Friday, 29 October 2010

The dragon and his boy

Mama is terribly excited to announce the first-ever Mañana guest blogger: the one and only OneArmGirlIn addition to being one of Mama's longest-serving friends, OneArmGirl is a wonderful writer and an exemplar human being. Thank you OneArmGirl for taking the plunge. You will receive a complementary Molvanian cake and two free psychotherapy sessions with a seal of your choice. 

Elijah is distraught. Toothless the dragon has gone missing. Eli’s looked his bedroom, the playroom, the kitchen. He’s even sung a special dragon song to no avail. The only thing left to do is cry. Little Gen and I happen upon this unfortunate incident because we’ve come to my best friend Audra’s house to do laundry. Eli is Audra’s five-year-old son. Just when he’s accepted his sad situation, Little Gen finds Toothless, a four-inch plastic dragon with wings that flap, lying innocently next to the couch. The universe has been righted.
Dragon in distress.
This episode is only one of many in Eli’s world; where it’s not at all odd to find a dragon eating Cheerios next to you at the breakfast table. As Audra is tucking Eli into bed one night, he sits up in alarm,

“Mom, you’re stepping on my dragon’s tail!”

“Well, tell him to pull it under the bed, then.”

I love her for this. She makes the intersection of Dragon World and a world where little boys still need to go to bed delightful and seamless.

Gathered with girlfriends in my living room one night, Eli suddenly runs out of a back bedroom where he’s watching a cartoon, and plops into his mother’s lap. “Mom, I need to tell you something,” he says solemnly. Something indeed, as Eli is reluctant to pause a movie even for a potty break.

“My dragon has been waiting outside and he needs to get in.”

“You can go let him in,” Audra reassures.

“But, I’m watching a movie.”

“Well, I guess you have to choose your priorities.”

Oh, the moral dilemmas of an imaginary world; life hits hard so early. But I think it might be a good idea for every kid to get a dragon before trying a puppy.

There have been other worlds: the 'Toy Story' World where Eli told every new acquaintance for a year that his name was Buzz, and I was constantly being shot with lasers from his outstretched arm; the 'Cars' World with Lightning McQueen leaving a trail of race car pyjamas and bed sheets; and the Thomas World, wherein I felt consistently silly for not knowing the name of every tiny engine I accidentally stepped on while naively walking barefoot across the carpet.

But we’ve been in Dragon World the longest. And I’m not complaining; this is my favourite world so far. Turns out, I’m a huge fan of dragons. What is it about these giant lizards that we love? Though dangerous and sometimes fire-breathing, there seems something majestic and beautiful and lonely...a creature in a world not fit for it, where courageous knights are constantly sent on missions to seek its life and save the village.

Stopped at a red light, I try to explain to Eli, sitting behind me in his car seat, that in addition to having swords and fighting dragons, brave knights also follow a code called ‘chivalry’ that requires them to save damsels in distress and open doors for little girls. His listens quietly, processing. Then, “But knights go to fight dragons with swords and shields and...” Apparently I don’t have Audra’s touch.

And I never know if I’ll be met with a sword or a growl. Lately, Eli’s taken to coming within inches of my face, emitting a surprisingly deep-throated roar, sometimes accompanied by a shower of saliva. Have to admit, it is a little scary. Walking down the supermarket isle with Little Gen, Eli suddenly squats down. “I have to lay my eggs,” he informs her. Unprepared, she smiles awkwardly to a confused woman passing by.

Bring him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.  
“I’m getting tired of this dragon thing,” Audra groans on the phone last night.

Recently, Eli ran into her bedroom: “There’s a dragon or a monster in my room!,” he cries, quivering
with terror; real or imagined, Audra’s not sure. But she decides it’s time to draw the line.

“Ok, Eli, there are no dragons in your room. Dragons are imaginary; they don’t exist in our world.”

This morning after blueberry pancakes and much growling and flying about the room (me rather awkwardly with only one and a half wings), Eli suddenly tells me, “Listen, there’s no such thing as dragons in this world.” I’m crestfallen.

“Really?” I ask. Is Dragon World over? Are my days as a dragon-sitter really done?

