David Attenborough was allegedly asked once which animal he found most fascinating to observe and replied an infant human. I concur. I was holding a baby yesterday and her mum remarked on how the wee one liked me. I put it down to a combination of experience at mumming and the fact that uncivilised babies have ruthless instincts for an old hand’s safe arms and the feeling that whoever is holding them is both interested and unafraid.
I’m interested, and unafraid, of babies, even tiny ones. Toddlers though? They are different beasts. I love them. But I will never understand them. They are unknowable jaguars to the scrawny orang-utan charm of little newborns. Predatory forces of nature when compared to teeny babies who are just stretching their necks to see the world, all about the velvet skin and bright eyes reflecting back the best in all of us. Toddlers are far more beautiful. Beautiful, fierce, snotty, profound, cross patches. Familiar, cliched and simply unknowable. They are also terrifying.
Tonight newborn, who is now two, and solid and tormenting and all about the eyes and the indulgence they squeeze from sentimental adults, was in an inglorious mood.
We crunched home at 6.20 pm. He upended a litre of apple juice, overflowing, sloshing, insisting he was ‘sharing’. He slammed me and his brother in the bathroom door, and eschewed tea by shoving a handful of crisps into his mouth and, then remorseful? resolved? relentless? let them fall out of his mouth again: splat. Returned. A sticky lump on his dinner plate. He put himself in time out, then told me off for eating an egg. He cuddled me deep, fought his brother off my lap like a wildcat, then asked for chocolate, cereal and porridge, ‘please’.
And then? then he laughed so hard at his brother’s impromptu slapstick show, all loose trousers and a comedy crutch, that we, his brother and I, cried with proud hysterical joy to hear him.
After climbing the wooden hill, ranting step by step about toilets, he fell to his knees mid-sentence on the landing. He sighed and smoothly fell on to my lap as I reached the top stair.
It was 20 past seven. On his face, a face unweathered, unwrinkled, untouchable, the serene smile of a man who has finally finished his To Do List.