Bots Bugged By Bugs, But This Bug’s Not Bugging Me

2012 October 31 Halloween NIKON 012

One thing I’ve had time to do is go through this year’s photos and make our Christmas cards. Normally, the bots love bugs!

We are on Day Four of the 2012 West Valley Endurance Biathlon, in which contestants alternate between pooping and puking during daytime hours. So far, Gbot is the clear winner, but he got a three-day headstart. Mbot threatens to give him the runs for his money. As for me, I’ve had a mildly upset stomach, but nothing that doing laundry twenty-four hours a day can’t keep at bay. Even the antique cat joined the festivities and left two little puddles of bile for me to step in early this morning before attending to other bile piles.

The bots aren’t in pain–except for the diaper rash that comes with the bug–they’re just very lethargic. Gbot’s finally on antibiotics. A downside for me of the P’n’P’ Biathlon is that it’s been accompanied by a Busytown Mysteries marathon. After nine hours of watching the same ten episodes ad infinitum, yesterday evening I finally insisted that something, anything, else be put in the DVD player. I am an evangelical fan of Richard Scarry books. But the film adaptations, I can’t stand. The bots, on the other hand, think it’s the best thing since Max and Ruby, another show I can’t stand.

I can’t put my finger on exactly what’s so teeth-grittingly bad about it. Maybe because Lowly Worm, who is a good-natured, skinny sidekick in the books, has an incredibly annoying voice. And then there are Pig Will and Pig Won’t, who bicker constantly. Mbot loves them. He wants to go live in their world.

Meanwhile, in my world, Husbot is feeling bad for me. “I know this is when motherhood is hardest,” he empathized on Day One. Then he proceeded to pick Mbot up from school two days in a row and taken him on adventures all afternoon before dropping him at Grandma’s. Grandma brought Mbot home tired and fed. Meanwhile, I experienced the two quietest days I can remember in a long time. Even today, with both bots home and leaking at both ends, it’s another quiet day (except for the swoosh of the washing machine and the constant tumbling sounds from the dryer.) I convinced the bots to trade in Busytown for Christmas specials and Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. I have set them guilt-free in front of the boob tube. The hardest part of motherhood? No. The hardest part of motherhood is all those other days–three hundred and perhaps fifty-five of them a year–when everything is a whirlwind of normalcy, when I am taking care of two healthy, active bots, trying to get on with career and cooking and cleaning, too, and no one’s saying, “This is the hardest part of motherhood.”

I just agreed with Husbot. “So true,” I said. But it has been a reminder that I feel less frantic–and happier–when I am concentrating on just one or two things–keeping bots comfortable and the house as sanitary as possible–and not spreading myself across an impossibly long “to do” list.

I hope we’re back to normal by tomorrow. If we are, I will try to remember how this slower pace felt, and try to go a little slower in my own West Valley Multi-Day Mothering Marathon.





Twelve Over Forty: The Literary Superhero’s List of Olde Reads

One of the advantages of being a forty-four year old mother of weebots is that I know of a lot of good picture books that are as old as I am. And so, in the spirit of the latest overused literary marketing tool–displaying the talents of the young (Narrative’s “Fifteen below Thirty”, The New Yorker’s “Twenty under Forty”)–I’ve compiled a list of the exceptional old. I call it “Twelve Over Forty.”

I did not consult a panel and no surveys were done. My criteria were simple: either 1. as a child, I loved the book, 2. Mbot and/or Gbot loves the book and asks for it repeatedly, or 3. both of the above.

1. A Child’s Christmas in Wales

Originally a piece written for radio and recorded by Dylan Thomas in 1952, this lyrical tale was first published as a book two years later as part of a collection by New Directions. This edition, published in 1985 by Holiday House, is available online from Barnes and Noble, with unused copies running upwards of $20, which is worth it for the lush watercolor illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman. I wasn’t introduced to this ’til my twenties, and fell immediately in love. I’ve been reading it to Mbot since he was born, and although I know he doesn’t understand much of it, he’s as mesmerized as I am by the pictures, the language, and the high adventure:

“Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slide and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared. ”

I am a sucker for the lyrical and the slyly humorous; this snowballs the reader with both.

