Category Archives: Age

The journey to innocence

Babies are fascinating. They’re such creatures of pure, unfiltered instinct. There is nothing remotely deceptive about them. They aren’t even particularly innocent, not in the same sense that an older child is. My four-year-old believes in fairies and unicorns and magic. My four-month-old will give the same baleful stare to the garden centre Santa as she gives to most objects, furry creatures and toys crossing her line of vision, no matter how eagerly they are shoved into her face proffered. The four-year-old will give us increasingly rambling, far-fetched explanations as to why she needs two puddings despite not having finished her main dinner. The four-month-old will desperately mouth anything that comes into contact with her face. It’s a crude analogy and I apologise for it, but sometimes she really does remind me of the walkers from The Walking Dead. She responds to the purest, basest instinct to feed. We even call babies’ mealtimes “giving them a feed,” like we’re dehumanising what they’re doing because it’s so unlike what it becomes – three solid meals defined by the time of day. Babies don’t eat when they’re not hungry. They don’t graze or snack. They take in exactly what their body needs when they need it. They feed. Like animals. Like zombies.

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I’m sorry, is this not a boob?

When my eldest was a baby I remember being puzzled by this sense that she didn’t seem to have this innate innocence that little children are supposed to have. I now realise that it’s because this comes later, with the rudimentary understanding of the world that toddlers develop. Babies are only innocent in the very simplest sense of the word. Nothing much has happened to them yet. They don’t know how to be naughty or manipulative or deceitful. They also don’t know how to take you at your word when you tell them that magic is real. You look at their eyes and you find yourself wondering: what do you really know? What will you lose, as you grow? When will she realise that my bare arm isn’t food, though it’s warm and made of flesh? When will she realise that people still exist even though she can’t see them? When will she bring a toy to her mouth and not suckle?

You forget how fast they grow. The four-year-old comes out with new phrases perhaps once or twice a week and you think, “Wow, where did that level of comprehension come from? How did you piece together that logic without anyone showing you the map?” But the four-month-old changes almost daily. She studies your face and waits for you to smile before she does. Everything is a new challenge to study, from a fallen leaf to the route out of the dreaded car seat, not to mention those puzzling-but-awfully-tasty starfish things at the ends of her arms. She arches and levers her body until it moves, rolling the world into something new all over again. She hears your praise and files it away. This is a good thing. I will do this again. You put her into her cot and make it dark and she remembers that this means sleep. She wakes up alone and cries. You appear and she grins because it’s you, and you exist.

The love is the purest it will ever be. She loves absolutely and unconditionally because you keep her alive; but she also needs you absolutely and unconditionally to keep her alive. When your body is broken and your head is pounding she needs you. When you haven’t slept and your brain feels like something has crawled into your ear, curled up somewhere around your thinking parts and died, she needs you. She doesn’t care about the funny or the clever things you say. She doesn’t think you’re pretty. She doesn’t think you need a break. She doesn’t care about your great personality or that you lost 2lbs this week. She just needs you.

No one will ever need you so much as your babies. No one will ever love you quite the same way. And no one will ever be quite so fascinating.

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Mum of MUCUS (with the mildly helpful gadgets)

Life as a parent is all about tackling novel challenges, and last week I got to experience being a mum of Multiple Unhappy Children Unleashing Snot (or MUCUS, if you will) for the very first time. It all began when summer finally ended (yes!), Lara went back to pre-school (YES!) and promptly came home with the start-of-term lurgy (NOOOOO!) All I can say is that at least this illness didn’t involve the gastrointestinal bodily fluids of last term’s ailment. No, as colds go this one was mild, her temperature never got past the warmer side of 37.5 and, aside from an irritatingly persistent mental block against the act of blowing one’s nose, our pre-schooler emerged unscathed a few days later.

Gary didn’t catch it. I didn’t catch it. I thought, with the naïvety of only ever having cared for one small person at a time, that my super-fat breastmilk (not to toot my own horn but the child could smuggle walnuts in those cheeks of hers) would protect Annabelle from catching it. Turns out, that theory only really pans out if the feeder has the cold and the ensuing antibodies, which of course I did not. And, being a mum of the Insta-Facebook-boast generation, I’ve never discouraged those cutesy photo op moments when their heads are smooshed close together and neither one is grimacing. Of course she caught the cold.

