When little children overcome terror their faces can still register it. Claire’s eyes and mouth were as round as can be the first time she descended the slide. Once I’d attached my hose to the top and placed her paddling pool under the bottom the afternoon flew by.
Claire became a pirate and, bless her, decided that she wanted to walk the plank (slide), into the sea (pool) and among the sharks (various objects) virtually non-stop.
Then her crew joined in. A medley of humanoid or animoid toys suffered among the sharks and in turn became sharks themselves to eat the next victim.
The sad thing is that I’m 91 and cannot ascend the climbing frame to access the slide. If I did either the paddling pool or my hips would break.
Still, Claire is such fun and I’ve had the best afternoon for ages. She’s even invited me to her birthday party.
I can hear her parents’ car drawing up. The tyres spit gravel with a hollow pinging noise.
Claire descends the slide head first. This is her favourite but empties the pool rather fast. Water, infected with her joy, leaps and dazzles in glittering droplets spangling in the sun. The grass around sparkles as I squelch through it.
Mike and Imogen don’t speak as they get out of the car. Mike has probably opened his mouth without thinking again. That is especially dodgy at a funeral. Black ties and black looks. I wonder how many relatives he’s offended.
Imogen laughs when she sees my hose and slide arrangement. She and Claire come together for a huge hug. Imogen disregards the fact that Claire is soaking wet.
Imogen’s holding Claire up and blowing a raspberry on her stomach amid a flurry of squeals and windmilling pudgy arms and legs.
Mike squats down and Claire tells him not to get too near the sharks. Then she’s struggling out of Imogen’s arms and showing Mike which dolls are sharks and which ping pong ball is a deadly jellyfish.
Mike smiles, shakes his head and asks me if I have had the hose running all afternoon.
I say yes but it doesn’t matter because it’s coming from the tap in my kitchen. Imogen rolls her eyes and says, Mike…
Mike says, sorry, I didn’t mean… He thanks me for looking after Claire.
Claire says I’m not allowed to stop playing yet. We’re going to fight pirates and she’s getting a sword. She asks me if I need her water pistol.
She’s off, running into the house.
Imogen thanks me too and I tell her I’ve had a wonderful time. I say Claire is a super girl. She has so much self-esteem and confidence. She knows her parents love and admire her. For everything you give Claire she gives ten times as much back. And, I add, she knows she’s a lovely person.
I say that if Imogen and Mike can keep her like that she’ll become one of those adults that people flock to. She’ll live by her own rules and show others how to break theirs.
Mike asks if I’m trying to tell them how to bring up their daughter.
Imogen hisses and says, Mike…
I can hear the thunder of feet descending stairs. Claire will be back in a second.
Putting my hands on Mike and Imogen’s shoulders, I say, no, I’m not telling you how to bring up a daughter – you should be telling the whole world how to bring up a daughter.
©Gary Bonn 2013