Slightly Mad Mummy: Entry 4

Charting the fabulous (and fatiguing!) flexi-Fridays (and currently the rest of the week!) with my OE-rich* 8 year old (currently identifying as a cat and a Georgian)

March 2020 – Lesson #3: Keep Calm and Carry on Holding a Grudge… (Aka When World Book Day got led Astray)

I know that in these strange and uncertain times the last thing I should be doing is holding a grudge. I know that I should move on; see the bigger picture; embrace the global coming together against Covid-19. I know this. And I am all for that. But, the thing is, I must confess to having tendencies towards pettiness that, it seems, cannot be stamped out even when the world is at war with a virus. Whilst most have moved on from such triviality in the light of the global situation, I find myself still with a bee in my bonnet and I fear anaphylaxis if I don’t let it out. So. Here. Goes. I don’t approve of World Book Day’s new friends. I just don’t. There. I’ve said it. Now, please do let me be clear: my beef is not with WBD itself, but with the crowd it has fallen in with, namely “Share a Million Stories”. Company of which, I’m afraid, I will simply never approve.

For one, I just don’t like being told what to do. Now, I have affection for World Book Day. It is benign. It allows enough free reign for me not to feel the need to bite back. The World Book Day world is your lobster and if I can’t find enough freedom amongst the variety of every book ever written, then I appreciate it is I with whom the problem resides. But Share a Million Stories? Challenging everyone to spend the month of March sharing as much reading as possible, with rewards, and rules, and community effort? You might think that I would be glad of such a challenge during these long days inside with Flexi-cat and her unbounded energy, but I am not glad; not glad at all. Share a Mill: thank you very much but you aren’t the boss of me.

Please don’t get me wrong: Flexi-cat Towers is all about the book. The living room succumbed to them years ago and we now just have a library. We read, we share reading, we geek it up like nobody’s business. But it is private and it is our own choice. Along comes old Share a Million and suddenly our lifestyle choice has been reduced to a fill-in-a-sheet-and-see-if-the-teacher-approves kind of irritant and all I want to do is rebel.

Now of course I could just get a little perspective, see Share a Mill for what it is and appreciate its attempt to bring a love of reading into households where it was absent; see perhaps that it is another case of square-pegdom, where the Flexi-cat Towers’ pre-existing bookishness renders the message of Share a Mill redundant and one which I am free to overlook or ignore. I could even let go of the entire vendetta in the light of the biggest perspective-shifter in living memory that we are all currently facing. But I can’t, because senseless indignation will not let me.

This indignation is fed and watered by the further ways in which Share a Mill proves to be one thoroughly bad egg. For it is at times such as these that it comes into all too sharp a focus that Flexi-cat is just as stubborn and awkward as I am. It becomes all too clear, therefore, that her sometimes bewildering and always exhausting determination to carve her own path; to flamenco to her own lobster-hand castanets; to simply never do what she is told to do, is actually all my fault. As entertaining as these traits can sometimes be (annoyed by what she saw as the misuse of the terms “epidemic” and “pandemic” in the earlier weeks of the crisis, Flexi-cat decided to adopt the slightly unusual, slightly argumentative position of championing the underdog and placing herself firmly on team SARS until correct usage had been established…), when it translates into a daily diatribe about just how many universal rights school denies her, I know that it has bitten me on the bum and I only have myself to blame. That kind of epiphany is of no use to me at all. No one, upon no one, needs that kind of brutal self-knowledge. And so, I blame you, Share a Mill, for that terrifying lapse in self-deception.

If only that were now it. Sufficient already, I would contend, to say: “No, Share a Mill, you are trouble through and through and I would not let World Book Day out to play with you, even if it were allowed”. If only that were it…However, more than anything, I disapprove of Share a Mill because, and I say this without even a hint of hyperbole, it took us to the brink of war.

I say war, but it was more of an occupation, so lame were my excursions into defence. There was a point this month when I thought I might be trying to smuggle this communication out from behind the front line. I envisioned supplies being low and morale even lower, and it being nothing to do with coronavirus panic buying. For because of little miss Share a Mill, Flexi-cat managed to weaponise World Book Day. Yes. And I don’t mean possibly. There were no cooked up dossiers, oh no, Flexi-cat had in her possession bona fide WBD’s and she wasn’t afraid to use them.

It began as just a look. A little eyebrow raise, a mini-lip curl; micro expressions that I knew were saying “Mummy, I now need to read to you for hours, you need to read to me for hours and then, of course, we’ll have to begin the usual routine of 3 Ted-eds and 5 hours of quiet reading or else all will be wrong in the world”.