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Life’s no fun when your nose is overwhelmed

I knew it was all too good to last. The two hour naps. The newfound ability to sleep for six or even seven hours at a time (not every night, I hasten to add). At first I thought it was a(nother) growth spurt… Then the snot began to flow in entirely disproportionate ratio to the size of the nose producing it. I had forgotten just how pitiful the mewling of a mucus-filled infant lacking the ability to breathe properly could sound. I hate it when I can’t sleep properly because my nose is stuffed up. For a baby who doesn’t yet realise she can actually breathe through her mouth as well the experience must be all kinds of scary new torture. No wonder the poor little scrap woke every hour or so in a panic. And yes, there are the mildly helpful gadgets to offer some relief – the saline drops, the humidifiers, the chest rub, the nose-sucker-outerers*. I say mildly helpful because any small comfort is almost instantly evaporated when your child breathes in, smiles for exactly one second and then sneezes, unleashing a whole new nose-full of misery. Ultimately, as with almost every hurdle one faces with small babies, the only real fix-it is time and patience.

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Yep, the red bit goes in your mouth…

The websites say it can last a week or more. Luckily we only had a handful of bad nights and, though the snot is still far more of a present feature than one would like it to be in one’s household, normal service has resumed and both children seem to be well on their way to recovery now.

That just better not be a tickle I can feel in my throat.

 

 

*What you see here is the NoseFrida, which is not, in fact, a stern respiratory nurse of vague Eastern European descent beaten down by the damn patriarchy but still ruthlessly passionate about extracting mucus from small babies, but a device for clearing tiny nostrils using an entirely disgusting-sounding-but-surprisingly-effectual-and-hygienic method. Google it. If you dare.


The night is dark and full of nappies…

Seven weeks on, and there are so many things I could say about having a second child. I’ve drafted and re-drafted this blog post over the last few weeks and every time it’s run three or four pages long… What is the most important thing to talk about? The difficulties? The exhaustion? The new struggle of getting two little ones out of the door on time in the mornings? The unprecedented joys and crushing lows? It’s all there. It’s all relevant. But, for me, I guess the most significant revelation since the big arrival of number two is how much of the following I didn’t know, realise or had simply just forgotten…

  • Labour fucking hurts. I knew this the first time around. Then when Lara got to about 18 months old those sneaky, broody hormones snuck in and slowly wiped out the memories of the screaming-bad contractions, the long hours of pain so extreme I could not bear to stay still. It wasn’t that bad, I thought, It can’t have been that bad if I’m willing to do it again… Seven and a half weeks ago it occurred to me – with crashing immediacy – just how very much I had forgotten how very bad it had been. And although my labour this time around was a lot less traumatic because it wasn’t so long and there weren’t the complications or interventions of the first time around, it still really fucking hurt.
  • On TV a woman will give birth (after about 13 seconds of pushing and not nearly enough mooing) and out pops a squeaky clean, wide-eyed, cooing six-week-old giant. Real newborns do not look like this. My firstborn looked like a small, red, angry little frog when she was born. My second-born resembled a puce, incandescently furious old man complete with nose furrow and milk spots. I say this with all the love in the world – beauty comes later. Eyelashes form, the eyes open properly and then they start to fill out in all their cute, squishy glory. It’s all a work in process…
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    Five minutes old and raging…

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    By day six things had improved significantly…

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    By week three we had reached cute town

