As we watched the Olympic coverage on TV, I was taken back to the first days after my baby boy was born. I spent long hours during the last Olympics sitting on our sofa holding my brand-new, first-born son. I was still at the stage of working out feeding and sleeping and feeling exhausted. The easiest thing was to sit there feeding then to hold him and watch him fall asleep, wake-up, sleep again.
Four short years. I think it is Amanda Soule who writes in her beautiful blog, Soulemama, that the days may be long with little ones, but the years are certainly short. Already I miss the littleness of my boy. His chubby arms and legs have strong muscles on them now. He runs, jumps, climbs, rides his bike and makes a lot of noise. He loves the familiar. He has found his own strong voice. His vocabulary amazes me. He will do anything for sugar and almost anything for a story. He builds and builds with little lego, modifying (as he calls it). He loves being with people. He loves playing imaginary games. He loves taking things apart. He is hardly ever shy. He responds sweetly to his little sister’s cry of ‘help, me, nani!’ He is strong, mischievous. kind.
I want to encourage all that is good in him, everyday. These are precious moments, these short, short days of childhood.
An observant reader may have noticed that the name of my blog has changed from ‘Bringing up Boys’ to ‘Small created things’ (at the same time noticing that I have not actually written anything for about six months). As I have been the mother of a boy and a girl for the last year, I obviously can’t continue to refer only to the boy I’m bringing up.
So, for now, its ‘Small created things’, referring appropriately to my beautiful children but also to things I enjoy and seem to be spending more time on: making, sewing, knitting, baking, small things that have been creeping into my posts more and more. Here is one project I’ve had fun with recently. Many more to follow – I’ve been busy as a bee!
How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes, as Mumford and Sons so eloquently sing. There are moments when my life as a full-time, stay-at-home mum seems too full of the good things in life to be true.
The thought crossed my mind this morning as I baked bread. What a pleasure, one that I have never enjoyed before: the smell of the yeast, the feel of dough, the loaves rising by the wood stove, the bread in the oven, the taste of a hot slice with butter and jam – priceless. Who wouldn’t prefer that to a morning in the office?
And yet just last night, I was at a meeting in the school about the community-run playgroup and the sight of a cupboard full of neatly-labelled files made me suddenly homesick for a working life.
Friday was a wet day and we spent it at home. So Daniel and I went up to the loft, picked the biggest box we could find and turned it into… who knows? It started as a house and turned into a train. Daniel can stand in it and it has a steering wheel. I probably enjoyed sticking things on more than he did. Its the kind of activity I want to do with him but we don’t often find time for. Or maybe he’s just not quite ready for Blue-Peter style craft. Here is the result of our efforts yesterday.
Do you ever wonder how other people spend their days – I mean every minute, when they’re at home and there is no-one else watching? I’ve realised that stay-at-home mums have more of those kind of minutes than most other people. Its very easy to dwell on the seeming futility of all the little tasks that make up the huge achievement of bringing up children.
For example, today I have been reading Alfie stories to my two-year-old in our ‘big bed’ while feeding Kirsten. I’ve folded washing while Daniel watched photos of himself on the computer. I’ve collected apples in the garden; bought things from Daniel’s shop (two chairs turned upside down on the patio); raked up leaves; recollected the apples which Daniel tipped out of the bucket (saying to himself: ‘Goodness me, look, what a mess.) We’ve eaten baked beans on toast for lunch and now both my children are sleeping. I am about to mix up some cookie dough so we can make some cookies when Daniel wakes up (its too messy to make cookies from scratch with him). And I’ve just lit the fire.
And then? I try to go out for a walk in the afternoon with both children in the buggy. Daniel might run for a bit but the aim of that part of the day, is my sanity – I need some exercise and its relaxing to know exactly where they both are, know that Kirsten will be sleeping and Daniel will be quite happy to chat away to me from his seat. Today, though, its wet, hence the cookie dough.
Sometime after playing with playdo or lego or books, Daddy will arrive home, I will cook, we will wash the dishes and the children then we will spend too long getting our children to go to sleep before we can sleep ourselves.
And so, since I’m not a man, my son, that’s how I fill each unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.
(Yes, I know, I’ve edited out those minutes I spend on email, facebook, internet shopping. No-one needs to count those.)
This post will be short. As I write my 7 day old daughter is sleeping in her bag next to me. Daniel and Ross have gone swimming with Aunt Wilma. I remember so vividly these days when Daniel was new and everything was a huge learning curve. Its not so steep this time, at least, not yet.
