We are reading a bed time book, slowly. Long gone are the days that I have the time or the energy to explore every page, first reading the words as they have been written, then adding my own often educationally-enriching embellishments (“Oh, doesn’t the squirrel look happy in his nest… which is called a drey, by the way,”), then pointing out interesting things in the accompanying illustrations (“Can you see the fly on the cow’s tail? The cow looks very annoyed!”). That particular halcyon vision of pro-active parenting has slowly been eroded in the face of day-end fatigue, the impending household chores still awaiting me downstairs and the lure of an evening free from Fireman Sam, sticker charts and songs about bogeys. Now I am thrilled to get through the two books without interruption, deviation or repetition. I have even been known on the odd occasion when it is getting late to engage in a small amount of sleight of hand and turn over two pages at once. Paul bloody Daniels has nothing on me when there is a glass of wine and dinner waiting for me downstairs.
But tonight, E is in one of his questioning moods, and as the turn of a page reveals a rocket, he asks: “Is the moon on this planet?”
I break off from the story and pause. My brain pursues two thoughts: How to explain the moon and the planets simply to a three year old, versus: how can I satisfy his curiosity in the quickest time possible and get him into bed without further questions about the solar system that I am woefully under-qualified to answer?
“No, the moon is not on this planet. It spins round the Earth.”
I know this will not be a satisfactory answer and I quickly recommence the story, tapping the page to try and divert his attention away from the topic of astronomy.
“Why does it spin?” Oh bloody hell. Where is Brian Cox when you need him?
“I don’t really know,” I reply. E looks at me. It is hard not to interpret his slightly disappointed look as further realisation that his mummy is less font-of-all-knowledge and towering-edifice-of-answers-to-everything and more slightly crummy-comprehensively-educated-dimwit.
“And anyway,” he continues, no doubt storing away his parental-induced disillusionment ready to be brought up again as Evidence Number 32c in an argument ten years from now, “who does make all the pavements?”
Brilliant. We are now literally and metaphorically back on safe ground and I sigh with relief. I can bullshit my way round the process of paving slabs, concrete and kerbs as good as the next parent, throwing in workmen, hard hats and cement mixers along the way with gay abandon. It is as I am drawing some parallels between this and his builders set downstairs, replete with jack hammer and tarmac, that I realise I have been duped. I don’t think E is remotely interested in the manufacture of pavements. He is simply interested in not finishing the story book, thus not being made to get into bed. Damnation. We should have stuck to the solar system. I’d have been a third of a way through my glass of red by now.