Definitely Ambivalent – dispatches from my inner child

Mom and Dad are doing it again. They know how to talk in a different language, and they do it when they don’t want me to know they’re talking about. I’m four, turning five soon, going to be a big girl. They’re talking about my birthday present. I know that much. “Should we get her a bee eye are dee?”

I filled my bowl with dry cereal for breakfast and brought it to the kitchen table to add milk and sugar.

What the heck is a bee eye are dee?

That was before I knew how to read. I know now. I taught myself. Mom was baking. She’s a very good baker. One time she even brought home some giant white buckets of pie filling from Nonna’s restaurant to bake pies in our kitchen to help out because Nonna was sick. They were so good. I think raisin is my favourite; or maybe blueberry.

Another time I pulled up a chair to the kitchen counter and Mom showed me how to make genettis. I made a perfect cute little miniature genetti because I was little and my hands were small. Uncle Jimmy came by for a visit and Mom showed him my cute little genetti. It didn’t even have icing on it yet, but Uncle Jimmy popped it in his mouth and said “mmm, good”; and Mom yelled at him and he said “What? You’re not supposed to eat them? Were you going to keep it forever?” He smiled and winked at me and I was okay with that. I think this was before I knew Uncle Jimmy could wiggle his ears. Maybe it was after.

Auntie Anne and Uncle Jimmy, 1966

This is a picture of my Uncle Jimmy outside my Nonna’s restaurant, the Underpass Grill. He says the picture was staged, but I like it anyway. My Auntie Anne and Uncle Pete were visiting from Toronto. They’re Mom’s aunt and uncle, not mine, but we call them Auntie Anne and Uncle Pete anyway. Auntie Anne is really short, and Uncle Jimmy is really tall for fifteen, and everyone thought a picture of him bending over to kiss her goodbye would be cute. That’s the staged part I guess. I remember because I was there. It was pretty cute too.

Anyway, I was curious about letters and stuff and always asking Mom “What’s this letter? What sound does it make?” and she would tell me. She was good that way.

Then one day when mom was baking, she stopped for a minute to look down at me, rolling pin in hand, mouth a little open in surprise. All I said was “ALCAN. A. L. C. A. N. Alcan” Because I could read now and that’s what the tinfoil box said.

I could read lots more, books even, before I went to kindergarten. Everybody thought it was a big deal. I thought, well, they don’t know much about four year olds, do they?

I like big words now that I’m five. “Ambivalent” is a big word. It means not knowing how to feel about something. I am ambivalent about clowns. Everybody thinks I should like them for some reason. But I’m definitely ambivalent.

Dad painted me a clown for my bedroom wall. I guess it’s okay. The boys got paintings for their walls too, a cowboy for Dan and I don’t remember what for Mike. He was just a baby so maybe he didn’t get a painting.

Dad dug up some good clean clay to make a clown face for me too. Then he put some gluey newspaper all over the clay that made a kind of shell clown face, but I didn’t know that was the art. I thought the clay was the art, so when I jumped and accidentally landed on the newspaper face and crushed it I thought no big deal, but Dad was mad.

So there was no clown face mask for my bedroom wall. But that’s okay because I’m ambivalent about clowns anyway. I don’t tell Mom and Dad about being ambivalent. Somehow I get the idea that they don’t believe five year olds are allowed to be ambivalent. But I am. Definitely ambivalent.

I think it might have started when was little. I remember sitting at the curb in a stroller on Queen Street for the Community Day Parade. It wasn’t really all that much fun. All I could see were people’s legs going by and I definitely was not ambivalent about the thump thump thump of the bass drums in my belly when the marching bands went by. Definitely not ambivalent. In fact I didn’t like it. At all.

Then Uncle Benny came by. He wasn’t my real uncle but we called him Uncle Benny anyway. He was Dad’s cousin and he dated Mom before she fell hook, line and stinker for Dad.

Lots of people don’t remember that before Uncle Benny had Peachy’s Pizza Parlour (it was named after my cousin Valerie; Peachy was her nickname, not her real name) that before there was Peachy’s there it was a garage where we got our car painted. Lots of people don’t remember that, but I do.

Anyway, before that, when I was in the stroller watching people’s legs go by, Uncle Benny was in the parade and walked over to kneel in front of me and say hello. It was nice to see someone’s face and not just their legs. He was dressed like a clown with paint on his face, but I knew it was Uncle Benny. I remember thinking I didn’t get it or something like that. What’s a clown face supposed to do?

Ambivalent. Yep. It’s a good word.

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