Curse you, Dav Pilkey!

The ducklings have discovered Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books. Demon Duck and Baby Duck are particularly smitten. Not only do we have Captain Underpants stories at bedtime every night, but they have both written Captain Underpants stories themselves, which they read to each other. Demon Duck also does comics. Nor can we enter a bookshop without purchasing another volume in the saga. We also have Captain Underpants songs, computer games and much discussion of wedgies.

In short, our house has been taken over. Not even Drama Duck is immune. I have a whiteboard in the kitchen where I write the weekly menu. The other day I discovered my menu had been vandalised. Drama Duck explained that this was something they did in the Captain Underpants books – the boy heroes change the letters around on the school noticeboard to make the notices say something funny.

So last Tuesday, instead of beef skewers for dinner, we had bee sewers. Captain Underpants would be proud.

Sometimes the hardest part is keeping a straight face

Baby Duck is enjoying school very much, thank goodness. He adores his teacher, has made some nice little friends and loves learning to read, since he’s a book lover from way back. Most days when I ask him how school was he says “lovely”.

But a couple of weeks ago I picked him up after a rainy, miserable day and asked him how his day was.

A look of disgust came over his face. “I had to go to the canteen at lunch time to pick up the lunch basket.”

I was a bit surprised that this wasn’t a high point of his day. Usually the kids love doing little jobs like that. It makes them feel important.

“Is that your job this week?” I asked.

He nodded. “Me and my friend went, and it was raining. We got wet.”

“Oh well,” I said, “it wasn’t raining that hard at lunch time.”

“But that’s not the worst part! We had to go all the way to the canteen in the rain” – he threw his arms wide, an outraged expression on his little face – “and there was only one bloody lunch!”

It’s very difficult to chastise a small person for inappropriate vocabulary when you’re trying hard not to crack up. But he’s never used that word before and it caught me by surprise. He sounded so absurdly world-weary, and the look on his face was priceless. I suspect my protests were unconvincing.

Note to self: Must try harder at this parenting thing.

Fashion for the elderly

You know, it’s possible there are worse things for your ego than the well-meant comments of your offspring, but I have yet to discover them.

“You look good, Mum,” the ducklings said when I appeared in a new outfit the other day.

“Almost like a teenager,” says Demon Duck, who is a generous, if misguided, soul.

“Except for your hair,” says Drama Duck, surveying me with the critical eye of a ten-year-old fashion guru.

“Why? Can you see the grey?”

“No, it’s just a bit short. Teenagers have long hair, and you don’t, so you look old.”

My expression must have clued Demon Duck in to the fact that her sister isn’t exactly winning any prizes for flattery here.

“But the dress is beautiful,” she says, clearly eager to make up for her sister’s shortcomings. “It’s not fair, you know. I wish they made dresses like that for kids, but they don’t. They’re only for elderly people.”

I see dragons, he sees … bacon?

Remember Mark Antony’s beautiful speech from Antony and Cleopatra that begins “sometimes we see a cloud that’s baconish”?


Okay, how about this. What do you see in this picture?

A rhino perhaps? A dragon even?

We visited Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney recently. The ducklings and I had fun spotting all sorts of strange creatures in the caves, like this “dragon”. There were stalacmites at odd angles that looked just like unicorn horns, lots of monsters and a couple of dragons.

What was my beloved’s contribution to this game of make believe?

“Hey, that one looks like bacon.” [He’s talking about the pinkish shawls hanging from the ceiling.]

My meat-obsessed carnivore doesn’t have a poetic bone in his body. Drama Duck and I looked at each other, that special look that says “we really love him but he’s not quite like the rest of us, is he?”

“Maybe the dragon eats the bacon,” she said.

It was an … interesting day. We changed our minds several times about whether or not to go that day due to doubtful weather and general laziness (at least on my part). So we didn’t end up leaving till eleven, and by the time we got there it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

The last 10 kms or so of the trip winds round and round the mountainsides on a road that feels about two foot wide, with a terrifying drop off the edge. I was practically hyperventilating and vowing never to return before we’d even arrived. Thank goodness we didn’t meet one of the many tourist buses coming the other way.

There’s nothing much there above ground, just a hotel and ticket office. We crawled past a million tourists to the carpark, which was full. A sign directed us up a steep road to carpark 2.

