Monday 29 December 2008

Bring us some figgy pudding...

For the first time in years I am gutted that Christmas is over. Celebrating with a two year old has brought back the magic of my own childhood Christmases. To cheer myself up I have been insisting that we all eat elaborate breakfasts every morning, mainly consisting of Christmas pudding, chocolate truffles and smoked salmon. Tom and Betty are being very patient.

Although Betty is still perhaps too young to fully appreciate and understand the magic, there were still many things that made this Christmas unique and special. She got excited and squealed ‘DADDY!’ every time we drove past the huge blow-up Santa outside the local garden centre. Whenever anyone phoned, instead of saying ‘Merry Christmas’, she would shout ‘Christmas tree’ at the telephone. She perfected ‘Away in a Manger’ and heartily sang it as she ate her chocolate from the advent calendar (which is sorely missed - we have since had a few chocolate-related tantrums, where through her tears she calls for the aid of her uncle, who is currently her favourite person ever).

When we took Betty to see Santa, she coyly flirted with the 15 year old spotty teenager dressed up as an elf who handed her a jelly baby and balloon and then ushered her into Santa’s grotto. In the grotto, whilst Santa said: ‘Hello my friend, are you hoping to receive lots of lovely crayons for Christmas?’ in a fake deep and husky voice, Betty just sighed and kept a safe distance, only moving in closer to humour him and take her present. She then did a quick about-turn before going off in pursuit of the elf.

Christmas day itself was lovely - at least, once all the toys I had lovingly bought and made for my darling daughter had been removed from sight. Betty was immediately put off her stocking when she spotted the head of the soft toy I had made for her sticking out of the top. She was also a little confused when it transpired that there had been a complete breakdown in communication between family members over presents, and she received three wooden toy ovens… one from me, one from her granddad, and one from her uncle. I had also bought Betty a very expensive life-sized crying/giggling/wetting/eating/ sleeping baby doll, which Tom told me that under no circumstances was I allowed to give to her. It automatically cried whenever there was a noise, and could only be silenced if someone sang to it. Tom was worried that Betty would have to get up in the middle of the night to get the ‘monstrous thing’ back to sleep. I ignored Tom’s pleas to give the doll to the child of someone we didn’t like very much, and on Christmas morning I left it sitting in the mini-pushchair belonging to her existing doll, Cupcake. Betty calmly but promptly removed the imposter and placed Cupcake back in her rightful place. Tom and Betty did a high-five while I sang to the doll to stop her crying (all good practice for a few months down the line).

Perhaps the high point for me was the Christmas pudding. For years I have been the only person in my whole family to actually enjoy the bloody things, so I was delighted when Betty helped me polish off a pudding meant for four people. That girl makes me so proud.

Monday 1 September 2008

Betty goes large

I am very excited to announce that I have been offered a book deal, based on the material on this blog.

Publication of my book is planned for summer 2009.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Look who's talking

I took Betty to an activity morning earlier today, where they had a singing and dancing session, lots of unusual toys and instruments, and various things to jump on and climb through.

Betty spent most of the morning chasing the boys (ignoring the girls) and giving them big snotty kisses on the lips. I spent most of the morning being grilled by a scary mother (SM), who I had previously met at Betty’s swimming classes last year. She was asking me how many words Betty can say and whether or not she is putting words together yet. I explained to SM that Betty says ‘Da Da’ quite a lot, and apart from teasing us with the odd one-offs such as ‘tractor, fish, windmill, melon, biscuit, goodbye’ etc, that is about as far as things have got. I told her that I wasn’t worried, and that Betty has her own mind and would speak when she is good and ready and not when we tell her to.

SM went on to tell me that her ‘little prince’ can say almost anything, and in two languages what’s more, and is now putting 3 or 4 words together. She told me that this was almost certainly because she had religiously read books to her child daily ever since he was born, and also that she ‘takes the time’ to talk to him regularly. She then gave me a sympathetic look, shook her head and tutted. I wasn’t sure if she was tutting at me for being a bad mother for not reading or talking to my daughter (which, just for the record, I do, and always have done, ALL THE TIME), or at Betty for not being as advanced as SM’s little multi-lingual genius.

