This week saw the end of the philosopher’s paternity leave. He and I. have been doing a lot of male bonding. They find they enjoy listening to music together. The philosopher is a keen guitarist: perhaps I. will follow in his strings.
Esther, staring down an endless vista of coping unaided with two tiny children, was understandably apprehensive, though she brightened up when I pointed out that the prospect wasn’t quite as unrelieved as she painted it. After all, I. goes to nursery two days a week, and on Saturday and Sunday the philosopher, too, is theoretically at home, even if in practice he’s often otherwise engaged, which only leaves three totally solo days, on one of which I’ll probably drop round.
Esther gratefully accepted my proposal of a visit for the first of her lonely Mondays, and in the event Bruce accompanied me. He hadn’t yet viewed young B., an omission that shocked her other set of grandparents, though not Esther or me. Tiny babies really aren’t his thing. At this point they’re either sleeping, feeding or yelling, none of which is much of a social event to anyone except the concerned parent. Young B., a noticeably more relaxed customer than her brother at that age, does sometimes spend longish periods of time silently awake in her bouncy chair, viewing her kaleidoscopic new world through bright, beady little eyes. But the only person she actually interacts with is her mother. I picked her up, and was quite shocked by her feathery weightlessness: it’s impossible to believe so insubstantial a creature will actually end up a woman.
When we arrived B. was asleep and I. was upstairs playing. He stayed there for quite some time, audible as running footsteps overhead, and descending only when lured by the prospect of a snack. Esther says he’s perfectly happy to occupy himself while B.’s asleep – it’s just when she’s awake and feeding, i.e. monopolising his mother, that he demands she play with him. Bruce, having viewed the baby, seized the opportunity to abandon the mother-daughter nativity scene and play with a more interesting prospect. I. and he did a couple of jigsaws, then went upstairs and read a story, something Bruce, an ace reader, has much been looking forward to. On the train to Esther’s, he was mourning I.’s imperviousness to his storytelling offers, but I suspect they’ll be taken up with increasing eagerness.
I., though he is beginning to accept the inevitability of B., had three meltdowns during our visit. They’re rather different from those he used to throw a year ago. No longer does he go purple in the face and scream (though he would, if Esther didn’t nip things in the bud). Rather, he sinks swooning to the ground, head in knees, rather like a ballerina doing the dying swan, and refuses to budge.
Esther points out that these three-year-old tantrums are different in substance, as well as style from the two-year-old ones. The earlier ones were about bewilderment, howls of protest and alarm when the world, and his place in it, seemed suddenly too much to take in. Now, though, they’re about asserting himself in the face of authority. He first of all decides he’s going to have a tantrum, then waits a for suitable scenario to present itself: ideally, an inevitability that will be insisted on, and that both parties know will certainly take place. I seem to remember that Esther’s, at this age, were mainly about getting dressed: but anything was good for a fight. I. refused to go for his post-lunch nap, wouldn’t put his shoes on before going out for a walk, and insisted that the precise point at which he should get off his scooter before taking Esther’s hand and walking across a road was two yards further on – and crucially, at a point he chose. The trick is to give in gracefully on some insubstantial point. Face is saved: life may then progress.
Oh, well. I know how he feels. I, too, often find it hard to accept other people’s view of how events should progress. In the intervening years, however, I’ve learned to hide my chagrin. Sometimes.
Is this what they mean by growing up?