Explaining the birds and the bees

‘But how are babies made?’

I admit I am not expecting this question while stuck in traffic on Raya Ubud. I’m caught, crunching through the gears, and for the first time probably ever I’m speechless. Given I’ve had 5.5 years to think on it, and given also that this is a question all parents know they’re going to face at some point, you’d think I’d have an answer prepared. Except I don’t.

‘Well, you see…’ I stammer, buying for time. I’m half-giggling and half trying to work out in my head what the correct answer is. I mean, I know the correct answer but I’m not sure how much of it to explain. What’s appropriate for a five year old to know? I don’t want to traumatize her.

Dual visions assault me. In the first, Alula runs into school and starts telling all her school-friends in graphic detail about erections and penises and I receive angry phone calls from parents outraged at their own child’s loss of innocence thanks to my daughter. In the second I see Alula running into school and telling all her school-friends that babies are grown in little pots of compost and watered regularly. I see her being socially shunned for fifteen years of her life, at seventeen still being teased on her lack of reproductive knowledge.

‘What?’ Alula interrupts my desperate imaginings.

 Daddy sticks his willy inside mummy and plants a seed doesn’t quite sound right, but it’s also the first thing that pops into my head.

I weigh up the drier; ‘Daddy’s penis inserts into mummy’s vagina.’ This only makes me giggle some more, imagining Alula’s response (it will be something like: ‘What’s a vagina?’ I’ll say, ‘Your lady bits, your front bottom, you know.’ She’ll pause, then ask, ‘But where does the willy go?’)

I suddenly recall this book I had as a child. It was all about a boy called Thomas and a girl called Sarah, who were brother and sister. I thought this book was therefore written just for me, given that my own brother was called Thomas. Imagine my wonder! Thomas and Sarah’s mum was having a baby and the book explained how babies were made and born in just the right amount of detail to satisfy my five year old self and also just enough to keep me pouring over the pages, still intrigued.

I cannot though for the life of me, sitting in the car twenty eight years on, remember the exact wording of this book. Which is a great shame.

‘But mummy how?’ Alula demands again.

I’m getting close to hysterical , wishing John was there to add his thoughts to the fray. I try the clichéd route, laughing even as I say it; ‘When a mummy and a daddy love each other very much…’

‘Yes,’ Alula interrupts impatiently, ‘But how do they make a baby?’

‘They make love,’ I say, thinking how euphemistically lovely and vague this sounds and hoping it will satisfy her fairytale-rich imagination.

‘What does that mean? Making love? What’s that?’

‘How about,’ I say, ‘we wait until we get home and then we call daddy and get him to explain?’

She sits back in her seat and after a moment agrees to my suggestion. Holy hell, I think, making a mental note NOT to prime John.


My bat shit crazy mercury retrograding insect murdering day

John went off to Singapore this morning at 4am. He never hears his alarm clock so I have to smack him around the head a few times with a pillow to get him to stir and then a few more times to turn it off, by which point I’m thoroughly awake.

So I spent a couple of hours reading in bed before Alula jumped on me demanding her weetbix (Australian brand – don’t have a go at me about my spelling) and my help in colour-co-ordinating her knickers for the day.

I wandered out onto the balcony and almost stepped directly into the pile of bat poo dropped there by the child-sized fruit bat which hangs out nightly upside down from the roof beam.

Groaning at the ickness of that I staggered blurry eyed into the study and almost stepped on a District 9 sized cockroach. It was belly up, it’s spiky tufted legs immobile. Sighing because John wasn’t there to call on for cockroach duty I manned up and grabbed a wine glass still with the ashy dregs of Bali’s finest coating the bottom. Using that and a dirty tissue I bent down to sweep said cockroach into the glass. Turns out that cockroach was very much ALIVE. It was just resting down there on the floor, belly up, maybe it was some kind of cockroach joke, his mates laughing from behind the bin. Scare the crap out of the human, go on, it’ll be funny. Once I zoomed in on it with the tissue it burst into activity, its antannae things waving drunkenly. I swear to God I screamed the entire village down.  And yet I still managed, while screaming, to lurch toward the balcony and toss the thing across the roof. I did think for an instant of flushing it down the loo but I weighed up in a nanosecond whether I had the nerve to make it that far and decided not to risk it.

