Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

Can you dig it?

Just another fantasy Friday in the life of a bored housewife: you make a quick phone-call, the doorbell rings, and there they are: three burly firemen, well-hung with utility belts and wearing fetching braces-and-T-shirt ensembles. Followed by a pair of hunky paramedics in those slightly too-tight uniforms that handily emphasise pectorals and biceps honed by years of hefting stretchers. Phwoar. They stride into your bedroom and murmur “You just lie there, sweetheart, and we’ll do all the work” while you sprawl half-clad across the mattress, moaning with...

Well, agony, to tell the truth. I had somehow managed to put my back out and was unable to get out of bed. Or even roll over. It wasn’t even that I’d fallen and couldn’t get up. I just couldn’t get up. No particular precipitating event; no car accident, no overly enthusiastic show-shovelling, no tumble down the stairs. Mind you, when I eventually mentioned to the emergency room doctor that I am the mother of a forty-pound two year old, I think I saw her nod sagely and tick the “killer toddler” box on the admission form. Actually, maybe I hallucinated that bit, courtesy of the morphine that finally nixed the most debilitating pain it’s ever been my misfortune to endure.

Morphine! I’d never imagined myself as an opium-eater. I did try toughing it out. Normally I’m stoic to the point of stupidity, with an astronomically high pain threshold (giving birth was fun!) and an almost Christian Scientist aversion to taking aspirins for all but the most brain-melting headaches. So I attempted mind over matter techniques for five long hours, alternately shrieking and whimpering while my partner consulted the doctor by phone and administered monster doses of ibuprofen. Which had about as much effect as a handful of smarties. It eventually became clear that I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, at least under my own steam.

Cue fire engine, ambulance, and the above-mentioned rescue personnel who fancied themselves more as off-duty comedians than dial-a-hunks (I laughed, but it hurt). Three strong men manouevred me gently off the bed and ferried me out of the house on something called a contour stretcher which sounds all very modern and was indeed extraordinarily comfy. The line-up of emergency vehicles was a bit of a thrill for the neighbours in this usually quiet street. And it was all the more exciting for Busytot, who, thanks to the pre-arranged playdate over the road, had a front-row seat of a drama that looked to him like “Mummy driving a ambulance while fire engine go wee-oo-wee-oo!” He’d had no idea there was such a thing as a 1-800-FIRE-ENGINE fetish line, and that it only had three digits.

And it got even better for him over the weekend. I was prescribed bed-rest and a diet of valium and painkillers off the top shelf, a combination that left me feeling half Judy Garland, half Keith Richards. For two days, I lolled around in a dreamy mascara-smeared stupor, falling asleep over trashy magazines and trashier TV, and calling weakly (and sometimes irritably) for reheated hotties and refrozen ice-packs and drinks with straws in them. The noble man of the house waited on me hand and foot while simultaneously wrangling our little weapon of lumbar destruction, each of which is a full-time job in itself. When it all got a bit much, he caved in and plugged Busytot into the neglectomatic.

Like all first children of high-minded bourgeois bohemians (benevolent utopian fascists), he’s only on the most nodding acquaintance with the big-name furry stars of stage and screen. Buzz Lightyear is the strange guy who occupies the codpiece position on his daytime nappies, and Big Duck (you know, the yellow fellow who lives on the street flavoured with sesame) is the night-time equivalent.

Blue Dog is a more familiar hound, since she comes along with Steve, the edgily wholesome stealth rock-star who definitely qualifies as Something For the Mums. As a consequence we have a whole Blue’s Clues DVD, which is the cheapest babysitter ever invented. And a couple of weeks ago we watched Finding Nemo all the way through -- this led to a few days of getting around the house by swimming along the East Australia Current, which, naturally, runs along the grubbiest paths of the floor.

Other than Nemo and Blue, though, Busytot is basically a youth-market virgin. He thinks that big golden M all over town is in honour of his best friend Micah.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and a trip to the video shop yielded some kiddie drugs almost as powerful -- and patently as effective -- as the ones I was taking for my back. First we had to steer the wee lad past the horror section, where he pounced on something called Piranha on the apparent assumption that it was a sequel to his beloved Nemo (“Why that fish eating the man? He hungry?”).

I hobbled over to the new releases, where right at ground level were a bunch of classic Muppets compilations and, astoundingly, those gentle eco-warriors The Wombles -- but no dice. “I want a digger video,” came the urgent cry. “I neeeeed it. Let’s find a digger video, OK? Let’s find it RIGHT NOW!” Clearly he didn’t mean Gallipoli or a documentary about agrarian communists. A more experienced parent pointed us to the children’s section, where we found the motherlode of digger videos.

A whole genre of hot hard-core digger action, in fact, packaged in handy thirty minute volumes that cut straight to the chase. Massive machinery, excavating building sites and constructing towering skyscrapers for your viewing pleasure. Watch huge powerful cranes, erecting iron-hard girders! Get a load of giant dump-trucks, dumping load after load, doing it again and again. Curvaceous concrete-mixers with extra grinding action pouring their cement all over heavily reinforced foundations! Muscled men with hard, hard hats, working it all day and all night just for you. And you won’t believe what these front-loaders can do, with BOTH ENDS!

You think I’m exaggerating? Next time you’re dithering at the video shop, check out some of the barely legal big-rig and construction site tapes, with their come-on cover copy, cheesy wokka-wokka-twannnng soundtracks, and laconically tantalizing narration, and see if they don’t oil your engine, baby. Blimey. All I can say is, it was a very satisfying weekend, and at the end of it I wasn’t the only one lying on the couch with a glazed expression.

Everything’s fine now. We’re all gradually weaning ourselves off our respective drugs, and I’m walking around again. Normal blog transmission will be resumed as soon as possible, when I’ll post a review of the "Paradise Now?" exhibition in NYC, and more thoughts about being pakeha abroad (my last post struck quite a chord and there’s plenty more to say on the subject).

So watch this space. And parents of toddlers the size and shape of monster trucks, watch your backs!