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the thoughts we thought

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Bert’s mum thinks he is hilarious, but he. is. not.

Bert's mum never fails to try and impress new friends when Bert brings them over. He pulls coins out of their ears and steals their iPhones out of their pockets and asks them what's their favourite dessert and then always makes bread pudding anyway (and — yuck, bread pudding, the actual worst dessert).

Mum wears that awful apron that George made in preschool a million years ago, and he does stupid puns, and whistles really old songs no one's ever heard of — not even Dad, who is nearly as ancient as Mum.

Bert hates having to explain their family, but he's found that it's best to get it over with. "He's everyone's mum," he says, before new friends can ask, "everyone except for Jo."

"Your parents sure like to do it," says one of Bert's friends, once, in answer.

“No, they don’t,” says Bert, scandalized, even though of course it's occurred to him — how could it not? — and George says “Do what?" and Mum (who never misses ANYTHING, ugh, MUM) answers, “Oh, have sex, he means, and yes, we quite like it but we don't generally make it a topic of discussion as it's a private matter.”

Bert wants to die; his mum just told Bert’s friend that he likes to have sex. Bert is pretty sure no one else’s mum would ever do that. Bert’s mum is so embarrassing and terrible.

Bert’s dad, though, is pretty awesome, and not embarrassing at all.

Dad doesn't play favourites; he makes a point of saying so, because Mum is constantly skipping from one of them to another depending on his mood, the weather, and who's been making what annoying sounds that day. But Dad says, in his deep voice: 'I hate you all equally’, and 'I wanted to get a cat’, and ‘god, I’m living with barbarians minus the beards'.

Sometimes, though, Dad tucks Bert into the space between the side of the couch and his own long narrow leg, nudges a kiss onto Bert's eyebrow, and says, “Who’s my boy?” and even though it makes Bert feel warm and silly and babyish nowadays, he can't disappoint Dad, he has to say the thing he's always said, as far back as Bert can remember: I'm your boy, Dad, that's me, Bert.

And for a secret minute afterwards, Bert always feels sure he's Dad's favourite. Before there was Bert, Dad wasn't even a dad, which is almost impossible to imagine. Dad looks like a dad, and feels like one, sounds like one. His scratchy chin is a dad-chin and his steady shoulders are dad-shoulders and his long fingers are dad-fingers stroking through Bert’s hair. Bert loves his mum — of course he does — but he’s Dad’s boy. He feels like the most beloved: the first and oldest and biggest.

But though Dad calls Bert his boy, and though Dad says he hates them all equally, Bert can't help but feel certain that — actually — Mum is Dad's real secret favourite.

Dad almost always takes Mum's side in a fight. He pulls at the corners of Mum’s shirt collars in the mornings with squinty serious eyes, making sure Mum looks perfect and handsome like Dad always does. And when Dad comes home from work in a mood that even baby Josephine can't seem to crack through, Mum just hip-checks him in passing, or shows him a news story Mum thought he’d like, or stops him in the middle of a complaint by sticking a freshly cut carrot stick in his mouth. Dad ducks his head and tries not to smile, but he does anyway, helplessly. He smiles around the orange carrot stick, plays like it's a cigar, pulls it out of his mouth in the vee of index and middle finger, and then he laughs deep in his throat when Mum grabs him by the tie and kisses the side of his mouth, calls him darling, lifts his wallet and pulls a coin out from behind his ear.

"Made you bread pudding," says Mum, his hand curled around Dad’s long dad-neck. "Your favourite."

"I hate you," says Dad, grinning, "so much. Most of all.”