Tag Archives: Mabel

In which I have a heart of stone

Our friends two doors up had a very old hamster. A few weeks ago Hammy the hamster moved on to the big hamster wheel in the sky and mere days later the neighbours had a new hamster, and a bunny as well, for good measure.

Mabel, her birthday fast approaching, came home from meeting the new bunny and sat down and wrote an entirely fictional book about a girl called Olivia.

Cover page of Mabel's book

“Olivia Wants a Kitten.” No pressure.

Olivia lying in bed dreaming of a kitten.

[Olivia loved kittens.]

Olivia and her very tall mother.

[Olivia’s mom said she has to wait till she’s older.]

Happy Olivia contemplates her birthday.

[It is almost her birthday.]

Happy party picture, with presents.

[Olivia got the present she wanted.]

Christmas is coming up. I’m not sure how long I can hold out against this sort of psychological warfare.


Mabel turns six tomorrow. I can’t tell if six is very big or still pretty small. When Dash turned six, of course it was very big. It was the biggest I’d ever had a child be. But now, as with all her ages, Mabel has so much expected of her, and yet is still the baby.

Five is able; six is sturdy; seven is whimsical, etherial, the dreamer. Eight is practical. Nine… I don’t know about nine, it remains to be seen. But these aren’t things I’ve seen, these are just notions I have, word associations. Six is so much more than five was, because five was only just after four.

Mabel has taken to school like the proverbial duck. I had no way of predicting this, because it wasn’t very true in nursery school, but it turns out she’s just as much a rule-follower as her brother, now. She wants to get everything right. She tries so hard to remember all the things she’s meant to do. She’s enormously motivated by the points system they run which allows them to buy things in the school store. She comes home and starts playing school again, except this time she’s the teacher and her hapless brother is the student. (She has a special teacher accent, which bears no resemblance to any actual teacher she’s ever had, but adds verisimilitude, apparently.) She makes worksheets for him and sets him math problems.

She’s starting to read, as if by magic. I can see it happening so much faster for her than it did for Dash* – she has six months’ advantage over him because of her November birthday, for one thing; and she has the probably-not-dyslexic advantage too, I’m pretty sure. She has always been more attuned to words than he was, more willing to pick up a pencil and draw; letter shapes are coming so much more easily and neatly for her, and she’s noticing all the words that are strewn in front of her in this literate life, in a way that I despaired of him ever doing. (He still rarely does.)

I went on her class field trip last Monday, to a pumpkin patch. She was so good she couldn’t be gooder, the whole day. No wonder she comes home and picks a fight with her brother over sofa space – that much being good has to balance out somewhere.

She brushes her hair and brushes her teeth and dresses herself and is very self-sufficient in many ways. The biggest development of all, though, is that I can put her to bed and walk away, at least some nights, now. It took six years, but the baby is finally learning to self-soothe.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have a baby anywhere any more.

Mabel as Snow White

*The funny thing is that, while it’s happening faster in school terms (as her birthday is closer to the start of the school year) she’s the exact same age as Dash was when he first read Go, Dog. Go!, which I was very impressed by her reading to me last night for the very first time. She does it with more ease, but it’s only in my mind that she’s doing it earlier.

Imaginative play

Mabel is really good at playing. She has a gift, I would even say, for play. Solo play, by herself, with just her imagination and all the toys at once. On the floor. Together. All the furniture out of the dollhouse. All the doll clothes out of their tub, which is overturned so that the dinosaurs can stand on it while they’re lined up for school and so the clothes can become a nice soft beautifully laid out bed for a family of stuffed bunnies (who adopted a platypus).

Scene in the dollhouse

All the other stuffed animals are ranged across the floor because she was looking for Poby the red panda she got at the zoo and he was at the bottom of the basket. All the babies are on the carpet because their container is now a hutch, on its side and covered by the big fleece red blanket that belongs on her bed, for the red panda and his associates. There are acorns strewn around because they were snacks for tigers or squirrels or tiny beavers.

Toy beavers

Four three-inch-square blankets I knitted with my own two needles for the family of tiny rabbits (or beavers or owls), not being used for their original purpose but for something else understood only by their ruler. Plastic babies wrapped in baby blankets that once held my real babies. Teddies dressed in doll clothes; horses dressed in bunny clothes, turtles in hats. Markers and crayons and sheets of coloured paper and bits of yarn cut up and taped together and stuck to other bits of yarn.

