On naming conventions.

The issue of names have revealed another huge chasm between the way the Star sees things and the world view of the Comet.

In the UK the Star has a name which anyone under forty and not Russian has to say ‘what?’ a few times before they get it (and then they will still mispronounce it). Anyone over forty tends to peg the inspiration fairly accurately to a US spy series from the 1960s. They still say it wrongly though.

This lack of notoriety is just fine by you although you do feel the urge to shout at people about their placement of stress on the wrong syLAble sometimes. What is less fine is that this name, which in Russia used to be acceptably recognisable but relatively uncommon, has, along with a lot of pre-Soviet monikers, suddenly become a lot more popular. In fact, you can barely enter a playground these days without tripping over at least three more boys with the same name. You, who never met another Solnushka until you shared a house with one at Uni, find this quite unsettling. It’s still only in the top 25 or so rather than the top ten, but perhaps, after all, you should have gone with Ignat.

Ah well. Next time.

Anyway. The Star, perhaps because for a long time he had never met anyone with his name, your name, B’s name, or his best friend’s name, would react with astonishment whenever he heard the name of one of his classmates applied to characters on the telly. He found it very hard indeed to grasp the concept that they weren’t referring to the people he knew.

Luckily many of the children at his school have totally bonkers names too, so this didn’t happen too often.

The Star also developed a unique approach to what he called his toys.

Nonsense words.

Often unpronounceable nonsense words. Your absolute favourite was the dinosaur known as Harbel de Nosey, said as though there was a mechisnack on the end of the first word.

These days, he tends to re-purpose actual words. Hopefully he will work through this phase by calling his fish things like Pop and Chop, rather than his first set of twins. But you do rather pity his future children.

You blame the girl at his school called Chardonnay. Or rather, her mother.

The Comet, by contrast, has a fairly normal name in both English and Russian.

There is the occasional bit of confusion over the fact that her Babushka shares it, but by and large it passes unremarked, except that almost everyone can think of a character from literature with the same name, and it is invariably not a particularly pleasant person.

The first person to find a positive role model for the Comet in the form of a famous person of the same name gets a sweetie. So far, it hasn’t happened yet. Bugger.

But the impact this mundanity has had on the Comet is clear to see. Horses are all called Horsey. Zebras are Zebra. Girafes are Girafe. Princesses are all Princessa, baby dolls are My Baby and all unicorns are called Licorn, which is as close as she can get. Very ocassionally she will strecth a point and add a defining adjective, like Big Horsey or Small Horsey or Wombat Horsey (it looks like a wombat. No, really, it does), which is good because you have a lot of horseys lying about the place these days and they are all her favourites.

Or they are called Comet.

Never let it be said your daughter has not inherited anything from you.

Ruthless self-centredness clearly runs in the family.

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On putting children to bed

You have a confession to make. You are still putting your son to sleep. You lie next to him for ten minutes while he strokes your eyebrows and gently tugs on your nose and then he drops off. If he is really having trouble descending into the land of nod, he licks his finger first. The resulting sensation isn’t one you wouldn’t be in a hurry to recommend that other people to experience, but it seems to do the trick so hey. Sorted.

What, other people’s children do not find eyebrow stroking the perfect soother? How odd. It’s been the Star’s preferred comfort rag since he was quite small. At least he has stopped assuaging his nervousness at meeting new people* by stroking their eyebrows now, which was a phase he went though at around two and a half. There were lots of startled toddlers in Saaaaf Laaandaaan in those days, I can tell you. He’s also got the message that Papa is not keen, and that Mama would prefer not to have her nose pulled when she is trying to do up shoelaces, which is all progress too.

You do not quite know how this started, but you can probably say it had something to do with your failure to give the Star a dummy. Mind you, the Comet also never got a dummy but she does not try to smooth down any parts of your face in order to calm herself down.

No, she twiddles her hair. What there is of it. Had you known how long it would take to grow, you would never have let your husband shave it off just after her first birthday.**

She also fiddles with her own eyelashes.