Now, it’s worth repeating that we are all well behind the message of Share a Mill. I love to read (occasionally) to Flexi-cat. I love to hear her read. We get “well done” stickers in her reading record and everything. But still, no adult at Flexi-cat Towers has fully recovered from the huge tactical failure of Flexi-cat’s baby to toddlerdom that led to her insistence upon 10 books minimum read to her before sleep was even on the table as a possibility. As time went by, some semblance of compromise was achieved, thanks to the glorious advent of independent reading. In my more positive moments, I like to see this early milestone as the universe helping to level the playing field for the exhausted HLP parent. Certainly, it became the only thing that stood between mummy and a breakdown. Now, if Flexi-cat wished to defy sleep, she could do so largely on her own and with a book in front of her. This was as close to a victory as we could ever hope to get. But it was hard fought and is exceptionally fragile. She is still offended by the concept of grown up time (“oh, so I’m not good enough for you in the evenings, then?”; “Oh, ok, so you don’t love me enough to want to be with me in the evenings, then?” etc. etc.). Only the irresistible pull of her books has ever allowed such offence to be overlooked; only when lost in the three dozen books currently on the go can her separation anxiety be briefly forgotten. Given the merest hint of a reminder and she would be petitioning to read for hours each night, just as she does already, but clamped to my side. And now some bright spark buddies up with innocent old World Book Day and gives Flexi-cat all the ammunition she has ever needed. A little more sharing? Well yes, a nice sentiment indeed. But the thing is, we are more at the firefighting the sharing to stop it taking over everything kind of stage. If we shared any more, she’d be back in my tummy.

I attempted a defence. I explained that the whole point of it was to instil a love of reading into people and that she already has that so, you know, just carry on as you are. Oh, the idiocy. The lip quivered a little; the eyebrows furrowed gently. “But”, she said, her voice soft and faltering, “that’s not what they are asking us to do.”

The first night I listened admirably. I read, too. I just snuggled into the occupation. The second night, as I continued to lend my ear, I learned to zone out. I wrote shopping lists, symphonies, novels and after-dinner speeches in my head; all forgotten by the time Flexi-cat had allowed me to excuse myself. The hostage situation was beginning to take its toll. I knew I had to up my game. I went online to research this little Share a Mill upstart; this abomination of an event. I read the FAQ’s. I printed out the poster. If there were loopholes to exploit, I was going to find them and exploit away, just to give my ears a little break.

It was then I thought I had a breakthrough; the first hint of any armament worth its salt. It clearly said you can read to your pets if you want to; that would count as sharing. “Perfect!”, I thought; “We have some of those!”. I began planning my brief interlude of alone time that could once again be snuck in between the getting ready for bed kerfuffle and the pre-sleep anxieties. But, alas, I made a rookie mistake, unfamiliar as I was in the art of warfare: I placed way too much trust in my comrades. I was let down almost immediately. Alice Roberts wouldn’t settle enough to listen to the story, and Brian Cox kept cleaning his bum (I should explain here that they are the bona fide cats here at Flexi-cat Towers, but I do not feel so inclined). It was almost as if they didn’t care about Thallium, Utilitarianism, Mog, or the Cortical Homunculus.

To be honest, the white flag was close to being raised. I began to plan for comfort rather than victory, strategising the perfect cushion-pillow-blanket-hot-drink-snack ratio for my continuing captivity. And then it happened. The miracle. Flexi-cat spotted the printout of the poster. She picked it up and perused it nonchalantly. She then walked out of the room and upstairs, without a word. I followed her, obediently, ready to lend her my ears; she could even keep them. But then it happened:

“Oh don’t worry, mummy, I don’t need you anymore” she said, busily fiddling with her tablet.

My surprise must have shown in my battle-weary face. She explained herself:

“It says that audiobooks count so…” her words trailed off as she busily arranged her chosen books for the evening.

I beamed and walked out. Little Miss Loophole had found one that worked in my favour; after 8 years on earth it was finally one that worked for me. I needed no more explanation. I heard a Beatrix Potter story being told and knew it was her cast iron alibi: she would have that on whilst doing exactly what she normally does, no mummies or cats needed. And woe betide anyone who might suggest she had not taken in both.

And so it was that something as innocuous as good old World Book Day teamed up with the dastardly Share a Mill, and all kinds of hell were let loose. Its influence turned a previously pleasant day of dressing up into the equivalent of challenging an alcoholic to a drinking competition; of advertising loopholes to a lawyer with large, bright banners. Share a Mill, you malevolent influence; you agent provocateur most insidious, you have no idea of the havoc you very nearly wreaked. Please stop hanging around with World Book Day, he’s very impressionable. Having said that, Flexi-cat’s got more ticks on her share-a-mill-sheets than Brian Cox has on his neck after a weekend of roaming the countryside, so, I suppose, all’s well that ends well…That reminds me, anyone know a good audio version of the complete works of Shakespeare..?

* OE = Over Excitable

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