Saturday, October 4, 2008

When Mum's a bad influence

There's no doubting it any more: it's not good for Mum to be around our son.

All right, even if we're exaggerating for dramatic effect, this might sound like a sacrilegious sentiment to voice, unless talking about deadbeat parent-types who soak themselves in alcohol each night or abuse their children. Mum, it need not be said, does not fall into this category. But we've noticed that Sonny, who is roughly a fortnight short of being six months old, becomes distinctly harder to handle once she floats into the picture.

Just today, for instance, Sonny was sitting placidly in the tub being washed by Pa. He was pensive, contemplating his toes and how the soapy bubbles obscured different toes in turn (well, this is what you might call a creative reconstruction of the little fella's thoughts). Then Mum darkened the doorway. "How is it that he's always thrashing about whenever I bathe him, but so quiet now?" she said a tad too loudly. Sonny perked up and promptly began to kick at the water, sending spray over the side of the tub (and onto Pa's clothes). Sensing a hostile glare, Mum scuttled off - and Sonny subsided to his customary calm.

Now, you might say this account is unfair to Mum, as Sonny was probably just expressing joy at her presence. Or perhaps it was mere coincidence, you whine, that she was in the room when the young 'un got frisky. Sadly, however, there's a definite pattern that can be discerned: Whether it's an increased propensity to suck at his thumb (and toes) or a tendency to bawl in hopes of eliciting sympathy, Sonny is likelier to misbehave when Mum is present.

On, then, to the 'his/her' preferred explanation segment. Mum's is that Pa is what you might call, to use technical language, a wicked monster who barks at Sonny in such threatening tones that the poor mite is too terrified in his presence to utter much more than a peep. Pa suggests that Mum is indulging Sonny, fuelling a childish cunning that already knows how best to draw fawning attention from susceptible adults. In grander terms, then, one might even see here opposing worldviews: Pa's a darker vision in which we must perpetually avoid being taken advantage of, set against Mum's willingness to embrace a lovey-dovier, everyone's-an-angel universe.

Of course, there's nothing earth-shattering about the situation. Children have been trying to play one parent off against the other since time immemorial. We'll just make sure we firm up a common front in time for when his demands accelerate. As they surely will.