|Infant on the warpath: consequences unknown...|
'Did you commit a dereliction of duty?'
'Dereliction of duty. This means that you didn't do something that was your responsibility.'
'Guilty as charged m'lud.'
'Do you admit that, had you been present, the act of vandalism would never have been committed?'
'Possibly...It seems likely, your honour.'
'So you admit full, complete, utter, total and unmitigated (not to mention, absolute) responsibility?'
'Er...that's putting it a bit strongly, don't you think?'
'Please. Just take a moment to look at your co-defendant. See those wide, innocent eyes and pure, childish face. Do you really think that he would have deliberately done such a thing?'
'And then look at yourself. That criminal stoop, the villainous shadows under the eyes, the scruffy beard and general sweatiness. Compare the two. The disreputable felon and the innocent child. I put it to you...'
'Here! Just a moment. Just a moment!'
Yes, just a moment. While I freely admit to many imperfections (several day's worth of stubble being among them) this idea of the utterly innocent child is something that I am not prepared to accept. Consider the facts. I was upstairs. Isaac was downstairs. Bad fatherly influence: nil. I had given him a few bits of junk mail to play with so when I heard the sound of tearing paper I naturally assumed he was simply taking apart unwanted paperwork. How was I to know that he was ripping the wallpaper off the walls and turning the pieces into a do-it-yourself jigsaw puzzle? Innocent? I was the innocent one!
Perhaps I should have seen it coming. After all, Graham used to draw all over the walls when he was younger. Isaac, without free access to wax crayons, has simply taken the process a stage further. Like the wannabe art expert who buys a garish modern painting at auction in the hope that it conceals a priceless Old Master, Isaac wanted to see what lay beneath the surface. Or maybe he was just curious? Anyway, for the record, I don't think that there was anything I could have done to prevent it other than standing permanent guard over him. I admit the charge of dereliction to duty. Nothing more.
I've mentioned before that there is a dreamy guilessness about Isaac that gives the - not wholly unmerited - appearance of childish virtue but this particular day the image had gone a bit fuzzy. I arrived downstairs to find a large area of bare wall and torn wallpaper on the floor. Isaac seemed completely oblivious of his crime. With Graham I would probably have gone ballistic but now I am older, more experienced and aware that children sometimes do things like this without any malicious intent so a scolding isn't always helpful. I kept the lid on my emotions therefore, merely contenting myself with a stern word or two at which Isaac looked puzzled but unrepentant.
A few days later I pottered down to the local DIY store to buy something to stick the wallpaper back in its rightful place. Isaac came with me, riding in a push-along tricycle with handlebars which he kept trying to turn sharp right up the grassy bank onto the main road. The DIY shop is - by modern standards - a very small place but makes up for the lack of square metres by packing almost every conceivably useful household article in there somewhere. Nails, screws, gardening equipment, coal scuttles and puncture repair kits jostle for space with string, tools and paint. Wheelbarrows, buckets and brushes of all shapes and sizes overflow onto the pavement outside. I squeezed in, requested their smallest bag of wallpaper paste powder and squeezed out again, popping the little bag into the handy bucket on the back of Isaac's tricycle as I went.
Next stop was the post office-cum-shop to buy a paper. Standing there, idly examing the various newspaper headlines, I saw out of the corner of my eye that Isaac had reached round and picked up my little bag of powder and was shaking it. 'Can't do much harm with that,' I thought and turned back to the paper rack. It wasn't particularly enthralling. The Daily Mirror and the Daily Express had both announced a campaign against using mobile phones while driving. The Daily Telegraph had a picture of Prince William doing some baking and the Daily Times had a picture of Fiona Bruce earning lots of money. I don't know what the headline news was for the Daily Guardian, the Daily Financial Times and the Daily Independent because at that moment I turned back to Isaac and saw what appeared to be the contents of a bag of castor sugar piled up around the rear wheels of his tricycle. Something had sprung a leak and, after a horrified few seconds, I was able to identify it as my recently-purchased bag of wallpaper paste powder. Isaac, equally oblivious to this fresh act of villainy, was still waving the bag idly in his right hand and trying to pick up the powder that was piled up around his tricycle and drifted in little white specks over the back wheel.
I have little doubt that the CCTV footage of those few minutes would become a world-wide sensation if the post office ever decided to 'post' it on social media (pun unavoidable). Not only would it show a tiny infant happily sprinkling white powder around his heedless father's feet but it would also provide a clear image of a man at the crossroads, wrestling with his inner Scrooge. You see, most of the contents of my precious bag was now on the clean shop floor. My first thought - wastrel fashion - was to ask for a dustpan and brush and tip the whole lot into the bin. More miserly instincts prevailed. I dropped on my hands and knees and, while Isaac watched interestedly, began to scoop the powder back into the bag. The hole wasn't very large so I had to feed it in using thumb and index finger. It was a long process. The sight of a grown man grovelling in the aisle, stuffing powder into a small hole and watching most of it miss the target and trickle back down onto the floor must have been quite entertaining but as I rose shakily to my feet and dusted myself down, the shop owner kindly refrained from comment.
So, for Isaac, is this the End of Mr Innocent and the start of Mr Mischief? Let us take other known offences into consideration here. Hair pulling: reprehensible. Screaming (ear-splittingly): typical. Hitting Father with a spoon: lamentable. Throwing food on the floor: disgraceful. Walloping the walls with plastic toys: regrettable. Jabbing Father in the eye: [thought to be] accidental. Running away when having nappy changed: deplorable. Occasional biting: indefensible. Soaking Father with bath water: uncomfortable. Refusing to eat cold boiled vegetables: understandable. Poking Father with a plastic fork: painful.
All the above: normal.
Did Mr Innocent ever really exist? In the sense that all small children do horrendous things without any idea that they are horrendous then, yes, all children are innocent. Mischief creeps in through the back door at an unspecified age and is usually seen as childishness rather than naughtiness. When does food-throwing develop from a simple indication of dislike to a tantrum? How soon does hitting people with toys become a crime? How soon can you put a child on the dreaded Naughty Step and be sure that they really understand why they are there? These are the blurred lines between innocence and naughtiness and, as yet, I think that Isaac still has enough baby credit to stay on the right sight of the line.
Which leaves Yours Truly alone in the dock; a scruffy delinquent, charged and convicted of deliberately leaving a child where it was possible for him to cause chaos.
Still, the Judge was quite lenient. I got off with Community Service. Wallpapering.