It’s all relative

The girls had a cross country carnival today. Demon Duck came 22nd in her age group, an improvement from 36th last year, so she was pleased. Drama Duck came 12th in her event. We were pleased at the obvious improvement in her fitness – she ran for most of the three kilometres. But 12th isn’t quite as good as it sounds, since there were only 15 competing in her age group.

It reminds me of one of Baby Duck’s earliest sporting achievements. He came home from preschool one day full of joy.

“We did races today,” he said, “and I came second!”

“That’s great, darling! How many were in the race?”


A tale of four chickens

No, this is not the continuing story of my little black dream chicken. I’m talking real chickens here, three of them, who came home as little balls of peeping yellow fluff a few months ago to live with my neighbour’s family.

My neighbour procured a Taj Mahal of a henhouse for the new chickens and installed them in the backyard.

“But what about the dog?” we said.

They have a German Shepherd, a lovely friendly dog, but still.

“She will eat the chickens,” we said.

“No, no,” said our neighbour, with quite astonishing optimism. “When we go on holidays we’re sending her to a boarding kennel where they will train her to love the chickens.”

We were sure she would love the chickens. With sauce. But our neighbour was convinced all would be well. This in spite of the fact that their dog has been known to devour slow-moving possums.

So they went on their family holiday, and we had the task of looking after the chickens while they were gone. The ducklings enjoyed the job, and I was very thankful that no chickens died on our watch. They were all present and correct when the neighbours returned.

But soon after the parents went overseas on their own, leaving the children in charge of the chickens. And the dog, who was now home from her peace-and-love-to-all-chickens brainwashing.

Not two days later, we were out in the yard when a little voice called over the fence, “Have you seen any chickens in your yard? The chickens have disappeared.”

“Honey, if they were in our yard our dog would have ripped them to pieces. Are you sure your dog didn’t eat them?”

“No, there’s no sign of them. They’re just gone.”

Much speculation followed at our house as to what might have happened to the three missing chickens. Had a fox got them? (But surely the German Shepherd would have chased off a fox.) Had they slipped through the fence and gone for a walk? Had they left for a chicken holiday of their own? And what would the boys’ mother say when she came home and discovered her chickens were missing??

Sad little notices appeared on telegraph poles round about, asking if anyone had seen three chickens, but no one came forward. When the parents returned from their holiday we heard that their dog had, in fact, done the deed. She’d dug a hole under the side of the coop big enough for the birds to get out – and then merely waited till they did to chow down. The evidence was discovered underneath the house.

Wait a minute, you say. Didn’t you say this was a tale of four chickens?

Hang on, I’m getting to that.

Meanwhile, I’d been telling the ducklings about the movie Jurassic Park. I even acted out my favourite part, where the T-rex comes through the fence when they’re in the stalled jeeps:

“And they’re in the cars and it’s pouring with rain, and the goat disappears and there’s this HUGE dinosaur. And the kids are in the car on their own and they’re all omigod!! and turn off the torch! And she’s all aargh!! and waving it around and he’s all turn it off! turn it off! And the dinosaur’s attacking and the guy gets out of the other car and waves to attract its attention and then the dinosaur sees him and he’s all oh sh*t

Meanwhile I’m waving my imaginary torch and pulling scared faces and pretending to be a stalking dinosaur. The ducklings found it highly amusing.

“We want to watch it! It sounds really funny!”

“No, no! It’s not funny. It’s really scary!! It’s dark, and raining, and there’s scary music. And even though I’d read the book and I knew what was going to happen I was still scared!”

But they wouldn’t believe me. So I let them watch it.

And they thought it was funny.

“You’re scared of everything, Mum,” said Demon Duck. “You’re such a chicken you’re going to grow feathers.”

“Hey!” said Baby Duck. “Then we can give you to the next-door neighbours to replace their chickens!”

And they all lived hap … aargh!

Don’t you just hate it when you’re in the middle of an interesting dream and someone wakes you up? And then you never get to find out what happens???

This morning I was blissfully asleep, dreaming I was browsing in a bookshop. I found this gorgeous picture book about a little black chicken. He was drawn very simply, just a little egg-shaped blob with stumpy wings and two dots for eyes, but really cute.

Every day all the chickens gathered in a clearing in the woods to see Mr Fox’s magic show. Every day Mr Fox made one of the chickens magically disappear, which the other chickens thought was cool, but our little black hero was getting suspicious. So he decided to run Mr Fox out of town.

