About a month ago we went to a birthday. This was the combined birthday of both children of my friend Natasja. Natasja is someone who I met at university. She is incredibly smart, and married someone equally smart. I believe they are a two-PhD household. Problem is, I am not good with keeping in touch, and added to that there has been a time when I kept extra close to myself. Natasja, with admirable patience, had not yet given up on me, and hence the invitation.
The best part of this was buying the presents. Natasja had put a list online with desired presents, and there was some good stuff in there. For her two-year-old she wanted some items for his wooden train set. I had one of those as a kid (heck, I still do!), so I made picking out the perfect piece a priority. For her oldest, a girl, we got girly Lego, but the least girly that we could find: a laboratory and a bunny pen (because a laboratory requires lab animals, obviously).
The worst part was the being among people. For Beedoo! this was, of course, a terror in its own right: not only did she have to mingle with people, she'd have to mingle with Dutch people, non of whom she knew! For me, it wasn't much better: at this point, I only knew Natasja, and her husband only to a point. I never even met her children! That's how long I'd stayed out of contact... I think we were both nervous.
Still, it all went fairly well. There was a bizare mix of people there: half of them were academics of a level well above my own, the other half her family. Her father was a truck driver with plenty of stories about driving out to West Berlin through East Germany. The kids, I am told, loved their presents. I could certainly tell that the boy was all over the draw bridge I got for his wooden train set (I know I would have!).
Did we mingle? Not so much. Me a little more than Beedoo!. It wasn't as bad as I feared, but who knows... Maybe next time. ;)
I think there's a difference in mentality between the US's and the Netherland's definition of a children's birthday party... I've just seen this with Lois's birthday party as well... maybe just because the kids are young and I'm seeing a different side of things now. In the US, one or a few parents run the event... kids are dropped off and then organized to play party games, are given favors, have cake, maybe have some entertainment of some sort, and then are picked up again. In the Netherlands, all the parents stay and chat; the children open presents at the door and are then left to go play with (or totally ignore) the other kids. I feel like the kids are getting the short end of the stick here... but like I said, maybe it's just because they're too young yet. On the other side of the coin, though, two kids at Lois's party brought their phones and spent the entire time on the couch, completely ignoring everyone else. I just find this incredibly rude. You're there to celebrate with a friend, not play games on your smartphone. You want a source for childhood obesity? I think I've found one.
Like Arno said, we had fun shopping for the best toys. Arno was, of course, the expert on the wooden train set. Holy moly, are those things expensive! Arno kept his set, and eventually gave it to Lois (after we thoroughly cleaned the mold off it)... and even though the prices were better back in his childhood, he must have ammassed several hundred guilders worth of track! Thus the drawbridge piece Arno picked out was 25 euros... pretty steep. And therefore, we ended up getting the little girl two Lego sets... and naturally we went for the sciency one, being nerds ourselves, and the rabbit hutch, because little girls always like animals.
I never know what to do at thses parties... I sit around and try not to eat all the snacks, mostly, as a social eating thing. Normally at such parties, there's so many people talking, I can barely hear anyone, even if they're speaking directly to me. I often resort to lipreading. Now add in the complication that they're speaking a language I've barely grasped, and in an area of the country that has a different dialect... it's a mess. When I asked people to repeat themselves when I couldn't hear them, they'd resort to asking me in English... which means mentally shifting gears and trying to reprocess what they said. It's extremely taxing, and in an environment where, as an introvert, I'm already stressed out. On top of that is the irritation of people telling me that I need to speak Dutch every day and at every occasion. By all means, give the stressed-out foreigner ADVICE, because she isn't having a hard enough time!
So more or less, we spent 75 euros and spent 2 hours on the train to go to a party where we didn't know hardly anyone and stressed ourselves out. Fuck socializing.
I have to go against something that Beedoo! said there. As a kid, I went to plenty of children's birthday parties. There were games, movies, and once there was even a magician. But my niece is three now, and Natasja's children turned two and four. I don't think that's a good age to start having specific children's parties. Besides, the grown-ups still have to be invited to a party for them because how else are they going to drop off their present? Though we still think of oursives as children, I don't think we're going to get invited to whatever children's party may or may not be going on anymore. I mean, who's going to pick us up when the party's over?
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