GROWING PAINS: Parenting Is the Joy of a Guinea Pig in the Fridge

I'd just had what I thought was a nice little chat with a friend about this and that when she sighed heavily and said, "If I ever make the mistake of wanting children, I'll just give you a call. That'll put me off for at least six months."

"But why?" I asked in honest amazement. "What did I say?"

"What did you say? You're missing the party of the century because you're staying home with the kids. You nearly died of fright taking them up on the Gorky Park ferris wheel in a high wind. You've got a dead guinea pig in the fridge because Bobby doesn't want to bury it, and you have to cook them a traditional English Christmas dinner in Moscow when you should be just giving them pot noodles."

Put like that I suppose she has a point.

But, of course, the problem with being a mother is that you don't actually have to do any of these things. You want to.

For example, I want to stay at home and see in the new millennium with them because I hope it will be memorable. And besides, daddy, who's a photographer, will be working, so no party there.

And I willfully agreed to go on the Big Wheel f an experience that ranks up there with childbirth as one of the worst in my life f because they'd been looking forward to it all week and had to be accompanied by a consenting adult. (I was actually with two other adults, neither of whom were remotely consenting.)

The guinea-pig affair was just an unfortunate mishap. After an exciting outing to the pet shop to pick out two of the cute little things for Anna and Bobby, we settled them into their cage and sat down to read about guinea-pig care. Meanwhile, Bobby was cuddling his pet rather too enthusiastically, and it suddenly expired from what appeared to be a heart attack. Bobby was inconsolable, and refuses to let us bury him because it's too cold for him in the ground. Which is why he's in the fridge.

Incidentally, my elder daughter, Sasha, was extremely miffed by the timing of the incident because she had fed her pet snake with a mouse the day before and knew that being sated, it wouldn't accept any new offerings. So when daddy came home from work in the evening and asked Bobby what he'd been doing that day, Sasha grumpily replied, "killing his guinea pig," setting her little brother off in fresh floods of tears.

As for Christmas dinner preparations, for some perverse reason, I want to give them traditional English fare, which is next to impossible in Moscow.

Even Stockmann's doesn't have mince pies or Christmas crackers, and where do you find mistletoe and Christmas pudding in the CIS?

But there you go: Parenthood, as we all know, is nothing if not challenging.

And we love it, er ? don't we?