Neopian Nursery School: Part One
My second submission, but my first series. If you like this, you should read "Newcomer in the Nursery".
“Hey, leggo! That's my Bruce squeaky toy!”
“Papa! Lucy stole my blankie!”
“Danby, quit pulling my tail!”
“It is not your toy, Shasta, it's mine!”
I stood in the middle of a mini war zone, my head throbbing as I watched my four baby pets fight with one another: Shasta, the little Ogrin, had his teeth dug deep into the head of a baby Bruce squeaky toy, and at the other end, gripping its feet in one paw, was Danby, the baby Shoyru I'd adopted from my friend Jen. In his other paw was clutched his little sister Lucy's tail, and the Kacheek was not happy. She and her brother Tyto the Grarrl were busy fighting over Tyto's blue baby security blanket, and Lucy, being tougher and stronger than Tyto, despite his size and reputation, was winning the tug-o-war. It was a tangle of wings, fur, and tails, and I had been dealing with it all day. That's what you get when you decide it's a good idea to try and look after four baby neopets at once. Most days I loved it, and wouldn't trade it for anything in the world, but today was not one of those days. In fact, this week had not been one of those weeks. It had crossed my mind several times to send my brood off to the nursery school for baby pets that my friend Ellie ran on weekdays, and with the sound of tiny voices ringing in my ears, that thought was sounding better and better.
“Alright, everybody, that's ENOUGH!” I shouted. Silence fell, and four pairs of terrified eyes looked up at me meekly. I never shouted, and they were frightened. Tyto started to cry, and Lucy and Shasta backed into a corner. Danby sat where he was, too shocked to move. I instantly felt guilty. “I'm sorry, guys, I didn't mean to get so upset, but you've been bickering and arguing all day and I'm tired. Come on, let's go and have supper, and we'll all feel better afterward.”
Slowly Shasta, Lucy, and Danby padded into the kitchen, and I hoisted them one by one onto their yellow wooden chairs, distributing baby Bruce milk bottles as I did so. Turning around, I noticed that Tyto hadn't followed his siblings to the table. I peered around the corner into the nursery, and found him curled up by the blue sofa, clutching his blanket and sobbing.
I sighed; I ought to know better than to yell at Tyto, or even to get mildly cross with him for that matter. Opposite of the stereotypical Grarrl in every way, Tyto was quiet and sensitive, and even the smallest rebuke could reduce him to tears.
I held out my arms and smiled sadly, “I'm sorry, Tyto, I didn't mean to scare you. Daddy's just tired tonight. I'm not cross anymore, little one; why don't you come out and have supper with us? I made your favourite; meat and potato Krawk pot, whadda'ya say?”
Tyto regarded me solemnly for a moment, peering at me from behind his blanket with those enormous green eyes of his. Finally, satisfied that I would not lose my temper again, he crawled out of his hiding spot and into my arms, nestling his red snout into my shoulder as I carried him back to the kitchen where his siblings were waiting impatiently, splashing the milk from their bottles, and flicking mushy peas at one another from the bowl in the middle of the table. Seeing the mess, I felt exasperated and fed up, but feeling Tyto in my arms, still trembling slightly from my previous outburst, I forced myself to remain calm as I put him down in his chair, handed him his bottle, and started spooning out meat and potatoes.
That night after I bathed and tucked my little ones into bed, I found myself staring at the dark ceiling, pondering the actuality of sending them to nursery school. It would be good for them to meet other neopets, I knew, and I could certainly use a break, but was it really worth it? Tyto would be far too scared to enjoy himself, at least for the first week or so; could I do that to him? And Danby was still struggling with abandonment issues after being left on Jen's doorstep; what if he started to worry that I wasn't coming back? And Shasta, he was an angel at heart, but he could be overprotective of his siblings sometimes, and it had led more than once to fights on the merry-go-round on Roo Island, at the toy shop in Neopia Central, and once even on the glass bottom boat rides at Kiko Lake, which almost ended up a disaster, given that Unis aren't very good swimmers. I was amazed that something as small as a baby Ogrin could be threatening enough to scare a full grown Uni clear over the side of a boat. At any rate, what if Shasta tried to defend Tyto when the other baby pets made fun of him for crying, as he was apt to do? I didn't have a chance to give it much more thought than that, though; a few minutes later, I rolled over on my blue striped mattress, and fell fast asleep.
