When There Are No Words, There Are Always Dancing Penguins


It is 8.20pm, and Piglet is not asleep.

Instead, he is breastfeeding.  We have returned home from a day out which ended with a two hour nap (for Piglet, not me), eaten dinner and watched the end of Happy Feet.

Happy Feet is a nice story, although I am disappointed that the portion I watch seems to contain only one female character, and she is the protagonist’s mother.  Once you have learned about the Bechdel test, the joy is sapped from almost all films, and in its place lies my pure feminist anger.

In the real world, however, not all stories are nice, not even ones that pass the Bechdel test with flying colours.  In the real world, misery seems to pile upon misery, and I am left to wonder how to shield my son from it.

Talk to children about the news, the advice says, but I don’t know how to talk to a two year old about elections, wars and crime.  What I do know, however, is that he wants to know, and very soon, he is going to be asking.

8.20pm and out of the window I catch sight of the flashing blue lights of a police car.

“NEE-NAR!”  I shout enthusiastically.  “NEE-NAR IN OUR STREET!”

It’s a knee-jerk reaction, borne of many fortuitous sightings of blue lights.  It may be somebody’s worst day, but for Piglet it’s all his Christmases come at once.

“How many nee-nars in the hospital car park, Piglet?  Six nee-nars!”

I can’t deny that in a way, it’s a way of getting his attention when he’s restless, tired and moody, and now he’s up off the boob and racing to the window.

I’m right behind him.  We all love a bit of drama.

Soon there are three nee-nars in our street, one containing dogs.  What has happened?  Dogs?  Is it a drugs bust?  Are there drugs in our street?  What have we moved into?

A group of police officers have pinned a man to the ground.  Oh my God is it going to be Rodney King and the LA riots of ’92, right in front of our house?  Please tell me this is not how things usually roll on a Saturday night round here.  I crouch down to Piglet’s level to see what he can see.  All he can see is the police cars.  I feign disinterest and retreat back behind the net curtains like a nosy neighbour who’s just been caught snooping, but Piglet can see that my sudden withdrawal of enthusiasm for viewing the scene outside is insincere.

“Nee-nar ow?”

“Yes, that’s right Piglet.  Someone has an ow, and the nee-nar is going to take them to hospital.”

I’m pretty sure he is starting to appreciate that there is a difference between police cars and ambulances, but ow is something he can understand.  Ow is when he falls and hits his head and cries for Mummy, and if an ow is really bad, the injured party might require a nee-nar.  This is comprehensible.  Naughty people doing drugs or beating their wives or whatever criminality is going down here, this is not something I want him to know about.

And now he is at the door.  He has grabbed the keys and is trying to get out.  He wants to see the nee-nar.

I am thankful that he does not yet have the manual dexterity to identify the correct key and use it.

A few minutes later, the drama is over and the nee-nar is gone.  There is no riot, and no drugs, and any violence appears to have been over before it began.  I gather in the street with the other neighbours, like 1930s housewives in hair nets and aprons swapping gossip on the stoop.  Piglet plays happily for a while (OK, an hour.  He had a long nap) and then we go inside.

And when he finally goes to sleep, I scroll through my phone and see there has been another terrorist attack.

If only all the world’s problems could be solved by dancing penguins.

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