My great aunt regularly asks me whether or not I am actively teaching Betty to talk. And when Betty and I are in her company, she takes matters into her own hands and will spend hours with Betty saying loudly and clearly: ‘This is a BALL BALL BALL. This is a CAT CAT CAT.’ Betty reacts in much the same way as she does with me and Tom, and raises her eyebrows, sighs, and demands to be let into the fridge so that she can play with some tomatoes.

Having desperately tried, but failed, to join in Betty’s game of kicking three balls simultaneously around the room, I noticed that SM was still hot my heels, and was coming at me with a conversation about potty training. I informed her that Betty is not potty-trained, but does enjoy sitting the doorstop on the potty and making a ‘psshhh’ing sound. SM looked disturbed at this, and then told me in great detail about how she had taken a week off work to potty train her 20 month old child. ‘Admittedly it was chaos’ she said, ‘there was poo and wee all over the house for the first 3 days, and then I gave up.’ She told me that she plans to take another week off work in September and try it all again.

There was a scary look in her eyes, and so I left her with her potty thoughts, and went off to join Betty for a hand-clapping session.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Singing in the rain

On Sunday it was my turn for a lie-in. And while Tom was getting it in the neck from Betty downstairs because he had offered her the wrong spoon to eat her porridge with, I was enjoying a peaceful Chocolate Orange breakfast in bed, and trying to decide on a plan for the day.

Half an hour later, Betty was armed with her bucket and spade, Tom with his book, and I with my four beach bags, and we optimistically headed for the seaside. I insisted that we cheerfully sing ‘oh I do like to be beside the seaside’ all the way there, whilst the rain thrashed down, and Betty threw raisins at the back of my head, laughed, and then got upset because I wouldn’t pick them up and give them back to her.

After a two-hour journey, we arrived starving and grumpy. We sought out some fish and chips, and being intent on doing the traditional British thing, I insisted we eat them on the beach. We huddled together behind the beach wall to shelter from the wind and rain and tried to eat them as quickly as possible, while being assaulted by seagulls. Betty excitedly squealed ‘BIR BIR BIR,’ whenever one swooped, whilst I completely freaked out and screamed: ‘They’re going to get us.’ I have a serious seagull phobia.

Meanwhile, Tom was hurriedly trying to eat his huge haddock which I had already given him a hard time about spending our last five quid on – there were no cash-points around and I had wanted to buy Betty something, anything, from the tacky beach shop. All the while I was trying to take photos of us all eating our chips together. I had a go at Tom for pulling an ugly face in every single photo. “I’m trying to eat my bloody haddock,” he hollered back, and with that he ordered me and Betty down to the sea so that he could finish his fish in peace.

It was Betty’s first proper paddle in the sea. I rolled her little dungarees up, put her down onto the sand and off she charged into the water. I was so caught up with taking photos of her that I wasn’t being very attentive and before I knew it she had decided to sit down, but seemingly not bothered by the freezing cold temperature, she was having a wonderful time splashing around. She then got up, and with her giant water-bomb of a nappy causing no apparent hindrance, she started running through the water, giggling and squealing. It was a truly magical scene – just like in the films.

Then Tom rocked up and I tried to get him to take photos of Betty and me holding hands and skipping through the waves, but he seemed more interested in taking photos of a jellyfish. So I grabbed the camera, balanced it on a rock, put it on self-timer and then chased Betty across the beach, hoping that we would be in the shot when the camera went off. Tom was half out of shot in the background, slightly embarrassed, prodding the jellyfish with a stick. I retrieved the camera to have a look at the photo and although both Betty and I were in the shot I was dismayed to see a fat haggard-looking dollop (me) running in a very ungainly manner. These days I am genuinely shocked when I look at photos of myself. I seem to be suffering from a serious case of delusion. 

After an hour of these beach frolics, I felt that it was only fair that Betty be relieved from her wet clothes and the three gallons of sea water she was carrying around in her nappy, and so we headed back to the car to sort her out. I was pretty annoyed with myself to find that in the four large beach bags that I had brought with us, I hadn’t put in a sensible spare change of clothes for Betty, or a spare nappy – only a pretty little summer dress, optimistically packed. But I remembered Betty’s nappy bag, which is normally wedged under the passenger seat and hasn’t seen the light of day for at least six months as Betty only ever poos in the comfort of her own home.

