Have a 2 year old? Yeah, me too. Pour yourself a large glass and watch this…
Being the mother of two sons, it was only a matter of time before the topic of willies reared its ugly head. Hmm. Maybe I should rephrase that… Actually, let’s not bother. I don’t think I have a sufficiently sophisticated grasp of the English language to prettify willy talk.
Obviously, my sons love their willies (well, someone has to). Their appendages are a seemingly constant source of entertainment and intrigue, and they are an ever-increasingly frequent topic of conversation and focus. My two year old was in the bathroom last week, nude, waiting with me for the bath to finish running. He leaned over and swished his hand in the warm water, and was astonished and more than a little delighted to see a stream of wee burst from his willy. If he wasn’t already urinating, I swear he would have wet himself laughing. I laughed a little less voraciously as I mopped up a large puddle of piss from around his feet. So now, he is working his way through all the different bath-based positions that he can wield his magic wee-making willy: crouching with his bum cheeks skimming the water’s surface, standing up in the water, lying down, seated with his legs akimbo… and as the bath water turns a pale shade of yellow, the use of the flannel floating in the water is like a little game of Russian Roulette for the face.
Not long before that, my five year old had got out the bath, spotted his rather alert-looking willy and proclaimed: “Look mummy! Pinocchio Willy!” After I had eventually stopped laughing, I mused on the fact that quite frankly, it is an absolute crying shame that willies don’t grow large every time their owners tell a lie. It would save me, all other mothers, and let’s face it, humanity in general, from a whole world of pain. Is that a banana in your pocket or are you just lying through your bloody teeth again? Marvellous.
And then, on a walk to school, it became clear that his willy was still very much front of mind. Or front of pants, perhaps. E picked up a small apple-type fruit that had fallen from a tree. He held it in his hand for a while, and then said:
“Look, mummy, it’s the Apple of Destiny.”
I have no idea what he has been watching to have come up with a phrase such as the Apple of Destiny, but I was intrigued (and a little apprehensive) to find out more. After all, if you can tell your future by staring into a glass sphere, I don’t see any reason why taking a nibble from an apple can’t at least predict what might happen tomorrow.
“So what does the Apple of Destiny do?” I asked.
“It saves people.”
Well, why not indeed? “Oh, that’s excellent,” I replied. After all, a plague of dragons is surely going to be the next big public health scare, so it is very reassuring to know that we are in possession of the Apple of Destiny to save us.
We walked in silence for a short while.
“Do you know what else it does?” E asked me, holding the Apple of Destiny in his outstretched hand.
“No. What else?”
“It makes your willy grow bigger.”
And right there is a conversation that encompasses a five year old’s universe: dragons, willies and the Apple of Destiny. In fact, where’s that pencil… I feel an idea for a board game coming on…
Am I alone in getting BEA? This stands for Book Ending Anxiety, in case this debilitating condition has so far passed you by.
I have been plagued with BEA for as long as I can remember. As I approach the half way mark of a book, I start to wonder just how the book will end. The protagonist will be wrestling with a knotty moral issue, or a terrible event, or an angry crocodile, and things are looking bleak. I am enjoying it, this bleakness. (Generally speaking, I am quite a fan of bleak. Industrial landscapes, winter weather, the music of the Smiths: I find it all quite uplifting on the whole). So what I dread, as I turn another page and somehow the terrible event is now sparkling with a hint of a silver lining, or the crocodile gets sudden onset lockjaw, is a happy ending. Oh woe! Their relationship has irrevocably broken down and they are destined to be locked in a vicious battle of hatred forever! But wait! He has found one of her toenails that he kept in a small jar in the loft, and it has reminded him of his undying love for her, so now they are reconciled and everything is really sodding perfect. And the crocodile has become their pet and has voluntarily had all his teeth removed. God, I find it all so depressing.
