Noli me tangere (Don’t touch me) (But please do)

Something that stresses me out about every day life is how to greet people. Who do you kiss on the cheek? Who do you hug? Is it an insult to shake hands? Half the time I just stand at a safe distance and smile, my body language making it very clear that I have no intention of touching anyone.

If you know me in real life, you could be forgiven for thinking that I dislike touch. That I recoil from physical contact and would prefer to conduct my friendships at arm’s length. Nothing could be further from the truth. Touch is very significant to me. I remember a hug from a friend for ever more. One of my most treasured hugs was from an extremely un-touchy-feely friend, when we had just had some bad news. She spontaneously threw her arms around me and told me how sorry she was. It meant so much more because it was so rare. I love feeling physically close to the people I care about. Nothing is more wonderful to me than cuddling up on the sofa with my family.

So what is the problem?

I overthink things. I don’t spontaneously touch people. I always think about it first. By the time I’m done thinking the moment is gone, usually. Or it has become extremely awkward.

I can actually remember the exact moment this all became a problem for me. I was about ten and I had very recently become properly aware of the facts of life. I now understood, with burning blushing embarrassment, that kissing and cuddling had meaning beyond friendly platonic affection. At my parents’ annual Christmas party, a family friend came up to my Mum and me and offered to give me a kiss. This was purely meant as a friendly greeting, but suddenly everything clicked together in my head, in a totally paranoid way, and for one small moment I thought he must be wanting The Other Kissing. I was terrified and fled. He laughed, unaware of what had gone on in my head, just thinking I was his friend’s daughter being shy.

From that moment, I shied away from hello-kisses.

This is a long introduction to today’s poem, but I wanted to give you the backstory, otherwise you might read it and think I was molested as a child, which I most definitely wasn’t!

Awkward

It was on the stairs
the offer of a kiss
a new awareness
coursed through me
cold fear
I turned and ran
from the friendly greeting
then and after
no way of unknowing
what I had learned
every touch now
laden with meaning
preceded by thought
by exclamation marks
neon signs
a spotlight.

If I could
I’d throw my arms around you
hold you safe from world and grief
show my love and friendship
cushion all life’s blows

If I could
I’d silence all these whispers
of too much, not you,
hold back, best not,
that keep me bound, away from you.

Until I can
could it be you?
Could you be the one
to open up your arms
to spell it out
“I need a hug
from you”
?

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013
Linking up to Prose for Thought.

Prose for Thought

Communication at Eight Months

Having done the baby stage once, I was expecting to enjoy watching my daughter grow up, but perhaps not be quite so amazed by it as the first time around. My son at this age had my complete and undivided attention. I would sit and play with him and watch him, waiting eagerly for him to pass objects from hand to hand, swallow his first bite of finger food, pull himself up to standing, take his first step. My daughter does have an audience (her brother loves observing her and will keep me updated on her activities at the top of his voice), but life is much busier. I noticed that she was passing her spoon from her left to her right hand while in the middle of mopping up spilled milk, fielding requests for a fourth helping of Weetabix and trying to finally squeeze in a moment for a cup of tea.

“Hey!” I thought. “When did she start doing that?”

Was the Toddler doing eyebrow shaping at this age?

Was the Toddler doing eyebrow shaping at this age?

Perhaps because I don’t have the time to be watching and waiting for each milestone, she amazes me more. Every day I am startled by what she is capable of. I keep thinking: did the Toddler do this when he was her age? It seems very advanced.

She was eight months yesterday, and what I am most struck with is how well she can communicate with us. Yesterday at lunch time, the Toddler and I invented a new game to play with her. It is called Hands in the Air! We both stick our hands in the air and start waving them about, looking expectantly at the baby. She beams at us. Her breathing quickens with excitement. Then she lifts up an arm and flaps it up and down, looking from me to the Toddler. “I’m joining in!” her proud face is saying.

It occurred to me, as my son and I were sitting there with our hands in the air waiting for her to follow suit, that this is also her first experience of peer pressure.

