Monday, 27 September 2010

Food-flinging and other sports

I first met A&E Mum in antenatal class, just two in a clutch of beached planets who gathered once per week to pine after our toes and look earnest about pain relief options like breathing and essential oils. In spite of some childish pre-term mockery from both of us, we both went on to deliver two kids apiece au naturel using—have to admit it though it pains me—only breathing and essential oils. Okay, so by breathing I mean two tanks of Entonox.

A&E is a fabulous cook. Our firstborn had some raucous food-fights together in our early motherhood days. I've been fondly remembering our wall-painting sessions as I dust off Ana's old plastic riot-eating gear—suction bowls, sporks and the like—for Ali to lob at me shot put-style. Although I am still recovering from the trauma of food-flinging round one, I am already knee-deep in the goopy trenches of round two.

World champion food-flinger sets new messiness record.
As a native of my adopted homeland, A&E has been able to enlighten me on certain things. For instance, Welsh rarebit is as close to heaven as cheesy bread can possibly get. A dummy is silicone teat, not an indictment of a baby's shape-sorting ability. A tea cozy is...apparently a useful thing and not at all silly...actually I'm still researching this last one. But that aside, A&E is a fount of wisdom on many fronts, not just on culinary issues.

Which brings me to the previous post on safety burb hazards. In response A&E Mum directed me to a disclaimer she came across while hunting out a kids party venue—a fascinating scrap of fine print forbidding certain activities on the premises, and apparently written by somebody who has difficulty sharing toys. The blacklist ranges from yoga to freemasonry and everything in between. Of course venues are free to set their own rules and people can go elsewhere if they find those rules bonkers.

But the pesky thing wouldn't leave my mind. Because one detail had slipped through my eye and lodged in a nether-corner of my brain where it's been sat down every since, sipping a cuppa and demanding further explanation. Here's what got stuck: the venue forbids circle dancing. Really? Why? What is circle dancing exactly? Like ring around the rosies, but evil? Like line dancing but circular, so even more annoying? Is it contagious? Should I be worried that my snowflakes are at risk from a new elfin safety issue?!

I am hoping that, as in the past with tea cozies, A&E Mum can enlighten me on this. Till then, visions of toddlers reenacting The Wicker Man will dance through my head.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Translation hazard!

Ana, harbinger of destruction, needed a garden swing like a hamster needs a hamster wheel. So I ordered one online without putting much thought into it. Upon arrival I discovered that my hastily-selected swing was an import from Molvania. This was apparent from the safety instructions, clearly a collaboration between Babel Fish and Borat. Here's an excerpt:
Warning! Adult assembly request. Adult supervision required at all limes when using this product. Suitable for children aged. DO NOT loosen the rope, otherwise the seal will fall and cause injury. DO NOT allow children 10 get off the swing when it is stilt moving. This item is for Family donestic use only. Avoid swinging empty swings. Try and orientate swing to avoid swinging directly into sun.
No kidding--printed right there on the box.

Now I'm an imaginative speller and a monoglot, so I can't have too much fun with this--glasspots in kettlehouses shouldn't lob seals, etc. And whereas elfin-safety glop is usually so tedious, I enjoyed this and must salute the person responsible. Humour is the only glue holding the various bits of my sleepy brain together right now. So I wonder, legal disclaimery aside, if there is so little actual information contained in kiddie safety warnings that they can be written in Mad Libs, why not hire comedians for the job? Or if comedians are too expensive and expletive-laden, perhaps the introduction of a standard label would both warn parents and eliminate future translation hazards. I reckon this would cover the bases:
You know this stuff like the back of Junior's cute widdle hand and it's pretty condescending of me, a mere safety label, to regurgitate it back to you in small words, but frankly you're so tired right now that you can't remember your own name, and you're too embarrassed to ask your spouse for clarification, so read on. Your snowflake is currently attempting serious self-injury and permanent world-damage on a vast scale and in five ways that you haven't thought of. So keep your eyes on Bambina until your vision goes all wonky and you get pinging dots across it diagonally (no this is not normal, if you mention it to other people, they will give you spare change for a sandwich). And don't even think about having any hobbies or sitting down because all that nonsense is for grownups, a group from which you are hereby quarantined. If you and Angel survive the first three years it will be a small miracle and you will receive a complimentary Molvanian cake and two free psychotherapy sessions with a seal of your choice. Now go play with this toy and stop reading this rubbish. Your name is Fred.
Silliness aside, I really wasn't sure how to interpret these instructions. So in the interest of elfin-safety, I let Creepy Dog (still surviving) have the first swing. No injuries to note. 'You're funny!' implied approval to my ears. Guinea pig test done, over to Monster Dog.

Here comes the sun dog.
Fearless-pirate Ana and wise-sage Ali both make me wonder what part of childhood is supposed to be healthy or safe. I hate to indulge Ali's paranoia but I'm inclined to agree with her--the tall world handles short people with kid gloves, only to shove them off the deep end and into life one day. Life being that eternally rough thing that adults never get a comfortable grip on.

As I write this, I hear Ana's whoops of delight from the garden as she swings directly into the sun. How it should be. I give the swing three Molvanian thumbs up.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Jekyll Baby, Darth Baby

Ali is mysterious. I ask her what her motive is every day. She considers the question by frowning and breathing heavily, so I call her Darth Baby. Darth pretends to follow external stimulus to indulge me. But in reality she is governed by a complex internal whirlwind.

