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.

14 thoughts on “The one with the mermaid and the extenuating circumstances

  1. Jill says:

    Something weird about McDonalds – we took ours to Paris when they were about 5 and 6 – up the Eifel tower, Champs Elysses, Notre Dame etc etc
    and what was in Suzi’s “news” at school – a picture of Paris with the golden arches (M) above and the great excitement of how Daddy had won a bar of chewing gum in McDonalds!!!!!

  2. Hannah says:

    haha give up the guilt S, you’ll tell her one day (emphasising of course what a terror she was being) and she’ll forgive you. I was veggie from age 7 – 14 and highly militant about it, until a bacon sarnie won me over.

  3. Rebecca says:

    Hahah, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. What first springs to mind i evil BUT if I was you I would of done the same thing. When it’s late and all you want to do is get home, a wailing kid is not an option. Gullible little child isn’t she. It’s okay your meaty secret is safe with me.

    P.S – I love all these stories, keep ’em coming. Amusing for you? Not so much. But for us, oh yeah.

  4. VeganYANerds says:

    Well as a vegan I would have ordered her a hamburger without the meat and put the chips inside! But you’re her mum and you make the decisions for her and I bet she’ll laugh when she reads this post one day 😉

    1. Sarah says:

      Oh my god. that’s such a good idea. I wish I’d thought of that. She didn’t want the fries though. I ate them. She didn’t want the fillet o’fish either.

      1. Braiden says:

        Yeah… why didn’t you just order a Cheeseburger WITHOUT the meat? Mummy doesn’t know that Mcdonald’s is flexible? lol I used to work at Maccas and sometimes even people would just want the bun by itself nothing inside. Or you could’ve just asked for a cheeseburger – minus meat, add tomatoe, lettuce, cucumber? 😉

  5. Braiden says:

    Oh my I was in hysterics. I’m sitting on the silent level in the library at uni and people are looking at me like I’m delusional. I blame you Sarah 😛

    So tell me, why is Alula vegetarian in the first place? I want to try prescetarian in the near future but the allure of a quarter pounder or big mac or cheeseburgers with “vegetable” meat is tempting. Although considering how well I’m doing to sticking to specific foods and meals, becoming one would not be that bad. I love tofu so even vegetarian/vegan for a bit would be sweet.

    But oh! When I come to Bali I’m meeting your little Alula and will gift her with a medal for honour and righteousness.

    1. Sarah says:

      I’m not sure what convinced her to become a vegetarian. she goes to Green School (the greenest school on earth) though the food there is not vegetarian at all so we don’t know where she picked it up from (not us that’s for sure). She’s really, really adamant that she doesn’t want to hurt any animals and she has been a committed vege for the last 6 months without once wavering (other than this episode). She’s totally dedicated to it. It’s kind of amazing given that she’s only 5. We’re pretty proud to be honest.

  6. VeganYANerds says:

    Kids! I think it’s great that she’s veggo 🙂

  7. leonard weed says:

    Julia was so mad at me. she kept saying “Dad! Stop laughing…you’re soooo annoying. NO! I don’t care what Alula’s done now, shut up! go to bed.”

    1. Sarah says:

      that made me chuckle. Bring your wife back to Ubud. I miss her.

  8. Hi! Just started reading Hunting Lila and of course had to come snoop and see who wrote it 🙂

    Anyhoo…. Reading about your daughter made me laugh. It sounds familiar. When my son was about the same age, around 4 or 5, he refused to eat meat. He had, however, tried a cheeseburger from McD’s and loved it. He didn’t click on that it was meat and I didn’t enlighten him. One day he comes home from nursery and says, “Mummy, today we talked about healthy eating and where food comes from. They say eggs come from chickens and that they’re like chicken babies (I’m thinking that’s a discussion for another day) and milk comes from cows ….AND they say that cheeseburgers come from cows and it’s meat! Is it?”

    I’ll admit I panicked a bit…..Lie? Could I? Turns out I couldn’t….I took the middle ground and wimped out and acted dumb. “Is that what they said? That doesn’t sound right.”

    He agreed and said he would maybe ask Granny later and see what she had to say….o_O

    ….Later that day…. “Mummy, Granny says of course cheeseburgers are meat. It’s cow meat all mashed up!”. The look on his little face as he waited for me to process this nugget of info just made we wimp out more. I couldn’t do it. The look tugged at my strings so I said….”Tsk, what does Granny know anyway?!”. “Yeah,” he says, nodding, “yeah. It’s probably made out of cheese or something.”

    My bad.

    He’s in his 20’s now and a strapping 6″2 and still won’t touch meat, not for love nor money….Well, not unless you count McD’s as meat because he still loves those! I think he has an inner filter that lets him switch off the ‘meat is yuck gene’ when it comes those. They’re his weakness. Wouldn’t know what to do with a steak and wouldn’t thank you for a pork chop but could eat McD’s cheeseburgers til the cows come home 😀

    1. Sarah says:

      Hahahah I always forget that people who read my books might come here. Weirdly it’s like I have an alter-ego and the blog writer is not the girl who writes young adult! Glad to know that about cheeseburger and your son and thanks for taking the time to google who wrote Hunting Lila. Hope you like it…;)

      1. Haha, don’t worry, the blog commenter also has an alter ego who read’s the books that your alter ego writes 😛 (she’s loving it so far btw)

        I wish I could say I’d googled…but in truth it was too early and I was too lazy so I just followed the link on your goodreads author profile 😀 It’s the thought that counts though, right? 😛

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