The remote part

26Sep15

I look at the baby looking at things. She reaches out to touch them. She laughs for the first time. The problem is the baby is so damn sweet. It has quickly become clear that she has come to colonise my heart and she is never, ever giving it back. Everything I had built up is undone. I am like a wobbly jelly on the floor: I cannot withstand anything. She cries in the car for what seems like forever, an exhausted cry; it sounds like a puppy whining and we, exhausted too, end up sobbing along with her (they should photograph this and put it on the side of condom packets). She smiles and gurgles in the sunshine and I can’t stop kissing her soft skin and she is so beautiful and new that I, still exhausted, feel my eyes fill with tears again. All this crying. This is the frontier of the new world we have created, and we are ruined. 

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I think back to my decision to have a baby and how at the time, it was impossible to comprehend the intensity of what we were doing. The fact that right now a whole human being almost completely relies on me day and night for all her physical and emotional needs is kind of terribly burdensome and terribly beautiful. All this time I am caring for her and she is responding to me we are developing this bond that started when she was growing inside me. When I walk in the room she turns her head and her whole face lights up with joy. I am the apple of someone’s eye, and it is adorable and exhausting.  

The thing about babies is that they are so lovely and they are always there. It is a joke how much they are always there. I know this joke now, which comes into its own on a bad day when you think about having to do it again the next day, and the next and the next until – when? They go to school? University? – and every night too. Every night too! What a punchline. If I wanted I could worry about every tiny decision. If I wanted I could feel guilty about every mistimed moment, every nappy-wet-for-slightly-too-long, the time I plonked her on the bed just a little too hard because she was crying again. If I wanted I could go utterly mad.

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Out on a walk, all three of us, I tell Adam that I am going to run ahead and it is predictably glorious, the lightness without the baby in my arms and the wind blowing and the speed I can pick up and the flashback to my previous life, or another life, one without her. But it’s only for a minute and I come back to them, like I always will, like 99% of me will always want to. But the coexistence of these two opposing desires fascinates me. I look at her, so small and beautiful and needing me: how will I ever leave her? And then: can I leave her now for a bit please? Us parents are all obsessed with getting our lives back, the milestones that show how independent we are or how grown up the baby is. But I can’t help but think these landmarks are there to distract us from the irrevocable thing that we have done. The truth of it is: you are never, never getting your old life back.

But, we must still messily staple our old and new selves together. The weeks and months are flying by but days with babies often last forever, so we go places every day, however tired we are. Even at the weekends I force her dad to agree to day trips out of the borough, and he humours me because he loves me and because he is kind. When she was a month or so old we took her to the Tate Britain and I nearly wept as we walked in – the fact that people make art reminded me how big the world is, how small our domestic tribulations are, how babies are sweet but there is other stuff – thank god! – in the world apart from babies.

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There is other stuff in the world apart from our children. In the V&A I see other mums and we exchange knowing looks because we are remembering the other non-baby parts of ourselves, the fact that we are interested in art and culture and we are remembering the holy fact that in the world people are moved to make art.

People make art and they maintain parks and they parent too. The ratios of the parent in me and the other parts of me are still to play for. For now, I carry my beautiful baby everywhere along with all the silly stuff you need to carry for babies, and I ache all over. I breastfeed her a gazillion times a day and sometimes she sleeps in my arms. It is so bodily. I catch sight of myself in the mirror, laces undone because it’s hard to reach them when she’s in the sling and hair a horrible mess and no make-up – this stuff shouldn’t matter but it adds to my feeling of being all at sea, at the behest of somebody else who needs me and ensures I don’t have the time or will to put on tinted moisturiser. Sometimes a glamorous young woman goes past and tears spring to my eyes and then I laugh at how silly it is, all of it, her glamour and my lack of it and my concern for my lack of it. I can’t shake the feeling that that I am temporarily suspended from the real world or a world that is somehow more important, even though for me this is very real and very important.

In yoga the teacher tells us to think back to our third trimesters, our imaginings of our future babies, our curiosity about them. I realise I have not looked at her from this angle: how I know her now, thinking back to the ways she was growing inside me and the night she came into the world.

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I couldn’t have guessed all the things about her. I guess the future is the story of her needing me less and less. For now, she grins at us gummily and leaps for joy when I sing her the bouncing baby song from baby class. Sometimes when she is crying and I know she isn’t hungry or tired, I take her outside and usually something about the change in air or light or temperature calms her. She stares at the trees searchingly, as if she has questions; in wonder, as if she cannot believe that they are there.

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