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In praise of the quiet boy

1
My friend’s kid stands at the front of the group: arms outstretched, hips swaying, mouth open in pure joy, small feet stomping.

Rolly polly rolly poll up up up.

My son, eyes wide, watches her and the rest of the kids – he stands to the side, hip cocked in artless nonchalance. I know that he knows what to do because, alone, he will rolly polly with me until my arms ache. He will also sing, shout, blow bubbles, count the zooms to the moon, deliver outstanding elephant trumpets, and twinkle his little star until my heart bursts.

But in front of

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others: never, never, never.

His eyes will become huge and molten and he will kink his head to the side, like some sort of geisha, and lay it on my shoulder as I’m left doing my zooms to the moon alone, to the pity of my audience.

This is foreign ground for me. I am the little girl with her arms outstretched at the front of the class. My husband and I have chosen careers that put us at the centre of our stages. We throw ‘the more the merrier’ parties and dinners where you have to battle over the din to be heard. Our friends are the same:

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chosen for their energy and thirst for life and fun, friendships sealed by being the last ones left as dawn rises.

And behind it all, the background panicked hum of FOMO.

So when this little being was passed to me from between my legs and I heaved him onto my chest, soundlessly, two large saucer eyes blinking into the bright medical light, my first surprise was how wise he already looked.

After he was born, my packed hum began again. I was determined not to let the gruesome aftermath of childbirth and a new born allow people to forget me: I was

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BACK. I took him to a fashion show in a sling hidden under my coat when he was five weeks old. He slept through the whole thing. I took him to restaurants, to concerts, on planes, to the ballet. I was determined not to slow down. I had dreams of his Oscar, his Pulitzer prize, his gold medal – this calm, fearless child who was genetically predisposed to the spotlight.

I waited for the showman, with his arms outstretched. But he never turned up.

Instead, when my son goes into a group he will stand completely still, slightly off to the side. He

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doesn’t wrap himself around my legs, or ask to be picked up. He is not nervous, I have come to realise. He is just watching, absorbing. His saucer eyes soak it in. He will skirt around the edges, once or twice, before unobtrusively sliding to sit on the floor and will single someone out to play with him. When the sleeping bunnies are hop, hop, hopping he watches, entranced, and completely still. Whilst other children push and shove to get to the bubbles overhead, he stands still, finger pointing, eyes shining with joy as he looks at me as if to say,
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‘isn’t that just beautiful’ as the bubble floats, unpopped past his nose and toes and rests on the floor before its final explosion.

I always thought, had always understood, that our role as parents was to teach, to guide, to instruct. To give them unconditional love and safety and support.

I had never imagined for a minute that my my son would teach me.

By holding a mirror up to my noise, my desire to be at the front, and to credit only those who were the same, he has show me how exhausting and limited this is. He has taught me what it is

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to quietly observe, and understand. How you notice the other people in the room, overshadowed by the shovers and bubble poppers. He has taught me true gentleness and calmness and softness.

It has taken me a long time to understand it, but now I am a convert: all hail the quiet boy.

SelfishMother.com
Sarah Langford

By

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- 29 Feb 16

My friend’s kid stands at the front of the group: arms outstretched, hips swaying, mouth open in pure joy, small feet stomping.

Rolly polly rolly poll up up up.

My son, eyes wide, watches her and the rest of the kids – he stands to the side, hip cocked in artless nonchalance. I know that he knows what to do because, alone, he will rolly polly with me until my arms ache. He will also sing, shout, blow bubbles, count the zooms to the moon, deliver outstanding elephant trumpets, and twinkle his little star until my heart bursts.

But in front of others: never, never, never.

His eyes will become huge and molten and he will kink his head to the side, like some sort of geisha, and lay it on my shoulder as I’m left doing my zooms to the moon alone, to the pity of my audience.

This is foreign ground for me. I am the little girl with her arms outstretched at the front of the class. My husband and I have chosen careers that put us at the centre of our stages. We throw ‘the more the merrier’ parties and dinners where you have to battle over the din to be heard. Our friends are the same: chosen for their energy and thirst for life and fun, friendships sealed by being the last ones left as dawn rises.

And behind it all, the background panicked hum of FOMO.

So when this little being was passed to me from between my legs and I heaved him onto my chest, soundlessly, two large saucer eyes blinking into the bright medical light, my first surprise was how wise he already looked.

After he was born, my packed hum began again. I was determined not to let the gruesome aftermath of childbirth and a new born allow people to forget me: I was BACK. I took him to a fashion show in a sling hidden under my coat when he was five weeks old. He slept through the whole thing. I took him to restaurants, to concerts, on planes, to the ballet. I was determined not to slow down. I had dreams of his Oscar, his Pulitzer prize, his gold medal – this calm, fearless child who was genetically predisposed to the spotlight.

I waited for the showman, with his arms outstretched. But he never turned up.

Instead, when my son goes into a group he will stand completely still, slightly off to the side. He doesn’t wrap himself around my legs, or ask to be picked up. He is not nervous, I have come to realise. He is just watching, absorbing. His saucer eyes soak it in. He will skirt around the edges, once or twice, before unobtrusively sliding to sit on the floor and will single someone out to play with him. When the sleeping bunnies are hop, hop, hopping he watches, entranced, and completely still. Whilst other children push and shove to get to the bubbles overhead, he stands still, finger pointing, eyes shining with joy as he looks at me as if to say, ‘isn’t that just beautiful’ as the bubble floats, unpopped past his nose and toes and rests on the floor before its final explosion.

I always thought, had always understood, that our role as parents was to teach, to guide, to instruct. To give them unconditional love and safety and support.

I had never imagined for a minute that my my son would teach me.

By holding a mirror up to my noise, my desire to be at the front, and to credit only those who were the same, he has show me how exhausting and limited this is. He has taught me what it is to quietly observe, and understand. How you notice the other people in the room, overshadowed by the shovers and bubble poppers. He has taught me true gentleness and calmness and softness.

It has taken me a long time to understand it, but now I am a convert: all hail the quiet boy.

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Sarah Langford

I used to work as a Barrister but nowadays am judged mainly by my two small boys. We shuttle between London and Suffolk. 'In Your Defence' is published by Transworld on 28th June 2018 and available here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Your-Defence-Stories-Life-Law/dp/085752528X https://www.amazon.co.uk/Your-Defence-Stories-Life-Law/dp/085752528X/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1524691844&sr=1-1

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