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Joe's Neighborhood

On the road in the Netherlands with a 5-year-old

6/5/2024

I spent most of my adult life trying to get my kids out the door. “Begone children,” was my motto. When they were young, I’d wonder if it was too soon to suggest they get a job babysitting or as a lifeguard or maybe at a garment factory. Don’t worry, gentle reader, when I kicked them out the front door, my wife brought them back in the side door. But if wishful thinking was enough for the crime, I’d be in solitary confinement scratching marks on the wall today. 

  But now, as a grandfather, I am all in. Yup, even I am befuddled by this development. I just shrug, smile at my darling, and buy another round of apple drinks with Disney Princesses adorning the tops. 

But traveling with a 5-year-old? 

 

The Mauritshuis in The Hague, Netherlands

 “Juliette, no matter where we go in this room, The Girl will be looking at you. It’s like she is alive and wants to talk to you from 400 years ago.”

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Yup, I sound dopey even to myself. I suspect this is what comes from too many readings of Pooh’s adventures during the windy day at the Hundred Acre Wood. Riveting stuff. 

The Girl’s eyes do follow Juliette around the room — to a 5-year-old’s wonder and amazement and a 70-year-old’s delight. 

We prepped for this visit to the Mauritshuis with multiple grandpa/grandchild discussions about The Girl. We drew her with magic markers. We read a kid’s book on the life of Vermeer. And I showed her the magic of the small dab of white paint that made up the pearl earring. 

And, although I am crazy, I am not a total fool. On the day of the visit, we stopped at the museum cafe and had a hot chocolate with a mountain of whip cream. She may not remember Vermeer, but she’ll remember the whip cream. Same same. 

In any case, it all worked. Juliette was so primed that earlier that day as we biked around The Hague, she shouted from the child seat on the back of her dad’s bike: “Grandpa, grandpa, I see your favorite painting.”

Sure enough.

 

A visit to Keukenhof

The flower gardens curve in waves of red and yellow and pink on green manicured grass. Running water from the many small ponds mute the distant sounds of the calliope near the gardens’ entrance. And the heavy, grey Dutch skies do their best to mimic the Old Masters’ skies of lead. Keukenhof in springtime.

Juliette and her grandmother are in hog heaven. They both plant gardens back in Des Moines and Denver. They have matching gardening gloves, identical shovels, and red watering cans — one small and one large. They love plants and the outside. Give them a few bulbs and a bare patch of dirt, and magic will follow.

So Keukenhof, the Dutch gardens showcasing 7 million spring-flowering bulbs, was a no brainer. 

Flowers, flowers and more flowers. And when everyone has had enough of flower gazing, Keukenof provides Miffy playground toys, a giant windmill, and a bridge across a pond that dips just low enough to get your feet wet. And don’t forget hot dogs for lunch. Keukenhof is the Iowa State Fair with flowers. Although I can’t figure out who comes on East Side Night when there is no Lee Township as the dividing line. Perhaps Germany?

 

The North Sea fairytales

The North Sea is feeling its oats today. The wind blows, the waves roar, and the rain spits. My granddaughter, with cold, wet hair plastered to her face, laughs with delight from the back of my bike. And that is before we even get to the Fairytale Sculptures by the Sea in The Hague. 

On the terrace outside the Beelden Aan Zee Museum are 23 sculptures by Tom Otterness, who is from Kansas, by the way. The sculptures are both gigantic and tiny, but all offer a whimsical look on generally terrifying fairy tales.

Juliette runs from sculpture to sculpture, speaking to each, and then leaving a quick kiss on their cheek before running to the next. At last, she settles to climbing into the giant’s head from Gulliver’s Travels.

“Grandpa, there’s a little person in here.”

Of course there is, but I’m still not climbing into that giant’s head.

My new motto: “Grandpas don’t have fun.”

Back on the bike, this story of being on the road with a 5-year-old runs its course. And it ends as all good stories should end — your listener fast asleep. 

The End. ♦

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

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