The other week, I caught two of my children arguing about me when they thought I wasn't listening.
"Daddy's my slave," said Marie without a hint of doubt in her voice.
I wasn't too pleased about this but Fraser went momentarily up in my opinion when he laughed and dismissed the notion out of hand. "No, he's not."
"Yes, he is," insisted Marie.
"No," said Fraser. "He's my slave."
On cross-examination, he claimed to be joking. Despite this, I can't help thinking that deep down there was rather more truth there than he was letting on.
I know my place.
Let's face it, your kids may well believe the same about you and there may be no dissuading them from this misconception for a couple of decades. Bearing this in mind, it's important to minimise the drudgery. When faced with a very specific demand from a child (or anyone else for that matter), it's always worth checking whether it's specific for a reason or simply because that was the first thing they thought of. Will they truly only be satisfied by dew gathered from the fronds of the parent-eating tangle grass of the distant and mythical island of Kara-kara-bango? Or will any old glass of water do really?
Yesterday, as Marie was getting ready for bed, she came out of her room with a fistful of hankies, gave them to me and said, "These need washed."
"Right," I said uncertainly, wondering where they'd come from and how desperately they required fumigation.
Sensing my thoughts, Marie said, "They were under my pillow. I wiped my nose on them last night."
"What? All of them?"
I sighed. "OK, I'll put them to be washed and get you another one."
"I'll get one of my own," she replied, skipping back into her room.
"Fine," I said and headed downstairs to the bucket where disgusting laundry goes. Unfortunately, in my rush to find somewhere other than my hand for the dirty nose-rags, I was foolish enough not to check she'd actually found a clean one.
Predictably, at some ungodly hour this morning, I was woken by a small child in pink pyjamas sniffling into my room and proclaiming, "I need a hanky!"
I tried my best to get her to search the drawer with my personal supply but the hankies were buried under my socks and she gave up before finding any. I had to stumble out from under the covers and locate one myself. I collapsed back into bed and checked my alarm clock, somehow groaning at both how early it was and how little time I had left before I had to get up. As I did so, I knocked a box of tissues from my bedside table.
It occurred to me I might have been able to fob her off with one of those and I cursed my own stupidity. As I fell back to sleep, though, I realised that that wouldn't have worked. She would probably have complained a tissue wasn't sufficiently soft or stretchy or some other such thing. Even if she had accepted it, she would doubtless have been back for another one before long.
She'd asked for a hanky, and getting her a hanky was the only thing guaranteed to bring peace. I'd made the right move...
Since it's the holidays, I ignored my alarm and snuck some extra sleep. The kids got up and played relatively peacefully amongst themselves until I was woken my the pink-pyjama'd one once more.
"My Leapster's out of batteries," she said. "I was playing a game and it stopped working. It needs new batteries."
I could still have done with a few more minutes but there was no way she could manage to replace the batteries on her own. Getting her brothers to try was likely to be more effort than doing it myself. I dragged myself out of bed again, staggered down to the kitchen and groggily swapped the batteries in her handheld computer game. (It's quiet and educational - I can think of far worse things for her to be playing with while I'm still asleep. Magnets, paint and the neighbour's cat, for instance.) I switched the Leapster back on and it sprang into technicolour life. I tried to hand it to Marie.
She waved it away. "I've had enough Leapstering for now."
"Then why did you wake me up specially to change the batteries?"
"They needed changed."
I found it hard to argue with that kind of logic while only half awake. I suspected, however, I could have fobbed her off by telling her I'd change the batteries after breakfast. This was one occasion I hadn't made the right move. Of course, at the mention of food, she would probably have complained she was hungry and demanded I got up to make her toast anyway. Nonetheless, it would have been worth checking for the sake of those extra few minutes in bed...
Yours in a woman's world,