I found the bag and the only clothing I could find within was a t-shirt which had something intensely annoying like ‘Princess in training’ emblazoned across it, a pair of dodgy tan-coloured leggings and a badly knitted homemade cardigan, all of which had been shoved into this bag because I never thought we’d ever need to use them, and were now at least two sizes too small.

After cramming Betty into every item of clothing we could possibly find, including the dress, and squeezing her 20 month old bottom into a fusty size two nappy, we were ready to hit the windy cold streets of the bleak Welsh seaside town. As we walked along, with Betty in her pushchair, seemingly in fancy dress, loudly humming the theme tune to ‘In The Night Garden’ and waving a multi-coloured windmill that I had managed to buy for her from a £1 shop, Tom coolly remarked that he felt as if he was part of a carnival display.

Less than fifteen minutes later, we were back in the car and heading for home.

Friday 1 August 2008

One down, four to go...

Tom has gone on a jolly to Abu Dhabi. He left yesterday morning, and whilst it is nice not having to nag him about being too noisy, untidy and smelly, both Betty and I are missing him.

Betty has been looking for him everywhere. I tried to explain to her that he has gone on a five-day piss-up with all his uni mates with the excuse of a friend’s wedding, and that he would not be found under his pillow or in his sock drawer. She gave me a very firm, slightly scary look, sighed and then said: ‘Da. Da. Da.’ Each ‘Da’ grew louder and shriller. Where ‘Da’ normally means anything and everything, I think that in this case the meaning was pretty clear.

In an attempt to keep Betty on side, I have been trying to keep her as active as possible so that she doesn’t have too long to contemplate Tom’s absence. If she were to decide that she is actually pretty annoyed about it, the next few days will be hell for me.

Yesterday morning, I cleaned the car, inside and out, whilst Betty joyfully bounced around on the seats and tried to drive the car away. She enjoyed it so much that I made a note to myself that playing in the car on the driveway will become a regular activity. Whilst cleaning, I found a half eaten chocolate digestive in the glove compartment, which I then flung over the hedge, only to be met with a: ‘Mmm thank you very much’ from the farmer on the other side. I was very embarrassed and tried to pretend that I wasn’t there, and that Betty had thrown it.

We had a painting session mid-morning, sort of. Despite the fact that when I asked Betty if she wanted to do some painting she said a resounding ‘YES’, she refused to do any painting whatsoever. This was after I had set it all up, squeezed all the paints out onto plates, wrapped her up in tea-towels, and laid newspaper everywhere. I then tried to use all the paint up myself by doing my own handprints and painting about 13 different pictures. Meanwhile, Betty didn’t want to get her hands dirty at all and so she reorganised the unused paint-brushes, and sighed a lot.

Early afternoon came, and we decorated her new playhouse in the garden. In doing so I happily discovered that Betty is just as happy with a framed photo of her beloved duck comforter (which I had hung on the wall) as she is with the real thing. This takes the pressure off me slightly as the real thing is on its last legs and I have been having sleepless nights about it recently. Once the house was decorated we then hosted a play-date in it for two of Betty’s lovely friends, Daniel and Molly, in the afternoon. They all had a great time pouring each other cups of tea and dismantling my arrangements. I was then out there at 11pm last night with the hoover and an extension lead, knowing full well that I wouldn’t sleep easy knowing that there were crisp and biscuit crumbs littering the carpeted floor.

Throughout the day we also managed to fit in a trip to the garage to see a man about a spark plug, read what felt like 300 books, and baked some fairy cakes. By 6.00pm Betty was practically begging me to put her to bed and when I tried to sing her usual bedtime song, she shook her head crossly and forcefully said: ‘Da. Da. Da,’ which in this case I think meant: ‘Please put me in my cot now and go away.’

I don’t sleep very well when Tom’s not here. Last night I just lay there, feeling petrified. All sorts of things were going through my mind… fires, burglars, murderers, mice in the playhouse, Betty waking up during a power-cut and me not being able to find her, me getting food poisoning and not being able to look after her. I finally fell asleep at 3am, whilst trying to plan back-to-back activities for Betty today, and having just received a text from Tom saying that he had arrived safely in Abu Dhabi.

