How strong is his strength?

My grandson asked me this question at the shop. He had my Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader down from the shelf. He knew they had some form of power but isn’t familiar with them yet.

He asked me, ‘Can we measure it?’

‘Oh well. How do you measure strength?’ I asked philosophically.

‘With this ruler.’ He’d found a cardboard ruler inside a book.

So we measured the height of Darth Vader. He was 24cm.

‘He has 24 of strength.’

I agreed.

Luke Skywalker had lost his cloak and tools, so we didn’t measure him. I’d bought them second hand and incomplete. My grandson stared at Luke Skywalker without saying anything.

Then outside the shop, two people passed the window talking together: a father and son talking together, hurrying because it was cold, and both wearing rugged blue jumpers, scarves, and hats:

‘Yeah. Yes. That’s what your mother always said. You should go with that.’

They disappeared toward the bakery.

Noah and I stood Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader side by side. My grandson looked at Darth Vader, ‘Is that the dad?’

I said it was.

‘Why is he the dad? Why is he lost his stuff?’

Suddenly the the same pair passed the window again, this time holding paper bags from the bakery against their chests and still talking:

‘And there was a school teacher fellow here, used to always carry that bag of eggs around with him, remember?’

‘Did he break his boots?’ Noah asked.

I looked at Darth Vader again.

Outside the door a lady said to her husband, ‘You start and stop and start and stop. Now get out of my way.’ He said, ‘Keep your hair on.’

Noah asked, ‘Where’s his power pack?’ I looked back Darth Vader.

‘I think that got lost.’

‘Can we find it?’

A customer came in. She looked at us approvingly. ‘I see you’re busy in here.’

A young man came in for science fiction and looked at Luke Skywalker, who was now propped against Poetry and Plays.

‘Woah, mate. Cool. These for sale?’

I said they weren’t.

Noah, kneeling on the floor, said, ‘He’s lost his powers and coat.’

The customers left. Noah left. I put Darth and Luke up crookedly because I can’t reach. Later, I found the ruler under the chair.

At the excellent public library in Murray Bridge where they have Lego Club

I took my grandson, who’s five, to the Murray Bridge library. He said he already knew about libraries because Mrs. Smyth takes them. At the Murray Bridge library, they have Lego Club for parents and kids. The models are displayed in a glass cabinet outside the library. I wanted to go inside and get at the books, but Max pressed his nose to the glass. He named the models: Minion Lego, the Bowling Alley Lego, Scientific Friends Lego, Spider Lego, Spaceship Club, Small House Pets, the set of UFO.

I thought we should go inside next and get at the books. At the door, a young man in uniform and a clipboard, ‘Are you here for the event?
I said no, and Max said yes. But we weren’t. Max looked at all the families entering the Room With Interesting Things Going On. But we hadn’t booked in.

Max tried 3 different seats in the book train. He found a book called Predators Bite and sat on the floor with it. Then he put it in the bag and asked me about rattlesnakes. Then went over to look through the window of The Interesting Room. The event was over. The dazed librarian was packing up.

Max climbed into the book train and read Predators Bite again, and then The Waterhole. He asked me about rattlesnakes again. More families came in. One family ate lunch at one of the tables. A lady with a clipboard was talking to two teenage girls who wore rucksacks and hiking boots. A librarian stuck a machine out of order sign across one of the borrower terminals. Toddlers running everywhere. The kind man with the clipboard stood quietly. Max’s bag was heavy and had to be dragged. He came to help me because I was so slow.
‘This?’
It was Danielle Steele. I said, Ok. He was pleased and packed it carefully.
‘I got you this because it’s fat.’ It was Anna Karenina. I said, Ok.
‘Do you want this maybe?’
‘Read it already.’
‘This?’
‘Read it.’
‘This.’
‘Nope.’
‘Look at THIS.’
‘Ok. Yes.’ It was Jasper Jones. Choice.

