Dramatis personae

Mabel is still astounded by the child-sized Anna-from-Frozen doll we saw at Target today. It was just a couple of inches shorter than she is. Here is a direct transcript of her conversation with her brother just now:

M: I have NO IDEA how anyone would play with that. You’d have to be nine or ten to play with that.

D: You’d have to be 18. It would be terrifically bad.

M: And it might get mixed up with someone in your family who was very quiet and good.

… American Girl Dolls, fine. They’re not huge.

D: Though I still hate them. No doubt about that.

My children crack me up. In between infuriating me and driving me bananas, if I can just stop and listen to their turns of phrase, they crack me up. The other day Dash asked me “Do you know what irks me?” I had to ask “No, what does irk you?” just to get him to say irk some more.

Mabel talking to Dash

I turned off the TV on Friday after school, with some trepidation, adhering to our new policy of only four shows a day (yes, that should be plenty; but the step of actually turning it off is tricky and unpopular) and since then Dash has taken to playwriting. (Playwrighting? He’s both writing a play and being a playwright, so I guess either would do.)

All weekend he’s been writing scenes and badgering us to type them up and then perform them. His opus now stands at four short plays in each of which his parents die and come back as ghosts (or “goghsts” in Dash spelling). Then there’s a villain whose bullets rebound killing himself, and someone always intones mournfully, “I was a great friend of your mother/father.” We each have at least one role and often several, and sometimes have to bilocate.

Honestly, we’re getting a bit exhausted by all this and I might have to turn the telly back on.


Questionable moments in parenting #267

Lately Dash has been doing his reading with music in the background. It was a suggestion somebody came up with to help him relax while he reads, thus leading, hopefully, to more fluency and swifter reading with no loss of comprehension. I have no idea whether it’s working, to be honest, because he reads in his room nowadays, but he’s really liking the music. He’s becoming quite the mini-authority on Bach and Handel, actually.

As a result of which, I thought it would be good to get him a music player of some sort for Christmas. Something hefty in size and old-school in style: a CD player boombox, in fact. (It has a bluetooth capability to play mp3’s too, if we want to use that.) He loves it. Of course, Santa also had to bring him a CD, so I thought I’d pander to his inner tweenybopper and get a Kidsbop CD. It’s just like the MiniPops of old, if you remember the MiniPops (OMG now I’m having flashbacks of Hey Mickey and Bucks Fizz rendered by 10 year olds*), only more professional sounding. I’m pretty sure when they say “sung by kids” they only mean the backing vocals. Anyway, the one I got (no. 25, Gawd help us) has a fair selection of songs he already knew (Cups, Roar, Royals) and several that are now his new favourites, educating the rest of us in One Direction and Miley Cyrus all the while.

Which brings me to my most recent moment of questionable parenting. He wanted to hear the originals, so I showed him how to search for them on YouTube on my computer while I was making mince pies for the party we were throwing (wildly! with abandon!) yesterday. So I was standing right there telling him which option to select when he looked up Wrecking Ball. And I even thought that this might be a little PG rated as videos go, but I didn’t have the presence of mind, apparently, to nudge the pointer in the direction of the boring lyrics-on-screen version instead, oh no I didn’t.

So then we stood there, he and his little sister and I, watching Miley cavort salaciously with a sledgehammer in her undies (“That must taste yucky,” I said) and ride the eponymous ball and chain with nothing at all on but her rather nice doc martins. “That’s so funny,” said Mabel, “She’s naked!” “Ooh, she must be very cold,” said I, invoking my mother, and all sensible mothers before me, wondering just what this experience was doing to their tender psyches and how long they’d have to be in therapy before this moment was finally exposed as the root of all their troubled lives.

We should maybe stick to Beethoven and his ilk a while longer.

*You’ll be devastated to hear that I can’t find either of these on YouTube to share with you. But there is lots of other MiniPops goodness there. I just can’t decide which one to link to.

A very small Japanese businessman

Last night I put Mabel to bed. I read chapter two of Harry Potter and tucked her in and kissed her good night and clambered down off her loft bed that she has recently inherited from her brother and went downstairs, congratulating myself on how she can fall asleep on her own now. I put the kettle on and looked for the chocolate hob nobs.

