If ever I need a reminder of why I stopped making babies after my first two, the children’s book Valentine Foxes written by Clyde Watson and illustrated by Wendy Watson is it.
This past week, we had some snow, and as a result, we also had back-to-back, two-hour delayed starts for school, which meant juggling our morning routine. Since my husband was at work both days and since my day begins earlier than there’s does, our children got to practice walking themselves to school in the morning (in addition to walking themselves home from school in the afternoon).
After work, I had stopped at the store and so I was armed with groceries and ready to tackle dinner when I got home.
When I walked in the door, my youngest quickly informed me that she hadn’t done her reading yet. She had picked out a book at the library that day at school, and she thought I would like it, so she wanted to read it to me.
Once I got dinner going and had a few minutes to sit down, we snuggled on the couch with the book. It seemed like a good choice on her part. It was February after all. Valentine’s Day was only a week away. While it was a picture book, there was enough text on each page to challenge her, and the illustrations were rather cute. But from the moment the foxes wake up in the morning and Papa Fox hurriedly leaves for work (with his shirt on inside out), Mama Fox has, what I would call, a parenting day from hell.
Little Dilly is the baby of the four children (that’s right, FOUR) and it’s unclear how old Zandy, Pandy, and Poot are—but none of them head off to school and aside from identifying the first letter of each ingredient in a recipe for cake, none of them can read.
Mama Fox does her best to feed and entertain the crew, but there was no television in the fox den and shit goes from bad to worse starting with a breakfast where Little Dilly “sat on her banana and threw spoons, as usual.”
The kitchen is already a mess when Mama Fox decides to bake a cake for Valentine’s Day and puts some butter in a blue bowl to soften. She sets the kids up to make Valentines when the baby fox becomes “fretful” and “grumpy” and ends up grabbing the bowl and smashing it to pieces on the kitchen floor. Mind you, it isn’t even noon yet.
After lamenting the loss of her beautiful bowl, Mama Fox goes to the store to replace the butter, but she leaves all the children at home. This seems like a genius idea (although one that surely, the other fox mothers will judge her for) and I was secretly wondering if she hadn’t just decided to call it quits altogether and head for the nearest Greyhound station. Alas, she does come back, but the house—by that time—is a complete disaster.
“Zandy had cut up lots of red paper into tiny little pieces and was standing on the table making it snow. Pandy had glued most of her valentines to the chair. Poot was drawing designs on the floor, and Little Dilly was sitting there with her hair full of hearts and glue, eating a doily.”
And you know what Mama Fox does when she walks in and sees all this? She sighs—And then she unpacks her shopping. I think it’s clear that Mama Fox either picked up some Valium along with that butter, or it’s an indication that she’s resigned herself to this life just as she’s resigned herself to never fitting into her pre-pregnancy jeans again.
Of course, the minute the foxes see their mother it’s all wah-wah-wah and “I’m hungry,” so Mama Fox makes them some cream cheese and honey sandwiches, which surprisingly, no one complains about. Soon enough, they are eating lunch (leaving their crusts) and spilling their milk and demanding more—and never has a book hit closer to home.
By this point in the story I was looking to see if Wendy Watson had included in the illustration a picture on the wall that reads, “Excuse the mess, we’re busy making memories,” but there was none to be found.
When Mama takes Little Dilly upstairs for a nap, the rest of the children attempt to make the cake in her place, which is sweet considering they’re illiterate little monsters, but they make even more of a mess in the process and when Mama Fox finds them, they are covered in flour.
As you may have predicted, the baby doesn’t nap although Watson leaves out the part where Mama Fox questions her life choices and hides in the bathroom for an hour…or five, because suddenly it’s dinner time and she’s heating up soup and worrying about what Papa Fox will say when he sees the house.
Mama Fox asks the children to help clean up, and they don’t—the baby has finally fallen asleep on the floor under the table and they use that as their excuse. I’m sure Mama Fox was thrilled knowing that Little Dilly would now be awake half the night, but she lets him sleep anyway because, let’s face it: Some days, you take what you can get.
By the time my daughter reached the end of the book, I was trying to figure out when I could schedule my tubal ligation, but thankfully, I remembered that we’d already gotten my husband a vasectomy and so I stopped hyperventilating and poured myself a large glass of wine. Then I poured one for the fictional Mama Fox and drank hers too.
In looking up the book on Goodreads, I found that I wasn’t alone in realizing that reading Valentine Foxes is the quickest way to induce a full-blown panic attack. Empathetic reviewers confess to feeling exhausted after closing the book. But, there was a bright side to this dark tale of woe: Following the anxiety came a wave of relief as I looked at my two children. Children who, thankfully, are not foxes. Children who know how to run a vacuum and cook and read (and occasionally, still nap). And children who can be trusted, when necessary, to walk themselves to school on time and back home again.
And if that was why my daughter thought I would like the book—she was absolutely right.