Thursday, 4 October 2012

going underground

As Snooks and I walked across the Common recently, my pockets weighed down with conker booty, he came out with one of his lovely poetic descriptions which I always try to record before they get lost for ever in time. Indeed this really has been the purpose of this blog.

This time, as he looked over to where a big black shaggy looking creature was chasing around happily after something smaller and faster – he said “Scattery dog.”
I loved it and said so and to my astonishment he replied, “Put it in your blog.”

I didn’t even know he knew I wrote a blog. I didn’t know he knew what a blog was. He is four. How can he say that? Anyway once I had recovered my wits we made the conversation into some kind of funny mantra and marched across the rest of the Common shouting “SCATTERY DOG. IN YOUR BLOG!” as loud as we could for no good reason at all.

It actually turned into a rather good “teaching moment” as the websites call it as I then got him to practise saying it as quietly as he could too and we played around with funny loud and quiet voices, ending with inevitable rundown of where is an appropriate place for a loud voice and where for a quiet voice.

Snooks, who usually treats any attempts to make fun didactic with contempt, humoured me for a while and then insisted that libraries and restaurants were definitely the best place for top level yelling.
Anyway the point is if he has reached a point of self-awareness where he knows what I might write in my blog, it is time to stop.

I had already been considering this for some time over the summer as his entry into full time education beckoned. Starting school meant many things to both of us - a new autonomy for him, a new balance in life for me and for both of us a joining in with a community which will be with us for the next seven years.
For Snooks to make his own path it means if I am to write about him I should do it privately or at least anonymously. For me also, some discretion sounds like a plan.

So one last time before we go underground I shall record what’s bin did and what’s bin hid in our world:

* He spelt his first word out for me which was s-k-y. I would like to say he meant the Heavens but I am afraid it is more likely he meant the Murdoch empire. Both gramps and Dennis Potter would turn in their graves
* He tells jokes, some of which make sense. Why do cows have bells? Because their horns don’t     work …etc

* He often offers to punch you in the face. The offer is not followed up and stems from my offer to him of a slap in the belly with a wet fish one mealtime when he had turned down all that was available. He took the expression and adapted it with the resulting apparent threat of extreme violence. Of course other children and their mothers don’t know any of this which has the kind of social consequences for us you can well imagine.

*  After reading about the importance of impulse control, I conducted the marshmallow experiment on him with Haribos offering him ‘one big one now’ or ‘the packet’ later. He waited for the packet and didn’t eat it.

 * He has mastered urinals, hand-dryers and the fireman’s pole since starting school two weeks ago. Saying goodbye to mummy is a work in progress

 * His favourite book of the moment is Scaredy Squirrel which Daddy has turned into Brave Squirrel, who leaps into the unknown everyday with a thrill of excitement and anticipation.

*  His song of the summer was Foreigner’s ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ which he called ‘Florida’

* His father and I have not corrected the following speech errors because we just can’t bear to: percuter (computer), vermilla (vanilla), shotting (shooting) and Magladen (Magdalen).

* He is very worried about a spider which ‘got dead’ in the shed and is now in the bin. It needs a proper burial in a plant pot. He talks about it most nights.

* He professes to love his father and me more than we love him and also declares his love for our house, our garden, our car and his teacher.
That’s All Folks

Thursday, 9 August 2012

story teller

As I sat having lunch with Snooks today he told me a story.

It went like this: “Once there was a bean who lived under the sea. And he lived happily ever after.”

At this point I applauded and started to sing praise for such a magical and satisfying tale when he interrupted.

“Then,” he said ominously …

What a great way to open a novel, I thought to myself, with the classic fairy tale ending. What a marvellous malevolent twist to turn the familiar righteousness restored ending into a trick start which comforts the reader with a false sense of security just before the real drama starts.

Anyway, he went on ..

“…then, he and his friend (names were given but have been omitted here as they may relates to persons known and unknown) a park called Wavy Park. They played there, and then went home and went to bed. On the sea bed. There were waves coming out of the chimney. The end.”

I loved it and have recorded it here word for word.  The bean story was prompted by our lunch menu and my recounting of one of my Dad’s favourite rhymes (all together now) “How many beans make five? A bean a bean a half a bean a half a bean a bean an d a bean.” I shall have to check the origin of that one.

I was glad to hear Snooks tell a story. Just last night I was discussing with the Engineer (whom I am pretty sure was asleep at the time) whether we have stifled Snooks’ imaginative powers with too many facts.  When told or read fantastical stories he often demands an immediate audit of what is real or “true” and what is not. Funnily enough he then refuses to believe my answers insisting furiously that fairies do exist and that God doesn’t.

Yesterday he asked the Engineer if Voldemort existed. I was quick to ensure that the Engineer was very clear in the negative on this (though of course some may argue that in a way, he does) as I did not want our very premature venture into reading JK Rowling to backfire with fearful nightmares. I am not sure what the argument against introducing a four year old to the concept of evil and the prospect of one’s parents being killed by it is, but I am sure there is a good one. So in the reading I have been careful to discuss with Snooks his understanding of what the story is, what it means, who is good and who is bad and that the whole thing is made up.

His question also revealed another new development – that he does not trust my answers and needs to double check with the Engineer. I can’t blame him for this. It could be brought on by my too often deferring questions (usually about the gauge on railway tracks or at what angle the earth is spinning) to the Engineer for confirmation.  Or it could be a shift predicted for young boys around this age when their focus turns to Dad as the new guide and model.

However when it comes to good and evil and what exists and what doesn’t I must make sure he knows my credentials are as good as anybody’s and probably better than most.

And anyway I want to hear more of the Bean Stories.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

whole wide world

Ok the Olympics. I have to mention it. In ten years’ time when Snooks reads this he will understand the huge deal this has been. The Games are being held in our city. We saw the torch being carried past the end of our road. We were close enough to touch the runner. We have travelled across the city amid the panoply of Olympics visitors, identifiable not by their foreign tongues (as hundreds of these are already part of our city’s soundtrack) but by their expensive clothes and sensible footwear. We have visited the park (though not bothered to try to get tickets for any events, despite the Loads of Empty Seats row) and we happened to watch live on TV the men’s gymnastics which afforded the country a silver then a bronze medal for the first time in about 100 years. I cheered and Snooks mimicked as the young men leapt and topple-tailed around the place showing that spotty stocky shy teenagers can perform wonders

Speaking of wonders, the entertainment I conjured up for our weekly supermarket shop yesterday was that Snooks was to stand, wait for the starting beep and then sprint while I shopped and counted until he reached the end. His P.B. is 6 seconds. And yes, the joke is Aisles of Wonder.

Ok so that brings me neatly to the opening ceremony which we watched live and recorded so Snooks could see bits of it the next day. The world seems to have liked Danny Boyle’s creative fun filled spectacle although some of the references were a bit lost in translation. We got most of them and as a native of Danny’s home town and a pillar of the neighbouring parish I felt a particular warmth for the dark satanic mills, Abide With Me, the Brookside kiss, the Beatles and of course Oh Danny Boy(le). Why did no clever hack pick that one up? My sister who was at school with Danny’s sister reliably informs me that they used to sing it about him as a joke…

Snooks was mesmerised by the scenes from children’s literature which I had originally censored as Too Scary and he insisted on watching the towering Voldemort and the roller skating Child-Catcher over and over again. Such was the impact that we are ending each afternoon now with a short reading from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – his first venture into real big boy books.

