Category Archives: conversations

Conversations with Mabel

Me: What’s going on with the soap, Mabel? Why is it all over the sink? Is there a problem with it?
Her: The problem is that you had me at the exact wrong time.
Me: Oh. Really.
Her: Yes. If you’d had me when you had Dash, I’d be 18 by now.
Me: No, you’d be seven.
Her: Well if you had me when you were born, I’d be 18 by now. 


Mabel: I hope Santa knows that I want infinity toys and things I like for Christmas.
Me, prosaically: Hope so. 


Monologue while playing: 

“Sweetie, how could you have done that? You’re just a horse.
Oh, there’s the phone.
You’re a sapling, just a sprout.” [This is a line from a song in Tangled, I belatedly realised.]
“The next morning, she said …”
“Neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh
Neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh
Neigh neigh neigh”
“Sweetie, you’re going in time out, but I love you. It’s dangerous. Think about it. If you did that, you would drown. And you’d never come back to life.”
Sings: “I would never/ Do that ag-ainnn”
[This must be a musical.]


– You have to do what I want.
– Why?
– Because I’m the smallest and I complain more.


“On the contrary” (repeated, out of context, all afternoon)


– Why is Christmas so important, anyway?
– Well, because it’s remembering when baby Jesus was born. He was pretty important to a lot of people.
– Why don’t we remember when Heracles was born?
– …
He was half god.

I knew that Greek mythology would come back to haunt me.

Mabel painting on the deck


The following episode was recounted to me, because I was asleep – or at least doing my best to pretend to be asleep – for most of it. But it’s classic Dash, so I’ll do my best to reproduce it.

Early yesterday morning – a little too early – Mabel woke up. As usual. I went into her room, agreed that she should go to the bathroom if she needed to, and welcomed her back to her bed with a mumble, as I’d lain down in it and was trying to go straight back to sleep.

I could tell that it wouldn’t work for her, though; she’s been on an early track since we came back from Ireland. Luckily, so has her father. “Daddy’s up,” I told her. “You can go downstairs.” And off with her. I snuggled down for my next hour and a half of sleep, or at least snooze.

About a minute later (I thought), I heard Dash wake up and call quietly, “Mom, Daddy!” (Yes, I’m “Mom” now. I’m still getting used to it.) I laid low and heard B come upstairs. There was some excited talk about how it was wobbly and it was just attached at the corner and then it wasn’t.

                                         Mouth with gaps at top centre right and bottom left of centre.

Apparently – this is where I move to reported speech – the tooth had fallen out. Dash was under the impression that it was the middle of the night rather than about 6.15am. He thought he should put it under his pillow for the tooth fairy right away.

Now, Dash knows all about the tooth fairy and how it really works. But he is busy amassing dollars and imaginary fairies who exchange dollars for teeth are an excellent source of revenue.

B agreed that he should do that, and left the room. Dash put himself happily back to sleep in no time flat, and B went back downstairs to Mabel and coffee and early-morning Internet or whatever it is they do while I’m trying to claw back those minutes of sleep cruelly denied to me.

About five minutes later, as far as I was aware, Dash woke up for the day. In reality it was maybe 30 minutes, and in Dash’s head it was the other half of the night. He must have glanced at his pillow, and failed to see anything. He immediately went downstairs complaining that his tooth had disappeared.

B went upstairs. There was the tooth, in plain sight, about two inches from where Dash’s eyes had apparently stopped looking. B took a silver dollar coin from our room, put it on the pillow, and palmed the tooth.

Then he went back downstairs and told Dash to look again.

“It’s a dollar! The tooth fairy came!”

Dash grinning toothily.

In some respects, he’s very easy to please.

Peas and carrots

Mabel: Me and A__  just … fit together.

Aw, I think. What an adorable sentiment about her bestie.

Mabel: Like, he likes fire engines and ambulances, and I like it when people get hurt.


I keep trying to twist this around to getting her to say that she wants to be a doctor to help all these hurt people, but we haven’t got there yet. At least she’s not actively saying that she likes to be the one doing the hurting. No, she’ll just be over there observing your horrible accident.

A little ghoulish, perhaps, but not downright psychotic. I think.

The Star Wars connection

We went to the playground on what turned out to be the last day before the weather got properly cold. We had nowhere else to be and nothing else to do. It turns out that if you stay long enough at a playground, the children will find friends.

