‘Achtung! Toddler!’ Monchique, January 2015

fotografia (5)Leo comes rushing towards me and headbutts me in the legs. ‘Crash!’ I feel my legs buckle. ‘Oi, Leo, that hurts.’ He hasn’t yet learned the law of cause and effect other than crashing makes Mummy cross, which is, at least, a reaction. He gets his lorry instead and crashes it into the door. ‘No, Leo,’ I say. ‘ You might break the door.’ I pick him up and turn him upside down. He’s laughing. ‘Again Mummy!’ Next he holds onto my arms and climbs up my legs and somersaults over. Crashing is just part of being a two and a half year old boy, I decide. But I can’t help thinking that toddlers can be dangerous – and not only to themselves. Last year Leo gave me a black eye by thrusting a book into my face. A friend of mine had her earring pulled out by her daughter leaving two flappy bits of ear. Every day I see potential danger: a knife on the worktop, an empty glass bottle, a pair of scissors left out, a needle, a piece of string, a fire poker. I remember spotting a car sticker in a German car for the equivalent of ‘Baby on Board’ – except it said, ‘Achtung! Baby!’ baby-on-board-signIt was in a yellow border so I didn’t think it was advertising U2 and there was a baby seat in the car. I read it as meaning ‘Danger! Watch out!’ rather than ‘Precious little person on board so please don’t crash into us’ (although that may well reflect my inadequate understanding of German). I’ve always disliked ‘Baby on Board’ stickers but ‘Achtung!’ I could relate to. If Leo ever got hold of the car keys… In fact, I decide, I would quite like a T-shirt for Leo. Achtung! Toddler!

A few days later I’ve arranged to meet a friend at the beach at Monte Clerico. I’m tired as Leo has decided that he doesn’t want to sleep in the afternoons any more. He’s fidgety, doesn’t want to get dressed and I can sense the first clouds of frustration gathering.

‘Come on, Leo, let’s go to the beach.’

‘No, no like beach.’

‘Rio will be there,’ I say, knowing what the next line will be. Before I let him finish (‘No, no like…’) I pick him up and carry him towards the door. He starts to wriggle. As I step into my office I lose my balance and fall down two deep tiled steps. I twist myself to try to save Leo and the side of my foot slices into the edge of the lower step. I hold onto Leo until the last minute when I have to let go as a knife sharp pain saws into my foot and we crash to the ground. Leo’s head hits an old desktop computer. He screams. I scream.

‘Sorry, Mummy, sorry.’ He sobs.

‘It’s okay, honey, it’s okay.’ I lean over and pull him towards me. He already has a lump on his head. We stay there crying for several minutes, all the time he is saying, ‘Sorry, Mummy, sorry’. I am stroking his head. At least he’s okay.

‘Shush, it doesn’t matter, it was an accident.’

I know my foot is broken. I can’t move it. And it hurts. I need to call someone.

‘Leo, could you get Mummy the phone please.’

He wipes his eyes and goes into the bedroom and comes back with my phone. I call Mario, Leo’s father, who says he will come and take me to the hospital and I call my friend Tanya.

Meanwhile, Leo has gone into the bathroom. I hear various things crash from the shelf and then he arrives with a tub of Sudocrem and a bandage. I recently downloaded Toca Pet on the iPad and Leo has learned how to bandage up animals with broken wings and lumps on their heads.

‘Thank you, Leo, but I think I have to go to hospital.’

‘No, Mummy, Leo fix it.’ He then embarks on a journey up some very treacherous open stairs to a little room that used to be my bedroom. I hear more things crash onto the floor and then he arrives at the top of the stairs carrying the huge bottle of arnica gel that I use for him when he falls over. I close my eyes and ask him to be careful as he shuffles down the stairs on his bottom cradling the bottle in both arms.

‘Here, Mummy, Leo make better.’


My foot is fractured. ‘Hm, can you come back tomorrow?’ the GP in Lagos Hospital says, looking at the X-rays.  It is Sunday and there is no orthopaedic surgeon available. ‘No,’ I say firmly. It is an hour’s drive from my house to any hospital. The GP hums a bit more then makes up a cast and off I hop.

The following six weeks pass painfully and slowly. Broken bones need a lot of rest. And they also get hungry. fotografia (4)I spend a disgraceful amount of time eating and watching Thomas the Tank Engine, Peppa Pig, Tractor Tom and various Russian tractor video clips with Leo. We have, for good and for bad, discovered YouTube on the iPad. Leo likes ‘Accidents happen’ but now I am able to explain cause and effect: crashing causes accidents and accidents hurt people – I lift my foot to prove my point. So accidents are not nice to watch.

‘Don’t fall Mummy,’ Leo says, holding onto my crutches as I hop around the house. I fall over four more times.

Last week I read about the little boy who accidentally shot his mother in Walmart in the States. He is the same age as Leo. I immediately picture the scene: the little hand rummaging through his mother’s handbag while he looks towards the Kinder eggs. ‘Want that!’ He points randomly with one hand while the other is busy. He knows he shouldn’t be in the bag. The mother, momentarily pleased her son is distracted by the chocolate, scans her memory for what she needs to buy. One or two tins of chick peas? Oh and she mustn’t forget some cream for the cheesecake. The little hand finds something cold. All attention is now on the bag. He knows it is his mother’s gun and that he is not to touch it but he’s not hurting it. He won’t break it. His mother senses that all has gone quiet and turns to him. His fingers pull something. The noise hurts his ears. He screams. He knows he’s done wrong. His mother looks at him in horror as she crashes to the floor together with dozens of cans of beans and chickpeas.

‘Sorry, Mommy, sorry,’ he sobs.


A broken foot is nothing in comparison. I think again about that T-shirt.