Here in the Netherlands, it’s a thrilling time of year for the smalls. Sinterklaas fever is high.
In mid-November, Sint and his helpers, called ‘Piets’, arrive from Spain by boat. At night, they put
sugar and tack treats in the Dutch kids’ shoes. My kids get very excited ‘putting their shoes out’ before bed. I think it equals the delirium my tiny self experienced, waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve.
It sounds like a lovely tradition, but the blimmin’ thing is a bit of an ordeal.
It goes on for 3 bloody weeks!
Dutch kids have it so good.
As a parent you have to know which Piets are in town and what they are doing. This year, there was a new Piet who left a “joke” present of NOTHING in a big wrapped box, and someone else lost the pepernoten recipe book. (Pepernoten are small spiced cookies. They are to the tradition of Sinterklaas as Guinness is to Ireland.)
I nearly had to take my two, highly sensitive, stressed kids to the therapist. To talk through their worries about getting a box full of nothing. And give them coping strategies for dealing with their pre-event anxiety & angst.
I ended up watching the Sinterklaas journal and taking notes, just to stay on top of it. My Dutch came on in leaps and bounds, but my google translate got burn out, and took a leave of absence.
The shoe filling is a logistical nightmare. We are still in the thick of it….can you hear my desperate, sweary shouts from there!? Each family seems to follow their own random pattern with how often the shoe gets filled. Not us. No surprises here. My kids like a structured life and can’t handle the UNKNOWN….We have a shoe calendar. With the days coloured in when the Piets are ‘in our neighbourhood’. That was a fraught negotiation with my two. I managed to talk them down from every day, to twice a week.
My hazy, goldfish brain then needed to remember to have sufficient small, but not too small, (but also not too big) treats to hand. This year we were relatively organised. There was a bag full of random, suitable presents and snacks. We also had to make damn sure to remember which days are SHOE DAYS.
This morning the 7 year old headed downstairs to check out his shoe. The rest of us were all still in bed. The husband rolled over and murmured,
“Did you remember to do the shoes?”
My brain exploded.
Jesusmaryandjoseph …We’d forgotten to do the effing shoes.
I jackknifed from unconscious to standing.
(I mean as a side note … The way he assumed it was my department…. the feminist rant I hear rising in you. The blame. The outright indignation that it was YOU not WE. The mental load that is this time of year, in another culture, through a whole other language…but I am digressing ……)
We yelled at our son to come back. In our panic, we made it sound like the biggest of emergencies. My husband hustled his confused and now traumatised little self, back up off the dark stairs, and into the bathroom. I rushed up to the spare room and ransacked the hidden present bag, to see what I could find.
Two chocolates and some socks for each of them.
It’d have to do.
I panic teleported downstairs and then back up into our bedroom.
We released the pale, mystified child from the bathroom. He resumed his shoe pursuit. And was happy with his treats.
I caught him looking at me with those big, green, searching eyes.
The luminous-metallic tint of anxiety crept up my throat and swarmed my jaw. Bollocksbollocksbollocks.
We were rescued from further cross-examination by the delighted crows of the 4 year old, who had woken up and headed off downstairs to check her shoe. Her chatter and excitement cut through his silent, eye-ball interrogation.
The morning routine hurtled forward and we were into the bustle of breakfast.
As I was making their lunchtime sarnies, he finally asked:
“Mum, did you put the stuff in the shoes?”
The 4 year old looked at him, surprised. They both turned their laser gazes on me.
I reached for my coffee…and asked that classic parenting question, the one we ALL use, when our sloading minds are sluggish….
“Why do you think that?” I stalled…
“Cause when I went down this morning, the shoes were empty, and then they were filled the next time I looked at them.”
I mean he had a point, really, didn’t he?! Oh! The negligent mother!!
Feckityfeckfeck. Elevator music played in my head. I had nothing. I cleared my throat, had a sip of coffee….stalled for time. It was a charade of ridiculous AVOIDANCE…I was dyyyyyyying. The husband was conveniently in the shower at this point. Bloody man.
“What do you think happened?”
Just as he was about to slaughter off Sint for the family, the 4 year old interrupted him. She chirped up, all knowledgeable…
“It’s cause the Piets just got here, they knew I wasn’t up out of bed when you looked, and we were last on their list.”
She nodded with an air of great authority, tucked her knees up under her chin and hugged them knowledgeably.
Her argument was very wobbly.
Yet he was listening to her.
She can be very convincing.
“Magic?” I lamely added in….
He lost his train of thought as his sister expanded her complex Piet delivery theory. Her talkathon gave me space. I snuck off and avoided eye contact.
He’s on to me.
I feel like the crappest parent alive.