Monday, 30 November 2009

spooky action

They did warn me. They did say that each time you think you have got this thing cracked, a new challenge would present itself.

I kind of assumed that meant something in the realm of ‘once you’ve got solid food sorted you have potty training to tackle’ - that sort of thing.

So riding high with Snookie’s wonderful linguistic developments and now more or less used to his erratic sleeping habits, you could say I was getting the hang of it.

Even his fierce will (which means that when he is happy he is a delight but try to persuade him into something he does not fancy and he will mount a campaign of non-violent protest which includes running away or making like a plank, thus rendering himself impossible to manhandle) has become easier to manage since verbal negotiations became at our disposal.

He is a happy, healthy, adorable child who tolerates my inability to spot when his teeth are hurting, to the point that he has to stand in front of the medicine cupboard and point to the bottle of Calpol before I twig. (The other teething indicator is a refusal to eat any fruit, which at first I mistook for the early onset of puberty.)

So what I was not expecting was what occurred one night when the Engineer was out for the evening and I was putting Snooks to bed early in the hope of a bit of quiet time in front of some trashy TV.

As we snookled quietly in the semi-darkness of his bedroom – the largest and grandest in our home – he leaned back in my arms and informed me that there was a man at the window.

Of course my immediate reaction was calm, dismissive and kind. No there was no man, I assured him. The thick curtains were closed and shutters behind them prevented anyone looking in.

So he turned in my arms and pointed quite specifically to a spot in the bay window just above head height and said, “Man.”

Now I am a fairly practical person, not easily persuaded by theories which lack evidence (homeopathy, Diana’s murder, Facebook) but also not entirely sure that there may not be more to life than meets the eye.

After further investigation it became clear that a) The Man was not a shadow as he remained in place when the lights were turned on and off and that b) Snooks was not afraid of him and in fact seemed rather delighted by his presence.

I, on the other hand, was not and mentally raced through scenes from Poltergeist and The Sixth Sense and had consequently done what any good Catholic would do – I had prayed.

Before you write me off as a hysteric, I should explain that I managed not to convey my terror to Snooks, happily engaged in some kind of silent discourse with his new friend, and instead tried to glean what information I dare from him about the man’s identity.

But by the time the Engineer returned home about an hour later, although I knew there must be some earthly explanation for the apparition, I had been unable to bring myself to move and was still sitting in the same spot, cradling the now wide-awake Snooks in my arms.

After a hastily whispered exchange about unanswered questions behind the paranormal, the probable existence of good ghosts and the desire never again to watch a scary film, we managed to get Snooks to bed and remove to another room to regroup.

Now if you were looking to get spooked - or to sell the film rights - you could add to this story the fact that Snooks has also recently taken to rolling his eyes to one side and spinning round in circles until he keels over, a jest we nervously laugh off, while trying to stop him from crashing into the furniture.

And to mark a recent visit by his uncle, our little son was seen running triumphantly down the hallway bearing aloft a large painted crucifix which had been unearthed by the removal of his cot to our room for the duration.

Telling the story to my brother over dinner that night, rounding off the tale with the punchline '... and that's where you're sleeping', I mentioned that I had learned from Snooks that the man’s name was Green, leading me to suppose he might have made his way in from the many pelican crossings we use on our regular route to the common.

However my brother offered another, more romantic proposal; that he could be The Green Man - you know, the one adorning pubs and churches, the one who is thought to be a symbol of rebirth, a pagan tribute to fertility, the very essence of masculinity.

My brother’s stay with us passed without any nightly visits by any men of any hue and also seems to have seen off our other guest, as Snooks now informs me each night, before dropping off to sleep, ‘Man gone.’

I wish I could be so sure.

Monday, 16 November 2009

say the word

Snooks is 20 months old. A lot of people have been asking recently how old he is, people in the street and other mums who don’t know him.

“How old is he?” they ask in that tone which implies advance incredulity at the answer, which once given, is met with raised eyebrow polite silence.

I am not sure what this is about. Is it that he is quite small for his age – not perversely small – just cute, neat? He has little or no spare fat and is perfectly proportioned. He can still fit into some 12-month-old sized clothes.

Or it could be his hair? His hair has always aroused comment on account of its rather adult qualities. It is thick and poker straight and during the summer looked as if he has been treated to a half head of highlights. (A few people did actually ask if it was natural).

Or it could be his language, which at the risk of sounding like every other proud parent, is really very good. He has taken to following the Engineer around shouting “laptop” after a lengthy dinner table explanation about a problem with the one at work. He also, to my delight, shouts “cup-a-tea” in a perfect Asian/Yorkshire accent in honour of Ajay, the trusty driver of the Greendale Rocket for whom he reserves a particular fondness.

He can now sing along to Twinkle Twinkle and Wind the Bobbin with accompanying actions and can identify The Beatles after a few bars, whether it’s a song he knows or not.

Inevitably he has also mastered some of the less attractive language he hears yelling “Oh God!” and “Blast!” when things go awry. Mercifully, nothing worse seems to have stuck so far. The child has some standards after all.

And my heart twanged the other morning as I overheard him utter in low serious tones “mess” while watching a CBeebies programme link in which the children were happily painting and gluing. No wonder my attempts to interest him in such arts have fallen on barren soil; I have already crushed his creative spirit with my tidying. Blast!

