Sunday, 14 June 2015

ENTRY THIRTY NINE - SAY NO MORE

At between twenty and twenty one months Felix has only a handful of words. Despite my lack of interest in so-called 'developmental milestones', I have become aware that this is not quite where he should be at his age. I hesitate to use the word delayed; children develop at their own pace and in their own unique order, just as a row of seeds planted at the same time will unfurl and grow differently.

His lack of language was highlighted when a friend visited with her toddler who is two months younger than Felix. Teddy had a word for everything; ball, cake, train, and upon spying our cat - confusingly also called Teddy - his eyes lit up with glee. The cat is now well versed in the ways of toddlers and after allowing himself to be clumsily fondled for a few minutes made good his escape. Teddy the toddler stood and pointed at his retreating form; 'Titty' he said. As a mash-up between Teddy and Kitty it takes some beating, and his unintentional gag gave us a good old laugh. Later I looked on in amazement as Teddy pointed at the items in The Hungry Caterpillar and named each one 'cupcake, sausage, apple, cherry pie'. Felix does not know a single word despite it being one of his favourite books. His entire vocabulary consists of 'daddy' and 'mama' 'baba' (for his Polish grandmother) 'nana' for his English, 'daffodil' 'bubble 'blue' and not a lot else. He makes a variety of appreciative noises to express pleasure and excitement, but no other concrete words have appeared for months. There is however an explanation for this apparent delay in his language development, for Felix is trying to learn two at the same time. After Teddy's startling linguistic display I decided to undertake a little research and found myself delving into the roiling broth of myth and science surrounding language development in bilingual and multilingual children. 

Research from the 1960' and 70's suggested that multilingual children acquire language later and perform worse overall than monolingual children. There was thought to be detrimental effect on language and speech development, and these flawed studies seemed to show that children raised with two languages struggle to learn either properly. The research based conclusions on the fact that multilingual children mix languages, sometimes in the middle of a sentence (code switching) or pepper a sentence in one language with vocabulary from the other (borrowing) Immigrant parents were encouraged to drop their natives tongues and speak only in English, a disaster for their children as it transpired that their children's language acquisition was harmed by being taught in a language their parent were not confident in and thus struggled to master the basic building blocks of speech. More recent studies

have shown that not only is code switching and borrowing completely normal and resolves itself without needing special attention, it continues quite naturally and healthily into adulthood, and in fact bilingual children develop within the same developmental timescales as their monolingual counterparts. Having grown up bilingual in Polish I am fluent in both, although English is dominant, but am also fluent in Ponglish, as are all my bilingual friends. We find it completely natural to rattle off a sentence in English and add a flourish in Polish, either because the Polish word is more expressive, for comic effect, or even without noticing. I find switching between languages fantastically liberating, providing another level of verbal dexterity that adds extra richness to communication. It is like knowing how to cook several cuisines, once you have mastered them you can chop and change fluidly, taking something from one to enhance and refresh the other. 

In recent years new research into speech and language development has made some startling findings. Consider this; within five days after birth all infants can tell the difference between two or more languages. It may take them six months to be able to separate them, especially if the two are similar, but they are immediately able to perceive the difference. A top international infant lab has produced a study showing that language acquisition begins in the womb, and that babies of mothers who spoke two languages during pregnancy responded to hearing both in the days post birth. Although opinion is now divided as to whether there is any delay in speaking for bilingual children, there is an understanding that this may sometimes happen as the child learns to distinguish and group words into each language.

All this is mighty reassuring for those of us concerned that our haphazard approach to teaching two languages is confusing the hell out of our child and that perhaps we should just desist lest they not be able to 'catch up'. Such research becomes ever more relevant as more and more people are raised with a dual heritage, born of couples who may not share a native language or of parents who are not both bilingual. This is the case in our household, where it is not as simple as speaking only Polish at home and English in public. My attempts to speak to Felix in Polish are sporadic as I tend to forget, but thank goodness his Polish 'babcia' speaks and sings to him primarily in Polish and has done since birth. All those Polish songs and rhymes he so loves hearing are finding their mark, and I am certain that in his own space and time he will order the confusion of words in his head and speak with confidence. 

