Rennaissance Rabbits

When one’s children are ill one takes refuge in the television. There is no sense in going to bed when a child is unsettled, for being awoken from a deep sleep under the duvet is infinitely worse than being woken from a light doze on the sofa, or simply braving the exhaustion and staying up with something reasonably engaging on the box. The next day the child will be even more tired than the parent, which will make him, or indeed her, especially difficult to entertain in a constructive manner. Of course, the parent will be too tired for the constructive occupation of offspring in any case, so the TV is once again invaluable. It is only when one’s child has been ill through the night that one may tuck him in on the sofa under a fleecey blanket, with several pillows, a number of well-loved soft toys, an unlimited supply of juice, the odd cracker, and enough banal television to cook his brain, and feel like an exemplary parent. One may even avoid loading the dishwasher on the excuse of keeping the child company. It seems like a no-lose strategy. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the honeyed tones of Mark Rylance can’t ruin it for everyone.

  

 Recently, the adult members of the S household have gotten around, finally, to watching Wolf Hall, the BBC adaptation of HiIlary Mantel’s novel of the same name. It aired close to a year ago, and was duly recorded, but only recently viewed. A few episodes in we have primarily been treated to a very good performance by Mark Rylance in the role of Thomas Cromwell, that coniving rotter of Henry VIII’s court. (Ms Mantel’s portrayal of the man is rather more sympathetic than Mrs S’s, or history’s, estimation of him.) We are already in no doubt of Cromwell’s scheming capacity for menace towards, for example, good Queen Catherine of Aragon and the sainted Thomas Moore. Of course, we are meant to understand how very damaged Cromwell is: beaten and abused by his father, leathered by the brutality of Rennaissance mercenary warfare on the Continent, and ultimately (spiritually) broken by the death of his beloved wife and young daughters…it’s no wonder he prefers politics to family.  Also — and this is a key narrative point of the drama — Catholics are mean and elitist too boot. Much has been said about the questionable historicity of the enoblement of Thomas Cromwell. (If one feels swayed to sympathy with Cromwell by Wolf Hall, simply keep in mind that this man orchestrated the dissolution of the monasteries. Suffering doesn’t make you a saint if it is palliated by revenge.) However, no rancour for the subject can really detract from Mark Rylance’s accomplished and subtle performance. 

Little N has been ill recently: a fever, maybe a bit of an earache, a sniffle, but nothing serious. She is simply a bit too sick to sleep well. So, being tired in the daytime, and still under the weather (which is, in any case, cold, drizzly and gloomy), she was tucked up on the sofa with cozy blankets, beloved cuddly animals, juice, etc, and allowed to watch her favourite show, Bing. This is a BBC animaion aimed at toddlers that follows the everyday escapades of a young rabbit named Bing. This bunny is cared for by Flop, a stuffed animal of uncertain species, diminutive stature, unending patience, and unfathomable folksy wisdom. We are not meant to wonder (though Mrs S of course cannot help herself) how it is that childrearing works in this cartoon world where all the toddlers (mostly rabbits with the odd elephant and panda thrown in) are cared for by these mature soft toys (mostly elephants, maybe a dog, and whatever Flop is) when the toddler rabbits are at least 50% larger than those who are apparently responsible for their welfare. And how are these mis-sized cross-species families formed to begin with? Where are the mommy and daddy rabbits? Ah well: traditional families are very passé these days, and perhaps the producers assumed that patent absurdity produces less outrage than blatant post-structuralism. However, despite completely undermining the metaphysics of the family, Bing, like Wolf Hall, is a fabulous show. Unlike Wolf Hall, it is sweet. It understands children, and how one should speak to them (assuming that one has this rarified parental existence devoid of all time-pressure or other responsibilities: let us say it is aspirational). Flop is always gentle and understanding. Common Flop catch-phrases are “It’s all right, Bing. It’s no big thing,” and “Good for you, Bing Bunny!”. The show always has a lesson to teach, and it is not subtle. At the end of the five-minute episode, Bing comes on screen and recaps the story, explaining what he learned. Then Flop enters and summarises with the words “[i.e. Using the toilet]: it’s a Bing-thing.” Thus endeth the lesson. 

Bing and Flop

  
The real fly in the ointment is not the uncertainty of Flop’s ontology, nor the mysterious origins of the giant toddler-rabbits. It is that Flop is most definitely and unistakably voiced by Mark Rylance. (A beautiful voice he has, too!) This means that if one has, for example, spent the evening watching Wolf Hall while listening out for a poorly two-year-old, and the morning indulging said child’s wishes for a Bing marathon, incompatible narratives begin to nonetheless entwine themselves in one’s sleep-deprived mind. Mrs S is genuinely surprised each time Flop does not conclude an episode with the sentence “Politically-motivated execution: it’s a Bing-thing.” Likewise, when she resumes watching Wolf Hall, Mrs S will no doubt expect Thomas Cromwell to say, when mulling over the marital strife of Henry VIII: “It’s all right, King, it’s no big thing…if we accuse her of adultery and incest we can chop her head off.” Whether this overlap in cast imports menace into the simple morality of a children’s show, or inappropriately softens the edges of an adult tale of bad behaviour, Mrs S does not know, but watching, or rather listening to, either now makes her feel all peculiar in the head. 

One truly hopes Mark Rylance is not a devoted method actor. (But if he is, Mrs S would very much like to know what kind of animal he pretends to be when he practices Flop.)

Upon reflection: a giant toddler bunny being guided by a small stuffed I-know-not-what is a passable description of either show. It’s picturing Damien Lewis with bunny ears that causes the metaphor to break down.

When N gets up from her nap Mrs S will insist on watching Frozen instead. Expect soon an essay on how Anna is a much more satisfactory heroine than Elsa…

Playing the Odds

As is commonly the case in the S household, Mr S was reading Mrs S an article on statistics. This time Mrs S found it particularly annoying as she had already gotten out of her chair and was on her way to the kitchen for a cup of tea. Then Mr S asked her “Do you know you are now more likely to be killed by your trousers than win the lottery?” As it happened, Mrs S did not know that, and she despaired of ever getting her cup of tea, for now she needed to listen to the rest of the information to hear (1) if problem lay with the particular trousers she was wearing; (2) whether she would be safe if she changed into a skirt; and, most importantly, (3) whether sweatpants and pyjama bottoms were classified as trousers in this analysis.