Which was also full. So we climbed more mountain roads, around more scary twisty bends to carpark 3.

Which was also full. By this time we are a long way from where we need to be and I’m starting to wonder if we’re going to have to park somewhere in central Australia. The road is now a dirt track with a most terrifying incline. But at last we find a place to dump the car, though we almost lose traction and fall back down the mountainside trying to get there. A helpful man directs us to a walking track to take us back down to the ticket office, which he says will take about 20 minutes “or I could call the bus up here for you”.

“No, no,” says the Carnivore gaily, “we’re happy to walk.”

I think 20 minutes might take more like 40 with Baby Duck in tow, but I can’t face the idea of a bus ride back down that dreadful road either, so we walk.

Did I ever mention that I hate walking downhill? I know I’m not the fittest person, but by the time we got to the bottom my quads felt like jelly – and we hadn’t even started yet.

The first guided tour that wasn’t sold out was at 4:30, so we spent the time in between doing the self-guided tour of the Nettle cave, which is largely above ground. Demon Duck kept having conniptions about how high up we were, but everyone else enjoyed it (though there were a lot of stairs).

Then we took a guided tour of the Lucas Cave. Our guide announced that there were 910 steps to climb “but don’t worry, they’re nearly all at the beginning – after that it’s okay”. So we and 164 million of our new best friends trooped off up the stairs of torment to view the delights of the Lucas Cave.

Which took so long, with 164 million people in the group, that there was no time to see any more caves after that, for which I was profoundly grateful, though Baby Duck was disappointed. He wanted to go back the next weekend.

Fortunately we didn’t have to climb back up the mountain to our car. There was a minibus to take drivers back to the various carparks, otherwise I’d probably still be there, crawling upwards on my hands and knees.

One more not-a-New-Year’s-resolution: Must. Get. Fit.

[And one more time without the bacon:

Sometime we see a cloud that’s dragonish;
A vapour sometime like a bear or lion,
A tower’d citadel, a pendant rock,
A forked mountain, or blue promontory
With trees upon’t, that nod unto the world,
And mock our eyes with air

Harry and the Honey

Baby Duck and I were discussing a treat for him yesterday. The girls are doing something on the weekend without him, so a consolation prize seemed in order. He’s always asking to hire a DVD from the shop, and the DVD shop is right next to school so we walk past it all the time, but we don’t often say yes. The kid would be a complete zombie if we let him watch as much TV as he would like.

He was pleased with the idea and announced that he wanted to see “Harry and the Honey”. Now, it might not be obvious to everyone, but I speak fluent Baby Babble, so I knew he meant the Bee Movie. (If you haven’t seen it, the main character’s name is Barry, so he was reasonably close.) I agreed to get it for him and put it on my mental “to do” list for today some time.

This morning my darling husband offered to take the kids to school and preschool so I could get an earlier start on the day’s Nano wordcount. He’s thoughtful like that. I think I’ll keep him.

So here I am, typing away merrily, when the phone rings.

Confused husband: “Do you have any idea what this movie “Harry and the Honey” is? The guy at the DVD shop’s never heard of it.”

I could hardly stop laughing. Baby Duck had propped at the door to the shop and announced that “Mum said you have to get me a movie”. The kid has a mind like a steel trap when it comes to remembering promises. My poor husband. Luckily he doesn’t embarrass easily.

Canine reproduction: which comes first, the dog or the egg?

Baby Duck and I were cuddling in bed this morning. At least, I was trying to cuddle, hoping that the day might go away if I could just keep my eyes closed a little longer, but Baby Duck was full of beans and it was like trying to wrestle an octopus.

“Mum?” he says.

“Mmm?” Go back to sleep, pleeeease.

“Does a girl dog have to marry a boy dog so she can lay eggs?”

Well, no, son. A girl dog has to have a complete biological redesign in order to lay eggs.

After we get that part straightened out he tries again.

“Well, does a girl dog have to marry a boy dog so she can lay puppies?”

“She doesn’t have to marry him, but she has to be with him. She can’t have puppies on her own.”

“Then why did Summer have to have her bits taken out? She’s always on her own.”

I wonder about this kid sometimes. The dog was desexed nearly two years ago. I’m surprised he even remembers it. He thinks about the strangest things.

