Footsteps thunder down the passage and the bedroom door is flung open. I hold up one side of the doona. There are good aspects to this: a sleek back snuggles into me; a downy nape is lodged against my nose. There are also bad aspects. “Mummy, what time is it? I’m just going to turn on the light and check.” “Don’t do that. Just check my phone.” “5.24. Does that mean there are 26 minutes until 7?” “Yes. No. Let’s just go back to sleep.” “But what time is it now? I’m just going to check. It’s 5.27.” A rigorous commentary is provided on the predawn minutes. Eventually, 93 minutes have passed. “Mummy – guess what! It’s seven o’clock. You have to get up and play with me. YOU SAID you’d play with me!” “But it’s not a school day. Why don’t we just sleep a bit?” The light is turned on; the blinds ping up. “You have to get up NOW.” “But look: one of my eyes doesn’t even want to open.” “You have to OPEN it. I’ll help you.” Eye is helpfully propped open. “What are we doing today? Can we go swimming?” “Maybe.” A howl emerges from the opposite bedroom: “But YOU SAID we’d go on the paddleboats today!” “Can we do swimming NEXT?” “Yes. I mean, ‘sometime’.” “And YOU SAID we could make cupcakes today. And I ONLY want to make cupcakes that are strawberry on the bottom.” I search for strawberry cupcakes online. The only acceptable cupcakes are multi-factorial, involving such things as strawberries dipped in chocolate. We compile a list of ingredients. The usual issues of breakfast and getting dressed. I call to book a paddleboat. Apparently there is no great demand for paddleboats at present so we will be okay. We drive to the fan shop on South Road to buy a new remote kit for the fan. “But we don’t even want to go here. I’m not coming in. Yes I am. No I’m not. Why do we have to be here? But we don’t even need a fan in our room.” I successfully purchase the fan kit, which remains unrivalled as the day’s pinnacle of achievement. We drive to town and find a park on War Memorial Drive. While trying to fend off helpful fingers at the ticket machine, I accidentally purchase a maximum duration ticket of five hours. Since we have made such a significant investment, it seems a good idea to spend more time in town. This is subsequently revealed to be an error. We cross the footbridge to the paddleboats. O already has sore legs. R suggests we go on a Popeye boat cruise instead. O agrees, so R immediately changes his mind. “Can we go on Popeye NEXT?” “Yes. I mean, ‘sometime’.” Then R again changes his mind and wants to go on Popeye, so O insists on a paddleboat. A kind young man supplies life jackets to the boys, and helps us into the paddleboat. He points out that it would be ergonomically unsound for me to sit in the tiny cavity at the back meant for children. O refuses to sit in the cavity for children. It is demeaning. Eventually he agrees to sit in the middle between me and R as we pedal. We launch onto the Torrens. O cries out immediately: “I HATE this!” I draw his attention to something in the distance that might be a duck. “We have to go back STRAIGHT AWAY!” R identifies the refuse we trawl through, in the fascinated manner of David Attenborough: “And now we’re approaching a tyre. A plastic bag. A hula hoop. WHAT’S THAT?” A duck cadaver, buoyant and feathery. “I STILL HATE this! We’re going to FALL IN!” O attempts to stand up; R offers to swap places; I urge all present to retain their seats. There is only one other paddleboat on the water: a ponytailed man grimly pedalling with a sullen girl. It has all the hallmarks of a paternal access visit. I wave as we pass; nobody reciprocates. We pedal towards some distant litter and then I steer us back to shore. “But it hasn’t been 30 minutes! I want to do it again and sit in the middle this time! It’s NOT FAIR!” “NO MUMMY I HATE THIS!” The only way out of awfulness is to trump it with greater awfulness. “I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we go to Rundle Mall and spend your pocket money?” Everybody jumps from the boat with alacrity. We cut through Hindley Street. There is an altercation ahead of us. As we pass the perpetrator, O drops my hand and lingers alongside him.
