OK. Don’t panic. I’m in charge. I, Rebecca Brandon (née Bloomwood), am the adult. Not my two-year-old daughter.
Only I’m not sure she realizes this.
“Minnie, darling, give me the pony.” I try to sound calm and assured, like Nanny Sue off the telly.
“Poneeee.” Minnie grips the toy pony more tightly.
“Mine!” she cries hysterically. “Miiiine poneee!”
Argh. I’m holding about a million shopping bags, my face is sweating, and I could really do without this.
It was all going so well. I’d been round the whole shopping mall and bought all the last little things on my Christmas list. Minnie and I were heading toward Santa’s Grotto, and I only stopped for a moment to look at a dollhouse. Whereupon Minnie grabbed a toy pony off the display and refused to put it back. And now I’m in the middle of Ponygate.
A mother in J Brand skinny jeans with an impeccably dressed daughter walks past, giving me the Mummy Once-Over, and I flinch. Since I had Minnie, I’ve learned that the Mummy Once-Over is even more savage than the Manhattan Once-Over. In the Mummy Once-Over, they don’t just assess and price your clothes to the nearest penny in one sweeping glance. Oh no. They also take in your child’s clothes, pram brand, nappy bag, snack choice, and whether your child is smiling, snotty, or screaming.
Which I know is a lot to take in, in a one-second glance, but believe me, mothers are multitaskers.
Minnie definitely scores top marks for her outfit. (Dress: one-off Danny Kovitz; coat: Rachel Riley; shoes: Baby Dior.) And I’ve got her safely strapped into her toddler reins (Bill Amberg leather, really cool; they were in Vogue). But instead of smiling angelically like the little girl in the photo shoot, she’s straining against them like a bull waiting to dash into the ring. Her eyebrows are knitted with fury, her cheeks are bright pink, and she’s drawing breath to shriek again.
“Minnie.” I let go of the reins and put my arms round her so that she feels safe and secure, just like it recommends in Nanny Sue’s book, Taming Your Tricky Toddler. I bought it the other day, to have a flick through. Just out of idle interest. I mean, it’s not that I’m having problems with Minnie or anything. It’s not that she’s difficult. Or “out of control and willful,” like that stupid teacher at the toddler music group said. (What does she know? She can’t even play the triangle properly.)
The thing about Minnie is, she’s . . . spirited. She has firm opinions about things. Like jeans (she won’t wear them) or carrots (she won’t eat them). And right now her firm opinion is that she should have a toy pony.
“Minnie, darling, I love you very much,” I say in a gentle, crooning voice, “and it would make me very happy if you gave me the pony. That’s right, give it to Mummy.” I’ve nearly done it. My fingers are closing around the pony’s head . . .
Ha. Skills. I’ve got it. I can’t help looking round to see if anyone’s observed my expert parenting.
“Miiiine!” Minnie wrenches the pony out of my hand and makes a run for it across the shop floor. Shit.
“Minnie! Minnie!” I yell.
I grab my carrier bags and leg it furiously after Minnie, who has already disappeared into the Action Man section. God, I don’t know why we bother training all these athletes for the Olympics. We should just field a team of toddlers.
As I catch up with her, I’m panting. I really have to start my postnatal exercises sometime.
“Give me the pony!” I try to take it, but she’s gripping it like a limpet.
“Mine poneee!” Her dark eyes flash at me with a resolute glint. Sometimes I look at Minnie and she’s so like her father it gives me a jolt.
Speaking of which, where is Luke? We were supposed to be doing Christmas shopping together. As a family. But he disappeared an hour ago, muttering something about a call he had to make, and I haven’t seen him since. He’s probably sitting somewhere having a civilized cappuccino over the newspaper. Typical.
“Minnie, we’re not buying it,” I say in my best firm manner. “You’ve got lots of toys already and you don’t need a pony.”
A woman with straggly dark hair, gray eyes, and toddlers in a twin buggy shoots me an approving nod. I can’t help giving her the Mummy Once-Over myself, and she’s one of those mothers who wears Crocs over nubbly homemade socks. (Why would you do that? Why?)
“It’s monstrous, isn’t it?” she says. “Those ponies are forty pounds! My kids know better than to even ask,” she adds, shooting a glance at her two boys, who are slumped silently, thumbs in mouths. “Once you give in to them, that’s the beginning of the end. I’ve got mine well trained.”
“Absolutely,” I say in dignified tones. “I couldn’t agree more.”
“Some parents would just buy their kid that pony for a quiet life. No discipline. It’s disgusting.”
“Terrible,” I agree, and make a surreptitious swipe for the pony, which Minnie adeptly dodges. Damn.
“The biggest mistake is giving in to them.” The woman is regarding Minnie with a pebblelike gaze. “That’s what starts the rot.”
Well, I never give in to my daughter,” I say briskly. “You’re not getting the pony, Minnie, and that’s final.”
