Toffee and Magic Trees and Pillow Slides

There are some interesting side effects to having a New Zealander (otherwise known as a Kiwi) for a mom.

Specifically, you may have noticed that they talk a little differently than Americans do. Canadians are the same way, but it’s less noticeable — on Degrassi, you can only really tell they’re Canadian when they say “I’m sooohrry,” which, luckily and hilariously, they do about fifteen times an episode.

Having an American dad and a Kiwi mum while growing up in a South American country can leave you a bit confused, especially when said Kiwi mum is very stubborn about certain words but utterly unconcerned about others. She could never remember which way she was supposed to say “tomato,” but she refused to braid our hair unless we asked her to “plait” it, please. And she much preferred “Mum” to “Mom,” although I think she’s adjusted to the latter now.

The weird thing is, just a few of these Kiwi tendencies ended up intractably stuck in my head. I always say “I’m going to clean my teeth” (instead of “brush” my teeth) and “have a shower” rather than “take” a shower. People keep reminding me this is weird, but it never seems that way to me. Also the words “llama” and “yogurt.” To me, “llama” is spelled with two l’s at the beginning for a reason –- because it’s supposed to be pronounced with a “y” sound at the beginning (“yama”), like it is in Spanish (and by everyone I knew growing up…surrounded by ACTUAL llamas, I might add).

On the other hand, I will agree that “yogurt” the way I pronounce it sounds a bit…silly. (That is, with the “yog” at the beginning rhyming with “jog” instead of…hmmm…I can’t think of an –og word that sounds like the way you pronounce yogurt. Dog. Bog. Hog. Frog. Snog. HMMMM. All right, I’ll give you pogo.) But I’m afraid that’s just what pops out when I say it.

These weirdnesses of mine don’t really affect my daily life very much (except when my friends make fun of me…thanks, friends!). But I’ve realized recently that there are a couple of them in my writing, which must drive my copyeditors up a wall. Don’t worry, I don’t spell “color” with a “u” in it or anything. But I do write “leapt” instead of “leaped," I like “theatre” much better than “theater,” and I spell “worshipped” and “worshipper” with two p’s instead of one, which I only just discovered is “mostly” British (but I’m sticking to my guns on that one — that’s just plain right. I mean, worshipers? It looks like it rhymes with snipers! or wipers! TERRIBLE!).

And here’s one I learned today: I write “towards”, you write “toward.” For years (okay, like, two) I have thought that there was something wrong with me…that I must have missed the day of grammar class where they explained the difference. I have studied my copyedited manuscripts in deep bewilderment, trying to figure out why not to use “towards” in this particular instance. (Because the poor copyeditors have had to go through and literally cross off every “s” every time I used the word.) I couldn’t think of different ways to use the word “toward” that would justify sometimes an s and sometimes not, but I knew I didn’t just make up “towards”. I thought maybe I was a moron. I was wondering when I would ever figure this out, because it seemed to be the thing copyeditors always change in my manuscripts.

Finally tonight I tried to look it up online, and AHA! They’re BOTH right! In any circumstance!!!! “Towards” is PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE. Here’s what says (quoting the American Heritage Dictionary):

Usage Note: Some critics have tried to discern a semantic distinction between toward and towards, but the difference is entirely dialectal. Toward is more common in American English; towards is the predominant form in British English.

AHA! HOORAY! I feel SO much better, you have NO idea. Because I am crazy-obsessive about grammar and spelling (the spelling bee blog entry might have tipped you off), and now I know…it’s not a mistake! I’m not wrong. I’m just British(-ish). It’s not the fault of a deadbeat English teacher somewhere along the line…it’s because I read too many Enid Blyton books as a child!

Speaking of which, sometimes it really seems like Enid Blyton wrote all the books in the universe. I have some very clear memories of books I read when I was a kid, and whenever I track them down, they turn out to be by her, the super-prolific British author, whom we can apparently blame for all my towardsiness.

For instance, there was an amazing series about a magic tree (the Faraway Tree) in the center of an enchanted forest (The Enchanted Wood was the first book). At the very top there was a cloud, and when you climbed up into the cloud, you’d find yourself in a different land each day. Some of them were great (Land of Presents! Land of Toys! Land of Birthdays! I am not making this up!), and some of them were dreadful (Land of Tempers, where I think everyone got very grouchy and snapped at each other a lot) (hey, it’s like The Land of The Amazing Race!), but the important thing is you had to be careful not to stay too long, or the cloud would revolve away from the tree and YOU MIGHT NEVER GET HOME! ACK! This was very stressful. I don’t remember a lot of details, except the high high high level of tension that every story seemed to evoke as you wondered…would they make it back to the Faraway Tree in time? Or would they be stuck in the Land of Take-What-You-Want…FOREVER? (I know, with a name like that it doesn’t sound so bad. But there was definitely a “get home to your parents at the end of the day” vibe to the whole thing.)

I also remember that they ate a lot of toffee (and treacle? I think?) and that the way to get back down from the top of the tree was on a pillow down this wonderful huge slide that went down the middle of the tree. I totally want one of those. Maybe Adam can add one to our new house for me.

(I went looking for these books on Amazon, because of course now I want to own them again, and I found them, but they have these dizzy new covers!

I mean, I know it SOUNDS like they’re written for two-year-olds, but they don’t have to LOOK that way.


Trust me, they were much cuter when I owned them, back in the ’80’s.)

Then there was another series about girls at boarding school. Actually, I think there were at least two — Mallory Towers and St. Clare’s. What was confusing about these books was that they started with “First Form at…” and ended with “Sixth Form at…” and even with all my British-ish influences, it took me forever to figure out that forms do not correspond to grades, and so the first-form girls who were giggling about boys and planning midnight snack escapades and learning tennis were not, in fact, six years old. I think they were, like, fourteen instead. This made MUCH more sense, once I sorted it out.

The one I remember most clearly was Fifth Formers at St. Clare’s, which was the BEST, because it had a girl (Felicity) who was a musical genius, and she was so brilliant with such an artistic soul that she actually SLEEPWALKED, but even better than that, there was another girl (Anne-Marie) who was totally jealous of her, because she wanted everyone to think she was a genius poet, so she PRETENDED to be just as afflicted as Felicity and to ALSO sleepwalk, and then there are all these other girls planning a midnight feast (there was a lot of midnight feasting in the books, as I recall) (Enid Blyton must have liked food as much as I do) and this OTHER girl (Alma) who’s mad because she’s not invited to the feast and then ALL of them are out roaming the halls after lights-out on the same night and the batty French teacher keeps running into them and not knowing what to think (she’s all, how many kids can possibly be sleepwalking all at the same time?), and it’s totally hilarious. Well, it was totally hilarious to me when I was nine.

Oooh, and then there was the Secret Seven! They solved mysteries together. I think the seventh member of the group was a dog. AWESOME. Man, Enid Blyton was prolific. I wish I could write 700 books.

Clearly I need to find these books again. Because surely my future descendants will want to read them, don’t you think? Maybe if more Americans read Enid Blyton, we’d have more understanding of funny-speaking foreigners like my mom and less making fun of me, or at the very least, maybe more of you would start writing “towards,” and eventually my copyeditors would give up and let me be British-ish in peace. Whoopee!

Quote of the Day: “I hope you enjoy your feast, Antoinette. We are too old for midnight feasts in the Fifth Form!” — Fifth Formers at St. Clare’s, Enid Blyton