And speaking of books (you see I did it!), thanks to a tip from a friend we have found further indoor, free, character building entertainment at the local library with Story Lab - a scheme whereby children borrow six books over the course of the summer break and earn stickers on their return after answering a couple of questions about the plot. Snooks is not a stickers kind of boy but does like a chat so being asked by the librarian what he thought of the books is reward enough.

Unfortunately the day we returned Edwardo, the Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World (all about a boy whose bad behaviour gets worse and worse the more he is scolded and improves only when the grown-ups start to praise the best in him) the librarian was so overwhelmed she did not have the time to hear Snooks’ views on it. I, for what it’s worth, thought it merited an extra copy on the Parenting shelves.

So what with all that – with the international hoards  travelling on our tubes, with the fabulous walk through the nation’s historical and cultural highs, with the dreams which watching these young athletes will inspire and with the battle between Good and Evil now lodged in his imagination, Snooks' whole world has widened considerably over the last two weeks. And that is pure gold.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

clever clogs

I can’t believe this.  I actually found myself this morning explaining loudly and clearly to Snooks that I Know More Than He Does Because I Am A Grown Up.

He looked astonished and a little hurt. He also managed to just about hide his disbelief at my making such a nonsensical statement.

I wince even now as I recall it though I stop short of regretting having said it. Idiotic as it is to claim to know more simply by dint of having been around longer (there is no obvious causal link – I could be a grown up who had never read anything, asked any questions, conversed with anyone) I simply had to stop him from contradicting every thing I say.

Where has this come from? Is it part of the four- year-old boy (don’t know about girls) journey or is it just Mr Snooks. Having had careful truthful answers to most of his questions from The Engineer and I over the last four years, he now thinks he Knows It All. I thought we got this at 14. (In the same wincing breath I recall my 14 year old self correcting my well educated father on any aspect of anything I thought I could pull off. I tended to aim for science as his knowledge of history, literature, philosophy and languages was boundless. My aptitude for physics came in handy though he seemed to somehow have absorbed most of my O level text book by osmosis).

Anyway I felt a bit sorry about it as I have praised and praised his cognitive abilities and then unexpectedly turned on him for trusting them. And then in the confusion, he cried.  Ouch.

Snooks and I were both intrigued and delighted by the news story earlier this week about the 11-year-old boy from Manchester who flew to Rome without his family. Something in the script of BBC Radio 4’s news item led both of us to think he had actually flown the plane out of Manchester airport, which really got our attention. However it turned out the boy had simply sidled up to another family and got on board without anyone noticing.

I called Snooks in to hear the news item on the kitchen radio and as I stood pondering how the boy’s family had felt when they realised he had eloped, Snooks asked “Did no one check his passport?”
This, it turned out, was the main gist of the news story as the pre Olympics security tension mounts across the country.   Step forward the new John Humphrys.

How Snooks arrived at this question, how he knew it was the vital part of the story I do not know but I congratulated him on his incisive thought.

I can’t have it both ways. I’d better retract my earlier statement.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

high days

Today is the first day of the “summer” holidays when, according to all songs, novels, advertising and recovered memories it is supposed to be about barefoot gossoons playing in the brook, bees buzzing about picnics where mothers laugh warmly as their offspring dangle from trees in nicely laundered linens.

Actually, it has rained and rained and rained (“And the people all said sit down, sit down you're rocking the boat” the songs strikes up in my head) through the Wimbledon tennis championships, through the end of school sports day and now, apparently, through the coming summer holidays.

The look on mothers’ faces at pick up at the school gates yesterday was raw naked fear. We have six weeks ahead – that is roughly 30 days (if you discount weekends) of single-handed entertainment to provide with no let up. That means not one minute of peace until bedtime Every Day. And here’s the best part. As the rain dictates that most outdoor play is pretty much off, the indoor alternatives which are mostly in central London are also out of bounds due to the *@%@*^% Olympic Games due to start here next week. Crap security arrangements (the company actually admitted this, so I have no fear of a libel suit) and sheer volume of people in the capital have made the prospect of venturing to our favourite haunts – the Science Museum, the Transport Museum, the South Bank, Greenwich … er anywhere around here really, pretty daunting.

People looked at each other in desperation yesterday casting about for good ideas to engage their four year olds for at least some of the approximately 200 hours of free time ahead.

“There’s a bee-keeping course on at the local library this week if you fancy that. Maybe the hats will keep them going for a while…”

“I’ve booked a cab to drive us around and around the M25 for the next three Fridays. I’m taking my iPad and a pair of headphones…”

I have arranged and then unarranged three organised activities for Snooks, thinking each time for one blind stupid second that he might Join In With Stuff if I paid a lot of money and threw him at it.

The Engineer each time has brought me back to my senses. ‘Remember Playball,” he says ruefully. The vision of carrying Snooks kicking and screaming into a French class, a swimming class and a gymnastics class - and paying for the privilege swam up before my eyes and I cancelled each one with a sigh.

Instead we set off today at 8.45am in pursuit of our latest obsession – watching real steam engines fly through local stations on their way from London to the coast. We have managed to see two so far and each time it has been a huge success. The uncertainty combined with the inconvenient hour leads to a level of excitement which makes the fleeting appearance of the treasured locomotives all the more worth waiting for. The early start also served two further purposes – to wear Snooks out and to practise for when we have to get to school for 9am each day come September, a discipline Snooks has yet to encounter.

Unfortunately, this time I got the details slightly wrong and the train did not appear leaving us deflated on a railway bridge at rush hour. Luckily I had a back-up plan (I thought this through) and had our swimming togs in the boot ready for an emergency trip to the local baths, somewhere I hope to provide a regular safe haven during the rain-and-Olympics-soaked weeks ahead.

However en route Snooks spotted a playground we used to frequent in his pre-preschool days and asked to go there. My first thought was to say no. We were on our way somewhere. I had it all mapped out. Swim, beans on toast, asleep in the car on the way home. But like many of the unorthodox decisions I have taken in motherhood, an excessive amount of being told ‘no’ for no good reason in my own childhood, inclines me to say yes to Snooks, despite the disruption it may cause, unless there is a very good reason not to. (Indeed this is how we came to be flying a “UFO” frisbee on the Common yesterday dressed in shorts and wellies as the monsoon rain poured down and everyone else ran for cover).

So we headed for the playground where who should run up to Snooks calling his name with delight than the apple of his eye - a girl from his nursery class whom he once likened famously to a pretty daisy. The two played solidly for almost two hours until my bladder and their repertoire of shared games reached their limit.

Snooks and I lunched at a very chi chi Italian place we found in the nice part of town (he ate half the excellent penne and a tiny cake while I half a panini and the rest of his penne) and he fell asleep in the car on the way home.

In the words of the marvellous Scarlett O’Hara, tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

top marks

As my aim here is to document Snooks’ world for his later perusal, regardless of how ...erm… smug I may sound, I feel it necessary to note the arrival of his first school report.

The Engineer and I stumbled across it by accident. Tasked with picking the boy up from school for the first time (I was otherwise engaged – more of this later), remembering the necessary snacks, the medicines which had to be taken within minutes of pick up time, the deal about the park (he can go sometimes, weather permitting and on our terms) and to actually be there on time, Daddy had come home with the enveloped clutched in his hand without opening it.

