Our new house has an upstairs and a downstairs. How fancy. The downstairs of the place was built in 1919 and the upstairs in 1981, so naturally, the previous owners (builders of the upstairs) decided to seamlessly join the two different styles (Californian bungalow with nods to the Arts and Crafts movement and 1980s Blurgh) with a staircase I believe architects call ‘Victorian Babykiller’. That is to say there were faux-Victorian turned ballisters and newel posts in an entirely insufficient quantity to prevent adults, let alone children, from slipping between them and to their certain maiming or death.
For the first month we lived here we dealt with this danger by employing a Decreasing Scale of Rules and Scary Voices. May Blossom was lectured on moving day that she was only to go up or down the stairs in the company of an adult, and she was under no circumstances to hold the bannisters. Only hold the wall. That worked for about one day. Then we relaxed the chaperone rule and concentrated on holding the wall. That went pretty well until the Trouble Wildcard, Garnet, decided seven months was about long enough to be unable to move oneself about and became frighteningly mobile, frighteningly fast.
That was when we did put on our parent pants and called a builder, who in one day replaced the whole wretched bannister with a very smart straight up and down one with nice little gaps through which no babies can slip. We are absurdly proud of ourselves. Of course the thing will doubtless remain unpainted until shortly before we sell the house to move into a nursing home in about fifty years, but it is at least safe.*
Having an upstairs and a downstairs means you have to go up and down the damn things all day long. I mostly don’t mind, because any exercise I can muster is welcome right now, but yesterday I was being a bit lazy.
I was in the kitchen cooking, while Garnet crawled about under my feet eating bits of dropped food like one of those fancy robot vacuums H and I joked about putting on our wedding gift registry and then have regretted not doing ever since. Never mind, we made our own! H was working upstairs in his study. May Blossom appeared at the doorway, carrying a packet of four highlighters.
‘Mummy, can I please use these?’ she asked.
‘Where did you find those?’ I demanded. ‘They’re Daddy’s. Did you ask Daddy if you can use them?’
‘I found them under the piano. Daddy said I can use them.’ My brain did some quick processing. The piano is downstairs. H was upstairs. Why would she ask me if he had already said it was okay? I smelled a half-truth. I knew I should go up and check with H. I could not be arsed.
‘May Blossom, will you please go up and ask Daddy to write me a permission note for you to use his highlighters?’ I knew there was a very slim chance of this message Chinese-whispering its way to H in any way resembling its original form.
‘All right,’ she said, and off she went.
Not three minutes later she was back, bearing a handwritten letter that read:
Dear Jessie (Mummy),
I hereby grant May Blossom Gusto, of [our new address], permission to use the highlighters, on the proviso that they are used on paper alone, and that the paper is deemed ‘non-critical- by you or me.
Signed, H (Daddy)
I was very impressed. I gave her a pile of PAYG demands from the tax office and my blessing. Obviously she just used the highlighters to colour in her hands.
*Or it will be safe once we properly install the baby gates at the top and bottom, which currently are only Gusto-proof, and mean that about eight times a day May Blossom has to go let the meowing nincompoop up or down the stairs as the movement of the sun and the cat’s appetite dictates.