Saturday, 25 April 2009

Bonny Bobby Shaftoe

Bobby Shaftoe’s gone to sea
Silver buckles on his knee
He’ll come back and marry me
Bonny Bobby Shaftoe

Bobby Shaftoe bright and fair
Combing down his yellow hair
He’s my own for ever more
Bonny Bobby Shaftoe

Now I see it written down it seems weirder than ever.

I sing this song to Snooks, bouncing him high on my knee to match the jaunty seafaring pace and the song seems to suit him. He does have yellow hair and is undoubtedly bonny.

But I am also reminded of the great moment in Friends when Monica and Chandler are watching the birth of the baby they plan to adopt and as it comes forth into the world and Monica sees that it is a boy, she shouts, “I am going to love you so much no woman will ever be good enough for you!”

Yes, we have all met one of those grown up boys in our time, haven’t we girls, and we all know those mums didn’t do them any favours.

So I find that when I sing ‘he’s my own for ever more’, I lose a bit of the jauntiness and become more sheepish, mumbling the line in the hope that neither he, nor anyone else who might be listening, thinks I mean it.

Snooks is handsome. I know you think I am biased and I surely am, but as well as that, I am constantly stopped by people in the street, in shops and even at the new playgroup we have joined to be told how extraordinarily handsome he is. One kind lady yesterday simply stared, for a little too long, and then remarked that he was going to grow up to be a stunning young man. Good heavens! Our little Snookie. He has been likened to Russell Crowe and Val Kilmer (I kid you not) and inspired a shop assistant in one of the more upmarket high street baby stores to call their marketing department and insist he be added to their list of potential models. We are still waiting for his big break.

I have learned to smile graciously in response to these most delightful compliments, rather than try the false modesty thing - “Oh no, not really, you’re being kind, his hair is a bit mad… etc” and also to brace for the moment when their face falls and they say, engaging mouth before brain, “He’s nothing like you.”

I have also learned to spot the next thought as it passes through their mind, but which they usually refrain from voicing, which is, “I wouldn’t mind meeting his father.”

In fact Snooks, like all babies, has moments when he looks a bit like everyone. His immediate impression is definitely of the Engineer and side by side, particularly when I unconsciously dress Snooks in the same colours that his dad left in that morning, they look hilariously alike. Then he smiles and I see my own baby mouth smiling up at me, which makes me want to kiss him. I assume this Narcissism is common amongst parents and in fact one of the reasons we instinctively love and protect our children so much. Or maybe it’s just me.

Then when his back is turned to me and his little head is tipped forward in concentration, the roundness of the back of his head, his dinky little ears and slight neck are so my father. Then his diminutive size and general all round cuteness is reminiscent of one of his antipodean uncles at the same age.

In one photo, taken with the timer on Christmas Day as we left for morning Mass, we three rather stiffly posed outside the front door in our Sunday best staring fixedly at the camera waiting for the red light to stop flashing, he could for all the world be my older brother, circa 1963.

So what with all that handsomeness and all that familiarity, it’s hard not to adore him and sing songs about being mine forever more.

And surely that all-consuming love would be just the same if he were a little girl (as sometimes, oddly, I dream that he is) and is undoubtedly what he needs from me just now. The time to let him go will come.

Of course he may lose his good looks as he gets older, break his nose on the rugby pitch, develop adolescent chipmunk teeth, dye his lovely silky blonde hair black and paint his fingernails to match.

Anyway, I figure that so long as I cut it out by the time he reaches puberty we should be ok.

He’ll probably be a bit over Bonny Bobby Shaftoe by then.

Monday, 20 April 2009

time out

A couple of people have asked me how I manage to write this account of 21st century motherhood every week, considering the amount of wordage I give to how demanding it is in time and energy. I can see their point.

Ironic huh. She bangs on about having sacrificed herself on the altar of motherhood, and there she is, examining her own soul for the edification of you lot, week after week.

Well here is how it goes. The Engineer and I have a deal whereby he takes Snooks for a couple of hours each Saturday morning while I pretend not to be there. When we made this bargain (his side is quality time with Snooks) I had intended to spend the time lying in bed, gazing out of the window. This seemed the most pleasurable activity I could conceive of; the luxury to simply daydream.

Then other possibilities sprung to mind. I could start running again. I could have a weekly manicure. I could read the newspaper with a coffee in a cool café down the road.

