This story is in three parts.
***Pink is devoted - devoted - to her baby dolls. She and Blue both got one for Christmas, and neither of them were interested. They sat on the toy shelf for about three months, ignored. "Do you want to play with your baby, Pink?" "No." "Do you want to play with your baby, Blue?" "Nope". And so it continued. Then one day, I picked up both dolls, handed them to Pink and said "Look, twins!" and a switch flipped in her little head - she had no idea what to do with one baby, but two babies? Now that's something she can get right behind. From that day, she has always referred to them as 'my twin babies' and they go everywhere with her. "Where are my twin babies?" she asks, constantly, and I tell her: "In the pram / under the sofa / in the tree" or whatever the right answer is that day. Every evening, she forgets to take them upstairs at teeth-brushing-time and then, when she gets into bed, she yells "OH NO! MY TWIN BABIES!" and thunders down the stairs to get them.
It's all pretty cute.
When I was in Australia, my sister and I were brainstorming ideas for my book cover.In the end, I've gone for this cover:
which - I'll be straight with you - I totally love, but getting there was no picnic. Laura was taking a ton of photos of me because hey, photos of me are free, and photos of other people have to be paid for. (The baby on the final cover is from a stock photography site, although Pink remains convinced that it is Blue). We were wanting to find some way of getting across the concept of an anonymous baby - a hypothetical future baby - and were tossing all kinds of ideas around.
"How about a doll?" suggested one of us, and the other one thought that might be worth trying out, so we got the props ready. Then we suddenly stopped.
"Is this weird and skeevy?" I wondered. "White lady, brown doll? Like the child is some kind of accessory? Isn't that exactly what I don't want adoption to look like? A crowd of social workers might hunt me down and destroy me if I publish that."
"Hmmmmmm," she said. "Let's take the photo and see what it looks like. Here, start with this white doll, maybe that won't look so weird - "
For the record, it did look pretty weird.
"Okay, maybe not that," she said. "Especially not the one where you are holding the baby by the foot as if it smells bad and you are about to drop it. Let me take a photo of you and Pink instead with all the dolls." And she did, and it was so horrifying that we immediately made an absolutely no dolls on the book at all decision.
See, there are lots of good things and lots of bad things about independent publishing. One of the good things is that you get to have total control over all of the fun bits. I've always loved book covers and I love that I got to design my own for this project. But then one of the bad things, of course, is that if you end up putting a weird, unflattering and borderline-offensive doll-photo on the front, you have nobody to blame but yourself.
Also, obviously, it's a truckload of work. I really had no idea how much until I started doing it.Turning a book manuscript into a book object is actually insanely complicated. How can it be so hard to just insert page numbers logically? And how can Garamond italic be so offensive when standard Garamond is so beautiful? All this stuff is interesting and fun, but sometimes incredibly frustrating and astonishingly time consuming (hence my quietness around here lately). I was reading a writing blog that made a great point: we are all so familiar with books, so used to handling them, that it's easy to underestimate how complex they are. So. Very. True. (And I thought - that reminds me of parenting. Because I saw other people's kids all around me all the time, because I was so familiar with their presence around me, I underestimated how complicated it would be to actually DO all that family stuff. But that's a different post).
***On Tuesday, we were playing upstairs with the children's birthday toys - a train set and a play kitchen, since you asked. I was all for them sharing the two, but Jay thought they should start learning about having individual things, and I daresay he's right. On the morning of their birthday, when they unwrapped them (to squeals of delight), Pink's rapturous comment was "Oh hooray! Now Daddy and Blue can play with the trains and Mummy and Pink can do girls' things!" Uh. "Girls can play with trains too, Pink," I said weakly, but my voice was drowned out by the sound of her offering everybody pieces of plastic chicken and slamming the oven door enthusiastically.
By Tuesday, the constant catering was beginning to pall and she flopped dramatically onto the bed and sighed deeply. "Mummy," she said, "when I see my new Mummy again?"
Uh, what? 'The new Mummy and Daddy' feature heavily in our adoption stories, but that's Jay and me - and then I realised she meant her first mother, and said "Do you mean your birthmummy?"
She nodded her head. "My birthmummy AND my birthdaddy" she said.
Woah, this is important. I thought.
"Does that make you feel sad?" I asked. "Would you like to see them?"
An emphatic yes.
I paused while I tried to think of something to say that would let her know she could share her feelings openly and freely; that this was an important but un-threatening topic; that she has the right to feel however she wants to feel about her own important and complex relationship with her other mother. Blue, of course, was still playing with his trains.
"And what would you say to her, sweetie, if you could talk to her now?" I asked, as gently and neutrally as I could.
"I would say 'YOU HAVE TO HAVE ANOTHER BABY!' " Pink said. "And then she would have another baby and we could take it home".
"Uhhhhhhhhh...." I said [and yeah, what would YOU have said????] and then - (when in doubt, ask another question) - "Why would you say that?"
"Because I want MORE BABIES!"
"Uhhhhhh.... okay." Clearly she's not having issues deciding whether this family should stop with two children. I envy her certainty. "I don't really think that's how it works, though, sweetheart." Does it? "If she had another baby, Pink, that would be her baby. It wouldn't be our baby".
"I want to go to my Ethiopia and get another baby!" she wailed. She then told me what she would name the babies (turns out that actually, it's twins again! What kind of luck is that?) and in the end the conversation - which really did start off being about her other mother, I think - was totally about wanting to be a big sister and control the lives of two babies who are - coincidentally - also called Pink and Blue. Just like the real children. And the twin baby dolls.
"Well, when you're a grownup, Pink, you can have as many babies as you like," I said.
She scowled at me.
No matter how much I've read, no matter how much I've thought, these conversations are never, ever, ever, ever what I'm expecting.
"I want another baby NOW!" she said, and I, lost for words, just had to say "I'm sorry Pink, but for now I think you're just going to have to be happy...
...with the dolls."