As far as journeys to work go, I’m luckier than most. For a start, I live around fifteen minutes walk away from the school in which I teach. Also, that walk happens to be across a picturesque Cathedral city, taking in a handsome market square, all overlooked by one of the tallest spires in England.
For a long while, I’ve been happy with my lot: coffee imbibed, bag slung over shoulder, a playlist lined up on the headphones; head down whatever the weather, with a brisk march in.
Two years ago, the experience was – and I choose this word carefully – ‘enhanced’ somewhat. We had chosen a nursery place for our then two-year-old son. Fortunately for me, it was en-route to work. This put rather a different complexion on the outward and return journeys.
To be fair, the mornings were often fine. At around a quarter to eight, the two of us would wend our way into the centre, beating a well-trodden path past shop fronts and a series of commuter faces that were steadily becoming familiar. I gradually became accustomed to the fact that wheeling a lively two year along the streets was forcing me, previously mute and grouchy, to engage in uncompromisingly loud dialogue that had even the most comatose office workers turning their heads:
“Look! Can you see the pigeon? Hello, Mr. Pigeon! I wonder if Mr. Pigeon has taken his little pigeons to Pigeon School?”
The Boy was content too. He’d point at people, or hum away to himself. Hell, sometimes I’d hum along with him, the strains of the theme-tune to “Mr Tumble” filling the morning air.
It was the evenings which became the killer. At the close of day, as I trod wearily up those oft-counted nursery steps towards the Penguins’ Room, I’d prepare myself for the catalogue accidents, scrapes and altercations that were about to be recounted in my direction.
The Boy’s key-worker was a very serious-faced lady called Aneta. She ruled the Penguins’ Room with a no-nonesense approach to childcare that made Supernanny look like Barney the Purple Dinosaur. Each afternoon, as she bundled the squirming, snot-encrusted boy over the childgate, I peered, with rictus grin into her unsmiling face, searching for clues of just how badly the day had gone. More often than not, my worst fears were confirmed by the accident report form being thrust under my nose :
“You sign, please.”
As I hastily scribbled my name, Aneta would enlighten with savage brevity:
“He bite another child today. Child bite him back.”
Consumed with bad-parent guilt, I’d then launch into some ludicrous monologue that merely served to portray me as saddest excuse for a parent on the face of the Earth. In the meantime, The Boy would be scampering over to the staff toilets like the creature from Alien, where he’d be in the process of dropping one of the key workers’ mobiles into the loo.
And it didn’t end there.
Departing through the nursery door, the daily refrain of “La-la! La-la!” would often kick in. La-la was (and remains to this day) The Boy’s word for ‘banana’. At this juncture, I need to make one thing clear: in my book, bananas are the food of Satan. Whether it’s the pulpy bread-like starchiness, or those disgusting stringy bits that stick like glue to your fingers, the very thought of “la-las” makes me wretch.
So, with a face registering abject disgust, I would gingerly peel back the skin of the offending article and hand it over to the lad. Around five minutes later, the banana, now half-consumed and reduced to a gag-inducing mash of blackened skin and obscene yellowness would be casually ejected over the side of the buggy onto the pavement. The Boy chose his moment well – usually whilst crossing the busiest road in town and at the furthest point possible from a litter bin. So there I would be, scraping banana off the middle of a roaring dual carriageway; only to then have to hold the offending article at arms length for five hundred yards or so, whilst pushing the buggy with the unsoiled hand.
And then the fidgeting began. Having spent a full day being highly energetic, my charge would now be the final hyper-throes of his day. This involved freeing himself, in Houdini-esque fashion, from the tight confines of his harness; before squirming around to face the opposite direction. The manoeuvre culminated in him standing upright in the buggy, facing me with a look of supreme triumph. To make matters worse, his new position changed the whole dynamic of the vehicle, its weight now being transferred to the rear – which was already leaden down with my satchel and various Tesco carriers crammed with shopping and the discarded detritus of the day. If I released any pressure from the buggy handle, it would tip back alarmingly, and the child will be ejected like a youthful James Bond from his Aston Martin.
So we had no choice but to stop. I’d take all the bags off the back, wrestling The Boy from his new position, before trying to force him back in. I was a fool to assume compliance. With superhuman strength, he would arch his back, squawking like a parakeet, his whole frame ramrod stiff as I tried to twist each writhing limb into normal position. At such times, it was not unusual to see passers-by hastily dialling Childline.
Arriving home, I was often a sweating, gibbering, wreck. A sweating, gibbering wreck that stunk of banana.
On one such occasion, with the lad already ensconced in reverse-standing position, we needed to pass through a crowded bus stop. There, sitting along the pavement in a long, row were twelve or thirteen emo / goth-types waiting for their bus, each one of them pierced like a colander and mean-looking. Keeping my head down, I took a deep breath and ploughed through the crowd regardless. I watched The Boy’s eyes stand out on stalks as he took in these strange new beings. Having passed through, I became aware of him frantically gesturing over my shoulder. I turned around to see them: thirteen teenagers grinning widely, waving back at The Boy, with looks of abject delight on their faces.
Two years on and, although the buggy has been passed on, little has changed. The lad is now almost five, but continues to bring me out of my cocoon and show the world in a more positive light. He still says “hello” to everyone we pass, and has the capacity to paint a smile on the grumpiest of faces. I’ve started doing it too now: greeting strangers with a cheery “good morning”; hailing pupils and colleagues as I walk through the school. Why don’t more people do it?
Oh- and I’ve also developed a tolerance of bananas.
The Boy remains a remarkably cheerful and resolute bundle of life who has this innate capacity to cheer people up. He also has two much older and equally lovely sisters who each dote on him.
It has been almost four years since he came into our lives through Adoption. Since that time, he has found his feet, the power of speech and, along time before either of those things, his way into all our hearts. Upon hearing about his adoption, friends often comment on what a lucky little boy he is. Our answer, which I imagine is fairly typical of adoptive parents across the land, is that we are the truly lucky ones.