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.