And here’s what we chunked through at Library of Birmingham. We’d still be there now if we hadn’t insisted on leaving…
Since finishing Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, I’ve struggled to start let alone finish anything else. Its protagonist, Theo, so completely occupied me that I’ve not been quite ready to let him go as yet.
The weekend has helped galvanise me, though, like a lost love, to let him go.
We took the Monkey to Birmingham to watch a stage adaptation of The Gruffalo and, in truth, the weather was so dire, I was so preoccupied and weighed down by third trimester aches and pains and modern-day to-do-list angst, that I was wondering whether we should just bench the whole thing. I’d booked the tickets six months ago. Now, my daughter is at the gate, leaving the Gruffalo behind, or so I thought.
How wrong I was – what a funny, knowing, engaging performance. I laughed a lot and actually ended up with the Gruffalo’s Madness-esque song stuck in my head for a few days afterwards. Monkey face loved it and got stuck in with the audience participation. Of course she did.
I only marvel at how empty these Midlands touring performances are and how lucky we are to have bagged front-row tickets to our last four outings with relative ease. In London, it was a battle to get tickets to such things at all.
Afterwards, the Monkey really wanted to go inside the modern wonder that is Birmingham library and my heart was glad that, once she’d finished messing about on the escalators that made me feel like I was in a West End super-club trying to score, she was very keen to explore the children’s section, in the basement.
We spent about 90 minutes, with a lot of other parents, relaxing and reading in the super comfortable chairs.
What a place! For the first time since moving, in a climate where we had to battle to keep our London Carnegie Library open against the slash of Lewisham council’s budget, I felt incredibly proud of where I now live. To not only retain a library, but to push forward with such an amazing, modernist and enlightened space that makes grown adults want to be there, to join, to play… I am in awe of Birmingham’s world class space and commitment to learning and the future. I left feeling renewed and inspired for the remainder of what was to be a very special weekend.
Now just to choose another book…
3 years since I started this blog, it’s hard to believe that the baby with whom I struggled to share books insists on reading together, morning and night and is taking her own first steps into reading and spelling as she prepares to start school in two weeks’ time.
For children of this age, the familiar is still preferred. And so, newly purchased books often languish on the shelf, making a blog about your shared book experiences either venture into the personal impact or the deeply mundane. Yes. We ARE still reading Mr Men books. Every day. Care to read about it?
However, my dear friend who teaches would-be teachers how to teach art, asked me a classic question, yesterday. What would be my top 5 illustrated children’s books, where the illustrations work magnificently with the text? The fact that so many of them are classics or have been in our possession for quite a long time made me decide I’d best step it up.
Here they are, in order only of recollection:
1. Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman and Dave McLean
2. The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Schaeffler
3. The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers (in fact, anything by Oliver Jeffers)
4. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
5. Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen
6. Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski – I can’t count…
What are yours?
A wonderful day, here, at bookandbed towers. The sun beat down, the monkey played with her erstwhile classmates in the park and I realised just how much she’s growing up and -slowly – away in the process and she’d a few tears.
When we got home we did some girlie things and cuddled whilst she will still
let me. And at bedtime we read a book that we have had since I first started blogging, but have never read: The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Dave Mckean.
It’s funny, acutely observed and of course ridiculous. We loved it, shared jokes about who we would and wouldn’t swap for two goldfish (nobody) and who we would swap for two rabbits (a boy at school whom she doesn’t like. How sad.)
Ending this lovely day by reading a new, great, long-awaited story with giggles and cuddles. So very special.
Today is my daughter’s last day of her nursery school.
It’s a portentous day – already more goodbyes, so soon after our last gut-wrenching move – but she seems to be taking it in her stride, rather more so than her mother, as is often the way of kids.
As I was rushing about, sorting out the things I realise I’ve forgotten to sort out, my daughter had bought a book down to breakfast. Significantly, she’s selected one of my favourite books: The Snail and the Whale.
I’m listening to mrbookandbed read this wonderful buoyant story to her with an enormous lump in my throat:
“And they sang to the sea as they all set sail
On the tail of the grey-blue humped-back whale.”
