Welcome to Gotham

“Gotham” by Justin Van Genderen…travel art for the descent into madness…

Some days, being a parent is fun — it’s an absolute breeze. Everything runs smoothly and everyone is happy. But other days, it’s like a slow slide into madness, Gotham style.

Those of you know me will understand that I am usually far more partial to the Marvel Universe than I am to the world of DC Comics, but on those days (yes, you know the ones) there is something about Gotham and its seedy underworld of crazed criminals that I can relate to. Those are the days when I feel like a disillusioned lawman, struggling to bring order to a city intent on dragging itself down into madness. The days when you either channel your inner Detective Jim Gordon or risk winding up in the crumbling confines of Arkham Asylum.

I’m not sure whether I’m making this (massively tenuous) connection because I have just binged on Season One of Gotham on Netflix or because in this part of the world we’re halfway through the final term of school — both possibilities are equally likely.

It’s just that time of year. Term Four. The kids, despite their best efforts, are beginning to get…ratty (I’m trying to be nice, here). And I, despite my best intentions, am certainly not being the model of a rational, reasonable mother I aspire to be. Everyone is a bit tired, a little strung out, and a tad more likely to snap. To answer back. To yell, instead of taking a single, soul-saving breath.

Oh, the backchat...Marvel Girl is currently obsessed by penguins, but I'm glad she hasn't come up against THE Penguin yet...

Oh, the backchat…Marvel Girl is currently obsessed by penguins, but I’m glad she hasn’t discovered THE Penguin yet…

I’m not sure why I always find it surprising that at this time of year simple things — like buckling car seatbelts, for instance — seem to become inordinately difficult for my children. That everyday activities like locating a hairbrush or two matching shoes of a morning, or washing a stack of lunch boxes each afternoon, suddenly leave me teetering on the edge of insanity.

It’s not like November creeps up on us or anything: it’s there on the calendar, in the same place, every year. I have nothing against November, nothing at all. I love that the jacarandas are out, that summer is on its way. But it’s not quite December, is it? The finish line is just out of sight. Sometimes it feels like November is the month when they ring the bell to remind you there’s still another lap to run…

Regroup, re-caffeinate...

Regroup, re-caffeinate…

Next year, perhaps, I will put a big circle around November 1 on my calendar to remind me that it’s time to regroup. To return to my First Principles. To restock my caffeine and chocolate stashes. To remember that while I may be fluent in both profanity and sarcasm, neither represents my best self linguistically.

I would also do well to recall some of the lessons learned from Gotham, particularly those that the young Jim Gordon imparts to the even younger Bruce Wayne, long before one was appointed Commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department and the other became Batman. Of the importance of honesty. Of doing what is right, rather than what is easy. Of treating people, including my family — no, especially my family — with respect.

Everyone has to matter...

Everyone has to matter…

As Jim Gordon says, “Everyone has to matter, or nobody matters”.

We all have Gotham days, all of us. And for every one of us, Gotham looks and feels slightly different. We’ve all experienced times when we’ve shouted at our kids instead of holding them close, when we’ve lost it over something trifling and insignificant that we look back on with almost instant mortification and remorse. But it’s also important to remember that we’re not alone, even when it feels like the descent into chaos is only a step away.

Everyone matters.

Even on Gotham days. Especially on Gotham Days.

And that includes the person who feels like they’re sliding slowly into insanity.

There will be light...

There will be light…

Yesterday, as you might have guessed, I had a Gotham day. I’m not proud of it, or of the way I behaved. But today, I’m doing better. I’ve apologised to my family for yesterday’s yelling and unnecessarily sardonic remarks. I’ve sent up my bat signal, I’ve made my mental phone call to the GCPD. I’ve had a coffee (definitely not decaf).

And, instead of checking myself into Arkham, I’ve embraced the insanity and set up plastic dinosaurs in a potted plant in the bathroom for my girls to discover when they come home.

I’m looking forward to their laughter.

And the light? Well, I’m looking at that already.

Who’s Afraid of the Wizard of Oz?

Miss Malaprop came home from preschool the other day and informed me that one of her little mates had brought in a DVD of The Wizard of Oz. Now, given that both my children are in equal parts blessed and afflicted by active imaginations, The Wizard of Oz is one movie we’ve, shall we say, kept in reserve for the time being.

Not because we’re cruel, unfeeling parents — no, no, no.

We simply value uninterrupted sleep. Possibly to the point of obsession.

“Did you watch it?” I inquired, as casually as I could, trying not to hold my breath or to further elevate my already rapidly rising blood pressure.

“Well, not all of it,” came the initial response, at which I might have winced: my sleep deprivation sensor had, even at this early stage, been well and truly triggered.

“Did you like it?” I asked, unable to keep the slight tremor of trepidation from my voice.

“Well…”

Cue klaxons, sirens, alarm bells of varying intensity…

Yes, true to form, instead of merrily singing, “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”, my poor Miss Malaprop proceeded to inform me that there was a wicked witch with a horrible green face and finished up with a plaintive, “Oh Mummy, I just can’t get it out of my head.”

And so the fun began…

Oz Plot

Lee Winfrey tells it like it is…

We dealt with the green faced witch first, given that this was Miss Malaprop’s main object of preoccupation. Marvel Girl raced to her room and returned with a Guardians of the Galaxy poster she had pulled from her wall, pointing out that Gamora not only has a green face but that she is also roughly twenty-seven kinds of amazing.

Gamora: it's OK to be green.

Gamora: it’s OK to be green.

Now I should point out, as I have before, that our kids are not old enough to watch any of the Marvel movies yet, though we do explain various plot lines to them and leave out the parts that are…most graphic and violent? That said, it didn’t seem like a good time to tell either of my girls that before she became a Guardian of the Galaxy, Gamora did a whole bunch of dirty work for Ronan, the Kree fanatic, or that she probably listed her occupation as “assassin” on any official intergalactic paperwork.

