Recycle Robot vs. Sister Mary Villus

I made it through Mbot’s first show-and-tell three weeks ago, but only barely, and
now I was faced with a second. He had wanted to bring a fiberglass cast. Another kid had brought a cast, cut off his wrist after an accident we have not (yet) had. He had wanted to bring shells. Another kid had brought a bagful of shells, sending one home with each child. In the shell department, we had only one tiny limpet. It was not a large one. He wanted to bring seeds. The kid yesterday had brought seeds. Pressure and panic were mounting.

Then I had a brainstorm. We would make a robot out of stuff in the kitchen! Recycle Robot was constructed of Handiwrap tubes, a granola bar box, an egg carton, mini-bubble wrap (the wings, duh), pipecleaners, and a few inches of duct tape. “We” was constructed of “me” more than “he.” I was particularly proud of Recycle Robot’s articulated elbows. Forgive me for overachieving, but I am new to the show-and-tell scene. The last time I did show-and-tell I was in the first grade and I brought in my little brother, who I introduced as Freddy. Freddy is not his name.

Recycle Robot was as big a hit as Freddy had been forty years ago. But the next day I realized, as a proud little boy and his wise mother paraded into class with a flashlight–that there are simpler solutions.

Yet I dreaded the next show-and-tell.

As the day drew near, we discussed it. Mbot wanted to bring Buzz Lightyear, the one with all the buttons, the one the Toy Fairy had not picked up (You Can’t Shoot the Toy Fairy), but Mrs. Pursell does not allow toys. He wanted to bring Tesserwell. Mrs. Pursell does not allow cats. He wanted to bring poop. I am sure that Mrs. Pursell does not allow poop.

The day came at us as though shot from a cannon, and that morning, we were still empty-handed.

“How about the magnifying glass?” I asked with false cheer. I’d already suggested it, days before, to a profound lack of enthusiasm. But I’d just found it again behind his little brother’s crib. I’d gone hunting for it that morning because Mbot had wanted to examine the dried cat puke on the bathroom floor more closely, and who am I to stand in the way of scientific investigation? “Just don’t touch it,” I’d advised. The weedy, yellow puddle had appeared during the night; it wasn’t hurting anyone, it wasn’t going anywhere. Unlike breakfast and Griffin’s diaper and the cat’s insulin shot, it could wait. It might as well pay its way.

And it did. As Mbot rushed into the bathroom armed with the magnifying glass,  I thought about the object of his fascination. And then it hit me. “How about the stomach book?” I asked. “For show-and-tell?”

Mbot looked up from the kitty bile long enough to exclaim, “Yeah, Mom!”

The stomach book.

The stomach book has been a part of our lives for over a year, since my then two-year-old had pulled it off the library shelf–coincidentally, soon after he’d had (and shared with us) the toilet bowl blues. He insisted on reading it every night and also several times a day. Since then, I had renewed it, returned it (an act accompanied by tears from the backseat), and checked it out again. And again, and again. The real title of this fab classic is Your Body Battles a Stomachache (by Vicki Cobb, Andrew Harris, and Dennis Kunkel). It is a book dedicated to describing in detail the mechanics of throwing up.

The stars of the show: intestinal villi, magnified 16,000 times.

Inside it, we meet, up close and anthropomorphized, the major players in puking. The muscle cells, who look like superheroes. “Who’re those guys again, with the fancy heads?” asked Mbot. Those are the brain cells, with pointy axon noggins and dendrite limbs. There are also goblet cells (attractive for their ability to produce mucous), and villi (singular, villus), the fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestine to absorb nutrients. The
shapeless and benevolent villi call to mind efficient, well-meaning, and, at
one point when one of them explodes, extremely distraught nuns. There is also an image of a tapeworm, magnified ninety times. I’m telling you, this book is terrific.

After school, Mrs. Pursell thanked a shyly proud Mbot for helping teach the class about villi.

What is it about the stomach book that he is powerless to resist? I don’t know. Maybe it’s simply the attraction of a character-driven saga, the good guys versus the bad guys, with the benefit of body fluids and a giant tapeworm. Or that it all happens to him. (Except the tapeworm (yet)). It is far more interesting to him than Recycle Robot, no matter how bendy he is at the elbow.

The day after show-and-tell, Mbot removed Recycle Robot’s arm and inserted several small plastic toys through the shoulder socket into the granola box body. They were unrecoverable, because Recycle Robot cannot throw up. I performed surgery, amateurishly. Recycle Robot did not survive. But the stomach book lives on.

What would you bring to show-and-tell?


You Can’t Shoot the Toy Fairy

David de Rothschild, eco-adventurer and heir to banking fortune, has not shown up.

The toy fairy came to our house for the very first time this week. Her arrival has been threatened before, but she had never alighted on our doorstep. I invoke her name when I have asked several times for the floor to be cleared of dinosaurs, books, trains, stuffies, colanders, whisks, and everything else that collects on the living room and kitchen floors until I feel like I am living in the Pacific Trash Vortex except David de Rothschild is not going to come save me in a boat made of plastic bottles.

It’s the toy fairy’s job. To save me. But not in a bottle boat. She flies.

The toy fairy collects toys from the floors of children who do not care enough to put them away properly and redistributes them to children who will. This is the part that seems to motivate Mbot. Not that his Buzz Lightyear with the karate kick button will be taken away into the nebulous ether, but that it will be given to another little boy. This is something concrete, that he can imagine, and predates by thirteen or so years the heartbreak that will inevitably be caused by a girl who dumps him for another guy.

There are, of course, endless questions: Is the toy fairy little? (Yes.) Is she strong? (Yes.) Can she find toys hidden under sofa cushions? (Yes.) And she’s got connections. She’s on close terms, for example, with Santa Claus.

This week, the perfect storm of hormones and hurry and selective deafness and dawdling occurred, and I finally gathered up a small bag of Legos and blocks that would never be missed, and dropped it outside the front door for our winged visitor. It was a dreadful moment. I hated it. The toy fairy had always been imaginary. Hovering just beyond the rooftops, the bells on her wings not yet audible. Now, she was here: a creature invoked out of my own power was biting me on my clever Mommy ass.

“When I’m a big boy, I’ll shoot that toy fairy!” cried Mbot.

“You can’t shoot her,” I replied. “And besides, she’d tell Santa.”

But at that moment, I wanted to shoot her, too.

Have you been so clever, lately,  that it hurt?

*picture of David de Rothschild from