(First published in Le News edition 20, 27 March – 2 April 2014)
I’m trying to be a better person, because of my children. It’s partly that I love them and I want to set a good example, of course. But it’s also because I have the feeling that they’ll tell on me if I don’t behave, and I’ll be in trouble with someone.
Take the seven-year-old. She’s always been the kind of child who worries about the state of her soul because she stole two sweets from the cupboard; who prays before bed every night (and hopefully mentions me because I could use a good word). But recently she’s become an eco-warrior, and our home has become her battleground. Quite frankly, she’s insufferable.
‘My teacher says we should always put paper in the recycling,’ she informed me crisply when I tossed an envelope into the bin.
‘Yes, of course,’ I said, retrieving it. ‘Absolutely right. What was I thinking?’
‘We mustn’t waste electricity,’ she frequently says at dinner, before lighting a tiny leftover Christmas candle and plunging us into near darkness.
Recently she spent an afternoon holed up in her room with a book about endangered animals. It was a trying time for the rest of the family. As we went about our business, her outraged voice boomed down on us every now and then with upsetting pieces of information like, ‘The Hector’s dolphin is almost extinct’ and, ‘We’ll probably never see a Javan rhino’.
I wanted to lighten the mood, for all our sakes, so when she bellowed, ‘Do you know there are only about 300 Cross River gorillas left in the world? What are we going to do about that?’ I bellowed back, ‘Tell them to cheer up!’
And … just a word of advice here. Don’t make jokes about endangered animals. Seven-year-old eco-warriors won’t think you’re funny.
The four-year-old, thank goodness, is still mostly a reprobate, but I’m starting to suspect that the Morality Police might have co opted her into some sort of surveillance role.
’You certainly like that game,’ she’ll say casually, popping up behind me when I’m supposed to be working but am actually playing Candy Crush. ‘You play it a lot.’
‘You do enjoy your wine, don’t you?’ she’ll observe, appearing from nowhere at my elbow, as I pour a (tiny, tiny) pre-dinner glass.
Or, ‘Napping again, I see,’ as she stands, shrouded in shadow, at the bottom of my bed. ‘Always. Napping.’
She’s making me paranoid. Why does she have to say it out loud? Is she miked up?
I really got worried last week, though, when she sat watching me in the bath for a while, eyes narrowed, before asking, ‘Do you think the other mommies have also got tattoos?’
I was blinded by a sudden vision of myself as she might report me: a tattooed wino who plays Candy Crush during work hours and sleeps all afternoon.
‘I don’t know,’ I answered, trying to sink beneath the bubbles. ‘But if you mention mine at school, could you also mention that I get up early every morning to cook you a hot breakfast?’
At the moment I’m the only one being judged – for the near-extinction of the Sumatran orangutan and for my own bad habits. But soon the little girls will grow up, look further afield and start taking the rest of the world to task.
I’m happy to say, our future is in good hands.