Early the next morning, I was awoken by the usual howl of tiny mouths waiting to be fed, and rolled out of bed, exhausted. As I performed my usual assembly line routine of stripping pyjamas, changing nappies, and taking breakfast orders, my mind wandered back to yesterday; maybe I should send them to the nursery school, just for one day, to see how they enjoyed it.
Tyto recognised the beginnings of a plan forming in my eyes, and he did not like it. “Papa,” he said warily, putting his thumb in his mouth and clutching his tail as he did when he was nervous, “What'cha thinkin' about?”
I looked down at him and smiled. “It's a surprise, Tyto. I'll tell you at breakfast.” Most other small children would have been immensely excited at the prospect of a surprise, but not Tyto. Surprises meant a change in his rigid routine, and Tyto did not deal well with change. Indeed, at that moment he was staring at me suspiciously, fear dancing in his green eyes as he clutched his tail tighter. I laughed as I scooped him up roughly and unzipped his blue onesie. Tyto squirmed as I pulled his old nappy off, and managed to break free of my hold, falling almost five feet to the ground before scrambling up and taking off down the corridor, and before I'd had a chance to get a clean nappy on him.
As promised, at breakfast, as I distributed Shoyru bottles of strawberry milk and jars of Forest Fruit, Lemon Meringue, Blueberry, and Strawberries and Cream baby food, I dropped the news of my “surprise” and broached the subject of nursery school.
I was hardly surprised when Tyto dropped his spoon, sending red baby food mush splattering over the kitchen table. His eyes grew wide and tearful, and he demanded, “What?!”
I was surprised, however, when Danby burst into spontaneous tears and wailed, “No Papa, you can't send us away! I thought you loved us. You can't send us away!”
My heart broke in half at his tiny, pleading voice; here was a neopet who, even at this young age, had seen too much abandonment and suffering. Swallowing the lump that was forming in my throat, I picked Danby up and held him close to my chest. “Oh Danby,” I sighed. “Daddy would never do that to you; I do love you, little one, and I'm not sending you away. Nursery school is just a place where you can spend the day playing and meeting other pets; there's a teacher there to look after you, and I always come back at the end of the day, I promise. No one will ever abandon you again, Danby, not ever.”
I felt the tiny Shoyru nestle his head deeper into my shoulder as he snuffled, “Promise?”
“Promise,” I replied softly, looking round the table at the rest of my kids to make sure Danby's reaction hadn't frightened them too much. Lucy and Shasta looked mildly shocked, and Tyto's face still held the scared, miserable expression it had done when I first mentioned the idea. Now I could continue, and hopefully get them a little more excited about the prospect.
“We can go and meet the teacher this afternoon; she's a friend of mine and she's very nice. Then you can meet some of the other pets and play for a while. I'll stay there in case you need me, and we'll see how it goes from there, okay?”
Slowly the four of them nodded, not because they wanted to, but because I was boss, and my word was law.
I smiled. “Good. Don't worry, guys, you'll have a great time, I promise. Just give it a chance.”
They still didn't look convinced, and I gave up; they'd just have to see for themselves. I sent them off to play, then pulled a clean sheet of paper and a golden envelope from a kitchen drawer, dug a pen out of my pocket, and set to write Ellie a neomail, informing her of our impending arrival.
