gaming the system

Terrible twos. A horrible throwaway term that encompasses a great many emotional developments. A shorthand between parents maybe, but still it stands in for something individual and a lot more complex.

A couple of the most recent Machiavellian flourishes that little Jtown has mastered in the last couple of weeks:

Playing hide and seek and, because I’m a pro, he goes looking for me for a little while. I watch as he runs into the living room, peers around the usual places (like I said, professional) and then calls out ‘Daddy! You my best friend”. I die a little in silence, long enough to see him turn around a look for movement before trying it in another room, bating me to react.

Or more recently, Nico was giving Jackson a time-out. Pretty upset by the ordeal he brilliantly found a way to distract her from the process and asked “You love me?” and then cuddled her when she said yes. Now maybe he was just looking for assurance while being told off, I wasn’t even there – but I can imagine his demonic smile over her shoulder as she comforts him.



Went paintballing tother day and suffered no bruises, just exhaustion from my severe lack of fitness. This left me stiff for a couple of days, my thighs (quads?) tight and burning. Home with the boy I tried as best I could to play and wrestle like normal – but even getting to the ground I had to moan out loud.

‘What’s wrong Daddy?’

I told him that my leg hurt. He upped and moved over to me and kissed my leg in an attempt to heal it, a remedy we have prescribed him on occasion that actually works really well. Now who am I to disprove this treatment? I was then forced to pretend I was better, purely to keep the magic of kissing better, grimacing as I do myself damage. The lovely bastard.


I had never really noticed how many toy cars are installed in shopping centres until now. The ones that cost a pound for two minutes of gentle oscillation, whilst spouting some tinny catchphrases of the character its themed around. The kind that you find on piers, in supermarkets and arcades. They’re everywhere, aiming to both stimulate and pacify – to pacify by stimulating. I haven’t quite worked them out yet, but the boy has sussed them.

A fruit machine for toddlers they have flashing lights and buttons that will loop a demo in extremely short intervals, aiming to hook a near-by child and then frustrate them by being unresponsive until you cough up some change. Well little Jtown is unperturbed by this, he will b-line for the car, climb inside and press buttons multiple times and in different combinations until the demo plays. He will make some association between his actions and the result, creating some superstitious ritual like one of PT Barnam’s pigeons.



So nimble fingered is the child now that he can stow things away in his pockets. Up until this point, the pockets on his trousers were akin to the belly button on Adam – purely aesthetic, to make him blend in with the rest of us, to pretend he’s just like the rest of us. And now he is: collecting things he doesn’t need.


Fast approaching two years of age (24 months in parentspeak) we received a form that allows the men in white coats to track the boy’s development. Of course we treated the questionnaire competitively and were almost gloating when he would over-achieve a particular goal.

Can he name 4 parts of his body?

Four?! Hows about: shoulder, elbow, eyebrow and thigh. Do one bell curve.

Then of course we were met by some that he hadn’t quite achieved, or we hadn’t even thought to put in practice. And these were, as it turns out, quite huge – maybe even fundamental developments.

Does he refer to himself as I/Me?

Shit. We’ve raised a psychopath. Or a guru – referring to himself in third person like our own little Mike Tyson.

Mulling this over these last few weeks it seems to be a lot more complex than I first thought. How do you teach someone perspective without your own interfering. You refer to yourself as ‘I/me’, and somehow he is supposed to pick up on the fact that he should refer to you as ‘you’ and himself as ‘I/me’. It’s baffling really. I don’t know I manage, let alone teach it on.

I realise more and more the linguistic tricks I take for advantage. The synonyms, homonyms and word games of everyday. Somehow the little one has picked up on the fact that people share names, a la Nanny and Grandad. And I’m certain that he understands both two and too (meaning ‘as well’). He has a fluidity in language and isn’t hung up on a word meaning one thing and one thing only. His sole principle is to communicate something, not dressing it up and following grammatical rules, and yet he seems to have formed an understanding of the rhythm of language that he hears from others.

At this point in time he is forming 4-5 word sentences, if the words are crucial. If he only needs two words to communicate what he wants, he will often fluff up the sentence with some gibberish – knowing that when we talk there is more going on and so offering some noise as filler. I guess that is what we do on some level.

If he were to say ‘Fly gone window’ I know exactly what he is saying. But in mimicking the manner in which we speak, he protracts the sentence unnecessarily to ‘Fly baderrrra ferrba daaferr gone window’. As if we wouldn’t pick up on the nonsense sandwiched in-between. Or maybe he’s mocking our needless waste of breath, satirising us – the little fucker.

At least I can speak in first person.

the greatest pretence

Being a parent has thrown me through a number of existentialist ponderings.

