We beat ourselves up, don’t we? As parents, I mean. We obsess over every decision. Breast vs bottle. Cot vs cosleeping. Gina Ford vs babywearing. But the devil is in the detail. The tiny things.
Do you know what? For 34 years, I have been unable to hug anyone without patting them on the back. Seriously. Come here. Give me a hug. Feel that? That’s my right hand, patting you on the back as we embrace. Do you know how old I was when I started doing that? Eleven weeks old. My mum would feed me, then shift me up over her shoulder to wind me, her hand gently patting my back. Then one evening, she felt my tiny infant arm stretch, my fist unfurl, and my palm began gently patting her back. She’s told me this story many times and how her first thought was ‘Ooh! That’s weird!’ But because she’s the kind of instinctive mum who has an incredible understanding of young children, she immediately understood that I was reciprocating. Thinking that an embrace meant a back pat. So here I am, 34 years later, still patting people on the back. I’ve tried to stop. But I can’t.
And hair… Oh god, hair. Just mine. Not yours. Around the same time that the backpatting started, my mum had long hair. And I would wrap my fist around her tresses like buggery handles. By the time I was six months old, Mum had had enough of this, and got her hair cut short. But by then, my hair was long enough for me to hold. And fondle. And twist. And twiddle. Even as I write this now, my left hand is entwined with a hank of hair, twisting, tangling and generally creating some atrocious knots. These days, I hardly ever wear my hair down, because the result is something not too dissimilar to a King of Rats.
But who would have said that two teeny little things from infancy would turn out to linger so strongly? I’m sure my parents agonised over certain decisions about me (I hope they did, at least), but no one could have predicted that my mum holding me a certain way meant that I never style my hair other than with hairbands. And the small things matter, as I’ve discovered with The Boy…
Have you met my sister? She’s wonderful. Basically a nicer version of me. She’s very sweet, kind, thoughtful. We look very similar, although she doesn’t have my Unfortunately Massive Face. She’s also slimmer, with bigger tits, the bitch. But she is really lovely. When The Boy was born, she gave me The Best Toy Ever – a treasure basket. It’s just a small, shallow wicker basket, filled with things. A wooden spoon, a sink plug, a plastic cow, ribbons, a square of muslin, two wool pompoms. Essentially the idea is to have a basket of things of various sizes, shapes, colours and… textures. Tesxtures… TEXTURES…
The Boy adored it. Keep your overpriced Fisher Price plastic tat, the treasure basket was his THING. We spent so many happy hours exploring all the bits in it, pulling them out, touching them, seeing what they looked like, me explaining them to him. Anything that was soft, smooth, fluffy, or just plain nice to feel, I would gently stroke against his cheek before I handed it to him. And then, when he was nine months old, he was playing with his basket by himself. I watched as he pulled out a pompom, regarded it momentarily, then brushed it against his cheek, and smiled. He’d learnt that from me! Warm glow of Being A Good Mother suffused me.
And then I saw it happening all the time. Everything he picked up, he would place against his cheek. Sometimes not even the things he picked up. When he was tired, sad, or just generally in need of comfort, he would rub his cheek against my arm. I loved it. Still do, because he still does it. He’s nearly as tall as me now, but I can still (just) heft him up in my arms, his legs gripping my hip, arms around my neck, his head on my shoulder, just like I used to when he was a toddler. But mostly, anything he touches, he has to stroke against his face, feel it, touch it, test it for face stroking comfort ability. If it pleases his fingers, it gets introduced to his face. Sounds sweet. But um… it’s getting a bit weird.
Yes, that’s a lampshade. A bog standard, cream, brushed cotton lampshade. But actually, it’s more than that. It’s HIS lampshade. When we started renting this house, it was already fully furnished, right down to the table lamps. And um. The Boy is obsessed with this lampshade. He refuses to sit anywhere in the living room, other than one corner of the sofa, facing forward, left arm extended behind him, touching, stroking, fondling.
A lampshade. Rubbing it between his fingers. It’s permanently on the huh as a result and streaked with dirt, food debris, felt tip pen, and straight blond hairs. He rubs his face against it before he goes to school in the morning. The first thing he does when he comes home is to lovingly embrace it. He hugs it before he goes up to bed. He’s asked if we can buy another lampshade for the living room, so he can have that one in his bedroom. Not for any functional use. Just to have and to hold. He is in love. With a lampshade.
If anyone had told me, nine years ago, that when I pressed a ribbon to The Boy’s face, I was ensuring that his first great love would be a Laura Ashley lampshade, I would have given them a very dubious look, and locked the doors. But it’s here, it’s real, it’s happening.
I have created a monster.