My main feeling: huge thankfulness for the amazing gift of our second child and the swift and perfect timing of her arrival: she was only due yesterday but came on the 9th of September, in the evening after Ross, Daniel and I had spent a day out in the sunshine by the river. We have not yet decided on her name, maybe my excuse being her early arrival on the scene. )
(Another naming dilemma – what to call my blog now?)
Does it happen to all parents? Suddenly I fine myself referring to my self constantly in the third person, as in: ‘No, Daniel, Mummy doesn’t want to eat your beans.’ or ‘Yes, Daniel, those are mama’s shoes.’ Is it a bad thing to do? Am I confusing Daniel’s language development? Its definitely his fault: he can only refer to himself as ‘Naniel’ or ‘Nano’. I don’t think I mimic other aspects of his baby-language, so why this one? Maybe sub-consciously I want to retain my own identity as someone separate from ‘mama’, so I am employing a distancing technique (I just made that up, by the way, and don’t mean it to be taken seriously). I think I’ll need to listen out and see if his father does it too. Maybe now I’ve noted it, it will be easier to stop. I am now going to have some me time while my son has a sleep.
One of the things my sister and I have inherited from our mother is a wonderful collection of feather duvets, or ‘downies’ as she always called them. We always slept under feather downies, whether we were living in Zambia or Scotland. We literally have chests full of them and the collection ranges from single light-weight duvets to a king-size, double-stuffed monster that helped my parents survive freezing Scottish winters in an unheated manse (well, the bedrooms were always unheated).
We also have a baby cot-size duvet with the original green striped cover that has been saved for all these years, to be finally handed on to us and used by baby Daniel. So far it is the only thing he has shown any attachment to and is now essential for when we put him to bed. He cuddles it up against his cheek and runs his hand over it as he falls asleep. If he does not want to go to sleep in the cot, he stands up, gathers the whole thing up in his arms and says, ‘up, up’. If he wakes up at night or in the morning, he is often sitting-down, rooting around under his blankets, saying: ‘ebey, ebey’. For some reason that is the word he has invented for it: ‘ebey’. I’m sure my mother would love to know that Daniel is making up words and that one of her precious feather downies is being loved by her grandson.
Every Tuesday morning I go ‘Rhymetime’ at our local library and every Tuesday I experience a moment of the sublime, sentimental and transcendental in equal part. ‘Rhymetime’ is a half hour session of songs and nursery rhymes introduced nationwide by the Labour government to improve literacy (political). Everyone joins in with old favourites like the Grand Old Duke of York (more politics), Incy Wincy Spider and What Shall we do with the Lazy Baby (always introduced with an apology by the nice lady who leads it: ‘I’m afraid this is sung to ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor’.) Children crawl around on a mat, or sit on their mothers’ knees. Other users of the library grit their teeth and bear it. The moment of the sublime comes at the end. As a final song, we hold our babies on our laps and sing to them:
‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
you make me happy, when skies are grey.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you,
please don’t take my sunshine away.’
I can’t think of a more poignant expression of a mothers’ love for her child – it seems to encapsulate all our hopes and fears, all the sacrifices we have made and will make for our children. To be in a room with thirty other mothers, holding our precious children in our arms, all singing something so true, so perfectly true, reveals a whole lot about the transforming power of motherhood and a mother’s love. It brings tears to my eyes every time.
I guess all parents have moments in life with their child when everything suddenly seems a bit surreal. I had one yesterday at breakfast. This is all that happened: Daniel and I were sitting at the table, I’d finished my cereal and moved onto a toasted bagel and coffee. Daniel has his breakfast earlier with Ross but he likes to join in with mine too. So he was sitting in his high-chair, drinking his milk and chewing on a piece of toast. In front of him was the sports magazine from the Observer which he was examining in detail. He was leaning over it, pointing out the balls on each page (rugby, tennis, football), his cup of milk clutched in one hand. “Ball,” he said. ” Ball!” Then he looked up at me and said very clearly, with a questioning look on his face: “Bagel?”.
He suddenly seemed so grown-up, so masculine. I could imagine him sitting there, twenty-one years old, reading the sports pages, eating a bagel, communicating with me in one word sentences. I love sharing my breakfast with anyone; breakfasts with my son will always be precious. Here’s to every one we eat together, surreal or not.