Babies are of course well versed in expressing both displeasure and joy. When she sees her brother first thing in the morning she will screech and wave and kick her legs with excitement. If he hugs her a bit too forcefully (eg: puts her in a headlock) she will exclaim in protest. If I don’t keep her highchair tray supplied with titbits and her spoon loaded with food she will shout and cry.

But her communication is becoming more subtle as well. She is choosing what she wants to eat. A piece of banana she will fall upon with ravenous gusto. I put a piece of pepper in front of her next. She examines it. It is not yellow, therefore not a banana. She doesn’t even pick it up but turns back to me, waiting for something better. I put a piece of cheese down. It is yellow, so she picks it up and tastes it. She pulls a face. This is not banana! She throws it on the floor and turns back to me, now giving me a frustrated shout. Her little hand reaches out to the rest of the banana, which is lying in front of me.

I am constantly amazed at what she can communicate without words.

Yesterday she was sitting on the floor while I hung out the washing. She got a bit fractious, so I sat down next to her and we looked at a soft baby book together. It had a fluffy bird that you could hide away in its nest, and we played peekaboo with it for a bit. “Oh hey!” I thought as her hand went to the nest after I’d hidden the bird, “She is learning about object permanence.” When she seemed happy again I stood up, intending to go back to the washing.

From the floor I heard a friendly screech. I looked down. The Baby was beaming at me, holding up the book towards me with both hands. “That was fun!” she was saying. “Can we read it again?”

 

A Magic Moment. Click on the badge to read more!

Locked in

J'accuse, Humans.

J’accuse, Humans.

Dear Emma,

(Is that what you call yourself, or is that just what your owners call you?)

Normally we don’t really care about humans. They are a necessary evil and we make do with what we’ve got. But when we read about you on the Interwebz, Thin Cat and I recognised your plight. We were agreed: we had to contact you somehow and help. We know about being locked in a room.

For any cats reading this who don’t already know, Emma is a human (but an okay one, I bet she wouldn’t be too strict about mealtimes/-frequency) who got ill, had to have some horrible pill that makes you glow in the dark, and now they’ve tricked her into a room and locked the door (sound familiar? Yeah, thought so) and left her there for days. You can picture the scene: lack of familiar smelling comfies, no access to grass if you need to puke up a fur ball, poor litter facilities and worst of all: scheduled meal times with no opportunity to supplement. Also, she has to stay away from her kittens for ages, or they’d start to glow in the dark too. I’m sure that is terrible, although I wouldn’t know as I used to be a tomcat before I misplaced my genitalia.

So, Emma, here comes the important bit.

How to escape

Read these instructions very carefully, this is all the acquired wisdom of two wily cats from a house with some very tricksy humans.

1. Meow mournfully and scratch at the door. If you’re very lucky, the human on duty will be Very Dumb and just think “Oh poor kitty” and open the door. Then make a run for it.

2. Watch the humans carefully when they bring you food. Where does the food come through? There must be a door or a hatch. Next time they come with some horrible mush, bite the hand that feeds you and crawl through the flap to freedom.

3. Leave a really smelly poo in an inconvenient corner. With any luck, the human who has to come and clean it up will be so busy berating you for being so disgusting he’ll forget to close the door. Hey presto, you’re out.

4. Where does the air come in through? This is the ninja option. There is probably a small opening that lets in air. Make yourself very flat and push your way through. Then it’s just a simple matter of walking along window ledges, scrambling up to the rooftops and from there it’s plain sailing from rooftop to rooftop to the nearest fishmonger.

5. Hide under the bed. The human on duty will get suspicious when they can’t see you, open the door to investigate and you can run out between their legs.

6. Last one is probably the most obvious, you’ll have thought of this yourself but we’ll just mention it for completeness: chew through the cables that connect to the TV, sick up on the exposed wires, cause a short circuit that knocks out the lights and the automatic locking mechanisms, when the doors click open push your way through, run down the stairs (not the lift as it will be out of order of course silly) and out through the front door.