Just in case I needed an extra incentive, there is solid evidence that bilingualism has a positive effect on cognitive function outside of language. Bilinguals are better able to focus on tasks and ignore distractions and irrelevant information, find understanding math’s concepts and solving word problems easier, have enhanced reasoning and logic skills and find learning other languages easier. Children raised in bilingual households also have better self control, a key factor in school performance, but the most fascinating and hopeful of all these benefits is that bilingualism has been found to delay the onset of Alzeimers disease and dementia. The act of switching between two different languages makes the brain active and flexible, and just as older people are encouraged to exercise regularly to maintain bone density and muscle strength so the aging brain needs its daily exercise to remain supple. The knowledge that teaching Felix to speak my mother tongue may benefit him from toddlerhood right through life, even to a liver spotted old age that seems unimaginable in his unblemished baby skin, stopped me in my tracks. So what if he has only a smattering of words? So what if he cannot name the characters in his books or say the word for cat? In his tiny and endlessly agile baby brain an incredible double act is gearing up for performance, one which can skip between tightrope and trapeze, tumble effortlessly between any number of obstacles and fly with unerring precision through all the hoops that life throws up. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, please take your seats, the Incredible Bilingual Baby Brain Circus is about to astound and confound your expectations








Saturday, 16 May 2015

ENTRY THIRTY EIGHT - THE TOWN MOUSE AND THE COUNTRY MOUSE

Does having a communal garden make neighbours friendlier? This question has occupied my thoughts since moving to our new place in Teddington which has a lovely shared garden. From the outset we have been bowled over by the friendliness of the other residents of our ‘Court’, a seventies block that houses eight separate flats. On moving day we made the acquaintance of Fred and Joan, a spritely older couple who immediately introduced themselves and went out of their way to offer assistance. Several cups of tea later we are already at the stage of borrowing hoovers and taking in each others washing from the line when rain threatens. They cast an indulgent eye over Felix who plays happily in the garden while I prepare lunch, offering welcome advice on local playgrounds, schools and cycle routes. All in under a week!

As a Londoner born and bred I have found such openness startling. Imagine my surprise when the lady who lives above us appeared wielding a garden table and chairs when we were sat out on a balmy evening having a humble barbeque. ‘Thought you might like to use these’, she said, noting our camp chairs and distinct lack of table; ‘They’re communal’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines communal as something ‘shared by all members of a community; for common use’. What fascinates me is the implication that the act of sharing something fosters a sense of community between those who use it, and in my short and very pleasant experience I have found this to be very true. The garden is a space for all; even the bins and washing lines are shared, forcing us together for the acts that make up daily life, and I love it.

In the garden are two wonderful old oak trees which offer a delightfully dappled light all day long. Bluebells cluster at the base of the trunks and around the perimeters of the lawn, while blackbirds, blue tits, sparrows, starlings, magpies and squirrels skip from branch to branch, making me feel like I’m living in  an episode of Springwatch. One night I listened as a nightingale gave voice to its song, transfixed by the bewitching beauty of the melody. On fine days I sit Felix at the communal table for lunch, an
experience that I can only describe as sublime. No worrying about dropped crumbs, no wiping and no mess, only the pleasant rustling of leaves and the certainty that eating al fresco must be close to heaven. And oh, the evenings! No longer are we trapped indoors whilst others enjoy summer nights; as soon as Felix goes to bed out comes the barbeque and the camp chairs and we appoint ourselves in our favourite spot with a beer or cider to hand while our dinner chargrills over the coals, the fragrant smoke wafting over our clothes and into our hair so that as I drift off to sleep I am surrounded by the evocative scents of a campfire. I have started to feel like I am on a permanent holiday, what with Felix happily installed in his own room and space aplenty to roam, not to mention the much longed for delights of lying in bed and reading before sleeping more soundly than I have in a long time.


