Tuesday 5 February 2008

"Quality time with the kids..."

One of the things a lot of folks said to me, on hearing that my services were no longer required at my old job and I would essentially be spending the 'working' week hiding in my office in the loft 'jobsearching' (i.e guiltily playing Nintendo with the sound down so that my wife can't hear and then give me some household task to do), was: "It'll be great! Enjoy it! You can spend some quality time with your children".
The people who said that had not, by and large, actually met my children, so I suspect they were envisioning a somewhat rosy picture of countryside walks, of kites and picnics, with the four of us in the sunshine, our heads constantly thrown back in laughter, drinking up the good times.
It has not been quite like that so far.
My being at home all the time is a big change, and means a certain amount of disruption. It's clearly a period of adjustment for everybody: There has been whining. There has been screeching. There has been misbehaviour. There have been tantrums. And it's not just me - the children have been quite difficult on occasion, too.
I have seen a lot more of Neve: previously my weekday experience of our youngest was limited to hearing her thrash around the bedroom in the dark before I left for work, and then bathing her at night. Now I have seen a little bit more of her, and can report that she is in equal measure (a) cute as button ("Da-dee! Ullo, Da-dee...") and (b) basically furious at everything.
I am not sure where the happy smiling baby of the Autumn has gone, but at 18 months old Neve seems to have developed a hair-trigger temper and the capacity to rage violently for a sustained period at pretty much anything. She is teething, which doesn't help, but apparently she is at the age when has is desperate to make herself better understood and communicate more with her family, but lacks the speech and motor skills - this causes frustration, leading to screaming and violence. There is doubtless an elaborate metaphor that can be drawn there about the problems of modern society, but I'm really not the man to do it: social commentary isn't my line, I generally tend to talk more about embarrassing incidents involving bottoms and being outwitted by my wife.
Anyway, I do detect a certain growing warmth towards me from Neve, as she grows more familiar with my being around: she will actually allow me to carry her downstairs and feed her a bottle of milk in the morning without screeching like a wounded pterodactyl, for example. In fact yesterday, while I was bathing her, although she did lash me repeatedly around the face with a wet flannel you could tell it was more out of habit than any genuine attempt to do me harm. So: Neve, adjusting well.
Amelie is a bit different - she knows things aren't quite right at home at the moment, and picks up up on people moods. She is also quite inquisitive - while we were out shopping at the weekend I saw a "Hello Kitty!' chocolate egg, with a Kitty figurine inside, and decided that it was perfect for a small surprise for her. Two minutes later, as I joined the rest of the family, Amelie immediately said:
"Why is there is a 'Hello Kitty' chocolate egg in your bag, Daddy?"
"What? There isn't."
"There is. I can see it. It's here."(She prodded the side of the carrier bag, which was cheap and translucent and through which was clearly visible one 'Hello Kitty!' chocolate egg).
"Ah. Yes. That one."
"Is it for me?"
"No. No, it's not."
"Who is it for, then?"
I looked at Nini for help. "It's for another little girl" she said helpfully, and then whispered to me: "My mum used to say that to me when I saw a present that I shouldn't have seen. I never even thought to question it..."
Amelie nodded thoughtfully, as if weighing the evidence, and then asked: "Which little girl?"
"Just...er...another little girl" said Nini, wincing as she said it because it sounded so very lame.
"But who?"
I looked around for inspiration. The Ann Summers lingerie shop was in the parade of shops behind us. "Her name is Ann" I said.
"Ann who?"
"Ann Su...it doesn't matter who."
"Why have you bought it for her?"
"Just stop asking questions, Amelie..."
Anyway, I decided that now that I am free at 11:30 a.m, I would pick her up from school and have a chat with her on the walk home. It will be a nice surprise, I thought.
I was a little late, so she was one of the last left in her class. She wandered over looking confused.
"Where is Mummy?"
"Daddy has come to pick me you up today."
"Have you brought the car?"
"No, we are walking home."
"Oh. Did you bring my scooter?"
"If we are walking, Mummy brings my scooter."
"Well....OK. I will know next time."
We begin a slow plod home, during which Amelie took care to tell me how much her legs ached because of all the walking, and to point out to me all the gentle slopes and undulations in the pavement that are particularly enjoyable to traverse by scooter. We finally got to a bench, and I suggested we sit down.
"I have a surprise for you" I announced, and gave her the 'Hello Kitty!' egg.
She smiled like the sun coming out; I think mostly at the thought of chocolate - but at least in part with a certain smugness, as if she was thinking "I knew there was no other little girl and that egg was for me all along, you great big terrible bullshitter..."
"Daddy will be picking you up from school on most days for a while now, Ami."
"Daddy doesn't go to work at the moment, he will be at home with you and Mummy and Neve every day. So he will come and get you from school."
There was a minute of relative silence, broken only by the contemplative mastication of white chocolate. Finally: "Will you bring me a Kitty egg each day you pick me up?"
"Will you bring the car?"
"Only if it's raining."
"Will you bring my scooter?"
I sat back on the bench. I had a question of my own: "What should I do for my new job, Amelie? Any ideas?"
There is more thoughtful chewing. Then: "You could be a lollipop man."
"A lollipop man? What, to help people cross the road?"
She furrowed her brow, and it was clear she had no idea what I was talking about. "No, a man who gives out lollipops. To children and women."
"I see. Where do the lollipops come from?"
"Mummy will make them. And then you can bring them to school and give them to the children and women. And they will all be happy and cheer."
"That does sound great" I said.
I lent back, resting my head all the way back on the bench to stare at the sky. The sun was out, the air felt crisp and clean, and there was a whole afternoon ahead of us to enjoy.
It felt fantastic. Ah, I thought, this must be the quality time that people were telling me about...

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