Charlotte Philby's Parental Leave: My four-year-old was sobbing at the injustice of pass-the-parcel

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

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It is with an anthropological curiosity that I see myself now: crawling, sloth-like, down the corridor, one foot dragging behind. It is dark – I cannot reach the light-switch – and with one hand I am carefully pushing a mug of tea across uneven floorboards. It is a cruel twist of fate. I should at this minute be packing ahead of this afternoon's now abandoned work trip to Spain.

It had been booked for months, following a memorable conversation with a man named Nigel in an Indian call centre: "And how many passengers, Mrs Philby?" he'd asked politely. Just one, I'd screeched, overcome with enthusiasm. "But Mrs Philby, you will be so lonely!" he'd gasped. Lonely, I'd sighed – oh Nigel, you say the loveliest things.

Then, yesterday, at a four-year-old's birthday, I took my eldest to the loo. "Carry me back downstairs, mummy," she sobbed, still reeling from the injustice of pass-the-parcel. And I did, because 1) I felt guilty about my imminent departure and 2) she owns me. "But WHY did I get a purple pencil when purple isn't my favourite colour? I do like purple but I like red and blue and green, and sometimes I like yellow..." she wept. At which point, in a subconscious attempt to free us both from her torment, I threw us head-first down the stairs.

We landed at the bottom in a twisted pile of limbs (all mine) with her splayed elegantly on my head. Darling, are you OK? I shouted through the wreckage, my foot inverted and throbbing. "NO, she wailed. MY PENCIL!!!!!!"