Sunday, September 20, 2009

babysitting

As I write I am sitting across from April, who is watching a Madeline dvd on a laptop. We have had one of those evenings for which there should be a new word, to describe something that was superficially boring but broadly interesting.

My memories of childhood are of shattering misunderstandings for both me and adults. I felt these things hard and of course this has had a big impact on the way I treat children. I don’t want to give them bad memories! Which has meant I have found it very hard, for instance, to exercise any kind of authority. Actually I know April well enough to not really worry overly about this (I’d probably be more concerned about telling Laurie off, something incidentally I have never done). Anyway this evening she was extremely interesting, while at the same time much of what she said was awfully repetitive to a weird degree. I mean weird for my experience of being talked to, not weird I am sure for 3½ year olds. Tonight the main repetition surrounded a joke regarding the Wizard of Oz, which we had as a viewing option for the evening if we wanted it. I expressed surprise to April’s parents that she was allowed to watch it as my mother did not let me watch that film until I was relatively old (I can’t remember how old; 12?). There were two films I wasn’t allowed to watch because they might have disturbed me: that one and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (which incidentally I have still never seen. Is it any good?). Anyway, Nicole made some remark to April along the lines of how I might be scared by the witch in Wizard of Oz. This set off a response in April which had her saying probably up to 30 times – I am totally not exaggerating – the same sentence, ‘If you see the witch and you’re scared, (pause), that’s OK’. I suppose the pause spoke the most, because the reality was if I saw the witch and I was scared, we were both screwed, but of course what she was really saying was, ‘If I see the witch and I’m scared…’ though I am still not sure that sentence had an end. When the witch first showed up, April got under the blanket (she has a blanket on the couch) with a big mouse doll dressed like a bride for comfort. After the wicked witch of the west disappeared in a cloud of red smoke, April lost interest (and nb did something to the television, as only small children can in the presence of babysitters, which has rendered it unusable). After this time we spent probably an hour and a half, perhaps longer, in a series of breathless and short-attention-span dramas in which she explored every role under the sun, well, within her range of known roles. The most important thing was not rolling out the play-acted story (though there were a few unusual scenarios) but who she was in the story (and to a lesser extent who I was). ‘I’m the nurse’, ‘I’m the doctor’, ‘I’m the sister’, etc. The bad one (I hate it when young children do this, though I know they have to) was ‘I’m the baby’, though I admit ‘I’m the baby jellyfish’ had a special something to it, unfortunately baby jellyfish are about as irritating as regular babies, they talk baby talk and crawl etc. Luckily April was not particularly beholden to this or indeed any of these play roles, and would change them again and again in the space of a minute. The scenarios had a lot of dolls as well, who were the sister, the baby, etc. and who had to see the doctor, the nurse etc and get a needle. I would always ask her what the illness was, and they revolved around chocolate and footballs, though I am not quite sure now whether this evolved with any input from me. There was a lot of the baby or the girl or boy hurt their leg or their tummy playing football, somewhere along the way this sometimes became they swallowed a football or they got food stuck in their teeth. There was a bit of back and forth about whether the patient needed a needle and I assumed this is what I would as a child have called an injection but oddly the needle then had to be removed at a later date. There was also some discussion about whether the stethoscope was needed though April sees this as therapeutic rather than diagnostic (she had some small cardboard books in a box which served as a ‘stethoscope’). The doctor’s room was at the far end of the couch, and the hospital was in the kitchen (two chairs put together). There was also a child’s car seat, which was the jail where bad children were put (my innovation was to insist they be put in upside down; April’s innovation was that we should put the hospital chairs in front of the jail to watch the bad children suffer).

I forgot (probably because it bored me the most) to mention the ballet. At certain points I had to play at ballet teacher, which was crap because I don’t know what the various ballet moves are called and I don’t think she knows either. All I really knew to say – and it certainly got results – was that she should go round and round, which I already knew she really knows how to do. She had her ballet dress on (still does) and informed me that boys had boy’s dresses, that they were blue, and was clearly unable to finish that sentence satisfactorily, since her ballet dress is blue but is not a boy’s dress.

So as I said she is presently watching Madeline and the Gypsies, a fairly faithful adaptation of a book I know for a fact she has already read, and she’s watching it for the second time or perhaps the third. If I was romany, or in fact even though I’m not, I would feel pretty uneasy about this story, in which ‘gypsies’ are irresponsible child-stealers (well, in a rather benign way; Madeline is allowed to be in the gypsy circus as long as she sends a postcard to Miss Clavelle) and don’t clean their teeth or go to bed at night. I mean it hardly sends April a very realistic message about this maligned ethnic group. I guess a lot of children’s literature casually uses the ‘other’ and what can you do? Though having seen April’s play activities (or at least the ones she thought were adaptable for my involvement) as of September 09, they seem very much based in the here and now.

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