Hurrah! Almost a year to the day after we first noticed damp rising up the walls, the damage from next door's burst pipe has been satisfactorily repaired. The tradesmen involved even turned up when they said they would. Admittedly, these were the kind of guys who saw through floorboards rather than lift them but, hey, there's no Gu-DONK noise whenever anyone walks along the hall any more. I'm no longer reminded of the whole flood/ant/mouse/broken heating/insurance/bankrupt contractor/redecorating disaster every time someone visits the downstairs toilet. This has to be a good news.
What a palaver it's been, though. Barely anything has gone right without three false starts, fifteen phone calls and me tearing out my hair.
It's been immensely frustrating. (The top of my head is also very chilly.)
The mistakes I could have handled. I don't mind people getting stuff wrong - I frequently make mistakes myself, after all. It's the way those mistakes were dealt with that was the real cause of my stress.
It's not like I ask for much when everything goes pear-shaped. I don't require a heartfelt apology, for instance. All I want is an acknowledgement that things are not as they should be and then I want the problem fixed swiftly and without me having to phone back every couple of days to find out why nothing has happened yet. I don't want detailed explanations and excuses of how it wasn't the fault of the person I happen to be speaking to at the time. ('A supervisor needs to sign off on this but we haven't had an assessment from the contractors yet in order to move the claim forward. My colleague emailed the plumbers last week but there's been a giant space wasp attack on the local BT exchange and so someone will phone you back in a few days.') I certainly don't want to be blamed myself. ('It's not our fault that your towel rail isn't heating up. We only ripped out the heart of your heating system and put it back in a different order. We never touched the towel rail. Are you sure it was working before?')
Nope, I want a quick 'sorry' and the issue sorted. If I wanted explanations, denial and blame, I'd have children...
Oh, hang on...
As I walked into the lounge the other day, Lewis shrieked, "Fraser stood on the box for Sonic and the Secret Rings!"
"Was the game disc in the box?" I asked calmly.
"No." said Lewis. "Marie was playing with it."
"What!?" I said, much less calmly. "How did Marie...?" I entered room further, narrowly avoiding standing on the box which was still lying in the middle of the carpet, but tripping over an enormous pile of sofa cushions.
"Lewis put those there," said Fraser as I picked myself up off the floor.
Marie was scowling in annoyance, her head hung and her fists clenched by her side. "You made me grumpy, Daddy," she said, somehow believing I was angry with her. "I'm good. Boys are being bad!"
It was clearly time for some detailed questioning. Cue dramatic music, spotlights on each of us and audience applause:
Me: Good evening and welcome to Who Did What? the quiz show where ordinary families get to squabble and bicker over the blame for minor mishaps. First up is Fraser. Fraser is seven, he likes Nintendo and Harry Potter, and if he could have anything he wanted, it would be a real, live Pikachu. Say, 'Hello,' Fraser!It nearly always plays out the same. I don't really care who did what or who's to blame, as long as the mess gets cleared up and there's some chance it won't happen again. Fraser, however, passes the buck and Marie has a worrying tendency to keep saying sorry for days, long after the matter has been closed. Neither of them has a great desire to actually put things right or learn from their mistakes. Lewis, meanwhile, says sorry, does whatever I tell him to in order to put things right and then gets on with his life. He accepts responsibility but doesn't become weighed down by guilt.
Fraser: It wasn't my fault. Lewis left...
Me: Hold on, I haven't introduced the other contestants yet. Next is Lewis. He's six. He likes Sonic the Hedgehog, hoarding soft toys and saying random, often made up words, very loudly at inappropriate times. Say, 'Hello,' Lewis!
Me: Precisely and, moving swiftly on before he starts trying to rhyme that, we have the lovely Marie. She's three. She likes pink.
Marie (dressed entirely in pink with pink nail varnish, pink hair clips and sparkly, pink jewellery): No, I don't. I like yellow.
Me: She also likes being awkward.
Marie: You made me grumpy again, Daddy!
