We walk, leather glove in pink woolen mitten, up the rue de Belleville towards the Eglise St-Jean Baptiste. The narrow pavements are bustling with Saturday morning shoppers despite the biting chill in the air, and my stomach begins to growl as we pass first an appetising pâtisserie (whose boast is that they have twenty different flavours of macaron), then a tiny, pungently scented fromagerie, our noses alerted to its presence long before we reach it.
Tadpole is busy “blowing clouds” through her chapped lips.
I notice, quite by chance, that the SNCF boutique is unusually empty and seize this opportunity to renew Tadpole’s Enfant Plus travelcard. (A truly wonderful invention: thirteen hours of excruciating labour pain = a 50% discount on all train travel for me, plus a free seat for Tadpole). Soon to be expired travelcard is helpfully stowed in the pocket of my handbag, as a reminder, along with a set of passport photos which Mr Frog obligingly had taken last weekend.
We take our seat at the desk, and I adopt the saccharine tone I reserve for most French fonctionnaires, as it has just occurred to me that I do not have any form of Tadople ID about my person.
“Bonjour Madame, j’espère que vous allez pouvoir m’aider…”
I needn’t have worried, because Tadpole has already launched into a full charm offensive.
“Bonjour Madame,” she trills, smiling winsomely. “Je m’appelle [Tadpole Frog], et j’ai deux ans!”
I feel ever so slightly nervous about how much more information Tadpole intends to volunteer, as she can be somewhat random in what she chooses to share. The day that “mummy made some bubbles in the bath” being a case in point, which was recounted, with accompanying sound effects, to anyone who would listen.
Thankfully she stays on topic on this occasion, and starts telling the lady that it is her birthday tomorrow. (Tomorrow, in this instance, meaning June). We obtain the card, without incident, and I manage to persuade a reluctant Tadpole that it is time to leave. Not an easy feat, as she has taken off her mittens, obviously feeling quite at home, and is now enthusiastically exploring the possibilities of the swivelling chair.
When we finally get home, after lunching on couscous together, on a whim, in a local restaurant, I take out the travelcards and compare Tadpole’s photos. The difference takes my breath away. Casting my mind back to February 2005, I try to remember how many words she could say, or what she enjoyed doing back then, and cannot summon up an image of this smaller, rather hairless, toddler. There is something less definite about her facial features on the older picture, but it’s difficult to put my finger on exactly what has changed. Seeing her evolve a little every day, it is only when I am confronted with hard evidence that I realise just how far we have come.
Tadpole snatches the picture from my hand.
“Look, there’s baby [Tadpole]!”
“Yes, that’s a picture from when you were just one year old,” I explain.
“I a big girl now,” she replies, seriously. “I do all my wee wees in my potty. Just like mummy, but mummy does them in the big toilet!”
I am somewhat relieved that we didn’t have this particular conversation at the SNCF shop.