Cotswold Mother: Under their spell

Such is the enthusiasm for reading among my infant tribe, that any word which stays still long enoug

Such is the enthusiasm for reading among my infant tribe, that any word which stays still long enough will be spelt out with slow but furious concentration - Credit: Archant

It’s terribly inconvenient now the children can read. No more suggestive notes written in red lipstick on the bathroom mirror or caustic text messages to friends, writes Clare Mackintosh.

I can’t help but feel that life was easier before the children learned to read. Far be it from me to stem the tide of education, but it’s terribly awkward having to hide things from view.

Gone are the days when I could leave suggestive notes for my husband in red lipstick on the bathroom mirror, or caustic quips on the fridge about bins which don’t put themselves out, you know. I cannot now scribble ideas for Christmas presents on the kitchen board, leave rude Knock Knock jokes on the iPad, or scrawl ‘kill me now’ across the Radio Times listing for Strictly Come Dancing.

Every shopping list; every note for the cleaner; every milkman-message is deciphered out loud, with varying degrees of accuracy. “Who are you buying a Nerf Gun for?”’ cried Evie with excitement. “I’ve wanted one of those for AGES!” She bounced around the kitchen in some form of victory dance. I snatched the Post-it note from the kettle, where I had left it in a vain attempt to remind me that I absolutely, definitely, totally had to start my Christmas shopping.

“It’s for me,” I said. Her face fell. “Really?” I nodded. “I need it for work.”

Evie trooped off, dismayed by this discovery and seemingly uninterested in why my work might require me to buy a bright orange gun which shoots foam bullets. Round one to me: the children might be able to read, but they’re still gullible.

Such is the enthusiasm for reading among my infant tribe, that any word which stays still long enough will be spelt out with slow but furious concentration. “wh - ot - a - wuh - a - n - k - urr,” Georgie said, as she peered over my shoulder at a supportive text message I was sending to an irate friend. I pressed delete and wrote ‘quel cochon!’ instead. French has become my encryption of choice; albeit a sort of hybrid code which finds a home somewhere between my husband’s school boy français and my own, half-forgotten, fluency. ‘Il faut acheter du vin - les enfants sont vachement horribles!’ I will text, hoping to divert him to the off licence on his way home from work. ‘Oui,’ he will reply. ‘Mais tu devrais pas have drunk it all, tu vieux soak’. I can only assume the message loses some of his intended subtlety in translation. In time, of course, as les enfants progress through school, this communication channel too will be thwarted, and I will be forced to learn Esperanto, but for now our Gallic missives are safe from the inquisitive minds of three small children.

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It simply isn’t practical, however, to write absolutely everything in French, and as the kids quite often head to my office in search of paper and sticky tape, I realise I shall have to be more circumspect about what I leave lying around. “I’ve just read the start of your new book, Mummy,” Josh said the other day, when he trotted downstairs with the Sellotape and my good scissors. Ever kind-hearted, he added encouragingly, “It was very good.” I hesitated. The prologue of my novel begins with a rather traumatic hit-and-run, in which a young boy is killed. It’s dark, gritty, and somewhat different to Five Go Off In A Caravan. “Are you okay?” I asked. I wondered if the graphic description of a child rolling off the bonnet of a car would give my beautiful son nightmares, and I hoped I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life shelling out for therapists. “No,” Josh said, “although there is one thing...” he broke off, looking a little worried. “Oh, darling,” I said, dropping down to my knees so I could look him in the eye, “it’s really not meant for children to read, I’m so sorry if it upset you.”

“It’s not that,” Josh said. He took a deep breath, clearly preparing me for bad news. “I just think you need to use more adjectives.” Quel petit vilain!

Who are you buying a Nerf Gun for?”’ cried Evie with excitement. “It’s for me,” I said. “I need it for work.”

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This article is from the December 2013 issue of Cotswold Life.

For more from Clare Mackintosh, follow her on Twitter: @claremackint0sh