Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Things that go bump in the mind

A monster lives under Ali's bed. Cliche, but true. Ali's monster knows he doesn't exist. He's been told a thousand times, yet he persists.

The monster comes out in the dark and disappears with the flick of a light switch. He's in league with the wind, the bats, and occasionally even the windmill outside. The monster has deep, painful scars.
I thought I could, I thought I could.

At bedtime, I ninja-kick the monster, and Papa drags his hairy carcass to the door. When he returns, Grampo punches him till his teeth fall out like glitter, and Ali bites him with her tiger teeth. Then we hoist him onto a spit and gather for a monster BBQ (monsters taste like chicken).

But the monster slogs ever onward on like Casey Junior. The childhood brain is cavernous - like chasing a bubble under plastic, the monster just goes to another mental corner when pursued.

After bedtime is declared, there is always the squeak of a doorknob, the pitter-patter of frightened feet, and the world's littlest whisper: "I'm afraid of the monster!"

If you prick me, do I not bleed?
Most nights, the best defense is to lay there together, camouflaged in a blankety snuggle against the elements of imagination. Eventually, the combined snores of mama and daughter convince the monster that it's safe to drop tools and skulk back to Monsterland for another night, there to seek medical attention for lost teeth.

I like to picture the monster as I fall asleep on guard duty. In my mind, he is a kicked dog gripping a styrofoam cup of weak tea in some faceless, suburban NHS monster dental clinic.

He mumbles to himself, quietly cursing Maurice Sendak for giving his kind a bad name. He traces the outline of where his teeth used to be with the tip his tongue, and his fingertips wince as they run over tiny tiger teeth marks on his arms. He wishes he could forget the cold feeling of hard earth under his backside, and how piercing the stars look when he finds himself alone again in the darkness on the wrong side of the door.

"I coulda been somebody", he insists to the empty NHS waiting room. One of these days he'll pack it all in and run off with the circus.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Cricket song

Crickets are meant to be good luck.

I missed their song in England, but one month back on the llano has cured me of pining after crickets. Out here a gazillion of them engage in a nightly screaming banshee contest.

If crickets are lucky, my house is the luckiest home in human history. Every day, I discover a new house cricket stowaway from the outside. House crickets are twitchy and missing limbs, because it's a bug eat bug world out there.

Gather ye crickets while ye may. 
Ana, devoted stalker of fauna, found a house cricket last week. Being four, she scooped him up and promised to love him forever.

He was a reluctant pet at first, but after being plied with chocolate biscuits, he warmed to her. He eventually climbed up her arm to her shoulder, and here he stayed.

Ana continued to declare eternal love, so I quietly mentioned that her cricket was wild, and he would return to the wild. She would have to let him go.

"Look, he likes me!" she giggled, while my words soared over her head and smacked into the opposite wall (which is now coated in boring parental warnings).

Ana's cricket stayed through breakfast and lunch, happily binding his fate to that of the biscuit-giver.

Mid-morning, we went on a long family walk through fields of alfalfa stubble and fluorescent yellow sunflowers. The cricket perched on his girl's shoulder, politely listening to running commentary on lizards (good for soup), and celestial imaginary friends (accessible only by rocket).

I walked behind the pair and wondered why I'd tried to warn Ana, considering that science has repeatedly shown childhood ears to be incapable of perceiving parental words of caution. To compound the problem, engineers have been so busy constructing suspension bridges and the interwebs that they've not yet gotten around to designing a USB cable capable of fitting into human ears.

New wild pet candidate. 
Perhaps I tried to warn my child because - as my kindergarten teacher said all those years ago - I AM A WORRIER.

While I worried about this, the cricket vanished. Ana fell apart. She searched in vain for her lost cricket. She didn't want to hear me talk about wild creatures and the wilderness.

Then Papa said a very simple, very wise thing that really helped: "It's sad to lose a friend," he said. "And it's okay to be sad."

In five minutes she was up again, hunting for new wild pets. 

Ana is resilient. She gets over these things quicker than I do. Unfortunately there is no technological means for her to transfer this capability to me. Here in the year 2012, we have duct tape and sliced bread, but still no human wisdom USB cable.


Monday, 10 September 2012

Fear and food chains

I'm not the only one who goes through life in mortal terror of rattlesnakes.

The other morning, I stepped off my porch and met a pair of baby cottontail bunnies huddled together, deep in an innocent sunrise sleep. Possessing little experience in the wildlife gender determination department, I decided on the spot that the two were sisters. 

Flopsy and Mopsy. 
My footsteps woke the sisters. Their eyes flew open and they trembled in fear. As with wildlife gender determination, I'm a beginner when it comes to interpreting rabbit winks. My best guess is that they wanted to know if I was a giant two-legged snake-beast out looking for breakfast. But they hopped off before I could ask. 

When I first moved to La Luna, the local Fauna Committee sent a team of scorpions and hornets to welcome me. I've met many quieter, subtler creatures since then who, like me, are tricky to locate because of a mortal fear of snakes. 

Serendipity is the fun part anyway. Wild turkeys leave feathers and footprints around my yard, always a step ahead. Chance glances at garage ceilings reveal perfectly still bats waiting patiently for nightfall. 

At dusk, my porch light is greatest hub of insect activity in the known universe. Seriously, if you are an entomologist, get in touch - you should meet my porch light. 

Night falls and the swarm dances. Those at the bottom of the bug food chain repeatedly thwack their heads on the light bulb and fail to learn from the experience. Those at the top devour those at the bottom. My porch-watching research indicates that in general, it's a good idea to avoid being the butt of any food chain where preying mantises are involved. 

The bugs are not alone. Slowly, and only when they suspect my children have finally toddled off to bed, the toads join the party. Outnumbered by a million to one, the toads are the world's laziest hunters.  

Prince Charming, not charmed. 
I suspect the toads quit eating around four in the morning when the site of one more delicious bug would make them explode, thus rendering their escape from my nearly-wakeful children impossible. But I've never stayed up past about eight-thirty to check.

Some nights the toads are out-smarted. Like last night, when a pair of sisters lay silently in bed with eyes wide open till long after the moon has risen. When quiet finally crept over the house around eight-thirty, the sisters escaped out the door and onto the porch. 

The toads had nowhere to run. They were kissed, then catapulted off the porch when they failed to develop prince-like qualities.

The poor toads have good reason to fear my children, because this trauma is very likely to be repeated again next week.  

Everybody's afraid of somebody. 

Monday, 3 September 2012

All those who can

I was converted to the Paralympic cause at Sydney twelve years ago. I haven't attended since then, but I remain a fan. 

I think of the Paralympic athletes as ninja snowflakes: unique and totally capable of kicking my butt. I suspect they're not bothered, but nevertheless I wouldn't want to anger them. 

Taking part. (National Media Museum)
I misted up last week when I heard a BBC World Service radio broadcast from Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire, birthplace of the Parlympics and youngest my daughter.

The broadcast cut between Stoke and Stratford to mark the opening ceremony. At one point an announcer said: "All those who can, please stand for the national anthem."

I sat up a little straighter in the driver's seat of my borrowed truck, and hummed along to a borrowed tune, all the while speeding over the barren llano a million miles from London. Everyone takes part in their own way. 

All those who can, please follow along with OneArmGirl, who is in my second hometown for the event. Feel free to sit while you read her excellent posts.