It All Adds Up

  Mrs S married Mr S primarily for his mathematical abilities.  So many people focus on emotional compatibility, or shared interests, or looks, or wealth. Mrs S was mostly thinking about the children’s homework. When they met on the platform of Shadwell station in south London, on the 31st May, 2003, Mrs S noticed Mr S’s rower’s physique right away, but it wasn’t until she found out about the Cambridge maths degree and masters in particle physics that she started to take him seriously. You see, Mrs S crashed out of math in high school as soon as quadratic equations came up. Could there be a more pointless form of torture? She felt betrayed by imaginary numbers, as most of the numbers she’d been using in math since about eighth grade had been imaginary, and she thought it was unsporting to introduce rules about how and when she was allowed to use them. It was her imagination, wasn’t it?  Apparently not. So, after scraping an unimpressive C in Algebra 2, Mrs S dropped math, and was so happy to do so that she was only mildly offended by the fact that her Algebra teacher was also exultant. Tactless, that. The only pang of regret Mrs S ever felt was five years later, sitting her GREs (standardised graduate school aptitude tests) when it took her six consecutive questions to remember what to do with negative exponents. This wouldn’t have been a problem were it not for the fact that the test was set in a computer format that didn’t allow you to go back to change your answers, and selected your next question based on your performance thus far. So once it was revealed that Mrs S’s knowledge of negative exponents would require a negative exponent to accurately quantify, she was doomed to have no other type of question ever again. But even these pangs were shortlived, as it turns out PhD programs in philosophy, even good ones, don’t care all that much about mathematical aptitude if you have good scores in verbal reasoning and logic. 

 So, since she was fifteen, Mrs S had known that if there was to be any mathematical talent in her future family, she would have to marry it. The education of her future children depended on it. After they finish fractions, decimals and basic geometry Mrs S will be useless at helping with math homework, after all. This is what made Mr S such a perfect prospect. And before you start feeling too sorry for him, you should also know that he is of such a disposition that, far from being disappointed or insulted, having a woman fall for him because of his numerical brilliance was likely the fulfillment of a youthful fantasy…or would have been if he were given to fantasies. But despite his wife’s lack of numerical comprehension Mr S does fine out of the deal, really, at least Mrs S thinks so: she does cook nearly every night.  (On the downside, Mr S is continually annoyed by Mrs S’s failure to say “maths,” as he thinks is proper, but Mrs S maintains that as she has nightmares about math, then the pluralisation of her nemesis would only make matters worse.)

Now, twelve years after that fateful meeting in Shadwell, and nine years after they were married, Mr and Mrs S have three children. At two, four and six, they are obviously much too young to be bringing home anything so frightening as algebra (Mrs S avoids even contemplating the eventuality of calculus), but Mrs S is already relieved that she can pass off anything complex and numerical to her husband. R, the eldest, is only six, but it is already obvious that he has his father’s mathy streak.  He sometimes asks for daddy to teach him “some fun, really hard maths” instead of having a bedtime story, which is all the more surprising because he loves books. 

The only issue there has been with R’s math progress to date is that he is skeptical of his need to memorise his math facts because he is “really good at estimating.” The problem Mrs S has found with winning this argument is that R isn’t wrong: he is excellent at estimating. Of course, in primary school they expect precision. It doesn’t matter if R can tell instantly that 23+46 is about 70 if he stubbornly refuses to memorise 8+5=13. Nonetheless, he enjoys learning math with his father. His retention isn’t perfect, but he does follow as it’s being explained to him. They’ve covered fractions, percentages, basic statistics, square and triangular numbers, simple geometry like perimeter and area, and different strategies for adding and subtracting large numbers. These topics are by no means beyond Mrs S’s abilities, but given that R is only six, and things can only get more difficult, Mrs S is very relieved that she snagged a mathematical husband.

