Ah, I wish the solution was so simple.
  My Mom visited a few months later.  My entire life I’ve heard about what an exhausting child my brother, Jonathan, was, at least, his first 4-years of life.  “I walked out of every restaurant in Plano with that boy. . .” she always said, with a tension in her shoulders apparent years later  – her vivid recollection of her screaming 3rd born child were never shaken.  In the days of pre-child-proof vehicle door locks, it was my job, as passenger in the front seat of our conversion van at the ripe age of six, to hold down the lock to make sure my screaming toddler brother, who had wriggled his way out of his car seat and was now throwing a tantrum on the floorboard, wouldn’t open the door as we barreled down Parker Road in Plano towards home. 
  In April, exhausted from her long flight, I was just as excited about my Mom’s first visit to The Netherlands! – A family reunited, we attempted to sit in the airport lounge and drink a cup of coffee.  It didn’t work.  I held Holden.  I put him on my lap while sitting uncomfortably on the plastic seat of the Burger King.  I let him walk.  I watched him run out of the low barrier of the fast-food seating and into the large pedestrian area.  I chased after him.  Passengers sporting countless nationalities smiled.  Some stared.  Luckily, all dodged him as he blindly barreled his tiny body willingly and recklessly towards their rolling luggage.  I held my miniature kamikaze pilot and flashed universally-accepted apologetic smiles.  He fiercely wriggled out of my arms and I involuntarily let him down.  I chased him again.  He runs.  I chase. He runs. I chase.  He runs.  He’s so fast.  He’s. So. Fast. I. Keep. Chasing and chasing and chasing. Fifteen minutes after arriving in the country to visit the grandchildren she hadn’t seen in six months (and thus prior to Holden’s mobility) she says to me, with a knowing smile and at least a little sympathy – “You’ve got a Jonathan on your hands.” 
   I agree.  But my mom got through it – as strong and as determined as she is.  My brother (ahem, after age 4) was awesome, and still is.  My mom and brother are close and he was always the kid who most easily made her smile and laugh throughout our childhood.  They are a good match. 
  A few weekends ago, my family took a day-trip to Belgium.  We near Gent and Holden starts to wriggle and scream.  Within seconds, his Houdini-like maneuvers have him free of the shackles of his car seat and he pulls on my husband’s driver-side headrest, attempting to free the lower-half of his body.   In our tiny European car, I’m easily able to reach into the backseat, and visions of my mother driving our van involuntarily enter my head.  The flashing images trip through my mind, while a chanting mantra of “ignore negative behavior” mesmerizes and desensitizes me.  It’s a strange playback of jumbling and uncomfortable thoughts - like that horrible boat ride in the Willy Wonka movie. 
  We arrive in Gent safely.  The kids are in awe of the parking garage we’ve entered.  I sigh.  I’m worlds from where I was, but at the same time, find myself reconnected to my past, as always, in really funny, unexpected ways.  
  We load the kids into the double stroller and go into town.  We find a nice sidewalk cafĂ© to have lunch.  Within two minutes of ordering, Holden screams to be let out of the stroller, and for the next 30 minutes V 
Cosette - before being served her Jack Daniel's apple juice
and I take turns eating and chasing Holden around the adjoining castle/square/fish market because there’s just no way we’ll subject the other diners to the screaming he amazingly exerts from his tiny body.  In the meantime, Cosette asks what’s floating in her drink.  I gaze out at my husband, who is chasing our son around the ancient stone fountain.  I admire the buildings around us, with labels such as 1640. . . this place is so. . . amazingly historic. . . and I turn to her, wondering how we’ve gotten here  – “They’re ice cubes, honey!  There are ice cubes in your glass.”  My American baby doesn’t know what ice cubes are.  Her apple juice has been served to her in a tall glass with a Jack Daniels slogan on it.  I’ve been here long enough to shrug at the glass, but not-long-enough to just take a sip to make sure it’s really apple juice.  Vinny continues to chase Holden through the cobblestoned-square and I find myself thinking of my mother managing my little brother.  At least a square in Gent is more scenic than the parking lot of the Black-Eyed Pea.  
   Holden is now the age Cosette was when we moved here.  He’s crazy, unruly, and more often than not, refuses to sit still more than a handful of minutes no matter if it’s in a high chair, stroller, car seat, or willingly to read a book.  At this age, she knew and spoke many words, whereas he’s not quite as advanced.  There’s the fall-back excuse of ‘well, he’s a boy!’ but I can’t help but also wonder if there’s something more ominous at work here.  Cosette was enrolled in daycare full time her first 21-months of life.  At her American daycare they sat.  They ate together.  They sang songs.  They had story-time.  She had the full-time attention of many women – split between other classmates, but still - no one was trying to clean house or cook meals (or ahem, check Facebook or e-mail, hopefully) while she was their responsibility.  I don’t worry too much about Holden’s socialization - he has Cosette to play and eat meals with.  As far as education and activities - we spend countless hours at museums, the library, playgrounds, and playing at home – it’s not the same as the highly regulated curriculum and tightly-focused similarly-aged classmates Cosette conversed with everyday back in Texas.  Even now that Holden is enrolled in Dutch daycare once a week and I’ve seen a few samples of artwork, I get the feeling they primarily focus on letting “kids be kids.”   
   So, with that – I cannot say with certainty what the American daycare did for my daughter as a jump-start to life vs. my son’s upbringing with a full-time Mom in The Netherlands.  Girl vs. boy. Work vs. stay-at-home. American vs. Dutch.  Or perhaps it’s genetic – Holden is a spitting image of my brother?  There are just too many variables, but in the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter.  Holden is Holden, my rambunctious baby boy, with a smile and laugh that attracts an international crowd.

V and Holden standing next to our lunch locale in Gent

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