Monday 7 July 2008

Forbidden fruit

I went off to have supper with my mum last night, and so handed over Betty’s bed-time duties to Tom. When I left the house, Tom was busy poring over a pile of cookery books and concocting a gourmet meal for one, and Betty was busy chatting to some snails in the garden and trying to feed them sand.

I arrived home at about 10pm, and went into the kitchen, where Tom was despondently tucking into beans and toast. He looked sheepish, and frazzled, and said in very nervous and hushed tones, that it wasn’t the smoothest bed-time he had ever done – and that in fact it was ‘a bit of an ordeal’.

Apparently, Betty had taken a fistful of snails and red berries into the bath with her. Being the neurotic woman that I am, I have forbidden Betty from playing with these berries, for fear of them being poisonous, and both Tom and Betty know the rules. After much wrestling, Tom thought he had managed to get every piece of incriminating evidence from her - until he caught her quickly popping into her mouth a rogue berry, which, he later argued, ‘must have been hidden in the folds of her hand’. Tom then tried to show Betty who was boss and asked that she remove it from her mouth immediately and hand it over. And with that, Betty did a very elaborate cartoon swallow (just to labour the point that she rules), and then smirked triumphantly at Tom.

Not knowing for certain whether these berries were poisonous (although he was 99.9% sure they weren’t), and more importantly, not wanting to endure my wrath when I would inevitably find the berry in Betty’s poo the following morning, Tom panicked. He scooped a somewhat astonished Betty out of the bath, and charged downstairs to phone our landlord.
‘Betty was having her bath and swallowed a red berry from that tree in our garden – is it poisonous?’ Tom yelled down the phone at the landlord’s somewhat taken aback teenage son. The son then relayed what Tom had said to his mum and dad and Tom imagined that he could then hear the whole family laughing at him in the background. ‘Oh dear, is Elsie out this evening, Tom?” the landlord said. He then assured Tom that the berries were not poisonous, that in fact they were probably quite nutritious, and then enquired as to what Betty was doing with the berries in her bath. Tom was holding a naked, dripping wet, squealing-with-laughter, Betty, who was hitting him on the head with a plastic octopus, and so he abruptly thanked the landlord, put the phone down and rushed Betty back up to her bath.

At that point, it seems that Betty had grown tired of these shenanigans and once she was plonked back in the now-lukewarm bath she completely lost the plot. After angrily throwing a jug of water, a flannel and the plastic octopus at Tom, she then tried to precariously climb out, whilst demanding that he hand over the little pile of berries that he had left on the side. Being a glutton for punishment, and really not thinking very straight, he handed them over on the understanding that she play with them for five minutes before bed, and not eat them.

Tom and Betty then spent the next few hours locked in a battle of the berries, and when I returned home, Betty had only just gone to sleep. As a consequence of the little lady’s monkey business, Tom was eating beans on toast, instead of the elaborate salmon concoction that he had planned. He wasn’t consoled by the fact that I had had a very relaxing evening with my mum.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Café Betty

It started with a toy microwave oven (or fan oven as I prefer to call it), which I found at a car-boot sale a few weeks ago. At first, Betty was a little confused about what it was, having never seen one before (ahem), but now she is pretty au fait with its workings, and loves the thing.

I decided that a lone toy microwave sitting on a shelf in the kitchen, looked a little trashy, and didn’t help the organic and wholesome illusion I was trying to create. I have therefore slowly been adding to the shelf, the odd empty organic muesli box here, a slice of plastic chorizo there, to disguise it, and to create more fun for Betty of course. Betty, however, seems pretty insistent on just microwaving stones from the garden at the moment, and once they have been pretend-zapped, they then invariably end up in the washing machine and go through an unwitting wash cycle (perhaps her attempt to out-do Makka Pakka), which then leads to the electrician being called out.

Because of my slightly obsessive nature, Betty now has her own fully functional, fully equipped café in our kitchen, with the microwave being centre stage. At some point yesterday I got the idea in my head, which escalated and got totally out of control, and so I got my mum to come over and play with Betty whilst I spent three hours creating a masterpiece.

I had to rearrange our kitchen furniture, remove all of Tom’s cookery books (luckily there was enough space for mine to stay), and donate a lot of our own kitchen utensils and pans in order to accommodate and kit out Betty’s new establishment. I set the main part of the café up on the windowsill, which is quite large and (almost) the right height for Betty. I nailed a little blackboard to one side of the window with ‘Today’s Specials’ and on the other side I put a personalised café sign, together with various pictures of food that the café sells.

