It’s a wigitty wack thing, parenting through another culture and language. Most of the time I feel like I have a vague handle on what makes my kids tick, what makes them go boom and what to do when they fall apart. Then add in school and all that secret stuff that no one really mentions – cause it’s just ‘how it’s done’ and they all know, and I’m meant to know about it, but don’t – cause how the hell could I? It’s a different country. …And life gets a lot more complicated.

I’ve, at best, a tenacious grip on the Dutch language. That isn’t going to improve any time soon. Thanks to Covid, the Dutch class isn’t on any more. The 5 year old mutters stuff, sometimes shouts it, and the 7 year old tells her off for swearing in Dutch.
I am oblivious.
It’s a worrying situation.
I got one of the mums to give me a quick run down of the swear words in Dutch I needed to know. It was at the school gate. We got a few glances. It must have looked fairly savage. She was rapidly swearing and I was smiling back and nodding enthusiastically. I wish I’d recorded it. It’d have made a good ringtone.

I have most of the lingo down for what happens in school though.  When the 5 year old tells me she got straf, I know to pull the car over and talk about what she did that called for the punishment.

I know to bring in traktaties when it’s their birthday…. Treats for the whole class.

I know that brood is bread, but they actually mean lunch.

I know that kont means bum, and not what I thought it meant at first, when I bollocked the 5 year old for saying it. 

So, the 7 year old had his first toets.

It sounds like “toot” but isn’t as deck-the-halls-jolly as you’d think. It means test. He had his first need-to-study-for-it-and-then-go-in-and-perform-and-be-judged kind of class test. Well, the first that I know about. These could have been going on since first grade, but I had only just found out. So it was new to me. Ok? We’ve already established I am a bit fuzzy about vital need to know school details. 

He had to learn the 12 Dutch provinces and their main towns. I also had to learn them very quickly as I had diddly squat of an idea. Did you know that Holland is a province, not the name of the country? Compelling stuff. Well, interesting insofar as it beats fretting about Trump or acknowledging the fact that Covid is still rampaging through the world and might never go away. Learning the provinces in a language I barely speak was giving my anxiety something to focus on for a while.

We studied:
and I did a bit with him,
and Dad did a bit with him,
and I found an online little click & test thing for him to do,
and the nice teenager that comes to our home twice a week and reads to them in Dutch helped him a bit.

I discovered that mnemonics are the way forward for learning this stuff. The province of Drenthe has the city of Assen. ‘Cause it’s shaped like a butt. So obviously has to be called ASSen. The ruder the mnemonic, the more likely he was to remember. We got some memory jogging images going and one swear word acronym in there that will ensure he never forgets… I hope to God he didn’t tell the teacher how he was memorising the provinces and cities. But it worked. He seemed to be ready and in he went.

“How did it go love?”, I asked him at pick up… He shrugged and said,
“I got G”. 

“Huh? G? What do you mean?”

“A…b…c…d…e…f… G” he explained slowly to me as if he was talking to someone who had lost all their mental capacity and needed life explained at a gentler pace. His face was very neutral. No clues there. 

“Oh lovie, I’m sorry. What does that mean though?”
A shrug.
That was the response I got to work with.
A flippin’ shrug.
What are you, 7 going on 15?!

“In England G means that you failed. Did you?”
“I didn’t get them all right”. He said.
“Ok. What was your score?”
“What’s score?”
“How many did you get right?” I asked.

He muttered. He was done talking. He looked down.

“Look. You studied really hard and you did your best. If you failed you failed”. I shrugged. 

I gave him the ‘we love you for trying’ speech. 

“All we can ask is you do your best and you did. Feel proud of the fact that you worked so hard. There will be other chances to try again”. 

He nodded and rubbed my arm. He seemed happy enough. I dragged the 5 year old off the monkey bars, where she was busy defying gravity and spitting upside down. We got in the car and started driving home. 

I was doing a bit of a smug self-congratulatory wallow, at the banging job I was doing – inspiring a hard work ethic and also supporting their burgeoning self esteem. Mama 1 point. I was on a bit of a roll. I might have gone on a bit.

“Guys, you know how amazing you are, right. Not only are you learning and growing and doing school and sports and all that stuff, you are doing it in another language. That is very cool. You are awesome, don’t ever forget it, ok?”

In the rear view mirror I could see they were eating their post school sandwiches and glazing at the passing cyclists. They both zombie nodded. 

His sister started telling us all about the fight she had over the swing that day. It sounded fairly brutal. Playgrounds are terrifying places. They are a bit feral.

“That boy had no hands on his handlebars” he replied. 

I’d lost the crowd. 

When we got home, The boy ran upstairs to have his post school chat to dad…he told him he’d got 50 /50. His dad gave him the same ‘you tried your best’ speech. 

“Can we see the test”, I asked?
“I left it in the la. I’ll bring it tomorrow.” 

Nope, la is not a singing class. I see where you are going with that. La is a drawer. Good this isn’t it?

He showed me the test the next morning. He flung it through the classroom window at me. I looked at it and realised G is for goed….he got GOOD. He had done awesome… 85% of good….I felt like the dummiest of dipnits. I dragged him into a hug. 

“YOU are brill!!!! Well done. G is for GOOD” I said. We awkwardly hugged over the windowsill.

“Yes”, he replied and gazed through me. It was his, ‘I’ve read your mind, and can’t be bothered to reply further’, look. I was very familiar with that one.

I had been mentally dismissed. 

He’d already stepped into the slipstream of Dutch and detached from the English. He was in school mode and from what I suddenly clocked, was rocking it more than we’d realised. 

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

I was born in Ireland, grew up in England and met my Cornish husband in Catalonia. We lived in the Netherlands with our two differently wired kids before all moving to Yorkshire. I spend my days parenting, writing and being amazed at all that Sheffield has to offer.

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