"Actually, Paula reads me that story."
"But I want Dadda to give me a bath."
Wallis Simpson got a warmer welcome from the Queen Mother than I get from Emily after a business trip. But I bear it. My heart sort of pleats inside and somehow I bear it. Maybe I think I deserve it.
I leave Ben snoring softly and gently push the door of the other room. Bathed in the candied glow of her Cinderella light, my daughter is, as is her preference, naked as a newborn. (Clothes, unless you count bridal or princess wear, are a constant irritation to her.) When I pull the duvet up, her legs twitch in protest like a laboratory frog. Even when she was a baby, Emily couldn't stand being covered. I bought her one of those zip-up sleep bags, but she thrashed around in it and blew out her cheeks like the God of Wind in the corner of old maps, till I had to admit defeat and gave it away. Even in sleep, when my girl's face has the furzy bloom of an apricot, you can see the determined jut to her chin. Her last school report said, Emily is a very competitive little girl and will need to learn to lose more gracefully.
"Remind you of anyone, Kate?," said Richard and let out that trodden-puppy yelp he has developed lately.
There have been times over the past year when I have tried to explain to my daughter--I felt she was old enough to hear this--why Mummy has to go to work. Because Mum and Dad both need to earn money to pay for our house and for all the things she enjoys doing like ballet lessons and going on holiday. Because Mummy has a job she is good at and it's really important for women to work as well as men. Each time the speech builds to a stirring climax --trumpets, choirs, the tearful sisterhood waving flags--in which I assure Emily that she will understand all of this when she is a big girl and wants to do interesting things herself.
Unfortunately, the case for equal opportunities, long established in liberal Western society, cuts no ice in the fundamentalist regime of the five-year-old. There is no God but Mummy, and Daddy is her prophet.
In the morning, when I'm getting ready to leave the house, Emily asks the same question over and over until I want to hit her and then all the way to work, I want to cry for having wanted to hit her.
"Are you putting me to bed tonight? Is Mummy putting me to bed tonight? Are you? Who is putting me to bed tonight? Are you, Mum, are you?"
Do you know how many ways there are of saying the word no without actually using the word no? I do.
Quote for new stair carpet.
Take lasagne out of freezer for Saturday lunch.
Buy kitchen roll, stainless steel special polish thingy, present and card for Harry's party.
How old is Harry? Five? Six?
Must get organized with well-stocked present drawer like proper mother.
Buy Christmas tree and stylish lights recommended in Telegraph (Selfridge's or Habitat? Can't remember. Damn.)
Nanny's Christmas bribe/present (Eurostar ticket? Cash? DKNY?)
Emily wants Baby Wee-Wee doll (over my dead body).
Present for Richard (Wine-tasting? Arsenal? Pajamas), In-laws book--The Lost Gardens of Somewhere?
Ask Richard to collect dry cleaning.
Office party what to wear? Black velvet too small.
Stop eating now.
Leg wax no time, shave instead.
Cancel stress-busting massage.
Highlights must book soonest (starting to look like mid-period George Michael).
Pelvic floor squeeze!
Supplies of Pill!!!
Ice cake (royal icing?--chk Delia.) Cranberries. Mini party sausages.
Stamps for cards Second class x 40.
Present for E's teacher?
And, whatever you do, wean Ben off dummy before Xmas with in-laws.
Chase KwikToy, useless mail order present company.
Excerpted from I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson Copyright© 2002 by Allison Pearson. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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