And having spent the past five and a half years reading to my sons is not helping one iota. In fact, it has simply aggravated my condition. Because pretty much ALL of the book endings that we have read so far have been irritatingly, nauseatingly bloody happy. We are on the cusp of something interesting, I feel. If I squint hard, I can see Roald Dahl, like a shimmering mirage of wit and naughtiness. But for books for the under fives, forget it. Heroes get a cheer, mistakes get righted, baddies get chastised. Not even locked up. Not even spanked with a wet fish. Just chastised enough so they see the error of their ways, blush politely and everyone sods off home, hand in hand.
So I am thinking I may have to start an alternative library for sufferers of BEA. It would contain such classics as:
The Tiger who Came to Tea: a tiger comes to tea and scoffs the lot. Mummy buys a large tin of tiger food in case of a return visit, and sure enough, the tiger, recognising a good thing when he sees it and still a bit drunk three days later from drinking daddy’s stash of home brew, comes back. However, with no opposable thumbs, the tin of tiger food proves too much of a challenge to open, so he eats the family instead.
Guess How Much I Love You: “Guess how much I love you?” he said. “Oh, I don’t think I could guess that.” “Not a bloody jot. Nada. Fuck all. Know why Pops? Because you stink of wee and you have freakishly long ears.” Quite a short book, this one. Perfect for bedtime when wine ‘o’ clock is approaching.
The Gruffalo: Mouse tricks the woodland animals into believing in the existence of the Gruffalo, and on seeing the hideous beast himself, manages to hide under a leaf and escape his evil clutches, primarily because he is a tiny mouse and the Gruffalo is a huge, lumbering idiot. However, on leaving his hideout, he is lynched by the militant arm of the Woodland League Against Vermin (founder members: fox, owl and snake) and is savagely killed. Could have a pop-up end page for added impact.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar: On Monday, the caterpillar ate through an apple. Unfortunately, this apple belonged to Mrs Bartholomew-Jones of number 48 who abhors creepy crawlies, so she bludgeoned it to death with last week’s copy of the Radio Times.
Dear Zoo. ‘I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet. They sent me an email that thanked me for my interest in the zoo and their customer service team in Bangalore would respond to my query as soon as possible, and please do not reply to this email as it is an automated account. I am still waiting six weeks later’.
I am sure there are more to add to this list… I will give it some thought when I am feeling a tad less happy…
I came across a photo yesterday of my eldest as a baby. Scrunched up in a baby grow, little fists clenched, face scrunched in delight – or possibly wind – like an inordinately pleased-looking frog. I was transported back to those days of milk, crying and utter bewilderment. My son did his fair share of crying and bewilderment, too, I seem to recall.
Babyville is not a place I inhabited with joy, on the most part. Being a parent seemed to be just one long ‘I don’t know what the fuck I am doing’ moment, briefly interspersed with ‘oh well, I am officially too tired to care’ thoughts. I did read my fair share of parenting books. I even may have highlighted a few choice phrases, because in those pre-kid days, not only did I have time to highlight words in books, I could actually find my highlighter because it wasn’t lying behind the sofa with the lid off, having been used to colour in a whole sheet of A4 just for the sodding hell of it.
I may have digressed slightly.
Seeing as most books are wholly inadequate at preparing people for parenthood, given their predisposition to gloss over anything that seems a little bit too much like a challenge, I was wondering if there was a better way. Which is when I realised that, like children, the best way to learn is surely through play. I don’t wish to reinvent the wheel here. Just take some of the games that we know and love, and give them a little… tweak. So, in the future, when a first-time pregnant mum wanders down the aisles of Mothercare, wrestling duvet-sized sanitary pads into her basket and feeling a little queasy, she may stumble across these:
Top Trumps Parents: Want to know the sort of conversations you will be embroiled in the moment your baby pops out? Then play a few rounds of Top Trumps parents. The starter edition contains such gems as birth weight, how many hours sleep a night you get and age when they first crawled. Thrill to being trumped every time you mention your baby’s achievements! Be amazed when a mum claims their daughter walked at 8 months! The Junior edition has great stats to compare, such as what phase reading book your child is on and how tall they are. Because with Top Trump parents, if you are not wanting to punch a fellow parent in the face, you’re just not playing hard enough!