C, aged four, is a different beast all together. She usually remembers that 20 comes after 19, but occasionally she still thinks it’s 19, 91, 92, 93… Sometimes she understands how to add one.  And sometimes she doesn’t. Mrs S taught her to add up on her fingers, which worked until they got to five plus one:

  

 “Hold up five fingers. Now hold up one more. How many do you have?”

“One.”

“No, count ALL your fingers.”

“Ten?”

“No, sorry: count the five fingers and the extra one.  How many?”

With furrowed brow, C looked at her hands, counted the five fingers on one hand, then looked at the single finger on the other hand.  “One.” she said again. 

Mrs S smiled and managed not to laugh.  She didn’t want C to think she was making fun of her when all she was doing was remembering.  “We’ll do some more math after lunch,” she promised, speculating that they might have better luck with counting beads or beans than fingers.  

Lunch was leftover pasta, and Mrs S put it into the microwave to warm up and went to grate some fresh cheese.  Suddenly C was very upset:

“Mommy! Mommy! The microwave is broken! The numbers are going backwards!” 

Mrs S glanced over just to make sure that was the only purported problem with the appliance. “They always go backwards. When they get to zero it will beep,” she assured her daughter.

“But they’re counting all wrong!” C cried indignantly.

“No, they’re just counting down. You learned to do that in school. Remember?” Mrs S said.

C sighed and nodded. “Yes, but I thought it was ridiculous.”

Mrs S was once again incredibly grateful for her husband, because someday someone might have to explain negative exponents to C, and it certainly isn’t going to be Mrs S.

The Virtue of Not Yet

 

The Frozen makeup box Mrs S believed would be less troublesome than the Frozen DVD

 Mrs S bought C a Frozen-themed make-up set. She had thought it would be fun to play with alongside the dress-up clothes. What little girl doesn’t like dabbling? But she had unwittingly created a cosmetic-fiend. The rule is that C may wear a bit of makeup at home on the weekends to play princesses, or mums and dads, or ballerinas, or whatever, but she may not wear makeup when the family goes out. Four year olds are too young to wear makeup in public. But now C wanted to wear makeup to church. Of course, being a born negotiator, C did not ask. She informed her mother she was just going to put on a bit of eyeshadow and some lipstick.”No,” said Mrs S. “You know the rules. You can put some on to play dress up when we get home.”

“But I want to be beautiful!” C exclaimed.

“You’re beautiful already!” Mrs S told her truthfully. There are days when she worries she will give C a conceited streak, or teach her that looks maketh the girl, for it is nearly impossible not to constantly heap praise her auburn ringlets, cornflower blue eyes, peaches-and-cream complexion, and searingly radiant smile. C is a beautiful child.

“But I want to be more beautiful!” C shot back, before stomping her foot and leaving the room in a huff.

Mrs S followed her to retrieve the makeup case. She knows her daughter too well to believe she had won the argument. But more to the point, she remembers that feeling: thinking that beautiful meant looking older. It’s a hard lesson to teach: the ‘you are too young for that’ lesson, the virtue of Not Yet.

Mrs S wears makeup everyday; partly from vanity, or course, and to stop the angry villagers from burning her as a witch, but mostly because it is one of the only things that makes her feel like a genuine, functional adult, capable of managing the whirlwind of motherhood. It’s warpaint, really. It gives her courage. But, unaware of this, and too young to understand, nearly every morning C stands in the bathroom watching Mrs S doing her face and sighs at each stage: “You look so pretty, Mommy. I like your eyeshadow. Why don’t you wear some really pink lipstick today?”