I hung a little apron on a hook next to the chopping board with a courgette on it, and placed some asparagus in a saucepan on a pretend hob I had painted. I made some bunting to go across the window, and got Tom to make some fitted shelving to run along the back of the window.

I was so unbelievably thrilled with my creation and couldn’t wait to unveil it to the proprietor, Betty Button. Betty was also pretty delighted when presented with my handiwork. Not so much for the fact that she had her very own café, but because half the kitchen, that was previously out of reach and mostly forbidden, was suddenly there on a plate for her. And she had a great time.

In fact, she has got so into the whole thing, she has opened branches of her café all over the house. And no sooner have I collected everything up when her back is turned, and put it back to where it should be, all neatly arranged, she is back again to dismantle it. I console myself with the fact that when she goes to bed I can play with it and do it my way.

Last night, as Tom and I were watching Big Brother, I murmured something to him about having to get a little cookery book to go in Betty’s café. Tom turned to me, with a very serious, and slightly perturbed looked on his face, and said: ‘Betty’s café? or Elsie’s café?’ Then, just as he was drifting off to sleep, he dreamily said: ‘I hope Betty is going to start serving lattes soon.’

Friday 16 May 2008

Trial run

Tom and I are avid campers and we have been desperate to take Betty camping. However I do have genuine concerns about this. Campsites are generally lovely, but their shower-blocks generally are not – they are pretty grim - with other people’s hair and bodily fluids caked all over the floors and walls. I have been having all sorts of unsavory visions of taking Betty for a shower after a lovely sunny sandy day on the beach. I have been worrying about whether or not she would stand still for me whilst I wash her, or whether she would scream and yell and demand that she sit down in the ‘dirt’ and start playing with other people’s dirty hair-bands and grimy cracked bars of old soap.

In addition to this, I have agonized over the sleeping arrangements. Do we put her in the same compartment as us? This would be a real squeeze, and if she sees us, or more to the point, if she hears Tom snoring, she will refuse to sleep. I have tried to imagine what I would do with an angry and loud Betty, in the middle of the night, in the confines of a busy campsite. Or do we put her in a separate compartment (which would be a good 10 metres away from our compartment)? In this case I would lie awake all night worrying that someone might come and snatch her.

When my dad suggested us doing a trial-run and pitching our tent in the garden of his holiday cottage in the welsh mountains, I was thrilled and totally up for it. The cottage does not have any creature comforts such as running water or electricity, and so it was almost like proper camping. In fact, our tent is probably bigger, with more mod cons, than the cottage. This ridiculous-sized tent was purchased to accommodate Queen Betty and all her luggage – and is exactly the type I used to sneer at in campsites, pre-Betty. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that in the past, I may even have referred to big tent owners as ‘chavs’.

Tom did a grand job of pitching the tent, with the help of our darling girl, who sat in the middle of the un-erected tent, refusing to let go of all the pegs, and doing a mighty job of tangling up the guy ropes. All the while, I watched on, basking in the sun, sipping cider and telling Tom how I might do it better. It has to be said, the usually unfazed Tom was a little bit prickly and short-tempered by the time the tent was finally up.

Unfortunately, at this point, it had already gone way past Betty’s bedtime. In an attempt to try to keep some sense of normal routine, I boiled a kettle of stream water and poured it into a saucepan, dipped Betty’s hands and feet into it, and explained to her that this was her bath-time. She humoured me, and went along with it, but I could tell that she wasn’t impressed.
We then put her to bed in the west-wing of the tent, where she giggled raucously for about 20 minutes, whilst punching the sides of the tent, and then went off to sleep, and stayed asleep for the next 12 hours. As did Tom.

I, however, lay awake all night, freezing cold (as I had selflessly given Betty all the available blankets), and was terrified that our daughter might wake at any moment. I wondered what I would do with her in the pitch black, with no torch, and only oil lamps in the cottage which I didn’t know how to ignite. I also had grave concerns that a wolf or a bear might come along, if I did dare to drop-off, and savage us all.