As I board the train at Teddington train bound for Waterloo on my way to work we pass through what feels like miles of woodland.  Trees and greens are everywhere, at the delightfully named Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, St Margaret’s and Richmond, then the two stations at Barnes, all abound with nature, and it is only as we pass through Putney into the markedly more urban environs of Wandsworth Town that I even feel I am in London. It is like going from the village to the town, and when it is time to retrace the route it is with a deep sense of satisfaction that I roll back into Teddington; a (nearly) country mouse come home to roost. 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

ENTRY THIRTY SEVEN - APRIL SHOWERS AND MAY FLOWERS



May is surely the sweetest month of all, the gateway to summer and the promise of long sultry days and balmy nights. The first flowers of spring have put on their display and faded, leaving the stage set for the main act. Summer hovers in the wings, making the final adjustments to her costume, warming her breath and stretching her limbs ready to leap out and dazzle the waiting audience. Frothy bursts of cow parsley line every path; trees and shrubs are gilded with the brilliance of new leaves. There is no green as vivid, as achingly alive, as those first leaves, and as the spring sun shines through the delicate new canopy the world below is painted with peridot radiance.  

Felix, now somewhere between nineteen and twenty months, is in thrall to this spectacular transformation. Trees that had been bare and skeletal throughout the long winter are changing before his very eyes, and our daily walks and cycles are a kaleidoscopic trip through an ever changing picture. 'Wow' is his new favourite word, uttered with a long drawn out inflection which somehow perfectly sums up his feelings about the pleasant bombardment of stimulation on his eager senses, and how like a sponge he absorbs it all and is immediately thirsty for more. I am more aware than ever of the incredible importance of a positive and stimulating environment for a toddlers tender spirit. No more a baby, this tiny person notices and absorbs everything that you do. They are like a searchlight, shining remorselessly into every nook and cranny - ready or no - and you better believe they see it all. 

Just in the nick of time we are moving to the leafy environs of Teddington, to a flat with a second bedroom and a shared garden. It is time at last for Felix to have his own bedroom and for us to reclaim the privacy of our own bedroom, yet a part of me is sad to bid farewell to this period of extended intimacy, all three of us sleeping soundly within a single chamber. Of course the larger part is clamouring for escape, for the unimaginable luxury of space and privacy our new home will offer. It is a time of farewell, and I have been busy not only with the endless packing and sorting but also with doing my round of farewells. Being an incurable sentimentalist I have visited each and every favourite spot in order to give thanks for the pleasures it has brought me, knowing I will see them all again but in the awareness that it will be as a visitor. No longer will we cycle down the river path to Dukes Meadows, for a new bend of river will be ours to explore. New pastures beckon, but old pastures hold a place in the heart that can never be erased, and sometimes it seems that every blade of grass holds a memory for me; that spot is where I lay while Felix napped, that tree where I first took him from the pram to see last springs apple blossom. Layer upon layer of memory colours my vision of places so familiar they have become stitched into the very fabric of my soul. Felix too has his favourite spots, and I am conscious that this is the only world he has ever known. 

The final day of April was composed of two halves. That morning the rain came down heavy and enveloping, and we had to content ourselves with a quick trip to the sodden playground where Felix could splash and stamp out his frustrations. By afternoon the sun had found his hat and was shining with renewed vigour, and off we went for a cycle. As we passed the Chiswick Pier Felix started making sounds of excitement. The pontoon is one of his favourite places, and he never seems to bore of walking along the wooden boards, stopping to study the river rushing directly below his feet. As he went about his examinations I noticed an elderly, spritely figure watching us in amusement from aboard a house boat. Complete with grizzled beard and deeply sun lined face he looked the spit of an old sea dog, and imagine my surprise and delight when the pier master - for it was he - invited us aboard his boat for a little look. Well such chances don't come every day so I seized Felix by the hand and stepped on deck. 'Woooow' came the little voice as he contemplated the view. 'Loves the river your little feller' the sea dog stated and I nodded. 'Like mother like son' I replied with a smile, and my heart could have burst for love of my little feller, his blonde hair blowing about in the lively breeze. 'Thank you very much' I said to the pier master as we waved to him from the pontoon. 'My pleasure' he replied 'Mind how you go'. 

Saturday, 25 April 2015

ENTRY THIRTY SIX - FISH OUT OF WATER

After spending most of last summer in water of all kinds, Felix has suddenly
decided that he loathes the paddling pool and is none too keen on his bath either. Clinging, crying and hiding his face from the sparkling fountain, I stood bewildered by his sudden fear of the water. Whilst other children frolicked merrily my former water baby wept bitterly as I carried him towards the pool, refusing to dip even a toe into the shallows. Deciding that the best policy was a slow re-integration I left him alone to play happily on the grass, wondering if perhaps curiosity might get the better of him. The next visit was the same, and whilst the children of friends splashed happily Felix continued to cling and cry at the merest suggestion of a paddle. What on earth has happened to my fish?
 
