This post was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, February 2012. (Thanks to Dr. Dog for the lady-boy gag.) Ivy had a massive after-school meltdown yesterday in front of Nanna, who talked her down, then said to me 'Just a piece of advice. I would not be sending this one to drama classes, Rach. '
I had a light-bulb parenting moment the other day. As much effort as Keith and I put into teaching and guiding these children of ours, they are just as likely to learn about life from each other. Perhaps even more likely.
Take three-year old T-Bone. His older sister Peanut is a wonderful playmate, an enthusiastic mentor and a champion against such slings and arrows of outrageous fortune a three year old may meet in his daily travels. But she is also, like all big siblings, something of an evil genius.
Playing a chase-and-shoot game with big cousins recently, Peanut crept around the backyard holding T-Bone in front of her like a human shield for an hour. He didn’t know he was being ill-used. Rather, he was deeply chuffed to hold a position of such unexpected importance in the game. If T-Bone annoys her, Peanut is partial to inventive punishments, like this one: ‘If you don’t stop right now, I’m going to send your most speciallest things to the op shop!’ Yesterday, she came up with another. ‘T-Bone!’ she shrieked as he poured out her jewellery onto the floor. ‘You stop that or I will put you on the half-boy list!’ The what? I asked. ‘It’s the list where you only get half your presents next Christmas,’ she told me firmly. Could be worse, I thought. At least it wasn’t the lady-boy list.
Most of the time, Peanut and T-Bone are the very best of friends. At Peanut School, for instance, T-Bone learns bingo and sums and letters. When they play Fetch It, where T-Bone pretends he is Peanut’s dog (named Dog), Peanut is encouraging and affectionate. In the clearly defined superior role of his teacher or his owner, it appears, Peanut is kind and gentle. But she’s also modelling behaviour that T-Bone is emulating. That’s not working out so well for her.
Peanut, you see, is a seasoned theatrical actress. As a toddler, she would bang her head on the floorboards whenever she was angry and at five, she has developed a restrained and subtle style of sick-acting. It works to get her out of eating dinner (especially since once, we stood firm and made her stay at the table until she ate her veges. She did. And then promptly vomited them up with the beginnings of a gastro bug.) She’s good, Peanut. This week she’s been working a ‘sore eardrum’ angle to extend her bedtime. She knows that ‘ear infection’ is one of those tricky illnesses that Mum can’t quite rule out. I tried to pass a sneaky hand over Peanut’s forehead to check for fever, but she clocked it, knew she had me, and then really turned up the drama. The jig was up when she forgot which ear was hurting. ‘Wasn’t it the other one before?” I asked as I held a cold washer to my patient, who was reclining luxuriantly in bed. ‘Um, it’s moving, ‘she said quickly. ‘I’m pretty sure it’s moving.’
T-Bone had been quietly watching this medical drama unfold from his bed across the room ‘My regg!’ he suddenly wailed. ’My regg is hurting!’ Peanut looked from him to me in horror. ‘No!’ she shouted. ‘That’s not real! Mum, it’s not even real!’
Ah yes, I thought. The day has come for the student to betray the teacher. ‘My regg!’ T-Bone moaned, waving both legs in the air. I looked at them both, and thought about baby Pudding, only five months old. I wonder, with this kind of education awaiting her, will she be the one to win the Oscar?