Monday 14 April 2008

Child genius

Before Betty came along I used to get really fed up with listening to parents droning on and on about how advanced their children were for their age. I would endure endless, boring, and frankly unimpressive stories about what their little poppets had been up to. It used to make me laugh, as every parent seemed to do it. ‘Gosh,’ I used to say to them. ‘We really do live in a world full of child geniuses.’

When it comes to my little Betty, though, it really is a different story. She, of course, is unbelievably clever beyond her years. Below is a picture that she has just drawn to demonstrate this.

She did this completely on her own, with absolutely no guidance from me. The colours, the composition, perspective, texture and tone: all were her own inspiration. The deep reds, oranges and yellows used in this drawing create a very warm and loving atmosphere. In the middle of this wondrous backdrop, a black sculpture sits predominantly in the picture signifying, I would argue, her understanding of the world today. The ¬[p0 b’ [sorry, Betty just typed that with her foot] sculpture is positioned close to the picture plane, allowing the viewer to almost experience that understanding; the intense and jumbled background combines with the sculpture’s proximity to the picture plane, to create tangible depth in the picture. The tonal range is wide, with a strong contrast between the dark sculpture and the warm background.

To sum up – although such a summary is clearly an impertinence when dealing with art of this order of sT40ub [sorry again, Betty just commandeered the keyboard with her toy traffic light] …order of subtlety, I was saying – it is abundantly clear that the piece not only challenges established notions of representative art; what we are dealing with seems to me nothing short of a revolution in form and style. Various private collectors have contacted me with a view to purchase. Needless to say, the work is not for sale.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

In your Clarks, get set, go!

I took Betty into town last Thursday to buy her first shoes. We breezed into Clarks and I proudly announced to the sales assistant (who looked about 12) that my very clever daughter was now walking, half expecting some kind of applause. The 12 year old (who was only slightly bigger than Betty) didn’t applaud, but kindly asked me to put Betty on my lap so that she could measure her feet. ‘Ha ha,’ I thought, ‘You say it like this measuring lark is going to be a doddle’. Sure enough, Betty curled her little foot up into a very impressive ball, making it impossible to do anything with it.

This charade went on for about five minutes, and in this time Betty managed to ruffle up the 12 year old’s hair, chew on a nearby flashing trainer, and fling the measuring machine over her head. Eventually, and just before I was about to give up and go home, my darling daughter gave in and let us get the measurements.

With feet measured, we then went on to discuss whether proper shoes would be appropriate or whether Betty should start with cruising shoes. I insisted that she was ready for proper shoes and so we put them on her to see how she fared. Betty refused to stand up in them and just went crawling off around the shop, leaving a whole array of display shoes in her wake.

The assistant then looked at me as though I was deluded and had made the whole ‘walking’ thing up, and said: ‘I think perhaps your daughter should start with cruising shoes.’ I reluctantly gave in, feeling a bit irritated. No sooner had this exchange taken place, Betty took matters into her own hands, and being there for her mum when it counts, she jumped to her feet, shoes still on, and literally started running confidently round and round the shop, with me excitedly running behind her, trying to avoid the flying footwear, and saying: ‘You’re such a good girl!’ while she dismantled the shop.

I bought the shoes, then I strapped on her reigns an let her walk out into the big wide world – the high street – for the very first time. This was a truly memorable moment, watching my baby’s face light up as this whole new world opened up before her. She tottered along, looking all around her, and her main focus wasn’t all the shops with their brightly coloured window displays and their inviting open doors, but all the MacDonald’s burger wrappers, cigarette butts, and bird shit that littered the pavement.

When I had grown weary of grabbing these unsavoury items out of Betty’s little mitts before she could shovel them into her mouth, and when Betty’s little legs were obviously getting tired and becoming wobbly (making her closely resemble a puppet on a string), I swooped her up and tried to put her into her pushchair. Full-blown screaming and kicking ensued, until I gave in, when I realised Betty was stronger than me both in mind and in bodily strength, and I let her walk again, all the way back to the car, with me trying to control a litter-eating, drunken Betty and steer an awkward pushchair at the same time.

Thursday 14 February 2008

The war of the ducks

As I watch Betty and her duck get closer by the day, I become increasingly panicked. She loves that duck, and I actually do believe that if she had to choose between me and that duck, the duck would win hands down. Tom against the duck would be a harder one to predict. However, I’m not sure how much more constant chewing and sucking a duck can withstand, and I fear that his demise may be imminent.