  It turned out that the article was not about trousers at all, and so Mrs S had no excuse need to revamp her autumn wardrobe.  Damn it! Phew!  The UK National Lottery has added ten new numbers to its selection options. Previously, six numbers were chosen from 1-49; now you may select any number up to 59. Of course, Camelot, the company that administers the Lottery, is eager to highlight how much more choice it gives you. Hooray for choice! They are less keen to inform you that your odds of winning the jackpot have now dropped from 1 in 14 million to 1 in 45 million. Ah well: Mrs S figures most people who play the lottery aren’t in it because of its sound investment profile. And what if your lucky number is 50? Well, you’ll just be relieved to see the end of the discrimination that smiled favour upon those whose luck resides in lower numbers.

 

Is this crowd there for you? The odds are 20 million to one.

 Mr S continued to read out a series of astounding things one was now more likely to do than win the lottery: be killed by a bee, become a Cabinet minister, etc. Then he got to the point, and the reason he knew his wife would want to hear these numbers: According to the statistical analysis of some nerd somewhere, you are more than twice as likely to be cannonised a saint in the Roman Cathoic Church (20 million to one) than win the lottery (as above 45 million to one). Mrs S cannot confirm or vouch for these figures. The reader is likely already aware that the lady has a tense and troubled relationship with numbers: she cannot count past ten without removing her socks. But nonetheless she took strong and immediate umbrage with Mr S’s implication that sanctity was a matter of chance. Mr S took strong and immediate umbrage with Mrs S’s conflation of ‘chance’ and ‘randomness’ in her critique, reiterating that statistics describe data populations, not causes. In short, the fact that statistical analysis indicates that in any randomised population of 20 million people one of them will be canonised, does not mean that that one person is selected at random, independent of causal factors. Mrs S was sure she knew this already, so she stomped off and made tea in a huffy manner.

The thing is, the terminology of statistics aside, the comparison is obviously apples and oranges. The odds of winning the lottery are calculated on a one entry per draw basis.  Canonisation is a one-shot deal: you have one soul, so you get one entry. To increase the odds of winning the lottery one merely has to buy more tickets. In fact, buying just three tickets for a single lottery draw slashes the odds of winning to 1 in 15 million, making a jackpot win more likely than canonisation. But, of course, the lottery remains subject to randomness in a way that sanctity does not. It’s black and white, too: any combination of numbers is as likely to win as any others. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 is as likely to be a winner as 3, 14, 25, 27, 32, 54. All entries are equal, so when you buy an extra ticket you increase your odds of winning by a set and easily defined increment. However, with respect to sanctity, you can’t multiply your entries, so your only way of increasing your odds is to work on the one entry you have, t make it the type of soul that can be canonised. And that’s a bit trickier.

  Mrs S was pondering how to increase her odds of cannonisation. Now, of course, cannonisation is not synonymous with sainthood: the Church believes that all in heaven are saints, but the canon of saints is made up of those in heaven we can name (on the evidence of their martyrdom or intercessory power), whose  lives and deaths provide us with an example of holiness. However, all canonised saints are in heaven, even if not all in heaven are canonised saints, so Mrs S figured this line of thought was just an extension of the question ‘How do I live a good and holy life?’

Mrs S thought about the type of sanctity that lead to canonisation — a life lived in prayer and penance, with courage and tireless fortitude, with patience and humility —  for as long as it took the kettle to boil twice. (The first time around she somehow forgot who she was making the tea for and used a decaf tea bag and added sugar. Yuck.) And as she waited she pondered the example of saints. There is, of course, the Little Way of St Thérèse: ‘finding God in the pots and pans,’ working quietly and with humility, offering every little act of love, and even the most dreary mundane tasks for the greater glory of God. This is a model especially well-suited to the life of a wife and mother, and many wise people have recommended it to Mrs S. She finds it cripplingly difficult and absolutely hates what it shows her about the state of her soul. So, she figures it would be easier to find a different exemplar, one with a bit of flair and a good excuse for being rubbish at housework. And then she began to think how much easier all of this would be if she did win the lottery. 

You are probably instantly reminded about that pesky parable about the camel and the needle’s eye, especially if you were at Mass this morning. But Mrs S is quite convinced her motives are pure. Nearly everyone has their lottery win planned out. Mrs S knows exactly what she would do. There are a few personal things — Clearly, she would never fly coach on a transatlantic flight ever again. Obviously she would hire a cleaner. And a gardener. And she would be thin because she could pay for one of those gourmet calorie-controlled programs that delivers food right to your door (presumably with a side of will power to sustain you between meals). And she could just pay to have The Artist and the Serpent published and distributed, with a snazzy, professional looking cover. And its sequels. (Did you not know about these? Ah, well, if Mrs S ever finishes the first book, she can set to work on the sequels she’s already plotted: The Artist and the Citadel, The Artist and the Holy Mountain, and The Artist and the Fallen Angel.) — but having done these things, which are not really very costly with reference to a large lottery jackpot (Mrs S never plays for less than £50 million), there would be millions upon millions for good works. Schools, hospitals, religious orders: there are so many worthy recipients. She could endow a chair in the philosophy departments at each of her former Universities. There are other bloggers she admires and would like to fund. Aid to the Church in Need, and a few other choice charities, would get millions. And the idea of being a professional philanthropist, of swooping in with the wherewithal to finance good, is deeply appealing. It’s almost like it wouldn’t matter if she continued to deeply resent the need to clean the kitchen, or continued to lack discipline in prayer, because surely on balance…

