Our Place in Life: a little boy’s journey

When had our week off, Phil got out the waffle iron.

We have never had waffles before. The waffle iron has been sitting in a cardboard box in the cupboard since Auntie Nancy gave it to us two years ago.

Maddie, 11, weighed ingredients: she’s good at that kind of thing.

But what could I ask eight-year old Felix to do?

The answer soon presented itself. The waffle iron had never been used: it needed oiling. I gave Felix olive oil and a brush and said, son, can you grease the waffle iron?

Felix looked very pleased. He liked this job. He took it seriously, and the waffle iron was prepared meticulously, so that when the waffles were ready they slid effortlessly off the iron and onto the plate.

Each day during our holiday week, Felix’s job was to grease the waffle iron. Each day he wielded the brush like a pro.

And then, as I walked through the supermarket I spotted a very useful olive oil spray can.

It would put just enough oil in a thin, even sheen onto the iron. It would take no time at all. It was genius, I concluded, and took two.

This morning being weekend, the whole waffle ritual ground into action once again like a well-oiled machine. Maddie weighed, and separated eggs, and I headed proudly for the spray. “Look!” I said triumphantly to Felix: “I found something that’s going to make life easier!”

I took out that spray can, and I sprayed an even patina of oil onto the black matte surface.

There was a short silence.

During this short silence, I realised my colossal insensitivity.

A small voice said: “That was my job! I don’t have a job any more!”

He was instantly promoted to green-light-watchman: the waffle pops on a green light when it’s ready to take more batter. But he’ll need something a bit more concrete next time. Maybe it’s time for a bit of weighing.

It is good to know you are important in your life. It is great to know you have a purpose, that in some small way, you are essential to the running of the household to which you belong.

I have a photograph of Felix. It is a very precious one. It was taken on his second birthday, after two years in which he had been second fiddle. He wasn’t even sure he was a separate entity to Maddie.

He sat at his second birthday party, and Phil lit his candles. We saw the realisation dawn: this is just, purely, for him. Not for anyone else. At this moment, he was the reason for this beautiful flickering icing confection of a birthday cake.

And his face lit up with the most extraordinary smile.

We have seen it since: he has a gift for being happy. But recently he’s been a little muted. His shoulders are stooped more often, and the corners of his mouth turn down.

And now, I had deprived him of his job.

Later, as I sat writing at the kitchen table, he pottered in. He got out a painting apron and paints and brushes, and he began to paint. He sat there very content, pointing out the bits he was proud of, every now and then. It was quiet. We co-existed companionably.

He had to leave it to go and play in his Saturday football match. Don’t worry, Felix, I said: it will be here when you get back. He walked out obediently, leaving part of his little spirit here in this room with the paints and brushes.

He came back; we ate dinner; we rested. Phil had an idea: he would take Felix cycling on the labyrinthine cycle paths in the forest.

Just before he went, I handed my son a small sketch book. Maybe, I said, the paper would be good to paint on?

He went off and had a lovely time with Phil. It was probably just what he needed. After tea, I found him alone in my study, intent upon the sketch book. He was sketching a car.

“That’s beautiful, Felix!” I said.

A few moment’s later he wandered into our room, where we were all watching the television. “What shall I draw?” he asked.

“Daddy?” I suggested.

He drew a non specific man, and we all ooh-ed and aah-ed. And I said: “Felix, how would you feel about drawing me?”

Shyly, he agreed. And when he had finished, and presented it to me, his face lit up with that same extraordinary smile.

I am looking at Me now, blu-tacked to the door. I like Me very much, reflected in my eight year old son’s eyes.

His new jobs today have been: green-light watchman and artist-in-residence.

His role in the scheme of things is once more settled.


34 thoughts on “Our Place in Life: a little boy’s journey

  1. Truly lovely portraits, of him by you and of you by him. Perfect parenting, especially when involving the sensitive,gifted, and good-natured, can be a frighteningly difficult job.

  2. Up at 4am for an unexpected good cry. What a sweetie Felix is. I have always thought him clever, but this is a new picture you paint with the brush of description.

