Last week, I spent a couple of nights flat-hunting down in London. My two-year-old son Tom stayed up in Edinburgh with my Mum, and by all accounts had a brilliant time. She texted me a picture of him on the first day, sitting on a bench, smiling and clutching an ice cream, and a picture on the second day of him sitting in the big red tractor at the city farm, waving brightly at the camera. There is no one on earth he loves more than his Granny — they are incredibly close — and I knew he would be absolutely fine.
But I don’t spend nights away from Tom that often — this was only the fourth or fifth time ever — so it always takes a bit of readjustment when I return. And this was by far the most difficult time ever. I’d brought him back a wee George Pig keyring that I spotted in a shop and thought he’d like.
‘It’s rubbish,’ he said, walking over to the bin and dropping it in.
Where had my sweet wee boy gone? It was as though I’d just skipped ahead fourteen years and was living with a short, angry teenager. He kept coming up to me as though he wanted a cuddle, and then swerving, pushing me away at the last minute.
It was a new thing for Tom to be deliberately mean, so it hurt. But I also recognised myself in him. My parents separated when I was eight and, although I would never have seen it in myself at the time, I can admit now that I used to be completely horrible to both of them at changeover times, when I was switching from one house to the other. It was as thought I thought I would miss them less and find it easier to go if I fell out with them first.
The process of moving house has been long and unsettling, and Tom has been doing brilliantly. He has had all manner of new people coming to his house, his belongings are being given away or packed into boxes around him, and his Mummy keeps disappearing for days at a time to “find a new house.” I can at least try and articulate everything that’s in my head — all those mixed feelings of excitement and anticipation and nervousness — but even so I’m pretty tense and crabby and tired. It is no wonder that he has been feeling a little off too, and it’s expressing itself in a negative way. I take it as a compliment that I am the person he trusts enough to let off some steam with.
My husband says that when he looks at me and Tom we are so close you couldn’t slide a sheet of paper between us. It is true. We love each other fiercely. Sometimes we are all tangled up in a mess of laughing and cuddles, other times we are pressing our foreheads against each other, locked eyes, trying to out-stubborn each other.
I had always imagined that I would be the calm parent, compromising, breaking up arguments, providing the necessary voice of reason. Not so. My husband is the diffuser, the diplomat, and the joker that comes into the room to distract us both from whatever nonsense argument we are engaged in.
Anyway, it has taken a few days, but we are back to normal. Tom has returned to his usual, joyful self. When I threw on a scabby old fleece to drop him off at nursery yesterday, he said “You look beautiful in pink, Mummy.” Today I fixed one of his broken trucks with a dab of superglue, and he said “It’s great to have such a clever Mummy.” And tonight, when I tucked him into bed, he smiled up at me and said “I love you so much.”
His language skills, his sense of humour, and his crazy wee brain are all developing so quickly right now. He sings all day, and then lies in his cot before he falls asleep and recites as many letters of the alphabet as he can remember. He loves jokes about sausages and bananas. Yesterday he was very disappointed when he found a shoehorn in the wardrobe and it didn’t go “beep beep” as all good horns should. He has discovered the word “why,” which is every bit as bad as I had been warned about. When we walk along the street he can identify a dozen different makes of car by looking at their badges (his favourites are Volkswagens and Mercedes, I’m not sure why). Today, in the space of a few hours, he asked me if it was winter yet, called me to the window to look at the sunrise, and greeted the rep from our removal company by saying “Hello man, I like your red tie!”
I wish I could bottle his laughter, and gift it to people to make them smile.
I am deeply, deeply sorry that Tom has learned at such a young age that he can say hurtful things. But I am so glad that all it takes to teach him that that’s not necessary is a couple of quiet days, reading books on the sofa with his Mum, remembering how much he is loved. And thank goodness I finally found the new house; next time I go away, he’ll be coming with me.