But for some reason, when the first morning of freedom arrived, instead of seizing the chance to indulge in any of the above, I reached for my ancient laptop, which was lying under the bed like an old redundant toy, and started to write about life in Snooksville. And once I had been there, I felt compelled to return week after week.

The gift of time to dwell inside my own head for a while is a very precious one and although it does nothing for the external condition (still hankering after the running and manicures) it undoubtedly soothes and flexes the internal one.

Someone offered that a further use for my musings is the record it will provide for Snooks of his first year, or more accurately of my state of mind in his first year.

After the Julie Myerson debacle, however, I have become more circumspect about Snooks’ dignity. He may only be 13 months old, but he has a right to some consideration about what he may and may not want to be public knowledge in future.

I, on the other hand, can choose to splurge away about myself, willy nilly and live with the consequences.

So here I am, and today I am actually sitting outside the cool cafe having a coffee as the Saturday morning deal looked dangerously close to coming off the rails and a hasty exit seemed the best plan.

I joined a Pilates class recently and the teacher asked if I ever had time to myself. She mentioned Saturday mornings.
It seems we have joined a long tradition of time-out for
mums on Saturdays where there is a willing dad on hand to take over.

The Engineer was willing and the boys take off together into ManLand, constructing things and taking them apart again, hanging out in the park I avoid because it has a noisy road nearby (this being its best boy selling point apparently - those sirens get them every time) and playing with off-cuts of wood.

I retreat behind the bedroom door, and most weeks, I succeed in the illusion that I have time-travelled into another world, resisting the urge to investigate the occasional yelp from Snooks as his new Ride On (until last week this was simply the title of a Christy Moore song to me) collides with another unexpected obstacle, or to open the door in response to the drumming of his little fists on it.

On my way to the café this morning, at 8.30am, I passed a weary looking mum with a toddling boy. She was smoking and explaining to him that ‘daddy had to work.’ The little boy looked upset and the mum looked like she had last night’s clothes on.

I watched Snooks at the dinner table the other night as he looked from his father to me, and back again, beaming with delight.

I think he is a lucky boy.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

like it or not

‘You enjoy being a mother don’t you?’ the Engineer said the other day.

At the time I was feeding Snooks a medley of vegetables disguised as cheese sauce with pasta and singing my own praises for my cunning ingenuity.

‘Well in the same way you enjoy being an Engineer,’ I said. He does actually enjoy being an Engineer so this wasn’t quite as snippy as it sounds. But I wanted to make it clear that I did not enjoy it like I enjoy receiving a back massage or roses or jewellery, or eating chocolate cake or lying on a sunny beach. I wanted to keep alive in his mind the fact that motherhood is Awfully Hard Work.

But then I began to think about it and realised that I never do - think, that is, about whether I am enjoying what I do. I am so bent on getting it right, whether it be studying, a job, a relationship, a holiday, that I rarely stop to consider whether I am enjoying it or not.

Looking back, had I asked myself this question once or twice before, it all could have been very different. But that’s another story.

So after some consideration I am duty bound to admit that the Engineer was right. I do enjoy it.

It seems strange as I am superbly ill-prepared for it, having had no younger siblings to practise on and no parental role model to follow. I say this with great respect for my dear departed Aged Ps. They were cool and clever and witty and they loved us, without a doubt. But um, parents, not so much.

And having denounced parenting books (sticks and stones) and rejected the popular clockwork routine - three square meals a day and bath-time and bed before dad gets home – I am having to wing it, making it up as I go along, stitching together the scraps of parental wisdom I have gathered from friends and family along the way.

It makes for an interesting cocktail. Good old-fashioned common sense stored somewhere on the hard drive - my mother bathing her newborn first grandchild in the washing-up bowl, using it as a boat in a bathfull of bubbly water so the babe had the floating bubbly sensation without the itchy skin and risk of drowning – mixed with the ultimate accessory of on-trend attachment parenting: a designer sling picked up at the London Sling Show after a mumfriend passed on her expertise on the benefits of ‘babywearing’ and the plain wrongness of the Baby Bjorn carrier.

Stir in the simple good taste of my childless gay friends who to a man/woman have demonstrated a savoir faire about children I long to possess, and have furnished us with the clothes and books for Snooks I like to have on show when people come round, and there you pretty much have it.

But I digress. You see. I am doing it again. Do I enjoy it?

