It is my turn to give the girls their breakfast.
This is long overdue; I have somehow managed to evade this responsibility for weeks on end, but my wife made a specific point of asking me the night before if I would get up and give the girls their breakfast in the morning. She also made a point of interpreting the noncommittal grunting noise I made in reply (I kind of said "Hnngh?" with a deliberate upward, questioning inflection, so it could really have meant anything) as complete acquiescence to her request, and has selfishly gone off to shower herself - which is how I come to find myself standing in the dining room wearing ill-fitting pyjama bottoms and a concerned frown.
Both of my children are sitting at the table, looking at me with a kind of surly, barely repressed rage - this is because the only way I could achieve the miraculous feat of getting them up to the table to eat was by turning the television off and threatening to throw the remote control out of the window if they didn't sit down, right now, immediately, STOP whining.
The little one looks particularly mutinous. She glares directly at me while drumming on the table with her 'Rupert the Bear' teaspoon, saying nothing, but thumping out an angry irregular rhythm that suggests approaching war. BaddabaddaBAP. BaddabaddaBAP.
"What do you want for breakfast, then, my little rays of morning sunshine?" I ask (because I strongly feel you are never too young to learn to appreciate sarcasm).
"Television", says the eldest, showing that the sarcasm is in fact coming along nicely.
"Television is not a foodstuff" I clarify.
"Hot cross bun, then..." she says, looking mournfully out the window and refusing to turn her head, in a way that suggests her day is already shaping up to be full of disappointment, and it is only 7.15.a.m...
"OK, a hot cross bun..." I say, with a remorseful sigh. The sigh is because I have prepared hot cross buns for her before, and it is a lengthy, hateful process. Despite my best efforts, I am still not entirely sure of the arcane acceptance criteria that she applies to determine whether said bun is suitable for consumption. I think the rules that apply are as follows:
- The bun can be eaten hot or cold, but no preference will be expressed as to the required temperature on any given occasion until serving time, whereupon if you have guessed incorrectly she will simply refuse to eat it.
- Fortunately, if her preference is for a cold hot cross bun (yes, serving food to my daughter involves oxymorons) it must be served uncut and unbuttered, so you can start off by simply taking one out of the packet and handing it to her, and she will then either eat it without complaint or throw it back in disgust.
- If it is the latter reaction, it's because on this occasion she desires a hot hot cross bun. The next ten minute could therefore be very trying, so at this point it is wise to refamiliarise yourself with the handy 'hot-cross-bun-preparation flowchart' that is taped to the wall next to the toaster.
- The bun must be sliced horizontally and toasted on setting 3 (all other settings will render the bun inedible) with the newly exposed bun innards facing outward, towards the toaster's heating elements (any other toasting position will render the bun inedible).
- The bun must be buttered, but quickly - if you are too tardy with the buttering, the bun will lose too much heat and will not fully melt the butter (and if any butter remains unmelted at the time of serving the bun is rendered inedible).
- Putting the bun in the microwave for ten seconds to melt any unmelted butter is considered cheating, and will render the bun inedible.
- It must be presented on a plate (serving it in a bowl will render it inedible), but it must be the right choice of plate (plate choice will change daily, on a random basis, and the incorrect choice of plate will render the bun inedible).
- The final hurdle is bun presentation. Toss a coin to decide if today she would like the halves of the bun stacked one on top of each other, or left sitting side-by side. The wrong choice here will, naturally, render the bun inedible...
"And what about you? What would you like?"
"Podge" she says.
I involuntarily suck in my stomach. This appears to be an exciting new low in parent/daughter relations.
"Don't call me that, it's rude."
"Stop it! Just tell me what you want for breakfast!"
"Podge! Podge. Podge!"
Her sister turns back from her contemplation of the garden. "She means 'porridge'..." she explains.
"Yes, podge!" insists the little one.
"Ah." I say.
"She is too little to say 'porridge' properly."
"Yes, yes, I understand that. I thought she meant something else. I thought she was being rude."
"Doesn't matter. You cannot have any porridge" I announce.
"No podge? Why?"
"Because we haven't got any", I lie (the truth being that I loathe the stuff and can't stand making it).
"Want Daddy's crunchy breakfast" she immediately decides instead.
This is the price I pay for my deceit. 'Daddy's crunchy breakfast' is a costly, sultana-packed cereal full of honey-soaked nut clusters. I am very partial to it and dislike sharing - primarily because it seems that whenever I want some, all that is left in the packet is a sad yellow sultana-free dust because my children have eaten all the good stuff. Nonetheless, it is a reasonable price to pay for not having to make porridge.
A short while later, we are all enjoying our breakfast: Eldest has deigned to eat the second of the hot cross buns I toasted for her, while I have settled with eating the one she first rejected. Youngest is cheerfully scattering my special, high-end, expensive breakfast cereal around her chair and across the table while I bite back my resentment. Peace reigns. It is short-lived.
"Daddy, have you heard about the whales?" asks the eldest.
"They are beautiful creatures..." she says, in the manner of someone reciting a script.
"Mm-hmm" I say
"But they are all going to come up on the land soon."
"The whales. They are going to come and get us. The ice will melt and they will come on the land instead. So we have to turn the lights off to stop that happening."
"To stop the whales?"
"Yes. We have to keep them in the sea, or they will come and get us."
"By...by turning the lights off?"
"Yes. And the red light on the television."
"Who told you this, sweetheart?"
This takes some thinking about. It appears that the eco-message she learnt at school about the melting icecaps and the resulting threat that poses to sea life has somehow transmuted in her head from 'how to save the planet' into 'how to prevent the menace of whale invasion'. I am not quite sure how to reset her expectations here, and decide it is too early in the morning to try.
"Well," I say lamely. "We'll just turn the lights out every day then."
"Oh no, just for one day is enough. Just for Eco-day. That will keep them in the sea."
"No, I think we have to do it every day."
"Yes. Every day. All the time. Just one day is not enough. If the ice melts and the planet floods..."
"...then the whales will come? The whales will come and get us?"
"No, no. Look, the thing about the whales, what I think Mrs Brown meant was ..."
"Turn the light out! TURN THE LIGHT OUT!"
At this point, the little one decides she has had enough breakfast, and it's time get down to the serious business of picking fights. She points at me with her spoon.
"Daddy," she says in the voice of someone making an important announcement. "You are a doughnut."
God, I think, she's really taking her time in that shower...