It was only after I'd put my neomail in the post box outside and returned to the kitchen to clear up the table that I noticed how ominously quiet it was; when you look after babies, quiet is not something you're comfortable hearing, so I abandoned the mess and stepped into the nursery. My kids weren't there, and my heart lurched. I ran upstairs and looked into their bedroom; they weren't there either. Suddenly I heard noise coming from the bathroom. The door was closed, never a good sign.
Cautiously I opened it, and found all four of my pets sitting on the bathroom floor, taking turns dipping a paintbrush into their Oil Paints set and covering each other with spots of red paint.
When Lucy saw me, she dropped the brush, suddenly looking very sheepish. “Um, hi Papa,” she said softly.
Gritting my teeth and trying not to explode again, I asked through clenched teeth, “What on earth do you guys think you're doing? It's going to take weeks to get that paint out of your fur.”
Shasta's ears drooped and he stared at his tiny forepaws, “W-we have NeoPox,” he said softly. “We're too sick to go to school.”
Danby threw in a pitiful cough for good measure, and Tyto put his thumb in his mouth, a mistake as it turned out; both his hands were covered in paint.
I looked down at my sad and spotty brood, and my anger lessened. I had to feel sorry for them; I didn't realise how scared I'd made them, and I had to give them credit, the painted-on NeoPox idea might have been old, but for a bunch of babies to come up with, it was pretty clever. Stepping over them to turn on the bath, I sighed. “I'm sorry, guys, I know you don't want to go, but it'll just be for one day, and who knows, maybe you'll change your minds and have fun. I know you're scared, but just try it for me. I told you I'd be there. Think of it as an adventure, like when we go to Roo Island and Kiko Lake.” Glancing back at them, I saw that their expressions remained unchanged. I sighed and shook my head as I hoisted Tyto and Danby into the bath, hoping I wasn't making a big mistake with this idea.
No amount of scrubbing with Blue Ixi soap and Danby's favourite JubJub bath sponge would remove the red paint entirely, and pale, faded spots remained, and would for several days, I imagined. Tyto was lucky; being red already, the paint showed less readily on him, but on Shasta and Danby, it made them look like Christmas pets, speckled in green and red. Lucy was even worse, because there wasn't even a good explanation for the dots now coating her purple fur, and it clashed dreadfully. I sighed as I drained the now pink water from the tub. My brood was going to look very odd showing up on Ellie's doorstep that day. I just hoped it wouldn't make things worse for them.
We arrived at school in less than elegant style; I was struggling to contain a wailing, struggling Tyto in one arm, and a limp, floppy, uncooperative Danby in the other as Lucy swung from the bag on my shoulder that held their supplies, and Shasta clung to my leg with all four paws wrapped firmly around my ankle. I had to balance on one foot and kick the door to announce our presence, and soon enough Ellie opened it, and laughed at the sight of me.
“Well, Adrian, having a little resistance at the idea of starting school, are we?” she asked as she took my bag off my shoulder, causing Lucy to let go and drop to the pavement indignantly.
I chuckled and shouted over Tyto's screaming, “Yes, just a little!” Then I stepped inside after Ellie, hoping Lucy would follow me; she did. She quickly clung to my other leg, though, as she caught sight of the twenty-odd baby neopets milling around the place, playing with each other, reading stories, sleeping on red, green, and blue bean bag chairs, and generally appearing to have a good time. Slowly both she and Shasta detached themselves from my legs and took a few tentative steps forward. Danby sat up and stopped being floppy in my arm, and stared out at the activity. Tyto, on the other hand, was still wailing his head off, squirming and flailing, trying desperately to get free of my grasp so he could bolt home, and drawing quite a bit of attention to himself.
A baby Xweetok approached Ellie as I put Danby down on the floor to follow his siblings, who had taken a few more cautious steps to the middle of the room. “Miss Ellie?” the Xweetok asked, twitching her tiny purple tail. “How come that Grarrl's crying?”
