By the standards of her teachers, Meriel knows her family life seems odd. While it’s true that some of the other kids at her school have two mums and a dad, or two dads and a mum, she’s the only one who has no mum at all. For some reason, they seem to think she’s missing out, and Mrs Hughes who teaches maths actually feels sorry for her; Meriel’s caught the pitying looks the old lady throws her way when she thinks nobody’s looking.
Of course, she knows the teachers think she must have a mother somewhere, that her daddies asked some lady to have her for them, but it’s better that they should think that because her daddies say the truth might make their heads explode. Sometimes Meriel thinks that would be funny to see, but she knows it would be messy and so she doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t really want her teachers to explode.
Her friends at school think her daddies are way cool, they like going to her house to play, and their mums and dads are mostly okay with that too. Not that Meriel lives in the sort of house most of her friends live in; her house is a flat, which Meriel thinks is an odd name because it’s anything but flat.
She and her daddies mostly live in the top floors of a big brick building. Daddy says it used to be a warehouse where stuff that was being sent to other countries, and stuff that had just arrived from other countries, got put until it could be sent to wherever it was going. It sounds awfully complicated. Meriel wonders if people kept getting confused about what stuff was going where and that’s why they stopped using the building for that.
On the ground floor is the garage where her daddies park their cars; there’s enough space for visitors to park their cars too. The rest of that level is Nosy’s play area, and Meriel likes to play in there with the Fluff, because it’s the bestest of all her friends and they have so much fun together. Her daddies know that Nosy would never let her get hurt. Other kids aren’t allowed in there though, because Nosy is a secret and people might harm it if they found out about it. People tend to get scared by things they don’t understand. That makes Meriel sad because she’s sure her friends would love the friendly Fluff as much as she does.
On the next floor up is a small room that Tad calls the utility room, where the washing machine and drier live, and the much bigger gym where her daddy and tad work out to keep fit. The door to that room is always locked unless one of her parents is in there, so Meriel can’t go in there unless she’s with them. Tad says that’s because the heavy weights and things might accidentally fall and hurt her, so she doesn’t mind; she knows that rule is to keep her safe. Besides, that room is nowhere near as much fun as her playroom, which is on the same floor and can be entered from her bedroom, either by stairs or down a long slide that ends on a padded mat.
It’s a brilliant room for playing with her friends in; there’s a shorter slide into her ball pit, a trampoline with a net around it so nobody can fall off, a sand pit, and lots of toys. She has dolls and cars, a racing set, a toy farm, a Wendy house, all sorts of board games, jigsaw puzzles, and piles of stuffed animals. She’s got a doll’s house too, but that’s in her bedroom so she doesn’t forget to wake the dolls who live there and give them their breakfast before she goes to school every morning. It wouldn’t be good to leave them in bed all day.
The third floor is the main part of their flat, with the big, open lounge, dining area, and kitchen, Meriel and Nosy’s bedrooms, and her parents’ ‘office’. There are several spare bedrooms too, in case they have guests; Meriel keeps hoping that some day soon one of them might become a bedroom for a baby brother or sister, but at six years old she’s still an only child.
The top floor holds only her daddies’ big bedroom and private bathroom, and the nursery where Meriel had slept until she was three so that her daddies didn’t have to keep going up and down stairs all the time when she woke up in the night. It’s much smaller than the other floors because half of the third floor is a big roof garden, with swings and a slide, trees and flowers in tubs and big planters, a fish pond with real fish swimming in it, and Daddy’s telescope for looking at the stars. There’s even a lawn, but it’s made of pretend grass so her daddies don’t have to mow it. The trees are real though, and they grow all sorts of fruit on them, apples, and pears, and cherries, and plums!
The flat has more rooms than her friends’ houses do, and a lift to go upstairs in. There are stairs as well, but hardly anyone uses them, it’s such a lo0ng way to the top. Her friends’ parents think that Meriel and her daddies must be very rich to have such a big house, and Meriel thinks they might be right, but mostly she just thinks her family is very lucky.
Most of her friends have grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, and some even have brothers and sisters. Meriel has auntie Rhi, uncle Johnny, and her cousins David and Mica, who are both older than she is. Auntie Rhi is Tad’s sister, so she and her family are Meriel’s relatives. Daddy had a brother once, but he’s gone, Meriel’s not sure where, so that means she’s never met him. Her other aunts and uncles aren’t her relatives, they’re the people her daddy and tad work with, and mostly she loves them, although Auntie Gwen can be a bit of a pain sometimes. Anwen, Auntie Gwen’s daughter, says so too.
Meriel knows what her parents and their friends do at work, but Daddy and Tad made her promise when she was very little not to tell anyone because it’s a very important secret. Sometimes, when she was younger, she used to forget and talk about things she wasn’t supposed to. Then people would tell her what a wonderful imagination she had and she’d remember she really shouldn’t have said anything to them about aliens, or Myfanwy the Pteranodon, or Janet the Weevil in her cell at the Hub. She remembers better now, but while the other kids write about princes and princesses, or cowboys and Indians, she writes stories about Nosy or the kneebles, and she always gets good marks. Nobody has to know that she’s not making them up.
It doesn’t matter to Meriel that her upbringing is so different from that of other kids; she doesn’t think it makes her better than them, just different, and Taddy says everyone is different anyway. There are lots of ways to be different and it’s much better than everyone being the same, because that would just be boring.
She likes being who she is and living the way she does, and she doesn’t envy her friends even though some of her friends seem to envy her a bit. She shares as much as she can with the other kids, from her toys to the cookies she bakes with her daddies, because Daddy says it’s good to share the things that make you happy; it makes others happy too, and Meriel wants everyone to be as happy as she is.
The people who think she’s missing out because she doesn’t have a mum are silly. Meriel knows she gets at least as many hugs and kisses from her daddies as she’d get from her mum, if she had one, and daddies can do anything a mum could. Both her daddies are great at cooking, and Tad can make dresses better than any of her friends’ mums can.
No matter what anyone else might believe, Meriel is sure that she’s got the best parents ever; she tells her daddies every day that she loves them, and Nosy, more than anything. They always tell her that they love her and Nosy more than anything too. She wouldn’t trade her daddies or her Fluff for the whole wide world and all the stars in the sky, because they don’t just love her; they protect her, make her feel warm and safe even when she has a bad dream.
Taddy told her the word for that one time; it’s a big word and hard to remember, but she thinks it might be ‘cherished’.