Ok, so maybe Mrs S’s sanctity would not be assured by having the financial resources to fund the virtuous activities of others. Faith without works is dead, to be sure, for what can be thought to exist of a faith that does not transform behaviour? But works without faith are mere spectacle with regard to the soul, however much good they do in the world. (Which is not to say they shouldn’t be done, just that they shouldn’t be confused with sanctity.) It is the most irritating feature of holiness that it cannot be delegated. She was listening to her parish priest’s homily this morning on the rich young many who asked Jesus how to gain eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the Commandments, and when the young man says he has always done this all his life, Jesus says that he should sell everything he owns and give to the poor.  Naturally, the man is saddened by  this, because he is so rich. The priest pointed out that the command to give everything away is nearly unique in the Gospels to this man. Mrs S thought of line that says Jesus  looked on the man and ‘loved him.’ There’s this idea in the text that Jesus wanted union with this man. (This may seem like a leap, but Mrs S spent a lot of time in grad school reading Aquinas, whose definition of love has two parts: desire for the good of the beloved, and desire for union with the beloved.) Jesus has told him what’s good (‘Keep the Commandments, buddy!) and is now explaining wherein full union consists. It’s like “sell your possessions” is shorthand for “Now all you need to do is get rid of all this junk that is your first love so we can be together.” So, it’s hard for the rich to become saints. Not because wealth is evil (if it was then it would be impossible for the rich to become saints), but because it’s seductive. More than anything else, money can allow us to feel like we’re doing really well. You can give vast sums to good causes, help the needy, always have a tidy house, always be up-to-date on current events and the latest artistic trends. If you have enough money you start to feel like virtue itself can be bought. So, despite a moderately well-formed conscience and the great desire to do good, Mrs S imagines she too would end up a slave to her lottery winnings.  

As it is, Jesus’s advice to Mrs S, after he told her to get a grip on the Commandments, would be to put down her book and clean the kitchen, to find him in the pots and pans. Mrs S is more comfortable with the theoretical than the concrete and temporal. She has many lofty ideas about organisation and no patience with tidying up. This makes dometicity hard: she bears primary responsibility for the temporal good of her family. She needs to keep them fed and in clean clothes, and in tolerably non-squalid surroundings. She has often told people that her idea of freedom is not having to clean anyone else’s backside. She becomes inexplicably anxious when every day problems intrude in her consciousness. For example her hands are currently shaking and she’s having trouble typing because this afternoon Mr S noticed a mouldy patch on the ceiling of the pantry, and further investigation revealed that there seems to be some kind of leak in the boxed-in pipes behind the bath. So tomorrow she needs to call a plumber. And then it should be fixed. But all she can think is “How much of MY time is this going to take up? Can I give the children baths tonight? Do I need to take everything out of the pantry? When will I find time to really clean the bathrooms upstairs so I’m not embarassed when the plumber shows up?” Truly disproportionate and neurotic. So clearly there is much work to be done in the development of charity, patience, fortitude, generosity, because Mrs S is as miserly with her time and mental energy as the rich young man seems to have been with his material resources. 

At least peripherallly aware of all of this, by the time Mrs S had gotten to grips with temporal matters sufficiently to make herself a drinkable cup of tea, she decided that she was overjoyed that the odds of becoming a saint were as good as one in 20 million, or hopefully better if you don’t mind about being on the calendar, and also that she was very unlikely to have to manage enough money to cause her problems, even if a few good causes would have to look elsewhere for support. She went back to the living room to tell Mr S that the moment she earns a cent from writing she’s hiring a cleaner, because the best will in the world couldn’t compensate for her domestic deficiencies. She needs to free up a bit of energy to devote to sanctity. Those are long odds to beat, and life is short.

  

Potatoes of Penitence

If God has never thrown a potato at you, well, you just aren’t praying in the right way. Of course, the right way, in this case, is a very specific wrong way. One year ago today, or so Mrs S is informed by the Facebook algorithmic powers that be, Mrs S was in a particularly foul mood. She was tired and had a sore back, and was walking home after collecting C from nursery school, pushing N in the stroller, and wondering how she was going to make it the whole mile, with a tired three year old in tow, let alone make another two mile round trip to collect R in a couple hours’ time. To make matters worse, she had no idea what she was going to cook for dinner. Many days Mrs S only perseveres with the day because she is looking forward to dinner. 

As Mrs S walked, she fumed silently. Every idea she came up with seemed perfect, except for one missing ingredient. No tomatoes, or no garlic, or no chicken stock, or, repeatedly, no potatoes. Potatoes! Ugh. She was not going to the grocery store. No way. Not today. She doesn’t even particularly like potatoes. Just a hundred yards from home Mrs S’s internal whining turned into a vulgar sort of praying. “Why, Lord?” she demanded to know, “Why the hell don’t I have any potatoes.” Only, perhaps she didn’t use so genteel or spiritual a word as ‘hell.’ Perhaps it was a bit earthier, a bit more Anglo-Saxon. Suffice it to say it was not her finest spiritual communion. It is one thing to rant and rave to oneself, and to wonder in sweary solitary reverie how to feed one’s offspring without a ready supply of starchy tubers in the larder. It is quite another to curse at the Lord as one bemoans the bareness of the pantry. 

 

The Penitential Potatoes. The small one on the top left found its mark. Things could have been much worse.

 Now, Mrs S has always suspected it was her long-suffering guardian angel who actually took aim, but whatever the mechanism of its flight there was some almighty power behind that potato. It hit her plumb on top of the head and then bounced down to rest between her feet. Mrs S’s gaze flew to the passing tractor with its trailer overflowing of fresh potatoes that was rumbling past. It hit a bump and  four more potatoes landed in front of Mrs S, three of them of menacing proportions. It is a demonstration of the mercy of God that He answered her abominable prayer without killing, or even concussing, her. It is a demonstration of His justice that she had a pounding headache for the rest of the day, and of her reformed and penitential spirit that she didn’t demand to know why the hell that was. The family had a lovely stoved meat pie filled with the leftover Sunday roast and topped with the projectile potatoes, and a great deal of amusement at Mrs S’s expense.

