Monthly Archives: June 2014

The debilitating condition that is Book Ending Anxiety

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:

tigercametoteaThe 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+youGuess 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-gruffaloThe 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.

 

 

veryhungrycaterpillerThe 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_zooDear 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…

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Who’s up for a game of Top Trump Parents?

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.


Mr Winkie Dinkie and Upsie Daisy get jiggy with it in the Pinky Ponk

“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!

                Splash splosh!

                Splash splosh!

                Splash splosh!

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.