"Mummy, would you like a glass of wine with your breakfast?" says my 6 year old daughter in her loudest voice in a packed hotel dining room. "Isn't she hilarious?" I say in an equally loud voice as a hundred pairs of eyes turn to me - some bemused, some amused and some clearly disapproving. I can at least feel the silent solidarity of my fellow functioning alcoholics who are fully paid-up members of the "Wine O'Clock Club".
Putting aside the thorny issue of what exactly is the appropriate time to have your first glass of wine after a hard day's mothering, my daughter's question reminded me how differently kids see the world from adults. Take filters, for example, or "internal dialogue" as I like to call it - children don't really have any which leads to such gems as my daughter's. Granted, there are also many adults who seem incapable of engaging brain before mouth with slightly less amusing and often more hurtful consequences.
I'm sure most of us have witnessed totally inappropriate comments from children which often seem to be voiced at full volume in the most public of places - for example, "Why has that woman got a moustache?" in the supermarket queue. There is nothing malicious in such observations, just curiosity. No offence intended in the slightest.
My middle child recently told me that he thought my face looked a bit like ET's. I am assuming he is referring to the wrinkles rather than any suggestion of alien features. He seemed rather pleased with this analogy; I was less thrilled. There was no malice intended he was just telling me how he saw it. However, he did realise perhaps I was less than overjoyed by his comparison and very quickly qualified the "compliment" by saying that "It's all good, mum, ET is one of my favourite films." Well that is a relief.
As well as an inability to filter, younger children seem unable to distinguish between the literal and the non-literal. Let me give you an example. Recently, Queen Elisabeth II became the longest reigning monarch celebrating over 63 years on the throne. My daughter - the same one who was so concerned about my alcohol dependency - became very worried about this. Why? She had taken "63 years on the throne" at face value and thought that the Queen had literally been sitting on her "seat" (as she called it) for over 63 years without getting up to do anything else. The implications and the practicalities of this were worrying my daughter immensely. She was hugely relieved when I explained that this was a figure of speech and not literal. She visibly relaxed as she realised she no longer had to worry about how the poor Queen had had a shower or the like for over 60 years.
On the subject of worrying about things, this is another area in which adult thinking differs from children. My children have recently been rather obsessed with the morbid subject of what happens if I die. Obviously their concern is very touching until you realise that they are not worried about the emotional support and love that I give them and that they will be without should I meet an untimely end but rather their concerns are much more mundane: who will do the laundry? Who will drive them to school? And most worrying of all, who will know that they don't like butter in their sandwiches? Oh how wonderful it is to be so needed and valued! We may well laugh at what we as adults might consider the less important issues should the worst happen but this is how our children see it. This is how they see the world - not really much sense of the bigger picture but rather more concerned by their own little world.
One power that my children, mistakenly, seem to think I possess is an ability to see into the future. I am less convinced of any latent psychic potential and I suspect that I am not the only parent who is expected to answer questions from their children which demand a certain level of clairvoyance and supersensory perception which is sadly lacking. My children are always surprised when I don't know what the outcome of something will be or where exactly certain people are at any one time or what is going to happen in a film which we are watching together for the first time. It is, I suppose, faintly flattering that my children turn to me for all the answers but slightly less flattering is the disappointment I can sense when I am unable to give them a satisfactory response.
Perhaps the most irritating question for any parent is that familiar "are we nearly there yet?" which usually first arises 30 seconds after setting out on a 4 hour car journey. In my experience there is no good way to answer this question as nothing seems to settle the matter. Whatever you reply it is guaranteed that you will be asked the question again and again at approximately 2 minute intervals. There is nothing for it but to grit your teeth and reply with the deeply unsatisfactory "not yet, darling". Young children, it would seem, do not possess a sense of time. Time is a concept which baffles the young - particularly it would seem a sense of appropriate time which brings me full circle back to my daughter's innocent question about wine with my breakfast.