Excuse me, I’ve got something in my eye …
A half-hearted bookandbed book effort, tonight, due to a tsunami of slackness.
We arrived late to collect the monkey from my mum, then hung out chatting, messing about together when we got in. And THEN, I capitulated and let her watch Wreck It Ralph. I know, I know! And thus, forty minutes late to bed… She was happy and hyper and took an age to calm down. Reading her choice of Mr Funny didn’t help much either. Much feigned hilarity at Mr Funny’s shoe-driving and toast-drinking, but how lovely to hear her laughing and messing about.
Encouraging her to sound-out words and figure out what they are is always difficult, because she knows most of her books so well, she knows what the word is supposed to be. So I changed tack. When Mr Funny arrives at the signpost, he decides to go to the zoo. “Can you guess which word says zoo on the sign?” I asked. And, quick as you like, the monkey pointed out the word ZOO. “How do you know that says zoo?” I asked her. “Because it says ZUH-OOO-OO” she retorted, as though I were some kind of illiterate. But what a thrill. ZOO!
Then came the inevitable drawn-out goodnights and she kept calling me back. “I’ve forgotten something.” Oh really? “Yes. I’m growing love for the baby. So when I kiss you, I’m giving you love that you can give to the baby. So, whenever you have a day when you don’t have any love left, just tell me and I’ll give you some. I’m a love shop.” I promise I’ve never played her any B-52s tracks.
On the anniversary of my first blog post, an unbelievable 3 years ago, I can’t believe how far we’ve come.
From our flat, with an infant child, desperately (so it seemed) trying to get back on top of our world, plans and dreams, simultaneously trying to make sense of possibly the world’s most complicated, convoluted company was the oddest, craziest trip. It felt like riding an out of control juggernaut. A kind of Emperor’s New Clothes situation, seeing things as they were and trying to find the courage to be and do what I knew was right. It was terrifying yet the making of me, thanks to the gorgeous people I was thrown into the mix with and the people I already had by my side.
Because of them, because of it, we are who and where we are now and we’ve made the dreams we had back then, that seemed further away than ever, come true.
In the midst of all of this institutional lunacy, and my own temporary loss of sanity, I had an infant I was trying to help learn to love books. An old work contact made a comment that I really SHOULD actually blog instead of talking about it. It became a place where I could start to make sense of the things that mattered to me in my life at the time. It was the beginning of starting to sort my feelings and make sound decisions. It also made me focus on my own reading, as well as that done with my daughter, which gave me some space and peace and sanctuary.
That situation and this blog gave me so much. Sometimes you have to just have to let go. Reading and writing helped me let go long enough to rest, so that I could get back on, on my own terms.
All we’ve been reading for the last three weeks, Mr Men aside, is There’s a House Inside My Mummy by Giles Andreae and Vanessa Cabban. It’s a really lovely book that helps prepare a young child for the imminent disruption of a new sibling.
I liked it, but the Monkey adores it. She quotes it all of the time and I can see it help her make sense of her changing world. It’s made really light work of telling her a brother or sister is on the way with the possible exception of her announcing an unfortunate line from the book to a line of mainly waiting dads at her nursery school: “I’ve got to be patient because it’s rather tight.” Eek!
Fast forward to breaking the news, yesterday, that she’ll soon have a little brother. The Monkey dropped her head, disappointed and declared, quietly “oh, I wanted a girl. Can I watch tv now, please?” Her reaction was not unexpected, but I still felt really sad.
When bed-time came, she asked for There’s a House Inside My Mummy and, when it finished, softly spoke into my tummy “Goodnight, baby. I love you.”
How will it ever be possible to love someone new as much as I love her?
Ah, 4.30am, my old friend. It’s been a while. Not that I don’t see you – hey, we rub shoulders quite often. But it’s been some time since I threw off the duvet, along with any self-delusion at getting more sleep, got dressed and hunkered down for a cup of tea and a chat. At least at 4.30am, I get to finish said cup of tea. Well, keeping a firm grip on the positive thoughts, if I’m going to slip back into pregnancy mania and insomnia then at least it augurs well for blogging and book-reading. I may yet finish Wolf Hall and The Marriage Plot. At this rate, I’ll be through both before the week is out.
