"I really believe," said the fond father, with an indulgent smile for our small son, "that this child is beginning to learn the meaning of the word No." The cynic in me might have been heard to mutter: "Oh, yeah?" - personally
I think our Steven has a lot to learn about over-stepping the limits of acceptable behaviour.
To be fair he has been pretty busy, in the last 12 months, finding out what life is all about and I suppose
a first birthday is as good a time as any to look back on his achievements so far.
Anyone who threatened to make his debut on the approach to the M4 motorway must be expected to be a fast-moving character.
So it is with young Steven, nicknamed "The Grease" by his sisters - short, I am told, for Greased Lightning. Certainly his way of appearing like magic on any scene which strikes him as the least bit interesting has led to a remarkable change in his sisters'
There was a time, as followers of our family fortunes will know, when our living room resembled a kind of permanent disaster area, when I considered the place unnaturally tidy if there were
only a few books, a jigsaw or two, and three packets of colouring pencils littering the floor. But now there is a common warning in our house: "The Grease'll get it!" - should anyone forget for a moment the dangers of sprawling on the carpet with paper and
crayons. My daughters now conduct their out-of-school activities in a much more civilised manner on the dining room table. For that much, I am in my son's debt.
On two legs, the Grease is not such
a force to be reckoned with - but then he is still in the process of perfecting his own version of the Charle Chaplin walk. I have to admit, also, that he cannot yet be described as a brilliant conversationalist. He does a really first-class imitation of a
motor car - though the effect is somewhat spoiled by the fact that he shouts: "Brrrm - brrmmm!" after anything with wheels, from 10 ton trucks to fairy trikes, from double decker buses to our wheel-along magazine rack.
It is his progress in the more subtle lessons of life which fills me with the most admiration. For instance the way he manages to manipulate the affections of both his parents so that he is rarely out of favour with the two of us at the same time. Thus
when he has ripped the newspaper into small pieces and chewed the sports pages into soggy, unreadable balls of papier-mache, I am the one who makes excuses for him. After all he could hardly be expected to check the date-line
before taking the paper to pieces and how was he to know that his father hadn't had time to read the latest gloom-or-glory cricket report from the West Indies?
On the other hand, when I was furiously
trying to extricate tiddlywinks counters which my son had wedged between the keys of my typewriter - jamming the mechanism so effectively that it took a pair of tweezers, a long-bladed vegetable knife, and a slightly bent size 12 knitting needle to remove
the foreign bodies - it was his father who calmly offered the opinion that it was all my fault for leaving the machine out of it case as usual.
On the occasions when we present a united front
- usually in matters of safety - then his sisters are ready with their appeals for clemency - "He's only a baby, he doesn't know what he's doing!" Sisters, especially in threes, can be very useful at times.
He has learnt to listen to those people who enthuse he is "the spitting image of his father" with an air of gentle forgiveness; he has discovered, with the aid of his single male ally (his father having lived, and coped with, the problem for far longer
than he) how to survive in a household of liberated females.
Quite a list of accomplishments, all in all, but I am still not prepared to agree with my partner's optimistic notion that our determinedly
positive-minded son is learning to take no for any kind of an answer.
To convince me of that, he will have to stop,for a start, unscrewing the knobs on the sideboard, throwing bricks at the television
and terrorising the cat next door with his baby truck. He will have to stop loading his Noah's Ark animals onto the turntable of our radiogram, in a state of precarious imbalance, and giving them a whirl at slightly more than 33 reovlutions per minute.
And when, for the fourth time of asking, I say: "No, don't do that!" as he digs his spoon deep into his plate and flicks braised lamb and liver all down the front of my new, all wool, hand wash only, dry flat,
do not wring sweater, he will have to realise that it's not a screamingly hilarious game, it's not even particularly funny and that, anyway, spoil-sport as I am, I'm just not playing.
only then, will I concede that he may have got the message contained in that most simple of negatives. In the probably lengthy meantime, a positively happy first birthday, dear Steven, to you.
Evening Mail: February 1974