Dash was hogging the digger in the sand area. I hate those diggers – the little kids are desperate to have a turn, but once they finally get their little bums up in that coveted seat, they find that their arms are too short and their feet don’t reach the ground and they have no leverage to dig the sand, pivot, release. So they frustratedly have to return it to the big boys. I don’t know why nobody makes miniature ones for the poor two-year-olds.

Dash on the digger, Mabel sprinkling sand

A small four-year-old boy hovered in the background, and eventually Dash was persuaded to give him a turn. As I predicted, he didn’t last long before ceding it again, and I suggested that he help bank up the pile of sand from the ground instead. A few minutes later he was helping Mabel bury herself under a thin layer of fine, cold, fallen-leaf-riddled sand.

And then the three of them were off to the swings, and somehow Star Wars came up in conversation.

“I’m not so much interested in Star Wars,” said Mabel. “I like Ponies.”

Our new friend, the small four-year-old, turned out to have quite an extensive knowledge of Obi Wan and the others, and soon, in spite of their difference in ages and heights, he and Dash were firm friends. They all ran to the slides next. Mabel and Dash encouraged the friend to climb up the inside of the enormous tunnel slide.

Mabel at the top of the slide

I sat nearby, beside a very groomed mother, reminiscent of Annette Bening or Miranda from Sex and the City, and we laughed in unison as the dialogue floated down the tunnel and over to us. Mabel was encouraging the younger boy:

“Just a few more steps. You’re nearly there…” They were about a fifth of the way up the huge tunnel at this point, but she was lying through her teeth and he was gamely giving it his all. Then a kerfuffle and a wobble in the middle of the tunnel, and they all came down in a happy pile, like puppies.

“Let’s go back to the sand pit,” said Dash, employing the Irish vernacular.
“The sand pit, where we first met,” he clarified romantically.

Miranda and I were enchanted.
“You wore blue,” I said.
“All those years ago,” she reminisced.

And they were off again in the autumn sunshine.


Mabel was feeling a bit off-colour on Monday, because she was about to come down with a stonking head cold. I didn’t know that, of course, and I was co-oping at her school. As far as I was concerned, she was just being ornery.

I tried hard to look at it from her side: when she’s at home she’s Home Mabel and when she’s at school she’s School Mabel, but when I’m at school too, she’s both, or neither, and she’s pulled in all directions. It’s got to be hard.

But she beats the Shakespearian Insult Generator for epithets, sometimes.

At playground time she told me, of her best friend, who was sweetly trying to help, “He’s a big lump of chocolate.”

This was meant to be an insult. I pointed out that it sounded quite delicious, so she came up with a few more choice phrases for him and then turned on me.

“You’re an egg that’s been boiled and cooked in the oven.”

 I was duly chastened.

Mabel sticks out her tongue at you

Perfect moment

As I put Mabel to bed tonight, she looked up at me and announced, “Mummy, you are very beautiful.”

“Thank you,” I said, doing my best to practice taking a compliment graciously. “So are you.”

“Some day I’ll be a very beautiful lady,” she said.

“Yes, you will.”

All I have to do is not mess with that perfect confidence.

Mabel in a hat

Why on earth did I not try this before?

Scene: Yesterday, getting into the car to go to school. I open the passenger door to put something on the seat. Mabel takes her chance to jump in the “wrong” way.

Me: Don’t… oh, okay, fine, just don’t squash my stuff in the bag there.

Mabel notices the bag and purposely smushes a fist down on top of the carefully ironed and folded clothes I’m bringing to the consignment store.

Me: Sigh.

Mabel switches direction and heads for the driver’s seat instead of her own.

Me: [lightbulb moment] Mabel, don’t sit in your seat.

Mabel looks at me, confused.

Me, more clearly: Mabel, whatever you do, you’re not allowed to sit in your carseat. Don’t come over here.

Mabel gives me a tiny grin and clambers very purposefully towards her seat. She sits down beautifully.

Me, doing up her straps: Don’t sit here. You’d better not sit here.

We get to school and Mabel shows signs of reluctance.

Me, wondering if it can possibly keep working: You’re not to go to school today. You’ll be in big trouble if you go into that classroom.

She gets out of the car, eager to break a rule, and heads for the building, and down the corridor, having the time of her life as I call after her.

Me: Don’t go inside. You’d better not go through that door…

And so on. Her courage failed her when it was time for me to leave, and I did have to read a story and then have her teacher peel her off me and distract her with snacktime plans (muffins!), but it worked amazingly well. 

Just something to keep in my arsenal and pull out only ocassionally, I think, in the hopes that it might save us all a meltdown some other day.