Mrs S traded C the makeup kit for a tropical fruit-flavoured chapstick, which somewhat mollified the child, who tucked this new “lipstick” in her handbag next to her change purse, sunglasses, notebook and pencils, hairbrush, and tissue pack. Mrs S shook her head and smiled. The problem with C, or rather, the problem Mrs S runs up against while trying to kindly, effectively and properly parent her, is that C is tremendously precocious. She is remarkably self-possessed, socially-aware, clever, articulate, nurturing towards her little sister, independent, and sophisticated in her tastes. A decaf cappuccino at the local Italian café is her favourite after-school treat. She has been known to ask Mrs S to read her sonnets for her bedtime story. At four she can read simple stories aloud, write legibly and with plausible spelling, and follow complex, muti-step instructions to the letter. She has lovely manners with adults, and bursts of confidence that allow her to chat with most people, should the whim take her. Of course she is not perfect. The tantrums when she is tired, or thwarted, can be amazing and terrible all at once, and the teenage-level back-chat is a habit Mr and Mrs S are keen to nip in the bud. And she never — truly never — stops chattering: if she runs out of things to say, she’ll just start over from the beginning. But all in all, Mrs S has always thought she had one key advantage over C: the child is a carbon-copy of the mother. In nearly every situation Mrs S knows what C will think before she thinks it. She knows what C will do before she does it. And she can usually spot the tantrums coming a mile off, even if she is powerless to actually stop them. And it is this fearsome knowledge that makes Mrs S nervous, because her mind races ahead just as C’s does: four is nearly five, which is nearly ten, which is nearly twelve, which is nearly eighteen, which is nearly twenty-two. So you see, despite her vestigial toddler traits, C is already all grown up. Mrs S too has spent the whole of her life being, by her reckoning, already all grown up.

Thinking back to her own childhood and adolescence makes Mrs S blush. From the age of nine she was convinced she was not really a child, and began to think of boys in ‘that way’. She recalls a journal entry in which she wrote about how she thought one of the neighborhood boys should take her on a date. He was sixteen or seventeen and she had it all planned out: outifit (ruffley neon skirt and pink top with denim jacket), destination (McDonalds), menu (big mac for him, happy meal for her), and outcome (a kiss). It took a few years before she was embarrassed by this fantasy, before she dismissed it as silly and childish, before she was really all grown up, before she turned eleven. From the age of twelve she was completely preoccupied with romantic fantasies. It is the preserve of teenagers, particularly teenage girls, to feel misunderstood, and to long for someone special who appreciates them as the adults they believe that they are. And it is perfectly natural that this desire would take shape as a romantic yearning. Romantic relationships are ideally equal, exclusive, and necessarily exclude one’s parents and other authority figures. And Mrs S has never been as unique as she would like to think she is, so she can well-imagine that many many teenage girls were led down the same path. From early on she had a decided disdain for boys her own age.  

 At twelve she may have had eyes for a sixteen or eighteen-year-old, but by fourteen her romantic longings, shaped partly by Jane Austen and partly by trashy, historical-themed romance novels, was focused on grown men.  

 She was probably only saved from serious romantic or sexual disaster in her teenage years due to the fact that these love interestes fell into three categories: (1) Imaginary; (2) Inaccessible; (3) Morally-Decent Human Beings.

Mrs S recently read an article by Simcha Fisher that brought back this teenage period in vivid toe-curling detail. Following the lenient sentencing (30 days) of a fifty year old man who repeatedly raped a fourteen year old girl (who subsequently committed suicide), Mrs Fischer looks at the tragedy of a society that thinks young girls, outwardly mature, are to blame, or at least complicit, when they are used and abused by older men. Because they appear “older than their chronological age,” we miss how vulnerable they truly are. Mrs S was never vulnerable in the sense of being unprotected or from a chaotic home. She had a good family that told her she was beautiful, valuable and clever. She had a mother who would not allow her to dress provocatively, or paint her face like a porn star, and who always knew where she was and who she was with. Then as now, she was deeply rooted int he Catholic faith. And still, she was vulnerable, because no one could have persuaded Mrs S that she was too young to have the kind of relationship she thought about day and night, wrote about in her school notebooks (preferring as she did to scribble stories rather than take notes), and read about in dozens, even hundreds, of poorly-written, ridiculously-plotted, stupidly-imagined romance novels. There was nothing you could have said to Mrs S to change her mind because she found childhood to be agony. She was drowning in an ocean of not-yets. She was sophisticated enough to find Romeo and Juliet a repellant tale due to Juliet’s youth (twelve or thirteen! read the text!) and the dumb irony of committing suicide out of love, but not precient enough to apply this moral rubric to her own life and desires.

