I’m desperately trying to calm my breathing. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. My jaw is clenched and I try to relax my hands out of tight fists. I keep as quiet as possible, hoping beyond hope they won’t find me, though I know it’s inevitable.
“Where’s mummy?” echoes across the house in a sweet, singsong voice. A voice that starts my pulse racing once again, and makes me close my eyes in sheer panic.
The whir of the oven in the room next door cuts through my terror, and I know that I have to gather myself. A couple more deep breaths and with a sigh of resignation, I force myself up from the corner of the sofa I’m curled up in. I even manage to arrange a small smile on my mouth.
There is no way in the world I am going to let that damn gingerbread burn now.
Twenty minutes earlier, the twins and I sit down together at the kitchen table to do some baking. I’m full of naive hope and enthusiasm. I feel in control, having made the gingerbread mixture while the children napped. They napped after I bribed them with the promise of making gingerbread, a promise which came about thanks to their obsession with a book in which a white mouse makes gingerbread. The twins can reel off the list of ingredients without a second’s hesitation.
All my positivity is forgotten within the first 30 seconds of the activity, following arguments about aprons (Fonz doesn’t want to wear one), the position of seats (Ez’s chair is a smidge too far to the right), the colour of their work mats (Ez is apparently strongly opposed to red on this occasion) and the fact that the mixture has been pre-made so that they will not get to do any mixing themselves (they join forces to vent their annoyance at this one).
Finally settled, we begin. Presented with a ball of gingerbread each, the twins immediately insist that I roll it for them. I whip round to Ez’s side of the table and roll her portion out while she selects a cutter. Fonz is growing increasingly impatient and a vision of being hit with a canonball made from gingerbread pops into my head so I dash over to his seat to roll his mixture out. Ez lets out a cry of fury. She has attempted to pick up her carefully cut gingerbread star and it has broken in two. Quick as a flash, I’m at her side, re-rolling her mixture so she can start again (she refuses to use any of the rest of the previously rolled gingerbread). In the meantime, Fonz has managed to break his gingerbread teddybear into approximately four separate pieces, and is furiously shoving the broken pieces back into their holes, where they stubbornly stick to the surface of the mat. “More flour!” he demands and I quickly obey.
Somehow, eventually, in a period that feels like it will never end, but is actually probably only about five minutes long, we have two baking trays covered with a bewildering array of gingerbread pieces – stars, hearts, bears, bunnies, butterflies and another animal shape that I have yet to identify. I grab the trays and shove them in the oven, then snatch the remaining gingerbread mixture from the twins’ floury hands, and announce that we’re finished. I can’t face washing their hands too.
When their backs are turned, I stumble into the playroom next door and collapse.
Maybe next time it will be better?