For the last month I have been logging onto eBay every day and scouring the site for look-a-like ducks. Tom says that this shows that I don’t have enough to do with my time. Tom doesn’t realise the seriousness of the situation. Even the postman is in the know, and each time he knocks on the door, clutching a parcel and needing a signature, he chuckles and says: ‘Another duck for the little ‘un then?’ And each time, I laugh nervously, then hurriedly open the package, before the postman has even made it to the garden gate. I either laugh or cry, depending on what mood I’m in, at the horror of ducks that I see before me. Our house is now full of random, singing, dancing, talking, quacking, wiggling duck nightmares, none of which compare in any way to the original.

I have been on the phone to the H&M (which is where the duck was naively purchased) customer services in Sweden several times, spouting off duck product codes to them and pleading with them to start making them again, or demanding that they search their warehouse for a leftover rogue duck that may have escaped before making it to the shop floor. I have even thought about asking them to put up posters in their shop window saying ‘Have you seen this duck? - if so please contact … etc’. The best that Hennes could offer was a dog made from the same material, and of a similar weight. In desperation I bought this stuffed puppy, held it in front of Betty and made quacking noises. Betty remained unmoved, though perhaps slightly angry.

In a last ditch attempt to keep my daughter sweet, and myself sane, I decided to try to make a copy of the duck myself. I spent hours sourcing materials that closely matched, and then got to work on my sewing machine. After about five attempts and some odd-looking fleecy matter, I finally managed to produce something that loosely resembled the real thing.

The following morning I casually left the fake on the window sill to see how Betty would react. At first glance, and from a distance, she got very excited and I think was tricked into thinking that it was the real thing. When I handed it to her saying: ‘Look, it’s your duck,’ she inspected it for about half a second and then callously threw it as far away from her as possible. And as if that wasn’t enough, she then proceeded to run her Wheely Bug backwards and forwards over it.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Duck hit

Throughout my pregnancy I pranced around the place saying: ‘Look at me, I’m pregnant, aren’t I clever, look at my bump, isn’t it great’. I enjoyed every single second of it, and felt very special and unique.

I loved all aspects of it; getting excited about my first bout of morning sickness and telling everyone at work, kidding myself into thinking I had cravings for peaches, following every development from week five (a prawn) to week 16 (a grapefruit) to week 37 (a baby), hearing the fast little heartbeat at antenatal appointments, having to get a whole new wardrobe, feeling the baby kicking and somersaulting, and buying all the baby equipment and ticking items off on my carefully devised Excel spreadsheet as I went. During the whole nine months, I don’t think it ever really dawned on me that at the end of the ever-expanding bump and uncontrollable hype (from me), there would be an actual baby. A real-life Betty Button.

When I was about six months pregnant, Tom and I went to stay with friends in London, and as soon as we arrived I headed straight for H&M, as I knew from several pre-pregnancy day-dream wanderings around the department (feeling very self-conscious with my flat stomach and small boobs) that they had a brilliant maternity section. Whilst there, I wandered over into the baby section, and spent ages trying to decide on a soft toy to go in our baby’s cot. To this day, buying the said duck is a moment I remember vividly. I felt odd and silly about it, like I was completely deluded for even contemplating buying a toy for my bump. What would a bump want with a toy duck? Buying the cuddly toy felt far more personal, and a much bigger deal than buying something practical like a cot or nipple cream.

A year and a half later, this duck is looking very bedraggled, but is Betty’s most treasured possession. Amongst her many cuddly toys, she has singled out the duck as her comforter and friend. She cannot go to sleep without sucking on its now very grey wings and squishing the smelly damp thing into her face. If it has been washed, I have to give it back to her wet. She drags it around with her and won’t put it down for a second. If she does put it down, she keeps one beady little eye on it at all times.

Almost every time I look at Betty and her duck together, so smitten, it reminds me of all those strange feelings I had that day standing in H&M, not really having any idea what I was doing, and not realising how real everything actually was. I can now appreciate that buying a toy duck for my baby-to-be was a pretty logical thing to do.

It’s just a shame she doesn’t feel the same way about her very expensive, four foot wide, rainbow coloured, all singing, all dancing, inflatable lion.