(This was first published in Le News 20 November 2014)
‘Nothing,’ said my younger daughter when I walked past her last week, and my blood froze in my veins. As any parent knows, a child’s protest of innocence usually means that they have done something naughty. And if that protest comes before they’ve even been accused of anything, then they’ve done something really naughty.
Luckily the child crumbles quickly under interrogation.
‘What do you mean, “nothing”?’ I demanded.
‘I wasn’t sitting on the roof of your car. And I didn’t dent it.’
I was angry, of course, but I wasn’t surprised. Almost from the moment they were born, the children have conducted a sustained assault on our house and everything in it.
‘Who did this?’ I bellowed a very short time ago, on discovering a piece of graffiti on the wooden staircase. I didn’t really need to ask, because the dimwitted little culprit had written her name in ballpoint pen underneath her masterpiece.
‘But that guy did it at Chillon Castle,’ the child protested, ‘and you like that!’
‘When you’re a Romantic poet who’s been dead for 200 years, you can also carve ‘Byron’ all over the place. Until then … no pocket money for a month!’
It’s not that they’re trying to be destructive. Well, some of the time they are. But mostly the havoc wreaked is quite incidental. What they’re really trying to do is play. And when they play, they move into a fantasy world so real to them that they completely forget where they are.
The smaller child, for example, was not sitting on my car. She was actually sitting on a dinosaur. She was, she explained later, the only human ever allowed to ride the untamed Dino Queen. And to dent her.
The bigger child was not a naughty little girl scribbling on a staircase. She was Madeline, carving her name into the skirting board so that she will forever be a part of the orphanage home she loves and is being forced to leave.
I understand this slipping into fantasy, because I used to be able to do it, too. And I’m envious because now I can’t. Even if I did manage to slip the surly bonds of adulthood and play like a little child for a moment, some jerk with a camera phone and a YouTube account would make sure I never, ever did it again.
Besides, it’s not as if the children aren’t learning anything from these incidents. Teachable Moments, right? This year alone, we have learned that:
- It is possible to literally love a Furby to pieces.
- If you put a slice of cake into a CD player, it will not, in fact, play ‘Happy Birthday’. It will just get gummed up and never play anything properly, ever again.
- If you jump up and down on a bathroom scale hard enough, yes, eventually the arrow will point to 110 kilos. And it will be very funny, because you’re so small and look! You weigh 110 kilos! But the arrow will stay there and when Mommy gets on the scale the next morning, you will hear her screams all the way over in France. Mommy doesn’t think it’s funny, to weigh 110 kilos.
But most of all, I’ve learned that, the next time I’m creatively stuck, climbing onto the roof of my car just might help. The bad impression it will leave on the neighbours (and my car) will be well worth it if I can just catch a glimpse, again, of fantasy land. Look out for me on YouTube!