This is why Mrs S quails when C wants to wear makeup. She is not worried about her becoming Lolita, and she doesn’t want to keep her a child forever, but she knows if she lets her “grow up” to the makeup wearing stage at four, she can’t wrestle her back into the realm of childhood at twelve, when C will be more independant and less obviously a child in other ways. Mrs S knows that both her daughters will spend years feeling like butterflies forced to dress in the garb of homely caterpillars. When all of childhood is — rightly — ordered towards growing up, it is hard to teach the virtue of Not Yet. It is hard to keep young girls from taking on the trappings of adulthood before they are actually full grown women, or at least nearly so. It’s had to resign oneself to allowing them heartache, with the lessons it brings, but still be vigilant enough to keep them from real harm and from making mistakes they cannot recover from.

This all seems to require depths of wisdom that Mrs S is no longer confident she possesses. Rather than straining ahead to the next big grown-up thing, Mrs S now spends most of her days wondering how it is that she is allowed to operate without adult supervision. Madness. But having spent substantial time meditating on the futility of closing barn doors after the horses have bolted, slippery slopes, the impossibility of unringing a bell, and all manner of other folksy bons môts, she is convinced that someday, with the benefit of hindsight, C will be glad that her mother didn’t let her charge headlong into the world of make-up, sexy clothes and adult relationships. What grown woman says ‘I wish my mother had just let me do as I please at twelve!”? And the virtue of Not Yet is harder at twelve than it is at four, so C will need some practice. And that is why Mrs S, the meanest mother in the world, has put the Frozen-themed makeup box on a high shelf, to be brought out only when it is time to play dress up.

A Dog Can Herd Ducks, but Mrs S Cannot Punctuate

  Mrs S has had a long day. She was a parent helper on C’s class trip to a Willows Farm. C considered the highlight of the day to be holding a guinea pig, as the animal in question was strawberry blonde, just like C. Children grow up so fast these days: even a four-year-old has opinions on how to properly accessorise with small animals. Next week she will probably want a strawberry blonde handbag chihuahua. (Note: she won’t be getting one.)  

 
   Mrs S, on the other hand enjoyed watching a sheepdog herding ducks through an obstacle course. Ducks waddling through a tunnel, over a see-saw, and up a tower before shooting down a slide, at the urging of a dog is something you don’t see everyday, unless you are the one who trained the dog to herd ducks. She spent much of the rest of the day wondering why it was called a sheepdog show. She was almost surprised when the group arrived at the sheep race and there weren’t any ducks; just sheep, which wore coloured harnesses and were, oddly, being ridden by cuddley toy lambs. Somehow, Mrs S would have preferred it if the sheep were jockeyed by baby monkeys. Or guinea pigs. Or ducks. But sheep riding sheep in a race seemed as odd as deciding to race sheep in the first place. Nonetheless, the race was exhilerating, and took place right next to the reindeer enclosure, so there was plenty to see.  

 Upon arriving home, Mrs S was looking forward to a a quiet evening of food, facebook, and undemanding television. But as is so often the case, facebook was the fly in the ointment, for one of the first things Mrs S read was a complaint from one of her most literate friends about people who double-space after full stops (periods). Having thought that, after a day watching a dog herding ducks, the world could not get any more strange, Mrs S felt herself grow giddy, and then indignant. There was a point of punctuation snobbery with which she was unfamiliar. Her previously solid grammar-nerd credentials were crumbling before her eyes. This simply could not be happening. Hoping to prove her friend a deranged crank, and save the reputation of her typing teacher, who was beginning to look like the villain in all of this, Mrs S sought help from her trio of editrices. (She does in fact know a male editor as well, but no grammar nerd worth her salt would pass up the opportunity to use a relatively obscure feminine plural, so only women were explicitly consulted.) Much to her horror, the editrices sided with her learned, but possibly unbalanced friend, who himself replied to her request for clarity on the spacing conundrum with a scathing article, and suggestion to ignore the ad hominems therein while still embracing the substance of the anti-two-space creed it espouses. To make matters worse, there was a decided age split in the one space and two space camps, and Mrs S did not like the side of the line she fell on (although the Matriarch, a writer and editrix herself, did have a beautiful rant on how the aesthetics of Millennials had no business dictating the norms of typography). Then Mr S weighed in by sharing details of an article he had read that claimed one should never use two spaces on a CV because it would reveal the applicant to be, bluntly, old. As a woman in her early thirties who has nonetheless been dying her hair to cover greys for nearly a decade, Mrs S almost wept at the thought that all the chemical manipulation of her follicles is in vain, for she double-spaces at the end of a sentence.  