All it takes is to recognise a small gesture or expression in the little one to make me realise that parts of my personality are merely biological quirks. I see the science-fiction philosophies of clones and time-travel bubble up in this version of me. Blended with another variable (she prefers Nicole) and placed into different circumstances, I realise that as much as I like to think that I am the thoughts behind my eyes, I am the product of my genetic make-up, and by extension so are these thoughts. From this crumbling perspective I watch as this 2ft replicant finds his own voice – both literally and figuratively.

I got to a point a couple of years ago when I started taking life seriously, acting more serious, pulling the appropriate serious faces and everything else it tells you in the pamphlet. I’m handed a child by fate (she prefers Nicole) and am expected to impart what little I think I know into this human child.

Hurled into the deep end and held under for a few seconds just so I know whose boss, I kick into gear and generate enough power to keep afloat. And then remembering I’m a legal guardian I kick a little harder for the extra weight and pretend I know what I’m doing – which from a distance can look like lot like flailing. Aerobic drowning maybe.

But that’s one lesson you pick up pretty early – everyone is pretending. As I heard one mother put it recently ‘life is the greatest pretence’. You pretend until you get a steadyfooting, before you`re hopscotching your way to the next thing, off balance but straightfaced and faking confidence until it becomes real confidence. The two actually aren’t that far apart.

Up until this point I had liked to think myself lucky for the temperament and general charm of the little one. Although quietly and in the privacy of my own mind I’m sure I put it down to a natural flair for parenting. Well that’s being tested now and I’m fast blaming the generic biological functions that all babies go through rather than my own shortcomings. Still, I’m not going to use the responsibility-relieving mantra ‘terrible twos’ – but it does seem awful convenientlike that on the brink of turning two he has started to test his boundaries and punch his keyworkers.

Now is the point where we impose boundaries and the proper way to be. Whilst I’m still naively challenging the status quo and questioning the system, I’m having to teach that self same system and impose it’s rules and regulations. It’s quite baffling really. I celebrate the little clone’s lack of inhibition and yet impinge on it with indoor voices and sensible attire. And who am I to say that his keyworker wasn’t asking for it.


So the little one has come a long way. I’m just trying to catch up now.

He finally has some teeth that he can use in conjunction with each other. He makes sounds that closely resemble ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ though they often veer off and are aimed at things that are certainly not us. He can wave, on occasion, mimic certain noises, crawl at high speeds, ‘cruises’ along furniture and feels the need to constantly be standing up, almost unaided.

He has full agency, which means that each day I return home the lounge has transformed a little: wires are tucked away, doors are baby-proofed, everything is higher up. He mounts, climbs, and hangs off of everything he can and so now we have to be that bit more vigilant. But you can’t be there all the time.. evidently.

Today, Jackson was sitting in his high-chair outside, on the uneven ground of the garden, when he leaned a tad too far and the whole thing tipped over. He fell, hitting his head on the ground and burst into open mouth sobs. I received a call at work from a Nicole fighting tears as she drove him to the hospital’s minor injury ward as recommended by the health visitor. His quiet sobs in the background actually reassured me that he was okay.

At my first baby party last weekend I met my first lot of parents and their children. I was able to observe, Attenborough-like, each little faction and how they operated. With some you could see the physical traits shared with their offspring. But gradually you could recognise the more complex relationships, how each parent reacted to their child and vice versa. I was a little nervous at first as I’m not au fait with baby protocol. I know that if your dog runs up and starts licking another dog-owner you trust that they will tell the dog to stop, or simply embrace and enjoy it. Does this apply to babies? Do you just let them roam about, climbing and chewing people in the hopes that they will laugh and peel them off? These are the dynamics that I need to familiarise myself with and so I became quietly observant and took a lot of mental notes.

One thing I noticed was how quick some parents were to swoop in and comfort their darlings at the first sign of discomfort. It was almost as though they pre-empted their unease, or perhaps on some level, I thought, created it – justified it. My laissez faire approach to Jackson falling over at my feet must have seemed like casual neglect as a nearby grandmother rushed to pick him up, and was stopped by me declaring him fine as he struggled to pick himself back up to carry on diving about the place.

Today I couldn’t quite get him to shake it off and get over it. I didn’t want to overreact but after some thought and persuasion I thought I should be there. When I saw him, with his bruised head and swollen eye, he started laughing, unfazed. Us humans are pretty resilient it turns out.

When I was a wee nipper myself, I had me an electric quadbike. My garden led to a back wall, and against this wall before we had a chance to plant sunflowers, the soil was left in such a way that it acted as a slope up to the vertical wall. I put my thumb down and revved up the garden, over the tile border, along the slope of soil and up the wall until the whole quad rolled backward and I split my head open on the tiles. Apparently my mother, hysterical, ran with me in her arms up and down the garden. But look at me now. Just fine, if maybe a little neglectful of my own child – but then maybe it was inherited.