I know what they mean, about children keeping you young: every day, I’m sounding more and more like a toddler. ‘My shoes,’ I find myself saying, firmly, pointing to the object in question. ‘My bed. My phone. Mine!’
It started innocuously enough: one bored afternoon the older child nicked a pair of my shoes to dress up in, and ‘be Mommy’. It was cute. At first. Until she got into character and started windmilling her arms and screaming hysterically, ‘Get off the furniture! Clean that mess up! You’re spilling orange juice everywhere! You children are driving me crazy!’
‘That’s enough.’ I said. ‘Hand back the shoes.’
But the damage was done. The perimeter defense had been breached and suddenly it was open season on my stuff. The next thing I knew, both children were wearing my lipstick and talking about how they’d like to redecorate ‘our bedroom’.
And my new wardrobe … it may have started out as a place to keep my clothes (my clothes! Mine!), but it was hardly built before it had become a dinosaur sauna (top shelf), a Furby nest (middle shelf) and a sanctuary for angry little girls (bottom shelf). I opened it to put something away, and found the smaller child in there, wrapped in a pink shawl and spitting vitriol.
‘Is this because, after three hours of drawing fairies with you, I left to make myself a cup of tea?’ I asked.
‘Which is more important?’ she shrieked. ‘A cup of tea or your tiny little baby?’
Well, she’s not actually a tiny little baby, and the shelf was already starting to buckle, so I turfed her out, along with the dinosaurs and the Furby.
‘My wardrobe,’ I said. ‘And, while we’re on the subject, that bed over there belongs to Daddy and me, and when I climb into it at night, I don’t want to find you or your stegosaurus in it.’
Both children stared at me in slack-jawed disbelief.
‘But … that’s our bed,’ the smaller one said. ‘We bought it with our pocket money.’
‘What? No, you didn’t!’
‘Yes we did. Last Saturday.’
‘You can’t take our stuff,’ said the bigger one. ‘Imagine if we just came in here and took something of yours!’
‘Like my bed.’
‘Yes! No, wait …’
The real problem isn’t even possession – I don’t mind if they occasionally borrow my stuff. It’s that they break everything. If, as Kahlil Gibran says, children are ‘living arrows’, shot from our parent-bows into the future … well, my children are more like living trebuchet projectiles, destroying everything in their path. The small one, in particular, just has to touch something for it to fall apart. She’s like King Midas, except she doesn’t turn whatever she touches into gold; she turns it into a pile of smoking rubble.
‘I just picked up the bowl,’ she’ll say, amazed, standing amid the spaghetti explosion that was, a minute before, her supper. In her presence, glasses of milk fling themselves off tables, door handles detach and zips rip.
‘Messy Elves,’ the child will assure me, as we stand looking at the upturned toy boxes.
‘Them again,’ she’ll say, surveying the flooded bathroom.
So when I found three of my scarves in the child’s clothes’ drawer, well … we all knew who was responsible.
‘The Messy Elves made me do it,’ she assured me. ‘They said, Go-o-o into Mommy’s ro-o-o-m and take the sca-a-a-rves … it was like they were controlling me.’
‘What you really mean is that you sneaked into my wardrobe – again – and took my stuff. Again.’
‘Anyway,’ she concluded cheerfully. ‘I have them now, so can I keep them?’
Because in our house, possession – whether by elf or by stealth – is indeed nine-tenths of the law.
Robyn Goss is a South African writer, recently moved to Switzerland. You can read her blogs at www.robyngoss.com