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.