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.