Little My’s list.

The windscreen wipers squeaked across the windscreen as we wound our way through the Esterel massif on the N7. This road has fantastic views, but has always scared the proverbial crap out of me – particularly at night. The numerous twists and turns have been responsible for many upturned stomachs on our family car trips, and I remain convinced to this day that if Charles De Gaulle had ever had the pleasure to test out being a passenger in the back of a Citroën DS on this road, like I did once, he would never have chosen it as his presidential car. Its hydraulic suspension makes you feel like you’re on a mattress full of blancmange, and it must have made even the merest ride down the Champs Elysée feel like a roller coaster experience.

On our left, oak trees were outlined against the late evening sky. On our right, a dwarf-sized concrete kerb separated us from the darkening depths of the valley. Every so often, we passed engraved marble slabs and flowers marking the spots where unfortunate drivers had come off the road and pitched over the edge.

Estérel

Bigfoot cheerfully pointed out the car wrecks dotted throughout the vegetation. Then my father-in-law soberly reminded P.F that he should keep an eye out for wild boar; they often cross the road in the dark, no doubt on their way out to join their pals guzzling the acorns, apples and other niceties that fall off trees in the region. Drivers who try to avoid them sometimes end up leaving the road and getting a one-way ticket to the local cemetery. My personal rule, which I hope I will never have to apply on that particular road, is hit and run: hit the beast, then run to get it in the freezer.

Little My listened in as I agreed how terrible it would be for three generations of the same family to fall in the canyon just because a boar had crossed the road without using the green cross code.

Little My

Little My (Photo credit: nhojjohn58)

I could hear the audible sound of wheels whirring in her brain, and frantically crossed my fingers, toes and everything else I had two of that her jaw was not on the point of moving. She has always planned things well in advance, and asks lots of questions about things I never gave a second thought to at her age. This has led to some very interesting (although occasionally badly timed) questions. She is very interested in death, which linked with her down-to-earth personality and concern to plan ahead, was about to give me a smile.

As I had feared, a little voice jettisoned out of the dark behind me and slammed into my eardrums.

« Mum, what will happen to me if I’m the sole survivor? Who will look after me? » she demanded. P.F gripped the wheel and peered into the darkness with renewed attention. I could have sworn I saw the corners of his mouth twitching with the beginning of a smarmy smile, and made a mental note to get my revenge. As everyone knows, questions to Dad begin and end with « Where’s Mum? ». Mums get all the other questions:  the ones about life, death, the universe, and why men have nipples.

« Well, ….. » I waited a few seconds to see how her French grandparents would react, but neither leapt into action. My personal suspicion is that one had happily missed the comment whilst the other had wisely decided to keep quiet and revel in my perilous parental predicament.

I drew in my breath, and explained to my potential Orphan Annie that as far as I knew, French law made provisions for family members to take care of young children who outlive their parents.  « Ah, I see ».

Two bends in the road later, she piped up again, and her next question was fired at me with all the subtlety of a loosely-bowelled hippo letting off steam in a monastery. « Can I choose who I live with? »  I squirmed in discomfort, anxiously eying the dark precipice on my right. « Well, I don’t see why not… Judges generally try to go along with the children’s wishes as much as they can, so if you’d eaten all your vegetables at the canteen before the hearing, they’d probably agree ».

« Yeeeeeeeesssss ! Cooooool ! », exploded noisily from the back seat of the car.

The remainder of the journey was spent listening to Little My as she ran through an impressive list of criteria (which happily had nothing to do with money, power or influence) before going on to the impact of various factors ranging from native languages to the availability of beefburgers. When we reached home, she had solemnly decided on our successors, should we ever meet with an untimely end. I hope that the lucky winners, as well as the runner-up (who is being kept on a back burner just in case the first choice doesn’t pan out as expected), will never have to discover that their names are on her list. If they ever do, I hope that they will cook her roast wild boar to avenge our deaths from time to time. And for those who are curious, I’m not telling – I have promised my daughter that I’ll be as silent as the grave.

