Holiday Bonus Points — A Cautionary Tale

Note to prospective readers: this post may contain traces of nail polish or acetone and could, quite possibly, have resorted to the use of expletives.

Here in the Great Southern Land, the summer holidays are drawing to a close: those longed-for, clear-skied, sprawling days of uninterrupted leisure are now well and truly numbered.  In five more sleeps Miss Malaprop will be back at preschool, and in nine my Marvel Girl will resume school.

Looking back over the past five or six weeks, a large part of me is already veering wildly towards nostalgia.  I have relished my time with my girls this summer, the hours of building jungle hideout forts from shoeboxes, of creating crazy craft and science projects, of swimming every chance we got, of reading books (and more books) aloud, of happy chatter during endless sessions of imaginative play.  I will miss, in particular, the little gems that have dropped into their conversations…“Ants are very capable creatures — I want to get a magnifying glass so I can see how big this ant’s eyes are!” or “Our new cubby house is hotter than a vampire bat!”, or the many sentences that ended with the phrase “this [whatever it was] has been the best EVER!”.

Realistically speaking, however, I admit that my already sentimental recollections of the summer holidays have blithely glossed over the numerous occasions when the kids have not gotten along, or when I have raised my voice, or when one of us — or sometimes more than one — has completely lost it.  We are, none of us, angels (a fact which, quite naturally, reminds me of Sherlock Holmes’ marvelous quote from the superb Reichenbach Fall episode).  But these holidays, I did manage to introduce a new scheme aimed at promoting more angelic behaviour: Holiday Bonus Points.

The concept of Holiday Bonus Points came to me one morning when I was about to launch into my customary post-breakfast tirade about hair brushing, bed making, teeth cleaning, floor tidying or whatever it happened to be that day.  Instead of rattling into my usual rant, I took a deep (supposedly calming) breath and made a proclamation from the middle of the mess that was my kitchen: a Holiday Bonus Point would be awarded to any child who performed a task without being asked to.

Two gleaming pairs of eyes, one dark greeny-brown, the other light greeny-blue, locked onto mine, followed by a rapidfire barrage of questions, and before I knew it, the Holiday Bonus Point scheme was up and running — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it was made up and running.  The details were invented as I quickly as I answered the kids’ questions: any child who got five HBP’s before school went back would get a special treat of their choice, but the award — and the possible removal — of points was entirely at my discretion.

For the most part, Holiday Bonus Points were a roaring success: instead of constantly nagging the girls, I was able to (ever so vaguely) wonder aloud whether anyone would get an HBP that day.  Conversely, if anyone was misbehaving, I could warn them that if the infraction continued an HBP might be taken away from them.  In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the scheme worked brilliantly — until Miss Malaprop surprised us all by being the first to be awarded a full five points a whole week before the holidays ended, and promptly requested a trip to the shops to buy some nail polish.  Specifically, aqua and purple nail polish.  And pehaps a pink one, too.

And here, as you may have guessed, begins the cautionary portion of our tale — the part that begins right after I managed suppress the loud groan that very nearly escaped me when the words “nail polish” were mentioned.  It was, of course, the point when I realised that I not only had to purchase her chosen treat, but that I also had lost the by now almost mythical power of the Holiday Bonus Point scheme for the final week of the holidays.  This flaw, this great gaping hole in my formerly smooth-running system, was brought into particularly sharp relief when Miss Malaprop — despite being told in no uncertain terms NOT to open her brand new five-pack of glittery nail polish until I had finished showering and was able to supervise her — was unable to resist the siren song of the brightly coloured bottles, removed them from their shiny silver packaging, and promptly spilled some of the green (yes, green) nail polish on the carpet in her bedroom.

After a great many tears (hers) and far too much yelling (mine), we managed to resolve the situation. Miss Malaprop’s room still has a faint whiff of acetone, but the carpet is clear and we have both calmed down.  As it turns out, bottles of nail polish are just as easy to remove as Holiday Bonus Points, so the scheme has been salvaged to some degree.  But it was not without a serious amount of trepidation that I asked Marvel Girl (who is currently in possession of four HBP’s) what

The brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in The Reichenbach Fall.

The brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in The Reichenbach Fall.

she was planning on getting should she manage to procure her final point. To my great relief, she simply smiled dreamily and said she’d love to get the fifth book in the Swallows and Amazons series.

We are, none of us, angels, but I think even I can handle that.

Miss Malaprop

Miss Malaprop is my much-loved younger child.  Like most preschoolers she is relishing her first forays into the big wide world, working out what her personality feels like from the inside as we, in turn, discover what it looks like from the outside.  She is sensitive, extremely kind, quick-witted, hilariously funny, determined (sometimes to the point of stubbornness, at other times to the point of lunacy), has an alarming capacity to throw spectacular tantrums, and gets up to so much mischief you’d think she was the lovechild of Loki Laufeysen.  She enjoys reading books, dressing up, creating things (especially involving paint, tape, glitter glue, regular glue, well…anything sticky, really), and playing with — or more likely tormenting — Marvel Girl, her older sister.

Miss Malaprop also loves to sing.  Loudly.  Sometimes even in tune.  She particularly likes to sing along with the music she likes.  And, as you might have guessed from her pseudonym on this blog, she doesn’t always get the words quite right.

