Mary ponders unicorns, mermaids... and Eric writes Steve Canavan

It’s happened.

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th January 2022, 4:26 pm

My daughter Mary – who hasn’t yet turned five – has announced she’s got a boyfriend.

I picked her up from school the other day and, as I always do, spent five fruitless, frustrating minutes trying to glean some information about her day.

Standard conversation.

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Paw patrol

Me: “How did your day go?”

Her: ‘Good’.

“What did you do – anything interesting?”

‘Erm.’ Now with normal people the word ‘erm’ suggests they’re thinking, and that they will, very soon, follow it with several other words. In Mary’s case she says nothing else. So I try again.

“What was the best part?”

‘It was all good.’

“But anything in particular?”

‘No, not really.’

At which point I generally give up and stick the radio on instead.

But on the journey home the other night, the conversation went a bit left-field.

Me: “How did your day go?”

Her: ‘Good. Eric says I’m his girlfriend.’

After coughing violently and narrowly avoiding swerving the car into a tree, I replied, “what do you mean?”

‘Well,’ she said, ‘we were playing a game in the playground where we had to run around pressing a pretend button on Arnold’s arm and when we pressed it he made a funny noise, when Eric kissed me and told me I was his girlfriend.’

At this point, I actually did swerve off the road and hit a tree.

“Right,” I said and then stopped because I wasn’t sure what else to say, though I was already planning on working out where Eric lived, knocking on his door, making a brief but strong threat on his life, and telling him to stay well away from my girl.

‘Daddy,’ said Mary, popping a chocolate button into her mouth, ‘what’s a girlfriend?’

“Erm, well it’s a,” I started, “a sort of thing where you kind of … well, boys and girls, and that kind of thing, you know.’

Despite my excellent and concise explanation, she seemed puzzled.

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ she said.

“Well,” I said, regaining a bit of composure, “it’s something that normally happens when you’re a bit older but it’s when a boy and a girl like each other and want to spend a bit more time with each other.”

There was quite a lengthy silence at this point, but just as I hoped we could move on to a different topic – say the plot-line in the latest Paw Patrol cartoon – she said, ‘I don’t really want to spend any more time with him. Do I have to?’

“Well no,” I said, ‘but it’s not anything to worry about. It’s just a school thing. Anyway, you’re lucky to have the boys liking you.”

‘But I prefer girls,’ she announced, at which point I briefly wondered if this might be her way of telling me at the age of four that she was gay, but then decided this was unlikely.

“Why do you prefer girls?” I said though, just to check.

‘Because they like unicorns and mermaids and boys don’t.’

Which is a very fair point.

‘Also, daddy,’ she added, ‘I don’t really want Eric as my boyfriend because I’m going to marry my brother Wilf.’

Suppressing the temptation to give her a five-minute explanation about incest and why it isn’t generally the done thing – unless you live in certain hippie communes in Tibet - I nodded and said, ‘”Well that’s an excellent choice and Wilf loves you too.”

She then went quiet for a few moments before asking another question – a question I think stemmed from a conversation the previous night about how you don’t live with your parents forever.

‘Daddy,’ she said solemnly, as if it had been playing on her mind for a while, ‘when I grow up is it me or you and mummy who have to move out of the house?’

Which made me think what a wonderful thing it would be for a teenager if, on their 18th birthday, the rules were that they inherited the family home and the parents had to relocate.

“No,” I said gently, because I realised this was a serious moment and one she was possibly inwardly stressing and fretting about, “when you’re grown up we throw you out and you have to walk the streets knocking on doors until someone else takes you in.”

She went quiet for a long time and has been crying at regular intervals day and night since – but at least she’s not mentioned having a boyfriend again, so every cloud.

* Heard a good joke this week.

Woman: Have you seen the dog bowl?

Husband: I didn’t even know he liked cricket.

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