Dust is being wiped off baby toys for the summer fete when the phone rings. "Hello, is that Claire's mummy?" It's the call no mother wants to receive. Claire's at school, this sounds like Miss Perry, bad news is clearly coming. My heart goes into freefall and the jack-in-a-box resting in my palm tumbles to the floor. "It's Miss Perry," says the caller. Worst fears are confirmed. My mouth dries up like the Sahara. Unable to speak, I let Miss Perry continue. "There's been a bit of an accident in the playground. Claire and another child collided with one another and she's got a bit of a bump. We're putting a cold compress on it, but she says she's feeling a bit dizzy. Do you want to pick her up?"
The word "bump" has a calming effect. Saliva production resumes, absent-mindedly I dust a spinning top. Cloth in hand, surrounded by a pile of toys to rival Everest, reasoning begins. Does Claire feel dizzy because she feels dizzy, or has the idea been put into her head? "What's your gut feeling?" I ask Claire's teacher. "I think she's fine, but whenever a child receives an impact to the head we have to inform the parent."
A decision is made. The school's round the corner. Should my daughter take a turn for the worse, I'd be there in a flash.
At pick-up time, Claire's remarkably unfussed. Her right eye sports a shiner, but nothing overly dramatic. After dinner, however, it's all change. The wound visibly swells before me until it's as if a black ping-pong ball has been cosmetically attached to her eyelid. Claire spots her reflection. "Oh, my God," she wails, "I don't look very beautiful."
This is an understatement. Claire looks as if she has met a door knob at speed, and Oliver's promise (a display of genius) that it resembles pretty eye-shadow does little to comfort. I hold frozen peas to the bruise, then dollop on a healthy smear of arnica. All that's left is to pray.
Prayers unanswered, the following morning Claire plants herself in front of the mirror. "I look funny," she moans. Such is the damage that her eye has completely shut. There's a circle the size of a cup around it, painted in every shade of purple and grey. The moans continue and crescendo, bar a brief respite over breakfast when a picture in the newspaper I'm reading grabs Oliver's attention. "Who's that?" he asks. "That's Mugabe," I say. "And why's he in the papers?" Oliver continues.
The truth is hardly five- year-old fodder, so I soften it. "He's the leader of an African country, and he isn't being good to his people." Claire's ears prick up. "Ooh, does that mean he's a baddie?"
World politics forgotten, we head to school. Dodging boisterous boys kicking balls, the danger of the playground becomes all too apparent. We spot the little blighter who caused the "bump" (not a scratch on him), and while the children don't bat an eyelid at Claire's new look, their mummies can't hold back. Claire tolerates (just) the winces and comments, but when Miss Perry opens the classroom door and pulls a face, it proves a wince too far: Claire burrows her head under my T-shirt, refusing to go in.
"That's it," I promise, "there'll be no more wincing. Your classmates won't care. You still look beautiful." She detaches herself from my clothing, offering her war wound up for inspection. "I don't look at all beautiful," she protests. "I look like I've been in a fight with Mugabe!"Reuse content