Our lovely neighbour invited us to her birthday party. She was turning 60. To celebrate she was having a small get together on a Wednesday morning. I knew that being invited to her party was a big deal and was delighted that she had included us. It felt like we were finally getting properly involved with this Dutch life we are living. Such a happalicious event was exactly what we needed to cement our neighbourly love. I could finally convince her that our family is really not as mental as we first appear.

The 5 year old had a teacher strike day and so was off school.
No one could mind him, so he had to come too…
I was apprehensive.
I’ve seen him in action at these kind of social events, and frankly it’s not pretty, but I also knew that it would be a real snub if I didn’t go. My skeptimism was outweighed by the need to make friends with our long suffering neighbour.

I decided that, “We had all grown up and learnt a lot since the last time”.
Feel free to roll your eyes, and laugh at past me, for such naive and reckless, rose-coloured optimism.

On the day of the party as we rang her door bell, we agreed that we were going to have bestest behaviour.
He nodded and wholeheartedly promised that he’d try.
We made a deal that if it was getting too much, we would go.

My lovely neighbour opened the door and we kissed her and wished her, “Happy birthday”.
Well I did.
The 5 year old ignored her.
He was busy staring at the supply teacher from his school that was randomly in the room. I hadn’t realised that she’d be there, or I would have prepared him for the weirdness that is seeing your teacher in the real world. You could see it had completely thrown him. He unceremoniously dumped the birthday present on the floor and went inside. I followed him in.

There was a group of ladies sitting in a circle around a coffee table. There were china tea cups, apple tart and chat. I wished everyone in the room, “Happy birthday”. It’s a Dutch thing. It’s also hard to say in Dutch. My accent is so dire and they didn’t really get what I was saying. It was awkward. The 5 year old’s face crumpled in mortification.

We sat down in the circle and tried to join in the chat, but the boy had discovered that his chair was on wheels. As I was trying to make small talk in Dutch, I had to keep my foot firmly wedged behind his chair. The kindly lady that was sitting next to us gave up trying to understand me and turned her attention back to her friend.
I don’t blame her.
I knew that the words were against me.

She started feeding apple tart to what I thought was a small dog, sitting on the floor, under the coffee table. I realised that it was a toddler. He was sitting at his granny’s feet playing with a toy car. He was the quietest, most tranquil child I have ever met. I think he had a shock collar on him he was so silent – or maybe he’d had his bark removed.
Oh no, wait.
That’s for dogs.
The gran asked if they’d like to play together.
The 5 year old didn’t even acknowledge the question.
I explained that he’s shy.
He’s not. But any other explanation was testing the upper limits of my language ability. Even if we’d switched to English, it was tipping into oversharing.

While my attention was on this coffee-table-angel-kid, I noticed that the 5 year old was now horsing into his second bit of apple tart and had glugged down an alarming amount of sugary squash.
He had started to become erratic and bouncy.

As the sugar fully hit, he started to whirl around on his chair. He managed to roll it over my foot and was free. He whizzed across the parquet flooring and crashed into the bookshelf on the other side of the room. His face was an explosion of thrilled glee. I could see why, but dearsweetgodnothere.

I did that parenting, ‘intense whisper-threat’ thing, trying to get him off the chair. I suggested we go into my neighbour’s garden and have a little look. I knew he’d been dying to have a proper poke around her garden. He acquiesced and gave up the chair.

We went into her patio area. It was full to the brim of flowering plants, pots and little statues. He wasn’t interested in playing catch.
He wanted to pick the flowers.
No.
So then he had a good idea about building a track with all the pot plants.
No.
How about just moving the little statues a bit?
NO.
Look under them?
NO!
I was beginning to panic sweat.
Our time was up and we had been at her party for a very short time.
I wasn’t sure how to get him out without carnage.
I considered flinging him over the fence.
It felt wrong.
I suggested that we go back inside and say goodbye.
He didn’t want to.

He started whirling around the garden, bumping into all the flowers. Broken blooms scattered the newly swept tiles and a pot plants were tipped over. I lunged and grabbed him. As I pushed him back into the room, it was then that my neighbour decided to introduce us to the room of kindly, grey haired ladies. They were gently interested. The 5 year old melted under the social pressure. He hopped on the wheely-spinny-chair and high speed careered around the room on it. He was shrieking with laughter. I caught him just as he was about to smash into her china cabinet.

There was a polite, but somewhat alarmed, collective intake of breath.

I manhandled him out the living room.
As I tried to push him out the front door he realised that he needed a wee.

In the toilet there were framed pictures of his school friend having a wee on the loo.
The loo he was sitting on.
My neighbour is his school friend’s granny.
It was all too much.
It was the final straw.
You could see him slowly tipping over the edge as he tried to process all this information.

He went into total meltdown.

My lovely neighbour came to see what was going on. She held the door for me with a sympathetic look on her face as I carried him out kicking and screaming.

So that was fun.
This weekend we’ve got a barbeque at the lake.
Wish us luck.
What could possibly go wrong?

I was born in Ireland, grew up in England and met my Cornish husband in Catalonia. We now live in the Netherlands, in Dutch suburbia with our two differently wired, small kids. I spend my days parenting, writing and being amazed at all the Dutchness around me.

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