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I spy with my Little My…..

My nine-year-old reminds me of “Little My“. This character in “the Moomins” is a very direct, no-nonsense little girl with a strangely adult approach to life who is highly independent and sometimes discomfortingly honest.

Although my daughter is not half as abrasive as Tove Jansson’s character, she has a lot of “Little My” about her. Seeing life through her eyes is both refreshing and revealing.

I remember the day I ceremoniously told her that I had kept my wedding dress in case she wanted to use it one day. Her eyebrows shot upwards, then plummeted into a frown. To the delight of her youngest aunt, she retorted with a scowl: “No way! You can give it to someone else,  I’m never getting married! I’m going to live with my two cats. I’ll have a boyfriend, and he can come to visit if he wants – but then he goes back to his house and leaves me alone”.

Last week, Little My and I wandered through the village cemetery on our way home. It’s a little lugubrious, I know, but I love walking in cemeteries. Little My was impressed by the headstones, and was curious to know how they had fitted so many people into one crypt. She quickly started noticing beautiful names, calculating ages and trying to work out who was related to who. We were soon involved in a morbid but highly interesting conversation.

“Have you written a will?”, she enquired. “I’m going to write one soon. When I’m old, I want to be crematified, but only after I’ve died. I’ll give all my painting stuff to my brothers, and my house and my cats too”. We continued walking, our shoes crunching on the gravel. “Oh,  and I’ll leave my nicest clothes to my best friends”, she added pointedly, looking sideways at me.

I got the message immediately. I was wearing the dress, the one she has been coveting since I bought it three years ago. She has already made me swear that I will put it aside for her when I’m either too old or too fat to wear it any more, and casts an eagle eye over the zipper every summer.  “It’s cremated, not crematified. And don’t worry, the day I pop my clogs you will be free to take whatever you want from my wardrobe, chérie”. She jumped up and wrapped her arms around my neck to plant a kiss on my cheek. There’s no doubt about it, the kid rocks.

Further along the pathway, she stopped and stared at a black marble flower-pot sealed on a tomb, the letters “AV” engraved on it in garish gold lettering. She shook my arm and muttered, “Look, mum, that grave’s for sale”.

It took me a minute of confusion to understand: “AV” in French is an abbreviation for “A Vendre”: “For sale”. I attracted her attention to the inscription on the tombstone, and she grunted, “Oh, ok. It’s his initials, I get it. But why on earth did they put them on the pot? Did they think someone was going to run away with it?” I always put her initials on her stuff incase she leaves it on a park bench or someone picks it up by accident.

I hugged her, and we walked on. One epitaph got her thinking. It was over the top, over emotional, and otherwise too good to be true, and Little My said so in as many words. This got us wondering about epitaphs on tombstones. We discussed the fact that nobody has “Good riddance to bad rubbish” chiselled into the stone in gothic lettering, however uncharitable they could have been during their lives. So, said Little My, why do people lie about it? Or do we all have the right to being pardoned when we pass on?

We took the example of Grande Mamie, her great-grandmother. She had always said, “I’ll bury the lot of you”- and as far as her immediate generation was concerned, she almost did.  We both agreed that although it would have been cool to see it written on her headstone, it obviously it wouldn’t have been politically correct. Yet for those who knew her well, it would have been most appropriate.  (I had also suggested using her wardrobe as a coffin to avoid disputes over who inherited it, but that’s another story).

So, Little My asked, what would I want written on my tombstone? Chewing it over, I admitted that all the sappy “best thing since sliced bread” rhetoric would probably make me turn over and vomit in my coffin, and that I’d go for: “I almost made it, but I had a ball trying”. The story of my life, from the Roquefort that fell off my fork millimetres in front of my mouth at Christmas and exploded on my plate, splattering my dress, to my success at combining motherhood and business creation, which I am still working on. And in the mean time, what the hell….. I’m having fun.