My son and I return home from the Centre de Loisirs.
A literal translation of the French would be “leisure centre”, but a CDL is actually a municipally-funded playscheme available in most state-run schools during the holidays. Parents pay a small fee but, since the service is means-tested, six euros a day buys me full-time care for my son while I’m working. This is a key reason so many French mothers are able to stay in the workforce.
There is no sign of my daughter, but a cursory inspection of her room reveals her savings jar is empty, so I assume she is out somewhere shopping again. Fourteen and free to roam the city, armed with her imagine-R métro pass. A level of autonomy that would have made my village-dwelling, fourteen-year-old self insanely jealous.
I unpack some shopping: an avocado and some puy lentils for me, ice cream and frozen pizza for the kids. They are both picky, to differing degrees, and I don’t have the strength to go to battle on the issue of processed foods and sugar-as-poison every day.
When I emerge from the kitchen, I’m greeted by the sight of a discarded pair of boots placed in the centre of the coffee table, soles down.
“Rule number one in this house is that we NEVER leave shoes on tables,” I bark, giving him my very best hard stare. “Because shoes touch the pavement…”
“…and might have stood in dog poo or pigeon poo. Or wee. Or tiny, invisible germs from poo or wee,” my son interrupts. He’s become an expert at finishing my sentences.
“And did you know,” I continue, sensing a teachable moment, “that if we were in Japan and visited someone’s house, it would be considered rude if we didn’t take our shoes off at the front door?” I eye the shaggy rug, doubtless teeming with germs and, not for the first time, wonder whether we shouldn’t be adopting that custom ourselves.
My son makes no reply: I’ve already lost him to the siren screen of the iPad. On the horizon, I see a freak “accident” involving me “dropping” it and shards of retina screen all over the concrete kitchen floor.
A few moments later, I hear a muffled voice from underneath the blankets and towels which envelop the dining table, recently repurposed as a fort.
“Mummy, what are the other rules in this house? If that shoe rule is number one, what is number two, or number four?”
I join him in the fort, where we decide to brainstorm together. The best way, I figure, to make an exhaustive list of house rules is to draw on his memories of my most frequent scoldings. My son has a finely-tuned sense of injustice and an infallible memory log; he backs up every criticism ever levelled at him.
- No shoes on tables.
- Always flush away poo (and wee if we have visitors).
- Mirrors are for looking with eyes, not for touching with sticky fingers.
- The floor is not a dustbin. My pet-peeve during cold-season is the pyramids of damp, partially-used tissues which proliferate in every room.
- No moonwalking into the (purely ornamental) bar cart.
- Never forget that our floor is someone else’s ceiling.
- iPad usage will be policed (more or less) strictly (depending on my state of mind and level of fatigue).
- Mum’s bedroom is a toy-free zone and may be used as a stage or a gym by appointment only.
We don’t get beyond 8, but I decide to call it a day, as I’m developing a cramp in my leg and it’s already abundantly clear that I’m running the tightest of ships.