The guilty inventor


There is a yowl from the kitchen and then silence. Number 2 walks calmly to me with a grin on his face, his best friend following him like an ominous shadow.

“I sprayed chilli water in Number 3’s eyes,” my son tells me with unsettling insouciance.  In his right hand is evidence that he is not trying to trick me, a favourite sport of his, in which I am always the winner. He is holding a thin spray bottle, at the bottom of which looks like the crushed remains of at least three red chillies floating sulkily in cloudy water.

Not that I need proof of his misdemeanour: the words have barely reached my ears when the yowling starts up again, like one of those factory sirens that begins innocently enough, but ends in a climactic wail.

Yet I remain unconvinced that this current little sibling set-to is a real one. Because, you see, my 9-year old son is a paragon of virtue.

I shit you not. He is one of those children who, when parents tell you about them, you actually just want to barf. I’m not sure how come he was delivered to us with a fully functional moral compass, but he was.

“Mom, I got some sweets at Stuart’s party and I’ve hidden them behind my books, but I promise I won’t eat more than four a day,” he tells me.

Two days later, he sheepishly confesses that the packet is finished. Oh for Pete’s sake, I think, do you have to tell me? Can’t you just be a bit naughty on the sly. Just a teensy-weensy bit? But I can’t say that of course.

His “goodness” has caused him some anxiety in the past. But then anxiety comes to him as naturally as ethical rectitude does.

“Simon says I’m a goody-two-shoes,” he informs me one day. Three days later he is sent out of the class for disrupting things. I splutter in mirth at this news. He tells me he was just sick of being such a good boy so he decided to be naughty and throw crumpled balls of paper at someone. I asked him how it felt. He said “uncomfortable”. 

Number 3 seldom feels such discomfort and does the sort of ridiculous stuff one expects from children from time to time. When there is a sincere howl of pain around here, it is usually expelled from the mouth of Number 2, entirely at the mercy of his 6-year old sister and his own reluctance to indulge in hand-to-hand combat with anyone.

As I hold milk in a shot glass held over the burning eyeball, a pale Number 2 hovers around saying sorry repeatedly. Awareness of action and consequence has seeped in. His sister shakes like a leaf, crying copiously.

“I’m really sorry,” he says again. “I just wanted to see if my invention works. I didn’t mean to spray her in the eye.”

I’m too busy calming the inventor’s victim to say anything useful to him.

When all is under control I walk past the inventor’s bedroom where he is slumped in a heap of misery. His friend looks on; dejected that play has been interrupted by general hysteria and the concomitant self-flagellation.

“I’m really sorry,” says Number 2 for the 528th time. I laugh.

“Don’t worry darling. Everyone does dumb stuff now and again, and you only know it’s dumb once you’ve done it.”

His face lights up. “Adam, you were right! Mom, Adam said exactly the same thing. He said we all do stupid stuff sometimes, and I mustn’t worry.”

Adam is a brilliant friend.

*My family is numbered according to the appearance in my life.

What stupid stuff have your kids done in the name of experimentation?

Read more by Karin Schimke
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