Sunday, 25 January 2009


First words are the new buggies.

Does that sentence make any sense? Not much. And I am the person from whom my son – 10 and a bit months – will learn this wonderful language of ours.

I slowly realise that everything I say is being absorbed and processed and will very soon be regurgitated in some truncated form … and of course, ultimately, used against me. But we don’t have to worry about that just yet.

It is an unnerving thought, that my constant internal dialogue which, when Snooks and I are alone, usually becomes audible, is being heard and perhaps even understood.

When I am feeding him – yes, still breastfeeding (pause, for a moment to feel the polite silence which usually follows that statement) – I can be in full swing before noticing those startling blue eyes considering me. I am cautioned by the recollection of an infant I know whose earliest months were not the easiest, and whose first words were ‘Fuck You.’

When they were all born - Snooks and his gang - the talk was all of buggies. The first symbol of one’s intentions towards the child is the size, the cost, the colour and the vintage of his wheels. (It is a sign of my vintage that I want to say ‘pram’ or even ‘trolley’. When did they become ‘buggies’?)

Now the talk is of who has spoken, what they said and did they really mean it.

‘He said mama!’ we cry in delight the first time it happens. But just once, as some card points out he was looking at them when he said it.

After that I take to coaching him, holding him in front of the mirror, noticing my slightly hysterical pitch, - “See, there, Snooks (point), and there, Mummy (point)!” Nothing. I show him photographs. “It’s me, look, the one who keeps you alive. There I am. Mummy.”

I feel this is fair, to redress the balance. He gets a lot of ‘Daddy’ talk when I explain the comings and goings of the Engineer to him, “Daddy’s going to work” and “Daddy’s coming home” and of course, “Daddy’s asleep.” I am there constantly, and so rarely the subject of conversation.

I tried a new tack this week, hoping to turn him into a wunderkind political mascot as we watched together the inauguration of President Obama on the BBC news. For the price of a hot cross bun he was willing to watch the president’s inaugural speech in reverential silence and even crawled over to the television when Mr Obama stumbled over the oath, perhaps empathising with the man under pressure to say the right words, to make everyone’s dream come true.

But despite all my emphasis of the syllables, “Ohh – Baammm – ha!”, even raising a triumphant fist and punching the air, an action which unleashed a sudden tearful gush of excitement in me at the tremendous event, he said nothing.

I draw the conclusion that actually he can talk but, rather like the Engineer, unless he feels something merits comment, he will not make one, no matter how uncomfortable the silence.

Gradually I notice that he does say a word, frequently, and to my great surprise and endless pride, I realise it is not just a word but in fact he has started with a whole sentence.

Every now and then he raises a little pudgy hand, sometimes holding an object - a piece of toast, his rubber giraffe - and sometimes not, sometimes just gesturing to the trees, the sky, his landscape and he says “This.”

I am stunned at the profundity of his statement. I cannot think of any thing to say in response. His first word is so great it has silenced me.

It reminds me of how, during the first few bizarre weeks of his life, when sleep deprived and insane with joy and shock, I kept thinking that he had come from another planet, that he had lived somewhere else before and it was my duty to show him around earth, like some kind of cosmic estate agent.

“Have a look around. We have trees and birds and lovely shiny fish. There is Beethoven and ice cream and the sea. I think you will like it here.”

So when he utters his “This”, I think he is giving his verdict on the place. I think he likes it here. I think he is here to stay.

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