Mrs S, like most others, has no particular reason for using a double-space, apart from the fact that she was taught at school that two spaces ought to follow a full stop, as day follows night. Both one-spacers and two-spacers argue for the aesthetic value of their preference, and that it is better for readability. Mrs S is somewhat ashamed that she has no real preference. Clearly both conventions are floating around, yet she completely failed to notice. Her main hang-up about dropping the (possibly) superfluous second space is that she doesn’t know how she will get herself to stop typing it. Touch typing only really works if you don’t think about it too much. Should she try to wean herself off spaces there will be an infuriating number of find-and-replace searches in her future. There will be the whole 130 pages (and counting) of the novel to fix. It will be trying.

After she calmed down, Mrs S poured herself a G&T she reflected that a day spent with 44 four and five-year-olds, watching a sheepdog herding ducks is not best time to make such a significant, life-altering decision. Either way feathers will be ruffled, friendships threatened, editrices irritated. Mrs S will take time to reflect. Does a second space perfectly compliment the first, like a strawberry blonde guinea pig nestled in the lap of a strawberry blonde girl? Or is it a grotesque over-embellishment, like a cuddly toy lamb playing jockey on a racing sheep? Mrs S isn’t sure, but she feels she is entitled, even obliged, to have a professional opinion. Afterall, every writer should be able to say ‘This is how you end a sentence. Period.’ (Space, space.) 

The Benefits of Cheating at Cards

All three children believe they have exclusive usage rights over their grandmother.  As a result, when the Matriarch comes to visit she is never without a child in her lap, and N decides that walking is just too complicated for two-year-olds.  Why walk when you can put up your arms and say “Ga-ma carry me.”?  Under this regime the Matriarch was likely having the least free Independence Day she could recall.  They woke her up at unsociable hours, ate her breakfast, clomped around the house in her shoes, and demanded her attention at every moment.  Now it was 11am and at least the baby was napping, but the Matriarch had been conscripted to play dozens of rounds of Uno with the two older children.

Uno, in case you are unfamiliar with it, is a reasonably simple card game.  There are four colour suits: red, yellow, green and blue, and each card has a number as well as a colour.  Players lay down cards in turn, and must match either the colour or number of the card just played.  If they cannot match either the colour or kind of card they pick up a card from the deck.  The game is made more complex by coloured non-number cards that can skip the next player, reverse the direction of play, or make the next player draw two cards from the deck.  There are also wild cards that can be used to change the colour suit, and wild-draw-fours that both change the colour and make the next player pick up four extra cards.  The object of the game is to be the first to play all your cards.  It is called Uno because when a player plays his second-to-last card, leaving only one remaining in his hand, he is required to declare it by saying “Uno!”.

Mrs S has many fond memories of playing Uno at her grandmother’s kitchen table at family gatherings.  The rules were largely secondary to the main objective of the game: to make sure that Uncle K always lost.  “If Uncle K loses, we all win,” the children were taught by Aunt H (Uncle K and the Matriarch’s sister).  Of course, Uncle K is a strategic genius, and combined with his rather flexible approach to the rules, he was nearly impossible to defeat.   If you played fair.  So, in the bosom of her family, Mrs S learned to cheat at cards.

