Monday, 26 October 2009

separation anxiety

This week marked another landmark.

We left Snookie with a babysitter.

Nothing happened - well nothing much bar my running out into the Chelsea night to shout breathlessly down the phone to the babysitter:

“What’s happened? Is everything all right? You called me twice and I missed the calls. I was talking to someone and it was really loud in there and I just happened to look at my phone – he asked to see a photo of Snookie so I looked at my phone but it had not occurred to me until then to look so I did not know you had phoned – is everything all right? What’s up?”

“Nothing. He is asleep. Why are you calling?”

I like her, the babysitter. She is Portuguese. She is a friend – actually the nanny of one of Snooks little friends. (Why are so many of the people I like not English?) Anyway, she tells it how it is.

“I didn’t call you. Go back inside and enjoy yourself.”

In fact what I had glimpsed in the fleeting two seconds that I looked at the phone was the missed call from hours earlier when she was outside the house and had the good sense to ring my mobile once to let me know that she was there rather than ring the doorbell, anticipating correctly that I had put Snooks to bed early and would lose the plot if he was woken just as we were about to leave. She’s good.
The other missed call was actually an earlier one from the Engineer on his way home from work, which I had missed in the midst of my pandering to Snooks’ demands for Chocolate Buttons and repeat episodes of Postman Pat – demands I was meeting unerringly in a bid to win his love should he ever, ever find out that I left the house without him one night.

Yes, 19 months. It has taken 19 months for The Engineer and I to get out of the house together, childless, and for me to feel confident enough in someone that they would take proper care of him and not leave him to cry while they smoked joints and fooled around on the settee with their boyfriend.

(Look I never did that when I was a babysitter, let’s just get that straight. However I did lose my one babysitting gig when my hilarious friends decided to play a Hallowe’en joke on me – in honour of the film of that name, you know, the one with the babysitter and the psychopath inside the house – by tapping on the windows and other such spooky activity that I rang my mum and asked her to come and sit with me. By the time the parents returned to their quiet, immaculate, middle class semi, myself, my mum and my two renegade friends were all sitting playing cards with the babysittees who had woken, terrified by all the commotion.)

All my Portuguese friend did was iron the shirts. Snooks slept the whole night through and didn’t even know we had gone.

The next day, I happened to get talking to a mumfriend who is due to have her second any day and is trying to install her first for a couple of mornings at nursery so that she will have one-to-one time with number two, when it turns up.

She thoughtfully decided to try it now, before number two arrives so that number one does not associate the two events – new sibling arrives, I get packed off somewhere else.

However it had not gone well. The first morning, her little boy, who is technically exactly the same age as Snooks, though he arrived two weeks early, had bought it though was a bit out of sorts when she came to collect him. By the second day he was distraught, and had been crying all morning. He has since refused to let go of her hand, day or night.

My friend looked exhausted. She had thought that her happy, confident, secure little boy – very like our Snooks in fact - would glide easily into someone else’s care, loving the chance to play with other children, as people are so often telling me is the main wish of a child that age.

In fact, in my view, his worst nightmare had come true. His mum had left him and he did not know if she was ever coming back.

I feel for my friend, I do. She had wanted to do the right thing for both of her children. Perhaps number two will just have to muddle along with getting a bit less of mum and a lot of older sibling instead.

As number four of four, I can say, it definitely has its pros as well as its cons.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

baby bard

Our son is showing poetic tendencies.

It all started when we popped into the children’s section of our new town library.

It was nice - a lot smaller than the lovely children’s section of the old library just round the corner, the one which is being closed down, the one which cannot contain all the mums and babies who turn up for the weekly singing and reading slots, the one which is situated in the middle of a grid of residential streets which makes it a lovely local focal point away from the hubbub of the town centre.

Still. At least we still have a library and it will provide a quiet refuge from the maelstrom of the high street, not to mention a good pee-and-nappy stop.

So we popped in, clocked the children’s reading area and the loos, picked up our recycling bags from the counter (maybe they used all our old bean cans to make their new chairs) and were on our way out when I noticed the poster announcing that is was National Poetry Day. I am not sure what made me stop and say: “Oh look” to Snooks, as if he would know what the poster meant and as if it held any significance for either of us.

It just marked a pleasant change from National (Terminal Illness) Day notices. Also, I have a friend who is a poet and it felt like her name up on the wall there in library. It is just good to be reminded that there is poetry in the world still. Sometimes we forget.

Actually I remember the same event last year when Snooks was just a seven month old bumble and an actor employed by a local café to mark the day, read to him so beautifully, it made me cry.

Anyway I had drawn the attention of the assistant there who told us that by the time we returned we should be talking in rhyming couplets.

So it has been since then, with the library lady’s challenge locked in my soul, that I have started to hear poetry in my son’s wonderful babbling. I say babbling in the most complimentary sense. This is how the experts describe the speech of children his age, but in fact Snooks does not so much babble as assert, in short, very punchy sentences.

