During the summer holidays, another mama-in-the-trenches-of-motherhood told me about a Corn Maze at a local farm. Her insta roll was so cute…precious images of her small sons, joyfully careering ahead of her through the maze. It looked idyllic. 

I stored this idea in my ‘mama memory bank’ to pull out, when desperation called for a fun activity. It sounded like such a cool thing to do with the kids! 

They would love it. 
We could spend the whole day there. 
Take a picnic.
Really wallow in the lush Dutch countryside. 

Oh how green I was! 
How hoodwinked. 
How naive.  

The need for this a-maze-ing plan arose during the Dutch Summer heatwave, towards the end of the hols. The kids were a bit bummed that the summer vaycay was nearly done.

“Would you guys like visit a real life maze?” I asked them over breakfast. Their cranky little faces cheered up at the thought.

“It’s on a little farm, so it’ll be really cool!” I enthused.  With renewed pep in their step they ran around the house gathering their things and yammering on about escaping from the maze…..

We drove out of town and crossed into South Holland….the countryside flat-lined in both directions on either side of us. Dutch summer was in full blazing glory. Fields of turnips and corn, complex waterways and the odd windmill rolled past. 

“What’s that smeeeelllllll”? My daughter wailed in the car. She is really sensitive to pongs. 

“Cows darling”, I said; “The maze is at a farm.”

The boy looked confused – he can’t smell anything. His world is a blank canvas as far as smells are concerned. He wouldn’t make a great dog. 

“Wot smell ? Wot cows?” He queried…..
“Euuuuuuuuuuuu”’ she wailed, “It’s getting worse! I feel sick.” 

Dramatic pretend barfing noises ensued. I rolled my eyes. And prayed the faking didn’t turn into actual hurling.

We turned off the main road, down a lane, and parked up next to a herd of hot looking lamas. In the field next to them was a large herd of cows. We had arrived at an actual, full on, working cow farm. I had been expecting a kind of petting zoo affair. Busy looking, welly boot clad people went about their farming day, oblivious to the blazing sun. A tractor chugged past us. The smell of cows weighed on us, like a heavy bovine blanket.

We got out of the car. The kids were already cranky. The sun was belting and turning us into human torches. I doused their Irish skin with factor 50. I think they might be sun allergic. 

I herded them out of the car park, and into the main courtyard of the farm. A sweaty looking farmer in a jumpsuit came up. He welcomed us to his farm and asked if we wanted to see the baby cows.

We did. That sounded lovely. The kids nodded their enthusiasm.

We followed the farmer into a barn. There was a small crowd of kids and adults watching in stunned absorption.  Our eyes took time to adjust to the dim light in the barn.

On one side of us was a stall of milking cows, waiting to be milked. Their muddy udders were immense and squirty. They were bellowing their discomfort.

It was udder chaos. 

The 5 year old needed it explained. She was revolted when I confirmed that cow’s milk did indeed come from cows. Yes. Just like those very cows we were gawping at.

“That’s where cow milk comes from, love”. 
“That’s the milk that dada uses? Euuuuuuuuuuuu” she squealed.

On the other side of us were two cows in a pen. One of the mama cows had her head clamped in the fence, holding her stationary. A couple of freshly born, wobbly legged calves were trembling around in the straw. 

We moved closer to see the babies….and it was then I realised that we had walked into a full on – in your face – poopymoocow – blood and gore birthing scene.

It was about as raw as you can get. There were swarms of flies. Some extremely vocal belligerent bovine bellows. The heat. The mess. The smell. It was intense.

My two kids were jaw-dropped-frozen to the spot. I tried to explain what they were seeing. “They’ve literally just been born. Look you can see the umbilical cord” I explained, pointing at the trailing thing. 

“What’s that again?” they asked. It was hard to be heard over the mooing. 

The baby cows were staggering around. A farm girl in wellies and mud smeared clothes started telling them something in rapid Dutch ….. I think she was clarifying, but the 5 year old climbed up my leg and limpetted herself around me, with one hand holding her nose firmly clamped.

She was not a-moo-sed.

The farmer glanced at her horror and gave a wry smile. He strode into the pen and rubbed some of the gore off the cow’s bum with straw. Too late I noticed that he was wearing a shoulder length rubber glove. 