Mrs S remembers being taught that prayer is A.C.T.S., meaning that prayer is adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. “Lord, why the hell don’t I have any potatoes,” does not fall into any of these categories. In an attempt to form them in the faith, Mrs S has simplified the language for the little S children. There are four kinds of prayers you should say, she tells them: ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I love you’. (Incidentally, these are the four cornerstones of healthy familial relations as well.) This underlines the problem with swear-prayers. You might be tempted to think that “Why the hell don’t I have any potatoes?” is supplicatory, but good and proper supplication always starts with ‘please’, not ‘why the hell.’ In short, if you’ve been adoring properly, you’ll get the language right; if you’ve remembered the ‘I love you,’ you probably won’t start with an accusatory curse, no matter to whom you are speaking.

Each family, each domestic church, has its own special feast days, and ways of celebrating them. Some are of broader significance and some are more private affairs. Tomorrow is the feast of the Nativity of Mrs S, and she does not imagine that everyone will be marking the day with sushi and rosé as she intends to, but the S children are all stirred up because there will be presents (and for most children it is as exciting to give a gift to someone beloved as it is to receive) and cheesecake. Special days are good pedagogical tool. Religious holidays come with ready-made lessons, because that’s how the Church calendar was devised: as a microcosm of human experience in relation to God, in a single year. Each day gives us something to think on. You could even say that the Church calendar examines and celebrates the action of God in the world. That is why this year, on the anniversary of the potato pelting, Mrs S instituted a new feast in the calendar of her domestic church: the feast of the Penitential Potatoes. Afterall, seeing one’s mother hit on the head by a potato apparently flung from heaven is one of the more vivid spirtual lessons a child can have. C still remembers it, and R and N  have heard the story, and the explanation. The Feast of the Penitential Potatoes will be like a little lent the day before the great Feast of the Nativity of Mrs S.  On this day of penance they shall dine on potatoes and whatever else is available in the fridge. And if they have not the cheese, or sausages, or beans they wanted, they shall not whine and swear. They shall practice manners and gratitude. They shall be reminded of the universal call to conversion, of the need for repentance and continuing formation in virtue. 

At least, that all seemed like a good idea to Mrs S when she realised that once again on the 22nd of September she had no idea what to cook for dinner. But this time there were potatos in the pantry, and she thought it was best just to get on with cooking and not pester Heaven with the problems she created for herself through her lack of domestic virtue.

But Next Week It Will All Be Homemade, Organic, Sugarfree, Low Carb, Low Salt, Superfoods Served With a Smile

This is a tale of disintigration, both moral and culinary. Mrs S is an appalling housekeeper in most ways, but she has always prided herself on her ability to feed her family good, nutritionally-balanced food, even in difficult or chaotic circumstances of her own making, and in the face of stiff opposition to any meal that doesn’t contain sausages. But pride cometh before the fall as surely as homemade ravioli preceedeth frozen chicken nuggets. Despite the fact that each week she carefully plans menus from which to construct a shopping list, Mrs S’s mental state can accurately be guaged from what actually ends up on the table at dinner time, and indeed which table it lands on (kitchen table=functional adult; coffee table in front of the TV=send wine now). This is Mrs S’s week told through the medium of food. (And for fun, it will be linked in to Simcha Fisher’s weekly ‘What’s for Supper?‘ feature on I Need to Sit Down.)

Saturday: On which day Mrs S sort of made Kedgeree and the S children sort of ate it

 

Kedgeree-ish

 

Kedgeree, for those unfamiliar with the dish, is a mix of rice, smoked fish, the occassional vegetable, and curry flavouring, traditionally served with hard boiled eggs. It originated, Mrs S believes, in British imperial India, and was eaten for breakfast. Mrs S must have been feeling especially bullish regarding her offsprings’ yearning for culinary adventure when she planned this meal, because serving them curried rice with anything sounds lunatic in hindsight. Nevertheless, it was a greatly adapted from the original concept: she sauteed some chopped onions with mild curry powder until soft, then added some uncooked basmati rice and peas (why not?) to coat them in the curry flavouring, and tipped the lot into a cassserole dish, poured over some vegetable stock, placed some haddock fillets (unsmoked, because she is a Philistine) on top, and as a last minute imporvisation topped the fish with lemon slices and covered the whole thing with foil to bake in a medium-hot oven for about an hour. Then she hardboiled some eggs, and warmed some store-brought naan. The result was tasty, thought Mr and Mrs S. N shoved handfuls of it into her mouth (but then, she is the ‘easy’ one); C ate a decent portion (she is the adventurous one), discovering that warm naan dipped in chutney really does the business; R sulked, but was ultimately persuaded that dinner was edible, and could he have more naan please? This is a remarkable result.

Sunday: On which day Mrs S came over all domestic godessy

Mrs S had been looking forward to Sunday’s supper all week, because it was Thai Burgers. This may sound humble, but it is one of the best meals she makes. Everyone loves Thai Burger night. 

Thai Pork Burgers:

Mix by hand a pound and a half of lean ground pork, 3 Tbs Nam Pla (thai fish sauce), 2TBS dark soy sauce, two sticks of finely minced lemon grass (a couple Tbs if you can buy it ready minced), the zest and juice of one lime, a squirt of sriracha or a minced chili or two (optional: wear gloves to mix if using chilli), and a handful or two of breadcrumbs. 

Form into about six burgers and griddle or grill as desired. 

Just a note: Mrs S has discovered that doubling the meat does not require doubling the nam pla and soy sauce. Add a bit more, but don’t overdo it or the burgers will be too salty.

These deeply satisfactory burgers were served on toasted burger buns (except the itsy-bitsy tiny baby burgers Mrs S always makes for the little girls). The perfect condiment is a blend of mayo, sriracha, lime juice and sweet chilli sauce. The children prefer ketchup. Mrs S also prepared a plate of lettuce, tomato and spring onion to garnish the burgers. N ate most of the tomato and spring onion before the rest of the meal was ready. Mrs S always pretends to be aggrieved when the children pilfer fresh veg before dinner, as it seems to encourage them to do so. On the side Mrs S provided steamed broccoli and steamed zucchini, or “Girl food,” as Mr S calls it. 

 

Om nom nom

 
So far, so ordinary, really, but wait: there’s more! Following the S family making utter pigs of themselves, Mrs S brought out the real star of the show: A pear, chocolate and custard tart made with pears from the S’s back garden. Good does not begin to describe it: sublime, unctous, indulgent, and justifying all the smugness Mrs S took forward into the new week.

