The minute I said we were going to the playground this morning, Fluffhead got excited. There's a new Happy Dance. It involves spinning, and waving one hand about in a large circle, and the other hand as a floppy baton. Much smiling. Jumping up and down. He did that.
He has this little friend at the playground, we tease him, 'is this your girlfriend?'. His little girlfriend, aka Princess, is Sicilian. She's almost 2, and she has the smallest skinniest sinuous little form, and the largest deepest brown eyes. She has a very serious little face. She is a very climby girl, all over everything like a lizard. I think she's gorgeous. Her smiles are so cute. The way she speaks in a mix of English and Italian is gorgeous. Water is 'aqua', and its always 'ciao' at hometime. Fluffhead still doesn't speak hardly, he communicates with her by smiling and taking her hand. She usually shakes him off then takes it herself - she must lead HIM; its just the way she is.
When I watch them, with his Italian nanny, the ludicrously youthful looking aka Dove, who is also beautiful (the most amazing ringlets, pixie face, one of the most genuine smiles I have ever seen on anybody), we often do some gentle laughing - wondering if its a template we see of their future personalities. Will Princess always think all the toys are hers, and have to go first on the slide all the time, removing all the other children before her, with 'leave!' in Italian, and that imperious finger gesture? Will Fluffhead always be speculatively going up to children, and smiling at them, so openly, and looking over to see if its all ok, then following them off, as they lead him by the hand, gently happy to just be with company, easy?
It's not always like that with him. Sometimes, she shrugs him off, and he will seem to make a decision - you can see his moment of confusion, then stillness - to ignore her then. He'll run off to the furthest point of the playground and investigate the rubbish. There is always rubbish on the floor. I don't know if the foxes get it out at night, or whether the wind blows it all around. It looks like it has all been lunch - mother and children type lunches, and nappies, and all neatly bagged away. But then, whenever I get there, a lot of it is on the ground again. I usually spend the first 5 minutes tidying everything up, with a wrinkled nose and careful fingers, worrying about germs. I must look quite comical while I do it, all the things held out in front of me: rain drippy earth scuffed empty crisp packets. Water logged old nappies trying to reopen and shed wipes. Endless small containers of juice, or sandwiches, trampled and a bit bitten looking, but you can tell they haven't been there for long. The playground is up on a hill, so maybe its both: wind and foxes.
So he runs off to play with the rubbish with his foot, until I catch up to him and we tidy it, or I just repeatedly say 'dirty!' sounding nine shades of rather thick to hear myself, until he drops it. He'll examine the flowers at the far end, dandelions, or buttercups. He likes looking at plants and flowers. Or he'll want to climb up on the boundary wall's ledge and hold my hand while he walks round and round it. Usually at this stage, Princess decides he's being interesting again, and wants to come up too. I would not go as far as to say, he ignored her, so he became interesting (after being straightforward and friendly didn't work), so she wants to play with him now. I don't think there is anything that calculating about either of them yet. But to a grown up's eyes, it does look remarkably like that. Which lowers my spirits. I've always been crap at games of that sort, so has Fry. I hope Fluffhead will be crap at them too. Straightforwardness - and if necessary, the corresponding rejection, is ...painful, but honest and clear.
Anyway. Today Dove was a bit late, and I got cold waiting. Looking out at all the surrounding green - its a lovely spot for the playground: sloping green for dogs to run all about, and 2 other playgroundy bits above and below (one for younger children who want to climb and swarm a lot along ropes and tyres very near the ground; and one for more nearly teen children, where everything is bigger and higher). Off in the distance are 2 tennis courts, where I have never seen an actual game going on (I think I come too early in the day) - I always see a lone 40ish year old man, his belly flopping out of his navy blue tracksuit bottoms as he practices his serve, over and over. He must feel a little self conscious somewhere in his head, as though he never looks round, he is always pulling down his matching top to cover flesh. I am always wondering why he doesn't get some bigger clothes, that fit him better.
The sky was in that silvery state where its very bright and may rain, but may not. The air was chill. I kept blowing out to see the frosty puffs. Fluffhead had already fallen on the way here, and grazed both his knees, so whilst he was running carefully, he was at least looking where he was going, which was an improvement on usually. A little blond boy came with his father. I said 'hi'. The father nodded. Is it only the English that don't really relate, even in situations that are quite probably meant to be social? The child ran over to me, and I said 'hi' to him too, but I think my sunglasses freaked him out. He backed away. Fluffhead ran up to him and smiled, and the boy - who looked of similar age - backed away more, and ran back to his father, a look of uncertainty on his face. '....shy,' I heard the father say, before picking up his son and carrying him over to the slide.