This behaviour is part of larger emerging pattern. It is as if Felix has suddenly discovered fear as a concept. Previously he was a mustang; throwing himself into new experiences without a second thought. Nowadays he is more of a thoroughbred, volatile and easily startled. It is anyone’s guess how he might react to familiar experiences and people, burying his face in my shoulder at the sight of a smiling face or howling as we arrive at his favourite playground. Deciding it was time to seek some advice I googled 'toddler fear of water' and lo and behold a multitude of entries popped up. It turns out that a sudden fear of water is common in toddlerhood and is part of a new awareness of the environment. The brain of a toddler is a complex affair, able to conjure up terrifying scenarios based on assumptions that adults can find impossible to comprehend, and as yet unable to rationalise these fears into real and imaginary. One article suggested that the fear of bathing may relate to him realising that water swirls down the plughole and concluding that he too may be swept away. Seen through these eyes the paddling pool is petrifying indeed; packed with shrieking children firing water pistols and running madly through the water, a veritable battleground for a newly aware Felix. 
 
With this in mind and armed with advice to treat these fears as valid and proceed with patience and understanding we continued with the softly softly approach. Thankfully after a few nights of fun filled baths the fear of the tub seemed to ebb. The paddling fear was harder to tackle, but after several attempts I am delighted to say that Felix has been successfully re-christened. Amphibious once more we have surged into the swimming season with daily trips to the paddling pool on Dukes Meadows to soak up the glorious spring sunshine, united once again in our love of water. 
 
We too are about to find ourselves in a strange pond, for we have finally succeeded in finding a flat with a garden and a second bedroom that doesn't cost the earth, but it does mean a move away from our beloved environs of W4. Teddington beckons! I feel somewhat as Felix may have done, full of trepidation yet also curious and elated. Change hovers in the air like the Northern Lights, a flickering spectral light show that surges and glows and is swiftly gone. After nearly a decade in our current abode there is a curiosity shops worth of junk and treasure to sort through, and the size of the task is
daunting. Every day while Felix naps I sort through drawers and cupboards, pullling bags of old magazines from under the bed and finding myself engrossed by ten year old articles on home decor. Our flat has slowly but surely been filled up with mementos; handpainted shakers from Greece, novelty kettles and enough frames, canvases and photographs to fill the Tate Modern. It has become clear that we are both avid collectors of curios or curators of clutter, depending on your viewpoint. Sorting through this mountain of stuff is exhausting but therapeutic, and deciding what to keep, what to give away and what to bin is my current preoccupation. A life laundry is underway, and as I riffle through old university essays and photographs of holidays long past I feel like a snake shedding several layers of skin. A delineation between the past and the future marks the present as a time of limbo; and whilst I long for the day Felix has his own bedroom and I can retire to bed of an evening with a book and a cup of tea, not to mention open the door of the kitchen and release my darling boy into a grassy haven, I also mourn the time that is gone forever. A butterfly emerges triumphant from the cocoon, but the caterpillar it once was can sometimes miss the safe, dark seclusion of the home it has painstakingly built.
 
 
 
 

Thursday, 9 April 2015

ENTRY THIRTY FIVE - SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS


Standing in the endless drizzle on an unreasonably dreary Good Friday, watching Felix play a repetitive game on the merry-go-round, I got to thinking about the meaning of parenting and life in general. The park was practically deserted; just a few damp dog walkers and our little group braving the elements. It seemed the whole world was shut up inside enjoying a lazy afternoon while we watched our energetic toddler get on and off the roundabout, as intent as a marathon runner in sight of the ribbon.
Faced with such repetition the mind tends to wander, delving into darkened passages of thought where cobwebs hang thick and laden with dust. What is the point of it all? Is it just a way to kill a tedious afternoon, a few hours closer to nightfall and ultimately to death? Such morbid thoughts sidled across my mind as I felt my jeans go from mildly to moderately damp. 

