Apologies if you happen to stumble upon this. It will be interminably boring to anyone else, but I’ve decided to keep pen portraits of my children. I am a hopeless photographer, and I know from experience that the immediacy of being with children all the time blurs the focus on how they change. I want to try to set down snapshots of them from time to time to remind me of just how they were at various moments.
My beautiful big boy – in one month’s time, you will be seven. Your hair, cut too temperately to avoid the just-shorn look on your school photo, tufts in a question mark at the back of your head. There is usually a slight frown on your lovely face, and a quizzical look in your blue eyes. Yours is a life of pondering. You question, sift and try to make sense of the world in which you find live. Never more than half with the people in whose company you find yourself, you remind me of my teacher years ago who foresaw a future for me as an absent-minded professor “turning up to deliver a lecture, having forgotten to put her trousers on”.
We find you, naked but for one sock, poised in the process of putting on your pants, but distracted into immobility by an idea, a TV programme or a thought. There is not enough time in your day to ask, to read (and, let’s be honest, to read as many rubbish cartoons as you can get away with). Yesterday, you found a French phrase book, and trailed me around the shops, littering your questions and statements with the words which stood out (“Mummy! Granny and Grandad have le babyfoot in their loft”).
Your imaginary friend Stadger is long gone. Instead, you find yourself plagued by the questions to which answers are almost impossible. You realise now the implications of the fact that life is finite, and you come downstairs, long after you ought to have been asleep, using the patented cuteness of peering up at us through your lashes which you know makes us laugh, to disguise your fear of the “bad thoughts” about death.
You sail high above your peers at school, and your charm is in not even dreaming that this is the case. They see the crescent, while you, my darling, you want to see the whole of the moon.
My little girl. You are five and a quarter years old (and the quarter is so vitally important to you).
You have a passion for gymnastics. Aptly enough; just as you practise your contortions whenever you get the chance, so you twist and turn like a thread of quicksilver through our lives. You, and we, are exhausted by lightning-quick mood changes: one minute ecstatic, the next in despair or fury. You adore your friend Hannah, you want to live with your friend Hannah, in fact, in the attractively pink and attention-rich home of an only girl child.
Your brothers are both a torment and a delight to you. Sometimes they set off your difference, allowing you the distinctiveness you crave. Other times you romp together with them like a litter of cubs, but, my sweetheart, it is almost always you who tires first of the hullabaloo. Your longing for a sister tugs at my heart, but the arrival of your new baby cousin Alice has gone some way to consoling you for that lack.
You tilt at life like a small, furious jouster. You are more than holding your own at school, but you are frustrated with things that don’t come easily and are very critical of the things you do.
You look at me when I’m tired, offer to give me some “air” (an old joke between us, whose origins I can’t remember) and wrap those long arms and legs of yours around me like a Howler monkey. You are stubborn, you drive me to distraction, but you make my heart sing.
My baby-of-all.It’s two years and one month since you turned our lives upside down, and we are still dangling on our strings; you, our pocket dictator, ensuring the household dances to your tune.
Tune is appropriate; you love music, love to find the jangly electronic toy instruments, and sing along, pretending to strum the guitar. When you sing, your soul is in your face; your eyes half closed and your mouth wide open as you accompany the harmonies in your head.
Harvest is over, but how you have loved the tractors on the school run. The bigger the wheel, the better: we parked last night in the shadowy yard of a friend’s plant hire business, and rather than being afraid, you stared up at the looming cranes and diggers with wonder.
You worship your big brother and sister, but you hate being younger and a third. Your blossoming speech has relieved one frustration, only to give birth to more: you want to have, to see, to do, to be things which are beyond you just yet.
Your temper wears us all out, you included. You have a fixity of purpose which would be admirable, if not for the unworthiness of the objects to which you direct it. When a desire is identified, you brook no distraction, no denial: satisfaction or mutiny ensue.
It is five months now since you had “mummy milk”, but the bond I half hoped/half feared would weaken is there as strong as ever. You, most of all, are my baby, and for all the exasperations that sometimes entails, “want tuddle mummy” never goes unanswered.