Everyone says to you “oh, no two pregnancies are the same, just like no two babies are the same.” Brilliant. I don’t know what it is about my personality that as soon as I hear something I automatically feel it’s my feminist duty to be the exception.
“Oh, you won’t want to be going back to work straight away after the baby.”
“Oh, you won’t be able to work full time.”
“Oh, that new-fangled baby-led weaning, you won’t want to do that.”
“Oh, you won’t want to have a baby at your age”
etc etc etc
And because all of the above has worked out so swimmingly, here I am, all over this one, doing it my way again. At least this time, I can’t be directly blamed for it. I think my body’s so used to witnessing the best way to do something, the tried and tested way that everyone else is doing, and my promptly sodding off and doing the exact opposite that it’s just gone on autopilot. “Supposed to not be exactly like last time..? No siree. I’m an INDIVIDUAL. I’ve got this covered.” Or perhaps, my midwife from 2009 has just sent some fax of my previous pregnancy to my 2014 body. With the one obvious difference that this time I started off the size of a house rather than just ended up one. Because that can only help.
Anyway, the reason I’m waffling at you right now, not even remotely on the subject of any book I or my pre-schooler has read, is because my sleeplessness from pregnancy month 5, 2009 has arrived, right on cue. It’s a kind of prenatal Groundhog Day, rather than Independence Day.
There are positives, right? I know how this plays out. There were no serious issues last time and the ones I had I’ve skipped this time (that fax was perhaps a little foggy.) So I dont have to waste the hours I’ve gained in not sleeping updating mad spreadsheets of all the things I need for the baby. A) I’ve still got the last one (looking back, I wonder how I avoided an institution. Who creates a 4-spreadsheet workbook on what you need for a new baby?) B) most of the new baby kit is languishing in my mother’s loft, and C) I updated the old spreadsheet in the daytime, six weeks ago, natch… So, with all this new-found space and experience, there’ll be room in my day to read and therefore to blog, uncluttered because this is all going down just like it did before, right?
We all know how things ended up last time (there’s a rich history of overwrought, trying to-do-it-all, ballsing-it-up parenthood scrawled on these virtual walls in between inconsistent bouts of book blogging). Non-conventional wisdom also dictates life sends you the same lessons until you learn them. I’ve learned enough to know that’s one piece of wisdom not to ignore.
Happy 4th July, wherever you are.
When I was a young, lonely adult, what drove me to read was the desire to know whether I was alone in the way I viewed the world and feared I was being viewed. I read to discover the commonalities between us, to chase down a sense that someone understood me. That I wasn’t as bloody alone as I felt. That there was another family out there, who understood and cared about me rather more than I felt the one I washed up with did.
As I got older, and perhaps felt less threatened by myself and my environment or maybe even matured slightly, I noticed how interesting other people’s stories were when I read. I became as fascinated by the unfamiliar as I was by the familiar, whilst noticing that even when a character is very different, there are always connections to my own experiences and personality. What I love most about books, to paraphrase a fascinating guy I knew the best part of 20 years ago, is that you get the closest you can to the inside of someone else’s head. You get to read about the thoughts, fears and concerns of all these human beings who may not even still live. It’s a fascinating way to influence and be influenced by other people and their lives.
And so it was that I decided to follow the sage advice of my closest friend and buy a book to help my monkey understand and navigate changes in her life by introducing her to a wholly alien experience. I bought the very beautiful and poignant There’s A House inside my Mummy for us to read together. Not only does she love it (it been the only book in town these few days), I can see that she is looking at me differently, with the eyes of someone inquisitive towards and concerned about another person. Yesterday, she stopped me from reading and looked at me, eyes wide and mature with concern, worry and maybe even a little fear “do YOU feel sick, mummy? Let me give you a big hug.” It’s the first time I’ve seen her look as though she was actually in a place outside of herself and her own experience. That’s what reading does.
I am so proud of her and so pleased with this lovely book.