2. Burt Dow, Deep Water Man

“One morning, the cock crowed ‘cockty-doodly,’ and Leela rattled her stove lids klinkey-klink, shouting, ‘Hit the deck, Burt, time to eat!’ And Burt came downstairs winking and blinking his sleepy eyelids and ate his breakfast.” So begins the day of Burt Dow, an old deep-water man, who goes out cod fishing and catches a bigger adventure than he’d planned on. Published in 1963, this was Robert McCloskey‘s last book, and it’s easily as good as his better known Newbery winners, Blueberries for Sal and One Morning in MaineIt’s unfashionably long, these days, but worth reading in installments.

The way Burt gets himself out of a whale’s tummy looks to me like a playful homage to Jackson Pollack, whose drip paintings became so influential in the decade before Burt Dow chugged on the scene in his sea-worn dory the Tidely Idley, with “a firm hand on the tiller, giggling gull flying along behind.”

3. I am a Bunny, by Ole Risom, illustrated by Richard Scarry.

This is one of those books that is so simple and seemingly unimpressive that you wonder why it pulls on you days and years after reading it, like the chorus of a good song. I loved it as a kid. Mbot loved it as a two year-old. Gbot loves it now. It has under 150 words–I didn’t have a chance to count them before it disappeared from the coffee table. But “I am a bunny. My name is Nicholas,” has the staying power of “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

4. Richard Scarry’s The Great Pie Robbery

I don’t want this post to turn into a promo for Richard Scarry, but although I was weened on the Greatest Storybook Ever and Richard Scarry’s Busytown, both of which Mbot has loved, literally, to tatters, I didn’t discover The Great Pie Robbery until I was over forty. I’d say it’s among Mbot’s favorite five books, right up there with Your Body Battles a Stomachache by Vicky Cobb (see Recycle Robot vs. Sister Mary Villus.)

The key to raising literate children: starting them on books before they can escape?

5. Richard Scarry’s Busytown  is probably the top favorite in this household. According to Mbot this morning: “My best book in the whole wide world.” The pictures often tell a parallel but often more detailed much funnier story than the words–for example, there’s a pig that loses his hat, and although nothing is written about him, he can be found chasing it through several of Richard Scarry’s books.

6. Petunia

By Roger DuVoisin, Petunia enjoyed a fiftieth anniversary edition in 2000. The story about a silly goose who thinks carrying around a book will make her wise, and sets about ruining the barnyard animals’ lives with her false knowledge, has just enough repetition, craziness, and cleverness to captivate. A box firecrackers that almost blows up the animals makes it all the more attractive for the toddler set. Available on Amazon.

7. Mop Top

Don Freeman could put his shoes under my bed anytime. He brought us Corduroy, Dandelion, the excellent and lesser known Norman the Doorman, and the excellent and almost completely unknown Mop Top, published by Scholastic Books in 1955. Not until I’d opened the fifty pounds of books Mom had sent from Idaho and read this to Mbot did I realize that Mr. Freeman wasn’t only a great illustrator and storyteller, but a poet, too. His prose are rich with internal rhythm and rhyme–maybe one reason I remembered after all these years the little boy who didn’t want to get his hair cut. Read this aloud:  “‘I thought maybe you forgot,’ said roly-poly Mister Barberoli. ‘But you’re right on the dot. It’s exactly four!’ Then in one long leap, Moppy was up on the barber-chair seat ready to get his hair cut nice and neat.”

8. The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes

By  DuBose Heyward, illustrated by Margerie Flack. 1939. Available on Amazon. I only remembered this book from my childhood as if from a dream, and so it was strange to read it to Mbot, because I remembered nothing but the feeling it had given me, a warm, soft, safe feeling. Now that I’m a mother, I appreciate it even more because it’s about a hardworking, kind, and resourceful mommy bunny who wins the coveted position of Easter Bunny and rises to the task–delivering Easter baskets all over the world in a single night, it turns out, is nothing compared to raising baby bunnies to be good citizens. In a magical turn at the end, she flies to the top of a snowy alp in a pair of golden shoes to deliver her last basket to a sick little boy. Since no one I know is familiar with this story, I find it as strange as it is wonderful that it’s available on Amazon and that the author and illustrator are Wikipediable.

