Thursday, 26 January 2012

the word is love

Someone accused me of being ‘boasty’ the other day because I was writing publicly about my family. And you know what I say? I say, "You bet."

I don’t like to criticise my own parents much because on the whole they did their best. But if there is one thing I think they could have done better, it was to be a bit more boasty.

I hate false modesty about children. Good Lord parents, big them up a bit. No one else will.

So here I go again.

I know I go on about Snooks’ language a lot – his early speech, his experimentation with French and his lovely rhyme and imagery which inspired a friend to write a poem for us, using his first words.

But I had further validation the other day from another friend who remarked, after spending the afternoon with Snooks, on his use of simile and metaphor.

It was, she said, a recognised sign in educational circles, of a gifted and talented child.

I had not noticed until she mentioned it. I am aware of Snooks’ love of rhyme, which we have attributed largely to Dr Seuss – who gave us the fabulous Foo Foo The Snoo nickname (excellent for diffusing tension at sock putting on moments) and many discussions about the workings of a Crunk Car. We have also enjoyed Aliens Love Underpants and Stick Man, though not The Gruffalo. This has been roundly rejected in all forms – film, poem, The Gruffalo’s Child – the lot. Snooks also delighted in having both parents read to him last thing on Christmas Eve A Visit From St Nicholas, which is probably the only time it will ever happen. Next year he may be over all that.

He makes up his own rhymes - “Yoghurt’s yummy in my tummy, but I love toast the most” – and likes mixing up letters in favourite stories, so the train drivers Ducky and Jaff take the Little Ted Rain under the Butt Fridge. This has got us through many a bedtime drama.

And now, since my friend mentioned the metaphor thing, I have been picking those up and demonstrating all the worst characteristics of the boasty-only-child-myopically-obssessed mother, by texting them to her.

However in an attempt to show some kind of restraint and to save Snooks some blushes in the future I shall delight you with just the one which I must record here as it was said, while brushing his teeth, about the girl at his school who captured his heart the day he started there, though I am not sure they have never spoken. During all the tribulations of getting Snooks through the nursery door, the one word which would brighten his face and transport him from his suffering to a higher, happier place, was this girl’s name.

So occasionally we mention her as we are getting ready for school, just to keep the momentum going and to remind him who waits behind that dreaded school gate, and might even, if he asked her nicely, want to play with him.

"Sasha is as pretty as a daisy,” he announced the other day, through the toothpaste, talking mostly, I think, to himself.

She is too. One day he might even tell her.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

no girls allowed

When the Engineer and I decided to get pregnant we discussed our attitudes to parenting.

We both had a lot to say. There were some things we wished had gone a bit differently in our own lives and perhaps we could learn something from our histories.

Attachment parenting appealed. We liked the basic concept – that when a child’s needs are met, they feel secure. This security helps them to form good relationships with others. If they are rejected, they do not feel worthless because they have been treated as if they matter by the people who matter most. It does not mean giving the child all that they want. It does not mean cosseting the child. Good secure attachment enables the child to become independent. That is the idea.

It occurred to me today that we have done quite a good job on Snooks. This should be good news, but it did not feel very good.

I knew the story; you fall in love with your children and then they break your heart. And that is how it is supposed to be. But I had not realised quite how bad it would feel.

There were times recently when we both questioned our methods with Snooks. Delightful and spirited as he is, his fierce opposition to going to school and his occasional fury whenever I left the house without him appeared to spell separation anxiety gone mad. He is almost four and yet his tearful protests at the school gate ( I have walked away hearing him shout “Mummy don’t leave me” more times than I care to remember) led me to fear we had got it wrong, that he was panicked by my leaving and so did not have the confidence attached children should have. He did not know that I would come back, that he would not be abandoned and that he was loved. How could this be?

However something seems to be shifting a bit, both at school and at home. Whether it is an emotional development which has simply come a bit later than in others or whether he was… erm… putting it on a bit in the first place, I am not sure but I seem to be suddenly redundant.

First of all I found that the school gate drama could be fixed fairly easily with a good bribe - a chocolate gold coin usually – suggesting he might not be all that traumatised after all.

Then as I played with him today, feeling more like his teenage mate hanging out in his bedroom than his nurturing mum, I remembered that while going into school might have been a problem, he has never shown any reluctance to be left at any of his friends’ houses. Not a peep. So hang on, where was the separation anxiety then? He isn’t anxious about being separated from me, he just doesn’t like school! What on earth was I thinking? Of course he is securely attached. He doesn’t even wave goodbye!

