Wednesday, 26 October 2011

reap what you sow

The Engineer learned a valuable lesson recently while bathing young Snooks.

Our boy, sitting up importantly in the bath, held him with a steady gaze and announced “The seacap lurts waiting to take over on Monday.”

The father was, as you can imagine, somewhat perplexed and his confusion was met with repeated and impatient repetitions: “THE SEA CAP LURTS WAITING TO TAKE OVER ON MONDAY.”

The mystery was solved some days later when the boys were watching a film posted on YouTube which had come up during a search they had made on the subject of hovercrafts, Snookie’s then very best favourite form of transport.

Finding we could pull up YouTube on our telly had opened up our viewing to include snips of just about anything you can think of (and many things you can’t) at the push of a button, which had enabled us to show Snooks the Space Shuttle, Daleks, Peter Paul and Mary singing Marvellous Toy and many many more golden moments from our past, which have enriched his present.

So at the peak of his hovercraft frenzy we had all had the pleasure of hours of hovermania available because of other similarly obsessed little boys now old enough to upload their hover footage on line.

However amongst these clips was a short BBC news item about the last voyage of the cross channel hovercraft when, yes you guessed it, the more profitable catamaran took over, apparently on a Monday.

Snooks’ brain had absorbed the news reporter’s script “The Seacat lurks waiting to take over on Monday,” and redelivered it, slightly mangled but with exactly the same intonation, weeks later.

Well this was all rather amusing and harmless enough (with one stark caveat about not leaving You Tube to scroll even on as innocent a search as hovercrafts. Zombies. S'all I’m sayin’) but you never know when and where this total recall trick is going to happen next.

The worst to date came when he and his new best friend with whom he scoots to and from school stopped to watch the workmen building new classrooms and facilities from which the boys will one day hopefully benefit, and Snooks shouted; “’Aven’t you got any work to do, mate?” as the kind foreman came over to greet them.

I of course understood. I could instantly recognise the distinct Richard-Briers-doing-a-working-class-person accent which Snooks had heard a million times on the CD audio book of Benedict Blathwayt’s the Great Big Little Red Train. I knew where Snooks had got it from but I cannot tell you what made him say it at that moment, a moment in which it uncannily had some meaning, which I know he could never have intended. Standing there in his brand new privileged schoolboy sweater addressing the working man as if he owned the land on which he laboured.

Then in similarly apt circumstances he is wont to bellow, “Idiot! Stupid Grandpa car,” at haplessly witless drivers luckily too sealed into their Ford Orions to hear and who would never know that the rudely offensive wordage belongs not to him or even to me, but to the writers of Disney’s fabulous film, Cars and their marvellous creation, its central character Lightning McQueen.

I did eventually have to issue a YouTube warning to the Engineer after his and Snooks’ secret Saturday searches turned up a string on the American sport of drag car racing that has engulfed Snooks’ imagination in a such giant ball of gasoline-and-adrenalin-fuelled fire, which no amount of good children’s literature and healthy walks on the Common seems able to put out.

Snooks and I spent today at home together. We had planned to visit friends in Greenwich but a combination of ill health and bad weather meant a day inside seemed the best for all concerned.

My friend, who I was sad not to see, told me to sit him in front of the telly and rest. I groaned. I can’t do that. It’s not allowed.

“Listen,” she said, “my son’s first full sentence was ‘And that is the last in the present series’ and look how he turned out.” Her son is a 30-something happily married rather rich Oxbridge graduate with at least two properties in capital cities across the globe. He’s nice too.

I settled Snooks in front of repeat episodes of the wonderful Abney and Teal which I noted somewhere around 4pm had not only brightened his mood but had cheered me up considerably too.

As I put him to bed just now, I whispered to him how when I am falling asleep I sometimes think of the best thing that has happened during the day. I suggested maybe he could think about Abney and Teal floating high above the park on their bubble bouncing around near the clouds and floating through the blue, blue sky.

“Or I could think about crashing dragsters,” he whispered back at me, beaming excitedly in the dark.

Friday, 21 October 2011

icarus he ain't

I played a song for Snooks just now before we left for school and we had a little dance in the dining room.

As we walked along the road he sang the line “You’re gonna reach the sky, fly beautiful child” and then exclaimed to me “but persons (sic) can’t fly!” as if Annie Lennox were a bit delusional and needed a few things explaining to her.

