Zach loves his little airplanes. He brings one or two every day, from a collection that must number in the dozens. They are not big and fancy. Most are simple plastic types, many have the look of dollar store items. All have little plastic wheels, many of which do not actually roll.
This is a problem, given that Zach loves, loves, loves to race his little airplanes along the long wall of my dining room. The dining room which is painted some sort of creamy country yellow. No idea of the shade: it’s what was there when we moved in and I liked it enough to let it stay. From the living room to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the living room, Zach zips and zooms those airplanes. Back and forth, forth and back. Bambambambambambambambam go the little feet. (Pitter-patter, my aunt fanny.)
Creamy country yellow and tiny, immobile wheels do not get on well. Last week I took a critical look at that wall and realized it had a dingy grey swath along its length, about 50 cm wide, and a metre or so up off the floor. I tried to take a picture for you, but the flash had the flattering effect of making the dingy wall look clean and bright. Flattering, yet inaccurate. So, no “before” pictures.
“Before”, because there will be an “after” picture. Not because I am going to repaint the wall creamy country yellow, even though the last owners kindly left cans in the basement. Nothing so mundane happens around here! Besides, the threat continues. Zach still brings his little planes, and still loves to pound up and down that wall. I could forbid airplane-driving on the walls. It would even seem reasonable, I’m sure, and yet… This is a small house. It is a long, cold winter. They spend a lot more time indoors than they will in a couple more months. It might be reasonable, but it seems cruel to make him cease such a satisfactory activity.
But what of the wall? Well, if your wall is being used as a road, why not make a road on the wall?
And if you’re going to make a road, why not, oh, a river, and maybe some mountains, and maybe a mountain forest?
Especially if you have cans and cans left over from painting a certain door last August.
Tomorrow the tots will get a chance to cobble the road: sponges dipped in grey paint and applied to the top two-thirds of the brown band will produce cobblestones. The rest of the brown is beach. The next day, the road complete, we will blur the too-distinct line between blue river and brown beach with some sponged shrubbery and potato printed cat-tails.
And we will, of course, paint an airplane in the sky.
Take some blocks and a few strips of duct tape. Can’t run a daycare without duct tape! A few minutes tearing and sticking, and you have…
Saturday morning at Mary’s house, kidful version. Last weekend was the kidfree version. Players are Mary, Big Stepson (Big) age 17; Little Stepson (Little), age 10; and the wonderful Stephen, partner of Mary and father to stepsons. Small background detail: BigSon has his learner’s permit (now called a G1, I think) which allows him to drive only if there is a licensed driver in the car in the passenger seat alongside him.
Little: Daddy, do you have a big playing card, a regular sized one, and a small playing card?
Stephen: You want three cards?
Little: No, two. A big one – you know, like a regular sized one – and a small one.
Stephen: Oh. No, I don’t.
Big: What do you need the cards for?
Little: I’m not telling. We don’t have ANY cards?
M: We used to, but I have no idea where they are now.
Big: That’s because people like YOU keep losing them. [He fixes his small brother with a meaningful - and friendly - stare.]
Talk moves to my plans for the day, and a possible need for a ride downtown for me. We have one vehicle, many children with many activities. The logistics need to be worked out carefully.
Stephen: BigSon needs to get his license. If he had his license, he could drive you downtown….
Big: I could drive her downtown…
Stephen: Well, yes you could, but then she’d have to come back with you, and..
Big and Stephen, together:… what would be the point of that? Bwah-hahahaha
(Like father, like son.)
Stephen: I guess I could drive you, if you want to go.
Small: Drive me, daddy? Where?
Stephen: No, not you. Mary.
Big: Yes, you! We’re going to drive you downtown and leave you there.
Stephen: Yes, and you can stop people on the street and ask them if they have a big playing card and a small playing card.
M: Did we ever find out what he needs the playing cards for?
Little: I forget.
Big: And I have to go to work now, anyway.
Little: I didn’t think you wanted to go today.
Big: Not particularly, no.
Little: Well, don’t go!
Big: You can’t just not show up because you don’t feel like it that day.
Stephen: Yeah. That’s why it’s called a “Rat trap”.
M: You mean the “rat race.”
Little: Don’t go! [Falls dramatically at Big's large feet, arms outstretched, pathos oozing from his every syllable and cell.]
Big: Well, you could always come with me. Be the cute little kid and be bored for five hours.
Little: Not me! I don’t want to be in the rat pack.
Stephen: No, you just want some playing cards.
We just had an earthquake. I’m quite sure of it. Anyone else? Where was the epicentre?
(A three-times-a-day event for you Californians, I know, but a little more noteworthy in these parts.)
