Meet Ava Coco II, a paper cut-out solution (sweetly dreamt up by Ava Coco I) to a little problem we encounter in our house on a weekly basis.
Regular readers of this column might already know that Ruby and her big sister Ava are very close in age – there is precisely one year and three weeks between them. Despite the fact that the first six months of Ru's life are pretty much a complete blur in my memory, the decision to have our babies so close together is one I've never regretted. Actually, I applaud the wisdom of that choice even more with every day that passes.
You see, what we managed to do was give each of our daughters their very own walking, talking entertainment system. The gap between them has closed so much it's hardly there in many respects and they're rarely bored, because they always have each other.
Except, that is, on Mondays.
Ruby started nursery shortly after she turned two and, partly because she was littler than Ava, partly because she had never spent any time away from me, and not least because of the seemingly extortionate cost of childcare without the grant (which won't kick in until October), I requested just two days per week for her, while Ava had three.
It was really lovely at the beginning for Ru and I to have some quality time together, just the two of us. We'd never had it before, of course, and so every Monday was a big mummy-Ruby-lovefest.
But, just recently, I've realised I am a poor substitute for Ru's REAL favourite person and I'm increasingly subjected to not-very-subtle hints that I simply don't fit into the Ava-shaped hole that punctures every Monday.
Last week, for example, when Ru and I were spending a rainy day at home together, I asked her to follow me into the kitchen where we were going to get her a drink and some rice cakes. But when I turned round, she wasn't there. I gazed down the hallway to see Ruby opening the letter box in the front door, and could just make out her calling softly through the gap: "Ava? Ava?!"
When I told Ruby it was lunchtime, she said: "Get Ava now?"
And after she woke up from her nap, and I suggested we should go downstairs for a cuddle, she said: "Find Ava?" and then heart-meltingly, "I miss her."
Well, to Ava (who knows how much Ruby misses her from the way she gets bundled at pick-up time every Monday) the answer seemed obvious. She lay down on a stretched out roll of wall lining paper, I drew around her, we filled in her features...and, er, hey presto!
But my big girl doesn't quite comprehend all the many qualities her 'avatar' lacks. Ava Coco II might be a similar height to Ava Coco I, but she is considerably less three dimensional. She is rubbish at playing catch, she doesn't talk much (if at all), and crawling round on all fours pretending to be Ruby's cat is quite beyond her.
Ava Coco II doesn't absent-mindedly stroke Ruby's face when, snuggling on the sofa, they watch an episode of Peppa Pig together. She doesn't hold Ruby's hand and make her run faster than her legs can manage in the garden and she's not nearly heavy enough to make a good seesaw partner. Put simply, Ava Coco II is just not as good as the real sister, who will allow Ruby to softly beat her round the head with a plastic drumstick in perfect rhythm to Michael Jackson.
Perhaps, come September, Ruby can get her third day at nursery. Before that happens, though, I'll get Ru to lie down on a stretched out roll of wall lining paper... and I shall have to settle for my own Ruby II, knowing I've saved Ruby I from all the tears Monday mornings currently bring.
Are your children close like this?