When we realised what it was we were transfixed. As I have said before, Snooks’ world when he is out of my hands is a mysterious black hole. I am occasionally allowed fragments of incomprehensible information, much of which could be imaginary. For all I know he could be sweeping chimneys all day. So this, this two sheets of typed A4 covering observations about his communication skills, his number work, physical and social skills made for a gripping read. Snooks overheard me reading aloud some of the comments, prompting him to come and shout at me to stop - his worst nightmare seems to be that his father and I might find out who he is.

But he had nothing to fear as the praise was high and the could do betters very few. None of it came as any surprise other than perhaps the keen interest he has shown in cookery. His disinterest (which seemed to be the issue) in writing could be a little embarrassing considering my profession, though I gather boys are often slow to get on with putting pencil to paper. The truth is, Snooks is disinterested in anything which involves sitting still and this includes Eating, Putting On Shoes and Watching Television. No, we have no worries.

Which brings me to my whereabouts on the auspicious day. Well I was on my way to a job interview, suited, prepped and nervous as a cat. The approach of full time education for Snooks and the hollow coffers left after four years of unpaid work and the worst recession in years meant this day had finally come. On the way into the Smoke, rather enjoying the familiar overground and underground route I asked myself this question; Does it matter that I have a law degree (LL.B), a teaching qualification (P.G.C.E), the industry professional qualification in journalism (N.C.E) and a City and Guilds accreditation in teaching adults to read and yet I am happy to be a ‘housewife’? Not to me, I thought. I am not sure whether this shows a startling lack of ambition or a healthy grip on reality. However, that is how it is.

Snooks seems to be on the right track at school and has some good foundations for learning in place. He is happy and has friends. That is good enough for me.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

a kiss is still a kiss

Oh my. Poor Snooks. I just watched him try to give his best girl a kiss outside school and she shooed him away. I don’t think she knew what he was trying to do and from what I could see she was in the middle of a ballet dance, which didn’t require a male partner.

Am I alone in finding these things so painful to watch? Why can’t I detach from it better, just chat to the mums at the gate and put it down to experience.

Yet again Snooks takes a step towards somebody, is rejected and apparently, hopefully learns from it. Perhaps next time he will choose his moment better, or tell her first what his intentions are, or just leave kissing girls until later and do it out of sight.

My own kissing career started aged eight and was conducted mostly amongst the coats in the cloakroom with one particular boy. Love notes were passed during class and plans made to meet up under the duffels during break time.

Kissing was on the lips and lengthy but without tongues or any other frills. Mortifyingly the letters fell into the wrong hands one day and ended up with the teacher. After that we just gave each other the nod.

Astonishingly my little beau texted me anonymously just last year, having obtained my number from a mutual friend, signing off ‘…from the first boy you ever kissed.’  He then panicked in case he was mistaken about being my first and I thought the message was from some other boy in our class and replied as such, retrospectively breaking his heart almost 40 years after the event. I did reply rather curtly as I assumed it was a spam text, but then all was cleared up and I was able to confirm that he was indeed the first (his rival came two years later) and it was lovely to hear from him and how were his two wives and three children. But you see, this stuff matters.

 I came away from school feeling wretched. I knew Snooks was seeking comfort from a gentle soul as a situation with another friend had left him a bit sad and confused the previous day. I just have to believe that he takes all this in his stride and it is good for him.

And it was not just any old gentle soul either. This little girl won his heart when she dressed up as Rapunzel for the World Book Day and her own lovely long dark hair looked ‘quite beautiful” he told me. I later heard that the two undertook some kind of marriage ceremony but have never been able to confirm further details of that. Anyway, no self-respecting fairy tale handsome prince gets to walk up and kiss the girl without some kind of character building struggle first. Right?

Thursday, 28 June 2012

here comes the sun

It’s not just about the weather (though it is forecast to hit 30 this afternoon). Nor is it just about our latest Mediterranean jaunt,which saw us hitting the beach at 4pm each day to avoid the 42 degree heat.

But the title for this post is there because when I came to look at some notes I made with a view to writing it while we were away, it read like a song list. And it made me realise something about Snooks; He lives, as I do, with a soundtrack playing permanently in his head.

I have suffered this handicap for many years now and became known, when working in a crowded office, for my sudden outbursts of song. Embarrassingly, they often clearly related to what was going on around me. It was a kind of musical Tourette’s, which caused amusement and no doubt some offence wherever I worked. And I can say with my hand on my heart that I honestly did not know I was doing it. One canny editor used to detect which story I was working on by listening to my lyrics.
The syndrome was captured in the brilliant US show Ally McBeal (sorry, so 90s I know) where she eventually started to hallucinate Al Green’s very presence singing her life to her, and was prescribed Prozac for her trouble.

So I am interested to see Snooks has inherited or simply copied my tick and seems to sing aloud a least half his waking life. At the moment it is Crush, a song he picked up from an iPod play list which had him asking me what “raising my adrenalin” meant and will one day set some girl’s pulse racing if he continues singing it into his adolescence (though of course by then he will be mute until he hits 25). He did make a start on this kind of accidental wooing during our break when he asked a pneumatic bikini-clad, peroxide blonde he met on the beach if she was a “Moscow girl”.

“No,” she answered, confused and I would say a touch piqued. She was Greek. We were in Greece. Only the Engineer and I were to know that the question sprung from a discussion earlier where Snooks had asked me why Moscow girls made Lennon and McCartney “sing and shout” and I had explained ... to the best of my ability.

Then came the Great Mosquito Massacre carried out by my gallant swains (the Engineer and Snooks armed with rolled up towels) each night in our apartment before bedtime to the tune of Freefalling by Tom Petty. Followed by Jack Johnson’s Staple it Together and Call it Bad Weather which denoted my feelings about the dinner I was able to rustle up on the lethal two ring electric hob provided in our apartment which required little culinary talent but a good deal of spatial awareness, logistical planning and sheer courage.

In a different vein (or perhaps not), the many rounds of London’s Burning required to get me through the two mountain passes and five hairpin bends negotiated to reach some of the more remote and spectacular beaches on our faraway island, resulted in a fascination for 17th century England and the production of no less that seven drawings of the Great Fire of London at the kitchen table that evening.

The surprise celebration of Father’s Day at our favourite restaurant, the moment Snooks swam in the sea unaided (the catalyst, we found, to push past the plateau of swimming with armbands in the pool was to give him half a bowl of M&Ms and head for the beach) and the point when we realised we had driven our hired motor boat past the tip of the island and out of the safe water jurisdiction the very strict boat hire lady had laid out, were all times of such high emotion I am not sure any song could do them justice.

And then finally and contrarily (for it is he) the most played and frequently sung song of the whole holiday was Snow (Hey Oh) which Snooks requested for a family pre dinner dance each evening. Though something tells me the Red Hot Chilli Peppers were probably not singing about the weather either.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

from Russia with love

We are back on trams. Not literally, though no doubt that will come soon too. But Snooks loves a tram.

 It all started when he first clapped eyes on a die-cast model of the Munich tram at the London Transport Museum, which I bought for him and he carried with him pretty much everywhere for two years. That one eventually broke in two at the ‘bendy bit’ in the middle (the bendy bit is the reason for their supremacy over trains, cars, tractors etc.) and was replaced with a new one, which appears to be sponsored by the sweet manufacturer Haribo, and hails I am told from Nuremberg. This was bought in lieu of a larger red model, which simply won Snooks’ heart but was sadly beyond any reasonable non birthday/ Christmas toy price range. He has been promised it when either of these days next arrives.

