My young boy is channelling Hulk

It started with the Incredible Hulk, we think. Our son hasn’t been exposed to much superhero stuff beyond the odd Avengers backpack or Justice League sticker book he’s received from pals or family. Shorn of context, they must have seemed inscrutable. Their brightly coloured forms may as well have been the cast of Hollyoaks, or the Guildford Four. But now he’s seen the Hulk in action, in an all-banging, all-clanging, all-Hulk-Smashing cartoon to which he has swiftly become devoted. Not so much that he can pronounce the character’s name correctly, incidentally, so when he smashes the little Hulk toy he’s purloined from a pal, he refers to him as HUG!, a cutesy touch that offsets the damage he is doing to our home and bodies as he slams it against them shouting ‘HUG! HUG! HUG!’

Of course, we can’t blame it all on the Incredible Hug. We were told to watch out for signs of acting out once we told our son about the new baby on the way, and it would appear the cheque has finally arrived. He refuses my attempts to lead him into nursery as if I’m shoving him into one of those machines that turns cars into little cubes.

At pickup, with a reciprocity never less than charming, he pivots in the opposite direction; refusing to leave as it is now where he wants to stay forever. When he first started doing this, I joked to staff that he could stay overnight and they laughed that small, polite laugh parents are legally mandated to receive on such occasions. A laugh that says ‘that is the worst joke I have ever heard in my life’. A laugh that might dissuade, for example, a professional humorist from ever drawing another breath. I think if I say it one more time they’ll call the police, and they’d be right to.

Back home, he grumps around like a tin-pot dictator, strutting with his arms down in the manner of a tiny hard man. He struts, often with his top off, grimacing like a Victorian bodybuilder and, in case anyone might be confused by this macho pantomime, says handily scrutable things like ‘Hug very angry’.

And then there’s the thieving. A few days ago, he grabbed an entire slab of chocolate that had been, we thought, nicely concealed by my wife’s side of the sofa. Dismayed, she shouted ‘No!’ and in the grip of panic I rushed to stop him as if his life was in danger. Jolted by my enthusiasm, she immediately consoled me that her annoyance was caused by the chocolate being her chocolate, and not due to any risk of poisoning to him. I allowed a small trickle of relief to penetrate my mortification at having momentarily mistaken our son for a dog.

He vents, we deal. He shrieks, we listen. We continue to tell him that we know this is all a lot to take in, but the changes to come won’t change how much we love him. Inevitably, he runs out of steam and comes round to our way of thinking, drops his gamma-irradiated fists and comes to our side of the couch, now denuded of dog poison. Tired and confused, he offers me a conciliatory, if slightly angry, embrace. It’s a strange cuddle, perhaps, but an Incredible Hug.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78

Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats


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