A thump on the bedroom door is usually the first warning that we get, followed by the happy stomping of toddler feet. Which make far more noise than feet that small ought to make. I lift an eyelid to see the small face now pressed close to my own. Soft rosy cheeks framed by sweaty ringlets of fiery red hair, a scent of warmth and sleep and milk and just the faintest suspicion of baby. He burrows in between us, into the pillows and up under my arm, prodding me in the ribs with those sharp little toes. Up close he examines my face, points to my nose, mouth, eyes, chin, whispering the words to himself over and over like an incantation.
Ben turned two this week*, and in our two years together, these are the moments I have come to treasure, the moments when we are completely present.
(I turned thirty three on the same day, but this is less remarkable these days! Fun fact: we actually share the same birth minute. 6.29am on 23rd July, thirty one years apart.)
Of course, these quiet times do not last forever.
“Mummy. Up bed, up bed”.
“Mummy would like to stay in bed please Littlest.”
“Mummy up bed! Mummy up bed! Play trains! Go find animals!”
Our mornings are usually spent building railways that loop around the furniture, under and over bridges and tunnels, making the occasional stop at the toy farmhouse or the basket of teddy bears. All the animals have to line up to wait for the train to come. “Chitin wait train Mummy!” That is the real beauty of this age; watching his imagination come alive. We have moved from simply naming animals or trains to telling stories about them. He can tell me where the chicken is going on the train (normally the farm, the sea, or very occasionally, “up sky!”).
All animals excite him, but chickens are a definite favourite. There is wonderful rescue farm down the road from us, and he is never happier than charging about shouting “CHITINS!!” I’m not sure how the chickens themselves feel about this; we’re working on the idea that animals, even the really exciting ones like chickens and pigeons, do not like to be shouted at. Recently his love of animals has expanded to include all kinds of bugs, particularly caterpillars and spiders (it’s almost as though his mother has degrees in zoology or something). Luckily our garden (and house, ehem) can provide plenty of bugs in ample quantities.
The garden is his place. From the tap on the water butt to the vegetable plots, where the occasional pea seedling is sacrificed in the name of “diggy hole”. Most afternoons we can be found poking around in the borders and under hedges looking for last autumn’s acorn cups, the purple flowers that the bees like, important sticks, and the cinnabar moth caterpillars that are currently levelling the ragwort in the back border.
After dinner he immediately asks for “outside with Daddy,” and off they go together to water the veggies. My heart explodes a little bit every time I see him trundling along behind Chris, fiery curls bobbing in the evening light, sloshing water into his wellingtons from a bucket that’s far too big for him.
Sometimes I am clearly mother to a child. A whole person with opinions and ideas and the language to express them, who can put their own coat on and pour their own rice krispies. But traces of my baby are still there, in the milk at bedtime and the sleepy cuddles. In the times when his mind is too full, an overwhelming firework display of ideas and thoughts and words, and he comes back to me for safety. Then we curl up on the sofa together with a pile of books and poems and read together. Because more than anything else he loves stories. His favourites of the moment are Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole, Tiddler by Julia Donaldson, and, perhaps my favourite, A Is For Activist by Innosanto Nagara (which he refers to as “peepol storwee”).
I can’t help feeling that for every one of these precious moments so softly imprinted on my heart, there are ten more no less precious that I have forgotten. So I want to round off this ramble with a little list of things to remember, the things from this phase of life that I want to hold on to for as long as possible.
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precious moments to hang on to
Baking birthday cakes for Gaga (my mum) and Gigi (Chris’s mum). He doesn’t really get what birthdays are for, other than eating cake and blowing out candles. When he realised that he would get to blow out candles on a cake of his own his face lit up so much.
Ben at six months old looking up at me from Chris’s lap and saying “Mamamam”, which looking back on it was really his first word of sorts.
How fierce his little hugs can be, especially just after nap time or just before bed. A perfect limpet of tiny arms and legs.
The feeling of his head tucked in under my chin, and his back pressed against my chest as we sit curled up together with his favourite story book.
The words that he has invented for himself because it was quicker than learning the “proper” ones. “Tidah” and “Tia” (train). “Shishi” (signal). “Mitmit” (mixer). “Mic” (music). “Raratan” (Orangutan). “Cacabears” (caterpillars) and “Bubabears” (butterflies). And of course “Bae” (Ben).
His joy at being around animals. Chasing chickens at the children’s farm and feeding the guinea pigs “gigi piiig”, passing them pieces of cabbage and carrot and saying “here go chaps!”.
How he ran up to a passing dog shouting “doggy!” and the scared the poor thing out of its wits.
Rocking tiny month old baby Ben to sleep and reciting Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat, as I remember my Mummy doing for me when I was little. And singing the Skye Boat Song by Robert Lewis Stevenson, and Seven Drunken Nights by the Dubliners.
Naming him after Obi Wan “Ben” Kenobi in the delivery room because I was high on gas and air. Ehem.
Listening to him recite The Very Hungry Caterpillar to himself, turning the pages and saying “eat ONE apple!”.
How he fell in love with a little plastic caterpillar from a set of toy bugs, and took it everywhere with him. Caterpillar feasted on all the houseplants, explored the muddiest bits of the garden, and slept in Ben’s tightly clenched fist.
He has just started using the words “boy” and “girl”. Before everyone was “peepol” (both individuals and groups), mostly because I actively try to avoid gender pronouns at home unless someone has explicitly stated them. The gendered language was inevitable I suppose, but I will keep pushing back for as long as I can!