The day turned out to be one of those days where you meet people on the street and they say ‘man, I wish mercury would hurry the hell up and unretrograde’ and you nod and say ‘totally!’ Because this is Ubud and that’s the UK equivalent of saying ‘alright?’ ‘Yeah, not bad.’ But after paying 300 quid to Qatar fucking airways (that’s what they should rebrand as) for a cancellation fee (long story) I was the one screaming at Mercury to unretrograde its ass double-quick.

Then I had to spend the entire day, when not stuck in traffic on Raya Ubud (mercury again) contemplating mowing down the Japanese tourists who cause the traffic jams with their mega buses, writing copy about San Diego which made me sad and frustrated because I really, really want to go to Comic Con one day (with half-naked actors at my side pretending to be Alex & Jack) and this dream seems to be eluding me (mercury again?)

Finally, I get home and discover that the bat shit is now cemented to the floor, three days of washing up sits forlornly in the sink, we’ve run out of bowls (I know this is lame but really I’m busy trying to earn a living…and battling my way through traffic and um, going out for long, boozy lunches)…and oh SHIT, I step closer to the floor cushion in the bedroom. It appears that it’s moving. I blink and focus in on the half-eaten chicken carcass that Lily, our dog, has carried in and feasted on. She has left it here and it is now literally being carried off by an army of 3 million ants. The pillow, once white, is now black and pulsating like some optical illusion. Screaming I pick up the chicken carcass between thumb and forefinger and run to the balcony, hurling it like it’s a grenade into the bushes below. Too late, several hundred of the tiny things swarm up my arm in a scene taken straight from Indiana Jones. I slap them away (screaming) and return to the cushion which is now the scene of pure ant anarchy.

3 million ants (minus the ones that got hurled with the cushion) are running this way and that in utter panic. Their chicken feast has vanished, what will come next? Earthquake? Fire? No…Flood! I fill a bucket with water, throw the pillow onto the roof and douse it with water. Ants are however stubborn little things. They cling to the cushion through several dousings until in the end, the cushion goes the way of the chicken, tossed into the garden below. Only after I throw it do I think to shout a warning in case anyone is walking below.

Anyway, that was my day. How was yours?

The one with the mermaid and the extenuating circumstances

At midnight we land. I wake Alula. She’s now so big that I can only carry her for about 0.4 seconds before I have to set her down again so there’s no way I’m carrying her off this plane. Plus I have shopping bags laden down with Percy Pigs and a My Little Pony. Bless her though, she staggers sleepily to her feet and puts on her flip flops and only starts to scream when we’re half way down the aisle.

‘I want water! I’m hungry! I’m hungry!’

I offer her a percy pig. She declines. ‘I’m hungry. I want a mermaid.’

‘You want a what?’ I ask.

‘A MERMAID!’ she screams. ‘A mer-MAID…’

‘You’re going to need to explain this one to me,’ I say, glancing anxiously at all the tourists hemming us in.

‘Remember, last time. We got a mermaid!’

I rack my brains trying to recall what Alula might be referring to. When dear God did we eat a mermaid?

‘Was it a shop? Toys R Us?’


‘This was in a restaurant?’

‘They gave us food and a mermaid,’ she insists.

