I am walking to the park on an Autumn morning, the air is deliciously crisp and flavoured with woodsmoke, I would prefer cheese and onion but you can’t have everything. I’m pushing my daughter in the buggy and she has drifted back off to sleep. She looks so at peace. Perfect, well almost. A bubble of snot is inflating and deflating beneath her tiny nostril like a bullfrog’s throat. I keep hoping it’s going to pop but it doesn’t. At least it hasn’t dried yet, this morning when I went in to the nursery to wake her, her face was so covered with dried-on mucus that she looked like a giant toffee apple. Seriously, it was bad. When I made her laugh she actually “cracked” up.
Then I had to hoover up the face flakes.
I check my pockets for tissues and am disappointed to find I don’t have any – this is very unlike me. I check the baby bag and there are none there either. I check the shopping list and find them there – SHIT. Necessity being the mother of invention I look through the bag for something else to wipe her face with and spot a pair of my son’s pants. Spiderman pants. Emergency pants. Feeling a little self-conscious I check no-one is looking and dab away the offending snot bubble with the emergency pants. I’m sure my son wouldn’t mind, or if he did he would have no right – you should see what he does to them.
Snot-free she stirs and smiles in her sleep – perfect again.
The morning is quiet, leaves drift down around us, disturbed by silent bursts of squirrel energy above.
A lot of people take issue with grey squirrels, saying that they are just rats with good PR. Everyone knows that they out-compete the red ones for food, but sympathy is not why people really prefer red, no way – it’s just aesthetics. No question – the red ones are prettier. Which means, I suppose, that we humans are all shallow. I ponder what would happen if we found out one day that grey squirrels were just OLD red squirrels? Imagine that. Would that stop squirrel racism? I doubt it. Why can’t we all just get along?
As if hearing my thoughts a tiny grey squirrel scampers down the tree next to me into the dry bronze crunch of leaves. She is beautiful really. From stillness to impossible speed she seems to vanish at will, flitting between autumnal backgrounds. I stop moving, stop breathing and she comes closer. All is silent. With gentle clockwork twitching she examines me with her huge jet eyes and then she gives me a look.
It’s a look that says “Go away you shallow racist” and suddenly I remember why I fucking hate them.
All cocky and grey – like Philip Schofield.
At the park we go into the toddler’s area and I wake my daughter. She is delighted to have been transported somewhere fun in her sleep and waddles over to play with another young girl. I sit down on the park bench and smile at the older woman next to me, (presumably the other little girls grandmother given there is no-one else at the park).
The older woman sighs “She’s just so beautiful” and I reply “thankyou”
“Oh, not your daughter I meant my granddaughter”
“Ha. Sorry, I thought you meant mine, proud daddy speaking – sorry” I look at the woman’s granddaughter and agree “she’s very beautiful”
She smiles at me. A moment crawls past.
This is the point where normal people would say something about ‘your’ daughter, something along the lines of “your child is very beautiful too, if anything more beautiful than mine”, but she doesn’t. She says
“Her name is Kimberly, she has just won a little competition actually. Prettiest toddler. So beautiful. So proud”
I look over at Kimberly, look at her gorgeous red hair and the pretty, if impractical, fairy dress she is wearing. She is a little older than my daughter, perhaps 2 years old, but they are playing nicely together. My daughter, in her snowsuit, who has very little hair, is picking up leaves and offering them to ‘Kimberly’ who is either accepting or declining based on some arcane system of pre-school foliage selection. The sweet enquiring look on my baby’s face as she offers these leaves is enough to melt your heart. All she wants to do is please. There is a kindness of spirit there for all to see. I smile at the old woman but she is fixated only on her grand-daughter, I don’t think she can even see my daughter.
“Kimberly, come over here” she says and the beautiful redhead skips across the park towards us. My daughter, waddles behind in her snowsuit. And then, suddenly, both children are standing in front of us and the old woman is giving me a look that says “See?”
I find this look rather irritating because if infers that ‘Kimberly’ is more attractive than my daughter. I will concede that at that moment, given that ‘Kimberly’ didn’t have two huge TUSKS OF SNOT hanging over her mouth and was wearing a tiara, she might have edged it. But it was close. I reach into my pocket for a tissue and remember that I only have Spiderman emergency pants. So I decide to leave it.
“We’ve never entered Jennifer into a competition” I say and am rewarded with a look of such heartless sympathy I begin to get annoyed.
But then I have the answer, a way to show this woman my daughter’s inner beauty, a way to show her my daughter’s kindness. I pick up a leaf, one of the many by my feet, and give it to Jen. I nod my head in an encouraging way, a way that says “Darling look sweet and kind and fragile when you offer this leaf to your new friend, show this old woman that you don’t always look like a snot walrus”.
She looks at me inquiringly.
I nod my head encouragingly.
She wipes her nose with the leaf smearing snot across her cheek and leaving a smudge of dirt across her lips from the leaf itself. The old woman looks offended.
I look at my daughter’s face – she really couldn’t look much worse. Meanwhile Kimberly’s tiara is actually ‘sparkling’.
I take my son’s underwear from my pocket and start cleaning my daughter’s face, she starts laughing and instantly she is beautiful again.
“Come on Jen, let’s go and buy some tissues” I whisper.
We leave the park, avoiding the gaze of the human squirrels.