So, I had many things to write to you today. I’ve been planning to write individual posts about St. Paddy’s Day and Castletownshend (now with correct spelling!), and many other things that would delve deep into the Irish psyche and explain this wonderful country and people to you, but nothing has inspired me to actually sit down and write. That is, until this afternoon and…. cow poo.
I’ve been planning for the last couple of days to put a plan in to action. A plan to have the perfect, tantrum free afternoon with both of the girls. This plan involved me having everything organised before the eldest girl came home, thereby not giving her a chance to come in and start getting bored or grumpy or making mischief. I decided to take them both on a long bike ride, one that would take up all our time in the afternoon together, so there were no moments of boredom to be filled, no horrible moments when I would suddenly be expected to think of a fun and entertaining game on the spot, or risk playing Ludo or Snakes and Ladders again. Luckily, the weather played ball, and it was a perfectly mild, sunny afternoon. I know the eldest girl likes to have picnics on our ‘bike rides’ (generally the picnic takes up more of the afternoon than the bike ride itself), so I decided to bake lovely banana choc-chip muffins in the morning, ready to take that afternoon. This meant giving the youngest girl a bowl of flour, water and egg to play with on the floor to stop her hassling me for the uncooked muffin mixture, as well as chasing her all over the house afterwards, wiping said flour, water and egg mixture off of such creative places as the wall, the TV screen, the carpet and the building blocks. I was happy and organised all morning, and I was going to be happy and organised and enthusiastic all afternoon. No matter what.
Things started… ok. I thought we were heading for disaster when the eldest girl started worrying about the flatness of her back tire. Of course, we don’t have a bike pump, so I had to try and convince her that she was going to be fine, even with a flat tire, and that just because the tire was flat, it didn’t mean there was a hole in the tire. Eventually she agreed, though grumpily, and we got on the bikes, but she refused to talk to me for the first part of the bike ride. I didn’t let it annoy me, I continued to be sunny and chatty with her until eventually we saw a very old dog on the road with a sore leg and she started talking to me about him spontaneously, asking whether or not he needed a bandage.
When we finally sat down for our picnic (a whole 10 minutes away from the house), I got out the popcorn, the juices and the muffins. The sounds of delight from both girls made me feel like a conquering hero. I had tamed the masses. I was a domestic goddess. I was the grand champion au pair…. but then, ‘Actually, these don’t taste very good.’ Pause. ‘Did you put fruit in these?’ Pause. ‘You said they were choc-chip!!!!’ I point out all the choc-chips in the muffin. No good. The eldest girl doesn’t like fruit in her muffins, no matter how much chocolate accompanies said fruit. I didn’t know this. Warm banana choc-chip muffins with butter were my favourite as a kid. I can still remember the first day I tried them: just out of the pool, still in my swimmers, still cold and wet – then, a warm, choc-chip muffin taste sensation. ‘Fine,’ I say, ‘Fine. Your sister loves them, so she can eat them and you can eat popcorn’ (the youngest girl having hoovered two muffins into her mouth this morning, me having to forcibly prevent her from putting her head in the oven in her enthusiasm to eat more muffins, more quickly). Small victories. Next I hear, ‘Want popcorn. Want popcorn. Don’t like cake.’ The youngest has seen her older sister eating popcorn and she wants a piece of the action. Fine. Fine. Utterly humiliated, I take away the muffin and give the youngest girl the popcorn too.
By this point, I am wanting to just get back on the bike and keep cycling and forget the failure of the muffins. But the eldest wants to play catch in a nearby cow field. Catch is not the most enjoyable game when there are only two players (the third player being only 4 and not really up to the task of running away or catching) and when one person is always ‘doing dibs’ (ie the eldest girl) and the other person (ie me) is always ending up being ‘it’. Still feeling hurt after the muffins I say I don’t want to play catch. So, we stand around outside the field not quite certain what to do. Finally, I ask the eldest if she wants to have some running races. This both lets me get some exercise and keeps us all occupied. It works for a while until the youngest gets a stitch (trying to eat popcorn and run at the same time = not a good idea), and the eldest works out that either I will always beat her, or, if she runs and I do a sideways leap (think meerkat) to give her the advantage, then she always wins, but with no drama or last-minute photo finish to keep her interested.
So, we start wandering around the field. It being a cow paddock, there are great big cow pats all over the place. These look like big frozen pools of tar. They look like lava after its spewed forth from the volcano and cooled down. The eldest girl figures out, however, that if you step on them, a fantastic green ooze seeps out from underneath. Only the top bit is dry – the bit that’s been exposed to the sun. There follows a good half an hour of going through the whole field and stepping on every single cow pats and watching them ooze. I suppose it has a similar appeal to popping pimples. I’m reminded of one fabulous holiday I spent with friends, Cressida Green and Phillippa Green (for some reason, these girls are always referred to in my head with their last names – they just trip so nicely off the tongue/brain) during which we played frisbee with dry cow pats, at least until one of us picked up one that wasn’t completely dry, so I can’t really claim to be completely ignorant of the appeal of the cow poo.
My youngest charge also got into the spirit, but because she was younger and had less understanding of the whole process than her sister, she sort of just stepped, as hard as she could, in to the middle of the cow pats. Let me just mention, she was wearing crocs, so all the fabulous, stinky green ooze then squished through all the holes in the crocs and stained her socks (and I later discovered, her feet and toes). We made fabulous discoveries. Like the fact that the poo really smells (who would have guessed??) – which the youngest in particular found wonderful, ‘Can I smell? Can I smell?’ she kept asking, as she put her face dangerously close to the cow pats. Another was that the poo was full of ants! And flies! Hooray! Another was the discussion of how long ago each cow pat had been made, ‘ooh, that was a particularly squishy one, it must have been made yesterday.’ ‘Oh, that’s all dry, that was made ages ago.’ Another question was, ‘why do all cows have diarrohea? Are they all sick?’ Answer: ‘No, no, that’s just the way cows poo.’ Reply: ‘But we know that’s actually disgusting!’ Answer: ‘Well, maybe the cows find our poo disgusting.’ But, best of all, was when I banned the girls from walking through more cow pats, so the eldest then found a stick, dipped it in the ooze and decided to wave it around, a little too close to my face for comfort. That was when I decided we were done with the cow paddock.
What amuses me about the afternoon was that I spent so much time coming up with wholesome activities, great big plans with muffins and bikes and things that required a lot of effort on my behalf, when all that was really needed was a great big field of poo. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting when I was told I was looking after 2 girls. I had images of dressing dolls and brushing their hair, and colouring-in and playing dress-ups. But, no, no, its all about the poo.
On the way home, we did have some of those charming, stereotypical childhood moments, the ones they put in Hollywood movies with white-picket fences. We found a ladybird on the tree and passed it from hand to hand and then back to the tree (via a few trips to the ground in between). We got chased on our bikes by a barking dog. We stopped outside another field, this one full of cows (rather than cow pats), and we stood and held a conversation with them. We chose our favourites. Not to brag, but the cows kept running away, scared of our bikes, and then, as soon as I talked to them, they would come back. The eldest girl decided it was because of my accent and the cows were confused and couldn’t understand me. I thought it was because the cows all liked me best and that I was some sort of cow whisperer, who should have their own show, like ‘Bondi Vet’, but in flannel and jeans and an akubra hat.
In the end it was a very successful afternoon. And, I can now add ‘cow poo’ to the list of activities in which both girls are happy to engage at the same time for hours on end.