I Love You (Ow!)

The origins of man and woman’s habit of alternating affection with abuse is slowly becoming clear.

Going to my Tuesday yoga class, full of pregnant women who either don’t have older children or who have someone looking after them, is quite an interesting event for me, accompanied as I generally am by Cavechild and a handbag full of entertainments. Mostly it involves cream crackers and green Play-Doh being crushed to smithereens and compacted into trouser knees, socks and hair (his and mine), and being sporadically battered by wooden buses, muddy shoes and Mr Potato Head.

My Warrior Pose wobbles; my Tree gets felled within seconds. When I attempt to stretch my legs out to reach my toes in what would be a balletic, arching asana I find a 14-kilo toddler bouncing on my extremely taut, watermelon-sized belly.

It isn’t all trauma, of course. Often he imitates our movements in an immensely endearing fashion, making horse noises when we do (essential birth preparation) and running races with himself around me only to fall over in a fit of giggles.

But bedtimes are another classic trigger for his oscillating between beating me up and hugging me tightly, stroking my face, saying ‘mama guapa’ and ‘i love foo.’ It is hard to reprimand a two-year-old for smothering me with kisses so slobbery I have to dry myself off with a towel afterwards, even when I’m feeling intensely claustrophobic and possibly even seasick.

Is it over-excitement that causes him to pinch my cheeks so hard it seems the flesh is about to come off? Or kick me in the distended guts as though my uterus were his personal football? Is it jealousy at the impending arrival of a pretender to his crown?

I am reminded of games of kiss chase at primary school, where the main imperative seemed to be thrashing the object of one’s crush until they cried, bled, or bit you back. A birthday party I went to once ended rather sourly with the tomboyish birthday girl repeatedly punching her (male) friend in the stomach while chanting ‘I love you! I love you! I love you!’ So there you go, we women can be just as violent with our loved ones, even though we tend to disguise it as subtle jibes and psychological trickery. Our relationships might be so much more straightforward if we just got into a boxing ring and got out our tensions the testosterone way.

The philosopher in me would like to see all this as my son’s instinctual understanding of the transcendence of pleasure and pain, of the ultimate unity of the two as merely opposite sides of the same counterfeit coin. Yes, that’s it! He is urging me to trade it in for one of real value, which is multi-dimensional and has only one, supra-spatial face.

The Cavewoman in me, however, sees it as the genetic signal, encoded millennia ago, that orders a boy to bash the girl he likes over the head with a club and drag her home by the hair. Or, when in suitably polite cave company, to bash someone else over the head in triumphant fashion, thus proving his virility to all the admiring caveladies present.

Surely this is the underlying meaning of all male activities involving bruises, split lips and roaring victoriously with one foot on the concussed body of the unlucky loser. Wrestling, rugby, contact Boggle…men all need some way to be the warpainted hero, and I salute their ability to be so darned transparent. If only I didn’t have to get a piece of Lego shoved up my nose in the process.

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