Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
My friend Steve recommended this book, and frankly, we were skeptical. We’d read other Roald Dahl books and had mixed reviews. I love much of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (especially the massive anti-TV screed after Mike Teevee meets his end) but I could have done without the dated and racist description of the Oompa Loompas. I love Quentin Blake’s illustrations but think that shorter fiction like The Enormous Crocodile and The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me is sort of rambling (and, in the case of the latter, completely without conflict, which just makes it boring). Henry does like a lot of Dahl’s writing, though, so we decided to give Danny the Champion of the World a try. One thing I love about it is that it’s much more realistic than his other writings, so rather than just wrap up a story with magic, it seemed to be better constructed overall. We found parts to be laugh-out-loud funny, and most of it was so exciting that the boys couldn’t lie down when Dave was reading it to them – they had to sit upright and practically lie on Dave to get as much of the pictures as they could. There is a whole vein in the book about living life fully (at least, that’s how Dave and I interpreted it) that I appreciated. I see on Amazon.com that some people objected to the fact that the book largely focuses on the joys of stealing, and I’m usually one who is very moralistic when it comes to wrongs joyously laid out in children’s books, but it really didn’t bother me in this instance because the stealing in question was so absurd and fanciful and, well, creative. I loved the whole thing. The day after we finished it, Henry ran up to some random kids and started essentially giving them a book talk about it, excitedly talking about why it was so great.
Here’s a snippet of the absurdist drama that is life with kids:
Eli: So what else is there?
Julie [mostly asleep]: What?
Eli: What else?
Julie: What else of what?
Eli: There’s excavators, and dumptrucks, and loaders. What else?
Julie [face still smashed into pillow, burrowing deeper into covers]: Cement mixers.
Eli: What else?
Eli: Where is the forklift?
Julie: What are we talking about?
Eli: Show it to me.
Eli: Get up. Read me a book.
Julie [sighing]: Oh, alright.
What exactly am I supposed to think when I walk into a 8-year-old’s birthday party, and the grandfather of the birthday boy says to the mom of the birthday boy, “Wow, parents sure are older these days than they were when you were little.” I think I cackled some slightly hysterical reply asking why he said it when I walked in, and then he backpedaled and said he was 19 when his first child was born, and, “What are you, in your mid 20s?” Yeah right. Maybe it seemed worse because Dave and I had just been talking about how we feel so old and creaky from lack of sleep and, from, you know, getting old. Plus he was mocking me about how I’m most comfortable driving a few mph under the speed limit. And I feel like I keep seeing couples with young children where the father is all spry and springy and handsome, and the mother is totally haggard and grey-haired with giant eye bags. Whenever I see a photo of myself I totally think, “Good god, who is that witchy old lady with the gut? Oh, great, it’s ME.” Ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but apparently I’m not 17. Much to my surprise.
Everyone told me that integrating the third kid would be the easiest, and I have to say it’s totally true. She sleeps when she’s supposed to, smiles most of the time, and is very easy to comfort. The boys love her and she loves them. Except…there’s a little compartment in my brain that was marked Things You Have to Remember Occasionally. Now those words have been crossed out with big red marker and the word ZUZU written over it in Sharpie. I forgot Stacey’s birthday (um, happy birthday, Stacey! I know it was six weeks ago!), I forgot my mother-in-law’s birthday, and I constantly have overdue library books. That is, I constantly HAD overdue books, and then I discovered that our library has a program where they email you two days before your books are due. Thank you, South Portland Public Library! Check with your library – I bet they have a similar program. It’s so much better to receive a definitive list than to have a vague feeling that some of the books from that giant pile must be due sometime soon. I have to explore birthday-notification programs now.
The image to the left is a great Roz Chast cartoon showing how your brain only has space for so much stuff. I know it’s unreadable here. I’m mostly just encouraging you to go get The Party, After You Left and find the cartoon for yourself.
I guess I’m really an adult: my new favorite food is oven-crisped kale. Why don’t they package this like potato chips? I would buy it (or, well, I wouldn’t, because I’d say, “Why would I buy this? I can make it at home!” but I would theoretically buy it). Wash and chop kale, lay it out on a cookie sheet, toss with olive oil and some salt, and bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes (or more, depending on how much you’re doing and the ripeness of the kale), stirring occasionally (I use tongs to stir). Take it out when it’s crispy. It’s good hot or room temperature. I want to have a big bowl of this around to eat all the time. Yum! (Again, what has happened to me? Not that I’ve ever really been anti-kale or anything, but I never thought I’d be so into it.)
Alarming sight of the day: Eli running through the kitchen, on a mission, holding an uncapped marker.
Yesterday at kindergarten pickup the Other Kindergarten Teacher came over to me and said, “I want to tell you…we help the students during the first ten minutes of lunch, and I am really impressed by the lunches you pack for Henry! They’re great!” Once I got over my terror that she was going to chastise me for not including more nut-free candy in Henry’s lunch, I realized she was being very, very nice. It felt good to be praised by the Lunch Police. Though it did make me wonder a bit about what other lunches are getting sent, if Henry’s lunch is looking stellar enough to warrant comment. Usually he gets two or three nut-themed items (peanut balls, PB&J, granola bar, a random handful of some kind of nuts), some kind of fruit (an apple and mandarin oranges, mostly), and a rice cake (he thinks they’re dessert and I haven’t really led him to believe otherwise). Oh, and water. It’s not like I’m making some kind of bento box or anything. What is everyone else getting? Go-gurt and beer?
I have the answer to your toothbrush woes. I’ve spent hours (or, ok, minutes) wandering around the toothbrush aisle wondering what I’m supposed to get for the boys. Is Winnie the Pooh ok? Dr. Suess? Cars? Why do they all have to be some cartoon character? Will they even brush with them or will these be rejected? Then, one day, I was in Target, and I saw the Dr. Fresh Firefly toothbrushes. PERFECT. No licensed character, and they come in packs of two, which are different colors, so the boys get the same but different toothbrush. Best of all, the toothbrush flashes for one minute, so they know that’s how long to brush for. Very fun to do in a dark bedroom. Oh, no, wait, this part is best of all: only $1.89. That’s for two toothbrushes.
My mom was just here for a few days. She gave Eli a giant calculator, which he loves, and calls his “computer.” Today he said, “I have to do some work on my computer,” Then he set it out in front of him, and heaved a great big weary sigh. I guess the workaday world is already taking its toll on the 2-year-old set.
The other day at kindergarten pickup there was a mom next to me who gave the teacher a look like, “Well? How was he?” and the teacher good-naturedly shook her head and then told the mom that she had to put her son in timeout several times. Again. I have to admit that it never occurred to me that kids would be bad in kindergarten, bad enough to get in trouble and get put into a timeout. I told Dave that maybe the whole point of parenting (well, ok, not the whole point, but a big point) is to make it so that your kids, when they misbehave (which they will do, since they’re only kids) that they do it at your house and not out in public or in school for heaven’s sake. Then the timeout boy pretty much DITCHED his family in the gym pickup area, I guess because he knew he was going to get in trouble. He left the gym and was almost to the main crossroads when the grandma caught up with him. Again, crazy. I thanked Henry later for being a good kid. Henry said Timeout Kid gets in trouble for fighting (!) and cutting in line. And something convoluted about continually joining the wrong group during “choices” but since I don’t really understand how “choices” works, it didn’t make sense to me.