 

Eat your heart out, Delia Smith.

 
The truly amazing thing is that there were leftovers: Monday’s breakfast made easy. 

Monday: On which day they ate Mexican food made with child labour

“Taco night! It’s taco night! Can I chop the peppers for you, Mommy? Can I chop the tomatos for you, Mommy? Can I put the olives in a bowl? I’ll warm up the soft tacos! Can I grate the cheese? Do we have any MILD salsa?” rang through the house once the children discovered it was in fact taco night. Once it was established that, as a big girl who now goes to school all day C may use a sharp knife to cut the tomatoes, and likewise, R may use one to cut the peppers if he promises to cut AWAY from his fingers and not attempt to amputate them again, (perhaps ‘not attempt again to amputate them’ would better reflect the undire, but slightly bloody, nature of the history referenced.) the children were happy to help. There is no tragic punchline; no fingers were so much as nicked, C was declared the resident ‘tomato chpping expert,’ and Mrs S was content to stir the beef around in the pan and grate the cheese (there are limits to the sharp edges with which she trusts her children). In the end, what was served was milddly spiced beef, soft tacos, chopped tomatos, peppers, and green onion, shredded lettuce, black olives, refried beans, grated sharp (mature) cheese, sour cream, spicy salsa, and super-spicy west-indian chilli sauce (the means by which Mrs S childproofs her food). 

After dinner, as though keen to demonstrate what a superior mother Mrs S really is, the older children read their reading books, and then everybody got ready for bed with a minimum of drama.

Tuesday: On which day they hurriedly ate pasta.

Tuesday was meet-the-teacher night at the children’s school, when parents are invited along to explore the classroom and put make sure they are well-known to the teachers as valuers of education who will broke no nonsense, or something like that. This evening event runs from five to six, which puts a real wrench in the dinner schedule when one routinely puts one’s two and four year old daughters to bed at 6:30. So Mrs S made pasta with a jar of sauce, and they ate at 4:15. She provided two types of grated cheese, and a plate of sliced apples, so clearly she was still making an effort. And it was ready at quarter past four, so clearly she is a prodigy of organisation and timekeeping.

Meet the teacher night was enjoyed by all. Then it started raining as though an ark would be required, the school started to flood, and as the S family was driving home, the fire brigade was arriving to pump out the front office. 

Wednesday:  On which day Mr S had requested turkey escalopes
These woud be called turkey cutlets by many Americans. The idea is: thin slices of turkey breast, breaded, lightly fried, served with mashed potatos, carrots, peas, maybe some corn, maybe creamed spinach. 

Actually, it turned out Mrs S didn’t have any potatos, so she made rice, cooked in chicken stock, which the children refused to eat. (Philistines.) She peeled and chopped carrots, put them in the microwave, and then forgot to cook them. This turned out not really to matter, as she couldn’t remember what the four stages of breading turkey are. Milk, flour, egg, breadcrumb, she now knows (She only cooks this dish two or three times a month, whyever would it be etched in her brain?), but the children kept arguing and changing the CD she was listening to, and leaving toys right behind her to be tripped over, and she had gotten out only three plates for the necesssary ingredients, and could not recall why. (It turns out that this is because the turkey comes from the butcher’s, and is brought home in a plastic bag, into which she can just slosh a bit of milk, saving the need for a fourth plate…but life by Wednesday Mrs S was only just a functional adult, and could not be expected to remember everything). Meanwhile, C couldn’t find her reading journal for school, N wanted a snack, and R was in a mood because he wanted to watch TV, but hadn’t done his reading book yet, so couldn’t. Then Mrs S remembered to cook the carrots. Then she managed to get the girls to stop changing the music and just dance to Adele like good middle class children. Then she breaded the turkey and cooked it. Then she remembered her intention to provide more than one vegetable, and opened a tin of creamed corn (which Mr S and C both regard as quite the special treat). In the end they ate delicious turkey cutlets, slightly crunchy carrots, a bit of corn, and “not the rice we like.” And all of that wasn’t ready until 5:45, which is late for the S children, though early to the rest of the world. At 6pm, in the midst of intensive negotiations regarding vegetable consumption (“But you all LIKE carrots! No you may not have a treat! Finish your veg!”) she looked at the clock, realised it was still two hours until the Great British Bakeoff was on, and almost burst into tears, despite not usually caring whether she saw the show or not. It was all so very sad.

Bedtime was a disaster, being slightly later than normal, but eventually the children were in bed, and Mrs S made herself a coffee, spiked with amaretto. Unfortunately, she forgot that, the time being 8pm, she needed to switch to decaf, and instead of being soothed and gruntled, got the shakes.

Thursday: On which day the girls ate pasta in front of the TV

Mrs S rather overdid the caffeine on Thursday. R was having his supper at a friends’s house, and C was particularly exhausted as she neared the end of her first full week in fulltime school. So Mrs S made the girls Cheesy-Peasy Pasta and let them eat it while watching Frozen. 

Cheesy-Peasy Pasta (the easiest mac-n-cheese on the planet)

Boil some pasta. Reserve about half a cup of the water before draining. Return to pan over low heat and add a couple spoonfuls of cream cheese (soft cheese), a couple handfuls of grated cheese, and a small bowl full of cooked peas (optional; bits of ham or bacon or chicken can go in too. Or not. we’re not trying to win Michelin stars here…). Stir to melt cheese. Add the pasta water a Tbs at a time to get the right slack, creamy texture. Season with a bit of black pepper, and salt if you’re a complete nutter. At the end, if it’s on hand in the fridge, Mrs S often adds a Tbs or two of sour cream, which makes this dish wonderfully creamy. Do as you like. This is a dish for days when you can barely form coherent words, or just need the kids to be in bed 15 minutes ago, so no one will judge you on faithful adherence to recipes.

Around eight o’clock when the children were asleep, Mrs S recalled that she hadn’t actually made anything for herself and Mr S, which would explain why the latter looked decidedly grumpy. So she made more pasta and stirred in some tomato and chilli pesto (from a jar, of course). She asked Mr S if he wanted her to grate some cheese. He looked terrified and spoke not a word. So she asked again, more sharply. 

