A year is a long short thing

20Jun16

I hold this letter in my hand
A plea, a petition, a kind of prayer
I hope it does as I have planned
Losing her is more than I can bear

I kiss the cold, white envelope
I press my lips against her name
Two hundred words. We live in hope
The sky hangs heavy with rain

Love Letter, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

The whole of my year should be hers
Who has rendered already so many of its days intolerable or perplexed
But so many more happy
Who has left a shadow on my life, and my walls dancing over and over with her shadow

from Autumn Journal, Louis Macniece 

Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon.

Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown

My daughter Rosa is one today. I can’t believe it. And also I can. The longest shortest most difficult best year of my life blah blah!

IMG_7616It was so hard at first. I was very anxious. I remember someone saying “this time next year she’ll be pottering around the garden and splashing in the paddling pool”; it was unimaginable. But she really is! The intensity of looking after a baby creates a myopic view. We can’t imagine how or when things will change.

I remember finding it a huge relief to meet up with people with older kids, as if I needed proof that babies would grow up, tie their own shoelaces, run around and be ok without a constant maternal presence. I found my sister’s house, where children did homework, read books, watched films and played in the garden, a real solace. Mothers did not have to constantly worry. Life would regain a normal rhythm. We would find a way back to ourselves.

IMG_7974I have read thousands of words about babies in the last year, far too many. One thing I read said: “we get the baby we are supposed to get – they are sent to teach us something that we need to learn.” I don’t buy such ideas about fate and I don’t know if I have learned any brand-new life lessons. Instead familiar things have come to me in fever-pitch, gargantuan crash courses in patience, despair, exhaustion, love. In the struggle and the joy I locate many versions of myself: calm and kind, anxious and sad, impatient and furious.

Yesterday, wasn’t it, that she was lying in her baby bouncer staring at the light reflecting off the wall? And today she crawls to me and says “mama!” and chooses all the blue blocks from the box and solemnly hands them to me one by one. What a total genius, I think.

I planned to have a baby but I forgot that I would also have a person. She is so person-y these days. Every day something new is revealed. She crawls furiously and waves her hands in the air and gabbles in strange pre-language that is part-Moomin, part Sarah Lund: “byah-byah-byah-jer-jer”. We squeal and blow raspberries and roll on the bed. We clean our teeth together, which she finds hysterical. She looks towards the sky, says vaguely “caaaah”. When we go in the park and she sees the trees a broad grin lights across up her face. She points at everything and says “oooooooh.”

Every time I have tried to make her do something it makes her want to do it less. Her refusals and tears, the strength of her will create a space I am forced to step backwards into and quietly wait. I become a silent witness. I cannot make anything happen. I cannot force a baby to eat. I cannot force a baby to sleep. I try and accept everything and not worry about it, but the process of accepting things is like everything else, it never ends. I keep trying and I will keep trying. When I lose perspective I lose sight of her, too, her personhood, until I spot it again and can’t imagine how she ever appeared as a cluster of problems to be solved.

She pulls herself up to standing via the back of my legs and I look down at her. Her skin is creamy and peachy at the same time and she has very very soft reddy-blond hair. She is perfectly chubby and has a round face like a little bear and big blue eyes and her dad’s round forehead. I have never seen anyone so beautiful.

The bad bits of me have appeared loudly in the last year, the part that has a few times shouted in despair at a small sleep-refusing baby, the part that has walked out of a room when they were needed, the part that has furiously kissed the baby to substitute for wanting to kick or punch something very hard. I found myself wondering why she wasn’t doing what she was supposed to be doing, wishing bitterly for her to be like the other babies, the ones who would sleep in their own cots, stay asleep in loud supermarkets, stay asleep all night.

When I put her in her cot to get her into her sleeping bag she gets very excited and kicks wildly like she is on a trampoline. She has an ecstatic look in her eye and her soft blonde hair bounces too and she looks like a small much more beautiful Boris Johnson. For two naps a day and one bedtime I say “let’s zip you into your sleepy bag, make you all cosy” as if this message can subliminally enter her consciousness and make her snoozy. It never works. 

Many, many times I have rocked and fed and sung to her and patted her to sleep, bending over the cot and killing my back and seriously straining my vocal chords. I am a right mug. I am a right mum. I imagine I will be laying down with her to go to sleep when she is a toddler. She will be saying “muuuuuum I need a drink” “muuuum I am a bit hot” and refusing to let me leave until she is asleep and I will be a (mostly) willing hostage because I am soft as shit, and because of all my love. She will cause me all kinds of trouble. All this trouble  will be in my head and in my life and in my heart.

Mostly, I think that she is a joy to be around. I can’t help but believe this is objectively true. I can’t help but believe that she will grow up and have everyone think this about her. I can’t help but think that boys and girls will find her very easy to love.

It is so productive to love our babies now that we know that neurologically they need it to develop into a happy adults. Loving them, doing all we can for them is playing the long game, pouring ourselves into their futures. It is many hours of playing peek-a-boo and reading the same books again and again. Of passing a piece of Lego back and forth while they shriek with joy. Of pacing the room with them in your arms.

Happy first birthday my Rosa. I love you more than anything else. I have no idea if you are the baby I was “supposed” to have. But you are the baby that I’m so glad I have. I think that every day.

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2 Responses to “A year is a long short thing”

  1. 1 Clare Aitken

    hello there, i came across your blog via some rabbit hole i slipped into initially on jessica stanley’s site (i think) – and i’m so glad i did. i’m 9 months pregnant, and sweeping full-sailed (and full-bellied) towards the incomprehensible land you’ve been inhabiting for a year now.

    your writing is stark and beautiful and honest, and i want to thank you for it. i don’t know what parenthood will hold for me, but i hope i can find the balls to be as honest, and the grace to be as awake, as you seem to be.

    from a stranger to a stranger, thanks for putting your words into the world.

    clare

    • Thank you so much Clare! That is so nice to hear (especially from a stranger to a stranger). Keep in touch and let me know how you go as you meet your new 100% favourite BFF xxx


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