Dollhouse scene

She’s like a very messy omnipotent being, and her realm is vast and ever-expanding.

Tonight I picked everything up for the first time in days. I put little people into one tub and little plastic animals into another and big animals in another and stuffed animals in their laundry baskets and babies in their baby baskets and furniture in the dollhouse and blankets in bedrooms. I put all the tiny bits of lego on the shelf and the acorns in the trash.

I’ll probably be in big trouble with the omnipotent being tomorrow, but for tonight, the wide open expanse of floor space is worth it.




Entirely predictable existential crisis

My baby is going to kindergarten. I’ve been totally fine with that all the way to here. Not for me sentimental sniffling on turning in her registration. No tears at preschool graduation. We were all ready to move on. The world keeps on turning, you know, and you’ve got to keep up.

Yesterday we trundled up to the school for her intake test, or whatever it is they’re calling the tiny proto-entrance-exam thing they do now, where they see if they know their colours and their shapes and where they are on the learning-to-read continuum, ostensibly so that they can ensure an even spread of abilities across the four kindergarten classes.

The nice teacher began by asking Mabel how her summer had been, and Mabel replied with a slightly aggressive meow-growl. Which might not have been exactly what they’re looking for on the polite chatty scale, but she does tend to resort to animal impersonations when feeling shy. However, she went on to name all the things she was asked to name, to know all the sounds of the letters but not how to read the actual words, and to acquit us well by saying that her favourite book is a chapter book with an impressively long title.

But as we left I have to admit I felt a niggle. Just a tiny niggle of “Oh I hope she’ll be okay” and “They’d better see how amazing she is” and then that little wail of “What will I DOOOOO?” that I’ve been avoiding this whole time. I’m not planning on rushing out and getting a job with a commute and a dress code and all that jazz, but I really do need a plan for not just being a lady who lunches all day while my kids are at school. I have to bring in a few bob, like, for the sake of self respect and college funds and having something to live on in our old age and so on.

My plan, as it stands, is a vague one involving exercise (running or yoga or something), writing, and editing; the editing would earn a crust, the writing might if I could figure out some way to get paid for it. The exercise would stop me bursting out of my jeans and make up for all the muffins I’ll inevitably bake to go with all the cups of tea I’ll inevitably drink.

It’ll be a new era. I don’t think I want to think about it too much just yet.

Mabel standing in a window

Ready to leap


The Daily Introvert

I’m pretty sure, as I may have mentioned before, that Dash is an extrovert and Mabel is an introvert. Dash needs constant interaction; Mabel needs time to play by herself. Dash feeds off the energy in a group; Mabel has to re-centre herself alone with her toys after a bout of socialization.

It’s not something I ever thought about much before. People may have been classed as shy or outgoing, but the intro/extro distinction wasn’t really talked about. And I don’t like making flat distinctions because people are shades of grey, not black or white. When I take those online personality tests, I come out at pretty much halfway between introvert and extrovert, which seems to make sense – I like company, but I like being on my own too.

But it helps when dealing with Mabel to understand that sometimes just being with other people is more draining than it is for me, or for her brother. And that because she’s five, which is after all not very old, she may deal with it in a way that is less than, shall we say, mature.

But other times she astounds me.

She was more tired than I realised on the fourth of July. We went to a party down the street and Mabel was not really having a good time. She took agin some poor boy she’d never met before, probably because he existed, and demanded that he move his chair farther away. She cast baleful glances at everyone and barely even enjoyed playing in the sprinkler. I could see that this was only going to go downhill and would end in bodily harm to an innocent party if I didn’t intervene, so as soon as we’d both eaten, I told her it was time for us to go home.

She didn’t even fight me. She clearly wasn’t having fun, and I didn’t have to drag her away at all; she just came. Almost as soon as we’d left the orbit of the party, I could see the tension leave her and she became a perfectly reasonable child again instead of the irrational, spoiling-for-a-fight rage machine I’d been dealing with.

I asked her if sometimes she didn’t like being around lots of people, especially strangers. She agreed that it wasn’t her favourite thing.

“Mabel,” I said. “Sometimes I wonder how you’re going to get on in Kindergarten, when there are so many people you don’t know.”

