On Books

Ali Baba, Dr Seuss, and the discovery of a mother’s superpowers

All my mother ever wanted was a quiet life. But with five kids, Raccy the cat, Peter the talking budgy, the family business, piano practice for me,violin practice for my sister, Dad’s trombone, my older brothers coming and going, and the baby demanding her share of attention, ours was a busy and noisy household.

Books were Mum’s first line of defence. Each year the fluctuating fortunes of our parents were measured by the stash of books beneath the Christmas tree. The year I turned six this delight was in my pile.

Ali Baba and the Forty Theives

Ali Baba and the Forty thieves

Just look at the sabre. It leaves nothing to the imagination. Did that mean I put the book down, never to be picked up again? Oh no, not at all. The blood thirsty events only added to the fun. Fifty years have gone by and I’m still deliciously shocked at the sabre and the fate of poor Cassim.  Not to mention the dreadful treatment those thieves got at the hands of the brave heroine, Morgiana.

Another early favourite was Dr Seuss. Especially, The Cat in The Hat. I could imagine sitting at the window with my sister. And if that cat was ever to visit us while our mother was out I knew exactly what we would do if, on her return, she asked: ” Tell me what did you do?”

We’d have given her the wide-eyed innocent look children everywhere try. I like to think our chances of getting away with it were fifty- fifty.  Although this really does represent the eternal triumph of hope over experience! I do know we wouldn’t have had a show a second time.

Even while asleep our mother could tell the difference between the silence of two girls blissfully reading, and two girls plotting trouble on the quiet. Once, while she was napping and we were supposed to be napping, we took money from her purse. Okay, Okay, I confess, I did the actual taking. (Being slow to learn from the fate of the forty thieves).  It was stinking hot and we needed cold, sweet, yummy, raspberry flavoured ice-blocks  from the corner dairy to cool down. We weren’t gone long. We went straight home after we’d made our purchases. Or as straight home as you can go when you have to consume contraband on the way. Mum was waiting for us on the back step, her hands on her hips.  Where have you been she asked?  Despite the telltale raspberry rings around our mouths we tried on that wide-eyed, oh so innocent, look. “Nowhere?” we replied.

Our punishment was harsh: time-out. I got sent off to our bedroom. Alone I wondered how Mum knew it was me who had taken the money. I brooded about how unfair it was that my sister got off scot free. After all, she’d been a compatriot in the mischief. And she’d enjoyed the fruits of our crime at least as much as I had. When, at last, I was allowed out  my sister was sent in to the room. I still had no-one to play with!  We learned that afternoon, asleep or not, there are some things mothers just know, some things that children can never get away with.

So when my teacher read  The Cat in The Hat Comes Back  to the class I listened with disbelief.  I knew  in our house if the Cat was ever to come back our mother would have smelled a very big and very dirty rat. I was convinced  those two little kids would be in big trouble. That, or their mother was stupid, which I found unbelievable, knowing as I did the extent of my mother’s superpowers.  They were greater than any Cat in a Hat who was silly enough to come back.

As for my sister and I ,we were never silly enough to go into our mother’s purse again.

But go on, tell me, what would you do, if the cat visited you? If your mother asked you?

10 replies »

  1. My absolute favorite line in the book- the last- “What would you do if your mother asked you?” I read this book to my children and now to my grandson. We watch the Jim Carey version of the movie together. (I can’t stand it but my grandson LOVES it!) Yes, mom does have superpowers. My kids still know this to be true. 🙂


    • I haven’t seen the movie, yet. Interesting that you don’t like it. Movies from books don’t usually work for me. There’s one movie exception: I Capture The Castle, based on the book by Dodi Smith. But, I hadn’t read the book beforehand.


      • I can’t remember the animated version of The Cat in the Hat but there really isn’t enough content for a full length live action movie so it’s a little out there.

        I rarely like movies from books- unless I haven’t read the book so I don’t have the comparison running through my head.


  2. nice… 🙂 and thx for the cat in the hat story to go with your post- also
    whew – you said this so right on:
    “there are some things mothers just know, some things that children can never get away with” 🙂


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