The noise of the kettle stopped me from hearing the thud and the patter, but after a couple of minutes I was stirring a mug of instant decaf and realised I was hearing one extra voice upstairs where B was reading Sherlock Holmes to Dash.

I went back upstairs, where Mabel was making herself a nuisance, of course, not just sitting down quietly to listen to Doctor Watson’s Victorian meanderings. She wailed. She protested. She said she had to have a thumb war with Daddy before she could leave the room. Daddy said he would have a thumb war in her room, but that was not to be borne. She was summarily ejected.

She collapsed in a heap on the carpet in the hallway. Logic was long gone. Nothing was reasonable. Nothing could be ever okay. I brought her into her room, but her heels were dug into the floor ahead of her all the way. “I can’t touch my be-e-e-e-e-d.”

“Okay. You can lie down on the rug instead.”

Sometimes she’s like a Japanese businessman. I mean, she just can’t lose face. She has to believe that she won, or that I didn’t win, no matter how twisted the logic of the end result may be. So she lay down on the fluffy purple rug in her bedroom, and I put her red fleece blanket over her and a pillow under her head.

“The problem is, I’m not ti-i-i-i-erd.”

“I know.” I sat on the rug at her head, but she wouldn’t let me stroke her hair.

About three minutes later I stood up and left the room. She stayed there on the floor until I came up to bed an hour later and moved her to her bed. This morning she told me that she hadn’t fallen asleep all night. Only twice.

Once for five hours and once for four, I’d say.

Mabel in pyjamas


Driving to the zoo last Sunday afternoon, we all had a great and informative conversation. It went something like this…

Mabel: In my class when we do something good, we get a Teddygram.

Me, envisaging a little message from teacher on a teddy-shaped piece of paper, saying “Good job” or “Super star” or something: Oh, that’s nice. Do you know why it’s called a Teddygram?

Dash: Because it’s like a telegram!

Me: And what’s a telegram?

Dash: A thing they used to use to send messages?

Me, B, Dash, Mabel: [Discussion ranging over how telegrams were sent, morse code, post offices, cable ships (I had no idea), underwater phone lines etc.]

Mabel: And the great thing about Teddygrams is that they taste yummy.


Mabel: Because they’re cookies!

Me: OH. It’s not a TeddyGRAM, it’s a Teddy GRAHAM. A Graham cracker in the shape of a teddy.

So that’s what happens when your child speaks American and you don’t.

Dash and Mabel on an eagle statue
American children, sitting on a giant eagle (symbolic, eh?) at the zoo.


I have other tales to tell, of more mittens and mystery rashes and allergic reactions and homeschooling on sick days and learning to swallow pills and husbands who are fecking off to regions far north to run marathons and a very exciting upcoming Trip For Me Without Children; but they’ll keep.

Have a happy weekend. The Blog Awards take place on Saturday night and I am DEADLY ENVIOUS of all the Irish Parenting Bloggers who will be there in their fancy frocks and their high heels and getting to wear eyeshadow, no doubt, and I will be there in spirit but sadly not in actuality. Best of luck to everyone in the running for a prize, and to anyone who’s not, you were clearly robbed. Mwah!


I think this is called falling before the first fence

Discussions on summer pastimes are ongoing. I am all chuffed/horrified because apparently I have let myself in for a serious regime of homeschooling over the summer, thanks to accidentally asking “What would you like to learn about?” when trying to get them to brainstorm things we might want to do.

Dash would like to learn about:

  • science and Einstein
  • the brain
  • Spanish
  • division, square roots, and algebra
  • Shakespeare, Plato, Beethoven, and Galileo

Mabel would like to learn about

  • monkeys
  • dog noses
  • math for Kindergarteners

Having settled that much and come up with a list of household chores that could be done for money (amount yet to be negotiated), we went to the thrift store because [oh I don’t know, Mabel wanted to, I had some stuff to drop off, Dash didn’t want to but he got in the car anyway, something something].

Mabel picked a soft toy. And then another. And then a different one. And finally settled on a baby and a puppy. (Not real.) As she had given away an even bigger baby, that was okay with me. Then we perused the books. Dash wanted to find something on mechanics, maybe. We found a book on birds and one on reptiles and he professed to want them. Then we had this conversation:

Dash, looking at a slim 80’s paperback entitled “Shelving” with a beguiling cover picture of a drill and some plywood: That looks really interesting.