Things have been somewhat up and down recently. I have suffered an unforeseen professional setback, upsetting my pleasantly trundling cart and sending my apples rolling in all directions. Out they tumbled, rosy spheres winking merrily as I scrambled to retrieve them, knowing it was fundamentally futile. I am suddenly confronted with a crossroads, one side falling away to a gaping chasm lined with slippery indecision and the nagging sense of urgency coupled with confusion. Which way to turn? Leap or stay put and hope for a miracle? And if not leap then stand transfixed while the ground crumbles away beneath, revealing a cruel precipice and a sheer drop to oblivion.  Resilience - according to the experts - is the primary quality that unites successful people. The ability to take bad news and setbacks and turn them into fuel to the fight is of critical importance. Normally I am fairly robust but this time I have felt crushed, wishing fervently that things would right themselves without my having to make the mammoth effort to pick myself up, dust myself off and launch myself back out into the unknown. 


Meanwhile Felix continues to grow and develop, picking up an occasional new word and slowly but surely becoming more independent, more delightful, more able to play alone. This comes as a welcome relief as in his exuberant excitement at everything around him he has often been unable to focus on the toy or game in front of him, a toddler with the attention span of a fish and the energy levels of a puppy. His latest acquisition is daffodil, pronounced daf-a-doh, revealing his ardent love for the bright yellow flowers that have sprung forth all around. On the edges of Dukes Meadows, our favorite haunt on sunny days, clusters of yellow heads nod invitingly, whilst every entry and exit to our home is accompanied by my blooming tete-a-tetes, the miniature daffodils that are so perfectly on Felix’s scale. Over Easter we managed a brief and much needed escape from the Big Smoke to the wide open spaces of rural Wiltshire, and Felix was in Seventh Heaven. ‘Daf-a-doh’ he exclaimed as we pulled up to our lodgings, pointing at a row of splendid sunshine yellow trumpets. Lambs gamboled merrily in the pasture while their milk-swollen mothers bleated aggressively, cherry trees puffed up pink with blossom and birds singing their hearts out in the sudden sunshine. It was all a picture of bucolic perfection
and yet a nagging sense of anxiety stalked me like an abandoned cat, tearing me from the present into a purgatory of worry. ‘It’s swings and roundabouts’ - the phrase echoed annoyingly through my mind all day long as I tried to sort the clamouring thoughts into some kind of order. I have never been entirely sure of the exact meaning of the saying, and having asked several friends all have shrugged their shoulders. For the purposes of accuracy I looked it up, discovering a succinct clarification that encapsulated my present dilemma. ‘Gains and losses that offset each other’. Perhaps my recent setback is actually the dawn of a new era, one that leads to a future of emancipation via the gathering of new skills; as the dictionary says ‘What you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabout’. 


Easter Monday dawned blue and crisp as a freshly laundered sheet, sky high and arching and dew steaming off the grass in the morning sun. As Felix wriggled from my grasp and ran over to a patch of custard and cream coloured daffodils, the cheerful friends who pave the way from early spring to early summer, he whispered to himself daf-a-doh, and I took a deep breath and inhaled the joy of his new word, realizing it was a small yet vital step towards self expression, to communication. Thank Goodness for words, these magical squiggles that represent our thoughts and dreams, that convey sadness and heartbreak, that express delight and wonder and awe, and that allow us to share with one another the joy and pain of living. Language, how I love thee! Sending forth my missives to the world, lighter in heart and mind once they are freed from the tangle of my mind to the clarity of the page. And so I ask you; what does it all mean, where are we all headed, what should we be doing? It’s swings and roundabouts my friends.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

ENTRY THIRTY FOUR - HARBINGERS OF SPRING



At long last the seasons are on the turn, winters spell is loosening and the green shoots and sap of spring are rising. The sun is high and proud in the sky by 7am, an immense relief for every parent with young children. The cruel midwinter days of dark mornings and early sunsets are behind us, and each day seems to stretch and lengthen like one who has been long asleep. As the sun comes out of its winter hibernation so the dozing bulbs nestled in the damp earth respond in kind, poking green shoots curiously above ground. Already snowdrops have appeared, white skirts fluttering in the February gusts, harbingers of the coming spring. Each year when I see those clusters of white bells, delicate petals defiant of winter’s still steady influence, I feel myself on the verge of happy tears, wanting to kiss the sacred earth and all that lives within her. They are the messengers, the outriders, the ones to test the waters, and once spotted it is not long before others come to join the party. All of a sudden crocuses gleam like purple velvet amongst the greening grass whilst the sunny faces of daffodils wave a cheerful salute, all the colours of sunshine in their open smiles. It won't be long before the glory of bluebells spreads through woodland glade and shady copse like blue fire and the branches of cherry and apple explode in a cloud of blossom.

