We’re in a coffee shop, I’m talking to a friend. Another friend across the table catches my eye and nods towards you. You’re perched on my knee, engrossed in something. I look down. You’ve unscrewed the pepper lid and tipped the contents onto the table. That’s the signal – coffee time is over, we should go.
We’re in the supermarket. You have one handle of the basket, and I have the other. You pick up a melon and throw it in. “We don’t need a melon,” I say. “But we do!” you insist. I take out the melon. You pick up a cucumber and throw that in. A woman laughs. “I know it’s maddening when you’re in the middle of it,” she says, “But god I miss those days.”
We’re at the till. You want to put the groceries on the belt. I let you. I pick my phone out of my pocket to check a message. You put our groceries in with those of the woman on front. I spot your efforts and retrieve our bread and milk and bananas (and not melon and not cucumber) and apologise to the woman. She smiles and waves my apology away.
We’re in the car. You want a banana. I pass one to you and start driving. I check in the rearview mirror. All good. At the lights, I look back. You’re smashing the banana – the entire banana – into your jeans. “What are you doing! Stop!” I say. OK, I shout. “But mummy, I is cleaning my trousers,” you explain. “You can’t clean trousers with banana!” I say. “You can mummy,” is your reply, and you carry on. My arguments are futile. And I’m driving. There’s nothing I can do.
We’re at home. I’m chopping peppers and frying onion. You’ve gone quiet. That’s not a good sign. I peer around the corner. You’re colouring on the floor.
I confiscate the crayons and ask you to help make dinner instead. You’re in charge of peppers. I’m in charge of garlic. We’re in harmony. Until I look over and see that you’re firing onion skin and pepper seeds into the oven dish along with your chunks of pepper.
I separate the food from the waste and set you down on the floor with some Lego. I keep cooking, you keep playing. I check my email. I notice you’re gone. You’re in the bathroom, filling toy cups with water and pouring it onto the floor. “But I is just playing,” you tell me.
Of course you are.
I can’t take my eyes off you.
I pick you up and carry you upstairs to change your now very wet clothes. You wrap your arms tightly around my neck and hug me close. “I sorry mummy, we be fwends?” you say. Of course we be fwends. I can’t stay mad at you.
You sit on your bed, your still-short legs stretched straight out on front. You wriggle your toes, and ask me to do “This little piggy eat bread and peas”. I comply willingly. You wait in nervous, excited anticipation for the tickle at the end.
Your face lights up when it comes – you throw your head back and laugh out loud, then tell me to stop, then tell me to do it again.
Your dirty-blond hair; jagged at the front – though you don’t know or care. Curls at the back – because I’m holding on to the baby.
Your small hands that grip my face, squeezing me too tightly. But I can’t tell you to stop because I don’t want you to stop.
Your baby cheeks, the ones I can’t stop rubbing and kissing, even when you tell me not to, because you’re too big for kisses.
Your shining eyes – full of excitement at the tickles, and joy at the attention. And love. And fun. Because you’re my fun baby – dramatic, and stormy and sulky and loud, but mostly fun.
I sit back. I look at you. I shake my head slightly. My eyes go from the crooked fringe lying in disarray on your forehead, to the small bruises on your pale but sturdy legs. I take it all in – I take you in. For the hundredth time today.
I don’t want to be anywhere else, but sitting on the floor; watching you laughing.
You’re beautiful, just beautiful.
I can’t take my eyes off you.
For something completely different: you might be interested in this article I wrote last week for the Independent (Mothers and Babies magazine), about the “clear your plate” mentality that many of us have inherited from our parents, but which may be teaching our children unhealthy eating habits: Enough is Enough