It did seem like a good time, however, for me to draw Miss Malaprop’s attention to various outrageous acts of artistic licence that MGM took when they made The Wizard of Oz way back in 1939, including the fact that in the book the Wicked Witch doesn’t have a green face at all. No, L Frank Baum did say the Wicked Witch was hideous, but he certainly did not say she was green.

Then, quickly applying the First Rule of Parenting — which is, of course, Distraction — I went on to express my umbrage at Dorothy’s shoes being glittery red in the movie (no doubt sparking an untold multitude of shoe fetishes around the globe), when in the book the shoes are specifically described as being silver.

Our discussion then moved on to how the movie actually finishes, and the standout role performed by Dorothy’s shoes (regardless of their colour) in returning her safely to Kansas with Toto — whose name, naturally, means “everything”. I may have proceeded to wax lyrical about how it wasn’t the Wizard of Oz who was powerful, it was Dorothy, and finally brought matters to a head when I explained that once you are no longer afraid of something, it has no power over you.

David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King.  If you want to see the spandex pants in all their glory, you'll have to look elsewhere.

David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King. If you want to see the spandex pants in all their glory, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Fortunately, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop were both fascinated by this idea, and it appeared that the image of the green faced witch was finally be fading from my younger daughter’s highly impressionable mind. Seeing the opportunity to apply the Second Rule of Parenting — which is, of course, When in Doubt Change the Subject — I sneakily steered the conversation in the direction of another movie entirely, Labyrinth, and regaled my eager listeners with tales of Sarah triumphing over the Goblin King.

Again, my imaginative kids are not likely to be watching Labyrinth without adult supervision any time soon — not least because the sight of David Bowie clad in spandex could be detrimental to their otherwise normal development — but I did manage to successfully skirt the issue of Jareth the Goblin King snatching a child in Sarah’s care and skipped straight to the moment of Sarah’s victory. “My will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great,” I intoned solemnly, “You have no power over me!

The kids cheered, and the rest of the evening unwound as it usually would, excepting the fact that I may have shoved a bottle of wine in the fridge — which I wouldn’t generally do on a Wednesday.

And I won’t lie.  I gave Miss Malaprop the most carbo-loaded evening meal she has had in very a long time, and sent her off to bed hoping against hope that digesting said dinner would act as some kind of nightmare-preventative and she would slumber blissfully until morning.

To her credit — and my eternal relief —  she did.

Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.

My Marvel Girl

Tom Hiddleston in his Loki costume doing it right...as usual...

Tom Hiddleston in his Loki costume with a young fan, doing it just right…as usual…

Well, I’ve written about Miss Malaprop, and now it’s time to introduce my other beautiful creature: Marvel Girl.

There are quite a few reasons why my firstborn is referred to on this blog as Marvel Girl, not least because she is currently obsessed by everything to do with the Marvel Universe and the Avengers, and by Captain America and Iron Man in particular.  Unlike Miss Malaprop, who — no doubt because of her age — is more likely to discuss these weighty topics in simplistic terms (typically, “Hulk, Smash!”), Marvel Girl is fascinated by the dichotomy between good and evil, by the characters’ back stories, by their particular powers and the price they pay to wield them.  She’s too young to watch the movies yet (any of them), but since The Bloke grew up on a steady diet of comics (reading and drawing them) he tells her what he can remember about her heroes and their various escapades, while I teach her about Norse mythology and read her stories of everything from Yggdrasil to Ragnarok — with a natural bias towards anything involving Loki.  And while it might be possible that she might have seen a certain video (yeah, you know…that one) from the 2013 San Diego Comic Con a few dozen times, I do have to admit that knowing my Marvel Girl can spot the God of Mischief (or Tom Hiddleston, for that matter) at twenty paces does make me one proud mamma.

But her love of anything to do with Avengers (or my completely unabashed love of all things Loki) is not the main reason why she is my Marvel Girl.  She is my Marvel Girl because she is also my miracle — the child who was born six weeks ahead of schedule, needed oxygen to get her lungs going, and spent more than three weeks in hospital before we could bring her safely home.  She’s always known the story of her birth in general terms but, strangely enough, it’s something I have only started discussing with her in any detail just today, when she came home from school with a questionnaire to complete for show and tell entitled “When I was Born”.  There were only three questions on the worksheet, along with a request that they bring in a photograph of them as a baby.  So, after chatting to her about it for a bit and filling in answers that she was comfortable with, we had a look at some of the photos from that time.  I picked out only a few to show her, briefly explaining what a humidicrib was, and why she had tubes and wires all over her, and doing my best to normalise the experience as best I could.  And my Marvel Girl, bless her, took it in her stride.

Avengers Christmas Decoration...you can get it from Etsy here.

Avengers Christmas Decoration…you can get it from Etsy here.

It’s such a privilege, for me, seeing her grow up.  Witnessing her personality unfolding, along with her quirky sense of humour (it’s definitely black around the edges…I can’t think where that came from), watching her graceful dancing and swimming, observing her crazy, compassionate and occasionally catastrophic interactions with her little sister.  It has been one of my life’s greatest gifts — knowing full well that her own life came perilously close to being over before it had even begun.  I’ve learned so much from her and from the experience of being a mother to her, and to Miss Malaprop too.

I can’t wait to watch all the Avengers movies with my girls — every single film and spin off!  And in the meantime, I’ll keep showing them snippets of what they have to look forward to, and encouraging them to keep believing in the people and characters who inspire them, fictional or otherwise.

Because I still believe in heroes.  And my Marvel Girl is one of mine.