Little C charged into the room, breathless with excitement, proudly clutching a huge sausage-shaped balloon. "Look, Daddy, a balloon! Let's play with it!"
The extent of her delight at having said balloon in her possession seems to have no bounds. It was a gift from a magician at the end-of-term party at her nursery - and it seems to be a three-year-old's equivalent of a Lottery win.
So we throw it and bat it about for a minute and I look forward resignedly to an evening of balloon-based entertainment. I nip out of the room and hear a high-pitched wail of distress. I return to find that the cat - with that nonchalant sense of spoiling other people's fun to which they were born - has prematurely ended the evening's entertainment with a well-aimed claw, before charging away in gay abandon, or more likely shock. Little C is utterly inconsolable.
Maybe I need to get a grip, but a feeling of heartbreak descends as I watch her simple joy so abruptly crushed. And it makes me realise again that every disappointment she feels is going to hit me in the guts like this. As another blogging parent said recently, having a child is like watching your heart grow arms and legs and going walking down the street. Every time it gets hurt, physically or emotionally, you feel it so deeply that you'd rather it was you. If a burst balloon can cause such distress, imagine what the wider travails of childhood and adolescence might bring. Because the world is full of burst balloons, of little disappointments, harsh judgements and lessons learned. At what stage in life do you look at your latest delight, your new balloon, and wonder at what point it will burst?
I learn later that the balloon itself was a consolation prize for Little C's horror at not winning the dancing competition at nursery. To make matters worse, two boys shared the prize, which is clearly a travesty. Little C's mum consoled her by explaining that you can't always get what you want - except that her simple response of 'why not?' reminded us both that she is not yet at the stage as looking at balloons as potential disappointments - and thank goodness for that. So Jo taught her her first Rolling Stones song, and she thought it was funny and was happy again, until the cat intervened.
"Why does cats spoil children's games, Daddy?"
"Because they're mardy little bastards, Cara" is the obvious answer, but I try instead to explain that the cat doesn't understand and didn't do it on purpose. I am convinced can hear it chuckling in the other room. It's been a strange evening.