    Please do NOT tell him I called him a sweetie. Almost never what an 8 year old boy wants to hear. πŸ™‚

  3. We all like to think that we have a role in the scheme of things and glad Felix again has his. You and Phil did a wonderful thing with Felix bailing him out of a bit of a funk and letting him find his own niche of happiness. He must be such a sweet kid and lucky indeed to have a great sister and knowing parents.

    Love the picture of you, I think a drawing I would have done at 8 would have been more like a stick-woman.

  4. Lovely portrait!!

    My boys regular role is to wash-up and clear the kitchen after meals I have cooked. πŸ™‚ A good role in life I feel!

  5. Who knows if our published posts are going to survive a future on-line presence so I hope you preserve this tender and loving tribute to share with your son in 15 years. Your love for this special boy is so clearly painted in your words that you’ve set me to longing for my own little boy now very much a grown man. My portraits and special poems are raggedy now, but I never forget them. Never do I love reading your posts more than when you share your children with us, Kate. I have my smile to start my day and in some intangible way Felix gets credit for that, which only goes to serve as a wonderful role to play. I think he is a very important young man. Debra

  6. Hi, Kate ,I found you through Celi, and she was right: your writing is lovely. It is sentimental without sentimentality, and warm without the oozing of feelings.

    In our writing group we are always told to “show, not tell.” And you have shown us your love for this lovely little boy and the warmth of your relationship.


  7. Beautiful portraits, indeed. Thanks, Kate.

    I can never think of waffles without thinking of Donkey (in Shrek) proclaiming his friendship with “. . . and in the morning, we’ll make WAFFLES!”

  8. Oh how lovely and heartwarming is this small slice-of-life story – in fact, tears came to my eyes as I read about your son’s journey. Glad he found his place again, and what I wouldn’t have done at his age (or even now) to hold a title of artist-in-residence. BTW, I grew up on waffles done to golden perfection on an old-fashioned cast-iron waffle iron. Yum!

  9. How many times I have inadvertently taken someone’s purpose away and realized it too late. How well you made it all right, Kate, and here you have a most wonderful portrait of yourself in the end.

    I still use my mother’s waffle iron. It is older then me, which means it is now old, but, it still works, and out it comes. Next time I use it, I’ll think of Felix – and you.

  10. This is so special, loving and heartening. As a mother – no, just as a reader, this was just wonderful.

  11. Such a nice drawing!

    The waffle iron oiling reminds me of when my son was about that age and helped me make the cranberry relish for Thanksgiving. We used one of those old metal food grinders that clamp to a table (used to belong to my mother in law). It leaked but it was fun and my boy was great at turning that crank. People used to give me advice for grinding the cranberries more easily, but I never bothered trying till he was grown. It was an important part of the tradition.

  12. Yes! We are one step closer to seeing the mysterious Kate! Perhaps Felix’s wonderful art should replace the keyboard? JOKING, I don’t know what I’d do if that avatar changed, lol!

    I’d give Felix back the job of the iron, it has to be healthier than anything sprayed from a can (smiles) ~

  13. Felix has a pair of parents who have helped him set a base for life that will keep him in good stead. Wonderful story, Kate. Rather than state the obvious, I want to highlight the capture of the 2 year old’s aha moment!

  14. Isn’t it funny how serious and happy boys are sometimes alike?

    As I was reading about the greasing job, I got the awful sense of foreboding that occurs when I’ve done the same to my Felix. How wonderfully you gave him back his purpose.

    1. I love the whole serious happy little boy thing, Cameron πŸ™‚ I learn new things every day from Felix. (He informs me today that Henry VIII weighed 88kg on his horse with full armour. Must check that one out!)

  15. It’s a good likeness. πŸ™‚

    Waffles are part of one of my happiest memories. In South Africa they make round waffles. Not potato, but not those disgusting Belgian syrupy things. I used to toast one, break off a quarter for Tory Boy, a toddler then, and we would sit together on the stoep of our ground floor flat after Daddy went to work, watching the world go by and eating our shared breakfast. Happy days.

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