Part 18: Running into One

Ancient bulbs poke and nudge softened dirt, warmed by the foundations of a first heat, buried in snow and forgotten, way back when in a prehistoric stage of life. These circles and phases are born and die, the calendar a flip book, as Frank’s development rapidly charges forward. One week he travels gingerly along the sofa arm, cautiously touching a toe towards the middle of the carpet. The next he is out the door. Unexpectedly, petals pop, colour bursts and he studies them, the sound of ticking between carroty curls, the wonder at new life, new terrain and territory.

An expanse is opening up beyond the back yard bricks, behind the fence where the squirrel dives with his stolen seeded bird-fat. A world bolted and boarded-up for over a year is gradually starting to stretch its legs as Frank steps out into new warmth and longer light. He is no longer a decimal point, a fraction of a unit. He is ONE. An incredible, thoughtful, generous, cheeky-as-fuck, funny, loving and lovable ONE. For his birthday he gets a walker (as well as a bouncy castle and a bike!) and on that same day, of course, he decides to run. To race forwards and not look back.

“It gets so much easier when they turn one!” I’ve been told. Presently we’re on damage control, on constant amber alert. Frank’s honing device for danger and peril is impeccable. He’ll find the live wire, the hand sanitiser, the sharpest object. He could be stationed on the conveyor belt at the airport, a human scanner to sniff out anything hazardous in seconds. His reach has suddenly increased tenfold with his new movement and speed. We are incessantly yelling at each other, “you got eyes on Frank?” while he’s somehow already inside the cupboard under the sink, his mecca, pulling out the stain remover. The phase where I could place him where I liked, a chunky accessory, like one of those happy, marble buddhas, is gone. We’re into another time now, and I’m not sure how it’s any easier, yet!

On Monday a sense of life as we knew it will resume. We’ll sit outside with a chilly pint, knocking shoulders in a way that we’d never have blinked at before. Plans begin to populate the diary, small spots springing up at first that turn into an overwhelming downpour. Maybe it’s time lost that we need to catch up on. Maybe we’re just out of practice. We had our settling-in days at nursery and I struggled to get to a place where other humans were for nine AM on three consecutive days. I quickly realised everything I own is worn out and baby stained, that I haven’t dressed properly since pre-pregnancy. We are a nation of yetis, gagging for chops and trims, attempting to navigate the anxious pitfalls of renewed social interaction. But a boost in temperature and blue-sky fuels the mood upwards. We brace ourselves, whilst daring to get excited. It’s all going to be okay.

Luckily, Frank doesn’t take his cues from me and at nursery he is off, exploring and climbing, becoming stuck on the wooden bridge and having to be rescued within the first twenty minutes. He brushes it away and staggers off again, like daddy after he’s been on the rum and cokes, wobbling and babbling, picking up a toy and exclaiming “oh wow!” to himself and the room at large. “Dad dad dad dad,” picks up another fascinating object, turns it over in his hands, “oh wow!!” “Nanna nan nan nanna. Etc. etc.” They’re all pissed-up little humans, knocking and stumbling into one another, spouting off incoherent gibberish, trying to share but in their enthusiasm inadvertently pushing or poking each other, leading to the breakout of mini brawls. It’s Maidstone (insert any home counties town) on a Saturday night. Brilliantly entertaining.

At meal and snack times the smalls are herded towards a miniature table with tiny, teeny chairs where they all sit around as if about to enjoy a civilised dinner at a restaurant. “Banana!” Frank shouts, as whenever he’s hungry or sense there’s food that’s the thing to say. While I was there, he gleefully wolfed down his snack but since I’ve been gone he refuses to eat at nursery, unless it’s apple or yoghurt. He turns away, putting one hand up and it’s clear from the level of sass that this is a non-negotiable situation, for the moment at least.

He cries when I leave but I’m told he settles relatively quickly and, considering his first year of life, it’s been a pretty smooth transition all in all. It’s early days and we both have a lot to get used to, but they know how to distract him with the electronic drums, the shape sorters, the real-life bunny rabbit they just bought. And I distract myself with takeout cappuccino and a pastry on my route home, music to fill the eerily quiet house, productive hours at work and being able to go for a piss undisturbed. And just like that we’ve entered another phase, we’re into another cycle, the stages of crawling and leg rolls and cosy lockdown days and never getting a minute’s peace just fade into memory.

For ages now Frank has communicated very clearly the important things, like when we put on a drum and bass track, he’ll grin like a manic and jab one finger in the air, the international sign for “banger!” If the music is not to his liking, he’ll put up his finger but without the smile and then move his hand back and forth in front of him which signals “No”, or “I’m done” if he’s eating. (It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.) Now, even after just two days of nursery, we’ve vaulted forwards in understanding again, another leap in time and conversation. It’s morning and he’s on our bed, “wake up daddy,” I tell him, to which he moves his hand back and forth to say “No,” (obviously this is very annoying for me as I think they are probably in secret cahoots.) Then he makes the sound of eating. “Breakfast?” I ask and he points downstairs. “Banana!” he shouts and grins at me with those big sparkling eyes and I think, how did this happen?! Where did my baby go?!