It’s an amazing moment when your baby smiles for the first time. It’s also amazing when they do that first, definite, personal smile, the one that says, “That’s my mum, I know her, I trust her and I love her.” With my first child, it happened after a few weeks. This time, it took seven months. At that moment I literally jumped for joy, all around the kitchen.
His smile wasn’t just slow to come, it was slow to unfold: once I’d entered his (limited) field of vision a couple of seconds passed as he registered me, then a couple more as the messages passed from brain to mouth and the muscle fibres interpreted the unfamiliar command. It was all the more special for the sheer mental and physical work that went into it.
It wasn’t a fluke, I tested him: hid behind his chair, came out, gave him time … and there it was again in all its beaming, toothless, slightly lopsided glory.
The beginning of a relationship. The twinkle of light at the end of the tunnel marked, on my darker days, “thankless life of servitude to child who will never even know who you are, much less love you, much less be able to tell you that they love you.”
I’m the kind of person who wants things done yesterday. Don’t stop, don’t think, don’t wait, God help us don’t talk about it. Just get on with it. So patience, I think, is the first thing he is teaching me. I’m going to need bucket-loads of it in the years to come so it’s as well to start learning now. And what an incentive to learn! His smile is so huge, so beautiful, so genuine, so unconditional, that one is never enough. I can spend hours (on the days when the hyperactive toddler is at nursery) coaxing, cajoling one out.
It’s going to take me a while to get the hang of this. I’m not sure I’ll go the whole hog – out there you can subscribe to “slow food,” “slow schools,” “slow books,” “slow travel,” “slow money;” and it drives me nuts when my father-in-law practices his “slow driving.” But this slow smile has got me hooked.