They weren’t for me. Now that 19-month-old Benedict has been walking for six weeks, it was high time he got a new pair of sandals to keep his feet cool this summer.
There’s no stopping him now. It’s as if his tiny legs have an in-built wind-up mechanism: set him on his feet, and off he goes.
That time I walked to the shoe shop with Ben in a harness, he sauntered as if he owned the pavement. Even so, I had to go super – s – l – o – w: however quick and confident he was, his strides were nevertheless quarter the length of mine.
Of course, the big, reality-grey, blustery world had opened up, and he had to explore it. Even if it meant poking or pointing at every single pebble, daisy, stationary car and fence en route. By the time we got to the shop, I was relieved it was only 10 minutes’ adult walk from the bus stop.
Ben stands straight these days, just like a proper grown-up. It wasn’t that long ago, you know, when he was a compliant newborn curling up in sleep. You’d unravel his minute fingers and bring them together in a quiet clapping motion, while he lay in repose before you, his translucent eyelids fusing him to feather-light dreamland.
‘Gosh,’ she exclaimed, ‘how can one baby talk so much?’ Ben’s speech and language development, it seems, was far more advanced than most children his age – the discovery of which gave me much pleasure, knowing that my own focus on clear communication was rubbing off on my children.
Ben knows about 35 signs, and it’s growing all the time. They’re not always obvious, those signs, but being a parent tuned into her own child, I’ve learnt to identify them. He develops sign and speech at a concurrent speed, although not necessarily the same words in both. ‘Woo-woo, woo-woo, woo-woo-woo-woo,’ he’d say, leaving out the ‘f’ while pointing excitedly at a canine he’d spotted on the street with one hand and simultaneously signing ‘dog’ with the other.
He learnt to say ‘apple’ without signing in two easy steps, while bizarrely, his first sign was ‘washing machine’, thanks to him being a hearing child. (Laundry being one of the most frequent chores in my household, naturally Ben has perfected it to a slow-mo pace, a bit like The Matrix‘s Neo doing a martial-arts move.)
People often comment on how little Ben cries. Some say it’s to do with being part of a single-parent household having to make time for an older disabled sibling. I like to think he’s also more relaxed about getting my attention, knowing that all he has to do is tap me on the arm and point to the object that he wants with an expectant face. From the way local hearing mums sigh and melt when I tell them, this gesture has to be typical only among children of deaf parents.
Ben’s facial and body expressions are becoming more sophisticated too. He often gives a piano-tinkle laugh whenever playing blinking games with me – those luxurious eyelashes place him in direct competition with Isobel’s – and in one shop, he was picking up various pieces of women’s clothing, then putting them back, just like his mum does.
Watching that alone brings far more value to my life than a new pair of shoes. Even if they come from Zara.