Now that really is weird.

But then when you were a kid, you slept with your old cot blanket over your covers proper. And you called it your ‘sucking quilt’.

And you didn’t give it up until you were in double figures at least.

Wonder what happened to it.

*No sniggering at the back there. The Star does get nervous. He just shows it in funny ways.

**If anyone is thinking there’s a story here, there is. But not a very interesting one.

The Toddler’s Guide to… Paradise Wildlife Park

The Toddler’s Guide is written by Solnushka’s eighteen-month-old daughter, who is generally accompanied on her travels by her Mama, her Papa and her Big Brother, who is four and a half. She wishes everyone to know that the spelling is Mama’s.

Has Mama mentioned that my Brilliant Big Brother is quite keen on animals? She has? Then it should surprise nobody that when Mama discovered an opportunity to visit somewhere for FREE (Mama does like the free) with a promotion from a MoneySupermarket Days Out Discounts (whatever that is), she chose a zoo. The Paradise Wildlife Park, specifically.

A white tigerIt’s an interesting name, that. It suggests a certain… commercial approach to zookeeping. To Mama. And she did experience grave misgivings when as we went in we were greeted by the ‘put a pound in this ride… and this one…. and that one…. and look, there are five more over here too’ area. Mama also thinks that the rabbit enclosure plastered with advertising as the first animal attraction you see isn’t ideal. She wondered if she was going to have to pay extra for everything, and be fobbed off with orange dyed, stripily painted pet cats in lieu of your actual tigers. Although I don’t know what’s wrong with that. Cats! Woohoo!

In fact, nearly everything else, and there is a lot else, is included in the entrance price. And the animals are, Mama thinks, a very carefully chosen mix between, small and manageable, large and impressive, familiar crowd-pleasers and the full on exotic. And reassuringly well looked after. What a relief it must be to be released from the terms of your latest scientific grant meaning you need to try to convince the punters that forty-two species of slugs hiding in the leafmold are interesting. My Brilliant Big Brother really liked ALL THE ANIMALS. And the snakes. Papa thought the tapirs were pretty cool. Mama enjoyed all the big cats, especially when they roared, which they did quite often. She was also thrilled to find the roosting, squeaking bats were oddly unnerving, even as she resisted the temptation to clutch at her hair.

Tapirs

Me? I liked the stairs. There are stairs because there are a lot of viewing platforms and walkways that take you right over where the animals are hanging out. This is fabulous, especially for someone my height. I also loved the ostriches. This was because an advantage of the evils of capitalism approach is that Paradise Wildlife Park lets you feed some of the animals. Cabbage, mostly, which I don’t like, to Mama’s everlasting relief. There are signs telling Mama which animals you can throw bits of limp veggies at, and it definitely increases you chances of getting up close to those animals, but the ostriches will peck the food right out of the bags. Oh, how I shrieked with delight!

Feeding the tigersAnother highlight was watching some visitors feeding the tigers. Not only was there the remote but thrilling possibility that someone might get their fingers bitten off, but the Keeper who was supervising imparted quite a lot of interesting (to Mama) information about the care of tigers in captivity. Plus, the tiger stretched up really high, right on his hind legs. Coooooooooooooooool.

But enough about the animals! They also have a (free) bouncy castle! I’d have paid to get in just for that. And a variety of slides with (yes!) more steps to climb to get to them. And an actual fire engine! And an actual steam engine!! Both of which you can climb all over to your heart’s content. Papa had been so softened up by the quality of what had come before that he put a whole 20p in a slot and the steam engine roared and whistled and puffed for hours. There was a pirate ship, and an assault course, and some go carts to pedal around, and a (pay for) miniature railway, and a (pay for) crazy golf course as well as a full on (free) soft play area/ café that much to my disappointment we didn’t get to go in because we’d spent so long on all the other things.

It really is a full day out, and then some. Start early.