In the meantime he has satisfied his yearnings with repeat viewings of the tram footage available on You Tube which includes three short films of our local line, the one we have traversed many a time for no good reason other than to reach the end and come back. We are also now acquainted with most of the Manchester routes, in person and on film and have watched lovely footage of the old London double deckers meeting their sad end on the scrap heap, a scene which kept Snooks rapt with anguish for some time.

Now, today, we have been watching his latest favourite, a short film about the demise and resurrection of trams in Russia, all of which is conducted in Russian, of course. Snooks is undeterred. He loves the scenes of snowy Moscow and St Petersburg where the locals, clad in great coats and rabbit fur hats, tell the sad story of the ripped out tram tracks. That ability of young children to easily cross language barriers, it would seem, translates to film . He has never commented that he does not understand what they are saying. I am waiting for him to spout his first Russian words and for the first (but I am certain not the last) time have out-languaged me.

At this rate, I can see that his cousins who all speak three or four languages a piece will have to be drafted in to translate by the time he reaches puberty. As we watched the clip together I felt the thrill of his unknown future, an unknown that used to fill me with dread in my own youth. I wondered if he might one day design a new eco-friendly transport system for our cities and travel around the world promoting it. I tried to imagine him living in some foreign capital, a grown man, handling it.

“Maybe I could drive a tram one day, and then I could walk from one end to the other to go back the other way,” he said, snuggling up to me on the sofa. Yes that will do nicely too. So long as it has a pantograph and a bendy bit in the middle, we shall have all we need.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

last revolving year

Pull yourself together (it’s ok, I’m talking to myself here) you’re all right. It is a beautiful summer’s day, Snooks is well, the Engineer is employed and you have all you need.

To misquote Sophie Ellis-Bexter, ‘If this is love, why does it feel so bad?’ I have just walked Snooks to nursery school through the 27 degree heat chatting about this and that. He scooted absently in his shorts and white polo, freshly washed hair blowing as he went. It could not be a mellower scene. We spent the morning in our garden, playing football, swinging on the swing and drawing faces with chalk on the ground. The halcyon mood was broken for a short while as I browbeat him into the bath for a seaman’s shower (he stands there while I scoop water from the sink over him) as I finally bowed to social pressure not to send him out in public looking like a tinker. A new insistence on children wearing helmets following an accident involving a local girl had left his hair matted and sweaty and an unscheduled dip in the Common pond yesterday during a post-school fishing expedition which involved Snooks, myself and a net with a very short handl necessitated it.

So all is well. Very well in fact. And yet … I know what it is. I know because the song which tells it is going round and round (appropriately) in my head. The Circle Game. I feel like Joni Mitchell has taken up residence somewhere between my ears and is determined to keep on singing it until I listen and finally give in; “OK OK I get it, I know. He is growing up, he is growing away and for the first time in a few months he will spend more time each day with someone else than he does with me.”

You see, just saying it has unleashed one of those burst-out-crying moments you can only have when no one else is around. By the time Snooks is old enough to read this it will embarrass more than upset him. We came close just the other day as he was standing on the stairs getting ready for school and I was explaining how, at Big School, he will stay for lunch with his friends and what fun that will all be. I stood up to find him looking at me at eye level. “I will miss you,” he said, as earnestly as any leading man in a classic love and a parting scene. I answered that I would miss him too but it was all going to be jolly fine.

And I have been holding on to that ever since, just stopping short, each time Big School is mentioned, of running through the house shouting: “I don’t’ like it, I don’t like it, I don’t like it.” I want to make it stop, which is where Joni comes in. You see, I made the decision when Snooks was born, to hurl myself in, heart, line and sinker. To give him my all. To more or less let go of the sides and let the tide of motherhood wash over me, total immersion, and see where it took me. It meant having no anchor, no safe shore, no shelter from the powerful force of maternal love, which has wiped the floor with me well and truly. The past four years have been like a dream, in all senses of the expression. I have felt removed from reality, strangely powerless and yet suddenly imbued with new magical strength I didn’t know I had. And it has fulfilled many, many wishes I made a long time ago which I never believed would come true. Snooks and I have spent little time apart. Not one night has passed when I have not kissed him goodnight, nor one morning when he has not been the first person I touch. We have covered a lot of ground literally and figuratively, talking ceaselessly (since he started at about 10 months) about everything we see and experience. I have made it my purpose to give him what he needs, at almost all cost and consequently to lay myself open to that freefall moment when that no longer means me.

And the seasons they go round and round…” and today’s lovely sunny weather, our last summer before the system takes him away, brought that day a little closer. The Engineer calls this having “big feelings’. He says that it is worth it, that opening up your heart without an anaesthetic and hanging onto the tiger’s tail through the ups and downs that that brings, is being truly alive. And what could be better than that? So there it is. I did it. And you can stop now Joni.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

the open road

Stand back, I’m going to crow: Snooks can ride a bike – a two wheeler, unaided, round and round, straight lines, high speed, the lot. And here’s the thing. He more or less taught himself.

Not for the first time a mother remarked in the park yesterday what a tough little cookie our boy is. She was not, let me be clear, referring to acting tough – as in being aggressive to other children. No she meant he falls down, he rolls, he gets up and he carries on. I know all about it. I am very pleased and proud that he is so resilient and so not a cry-baby nor a tell-tale. I do I love it. But I must confess I could handle just a little more information from him about what happens when my back is turned – injuries either self-inflicted or received from others as I live in a state of news blackout. While other children give a running update on their accidents and injustices suffered at the hands of others (including Snooks) I hear nothing and so am forced always into the dock with no mitigating circumstances to bring in his defence. Guilty every time. And sometimes, just to add to the drama, he furnishes all with extra details of his own crimes insisting that he would do it again if he had the chance, demolishing any hopes for an appeal.

So I am left scratching my head as he quietly rubs his, wondering where he might have banged it, whether someone helped and could it amount to concussion.

The Engineer and I first became aware of his commando-level resilience when he suffered his second bout of tonsillitis, aged around 18 months which was only diagnosed after a week or so because he had made so little fuss. The GP could hardly believe we did not know he was ill, considering how painful it would have been. I looked at him then and knew I was going to have to watch him.

And I have watched him fall down a flight of stairs, fall in a river, run directly into a head height stone table, fly over the top of his scooter having hit a pot-hole in the pavement, be punched repeatedly by another child and just yesterday perform a somersault in the air after flying off a swing and land on his back, with very little comment at all.

And so I watched him climb onto his two wheeler bike having asked Daddy to remove the stabilisers and ride round and round the garden (not like a teddy bear) falling off and getting on again, time after time, until he got it. The Engineer and I did very little other than stand by and applaud. So well done my brave, determined, resilient little boy. You have many lessons yet to learn but you have just achieved one of the great landmarks of childhood and ain’t nobody can take it away from you. And it’s also just the best fun ever - just you, your wheels and the open road … and mum running behind with a helmet, a coat and a Rosary.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

clan clocked

“Hickety dickety cock…” I heard Snooks singing to himself the other day. Sweet Lord don’t let him repeat that in company.

