|My wife is proceeding down the Princes Highway at 4.45 on a Thursday afternoon in the week before Christmas. The traffic, needless to say, is maddening. She is ferrying children home from a birthday party and each child is a pressurised organic container of hastily masticated ice cream, hamburger, cordial and assorted confectioneries.
My wife is concerned for the boy sitting in the middle of the back seat, a small child with sleepy eyes. For the first six months of his acquaintanceship with my daughter, he mistook her for a boy and called her Richard. Their relationship has a gentle, dream-like quality. But in the half-hour before leaving the party, he has slowly acquired an unnatural pallor. In a lull in the traffic, my wife momentarily takes her eyes off the road, turns and inquires as to his well-being.
This innocent act signals the beginning of what I can only describe as an Amityville Horror for Under Sevens. A spray of regurgitated party fodder passes her nose with such velocity that it lands only marginally short of the dashboard of our trusty, rusty Subaru. It is as if a high pressure hose has suddenly sprung a leak and is skidding about the car, spraying wildly and at random. The young girl on his left erupts like a mezzo soprano, leaping from silence to a high pitched scream vocal bound. At this, the Birthday Girl, who is the front seat and was buffeted by the original emission, comes out in sympathy and, between sobs, utters the historic line: "This is the worst day of my life!"
The Mezzo Soprano now adds a second dynamic to the drama. Shooting out a straight right, she pushes the head with the offending orifice as far away from herself as possible, with the effect that she stubs it like a cigarette into the lap of the third passenger in the back seat, another small boy. What alarms my wife, who is following developments through the rear vision mirror, is that the ill child does not return to the perpendicular but lies there, pallid and unmoving. Crises call for emergency measures. Taking a sharp left across the Princes Highway to the safety of the kerb, she delivers a sharp verbal smack to the two girls, now scaling operatic heights of passion and feeling in chorus, and established that the child has not expired but is merely sleeping.
And that is how I met them: one child asleep, two vibrating like motors, but doing so noiselessly, and the interior of the car looking as if a tin of pink salmon has exploded. And my wife, as is usual when things are at their worst, is laughing. I salute her.