“I don’t know the right answer, and I don’t want to get in trouble!” the 6’4″ mountain of a man cried. Mrs S stomped off to grate the cheese.

Friday: On which day dinner came from the freezer.

Frozen fishcakes, frozen chips (fries), frozen peas and corn: cooked according to packet instructions, served with immoderate amounts of ketchup, in front of the TV. This required a herculean effort to accomplish. (A single thing to note in Mrs S’s defense: Fridays are called ‘Feet-Up Friday’ in the S household: they always eat in front of the TV on that day of the week. They tell the children it’s a treat, but really it’s inducement to get them to actually clean up all the kid-related mess that acccumulates in the living room during the week.)

The only addition to this compendium of convenience food was pretty little cakes from the bakery. This is becasue when Mrs S arrived to pick R and C up from school, C marched out at the front of the Reception (Kindergarten) class wearing a crown with the words “Star of the Week” emblazoned accross the front. The little girl’s grin was so large the corners of it disappeared under her crown. The teaching assistant told Mrs S how good and hardworking C had been all week. C then piped up to say “But that’s not why Mrs L [the teacher] said I was Star of the Week! We have to be good and work hard all the time, no matter what. Mrs L said I’m Star of the Week for being a kind and gentle friend!” And Mrs S figured that deserved celebratory cakes.  

Then the children were in bed, and Mrs S had showered and put on her pyjamas by the time the Rugby World Cup kicked off at 8pm. Mrs S was too tired to open any wine. Too tired for wine! Hopefully she will recover.

Take the Children to Church, No Matter What They’re Flinging

Yesterday, as on every Sunday, Mrs and Mr S took the children to mass. Church attendance is non-negotiable in the S household. Illness and misadventure are the only excuses for missing a week. Anything else can be rescheduled. This is not to say that mass with three children, aged two, four and six, is a deeply spiritual experience. Even when the children are good it’s not by chance, but through the exhausting efforts of their parents. The last time any of Mrs S’s neurons vibrated in prayer during mass was probably the second of August when she was at mass at a conference in Oxfordshire and the children were tormenting the S-in-laws in Buckinghamshire. Be that as it may, the fact remains that children do not learn to behave in church by staying at home. So the S children go to church. 

Not everyone is happy to see young children at church, and to these people Mrs S has vociferously defended parents who bring barely-civilised hoodlums into this sacred space: how else are they to show them the importance of religious practice? Parents are the first teachers of the faith, and they have an obligation to bring their children to mass. Sunday worship is not just about personal contact with God, it is a matter of justice to the Creator. In short, it doesn’t matter if you get nothing out of it (and parents should expect to get nothing out of it for at least ten years and likely longer, because they will be far too busy looking after their children). Sunday obligation is not about having good or powerful feelings: it’s about doing what is right. Of course, within certain tolerances, parents should ensure the good behaviour of their children, and, if possible, remove them if they are uncontrollably disruptive; but some wiggling, baby babble, and quiet conversations between parent and child concerning the mass should be tolerated. There should be no loud toys, no buffet of crunchy food in crinkly packets, no running naked & screaming (or even clothed & screaming) down the aisle without swift and draconian repercussions. Cuddly toys and simple books for the tiny ones are fine. Bribes are expedient. (After-mass donuts are the accepted currency in the US; in the UK biscuits/cookie seem to be the norm.) When there is a lone parent grappling with a pack of children who, having separated the doe from the herd, are circling her like irreverent, screeching and dancing wolves going for the kill — death by social humiliation — allowances have to be made, even if the wolves start howling naked in the aisle. If they’re still doing it as teenagers, then you may judge. In the meantime, if the children of others offend you during mass, offer it up. Pray for the grace of imperviousness to distraction. Stay after mass to pray in silence. Find a different mass to attend. Befriend a struggling parent and offer to help, since you are clearly an expert in such matters. Jesus knows you’re there. Be at peace.

So, to the dismay of some members of the congregation, the S children go to church. This week Mrs S was feeling smug, because none of them were howling naked in the aisles and R, now six and a half, was even following along with the readings in the mass book. 

“Cleary,” Mrs S thought, as she knelt for the consecration, “the children are so good because I am a good and worthy parent, unlike those other parents with little monsters…” 

This made the Lord chuckle, and He guided two-year-old N’s hands to a fascinating little pouch in her mother’s handbag. N took out said pouch and, tugging at the zipper, exerted rather more force than was required. The pouch flew out of her hands, and the venerable ninety-three-year-old woman kneeling one row back was pelted with a large number of brightly-wrapped tampons.  This created a dilemma: when an unsuspecting elderly parishioner has just been assaulted with feminine hygiene products, does one pretend to be deep in prayer and remain kneeling; apologise, even during this most sacred part of the liturgy; or scramble around the pew to tidy up? Fortunately, four-year-old C took the initiative and returned the items to Mrs S’s bag. 

N, who it must be said is a child possessed of a quiet dignity but a carrying voice, waited for a pause in the words of institution and then said sombrely to the victim of the flying tampons: “I sorry. Those for Mommy’s bottom.”

Mrs S considered that perhaps she had been hasty in her insistence that parents of young children should not expect to get anything out of the Sunday church. It appears there is always soul-enriching humiliation on offer. Embrace it, parents! For the sake of your children’s souls, embrace it!

No Cause for Alarm

As she writes this, Mrs S’s nerves are raw, strained and jangled. If you would like to gain some insight into her state, you could try turning on an alarm clock, or, better yet, six of them, and just letting them beep, on full volume, the whole time you read this post. Make sure you have your windows open so that the neighbors can join you, involuntarily, in this exercise.