It is a brilliant sunny autumn morning. His corn blonde hair is blowing about his face as he scoots along in his little navy duffle coat and his already-too-short school trousers. His cheeks are a bit rosy from the exertion and he is lost in the moment.

I want to say , “Yes you can.” I have found myself here, on the wrong side of sensible parenting, a few times recently. I just don’t want to tell him how the world really is and yet I know, without a doubt, that it is my job to do so.

When he cried into his dinner one evening in the first weeks of school that he never wanted me to go away from him again, I in turn cried down the phone to my oldest friend: “I cannot bear to take him somewhere he just does not want to go and leave him there.”

She, a school-teacher of 20 years’ experience, and Snooks’ godmother, paused for a moment to draw breath.

“I knew I was going to have this trouble with you,” she said. (Longevity and loyalty have earned the right to come out with stuff like that, just about).
“Listen to me. You are going to have to take him to do things he does not want to do over and over again in his life. That is what being a mother is. That is life and you have to show him how to do it.”

My sister, whose credentials include steering her two charges through some of the toughest terrain I have seen, echoed the sentiment.

“Isn’t it about 97 % of what we do – obligation?” she said.

Another friend, the only person I know who has brought Snooks to heel with a simple look and to whom he is quite devoted, told me the same story.

“When I told my mother I did not want to go to school, she said ‘Ok so long as you are happy,’ and so I didn’t go anymore. I was terrified by that.”

Why has it only just occurred to me that being a good mother to Snooks is going to mean showing him the limits of what he can do?

I had hoped to be the person who pointed him in the direction of his dreams, who encouraged his optimism and belief in himself.

Instead I find my script goes more like; “Yes you have to go to school every day for the next 14 years whether you like it or not; no, persons can’t fly and if you have inherited my eyesight you can rule out training as a pilot too.”

The truth is that moments after singing the line, Snooks suddenly turned tearful and said: “But I don’t want to fly.”

Snooks’ aspirations are far more grounded; his greatest wish at the moment is to be grown up enough to own a watch and drive the car.

He also declares that he now loves school. I can see his delight at having overcome the fear and stepped forward.

So I have learned two things: that I can still encourage his optimism while pointing out the realities and that happiness comes from fulfilment rather than doing just as we please.

No need to clip his wings then, but I might just teach him to navigate

Thursday, 13 October 2011

all hallowed out

Call me old-fashioned (come on, I know you want to) but are the unhappy souls of the dead roaming the earth searching for peace the stuff of parties, dress-up and sweeties for the under 4s? Really?

Last year I managed to body swerve Hallowe’en, steering Snookie away from the hollow-eyed ghoul masks and chocolate coffins, lest he ask, as he surely would, “what’s that mummy?”

How do other mothers explain it all to their offspring? “Well you see the nice pointy hat you are wearing? You would have been burned alive without a fair trial if you had done that a few years ago.”

I know I know. I am taking it all a bit too seriously. Just a bit o’ fun, you say. If you have read my previous posts (true stories) you will know about my issues with Santa too. Maybe I am just a mean old killjoy.

But when you grew up where I did with Pendle on the doorstep and you have had enough crossings over in the family to warrant a tab with Charon, you tend to have a fairly healthy respect for the dead … not to mention independent women with a penchant for potions and black cats.

I just don’t like it. Explaining spirits to Snooks, good or evil, is not a task I treat lightly, and the transformation of the religious feasts of All Saints and All Souls into a national fancy dress party strikes me as, well, downright disrespectful.

We have had to touch on the subject once or twice to explain the whereabouts of his grandparents, the absence of whom his increasing socialisation has brought to his attention.

In lady, I described his first encounter with my mother - or a picture of her in my locket – an encounter which ended with me explaining that she was now in ‘heaven’, a concept Snooks seemed to grasp with little trouble.

Or so I thought until one morning, many months later, as he and I were passing the local prison, a prominent blot on our landscape as it sits along a regular route we take between our old home and our new one, I thought it was time to explain its purpose.

“Do you know what that is?” I asked him as he gazed over the wall at the vast imposing building. “It is a prison. It is where people go when they have been very naughty.”

He nodded soberly, adding with suitable gravitas, “and mummies go when they get old.”

My mind swirled around trying to find the source of this astonishing assertion. Heaven/prison. An easy rookie mistake.

“No, no darling that’s not it. That is heaven - quite a different place…” I gabbled along trying desperately to stretch the two places as far apart in his understanding as it is possible to be.

