I can’t say I went into motherhood with much enthusiasm. It was one of those things I thought we might get round to at some undetermined point in the future which we approached with trepidation. Some kindly folk, brimming with enthusiastic benevolence, would like to pat my pregnant tummy and ask me what I hoped for, “A kitten, or a puppy, would be nice,” was my usual quip.
He was born 3 weeks overdue, more accurately, extracted at that time. It was thought that my continual denial and his tardiness had stretched the accepted limits of medical caution far enough. While they stitched my abdomen back together we were offered the distraction of a tiny child to admire. An overwhelming swoon that ‘love at first sight’ brings hit me like a brick. He looked too beautiful to be anything other than a borrowed baby whose gorgeous ‘real’ mother would be along to collect at any time. Surely this ‘gift’ couldn’t be mine?
We gave him an explorer’s name, Mungo, it means ‘friendly and affable’ and was a nod to my distant Scottish ancestry and my haggis eating tendency. Babies, let’s face it, are generally pretty similar looking. I can’t tell baby photos of my younger two apart, but Mungo was exquisitely formed. He was only 6 ½ pounds with a head of dark hair, eyelashes like Bambi, rosebud lips and skin softer than anything I’ve ever known. It wasn’t only his parents that were in awe, there was a stream of midwives and medical staff at the Royal Cornwall Hospital who asked us if they could come and take a look. For my brief stay I felt like the parent of a celebrity.
Thirteen years on, I’ve found myself genuinely appreciative of how this child has mellowed me. While my son’s features were being assessed during his first post-natal check, I remember this powerful surge of maternal aggression, “There’s nothing wrong with him,” I said. I was emphatic, “He’s fine”. Not knowing at the time that ‘FLK’ had been jotted on his birth notes. Word sounds don’t form easily on Mungo’s lips but we can admire people’s ‘shoes’, and indulge in the pure pleasure of saying other single words, like ‘Marmite’ and ‘pie’ which he can utter with clarity. It’s a lucky thing that my Funny Looking Kid’s easy, affable nature makes him endearing and engenders goodwill from everyone he meets.
Mungo has no diagnosis, just a vague label: General Global Developmental Delay. It tells us nothing. Except that ambitious parental hopes feel hollow. With hindsight we might have just as easily have called him ‘Murray’, like the mint, ‘too good to hurry’.
When my second son, Alex, was born we invested in an ‘all terrain’ double buggy. I’m not sure if the places we took it were quite what the manufactures had in mind, it was certainly tested to its limits. Sensible parents don’t take children in pushchairs on cliff paths do they? With ours we bumped our precious offspring down steep inclines, narrow steps, and rocky paths. They may have incurred the odd bramble scratch or were snagged by the undergrowth but I don’t recall any squeals of complaint. We’d have to unload them and sit them on the soil or grass while we heaved this buggy over stiles and fences and reload them again on the other side. I’m rather proud of my reckless and adventurous approach, even if as adults we found the process exhausting. However, I probably gave them too many ‘adventurous’ ideas which come back to scare me now.
Milestones in human lives, like talking and walking, I now see as miraculous achievements. Although Mungo only managed his first faltering steps at two he now enjoys long, rambling hikes. Sometimes he’s unstoppable and my nails have been gnawed to bleeding discovering I’ve lost him. I rely on kind strangers who meet him on his way to apprehend him, while I run frantically to seek him out.
My children’s survival probably has more to do with prayer for protection than anything more practical. I have to walk away when I see both Alex and his younger brother, Sam, climbing trees and scaling cliffs, it makes me feel queasy just to witness and I’m terrified that Mungo, who likes to do what they do, will follow if I don’t draw him away. They net result is that one child has been over-protected and the other two are left to free-range. I’ve watched the alarm on some passers-by and tell them, “It’s alright, I used to have more children,” by ironic way of reassurance. I beg my boys to be cautious and lavish them with excessive hugs to show them just how cherished they are.
We’ve just acquired a little girl dog who’s now the focus of the family’s adoration. A good friend asked me if this wasn’t just something else I’ll keeping losing, however not being one to worry about things that might not happen I’m keen that this tiny Jack Russell will be my saviour and quickly learn to “Seek Mungo!”