(I can’t find a video clip, but here’s the audio for exactly what this calls to mind, just to save anyone from having to go and look for it.)

Homer Simpson

Word Girl

I know I’m biased, but I think Mabel is pretty witty for a four-year-old. She has always enjoyed words and sought out the big ones, but nowadays she finds rhymes and double meanings and asks why things are called what they are and why they aren’t called something else.

If she doesn’t become a lawyer (given her love of argument and her pathological need to have the last word) or an actress (given her flair for the dramatic and love of storytelling) or an author (obviously), she’ll be a linguist or an etymologist. She might be all of those things.

She employs puns to their fullest:

  • Watching DangerMouse – DM and Penfold land on top of the Toad and announce, “You’re under arrest.”
    Mabel: He is, because he’s lying down so he’s resting, and he’s under them!
  • Me, starting the car again after a quick return home for something it turned out we hadn’t actually left behind: “To the pool, take two.”
    Mabel: “But you’re taking three.”

She toys with idioms:

  • The day after we saw our friend and her new(ish) baby: “I remember meeting Baby V like it was yesterday.”

She plays with homonyms:

  • “Can you compare a pear?”

She finds words within words:

  • Europe! That’s like syrup! Do they eat syrup in Europe? And watch the movie Up

She knowingly amuses me with hyperbole:

  • In a grump, casting around for things to hate: “I don’t like Miss P’s bike. I don’t like the colour of your glasses. I don’t like the shape of our car. … I don’t like the colour of seethrough.”

And now she’s working the similes:

  • “It’s as dark as a bedroom.”

or, to insult my cooking

  • “It’s as yummy as bum.” 
Mabel eating a s'more
Possibly a little yummier than bum


Mabel got into a little bit of trouble at school yesterday. It was an unfortunate snowballing of incidents that led to her being brought inside from the classroom and culminated in her “writing” a note of apology to the (not very) injured party. (I think the teacher did the writing and Mabel signed her name, which she’s very good at doing.)

I was pleased when I heard about the note, actually, because I know that asking Mabel, or ordering Mabel, to say sorry when something has gone wrong, is hardly ever going to end well. Once she’s mad, she just gets madder and madder and more intransigent and more upset. Writing her Sorry sounds like it was a good way to redirect and refocus, give her a chance to cool down and save face, and enable her to say something that quite likely through heaving sobs she literally wasn’t able to do otherwise.

But that’s not my point.

The point of this long and winding story, the punchline, shall we say, is what she told me this morning when we were talking about it a little more and I was extolling the virtue that is forgiveness, because she was holding a grudge that was the main reason she wouldn’t apologize. She told me, slightly sheepishly,

– Well, also, I didn’t say sorry for a while because Miss B’s lap was nice and warm and I liked sitting there.
– Even though she was being angry with you?
She shrugs.
– Ya-hah.

Right. Well. I see.

I don’t know where to go from here. I was never that child. Any hint of disapproval from an adult and I’d be all over the saying sorry. I need people to think I’m good. I need them to think I’m nice. Maybe it’s a failing, but I’ve always been that way. My daughter, not so much.

She doesn’t care what people think of her. That’s an amazing quality to have, so long as we can harness it for good. She does what suits her, and bends us all to her will, and as I watched the other children ask her what they should do this morning in the game of dolls that she was playing at school, I thought that she’ll make one heck of a managing director.

Parenting, huh? We have to be their biggest cheerleaders and their harshest critics, and sometimes I’m just not sure which one I’m supposed to be doing when.

The Talk

What is this “Talk” they speak of? There are so many talks you can (should? might? are forced to) have with your kids.

For instance

  • How babies are made

and don’t think you’ve got away without covering

  • How babies get out of there

and of course, the quite tricky

  • Why people would ever want to do that

and also

  • No they don’t do it at the wedding, they wait a few hours and do it in private; and they’ve usually done it already by then

Then then there’s the whole road down which you might not want to travel that begins with

  • What’s a bad word?
  • Why I won’t give you any examples of bad words


  • Why I think you’ll probably know what I mean when you hear one

And finally (for this non-exhaustive list) there’s the bathtime-inspired selection of Talks:

  • Girls don’t have penises
  • I promise, that’s not a penis
  • Why you shouldn’t let your sister touch your penis
  • Why you definitely shouldn’t encourage your sister to touch your penis
  • Why I don’t care that you don’t mean it and won’t actually let her grab it
  • Enough already this bath is over get out right now