Saturday, 13 June 2009

everything I told you yesterday was completely wrong

These were the words once used by a hapless press officer, back when I was a jobbing journo, after I had written several pages of news based on the information she had given me about one of the biggest stories to break in my career.

It was a moment to remember, and was bad, so bad that I burst out laughing.

In the event, the news editor and I re-wrote everything on deadline, using the new, correct information. It was a close call.

Anyway, the point is, the phrase keeps coming into my mind and has actually been quite helpful – a kind of mantra - each day I spend with the 15 month old Snooks whose knack for reinventing himself challenges the chameleon crown of even the great Madonna herself.

Just as I think I have got it – he likes bread but no butter, he can walk up stairs but not down, he has one long nap instead of two short ones – it changes.

It is exhausting and bewildering and at times embarrassing.

So it was that during our holiday these last two weeks, when I was frequently asked by the Engineer, “Does he like this?" or "Does he do that?” I could only mutter the unhelpful response, “Well he might, but then again he might not.”

I was aware that it might have appeared to someone less understanding than the Engineer, that despite spending every waking hour with him, I barely know our son at all.

But it only took a couple of days swinging around the anchor of Snooks’ moving naptime, before the Engineer got it and knew there would be no helpful answers forthcoming any time soon.

It would go something like this.

“So we should set off for the beach?” the Engineer would ask each morning.


“Even though he looks like he might fall asleep?”


“Because he might not, and then we are just sitting here waiting for something which might not happen.’


“With a tired but restless toddler cooped up in an apartment so lacking in baby-proofing we might as well just call an ambulance and have them park outside for the next fortnight?”

OK so he didn’t actually say that last bit but that was what went through my head each time we had the conversation.

Pretty soon the Engineer had rigged up a beach camp, which enabled the whole range of possible outcomes:

a) Snooks falls asleep as soon as we get there so needs a shady bed on the sand

b) Snooks is impossibly wired and so needs to run up and down the beach for hours in the scorching sun

c) Snooks has pooed unexpectedly so needs a change of clothes, a wash, a feed and a nap

d) I need to sleep while being able to see Snooks with that weird I-am-asleep-but-still-know-where-you-are mother thing.

In the evening, dining at our usual restaurant with the sea roaring below, we faced the usual parental quandary – “What will be good and nourishing for him to eat/ what will he actually eat?” settling most of the time for spaghetti Bolognese and ice cream.

In fact Snooks’ passion for grapes and cheese (which he shares with his father – can you inherit food preferences?) means where ever we are, he usually has the main food groups covered.

And then nightfall, instead of rest, brought its own heated deliberations: is he too hot wearing the mosquito repelling night shirt I insist on, can he sleep in the contraption provided by the owner which has a wooden base so hard, even the most devout monk would refuse it and can someone reach in and steal him through those shutters even though we are here in the room?

I recalled, as I lay awake listening for any evidence of the above, that the family holidays of my childhood were clearly not a relaxing experience for my mother, and I silently sympathised with her for the torture which must have been four small children in the rickety and sometimes downright dangerous old places we stayed in.

Despite all the unanswerable questions, we still managed to have a marvellous time and Snooks returned to England a slightly stronger, somewhat blonder boy who runs headlong into crashing waves.

The shifting sands of Snook-time eventually forced us all to do exactly what you should do on holiday, to let go.

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