‘This has fireworks on it.’
‘Ok. I’ll give it a go. (It was The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall. Never heard of it.)
‘What’s a go?’
‘You know, give it a read.’
‘Oh.’
‘Get this Nanny. It’s got green on it. ’It was Clayhanger by Arnold Bennett. ‘Yes, put it in.’
There was a crowd of teenagers rotating through Young Readers and then falling into beanbags, consulting phones, chewing gum, eyes urgent. Max watched, standing with one hand on the shelf and one small foot stacked on the other foot.

He came back.
‘Get this, because you’ll like this because it’s got a railway train track on it.’ It was Enemies within these Shores by Debbie Terranova, the train track barely visible at the bottom of the front cover.
‘Good work.’
Get this because it’s got a monster see there.’ It was The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells. Strong pick.
Nanny get this maybe. It was Savage Lane by Jason Starr, who is apparently an internationally bestselling author.
‘Ok.’
Max spoke in an urgent voice. ‘Look at THIS.’ It was V2 by Robert Harris. ‘It’s about rockets. And moons.’ He looked at the cover. There’s a map. I’m getting this.’ He packed it in.

‘This has got a bit of red or something on the back.’ It was Willa Cather, an old hardback with gold faded covers and a weighty nonchalant page block needing to prove nothing. Unusual for a public library where most books are now achingly new, average, and safe.
Willa Cather: O Pioneers!
Max watched my face, knowing he’d stuck gold, and pleased.
‘Is it good?’
‘Very good indeed. How’d you know?’
‘I do. I’m a big guy.’
Willa Cather.
Time to Check Out. We had to drag the bags. Max sat under the terminal and packed the bags. The machine got stuck at book number 14, and a librarian dashed to help.
A man tried to use one of the other terminals, not seeing the out of order sign and banging his books around and sighing. He only had two books. We were taking too long. Max was reading Predators Bite under the terminal with books scattered around him in an untidy grid of escaping tiles. And I was reading O Pioneers, with the printed docket for all the books we’d borrowed curling around my ankles. Oh Willa Cather.

Casual conv at dinner: how to find out all the important things

It’s just the three of us: Finn, Noah, and me. They’ve assigned superhero names to the family, and I’m Captain Library. Noah told me and waved toward my bookshelves with his spoon.

‘That’s why, Nanny, because you have too many books.’

I agreed, but not that there are too many because there’s no such thing. They look at me politely. (Maybe Captain Library isn’t very powerful.) I must have looked doubtful because they assured me that he is powerful.

‘He’s strong and looks after all the books.’

I point out that you can’t get rid of libraries because they just come back, so Captain Library is possibly the most powerful superhero of all. They look at me politely again and keep on eating.

I ask for their superhero names and they fill me in seriously.

‘Finn is Hulk. I’m Black Panther. Max is Falcon, Abbey powers the Falcon, and Great Grandpa is Iron Man.’

Finn says, ‘I’m Hulk, but not yet.’

I ask them about their mum and dad.

‘Who are they? What’s their Superhero names?’

‘Dad’s 29.’

‘Mum’s Black Widow.’

‘Pa is War Machine.’

‘Dad’s 29, and he’s Batman. Mum’s older, but sometimes dad’s 29 and older. Dad’s got new garden equipment.’

Finn says, ‘I’m Hulk, it came yesterday.’

‘My best friend is Max and Gracie.’

Finn says, ‘My best friend is Max’.

‘Max got kicked in the eye by a bird. The bird kicked a berry in his eye. When he was digging his trap.’

I asked them how they knew about that. I remember Max telling me about it. A bird (last week) had deliberately kicked a mulberry right in his eye and on purpose when he was digging a bird trap under the mulberry tree. After a solid day’s work the trap was half an inch deep and going well. He plans for the trap to catch either a million birds or fifty.

Noah told me they had blackberries at their house and birds got them, and mum said she’d get those birds so they couldn’t do it anymore.

I asked how she might get them.

‘Mum’s a sower like Rubee. That’s why.’

I agreed that this might be effective.

‘And Elsa’s got a good bike but kids can’t ride it yet.’

‘I can’, said Finn, but Noah corrected him.