Also recently he has been spending more time with the Engineer, at first because I had other commitments, but then by choice. One cold evening this week as the Engineer headed out to the workshop to fix stuff while I stayed in the cosy warm house, Snooks announced he was ‘going to help Daddy’. He donned his crocs, pulled on a hat and marched out into the darkness down the garden path, without looking back. Later at dinner he informed me that they had been working hard out there. “It was just us boys,” he said, tucking into his vittles. I felt like Ma Walton.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a Good Thing, I know. I should be grateful. There have been times in recent months where I have felt on such a short leash – unable to make a phone call, go to the loo, leave the room without the Engineer having to hold him back, screaming - that cleaning the house on a Saturday morning while father and son play in the park has become a weekly ‘me time’ treat.

But it is not easy to no longer be needed. It means I am back to being me again. Now, where was I?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

fat is the question

How am I supposed to know these things?

That is the question I keep asking myself when I am expected to come up with well-rounded balanced non-judgemental honest but not scary answers about life, people and God, without having time to run to a parenting book or the internet for the received wisdom.

For example this morning’s questions have included “What is the sound barrier? “Is God a boy or a girl?” and “Where do squirrels sleep?” (Answers in my comments box please)

Fat is not an issue I ever anticipated discussing with my three-year-old son, assuming that boys were all about what they can see and do rather than what they are.

In fact one of the reasons I was banking on Snooks being a boy (though weirdly I used to dream he was a girl in utero) was that I felt ill-equipped to deal with the fiercely messy issue of girls and body image. Little did I know that it starts at three and a bit.

I accidentally set the ball rolling a few nights ago when the Engineer and I were enjoying a gloat at some video footage of ourselves on a family holiday in Scotland in 2010 when we were collectively seven stone heavier than we are now.

“Oh my word look how I fat I am,” I said, hardly recognising myself as the lumbering matron holding tiny Snooks’ hand on the station platform. I could see my awkward discomfort as I walked, knowing I was being filmed. I remember trying to stand straight.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a fat-Nazi who put on a few pounds and having shed it, lives on a diet of mashed wheat and cabbage water. I have always been, and still am - and I love this fantastic euphemism – well covered.

But the Engineer and I, stunned by the emotional assault of early parenthood, ate our way through the first two years of Snook’s life, without stopping for breath.

Consequently we were a bit fat a couple of years ago. It’s no biggie. I don’t see any reason to beat about the bush. It’s not a crime or a signal of mental or moral collapse. Just hard work to lose.

So although I would rather not have launched the subject of body comparisons with Snookie just yet, I have always tried to be honest and realistic with him. And the truth is, if you eat too much, you get fat.

This has not, I should stress, ever been a problem for Snooks. In fact, as you may have gathered, eating for him is one almighty chore, endured only to keep the oldies happy. If food could be pumped in like fuel at a pit stop without interrupting the race, he would be happy. (Don’t worry, we have worked that analogy to death. Thank goodness we don’t have more children or the whole race-track/dining room thing would be a lot more complicated.) So I don’t want to give him any reason to reject food more than he already does. I was surprised at how quickly he picked up on the f-word and wanted to use it and discuss it, everywhere.

It first took me by surprise when he came into our bedroom as I was getting dressed a few days later.

“You look a bit fat mum,” he said, matter of factly.

I could not help the shock my face betrayed followed by an embarrassed laugh. What can you say?

“… when you’re in Scotland, I mean,” he continued, clearly reading my reaction, or perhaps just clarifying.

He had learned what the f-word did to people.

We sat down on the bed and talked.

"First of all", I said, "children are never fat." Right, I know this speaks a bit against the desperate drive to educate children about healthy food choices in the face of the giant obesity time bomb in this country. You see. I told you. How am I supposed to know what to say? But I just don’t think children, as in primary school age children, should be watching their weight.

Then I said that saying someone is fat might hurt their feelings, even if it is true. This was to an attempt to head off all the mortification I could see ahead if Snooks thought it was ok to go around pointing out fat people. At the moment he has a thing for dragging me across the street to point out people who “look like Daddy”, which is anyone, male or female, with grey hair.