On Sunday morning the S family was woken by the muffled, but nonetheless piercing, sound of a house alarm. It went on for a few minutes, then stopped, then started again a while later, and repeated at random intervals as they dressed and prepared to go to Mass. Of course, thanks to the thick walls of their early Edwardian house, and the fact that the alarm was sounding outside, the S family was unaware that it was their own house alarm, and were collectively wondering what was wrong with the neighbors to just let the nuisance continue like that. It had gone quiet by the time they left for church. Apparently that silence didn’t last. When they returned after Mass and discovered that it was in fact the alarm on their own house that was disturbing the neighborhood they were doubly surprised: first because of the catastrophic failure of their powers of observation; and second because the noisome speaker was from an old system that they believed to have been disconnected when the house was remodelled and the system updated almost five years earlier. Never mind that no one had turned the alarm on, that there had been no break-in, and there were no sensors remaining to be triggered by spiders and the like, snipped into its constituent parts, as they believed it had been, how on earth was the blooming thing going off at all? 

And how were they going to turn it off? They had to get it turned off before the neighbors arrived en masse with torches and pitchforks. Ah-ha! Cut the power. Mr S went to the fuse box and switched off the electricity. Perhaps they should have mentioned to the children, who they had parked in front of the TV, that they were about to do this. But they didn’t.  The TV went off. The kids went off on one. The alarm continued to go off. Clearly it is a zombie alarm, Mrs S thought. Clearly it is wired directly into the mains, Mr S stated. 

Climb up and pull it off the wall, Mrs S suggested. Mr S said it was too high: two stories up. Their ladder would only reach one. Mrs S put an urgent request for a tall ladder to her local facebook friends. There was no immediate response. She went next door to ask to borrow a ladder, if one was available. No one was home. Well, at least those neighbors wouldn’t be braying for blood.

The code. What was the code? WHERE was the code? It was on a piece of paper…somewhere. Who keeps a code for a disconnected alarm system? Well, maybe it was in with the instructions. Who keeps the instructions to an old alarm system? 

Fortunately, Mr S does.

 It took a while to find them. It took longer to find anything helpful in them, but Mr and Mrs S did locate a handwritten set of instructions from the previous owner entitled ‘If the alarm goes off.’ Sadly, that was the only line that was easily decipherable amongst the crossed out and rewritten chicken scratches. However, they cobbled together what appeared to be the procedure, and the code, and went upstairs to try it. No luck. None. Then the phone rang and Mr S was reminded of an appointment he had, and was now late for. So he left.

Mrs S was now alone in a situation that consisted of no fewer than five elements she usually refuses, on principle, to deal with:

  1. Loud, unmelodious noises
  2. Technological elements more complex than a lever or inclined plane
  3. Children insistently spouting advice concerning problems of which they have no knowledge and several incorrect opinions
  4. Situations that appear to defy the laws of physics and the most basic principle of cause and effect
  5. A high liklihood of being lynched by the neighbors 

She spent several minutes typing in possible variations of what appeared to be written in the instructions. Once or twice the alarm seemed to respond, but then it would display the message BATT FLT and resume blaring. Mrs S called Mr S to say, triumphantly, she thought it was a problem with the battery. Mr S said he knew that. Mrs S demanded to know why he hadn’t told her, and was he going to pick up a new battery on the way home. Mr S said he thought he had told her and that the battery was not of the kind readily purchased from the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon, and he really did need to go. Mrs S went back to pushing buttons with vengeful fingers.

Then N announced that she needed a new nappy (diaper), which seemed a good excuse to just give up. While Mrs S was changing the child downstairs in the living room, a police officer peered in the side window. Mrs S waved him to the front door, and then went out to see him, preparing her defense against the inevitable noise complaints. 

“We are TRYING to shut it down! It’s malfunctioning!” she led with. 

As it turned out, two officers passing on patrol had heard the noise (as if it could be avoided) and were just making sure that everything was OK. “Can’t you see it’s not!” Mrs S wanted to wail, but didn’t, for she knew that “everything is fine” was shorthand for “I’m not being held at knifepoint whilst my home is ransacked,” which was the information the strong, adventurous and unsettlingly handsome young officers were really after. The officers suggested turning off the power. They suggested calling the alarm company. They found it amusing that the alarm had not been under contract in six and a half years, and had in fact been disconnected five years ago, and was still screaming away in paranoia. “Check the battery connections,” was their parting suggestion. Mrs S wanted to fling herself at their feet and beg them not to leave. They didn’t seem able to fix the problem, but they added a certain aesthetic value to proceedings that she had not thought the Hertfordshire constabulary had to offer. Her sense of dignity prevailed. Off they went to finish their patrol.

Mrs S went upstairs to do battle with the battery. As she was trying to wiggle her finger down one side to check that the wires connecting the twelve-volt brick were secure, giving no thought to the risk of electrocution because at that point it might have brought welcome relief, the battery was suddenly dislodged, slid down the case with a thump, and the alarm stopped mid-whoop. Victory! After twenty minutes of silence (disturbed only by vivid descriptions from R of the headache he had had all day) Mrs S called Mr S to gloat. He was pleased, but not as impressed as she would have wished.

All was well for the next four hours until, in an uncharacteristically timely attempt to right the chaos created by getting to the alarm box and accessing the  battery, Mrs S decided to screw the cover back on the box while the children got ready for bed. Thirty seconds later the alarm went off again. The children went nuts, Mrs S burst into tears, or at least wanted to, and Mr S went to pry the cover off again. The doorbell rang and Mr S ran downstairs to apologise to whatever neighbor it was. Mrs S knocked the battery about and pressed a few numbers.

Then everything changed. The alarm continued to sound, but Mr S came upstairs with news, not of impending police action or threats of violence, but of charity. The next door neighbors had rushed over to make sure everyone was alright. They were not angry. They offered to take the children next door so Mr and Mrs S could attend fully to the problem. As Mr S described the conversation the alarm stopped of its own accord. Mr S took the cover out of the room so that no one could be tempted to put it back on (and, Mrs S thought, so that the zombie alarm would not catch sight of it and start panicking again). Mrs S finished putting the children to bed and Mr S went next door to thank the neighbors for their concern and reassure them that the situation seemed to be resolved. He returned with one more kind offer: 

“They said if it goes off in the middle of the night and the children can’t sleep that we should all come next door and sleep at theirs, even if it’s three in the morning, and that they will be upset if we don’t take them up on that,” he reported. 