Ellie smiled at her. “Well, he's just a little scared, Grace; he'll be alright soon. Here,” she said, drawing Grace's attention away from the spectacle we were making, “we have a few new friends with us here today. Why don't you show them around Grace?” Slowly the little Xweetok nodded, and approached my kids slowly.
They glanced back uneasily at me and I nodded and smiled encouragingly. “Go on, guys. Tyto and I will be right here. Go have fun, see what you can find.” Cautiously they followed Grace out to the middle of the room, and listened quietly while she explained it to them.
That task complete, I withdrew with the screaming Tyto to a quiet corner and sat down on a rainbow bean bag, resting him in my lap. He clung to my shirt and refused to be consoled.
“What's the matter, Tyto?” I asked softly, resting a hand on his large red head as I waited for him to stop wailing.
Presently he did, and mumbled into my shirt, “I don't wanna be here, I wanna go home, I'm scared! I don't know the kids an' the toys aren't mine, an' I don't know that strange lady, an' I don't want you to go!” He resumed sobbing, albeit more quietly this time, and buried his face in my chest, shaking uncontrollably.
“Oh, Tyto,” I sighed, squeezing him, “I know you don't like it, but I told you, I'm not going anywhere. Why don't you and I find something to do together for a while?”
Slowly he looked up, staring at me with large watery eyes for several moments. Then he glanced back over his shoulder at the other kids, all laughing and playing together. He spotted Lucy, who was busy playing tea party with a little Aisha and some Usukis, then looked at Danby, who was busy reading Baby Moehog Stories to himself, nestled in a blue bean bag. A few feet away, he saw Shasta playing tug-o-war with a baby Lupe over a baby Wocky plushie. They weren't scared, and nothing terrible was happening to them. Slowly Tyto turned back to me and sighed. “O-okay, Papa, w-we can go play with them, I guess.”
I smiled, trying not to show how elated I was as I said, “Alright, what do you want to do first?”
Tyto scanned the room carefully, then pointed to the only corner that was completely empty, “Let's go play with the blocks,” he said.
I put him down and crouched low as I walked so I could take his hand as he led me across the room. For nearly half an hour we busied ourselves playing quietly, stacking baby Bruce blocks on top of one another to create tall towers. I could see Tyto start to relax as he focused intently on the blocks, placing them meticulously, leaving not one out of place. He was so focused in fact, that when a little Scorchio approached us and spoke to him, he nearly leapt out of his skin.
The Scorchio regarded him skeptically for a moment before saying, “Hi, I'm Dylan. What's your name?”
Tyto glanced at me anxiously and I nodded encouragingly. “Go on, tell him your name, it's okay.”
He shot the Scorchio another fleeting look before dropping his gaze to the floor and mumbling, “I'm Tyto.”
Dylan smiled. “You wanna come play with me, Tyto?”
Tyto looked back at me again for affirmation, and I smiled. “Go on, Tyto, go play with him. I'll be right here if you need me.”
And so, slowly, Tyto picked himself up off the floor and followed Dylan to a pile of plushies on the other side of the room. I beamed, my heart swelling with joy; I never thought I'd see the day when Tyto, poor, scared little Tyto, would ever willingly play with a baby pet who wasn't one of his siblings, and yet here he was, talking through a baby Zafara plushie in a manner that bordered on relaxed, to a Scorchio he'd never met before. I'd never been prouder.
My elation was not to last, however, as I suddenly heard shouts and growls coming from one corner of the room, then saw Ellie get up from the floor where she was reading to a baby Mynci and hurry across the carpet. I stood up quickly, alarmed when I saw what was going on; Shasta and the baby Lupe were rolling around on the floor, fighting and struggling with each other, biting each other's ears and tails and calling each other names.
“You're so ugly you'd scare Eliv Thade!”
“Yeah, well, you – ”
Before they could get any further, I hauled Shasta off the baby Lupe, and Ellie grasped the pup by his red spotted bandanna. “What on earth is going on here?” I demanded, holding my still struggling Ogrin by the scruff of his neck.
