Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

A few noncommittal paragraphs

Not only is it just six months until Christmas (as my beloved father-in-law ritually reminds us every June 25), but Busytot is exactly 20 months old. What an illuminating twenty months it has been. Of all the frankly disturbing tasks that arrive with parenthood – and that includes changing the very first nappies (enough to put you off vegemite for life) and all the subsequent ones (ditto peanut butter), not to mention wiping infant barf off your bare bosoms – nothing is quite as viscerally shocking as the first time you handwash a life-sized stuffed toy cat in a bucket. Actually, scratch that: wringing it out was worse. I began to doubt the wisdom of bathing the beast halfway through the initial wash'n'rinse cycle, when its wan little face swam up at me through the soap-bubbles and seemed to gargle "help!", but by then it was too late to back out.

The poor thing had been only a wee bit grubby, after all, and will just get grubbier once it's finished drying and been put back into circulation (it's currently dangling from the towel rail like something from a Stephen King novel -- remind me to alert the other members of the household before they use the bathroom). And silly me, if I hadn't washed it, it might still carry the lingering aura of the dear little girl who gave it to us -- one of Busytot's first and best playmates, who leaves town with her family this week for Seattle, via Edinburgh. We'll miss them very much. Alas, the sudsy deed is done; ding dong dell, pussy's in the well, and Emma's on a plane this weekend.

We'll probably meet again, somewhere down the line. It's a very small world, after all. Through writing this blog I've had a lovely correspondence with Natalie who lived over the road from us in Naenae when I was a little thing; she now lives in Florida and two of her kids live in New York. And easing the transition for Busytot is the arrival of his auntie, who arrived on Sunday bearing gifts (not so much gold, frankincense etc, as thunderpants, NZ Music Week T-shirts, and oh my god, heavenly feijoa vodka) as well as impressive toddler-flirting techniques.

I'd softened the little fellow up for the arrival of an extra bod in the house by looking at lots of pictures and talking about his auntie, explaining that she would be sleeping on the sofa and would take him lots of exciting places and be his friend. He fixated on the one tiny detail, and spent the entire weekend informing everyone he met that "Gemma seeping onna sofa!" including Gemma herself, when she arrived. Nice welcome: hello, luv – you're sleeping on the sofa. The morning after her arrival he cautiously tiptoed into the lounge (inasmuch as a flat-footed thirty-some pounder can tiptoe) to confirm to his satisfaction that Gemma was indeed seeping onna sofa. Glad we cleared that up.

So in my role as quasi-native guide, on my sister's first day in town I took her all the way downtown. We rode on the Staten Island Ferry – it's free! – which is a great way to see the downtown skyline, especially on the first rain-free day in months. The Manhattan skyline still looks empty without the twin towers, and sort of small; we agreed that it felt not unlike Wellington, sans the hills and the uninhabited islands, of course. But our first stop was Ground Zero, which feels nothing like Wellington. These days the site is surrounded by a fence that you can look through, surmounted by plaques listing the several thousand "Heroes of September 11." It's both bigger and smaller than you'd expect – it is an unprecedentedly huge building site, but at the same time too small a space for such a world-shaking event. It's much quieter than the last time I saw it, both aurally and visually. The souvenir sellers are relegated to surrounding streets and the posters have all been taken down, although one nearby building still bears a huge mural of the stars and stripes and a patriotic motto about deeds living in history.

We didn't know it at the time, but the President was in town, drumming up support (which is to say, money) for his re-election campaign, against the handy backdrop of 9/11 patriotism. Seems to me he might want to be cautious about how he plays that particular card, given how very grumpy the 9/11 families are getting about the Administration's epic slowness to mount an inquiry into who knew what when.

I wish I'd known George was in the 'hood so I could have tossed him a wooden nickel -- and a cowpat -- and said "That's for Iraq. And that's for the environment." In the same week that he accused people who questioned the ever-shifting rationale for war of being "historical revisionists", the increasingly hamstrung Environmental Protection Agency removed the entire section about global warming from a huge and would-be comprehensive report on the state of the environment. A vast amount of scientific data and debate was stripped down to, in the words of the New York Times, "a few noncommittal paragraphs". This wouldn't have anything to do with his mates in the oil industry or the debates over toxic emissions, of course. It's such a blatantly Bart Simpson approach to manipulating policy and rewriting history – "I didn't do it, no-one saw me, you can't prove a thing" -- that it's sort of refreshing. Maybe people will finally get grumpy this time?

Speaking of getting grumpy, here's a fascinating new set of theories about parenting. Oh I know, there's always a fascinating new theory, but I like this one because it panders to my own prejudices about the power of empathy. It's about getting inside a kid's head, as it were, figuring out what they're trying to do or say rather than just responding to the action which can be a long way from the intention; it's also about understanding your own buried responses to certain triggers. I can see it working really well with toddlers and younger kids, but I wonder if it could drive an adolescent bonkers, being second-guessed all the time.

Certainly Harry Potter's on the grouchy side these days, what with everyone else knowing more about him than he does himself (I'm only up to page 113; so far it's shaping up to be a tad more Paul Zindel than C.S. Lewis with all that angst and hormonal sturm und drang whizzing about). I bet Prince William would sympathise with Harry's over-exposed life and identity crisis. By the way, did you spot the detail that nearly got lost in the brouhaha about Wills's "Out of Africa"-themed 21st birthday party and the gatecrasher? Apparently, the prince was clad only in a black and yellow striped loincloth. Can't wait to buy that commemorative teacup-saucer-and-plate set!

Tomorrow we're off up to Ithaca again for a week of house-sitting. Once again we'll enjoy the bucolic life (after adjusting to the eerie silence – especially true this week, as men with jackhammers are currently digging up the footpath outside our building) and Busytot will form an axis of mischief with the standard poodles. I'm looking forward to seeing how he interacts with them, as he's already six months older than our last visit. Last time he laughed himself sick watching the dogs leap through the dog-door like Nijinskies in astrakhan body-suits; this time, I bet he'll be squeezing through after them, especially with summer lawn on the other side instead of a foot of snow. This summery weather, after the record-breaking rain that made for the wettest June in a hundred years, feels just right.

Incidentally, that's a phrase I've been trying to teach our resident language genius. He already knows "too beeg" and "too mall" (with regard to shoes, glasses, T-shirts, his bottom and various chairs around the place), so I demonstrated "juuuust right" for him yesterday. With mixed success. Now, when I ask "How are your shoes? Too big? Too small? Feel OK?" he says, emphatically, "Too right!"

It's like having Fred Dagg around the house...