Saturday, 16 May 2009

shoe love

What is it with shoes?

The Engineer once asked me why women like to buy shoes so much, or maybe it was why women liked to buy so many shoes.

Anyway my theory was that no matter what size or shape a woman is - and as we know, sadly, few women are content with theirs - all of us can go into a shop and buy a pair of shoes without fear of humiliation.

If, like me, you have had that hideous moment when you can neither get into nor out of a garment you don’t even want, while the size zero shop assistant waits just beyond the curtain, you will know what I am talking about.

But all feet are welcome in our culture, even big ones, thanks to the fashion industry's love of Amazonian beauties and the massive plates of meat they need to keep them upright on the runway.

So women and shoes is easy to figure out. But what got me this week was seeing the pride and excitement of our young Snooks on being bought his first pair of Real Big Boy Shoes.

He already owned a pair of what are called ‘prewalkers’ for which the rough translation is “He doesn’t really need them because he can’t walk yet but once the shop assistant had put them on his feet, they looked so cute, I could not resist.”

Luckily it was Christmas time so Santa was drafted in to foot that particular bill and the prewalkers have been a much loved and much envied addition to Snooks’ wardrobe.

But having now joined the ranks of the upright, Snooks was genuinely entitled to and genuinely in need of a pair of shoes for actually doing walking in.

It turns out that one of the many unexpected joys of having a baby is the vicarious shopping buzz it affords. When I first noticed the shift in our credit card bills from Mango to Mothercare, I was quite teary-eyed at the extent of my great selflessness and devotion to my child.

I have since realised however that in fact shopping for Snooks is at least as good a hit if not better than doing it for myself, as one enjoys the same anticipation and satisfaction of finding the perfect prize, but without any of the guilt.

So off we took ourselves to the most expensive children’s shoe shop we knew, the one that sells only children’s shoes and has teams of assistants waiting to tend to rows of tiny proffered middle class feet.

And this is where the remarkable phenomenon began to become apparent. Snooks, who would usually rather gnaw his way through his pushchair harness than sit still in any kind of shop, was perfectly composed and attentive as the assistant arrived with four little boxes containing tiny pairs of sandals of different designs for him to consider.

Not a sound as each one was tried and rejected on the grounds that Snooks’ dinky feet were swamped by even the smallest size available, rendering him resolutely immobile when invited to ‘have a little walk in them.’

Fortunately and predictably, there was just one other pair that came in a smaller size and was half the cost again of the other, average-footed variety. Of course they fit perfectly.

As soon as they were on his feet Snooks stalked over to the mirror to admire them, just as any twenty-something in her first pair of Jimmy Choos would do, and the deal was sealed.

Only a small debate followed over which colour would best suit Snooks’ look (we went for casual-sporty kind of mid-brown with red detailing), before we left with Snooks wearing the new acquisitions, as tradition on the distaff side of his ancestry dictates.

I was sort of joking when, as we arrived home, I suggested he go out into the garden to try them out. But as I watched through the kitchen window, I could see he was marching around with a new spring in his step, listening to the clackety noise they made on the path and enjoying the grippiness on the grass.

On the Engineer’s return from work, we celebrated the occasion with a loud burst of Paolo Nuttini’s tribute to the wearing of new shoes, to which the three of us danced around the lounge, at least twice.

It is the best way to break them in.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

oh boy!

Right. I have to completely retract my earlier statement about parenting books.

I got tempted by the title initially – Raising Boys - as it chimed with the name of the album, which was our soundtrack when Snooks was gestating and indeed on his way here, Raising Sand.

But in fact I had already heard of it, pricking up my ears when the first version was published in 1998; the idea that boys needed special attention was both very feasible and at the same time rather irritating.

In my family of origin (as you come to call them after a lot of therapy) there were two boys and two girls, two brunettes and two blondes. We were perfectly symmetrical and were treated as equals, all exactly the same. And we were all messed up in equal measure, which I suppose is at least fair.

Possibly as a result, I was already in Steve (Biddulph)’s camp on this even before I read his book. I believe the sexes are different and when it comes to looking after young children, the differences should be noted and celebrated, not ignored.

One has to be careful of course of stereotyping, a hazard the Engineer encounters whenever he meets other men. Being a kiwi and male it is assumed that he knows and loves all things about rugby. In fact he has to feign interest and if I catch wind of a conversation heading that way, I try to throw in a curve ball with a ‘dumb girl’ question like ‘Is that the one where they run with the ball?’ to give him an out.

And having not been exposed to our national sporting obssession during his own upbringing, he voiced a refreshingly unusual response to Snooks being born a boy. ‘Does this mean I have to go to football matches?’

I have already made many mistakes according to Steve. He says that parents are not as tender with baby boys as with girls. I had already observed, to my dismay, that I probably would be gentler in handling Snooks if he were a girl.