Parenting Twister: The perennial family favourite has been updated for today’s busy parents. Spin the dial… and it’s one hand to hold the baby. Spin again… one hand on the milk bottle. Spin again… oh, it’s another hand on the soft toy… and again… this time it’s another hand to answer the phone… and again… a hand to eat that digestive… and again… a hand to wipe biscuit crumbs from the top of your baby’s head… it’s Parenting Twister, the game that ties you up in knots!
Parents’ Scrabble: acclimatise yourself to the incomprehensible rubbish that your young toddler will spout by playing a few games of Parents’ scrabble. Take as many tiles as you like, it won’t make the slightest difference! Randomly lay down a string of letters, preferably without vowels, and read them out. Hey presto! Toddler talk!
Cluedo for Parents: Was it the five year old in the lounge with the felt tip? Or the teenager in the kitchen with the dirty plate? Pit your sleuthing wits in this high-octane game of mystery as you try to solve your offspring’s crimes. Deluxe 2014 edition comes with Interrogation Button – press to hear the suspect’s response, including ‘It wasn’t me’, ‘I always get the blame’ and ‘it was my brother’.
Trivial Pursuit (Overly-Curious Junior edition): Think you are ready to answer your offspring’s questions? This new edition of Trivial Pursuit will test your knowledge of the most random facts, from ‘Why do bagels have holes?’ to ‘why can’t I see electiricty?’ these questions will have you scraping the barrel for answers before you can say ‘ask your daddy’. Each question is repeated thirty times throughout the game – because we don’t only test your know-how, we test your patience too!
So there you go, Mattel, Hasbro and Winning Moves. You can have those ideas on me. For free. Don’t mention it.
“Mummy, how does a baby get into your tummy?”
There was an apocalyptic grinding noise as the world stopped spinning on its axis. Birds hung in the air, mid-flight. A passing car sat stationary on the road as a portentous silence engulfed us.
Oh buggery bugger.
We have touched on this subject before, my five year old son and I. And I felt then as I did now: torn. Am I the only one to find this topic tricky? As we continue to walk, I consider the issues:
1. I want to tell him the truth.
2. But I want to tell him the truth in a way that won’t put the fear of God in him or give him a life-long phobia of dark tunnels.
3. And I want to tell him that truth so perfectly and succinctly that he won’t feel the need to ask a further thirty-eight supplementary questions and points of clarification and so we can swiftly move on to a topic more befitting the morning walk to school. Like… I don’t know, who his favourite Scooby Doo character is.
I fear I am not up to the job.
“Well…”I begin. It will be interesting to see exactly what is going to come out of my mouth next.
Luckily, E had had quite enough of my pathetic prevarication, and had decided to take a stab in the dark himself (not the most sensitive of ways to put that, granted, but this is probably a perfect demonstration as to why a more competent parent really needs to be having this conversation right now instead of me).
“Do you take a tablet?”
“No, not really,” I reply, sorely tempted to say yes and be done with it.
“But it would be good if you could, and the tablet had the letter on it that your baby would be called,” he said.
Well, if you are going to redesign procreation, I suppose you could do worse. Mind you, I pity the poor sods who get the ‘Z ‘ tablet. There would be a lot more shouts across the park of “Zebedee, Zanzibar, time to go home!” that’s for sure.
I hamfistedly try to change the subject, being the cowardly, irresponsible parent that I am, by hypnotising him with talk of his next birthday, but even that glittering conversational prize does not swerve him from his mission.
“So, how does the baby get in?”
Can I say that it knocks? I sigh. “Well… there’s a seed.” Not quite the answer to the question he asked, but at least it is an answer, and one that is strictly true, if a little… lily-livered on my part.
“Who put it there?”
JUST STOP IT, WILL YOU? I scream. In my head. There is quite a lot of screaming going on in my head, as I cling on with whitened knuckles to this conversational cart which is careering wildly toward the edge of that nearby precipice, bumping and jolting the occupants mercilessly as it hurtles toward certain doom.