“Poneeee!” Minnie’s wails turn to heartrending sobs. She is such a drama queen. (She gets it from my mum.)
“Good luck, then.” The woman moves off. “Happy Christmas.”
“Minnie, stop!” I hiss furiously as soon as she’s disappeared. “You’re embarrassing both of us! What do you want a stupid pony for, anyway?”
“Poneeee!” She’s cuddling the pony to her as though it’s her long-lost faithful pet that was sold at market five hundred miles away and has just stumbled back to the farm, footsore and whickering for her.
“It’s only a silly toy,” I say impatiently. “What’s so special about it, anyway?” And for the first time I look properly at the pony.
Wow. Actually . . . it is pretty fab. It’s made of painted white wood with glittery stars all over and the sweetest hand-painted face. And it has little red trundly wheels.
“You really don’t need a pony, Minnie,” I say—but with slightly less conviction than before. I’ve just noticed the saddle. Is that genuine leather? And it has a proper bridle with buckles and the mane is made of real horsehair. And it comes with a grooming set!
For forty quid this isn’t bad value at all. I push one of the little red wheels, and it spins round perfectly. Now that I think about it, Minnie doesn’t have a toy pony. It’s quite an obvious gap in her toy cupboard.
I mean, not that I’m going to give in.
“It winds up too,” comes a voice behind me, and I turn to see an elderly sales assistant approaching us. “There’s a key in the base. Look!”
She winds the key, and both Minnie and I watch, mesmerized, as the pony starts rising and falling in a carousel motion while tinkly music plays.
Oh my God, I love this pony.
“It’s on special Christmas offer at forty pounds,” the assistant adds. “Normally this would retail for seventy. They’re handmade in Sweden.”
Nearly fifty percent off. I knew it was good value. Didn’t I say it was good value?
“You like it, don’t you, dear?” The assistant smiles at Minnie, who beams back, her stroppiness vanished. In fact, I don’t want to boast, but she looks pretty adorable with her red coat and dark pigtails and dimpled cheeks. “So, would you like to buy one?”
“I . . . um . . .” I clear my throat.
Come on, Becky. Say no. Be a good parent. Walk away.
My hand steals out and strokes the mane again.
But it’s so gorgeous. Look at its dear little face. And a pony isn’t like some stupid craze, is it? You’d never get tired of a pony. It’s a classic. It’s, like, the Chanel jacket of toys.
And it’s Christmas. And it’s on special offer. And, who knows, Minnie might turn out to have a gift for riding, it suddenly occurs to me. A toy pony might be just the spur she needs. I have a sudden vision of her at age twenty, wearing a red jacket, standing by a gorgeous horse at the Olympics, saying to the TV cameras, “It all began one Christmas, when I received the gift that changed my life. . . .”
My mind is going round and round like a computer processing DNA results, trying to find a match. There has to be a way in which I can simultaneously: 1) Not give in to Minnie’s tan?trum; 2) be a good parent; and 3) buy the pony. I need some clever blue-sky solution like Luke is always paying business consultants scads of money to come up with . . .
And then the answer comes to me. A totally genius idea which I can’t believe I’ve never had before. I haul out my phone and text Luke:
Luke! Have just had a really good thought. I think Minnie should get pocket money.
Immediately a reply pings back:
So she can buy things, of course! I start to type. Then I think again. I delete the text and carefully type instead:
Children need to learn about finance from early age. Read it in article. Empowers them and gives responsibility.
A moment later Luke texts: Can’t we just buy her the FT?
Shut up. I type: We’ll say two pounds a week shall we?
R u mad? Comes zipping back: 10p a week is plenty.
I stare at the phone indignantly. 10p? He’s such an old skinflint. What’s she supposed to buy with that?
And we’ll never afford the pony on 10p a week.
50p a week. I type firmly. Is national average. (He’ll never check.) Where r u anyway? Nearly time for Father Christmas!!
OK whatever. I’ll be there comes the reply.
Result! As I put away my phone, I’m doing a quick mental calculation: Fifty pence a week for two years makes £52. Easy enough. God, why on earth have I never thought of pocket money before? It’s perfect! It’s going to add a whole new dimension to our shopping trips.
I turn to Minnie, feeling rather proud of myself.
“Now, listen, darling,” I announce. “I’m not going to buy this pony for you, because I’ve already said no. But as a special treat, you can buy it for yourself out of your own pocket money. Isn’t that exciting?”
Minnie eyes me uncertainly. I’ll take that as a yes.
“As you’ve never spent any of your pocket money, you’ve got two years’ worth, which is plenty. You see how great saving is?” I add brightly. “You see how fun it is?”
As we walk to the checkout, I feel totally smug. Talk about responsible parenting. I’m introducing my child to the principles of financial planning at an early age. I could be a guru on TV myself! Super Becky’s Guide to Fiscally Responsible Parenting. I could wear different boots in each episode—
I’m jolted out of my daydream to see that Minnie has dropped the pony and is now clutching a pink plastic monstrosity. Where did she get that? It’s Winnie’s Wagon, from that cartoon show.
