Tadpole and I get a simultaneous attack of the giggles, strands of spaghetti drooping perilously from our mouths, some sticking to our chins. I like the French phrase for this a lot: un fou rire. Mad laughter.
Catching Tadpole’s eye, I have to suppress a sudden, overwhelming urge to sweep her out of the high chair and into my arms, raining kisses down on her reluctant, curly head. Being a mother sometimes means experiencing such ferocious urges; they literally take my breath away.
Unfortunately Tadpole is not a very demonstratively affectionate child, and doesn’t take kindly to being grabbed and forcibly hugged. It is wiser to wait until she comes to me of her own accord. Especially this close to bedtime, when my toddler appears to suffer from some form of schizophrenia. One minute all is well with the world, the next she is crying theatrical tears and not even she really knows the reason why.
A few minutes later, she zooms into the kitchen on her plastic car, an unbuttered piece of scone in her hand.
“What you doing mummy?” she asks with a frown, craning her neck to look up at the worktop, where I have been caught in the act, liberally spreading butter, raspberry jam and crème fraîche onto my piece of scone with the back of a teaspoon, while waiting for the kettle to boil.
“Mummy’s putting some jam on her scone,” I reply, waving it under her nose, knowing full well that Tadpole will add this to her list of falsely composed compound nouns: strap-on, shoes-on, socks-on, jam-on.
And no, I’m not sure why I talk in the third person to Tadpole either.
“I want jam-on on my scone” she says, eyeing the jar.
“You want some jam?” I repeat, knowing full well that she doesn’t really. She refused to have anything on it the day before, and didn’t even deign to taste mine.
Wearily: “OK, give it to me, and I’ll put some on for you,”
Petulantly: “Well don’t have any then!”
I am getting a bit cross. It is 8.00 pm. I have been at work all day. I arrived home with Tadpole at 7.00pm and the preservation of my sanity depends on her being in bed in half an hour. Clearly she has just crossed that invisible line and gone over to the dark side where logic no longer applies and high pitched screaming can erupt at any moment, without due cause or prior warning.
I snatch the scone from her grasp and dab some jam on it, offering it back to her with a triumphant “There!”
“NNNOOOOOOOO!” she screams.
The neighbours probably think I am torturing Tico the dolly.
She makes as if to drop the scone face down on the kitchen floor, so I grab it, scrape off the jam, hold it out to her again.
The neighbours probably think I am torturing Tadpole. I wonder idly what the equivalent of Childline is in France.
Something inside me snaps. It’s official: Mummy has now crossed over to the dark side to join her daughter.
I eat the scone.
The screaming starts in earnest.
Only eight months until she turns three. I think I may need medication if I’m to make it that far.