‘You can’t.’

‘You need muscles. You need a muscles to get on it and get birds. Like in Max’s trap.’

Then they were quiet and eating for a while. Tapping spoons and wondering about dessert. Eyes lidding downwards. They told me that the windows were changing colour. They reminded me they were sleeping over and that Max might come over.

Finn asked me if I had a dinosaur, and Noah said that his friend Mylo has a Margo, who was little in their family, like a sister.

The Book Keeper and grandsons, sometime before Christmas when I wanted to organize the Christmas tree

They only live in the absolute present, the three second crystal lens that they are consuming and digesting every moment. So, Christmas trees are interesting, but as there are none here(yet) the Christmas tree lost out to a plastic horse with a bent leg, a crane and bedtime looming darkly within the adult conversations.

They didn’t want to go to bed.

Everyone one is out here. The evening is too warm and too light to be proper night, and young parents are sprawled, complaining gently about everything and looking forward to the next day.

I have a promising stack by my bed and have no problem with the night, except that it is too short.

But the little boys are unsure. There’s a matchbox car and three difficult blocks that won’t become a shed. Things to sort. The monkey tree is bent. A log of wood dragged inside to be a fence has shed bugs into the carpet. Someone tore Hairy Maclary, it wasn’t me.

It was Finny.

Is it Christmas outside?

Am I sleeping here?

I’m going to childcare party.

I haven’t got any apple.

Nanny, I haven’t got any apple.

Where shall we put the Christmas tree, do you think?

Can I have any of some more apple?

Nanny, are you growing a beard?

Two grandsons stayed last night. It was hot. They moved from sandpit to orchard to the place with two snails, one of them dead, and they played with a small rubber owl that represents them and is always in danger. They fly it from one end of the orchard to the other using swoops and dives and other very powerful ideas. There is a larger owl, too. This one, a plastic model purchased as a bird scarer, only takes part in some of the story. It saves the baby owl. Then it was abandoned under the bonsai tree table. Once it brought some food. Then it was abandoned at the shed door. Once they couldn’t find the parent owl at all, and everything stopped. Completely.  

They played bikes. This means Noah riding about for a bit, and Finn following on foot because he is too small to find the pedals. It also means stopping still and talking to each other earnestly about many things. Once Finn acted out a message with moving robot arms and a slight klinking of the head from side to side, which Noah understood and answered in a similar way.

Once they met on the lawn and Noah asked, ‘Did you get any snails?’ and Finn answered, ‘Sometimes.’ They always park the bike across the gate to the orchard, which is the gate to soccer parkland.

They asked me to ring Max and find the lost part to the forklift and they asked me about gallstones. Noah showed me his moth bites and asked if he would die, and then he asked me why I was growing a beard.

Hmmm.

The grandsons get parsley

An entire washing basket full. Roots, leaves, bark chips, a gum branch and two wooden pegs. The little boys all soaking wet.

‘You can have this. For frying, Nan.’ The parsley is flushed with rain, cold and fresh. I remove a small white snail. The smell of cold torn parsley went everywhere; we had to talk through it. They notice it because they flare their nostrils without realising.

‘I’ll have him.’ They want the snail, and they take it carefully. They plod back out in mudding gumboots.

 So much to do.

When The Book Keeper’s grandsons stay the night

Here they are, organized; in the reading room, which they call their room and then place beanies and other things of value on the shelf over the bed for in the morning.

The bed belongs to one of the aunts. You can get under there when you’re called in a tone that suggests trouble.

There’s a sensible plastic sheet on the bed in case of accidents.

The third grandson is in the bed of another aunt. He’s asleep already; he did not last to the end of the Hairy Maclary omnibus.

But in this room, where the four year old seniors sleep, the evening was lashed with argument. In Handa’s Surprise, the ostrich took the orange.

‘No, she didn’t.’

‘Her did.’

‘No, it was a avadcardo.’ The winner of this discussion stretched avadcardo to its final length. It worked. When you are four, words that turn into food in your mouth outrank the need to continue talking.