He has now started to link adjectives and nouns and even throws in the odd verb, making perfectly respectable conversation, the sparkle of which is only tarnished by the rather too frequent repetition of recurring themes; the crane at the end of our street; the tractor in the local park which the council workers use to ride around the grounds; the bin men and the street cleaners who pass by in sync at around 7am on a Wednesday morning.

So we have: “Crane skip lift high,” and “Tractor man leaves lights” and “Bin truck clean. See!”

I must say I rather enjoy this form of communication and as a jobbing journalist of many years am quite envious of his ability to nail it in so few words. I also find my tolerance for long windy dialogue, which was never great, has diminished considerably since I have been conversing, for at least half of my time, in this way.

Then he seemed to grasp the notion of rhyme, of sorts, experimenting with the words he knew to produce the legends, “Big pig” and a somewhat Shakespearean “Double bubble.”

But it is the gems of his accidental metaphors, which should be stolen and set in poetry.

This thought first occurred to me when he insisted that the geese on the local pond were bears. It got me thinking. Water bears. They are rather like bears – grumpy, lumbering, fast and powerful

And then last weekend the Engineer and I took him to the London Aquarium , a trip inspired by a bath book he was given which has introduced him to the existence of sea weed, sharks and crabs.

There, the spectacular larger tank included many creatures he recognised - a turtle which swam right towards us and caused him to spin in my arms with fright, a number of really menacing looking sharks and a giant graceful ray which dipped and swooped like a… like a…

“Kite!” shouted Snooks.

A kite. Of course. Has anyone every written a poem about kites and thought to compare them to stingrays? Pass me the pen. I’m going in.

Monday, 12 October 2009

growing up pain

Well I said I would keep you posted and the absence of a post last week says it all.

As Snooks recovered from his bout of whatever it was – we are never fully sure what he is suffering from; parenting involves an awful lot of guesswork - the Engineer went down with the cold he had had and I got the sore throat. Snooks kept the teething pain just for himself.

Considering the misery these inflicted on each of his parents I can only commend Snooks for his courage on having suffered all three at the same time. And indeed this powerlessness to do much about any of his suffering is probably the most painful part of it all for me.

The agony of watching him gag every time he ate, washing sheets stained with blood from his mouth where he had chewed ulcers during the night, bathing him standing with his arms around my neck because immersion in water had become unbearable for him, all surpassed any discomfort caused by my inflamed tonsils.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not good with pain. I don’t suffer in silence and I certainly am not a willing subscriber to the theory that pain is good for you, though I have reluctantly come to believe that some pain in life is necessary.

I remember one mumfriend jokingly telling her six month old, “No pain, no gain” as she yanked a rather tight but very stylish dress over her daughter’s big baby head. She is Italian. The dress mattered.

No. The only venture The Engineer and I made outside last weekend was to buy more paracetamol having crunched our way through all our supplies. We had to make separate trips as supermarkets restrict the number you can buy in one go (as if this is really going to stop anyone taking the lot if they really had that in mind) and we wanted to be really stocked up. This one looked like it was going to last.

Meanwhile, having finally cottoned on to how grim poor Snooks must have been feeling, I was regularly dosing him with Calpol (sometimes interspersed with Nurofen) backed up with Cadbury’s Buttons and breastmilk.

As Snooks appeared to be on the mend by Monday I decided to make our regular trip to the Toddler Gym where he loves to witness the bouncy castle go flat – an event he recounts for days afterwards - only to find the torrential rain I have been waiting for all summer had finally arrived. (I have a soft spot for rain, which I put down to my origins in the north.)

Suddenly filled with a sense of responsibility for all our health (an illusion brought on by lack of sleep) I opted to drive there, believing this to be the grown up thing to do. My natural instinct was to walk, as I always do and as people in Manchester always do when it rains, because it rains there all the time.

However here in London I was right. It was the grown up thing to do and all the grown ups had done it, filling the leisure centre car park to overflowing with SUVs and forcing me to park two streets away, carrying Snooks, coatless, through the driving rain.

At home, as I undressed a howling Snooks, furious at being woken from his rain-soaked slumber in the warm car, I was about to admit defeat and would have burst into tears had my lovely niece not arrived just at that moment with her almost equally lovely boyfriend .

I was expecting them, and had also been expecting to be dressed (nope), dry (nope) with Snooks either asleep (nope) or dressed (nope) and ready to go for a nice walk on the common, kicking the football all the way to a lovely café which serves excellent food and the best coffee in London (nope, nope and nope). I was going for Effortlessly Elegant Mother and Cool Aunt, with a hint of Edgy Londoner thrown in.

Instead, lovely niece found a teapot and tea and put the kettle on our 1950s (not retro, just ancient) stove and lovely boyfriend (he had qualified within seconds of our meeting at the front door) read The Tiger Who Came to Tea to a mesmerised Snooks, while I got dry and dressed.

Later, as we trawled across the common – we did the walk, rain notwithstanding – I told them about the night, when my niece was a very little girl, that I was bunked down in her bedroom and she got out of bed and put a blanket over me because I kept sneezing.

I wonder what they are up to this weekend?