In our home too spring is making its presence felt. After a long season of neglect I have finally seized a naptime in order to plant out the window
boxes, and each time we leave the house we are waved off by a host of cheerful tete a tetes, whilst blue and white hyacinths crouch within their deep green sleeves, poised to emerge and bless anyone that passes with their divine scent. I love that hyacinths are actually cultivated bluebells, and as I peer into the tightly furled center of the flower I feel their connection to the woodland that spawned them, a hint of bark and the unmistakable scent of leaf mould, that fertile and self replenishing compost that is the envy of every gardener. Perhaps we really are creatures of spring, for in the past week or so Felix has morphed from angry bear to delightful faun, his face alive once again with smiles and laughs, the horrors of sickness and tooth pain and tantrums past, for the time being at least. He wakes as the morning sun floods our bedroom with its welcome rays; no longer must we turn on lights just to combat the darkness of night.


Donald Winnicots child development classic ‘The Child, the Family and the Outside World’ suggests that babies are like bulbs, complete with all the information and materials they need to grow and develop. Originally published in 1964 his words still ring true, and thanks to the gigantic strides since in genetics and unraveling the mystery of the genetic code, we now know that in fact each human is pre-programmed to develop in their own unique way, that even pre birth mother nature is busy putting the finishing touches on the tiny person that will emerge, red and wrinkled and screaming into the world. Winnicott makes the comparison to a spring bulb in order to highlight both the incredible sophistication of the embryo but also the importance of nurture in order to facilitate and encourage its proper development. No flower - however hardy - can survive without some amount of water and light. Even a cactus in the driest desert must receive a tiny amount of rainfall, which it collects and stores in its perfectly adapted body. So too is the infant child a bulb of infinite potential, all it’s future contained neatly in the velveteen shell of baby skin. We as parents must ensure that it receives all it needs as it grows steadily upwards from a prone pupae to a plump and crawling infant, and up again to sitting then standing then walking toddler, child and adult.

Even on the coldest, darkest, meanest days of winter, Felix and I headed out into the weak grey light like worms crawling up through the earth. One blustery, miserable day when any excuse would have sufficed to stay safely indoors we emerged defiant and wrapped in waterproofs from head to toe, and damned if we didn’t have the time of our lives. Felix bellowed with laughter as the wind snatched the hood from my head, wrapping strands of wet hair over my face like thin blonde snakes, and watched wide eyed as the wind swirled leaves and litter high into the air and whipped the river into an angry grey soup. It was the kind of day that would blow even the sturdiest umbrella inside out; with a sly and viscous rain that crept into sleeves and down collars. As we struggled home along the river path, wellies gleaming with water, I felt I must be mad. Why take a child out into such weather? And then he looked at me with eyes shining, plump cheeks reddened with cold and nose streaming, and I knew he understood. That night he slept as soundly as a mouse in its winter nest, warm and dry and snug. Dreams scudding with petrol blue storm clouds, thrilling with whipping winds, and racing with swollen rivers of beaten grey water. Now that spring stands poised like a ballerina in the wings, tracing green onto the brown, sprinkling tiny buds on stark winter branches, and dusting off her palette of pastels and jewel shades ready to sweep them over the battered landscape, we vibrate with the memory of harsh winter days and welcome her arrival with fervour borne of knowledge.



Friday, 20 February 2015

ENTRY THIRTY THREE - TAMING TIGERS


This may have been the most difficult entry I have yet written. Not because I’m particularly struggling to express myself but because things are changing so fast I feel I’m sprinting just to stand still.

