Monday, March 30, 2009

And all of a sudden...

There I was, thinking Max's questions were easy peasy when he threw me this one: 'Does peppercorns come from a tree, Mummy?' This was as he was going through the kitchen cupboards and asking me to identify the contents. I had to turn to wikipedia to clarify that pepper actually comes from a flowering vine, the peppercorn is the single seed inside the blueberry-like fruit. Who'd have known? His next question? Well of course, it was 'Mummy, does peppercorns say 'yum, yum, yum?'

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What do they say?

Apparently wind chimes say 'nee, nee, nee', worms say 'glub, glub, glub' and even inanimate objects must have a voice.
'What do they say, Mummy?' asks Max of the bamboos we are using to try and make a wigwam. 'What do they say?'
I offer something like 'click, clack' and it seems to satisfy, but this is just fuel for the fire - later it is the the traffic lights that have got to say stop or go and then it is the washing macheem that must speak to us. I tell him I'm not sure that a washing macheem says anything,
'No, no, Mummy, what does it say?'
And it has become virtually impossible to read Max a story because of this endlessly repeated question. For example, I started reading Rupert the Bear earlier,
'Next day, the sun is shining bright - "The old barometer was right"' I read.
'What is he saying?' says Max
'Well', I tell my curious listener, 'Rupert's saying "The old barometer is right"'
'No, but what is he saying?'
It's as if there must be some hidden subtext. 'Well he's saying the forecast is right...' I try reading the next line:
'But looking out, Rupert sees how the whole of Nutwood's flooded now...'
'What is he saying?' says Max again.
Luckily there's some dialogue coming up so I keep reading:
'"It's terrible!" says Mr Bear
"The Flooding has spread everywhere"'
To which Max responds, (and you'll know this one), 'But what is he saying?'
It makes the story drag a little.
I'm well aware though, that we are currently in the easy question stage. If Max isn't asking me what things are saying, it's 'what are they dooing? or 'what are those are?' and 'where is my that.' It's the next stage of questioning I should be bracing myself for, when I'm going to need to dust off my brain cells and recall my school science lessons to explain why bamboos grow straight, who switches the traffic lights to green or how exactly a barometer works.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's a matter of miles...

I'm a little homesick at the moment. I'm not sure why I'm feeling this way - perhaps it was my birthday with all those calls from family and friends in the UK and their talk of springtime and sunshine. Perhaps it was the pasties we ate, or perhaps it is the ranch where we've spent the last 4 days. Lying on the grass earlier, the sun on my back, surrounded by buttercup-dotted hills, everything felt so familiar to me, and yet so unfamiliar. We saw deer up on the horizon and watched black angus cattle grazing. And we saw hawks circling overhead and hares with their long ears and huge hind legs hopping through the garden and we scrutinized a ladybird with no spots. In the evening we played cards and read our books and it was Hank Williams who sang to us from the music system, mourning beautiful gals and cheatin' hearts. At night there is no light pollution, just darkness and the sound of frogs.
All this is peppered with our own uncertainty about where we want to be, which country, which continent, and it has left me craving a simplicity I recognise, something from my own childhood perhaps, just some chickens and a washing line.
In parallel to all this I felt strangely distant from my own child this weekend. 'He's a toddler fighting for independence' you'll say, but it wasn't that. While we were poking around in a stream and watching it flow through a drainage tunnel into a bog of reeds and chickweed he asked me, 'Mummy, where is the warder going?' Not, water, but warder. 'Warder'. He sounded so authentically American. I should have been prepared for it but somehow I wasn't. I just never expected, naively I suppose, that my child would ever sound foreign to me. I reassure myself that the jigsaw of our lives is still being laid out on the table and I know that really it's just a matter of miles - 5560 to be precise, that separates the two worlds in my heart.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Happy Birthday to Me! Or more accurately Happy Day You Me, although Max has outgrown that phrase which I loved so much. He quite correctly and clearly wished me a 'Happy Birthday Mummy' earlier, handing me a yellow meadowfoam from his tight fist (the flower bit involved much prompting from Dom). So I am now firmly in my mid, even late, thirties which is a hard pill to swallow - gulp. On a happier note we had pasties for lunch - a Cornish treat from Gold Rush country thanks to a friend. There was much lazing in the sunshine and then delicious chocolate cake for tea, even Oli wanted to get his hands on it. And I am now wearing cozy slippers and drinking a beer - that sounds so good doesn't it? Perhaps being this old isn't so bad after all.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Picture perfect

The other day I tried to take a photograph of Oliver that captured the view I have when I'm holding him with his head at my shoulder. It's best when he's on my left side because my left eye is long-sighted and I get him in a gorgeous blur of peachy skin, rosy cheeks, dark eyes and a soft focus profile of his tiny nose. I probably needed someone else to have the camera, I certainly didn't manage to take the picture I wanted. But I wonder whether it is possible to recreate it anyway - you can't smell a daffodil or get the same sense of summer approaching just by looking at a picture of one. With Oli, it's more than just a snapshot, it's the warm weight of his body on mine, the smell of his superfine hair, my lips on his warm temples, the 'haaarrr' noises he makes, his little hands with kitten claws gripping my arm, and the way he might fling himself back at any moment just to test his own security. And in a second the whole little circle of love we have going is gone...Oli has shifted to get a better vantage on what Max is up to or I need to put him down to turn off a boiling saucepan or mend a broken train track. But the other night Oli found his toes and I did manage to take a picture. In fact I called the whole family in to his bedroom so they too could witness the flexible dexterity of our little contortionist.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Brilliant Ideas

