‘Come on, you can do it! Come on!’
They were all there – my parents, my maternal grandparents, my great-grandparents – all encouraging me, willing me on. They were all strategically placed around the sitting room, just waiting for me to do it.
It had been the same ever since I was born and even before that. I was the centre of their universe and it was hard not to be continually striving to keep up with their demands. There was no time to just play by myself or gurgle to imaginary friends. Everything was a serious learning experience.
By placing earphones on her stomach, my mother had ensured that I had heard classical music day in and day out throughout her pregnancy hoping I would be musical. At the moment, all I liked to do was bang the table of my high chair with spoons but even then my mother insisted on me following the rhythm she was making with her wooden spoon on a tray. Why couldn’t she just let me do it my way?
I’d had to smile and chuckle to order, clap hands for every visitor who came to the house and every coo and gurgle I made was given a name and a meaning. When my father returned home from work each evening, I had to repeat any new achievements from the day for him. A walk in the park was always a science lesson, learning the names of the birds and wild flowers we saw on the way. I was the only baby in a push-chair that faced my mother. All the other babies seemed to be relaxed and playing with the soft toys and colourful plastic shapes, facing the way they were going. If their mums wanted to talk to them they moved around to the front. Not my mother – she was constantly pointing things out to me.
‘Look at that goose by the lake, sweetheart. It’s called a Canada Goose. Say Canada Goose for Mummy.’
‘Cabba Goo,’ I tried.
‘Nearly there. Good girl. Can – a –da goose,’ she encouraged.
‘Well done, darling. We’ll have to tell Daddy and ring Grandma and Great-grandma tonight. You’re so clever!’
The book shelf in my bedroom was packed with every fairy story, nursery rhyme and Baby Einstein book you could think of. What should have been a fun bedtime story was often a grilling of what I could remember instead.
And so it was… I was the first child, the first grandchild and the first great grandchild in the family and boy, didn’t I know it? But only in my mother’s family. On my father’s side they were far more laid back. My cousin Harry was the fourth of four boys and was just two weeks older than me. He was allowed to do things at his own pace, happy to gurgle and chuckle without anyone constantly willing him on to the next stage. When I started to move a little on my changing mat, toys were placed further away so that I learned very quickly to roll and get them. This was greeted with whoops of delight. No one had rolled over that early my mother told my father one evening before he’d hardly got through the door.
I was so forward (my mother and father’s words!); I sat up on my own for a few seconds only quickly to fall back on all the cushions surrounding me. This was practised every day for weeks until I could do it properly on my own at a very early age. Next had come the crawling stage, from commando style to start progressing to the more traditional style. My parents had played so many jungle games on all fours with me that I mastered it in no time. Very soon, I was expected to whizz around the house in my baby walker.
‘It’ll strengthen her legs,’ my mother said. ‘I just know she’s going to walk early.’ Whereas Harry was only just moving around his house by rolling and crawling, I was already pulling myself up to standing and walking around the furniture.
And so because of this, the time had come – my grandparents and great-grandparents had all been summoned to the house in anticipation of the momentous event.
‘Come on, you can do it! Come on!’ said my father, holding his hands out for me. He was kneeling at the one end of the sitting room and at the other end, my mother held me under my arms as I stood getting my balance. She loosened her hands and I started to toddle down the room into my father’s arms. First one, then two, three wobbly steps… I can do this, I thought. I’ll show them.
But no, after the third step, I crumpled into a heap on the floor and the sound of everyone’s disappointed groans seemed to resonate around the room.
‘Never mind, darling,’ my mother said, picking me up and comforting me in her arms. ‘Let’s have a giant huggle before we try again.’
It was no good. They’d never accept that perhaps, just perhaps, it wasn’t going to happen that day. So, still it went on. Try after try, tumble after tumble. Please just allow me some breathing space. This walking is exhausting work. My head was spinning. Okay, one last attempt then. Here goes. I fixed my eyes on my father. My mother gently released her hands from under my arms and I took my steps as carefully as I could, trying not to wobble knowing that every family member in the room was holding their breath. I walked past the first armchair, then the settee. Not far now to go now, I thought, gaining in confidence.
‘Come on, nearly there!’ my father cried.
‘Yeessss, she’s going to do it!’ my mother squealed, unable to contain her excitement.
I collapsed into my father’s outstretched arms.
‘Yea! You clever, clever girl,’ shouted six adult voices clapping their hands loudly.
‘I’ve done it! I let go and walked the whole length of the room! It's over,’ I said to myself, so relieved that I'd achieved what was expected of me. If only they knew what was ahead of them now I was free! I thought, beaming.
About the Author
Jan lives in Cardiff, she joined a writers' group three years ago and began writing for her own enjoyment. It wasn’t until she joined a university writing class taught by a published author that she began to submit stories for publication. She is currently writing her first novel.