It twigs. She’s talking about McDonalds. She has only visited McDonalds once in five years of living. Once too many times I know. But there were extenuating circumstances that time (remember the time I got stuck with her in Singapore? McD’s was the only place at cangi airport that had free wifi. I bought her a happy meal which came with … you guessed it ….a plastic mermaid toy.) She still remembers this fact. Yet she does not remember the following: the fact I got up with her four times a night for the first eight months of her life and at least twice just last night, that she once washed elephants in a river in India, the name of her old childminder who babysat her for three years, that she took ballet classes for an entire year wearing ballet shoes that I spent several hours sewing elastic into, that I took her every week to monkey music when she was a year old, that she spent 12 months travelling around the WORLD and went to school on the beach in Goa (Goa FFS) . Doesn’t remember a single damn thing we’ve done for her…

But she remembers a happy meal eaten in a dingy airport basement a year ago.

Remind me again why we don’t give birth to our children and just place them in cardboard boxes in empty rooms for the first ten years of their life, programming robots to deliver water and meals to them regularly?

But to return to the moment. Somehow Alula knows through some weird osmosis of knowledge, that Mcdonalds happens to be the only place open at Bali airport at midnight.

We storm through immigration (she’s still screaming about mermaids). And I hurry her to McDonalds. I tell myself that it’s extenuating circumstances while wondering why after 5.5 years I still am not one of those mums who remembers to pack bottles of water and snack packs and wet wipes.

‘Do you have anything vegetarian?’ I ask the servers as I eye up the menu. It would appear from the photos that’s a no and the servers stare at me like I’ve asked them to chop off their own heads and drop them in the deep fat fryer.

‘I’ll have a cheeseburger happy meal then,’ I mumble, covering Alula’s ears.

‘A cheeseburger?!’ Alula screams, ‘Does that have meat in it?’ (remember people that Alula is now a committed vegetarian and has been for 6 months.).

I hesitate, pulling a Larry David face. Here I have a dilemma. I could say yes but I know how that will play out. She will scream very very loudly about being hungry, possibly she will lie on the floor and have a full on meltdown tantrum right here. I calculate also that: There are no food outlets anywhere that are open. I have an hour to go before we get home and the odds are she will scream the entire way. I just bought new headphones but they’re not noise cancelling.

So I do the only thing possible. I lie. If you’re a judgemental person I suggest you click away now. If you stay and then post a comment denouncing me for being an evil mother then please go take your head and boil it in a deep fat fryer right this instant – this blog is a no judgement zone and I care not a jot for your readership).

‘No darling, there’s no meat in it,’ I say. And technically, I think to myself, I’m pretty sure there isn’t any actual meat in a cheeseburger. So I’m not really lying.

I hand the burger to Alula and she tucks straight in. I do admittedly feel queasy watching her. But also a tiny bit jealous. MMMMMMMM McDonald’s burgers – I know they’re like the equivalent of eating testicles marinaded in Uranium but they taste so damn fine.

Alula stops mid-step. She puts her hand into her mouth and withdraws some burger patty – masticated and warm. She hands it to me. ‘MUMMY, taste this! I think it’s MEAT!’

‘Really?’ I say, my voice rich with bewilderment. I just want to get to the car. It’s so late.

‘Yes! This is meat!’ she cries.

‘Well, possibly,’ I say, ‘maybe it might have some meat in it.’ (again not lying exactly).

Alula blinks at me, then she does this thing where she hunches over the pavement as people push past with their suitcases and regurgitates the whole three mouthfuls like a mother bird feeding its young. A lump of burger plops onto the ground. (She does all this whilst also letting out a loud wailing siren noise.)

I’m sure if a hoover had been present she would have tried to vacuum out her mouth.

She is so hysterical that she won’t walk. Seriously, you’d think I’d just told her she had eaten an actual mermaid. Oh GOD, I think to myself. I just want to get home. So, ‘When I said it might have meat, I meant vegetable meat,’ I tell her.

Komang, our driver stares at me. Alula blinks at me but stops wailing.

‘Vegetable meat?’ she asks.

‘Yes,’ I say, taking her hand and walking, ‘Like tofu and broccoli.’

‘Oh,’ she says.

She finishes the whole thing before we make it to the car.

I still feel really bad about this.