‘Ok.’

In King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, (the old paper pages worn away to silk), the King said, ‘trout, trout, trout.’

‘He didn’t pull the plug.’

‘Yes, she did.’ There was silence. They both wanted this bath that held battle ships, fishing rods, and party food with purple fizzing in gold goblets and sheeps made of cake, and iced swans with lollies in their eyes.

They read There’s a Sea in my Bedroom.

‘He got scared of the sea in his ears.’ Noah read. Max listened and argued. But they like things about being scared. They looked approvingly at the boy being scared. They looked at the sea that came into his bedroom (out of a conch shell).

‘There’s a conch shell at kindy. Beryl said the sea’s in it.’

‘Is there any sea in it?’

‘Yes. Beryl said.’

In The Tiger Who Came to Tea, the discussion became fierce.

‘What’s supper?’

‘It’s coffee.’

It’s not coffee.’

Ok, it’s curry.’

‘It’s not curry. It’s carfeey.

It’s not carfeey.’

There was silence; they stared at the illustrations.

‘She can’t have a bath because the lion ate all her bath water.

‘It’s a tiger.’

‘I know.’

‘So they go out to the café for tea.’

‘It’s the pub. It’s a pub. It’s my pub.’

‘So they go out to the pub for tea. I want to go there.’

‘Nanny, can you read to us?’

So I stop eavesdropping and go in to read. But first there is a song they want to sing about a fish. It lasts for fifteen minutes. Then we can read. Because I have told them that anything less than one hundred books before sleep is unacceptable.

Looking at things

There are caterpillars on the grape vine. They are amazing. They are so liddle.

‘Why are they so liddle?’

‘Where’s his mum? Where’s his eyes? Where’s her arms?’

The caterpillars are a nuisance. But today they are astounding. They have a looping liquid walk, so hip that small children must imitate it.

They are the colour of pests.

But this one is crimson, emerald, gold, charcoal, the colour of bees, the colour of lego, of lollies, of excavators, of liddle amazing things. My grandsons hold out grubby hands to help him from leaf to leaf. They offer him extra leaves because she has no mum. They look for her nest, they plan to make him a better house – with a door. Her will love it.

They watch him eat, leaning so close that surely the caterpillar must sense something, but it swings its enormous eyes around and down again, serene over its leafy cabbage meal, warm under the hot breath of my grandsons who won’t come away in case a bit of life happens, and they miss it.

Later they tell Pa, ‘There’s a caterpillar on your stuff.’

‘Is there.’

‘He is. He’s eating everything, her is.’

They are gleeful. Then they go back to sweeping, back to the sandpit, back to the marble run, the biscuits, and sunlight coming through the bathroom window and lighting up the soggy face washer and somebody’s hat left in the sink and the tap still dripping all over everything.

How to be stung

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Words have shapes. The word naked has a spike in the middle. This causes my three year old grandsons to freeze and lighthouse my face. They have heard the word and have become uncertain. I say naked. Naked? I plant the k firmly in the ground because it is important, and they rock about, filling their mouths with two year old laughter, powerful with innocence.
Cereal. Difficult because the r wants more attention that it needs. Ce-re-ral. Difficult because it is uttered so early in the morning, hungry, and hoping for exciting ce-re-ral, the stuff I buy because my mother never allowed me to have it.
I can’t write Australia without an error amongst the vowels.
I can’t type possibly because the y won’t appear.
I can’t say minimalist without losing a shoe and having to go back.
Bum. This is a satisfying word, like a stone thrown into a deep pond. Ripples. Causes hilarity for three year olds.