Then reappears a mischievous smile on his pixie face: “What that means is dragons DO exist.”

Ahh...I get it; they’ve just gone underground.


Autumn reading and what really happened to the dinosaurs...

It wasn't a comet. The dinosaurs, as I discovered Wednesday, were actually chased down by a rabid mob of half term children and cornered in the Natural History Museum, like something out of 'The Day of the Locust'. The Mama Unit narrowly escaped with Stuffed Triceratops and a badly injured copy of 'Danny and the Dinosaur' in tow.
Now that we are safely home again, I want to pass on the warm glow left by some very kind commentary from This mid 30s life. So here follows an eclectic handful of my autumn addictionssome new, others well-established, all good fun to read.

Firstly, I like velociraptors, but I love Hyperbole and Half. I had so much fun reading dispatches from OneArmGirl that I started a blog of my own (more on OneArmGirl to follow shortly). International gastronomers Cinnamon and Truffle are my official advisers on all things delicious. I've added 'karmageddon' and 'cashtration' to my vocabulary thanks to Mum-on-a-Wire (courtesy of The Style Invitational at the Washington Post). I very recently discovered a blog about the world of children's books by a talented illustrator called Rafael López, which touches on the WPA amongst other causes close to my heart. And I absolutely love Susan Orlean's Free Range, quite possibly the best writing you can find on the internet.

Next half term the Mama Unit will shun museums for the safety of the fully stocked underground bomb shelter. All dinosaurs, plush and imaginary, are welcome to join us and avoid the crush.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Half term blues

Schools and pre-schools in my corner of England shut their doors with a terrifying crash on Friday for half term break. Half term is the longest week of the season, a time when parents across the land huddle together for warmth at local petting zoos and museums, grumbling in queues to show solidarity, before amassing gratefully back at school gates on the Glorious Monday after. If you listen carefully on Glorious Monday you just might hearover the parental 'Hallelujah' chorusDavid Attenborough's soothing voice declaring an end to the great journey across green and pleasant museum-land.

Wildlife corridor.
But Glorious Monday is a week off and the great migration is in full swing. Two short people can't turn the tide, so today we are off on the museum current. I want to show Chaos and Destruction what some real monsters look like.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Speaking of off the beaten track

In my old life as a world championship sleeper who had time to read more than safety hazard labels, I used to love reading folklore. And for my money, the best stuff comes from America's Great Depression of the 1930's (that other time of banking whoopsies) when America's federal government actually paidnot well mind youunemployed writers and bog standard folks off the street to walk around collecting life histories from other bog standard folks with stories to tell. Of course at the time there was an avalanche of criticism directed towards all this rather pinko-plot-sounding stuff, but the Federal Writers' Project actually 'uncovered something valuable and lasting' (words of David Taylor, author of 'Soul of a People') that still makes for good reading now. The American Guide Series is still interesting and various folklore transcripts in state collections and at the Library of Congress are priceless. Taylor's 2009 book, 'Soul of a People' and an accompanying film produced by Spark Media tells the story of the story-collectors themselves. Fittingly, the film and the book spend a lot of time out on the open road. So if you are lucky enough to be in Atlanta or New York, I highly recommend stopping in to say hello and learn more about the WPA and the Federal Writers' Project here:
Atlanta, October 27th: 'Soul of a People' presentation with WPA writer Stetson Kennedy and director Andrea Kalin at the annual meeting of the Oral History Association.   
New York, November 21st: '1935 and the Enduring New Deal' panel discussion at the FDR Memorial Library, 4079 Albany Post Rd, Hyde Park. 
Tales from on the road.
More to follow on the WPA, mañana. Promise.

Friday, 22 October 2010

A crooked road to genius

Forget mama brain syndromeit turns that having kids will make you smarter. Take that Mensa. Now I'm off to my day job at the rocket science factory, just as soon as I can remember where I put my shoes...
Diversion from the road to improvement. 

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Voodoo child

My autumn garden is full of spiders. Yesterday I watched a fly go from creature to cadaver in the skip of a heartbeat and the twitch of eight legs. Webs loom everywhere I walk, ghost-like apparitions right at head level. My face has been snared a few times and I suspect it might be me, not the flies, they are after.