“Daddy,” I tell him.
I know what the next question is going to be. There can be only one question to follow that one. Am I really going to have to start telling him about daddy’s willy? Really?
On the plus side, at least we have never called that particular part of the male anatomy by some stupid name that would just make the explanation sound like some weird episode of In the Night Garden. On the other hand, it could be just the thing…
Derek Jacobi: “Ooh, look. Here’s Mr Winkie Dinkie! Hello, Mr Winkie Dinkie!” [Mr Winkie Dinkie waves to the viewer]
D.J.: “Hello, Upsie Daisy! Upsie Daisy, are you doing a jig?” [Upsie Daisy dances and her skirt lifts up]
D.J.: “My, Mr Winkie Dinkie, you’ve grown so tall! Is that a seed you are balancing on your head?” [Mr Winkie Dinkie nods carefully]
D.J.: “And are you going to give your seed to Upsie Daisy, Mr Winkie Dinkie?” (Mr Winkie Dinkie nods again, then points]
D.J.: “Oh, you want to do it in the Pinkie Ponk! Off you go then!“
STOP. Stop right now. I am making myself feel nauseous.
But perhaps children’s TV is not the right medium. Perhaps a well loved story would be the perfect vehicle to explain how babies are made? I can just imagine it…
We’re going on a baby hunt.
We’re going to make a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.
Uh-uh! A pink tunnel!
A deep warm tunnel.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!
Hmm. On second thoughts this is probably the single most idiotic idea I have ever had, and boy, there is stiff competition for that crown.
It’s no good. I am going to have to have The Talk.
And then, just as I am inhaling deeply in preparation, the clouds seem to part and the God of Lucky Fucking Escapes looks down on me, tosses his golden locks over his left shoulder, points his well-manicured finger in my direction and booms: “This is the last time, alright?”
“Is it karate tonight?” my son asks.
“Mummy, how did the earth start?”
Yes, why not deal with the birth of all existence before 8.45am on a weekday, when I am yet to have my first cup of coffee and I probably still have a bit of sleep in my eye? I mean, let’s not bother about the slightly simpler queries, such as what is my middle name, or even how many people there are in the world, which I stand half a chance of knowing. Or at least bullshitting convincingly enough that my five year old son is satisfied. Or failing that, finding the answer on the first page of Google.
His questions are becoming way, way too difficult. My intellectual capacity is far more suited to my two year old, who points at a random object and asks: “What’s that?” To which I reply: “A Hoover,” (yes, I know, he should know what a Hoover is by the age of two, but what can I say? Our Hoover is agoraphobic and doesn’t make many trips out from under the stairs). He will then repeat the word, and that is it, case closed. Another satisfied customer of the Parent Enquiry Line. Do call again.
It was only a week ago that I stumbled through an explanation of what an atom was, and how everything was made up of atoms, even humans, which as explanations go, would have attracted a D minus and an angrily scrawled comment in the margin of ‘See me after class’. E had trouble accepting that absolutely everything was made of atoms, which in turn made me think that perhaps I was wrong, but in the face of no better answer, I stuck to my guns which then prompted a long and somewhat arduous discussion about what he saw as the inevitable exceptions to this rule.
“No. Carpet has atoms.”
“No. Seriously, everything is made of atoms. Everything.”
“No. Made of atoms.”
“Listen. You will not find anything that does NOT have atoms in it.” And right there, is the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down at a five year old’s feet.
In the bath: “Water?” “No.”
In bed: “Pillow?” “No.”
On the High Street: “Pavements?” “No.”
In the kitchen: “Light?” “N…oooh, hang on. Light. Does light have atoms in it?” I ask out loud, to no one in particular. What is light made of, I ponder, uselessly, as I know full well that when I pull open the drawer marked ‘physics’ in my brain, all I will find is a half eaten apple.
E is sensing victory is close at hand and grins.