The story is basic: a little girl loses her bear, and her family expects her to find it herself!!! She employs a few entertaining strategies, but come bedtime, though she’s found any number of other lost items, the bear is still missing!
A true crisis, as I’m sure you can appreciate.
A few pictures to give you the flavour of the artistry:
Here, small girl searches fruitlessly in The Great Blue Void that is her home.
And here she approaches her older sister with all the tact and grace necessary to elicit the support of one’s sibling:
The pictures are terrific, the tale is lively, true-to-life and not at all patronizing. The kids loved the story, and I had my laugh-out-loud moments – though not in the exact same spots the kids were having their giggles. I can see myself happily reading this one over and over again. (Isn’t it nice when you want to read the book again as much as your child does? How often does that happen??)
I was so impressed, I had to find out more about the author. Turns out that Jules Feiffer is a Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist, playwrite, screenplay writer, as well as author of books. In addition to the Pulitzer, an Academy Award (for animated short), and a few more I don’t recognize. Not, I’m sure, because they’re obscure, but only because I’m not in the business.
And he writes great kids’ books, too.
“Let’s go down and hug Baby Nigel and then go back upstairs!”
“If you take your brain out, you’re dead.”
“I will come to here tomorrow so my mummy can be Spiderman.”
Sam is a dangerous kid.
Sam, remember him, my funny little after-school boy?
Sam, upon seeing me pat a toddler’s diapered butt on the way by, says, “Why do you hit the kids all the time?”
Sam, being an only child who, though he attends school, has never been in child care before this year, says, “Why don’t you pay any attention to me, ever?”
Sam, seeing me kiss a little belly button while doing a diaper change, says, “Why do you kiss them there when you take their diapers off?”
I spoke to his mother about the hitting one, the first of these to arise. She laughed and said, “I promise not to believe what he tells me about you if you promise not to believe what he tells you about me.”
Which makes me feel better.
There are only three children here today. (Only three children! Practically a day off!) Two of said children are playing happily on the other love seat in the living room, a game that involves much giggling and manoeuvring of small blocks in and around the seat cushions while I fire off a two-paragraph email, quick-quick.
Nigel, however, is at loose ends, and the laptop which so engrosses me must be interesting! Oh, and look! Buttons! Lots and lots of lovely buttons! My right hand flicks his hand gently away at ever-decreasing intervals. (Flick.) I could – and should! – just focus (flick) on the boy for a sec and redirect him (flick), but I just want to get this one (flick) thing (flick) done (flick).
Now, Nigel isn’t often at loose ends. Nigel is a lovely, lively 12-month-old, busy, quiet, happy. He spends much of his day toddling here and there, picking up first one item and then the next, putting them in his mouth, drooling, gagging, and throwing the now sodden item to the floor before moving on to the next edible treat. My home is littered with soggy bits of this and that. Once every couple of hours I go through with a shovel and a mop, and we’re good to go.
But this morning, with less mayhem to amuse and, now that I’ve removed the box of kleenex and the cup of water that someone (not me!) left on the FLOOR, nothing edible or splashable in immediate range, he’s toodled over to the laptop. It’s not splashable yet, but given a few minutes drool time, he can rectify that.
A dimpled finger reaches for the button. “No, Nigel. Not for babies.” Flick. He knows I’m not to be taken seriously, not as distracted as I am. Back comes the little finger, hovering damply over the keyboard. Flick. “Not for babies, Nigel. Just a sec.” Fli–then I catch sight of his nose.
It’s been a little damp all morning, requiring occasional wipes. What I see now is not longer “a little” anything. The cold has ramped up production: two thick yellow ribbons curl over his upper lip. Eew. “Bring me that nose, little boy,” I instruct, reaching for one of the crumpled but clean (and miraculously dry!) rescued tissues.
Being a normal one-year-old, he goes into evade mode. Duck and run, baby! Duck and run! I am far too practiced to be so easily evaded, and the kleenex has swiped over his shoulder and wrapped round his seeping nose before he’s taken a full pace, much too quickly for him even to utter the wail of protest he’d so richly inhaled for. Well, poop.
The trauma decisively over, he returns to the laptop. His little face peeps past the monitor. I reach for the kleenex. He eyes the kleenex, held ready and warningly in my hand, his finger hesistates in the air. His eyes flick from the keyboard to the tissue, temptation and trauma, back and forth, back…and… Nope. Not worth the bother.
A moment or two later, I’m done with the laptop, but Nigel doesn’t care: he’s dropping tiny toys in the potty. Who needs a laptop with a tissue threat when potty mayhem awaits?