I blame the Engineer. It’s the kind of thing he would say to express mild frustration at, say, finding that the bath won’t fit back into the space it occupied until he removed it for no good reason a few hours ago or realising that if he lets go of the bookcase the whole shooting match will come down, baby and all.

But I can’t complain. I would, and do, say much worse and mercifully Snooks does not seem to pick it up. Somehow by the grace of God he seems to have developed a kind of ‘decency filter’, which means that although his ability for language is remarkable – he repeats and remembers French words particularly well, without instruction or encouragement – he leaves out the f-word.

So anyway there he was chirping away his own twisted version of a much loved nursery rhyme and it occurred to me that the happy sound may have been inspired by a recent addition to our home. Well not that recent. The clock about which he was singing was a Christmas present from my sister which has been proudly displayed on our study wall since the day it arrived. However its true function, which in my eyes trumped any time telling it might do, had yet to be fulfilled. For in place of numbers, to mark the passing of each hour is a little coloured frame in which to place photos of ones nearest and dearest. The idea, no doubt intended by my sister whose children grew up similarly short on nearby relatives, was to create a gallery of familiar faces which Snooks could survey and gradually come to know as His Family. And so it was without delay (ok I admit, about five months delay) that the Engineer and I set about converting our digital on screen shots of our siblings, siblings’ children and siblings’ childrens’ children into the right-size-head-and-shoulders-looking-at-the-camera-not-wearing-sunglasses into tiny portrait prints.

It was not that easy for a number of reasons. Firstly, all of my side and most of his have super-sensitive blue eyes and a penchant for remaining mysterious at family events, so finding photos of everyone without the shades proved nigh on impossible. Secondly we hardly ever see each other and when we do I tend not to take photos of anyone. (I have a mini superstition which I have now firmly stamped into the ground, which came from the haunting Doors song I Can’t See Your Face In My Mind in which Jim Morrison sings “I won’t need your picture until we say goodbye.” It has taken until now for me to allow family photos back on display). Thirdly there was a debate to be had about whether both living and dead family members should clock up the hours together which could cause Snooks a bit of confusion, not to mention take up vital plots where the rapidly increasing next generation are springing up.

And finally there was the contentious blood or water question – there are bloods he has never met and waters he sees regularly and adores. In the end we settled on blood, the purpose of the exercise being after all to let him get to know by sight the wider clan with whom he shares DNA (and a good many characteristics by all accounts) even though he has never met them. Seeing the lot assembled, the usual suspects on both sides smiling out at us, was seriously breath-taking; the strong resemblances, the long deep ties and that unfathomable love.

I watched Snooks, who barely knows some of these people, visibly light up. And we did allow one notable exception to take a place up there as it was her recent visit which prompted us to get the thing assembled in the first place. My “aunt”, in fact a college friend of my mother’s who earned her ‘family’ stripes by being the only regular visitor to our childhood home, won such a place in Snooks’ affection when she stayed with us that her departure left him ‘feeling very sad’ for a good few days afterwards. So now with a little prompting and a leg up so he can see, Snooks can name most aunts and uncles and a make a good stab at the cousins and half siblings. He may not get every name every time, but I think he’s getting his bearings. And with a crew like that behind him, what could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, 3 May 2012

rocket man

“Shoot me like a rocket through the window,” said Snooks last night, just before we put him to bed. This is him relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep. You should hear him wide awake.

A visiting aunt remarked, after a few moments in the house recently, how ‘lively’ he was. You bet. I am used to it now - both the liveliness and the remarks. Ever since he started talking, strangers have commented on it, sometimes following up with an examination of the ingredients of his lunch bag. Clearly E numbers are to blame. A talkative child must be on a diet of sweets and fizzy drinks. What other explanation could there be?

In fact Snooks likes neither. He is not a huge sugar freak, though he likes his fair share. He is creature of habit and uses one fix at a time (at the moment Bourbon creams) and will reject any other form of treat, no matter how alluring. Horrified shoppers watch as I let him choose sweeties from the supermarket pick and mix. Little do they know that his mother and father secretly eat them at night, not admitting to one another that they do so. Luckily I have prior knowledge of the ones Snooks has licked and spat back into the bag. I leave those for the Engineer.

So his exuberance is not man made. It is just him and while I find it adorable, I realise most others don’t. There is very little down time with Snooks. He is either climbing over your head or asleep. It is not aggressive or angry, just excited. He is the embodiment of high on life. He tells practical strangers that he loves them; he hugs children he hardly knows; he tells the teachers they are great. It leaves me holding my breath (I notice I am finally starting to turn grey at the temples and I put it down to this one single issue) waiting for the world to tell him to pipe down.

And so it is that when I glimpse his moments of quiet tenderness, I try to nurture, capture and record them in case they disappear altogether. And Snooks’ quiet tenderness seems to have found a home in the world of lovely sparkling fairy stuff. Now I know it’s tempting to make something of this, whether in jest or not, about gender and sexual orientation. But I am not going to do that. I have noticed Snooks start to be drawn to pixie dust and fairies, to dancing princesses and glittery shoes and I love that he responds to beauty, however unrealistic it might be. He can name many different flowers too and stops to observe them as we pass (a florist actually offered him a Saturday job this morning when he complimented her on her geraniums).

I have also noticed his self-imposed restraint as the cues learned from school that he must not follow this path into fairyland hit their mark. I can see him quietly watching the lovely dancing ladies on the telly, knowing not to say too much. I firmly believe that all little boys, given the chance, would love a go at dancing in a princess dress. Who wouldn’t? We’ve started getting there with the girls, removing gender stereotyping from their play, though judging by the pink tsunami of clothes and toys available for girls I am not sure it has worked. But I don’t think the same has been done for boys. I know it’s the prerogative of high profile gay men to say they longed to dress up with the girls as a child, but my guess is that it is only gay men who admit to it. Anyway Snooks can be and wear what he likes, if it helps him to express himself authentically. At the moment I get to wear the sparkly shoes he picks out for me while he gets shot through the window like a rocket. But if he ever wants to swap I am up for it.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

school rules

So we had the school decision today. All the mums are a-flutter with relief or panic. Phones are buzzing, allegiances forming, plots hatching about the outcome – over which we have little or no control.

Snooks has got in to our second choice - second choice on the form though actually the Engineer’s preferred option. It is the school which first offered Snooks a nursery place, which we turned down in favour of the smaller, cuter and arguably more insular place where he has been for the last eight months. As you know, it has not been an easy ride and each bump along the way has often led us to ask “Did we do the right thing?” When we filled in the form my main motive for putting it first was to avoid wrenching Snooks away from familiar surroundings and faces for the third time in his four years. We now have that prospect again.

However it is not all bad. He has done it before. He now already has under his belt the knowledge that he can walk into an institution where he does not know a soul, leave me at the gate and cope with it. It is not something I ever had to do. With older siblings and a teacher-mother, I always had a family member in the building. My first school friend, who is now Snooks’ Godmother, did have that experience. She was the eldest in her family and her teacher-mother refused to teach in the school where she was a pupil - a wise move in my opinion. The Godmother, whom I befriended on our first day of school used to abscond every lunchtime and was frequently found, aged four, taking the shortcut home through the local council estate. I vaguely remember looking for her in the afternoons wondering where she had gone. At four you don’t take these things too personally. Nevertheless she herself is now a primary teacher of 20 years’ standing and a knockout Godmother. She credits my mother with inspiring her to teach.

