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 one gallery and Friday and Saturday at another in, thus for the middle days of the week I am with Felix. On gallery days I flick gleefully through my wardrobe and construct an outfit that falls into my invented category of ‘art smart’, a butterly revelling in its own glorious colours. Oh the joy of skirts, of dresses, of bright silk scarves and actual jewellery, none of which get a look in on mummy days. I have learnt to apply makeup whilst feeding Felix his breakfast, performing a reverse striptease of getting dressed item by item whilst checking Felix is not causing irreparable damage. It is a pleasant ratio; three days at work, four at home, but it does come at a cost. Despite my newfound earnings the rental market in London is such that we are still cooped up in a one bed flat that seems smaller by the day, and at times the weight of the four walls seems to press in on me. 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.