To be fair (to myself) I have tried to combat my terror of this form of expression, encouraging him with crayons and felt pens to let rip on blank sheets, taking care the while to protect the furniture and carpet with yards of plastic sheeting. I even forced myself to take part in a Pumpkin Painting Party hosted by an American friend who is one of those with a natural born talent for these things.

Snooks and I acquitted ourselves in much the same fashion I recall enduring activities of this nature during my own childhood – over-excitement and high expectation followed by bitter demoralisation and eventually remonstration for disrupting others better endowed with the required talent for the job in hand. While I frantically glued googly eyes and pipe cleaner hair to my less than nimble fingers, I overheard Snooks being removed from someone else’s space and resort to banging the kitchen cupboard doors in bored protest. Oh God!

However, I don’t give up that easily and continue to lovingly display his work in time-honoured tradition on the fridge door, seeing, as only a mother can, the “firework display” in his orange and yellow squiggles. (In fact he produced this particular piece the day after we celebrated Bonfire Night in the back garden with a few fiery fountains and sparklers of our own. No bangs or rockets or anything so gruesome as a Guy, mind. In any case, when anyone got thrown on any of our childhood bonfires, it was usually Cromwell, as a means of evening up the score.)

Of course, his rapidly growing 20-month-old brain is bringing new trials too; toy throwing has just begun; early mornings (like 4.30am) continue; and a new phase of super-hugging smaller babies is proving less endearing to their mothers than it is to his own.

But a friend once told me, back when I was pregnant and wondering how it would all turn out, that just as I reached the point when I was ready to hand him over to social services and say ‘I give up, you do it’ - a point she had reached after unexpectedly giving birth to twins only for the overwhelmed father to abscond for three months - he would finally say the word and all would be healed.

And so he has. Sitting up at the dinner table one evening Snooks looked from one parent to the other. “Daddy!” he announced as he often does, with a combination of surprise and delight. Then he turned to me, the giver of milk and discipline, and finally, at last, put a name to the face.

“Mama,” he said.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

things you thought you would never do: part 1

I have called this “part 1” because I have the feeling that this may be a lifelong theme. For instance if I am still breastfeeding when I am 85, we can put that top of the list.

Ok let’s start there. Breastfeeding.

Well ok it’s no surprise that I chose to breastfeed Snooks when he was born, 20 months ago. I mean, you would have to be pretty scary to refuse to breastfeed your own newborn baby when it crawls up your belly and latches on right there, as mine did, all on his lonesome.

But to be honest I would not have had myself down as card-carrying TFW (Toddler Feeding Weirdo) in the years before Snooks’ arrival. I think if someone had asked me I would probably have said what most people now say to me – “It’s good to breastfeed for a bit but not once they are talking” or “Yes it’s lovely and natural but best done behind closed doors” or “I wonder if the mother is really getting more from that than the child?” (To that, I just have to say, ha ha, ha ha ha, ha ha and ha!).

To this particular shift in thinking I can only attribute sheer maternal instinct combined with the wealth of scientific evidence about the benefits of extended breastfeeding. Asking why I still breastfeed is a bit like asking why I don’t smoke anymore; in the light of all that I know, to do otherwise would be just plain stupid. And you can call me a TFW, call me a tree-hugger, call me a milky mama but don’t call me stupid. I don’t like that.

So next.

The other day I was out with a friend, her giggly boy, her dad, our Snooks, a bottle of bubbles and a kite.

We were soaking up one of the glorious autumn afternoons we have been enjoying this week and had brought together all the elements of a walk with our boys; stuff to eat, stuff to drink, stuff to put on, stuff to clean up, stuff to chase after and stuff to coax back into the buggy for the journey home. We have long since given up trying to meet for coffee in cafes. We now gather in the dog free zone of the common and let the boys run wild until they conk out.

The bubbles had provided a spectacular show as the low sun illuminated their prismatic effect against the cold blue sky, but the boys were in need of more action, if nothing else, to keep them warm.

And so this is how I ended up running hell for leather across the sodden grass – the only way to keep a kite aloft on a perfectly still afternoon - with the two littl’uns tumbling after me in pursuit of the kite’s zig-zaggily elusive tail.

“I bet you never thought you would do that,” my friend remarked as I returned, gasping for breath, to our buggy-bench base and attempted to resume my former life as a grown woman with a home, a car and a husband.

It reminded me of something the chief midwife said during the ante-natal classes we attended leading up to Snooks’ birth – classes which incidentally told me little I needed to know but instead filled me with such terror that the Engineer had to talk me down from the ledge each week over the tear-filled lunch which followed.

The midwife was talking about something very specific, but used a phrase which could easily be applied to much of the experience of being pregnant, of giving birth, of having a new born baby – and then, indeed, of being a mother.

She was talking about the moment when, you think your waters might have broken during the night but you are not really sure because for some, it is a bit of a non event (mine, to this day, have never been found) and you sniff the bed sheets after finding a strange wet patch on your side, which you can’t attribute to anything else.

“Yes, you will do this,” the midwife said with undisguised glee as we all looked at her in horror.

She need not have stopped there.