In the build-up to this nerve-wracking day we visited her in the freezing northern hail where I was given a crash course in How to Steer Snooks Through the Ups and Downs of Life. It seems I was a little unprepared. At each story of injustice, rejection or just plain meanness I related about Snooks’ social experience came the reply, “That’s just life.” I learned a lot during our short stay in between riding through a storm on the East Lancs Railway, playing with a Black Hole at Jodrell Bank and watching Snooks fly off a roundabout powered by the legs of a gang of excitable orthodox Jewish children who happily let him join in their game. I learned these things; kids are mean, life’s unfair, we are not always happy and that he will learn from all these difficult experiences how to cope when they crop up again. It suddenly became very clear to me that by trying to protect him from hurt, I was preventing him from learning how to handle it. My deepest fear - that at some point in his adult life he would feel too sad to go on - was driving me to deny him the very thing he would need if that ever happened.

So Snooks will be taking his thickening skin and his emotional toolkit on his next adventure into the Big School with its three storey building and high electric gates. Hey, they have a hot air balloon on their jumpers, loads of bikes and pictures of the planets painted on the playground. What’s not to love?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

good shepherd

God is cropping up everywhere these days.

I thought I had done pretty well negotiating us through Christmas and then co-opting Tinkerbell to add a bit of sparkle. I stopped short of the full Catholic bells and smells for now though Snooks has made it to Mass a few times. I have tried to let God in, so to speak, without getting mired in too much serious theology. I have dodged the Is God a boy or girl? and Why can’t we see Him? issues with answers about the mystery and wonder of it all. And I like that. I want there to be some mystery. He should not think there are answers to everything in life. There aren’t.

So now I am mystified about how the following happened. Snooks and I were taking a moment in the study one morning, having a lounge on the daybed. (The daybed was supposed to be a chaise longue to complete my long held fantasy about writing a great novel in between bouts of opium-induced drifting on some fabulous antique furniture. But the more likely prospect of guests and sleepovers meant the day bed was a more practical buy.) I was having fun pretending we were on a boat in crocodile infested waters when Snooks piped up, “Why is God smiling at us?”

Aw, bless, I thought. What lovely things go on in his head. He just has such a sense of peace and well-being that he feels bathed in the warmth of a deity’s benevolent gaze…..

“Up there,” he says, pointing up to the ceiling.

Oh not this again. Remember the Green Man business in our old place when I sat paralysed with fear about Snooks’ fertility god hallucinations for two hours until the Engineer came home and rescued me?

“Um, where hon?” I asked unconvincingly, not really wanting to hear the answer.

“There up there,” says Snooks standing up on the bed and pointing directly at a book on the very top shelf whose cover carried a photograph of a tanned, grey-bearded man smiling broadly right down at us.

Crikey, what on earth is that, I thought, but did not want to lose this spilt second portal into Snooks’ inner life which I endeavour daily to invade and explore, usually without success. He has very defined borders.

“How do you know that is God?” I asked, a little piqued that someone had clearly given him the whole man-with-a-grey-beard story which I had worked so hard to avoid.

Snooks looked at me astonished.

“It just is,” he said, as if I had asked him how he knew that that was his left foot or how he knew Daddy was Daddy. He obviously thought I was being seriously weird not being able to recognise God when I saw Him. For goodness sake…

So I went with it. At least He was smiling and it was a very nice face.

“Well He must be pleased with us,” I ventured and we left it at that.

That night after Snooks had gone to bed I told the Engineer the story and realised I had not checked the book to find out who God really was.

I returned to our bedroom carrying a copy of 'People of Golden Bay’ by Renee Hollis. It is a photographic record of the rural farming community of Golden Bay, a region north west of Nelson in New Zealand, and the place where the Engineer was born and grew up. The book was a gift from his sister who still lives in the area. On the cover is a photo of a smiling man called Alf Payne, a beef and sheep farmer from Paturau River.

They don't call it God's Own Country for nothing. Perhaps it’s time for a visit.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

tinker tailor soldier florist

We attended our first parents evening the other day.

I know. So what. But this is a biggie for me. I have waited 30 years for this, to be the one asking the questions rather than the subject of them.

But, like all the ones my own parents trooped reluctantly along to, strangely attired in their Sunday clothes (they never went out, other than to Mass) and oddly together, it was a crashing anti-climax.

First of all, Snooks came with us. This was on the cunning advice – to all parents - of the teachers. Apart from hampering any meaningful discussion about progress it also put a stop to any debate about the child’s behaviour as it was there for all to see. All we had to do was stand and watch Snooks hammering on the door pleading to be let out. Nice one.

Anyway amid the racket it emerged that he is good at numbers, he plays with lots of different children (girls not so much), he loves being outside and he is the only child in the class who can recognise and name a hyacinth.

Is that it? I felt like shouting. We went through all this – the Engineer home early from work, me in a skirt, Snooks in his personal hell (trapped inside the prison he endures daily with all the adults he knows talking about him) – for this!

It took me right back to those evenings when my parents would return looking glazed and were unable to recall anything the teachers had said. I sometimes wondered if they had spoken about me at all or just took the opportunity to talk shop about the respective schools where they all taught and the pupils in them.

“Did she mention my biology project?”

“No but if Our Lady’s is using Mother of God’s football pitch for rounders practice this summer, we are going to have to up our game."

I suppose I should be pleased. Others mothers were holding whispered conversations with a different teacher which looked far more fruitful but may have been less reassuring.

And I suppose at least it means I know my own son as I could have told her all that six months ago.

And I am happy about the hyacinth. He does love his flowers and always stops to smell them. He can identify geraniums, roses, poppies, pansies, primula, daffodils (he likes how they “horn out”), daisies, dandelions, tulips and of course narcissus.

Today we saw robins, canaries and finches at the farm and a pied wagtail in the garden.

He can distinguish and name pigeons, magpies, sparrows, hawks, herons, geese, moorhens and of course ducks.

We regularly check up on our friends in the garden; a giant slug who lived under the geranium pots until he “slugged off” (to use Snooks’ words) for the winter, a frog who visits from next door’s ponds and hides under the lavender, the Crocs-eating fox who gets in under the fence and mooches around when we are not looking and two cats who lounge around on the shed roof as if it were their own private St. Barts.

We talked yesterday about what he would like to be when he grows up. Firstly he wanted to work with Daddy - that was a given. They would engineer together, side by side. Then I threw in some obvious alternative suggestions - doctor, pilot, teacher? (That got laughed out of court as being “for girls.”) Then he considered living at the international space station, which was good, so long as we went there with him. And finally he settled on tree surgeon or forester. He liked the idea of living among the trees and having one of those big electric saws.

Yes I can see that for my little nature boy. It might be a bit solitary but it’s a lot easier to visit than space.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

life, rabbits, racing and art

I walked in to find Snooks singing to himself the other day.

“It’s a song about Solid Wreck,” he told me. “He is a racing car driver and it is about racing cars at the Grand Prix. Solid Wreck cheats and causes a big crash.”