Great. Hope that helps. As I said, we make a point of never getting too friendly with humans as a rule (for what happens if you do, see my earlier reference to my missing bits), but you sound alright so when you get out, feel free to come and visit us in our garden. But no weeing, only we’re allowed to do that on our turf. I’m sure you understand.

Love and kisses,

Fat Cat and Thin Cat

PS The Intertubes are crazy. You write someone a personal letter and suddenly the entire world wants to add little messages of their own. If you really must, click on the links below to read things that will hopefully help keep your spirits up in captivity. Just don’t forget to escape.

PPS If anyone out there is reading this and you too are locked in and need to get in touch for more ideas, we’re on Twitter as @fatcatthincat.

PPPS News has reached us that our letter has been retroactively effective! Emma has escaped! On day 3 of isolation, after excessive drinking, peeing, washing and other perfectly normal activities humans feel squeamish discussing for some reason, Emma’s radiation emission levels dropped unexpectedly to 700, meaning she was safe to be let out. [That’s the official version, we believe she went for option 5 and her captors were so embarrassed they hushed it up]. She still cannot come within 1-2 metres of any cat (or human) but has gone home and been given estimated dates for cuddles with her husband on 5th June, 6yr old Bunny on 11th June and 1yr old twins on 16th of June! This is 6 days early and for any bloggers going to Britmums Live or the BiB awards ceremony… She will see you there.

Shoulder to Shoulder to Day
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Ode to Weetabix

Ode to Weetabix

Squatting, quietly contained in the bowl
These two woven wheaty biscuits
so innocent you look
but add milk
and mix
see
you stir
into a paste
more potent than cement
congealing in hair, on pyjamas
Weetabix, you glue our lives together.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Linking up to Prose for Thought.

Prose for Thought

Also linking up to Shoulder to Shoulder Today, hoping this will cheer Emma a little.

Shoulder to Shoulder to Day

– See more at: http://www.3childrenandit.com/#sthash.zGM3XbMP.dpuf

Just a little bit more

A day later than normal, but this is the last of my Nininand Triptych. First I looked at the influence of Dutch culture visible in my children’s lives and then there was basically some pic spam of stuff we’d done. Now it is time for a language update.

Just as much as the photographs in my last post, the new words and phrases the Toddler has picked up during our visit tell the story of what we have done and what we have seen.

Meal times

Mag je van tafel, oma? [May you get down from the table, Oma?]

The Toddler has been practising being polite in Dutch, and prefacing his requests for things with “Can I have-” instead of “Want a-“. Unfortunately, his version has become victim to a little hypercorrection. He knows that I refer to myself as “I” and that if he wants to refer to me he should say “you”. So when I model the right phrase: “May I have some juice, please?”, the Toddler will dutifully morph it into “May you have some juice, please?” All his questions at the table have now become “May you” instead of “May I”.

He has learned new words for things-to-put-on-bread, as this is the Dutch staple for both breakfast and lunch. He can ask for leverworst [liverwurst] and hagelslag [chocolate sprinkles, yes we eat those on bread at ordinary mealtimes], in addition to ham and kaas [cheese], which he already knew about. He will also gleefully trot ahead of opa delivering me a kopje thee, mama! [cup of tea, Mummy!]. He knows little snacks come in a bakje [bowl] and that what he needs to do with his chair is schuiven [shunt/move] to get it closer to the table.

Daily life with Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma’s house is very tall and has three floors, so we are keeping quite fit climbing up and down many flights of stairs many times a day. The stairs are quite steep, so each trip involves a lot of Toddler-managing, persuading him to hold on to the handrail. Self-regulating chap that he is, he now does the pep talk himself and descends while keeping up a constant commentary: “Leuning, vasthouden leuning, dit leuning, dit balustrade” [Handrail, hold on to handrail, this hand rail, that bannister].

He loves having Opa and Oma around, and keeps constant tabs on them. Wat ben je aan het doen? [What are you doing?] is what he wants to know all the time. If one or the other disappears, he wants to know where they are. Telling him they are at work will produce a sage nod: Opa werk. Oma werk. However, five minutes later he will want to know where they are again, as he thinks that was quite enough work.