His plan was to scare Mr Fox away, so he gathered up all the plastic bottles and styrofoam hamburger boxes the chickens left littering the clearing after the show every day. He turned all this litter into styrofoam chickens and arranged them in the trees of the clearing. There was a great illustration of all these ghostly white styrofoam chickens perched in the trees at night, hundreds of them staring accusingly out of the dark.

The little black chicken climbed into the trees too and began a ghostly squawking, pretending to be the voice of all the dead chickens, so when Mr Fox came out to see what was going on he’d be terrified, thinking the ghosts of all his victims were after him.

Unfortunately Mr Fox wasn’t taken in. Even though it was night time, the moon was out and it was easy to spot one black chicken among all the white ones. It was as Mr Fox stared hungrily up at him that our hero realised he was now stuck in this tree with no escape and maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea after all.

And then …

“Brring brring, brring brring.”

No, I am not attempting to render the sound of a phone ringing. Those are the actual words that were spoken into my sleeping ear.

Torn from my little black chicken story, I opened my eyes to find Demon Duck kneeling on my bed, her mouth next to my ear.

“Brring brring,” she said. “I’m your alarm clock. It’s 7:26. Time to get up!”

Aaaargh!! Now I’m left with a whole bunch of unanswered questions. Does the little black chicken make it?? Does Mr Fox get his comeuppance??

And why on earth am I dreaming about styrofoam chickens???

Dinnertime jackpot

One look at Baby Duck’s stick-thin body will tell you he’s not a big eater. Sparrows have bigger appetites. A common scenario at our place involves everyone sitting around for half an hour after we’ve finished eating, watching him endlessly chew his food.

So if he is ever not the last person to finish a meal it’s a cause for celebration. And if I’ve really hit the dinnertime jackpot it’ll be because I’ve managed to find a recipe the whole family enjoys and will eat without complaining or negotiating which disgusting bits they can leave.

The dinnertime jackpot is a moving target. You might think that by now I would have a good repertoire of meals that all the ducklings will eat and enjoy without involving any trips to MacDonalds. Ah, Grasshopper, your innocence of the ways of children is amusing.

Just because they like something this week doesn’t mean they will still like it next week. Demon Duck’s list of fruit she will eat is rapidly narrowing till soon she’ll be living on air. We’re always saying to her “Since when have you not liked mandarines/peaches/watermelon etc? You used to love it.”

So I’m crossing my fingers that tonight’s universal approbation for curried chicken salad continues for at least a few more weeks. Baby Duck finished before I did and proudly displayed a very clean plate.

“You must have liked it,” I said.

“I didn’t like it,” he said. “I loved it!”

Then he came over to give me a somewhat greasy kiss from all that yummy barbecued chicken and added, “Just like I love you for making such a good dinner.”

Yep – that’s the jackpot all right.

A family of comedians

I am living with a family of comedians.

Evidence the first:

Baby Duck had a haircut on Friday. Our friend who was cutting his hair asked if he’d like hair the colour of hers, but he declined, saying her colour looked old. Pretending outrage, our friend said, “Just wait till you’re forty! I’ll tell you ‘hey, you’re looking pretty old now’.”

He said, “And I’ll say ‘you still look older than me!’ “

Evidence the second:

Someone who shall remain nameless, but she’s my middle child and her name starts with Demon and ends with Duck, defaced my menu board while I was out yesterday.

(What, doesn’t everyone write the week’s menu on a whiteboard in their kitchen? What do you mean, I’m anal?)

She had carefully written up the menu as follows:

Monday: takeaway
Tuesday: takeaway
Wednesday: takeaway
Thursday: takeaway
Friday: takeaway
Saturday: takeaway
Sunday: out

Only the spelling mistakes have been changed to protect the innocent.

Evidence the third:

The girls went iceskating yesterday while I was out. I think that was pretty brave of me. If I say that I was imagining severed fingers lying twitching on the ice, you will think my worrywart gene is showing again. In my defence I offer that I used to work with a lovely man who was missing a couple of fingers because of an iceskating accident as a child.

I mentioned to Drama Duck last night that I’d been a little stressed about them going skating.

“It was fine,” she said dismissively. “I’ve still got most of my fingers.”

Evidence the fourth:

And the reason I was not available to personally supervise the safety of my daughters’ precious pinkies?

My brother rang a couple of weeks ago to say he was going away for a few days. He usually does Mum’s grocery shopping for her, and wanted me to cover for him. Not a problem, since I usually visit Mum once a week anyway, but just to make sure I wouldn’t forget, I wrote “Mum shopping” on the calendar that hangs on the back of the en suite door.

(My friends find it amusing when they ask me if I’m free on a certain date and I tell them I have to go check on the toilet door.)

This morning I got out of the shower and found that underneath “Mum shopping” the Carnivore had written “Could not find a decent Mum”.

