(First published in Le News edition 15, 20-26 February 2014)
The Good Witch of the North once said, “Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.”
As much as I like the sound of that, I’m not convinced. Physically I’m in great shape, having played competitive netball in primary school. But I must admit, I’m already starting to miss my once-firm young mind. Because my mental elastic is gone; my brain is baggy. And nowhere is this more evident than in my relations with my seven-year-old.
My mind, like a battleship, needs a lot of time and effort to change direction. I like to focus on one thing, and just keep going. My daughter, on the other hand, has a speedboat mind: it’s fast, it’s agile and it makes a lot of noise.
A few weeks ago I stood in the dairy aisle of the supermarket, my battleship brain pondering the mysteries of organic butter and whether it really is CHF 7 a kilo better than normal butter, when my daughter’s sharp little voice broke into my thought.
“Mom, how many teeth does a turtle have?”
“I don’t know,” I said, dragging my mind out of the butter. “I need to think about that.”
Teeth on a turtle. I tried to picture Crush, the turtle in Finding Nemo. Hadn’t he smiled a few times? Had there been teeth?
When we got to the vegetable section of the supermarket, she asked, “Mom, what exactly happened at Pompei? And who wrote Mary Poppins?”
In the bread aisle, “What’s the name of the Egyptian king who isn’t Tutankhamun? Can I ride my scooter on the highway? What’s the most endangered animal on earth?”
In the checkout queue, “How do you say ‘my little sister stole my boots’ in French?”
“Well,” I said, as I loaded the groceries into the car. “I’m not sure they have any. I think they have a sort of beak.”
“Turtles. I don’t think they have any teeth.”
“I’m not talking about that any more!” she shouted, almost hysterical with impatience. “I’ve just asked you if I can invite everyone I know for a sleepover this weekend.”
I can’t keep up, honestly. If I followed every single thing she said, my brain would overload and I’d go mad.
I tried just vaguely muttering, “Yes, darling” for a while because that works very well on my husband, but the child soon caught onto that and tried to compromise me.
“You said I could!” she wailed one night, as we wrestled over the goldfish tank.
“I did not!”
“Yes you did! We were driving home and I said, ‘Can I put the goldfish in the bath with me?’ and you said, ‘Yes, darling’.”
I haven’t solved the problem of my speedboat child but at least I know how to rebuild my damaged self-esteem: the four-year-old still thinks I’m wonderful. Her mind is like an inflatable dinghy, bobbing awestruck in my wake.
“Mommy,” she breathed in wonder the other day, “how did you know I wanted to read a book about dinosaurs?”
I did not point out that dinosaurs are all she ever wants to read about. I just shrugged nonchalantly and said, “It must be because I’m so clever.”
Her eyes filled with admiration. “Will I be as clever as you when I grow up?”
I thought of her speedboat sister, and how she was also once a dinghy. And how I was once a speedboat. It’s the Regatta of Life.
“No,” I said. “You’ll be much cleverer.”