In retrospect, Mrs S has realised that this is one of the most valuable skills she ever acquired.  Everyone should learn to do it.  You need to really know the rules and how to play a good clean game to be any good at playing a dirty one.   Cheating isn’t low-level rule-breaking, like shoplifting or brawling in the street.  Cheating is manipulating the system, bending it to your advantage: think sophisticated smuggling ring.

But the real value in being able to cheat becomes apparent when one is playing games with young children.  This is because young children are terrible at games, but they will not stick at it long enough to get better if they lose all the time; and if they don’t get better, it will never be any fun to play cards with them.  So they need a great deal of assistance if they are to win, assistance that they usuallly do not welcome.  Therefore, helping them along takes a certain knack, a sort of reverse-cheating.  Now reverse-cheating is a powerful concept.  Think about what would happen if the bad guys who sell and smuggle weapons to warlords instead decided to use their considerable knowhow to get food, medicine, clean water and school books to those displaced by war.  Same basic skill set, completely different outcome.

Mrs S’s children are at that terrible-at-every-game phase, and purposeful, well-planned cheating has not so much as occurred to them.  R is preoccupied with playing all the “powerful cards”, not yet grasping that those should always be held until the end, or until there is someone you really need to screw over.  C has a sound grasp of the rules, but applies them inconsistently, as she doesn’t really believe that they apply to her.  This means that the burden of making sure the children each won a roughly even number of games fell completely upon the Matriarch, which must have difficult because purposefully losing at Uno would feel like a betrayal of everything she had been brought up to believe.  Reverse-cheating at Uno is less tricky than reverse-cheating at, for example, Candyland, because in the latter you are battling strong predestination, whereas in Uno the Matriarch only really had the strategic ineptitude of R and C and an occassional run of good luck for herself to contend with.  Nonetheless, ensuring that one always loses at Uno is nearly as difficult as ensuring that Uncle K never wins at Uno, so sometimes, whether through luck or irrepressible competence, the Matriarch won, greatly upsetting her grandchildren.  Mrs S, who was cleaning the kitchen whilst this was happening, wondered how it would end.  Between a six-year-old drunk on the power a wild-draw-four gave him over the next sequential player, and a four-year-old willing to bend any rule, including those defining what constitutes winning, in order to win, the situation could easily turn nasty.

But the Matriarch is a steady hand when it comes to disappointed, power-hungry, rule-averse children.  She quickly deals the next hand, saying “Maybe you’ll win this time.  Let’s see what happens.”  And she guides them through play:

“Are you sure you want to play that card?…Ah yes, that’s better,” she will say, carefully engineering her own demise.

“Oh my, C!  You only have one card left.  What do you say?” she asks.

“Snap!” C said.  Mrs S would have made the four-year-old draw four for not declaring Uno, but the Matriarch is kinder.  She laughs and carries on, and C wins.  Then the cards are dealt again so R can win.

As Mrs S listened she wondered at the wisdom in the Matriarch’s gentleness with the kids.  Everyone was having a good time, and what is more, the game was so friendly no one was worried about sitting in front of a window (a dangerous position in the card games of her chidhood, as if play continued past dark someone was bound to spy your hand reflected in the window, and no mercy would be shown.)  No one was cheating for his own advantage, and, most importantly, no one had asked for a snack in at least half an hour.  And still Mrs S thought wistfully about the raucous, anarchic Uno games around her grandmother’s kitchen table.  Maybe that’s where her thoughts belonged on the Fourth of July: back home with the rebels.

Melting, melting!

Mrs S has just survived the hottest July day in the UK since records began.  (99F recorded at Heathrow!)  Based on news reports of travel chaos, and the general angst of her British acquaintances, she is expecting to find tomorrow that her lovely Hertfordshire town has become a zombie wastland, but a well-fed one, for the inhabitants should be able to lap up puddles of melted brains off the pavement.  If the hysteria is to be believed, that is.

