Saturday, November 25, 2006

Me and the Munchkins



I love my children. And I feel like I'm getting to know them better this week. Marci has gone out of town for eleven days, as she's helping her parents move out of the home in which she grew up -- thus I am running the household on my own for the time being. And although it can be quite a heavy load to keep the house clean, maintain a regular routine, prepare healthy food for three of us, and provide emotional and spiritual leadership for two young children (full-time "stay-at-home" Moms deserve so much respect!), I've actually been enjoying the time with me and the "munchkins." It's like I've been getting to see sides of them that I've never fully noticed before...

In particular, I got to know my daughter a little bit better earlier this week, as we pedalled through the streets of Amsterdam on my bicycle. Early on Thursday morning, I had told Olivia that we'd get to go on a bicycle ride together later in the morning (while Elliot was in school), so I could drop off some documents at the church office. Thus, after having Olivia finish her breakfast, put on her shoes, and use the potty, we prepared to leave for our "bicycle ride" -- at which point Olivia resolutely informed me, with the candor and clarity of a true two-year-old, "Not bakfiets. Bicycle ride." As opposed to riding in the plastic-domed comfort of our three-wheeled "mini-van of bicycles," Olivia made it clear that she wanted to get out her helmet and the single children's seat that can be affixed to the front handlebars of my brown Batavus bicycle -- for a faster ride, with the wind in her face, and in close proximity to her Daddy who was powering the bicycle just behind her.

As we started picking up speed on the ride, Olivia gleefully sang, "Wheeeeeee!" Then, for the rest of the ride, she was like a microphoned tour guide on a bus tour through the city of Amsterdam. She pointed out every dog that we passed on the way, and barked "Arf! Arf!" to solicit their interaction with us. She pointed to the boats on the Amstel River, as we pedaled over the Hoge Sluis, and she laughed freely when I affirmed her by saying "Good eyes." She pointed to trams along the way, but she called them "trains" and made heartfelt sound effects -- "Choo-choo" -- to make her point. Occasionally, as we rode along in the brisk November air, Olivia would say, "Oooo. I chilly." So I would place my gloved hand on her shoulder or her arm and rub some warmth back into her a bit -- to which she would faithfully respond with a touch of her mittened hand on my hand and coo, "Thank you, Daddy." It was so much fun to be seeing the city with my daughter in such a way...

Olivia was a true lady as we completed our errand and continued on the return trip back toward home in Amsterdam Oost. Crossing the Amstel on the return trip, she saw another boat out on the water and gleefully shouted "Look! Look! A boat!" And when I failed to compliment her on her observation (as I had done on the first pass over the river), she complimented herself: "Good eyes!" As we turned onto the home stretch and pedaled into a fierce wind, I put my right arm around Olivia's midsection to shield her from the cold and encourage her that we were "almost there." And when Olivia again affectionately responded with resting her arms on mine and sweetly singing "Thank you, Daddy," I had to consciously resist the urge to throw my other arm around her as well in a full embrace (otherwise, we might have ended up in a nasty "Look Ma - no hands" bicycle accident). In any event, it seemed like the "bicycle ride" together that day cemented something in my relationship with Olivia...

With Elliot, too, I feel like I've gained further insight into his character this week. And -- just as with Olivia -- I like what I've been seeing.

My son -- like the rest of school-aged Dutch society -- is totally obsessed with Sinterklaas (a Dutch holiday, with many similarities to the American Christmas holiday, celebrated on the 5th of December) these days. In the last day or two, in fact, Elliot has taken to wearing his red Sinterklaas hat (a tall bishop's hat emblazoned with a golden cross) and carrying a basket full of pepernoten (dime-sized gingerbread cookies) whenever we go out in public. Essentially, he's campaigning for the job of Sinterklaas. If he manages to make eye contact with anyone (and often even when he does not) -- in the grocery store, at the coffee house, on the sidewalk -- he cheerily greets the stranger with a question: "Wil jij een pepernoot" (Would you like a pepernoot?). Of course, it's kind of embarrassing and awkward -- but it's also kind of cute and definitely well-intentioned...

Of course, most urbanites (and particularly Amsterdammers) are unaccustomed to eye contact, conversation, or interaction of any kind with strangers -- thus unfortunately, Elliot's (or should I say Sinterklaas's) solicitations have typically been falling on deaf ears. But to his credit, my boy is indomitable; and you've just got to admire him for his cheerful persistence. I've explained people's lack of responsiveness to his invitations by suggesting that people simply "tune out" when they're out in public with so much noise and so many people around. Thus, when someone doesn't listen to Elliot's incantation of "Wil jij een pepernoot?" or when he is refused his kind offer, he just looks at me with a look of innocent incredulity and graciously shrugs: "He tuned me out." And if, by chance, someone accepts his offer and thanks him for a tasty pepernoot, he beams with joy and satisfaction, doing a little dance, and singing to me: "She didn't tune me out!" It's such a beautiful image of innocence and kind-heartedness that should make any parent proud... At least, I know it does for me.

These times of increased parental responsibility and rearrangement of standard schedules can certainly be challenging on a number of different levels (I'm sure I could write an equally amusing post on some of the trials of the last week)... But such times as these can also be so rewarding. So I'm looking forward to the week ahead -- striving to look past the sibling rivalries, screaming tantrums, and messy clean-ups... and seeking to soak up the opportunities to warm chilly little arms and encourage generous hearts... enjoying a more intimate connection with my children.

5 Comments:

At 6:55 PM, Anonymous Linda said...

Beautiful, Eric... it's wonderful that you have this unique experience to bond with Elliot and Olivia during this time. I know it's not always easy and you're more tired than normal, but the blessings and benefits already experienced are joyous. May the Lord provide you with numerous other "get to know" opportunities with your beautiful children this week.

Oh, and it looks as if you've introduced them to an expression of art history during one of your outings.... how fun!!!! When Elliot begins to explain to me the painting technique or color hues Rembrandt used on the Night Watch, I might just fall over. It wouldn't be a complete surprise, however. He is such a sponge and he really "gets it" when I define a word for him or provide an answer to his "so, what does "such and such" mean? Your children are really AMAZING... and I love them!

 
At 11:15 PM, Blogger Naomi said...

Eric, i loved reading these stories about your kids! beautifully written and a beautiful example of what it means to truly "be like a child." hope you're getting some rest in the meantime!

 
At 2:47 AM, Blogger patricia said...

This story brought a tear to my eye, Eric. Wow! Way to unveil the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary moments of life. Thanks for taking us along for the ride!

 
At 2:41 PM, Blogger EP said...

As always, great post! Thanks for sharing.

Take care and enjoy the rest of this special time with your kids!

EP

 
At 6:46 PM, Blogger Emily said...

Absolutely great, just great. Thanks for sharing these moments...I can think of no other word than 'precious' to express how they made me feel as I read them. I get to see your wife tomorrow! I'm pretty pumped she's in Ohio.

 

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