Do you ever wonder if your children lead double lives?
Some time ago, when Ava was still at nursery, I discovered that the cook there was managing to feed her all manner of things she undoubtedly would have turned her nose up at at home... including cabbage (which she now picks over at our kitchen table once a week, ha!).
Now she's at school, I have a suspicion that she's taken to something even more surprising.
You see, she came home one day with a white sticker on her jumper, which read: 'special helper'.
"Wow!" I said. "So you were a special helper today?"
She beamed at me. "YES!"
"And what did you specially help to do, darling?"
"I tidied up."
"Did you?! What did you tidy?"
"I tidied up the book corner..."
"And I tidied up ALL the pencils..."
"AND, Mummy, I put away the paper, and put the scissors in the pots, and put some rubbish in the bin!"
It wasn't so much her telling me that she'd tidied stuff away – it was how flippin' HAPPY she sounded about it.
Whenever I ask Ava or Ruby to tidy up after themselves at home, this is the noise I get in reply: "HURRRRRGHHH. Mummmm-MMMY..."
They slump over like robots who have lost power. They practically drag their hands on the floor as I direct them towards whatever mess needs attending to.
(Where on EARTH do children learn that move from, by the way? Neither one of of mine has ever seen a Harry Enfield Kevin and Perry sketch, and yet both of them, one aged four and one aged five, have it to a tee.)
Don't get me wrong – I am not a pushover in such matters. After the airlift of new toys at Christmas, I had a big old sort out. Now, downstairs, we have a huge wooden chest which contains various very well organised bags and boxes.
So, Ava and Ru get to open the chest up and choose what to take out – be it a bag of dolls, a bag of cars, a bag of mixed up unicorns and pigs (an odd combo, I'll grant you), a box of Mr Potato Head odds and sods or a box of 'musical' (argh) instruments.
And when they have tired of the toys they have chosen, the deal is they pick it all up and put it back, before taking out something new.
In theory, this is brilliant.
In practice it is SO painful.
I'll notice they have stopped playing with whatever it is and have instead decided to hit each other in the head with cushions. I'll leave them for a bit because I know, from memories of playing with my own sister, beating one another with cushions is huge fun.
But after I while, I'll suggest that perhaps they could return their toys to the bag or box, so they can choose something else...
"Listen, you two..." I'll think back to the good old days when I could turn tidying up into a game. They've totally seen through that now.
"We're still playing with it!" Ava will offer.
"Oh, YES!" Ruby will say – and she'll pick up something and shake it, or make it bounce, to prove that she is, indeed, still playing with it.
"But you could get out a jigsaw," I'll say. "Or you could swap this unicorn-pig party for your racing cars and do races with them in the hall."
"I'm huuungry..." Ruby will say.
"I don't think you are hungry, Ru, because you finished breakfast 27 minutes ago."
"Actually, we probably will need a snack before we tidy up," Ava will helpfully suggest. "You know? So we have enough energy."
"I'm not getting you a snack yet, I have just finished clearing up after breakfast. Now tidy this stuff up and..."
Having picked up one tiny piece of plastic (and not put it into a box or bag), Ava will sort of swoon on to a nearby sofa. "I'm so tired, Mummy... my legs... they're... I just can't... do it..."
I never cave. Well, okay, the only time I cave is at night time when they genuinely are tired, and so am I, and all I can think about is getting them to bed so that I can go to bed, too.
But I almost never cave. It's a constant battle of wills.
Why must it be? It's clearly more important to Ava that she impresses her new school teacher than me.
Is it because of those white stickers?! Sigh, I could get white stickers, but I have a feeling I'd also have to borrow approximately 28 other children for Ava to be better than at tidying.
Okay, so what I need is 200 white stickers, plus 28 more children, plus one school teacher to move in.