With the new year came a new working pattern. I now work Mondays at a gallery in Chelsea and Fridays and Saturdays at another in Marylebone, thus for the middle days of the week I am with Felix. On gallery days I flick gleefully through the wardrobe and construct an outfit that falls into my own invented category of ‘art smart’. Oh the joy of skirts, of dresses, of bright silk scarves and actual jewellery, none of which get a look in on mummy days. Flitting between two beautiful galleries makes me feel like a butterfly, rejoicing in my brilliant colours and lightness of being. I have learnt to apply makeup whilst feeding Felix his breakfast, performing a kind of reverse striptease of getting dressed item by item whilst checking Felix is not causing irreparable damage, but it a small price to pay for my flights into the delirious world of fine art. It's a wonderful ratio; three days at work, four at home, but it does come at a cost. Despite my newfound earnings the London market is such that we are still cooped up in a flat that seems smaller by the day, and at times the weight of the four walls seems to press in on me, crushing the delicate wings and bringing me roughly down to earth. Less a butterfly, more a hermit crab in desperate need of a more commodious shell.

The other tectonic shift is with Felix, whose mercurial spirit makes him impossible to predict and tricky to manage. His development is as swift and his about turns as agile as a hares; going from purring delight to wailing banshee in the blink of an eye. An illicit item wrestled from his ardent grip results in screams of fury, whilst removal from the playground means a sit down protest. Forget the scorned woman; hell hath no fury like a toddler denied, and some days it seems like every word is a negative entreaty; no, stop, let it go, come back. He has entered a phase that is as complex as it is confusing, and I would be lying if I did not admit that it can be a struggle to stay in control. There are extenuating circumstances, for example the appearance of several new teeth, many of them molars. For anyone blissfully unaware of tooth pain, google an image of a teething toddlers skull. Combined with this has been a nasty bout of gastric virus that spread like wildfire. Looking after a sickly child whilst feeling like death yourself demands the kind of selflessness I associate with nurses in war zones, and the Florence Nightingale act does not come naturally to me.

That aside, Felix is doing what is very natural and normal for a child of almost 17 months, testing boundaries. If you consider that for the first year of life you do absolutely everything for your baby; feed them, clothe them, carry them around, choose their toys, put them to bed. Suddenly they are learning to do things for themselves and the fascination of trying new things, of exploring a wider world, blinds them to all the dangers around them. Left to their own devices a toddler wouldn’t last a day; stairs, roads, knives, even more innocuous things like heavy books, doors, harmless small objects to put in your mouth and choke on…sometimes it seems like death is but a whisker away. The battles come when their natural curiosity meets your protective instincts, resulting in a fierce and sometimes frightening reaction called a tantrum. It seems the so called ‘terrible twos’ can rear their gargoyle head a lot sooner than the name suggests, leaving you speechless as your cherubic (looking) boy leaves a trail of destruction in his wake; picking up every stick and piece of litter, refusing to get into the buggy, pulling books from shelves and hurling his previously favoured food all over the kitchen. Someone once said that owning a horse is like digging a pit and throwing all your money inside; if so then owning a toddler is like throwing everything you own into a pit and having to excavate it from the mud, several times a day.

In many ways this is probably the most challenging time with Felix to date, yet I feel we are poised on the brink of a breakthrough. A comet poised to streak through the sky, dulling everything around with its brightness. His vocabulary is developing and bona fide communication is around the corner. He is like a fabulous and untamed wild beast, eating placidly from your hand one day, trying to bite it off the next. And yet there is a gleam in his eye that speaks of real understanding, and a wicked sense of humour is making its presence increasingly felt. He has started to invent his own games and jokes in which he takes immense and contagious pleasure, including a kind of prototype hide and seek that we call ‘Where’s Felix?’ He is what people call a spirited child, and with that comes both pleasure and pain. At times I have wished for a quieter, more patient child, one who could sit and play with a toy for more than two minutes without wanting to zoom off in pursuit of the cat or to steal a boot from the hall or start trying to swing the door back and forth on its hinges. But then as I watch him jigging frantically to Buddy Holly, his current obsession, taking sneaky sips of water from the bathtub, or crying out with heartfelt love ‘baaaa’ as a big red bus whizzes by, I realize that he is already a person of fervent passions. No meek and mild child for us, I’ll take the tiger any day.