Sunday, 28 October 2007

Wake-up call.

It is 6am when our daughter scrambles into bed with us. The clock says 7am but it has not been changed. She is as warm as a lightly toasted brioche and exudes that sweet vanilla smell common to toddlers. I bury my nose in her silky hair. A chubby pyjama-clad arm shoots around my neck. “I lub you mama”, she says. My heart pangs so intensely the pleasure is painful. “I love you too,” I whisper, trying not to wake her father. She turns to him, strokes his cheek and says: “sh tem papa”. Surely even a morning do-not-disturb grump like the Frenchman, cannot resist. It is what you get with a bilingual child; love in two languages.

However dog tired I am, and these days I am usually so tired in the mornings I feel sick, there is no better way to start the day than a two year old’s declaration of love. It is better even than pulling the curtains to sunshine; the sort of alarm call that makes you vow to keep everything in perspective for the next 24 hours. So I try not to be too tetchy when five minutes later she announces: “I veut my lait avec you”, a perfectly symmetric Franglais demand, but a demand nonetheless. This means one of us (and just recently it has been me because of course I do not work any more) has to get up and warm her morning milk. Today she wants her milk at 6.09am. I drag myself out of bed, shove the milk into the microwave on autopilot, sway sleepily for one minute until the oven goes ‘ping’, stumble back to bed and hand it over without a word. Out of the darkness comes a "Zank you". When she was younger and just weaned, I used to hold her in my arms, as she guzzled her morning milk from a bottle, sitting uncomfortably in the bed, rigid back supported by a flaccid pillow, praying she would drink quickly before my spine gave out. Nowadays, she sits on her own and I utter silent prayers for her to take as long as possible. “Oh, just one more minute, one more minute,” I implore. It never works: seconds later she thrusts the empty bottle imperiously in my direction and utters the first of the day’s many sentences starting: “I want, I want” or "Je veux, je veux". They say babies immersed in two languages are often slow to speak. We have not noticed this with La Fille. In fact, as well as French and English she has recently developed a third language that may as well be Greek, Double Dutch and Croat combined for all we understand. I do not have a clue what this babble is, or where she learned it, but I wish she would stop because I am getting it in the neck from her grandmothers. She babbles down the phone to England and my mother says: “Goodness, she is speaking a lot of French” in a voice that suggests this is definitely not a good thing. She babbles down the phone to my French mother-in-law who says: “Oh la, she speaks a lot of English", in a tone that suggests this is not good either. I joke that neither her father nor I know what on earth she is talking about, but I have the distinct impression they do not believe me.

Back to this morning and, half a minute after I have done the milk round, the demands start: “Mama, Mama, MAMA, I wan do sum draring”, “Mama, Mama, MAMA I wan a puzil.. jeux jeux…”. Sometimes I try to ignore her, but she holds an ace.

“Mama, Mama, MAMA. PEE PEE.” This, she knows, is guaranteed to have me leaping out of bed and rushing to find the potty. From there it is just a short walk to the kitchen and breakfast.

Today, the Frenchman, twitches an eyelid and grunts: “Go back to sleep, it’s still night time.”

“Give her a break,” I say. “How is she to know the clocks went back at the weekend?”

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