My friends often ask me, now that my daughter is seven, how I spend time with her on my day off. What they really want to know is whether I do anything useful with her, like, well, taking her to various classes that might improve her mind (chess, Sudoku, pottery?), help her become well-rounded and make instructive use of her time.
Well, the answer is I do nothing of the sort. I let her loll around, and encourage her to do nothing that might remotely be interpreted as structured or constructive. Instead, she does what she chooses with her time and plays all sorts of weird games—with me—of her own invention.
Let me explain. A friend of ours had, on the phone, described the snowfall in London as “so bright and somehow anarchic”. London is Oishi’s favourite city in the world; it’s also mine. (Understandably, for different reasons. I don’t get much out of feeding ducks in St James’s Park. She doesn’t particularly enjoy Greek cafes in Soho.)
My friend then emailed me, describing what he had been up to in the snowbound city. So last Sunday, inspired by his account and the arresting pictures in the newspapers and on TV, we had mock snowball fights.
This entails crumpling sheets of unused, white A4 paper (oh, how many trees did we unrepentantly kill, I wonder), into large, tight balls, flinging them hard at one another in the air-conditioned bedroom and turning the flat into a pigsty.
On some days, we make comic books together, she drawing and writing the panels and I stapling the sheaves of paper together and doing a cover with the title of the story and her name on it.
It’s all rubbish, of course, this sort of thing, but I very much enjoy it. So, it seems so far, does she. The thing with engaging with a child —entirely, wholeheartedly immersing yourself in her world—means the other (real) world that takes up so much of our lives and is at the heart of so much of our daily annoyances, recedes into the distance.
It’s a bit like entering a parallel world, the rules of which are different. It’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of having a child.
By early Sunday evening, some of her ebullience seems to wear off. She is happiest on Saturdays, when the forthcoming day holds the promise of unadulterated fun. Sunday evening — always a grim time, I remember from my own childhood — is too clouded with the thought of the dreary drudgery of the new week.
Poor thing, she has to be off every morning at 6.45. And every time I think of that (and other restrictions a seven-year-old has to live by), I think I’m so much better off. I had a reasonably happy childhood, but I can’t say I miss it.
I might whinge about work, but I can stay up late or go out somewhere (anywhere) or eat or drink anything. I don’t have to write with pencils. I don’t have to prepare for exams. I needn’t have fruits.
No, I don’t miss being seven. I feel sorry for my girl. Except on Sunday mornings.