When too much choice is Not a Good Thing

In the beginning, there was Breakfast. And it was good and wholesome, and the children thrived. And the mother smiled, and there was peace in the household.

And then one day, alas! TV, the Great Tempter, whispered unto the children, “The mother seeks to keep you in ignorance, that you may not know the joys of multicoloured breakfast cereals. For behold, they come in many flavours, all of them sugar-laden, and yea, though they may be bereft of all nutrition, yet are they pleasing to the palate.”

And the children looked, and saw that all that the TV spake was true, even unto the chocolate-flavoured cereals, and there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

So the mother, moved by the piteous cries of her children, relented and said that they might have the cereals of many colours on weekends only. But still the children wailed, so the mother allowed the cereals of tooth decay and damnation for the whole school holildays as well, yet still the children were not comforted.

So the mother went in search of the Holy Grail – the cereal that would delight her children with its taste while still pleasing in its nutritional value. Alas! though the mother trod the grocery aisles till her feet bled, the Holy Grail eluded her, and though she offered many a compromise to her children, still nothing pleased them as the Cereals of Decay and Damnation had.

And so it came to pass that the pantry filled up with half-eaten boxes of cereal, even unto the width of the top shelf, and also with many tins of different types of spaghetti and beans. And the freezer did groan under the weight of different styles of bread, to tempt the children’s appetites.

And Breakfast, once so wholesome and pleasing, became a time of great trial for the mother and the father. Though the breakfast offerings were as numerous as the stars or the grains of sand on the shore, still the children looked on them and were displeased.

And they took a damn long time making up their minds, too.

Scene: Demon Duck’s bedroom. Demon Duck is sloooowly dressing for school.

Normal Sane Mother: What would you like for breakfast?
Demon Duck: Mutter mutter.
Normal Sane Mother: Pardon?
Demon Duck (sullen): Peanut butter on microwaved bread.
Normal Sane Mother: What’s that face for?
Demon Duck (emoting): Cause I’ve had it every day for a week!

[Evidence is mounting that the wrong child is nicknamed Drama Duck.]

Normal Sane Mother: Then have something else. Have spaghetti, or weetbix.
Demon Duck (tragic): All right. I’ll have mutter mutter.

[In the blink of an eye, Normal Sane Mother transforms into Screaming Banshee Woman. The look of surprise on Demon Duck’s face would be funny if Screaming Banshee Woman wasn’t too busy bursting blood vessels to appreciate humour.]

Screaming Banshee Woman (at top of lungs): Just … [last remnants of sanity engage in desperate scramble to prevent Bad Words coming out] TELL ME what you want for breakfast so I can HEAR YOU without all this MUMBLING!!!!

[Screaming Banshee Woman exits, in direction of kitchen, though not before fighting down a powerful urge to punch the wall.]

Enter Baby Duck.

Seething Mother: What would you like for breakfast?
Baby Duck: Toast with peanut butter.
Seething Mother (speaking from bitter experience): Do you mean toast or microwaved bread?
Baby Duck (for at least the 183rd time): Confused expression
Seething Mother: It’s not that difficult. Microwaved bread is soft. We do it in the microwave and it’s bread. Toast goes in the toaster and it’s hard and brown and it’s TOAST. WHICH ONE do you want?

Then the mother saw the light, and in a mighty voice spoke unto the children: “From this day forth, let all partake of the Weetbix for breakfast, that all may know its nutritional blessing, and that peace may once again descend on our household.”

And there was much weeping and lamenting for the lost pleasures of Spending Hours Each Morning Choosing What to Have for Breakfast. But the mother looked on the children’s sorrow and was unmoved.

See? Lots of choice isn’t always a good thing.

Tomorrow breakfast will be nutritious and calm. Calm as in everyone will be too busy directing burning looks of bitter resentment at their Loathsome Mother to speak. She will have to wear her special Anti-Venomous-Looks Armour.

And yes, I am feeling a little stressed lately. Why do you ask?

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.

Confessions of a worrywart

My mother has a black belt in worrying. Nothing is too large or too small for her to fret over, and if she has nothing to worry about, well, she just dreams something up.
It’s possible I may have inherited a tiny little smidge of this worry gene. I’m nowhere near her level of expertise, and I do try to keep it under control, but it’s not easy. “Hello, my name is Marina and I’m a worrywart.”
It also seems to be infectious. The Carnivore will occasionally give me an accusing glance and say, “I never used to worry about things like [insert trivial thing here] before I met you.”
It’s certainly been worse since I had children. I worry about every little facet of their lives. I worry that they’ll turn out like me. I worry that they won’t.
It seems as if the girls may be turning into sportswomen. Nothing could be more astonishing to me. If they grew wings or sprouted an extra head I wouldn’t be more surprised. There are rocks that are more interested in sports than me. And yet here they are, both keen and competent netballers. And today they had their first tennis lessons and loved it.
I would think that there must have been some mix-up at the hospital and I accidentally brought the wrong babies home, except …