I decided bigging up heaven was the way forward, but had to take care not to oversell the place, also home to both his grandfathers, to the point where he wanted to visit.

I thought we were out of the woods until just before he started at the nursery he now attends for three hours every day, where unfortunately, due to its high pedigree, one’s personal heritage is likely to be explored and judged by both children and parents alike.

He and I were sitting at the lunch table discussing love. I was answering his question about whom I loved, and had reached “… my mummy and my daddy” when he helpfully interjected, head tilted just enough to show the appropriate degree of sombre sympathy, “… and they are in prison.”

Snooks’ language has been a source of much comment in his short life – the early age at which he spoke his first word(‘books’), his perfect polite grammar, his appropriate use of the conditional mood which has been one of his great party pieces to date and now his delightful ability to rhyme and joke with words thanks largely to Dr Seuss.

But no amount of coaching seems to be able to prevent this one superb malapropism from causing our social downfall.

Oh well, at least we won’t get invited to any Hallowe’en parties.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

new era

I left off with the last post about the time we started to look for a new house, a move which has taken until now, almost two years, to fully accomplish.

Today a letter arrived which finally made legal the work we did on the house when we moved in over a year ago. The letter caused the Engineer to hurrah with relief on the phone.

My hurrah happened earlier today when I dropped Mr Snooks off at the preschool where he started four weeks ago and for the first time I did not have to cajole, con or coerce him into going through the door without me.

It has been a long hard road but I think - dare I say this? - we may have turned a corner.

For the Engineer and I it has been a hassle, a bit stressful, rather tiring, a lot of boring letters and some inconvenience when the builders were here.

But for Snooks, his world has changed overnight, twice.

First came the house move, which he appeared to take in his (two year old) stride until about the time the removal vans left.

Then began the daily and more importantly nightly discussions about the whereabouts of our old home, the neighbours whom Snooks had come to know, the Wedgewood blue walls in his old bedroom and even, god help us, the Green Man.

Not his new big boy bed, nor the lovely bright bedroom with the wide open sky view, nor the garden with space to scoot and play football…not even the novelty stable door in the kitchen were a match for our old cramped place.

By night he was visited by a new terror - the Racing Man – and by day he missed his old friend who no longer lived walking distance away. A few times he reproachfully announced that he was going back to live in his old house.

As the money flooded out, the rain poured in where two Polish builders worked flat out to replace the dingy bathroom and build a dining room with a vista of the 100ft garden for which we had bought the property.

But Snooks was not convinced. The snowman we made together in the garden terrified him peering under my Dad’s hat through the new patio doors from the darkness outside.

Even real fireplace access for Father Christmas, which ticked all my boxes for the M&S style festive family scene, was just another source of angst and had to be barricaded up with a giant Mickey Mouse for safety.

By his third birthday in March, as the bulbs a friend had bought as a house-warming present started to shoot, and his big sister had come to stay in the Racing Man’s room, Snooks started to see some potential in the place and requested his party be held there.

And by summer when the garden filled with roses, scarlet geraniums and lavender; when he was allowed to ‘lawn the lawn’ with Daddy and paint the fence with water; when he could sit at breakfast and observe the squirrels, cats, birds, frog, heron and fox who all visit our garden he announced he liked it here.

And then school started.

When he was born, I said I would stay at home with him for as long as was needed. I wanted him to spend his early years with his mother. I could see no point in buying a fabulous Ferrari and paying someone else to drive it, apart from any benefit he might accrue from the deal.

I did not attend nursery. Nor did anyone I know. My oldest brother did not start school full time until he was six – not because Lancashire in the 1960s was ahead of its time and had adopted the Scandinavian compulsory school age of seven, but because my mother said he was not ready.

When Snooks was six months old, I secured a place for him at a local private nursery as an insurance policy in case I became so unhinged by motherhood (which a friend had described to me as ‘solitary confinement with hard labour’) that I was no longer the best person to care for him. But that day never arrived.

So here we are. At three-and-a-half, he is expected by society to know his please and thank yous, to leave the table only with permission, to wipe his own nose and bum, to tidy up after himself, to play with his peers but not touch them uninvited and to eat, sleep and talk when told to.

And to leave his mum’s arms for the limited attention of three unknown adults and the company of 25 little strangers also wanting that attention, without a fight.

It could make you weep, couldn’t it? And believe me, it has.