Mine. Powerful and causes consternation. Different powers according to where it is uttered. And who hears it.
The word freezing is nice to say. The grandsons linger amongst the long sounds and stretch the word, reining in sympathy and attention. Squirted is hilarious but tricky, the t softening into a d, and parents lurking in the car park, saying ‘Are you being rude?’
Bursted. Many things are bursted. A powerful and rich word that describes the world of the three year old more than what it is actually applied to. ‘What happened to the snail? It bursted.’
Sour is puzzling because it is a bit abstract. But is easily learned because of the accompanying flair of lips away from teeth. Three year olds are quick to utilize these performances. Anything can be sour, including vegetables, the sun or a library book.
Biscuit is buttery, baked, soft with kindness, and breaks up in the teeth amongst the actual sentence. Biscuit can stop a runner making for the back of the orchard with a toy truck they have taken from someone else.
Broken has authority. My three year old grandsons use it to blame, condemn, weep, console, manipulate and explain.
Spicy is abstract and unusual, but useful if you have accidentally tasted a chilli. It is immensely satisfying to linger twice amongst the tender skin of the ssss sounds, remembering the burn.

Yellow is simply too difficult. There is too much information thrown by the experience of yellow to waste time forcing the tongue. So, lello fills in, like a relief worker paid a lot but not really part of the plan. Lollies is always managed with skill, precision and desperation.
Buttons is exciting and authoritative and causes things to happen, such as the reprimand, ‘Did you press that?’
Max tried out Mr Archimedes, remembering the story, the bath, the wombat, the spilt hot water, the mop. He managed Mr Medes. It will do. He climbs over the words and continues with the story, ‘The water went all on the floor.’
I said monumental to someone in a thin fussy tone. Noah said, ‘Yeah,’ in hot agreement, the three year old taking part in family affairs, already reading politics with alarming accuracy.
Chippies is flinty and nice, salty and comforting, and rectangular, ‘We went to the shop and got some chippies with mummy.’ Devastation that at the time of the memory, there are no chippies anywhere.
Sting. This is rich and alarming. The s is loud and sharp, a warning. It is freighted with memories of stings. Toys are put down. Little boys gather to talk. ‘Did Noah get stinged? Where did the bee go? Once I got stinged on my thumb.’ The speaker holds up his foot as he says ‘thumb’. They stare at each other, concerned.

They keep on playing, talking, arguing, shouting –  squeezing and pushing at bits of language, every word a biscuit, a rich drench, a sting.

Noah and Max plant daisies and tell me that these WILL grow…

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Autumn, and here we are in the garden, there is stuff to do. Dig.

The difference between a weed and a flower is nothing.

Noah wears only one boot. The other one is gone. They lose their spade. Somebody loses an entire pair of pants. We find a tiny bulldozer, folded into a crunching mud pastry underneath the blackberry. These little boys, my grandsons, roll and stride and fly from one end of the orchard to the other. They find worms. These are treasures. They find weeds. These are treasures. They find snails. These are beyond treasure, there are no words. They lean in over the tender stalk of eyeball that moves underneath their scorching breath and outraged curiosity.

‘What’s his eyes doing?’

What’s him looking for?’

They carry their luggage with them, a pot, a spade, a tiny bulldozer, a scooter with a bead necklace tied to the handlebars, a snail, a plastic dingo, and a piece of wooden train track. They drop everything.

They squabble over the tiny bulldozer. Their small muddy hands must hold that bulldozer.

They arrive at the foot of the old yellow daisy. It is huge, it lives without aid all year round. It finds water for itself. When everything else wilts, it rears in contempt.

They consider the whirring flowers and snip off a few and stand there, looking at the scatter. Then they remember. Planting. It’s easy. They run from here to there, tying the tender stalks to the earth, ungentle and urgent. They step backwards and trample their work. They fall. They sit on their own gardens. They lose each other.

‘Where’s my Noah?’

Finn (the youngest) has taken all the best toys, sits alone and supreme. They don’t realize.

The tiny yellow daises, rumpled and torn, cut with no stalks, limpy, bruised and shorn of petals take their place in the richness. They rear (with interest). The gumboots thunder past. A small shovel is hurled, no longer needed.

They shout, ‘Finn, not yours.’ Finn (the youngest) sits unperturbed. He grips the tiny bulldozer, prepared.

The tiny yellow daises, rumpled and torn, cut with no stalks, limpy, bruised and shorn of petals take their place in the rich. They roar (with pleasure).