“WE ARE DONE WITH BEING BESIDE THE JELLY!” she belted out from the back seat of the car the other day (as I attempted to protect her tiny developing ego by stifling my mirth and narrowly averted driving off the road).  Lord only knows what the silent many — let alone the Madden Brothers — would have made of that one.

It seems, however, that Miss Malaprop is not particularly fussed what the lyrics really are.  We did try explaining to her, in the kindest way possible, that Sheppard are actually singing “Say Geronimo!” and not referring to a long extinct dinosaur in their recent hit.  I suspect she simply prefers to sing, “Hey Pteranadon” instead — she is a big fan of Tiny, Shiny and Don from Dinosaur Train, after all.

Wikipedia defines malapropism as “the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance”, and I must admit that in addition to finding it one of the funnier entries I’ve encountered spouting from that omniscient fount of all online knowledge, I particularly enjoyed that it included links to other linguistic wonders such as Bushisms and mondegreens.  Strictly speaking, my dear daughter’s pseudonym would be more accurate were it Miss Mondegreen, given that she is notorious for substituting words she knows (or thinks she hears) for the lyrics of the songs she likes to sing.  But since malapropism is derived from the French mal à propos, meaning “inappropriate”, and she is equally renowned for making statements or asking questions that are as untimely as they are unsuitable (such as proclaiming — loudly, and with great solemnity — that “Ruth’s father died!” when he is actually standing right behind her) , I have retained my original choice.

And despite her occasional indiscretions and musical blunders, Miss Malaprop is never, ever intentionally malicious. Rather, she is one of the most empathetic and considerate little beings I have had the privilege to meet, and the vast majority of the time I am more than proud to be her mum.  She is the sort of child who, if yoiPhone photos 158u appear to be at all down in the dumps, will attempt to rally your spirits with a rendition of her own inimitable version of that old favourite from The Jungle Book movie:

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your STRIPES!

Take that, Shere Khan.

 

Farewell to the Old Plastic Cubby House

It’s school holiday time in this Great Southern Land of ours, and we have been blessed with some wonderful spring days: the sun has been blazing up the blue, keeping the chill from the afternoon sea breezes at bay.  Blossoms are budding.  I’ve started sneezing more (a lot more).  And the kids have been relishing the opportunity to play — raucously, for hours — in the back yard.

So far, these holidays, there have been no casualties.

Well, not until Friday afternoon, that is.  Marvel Girl came belting into the house, barefoot and wild-haired, shrieking at the top of her lungs: “The cubby house! The cubby hoooouuuuuse!”.  She was closely followed by Miss Malaprop, wide-eyed and aghast, wailing that, “It’s fallen over! And the roof has come off…and now it’s broken“.  These last words were uttered at a whisper, her hushed tone no doubt adopted in anticipation of the maternal tirade they both expected to follow.

“Well, that was good timing!” I responded brightly, “We have Council clean up this weekend, so we can put it out for collection.  Let’s have a look at it.”  Two pairs of eyes, one dark greeny-brown, the other light greeny-blue, watched me suspiciously.  Surely they were not going to get away with this so easily?

Like most siblings, Marvel Girl and Miss Malaprop are a study in contrasts.  They are two very different individuals who love and fight each other in fairly equal measure but, fortunately, they complement each other too.  They’re like chorizo and haloumi, smoked salmon and capers, any other quirky combination you care to name.  When trouble is afoot, however, they tend to follow that timeless pattern of behaviour I remember falling into with my own brother: stick together, deny everything, and when all else fails — blame the other person.

Outside, surveying the damage, it was clear there was no coming back for the cubby house.  It was busted.  Completely kaput.  Bits of broken plastic were littering the lawn and a surprisingly large number of spiders crawling out from the newly exposed cracks in the frame.  Just regular, garden variety spiders, you know.  Nothing to get upset over.  This is Australia, after all — we don’t get too wound up over arachnids unless they are the poisonous kind, and we learn to identify them from an early age.  “They don’t have red spots, Mum,” said Marvel Girl cautiously, peering down at the rapidly disappearing spindly-legged creatures.  “Nup,” I replied definitively, “No Redbacks here, but it’s always good to check.”  She nodded solemnly in response.

Miss Malaprop, uncharacteristically blasé about the spiders, had other things on her tiny mind.  “You pushed it over,” she said accusingly, pointing at the shattered panels, glaring hard at her sister.  Once the ensuing shouting match had been dealt with, we set about dismantling the rest of the cubby house, the setting of so many imaginary adventures.

Ah, the old plastic cubby house.  It has been an ice cream shop and café that catered to customers’ every passing whim, a pirate boat from which many a scurvy dog as been sent to walk the plank, a hidden base for jungle explorers when covered with fallen fronds from the palm tree in the corner of the yard.  Climbing unassisted onto the faded yellow roof was a rite of passage for you and so many of your little mates, with the cry of surprise that “I can reach now!” inevitably being followed by a triumphant rooftop shout: “Look at ME!”

The back yard looks a whole lot bigger now, and perhaps even a little bereft now that those garish plastic panels, stairs and slippery slides have disappeared.

Farewell, old plastic cubby house.  You served us well.