Where do I start? First of all can I just say bravo to my son. A ballad already. And one with a tragic ending. I didn’t hear the tune but I am thinking country - a kind of Dolly Partonesque He Got What He Deserved But We Really Loved Him vibe. I could even see the feature film – Solid Wreck, The Handsome Kid of Great Promise: Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Solid Wreck is Snooks’ naughty alter ego. When asked once why he had done something – I can’t remember now, but I think it was pretty bad - he answered that Solid Wreck was to blame. Since then SW has not been to visit much and when he does, Snooks himself shoos him away. If it works …

Solid also has a cousin, Storm Wreck. I am not sure how he fits into the picture but in my version of this story he is the good influence who tries to keep Solid on the straight and narrow. Clearly it had not gone well at the Grand Prix.

Apart from being relieved that maybe this was the end of Solid - and very fitting one too – I was also delighted to hear Snooks putting his personal trials into music. Now there is a tradition I would like him to follow. I was glad to hear my message that doing wrong gets punished (even if undiscovered for some time) had been turned into art.

As I mentioned last week Snooks has told me that he paints to feel calm. His prolific creations are handed to me as I collect him each day from school. We average one a day which means five a week. We have three walls dedicated to his work and the rest goes in a box under the bed.

Our current exhibits include a collection of four related pieces, a study in black. These came from his early days of school. Each painting is increasingly blotted out with thick black paint until the fourth, which if you stare at it for a while, actually looks like a hole in the wall which leads into nothingness. I honestly think Rothko would be glad to call it his own. People often do an “Oh” when they see the Black Period collection.

More recent pieces have a definite nautical feel about them. Snooks especially loves painting with water colours which he does at home and a delightful little green vessel with red sails bobbing on an orange sea is stuck to the kitchen boiler. Above the fireplace hung from a string with two clothes pegs is a lovely image of red orange and blue. Snooks says it is a fish.

A couple of my favourites which he did one afternoon in the garden had to be taken down after I stupidly used a snail shaped sponge to print shapes on another piece of paper and hung it up to dry beside his.

“Yours is better,” he muttered miserably. It wasn’t of course. Mine had no creativity, no brush strokes, no originality. But there was no way I could tell him that. I learned a lesson. I have carefully avoided playing the piano when he is happily making up his two fingered tunes (he plays chords, by instinct) or pointing out that you need tap shoes to tap dance when he is doing his own version of Good Morning and Make ‘Em Laugh. And I never suggest to him what I see in his pictures even if it does look like a boat to me. But I walked right into that one.

The demise of Solid Wreck came around the time of Snooks’ fourth birthday and I detect a shift in the air perhaps towards more considerate, responsible driving.

Snooks also informed me, shortly after the song, that he wants a pet rabbit called Sebastian Vettel. We’ll just have to make sure the hutch has got a really good set of brakes.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

talking to tinkerbell

Last night I found myself writing this post in my head. The occasion of Snooks’ fourth birthday this week prompted a mini mental stock-take of his funnies and foibles, and I knew that I must record it, for posterity, as this blog is intended.

If you have been keeping up, you will know last week was a bit rough. It was Snooks’ birthday on Monday but the celebration was in danger of being marred by a sudden shifting social ground which left us a bit wobbly.

It turned out that we were all sick. By the eve of the big day, Snooks had crashed out in the back of a black cab on his way home to bed with no dinner. By the following night he was running a 40 degree fever and sleeping in my bed while I lay watching him, trying not to cough. By the following night we were at A&E, sent by the emergency doctor who could not understand why he was conscious when his temperature had dropped to 35 degrees.

However you know what they say about god and mysterious ways – or in this case Tinkerbell. Let me explain.

It all began in the post office as I was waiting in the queue which snakes past the toys and sharp scissors and other stuff I would rather Snooks did not mess with, when he came up brandishing a birthday card bearing a glittering number four and a picture of a decidedly voluptuous fairy wearing a short green dress made of leaves and an unmistakably come-hither stare.

“Look, it’s Tinkerbell!” Snooks declared, with his full bright-spirited ten decibel enthusiasm.

Last I knew Tinkerbell was a rather hard to judge character whom we all loved, but kept at a distance. That was before Disney got hold of her.

This Tinkerbell was coming home with us, ostensibly to give to his girlfriend for her fourth birthday, though we all knew that was never going to happen.

By the middle of the week the card was dog-eared from being carried around and a new one had to be bought for the friend. By the time of Snooks’ birthday we were on our third card, with a matching cake and balloon.

I am not sure what drew my little boy to this particular fairy but I am going with it very happily. He seems to have a private dialogue with her which he has no need to share. And if it works, then who am I to question.

Thus I found myself kneeling on the kitchen floor one day this week holding the arm of a tired and unwell raging Snooks, casting about for something to calm him.

“When you are angry,” I said, “instead of lashing out, try going somewhere quiet and counting to ten or … erm… talking to Tinkerbell.

“What do you do Daddy when you are angry?” I called over my shoulder where the Engineer sat reading as I held the thrashing child by the cuffs.

“I talk to Tinkerbell,” he offered without a breath.

Later that night I used the birthday card to fan Snooks' burning hot face until his temperature dropped. Ok, you could put it down to the Calpol.
But me, I believe in fairies.

And here’s the birthday record:

• He’s 97 cm tall
• His favourite planet is Jupiter which we saw through the telescope in the garden
• He says “bonjour” to the pretty French girl in his class each day and (smart kid) also to the pretty French girl’s mother
• He loves Singing in the Rain and does a mean Gene Kelly routine with his Very Hungry Caterpillar umbrella
• He loves painting and told me that this is what makes him feel calm
• He spots circling birds in the sky and knows a bird of prey by sight
• His say Guten Tag now and again which always catches me by surprise
• His favourite song of the moment is “First of the Gang to Die” by Morrissey
• He wants a pet rabbit
• He explained how there were penguins in Antarctica but no polar bears as they lived in … Abtarctica
• He checks the daffodils in the garden each day to mark their progress into bloom
• He sees faces in the leaves of the trees
• Turning four meant no longer needing the step to reach the sink, using the next age range up toothpaste, getting a bigger scooter with an eagle for a bell, and agreeing to wear plasters.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

when push comes to shove

Oh dear. The dust appears to be finally settling after a series of birthdays and punch ups which has left our social landscape somewhat changed.

Snooks has been both the pusher and the punchee and on both counts a period of time apart seems to be the best policy.

Mothers fall into different camps. On the punching incident I was told to let the boys work it through and work out the friendship together. But it is hard having witnessed your three year old on the ground taking punches to the head to want to send him back into that particular ring. What’s more, Snooks himself seems to finally have seen that perhaps this friend is not for him. He has opted to play with girls instead a couple of times, much to my relief.

On the pushing he has been discussed in quiet corners and so we have withdrawn from that arena too. The pushing must be addressed. But we can do it without the backstabbing.

Even the most level-headed mothers who have handled pressure and pain in other areas of their life with calm objectiveness, struggle to keep cool when their children are hurt. I have not known stress like this for a long time – seeing Snooks physically abused on the one hand and rejected for his own failings on the other. A kind of malaise set in some time in the week preceding Snooks’ 4th birthday which had me almost defeated. I seemed to have lost my motherhood compass and simply did not know what to do any more. What I had been doing had clearly not worked.

I talked to Snooks himself, until he offered the explanation that there must be “something wrong inside” which caused him to push his own friend. Then I stopped talking to him about it and talked to some grown-ups who had some distance and suitable qualifications.

They say boys all go through this. Some mothers say let it be. Some say crack down on it. I can’t let it be.

I told Snooks it was not something inside him. It was something he did and he could stop doing. I understand that he does not know how and I need to help him get there.

