Sunday, 31 October 2010

14. Halloween: One Toddler's Heaven is another's Hell

Magpie is cheered up by a hot dog bun at her first Halloween party

.....and she takes in the finer details of her Halloween monster plate
...while The Tank holds on to her plate like an avant-garde clutch bag
Halloween.  Hmm.  Never really been my thing.  And my father died on Halloween.  Four years ago today.  Four years?  Hard to believe he never met the divine (but often devilish) creatures that are his grandchildren.

I took the girls to their first Halloween party this week.

My friend and host has 3 year-old twins (a girl and a boy) and a 20 month-old toddler who has more hair than Cindy Crawford.  My friend is the most chilled mother on earth; she just does her own thing.  She doesn't do rice cakes (how does a mother survive without the Organix snack, whether plain, apple or bluberry-favoured?) but instead makes her own dried snacks.  Her 20 month-old still drinks milk out of a teat and bottle.

I was so worried about my girls looking liked big babies, I whisked their milk bottles away from them around their first birthday (but don't have the heart to ban them sleeping with dummies, as nobody sees that).  Perhaps that's the difference between me and my friend - I care what people think (because I don't really know what I'm doing) and mothering to her is just instinctive, and that's probably why she's trying for numero quattro and quite relaxed about the prospect of Four Under Four.  And yes, so far, she's done it all by herself (unless you count a smelly German au pair who lasted a couple of weeks, then forgot to hold my hostess's children's hands near the edge of a cliff). 

But I digress.

The Halloween Party.   The Tank shook off her coat, grabbed her witch's hat, nicked somebody else's toy broom and settled in the middle of the toddler throng as if she was hooking up with old friends.  Meanwhile, Magpie hung onto me like a baby chimp.  If I so much as moved her face crumpled.  It was like playing that game Grandmother's footsteps, with me trying to creep away, but of course Magpie's eyes weren't shut!

The Tank holds court whille looking thoughtful.  My host's divine daughter with an insane amount of dark hair is at the back, with pink sleeves held up to her face
 When food arrived (hot dogs, egg sandwiches, smoothies), The Tank grabbed everything in sight while Magpie remained firmly on my lap (I'd given up trying to escape).  Fortunately, a hot dog soon provided Magpie with enough comfort to give up on me, at least for a bit.  A toddler who had moved around too much and eaten too much was violently sick.  Another toddler pressed a few buttons on a stereo and hey presto the host's guilty secret: Abba. Magpie knows Abba.  I used to play it.  She started dancing in her satsuma-coloured witch's dress (her dance involves turning clockwise endlessly, until she falls over).  You'd think puking would be a great way of clearing a toddler dance floor.  But Magpie kept turning in circles.  Until I scooped her up and away from the puke bomb lying on the floor like a curdled eggy-bread mess.

'Who wants to go Trick or Treating?' said our hostess with complete calm, amidst the kiddie chaos and fumes of puke-banishing Dettol.

'Not me!' I groaned (to myself).

Now going Trick or Treating with two seventeen-month-olds is an interesting, nay, amibtious experience.

The Tank, blonde but in navy, is on the left in my host's arms; Magpie is on my lap in red (far right)
I gave The Tank to my hostess to drag along the road, while I carried Magpie.  Catering to the girls' different emotional needs (The Tank - independence, Magpie - safety) worked well.

The Tank joined our trick or treating gang at several shiny front doors (but inappropriately wearing a smart navy coat that disguised her lilac witch costume) and was clever enough to choose an Oreo over a Milky Way (the Oreo doesn't have a wrapper, so she could take a bite before I cruelly confiscated it).

The Tank (front right), loses ground climbing the step with less speed than the 2-3 year olds
When I put Magpie down, instead of walking up front gardens, she moaned and went on all fours (no, she wasn't immitating a werewolf).  Admitting defeat (it was past her bedtime), I strapped her in the car and continued to shadow The Tank, saving her from the sugary spell of another Oreo or three (there were lots of Americans on this street).

The Tank (front left) clutches her second-choice booty close to her mouth (the Oreo had already been confiscated)
If you have read my previous post Magpie, Bugs and the Basement of Doom, you will know that Magpie is not, I repeat not, short of bravery.  She will handle a big hairy spider with one hand but clearly is not so keen on the fakery and crazy commercialisation of Halloween.

Monday, 25 October 2010

13. Magpie, Bugs and the Basement of Doom

Woodlice, the unwanted companions of all basement flat-dwellers
Last Sunday I was cooking breakfast (one of the few meals I can actually cook), when Big Daddy turned to Magpie, who - as far as I could see without my glasses on - had a look on her face that was both sheepish and triumphant.

This is how the next (horrifc) few seconds unfolded:

Big Daddy:  'Magpie, darling, what have you got in your hand?  Oh my God!  Drop! Drop it now!  (giving our daughter the same instruction as he would our labrador chewing another dog's tennis ball)

Me:  ' Christ, what is it, what has she got? What HAS she got?!'

