I bring Tadpole’s gourmet dinner – sweetcorn (canned), green beans (frozen), mini pasta shapes and a slice of cheese – through to the living room and set it down on her little table. Pulling out her chair, I swiftly flip over the flower seat cushion with its week old yoghurt stain. Ni vu, ni connu. Anything to reduce the lengthening list of Things Which Need Doing around the apartment. I am also pathetically grateful to whoever took it upon themselves to invent reversible clothing for small children.
Tadople is sitting on the sofa, her magic drawing pad laid across her knees. This toy is another life-saving invention, as a toddler left unchaperoned with coloured crayons can, and will, wreak untold havoc. And I fear our white walls might prove to be a very inviting canvas.
Magic pen poised in the air, Tadpole’s head is cocked to one side. She appears to be listening to something, fierce concentration etched into her wrinkled brow. I know that expression. It’s my thinking face. The one which Mr Frog always tries to smooth flat with his forefinger.
“What’s the matter, baby girl? What is it?” I enquire, noting that she is dribbling again. Which means she probably won’t eat her painstakingly prepared meal, because she never does when she’s teething. Only biscuits, fruit and chocolat will do.
I listen. I can hear traffic in the street, five stories below. The hum of the video recording Eastenders for later. A dog barking in the park, as its owner takes it for a bowel-relieving walk. Nothing else.
“What noises? Mummy can’t hear anything.”
“Noman, ” she says earnestly, turning towards me, motioning towards the ceiling with her free hand. “Up dere. Noman. Shoes on. Noisy!”
A noman, in Tadpolese, is what you and I would refer to as a snowman. Similarly a snake is a ‘nake, a snail is a ‘nail (or sometimes a ‘cargot tout chaud’). But quite what Tadpole thinks a snowman would be doing in a sixth floor apartment on a mild April day, I cannot imagine.
“There’s no snowman upstairs. What are you talking about, silly?” I venture cautiously, somewhat perplexed.
I recall my well-intentioned explanations of the sounds we hear every day from the surrounding apartments, which Tadpole has recently become ultra sensitive to, not to say a little afraid of. I did explain that a man lived upstairs (we even went upstairs and I showed her his front door to help get my point across), and I told Tadpole that when the man walked on his wooden floor with shoes on, it made a “TAP TAP TAP” noise. Just like her own shoes when she sprints giddy lengths of our corridor, or when she tries on mummy’s shoes and clatters periously across the parquet. (Sincerest apologies to our downstairs neighbour, whose patience must be wearing thin.)
The following day, she had talked about the noisy man. He wasn’t actually home at the time – he keeps very unsociable hours indeed, not heard for days, only to arrive with what sounds like an entire harem of stiletto clad females at 5am on a weekday. He even caused me to knock on our ceiling with a spare curtain rail (stashed under our bed), in the manner of a cantakerous old maid, on one occasion.
“There’s no man up there right now. I can’t hear anything.” I must have replied.
So despite my best intentions, Tadpole evidently now thinks the abominable snowman lives upstairs. And listens out for him, fearfully. So much for my powers of explanation.
“It’s not a snowman, sweetie, it’s just a man. A MAN. Like daddy.”
“NO! ‘NOMAN, ” Tadpole replies stubbornly.
I know better than to argue when my daughter adopts that tone. I pick up her magic pen and we draw a picture of a very friendly and approachable snowman. With big shoes on (artistic licence). Walking on a wooden floor.
Artist’s note: snail, butterfly and bumblebee added under duress. Parisian apartments do not, in my experience, harbour a variety of insects and molluscs.