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.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

pint-sized sage

As I chased Snookie down the road on his way to school just now, I shouted after him “Come back you pint-sized pirate!”

I stole the nomenclature from Captain Hook – or the Disney version at least – but it fits our Snooks well. He scooted away in his skull and cross bones bobble hat as fast he could, ensuring we reached the gate just in time. Sometimes he rumbles these subterfuges and drops anchor half way there insisting that he is ‘too tired to go to school’. I have been known to carry him, and the scooter the rest of the way. But he loved my frustrated rascal, as I’m sure did all the construction workers and council road-cleansers we encountered along the way.

It’s a far cry from yesterday, which was my birthday and so technically should have been full of cake and candles and jollity.

Instead both Snooks and I slumped into a wretched mood shortly after the 7am present opening and remained thus until a good hour after the Engineer had returned home from work. We were finally restored by steak frites and some excellent music at our favourite birthday haunt where Snooks ate lasagne, chips and bread and then lay down to sleep across three dining chairs.

The wretchedness arose from a cocktail of high expectations and adrenalin overdrive which Snooks and I both enjoy whenever a ‘good time’ is in the offing. And this explosive combination generally amounts to the following; he thinks a celebration means no one has to obey instructions; I think a celebration means he will miraculously start to obey instructions. He is disappointed; I am disappointed. We both hate being disappointed.

I know how it sounds. He is three years old. And I am … one year older than I was yesterday. Who is supposed to be the grown up here? Well quite. And get this.

After I had stretched and stretched to try to bring birthday fun to the daily face washed, teeth brushed, dressed, combed, supermarket shopped, lunch eaten, face washed, re-dressed, hair-brushed, dragged to school battle, I finally snapped. I shouted in fury into his terrified and confused face because I cannot have a pee in peace. Having dropped him at school, I wanted to run back and bring him home and make it better. Instead I wandered around feeling wretched, on my birthday. No amount of cards or cake or candles or calls from friends seemed to make it better.

Then Snooks returned from school and seemed his usual self, until he called up the stairs to me that he wanted to tell me something.

I stood at the top as he sat at the bottom and looked up at me and said: “Mummy when you shouted at me, you hurt my feelings.”

I have no idea where he found these words. I know it cannot have come from me because no one in our family has that kind of emotional maturity. Did they teach him this at school? Is he channelling Oprah? Has he secretly been going to therapy? Already?

Astonished, relieved and repentant, I came down the stairs, sat in front of him and apologised for my behaviour.

They say with age comes wisdom.

Perhaps next birthday I’ll get it the right way round.