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Monday, February 12, 2007

A fate worse than death

I busy myself in the garden whilst spouse supervises inside. It may be only February but Spring has sprung. Tender shoots have shot. I pause to admire a ladybird. [translation = lady bug] Oh the delight of living in California! Then I step on a snail. Tender shoots and gastropods at the same time. I drop the secateurs and dash inside to execute plan B.

Spouse has plans for two children, so I am left with the short straw. I explain the situation to junior, but he is not impressed with his options; “not dah garden center,” he wails as he runs away at the speed of light. I do not punish merely torture him with this trip. It’s not deliberate but necessary, before the slugs and snails consume all green matter that emerges in the garden.

I make sure that he is appropriate attired for such an expedition; shoes not sandals, long trousers, long sleeved jacket, hat and gloves to ensure minimal skin exposure. I throw the umbrella in the car for good measure, as they have hoses in the garden centre and he mistakenly believes that an umbrella will ward off the evils of wetness.

We set off to the garden of Eden which holds more therapeutic power for me than any spa. Junior does not share this view. For him, there are so many things wrong with the garden center that it would be hard to list them all. The potential for becoming dirty or wet is high on the list objections. Because it is outside, there is also the chance that a breeze may ruffle his hair. Plants and soil [translation = dirt] can smell disagreeable. Flowers, not that there will be many at this time of year, may have perfume. Even if the fragrance is pleasant for most people, for him it is often too powerful. [I think?] The ground is uneven with channels to remove excess water, so that little rivers criss cross the pathways. The shelves drip. The hoses and taps drip. There can be beeping fork lift trucks moving palettes around. They move in unpredictable directions. They jerk and spout plumes of black sooty smoke.

I determine to make the exercise as swift and painless as possible.

I stand at the check out queue clutching a sack of slug pellets under one arm, my other hand securely grasps junior's as he jitters and skitters in a two foot radius. All of a sudden he stops. A gasp of true awe matches his eyes out on stalks. He cannot talk, but he does point. I look but I do not see. His hands cover his mouth as he tried to contain his excitement. I look again but I cannot see whatever it is that has transformed the torture trip into a treat. A little rain dance of joy starts in his tippy tapping toes and then convulses up his body. He’s off at a gallop. I drop the sack and run after him but he stops just as abruptly so that I nearly fall flat on my face. Before him is a big golden coloured ball, a garden decoration I believe.

He admires his warped reflection and grins from ear to ear, “it is dah golden one!” he whispers. I peek at the bottom to find the price and gasp myself. I am about to splutter about the value of a dollar to my six year old as I watch him squeeze his eyes shut, cover them with his hands and then explode in delight again. I put the ball under my arm and return with junior to the check out and the sack of slug pellets.

The ball is strapped into the spare toddler seat next to junior. He lays a palm on the smooth surface to keep it safe on the journey home. He spends the seven minute drive giggling and sighing with adoration. I spend the same seven minutes trying to work out how too explain how a bag of slug pellets could be so expensive to spouse?

I wonder if I could sell him on the idea of it being a lure to get junior to go outside, therapy, but not retail?

Do we have to?

If my mum had suggested that we play a board game when I was a child I think I would have died of joy on the spot. That’s not to say that we never played games, it more that the occasions when we did, were few and far between. Generally we played card games when we went on caravan holidays and other games during the Christmas holidays. Other than that, it would be a real red letter day for such a thing to occur. Perhaps it's something to do with being an older parent?

It is with this mind set that I approach my own children, "older" but not necessarily wiser.
My daughters are always eager, willing and enthusiastic. Not so the boys.

The suggestion of playing a game is always greeted similarly. It is a predictable as night follows day, which is why you need to be mentally prepared prior to commencement. You can pick a game, any game and make the suggestion. The suggestion is made verbally, with enthusiasm, the visual clue of the game box in your hand on bended knee. Assuming that the message penetrates in the first place the response is always ‘why?’ I know this is what they will say, and whilst I thank the speech gods that they are able to tell me this, at the same time, it reminds me that it is often the most simple concepts that are the most difficult to explain – because it will be fun, because we will enjoy ourselves, laugh together…………. Whatever the magic words are, I have yet to find them.

I know that I will have to herd and bribe the boys to come to the table – play this game with me and as a reward you can………… [fill in the current obsession]
Bizarre! The game should be the reward in my book, but that is of course because I have the wrong book and I’m definitely on the wrong page.

So saying, after all these years I have finally worn them down. They will play the game, sometimes perfunctorily and occasionally with a modicum of enjoyment, but I suspect that they’re doing it for me, rather than as a pleasurable form of entertainment for themselves. There again, such selflessness on their part, as well as this additional nugget of evidence to thwart the theory of mind, gives me considerable delight.

Now they will come to the table, muttering the kind of phrases that you get from teenagers when they finally capitulate and agree to do their chores; “Alright, I’m coming,” they sigh, dragging their little bodies over in slow motion, deflated and drained.

Hey, it’s compliance! No complaints from me, and I get to 'practice' teenagers a decade in advance.

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