Finally Dove and Princess arrived. Dove and I have taken to each other in a strange and quick way. Almost like when I met Time Traveller and we just started talking and carried on, and months later, there we still are, quite naturally. This was similar. I just started to talk to Dove, who I kept seeing around town - she was always just coming back from taking Princess to see the trains at the station (what is it with the children and trains - none seem immune from the noise, the speed, the blurry flash) when I was just going. Nodding became a sort of embarrassed giggling - 'here you are again!'. One day she asked me directions to somewhere I didn't know, in English she thinks isn't very good, but is in fact much more precise than lots of English people. One day we arranged to go and see the trains together with the children; it didn't quite happen, so we texted, and the playground was agreed on instead. I hadn't been to there before. It's clear over the other side of town and takes me 35 minutes to walk there.
The first time I saw it I had one of those perfection moments. All that green that had been hidden, suddenly there, splayed out - it was like walking into a bowl on its side. Fluffhead took off and ran shrieking through the grass. Princess, more haltingly, but picking up speed and confidence as she does, took off after. Fluffhead ran for joy of running and being off the reins. Dove and I hung back and talked of the children. Just because it isn't her child doesn't mean she isn't as conscientious as a mother. I thought she was as paranoid in concern for Princess as I am with Fluffhead - she has that 'but she is in my care, my responsibility' furrowed brow. She was a damn good choice as nanny. She takes it seriously, she watches all the time; she worries for Princess's development. If I ever had to employ anyone to be me for Fluffhead - she's my choice. (Why can't I win the Lottery? I joked with Dove that, today - I would take her home and she could help with Fluffhead, and I could have company; and she could have a proper contract, and a bloody good wage. Dove's working conditions are a bit like a cliche of nannie's bad working conditions. Her good nature is rather taken advantage of.)
So they arrived, and Fluffhead squirmed to be let out of the swing, where I had been soporifically pushing him back and forth singing 'row row row your boat' quite softly, which seems to send him into a trance. He ran over to Princess, doing a variation of the Happy Dance. She acknowledged him, but what was in her eyes was 'oh its you' and a sort of 'hmm', before she ran off to do something else. I felt stung on Fluffhead's behalf. But distracted him, and he ran off to the slide to progress with climbing. Dove and I chatted. We swapped worries (she had had some unasked for advice about her life that made her feel sad; I had a similar incident about Fluffhead, that smarted in just the same way).
We watched, as further down the playground, Fluffhead ran back up to Princess and repeatedly, very gently, tried to take her hand, as they had done on numerous occasions over the summer. She kept squirming away. He followed her anyhow and they climbed together, she commanding she go first, and he with bemused but happy smile, letting her after a checking look at me. Later, they discovered some chalk on the ground, and Fluffhead does as he tends to at home - laid himself full down on the ground to draw with it. She came over to see what he was doing, and he got up and gave her some. Smiling over at me, his expression clearly saying 'oh she wants to play now!', a joyful smile. They drew for a bit. Then we had to go.
I watched his little head in the pushchair as we went home. I had washed out his mouth from where he tried to eat the chalk, though I am convinced there is still some grit there. He was eating sweetcorn rings and drinking water. I asked him if he had had a nice time, out in the air, out with Dove, seeing Princess. He nodded enthusiastically. Perhaps he has forgotten, I thought.
I felt a niggly feeling. Perhaps to do with something Dove had confided that leads me to beleive she won't be here for much longer; I make a friend, and away she will fly. It seems to be the way. I will miss her a lot; just when I had a good companion for going out with the children, someone I really like. She has an innocence and an openness that you don't see much at all anywhere. An honesty. She's very real, and thoughtful. But also, I think, niggled niggled niggled, there is something else.
Later, back at home, I tried to rest while Fluffhead slept. I couldn't sleep. Suddenly, I sat up, and cried, hard, for a full 5 minutes, feeling broken. The image that popped into my head was Fluffhead reaching out, repeatedly, with his little smile, his face so open, so genuine. His hand constantly trying to curl around Princesses smaller one. Her rough shaking of him off. Her little haughty face. The way he put his head down on his shoulder, and then tensed his shoulder up and held his arm round himself, as if giving himself a hug. He swings away from her, his face looking confused. He runs off alone. I just keep seeing it. The only way to stop and calm it was to come here and write this.
Such a small thing. And it really broke my heart. It is times like these, that I truly truly hate being a mother. I hate feeling so utterly emotionally bound up with someone else's experiences. I hate the way I needed a nap and didn't get one. I hate the way I worry that he will continue to be so sweet and friendly and children just won't be friendly back. I hate wanting to hug him so much about it, but not wanting to make a fuss, because all this is at least partially me projecting, remembering a lonely school life, a bullied school life, remembering rebuttals. I don't want to give him my crap, so I won't over comfort him, when he seems to have gotten over it. But how would I know? He doesn't talk yet, and how do we know what they think? I hate the way I will never know if I am doing the right thing by him. I hate the worry.