Of course I am gentle with him, but would I have stood him up on his little wobbly legs when he was weeks old and showed him how to kick a ball if he had been a girl? Mind you, if his recent form is anything to go by this wasn’t such a bad idea. He can already dribble pretty well and does a half decent kick when the timing is right, much to the amazement of some older and some very much older boys in the park the other day. A few dads stood by looking a bit miffed that Snooks had made off with the ball their sons were playing with.

He also warns against sexualising relationships with girls under the age of 16. Oops I Did It Again, in the words of the great Britney Spears. By the time he was six months old I had already agreed to marry him off to three of my friends’ daughters after a few hand-holding and naked paddling pool sessions.

Hopefully I have nipped it in the bud before too much damage is done. While I think the book is overly bleak about boys’ outcomes (is it really a life of gang-crime and Drugs Hell for all boys who don’t have a mentor, a father, a mother and regular access to a range of energetic and creative but non-competitive activities?) I do think there is a lot of sense in it.

And I was just explaining it all to the Engineer the other day as I was bathing Snooks, telling him how once he turns six I have to step back while they make for the shed to fashion things out of bits of timber (which actually they already do).

And how we have to help him with communication as boys can struggle when they start school because the girls are about a year ahead in fine motor and language skills.

No comment.

And how we should use the right words for body parts and demystify sex by discussing it with him, not just the mechanics but how we feel about it.

Still no comment. I am surprised to find, looking over my shoulder, that the Engineer is still present.

‘So. Where’s that lovely Botticelli?’ I say with a hand full of aqueous cream, ready to smooth on my boy’s beautiful behind.

Let’s hear it for Britney, One More Time.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

two legs good

My clever little companion is walking!

It happened the other day in the garden when Snooks’ friend took the opportunity for a go on his beloved Ride On.

Snooks was on his feet in seconds and took two steps towards the vehicle, a rather snazzy VW kombi in sixties psychedelic orange and turquoise, to ensure it stayed put.

These were his first actual free steps but he did not walk again for a few days. Instead he took to a kind of Mowgli -like crawl, on hands and feet instead of knees. The Engineer noticed that he didn’t like the feel of grass and so we reasoned that his new modus ambulandi was to avoid knee-to-lawn contact. Therefore, it followed, this might be the place he would walk.

However many hours of kicking a football around the lawn later, with Snooks happily perched on the picnic rug like a season ticket holder in the Kop (we may live in London and I may be from Manchester but family tradition dictates that a Liverpool fan he will be) it became clear that this was the very place he would not walk. Tickly cold grass on warm feet? No thanks.

And so it was a couple of days later that I turned around to notice he had crossed the room but without the familiar plod plod plod plod of his komodo dragon-like hand and knee progress. He stood, hanging on to the ‘baby-proofing’ the Engineer erected around the hifi months ago – to protect the equipment, note, not the child – beaming with surprise.

His excitement and joy at the new discovery is catching. He is delighted with himself and after a particularly long stretch down the hallway, he wobbles into the lounge, hands above his head like a London Marathon runner crossing the finish line to our cheers and applause.

I am delighted too. It is wonderful to see him try something new and master it and to see the world of new possibilities open up before him. Suddenly his interest is at a new level, literally and he wants to know the names for all the things which are now in his line of vision – the plant, the fridge, the washing machine, the ball. Oh no, the ball.

His love of footballs knows no bounds and when we are confined indoors by the rain, he stands at the patio doors gazing longingly at the ‘outdoor’ football, occasionally banging on the window and pointing. The ‘indoor’ football, a softer smaller version with a nice dingly bell, will keep him going for so long. He particularly likes it when he is in goal – standing (or more usually sitting to be honest) with his back to the front door – while I take penalty kick after penalty kick. The aforementioned long hallway lends itself nicely to this activity as the ball rebounds off the hallway walls and so always meets its mark.

More prosaically, I am delighted to see him raised up from ground level for another reason. I have always tried to keep a sensible head about hygiene, knowing attempts to keep his hands or clothes clean would be a bar to any sort of spontaneous fun. But I could not help wince watching him crawl around the playground where the warning about the rat problem is posted on the gate. And each night as I examined the new crop of bruises on his little knees from the day’s activities on concrete and hard wood floors, I willed this day to arrive.

I have been warned against this by other parents, more experienced parents of older children, this wishing away the present and willing of change to come.

The Engineer, himself a father of two much older children, is especially hot on this; that each stage is precious and will never come back once it has gone.

He once remarked that once Snooks walked, the days of our little plodding komodo dragon would be numbered.

Sure enough, the first day after his debut as a biped Snooks was desperate to give it another go and so cutting short the usual morning snookle in bed, he wriggled out of my arms onto the floor to see if it still worked. It did. I am happy for him.