It is E’s bedtime. We have got through the entire process, from turning the television off to reading books without a hitch, a tantrum or a whine. In fact, as I was running the bath, E came up the stairs, informed me that he had turned the television off and was ready to get in the bath. I nearly fell down the toilet with amazement and briefly pondered the likelihood that during Jungle Junction, E had been abducted by aliens who had left his much better-behaved clone behind. Fingers crossed.
So I am tucking him in, and lay my head on the pillow next to his. I am feeling more than a tad smug about my suddenly impeccable parenting skills (obviously his good behaviour has nothing to do with E himself, it is simply a by-product of my super-parenting).
“Don’t do this,” he says sternly, theatrically inhaling an exhaling several times.
“What, don’t breathe?” I ask.
“Yes, don’t breathe mummy.”
And then I say something so spectacularly stupid, so utterly wrong, that even as the words are falling from my mouth I am recoiling in horror at my own idiocy: “But if I don’t breathe, I’ll die.”
The words linger in the small space between my face and his. Now I am bloody well holding my breath, sending a hurried prayer to the god of deafness that he did not hear what I had just said. What sort of a dim-witted parent mentions death three minutes before sleep? Oh yes, that’ll be me then. Fucking well done me. A huge great bombshell of a thought, exploding across the duvet. Go to the bottom of the parenting class. In fact, don’t. Stand outside the classroom with a sodding great hat on my head marked with a D and await further punishment.
There is a long pause. I start to hum, as if some tuneless rendition of Bob the Builder will distract him from the question that is forming in his head. I am so desperate to avoid the inevitable, that I nearly offer him some chocolate buttons.
“Why will you die if you don’t breathe?” he finally asks.
“Well…” Give me bloody strength. Pass that can of worms please, I don’t think it’s open enough yet. “Because your body needs the air that you breathe to live.” Every sodding thing I say seems to be an invitation to ask thirty more questions. I glance at the clock.
“Why?” Oh, the joy to be had when a toddler utters that word. A few weeks ago, I counted fifteen ‘whys’ in a row before I ran out of lies and had to lock him in the shed.
“Your lungs need air to make your body work…” Yes, that is exactly what is called for. A biology lesson. The perfect accompaniment to the autumn-term module Musings on Death.
“So if I hold my breath…will I die?”
Damn you and the irrefutable logic of a four year old.
“No darling. You can hold your breath for a long, long time before you die.” Am I ever going to bloody stop mentioning death to my son? “You can hold your breath underwater when you swim and not die.” There’s that word again. I really must stop it.
“So can I swim to Africa holding my breath?”
I feel the inexorable trickle of life force leaving my body through a unspecified orifice.
Err… probably not, no.”
“Can I swim to Australia holding my breath?”
Fucking hell, this could go on for some time.
“You can hold your breath for as long as you want, you will not die.” Oh, I seem to have mentioned dying for the fourth time in one minute.
He looks at me for a while, then pulls the duvet up under his chin.
“Night night, mummy.”
I leave the room, wondering just how long it will be before my son wakes up sweating and screaming, clawing at his throat for air, screaming ‘I’m going to die! Help me!”.
Parenting skills? I fear I may be excluded and sent to the woodwork class instead. Ah well. Anyone need a tree mug?