My most recent mummy-anxt is called nature deficit disorder, which is basically where I worry about whether my children have enough contact with the natural world. All I did was go to the library and casually pick up a copy of The Last Child in the Woods. Just a few chapters in and I am experiencing the same panic paralysis as I did after watching An Inconvenient Truth. The book is talking about how the media and schools and families are teaching young people to avoid 'direct experience in nature'. So where my brother and I might have been building dams in the stream or climbing trees 30 years ago (did I really just write 30? oh I'm old) now they are more likely to play indoors or in 'safe' environments like playgrounds because meadows and woodlands are shrinking as urban and suburban areas expand, and if you add in the regulations and litigation, basically today's kids aren't having the same unstructured play in natural environments. Page 44 and the author is now listing mental health issues linked to nature deficit etc, you get the picture. And I suddenly remembered how I'd taken an intern out on a story once in the long-gone days when I had a job. It was mid summer in England - a beautiful day; warm, blue sky - and we were driving down these pretty country lanes in Surrey. Sadly we were covering the stabbing of some poor mother but that was part of the story, part of the shock, that a woman with a toddler could be attacked in this apparent rural idyll where crime was virtually non-existent. The sunshine lit up the fields of bright yellow oil seed rape on either side of us. There were foxgloves growing tall out of hedges and rays shone through the fresh green beech leaves of the overarching trees, the road was dappled in midday sun. It was the kind of day that would make me want to rush outside and have a picnic in some tall grass. But my intern from South London was telling me how the whole place gave him the creeps - there was too much space, it was all too quiet. He said he'd feel much safer on the estates in Peckham. It was a real eye opener. And the question is, where does that leave our shrinking natural environment when his generation become it's custodians? So this weekend I hardly took my boots off. We were weeding and composting and meeting spiders and worms in the garden. Then we discovered a new nature spot just over the Golden Gate Bridge accessible down a one way track. Oli struggled to take a breath as the wind whipped off the Pacific but he smiled anyway. We found some shelter and Max jumped in puddles and picked tight round cones off a pine tree. Then I spotted some strange looking mushrooms and started wondering if the area had any resident mountain lions and realised I was just the kind of mother who was steering her children away from free play in the countryside as my book describes. Luckily, to counter balance my aforementioned panic I am sharing my life with someone who is an expert in breathing deeply and diverting morbid thoughts of the apocalypse into more productive ideas for change. Together we discussed setting up something called Get Muddy where we'd get sponsorship from some benign foundation and find a field and supervise all these urban kids just getting muddy in an unsupervised kind of way. I got all excited about it and googled to find it, and all it's variations were taken by 4x4 clubs - the very antithesis of what I was planning. A little bruised I am thinking up my next plan of attack but now my worry is that it might go the same way as my brilliant idea for a biodegradable toothbrush - still brilliant, but still just an idea.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dashed promises

It seems I write something down - and then go straight ahead and betray my good intentions. A month ago I wrote that I wasn't eating another slice of cake or a biscuit or anything bad until I'd shed an inch of baby fat. But give the girl a weekend (or just a night) in an RV and within hours I was cooking and eating banana bread as if I was both chef and taster on a bakery production line. Then I made a yoga mat bag and vowed a lifetime's commitment to Bikram. So, have I stepped foot in that 105 degree studio since? Hell no! Next I say I'll write this blog more often and can I think of anything to tell you? It's raining. I'm uninspired, OK?
I'm trying to think whether or not I've been breaking promises to Max. We did go to the Discovery Museum yesterday, we have had picnic lunches all this week (admittedly on the kitchen floor rather than in the garden but that's down to the rain which I made no promises on). I have a feeling though that if asked, Max might tell you a different story - and it would probably involve the Wonderpets DBD. But I've been totally honest with him - he got his mitts on it and it's scratched. That's why his favourite hedgehog episode skips from start to finish in about 4 seconds. I'm sure he thinks it's my own form of DBD witchcraft. So I can let him have the Wonderpets, just not that episode. I try cleaning it and he rushes over to look. 'Has it got mitts on it?' he asks sadly. I confirm the diagnosis. I think that's how I got myself into the promise about going to the Discovery Museum. I usually love the place but as mentioned I'm feeling uninspired and when it's raining, it's usually teeming with weather-despairing parents and their pent up offspring. And it wasn't our best trip - sharing at the train table is always a little problematic and this time Max got territorial about the crabs in the crab net too. But an older kid came along and there was an interlude where they played nicely on the fishing boat together. Inexplicably to most (although I don't think anyone but Max and his friend could hear) I imitated the shipping forecast over the ship's radio - Dogger, Fisher. North East 4. 1002 Rising Slowly. Forties, Cromarty, Rain then showers, Moderate to Good. Other than that, most of the exhibits Max likes are outside and it was pouring with rain. To top it off we found ourselves trapped in the outside loos in a hail storm. We were the only ones in there. I opened the door to reassure Max about the noise. 'The good thing about hail storms...' I said, without really knowing where my sentence was going ' that they are very short.' And luckily I wasn't too far wrong. It was the biggest hail I've seen - the size of my finger nails. 'Can we feed it to the penguins?' Max asked. I wasn't sure what he was talking about but there was a statue of a seal, so we fed some to him instead. The whole feeding thing got Max thinking about his own tummy. 'Can I have some snacks, Mummy?' Here was my ticket out. 'Banana bread?' I offered 'We have lots of that at home - Lets go!'