The odd thing about the British — and this may be valuable information to you whether you are in fact British or not — is that they seem greatly resentful of their own weather.  All of it.  It always rains, which is dreary and miserable, except when it is sunny, at which point they all develop vampiric solar sensitivity.  In the winter all in the know want to jet off to an Alpine chalet for some snowy paradise.  But should half an inch of the white stuff fall in the Home Counties they shall consider themselves homebound.  (Mrs S is informed every year that they don’t know how to deal with snow because they never get any, though the fact that this is patiently explained to her each year rather calls the opening premise into question.)  In the summer they will choose to holiday in Spain or Portugal or Greece, but should Mediterranean temperatures find their way to the British Isles, the population melts.  Feeling tetchy herself from the unusual temperatures, Mrs S took it upon herself to point out this idiosyncracy to the other mothers at the Wednesday coffee morning and play group.  She was informed patiently, and with a noble self-deprecating spirit that the Continental heat is different: it’s a dry heat, darling.

Now, the United Kingdom was the most perfect place imaginable for Mrs S to make her new home, for it is obsessessed with the meteorological, and she is in fact an authority on weather.  She grew up in Massachusetts, with steamy summers, glorious autumns, icy winters and pollenous spring.  She studied for her B.A. at Bishop’s University, in Lennoxville, Quebec, where for the long months of winter it never quite stops snowing completely.  And she then found her way to Saint Louis University, in Saint Louis, Missouri, for her PhD studies, and spent five years enduring swampy, dripping heatwaves and tornado sirens.  

As you can imagine, the natural superiorty Mrs S enjoys from having lived through so much weather makes her great fun at dinner parties and, of course, mothers’ coffee mornings.  The hard part is hiding from those she is tutting over how much she hates, loathes, and despises the heat.  And this was especially difficult this morning as on the walk up to school with the three children, Mrs S’s sunscreen had joined the beads of perspiration running into her eyes.  This set off a chain reaction: burning, tearing, streaming, mascara running.  She supposed that this cosmetological carnage was well-hidden behind her glamourously-oversized sunglasses until R’s very concerned teacher ran to get her half a box of tissues, as you do when a frowsy, harassed woman arrives at the classroom door with mascara trails running off her chin.  So, while sitting in the church hall, drinking tea — and not iced tea, because that is a base colonial perversion — Mrs S was not sure she didn’t still look like a slightly dissolved goth.  Tutting weather experts should be calm, cool and collected at all times.

The children played nicely as their mothers sipped and commiserated, but they were individually fractious.  This included C, who Mrs S had kept home from nursery because she had a bit of a cough that kept her awake the night before.  C had nonetheless been dragged a mile to school (not too onerous, as she rode on the buggy boad) because R had to get to class and Mr S was driving to Heathrow to collect the Matriarch.  Now tired and hot, C just wanted to go home and see Grandma (the Martiarch), but to avoid another sweaty walk Mrs S had arranged for Mr S to swing by and collect them from the church on his way home.  Trying to explain to a tired four-year-old and her only marginally more amenable two-year-old sister that they had to wait there, even after playgroup had ended, and that Mrs S did not actually know when Daddy and Grandma would arrive was almost as unpleasant as having sunscreen in one’s eyes.  

Of course the Matriarch arrived, and Mr S drove them all home in a blessedly airconditioned car.  And it was hot all day, and C was insanely cuddly for the climatic conditions, again owing to tiredness.  Bedtime was the stuff of nightmares.  But despite all of these trials and perspirations, at the end of the day Mrs S was happy to reflect that even when the heat feels enough to melt your brain onto the sidewalk to be lapped up by opportunistic zombies, and you are in charge of children less able to cope with the temperature than you, all can end well.  The Matriarch has arrived.  Mrs S has her mother.  Even if calm and order do not instantly descend upon the house (and let’s face it: the chances of that were never good), at least there is someone else around to say with the incredulity of an American weather authority “But THIS IS a dry heat…!”