Last week was Book Week (actually, by the time I post this, it might be a little longer, but let’s just pretend it was last week). Here in Australia, at a certain time of the year, Facebook news feeds everywhere become choked with pictures of school-aged children in costumes. They all carry the same two word caption: Book Week. This is the week the Children’s Book of the Year is awarded and suburban libraries try to out-do each other in creative celebrations. Book Week represents everything I should love, so why does the mere mention of the word fill me with a vague sense of nausea and dread?
I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself on Book Week dress-up day. When you’re a stay-at-home mum, you don’t often get the chance to prove yourself. There are no clear-cut KPIs and no performance reviews in my line of work. It all pretty much boils down to two tests: visits to the Maternal and Child Health Nurse and Book Week. As you may know, my previous performances at MCH visits have been underwhelming to say the least. Book Week, therefore, would have to be Kate’s Time To Shine.
In the past, I’ve been disorganized and turned up late with costumes that didn’t quite work, like the time Matilda arrived half-way through the parade with tangled hair in a generic fairy dress as ‘Silky’, a last-minute substitute after I discovered that a five-year-old couldn’t manage the sheer weight of a Saucepan Man costume when it was made up of proper stainless steel saucepans. We were both gutted. I had planned to bask in the glow of good-costume-approval and Matilda had devised plans to pretend to be comically deaf all day (maybe she still did: she’s not easily deterred).
This year was going to be different. A week before the day and I was already thinking it over. There could be no phoning it in. No Shrek. No Spiderman. No Buzz Lightyear. My children and their costumes would represent the richness and diversity of well-written children’s books. The school librarian would nod approvingly and nudge the literacy co-ordinator. “Do you see those children? They will go far in life. Their mother is doing an excellent job.”
I needed to think. I majored in Literature in University. I adore children’s literature. This was a unique opportunity to exhibit my Sublime Literary Taste. People would see me as a real-life Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail: how could you not know that?).
“What are you doing for Book Week?” I interrogated Lovely M.
“Ugh! Book Week! Peter says he wants to bring his scooter. Do you know any literary characters who ride scooters?” I shook my head doubtfully. M sighed.
“Things would be so much easier if I had a little girl with red hair,” I mused, “think about it: Anne of Green Gables, L’il Orphan Annie, Pippi Longstocking, Sunny Ducrow, Madeleine”
“Nancy Drew,” added M, “Millie that red crayon girl”
“Do you think I can convince Christopher Robin to wear a red wig and a dress?” I asked wistfully. M shook her head. I sighed. Lovely M started googling scooter-themed books.
Harry’s costume, at least, would be easy enough. At some point since our failed Saucepan Man attempt, we had managed to acquire a set of lightweight toy saucepans (I promise we didn’t get them just for Book Week. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself). Harry would be an adorable little Saucepan Man; I just needed to think up a decent costume for Christopher Robin.
I ran the idea past my siblings at Family Night. They’re young and creative and don’t have kids. This sort of thing is actually fun for them. We were deep in discussion of proper construction methods of a giant peach and Cindy had just run off to fetch a teapot that looked a little like Aladdin’s lamp when Greg (or Peter) struck gold (they both are taking credit for having the idea first. I’m not getting involved)
“What about George’s Marvellous Medicine?”
The idea had real promise. Christopher Robin could wear regular clothes and just carry a tray with ‘medicine’ ingredients on it. Given that we were having this conversation the night before costume day, this plan had great appeal.
As soon as I got home from my parent’s house, I got to work stringing together toy saucepans and gathering household items to put on George’s tray. I also filled up a bottle with water, put food dye in it and labelled it “Marvellous Medicine”, just to drive the point home. When I went to bed that night, I was feeling rather smug. My boys would look adorable. My Facebook boast would get so many likes. For the first time ever, I was going to get it right on Book Week day.
At least, that’s what I thought.