D has been playing a new game today. It started in the bathroom: “Ma, I think I heard a squeak. There must be a mouse in here.” After he had “found” the mouse he was busy finding it food. “Mice eat cheese,” he told his little sister. “Peas? Peas?” she replied, laughing at him. A little later he had made it a bed in a cardboard box that has been played with a great deal in the last week. “Do you want to see my mouse?” he asked me. “Come and see, its sleeping in the box. Shhhhh, don’t wake it up.”
Oh, I love it when life imitates art. Immediately I was seeing Antoine St Euxpery’s beautiful drawings and hearing his words:
“This is only his box. The sheep you asked for is inside.”
I was very surprised to see a light break over the face of my young judge:
“That is exactly the way I wanted it! Do you think that this sheep will have to have a great deal of grass?”
“Because where I live everything is very small . . .”
“There will surely be enough grass for him,” I said. “It is a very small sheep that I have given you.”
He bent his head over the drawing.
“Not so small that–Look! He has gone to sleep . . .”
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.
Time for a quick update on my son’s sleep, before I go to sleep myself. He seems to have settled down into one nap a day, a long one over lunch time. It makes for a long morning and a long afternoon – by the end of both he is definitely flagging. In the evenings, I have discovered that if I put a chair outside the bedroom door and sit there reading, not looking at him, he will happily potter around in the cot, chatter away, throw his toys through the bars and eventually lie down on his side and fall asleep. The first time I sat there with my book, stealing a glance at him every so often, it was such a relief to watch him go quietly to sleep. (This was after evenings of going in every five or ten minutes to see him sitting at the end of his cot, red-faced and wailing, only falling asleep exhausted on my shoulder or in my arms.) So it seems that the problem is not his ability to put himself to sleep but panic that we might be going to abandon him in the bedroom to do battle alone with the monsters under the bed. Hopefully this phase too will pass.
Its been a while (you may have noticed) since I wrote anything. Blame it all on the erratic sleep patterns of my baby boy. The days when I could count on that after lunch peace and a cup of coffee are long gone. Daniel no longer reliably sleeps for an hour in the morning and an hour after lunch. In the evenings, he takes longer and longer to go to sleep. I was going to write about all of this and explore theories about what to do; I got ‘Sleepeasy Solution’ out of the library but I haven’t read it and I’ve realised just thinking about it all makes me feel too exhausted to put fingers to keyboard.
So I’m laying that aside for now and focussing instead on the high points, the delights. Saturday morning with Ross, we took Daniel for his first swim in his star-spangled trunks. He was bemused, then pleased, splashing and smiling as we whooshed him through the water like a baby walrus. Yesterday, at the swings, he laughed with pleasure, smiling at everyone as if to say: see what an amazing fun thing this is you should try it too, its quite easy.
Today, I bought him his first proper ball: we came up to the basket of balls in the toy department of Debenhams. I poked around, choosing a colour I liked then turned to him with the ball I’d chosen. As I handed it to him, his eyes widened and his mouth split in a smile of pure wonder. He held it in both hands all the way home. My first experience of making my child happy with a very simple present.
(I have just now turned the lights on – its after ten o’clock at night. From the window, the roofs and treetops and chimneys are black against a strip of pale yellow, fading to duck-egg green and pale blue. Today was hot. The first day of Wimbledon.)
Yesterday was the kind of hot day that makes London feel like a city in a different century, a day from the summers E. M. Forster wrote about in A Room with a View. I walked with Daniel up to Holland Gardens. The red brick houses were baking in sun in a particularly English way: gardens still and abandoned in the early afternoon, the grass vivid and green, slowly drying out, red roses and purple lavender bright and fragrant in the hot sun.
I met two friends with babies of similar age in the park. We sat on rugs in the shade. Daniel overcame his dislike of the itchy grass and started crawling away. He looked back for a minute and then kept going. Would he stop? It didn’t seem like it: on he went, arms and legs like little pistons, heading out of the shade into the bright sun. My baby: looking so small against the expanse of grass, so determined, so independent, so delighted with his mini-adventure.
Daniel has finally fallen asleep (its 2.30 in the afternoon). Not that he has been complaining about the idea, he’s just been sitting at the end of the cot, with one foot through the bars, not asleep.
One of the things I never knew about babies before I had one, is that when they are born they don’t know how to go to sleep. I knew babies know nothing but I thought falling asleep was instinctive, like falling over. Apparently not.
Daniel has now learnt to go to sleep in all sorts of ways: he gets smiley, laughs and giggles when I lay him down, turns onto his tummy, laughs some more and is asleep. He cries himself to sleep – not in a state of misery, but for less than five minutes, wahhhhhhh, wahhhhhhhh, wah, wah , wah w … asleep. He lays his head on my shoulder as I rock him from side to side – asleep. He opens his mouth, scrunches his face into the matress, sticks his bottom in the air – asleep. He stands up in his cot, holding on tight but so close – I lay him down – asleep. He lies on his side, playing with a toy, slow blinks – asleep.
Often I look at him, asleep or awake, and think: how do you do it? How do you make the transition from bouncing around like a rubber boy to lying still, fast asleep? Its truly a mysterious thing.
(For the record – he does still forget: cries, stands up, sits down, crawls, cries, twists in my arms, gets exhausted, doesn’t go to sleep.)
What do we take from our parents? What do we leave to our children? I’ve just finished reading Barack Obama’s autobiography, ‘Dreams from my Father’. (Read it, now, if you haven’t already. My baby is completely obsessed with the book – he only needs to see it on the bedside table to start shouting, commando crawl over the duvet and pillows, grab it with both hands and sink his teeth into the cover.)
I’m left wondering what was it in all of Obama’s experience that gave him the courage to dream, the boldness to act and the resilience to make the choices he has? Barack hardly knew his father. Obama Senior did not fulfill his own potential or the expectations of his family. What Barack discovered about him as an adult, must have been disappointing. And yet … dreams from his father? And I note, before the book starts, he says of his mother: “She is the kindest, most generous spirit I have ever known, and what is best in me, I owe to her.”
Watching my funny boy, on his knees at my feet, a pen lid in one hand and his mouth in an ‘oh’ of concentration as he tries to climb the drawers of the desk, I think of everything I want to give him. I wonder what he will choose to take with him as he goes on his way?
As a confirmed late-adopter when it comes to technology, I can’t quite believe that I am writing my first blog. I am someone who never checked my email account at university, didn’t own a mobile phone until years after everyone else and only have an ipod because my husband gave me one on his birthday. But once I have ‘got on board’, I appreciate the advantages technology brings – being able to organise lunch by email, find out what a friend is doing on facebook, text to say I am going to be late (again), listen to music while pushing the buggy.
So now I’m going to blog, or be a blogger or (apparently) write blessays. The inspiration? Time off work for maternity leave and a desire to record my experiences and emotions as I start on the journey of looking after a beautiful baby boy, a task that fills me with more delight and leaves me more exhausted than anything I’ve ever done.
I’ll try to write each afternoon while I drink a mug of coffee and my baby sleeps (as he is now – face down, bottom in the air, arms spread out on either side, breathing so gently I have to lean down close to hear him). This is a precious time in the day when I get a chance to pause and reflect and recover – and this is my first blog: not inspirational, not Garrison Keillor, just me and my baby. I think I’m going to enjoy it.