Peppa Spray

25 July 2017 Jamila Rizvi

Peppa Spray

“Stop it.”

I freeze, immediately falling silent. I don’t know exactly what it is I need to stop, which makes the task of stopping all the more difficult. She changes her mind constantly about what is and isn’t acceptable. It could be my expression, or the tone of my voice, what I’m doing with my hands…it could be my breathing.

Oh gawd, I really hope she doesn’t want me to stop breathing.

Slowly, I turn to face her. She stands before me, puffed up to her full height, menacing and powerful. My face is hot and flushed beneath the mask. I wait, hoping for clarification about the particular nature of my transgression.

“Stop it, Mummy. Stop it talking.”

Peppa Pig wiggles her index finger back and forwards at me. She disapproves of my talking. She prefers that I snort, like her. We’re pigs, after all. We’ve been jumping in muddy puddles, visiting the library and going on adventures with our brother George Pig for most of the morning. It all would have been great fun except that I keep making mistakes.

I try to explain that Peppa Pig does actually talk on the television show, arguing for some limited speech to be permitted. The Other Peppa stares blankly back at me. My words are muffled, she can’t understand me. I yank my mask down so that it hangs loosely around my neck. And then it happens…

“STOP IT TALKING MUMMY!”

My son hurls himself on the ground, discarding his mask and breaking character. He howls in frustration, forgetting the previously happy time when we were both Peppa Pigs, content in one another’s company. None of that matters now; so horrendous is the nature of my crime. His little face scrunches up, his skin becoming almost as pink as the Peppa masks he and I were cheerily wearing just moments before.

I exhale. Loudly. It doesn’t matter now.

There’s a book called Toddler Taming that most new parents have. It’s often presented as a gift from those who’ve walked this path before, accompanied by a wry smile and a smug chuckle. “You have no idea what you’re in for,” they mutter under their breath. And you don’t. Because at that time you still have this cute, cuddly, non-chattering creature that loves and adores you no matter what. You have a baby, not a dictator.

The book sets out all sorts of useful information. Guidance for toilet training (arguably the world’s least edifying activity), time-management strategies (“accept that you can’t rush a toddler!”) and a step-by-step plan on discipline (bahahahaha!). Nowhere in its more than 300 pages, however, does it teach you how to live safely under authoritarian rule with the constant threat of tantrum-led doom.

It’s a life of delicate balance.

The dictator requests a banana. You peel the banana. The dictator refuses the banana and demands a pear. You give the dictator a pear and glad-wrap the banana, put it in the fridge for later. The dictator takes one bite of the pear and demands the banana again. You unwrap the banana and present it once more. Toddler cries because the banana has been pre-peeled. He wants an unpeeled banana. You peel another banana, thinking of all the promises you made to yourself before children about how your life wouldn’t change that much and how they’d “just fit in with our routine”.

The dictator wants to wear his Wiggles T-shirt but the Wiggles T-shirt is wet and hanging on the washing line. You suggest a T-shirt with a dinosaur on it. He refuses, stripping off his pyjamas and repeating his request for the Wiggles T-shirt. He is not in the mood for your incompetence. You suggest a T-shirt with a monkey on it. This is so horribly offensive to the dictator that minutes later you find yourself crouched over the heating vent, holding the Wiggles T-shirt aloft, while simultaneously blowing it with your hair dryer.

Sometimes you’re left wondering why you do it and you fantasise about walking out, going for a cocktail at the bar on the corner and leaving him to locate his own damn baby zebra toy for the 32nd time today. But just when you think you can’t stand it a second longer, he lures you back in with his expert manipulation techniques. A dictator is, after all, supremely charismatic.

Those chubby little arms lift up towards you, the innocent eyes of a child who belongs in the Country Road catalogue and a wide, toothy grin that’s so warm it could melt an iceberg and save the Titanic. You wish you could remain aloof and unfeeling; pay him back for the hell he’s put you through, the pain, the anger, the frustration and the exhaustion. But you can’t. Of course you can’t.

“I luff you mummy.”

“I love you too, Peppa Pig.”

“Mummy. STOP IT TALKING."

» Jamila Rizvi’s (@JamilaRizvi) debut book Not Just Lucky, a career manifesto for Australian women, is out now.

This article first appeared in Ed#541 of The Big Issue.

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