Monsters under the Bed, Keith in the Closet

I am slightly fascinated by how parents dealt with their children in historical times. How did they react when their little ones threw a tantrum at Ye Olde Goose Fair? Did they even have tantrums back then? My suspicion is that tantrums were in fact invented at some time in the 1950s when televisions became common. They are probably only just pre-dated by children themselves; before then babies just turned straight into tiny adults and were sent immediately down the nearest mine.

One parental tactic that I know was popular in the olden days was scaring the shit out of your children to ensure good behaviour. This was usually done with tales of monsters and bogeyman. I’ve researched some of these in what has turned out to be Wikipedia’s most frightening webpage and the roster mostly includes angry men with sacks, a few cannibals and in some cultures Nigel Farage. My own favourite is a goblin from Belizean folklore whose outstanding features include backwards feet and a lack of thumbs.

It seems that weaponising your children’s darkest fears against them to keep them in line has fallen a little out of fashion, probably because it’s counterproductive and sadistic. Having said that, we do appear to have created our own bogeyman which currently has the measure of the Major. His name is Keith.

Before the emergence of Keith, the closest we came to employing this strategy was the introduction of an imaginary and sinister elf sent by Father Christmas to monitor the Major’s performance with a view to potentially withholding his Christmas presents. This works fantastically well until the elf’s posting finishes on Boxing Day and anarchy descends again. We’ve also experimented successfully with the Birthday Parrot, who hovers about on a drone surveillance mission in the lead-up to the big day.

But Keith is different. Keith lives in the adjacent apartment to the holiday home we rented in Spain. We met as he pottered about on his front terrace as we arrived. He was very affable, just as it said it would be in our information pack. There was nothing untoward about Keith. His feet were on the right way and he boasted two thumbs. The only remotely suspicious thing about Keith was that he habitually watered his plants in only a pair of black pants.

But when we threatened the Major with Keith after he refused to accompany us to the swimming pool, he turned ashen and duly complied. I must stress that we didn’t tell him that Keith was going to take him away in a sack or cook him and eat him and wash him down with a nice Rioja.

We explained that Keith would pop by and read him a story. The prospect was so cringeworthy to the Major that his obedience was guaranteed. And so Keith loomed for the remainder of the holiday armed and ready with his children’s books and so the Major behaved. And there was Keith sitting menacingly at the back of the plane home armed with a copy of The Hungry Caterpillar. And by a startling coincidence Keith has a second home in the next road to our home, furnished with the entire Roald Dahl back catalogue.

There’s no need for a flesh-eating Latino pixie while you’ve got a kindly man with some children’s literature waiting in the wings.

Any good?

Am I Reading Too Much Into Stories At Bedtime?

I was bang up for reading to my children at bedtime. I felt it was massively in my wheelhouse. God knows I wouldn’t be constructing any treehouses but I could sit on a chair and read a book. I’d watched a lot of Jackanory. I knew the right pace and the right comforting low pitch. I could do voices. I knew to say the last few lines very slowly while simultaneously closing the book. And to lean over to kiss them on the forehead and bid a fond ‘good night’ as they slip off to the Land of Nod, heads full of fantastical images.

Now that I’ve written it down, it does sound a bit creepy. Perhaps that’s why the reality is very different. First of all the Major normally takes some persuading that he wants me to read to him at all. He evaluates my skills differently, mostly requesting his mother to read to him. When I explain to him that mummy is downstairs making me my tea, he counters that mummy is the ‘reader’ and I am the ‘cooker’. I guess I should encourage his unchauvinistic view on household management, or take it as a stirring endorsement of my scrambledy-bambledy eggs on toast. What it is really though is just another slightly disheartening reminder of the recurring theme of my parental experience so far: that Major wholeheartedly prefers his mum.

So bedtime stories has become a battle of wills. I once recited Incey Wincey Spider to the Major only for him to ask me to read it again ‘like a man’. Obviously my ego was bruised so I repeated the rhyme in a sort of Clint Eastwood snarl. The Major then asked me to read it like a lady, then a girl and then a little boy. After that challenges became more surreal: Incey Wincey Spider came out like a giraffe, a leaf and most obviously a spider.

This seemed to entertain both reader and audience so I started doing funny voices for other stories. I try to read Thomas the Tank Engine in a Scouse accent like Ringo Starr, the original narrator of the television series. Like all my accents, it comes out Indian. Except my Indian one, which comes out Welsh. You’re probably sympathizing with Major now but when you have to read Harry and the Dinosaurs United on a perpetual loop, then certain tactics are required.

I shouldn’t single out Harry and the Dinosaurs United. There’s Harry and the Dinosaurs Say Raaah and Harry and the Robots, which doesn’t feature any dinosaurs. The Major is wise to my aversion to the Harry series because invariably he’ll select one off the shelf. I confess to throwing a few minor tantrums on these occasions.

Sometime Major likes me to make up stories. The most coherent of which was about a lonely crocodile that gained acceptance from the other jungle animals by dribbling a football with his nose. There was one about electric pylons turning into robots and stomping all over the countryside. The plot dribbled off into nothing quite early which was a good thing because it would have probably have been absolutely terrifying. And then there was another one about a dinosaur that was also a princess called Dianasaurus Rex which hasn’t got past the concept stage.

Mainly it just ends up with me listing stuff very slowly, which is probably the genesis of most of the children’s books. A typical example would be Peppa Pig walking into a forest and bumping into every single Peppa Pig character I can think of and some that I’ve made up like Clive Cow and Simon Salmon.

The Major is now three and I’ve began to read longer text-heavy books, intended to be read episodically over a few nights. Unfortunately it seems that he cannot be left with a cliffhanger without flying into a rage so these occasions have turned into something of a marathon. I spent a full hour reading him Roald Dahl’s The Twits which is a basically a novella. At the end I at least thought I’d filled his head with fantastical images and that I could lean over and kiss his forehead as he slipped off to the Land of Nod. But the Major was wide awake and the fun had just begun.

Any good?