We duly consult with Pops the day after, who is the font of all science-based knowledge, as opposed to myself, who is a font of all biscuit-based knowledge and little else at times. It turns out that E is right: there are no atoms in light. Damn him. I mean, well done him. There was a slightly fuller explanation provided, but I somehow ended up thinking about chocolate Hob Nobs instead of listening.
What I actually need is to enrol on a Parenting Diploma. The first term could cover:
- How they put the hole in Cheerios
- All about atoms
- What those green boxes full of wires on the pavement actually do
- How glass is made
- The name of different clouds (apparently, ‘Frank, Janine and Veronica’ was not a suitable response)
With a bonus module of how to tell a cracking good joke involving poo or blow offs.
And so here I am, confronted with answering the small matter of how the earth started. This is a subject we have talked about before, which to be fair, makes it tricky. What load of old tosh did I pass off as the truth last time as a poor substitute for actual knowledge?
“Well…” I take a deep breath. “It is called the Big Bang…”
“No, let me say. I know,” my son interjects. Ever since Atomgate, he has been a little over-confident in the I Know Everything department. (Little does he know that this department is situated right next door to the Bet You Didn’t Know That Though, Clever Clogs department).
“The earth was made, and a meteor hit Dinosaurland, and all the dinosaurs died, and then the monkeys turned into humans.
And there we go. From the inception of the Earth to the present day, including a bonus tour of the essentials of evolution in twenty-one words. What it lacks in accuracy it certainly makes up for in brevity. I think about how I can perhaps correct some of the more glaring issues and my brain creaks a little.
I open my mouth to speak. “Well done. That is absolutely right.”
“When I grow up, I want to be a scientist, mummy,” E informs me one morning recently as we walk to school. I say walk – he actually scoots, meaning that for the majority of time he is speeding ahead, making me mentally calculate how many imperceptible obstacles lie between him and his arrival at school with all limbs attached: a raised drain, a cracked paving stone, other pedestrians, all of which he is generally utterly unaware. I inadvertently run Casualty-like scenarios through my head: shots of speeding scooter wheels cutting to alarming images of a large twig lying across his path. It is all way too much suspense for a morning, I can tell you.
If he is not in front, then he is scooting beside me, which means I am in mortal danger of losing a toe or at the very least having my ankle fractured as he veers ever closer to me. I have banned him from scooting behind me, ever since the heel-ramming incident, involving much chewing of fist as I limped along, boot heel flapping like a grounded fish, desperately trying not to shout out the most heinous swear word that has ever made an unscheduled appearance in my throat.
“A scientist?” I reply. “That’s a good thing to be.” Well done me for that sparkling and informed answer. I do ponder about asking him to elaborate, but I doubt he has given it any further thought, seeing as he probably saw a scientist in a book and decided anything that involved blowing stuff up or chucking green slime in people’s faces was most definitely the career for him. Either that, or he just fancies wearing a white coat.
“Do you know what I am going to invent?” he asks.
“A lot of pipes with windows and they go up and down and change the level of the water at different times and days.”
Right. I have absolutely no idea what he is talking about.
Let’s start by trying to narrow down the body of water we are dealing with here. “Is this for the sea, a lake or the bath?”
He rolls his eyes in a ‘for God’s sake, are you stupid or something?’ kind of way that I fear I will be seeing much more of as his gets older. “The sea. And it controls how hot or cold it is and it can take cold out.”
Okay. I am still none the wiser, but it sounds bloody marvellous. Now, I am no fan of swimming in the sea, because 1. It is too deep and 2. It is too cold. This invention sounds like the answer to my prayers, so I would definitely chuck a tenner in if it turned up on Kickstarter.
“You know what else I would invent?” he asks. Christ, there’s more.
At this point, he spots a friend across the road. “Oh, there’s Henry. I have to stop thinking now.”
A week later, and we are eating lunch.
“I don’t want to be a scientist any more,” he informs me.
“No. I am going to be a street dancer.”
And that, right there, is what happens when you take careers advice from CBBC.