Tonight I put on my shoe and felt something soft and leathery squish up against my toe. My brain said mouse, but reaching inside I discovered it was just a shrivelled, slightly fuzzy chunk of green pepper. I recognised the bite marks and the modus operandi. 'Don't mess with me Mama,' the pepper implied in Ana's voice, 'I know where your shoes live.'

Garden-variety Shelob
Ana is an old hand at threats. When she was 18 months old we drove to an old fisherman's cottage on Anglesey for a weekend. In the evening she slept like an angel in her travel cot, while Papa and I watched little fishing boats cast their nets into a peaceful sea. A tentative sense of calm crept back into our lives; we decided that everything was going to be okay and that travelling with kids could even be fun. But it only lasted until the following afternoon. Halfway through nap-time I heard a loud smack from Ana's room, followed by an angry roar. A moment later, vengeful toddler footsteps thundered down the hall. Papa and I were trapped in the sitting room, mugs of tea still in hand as a shrieking, wild-haired toddler came for her revenge like something out of a horror film.

Travelling with Ana was out of the question now that she could shimmy out of a travel cot head-first and pursue us to the ends of a holiday cottage. Naively, we thought she could still be contained behind the trusty wooden jail-bars of her cot at home. Not long after the Anglesey incident, I went to Germany for a weekend, leaving Papa home alone with Ana. My first morning away, he rang to say that Ana escaped the cot and woke him with a very sweet 'Papa thirsty?' and a very cold cup of water in the face. Ana got a proper bed and a gate across her door after that.

We don't get too many Houdini-style escapes these days, except when a very sleep-deprived Mama forgets to shut Ana's gate. Tonight I put the kettle on for peppermint tea and tried to forget about the shoe-pepper threat. I turned around to get a teabag and nearly dropped my mug in fright. There stood Ana in the middle of the kitchen floor, grinning cheekily with her plastic Halloween pumpkin in one hand. 'Hi', she said with menace. Then she turned and slunk silently back up the stairs to her room. I followed and shut the gate tight.

Ana doesn't fully understand Halloween yet, but her prankster instinct has been on override for weeks. This year she will trick-or-treat, rather appropriately, as a crocodile.

It's a trick
My good childhood friend, OneArmGirl, has just reminded me of our childhood candy-missions. A lovely French lady down the street (our neighborhood's sole European representative) used to call us 'the Halloweeners'. The thing I really loved about Halloweening (and can only admit to now as an adult) was that on one trusty October night every year, us big kids got to re-enact the magic of being little. Candy was the excuse for all the dressing up and childish larking about. It was the act itself that was magical--heading out into the wood-smoky darkness, painted faces pressed against the cold car windows, wide-eyes focused on distant candy-beacon porch-lights in the black rural night, bright and remote as the stars.

I find that one side-effect of having kids is that my brain likes to revive dusty childhood memories like this from the mental attic and replay them to a sentimental score on my internal nostalgia-projector. For me, the season of 'pumpkins ripening toward the knife' (Ray Bradbury) has been one of birth, death, upheaval, love and migration. The stuff of life, good and bad. Certainly no shortage of memories to mull over as the light closes in for winter.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Viva Chile!

"In the toughest times I thanked God I had a daughter." From Jimmy Sanchez, one of the 33 returned to the free air and the arms of daughters. Felicidades.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Parlez-vous Baby Esperanto?

I lied about byebye. It isn't Ali's first word, it's her first word in English. Pre-byebye she had many words, but what she meant by them only meant something to her, because pre-byebye she spoke Babish.

In the baby-tongue, Ali can opaquely discuss all things mysterious. My research indicates that each Babisher is assigned an individual dialect at birthunique, like a fingerprint or a social security number. This dialect is super-indecipherable to tall people, and also mostly unintelligible to other babies.

