When I arrive at the Centre de Loisirs, cheeks flushed from another two-hour session at the gym (my anti-anxiety drug of choice), the children are outside in the cour de récréation.
It takes me a while to spot Tadpole. She’s not dangling upside down by her knees from the climbing ropes, a sight which set my heart fluttering last week. There is no sign of her queuing to go down the slide, either, and she doesn’t appear to be under the inverted V-shaped structure the kids all refer to as la cabane.
Then I spot her, sitting by the edge of the playground alone, back to the wall, hands cupping her chin. With her long, spindly arms and legs Tadpole is often mistaken for an older child. She’s inherited her father’s body shape, something I’m sure I’ll be intensely jealous of one day. At her age my knees were surrounded by little rolls of fat; the kindest adjective to describe my legs would likely have been ‘sturdy’.
As I stride towards her, I am waylaid by a black girl whose name escapes me, her hair separated into an elaborate patchwork of squares, each ending in a little knot, bound with a thin band of colour. ‘Elle a fait une bêtise,’ says the girl, gesturing towards my daughter. ‘Elle nous a montré ses fesses au milieu de la cour.’
‘Ah bon?’ I say, trying not to smirk as I imagine relaying this exchange to Mr Frog, later. I have no idea what could have possessed my daughter to lift her skirt, pull down her pants and moon in public, but the mental image it conjures is priceless.
‘Honey, why did you show your bottom to the other children?’ I say, in a neutral voice, dropping to my knees and ignoring the tale-teller, who stands to my left, her arms folded across her chest.
‘Because Edith did tell me to do it!’ says Tadpole, scowling. ‘And then I did get into trouble, and not her. It’s not fair.’
Tadpole stands her ground with me (and the other adults in her life) all the time, but I’ve noticed her behaviour in the presence of her peers is very different. She lives in a cruel world where a classmate may decide to be her best friend one day, her sworn enemy the next. ‘Dina didn’t want to sit with me today because I was wearing trousers and not a skirt,’ she once told me sadly on the way home from school. She refused to wear trousers after that. It went on for weeks. The shy, bespectacled four year old I once was can’t really blame Tadpole for seeking the approval of her peers. But she’s going to have to learn some boundaries. Because I’d rather not pick up the pieces when Edith dares her to jump off the top of the slide.
‘Well,’ I say, ‘maybe next time Edith or any of your other friends asks you to do something that you know is silly or naughty, you should think about saying no. There’s no friend worth getting yourself into trouble or hurting yourself for…’
‘I know that mummy,’ Tadpole says indignantly, pulling herself to her feet. ‘But I didn’t think showing my bottom was a bêtise. At home when I take my clothes off and wiggle my bare bottom you do always laugh.’
‘At home it’s different,’ I say firmly. ‘Outside there are different rules. It’s rude to show your bottom to a waiter in a restaurant, or to children in the playground. But I’m allowed to laugh when you show it to me, because I’m your mummy.’
Life lesson delivered, we head for home, where my rules are law.