For a little while now, we've been contemplating whether or not it's a good idea to get the girls a pet. The idea is pretty much always there, in the forefront of our minds, probably because of the regular noises Ava makes: "Can I have a rabbit can I have a hamster can I have a penguin can I have a cat can I have a rabbit..."
Well last week, I got a little insight into how any pet moving in to our house might be greeted.
It was a very hot day (as they all were) and I had wandered down the alley between us and next door to inspect the thick layer of brick dust which has landed on every surface as a result of their renovations. To be honest, I'm not much of one for cleaning windows, but I'm starting to feel a bit like we live underground.
Anyway, having decided someone much taller would need to be called in, I glanced down – and there, close to my feet, I saw a very sad little creature.
It was gripping on to our broken drain cover (add that to the list then), gazing down at the puddle of soapy water, far below, left there by the morning's showers.
Clearly, it was considering whether to just leap in. It seemed to sense that leaping into the greasy murk wasn't a great idea – yet it had found no better option.
That's all our fault. When we moved to the house three years ago, we decided to remove a very deep, very stinky old pond. We'd had to disconnect some decidedly dodgy electric cables that had been put there 30 years ago for the pump (that had stopped working). And keeping the pond, well, it would have meant the garden would always be unsafe for little children.
Of course, since then, the frog – as all frogs do – has come back. It comes into our garden every summer and says: "Now, where in god's name is that pond?!"
And then it doesn't find the pond, and it hides somewhere.
The last two years I have found our frog (okay, it might not be the same one, and it doesn't actually speak) before it has reached such a pitiful state. This year I think I discovered it just in time. It made no attempt to hop away when I scooped it up. It just trembled a bit when I cleaned the soap scum off it. It closed its eyes sadly when I plopped into a bowl of water.
I thought that frog was a-goner.
That's why I didn't tell the girls about the frog straight away. But when it was looking a bit perkier, I thought it might like a swim in the paddling pool.
"Ava, Ruby!" I said. "I found something exciting!"
Ava gasped and ran over to me: "Can we eat it?!" she said.
"No. No you definitely can't eat it," I said, resisting the chance to remind her of what we had seen in the food markets on our recent French holiday.
I pointed into the paddling pool where I had put a couple of rocks at the shady end. The frog was casually leaning on one. It seemed happy. It was quite blissed out, actually – I could see it's dried up skin was puffing out a bit.
"WOOOOOWWWWWWW!!" Ruby squealed, as she started removing every stitch to get in.
"Hang on, Ru!" I grabbed her. "No, don't get in with it, you'll scare it."
"Oh, okay," she said. "I'll get it some juice."
"Er, no. It won't want juice, darling."
Ru looked at me like I was insane. "Why?!" she said.
Ava had found a stick.
"Don't poke it!" I said.
Ruby had found a woodlouse. "It doesn't eat woodlice!" I said (do they?! I always figured it was just flies).
Ava found it a ping pong ball, Ruby found it a plastic horse, but it seemed to be disinterested in water polo.
Ava humphed but Ruby suddenly realised they were missing a trick.
"Can I HOLD IT, Mummy?!" she squeaked, jumping up and down on the spot.
I told Ru to put her hand down low, very close to the water, and stay still. I scooped up the frog, and placed it very gently on her hand. Her eyes widened at the weight and the coolness of it. It moved the tiniest bit...
"AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!" Ruby screamed.
The frog hopped off and went back to his rock. He might have even tutted.
"Can I try holding it, Mummy?" Ava said, in a voice that suggested she'd do a much better job.
I thought about it. "I think you should kiss it," I said.
Ava made the sort of face she would make if I put a Greek olive in her mouth.
"He might turn into a prince!" I said. "Come on, you've read all the stories!"
Just for a second, Ava actually looked a bit concerned. Then triumph returned to her little face. "That won't work, Mummy," she said. "I know that won't work."
"Be-cause," she said, putting her hands on her hips, "frogs only turn into princes if they are kissed by PRINCESSES. And I, Mummy, am NOT a princess."
And I grinned. 'Wow,' I thought. 'She's finally realised!'
PS. We let the frog go and it happily hopped away in the late evening.