Me, to myself: That looks incredibly boring. To Dash: I’m so glad you find everything interesting.

Him, insulted: I don’t!

Me: Okay, tell me something you’re not interested in.

Him, after a long cogitation: Things about babies. And love.

He was delighted with his acquisitions and told me how much he loves educational things. He promised he’ll read them himself. He glanced through them in the car on the way home. At home, Mabel sat down happily to play with her new toys, giving them baths and introducing them to their new family. Dash ignored his new books and spent the next twenty minutes bugging his sister, and finally tying a string to an old toy car and pulling it around the house noisily.

I don’t know how the summer is going to go. I really don’t.

Faking it

Yesterday in the car, Mabel made one of those piercingly self-aware comments she is sometimes prone to.

“Sometimes my voice sounds confident, but inside I’m feeling shy.”

This girl. She slays me.

And I was really glad she’d said it because it was a great opening to tell her something I wished I’d known sooner, something I want to become one of her mantras.

“That’s great, I said. “Because if you sound confident, and you pretend you’re confident, you’ll turn out to be more confident. Fake it till you make it.”

(I may not have said that last part. I didn’t want to confuse her with unfamiliar idioms. But we talked about feeling shy and looking shy, and how nobody has a face that looks shy – she thought she did – but if you act shy by hiding behind your grownup or not wanting to talk, then people might think you’re shy. But also, it’s okay to be shy, of course…)

Later on we went swimming and found some friends at the pool. Mabel wanted to tell her friend’s mom about The Princess Bride, but she wanted me to do the telling.

“Remember what we talked about this morning?” I asked her. “About acting confident even if you don’t feel it? Why don’t you ask her yourself?”

And she waded out from behind my back and went up to her friend’s mum and asked her straight out, without so much as an introduction to the out-of-left-field topic, “Have you seen The Princess Bride?” They had a great old chat, and my friend remarked that Mabel was very talkative today.

(I suppose for other people sometimes she’s quiet. It’s not a side of her I see too often.)

Mabel running through long grass
Just like Little House on the Prairie, right?

Thin skin

I think I’ve lost a layer of skin since I had children. Or maybe having children had nothing to do with it; maybe I just got more empathetic as I got older. But when I listen to the news these days it’s as if someone has taken a potato peeler and removed whatever defences I used to have when I heard all the terrible things: “It’s not here.” “It’s not me.” It’s not my family.” “It’s nobody I know.” “It couldn’t happen to us.” They don’t work so well any more.

Maybe it’s just that things keep on happening, and my radius increases as time goes on, so that “here” spans a lot more than just the town I grew up in, and “us” includes a lot more people than just me and my parents. Maybe it’s that the law of averages indicates that some day it could just as easily be me, or us, or here, as anywhere else. Some parts of the earth may be less prone to natural disasters, and some parts of the state may see less crime than others, but as my mother would tell you, you could leave the house tomorrow and walk under a bus. There are no guarantees.

But even when I’m not appreciating how lucky I am, and wondering how long I can reasonably expect that luck to hold, those other people whose luck has run out seem closer now. I don’t want to hear about them; I certainly can’t let myself think about them. Imagining my way into their skin is not something I’m going to begin to try to do.

The news is more real, maybe: when I was a child it may as well have been fiction. I wasn’t sheltered from the news as a child. I remember earthquakes and hijackings, shootings and bombings and stories about terrible things happening to children. I remember being more upset about stories of mistreatment of animals than of people. My mother was shocked when I mentioned this, but my rationale was that animals can’t ever speak up for themselves. I suppose I didn’t know about all those people who can’t either, for so many more complex reasons. I was scared of the house burning down, mostly, or random robbers coming to steal – I don’t know what, we had an eight-inch black-and-white television and my mother had costume jewellery. I didn’t know about all the other things there were to be scared of.

Mabel looks at my face sometimes and asks me why I have lines on my forehead. She thinks they’re funny. She wonders why she doesn’t have any. I pretend not to mind them, and tell her matter-of-factly that as you get older your skin doesn’t bounce back so much, and so the lines show that I’ve been smiling and frowning and making other funny faces for lots of years now. I make her some funny faces and she laughs.

My skin got thinner because I used some of it up, making two amazing people and smiling and frowning and wondering and worrying about them. So I suppose it’s not going to stop any time soon.

Maud and Mabel making faces