9. Wynken, Blynken, and Nod 

“Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night sailed off in a wooden shoe/Sailed on a river of crystal light, into a sea of dew….” So begin the nighttime adventures of the fishermen three. First published by Riverside Press in 1915, this poem by Eugene Field appears in countless anthologies and has been set to music. This  edition, illustrated by Johanna Westerman in blue-toned watercolor paintings, is so gorgeous that I want to frame the pages and hang them on my wall. Mbot and Gbot like to find the kitty cat in every picture. North-South books, 1995, available on Amazon.

10. Santa Mouse

This Christmas rodent from 1966 never became as famous as his contemporary, Rudolph, but he’s got lasting appeal. Author Michael Brown wrote a sequel, illustrated, like the original, by Elfieda DeWitt. Predictably, the sequel’s not nearly as good, although it could start a fun family tradition of planting small yellow-wrapped gifts in the Christmas tree.

Here we have an angel singing the praises of cheese. Which I can understand. “Now through the year, this little mouse/Had saved one special thing:/A piece of cheese!/The kind that makes the angels want to sing.”

That line alone establishes Michael Brown’s inclusion in the Literary Superhero’s library. Published by Sandy Creek and available through Amazon.

11. The Plant Sitter

Here’s another sleeper by the creators of a classic, this time Harry the Dirty Dog, by author/illustrator team Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham. Published by Scholastic Books in 1959, The Plant Sitter is perfect in every way, except that it’s available on Amazon, but not for under $50.

In my favorite illustration, our industrious young protagonist dreams that the plants he’s volunteered to take care of grow so big they twine together and knock down the walls of the house. His clients are calling, “Where are my plants? Where are my plants?” He awakens to his father yelling, “Wear are my pants? Where are my pants?”

12. Just So Stories  by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by Nicolas. This edition, O Best Beloved, published by Doubleday in 1952, is available on Amazon. This month, Mbot’s favorite of the twelve short tales is “How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin:” “Once upon a time, on an uninhabited island on the shores of the Red Sea, there lived a Parsee from whose hat the rays of the sun were reflected in more-than-oriental splendour. And the Parsee lived by the Red Sea with nothing but ahis hat and his knife and a cooking-stove of the kind that you must particularly never touch….”

Although peppered with words that are no longer socially acceptable, like “oriental,” this is Kipling at, in my opinion, his best. Displaying brevity, strong character sketches, conflict, humor, poetry, irony, and perfect narrative arc, each tale could be used to teach a novel-writing course. Best in short doses, because the word-to-picture ratio is high, and because, too, the language, while beautiful, can twist a forty-four year-old’s tongue and baffle a thirty-nine month-old brain. Maybe someday I will become an editor at a major publishing house and issue a 32-page picture book for each story. I’m not sure who I’d hire to illustrate it, but someone whose pictures were as luscious as the prose. The world would be a richer place.

There you have it: Twelve over forty. There are many notable books I have not included.  And now the obvious question: What are your favorite picture books over forty years old?


This is a picture of three children enjoying Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye-Found-It! Game instead of watching TV. The game includes ten miniature fake magnifying glasses, nothing more than a hoop on a 3/4″ handle, that toddlers love to hold up to their eyes and squint through. It makes them laugh and laugh. This picture does not show anyone sticking the little magnifying glass in their ear to see how far it goes.

We have played this game several times (“played” used in the loosest of terms) instead of watching TV. Now, I realize the instructions specify the game is for ages three and up. But I have been fortunate that up until several hours ago, my children have shown no interest in discovering how far they can shove objects of any size into any of their orifices. Several hours ago, Gbot discovered how far he could put a miniature fake magnifying glass into his ear, and the answer was: far enough to draw blood (a little) and cause howling (a lot).

I dialed our trusty pediatrician and listened to calming words about eardrops and scratches that heal quickly and with no consequences. The howling had been replaced by periodic sniffling. I bundled the Midgets into the car for a drive to the pharmacy window. By this time, Gbot was giggling about the impromptu evening spin and playing footsie with Mbot across the gap in the back seat. An hour later he would be sleeping peacefully.

I was not smiling. I was thinking about how fragile we all are, how time can break underfoot like ice on a pond.

Tomorrow night we will watch TV.

What’s the last thing you discovered the hard way?

* picture of children playing Eye-Found-It instead of watching TV from