Charlotte Philby's Parental Leave: 'So I'm not a grandpa but I am a sister?' my daughters asks

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

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We're on the train headed for their grandparents' house. "Why do I only have three grandpas?" the nearly-four-year-old asks. Well, I say, you really have two biological grandfathers, and one step-grandpa. "A step-grandpa? That's awful. Is it because Grandpa John died, so he went to live with an old lady in the country?"

As the train rolls out of London, the view from the window melts into smudged swathes of green. With the baby uncharacteristically still on my lap, I close my eyes and feel my body start to bob gently to the rhythm of the train. Three seconds later, my daughter lets out a blood-curdling shriek: "Mummy!! Where are all the houses?!"

Despite my vague attempts to interest her in the view of occasional cows and sheep and clusters of bungalows, the conversation has failed to progress by the time we reach our final destination. "So I'm not a grandpa but I am a sister?" she asks, seemingly making minutes of our meeting in her colouring pad. Yes, I whisper, drained of life. "But when I'm playing mums and dads, it's OK if I be the brother 'cause I'm just pretending aren't I?"

You know our cat George, I ask. He used to have a sister, I say, for no other reason than I have nothing else left. Before you were born, I add, failing to include the interesting fact that the vet killed the cat during routine 'tests', and then charged us £633 for the privilege. "Georgie had a sister?" she repeats. "Was she a cat?" She was, I say. She smiles, "That's nice".

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