“Is that a ROBBER?” We decide to have sushi in the food hall at the Myer Centre. I know. Don’t even say it. Afterwards, we are once again in Rebel Sport. For a very long time. We buy more water balloons, and then I take them to the basement, where I offer to subsidise housewarming gifts for their father. Constructive suggestions are ignored in favour of lavender air freshener and a concrete dragon. I fear he will suspect me of malice. I take them to a lolly shop (!) and allow them to buy lolly bags (!). They both press the lift button at exactly the same time and then shout that the other one pressed it first so it’s their turn to press the lift button inside. “THAT’S IT. WE’RE TAKING THE ESCALATOR.” Nobody argues. My scary voice is becoming more convincing. We make our way back to the car. They accuse me of being “lost again”. On the way home, via the supermarket to get cupcake ingredients, they accuse me of being “lost again”. The usual things at the supermarket. O spends his remaining pocket money on cards for “very special people”: “I mean the people in my nucala family. You and me and R. And Daddy.” When we get home, he opens one of the cards and draws a picture of a small boy connected via a love heart to a big person with too much hair. He sticks one of his new lollies to the front and gives it to me. I forgive him everything. We decide to do some craft. I attempt one of those plaited streamers. It feels therapeutic for about five folds, but then it just keeps going. “But, Mummy, YOU SAID we would make cupcakes today.” We start making cupcakes today. Unusually, R offers to help too. O asks, “But who’s the best boy at making cupcakes?” “Well, you’re usually my special helper, but now it looks as though your brother is going to be a great help too!” “I’m the best!” “No, I’M the best!” “Why did HE get to add the flour AND the sugar?” “I’m mixing!” When two people aggressively mix the same batter, it becomes messy very quickly. O gets chocolate on his nose, and launches into a funny Christmas song: “Otto, the brown-nosed human!” The cupcakes go in the oven; the strawberries are dipped in chocolate. This seems like the ideal opportunity to attempt za’atar roasted sweet potato pearl barley, which I have never made before. “What’s that? It looks DISGUSTING!” “I HATE almonds!” “I HATE goats’ cheese!” “Can we please ice the cupcakes now?” “But, Mummy, YOU SAID you’d play Game of Life!” “Not right now, darling. I’m cooking you dinner.” “But you SAID.” “Maybe tomorrow.” “But that’s what you said yesterday.” “Maybe after dinner then.” “But can we please, PLEASE play it now?” I freeze at the kitchen bench with the knife still in my hand. Possibly a vein pulses in my temple. There are no further questions at this point. I covertly ice the cupcakes, improvising with a ziplock bag, as they (amazingly) eat their za’atar roasted sweet potato pearl barley. The icing emerges from the corner of the bag in long, greyish-purple worms, so that it looks as though each cupcake is topped with a small set of intestines. But the boys are effusively complimentary. They are the best cupcakes they have ever eaten. I start running the bath. “But YOU SAID we were going to play Game of Life today.” We play Game of Life Empire, a truly horrible game in which you seek to acquire the world’s “top brands”. I hate it so much I actually try to win, to bring it to a quick end. Just when I am heading to the finish line with a full complement of brands, R steals Yahoo! from me. Eventually, blessedly, we finish. No bath tonight. O demands I read him “The Man from Snowy River”, requesting translations of every colloquialism. At the end he remains unimpressed: “It’s just about some horses running. Someone chases them. So what.” The kitchen is a mess. I want the children to be asleep. R is in his expansive bedtime mood. When I finally coax him into bed he is aquiver with requests. I need to tell him three funny stories about when he was a baby. And then just one more. “Please, Mummy. PLEASE.” And then something embarrassing that happened to me when I was a teenager. No, it can’t be that one because he’s heard that one before. “Please, Mummy. PLEASE.” Then he has an inspiration: why don’t we communicate with each other through sign language in the dark? “Please, Mummy. PLEASE.” And finally: “Imagine if cities could teleport, and Adelaide swapped places with Canberra. Would Canberra still be our national capital or would Adelaide?” I really want to give him the right anwer, but cannot think what it is. Instead, I start laughing and find I cannot stop. He meets my eye, and then joins in.