Snooks is 20 months old. A lot of people have been asking recently how old he is, people in the street and other mums who don’t know him.
“How old is he?” they ask in that tone which implies advance incredulity at the answer, which once given, is met with raised eyebrow polite silence.
I am not sure what this is about. Is it that he is quite small for his age – not perversely small – just cute, neat? He has little or no spare fat and is perfectly proportioned. He can still fit into some 12-month-old sized clothes.
Or it could be his hair? His hair has always aroused comment on account of its rather adult qualities. It is thick and poker straight and during the summer looked as if he has been treated to a half head of highlights. (A few people did actually ask if it was natural).
Or it could be his language, which at the risk of sounding like every other proud parent, is really very good. He has taken to following the Engineer around shouting “laptop” after a lengthy dinner table explanation about a problem with the one at work. He also, to my delight, shouts “cup-a-tea” in a perfect Asian/Yorkshire accent in honour of Ajay, the trusty driver of the Greendale Rocket for whom he reserves a particular fondness.
He can now sing along to Twinkle Twinkle and Wind the Bobbin with accompanying actions and can identify The Beatles after a few bars, whether it’s a song he knows or not.
Inevitably he has also mastered some of the less attractive language he hears yelling “Oh God!” and “Blast!” when things go awry. Mercifully, nothing worse seems to have stuck so far. The child has some standards after all.
And my heart twanged the other morning as I overheard him utter in low serious tones “mess” while watching a CBeebies programme link in which the children were happily painting and gluing. No wonder my attempts to interest him in such arts have fallen on barren soil; I have already crushed his creative spirit with my tidying. Blast!
To be fair (to myself) I have tried to combat my terror of this form of expression, encouraging him with crayons and felt pens to let rip on blank sheets, taking care the while to protect the furniture and carpet with yards of plastic sheeting. I even forced myself to take part in a Pumpkin Painting Party hosted by an American friend who is one of those with a natural born talent for these things.
Snooks and I acquitted ourselves in much the same fashion I recall enduring activities of this nature during my own childhood – over-excitement and high expectation followed by bitter demoralisation and eventually remonstration for disrupting others better endowed with the required talent for the job in hand. While I frantically glued googly eyes and pipe cleaner hair to my less than nimble fingers, I overheard Snooks being removed from someone else’s space and resort to banging the kitchen cupboard doors in bored protest. Oh God!
However, I don’t give up that easily and continue to lovingly display his work in time-honoured tradition on the fridge door, seeing, as only a mother can, the “firework display” in his orange and yellow squiggles. (In fact he produced this particular piece the day after we celebrated Bonfire Night in the back garden with a few fiery fountains and sparklers of our own. No bangs or rockets or anything so gruesome as a Guy, mind. In any case, when anyone got thrown on any of our childhood bonfires, it was usually Cromwell, as a means of evening up the score.)
Of course, his rapidly growing 20-month-old brain is bringing new trials too; toy throwing has just begun; early mornings (like 4.30am) continue; and a new phase of super-hugging smaller babies is proving less endearing to their mothers than it is to his own.
But a friend once told me, back when I was pregnant and wondering how it would all turn out, that just as I reached the point when I was ready to hand him over to social services and say ‘I give up, you do it’ - a point she had reached after unexpectedly giving birth to twins only for the overwhelmed father to abscond for three months - he would finally say the word and all would be healed.
And so he has. Sitting up at the dinner table one evening Snooks looked from one parent to the other. “Daddy!” he announced as he often does, with a combination of surprise and delight. Then he turned to me, the giver of milk and discipline, and finally, at last, put a name to the face.
“Mama,” he said.