The Enormous Turnip

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All of this home-schooling is bringing out the boffin in me. Every time the weekly ‘Challenge Planner’ arrives in my inbox I experience a small thrill of excitement. You see, I was one of those weird children who couldn’t wait to start secondary school (aged 11) so that I could finally have some actual HOMEWORK to complete! Of course, homework is set right from the age of 4 these days, but back in the dark ages of the 1990’s children weren’t expected to engage too much in school outside of school hours.

And so, with the school planners to hand I eagerly set about drawing charts and prepping activities ready for the kids to complete in an equally eager manner. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that my children’s enthusiasm never quite matches my own and I find myself fruitlessly competing with the likes of Elsa dolls and Spiderman and Ironman and Hulkman (!) not to mention all the horrific delights of brattish YouTube videos they somehow manage to seek out. It isn’t easy, but we are managing to get through most of the work in between all the madness.

This term my daughter is learning all about that wonderful Russian folk tale, ‘The Enormous Turnip’. For those unfamiliar with the story, it centres around a farmer who grows a turnip so large that he needs the help of several other characters to pull it out – a woman, a boy, a girl, a dog and a cat. But it isn’t until a tiny little mouse joins the effort that the turnip is finally freed and they can all enjoy turnip soup together. We’ve (I’ve) enjoyed drawing enormous turnips and singing about enormous turnips and writing about enormous turnips – next it was time to MAKE an enormous turnip (seriously, does schoolwork get any better than this?!).

Grabbing a balloon, well actually 3 balloons because typically all 3 kids wanted to join in, I inflated them (exhausting) and tied a knot in them (nigh on impossible with numb fingers) and finally sloshed some glue and water around ready to embark on some hard core papier mache. This is the point at which I realised we were incredibly low on art supplies and paper so I had little choice but to trudge out to the recycling bin and desperately delve around for some discarded newspaper. I won’t lie, the astonishing amount of empty wine bottles I met along the way was a bit of a shock. It turns out that lockdown has seen me drinking most (every) evening, and the time at which I think it is acceptable to open a bottle is slowly getting earlier and earlier. Indeed, 4pm now feels awfully late to be pouring a glass… But, that’s a whole other story.

Back to the papier mache – What started off as all 4 of us getting in a sticky mess soon turned into just myself laboriously tearing bits of paper and sticking it on the balloon in seemingly never-ending layers. I won’t bore you with the details here, let’s just say it took a lot of energy, a lot of naps, and a lot of pluck to complete what I had started.

Once dry, several days and a lot of tears later, I managed to renew the children’s interest in the turnip by popping the balloon and handing it over to them to decorate.

Now, as I sit back and look at the work we’ve created I am struck by just how apt the story of The Enormous Turnip is right now. As a nation, and indeed across the globe, everyone is pulling together and making a difference in the fight against this virus. No matter our strength, our size or our role – we are all contributing to the effort. And, you never know, you may just be the little mouse that makes all the difference.

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