"Mum-Mee", comes the voice of the Automatic Question Generator in the back seat of the car, "Who makes water?" "Well darling", I reply, trying to give myself an air of Professor Brian Cox but probably sounding a bit more like Winnie the Pooh, "Nobody makes water. Water just IS". "What?", says the AQG, totally dissatisfied with my flaky answer. "Weeell", I stumble on, "Water just exists, some things just exist, water is...it's...it's...it's...one of the Elements". I feel pretty pleased with myself for imparting this nugget of science, until my partner breaks it to me later that day that my theory has been abandoned for several hundred years and belongs in a dusty vault labelled 'Classical Thought and Medieval Alchemy'.
Living with a three year old, the questions are constant, and I have to say, some of them are already pretty challenging to ethereal brained arty types like myself, who gave up Physics and Chemistry at the first opportunity and opted for the duvet-like comfort of the world of fiction, where there are no wrong answers, and no one ever lets the truth get in the way of a good story. If she asked me why Hamlet didn't get round to killing his step-dad, or what poetry is, I'd be in my element, but in life as in Trivial Pursuit, the piece of Science cheese always lets me down. "Mummy why do we have Seasons?", was another one that totally stumped me, and my attempt to explain Radio tied me up in such knots that I was tempted to take my mother's advice and just tell her 'It's Magic'.
Spending my days with her always reminds me of having a guest to stay who has never been to your neck of the woods, someone from abroad, or from a different culture. Suddenly you see your familiar world afresh through their eyes, and often, you notice beauty and wonder in places that you had previously driven straight past in a rush on your way to work. The greengrocers, an antique shop, penny sweets, maps, rowing boats: to her these are not just places and things, they are whole new concepts, and they thrill her to such an extent that you cannot help be totally swept along by her massive enthusiasm.
Of course, there are some places we would prefer to keep hidden from visiting tourists. Sometimes in my efforts to explain the world to her I find I start to question it myself. Obviously there is war, suffering, death - for now we choose to keep mostly tight lipped about these key players. But the subtler details are harder to disguise. At our local toddler group car park a huge metal bar has been erected across the entrance, to keep out a local group of 'travellers', who in fact have nowhere to go now that the council have finally succeeded in evicting them from a piece of local land, which they own and have been living peacefully on for fifteen years. She wanted to know what the bar was for, and I attempted to tell her, but halfway through my explanation I admit I started to feel a bit desperate and hollow inside. And yesterday, I struggled to explain why it was not OK to climb on the wooden gate of a private garden. "Because...it belongs to somebody else...", I tailed off weakly, and it seemed particularly ironic as I had spent the whole afternoon drumming into her how important it was to share with her visiting cousin.
Still, she takes it all in her stride, and her search for knowledge is never swayed, either by my inaccurate or lacklustre answers, or indeed by the strange logic of what must seem at times a baffling and inaccessible world. And this is what I admire most about my little tourist - her absolute positivity, the way she never loses interest or heart, and above all, her total lack of judgement or prejudice for the places she explores. Recently I asked her a question: How do you know when someone is a boy or a girl? Her answer: Girls have names that end with the sound 'eee' (as in Poll-ee, Mag-ee, etc) No mention of any other gender difference. She takes as she finds, she is not jaded, and unlike most of us globetrotters, she has no baggage. I find it inspiring, and being with her not only opens my eyes to the way things are, but also to the way they could be, and indeed the way I could be, if I could just borrow a fraction of her open-hearted curiosity.
Speaking of fractions, I'm off to brush up on a few maths and science basics before the next volley of questions is fired. I'm determined to crack this Seasons thing, for starters. Remind me, does the tennis ball go round the biscuit tin, or is it the other way round?