Train

A couple of other things Mama seems to think are important. There are plenty of places to eat, both for those who have taken a packed lunch and for those who wish to buy something in site, hot or cold. For sheer coolness value, Mama recommends the snack bar overlooking the tiger enclosure.

The zoo, Mama says, is easy to find. This is good as she had to drive us across London to get there. Nice clear signposting and only a short ride from that big M25 road we seem to spend our lives whizzing around is just the sort of thing calculated to keep her calm and happy under these difficult circumstances.

When we arrived, we found the parking is also ample, another thing Mama seems to rate highly, even if it was a chilly January holidays day and therefore highly unlikely to be an issue. That the zoo works as a venue in winter is another of its plus points, of course. In fact, given that there are distinct signs that the place may be rammed to overflowing in summer, Mama rather thinks off-peak is the time to go, even if that means you sacrifice a few live shows or something. We always seem to miss them anyway. Too distracted by the camels.

And finally, they play you music in the toilets. Result!

LemurAnyway. The Paradise Wildlife Park was thoroughly enjoyed by a family who are quite the connoisseurs of wildlife experiences. In fact, it’s so good that Mama suggested we return sometime soon and play actual folding paper to get in. And Papa didn’t say no.

You really don’t get much more highly recommended than that.

Previous Toddler’s Guides:

London SEALIFE Aquarium

RAF Museum, Hendon

RichmondPark

Hyde Park

On rude words.

You swear. A certain amount.

Mainly in the car. You say ‘oh BUGGER!’ quite a lot when driving around London. Also, ‘BOLLOCKS!’ and sometimes ‘You unprintable numpty! Don’t you honk at me/ cut me up/ steal my parking space/ drive at 2 miles an hour when the traffic is unusually light!’

The Star has picked up on this. You have been called aside by his teacher for a quiet word. The Star, she said, dropped his scarf on the floor. And then he said (whispering) ‘oh BUGGER!’. You looked innocent, shook your head sorrowfully and taught him to say ‘oh PANTS!’ instead. Well hey, it always worked on teenage language students.They found it hilarious enough to actually use.

Sure enough, since four year olds think ‘Poo!’ is the last word in comedy this was very successful, until your cunning came up against the difference between language learning and language acquisition.

Language acquirers extrapolate rules based on examples and apply them to new bits of language. Children go through a phase, for example, where they take the rule for Past Simple regular verbs (add, broadly speaking, ‘ed’) and apply it to all verbs, little realising that the English language is sneaky and will require them to learn off by heart whole swathes of other irregular, largely unpredictable past tense forms too. Children say, in short, ‘He writed…’ rather than ‘He wrote…’

So it should have come as no surprise that given the example of ‘oh PANTS!’, you caught your son saying ‘oh COATS!’ the other day.

And perhaps it wouldn’t have, except in the mouth of the Star, and given that comprehension is in part made up of us hearing what we expect to hear in any given context, the expletive ‘oh COATS!’ sounds a lot like…..

Yes, quite.

You hate to think what his teacher will say.

Christmas squee

Your son’s key worker assistant teacher lady pulled you over on the last but one day of school.

This rarely bodes well. Last time this happened she told you that the Star had said a heartfelt fuck when he dropped his scarf on the grubby floor. You smiled that special smile parents have when their children’s teacher admonishes them. The very bright, overly delighted one. The one that says ‘I do not resent your right to pass judgement on my child at all‘. You also feigned horror, shifted guiltily, muttered ‘appropriate communicative function’ and made a mental note to stop swearing at all the other drivers when you are in the car. Or possibly stop driving in London altogether. Yes, that would do it.

This time, however, she wanted to tell you about the Star and Father Christmas, who had paid the class a visit that day. Gave them all a rather nice book, too, which was generous of him. Being a religious school it was about Noah. But being a Church of England school it has about as much religious content as All I want for Christmas is you.

Anyway. Towards the end of Santa’s visit, your son got up and went to stare intently out of the window up at the sky. The assistant teacher lady drifted over and asked him what was up.

