I am unemployed and idle as I think is obvious from the prodigious amount of crap which spare time has allowed me to deposit on this blog. One perk of unemployment has been my ability to socialise with my cousin Mildred’s kids, Elvis (3) and Boosa (1 and a half). Spending time with them is always a wonderful experience and an opportunity for personal growth for all parties concerned: Boosa demonstrates that it is humanly possible to repeat a single word 78 times in the space of a minute, Elvis is as good as her word and doesn’t vomit in my face when I spin her on top of my head (at her insistence), and I fight the good fight and continue the war I am losing of trying to make them sound British.
Elvis has introduced me to Dora the Explorer, a bilingual Latina cartoon person with a Beatles moptop haircut and a talking monkey. Either the formula is fantastic or my brain is slowly turning into sponge, but I have been entirely seduced by Dora and her hypnotic patho-tunnelo-pyramidos, and regularly sit there fixated, my mouth hanging open, as Boosa plays in the dribble leaking out of it and Elvis climbs on my head.
I found myself watching Dora with three children under three at Mildred’s place last week. Mildred herself was out. Two of the children were Elvis and Boosa. The third kid, Nably, I recognised as the daughter of Mildred’s friends, though I wasn’t sure what she was doing there. I assumed that she was being baby-sat rather than e.g. having driven herself over to discuss her stock portfolio with Elvis.
When Mildred and her husband arrived home I briefly tore my attention away from Dora and noticed that they were carrying with them fancy dress butterfly wings, and reflected on how far either toys or parents have come since my day, when I was given empty egg boxes to play with. In the interests of short person harmony Mildred diplomatically announced that the wings were for both Elvis and Nably to share, because “sharing is caring.” Elvis attempted to challenge this by demonstrating, practically, that “not owning = moaning” but luckily was silenced by the wings. Not for long however, and, like a certain recently departed Arab ruler, she discovered that sanctions and an eventual resort to force follow failure to comply with orders to hand over embargoed items. Nably of course was entirely oblivious to Elvis’ silent rage as she enjoyed the timeshare wings, and meanwhile Boosa pronounced the word “key” repeatedly, and at high volume, for reasons best known to himself. Eventually both Nably and Elvis tired of the wings and discovered that it was more fun to run into each other at high speed.
One of life’s enduring mysteries is how small children are able to locate any available liquid matter and immediately stain themselves with it, even if they are in outer space. Nably did the honours somehow - even though I don’t recall her leaving the room - and Mildred was forced to clothe her in one of Elvis’ jackets. Noting that the wing-stealing intruder was now apparently misappropriating items from her wardrobe, and that compounding the outrage was her own mother’s complicity in this dark act, Elvis pointed at the jacket and bellowed “NO!!!” with a ferocity last witnessed at Sodom. Mustering all her impressive parenting skills, Mildred attempted to enter into negotiations with Elvis, who was pulling the face I myself pull when I see boyfriends looking at other girls’ bottoms. Mildred explained that the weather was cold, and that without a jacket Nably risked falling ill. Asking what she must have thought to be a straightforward question she asked, “you don’t want Nably to get sick do you Elvis?” To which Elvis calmly replied that in fact yes, she did want Nably to get sick - which pleased me enormously. Almost choking on the laughter I was repressing, the sofa shook with my silent hysterics as Elvis reiterated for clarity in a spooky Silence of the Lambs voice that she did definitely want Nably (who was completely unaware of Elvis’ vitriol and was herself protesting having to wear a jacket) to get sick, despite her mother’s protests.
Elvis is of course a wonderful, kind, and good-hearted child, she was merely demonstrating firstly; the importance of never asking a question the answer to which you are not sure of, and, secondly; that as compensation for not being able to go anywhere unaccompanied, drink caffeine, watch TV after 8 pm or make any executive decision of any sort, small people are allowed absolute free reign with the truth and can make startlingly rude observations with impunity. I discovered only recently that this right is rescinded at some unspecified point during puberty, and that since conversations are consequently something of an offence minefield, giving an opinion and in particular a truthful one is to be avoided at any cost. I am beginning to slowly understand why British conversation is so centred around the neutral zone of the weather, where it is virtually impossible to cause offence to one’s interlocutor, unless you are talking to a cloud.