One centimetre. Ten measly little millimetres. It’s not even the width of a finger – but it means the world to a little boy who can’t wait to be bigger
Expat life hurtles you from comforting familiarity to the puzzlingly strange and back again, often in the space of the same situation.
Take Amnesiac, for example. Nearly eight, precisely 134cm tall (this is important, as we shall see) and seemingly unable to concentrate on anything for any significant length of time, unless it’s playing Minecraft.
He is an ordinary little boy, all bruised shins and mucky face, his head filled with Lego, football, Star Wars, cycling and more Minecraft.
And right now, all he wants is to be bigger.
Not Tom-Hanks-Big. Not impress a girl by showing her your bravery on a rollercoaster big – although that will no doubt come in time – but I’m not a baby, get me out of this booster seat big.
And he can – when he’s grown precisely one extra centimetre.
Buckle up, buttercup
The fact that we make our kids use booster seats at all, already marks us out from the crowd. Readers abroad might not know that car seat usage is scarily low here, given everything we know about the difference a correctly fitted one can make in the event of an accident.
Kids here, for a variety of reasons, are rarely even buckled up in the backseat. It’s not even uncommon to see a toddler sat on a parent’s lap in a moving vehicle, well within the blast range of an air bag.
To my mind, conditioned by years of social pressure, legal reinforcement and graphic public service announcements, it’s chilling. But we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto, and such behaviours will take time to become the new normal here.
As our job is parenting, you can call us killjoys – and our kids frequently do – but we’ve told Amnesiac that he can wave his seat goodbye, as his sister did before him, as soon as he hits 135cm.
This isn’t some random figure plucked from the ether. It’s the height at which, under current UK law, children no longer have to use a booster seat. So, 135cm it is.
If you think that final centimetre would probably make no difference to his chances in the event of an accident, you’d probably be right. For Amnesiac, and for us, that final centimetre is more a point of principle; about waiting, about obeying rules, about being big enough.
We do have public information campaigns about car seat usage here, but they are still at the awareness raising stage (there’s no legislation in place, as far as I’m aware).
It’s a situation that’s mirrored by another current campaign.
Alongside posters exhorting you not buy dented tins, and to purchase frozen produce last when you visit the supermarket, we also have one running – with a view to getting the emergency services to your home as quickly as possible should they ever need to – encouraging you to ‘know your address’.
This isn’t as simple as it sounds.
For a start, there’s no domestic mail service. Then, in a country where there doesn’t even seem to be any consensus on how to spell hummus, it’s no wonder that there are many different and contrasting names and spellings for streets and districts. None of which is immediately helpful if you need an ambulance.
Instead, Qatar has a different system which triangulates your location by your residential zone number, street number and your building number – which in our case refers to our entire compound.
Once you know it, this information enables emergency services to pinpoint you with impressive accuracy, in the same way that the UK postcode system works.
The numbers are usually found on little blue metal plates on the outside of buildings / compounds. (Look for yours today!) We finally found ours and stuck the details to the fridge last week.
We then tried to explain to the kids what did, and did not, constitute an emergency. Let’s hope we never have to find out if the message stuck.
Besides, Amnesiac’s mind (surprise, surprise) is on other things; the kind of stuff he’d be thinking about wherever in the world we lived.
Like: does the Tooth Fairy know where we live? To which the answer is: She clearly needs to look for the little blue sign as well, if last week was anything to go by.
(She came the next night, with a double contribution by way of apology. Ahem.)
In recent weeks, as if leading up to the great escape from his booster seat, Amnesiac has learned to tie his own shoelaces. Suddenly, almost imperceptibly, there seems to be a lot less velcro in the house.
He’s also given up his bedtime lullaby soundtrack. Long since abandoned as a baby listening device, Amnesiac’s monitor remained at his bedside thanks to the medley of tunes it played, which were his accompaniment to lights out for years and years.
(I would have included a picture of it, but Mrs LC binned it before I could get round to it.)
His constant companion, a monkey imaginatively named Monkey, is still by his side, but otherwise, the trappings of early childhood are being discarded at a rapid pace.
* * *
The other night, as I was putting him to bed, he suddenly starting listing all the things he can cook (it was just one of his delaying tactics to defer lights out). “Two egg recipes: scrambled and boiled. And beans on toast.” He paused for a moment to take, er, stock of his progress.
“That’s about half what I’ll need to know how to cook when I’m at University,” he added unexpectedly.
He’ll be there before any of us takes a breath. But first: one more centimetre…