“Mummy, when I grow up, can I be a mermaid?” Rosie is wearing one of her princess costumes – a pink velour tabard with tulle tutu. (It’s a hand-me-down from her cousin. I’m against all things pink and princessy, but I’ve given in for now, hoping it’s a passing phase.) She’s twirling about on the landing while I prepare our dinner.
“Yes,” I say, and she does a few quick skips. I then wonder whether I shouldn’t inject some realism into this discussion. What if she’s crushed by the disappointment of not becoming a mermaid later in life? I think, rather irrationally.
“Actually,” I say, “I think you have to be born a mermaid. You can’t become one.”
Rosie looks at me with serious eyes. “Why?”
I immediately regret my candour. “Well, actually, I don’t know. Maybe you can. Let’s see.”
“Ok!” And she leaps off, lost in a world of glitter and roses.
I’m amazed at how resilient she has proven to be. She “loves big school” – for now – and seems to have settled into her new routine quite quickly. My child minder asked me the other day whether I have to pry the smile off her face when she’s sleeping (actually, she’s pretty sour-faced in slumber). I wonder whether it is obvious to anyone that she is the child of an alcoholic dad, and a mum who has been battling rage for so long that shouting has been, until recently, her default volume. In the face of all this, Rosie’s ability to adapt and carry on is admirable, remarkable even.
But beneath all the mirth and general silliness (she says “poo” at least 30 times a day) beats a bruised and sensitive heart. As we were walking through the park today, she collected some maple seeds (“aeroplanes”, she calls them). “When Daddy comes back from the doctor, I can show them to him,” she said. Later, she told him about them on the phone. “I hid them in a special place, Daddy,” she said. “I’m not going to tell you. It’s a surprise.”
As we get ready for bed, I remind her that we won’t be going to see Ben this weekend. “Why?” she asks.
“Because you have music and then ballet, and Mummy’s tired,” I say. “Is that ok? Will you be ok?”
“I’ll be ok, Mummy,” she replies. “But poor Daddy.”
And then, as she is dropping off to sleep, we talk about the future. “Mummy might have to work every school day,” I say (at the moment, I work four days/week). “But maybe by then, Daddy will be better and he will be able to collect you from school. So it won’t be so bad.”
Rosie is quiet for a bit. Then she says: “But maybe Daddy will start drinking coffee again.” (Somewhere along the way, Rosie has confused coffee with beer, and I’ve not bothered to clear up the confusion.)
There are many answers I could give to this question. I could pretend and say something reassuring. But we’re not talking about mermaids any more.
“Yes,” I say, and give her a big cuddle and kiss goodnight.
Within minutes, she is asleep.
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