Newborn Darth cried for hours. She writhed as if in the vice-grip of some malicious invisible monster. Then as quickly as it started, the invisible monster wandered off, and Ali was content again. Thankfully, the monster morphed into a clown after the early months. Now he hides behind the sofa (everything does) and under ever-present piles of laundry, whispering raucous jokes about tall people to earn hysterical snorting laughter from his very short audience of one.

Quickenings, tummy butterflies that crescendo to ninja rib-kicks, were my first hint of Ali's nature, coming at all hours and in different rhythms. Belly goop-wielding sonographers gave me my second hint. Their scans indicated that Ali was possibly a rare breed of deep-sea fish with ear-grabbing tendencies (recessive trait) and hiccups.

Ali shed amphibiousness for Winston Churchill (a look commonly known by birth mothers as 'the most beautiful thing I have ever seen', and by birth fathers as 'where's the baby, and what's that bald alien-vole doing here?') This rapidly melted into soft cherub, before shedding like snakeskin into something else, again and again.

Ali's first smiles ghosted across her face like pure fleeting magic. Her digestive system was infinitely baffling ('Honey, is it supposed to be black? Oh wait, now it's yellow...') Her initial exhaustion following birth gave way to stubborn insomnia.

After a month or so, she commenced desperate unicycling while attempting to focus her wibily-eyes on anything at all. With crawling came such dedicated floor-slurping that I can only assume babies are paid on commission per chokable. Now she cruises, mostly as an excuse to bash her head on things and fall over. What motivates all this self-destruction is beyond me. Time and again I ask, but she stays mum.
Ali's mood swings are probably her greatest mystery. Even now, long after the trauma and exhaustion of the invisible-monster early days, Ali transitions from beaming joy to pouring misery in no time. Sometimes her funks have a basis in this world: fatigue, hunger, frustration. Mostly they don't.

Slobber through the looking glass.
Ali has two hobbies. The first is discussing current events with her reflection. Her reflection is a bit of a surly jerk though, so these conversations inevitably end in bouts of vigorous head-shaking. Her second passtime is playing a combined hide and seek/peekaboo from her play tent. She has a longer attention span for this game than I do, but due to mama brain syndrome (to be discussed in detail later), this isn't saying much.

This afternoon, she chased the invisible clown all over the house, giggling madly some terribly rude joke that only she could hear. Then the clown went off shift, so Ali and I played tent hide and seekaboo until I felt my mind wandering...CRASH! Without warning, Ana barrelled into the tent like a Monster Dog in a china shop. Before I could caution her to calm down and avoid squishing her baby sister, Ali suddenly, accidentally, got the upper hand: a fistful of her sister's hair. Temporarily Genghis Khan, Ali released a piercing war cry, then collapsed in a fit of maniacal baby giggles. In that moment the invisible clown was made very proud. Ana wriggled free and ran off screeching 'MY, MY, MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINE!'

What a profound change babies undergo when they become kids. Ana has only the faint memory of mystery about her, although I know that she too was once baffling. Her own motives have become easier to suss (generally world domination, but more on this later).

The whole sisterly interaction took less than three minutes.Perhaps more flummoxing than any of Ali's mysterious moods, is the eternal disconnect between the planet Ali lives on, and the galaxy Ana inhabits.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Farewell summertime nest

The world outside turned golden this week. The temperature dropped and wind-rustled leaves took on a tell-tale brittle note. Summer is collapsing into autumn. It caught me by surprise again. Every summer seems eternal, even though I'm old enough to know better by now.

Which reminds me of Ray Bradbury, a hero of mine, who turned 90 at the end of August. 'Dandelion Wine' is a book about how kids experience summertime as the great magical forever. There are a thousand perfect summer moments in it, including one about fire balloons in the 1974 introduction he added to original 1957 book.
Grandpa and I walked out on the lawn and lit a small fire and filled the pear-shaped red-and-white-and-blue-striped paper balloon with hot air, and held the flickering bright-angel presence in our hands a final moment in front of a porch lined with uncles and aunts and cousins and mothers and  fathers, and then, very softly, let the thing that was life and light and mystery go out of our fingers up on the summer air and away over the beginning-to-sleep houses, among the stars, as fragile, as wondrous, as vulnerable, as lovely as life itself....My beloved family still sits on the porch in the dark. The fire balloon still drifts and burns in the night sky of an as yet unburied summer. 
Seasonally, 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' follows 'Dandelion Wine'. Although principally concerned with autumnal menace, it also happens to contain one of my favourite passages on motherhood: 'They nest in Time. They make the flesh that holds fast and binds eternity. They live inside the gift, know power, accept, and need not mention it. Why speak of Time when you are Time, and shape the universal moments, as they pass, into warmth and action?

Warmth passing.
Sunlight is starting to wane. Fun fairs are setting up across England, in all their weird kitschy glory. Just over the horizon, bonfires burn. Soon firecrackers will wake my children at night. 

I've spent the past few golden afternoons knitting together unrelated passages from the books of summer, and searching out pint-sized jumpers that were lightly cast aside by my autumn babies in the innocence and optimism of last spring. These items nest not in time, but usually behind the sofa.