I’m on the couch, surrounded by children; tiny little humans that I created myself. Xanthe is on my left, Briar is on my right, a wriggling, squealing Maurice is on my lap. It’s story time.
Xanthe has selected a book by Lynley Dodd tonight, and I’m pleased. Lynley Dodd is good. Her writing is good, her rhyming is good, her words are good. Her stories are fun to read aloud. I hold the book out in front of me, and instead of throwing myself into the story I stop and look at the cover, and I get the children to look at the cover, and I ask them if they can figure out what an Ark might be. Briar guesses an ark is a zoo. Xanthe gets it right. We study the ark for a moment or two, and finally I read the title aloud.
“The Other Ark,” I say. I open the book.
We’re only a couple of pages in when Maurice decides he’s had enough. He’s not into story time. He doesn’t enjoy having interesting and colourful objects held in front of his face if he’s not allowed to reach out and grab them and stuff them in his mouth. He’s not down with this activity at all. He starts to wail and he starts to buckle and I’m still trying to read to the girls but I can’t hear myself speaking and I can’t see the words properly over Maurice’s thrashing head. I feel myself becoming tense. Irritation begins tickling at the base of my spine and I can’t think with all this noise and suddenly Frans appears. He walks briskly to us and he puts his arms out and he lifts Maurice up and away. The crying stops. My scratchy tickles subside. Peace is restored. Now I can breathe.
I look up at my husband and I tell him just to put the baby to bed. I tell him Maurice has been fed and bathed and he has clean clothes on, there’s no reason not to put him to bed, but Frans shakes his head. He shakes his head no. Apparently Maurice has a dirty nappy. Apparently he has to be changed first. Frans goes off in search of a clean nappy. I go back to the story reading. My daughters have been waiting so patiently. They’re such good girls.
“Uh oh,” says Frans, and I look down and I see what he means and it’s so bloody typical. The freshly bathed baby in his freshly laundered clothing and his fresh from the packet nappy has sprung a leak. He needs to be stripped down and wiped down. He needs a fresh change of clothes. I hate it when that happens. Frans looks at me and he’s cheeky and he’s joking and he asks if I want to swap jobs. He says he’ll read the next story if I take care of the baby. He’s surprised when I say okay, but I only say okay because it’ll be quicker if I do it. I’m a bit of an expert at removing soiled clothes without spreading the mess. It’s just easier if I take over.
I’m down in the floor, kneeling in front of the now naked baby, and Frans is sandwiched between the girls. He picks up the book that Briar has chosen for tonight, and it’s a picture book of the song Ten in the Bed. I smile to myself and I wonder if Frans will actually sing it, or if he’ll just read the words. Singing is definitely not one of his talents. I watch as my husband opens the book, and as I wait to hear how he’s going to deliver its contents I remember…
Mum is out. Usually Mum is always at home but tonight she had to go out. It must be for something very important, because every night she reads me a story and puts me to bed and tonight she’s not here to do that. She said that Dad can read me my story tonight, and that feels a little bit funny, but it’s a bit nice too. I think it’s a little bit special. I’m going to choose an extra special book for my Dad to read to me.
We have a book that’s very special to me and it’s called The Fox Went Out On A Chilly Night, and it’s special because it’s just written in normal words like the other books, but it’s actually a song. When I choose this book Mum always sings it for me and I love the song because it’s so beautiful. When Mum sings the song to me I feel so happy. I think this will be a good special book for my Dad to read to me. I think he will like singing the song about the fox.
Dad is in the lounge and he is waiting for me. He is sitting on the sofa. He is ready to read me my book. I am wearing my pink and blue nightie and I have the special book in my hand and I climb up on my Dad’s knee. I give him the book, and I wriggle back and I get comfortable. I like sitting on Dad’s knee, it feels a lot higher up than it does when I sit on Mum’s knee.
Dad looks at the book and he knows the book and he asks me if he should read it or sing it, so I say sing it. It’s a silly question really, because it’s not a good book to just read, you have to sing it to make it special. Dad opens the book and he turns to the first page and he clears his throat and he puts on a silly voice. It is a very, very silly voice and it’s a little bit funny too, but I don’t want it to be funny. I want the song to be beautiful and special. I want Dad to sing it properly.
“Dad! Sing it properly!” I say.
“I am singing properly,” Dad says. “That is how I sing.”
I sit on Dad’s knee and I wait to see if he is going to laugh. I am waiting to see if he is making a joke, but Dad doesn’t laugh and that means it isn’t a joke. That means that silly voice was actually Dad’s proper singing voice. That means that Dad doesn’t know how to make the song beautiful like Mum does. I think about it for a minute, and I think that the book is so much better for singing, but that if the singing is silly then it’s not going to be good anyway.
“Just read it then,” I say.
Dad doesn’t say anything. He goes back to the start and he reads it out in a talking voice. It’s a lot better than when he tries to do singing.
Dad's talking reading of the book was still special.