Politics & Policy

Breakfast On The Brink of The Break

“What is a spectroscope?”

Molly shifts uneasily in her chair. “It’s a device that lets you look into space?”

“Sit next to me, Mummy,” says Phoebe as I am putting down bowls of porridge.

“I don’t like porridge,” says Violet, looking up from beneath a cascade of hair held partly away from her face by a sparkly silver tiara.

“I don’t like porridge either,” Phoebe says promptly, spooning up a mouthful. “Ow! It’s hot!”

“Mine is just right, Mummy-O,” Paris murmers loyally, digging in.

“OK, a scope is something that helps you see, but what about spectro?” my husband persists, “Does the sound of it remind you of anything?” In response, Molly’s fingers skitter over the surface of her glossy and apparently-unread science textbook.

“Spectro,” she says speculatively, as if by rolling the word around aloud its meaning will become manifest. “Spec…tro.…”

Phoebe interrupts with a shriek, “Nobody gave me a drink!”

“Did you actually study this last night?” I ask, unwisely, and Molly shoots me a wounded look.

“There’s no need to shout,” my husband says to Phoebe, pouring mango juice into her glass, and to Molly: “It’s a device that breaks up light to help you analyze it.”

“Oh, right,” Molly says, nodding a little too vigorously, and I feel a pang of sympathy for her. I remember venturing up to my math teacher’s desk to ask to be walked through some primitive calculation or other, and the math teacher always cheerfully launching into a lively series of exhortations and scribbles. The thing always ended with me nodding furiously and saying, “Oh, right, I get it now,” and walking back to my desk still cloaked in ignorance.

“I wish we could just go straight to Canada now, and skip school,” Molly says after a moment. “We’d only miss half a day.”

“But then you’d miss your science test,” I say, and wish I hadn’t. Molly’s face assumes the aggressive yet victimized expression that I am beginning to recognize as a standby in the pre-teen arsenal. “You’ll be fine, sweetheart,” I compensate lamely. She pokes at her breakfast.

“Eat up your porridge, Phoebs. Ok, sweetheart, what is refraction?”

“Did you know?” Paris interrupts, “Caroline is part chicken. She likes chickens and she likes to act like a chicken, so she’s part chicken.”

My husband and I laugh. Molly rolls her eyes.

“She’s really a chicken?” Violet asks interestedly.

Part chicken.”

“What about you?”

“I’m part cheetah and part monkey,” he says firmly, and drains his glass. “Patrick says he’s part machine gun, but I don’t really believe it.”

“Ok, refraction…”

“I have a stomach ache,” Phoebe suddenly whines.

“Hey, stop whining,” I object.

“No, it’s part of the game,” she says in normal tones, and then, her voice rising an octave, she screeches softly, “I have a head cake and lots of sword throats.” It appears that she has a hypochondriacal spoon. “Oh, nooooo!” her spoon says, as it pitches headfirst into her bowl.

Ever since our household went through an exciting spasm of Winter Vomiting Disease, there’s been intermittent and hopeful talk of “not feeling well,” almost all of which has been, of course, complete fiction, and often brought on by the presentation of foods children would rather not eat.

For a while every time I picked Phoebe up from nursery school, the teacher would greet me with a wad of paper towels. “She said she was going to throw up,” the teacher would tell me, as together we watched the jolly platinum head capering around the playground.

Violet suddenly gasps. “I just remembered! Easter!”

“Oh, yeah!” Paris seconds.

“Will the Easter Bunny–”

“Refraction is not the same as reflection, obviously.”

I can’t bear it. I turn to Molly and hold up an imaginary gem, “You know how when you look through a crystal, or a diamond, and you see lots of colors?”

“That because,” my husband says triumphantly, “different colors bend at different angles. That’s refraction!”

“Oh, right.” This time she gets it.

“Mummy, will the Easter bunny be able to find us in Canada?”

“Of course he will,” Molly interjects, with a sidelong look at me, “And not only that, but I bet in Canada the Easter Bunny will be able to give us Kinder Eggs.” These, if you haven’t had the thrill, are hollow German chocolate eggs filled with tiny toys that one assembles oneself, and that don’t seem to be available in the U.S.

“Don’t forget to pick us up early today,” Violet reminds me.

“Don’t forget to pack our animals,” Paris reminds me.

“Don’t forget to iron my dress for the wedding,” Molly reminds me.

“Don’t forget the passports,” my husband reminds me.

Phoebe smiles dismally and gestures towards her bowl. “Awww,” she says. “My spoon died.”

Meghan Cox Gurdon writes regularly about children’s books for the Wall Street Journal.

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