Big Daddy:  A HUGE spider!  It's ginormous!  She was just holding it, legs dangling out of the side of her hand, and now it's done a complete runner!  It was THE, yes THE biggest spider I have EVER seen in London!'

He should know.  He grew up in Africa.  Big Daddy has seen some of the biggest spiders EVER!  Just talking about spiders reduces my lexicon to the capital letters, exclamation marks and general panic of an arachnophobic childhood (or a tabloid journalist).

Big Daddy caught the spider, saving possibly my day, but not Magpie's - she looked a little confused by the kerfuffle.  'Dere!' she said, (meaning 'There') pointing to the front door.  She already missed the spider, whereas I'd rather kill myself than set eyes on the thing.

Oh the joys of living in a basement.  We seem to live with more bugs than a target of MI5.

Unlike the tomboy Tank, who might be expected to dabble in a love of creepy crawlies, Magpie is a mistress of contradiction.  Her first love is of all things shiny.  I've never looked at a spider closely enough to notice if I can see my reflection in its body (urgh the very thought) but Magpie's bug-love appears to be growing, and overtaking her love of bright beads, jewells and earrings.

A few months ago she mistook a woodlouse (or pillball, if you are American) for a blueberry: when curled up, the bugs are disturbingly similar.

A frightened woodlouse curls up in scary situations (e.g. at the approach of an exhuberant toddler)
I have also caught her trying to eat a vacated snail shell and an earth worm which she was waving from her thumb and forefinger like a dangly earring.

 I could cope with the bugs...just not the SPIDERS.

What if Magpie is showing burgeoning interest in becoming an entomologist, and I manage to give her my phobia so she will choose to work with jewellery instead?  Not that there's anything wrong with working with jewellery ***SNOBBISHNESS SPOILER ALERT*** unless she ends up being one of those perm-haired, gum-chewing dimwits in H.M. Samuel who wears rings on every finger, including a soverign ring on her thumb.

The idea of me, the World's Greatest Arachnaphobe, nurting a daughter's interest in insects and arachnids would carry extraordinary irony.  Would I become the greatest sacrifical parent ever?  Letting go of my greatest fear for my child's greater good?

Does anyone know a short-cut to becoming an arachnophile?  Or has anyone had hypnotherapy / phobia treatment that is short, sweet and tremendously effective?

PS You may have noticed I have the acute sensitivity of a real arachnaphobe: I have not uploaded a scary image.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

12. Harvest Hell

Magpie dancing in the rain outside Church, looking suspiciously ginger (she's not)

The Tank enjoys slipping on damp tiles
Outcasts: The Tank and the Border Terrier puppy

The Harvest Festival display (spot the bite mark)

We decided to brave Church on Sunday.  BIG mistake.  I'm not sure if I am a good Christian, or if I just want to get the girls into the local church school, but when several weeks pass and I realise we haven't put in an appearance, guilt sets in.  In hindsight, I've no idea why.

It was Harvest Festival, and apparently children were to be on best behaviour.  Usually it's a bit of a free-for-all, with over-fives careering down isles with toy cars, toddlers crumbling and babies puking.  Anyway, the girls weren't in the mood for best behaviour, and still have no sense of occasion.  It seems a long time ago that the girls were babes in arms,and beautifully behaved ones at that, milk guzzling with cherubic hands waving.

I now realise that toddlers sitting still is really an oxymoron.  Especially in Church.  I had dressed the girls in their Sunday best, The Tank looking Grace Kelly-esque with uber blonde hair and cream cowl-necked dress and Magpie looking sugar-pie sweet with a cowlick fringe, beige and white spotty cord dress with co-ordinated pink tights and cardi.  My children's elegance was sartorial, but most definitely not behavioural.

During the first hymn, The Tank decided to bite the service sheet, moan, and raise her arms and squirm out of my embrace in split-second speed.  Food was offered, but bribary was deemed out of the question.  I tried to entertain her at the back of the church, but there's only so many marble urns a toddler can slap and only so many benches they can climb before boredness sets in.

Big Daddy (always smug when holding the better-behaved Magpie) soon joined me.  I grinned.  But I was the idiot who suggested we go to Church in the first place.  I  took my eye off the blonde ball for a moment and the Tank tried to do a sprint down the main aisle during prayers.  Meanwhile Big Daddy scooped up a fractious Magpie and took her outside....and scurried over to a tree to shelter from the rain.

Self-exiled but loathe to give up completely, we hung out in the hallway/entrance with only a wimpering boarder terrier for company.  The puppy offered the girls timely distraction.  Then The Tank reached up to a Harvest Festival display and took a bite out of an apple.  Big Daddy tip-toed back in to retrive the buggy and that was the end of our church service.

I daresay putting in an appearance in church with terrorising toddlers in tow isn't as important as getting involved in the parish.  That's (harvest festival) food for thought.