Parenting a toddler? You better be a polymath.

There are few sounds as disturbing, on a fundamentally primal level, as a cat throwing up next to the bed at 2.30 in the morning. The whole process, from wet-gagging-start to fetid-stench-end seems to touch a nerve of such deep abhorrence that it would, I suggest, be akin to having to shake hands with Piers Morgan. Shudder.

Of course the early hours slew of half-digested cat biscuit opens up a slew of half-conceived questions, illuminated only by despair and the tiny green LEDs on my Fitbit. These questions follow a logical progression from concrete to abstract. It starts with simple pondering such as “what the hell is happening?” and “will the wife deal with it if I pretend to be asleep?”.

Very quickly though, the questions take on a more bitter edge: “why will the cat only eat the most expensive cat biscuits in Western Europe if he’s going to chuck them up a metre from my head?” and “why do we even have a cat?”.

The next stage in the three-part cat-vomit metric of enquiry becomes more philosophical: “what is a cat other than a furry sack of vomit and spite?”, “how twisted a soul does a cat have?” and “would the RSPCA get involved if, in a fit of ironic revenge, I made myself sick on the cat?”

Like a babushka doll of reasoned debate, the questions become wider, larger, requiring more time spent reading.

Dealing with toddlers is essentially the same in reverse. A riot of questions tumble forth unfettered by taboo or consequence.

“Why is that man fat?”, he’ll shout, stopping his walk and pointing,  “Why has that woman got wheels?”, “Why is that man drinking beer in the morning?”


These moments are awkward due to me being both British and middle-class. Indeed, the only real way to deal with this is to be an apologist for alcoholism.

“Now Rufus,” I proclaim loudly, ensuring that everyone can hear that I am passing on a message of non-judgement, “some people like to drink a can of warm Stella with their Cornflakes, and that’s their choice.”


And that, if the boy had any sense of decorum, would be an end to it. Alas…


“Oh,…I don’t know. Maybe he’s having a bad time in his life and has turned to alcohol as an easy way to feel a bit better.”


“Perhaps he lost his job. Or maybe his partner left him.”


“Well, I’d imagine the financial strain would spill over into relationship issues. Maybe they got caught with too much debt and lost their house when the financial markets crashed a decade ago. They probably struggled along for a bit but with no work, credit cards to pay off and ever-increasing levels of austerity cutting any governmental support that was once available, the whole thing most likely became just too hard for them to carry on.”


Have you ever tried explaining the sub-prime housing market to a three-year old? I have.

And why some men have long hair. And why the sky is blue. And where poo comes from. And why you can eat a cow but not a cat.

I always said to myself that, if asked a ‘why’ question by my sons, I would do my best to answer it with something better than ‘because it is’. It’s something that I learnt early on in my teaching career. You really shouldn’t make students work ‘because I told you so’. It’s lazy and shows that you don’t really know why you’re doing the lesson, which, in turn, probably means it’s a waste of time.

The trouble with answering questions from the boy is that there is no end. It’s like mirrors facing each other with me in the middle. I’m staring back at myself, my fore-head is furrowed in concentration, each reflection another question, on and on, endlessly into the infinite.

The other trouble is that, sooner or later, the question hits bedrock ignorance. Either I don’t, or can’t possibly, know. For instance, I can explain my own lack of belief in God in straight forward terms. I can explain what religions believe in terms of dogma. I can’t – without conducting a fairly comprehensive survey – find out why people believe in certain religions over others.

And if I don’t know, I’m asked why I don’t know. It’s like having the most demanding lecturer of all time who expects you to have read, and be able to recall, literally everything.

It did occur to the other day that the interrogation style of a toddler is a cold and unrelenting one. I’d like to see a politician sat in a TV studio, lights hotly picking out the pinpricks of sweat forming on their brow. Opposite them is the boy, he’s fidgeting and turning in his chair and has some oversized TV presenter cards clutched in his greasy hand.  On one of them he has drawn what he believes to be a perfect rendition of a dinosaur but looks to everyone else like what the girl from The Ring does – except in brown crayon.

Someone would feed a question to the politician on some big topic of the day, like wage depression or conflict in the Middle-East or cuts to public sector services and for a full hour the only follow-up question is “why?”

And as soon as they respond “because that’s the way it is” a loud buzzer will sound and they will have lost.

Sure, it might mean Paxman and Humphries are out of a job but if they’re a bit hard up I’ll pay them to come over and clear up after the cat who has just shit on the floor next to his litter tray.

Why, why, why…



3 Replies to “Parenting a toddler? You better be a polymath.”

  1. I don’t know if they ran where you are, but some time ago Cadbury’s had a ‘chocolate family’.
    A few years ago our eldest, then a toddler, noticed a group of young men wondering through town. They were from Vanuatu, pruners and pickers employed by local orchards to fill labour shortages on the vines.
    “Look Dad, chocolate people.”
    Complete with pointing and and urgent tone.
    I didn’t know where to look.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah the unfiltered mouths of young ‘uns. The boys were born in Thailand so were exposed to different ethnicities. Having said that, we now live in a very rural (and monochromatic) part of the UK. It’s only a matter of time before we visit London and one of them says something innocently racist.


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