We three spent his birthday aquatically serene - seeing octopus, sharks and penguins before sailing down the Thames. He’s a Pisces after all. Perhaps these are his people.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

booked off

I have just left Snooks, standing at the window of his school room, a forlorn Dalek, mouthing “I will miss you mummy,” as I backed away towards the gate.

By the time I reached home I was tearful and nauseous. Is it supposed to be this hard?

The day began with a reluctant playdate – reluctant on my part because playdates have become fraught encounters with other boys where they pummel, bite and punch Snooks as he pushes, torments and teases them. Either way, it is exhausting. Snooks had been off school for two days which meant hanging out with me, shopping, a bit of football in the garden, a few rows. He loves it more than anything – more than school, more than friends, more than ice cream, more than everything else. So a playdate did not compare. We went anyway and half the time they played and half the time I refereed.

Then came school and World Book Day which I had hoped would be a bright spot but instead brought about the nauseous tearful drive home which almost finished me off.
Snooks did not want to go. He was “too sick”. He lay on the floor. He did not want to wear his Dalek costume. He did not want me to come and then leave. He never wanted to go to school again. He never wanted to leave me again.

The school he attends had said that the children could dress as a character from a book and bring mums in for half an hour at the start to read with them. It sounded good in theory. But like Snooks I could see the pitfalls. What if the costume was rubbish? And how could he let me go once I was in the building?

I persuaded him with the help of a chocolate coin and the plan that we would carry the costume in a bag until we got there and saw what was what.
So far so good. Once inside the gates having spotted Snow White, Dorothy and Buzz Lightyear (???) he agreed to put on the main bit which has fabulous silver circles and two antennae for firing Dalek-style lasers which are velcroed to the front. The hat was out of the question, understandably. By the way in case you are wondering, a character in Dogger dresses as a Dalek. Snooks had done a double whammy on the dress up idea. He wanted to dress up as a character who dresses up.

Once inside the classroom I got a glimpse of my daily dread – Snooks quiet and circumspect, unsure how to join in with his friends and frozen in terror when the big loud boy made fun of his antennae. Snooks ripped them off and shoved them into my bag when no one was looking.

“Just ignore him,” I whispered as we sat down to read. “What is he dressed as anyway? I can’t even tell,” I said trying waspish camp as a defence, which half worked.

As I read to him along with the other mothers and their children, he curled his little frame into me and rested his head on my arm. I looked around. The other children looked so much older, so much easier with this set up. They wandered around talking to each other, they sat in groups, they half listened as their mothers read and then skipped off to play.

Other mums started to get their coats and the children milled around the toys. The teacher indicated silently to me that it was time to go. Summoning up the best breezy cheer I can do I started to move.

“Bye mum,” Snooks announced, getting up and walking slowly away without looking back. I thought I had it cracked. Perhaps he was happy here after all. Once I go he will join in with the fracas, I told myself.

And then I saw him standing at that window.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

size matters

Does it really? It didn’t used to think so but now I am not so sure.

You see our Snooks is shorter, slightly, than most boys his age. Not really noticeably but just a bit. I had never thought it relevant. When people compared heights of their toddlers, I really could not see why, other than for the sake of comparison. It seemed no more relevant than comparing their hair colour or fingernail shape. However perhaps that was a bit short (pardon the pun) sighted of me.

My family were all pretty average heightwise and the Engineer is about average for a man and slightly taller than me. That’s how it all looked from my vantage point. But then I am, or was, a girl. Size for girls is all about girth. Even back then in the 70s before the size zero model had been heard of, we were squeezing ourselves into jeans, using a coat hanger to get some purchase on the zip, lying on the floor of the changing rooms of Chelsea Girl. I can clearly remember holding in my stomach in a skinny rib lace up jumper as I walked to the front of the class to show my medal of the Virgin Mary to my classmates. That was Infant Two or in today’s money Year Three. We were six.

So I guess it is not surprising that not so far behind, at almost four, Snooks has become painfully aware of body difference and is, in this instance, not top of the class.

Like most things with this motherhood game, it has caught me on the hop. I had mentally parked Bullying, Body Image and Girls somewhere around Puberty under the heading “For the Engineer to Handle”.

But suddenly this week the baton was thrust into my unprepared hands as I half carried an enraged Snooks home from school. Am I the only person whose three-year-old refuses to walk? People laugh in the street and say helpful things like “He must be heavy,” as if I am wrecking my lower vertebrae out of choice rather than necessity. In the end I ran the last twenty yards to keep ahead of him as he howled in fury just behind me. You should see the looks that caused.

On arriving home we sat on the third stair and talked. Snooks has, in his very unique way, run with the whole naughty step shtick and made it his own, allocating purposes and virtues to each of the steps. I have to work hard to keep up. Number three is for chatting. Number four is for jumping off (for now). Number five is for putting shoes on… and so on.

“I can see you are very angry,” I started with. See How to Talk So Kids Will Listen…etc


“I know you are angry with me because I would not carry you home. Are you angry with anyone else?”

Now I know this is a leading question but I had seen an incident earlier in the day where Snooks had lain prostrate underneath his much larger friend and been unable to get out from under him. I had seen the look of desperation on Snooks’ face. He was not hurt or frightened as he rarely complains about bumps and bangs even when they are intended and this was clearly meant to be a game. He didn’t complain about it or ask for help, he just looked furious. I persuaded his friend to get off him and they carried on playing. But I had wondered what Snooks had made of this momentary powerlessness.

“I am angry with everyone,” he finally answered. My poor little bear.

Most of his friends at school are big boisterous boys, which is great because what Snooks lacks in stature, he certainly makes up for in attitude. So having someone stand up to him is fine.

But learning this harsh reality that no matter how smart or how cute or funny you are, if someone bigger than you sits on you there is bugger all you can do about it had really knocked the wind out of his sails.

I was at a bit of a loss. I have no experience of this. All I could remember was the compassion with which my brother once commented about our father, a Celtic-built strong but short, bookish man who had spent 13 years of his childhood in dorms with other boys: “Imagine what it must have been like for him.”

Now I was beginning to understand. I cast about for tall and short wisdom. First I offered that size isn’t everything. Look how fast you can run, I ventured. In the jungle, if you were being chased by a lion, being big would be no help at all because the lion would want to eat you and you would not be able to get away. A fast runner like you could get away and hide under a bush.

Snooks looked sceptical. “If he does it again I am going to throw him up into the sky and dump him on the scrap heap,” he retorted.

Right. If he did it again, I suggested, you should simply say, “Stop doing that. I don’t like it.” And if he didn’t stop, call the authorities.

“I did call. You didn’t hear me.” Ouch.

“I am not going to say anything to anyone. I am just going to push him into the road in front of a car so then he will be dead.”


Eventually the storm just passed. I toyed with the idea of David and Goliath but thought the risk of Snooks secreting a sling shot about his person and causing havoc at school was too great. Instead I brought in a secular equivalent, a magical sword which gave him a superpower which no one else knew about so long as he was on the side of Good. I also purchased a book called Enormouse which ends with the great line “So remember the teeny tiny things are what make the BIG things happen” and finally drafted in Daddy, who passed on the message that sometimes people have power over you and there is nothing you can do about it and it stinks. (He is the realist of the partnership).

The next day we had a play date with Goliath. They are once again the best of friends.