I’ve left him for less than a minute, but I come in to find Teddy out of his high chair and squatting on the table.
His cereal bowl is upside down and the leftover milk is puddling around his bare feet.
He’s wearing a codpiece nappy, groaning with wee, that has popped the buttons on his vest open and forced its way out into the open air. It’s dangling so low between his legs that he looks like a male baboon.
And his bed hair, always spectacular, is better than usual this morning: he looks like he’s poked his finger in a plug socket, which would definitely have been the next thing he’d have tried if he’d managed to get down from the table.
He’s got a bad cold. Overnight his face has been lacquered with snot that has dried and smeared and dried again. There’s a fresh slug of it now, glistening cheerfully in front of his left ear.
He looks up as I come in. I sit down in front of him. ‘What are you doing, Teddy?’
He beams, because he has never had a better morning than this, because at twenty months every good minute is the best one so far. ‘Down? Teder — down?’ His vocabulary is increasing at a rate of knots, but he prefers consonants to vowels.
I think to myself that this must be why mothers love and love to their bones, no matter what their children do then or later. Surely I’ll look at Teddy’s face – as a boy, teenager, adult – and part of me will always know him at twenty months, sticky-haired and poking at puddles of milk around his feet. Toddlers open their heart to you because they don’t know what to do with what’s inside it. They haven’t learned yet to push their hair down or feel embarrassed about what’s on their face. And while they learn, poke things, love and struggle – this intensely vulnerable, fiery process of forging a self in front of you – there you are. Trying your damnedest to help and shape things for them, and sometimes making it harder, and sometimes not. But always there.
It’s not always comfortable and it’s rarely easy. I will never understand them completely, and that’s probably how it should be. But as my almost two-year-old holds out chubby hands and jumps off the table, milk droplets flying, codpiece swinging, abandoning himself to the air and my arms, I think:
I am here, and I see you, and you are making yourself in front of my eyes.
I feel like it’s a privilege just to be the one to bear witness.