Charlotte Philby's Parental Leave: 'Is hell before or after Australia, the four-year-old asks'

A mother's weekly dispatch from the pre-school frontline

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Indy Lifestyle Online

By 9.30am on Sunday, the four-year-old has already spent some three hours pondering questions such as the specific location of hell ("Is it before or after Australia?") and "If chocolate is bad for you then why is it real?" She is spurred on by the toddler who, with one black eye and a constantly sagging nappy, has become some sort of dreadful hype-man who breaks into bursts of applause whenever his sister speaks.

So it is that I'm now sprawled across the bed, on my third cup of coffee. "I know," I say, as the unborn baby fly-kicks my rib, perhaps in protest at the world into which it will soon emerge: "Why don't we read something?" The four-year-old agrees and briefly disappears before returning with a pile of books I've never seen before.

"Who gave you these?" I ask, sifting through several volumes of obscure fables and, intriguingly, a story about a woman who spends her whole life longing to fly, then finally gets the opportunity to pilot a plane, which she crashes, leaving her dead.

"Grandma!" my daughter beams, pulling out an illustrated version of Noah's Arc. Right, I say, clearing my throat: "Once upon a time there was a man called Noah. God is angry with mankind and wants to punish people for being so selfish. So, he decides to destroy every living person and beast, except for Noah – who is very good – and two creatures of every species…"

By page 14, I'm preparing myself for an onslaught of questions about the selfishness of humanity, mass genocide, and the likelihood of a repeat attack. "The end," I finish, warily, watching thoughts ricochet around her brain. Pensively, she nods and then asks: "Who's Bob?"

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