A further report on the perils and pleasures of parenthood by Davina Lloyd: God, the Clinic, school reports and a progress report on the baby

In the left-hand drawer of my mother’s dressing table among her treasures, all smelling of a birthday bottle of Chanel No. 5, is my first school report. I quote it in full:

ATTENDANCE: Good

CONDUCT: Excellent. Always remembers to bring a handkerchief.

I relate this partly because my Mum thought it indicated future greatness, and partly because we have just received Benedict’s first school report, on the eve of his fifth birthday – and genius is writ plain. Here are some of the best bits:

LANGUAGE AND READING: a good start.

NUMBER (which means Sums): a firm grasp of sets and sub-sets [whatever they may be]

PE: Enjoys apparatus both large and small.

Did ever a mother have a greater treasure to store in her dressing-table drawer? My husband Simon wishes I would store it in my dressing table; I have made photocopies to send to my number-four sister in Ireland. I kept bringing it out at dinner parties if the conversation seemed to be flagging.

But wait a minute. Read another way, it wounded quite different. Was it possible that the ‘quick, enquiring mind’ means he never stops asking irritating questions? Under SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT, it says: he is relaxed in his attitude towards adults, showing no constraint or timidity towards them.

A bolshie infant with a dripping nose

Now, does that sound as though a little more constraint and timidity would be appreciated? And there’s no mention of hanky provision. OH dear, suddenly my paragon appears an over-inquisitive, bolshie infant, possibly with a dripping nose as well.

At parents’ evening we were reassured that the ‘quick, enquiring mind’ has only been wanting to know who discovered numbers, and about some of God’s less explicable behaviour.

There could be no one better equipped to answer such hard questions than his teacher, the as-yet un-canonised (though it can’t be long) Mrs Morgan.

From listening to Benedict, you realise that she is Britannica personified, she can do sums in the air and it is she who sits at the left hand of the Almighty.

How do you know that there’s a God if you can’t see Him?”

Triumphantly, he brings me back his discoveries: “Mummy, how do you know that there’s a God if you can’t see Him?”

“I don’t know, darling, how do you know there’s a God if you can’t see Him?”

“Well, you know it’s Wednesday, and you can’t see that, can you?” Mrs Morgan, mistress of metaphysics, I salute you.

I try not to be jealous, and there are advantages. Whenever I get asked “How do all the television programmes squash along the aerial?’ or ‘How much toothpaste would it take to block up the drain?’, I just say, Ask Mrs Morgan.

To immunize or not to immunize

But there are some problems which would fox even Mrs. M. I am sitting with Miranda on my knees. I know it is Wednesday, because we’re at Well Baby Clinic. She’s almost a year old and I can’t put off her third jab any longer.

When Ben was a baby, I deliberated long and had about immunisation. I even investigated for a magazine article, interviewed GPs, health visitors, mothers of kids with whooping cough, mothers of vaccine-damaged children.

In print, I said confidently that if there were no medical reasons to prevent it, it seemed best to have the jabs. So, with fingers crossed, I had Benedict immunised.

That was four years ago. Since then I have heard that unmistakeable heart-rending whoop in the doctor’s surgery; seen pale, exhausted children – and paler, more exhausted mothers – worn out from sleepless nights. I have looked after a friend’s three-year-old, eyes filled with panic as she gasped for breath.

It is Wednesday, and you hope there’s a God

Now I don’t equivocate. In print, in private and in person, I say, If your child is one of the lucky ones who can have the vaccine, for its own sake and for the sake of those who can’t don’t dither – just do it. It’s still hard.

Sitting in the clinic, wondering, how could I expose this little plump picture of health to even that infinitesimal risk of damage from the vaccine? But it is Wednesday, and you hope there’s a God, and you do it.

Four and a half steps and she topples over

Miranda was fine, and is coming on apace, and a-tooth. On that front, she cut five teeth in four weeks (a lot of wakeful nights during which we tried every recommended remedy except rubbing brandy on her gums – though Simon and I did rub a little rum on our own gums during the nocturnal vigils).

Yes, she’s coming on apace. Four-and-a-half paces to be exact, before she falls over. She can stand unsupported and claps her own cleverness till she topples.

This is such a glorious age for a baby. There are new discoveries to make every day: cupboards full of mysteries, drawers of delights and handbags of mischief – just asking to be unpacked, or unravelled or posted down the lavatory.

And it’s the beginning of understanding words – though Miranda’s vocabulary consists of only two recognizable words: Dadadadada for her father and Narna for banana. When she wants to call me, she just says Dada or Narna in a special peremptory or panicky voice. ‘Mum’ is not the word. At any rate, not one of Miranda’s words.

Angels in brushed nylon raiment

Anyhow, Benedict seems to understand her. He generally talks ‘scribble’ with her so I can’t understand either of them – though I did hear her explaining to her about Christmas and inviting her to his school Nativity play.

They’re easy to make fun of – angels in brushed nylon raiment, shepherds in car rugs and tea-towel headgear, and Joseph always picks his nose. But there is something about innocents enacting innocence that brings a lump to the throat. That reminds me, when I go to see the Christmas performance by Ben’s class, I must remember to take a handkerchief.