Accidentally stepping on a landmine of curiosity

I am walking to school with E. Seeing as I spend my entire day walking to and from school – okay, maybe not all, maybe just a seemingly ridiculous large proportion of it – we are building up quite a repertoire of games and conversational topics to pass the time.

This morning’s first topic up for discussion was gates. I know. I bet you just wish you could join us for those fifteen glorious minutes filled with sparkling repartee about such matters. This subject matter was not so much helping the time pass as making each step seem like a Herculean effort of mental and physical stamina, but I rarely get to choose what we talk about.

Yesterday, for example, E thought up a game. The rules were, he explained, that he would think of a colour and I would have to guess what it was. No clues, nothing.

“Green?” I asked immediately. A pretty safe bet, given that it is his favourite colour.

“Yes,” he replied, and that was the end of that round. I could barely see straight for the excitement of it all.

“Guess again, mummy, I have a new colour.”

“Blue?”

“Yes.” Christ, any more of this high-octane guessing game and I may well lose control of my bowels. Or the will to live, I hadn’t quite decided yet.

“Three-nil to me, mummy, you’re losing.” I learned long ago never to interrogate my son on the logic of his scoring system. Therein lies madness. This is a boy who can lose eight rounds of I-Spy in a row and still confidently declare he has twenty-three points and is therefore victor, replete with a resounding ‘nar-nar-na-nar-nar’ and a fist-pump.

“Guess again.”

“Red?”

“No.”

“Black?”

“No.”

Are we nearly there yet? Bugger. Still a good five minutes to go.

“Orange?” Please let it be orange. Please can we play something else? Anything else. Even drain counting, which was last week’s favourite, a game that redefined the notion of ‘the shittiest way to lose ten minutes of your life’. Even that seemed preferable at this juncture.

“No.”

Ask me a few years ago if conversing with a five year old would be tricky, and I would have laughed in your face. Ask me now… yes, go on, ask me. What’s it like conversing with a five year old, you ask? Well, I am not bloody laughing now. It’s like being dropped into hostile territory with no compass, only a few words of the local lingo and a distinct sense of unease that there is an ambush waiting for you round that next bend.

“What walks faster, mummy, a snail or a slug?” exploded into my face last week, as I accidentally stepped on a landmine of curiosity on the walk home from school.

“Errr…well…”

Luckily, E is getting quite used to my inability to provide answers, and so more often than not doesn’t wait for me to reply.

“I think it’s a slug, as a snail has to carry his shell which would slow him down,” he confidently stated.

Now why can’t he apply that level of logic to his scoring system? I might stand a chance of one day actually winning one of our bloody games.

“Unless the slug had been to Tesco, in which case he might be slower, carrying all that shopping,” I say, to amuse him.

He glances up at me but quite rightly, does not dignify me with a response. I think I am going to have to start reading the encyclopaedia to cope with our school-walk conversations.

Anyway, back to the thrilling topic of gates. The issue is, I am not really at my articulative peak at 8.30 in the morning; these days, my brain seems to reach operational temperature about one minute before lunch and starts to cool rapidly five minutes later.

We talked about how gates are used around building sites, and what they are made of. I scratch around in my brain, overturning dusty boxes marked ‘to file’ to try and find something, anything, that I could say about gates. But there was nothing.

“Say something else about gates, mummy,” E asked. I must be such a disappointment as a mother, what with my utter failure to have anything fascinating to say about hinged barriers.

Then we walked past a house with a purple gate. I hate that purple gate, always have. I find it offensive on the eye. But at that point, I was thrilled to see it.

“Ooh, yes, some gates can be purple…” even as the words left my mouth I knew I had hit an all-time conversational low from which I may never recover.

“Mummy,” E asked as we left the purple gate behind us, “can we not talk about gates again?”

I exhale loudly with relief.

E smiles. “So, let’s play guess the colour. I am thinking of a colour…”


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