A bit more milk

A bit more milk

The Toddler’s English is full of little phrases he has borrowed from his Gran, such as “goodness me!” and “That’s a clever trick!” and “not again!”. It has been lovely to see the things my parents say creep into his Dutch over the past week or so. My parents made up a little song about my Dad (Opa, to the Toddler), which we have sung a lot while we were here, my Dad improvising new verses as the mood took him. This has led to the Toddler randomly coming out with “gekke vent!” [silly guy!], a phrase Opa uses to refer to himself in the song. The Toddler also seems to have noticed how Oma frequently nudging Opa for a little refill of tea or wine (depending on the time of day) and has started to do the same. He now holds out his milk beaker to me and asks me with a charming smile: “Beetje meer, mama?” [little bit more]

Little sisters are fun

The Toddler has been having great fun playing with his sister of late. We’ve been rolling a ball back and forth with the Baby. When she catches the ball, she lifts it up and starts gnawing on it, causing great hilarity and “Nee, niet om op te eten!” [No, not for eating!] Her brother has also been recreating her kinderstoel (high chair) for her out of cushions (one behind her back and one on her lap).

He loves the fact that she is trying to crawl, and he will merrily demonstrate for her (or just for me) giggling: “probeert te kruipen” [trying to crawl]. When her efforts fail he lets me know: “viel om!” [fell over] and usually also “baby huilt” [baby is crying]. In general, he acts as her advocate and protector, warning me when she is crying, telling me when she is lying on her front “aaaaaah baby beetje moe, baby slapen” [baby bit tired, baby sleep] and insisting that she must also wear her hood (capuchon) when it is raining, just like him, even if they’re actually sitting safe and dry in the car.

When he is feeling a bit fragile, though, he will command Oma vasthouden Baby [Oma hold baby], so that I have my arms free to hug him and carry him down the stairs.

Little

Feeding the 'little ducks' - who are half his size.

Feeding the ‘little ducks’ – who are half his size.

Most importantly, while we have been here, the Toddler has picked up a key feature of the Dutch language: the diminutive. It is mostly formed by adding the suffix -je to the end of a noun, pronounced ‘yuh’. It basically makes something ‘little’. You may have noticed some examples earlier on. The Toddler brings me a kopje thee [little cup of tea], goes to feed the eendjes [little ducks], looks for his sokjes [little socks] and tells me we have to wait for zes minuutjes [six little minutes] until it’s dinner time. Why do the Dutch make everything ‘little’? Mainly, it is our way of softening the things we say and making them sound less harsh, less threatening. Asking someone for a cup of tea might be a bit forward. Asking them for just a little cup is more acceptable. A six minute wait till dinner is a long time for a toddler. Six little minutes, however, can be done.

The Toddler seems to have instinctively grasped this while he has been here. I can see it in his face, holding out the milk beaker. A ‘bit more’ got Oliver Twist into a lot of trouble. But a little bit more, that he might just get away with.

A week in Nininand

It has been a busy week so far in Nininand and there is much to reflect on, but today I would like to give you a more visual impression of an Exceedingly Dutch Week.

In the month leading up to our visit, the Toddler put a sticker on a calendar every morning to count down to our departure. By the time we got to number 9, he was pretty solid on the concept of “tomorrow”, as evidenced by our bedtime conversations: “And tomorrow, number 9, and then 8, and then 7, and then 6, and then 5, and then 4, and then 3, and then 2, and then 1, and then: opa oma Nininand!”

count down calendar

Numbers on the calendar written by the Toddler himself, using a stencil set.

His very exciting new bed at Opa and Oma's house.

His very exciting new bed at Opa and Oma’s house.

He has surprisingly not once asked to watch Numberjacks, and has taken a liking to Dutch Mickey Mouse Clubhuis and Dutch Sesamestreet instead. This meant I could finally produce my 26 year old Sesamestreet colouring book for him. It soon derailed into “Mummy, seven?” Groan.