I do. I like being needed, even though the demand can be excessive at times. I like being useful. After a lifetime of mental exercise, learning and regurgitating facts for other people to read and forget, I feel immensely useful, inventing a cheese sauce, which has cauliflower and sweetcorn imperceptibly blended into it.

I like being active. Despite the ‘still breastfeeding’ extra weight, my physical stamina is close to what it was in the days of seven netball practices a week with a rally thrown in on a freezing Saturday morning.

I like teaching and feel the thrill of satisfaction when Snooks puts the right shape into the right hole, or shouts ‘Burr!’ when we reach the page where teddy comes into the story.

I like walking hand in hand with him – he can toddle a good distance with a steadying hand – venturing forward together into the unknown, he the discoverer and I the protector and guide.

My sister once remarked that her youngest daughter, then two, was ‘very good company’. I did not understand then how one so young could be company at all, let alone good company.

Last week brought splashes of sunshine to London and Snooks and I made the most of it, enjoying a number of picnics a deux, which has the double bonus of encompassing a go on the swings for Snooks and no clearing up the lunchtime debris for me.

He and I have a dialogue, all-be-it rather one-sided, which brings forth observations about our food, about the weather, about the pigeons, the aeroplanes, the trains … our life, in that moment.

What's not to enjoy?

Monday, 6 April 2009

the tyke test

We met Little Tyke again this week at the same playgroup and I observed something interesting.

You will recall that Little Tyke was cruising for a clout having wrenched toy after toy out of the hands of my much smaller, baby son.

This time, I was accompanied by two friends and their little charges, (not actually theirs; they are nannies) attending the group for the first time and the Tyke pulled the same stunt with them, accidentally-on-purpose crashing into the smallest baby girl and knocking her flat.

The Nannies, more experienced by far than I in this world, eyeballed him and then kept a close but indiscernible watch.

So my first observation was, to my relief, that it was not Snooks who attracted the bad-boy behaviour. He was not provoking the aggression nor transmitting a ‘bully me’ signal. He just happened to be new in town.

Then another interesting thing happened. I looked over just in time to see Snooks grab a car Tyke had been playing with and I intervened to return it to the older boy. (Remember my dilemma in socialisation. I have decided to go with Restoring Order for definite transgressions but letting it go where it seems a bit six of one etc)

He, Tyke, looked confused for a second and then reached over, found another car and handed it to Snooks. Aw Gawd Bless ‘im, we all think. Yes and I was just in the middle of an overly enthusiastic Thank You pantomime, when he did a strange thing. He looked over at mum, waited until he had her attention and then grabbed the car back, scooping up as he did so, as many of the surrounding toys as possible and held them to his chest like a desperate looter caught in the squad car headlights. Of course she came over and told him right off and took him away out of sight.

I opened my mouth to explain what had happened but thought better of it. Anyway, she didn’t make eye contact. She never has, through all our many vicarious tussles. With another mum, I have exchanged friendly eye-rolls as her daughter tries to feed Snooks pieces of plastic fruit (she has more success than I do with the real stuff) or persuade him into a toy pushchair to be her ‘baby’. I did step in when, frustrated with his refusal to be mothered (so with you there, chick) she tried to slam his fingers in the door of the plastic oven, which is housed in a mini kitchen unit I rather enjoy playing with myself.

So Supernanny was right. I was a devotee of the programme long before either Snooks or even the Engineer himself were a feature of my landscape. Back in the days of long solitary candlelit baths, healthy low fat dinners, full waxes, year round tans and early morning runs on the heath – i.e. committed singletonhood – I loved settling down in front of Supernanny, relishing the “thank god it’s not me” feeling as I watched mothers receive bites and blows from their children only to be told off by Jo Frost for not being enough fun.

But I remember the golden rules, which were drummed into withered parents the country over – don’t reward only bad behaviour with attention but do introduce consequences for it. You see, I was a good student. Perhaps I knew someday, somewhere it would come in handy. I watch CSI now (thanks to the Engineer) with the same diligence, noting how to gauge time of death by lividity, information I hope never turns out to be quite so useful.

So I softened towards Tyke, even as I watched him disrupt the singing while his mortified mother pleaded with him to sit down, as perhaps I understood a little about the motivation behind the bad behaviour and resolved to take time to play with Snooks every day, giving him my attention for fun instead of policing him while I go about my business.

It is easy to say and I shall probably forget to do it often enough. But I owe Little Tyke one, and not a clout this time.