We are trundling along the road when E stops.
“Look at that car, mummy,” he says excitedly.
Boys and their cars: there seems to be some irrefutable genetic imperative at work here. This boy thing – to look at cars, to turn a bent twig into a gun (“It shoots a hundred, mummy,” he informs me, just in case I was not aware that he was in possession of quite such an impressive killing stick), to jump around roaring with his fist in the air like some kind of Simba / Superman hybrid – is a fairly recent development. It was not that long ago that he stated pink was his favourite colour and was as likely to want to play with his friend’s toy pushchair than a car. Now, he crinkles his nose and contemptuously proclaims “ugh, that’s a girl’s toy,” when he sees an advert for a doll. His criteria for a toy these days is roughly how much damage it can inflict, how many cars it can contain or how fast he can make it go.
“Look,” he repeats. I follow the line of the stick… sorry, gun, and see a red convertible sitting in someone’s drive.
“Lovely,” I reply.
“What’s that funny roof?” I got up at 5am this morning due to my younger son not wishing to remain lying down for a moment longer whilst there was poo in his nappy, and I can barely summon the energy to zip up my boots, let alone answer Why questions, but I take a deep breath. The trick is to give just enough information to satisfy him, but not so much that it provokes another question. Here goes.
“It’s a special type of roof that folds back, so that when the sun comes out you can drive without a roof.” Hmmm, I don’t think I shall come out of this unscathed.
“Why?” Damn. “Errr…” Yes, come to think of it, why did someone think that having no roof on a car was a good idea? They don’t think it would be a good idea on a house, for fuck’s sake. Or a train. There’d be a newspaper tornado and that double mocha latte wouldn’t last the distance.
“… because it’s fun.” My explanation hangs lamely in the air as we start to walk again, and for one glorious moment I think that the conversation has ended. Then E stops again. Buggar.
“Mummy, when the person who owns that car dies, can we have it?”
Shit. This, I was not expecting. Double shit. How did we get here for Christ’s sake? We were quite happily having an utterly pointless conversation about a convertible and somehow we have managed to stumble into the terrifying territory of having to try and explain the concept of bequeathing your possessions to your loved ones when you die. Who the fuck mentioned death to him? Oh yes, that was me, Parent of the Year 2012.
I clear my throat. “Who told you that people give other people their things when they die?” I try to be casual and dismissive, to make out that this is definitely not a Big Thing, or a Naughty Thing, whilst I ascertain quite what he knows about it. Obviously, I need to work a lot harder at parental nonchalance – he gives me a sideways glance and then just shrugs. A shrug that says quite clearly I can ban television for a month, withhold all chocolate treats, or push Play Mobil firemen up his nostrils, but he is not going to answer that question.
So I plough on. “You’re right, poppet. When someone dies, they will leave a list of who they want to have all their things, because they don’t need them any…” Hang on, back up, back up, this is veering toward the conversation about where people go when they die, and that is one explanation I am not about to attempt. The greatest minds in science and religion have spent millennia pondering this knotty conundrum, I am not about to start attempting to explain it to a four year old twenty minutes before Tesco shuts.
“…so they give them to their friends and family.”
We walk a bit further in silence. I shoot him a quick look to see his reaction to what I have just said. Does he look sad? Bloody hell, is he thinking about us dying? I am going to have to work hard to allay his fears, I do not want him burdened by such thoughts. We walk a few more paces, as I mentally berate myself for my utter idiocy in ever mentioning the D word. I look at E again and he is frowning intently. Shit. He has obviously taken it to heart and is struggling to come to terms with it all.
“So,” he says finally. “When that person dies, can we have that red car then?”