Everything is better with addednumbers.

Everything is better with added numbers.

Picking his own apples in the supermarket

Picking his own apples in the supermarket

Koffietijd (coffee time) - a Dutch institution. Toddler joins in with a beaker of milk.

Koffietijd (coffee time) – a Dutch institution. Toddler joins in with a beaker of milk.

Lego. Also 20 years old. Still awesome.

Lego. Also 20 years old. Still awesome.

Very Dutch Lego.

Very Dutch Lego.

Most Dutch houses have a built-in attachment for a flag pole, for festive occasions like the Queen’s (now the King’s) birthday, Liberation Day or someone in your house having passed their school exams. Or just because you are selling nice fish, as is the case in the picture below. Worth celebrating.

Flags. Because there are fish. Of course.

Flags. Because there are fish. Of course.

My parents have a dishwasher. Hurray!

My parents have a dishwasher. Hurray!

My Mum's list of what is in the fridge and freezer.

My Mum’s list of what is in the fridge and freezer.

Oma's slippers are a wonderful toy if you are 7 months old.

Oma’s slippers are a wonderful toy if you are 7 months old.

The Toddler's very own, mini supermarket, complete with miniature food you can sell to Opa for a cent or two.

The Toddler’s very own mini supermarket, complete with miniature food you can sell to Opa for a cent or two.

Learning the Dutch alphabet, in which P is for umbrella and S is for turtle. It's a whole other language, I tell you!

Learning the Dutch alphabet, in which P is for umbrella and S is for turtle. It’s a whole other language, I tell you!

They also slot into this cool bus.

They also slot into this cool bus.

I have done a lot of freelance work while I’ve been here. And a lot of writing of various sorts. I feel a little sad that I have barely spent time with my parents in the evenings as I have been staring at this very screen most of the time. I am starting to feel a bit like the Toddler when he sees me tip-tapping away on the laptop again: Nuff Puter!

Nuff puter, Mama.

Nuff puter, Mama.

Just a few more days and we will say goodbye to Nininand. What will the Toddler miss the most? Will it be Opa and Oma? Will it be Mickey Mouse Clubhouse? Will it be baking number biscuits? Will it be the Lego? Tune in next week to find out…

More precious than gold

She fooled us. We boasted at 7 weeks that she was ‘such an easy baby’, that she slept through and would re-settle with a single “shhhh” from a parent. I guess she got bored of that nonsense and has since realised ‘easy babies’ don’t get as many midnight cuddles as wakeful ones. Besides the occasional 11pm to 5.30am just to keep us on our toes, the Baby continues to wake up at night. Sometimes once, sometime many times. Always at 3am – a magical time when all babies are programmed to wake screaming, I think. Whatever she does at night, the day starts at first light for her, when she is cheery and chirpy and ready to play. More often than not I sneak her downstairs at that time, hoping she hasn’t woken the Toddler yet, and try to persuade her to have another hour’s kip in my arms on the sofa.

What is more precious than gold, you ask? Is it Love? Is it World Peace? Is it Babies? No, dear reader. It is sleep.

Dawn Chorus

You do know
this is classed as torture
sleep wake sleep wake
shrill crying in your ear
the grey dawn
day after day
lying cramped and curledsleep
neck and back
aching
holding you
precious you
as you snatch a little more
of that sleep
that I wanted
your lashes resting lightly
on your soft cheek.

I hope your dreams are gentle
and you feel warm
safe
and loved.
Although I ache and
my brain feels dead and
the day is dull-
I guess
I do feel
warm safe and loved
too.

My daughter,
I would suffer any torture
to spend this time with you.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

Okay, so maybe it was love and babies after all. Leave me alone, I’m really tired.

Linking up to Prose for Thought.

Prose for Thought

A Dutch Childhood

DSCF3779

Half Dutch, half British toes. Cute in any language or country.

Gezellig (adj): enjoyable, pleasant, sociable, fun, convivial.

