Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Death at the dinner table

Another mealtime, another brief descent into madness. And, as always appears to be the case, the meal is chicken and rice. Why is it always chicken and rice? We should stop eating the damn stuff: it might be coincidence but it just seems to cause problems. This time it all kicks off at the very second we all raise our first forkful.
"When Mummy grows up, she will be a Daddy..." announces Youngest, with the air of a sage making a proclamation.
"No" says Eldest, immediately. "When Mummy grows up, she will be dead."
There is a nasty, half-second pause, much like the one you get at the top of a rollercoaster when you've stopped climbing the initial hill and levelled out, at the moment when you get a good hard look at the imminent drop. You know - a fraction before all the screaming starts.
"No" refutes Youngest, and looks to us to agree. Her sister gives her the stinkeye, and looks to us to back her up.
There is uneasy quiet, as two well-meaning parents try hard to think what to say. It's like the eldest has handed us a tin opener and a can clearly marked 'Worms', and is daring us to open it, while the youngest is begging us not to.
I seek refuge in cowardice, and fill my mouth with food, rendering me unable to speak (when you've got no other options, there's always mastication).

My wife is made of sterner stuff. A master politician, she opts to attack the premise rather than answer the question. "Why do you think that, darling?" she asks the little one. "Why would Mummy want to grow up to be a Daddy?"
I think perhaps I can help answer that one, so I hastily gulp down my food. "It's a matter of evolution," I suggest, swallowing painfully, and with partially chewed rice cascading from my mouth as I speak. "It's so you can become as wise as Daddy."
"No," all three of them say at once. In addition, my wife gives me one of her special looks, the one where her head angles slightly to one side, her eyes widen in surprise, and her fingers flex involuntarily. It is the kind of look a cat would give a mouse, if said mouse came out of it's hole one day armed with a sharpened matchstick, and challenged the cat to a fight. I decide that, on reflection, perhaps I will keep quiet after all.
"It was meant to be joke..." I say, in a small sullen voice.
"If I grow up to be a Daddy," continues my wife, nodding in my direction and managing to load the word with more disdain than it was ever designed to hold, "then what does Daddy grow up to be?"
"A skeleton" says Eldest.
Another pause.
"No..." says my wife - but far, far too late for it to carry any weight as a convincing denial.
"Yes," insists Eldest. "A skeleton. He will be killed and turn into a skeleton. All his bones will come out."
"A skeleton..." says Youngest, thrilled with the word, even though she has no idea what it means.
"It goes like this," continues her sister, "Boy - Daddy - dead - skeleton."
"And it goes Girl - Mummy - Daddy," insists Youngest.
"I am not just 'a Daddy', you know" I interrupt. "Boys don't just automatically turn into Daddies when they grow up. There's more to it than that."
Both girls look at me vacantly.
"Before I was a Daddy, but after I was a boy, I was a man." I explain.
"Past tense" mouths my wife silently, and smiles sweetly. The other faces around the table remain blank.
"I am still a man," I add, feeling it suddenly necessary to insist on that fact.
"No, now you are a Daddy," says Eldest. "And soon you will be a skeleton."
"Skeleton man" says Youngest, delighted. "Skeleton Daddy man."
"Eat your dinner" I say.
"Skeleton dinner," she replies happily. "Skeleton chicken. Skeleton rice."
"Dinner" I command, pointing at her bowl. "Let's have no more nonsense. A boy grows up to be a man, and if he has children then he becomes a Daddy."
"And then he stops being a man?" asks the Eldest.
"No," I say, though quietly thinking that, based on my own experience, that might well ultimately depend on how many daughters he has. "He stays a man."
"Until he becomes a skeleton..."
"Mummies become Daddies," burbles Youngest, mashing her food with the back of her fork. "And then Daddies become skeletons. And skeletons become chickens. And chickens become rice. And rice becomes toucans..."
"Toucans have beaks instead of faces!" adds her sister. "And when they open their mouths they go 'Caw! Caw! Caw!'"
"And lights come out of their mouth!" shrieks Youngest. Both girls collapse, insensible with laughter. I stare at them in complete bemusement.
"Are they on some kind of medication that I don't know about?" I ask my wife, when it becomes apparent, after ten seconds or so, that they are not going to stop.
"Hmmm. Do you think perhaps they should be?"
"No, apparently this is all pretty normal."
The laughter continues, punctuated by the odd intelligible word - I can make out 'toucans', 'lights', 'beaks'...
"Perhaps there's some medication that I could get instead?" I wonder aloud.
"Just three more weeks, and the school holidays are over" says my wife, with the air of a woman who is crossing off the days on a calendar.
"Skeletons," shrieks the Youngest, "with beaks!"
"Just three more weeks..." repeats my wife, as if reassuring herself.


Martin B said...

Sorry to disabuse you, but I don't think sons are any better. At least at that age.

Carol said...

That is absolutely priceless!!

I recently had a little girl, who is looked after during the day by our neighbour, ask me for some chocolate (I didn't actually have any so I'm not sure why she asked but hey...)and when I said no she retorted 'I hate you. I hate your hair' (Small children are a mystery to me!!)

C x

Kate said...

Oh the images that has created ...! Love it. Kate