This morning, my eyes popped wide open and I realised that, subconsciously, I was already planning the day ahead, with the nearest I ever come to military precision.
Because today, Big Al came to stay.
While only two feet tall, and as many years, this nephew is packed with more than his fair share of personal charm, and has the temperament of an affable hurricane. He has two sisters who look like princesses and he looks every inch the little, golden haired, dimpled prince.
His language development is unsettlingly advanced. He’s now at the point where he’s realised that words have a strange power to move adults when nothing else, including a temper tantrum, can. The other night he came downstairs well after his bedtime and declared: “I can’t sleep. I’m not tired AT ALL.”
He said it with a matter-of-fact artlessness which won him his campaign, and he watched sport on the telly with Daddy for a while. Oh yes, words can be very powerful.
He’s potty training right now. He has a propensity to freestyle with the whole poo thing. Often we will be having a sedate coffee at my sister’s house when a child will tear into the room, alerting us to the urgent existence of a poo bereft of its potty.
The most challenging incident occurred when he absent mindedly contributed one while on a large and expensive trampoline. The children are so desensitised to this occurrence that, distressingly, it did not phase them. Everyone just kept on bouncing while their harrassed mother tried to simultaneously clear up and emphasise the laws of physics with regard to semi-solids on a trampoline.
So: this morning, a dog walk and a breakfast later, the front door flew open, and it began. We sent him outside to bounce on the trampoline with his sister (nappy on) while mother and father made a speedy exit. And then I was all alone with Big Al.
First: to the kitchen cupboard, get out the saucepan, a spoon, a courgette, and some dry pasta. We cooked imaginarily for some minutes. This was working. I could do this.
But I had forgotten the attention span of a toddler, and within ten minutes Al was roaming around looking for meaningful employment.
I had a brainwave. Out came the knockout for little boys: the jigsaw-road. Whole villages could be made, civilisations built and their matchbox cars driven endlessly round. But not, it seems, by Big Al, whose boat it did not float.
Then followed a wild series of dogs-leg turnabouts typical of any two year old. We ranged through drawing, dancing and toy box rummaging. We had a short but firm lesson on the fact that swords are not for poking sisters and cousins with.
I looked round. Thirty minutes had passed. The hurricane had trashed the house.
And then I remembered -the playground! Thats what two year olds do!
Angels sang as I packed Big Al, the Princesses and my lot into the dented bus I call car, and we headed off for the park, stopping only to pick up my ever compassionate mother.
As we arrived the first big fat raindrops began to fall. We sat in the car and waited for it to pass. It increased in intensity.
When in doubt , have an iced cream. Indoors. This worked, as did the fizzy drink. The sensation of the bubbles made Big Al’s expression turn, just for a short divine time, to that of a mad axe murderer. We all laughed. He did again to show off. Happiness and contentment reigned.
So this is one of the miracles carbon can perform, I noted carefully.
Since then we have had wraps for lunch, a trip to the charity shop for a new digger, a trip to the park and tea. The Potty Regime is going rather well.
Only another 18 hours left. What could go wrong?