I have now been in the Netherlands with my two children for just over 48 hours and already we have seen a room full of relatives, a room full of friends and their children, been to visit an old schoolfriend and dropped by my brother. I think the kids might need a day off with naps. The whirlwind of impressions of the past few days has led me to think a lot about Dutchness, and how Dutch my children are and will be, given that I live in the UK.

The Toddler was having lunch with my friend’s children yesterday and I was sitting back, enjoying the very Dutch process of it: the loaf of bread on the table; the forest of possible toppings, most of them sweet; the mother insisting their two year old should have a savoury “boterham” (slice of bread with topping) first before having something sweet, while the father was liberally coating his son’s bread in apple syrup; the mug of milk supplied with lunch as standard for adults and children alike; and of course the merry Dutch chatter of the little people, alternately sharing and snatching the food on their plates. My son did throw in some English here and there, but generally he seemed to catch on that this little boy spoke like Mummy and he mainly spoke Dutch.

I was thinking: what if we lived here? What would the Toddler be like? Would he be a different little boy? I think he would be much more familiar with bicycles and would be cycling himself very early on. We would go on daily trips to the local bakery to get fresh bread for our very bready meals. He would take little individual treats to school for all the children in his class on his birthday. He’d be rowing around the canals in a rubber dinghy by the time he was nine. And he would be Dutch. I am not sure how to classify exactly what that is, but it is not the same as being British. It something to do with living in a completely flat country without hills, with the wind in your face when you cycle to school, rushing to the beach as soon as the temperature sneaks above 18 degrees, about being normal because that is quite silly enough, about small-scale and sensible and enjoying being a kid and being active and about being thrifty and things being “lekker” and “gezellig”.

A Dutch sandpit. Just as good for writing more numbers in the sand as a British one.

A Dutch sandpit. Just as good for writing more numbers in the sand as a British one.

Then I thought that although perhaps my children are growing up in a different country to the one I grew up in, and there will be cultural differences between them and me, they will only be relatively small. It’s not like I’m living in India or Japan. I watched my son play in a Dutch playground, in a Dutch sandpit. He knew what to do. A slide is a slide and a sandpit is a sandpit, whether you’re playing with English or Dutch friends. He made a sand-Miffy and then diligently shoveled sand down the slide. He was still the Toddler, whatever language he was speaking or wherever he was playing. He still wanted to write numbers in the sand.

This is the life I wanted, the life I embraced. I have always enjoyed being a traveller and a migrator, living in different countries and trying to fit in so seemlessly that nobody will notice I’m actually Dutch. The result is, of course, perfectly assimilated children.

In the evening, when the Toddler snuggled up next to his little sister on the sofa and held her hand, he looked at me with an expression of intense satisfaction on his face and said: “Gezellig!” I wiped a little tear from my eye. That’s my little Dutch boy.

Things I learned from the Sims

I used to play the Sims a lot. It’s a bit like a grown-up (though I use the term loosely) version of doll’s houses, and I played it in much the same way. When my husband and I had quite recently got together, I made a Him-Sim and a Me-Sim, put them in separate houses and made it a mission to get them to fall in love and eventually marry. It was quite stressful, because it never quite worked out: one time the Him-Sim proposed but the Me-Sim burst into tears and said: “How can you ask me that now, when I am so unhappy?” Honestly! Women! It was probably that time of the month.

Then when we were married and as yet childless, I made new versions of us and encouraged them to procreate. It was quite eye-opening. You can’t operate babies in the Sims, they operate themselves. They just cry and you have to tend to their needs. Once you have fed or changed them, your Sim just stands there holding the baby, awaiting further instructions. The thing that always got me was that, once you were holding the baby, you could right-click anywhere on the floor and get the option “put baby here”. If you did, they would simply lie there and other Sims and pets would walk round them as if they were just another piece of furniture. I usually solved the problem by putting a cot on every floor of the Sim-house, so that there was always somewhere safe to put an infant. I often thought of that later, when I had a real one. With my son and again with my daughter, I found that the lesson I had learned from the Sims was a valuable one: it pays to have somewhere for a newborn baby to sleep on every floor of your house.

