The headless penguin

My in-laws visited the Ukraine this past summer. They brought back ‘nesting’ ornaments for the grandkids. It’s a Christmas tree, which you open to find a Santa Claus, which you open to find a snowman, which you open to find a penguin, which you open to find the world’s smallest Christmas tree.

Fun times if you’re a kid. Less fun times if you’re a parent trying to keep the pieces together. We moved to Calgary and the ornaments came along. We lived in temporary housing and the ornament pieces covered the floor and at least once each day there would be a panicked cry from the oldest one: ‘where’s the little snowman’ or ‘where’s the tiny christmas tree?’ Followed by some angry mumbling on the part of the parent charged with the lovely task of finding the missing, miniscule piece.

We even went so far as to hide the ornaments deep in the recesses of another suitcase, but within a day or two, there they were.

One night, during our first week in Calgary, we stopped for dinner. It was late, the kids were crabby and we stopped at the first place that wasn’t McDonald’s. That place was ‘Le Chien Chaud.’ The ‘hot dog’.

As we were the only customers in the joint, the female proprietor chatted with us. She pointed to the boys’ ornaments which were now accompanying us on car rides. ‘That’s a matriushka’ she informed my oldest. Apparently these nesting ornaments have a name.

The very next day as we were driving around Calgary, we spotted a Russian Restaurant called: Matriushka. And as we kept getting lost, we kept driving by ‘Matriushka.’ Look kids, it’s Matriushka…..look kids, it’s…..

By that point Jason and I were feeling a little tired of the Matriushkas that were taking over our lives. It felt like a strange horror movie, these nesting ornaments popping up everywhere we went. When we moved into our house, the ornaments were put away.

Two months later, G remembered the blessed ornaments. ‘Do you remember my ornaments that Grandma gave me?’ He asked me yesterday. I went into an explanation about how they were called Matriushkas. And how they were staying in the basement with all of the other Christmas ornaments. Even though they weren’t. They were actually in the closet in our bedroom.

After lunch, G requested an audience with his Matriushka. I caved. Hearing a four and a half year old boy say ‘Matriushka’ was just too cute. I went to the closet and retrieved the ornaments.

He kindly set one aside for his little brother and focused on dismantling the other one. He went to school and came back and played with it some more. We went on a family walk, and the matriushka came too. Or so I gathered when I saw bits of snowman and snowdoll staring at me from the stroller seat.

I vaguely recall thinking the ornaments should be put away to prevent catastrophe, but I didn’t act on it. We crossed the bridge to the playground and all of a sudden I heard G crying that something had fallen out of his stroller. I knew it was a piece of that wretched ornament. I just hoped it was one of the bigger pieces. Sure enough, the top half of the penguin had fallen through the two-inch wide opening between the wall and bottom of the bridge.

Suddenly we weren’t going to the playground. We were walking to the bridge underpass to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. The top half of a penguin that measured about 3/4 inch in diameter. Amidst an expanse of dead leaves, sticks and dirt. Super.

Of course, kids being kids, G wasn’t remotely interested in helping us find the penguin head. He was more interested in standing to the side crying, and eventually wandering off towards the pebble ‘beach’ by the edge of the river. ‘Thanks for the blog entry’ I muttered as I attempted to ‘dig’ through the rotting leaves without actually touching them. Ready to give up, Jason asked: ‘Does this particular blog entry need a happy ending?’ ‘Ideally’ I retorted and went back to ‘digging.’ Finally I found a stick with which to move the leaves around. ‘This is the part of parenting no one ever tells you about,’ I complained. I imagined passersby peering down wondering what on earth two, seemingly non-homeless adults were doing digging through the leaves.

‘It’s like digging for a retainer in the garbage’ J said, remembering the part in ‘Parenthood’ when the son accidentally threw away his pricey retainer. They were forced to sort through garbage to find it. ‘Except retainers are expensive and this thing is probably worth 25 cents,’ he grumbled.

I thought back to another afternoon in Guthrie Park, mere months ago, when I was digging around for G’s Hot Wheels toothbrush that he’d insisted on taking along. A diligent search yielded nothing and I was forced to drive back to Walgreen’s to pick up the last Hot Wheels toothbrush in stock. The next day, as we were walking in the park, we miraculously found the toothbrush.

I visualized the top half of the penguin, even though I probably couldn’t have picked it out of a line-up of matriushka penguins. I tried to determine the exact point where it must have fallen, but all the surmising in the world wasn’t going to deliver the head of a penguin. Just as I was about to say ‘let’s just go,’ Jason somehow spotted it.

We summoned the boys and made our way back to the abandoned strollers. I returned the head of the penguin to its body and hid the blasted Matriushka in the stroller basket.

‘But I want my Matriushka,’ G whined.

‘No!’ We both said.

5 thoughts on “The headless penguin

  1. Oh yeah…I’ve ‘forgotten’ the number of times we’ve had to turn the house upside down to find a train accoutrement. What if you attached a huge plastic flower to STH – like they do to the pens at doctors’ offices?


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