Charlotte Philby's Parental Leave: 'I just want a hamster because I like dinosaurs,' she says

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

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The Independent Online

"Is it tomorrow?" The nearly-four-year-old catches my eye while slurping from a bowl on a table that is marginally too high. There is a glint in her eye that hints at an as-yet-unclear danger. The radio clock chimes, 6.30am.

"No darling, it is today," I respond while trying to pump mouthfuls of porridge into the baby in the manner that one might a foie gras goose. "But it is ALWAYS today, when will it be tomorrow?" she replies, her body drooping with genuine sorrow.

"Well, that is because tomorrow will always be tomorrow because TO-MO-RROW is the day AF-TER today, but then when it actually IS tomorrow then it is TODAY, you see?" She sniffs, "But I am only three and the quarters, and you said I would be a big girl".

I think for a moment, a familiar sense of panic rising through my body, and then hear myself cry out: "I know, let's get a pet rabbit!" My husband blinks, "We're not getting a rabbit". I ignore him, stuffing the spoon into the baby's mouth while our daughter stares back at me, horrified.

"Why?" she scoffs. "I don't know," I say, suddenly feeling judged. "It might be nice? A lovely fluffy rabbit...?" But I don't want a rabbit, she says, I want a hamster. "Why would you want a hamster and not a rabbit? Don't you like rabbits?" I do like rabbits, she says thoughtfully. But I just want a hamster because I like dinosaurs.

"Right," I say, "let's talk about this another time shall we? Would you like to help me change the baby's nappy?" Why, she asks. "I don't know," I say, "I just thought you might like to. Maybe it could be your new job?" She bursts into tears: "BUT I WANT TO BE A POEM WRITER!"