Baby having fun in cage

Baby having fun in cage

My little daughter is seven months old now and basically sitting up. You’d think you could right click and “put baby here” at this point – but as soon as they master one skill they are no longer satisfied with it and go on a dangerous quest to advance to the next level. Now she will sit, walk her hands forwards to get something that is just out of reach and end up stuck on her tummy. Cue frustrated crying. She also still topples over – no “putting baby here” on the laminate. She also grabs and chews absolutely everything – no “putting baby here” near anything dangerous. If you were to see my house you would now come to the inevitable conclusion that there was but one place to put my baby: in a play pen on a soft mat. Which is where she spends quite a bit of time. I feel a little guilty, because it does kind of look like she’s in a cage. She loves it though, and so does the Toddler. He likes going to visit her in her little house and rings a pretend doorbell until I come to let him in, after which he takes away all her toys and gives her cuddles instead.

It is not going to get better for a while, I know that now. Once she can crawl, nothing will be safe from her chewing. Then she will start trying to pull herself up on everything including rickety chairs, toolboxes, lamp stands, the Toddler and the cats. Then she will walk and all will be lost.

The Toddler is nearing the end of the Sims-stage that always made me sweat with stress: when you’d have to teach your Sim-child to walk, talk and wee on the potty before their next birthday, otherwise they’d grow up wrong. It was worrying how much time it took out of each parent’s day to teach these three essential skills. I had to cheat and give us unlimited money so we could both be stay at home parents and devote all our time and attention to this mission.

I don’t play the Sims anymore. One day I was on the computer doing my pretend-washing up and feeding my Sim-cats, while downstairs my real washing up was growing exotic new species of mould and my real cats were trying desperately to attract my attention because it was way past dinnertime. I realised that I couldn’t spend any more time pretend-living until I was a bit better at living for real.

So what did I learn from my Sim-playing days?

1. Children need massive amounts of attention. To get it right, win the lottery or kill a rich relative, quit your jobs and devote yourselves to raising them full time.
2. You can put a baby down anywhere. It is just not advisable. Buy appropriate containers for them.
3. Don’t ask anyone to marry you when they’re feeling down – their response might not reflect their feelings in general.

Impromptu Portrait

It was nearing the end of naptime. The Baby was already awake and sitting up on the bed with my husband and me, being utterly adorable. My husband quickly got his camera to take some pictures of her, just as she is now, with her new little-girl-hair, her broad gummy smile, her big blue eyes. Soon, the Toddler was up too and came to join us. My husband took pictures of him too, and showed them to him on the screen, which the Toddler loved. Then he sat down next to his sister and held her hand. I stood to one side, watching my husband taking pictures of the two of them and chatting to them. I had a sudden jolt of realisation then: this is us now, we are parents, these are our children. We are the grown ups. This is their childhood. When I was young, it was my father who was always taking photos. Now, he is Opa, my husband is Daddy, I am Mummy. It all sounds rather obvious, but I think after 2 and a half years, I am still not quite used to being a parent.

Impromptu Portrait

A moment, here, on the bed
the smiles and giggles
“You are beautiful,” you said
to that tiny person, adoring you,
she reaches for you, flaming red,
the world is exciting and everything new
she grabs for your camera, smiles and wriggles
here on Mummy and Daddy’s bed.

Our son, sometimes still and wise
sometimes shrieking, laughing wild
looks back at you with your own eyes
wants to learn and see and know,
rehearses here his family ties
the soil in which he can safely grow
from loving toddler to confident child
Growing ever more wild and wise.

The lens captures and draws a line
Looking in: our children, hand in hand,
Looking out: our faces, yours and mine,
seeing that now we are a family.
Sometimes we wish we could turn back time
to when it was only you and me
but life has moved on and now we stand
unsteady but ready to cross this line.

(c) Judith Kingston, 2013

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