He also said that the neighbors recommended total destruction of the speaker — by hammer or any available means — as soon as a tall ladder could be procured. Mrs S vowed to bake them a cake. It is so pleasant to discover that one’s neighbors are more charitable than one is disposed to be onseself.

Such was the saga of the zombie alarm. If you thought it was lengthy to read, try it in real time. (You may turn off your alarm clocks now, by the way. Isn’t that better?) It is always unfortunate when such pointless problems consume a great deal of our time, and leave us too jangled to cope with more important matters, and suffering from tinnitus to boot. It’s not the same as real and urgent suffering, but it certainly prevented Mrs S from accomplishing anything worthy that day. And this general trend of time-consuming triviality continued. But there is not time now to describe why, on Monday morning, Mr and Mrs S were obliged to disassemble the refrigerator. Suffice it to say that it (eventually) ended well, that Mr S derives profound satisfaction from voiding manufacturers’ warranties, and that Mrs S might have coped better without the previous day’s drama. 

Still, once a tall ladder is procured, it’s going to be terrific fun to bludgeon the inexplicable life out of the zombie alarm speaker.

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.

Tigers don’t eat chocolate

R, a boy of six, and C, his sister, were deep in conversation as their supper went cold on their plates.

“If I was a lion I would eat zebras,” C declared.

“Yes,” her older brother agreed. “I would eat lots of zebras every day if I was a lion.”  

Of course both children say ‘zeh-bra’, not ‘zee-bra’, and Mrs S has unresolved feelings about this.

“Lion, RAAAAAWR!” growled N, the youngest, determined not to be left out of the conversation. After all, she is two years old now, and that is almost twenty-nine.

“Eat your dinner,” said Mr S, scraping his pate clean. ‘It’s made of pigs.”

“Piggy. OINK!” N informed her family sagely.

“Is this this rice I like?” C asked, poking at it.

“Have you tried it yet?” asked Mrs S.

“Yes,” said C.

“Did you like it?” asked Mrs S.

“Yes,” replied C.

“Then it’s the rice you like.”

“How much of my dinner do I have to eat to have a treat?” R asked.

“All of it,” said Mr S.

“Eat all your meat and the bushy tops of your broccoli,” Mrs S said.

“I don’t want my rice,” said C.

“Kitty Cat. Meow-Meow!” N announced.

“You need to keep eating,” said Mrs S.

“Just four bites, because I am four,” said C.

Mrs S assessed the food left on her middle child’s plate. “Four proper bites,” she qualified.

“I’m finished,” R said, setting down his fork.

“N finished too! Treat!” demanded the two-year-old.

“You have to eat your dinner first,” Mrs S said.

“If I was a tiger I would eat…” C stopped to think.

“Birdies. Tweet tweet!” N suggested. 

“I’m finished,” R repeated.

“Broccoli,” Mrs S said, provoking a soul-rending sigh from her son, who picked up his fork again.

“Tigers don’t eat birdies,” said C.

“Chocolate,” N said.

“Tigers DON’T eat chocolate!” C laughed.

“Daddy! Chocolate!” N said again, directing her request to her father with great emphasis.

“Eat your dinner first,” Mr S said. Mrs S picked up N’s fork and began to feed the stir fry to the little girl.

“Mommy do airplane. Neeeyow!” N said, and Mrs S flew the aerobatic-equipped fork into the toothy hangar with impressive sound effects.

Briefly, the mouths of all three children were filled with food, meaning that whatever they were saying was too inarticulate to be recorded here. During this moment, seeing that plates were being emptied, Mr S got up to fetch a chocolate biscuit (cookie) for each child, and Mrs S tried to remember if the dishwasher was empty or full, and if full, if it was clean or dirty. She imagined she might have the energy to load it up with the dinner dishes if it was empty. If it needed unloading first, however, she was reluctant to commit. Sure, she had the energy now, but there were still three kids to get into pajamas and off to bed. And as soon as the kids were sent upstairs to change and brush their teeth, however cheerfully they went, and however eager they were to hear a bedtime story, watch a bit of TV and snuggle up with Mommy and Daddy before going off to sleep, they would bicker, slam doors, and run around as though possessed. After ten minutes, when nobody was changed or had clean teeth, they would roll around on the floor in shrieking at the injustice threatened: no books, no tv, no songs, straight to bed. If Mrs S bellows loudly enough they will suddenly grasp the gravity of the situation and be downstairs, all correct and minty, in under ninety seconds. Mrs S thought the whole drama could be avoided if, instead if sending them upstairs with calm and cheerful instructions, she just stood over them from the get go, and barked like a drill sergeant: “Upstairs NOW! Jammies! Teeth! Or there will be NO nice things at bedtime!” But hope always won out, the wild fantasy that tonight would be the night when they filed upstairs in an orderly fashion, undressed, put their clothes IN THE LAUNDRY BASKET (INCLUDING SOCKS!!!), put on their jammies, brushed their teeth, and arrived back downstairs in approximately five minutes, without stopping to jump on the bed or slam a siblings fingers in the door. And she would ask nicely.  

Of course on this night that approach was once again utterly ineffective. After food was finished it was twenty minutes before the children were ready, another twenty-five before the girls were in bed, and a further twenty before the firstborn was tucked in.  

Mrs S didn’t load the dishwasher.  But she did drink some homemade limoncello, and tried to forget about the dirty dishes in the sink.  Mr S offered her some chocolate, but Mrs S demured.  She cannot mix alcohol with sweets without feeling sick to her stomach.  She told Mr S she doubted tigers had this problem.  He looked at her oddly.  He has a tendency to tune out when the children are babbling about the theoretical diets of animals they are not.  “Do tigers drink limoncello?” he asked, in a tone that implied he wasn’t really listening to himself either.  Clearly he finds the theoretical diets of animals not in his care a dull topic, no matter who brings it up.

“I don’t know, but I’m told they don’t eat chocolate,” Mrs S said.

An hour later, as Mr and Mrs S watched the end of romantic comedy-drama Mrs S was ashamed to be enjoying, C came downstairs in tears, because if she was a tiger she really would still want to eat chocolate.