We don’t need alarm clocks. Thing One, not Greenwich, decides when it’s morning, always erring on the side of barbarically early. She creeps into our bed and immediately embarks on a stream of consciousness, the length and breadth of which make ‘Ulysses’ seem a model of brevity.
It’s apparently a sign of insanity to keep trying the same thing, hoping for a different outcome. Well, section me now, because I play dead every single morning in the pathetic hope she’ll go and dismember some other prey. That never gets me more than three seconds before the start of that day’s edition of Question Time. No expenses-blagging, moaty-bloaty MP ever stuttered under Dimbleby fire as I tremble under Thing One’s fiendish interrogation.
‘Mummy, what bird is that?’ was yesterday’s opening gambit, referring to the demented old-style tweets seeping through the open window.
Even fully alert, I wouldn’t choose the natural world for my specialist subject on Mastermind (thanks for asking: the best biscuits for dunking). At this hour my brain was far away in a happy land where people kept turning into green blancmanges. However, a tap-tap-tap inspired me, and I croaked, ‘wood-pecker’, before registering that the tapping was Thing One hitting my head with a plastic dinosaur.
I’ve tried to outsource the nature study element of parenting to Grange Girl. She occasionally takes Thing One round her beloved Railway Land and tells her the Latin names for weeds. She knows her greater-spotted from her lesser-spotted thrush. But when I gave her the sixteen-page job description, detailing hours and basic pay, Grangey laughed in my face.
Last week, Thing One suddenly got interested in history, another subject I always avoided during that weird era when we all played Trivial Pursuit.
‘Who lived there?’ she said, pointing to the scaffolding around Lewes Castle.
‘Oh, hang on, I know this, it’s on the tip of my tongue’, I stalled, then as we went into Nero’s I spotted Born and Bred Boy. He was quietly ordering a skinny soy latte, changed abruptly to an espresso when he saw us. I asked about the castle, and he said, ‘Oh, everyone knows that! It was Simon le Bon.’
I passed this on to Thing One and she accepted it provisionally, till she could check with her teacher. Amazing how the guys wrote ‘Hungry like the Wolf’ without the benefit of modern toilet facilities.
So it continues. ‘Why are there cliffs if there’s no sea?’ (Answer: ‘Er, because they like it here.’)
‘How many people live in Lewes?’ (‘Ooh, loads’.)
‘Why are there so many shops selling houses?’ (‘I have absolutely no idea.’)
But at last, this morning, a question I could answer. Five-thirty, and her warm little elbows battered against my lifeless form. ‘Mummy?’
‘Can sick be multi-coloured, or is it always orange?’
I sat up, fully alert. ‘You’ve come to the right place darling’, I beamed, and the dawn chorus had long finished before my detailed explanation drew to a close.
Beth Miller, 9th June 2009. Published in VivaLewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, July 2009. Photo by Alex Leith