I’m watch a children’s programme with Mila while Zsuzsa potters around in the background doing Hungarian lady business. The children’s programme is about animals, one of Mila’s three greatest passions along with mandarin oranges and Peppa Pig. A butterfly appears on the screen. A broad grin breaks across Mila’s face.
“Pillango!” says Mila whilst excitedly pointing at the screen.
“No honey. That’s a butterfly.” I say.
But Mila’s having none of it. Obviously, she, like many other people, thinks her daddy spouts a colossal amount of shit.
We appear to be at an impasse. Mila’s looking at me as though I’m stupid.
“Mila darling. It’s called a b-u-t-t-e-r-f-l-y.”
“It’s pillango in Hungarian.” comes a voice from the background. It’s Zsuzsa and she is living up the the lady hype, proving that women can indeed do two things at once. In this case pottering around and advising about butterfly nomenclature.
This turn of events may seem trivial to you, but all that does is prove to me that you are, as predicted, a shortsighted nincompoop. For don’t you see? This means that Mila knows a word that I don’t! I’ve been learning Hungarian now for maybe three years-ish, including evening classes at Westminster University and a year and a half in Budapest surrounded by Magyar nonsense. Infamously, Hungarian is one of the hardest languages to learn on earth, but nevertheless I’m starting to make progress! Speak to me in advanced Hungarian and I will stare at you as though you are a quantum physics equation, but ask me what colour a particular type of fruit is and I will Hungarian your goddamn arse off!
But here I am, being out Hungarian’d by a tiny 18 month old human who still struggles to eat without smearing it through her hair.
An owl appears on the TV screen.
“Bagoly!” says Mila excitedly.
“What’s owl in Hungarian honey?” I ask Zsuzsa, trepidation in my voice.
“Bagoly.” replies Zsuzsa.
“Bagoly.” repeats Mila.
My blood runs cold.
“What’s up honey?” asks Zsuzsa, noticing my cold-blooded face.
“She’s catching me up. Soon you’ll have a secret language. You can create an anti-daddy club and I’ll be none the wiser.” I reply.
“We won’t create an anti-daddy club.”
A bear appears on the TV screen.
“Brum brum!” squeals Mila.
My eyes narrow.
“Zsuzsa, what’s the Hungarian for bear?”
“Maci.” she replies.
“Ha!” I shout delighted. “Got you! Brum brum is not bear!”
At this moment I’m revelling at my infant child’s language failure.
“Brum brum?” repeats Mila, but with doubt now creeping in to her voice.
“Brum brum is the sound a bear makes” says Zsuzsa.
“What? ! That’s bullshit!” I say, dumbfounded. “Bears don’t say ‘brum brum’!”
“Yes they do.”
“No they don’t!”
“Hungarian bears do.”
“What kind of crazy-assed bears do you get in Hungary?”
“Ones that go ‘brum-brum’”.
“Do you mean cars?”
“No. Bears! Ask any Hungarian and they will tell you. Bears go ‘brum brum’.”
I shake my head in disbelief, but I know what I’ve got to do here. I turn to Mila.
“Challenge accepted.” I say, eyes locked, inches from her face.
I get up from the sofa and head towards Mila’s bedroom.
“Where are you going honey?”
“To learn Hungarian” I reply.
I enter Mila’s bedroom, sit on her tiny chair, take a Hungarian baby book from her bookshelf and begin to read. If there’s going to be an anti-daddy club, I’m going to be a goddamn member too.