“I know what I’m going to do,” she replied. “I’m going to be very quiet until I see what to do and what the rules are.”

I told her that was a really good plan.


We had friends over to dinner the other night, with their four children. The kids all had fun playing Harry Potter and related games, but Mabel clashed with the youngest a couple of times, over nothing reasonable. After the second time, just as I was wondering how I could keep her out of trouble and enjoy the rest of my evening (with good company and good wine), she told me she wanted her bath. So I put her in the bath and left her alone for 20 minutes, happily playing with her bath toys. Then she came out, put on her pj’s and rejoined the fun, much more personable for the break.


We dropped her brother to camp this morning. All the counselors said “Hi Mabel!” when they saw us and were sorry to hear she wasn’t coming back this week, and one asked her if she was a lion cub or a wolf pup today. I think they got to know her pretty well, actually.


Faking it

Yesterday in the car, Mabel made one of those piercingly self-aware comments she is sometimes prone to.

“Sometimes my voice sounds confident, but inside I’m feeling shy.”

This girl. She slays me.

And I was really glad she’d said it because it was a great opening to tell her something I wished I’d known sooner, something I want to become one of her mantras.

“That’s great, I said. “Because if you sound confident, and you pretend you’re confident, you’ll turn out to be more confident. Fake it till you make it.”

(I may not have said that last part. I didn’t want to confuse her with unfamiliar idioms. But we talked about feeling shy and looking shy, and how nobody has a face that looks shy – she thought she did – but if you act shy by hiding behind your grownup or not wanting to talk, then people might think you’re shy. But also, it’s okay to be shy, of course…)

Later on we went swimming and found some friends at the pool. Mabel wanted to tell her friend’s mom about The Princess Bride, but she wanted me to do the telling.

“Remember what we talked about this morning?” I asked her. “About acting confident even if you don’t feel it? Why don’t you ask her yourself?”

And she waded out from behind my back and went up to her friend’s mum and asked her straight out, without so much as an introduction to the out-of-left-field topic, “Have you seen The Princess Bride?” They had a great old chat, and my friend remarked that Mabel was very talkative today.

(I suppose for other people sometimes she’s quiet. It’s not a side of her I see too often.)

Mabel running through long grass

Just like Little House on the Prairie, right?

Light relief

When I took this photo I thought Mabel was looking adorably Alice-in-Wonderland-ish and studious in the hairband and her almost-matching “party” dress, reading a book so seriously.

Mabel reads a book

Then I looked at it again and it seemed a little, well, ghoulish. Especially since that’s the First-Aid manual she’s perusing so carefully, finding out exactly what it looks like when a broken bone pierces the skin, for instance.

So if they’re remaking The Addams Family any time soon, I think I’ve found the new Wednesday.

Welcome to the dollhouse

Monkey’s pinkeye was noncontagious (and totally cured, for that matter) just in time to attend a classmate’s birthday party on Saturday. On Friday afternoon it occurred to me that I should procure a present.

Me: What should we give A____ for her birthday, Monkey?
Him: Ummm. Something with princesses.
Me: Oh, is she into princesses?
Him: Or something pink. Because she’s a girl. And girls like … girly things.

I think it’s possible he just formed that adjective off his own bat, because I try not to refer to particular things as girly (or boyly, which is of course the alternative). But he managed to insert exactly the expected amount of scorn for all things pink and princessy into it that you would expect from an almost-five-year-old boy.

So off I went to Target the next morning with a special dispensation to shop alone so long as I didn’t take too long about it, to trawl the aisles for something suitable and pick up milk and bananas and maybe a couple of other things (tra la laa… I tripped and fell into this dressing room and I just happened to find a t-shirt in my hand) on the way. But seriously, it took a lot of thought just to get the darned present.

Because the choice of a birthday present for someone else’s child is rife with potential hazards. Especially when you’re shopping in Target instead of some adorable independent toystore full of overpriced German wooden toys and also plenty of cute stuff you’d actually like your children to receive (coughFranklinscough). You don’t want to be That Parent who started the child on a year(s)-long obsession with something unsuitable – ever, or just at this early age – like, say, Bratz dolls, or Barbies, or even Disney princesses, unless you know that they already like and own some of it already (and you have the parent’s blessing).

