THE PROPER CARE OF LITTLE KIDS

The next post will be on or before Sunday 15th April. If you want to read my new comic novel about online dating, The Lawless Book of Love, please go to the January and February 2018 archive, see well below and to the right

THE PROPER CARE OF LITTLE KIDS

Things are looking up. Twice in 2 consecutive days no less, I have had a small Greek child looking at me with what I can only describe as rapt adoration, as if in fact I am the most wonderful thing they have ever seen. Needless to say this does restorative things for the ego, as previously it has only ever happened with my cats and is no doubt inseparable from the fact I feed them twice a day and only rarely shout at them, as for example when they get under my feet and regularly send me hurtling painfully to the ground. It also puts me in mind of something illuminating I read years back in The Guardian UK newspaper, where a young father while ruefully admitting how much work it was looking after little kids, said that they were the only people ever to cheer as he walked through the door. The most flattering construction I can put on these toddlers’ reverence is that in their unerring simplicity they discern some sort of immaterial aura peculiar to an ageing writer who might just be in touch with a sensitivity stemming from his own remote childhood… the far more likely alternative being they somehow divine that now that I am past 2/3 of a 100, meaning aged 67, I am fascinatingly entering a second infancy, and have so to speak joined their particular if non-exclusive club.

My first fan was a little boy of about 2 and no more, who was there on the boat I had taken from mainland Lavrio. He was in the excellent care of his older sister, a handsome and smiling fair-haired girl of about 9, who had either been deputised by the parents, a relaxed and likeable couple in their late 20s sat chatting with their friends, or more likely the girl had happily chosen the task. She was clearly enjoying looking after her surprisingly stylish young sibling who had a markedly modish hairdo for a 2-year-old, shaved carefully at the back and tapering impressively up towards the front, so that he looked like a miniature version of a retro pop star. This little groover stopped in his tracks when he saw me sat on my own on the long leather seat and beamed adoringly at me as he clutched the hand of his sister. She looked on amused as he continued to gaze his unfeigned reverence and I winked and grinned at him and asked him how he was in Greek. At no point did she let go of his hand, and occasionally if her brother dawdled and wanted to dart off, she lifted him up and moved him on, whereupon he made a minimal more or less token protest. The point worth stressing is that little boy for the whole of the 3 hour journey was never out of anyone’s protective sight, and whenever he was in transit his hand nearly always firmly held, as for example when his mother took over once or twice and led him to the cafeteria or the toilets.

The next day I was sat among the canopied outside tables of a café in Kythnos, reading a magazine and drinking some very nice white wine. I was the only person there, but there was a young Greek family sat under the adjacent café’s canopy, comprising a bearded dad, a fashionably dressed mum, both aged about thirty, 2 pretty little daughters of perhaps 5 and 3, and an older woman who was doubtless one of their grandmas. They weren’t Kythniots but visitors, and the thing worth noting is that the older child rarely left the side of the adults drinking coffee and chatting, whilst the younger one was restless, just possibly on account of getting less attention than her sister who was also not impossibly the parental and grandmotherly favourite. As a result, the little girl would keep darting between the 2 cafes by way of the main road to the harbour, down which traffic including big lorries would sporadically zoom. She kept darting into the café where I sat, as she was clearly struck by the sight of me seated picturesquely on my own, so much so that she came right up to me and stared with an absolute innocent candour in my face.

She was a very beautiful little girl with fine and rather serious brown eyes and a sizeable amount of dried snot on her upper lip. She gazed at me entranced, murmured something unrecognisable then offered me a sweet from a little plastic container she was clutching. I refused politely but asked her how she was in Greek and told her I liked her shoes which were smart little pink trainers. She remained there fearlessly scrutinising me a long while and then as impulsively darted off and back to her family. She did this perhaps a dozen times over half an hour until I had left the café, and her progress towards me via the busy road was more or less unmonitored and unobserved, aside from 3 occasions when her Dad stood up to lecture her rather peevishly about the dangers of cars and her seated grandmother ditto though just the once. This struck me as spectacularly inappropriate as being only 3 years old it might well have been urgent to warn her about motor cars, but far more important was that at least one of the adults should either insist she stay put with them or should businesslike get off their backside and follow her about as she darted.  Meanwhile as I glanced at them in the adjacent café, I noted that not once in all her dozen visits were they watching their little daughter chatting to me with her tiny face a few inches from the male stranger, and obvious foreigner. On that basis for all they knew she could easily have got as far as the ferry and be half way to Serifos or Santorini or the Moon…or far worse been in an accident en route.

The diagnosis of their inadequacy was all too obvious and it made their sporadic lecturing to the little girl all the more ludicrous. They were too lazy to do what anyone with any sense has to do with toddlers, which is to never let them out of their sight and never let them walk unattended on any kind of road, and certainly one a thoroughfare for lorries. That of course entails a fair amount of taxing stamina, of getting off your idle arse and giving up on a sedate unhurried coffee and chatting luxuriously to your spouse and Mum. The same dilemma was evident enough in the UK a quarter century ago when I was in charge of daughter Ione aged 3 and when all but once I never let her out of my sight, whether in the house, in a café, on a bus, or in the middle of town. Given a chance, unattended infants will pick up and eat stones or coloured glass, sample bleach, run and trip, climb and fall off a table, dart crazily among traffic. The one and only time I turned my back on Ione the toddler and pegged out some washing for all of 3 minutes, she and her little pal Katrina had raced the length of the drive and were half way to the lethal A5086, the trunk road through North Cumbria favoured by those driving in haste from e.g. Newcastle to South Scotland. I raced after them far faster than the speed of light and with bursting lungs and panting crazily I grabbed them when they were just 10 yards from potential oblivion. Countless wishful thinking parents including the Greek ones in the port café work on the basis catastrophe won’t ever happen if they fail to exercise a permanent vigilance, and thank God it rarely does. But sad to say rarely isn’t the same as never, and that little angel with the dried snot on her top lip deserved every jot and iota of selfless, in fact no, of truly immaculate parental care.

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