At the last contact meeting before adoption, our girls’ birth mother told them she would find them. Whatever happened, she said, she would know them by their ears. I anticipate that will require some explanation. Both girls have ear deformities which consist of a lack of cartilage in the helix of their outer ear. If you take the top of your ear and fold the top over, you will get the idea. With little Sophia, it is more pronounced.

S's Birthday

Sophia is a bouncing rubber ball of unrestrained impulse, humour and generosity. She is mercurial in mood and movement. One minute she is joyfully dancing in her flamenco dress, then despairing over a sum or tearing into some Lego. She is neither contemplator nor brooder – she bounds from moment to moment with the world in her tiny wake.

We have a ritual at bedtime. I walk into her room singing “I am looking for a beautiful girl” to the tune of Madonna’s Material Girl whilst she lies giggling under the duvet. I express my amazement that she seems to be missing and then send a hand in under the duvet to tickle her to the surface. We talk about the day and then move on to “kiss questions”. She nominates the topic and she gets kisses for right answers, tickles for wrong ones. Every day for a week she has asked for questions about the supper we left out for Santa at Christmas.

Curious, I asked her why she had picked that topic. She looked away and then back at me, her face full of worry and her eyes wide. “The other girls at school say my ears are different”.

In an instant, I felt hollowed out. I had the realisation that must come to all fathers that for all the promises you have made you cannot roll the earth flat before your children and make straight their path to happiness.

“Oh, Soph, you are the most beautiful girl in the world.”

“My ears aren’t like yours though are they?”

“No. We could get a doctor to change them if you are unhappy.”

She looks away again, and pauses for a heartbeat.

“No, I like my ears”.

I don’t need to reshape the world for a girl with her courage.

Meanwhile the bed next to hers is empty. Sara is away at Brownie camp – her first adventure away from us. Having dropped her off, P stood at the door casting round for an excuse to go back. This is the first tiny step to independence. I am so very proud of her.

38 degrees

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P is ill. Normally indefatigable, she has been in need of slipping away to lay down and ail, leaving the kids and I staring at each other in panic. Don’t worry, I tell them, we’ll be ok. The girls are sympathetic and nod re-assuringly but they know and I know that we are sunk.

Meanwhile I am planning my diary. P’s illnesses are like Olympic torches. They burn brightly, blazing for what should be unsustainably long periods until finally she passes it to me and she instantly recovers. It’s an arrangement that works. My real fear is that one day we will be ill simultaneously and the children resopirt to eating the dog. I know, however, that I have at best a couple of days before the snot tsunami engulfs me.

We had friends over this afternoon and headed off for a park. The snow was thin, crusty and melting fast but the kids threw themselves into exploiting it for all it was worth. Sara declared “this is the BEST DAY EVER”, which suggests she has usefully low expectations. I wore 17 layers and was so snug I almost fell asleep standing. It was only the constant thudding of snowballs from five children that kept me upright.

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Snow 2

Go icicles

For many days now, grim-faced weathermen have been plotting the oncoming threat of snow. The TV coverage has made me begin to wonder if I have lived too long. I am gripped by deja vu – principally because I really have seen it all before.

There will be pictures of cars being dug from drifts in the West Country; cars moving slowly up a motorway along a black track gouged through the snow; a report about delayed trains; film of children’s jubilation that school has closed early (matched no doubt by the mood in the staff room); a rear wheel drive car is shown skidding sideways at low speed; kids ride sledges down Parliament Hill; the worried face of an old man gazes out of a window as a sad voice explains hypothermia and the inadequacy of the Winter Fuel Allowance; local authority employees are quizzed about gritting; an expert is asked about global warming.

Go outside and look up. The grey flakes dart about, picked out against the milky sky. It is a sight even older and more familiar than the monotonous repetitions of the news. Tomorrow the ice will send me toppling and I’ll curse as I snap a credit card cleaning the windscreen of my car but right now I am four years old. I am seeing my first proper snowfall. My face is pressed so hard against the glass that I can smell the dust on the window. Looking up. Looking up. Then dashing to grab my boots and my coat. Mum is pushing a hat onto my head and I’m wondering if you have to be taught how to build a snowman or whether I’ll just know.

I stop wondering whether I’ve lived too long. I haven’t lived enough.