Must be his father’s genes.

Swimming for aetheists only?

Drama Duck was reading a book about sharks1 to Baby Duck last night for his bedtime story. She’s an advanced reader for her age but she tends to slide over unfamiliar words instead of stopping and trying to figure them out.

I could hear her from the next room, her voice full of expression:

“The average hammerhead shark is about eleven feet long. It is easily identified by its superwide head. The hammerhead’s eyes are at either end of its head, giving it great binocular vision. Hammerheads eat fish, squid, octopuses, cri-Christians and other sharks.”

Christians? Seems a tad exclusive of them. Shame the ancient Romans didn’t know about this dietary quirk. When they got tired of throwing Christians to the lions, they could have thrown them to the hammerheads instead. Although “Christians to the hammerheads!” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

After a moment’s thought I realised that the word she’d stumbled on must be “crustaceans”. I suppose it is a tricky one. Christians of the world can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that they’re no more likely to become a shark’s lunch than the Buddhists, Muslims, aetheists and everybody else after all.

1. The Magic School Bus: The Great Shark Escape by Jennifer Johnston

Mirror, mirror, on the wall …

Everyone’s image of themselves is just a little different to the reality. Mine’s a little thinner, a lot less grey. Baby Duck, however, has self-delusion honed to an artform. Yesterday someone asked him what colour he would make his hair in his self-portrait.

“Like yours,” he said to the nice blonde lady.

Vanity, thy name is Baby Duck. Wishing doesn’t make it so. Only a large amount of peroxide could help him there. His hair is light brown – quite an attractive heading-towards-dark-blonde shade, but still undeniably brown.

It reminded me of a classic exchange at the supermarket checkout last year. The woman behind us in the queue was chatting to Baby Duck.

“You look like your mummy, don’t you!” she says.

“No,” says Baby Duck, looking at her as if she’d suggested he had two heads.

“No? Who do you look like then? Your daddy?”

“Nobody. I look like me.”

“Oh. Well, I think you look like your mummy.”

(Mummy finds this type of talk very gratifying. Ha ha! I’ve left my genetic mark on this poor unfortunate child.)

“No, I don’t,” he insists. He prepares to bring out supporting evidence, and I imagine it will be along the lines of “she’s a grown-up and I’m a kid” or “I’m a boy and she’s a girl”, but what he says is: “She’s got brown hair.”

“And what colour is your hair?” asks the lady, because, well, it’s brown too. Lighter than mine, but brown all the same.

“It’s gold,” he says firmly, “and all sparkly.”

Calling his bluff

Demon Duck is only seven, but sometimes she seems much older. The other day her daddy was teasing her by suggesting that he should come to her netball break-up party.

“You can’t,” she says. “It’s only for the girls.”

“I could wear a skirt.”

She eyes him consideringly. “Yeah, that would be worth it.”

And where did she get that evil sense of humour? He only has himself to blame.

The Life of Mammals

“If we’re very quiet we can observe a family grouping here. The mother is in the middle, with her three offspring piled around and on top of her for warmth. We see them in a typical bonding ritual, their attention fixed firmly on the TV.”

Thanks, Sir David, I’ll take it from here.

As a special treat the ducklings get to stay up to watch David Attenborough’s The Life of Mammals on Monday nights. I get almost as much fun out of watching them as I do from the show. They’re such different personalities.

Baby Duck: He’s not as interested in the show as the girls, but won’t miss a chance to stay up. Comments on odd things. Tonight, for example, an ad came on for the Good Guys (a local electrical appliance retailer). The ad is a deliberately corny song-and-dance extravaganza to the tune of the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations.

“They’re not really good guys, are they, Mum?” says Baby Duck.

“Why not?”

“That man was throwing a TV. That’s naughty. And they climbed up on top of that bench. They shouldn’t do that, should they?”

Drama Duck: Keeps up a running commentary throughout the show. “Don’t chase me, don’t kill me,” as antelope flees lion “ouch, that’s my stomach, ooh, get off, bad lion, don’t bite me, oh that hurts” etc. One of her nicknames is “Little Miss Talk Underwater”.

Demon Duck: This one has a wicked sense of humour. After the umpteenth time of me shushing Drama Duck, she says matter-of-factly, “shall I get the stickytape, Mum?”