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The boy’s got hard looks and he’s hard to handle | Séamas O’Reilly | Life and style

Whatever I think about my son’s variable affections for me, it makes me feel better that he can at least be demonstrably rude to other people, too. This reflection has been prompted by his reactions to being handed around. Like all parents, we began being quite careful about who we handed him to, but now

Whatever I think about my son’s variable affections for me, it makes me feel better that he can at least be demonstrably rude to other people, too. This reflection has been prompted by his reactions to being handed around. Like all parents, we began being quite careful about who we handed him to, but now we do it just for somewhere to put him. Were it socially acceptable, we’d probably rest him on the bonnet of an idling taxi if it gave us a second to grab our wallets. But, although he spent the first nine months of his life unmoved by anything less eventful than a building collapse, he’s now more discerning about who holds him, not to mention heavier, squirmier and more of a handful in every sense.

‘Oh, right, wow,’ people say as they hold him, wincing as if we’ve handed them a lorry engine. ‘Unnngh. Yep. He’s, er, really grown.’ It’s not that he’s particularly big for a toddler, of course, it’s just that since he’s not walking yet and has very fair hair, he’s something of an optical illusion; a child who bears the essence of being a baby, but without their pleasingly compact size. We try to think of it as an upgrade on the usual baby package, a little bit of extra baby for our money, the maxi-baby plan, perhaps, or Baby+. Having a toddler who can’t, well, toddle, is not without its challenges. I worry that our friends have started to dread visiting us, the way I would if every time I went round to their house I was expected to lift Gregg Wallace out of a high chair.

Then there are his moods. Though ordinarily a very even-natured child, he’s getting a bit of an attitude, so roughly one in five times he meets someone, he’ll either start crying or just slap them in the face. ‘Oh,’ my wife will say, aghast, ‘he’s just tired.’ I’d like to say I’m similarly courteous, but I’ve been known to rub it in. ‘That’s so weird,’ I’ll say. ‘I mean, seriously, this kid likes everyone.’ There are probably some reasons not to use my infant son as an emotional cudgel with which to beat my enemies, but I can’t recall any right now.

Fortunately, I don’t spend much time with people I hate but, unfortunately, this means the occasions when he does this to a deserving recipient are infrequent, so I usually find myself resenting his pleasantness to some guy I hated from four jobs ago. ‘Seriously? You like this turd?’ I say to myself, telepathically willing him to be sick on their tie. And then he’s often unkind to a child with whom we’re forcing him to bond.

This new independence is good, but it’s sad that our former inducements just don’t take any more. Like when a passing train’s wi-fi shows up on your phone, our over-eagerness to make him connect ends up looking strange and strangely pathetic. ‘You can try that on with a baby,’ he seems to say, ‘but this is a Baby+ you’re talking to.’

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Susan E. Lopez
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