“I have winned you!” Dulcie gleefully caroled as she reached the bottom of the stairs. I winced. Yes, the grammar is awful and of course it isn’t really a fair competition when she goes down fancy free, while I had himself the Elf under one arm, the nappy bucket in the crook of the other and an empty cup in my hand. But I am irked by the fact that everything has to be a competition, from who gets to press the button for the pedestrian crossing when out with her friend to who has the longest skirt, the biggest apple, the loudest fart. And if she isn’t the ‘winner’ of these inane competitions, you’d honestly have thought someone had told her a life hewing coal and without any birthday parties awaited her. Devastation, tears, snot.
“Would you rather have the biggest stick or would you rather have a good friend?” I try to reason after she meets up with a pal she’s not seen for over six months and immediately falls out with them over some dog-chewed sycamore branch you’d frankly have to pay me to touch, but which both children have become passionate rivals for.
“The STICKKKKKKKK!” is the predictable but highly unsatisfactory answer.
Himself the Elf is not so far feeling particularly competitive but if he has the temerity to finish a sandwich first and so become the unknowing victor in a contest he had no idea he’d even entered, he does tend to crow. Not in jubilation at his win, but at the hilarious meltdown his sister is suffering for no apparent reason. Her hysteria amuses and excites him, and he bounces up and down, snorting happily, slapping his little thighs. This produces further rage, and the cycle continues until I intervene, or until one or other falls over. It is most trying.
“Calm down, darling,” I say in a manner which I hope is far, far removed from David Cameron’s. “Let’s look at a book. I’ve got just the thing.” There’s a brief altercation over another one-man race to be first over to the chair, but we’re soon embarking on I’m the Best.
I’m the Best by Lucy Cousins
Better known as the author of the Maisy books, Lucy Cousins must surely have met quite a few toddlers to have produced such an apt tale. Dog is a smug-as-they-come canine, gleefully clad in some checked shorts, fuzzy ears perked up, and he opens the book declaring, “I’m the best.” (A brief interlude as Dulcie predictably opines, “No, I’m the best.”) He has a menagerie of friends, ranging from tiny ladybird to big donkey who wears a rather splendid pullover, and Dog tells us that he loves them and thinks they’re brilliant – is it just me, or does that make him sound like a wife-beater or someone who is about to dump their fiance? – but remains of the opinion that he is the best. Endearing chap, no?
Like most pre-schoolers, Dog picks activities that he is good at (shades of the previous post and my own failings), and then tells his friends he has beaten them. He can run faster than Mole, dig better than Goose, is bigger than Ladybird and can swim faster than Donkey who looks thoroughly miserable to be in the water at all, and who is foolishly still wearing his jumper. Consequently, Dog is very pleased, and in typical threenager fashion, is not one to keep this to himself.
Cue a group of dejected animal friends all looking sad until smart little Mole points out that each of them is actually better than Dog at all these things, and show Dog getting his hairy derriere whupped at digging, swimming, being big and flying. His ears are no longer perky but drooping. Dog realises he is “just a silly show off… And I’m mean to my friends.” The book here veers swiftly away from my own experiences of competitive children with Dog immediately saying sorry to all his friends, but this is fiction, after all.
They agree that Dog actually has the fluffiest ears (nothing like placing the emphasis on outward appearances not actual achievement to get me really, truly thrilled with a moral tale…) and they all still love him. Lucy Cousins swerves back to realism here with Dog thinking that having “beautiful fluffy ears is the most important thing so I AM the best.”
I wonder if its had much impact on Dulcie. She seems quite taken with the tale and my hopes are high. “What did you think?” I ask. “Did the drawings remind you of anything?” I am hoping she’ll recognise the Maisy-style.
“Yes. Mine. I am very, very good at drawing. I’m afraid that I’m the best.” Groan.