Telling tales

Mum lives about an hour’s drive away. It’s an easy drive, along motorways and freeways, but monotonous, particularly for small passengers. To pass the time last weekend I suggested we take turns telling a story, with each person taking up the tale where the last one left off.

In fact we had time for half a dozen stories in the two hours there and back, featuring such things as giant hairy flying cucumbers, pink elephants that turned into long-lost brothers and cows who were “dairy godmothers”. I believe that pun was snitched from a real story but it gave me a good laugh at the time.

It was fascinating to hear what each duckling came up with and observe their different personalities at work. Demon Duck, our little perfectionist, was very hesitant. A couple of times she got carried away by the story, but mostly she had a very quick go before passing the responsibility on to her sister. I think she was afraid of “getting it wrong”.

Drama Duck, otherwise known as “Little Miss Talk Underwater”, was in her element. Her turns were very long and inventive, and long after her brother and sister had dropped out of the game she was still eager to continue.

Baby Duck surprised me. He eventually got bored – he is only six, after all – but his efforts were quite creative and coherent. Once I thought he’d gone off into a different story altogether, but he brought it back around and tied it into the main thread. He’d only introduced a different point of view. And his grasp of storytelling conventions was quite firm. When it was his turn to start a new story he began:

“Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in a land far, far away … there lived a little lizard named Fred.”

Dream a little dream

The Carnivore has this amazingly useful trick. He goes to bed thinking about a work-related problem and during the night dreams the solution. Of course this means that not only does he do boring accounting stuff in his waking hours, but he’s still doing it when he’s asleep. If it were me I think I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a fork, but hey, to each his own. And you’ve got to admit, it’s a very handy trick.

I am insanely jealous. I’ve tried and tried, but it never works for me. Wouldn’t it be cool to untangle the knots of the latest WIP in your sleep? So easy! But no, my unco-operative brain insists on dreaming about public toilets. Night after night, my search for a toilet is foiled. They have no doors, or people are holding parties in them, or …

What’s that you say? You’d rather dream about accounting?

Sigh. It would be nice if we could choose our dreams, wouldn’t it? I used to have interesting dreams. Nowadays my subconscious seems too focused on the messages from my ageing bladder. I don’t know what it was focused on in the days of my T-rex dreams. Probably just the general terror of being responsible for the lives and wellbeing of a number of small people.

I haven’t had it for a couple of years now, but I used to have this recurring dream where there was a tyrannosaurus rex in the backyard. Details changed from dream to dream. Sometimes I was trying to call our stupid dog inside. She was busy barking and ignored me (very realistic dream!) and got eaten. Other times I was already inside when the dinosaur appeared. The crux of every dream was my desperate search for a room in the house where the T-rex wouldn’t be able to see me through the windows and attack.

So I usually ended up locked in the pantry.

The ducklings have heard me describe this dream many times, usually while wearing identical “Good Lord, our mother is a fruitcake” expressions.

Today Demon Duck was describing a dream she had last night. I’ve mentioned before that she and I have very similar senses of humour. We got a lot of giggles out of this one. In her dream she was being eaten by a T-rex.

“You idiot,” I said. “You should have hidden in the pantry!”

Methuselah, eat your heart out

I remember when I was a kid, how old everyone over the age of, say, 14, was. Twenty-year-olds were indistinguishable from 60-year-olds. They all just belonged to the category “ancient”. I’d be reading the newspaper and find some story about a 25-year-old killed in a car crash and think, “Oh well, at least it wasn’t anybody young. At least she’d lived.”

Baby Duck made a birthday card for his beloved teacher last term. She can’t be any more than late twenties, if that. He drew a careful picture of her blowing out her candles on the front of the card. The candles were those ones you get in the shape of numbers.

“How old do you think Mrs F is?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said, “so I just picked a really big number.”

The numbers said “81”.

The other day he was eating a bowl of grapes and I took one. Very magnanimously, he offered to share the bowl. Mindful of all that positive parenting advice that says you should praise behaviour you would like to encourage, I told him how kind he was to share.

“I want to be really nice to you while I still can,” he confided.

“Do you mean before you grow up and move out?” I asked.

“Mmm. And before you die.”

Guess I’d better book my spot in the retirement village soon. Fortunately for my battered ego, Demon Duck was given an email account at school last week. She spent the weekend emailing sweet messages to everyone she could think of.

One of the ones I received said:

“i love you mummy. it’s like you are a star and i am a twinkle. when we get together we shimmer and shine. that’s why i love you so much.”

Much better to be a star than hovering on the brink of death! I feel better already.