Shasta, flailing and kicking his paws as he tried to break loose, shouted, “That no-good Slorg brain was makin' fun of my spots!” Tears rolled down his cheeks and matted his fur as he stopped struggling. I drew him close and let go of his scruff as Ellie and I sat down on the floor to mediate things, still gently restraining our respective pets to keep things from getting out of hand again.
“Tobi,” Ellie said softly to the little Lupe, who's ears drooped guiltily, “Can you tell me why you were teasing Shasta about his spots?” She glanced at the pale red paint marks still left on my baby Ogrin's green fur, and Tobi shrugged, staring miserably at his forepaws. Ellie continued slowly, “Well, you know that we don't tease people here; pets don't like pets who make fun of them, do they?” Tobi shook his head gently. “Alright, so what are you going to do now?”
It took several minutes, but eventually the little Lupe looked up just enough to get a glimpse of Shasta through his peripheral vision and mumbled, “Sorry Shasta, sorry I made fun o' your spots.”
Shasta returned the glance and bit his lip uncertainly. I rested a reminding hand on his shoulder and he sighed, “That's okay, Tobi, I forgive you.” He glanced up at me, and I raised an eyebrow, indicating that he should keep going. “A-an' I'm sorry for fighting with you...” He took a deep breath and mimicked what I'd taught him to say a hundred times. “I shoulda used my words.”
Tobi sighed. “That's okay, Shasta, I forgive you too.” Satisfied, Ellie and I released our charges, and they wandered slowly to opposite sides of the room keeping their heads low, their ears, tails, and pride wounded.
Sighing, I ran an exhausted hand through my hair. “Thanks, Ellie,” I said.
She smiled. “Of course Adrian, mediation is what we do here. Go sit down a while; you look tired.”
That was an understatement; I was exhausted, I never realised how much work this was going to be. I stumbled to a chair and collapsed into it, watching but not really noticing as the activity played out before me.
I must have dozed off, because the next thing I knew, snack time had arrived, and Tyto was in hysterics, wailing, “That's not my bottle!” I stood up quickly and surveyed the situation; all the little neopets were sitting in a circle around the blue and orange rug in the middle of the floor, each with a napkin, a handful of neo crackers, and a blue Elephante bottle full of milk, and Tyto was resisting Ellie's attempts to give him his bottle vehemently.
Thinking fast, I rummaged through the bag I'd brought with me in case of emergencies. Sighing with relief, I pulled out Tyto's Bruce bottle and made my way across the room. “Look Tyto, Daddy brought your bottle for you. You don't have to use Miss Ellie's if you don't want to, but you need to stop crying now, because the other kids are trying to enjoy their snack.”
Ellie stepped back and Tyto stared at me with watery eyes. He stood up and thrust both hands in the air, “Papa,” he whimpered, “Papa, pick me up.” I obliged him and scooped him off the ground, handing him his bottle and picking up his neo crackers as I made my way back to the chair I'd been sitting on and rested him in my lap, not saying anything as he nestled into me and put his bottle in his mouth, sighing sadly. I could tell that even after his breakthrough with Dylan, he was very unhappy here, and I began to wonder, what would happen if I sent Lucy, Shasta, and Danby to school, but kept Tyto at home? Would it be good for him socially? Would he get bored and lonely by himself?
Looking out at my other kids, I saw Lucy talking animatedly with the baby Aisha she'd been playing with earlier, Shasta having a milk-splashing war with Tobi, with whom it appeared all grievances had been forgotten, and Danby chatting comfortably with a little Yurble in thick round glasses. They were happy here, and I knew it would be a social disaster to pull them away now, when they'd only just started learning to get along with strangers, but as I looked down at Tyto, who was still busy sucking on his bottle, quite content to be with me but nobody else, I couldn't help but worry. What was I going to do?
To be continued...
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