"However", I added, "it is ok to tell me that I look fat, if you think I do." (There’s your balance, right there.) Some people might be upset by being called fat, but me, hey, I am cool with it. Look here’s my big tummy. Isn’t it nice and squishy?

Just don’t anyone else try it.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

truth will out

Snooks was in a bit of trouble yesterday. When I arrived to pick him up from school, I overheard the teacher telling another boy that pushing was not allowed and he should say sorry.

“But Snooks O’Hara started it,” he yelped. Oh dear.

When I stepped up for my turn the teacher smiled and winced as she handed Snooks over to me, clearly struggling with where to start.

She started with telling me that Snooks had hurt his bottom. He had hurt his bottom falling backwards. He had fallen backwards having been pushed by the boy I had just overheard. They had given him an ice pack for his bottom as he was upset (I was surprised by this bit of news – the rest I could have predicted – as Snooks rarely cries about physical injuries so either it had really hurt or he rumbled how to get sympathy when in a tight spot). The story they had been told, she emphasised, was that Snooks had started it.

Snooks, who had run to me happy and excited seconds earlier, transformed visibly into his sullen, young offender other self.

Dragging me away from the milling mums to behind the bins, he turned tearful.

“Just tell me what happened. I promise not to be cross,” I said.

“Never,” he replied, his mot du jour.

Things were going so well. It was day two of back to school and both days he had bounded in, keen to see the other children, excited at last to have someone under 40 to play with.

What could I do? I could not let it go. He would not speak in his own defence so I had no option but to accept the official line, although the backwards delivery of the facts by the teacher had definitely cast reasonable doubt in my mind on the testimony.

I stroked his bottom gently and acted stern. Pushing is not allowed, whoever starts it, I said. And by the way, if someone else ever does push you, you don’t push back. You go and tell the teacher.

In the past, misbehaviour at school reported by the teacher has earned a punishment – removal of a favourite toy for a set time. Snooks, I am sure, had not forgotten this, though mercifully it was quite a long time ago. But now I was not so sure. A number of people have told me to keep school and home misdemeanours separate. Dragging school convictions all the way home for sentencing seems a little long-winded for a three year old who barely remembers he has been to school by the time we get home. Plus, there was that reasonable doubt.

So instead I laid it on a bit thick about how to stay out of trouble by steering clear of anyone being naughty, and not retaliating.

“Also,” I added today, as Snooks stood next to me on his kitchen step, chopping mushrooms for tonight’s Hidden Vegetable Bolognese Sauce (will he put two and two together?), “it is very important to tell the truth. If someone is naughty to you, you should tell the teacher and they will deal with that person.”

“So it’s like the police chasing baddies?” he said, fresh from his Christmas viewing of Cars 2, which has opened up his world to the existence of “baddies” and “goodies” and life’s struggles between them.

“Mmm, a bit,” I said, half listening while letting him grate a carrot and my finger into the bubbling sauce.

“And do the goodies always win?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, more focussed now, spotting an important parenting moment hove into view as I sucked a finger and stirred. ‘Yes they do. The truth will always out, Snooks. Even if it takes a little while.”

“And so what if the policeman is not very good and does not catch any of the baddies?” he asked.

There have been times over the last three years when I have been convinced Snooks is invested with some kind of superpower which makes him both three and going on 53 at the same time. He has, a few times now, seemed to know or understand things that he could not possibly have been told by anyone. Usually I forget about them before I have time to write them down but this one had managed to lodge in my mind all morning. And so here it is.

His question comes the day after two men were sentenced for the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black teenager stabbed to death in 1993 by a gang as he waited at a bus stop in south east London.

The facts are well known now across the world. The parents of the murdered boy had to fight a long hard battle for justice for their son because the police failed to investigate the crime properly at the time, and vital evidence was lost. The murderers got away with it. The Metropolitan Police were accused of institutional racism, which had allowed the crime to go unsolved. As a news reporter on the local newspaper, which covered the area at the time, I can wholly vouch for that accusation. I and a friend, who worked on the paper at the time, sent each other the same message yesterday as the two life sentences were handed out. “At last.”

“Most policemen do their best, and most people are good and eventually the goodies always win,” I told him.

“And when someone has been naughty, they can decide to stop doing that and be good, can’t they?” he asked.

Ok scrap the concert pianist, professional footballer, astrophysicist, poet laureate plans. He’s off to law school, if we can just keep him out of trouble long enough to get him there.