“Wagon?” She raises her eyes hopefully.
“We’re not getting the wagon, darling,” I say patiently. “You wanted the pony. The lovely pony, remember?”
Minnie surveys the pony with total indifference. “Wagon.”
“Pony!” I grab the pony off the floor.
This is so frustrating. How can she be so fickle? She definitely gets that trait from Mum.
“Pony!” I cry, more loudly than I meant to, and brandish the pony at her. “I want the poneee—”
Suddenly I get a prickly-neck feeling. I look round to see the woman with the toddler boys, standing a few yards away, staring at me with her pebblelike eyes.
“I mean . . .” I hastily lower the pony, my cheeks burning. “Yes, you may buy the pony out of your pocket money. Basic financial planning,” I add briskly to the pebble-eyed woman. “What we learned today is that you have to save up before you can buy things, didn’t we, darling? Minnie’s spent all her pocket money on the pony, and it was a very good choice—”
“I’ve found the other pony!” The assistant suddenly appears again, breathless and carrying a dusty box. “I knew we had one left in the stockroom; they were originally a pair, you see . . .”
There’s another pony?
I can’t help gasping as she draws it out. It’s midnight blue with a raven mane, speckled with stars, and with golden wheels. It’s absolutely stunning. It complements the other one perfectly. Oh God, we have to have them both. We have to.
Rather annoyingly, the pebble-eyed woman is still standing there with her buggy, watching us.
“Shame you’ve spent all your pocket money, isn’t it?” she says to Minnie with one of those tight, unfriendly smiles which proves she never has any fun or sex. You can always tell that about people, I find.
“Yes, isn’t it?” I say politely. “That’s a problem. So we’ll have to think of a solution.” I think hard for a moment, then turn to Minnie.
“Darling, here’s your second important lesson in financial planning. Sometimes, when we see an amazing one-off bargain, we can make an exception to the saving-up rule. It’s called seizing the opportunity.”
“You’re just going to buy it?” says the pebble-eyed woman in tones of disbelief.
What business is it of hers? God, I hate other mothers. They always have to butt in. The minute you have a child, it’s as if you’ve turned into a box on an Internet site that says, Please add all your rude and offensive comments here.
“Of course I’m not going to buy it,” I say, a little stonily. “She’ll have to get it out of her own pocket money. Darling.” I crouch down to get Minnie’s attention. “If you pay for the other pony out of your pocket money at fifty pence a week, it’ll take about . . . sixty more weeks. You’ll have to have an advance. Like an ‘overdraft.’?” I enunciate clearly. “So you’ll basically have spent all your pocket money till you’re three. All right?”
Minnie looks a bit bewildered. But then, I expect I looked a bit bewildered when I took out my first overdraft. It goes with the territory.
“All sorted.” I beam at the assistant and hand over my Visa card. “We’ll take both ponies, thank you. You see, darling?” I add to Minnie. “The lesson we’ve learned today is: Never give up on something you really want. However impossible things seem, there’s always a way.”
I can’t help feeing proud of myself, imparting this nugget of wisdom. That’s what parenting’s all about. Teaching your child the ways of the world.
“You know, I once found the most amazing opportunity,” I add, as I punch in my PIN. “It was a pair of Dolce and Gabbana boots at ninety percent off! Only, my credit card was up to my limit. But did I give up? No! Of course I didn’t!”
Minnie is listening as avidly as if I’m recounting The Three Bears.
“I went round my flat and searched in all my pockets and bags, and I collected up all my little coins—and guess what?” I pause for effect. “I had enough money! I could get the boots! Hooray!”
Minnie claps her hands, and to my delight, the toddler boys start cheering raucously.
“Do you want to hear another story?” I beam at them. “Do you want to hear about the sample sale in Milan? I was walking along the street one day, when I saw this mysterious sign.” I open my eyes wide. “And what do you think it said?”
“Ridiculous.” The pebble-eyed woman turns her buggy with an abrupt gesture. “Come on, it’s time to go home.”
“Story!” wails one of the boys.
“We’re not hearing the story,” she snaps. “You’re insane,” she adds over her shoulder as she strides off. “No wonder your child’s so spoiled. What are those little shoes of hers, then, Gucci?”
Blood zings to my face and I stare at her in speechless shock. Where did that come from? Minnie is not spoiled!
And Gucci doesn’t even make shoes like that.
“She’s not spoiled!” I manage at last.
But the woman has already disappeared behind the Postman Pat display. Well, I’m certainly not going to run after her and yell, “At least my child doesn’t just loll in the buggy sucking its thumb all day, and by the way have you ever thought about wiping your children’s noses?”
Because that wouldn’t be a good example to Minnie.
“Come on, Minnie.” I try to compose myself. “Let’s go and see Father Christmas. Then we’ll feel better.”