‘Love you, mummy,’ he said, and threw his chocolate-covered arms around that most favoured parent. It was snuggle-time – a time they both loved, chocolate arms or not.
Trudie tickled Alex’s feet, sang ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ a couple of times, and gave her son exactly what he needed and what her loving heart happily granted: time, attention, love and cuddles. And Alex spoke back to her as if she were the silliest but most adorable pet – a naughty puppy, perhaps, or a cat that had insisted on scratching the leather sofa. ‘Mummy, silly sausage,’ he gurgled. ‘Lalalala, mummy moo, mummy moo, mummy mummy mummy poo!’
It was mother/child bonding at its best. Trudie knew it. Alex knew it. But somebody else was not so sure. Trudie knew that because of the smashing sound that shocked mother and child out of their reverie. Shocked but not entirely surprised by the noise, Trudie turned and followed the eyes of her son to look towards the source of source of the smash – her husband, and Alex’s dad, Mark.
‘What’s going on?’ Trudie shouted. The vase he’d smashed against the sideboard was scattered in sharp and dangerous pieces all over the floor, and Alex had already jumped off his mum’s lap and was making his way curiously towards the mess. Trudie began to rise to retrieve the brush and dustpan, but Mark pushed her back down.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it. I’ll do it. I was just... shocked.’ Mark scratched his beard and looked down at the mess, shaking his head.
‘Shocked? Why? Nobody was doing anything wrong.’
Why could this man never talk to her about anything?
Mark said nothing, just pointed to little Alex who toddled over to his daddy with arms outstretched.
‘What’s Alex done that’s so bad? What on earth could a little boy of two years old do that was so bad? I know I’ve not done anything wrong… so it’s obvious,’ said Trudie. ‘You just can’t bear to see us happy.’
He shook his head. ‘No. No, it’s not that. It’s just… inappropriate.’
You snowflake, Trudie thought. In what way was it EVER inappropriate to hug your baby, specially if he was gurgling happily in his loving mum’s arms, as Alex had been?
Mark was just so different. So irritable. So annoying and so incredibly annoyable – and a victim of his own restrictive thoughts. Nobody could get anything right. Not ever.
He didn’t like Alex’s bedtime routine. Apparently, it was wrong to give and receive kisses and hugs between parent and child. It was also not right to hold that child’s hand in public, or to affectionately ruffle his light brown curls.
‘Why are you like this, Mark? It’s got worse every month since we got together. Is there something I should know?’
‘What do you mean?’ Mark turned his back to her.
‘Well, you know, some reason why everything about me and Alex irritates you?’ It was a question often asked and never answered, not even in part.
‘It isn’t you. It isn’t him. It’s just…’
‘Just? Just..? Come on man, look at him. He’s just a little boy. He needs his daddy to hug him sometimes. To play games. To laugh a bit. To tickle him. Why don’t you? Why can’t you?’
Mark walked back into the kitchen. Trudie glanced at their son who was transfixed by Cbeebies on the television, and made the decision that he would be safe from the broken vase for a moment.
She followed Mark and stood in the doorway, leaning against the raw, unpolished wood marked with the growth record of their home’s previous residents.
Her hand automatically went to her hip in a ridiculous representation of her own mother. ‘Well. Why can’t you? Why won’t you?’
Her husband stood, clearly shielding himself from her inquisitions with the fridge door. Nothing. Just a deep, agonised sigh.
‘Come on, Mark. Why? Please…’
The door was slammed, and for the second time that evening, Trudie jumped. ‘Mark, stop slamming, and just talk to me. Talk to me. Tell me.’
And that’s when it all came out. After all their years together. Her big, tough man. Her sheltered, physically hung-up man. Her man without positive loving feelings towards either her or their child.
Mark cried. Trudy cried. Alex rushed to comfort them, and fell, cutting his knee, just a little on the shattered vase.
‘Mummy moo,’ he cried, and his mum scooped him from the floor, placing him straight into the arms of his daddy.
‘Do it,’ she said. ‘Feel it… Be the dad you know you should be.’
Mark’s body, overtaken by tremors caused by thirty years of backed-up tears, shook and near-collapsed, but Trudy gently guided him up to the wall, supporting the weight of her two loved ones.
‘Go on,’ she said. ‘Comfort him… your past isn’t your future.’
Mark looked at his ever-patient wife and then to his beautiful son. The pair of them slid to sitting position on the floor of the kitchen, and Mark’s arms wrapped round his little boy for the first time ever. Both sobbed quietly till the sobs transformed to giggles and tickles.
‘Love you, daddy,’ said Alex. Another first.
And somehow, something was healed.