It took drastic measures, but thank goodness my baby, at last, followed my finger | Séamas O’Reilly

There are a lot of ways you can track a baby’s development, but I always seem to find out about them after everyone else. My friends have a panoply of metrics they throw at me. Does he grip his fork, can he hold your gaze, does he follow your finger when you point? It’s important he can follow your finger! When presented with these questions, I feel bad for not monitoring his progress like a good parent. So I lie. ‘Um… yeaaah?’ I’ll say when asked if he’s discovered English mustard, or can identify cats by breed.

They claim it’s not the case, but I’m starting to think everyone else attends secret parenting seminars run by stern but informative super-nanny types. I imagine they’re held in gas yards and quarries, so I can never stumble in and catch them in the act. There, they’re schooled on new things to ask me, so I’ll always feel out of the loop. ‘So, at eight months,’ their instructors might say, as my friends take feverish notes, ‘you should have noticed your baby can now identify Simon Sebag Montefiore on sight, but not Alain de Botton. Please don’t worry. This is a completely normal and, in fact, necessary stage of their development.’

I wouldn’t mind, but most of these milestones seem slightly randomised and entirely unindicative of any sort of actual progress. It’s hard to know how much of the world our boy is taking in just yet – is he reacting to our tone of voice, body language, our stresses?

One sign his intuition is strong though, came when he was three months old and I cut myself while making dinner. I was chopping onions with the giddy brio known only to someone who’s just bought a new knife and reckons it was the lack of this tool that had hitherto prevented a career as a chef de partie in a fancy French hotel.

Lost in a reverie of sliced veg, my hand slipped and I plunged the blade all the way through my thumb, until it had pierced not just the soft underpart but the nail, too. Perhaps it was my manly yelp which roused the boy from his slumber, who knows, but soon I was clutching a tea towel over my spurting digit, while dancing on the spot to the strains of a baby crying in the next room. I dug around in cupboards for a plaster before grabbing a giant wedge of kitchen roll and an improvised tourniquet fashioned from what will, I imagine, forever after be my wife’s least favourite hair tie.

It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for my son, screaming at the sliver of light from outside his room, only to see it expand and reveal his father, in tears and smelling of blood, sweat and onions. I noticed, however, he was staring at my thumb, now swaddled in a pinkish clump of tissue. I moved it slowly left and right and saw him follow it intently. Well, I thought, as I sat whimpering in the dark, that’s one milestone down at least.

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats


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