Yeah, I worried about that too. And let me tell you, there is no greater worrier than a crazy, hormone-filled pregnant worrier.
When Drama Duck’s due date was approaching, I sprang a special surprise on my obstetrician.
“When the baby is born, I want to write on it.”
My obstetrician was a lovely man. He didn’t laugh or offer to prescribe drugs for the crazy pregnant lady.
“I seeee. Would you mind telling me why?”
“I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to create this baby, and I don’t want to accidentally bring the wrong one home from hospital.”
“You are aware that they put ID tags on the baby’s wrists and ankles in the hospital?”
“Yes, but I’ve heard they can slip off and I want to be sure that I get my baby.”
“You know that every time the nurse brings your baby to you, she will check the ID tags and ask you to check them too? They’re very careful about it.”
Don’t care don’t care don’t care I want my baby. I had nightmare visions of getting the wrong one and then five or ten years later being told I had to give back the child I had raised and loved as my own.
When he saw that I was set on it he asked what I was going to write with. I hadn’t expected that question.

“Um – a texta?”

“I’ll give you a surgical marker. It won’t wash off for days.”
See? I told you he was a nice man. And he did, too. I have the photo to prove it.
Then the only question was what we should write. The Carnivore and I discussed options such as “Ours” or “Property of …”. In the end we decided on the nickname we had given her through the pregnancy, when we didn’t know who she was. Actually mainly he had given her.
Thus my flawlessly beautiful baby daughter came to have the word “SLUG” printed on her back in her daddy’s messy handwriting.

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.

Seven telltale signs that it’s school holidays

There are a few surefire ways to tell that it’s school holidays around here.

1. Children who are unable to get up on time for school miraculously leap out of bed at crack of dawn to watch TV.

2. Everyone is so pleased to be able to stay home and do nothing for a change that a million playdates and excursions have to be planned to alleviate the boredom.

3. We mortgage our house to pay for movie tickets for five people to the latest kids’ movie.

4. The ducklings’ love/hate relationship with each other escalates to new heights/depths.

5. Their mother starts looking around for a cardboard box big enough to ship at least one child overseas.

6. Maternal patience starts to wear veeeery thin. As in “Muuum, the dog hurt me – she dug her nails into my foot.” Me: “I don’t care if the dog disembowelled you, I don’t want to listen to any more of your whining.”

7. Dinner conversation devolves into a succession of slightly off jokes. You try eating pizza with broccoli on it with someone saying: What’s green and hangs from tall trees? Giraffe snot!

Ode to lost sleep

Look at these cute feet — Baby Duck at two months old. Who would have thought that five years later they’d have turned into instruments of torture?

I’ve noticed a funny thing about small children. In daylight they seem so soft and cuddly, all plump little legs and sweet rounded faces. But in the middle of the night they sneak into your bed and they’re suddenly all hard angles and nasty pointy bits. There’s nothing quite like being woken from a sound sleep by a vicious elbow jab to the kidneys.

And then they do the starfish thing, arms and legs sprawled across the bed, so that mum and dad are crammed into 10% of the space while the small pointy thing luxuriates in the other 90%.

Baby Duck is a master of the art. I’m pretty sure he grows extra legs at night too. There seem to be a lot more than two knees jammed into me. I feel like the meat in the sandwich crammed between him and his father. Sometimes he doesn’t even leave me enough room to lay my head flat on the pillow.

I suppose I’ll miss it when he grows out of this stage, but then again – maybe not. When you’re expecting your first baby you know you’re in for some disturbed nights. What nobody tells you is that it can go on for years. You go through the baby thing, the weaning thing, the waking up in the night (every night!) crying for water/cuddles/toilet/whatever-they-damn-well-please thing, the coming-into-your-bed-every-night-thing, then just as you think you might finally be getting it under control, along comes Number 2 and it starts all over again. Repeat as many times as your sanity allows.

In our case, Drama Duck is nearly 10, and we’re still woken up every night by Baby Duck, so a night of unbroken sleep is only a fading memory. I figure once he grows out of it we might have as much as five years of good sleeping before we get to the dreaded “waiting up for teenagers to come home” stage. Can’t wait! For the sleeping bit, that is. I can definitely wait for the teenager bit. Everyone who’s been there assures me that part is much worse than the original sleep-loss stage.

That’s another thing they don’t mention at antenatal classes. It’s all “how exciting, your first baby!”, when they really should be saying “are you mad? you’re creating a teenager!” At least I get to practise on Drama Duck first. Heaven help us all when it’s Demon Duck’s turn.