I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those pictures of little kids all dressed merrily in white, sitting very still and smelling daisies or something equally inane as that? Well, in case you’ve been taken in by the nicey-nicey, lovey-dovey impression these pictures create, let me tell you something – it doesn’t happen in real life. It’s a set-up. Yes, accept it and move away from that rail of white kiddies’ clothes that tempts you so much. One, children don’t sit long enough to smell flowers; they squeeze them, they mutilate them, they scrunch them up. They do not smell them. Two, no child under twelve can wear white for more than five minutes without something being spilled down it.
For mothers, too, white is an option that can be shelved for at least ten years. I don’t know how exactly it all happens, but it is a foregone conclusion that by the end of the day, you will be covered in everything from mashed banana and yoghurt to mud to some strange sort of yellow sticky stuff whose origin cannot be fathomed.
Believe me, many is the time I have thought of inventing a range of clothes in plastic. Good plastic, mind you. Not Shoprite plastic bag plastic, but something thick and strong and durable. And fashionable. It’s the last bit that’s got me stumped. For the moment, that is, but when I make that breakthrough, I’m gonna be rich, rich, rich.
My other great plan is to make toys that kids actually play with. Real cell phones and car keys, for instance. Not these plastic things that they’re not fooled with for a moment. Except that that probably wouldn’t work either as there’s only one thing children want and that’s what you have.
Children learn very early on what you use and what you don’t use, what you value and what you don’t value. So it’s no use giving your five year old daughter a bag full of old make-up and declaring brightly, ‘And this special make up is just for you!’ It won’t work. She’ll be suspicious the moment you hand it over. The best things come at a price, they’re not just given to you, especially not with kisses and hugs and assurances that ‘now you’re just like Mommy.’ That’s boring. What’s far more exciting for her is stealing your Revlon $50 wonder out of your bag – that one that everyone says suits you to a T, and the one that you’ll either never be able to afford again or you have discovered has disappeared from the market – and painting not just her lips, but her entire face with it – and that of her baby sister.
This problem applies to food as well. Picture this: you’re in a restaurant ordering a meal. You read out the menu and make a suggestion. ‘I think you’d like a hamburger for lunch.’
‘No. I want chips.’
‘Chips and what else?’
So you order yourself a delicious plate of creamy cannelloni and get the brat a plate of chips. Of course, we all know what’s going to happen: the food arrives, the brat looks longingly over at you tucking into your food with unrestrained glee and says, ‘I want some. What didn’t you buy me some.’ And so you end up eating a plate of chips and maybe a couple of pieces of cannelloni that didn’t quite make the grade: those that were chewed up and unceremoniously spat out.
This scenario applies in particular to dessert. Look, we know we’d all like our kids to love fruit salad and turn their noses up at warm chocolate brownies covered in gooey chocolate sauce and served with a dollop of ice cream. But, let’s face it, it’s not going to happen. In particular, this doesn’t happen when you have ordered a brownie and they have a bowl of fruit salad. It starts off with, ‘Can I try a little bit of yours?’ and suddenly you’re eating soggy bananas in tinned syrup while they’re wolfing down your only source of sanity and delight the day has to offer. Even worse is when they’ve ordered one of those smooth, wobbly crème brulees, that slithers down your throat at the same time that you’re trying not to vomit it up. The best way to handle this situation is to prevent it happening in the first place. Top Tip: make sure your children order something you’d like. Better still, order the same thing.
This belief that what’s yours is mine, begins with keys, cell phones and stationery – how many times has YOUR pen been used to decorate YOUR notebook? - and continues, I’m told, with cars, clothes and audio equipment. I haven’t got to that stage yet, thank goodness, but where I am is no less frustrating – or embarrassing. Last week, for instance, I was having my hair done by my daughter, a form of torture that involves having my hair brushed with great vehemence, clips dotted haphazardly here and there, and about three great pony tails strung up out of what hair is left after the vigorous brushing. At the same time, I was rather optimistically trying to make notes for my ever-retreating second novel with a blunt stub of pink pencil on the back of a cereal box, my younger daughter having taken my fountain pen to grind doodles into my notebook. There was a knock at the door and there stood one of those mothers who has never faced the above outlined crises. Beautifully made up, dressed in matching cream trousers and top, and carrying her white-clad ultra-obedient, daisy-smelling toddler, she clutched her car keys nervously to her as both my daughters ran towards her with frightening speed.
‘You left these at my house,’ she said, holding out a pair of off-white trousers. ‘I’ve tried bleach, but nothing seems to get that yellow stuff out. What was it, that gooey stuff?’
‘Oh, nothing too serious,’ I said, whipping the trousers away and cursing the relative who fell for the ‘beautiful children in white’ picture. ‘You know children.’
‘Yes,’ she replied, rather uncertainly as though she didn’t quite believe that I do. ‘By the way,’ she said, as she turned to leave. ‘Is that . . . mashed banana on your face?’