Babish is the loneliest of languages; a means of burping loudly and giggling madly to oneself (and perhaps also the Invisible Clown, if his is indeed out there and listening). Being baffling is initially quite fun but quickly grows old. Ultimately a Babisher must learn English, or whatever the mama-tongue is, to communicate anything more sophisticated than hungry, sleepy, change me, cuddle me, burp me, play with me, ME ME ME (a non-exhaustive list of things that can be communicated by screaming and flailing about).

Living with a native Babisher has taught me a few things. For instance in Ali's dialect the most important word is 'ko'. Not 'coo', mind you. Ali regularly points at items, looks very serious and says 'ko'. She utters it with joy, surprise, rage and 200,000 other emotions. I've overheated my brain trying to figure it out. The best I can do is toodle around with Ali, point to an item and ask if it is ko. She ponders the question, then extends her pointer finger (she has just entered the pointy phasemore on this later) and gives the solemn ko-blessing. Or, she looks at me like I'm a nutter and blinks to indicate 'not ko'.

From left to right: ko, ko, not ko. 
As for Ana, the acquisition of powerful words like 'no' and 'why' pretty much wiped out her interest in the Babish. Once upon a time she too had a special item-identification word akin to ko. It was pronounced 'DAT!'. For many months DAT! was absolutely everywhere and I had absolutely no idea what it meant.

A few whispers of the baby-tongue linger in Ana. For instance, sometimes she develops Babish-ears and can't hear a word of English from Mama or Papa. When she gets excited and isn't thinking before she speaks, little Babish phrases pop out. She is prone to laugh-shouting 'ning-a-ning-a-ning-a-niiiiiiiiiiiii! Fas-did-a-eeyiiiiiiiiiiii!'while running in circles and getting dizzy. When she bounces up and down on a forbidden item in muddy shoes, such as a friend's expensive new white sofa for instance, she stacatos: 'hothothot hothothot!' in triplicate bursts.

Babish is fascinating, fleeting and ultimately supplanted by the accidental swearing stage. Which is replaced by the purposeful swearing stage, otherwise known as adolescence, otherwise known as why Mama is developing Babish-ears for adults and constructing a fully-stocked underground bomb-shelter. Years away I know, but the inheritance of George Carlin and Lenny Bruce is inevitable.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Viva Carnival!

Mama is terribly excited to have taken part in her first-ever British Mummy Bloggers Carnival, hosted over at Diary of a (not so) single mum. Please have a look.

Monday, 4 October 2010


Ali's first word is 'byebye'. It is her new response to anything and everything. Not yet a year old and already versed in the transitory nature of life.

Ali is petite for her age and wise beyond her years. She is just the sort of baby that sweet grannies on the street like to 'coocheecoo' (although Bog Standard Gran has learned her lesson with Ana). A typical encounter goes something like this: BS Gran says 'Hello poppet'. Ali crinkles her tiny brow, eyes brimming with a vast knowledge of life, the universe and everything. In this moment she reminds me of Odin, listening intently to ravens as they whisper about the end of the world. Solemnly, earnestly she utters it: 'byebye'. Gran giggles like a child, then totters away, her day made by this chance encounter with Chaos.
The raven quoth 'byebye' evermore.
There is something about earnestness in children that makes grownups bust up laughing. In my past life as a short person this used to drive me nuts, because like Ali I had concerns before I had the words to articulate them--concerns that I wanted people to take seriously. But the more serious I got, the more tall people laughed. Odd. As a serious tall person nobody finds me funny anymore.

Speaking of funny, something I really don't find humorous these days is pediatric insomnia. Every night I turn out the light and count fibs like sheep so my brain can drift off: tonight she will sleep, tonight I will sleep, tomorrow I will feel rested, tomorrow I will only drink one container ship of coffee to function, tomorrow Ana won't wear me out like a treadmill, tomorrow when my head hits this pillow and my body hits this mattress I will not crash like a beat-up old truck zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I wake at eleven to byebye tapping at my chamber door. Then one. Then four. Why do my ears hear her every byebye? Why does my baby wake up all night? Nobody knows, certainly not her. By six her good morning byebye seems less out of place.

To everything a season. This shall pass. I know that I will miss these younger days when she and I are both older and better-rested. Speaking of which, Ali has sprung from her nap and is calling for Mama. So byebye for now.