And the Star said ‘I’m looking for the reindeer’.

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

On the Elefun Snackin Safari

Toys are tricky things, or at least they are when you don’t buy them at car boot sales for a pound. Luckily, you can buy a lot of toys for a pound at the car boot sale. You particularly recommend such places for random plastic animals, small cars and things that go beep, because mostly they still go beep when you get them home and put a new battery in. Oddly enough it is also quite good for jigsaws and card games. Perhaps other people are as obsessive as you are about keeping track of the pieces. This never ceases to surprise you.

The car boot sales are less good for things that come in large boxes, have many parts, need adult assembly and have instructions for the obvious reason that with the best will in the world, which mostly sellers have, there is a much higher likelihood that some crucial part has gone missing and got broken. But since the Star, and now the Comet, started to take an interest in the world around them can reasonably be expected to enjoy something a bit more complicated than a shape sorter, you have entered the world of paying actual tens of pounds for things like this, particularly at times like… well, like Christmas.

Now the problem with this is that when you are paying real money, it really helps if the toy is appreciated and played with. At least once. Unfortunately, or so it seems to you, the attrition rate for toys increases exponentially the more complicated, the bigger, and the more expensive the item is, and you find this very stressful.

So when you were offered one of the newer toys on the market this season, the Elefun Snackin Safari, to review, you rather jumped at the idea.

The Elefun Snackin Safari is a sister toy to the original Elefun game. There you catch as many little butterflies in a net that the elephant shoots out of his trunk. Hours of fun, although the Star always tended to just run around with his hands out yelling and crashing into the other kids on the occasions he got to have a go with it.

Here, with the Elefun Snackin Safari, you race to sucker up more little discs of foods than the other player, by bouncing your elephant’s slinkyesque elephant trunk up and down. Lovely simple premise, and the elephant heads are also splendidly easy to assemble, and to store too. The noses clip neatly back onto the main face, so you aren’t dealing with yards of increasingly battered spring all the time. In fact, the Star and the Comet are perfectly capable of getting the game set up and put away all by their four and a half and one and a half selves. Which is pretty much what you want in a toy.

The anticipation level generated by the game was pretty high. The Star was, of course, won over by the animal connection

You also appreciate very much the utter gender neutrality of this piece of kit. There has been no attempt to make this for little girls or boys. The packaging shows a child of each sex playing, GASP, together and even the handles for the elephant units are in green and orange. You can’t describe what a relief this is in this blue and pink modern world of ours.

Elefun Snackin Safari

In fact the only slight problem with it is that your son has terrible trouble actually getting the elephant to actually pick up any of the snacks. He is not the most manually dexterous of children, and had the patience of a not very patient thing. You recall that you were the sort of person who couldn’t ever get a yoyo to work, not that you tried much once you couldn’t do it immediately, so the apple is definitely not falling far from the tree there.

This doesn’t matter much because, while you daughter seems likely to get the hang of it all far earlier than the Star, she is still too young to really be able to play the game as advertised with him properly. So while she flails happily around the living room with her elephant trunk, you and the Star take it in turns to bounce it up and down in order to stick the little sucker to the floor. The score is about even there.

In short, the Elefun Snackin Safari it is the sort of toy that even if you aren’t actually hoovering up the snacks you cam still get quite a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Certainly your kids are still voluntarily hauling it out of the toy corner and having a go after a week, which in your book, counts as a win.

Elefun Snackin Safari: aimed at 3 and above, £14.99.

Full disclosure: I have not been paid for writing this post, but I did receive the Elefun Snackin Safari free of charge.

On statistics

So the Comet has just woken up with a raging temperature and in the same 30 minutes, the Star’s cough got the better of him and he has thrown up.

All over his Papa, which makes that a 100% record. Papa covered in 100 litres of sick in the last four and a half years, Mama zero. Result.

You have resisted the impulse to take a picture of the carnage for blogging purposes. Just.