Me: Uh-huh, live with it. Now it's time to play Who Did What? (Cue more music and a close up on Fraser.) OK, Fraser, we'll start with an easy one. Did you step on the box?
Fraser: Lewis left it lying around. (There is a very loud Bee-BAH noise.)
Me: I'm sorry. That's not one of the two possible answers we were looking for to that yes-or-no question. Would you like to try again? Did you step on the box?
Fraser: Maybe. (Bee-BAH!) Er... I don't remember. (Bee-BAH!) Twenty-seven? (BEE-BAAAH!)
Me : I'm afraid none of those answers is correct. I'm going to have to throw the question open. First one to buzz... (There is a tense pause and then a deafening farting noise.) Lewis! Did Fraser step on the box?
Lewis: Yes, he did. (There is a DING!)
Me: Ten points to Lewis. Fraser, I'm afraid Lewis has incriminated you. Would you like to fight back by answering a harder question or would you prefer to use one of your three lifelines and Shop-a-Sibling?
Fraser: Lewis changed the games in the Wii. He shouldn't have left the box on the floor. (DING!)
Me: You've chosen to use one of your lifelines. You receive ten points and Lewis gets the question. Lewis, why did you leave the box on the floor?
Lewis: Marie distracted me. She took one of the cushions that I'd piled up to make my comfy seat. (Bee-BAH!)
Fraser: He had all of them. He wasn't letting her have any. (Bee-BAH!)
Me: I'm afraid you should still have finished putting the game away, Lewis. You lose ten points. Fraser, you lose five for interruption.
Fraser: Awwwwww! That's not f... (Bee-BAH!)
Me: And another five for arguing.
Fraser: But I was only... (BEE-BAH!)
Me: And five more.
Fraser (clamping his mouth shut): ...
Me: OK, now, moving on to Round 2. (More music and close up on Marie. The spotlight glints off the DVD she is trying to balance on her head.) I'll have that, young lady. Where did you get it from?
Marie (covering her eyes with her hands and throwing herself down on the sofa but whacking her arm on the frame because all the cushions are on the floor): I hurt my elbow. (There are tears and a Bee-BAH!)
Me (showing the disc to her): These aren't for playing with.
Marie: I'm really sorry, Daddy. (More tears.)
Me: That's OK. It shouldn't have been left out anyway. Would you like to split the blame 50/50?
Marie: I need the toilet! (Bee-BAH!)
Fraser (going red): ...
Me: You can hold it in another few minutes. That goes for you, too, Fraser.
Fraser (looking like he's about to explode): !!!
Me: It appears this was mostly your fault, Lewis.
Lewis: Sorry. (DING!)
Me: Good. Now, for bonus points, put the disc away properly and the cushions back where they normally go.
Lewis (getting on with it): OK. (DING!)
Marie: I'm really, really, really sorry, Daddy.
Me: What for?
Marie: For spilling my milk last night. (Bee-BAH!)
Me: I'm afraid being sorry for something entirely unrelated doesn't...
Fraser (exploding): I didn't stand on the box! I was dancing around the cushions, waving a pointed stick, and one of my feet went on a corner of the box. I didn't stand on it. I hopped on it! (BEE-BAH!)
Me: And on that note, it's time for us to take a break... Stay tuned for Fraser being sent to his room, Marie apologising for apologising too much and Lewis getting away with everything.
Me: Apart from that.
Marie: I go to toilet now?
Me: Yep. And then we'll return for another exciting round of... Who... Did... What?! (Cue music, applause and a swift exit to the bathroom.)
This usually goes well for him.
I could learn a few things from him myself. Better yet, I could hire him out as a business consultant. I know some insurers who could really do with his help...
Yours in a woman's world,
Subtract one kid and add in a whole lot more tears and that about covers it at our house too.
Isn't it strange how kids are pretty much the same everywhere?
They're the same until you put them in the same place. Then they can never entirely agree on anything...
(It's like the Pauli Exclusion Principle but with children rather than electrons.)
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