I stomped around the store getting all het up about how, as soon as you’ve passed the baby and toddler toys, everything is strictly segregated by gender: two aisles of unmitigated pink pink pink, followed by three aisles of cars, guns, and lego. Even outside the toy department, I was assailed by licenced characters on most of the kids’ items: you’d be hard pressed to buy so much as a pair of underpants (not that I think Monkey should go round giving the girls in his class new underpants for their birthdays) or an insulated water bottle without encountering the damn princesses or some other my-little-pony-esqe design.

In the end, I was pleased to find an oversized pearl necklace and matching crown for dressing up, with no branding beyond that of the basic Target toys. Admittedly, it was pink and girly, but I’m pretty sure A___ enjoys dressing up (if my stints in the classroom are anything to go by), and I thought it would pass muster with her mum too. (And I managed to remember to get a gift receipt for once, despite the rookie employee on the register who had no idea what I was asking for, let alone how to make one come out of the machine.)

Anyway, the whole experience made me realise that for some reason, I have much more scorn for the princesses, and a great desire to keep Mabel away from them and all things Barbie for as long as possible, than I do for the boyly (see?) obsessions like Spider-Man and Batman that we have running rampant in the house already. But is this just because I’ve been worn down by two years of superheroes, or is there something innately worse about the girly stuff? For instance, I was very close to buying Mabel a pink Batman t-shirt the other day (but they didn’t have her size), but I would never ever spontaneously buy her a princess t-shirt – at least not until that point in the future when I’m worn down by nagging and whining and I see a cute one.

Thinking back, this is how Spider-Man started with us. It crept in insidiously, a found action figure here, a pack of bribery underpants there, a comic-strip t-shirt on the sale rail. In each instance, I weighed the attractiveness of the item in question (I’m mostly talking about clothes here) against the delight I knew would follow its reception. (The underpants were unmitigatedly hideous, but they were hidden. And in a good cause. I just bought him Lego Batman ones to replace them with the other day. Also ugly, but I don’t care so much any more. See? Beaten down.)

At a yard sale a few months ago, I paused for a moment at a box of old Barbies, and then decided that there’s no rush: she loves her dolls for now, and at some point someone will give her a Barbie (or a Sindy: I had two Sindys and loved them hard for many years) and that will be okay. I’m not going to be all “nothing but anatomically correct dolls made of biodegradable materials dyed in earth tones and fashioned by authentic Nepalese peasants for my precious snowflake” about it, and I don’t have moral and feminist objections to the princesses (as some people, perhaps very sensibly, do). Since we already own The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, I’d be a bit late on this front, though Mabel hasn’t seen either of them yet. (The reason we have them is a long story. Let me just say that where other people’s husbands see their children as the perfect excuse to pick up on (or, let’s be honest, continue with) their Star Wars obessions, my husband is not only a comic-book geek but is also rather fond of some Disney soundtracks. So certain movies get added to the “kids'” collection much as my father bought “me” a fishing rod for my tenth birthday. Anyhoo. Moving on. Not bitter at all.)

I think it’s kind of cool that Mabel likes Batman and plays with the action figures just as much as she does with her dolls. (Wolverine and Aquaman can be babies too, you know.) We have one Tinkerbell book (at Monkey’s request, actually, a year or two ago), but that’s as much Disney fairy dust as has been sprinkled on our household so far, and I’m not eager to add more before I have to.

Today it was raining and Mabel pulled out Monkey’s old, broken Scooby-Doo umbrella. They both fought over it all the way to school, and I ended up promising Mabel that we’d go and buy her an umbrella of her own soon. She was delighted to hear it. And then she asked, “Can it be pink?”

You can take the girl out of the pretty, but you can’t take the pretty out of the girl, it seems.


I know I’m not the only mother who sometimes feels like she gave birth to the Duracell bunny. (That’s the Engergizer bunny in America. For some reason, even though Duracell batteries exist here too, the bunny – still pink, still banging a drum – belongs to Energizer. I don’t explain these things, I just tell you about them. Anyway.) There’s Mabel tonight, after a mere 20-minute nap from which she coughed herself awake, to my dismay – dismay much more at my lost naptime than her coughing – lying in bed the very picture of giggly awakitude, all kick-a-little, talk-a-little, and when I say I have to leave, the howls of anguish and clutching hands and promises of eye-closing force me to stay a little longer, though I know that really she needs a bit of a cry to reset her system and let her relax. Eventually I leave the room, she wails, “Mummy’s not here” piteously for 30 seconds, I go in and try again, and she was lying still in my arms, mostly asleep, within a minute. Of course, it took me another ten to extricate myself from that situation. Thus:

I sit up and start to move away.
Mabel’s eyelids flutter open: “Where are you going?” Curious, not accusing.
“Nowhere. Just … moving over.” I adjust my trajectory and lie down on the other side of her.
Two minutes later I slide myself off the bed. She looks up, betrayed, but a little sleepier.
I lean on the bed and stroke her hair. “I’m here.” Making no promises about staying, mind.
Two more minutes, and I can stand up and tiptoe away. Lucky I’m not wearing my creaky leather belt tonight, or I might still be there.

I had both children with me, at times directly on top of me, all day today, apart from those blessed 20 minutes wherin I started to make my lunch, started to bake some apple bread, started to put on the kettle for a cup of tea, and (all right) probably started to check Facebook again. Monkey had woken up with a suspicously goopy and pink eye, so I had to keep him home. Pinkeye, as I have mentioned before, is not the sort of illness you can hope to fly under the radar with. I did take them both to the supermarket for milk (vital) and applesauce (I suddenly got a hankering for the aforementioned bread), but he was under strict instructions not to touch anything.

What’s more, he had woken up at 5am, but luckily that falls beyond my purview as I was sleeping with Mabel. I opened one eye when I heard his stage whisper to B down the hall, thought how strange it was that it was still pitch dark, and went back to sleep. When Mabel and I emerged in daylight, at 7.30, I was congratulating myself on finally getting up “on time” for the first time this post-time-change week. I looked at B and asked if Monkey had woken up in the middle of the night. “We’ve been up since five,” he said, both weary and longsuffering.

So I’m tired now, because spending all day with two overtired children does that to you. We had a nice trip to the playground, where they mostly spurned the slides and swings in favour of a waterlogged hole in a tree stump that could be satisfyingly filled with soil and other goodies, and stirred around with sticks. They cooperated excellently on this project, though the end result was somewhat up for debate:

“It’s a potion to stop the criminals from stealing Mummy’s money. And Daddy’s money. And yours and mine, if we had any,” announced Monkey to Mabel.
“It’s for the babies,” replied Mabel, decisively, adding more fruits and vegetables.
“Not vegetables. Gregetables.” She likes to subvert your expectations.

Then I took them home and dumped them in the bath. And thence, after some manner of dinner, to bed. Which brings you up to date. The end.


Playgrounds aren’t much good when they’re wet, but last weekend we ended up in a wet playground anyway. We had gone to a local park for some fresh air and because B wanted to locate a hard-to-find geocache near the baseball diamond. I decided that faced with the option of Mabel running around on wet metal bleachers above asphalt or playing on a wet playground with nice soft mulch under her, I’d go with the latter. She ended up with sopping wet trouser-bottoms and front-of-coat, but that was better than concussion. We were headed straight home anyway.

She stopped where the water had collected at the bottom of a slide and started to scoop wood chips off the ground and drop them in. It gave me a total flashback to her brother at the same age, who would happily spend twenty minutes – or as long as I could stand it – in just-above-freezing weather at our local slides plopping wood chunks (I think they bought the cheap stuff; heavy on the wood, not so much with the chip) into the puddle on the slide and then sloshing the water around with a stick. His sleeve and most of his front would be soaked with icy water, but he didn’t care.

I happened upon a little video of him at 2 or so, singing Insy Winsy Spider and accompanying himself on his cooling-rack guitar (okay, I’m probably the only person who could have told you what the song was, and in hindsight I only knew because of the title of the clip). But where did that funny, happy, chubby, irrational toddler go? How can he be almost five – a proper kid with pointy elbows and knees and a whole complex life of his own just starting to open up and take him where I can’t follow?

Mabel monologued as follows the other day: “Next year I’ll be three and I’ll go to school and you’ll ask me what I did at school and I’ll say I don’t remember.” (She knows, because that’s what her big brother does.) One of these days Mabel won’t be my funny happy sweet toddler either. I’ll be sad when I look at the photos – but just imagine the amazing, complicated, challenging girl she’s going to turn into.

It’s a bit of a scary thought, actually, so I think I’ll just stay here with the manic teething toddler for now, if you don’t mind.