When I was eight, I had a doll for Christmas. She was a big smiling baby with curly nylon hair and a mouth that opened and closed. Best of all, when you pressed her belly button, she spoke. There was a flap in her back into which you could put small plastic records like miniature vinyl discs, so that she could say things like ‘tickle me mummy!’ or sing nursery rhymes. I liked the doll. I liked changing the records. There was even a white one which made her sing Christmas songs. I never wanted a baby. I never had one. Instead I got a seven year old boy who pissed himself and bit his arms when he was angry. He tore his t shirt with his teeth when we said no, wiped his shit carefully on the bedroom window and never stood still. He also peered deeply into our eyes as if to understand what was in there and reached across the dinner table to say firmly ‘you love me’. He gave us his pleasures and happiness at full volume, screaming with joy at the swimming pool, eating sausages and chocolate fingers at parties till he was sick and laughing at bedtime stories till his face was red and tears fell. And if I had known when I had that doll the rising tide of love for this boy, if I had known how I would hang over his bed at night to breathe the smell of him, how I would hold the things he drew at school like precious artefacts perfect in their beauty and full of meaning, the places I would go as I followed after him never standing still but running into life. If I had known I would not have asked for the doll. I would have asked for something else. A bumper book of tips for children who did not start as a smiling baby. A kit for decoding messages of desperation, signals of confusion. Something to strengthen my legs for running. As it turns out though, the things my mum and dad gave me, at Christmas and between, seem to have been enough.