I realised we were about to witness ….yup….there it went. Up to the shoulder.  

“What’s he doing to the mama cow?” shouted the boy. “Why is her head in a fence?” 

The cow mooed full force in his face. 

Honestly I wasn’t sure. The baby cow was right there. It had already been born. Had he not realised? Maybe he’d left his watch up there, and was trying to fish it out? It was hard to tell. 

“I think we should go”, said the boy. He looked a bit pale. His sister had gone completely mute. 

As we sidled out, the farmer was separating the mama from the baby cow. 

“Why is he doing that?” asked the boy. His huge eyes growing ever larger and the start of tears forming. I was tempted to turn him vegan then and there. But as he’s allergic to cow milk anyway, there didn’t seem much point in telling him the truth. 

“The mama cow is tired after giving birth. The farmer is giving her a rest and he’s going to mind the baby cow.”

I know lying is bad. I know I should have been honest. But I was struggling to face how harsh the truth was myself. Let alone a small boy, already overwhelmed with it all. 

Across the path there was a stall with calves drinking milk out of buckets. I went over and patted their sweet warm heads. The 5 year old was still clinging to me like some sort of tiny koala.

“Do you want to stoke them?” I asked her. She turned her head away and burrowed into me. He wouldn’t go near them.

“Where are there mamas?” He whispered. “Why aren’t they with them?” The sun beat down on his forlorn little boy body. He had so many questions that he wasn’t ready to hear the answer to. 

God farming is brutal, isn’t it?
I wasn’t prepared to deal with this. I changed the subject.

“Ok guys, let’s go find the reception and ask about the maze!”

They perked up a bit.

We located the receptionist, dwarfed behind a gigantic espresso machine in the cafe, bitching about being the only one working. Or maybe she was complaining about the heat. I wasn’t clear. We paid up, and she handed us three neon yellow armbands.

“What are these for?” The kids asked.

“So they can identify your dead body if we don’t make it out alive”, I joked. The receptionist chuckled. I had clearly hit the Dutch humour nail on the head. The kids stared at me in panic. They glanced down at their armbands.

What the fuck was I saying? I think it was the shock of what we had just witnessed, and the thousand degrees sun, which had fried my brains. 

“I’m kidding. The maze is tiny.” I said hurriedly.

“We’ll send the dogs in, if you get lost”, the receptionist chirped up helpfully. 

It didn’t aid the situation. My kids are terrified of dogs. 

“It’s a small dog”, she said consolingly when she saw their alarmed expressions

As we entered the maze, a blast of hot air blew down the corridor and lifted our sweat soaked baseball caps off our heads. We had been told to find the numbered signposts, which would tell us that we were going in the right direction. I thought she said that there were 11 in total. The kids sprinted ahead and found 1 & 2. 

Then 4 & 5. 

My rigid thinking boy made us backtrack. We had done it all wrong. The corn plants towered over our heads on both sides. I felt like I was being stalked. It was ear-ie and sweltering. It was as if we were walking through an oven, with the grill turned up high. We trudged down the well marked paths and found 1, 2 … 4, 5 … 10, 11.

“I’m BOILING” moaned the purple faced 5 year old. She was rage-swiping at the corn leaves and kicking at bits on the ground, making spluttery angry noises.

The boy was getting his angst on, ‘cause we couldn’t find the numbers in the right order. He’d started to spin and crash into things. He suggested we go off the path and just into the actual corn. I wasn’t convinced. I didn’t want this wholesome family trip turned into a creepy scene from ‘The Fields

I touched his back. He was drenched. I began to realise that we were all going to die in grave danger of getting heat stroke. With visions of being driven out of the farm in ambulances, (The townies that couldn’t cope with the farm. Oh! The shame!)  I called it a day and suggested ice lollies.

We retreated to the shade of the cafe. 

“Bouf! You look hot!” pointlessly commented the receptionist handing over the frozen treats. 

“There’s a lake a kilometre up the road if you want to cool down.” 

We did….

We fled to the car, and took off in a cloud of dusty tyre explosions. 
“Can we do that agaaaaaiiiiiin”? They clamoured from the back of the car. 
That was unexpected.
“I want to find all the numbers next time”, muttered the boy. 

“Sure”, I said. “Dada will take you. Let’s ask him when we get home”.

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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