  • Sleep deprivation is a form of torture. With baby one we settled into a fairly consistent routine of three hourly wakings and feedings from day one. Baby two had her days and nights the wrong way round for at least the first week, meaning she was up sometimes every 40 minutes at night. Some people can function well with as little as three or four hours of fractured sleep at night. I am not one of those people. In my working days I’d be sluggish if I got less than seven. It’s not just a case of being tired; it’s feeling that soul-sapping exhaustion that sinks through your limbs and into your core, making everything so heavy, so dull and sad that you struggle to see the good bits of the day. Fortunately, with number two I knew – know – it won’t last for long in the grand scheme of things. Just knowing that makes all the difference.
  • Having 13 months of breastfeeding experience does not a breeze feeding number two make. Sure, she got the hang of it faster than Lara did – 10 minutes after birth as opposed to two days – but the exhaustion of trying to feed any which way I could in the first few nights lead to a poor latch, which resulted in a cracked nipple. A graze on one of the body’s most sensitive parts which was then relentlessly agitated by a baby’s mouth every hour or so did not make for a quick, easy healing process. But, barring that little complication, breastfeeding has been easier, on the whole, this time around. There haven’t been any bruises or stretch-marks. Expressing is easier. Supply is better. The process is altogether much quicker far earlier on. It’s like my boobs have settled, with not so much joy as resignation, back into their former roles.

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    No one will ever stare at your boobs with the same intense adoration as a breastfeeding infant. The feeling will not be reciprocated.

  • Small babies are not always consistent. Some nights she will sleep up to 6 hours in one go and not need a nappy change at all. Other nights we’re up every 2-3, nappy bulging, smells emanating. It’s a nocturnal, foul-smelling, eye-rubbing adventure.
  • The jiggly-shuffle. It still works on the evening grumps, although now it hurts my back. This baby is slightly larger than my last one, I’m *sure* that’s all it is.
  • Times can be dark. There are some days – especially in the first week – when people say “congratulations” and a part of you thinks “why?” On the flip-side, there are other days when you want to stop life just as it is because you can’t imagine it getting any better. The lows may be unprecedented, but so are the joys. Watching my firstborn flourish into her new role as big sister. Receiving those first gummy smiles. Having my nappy changing technique described as “like those pitstop trucks in Cars.
    It’s hard. It’s exhausting. It’s flabby. It’s new. It’s unprecedented, in wonderful ways. It’s Annabelle. She’s here.

     

    annabelle smile

    I woke up FIVE times last night!


So here it is, Merry 30

Nothing will hammer home the approach of a new decade of age quite so adeptly as a teenage girl. It’s Sunday, December 11th, I’ve acquired enough shopping to elongate my arms at least another two inches (which I am to feel mainly in my neck and shoulders for the next week) and I’m standing in the queue at Primark in the centre of Reading. In front of me tower two smooth haired, leggings-clad teenage girls of an indefinable, wilderness-angst age. One of them notices one of the impulse buys lining the queue walkway, a handbag organiser that I may or may not have been surreptitiously admiring. She snorts and says, “Oh for god’s sake, what a Grandma thing to buy!”

And there it is. Mortality.

It’s been a suspicion of mine for some time that I’m no longer quite ‘down with the kids’, possibly because I still think of it as ‘down with the kids.’ This suspicion was confirmed when I felt the need to write myself a ‘to do’ list on Monday and then happened to glance a rather jaded eye down it.

I have, mostly, done all these now... except the bloody car tax

I have, mostly, done all these now… except the bloody car tax

That’s right, my memory has reached the stage of degradation whereby I need to have ‘de-flea bedroom’ written down in order for me to actually remember to do it. You’d think being bitten alive on a nightly basis would be reminder enough. You really would.

But, you know, there are benefits to getting older. I wouldn’t want to go back. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back 15 years. Every year brings new experiences. I had a baby, I got married, I wrote two books, bought, sold and bought another house, got promoted to editor of a magazine. I’ve done a lot for 30. And every week brings more new experiences. For example, this week I learned that the secret to de-fleaing one’s house requires a great deal of pure, unedited, incanfuckingdescent rage.

I’ve learned new words. I’ve learned to feel other words. Love. Grief. Joy. Pride. Labour. Words that, at 15, only spun and drifted from the tips of my fingertips, just as they should.

And, sometimes, things don’t feel all that different at all. Standing there in Primark, with presents for my loved ones digging grooves into my fingers, the queue shuffles forwards as the two girls began to discuss a party. “I don’t want to go to Alex’s ugly party,” one exclaims in a fit of pique. “I don’t even like him, he’s a ginge!” Ah. That old chestnut. I’ve certainly changed since I was 15* – I wouldn’t dream of allowing some bigoted, overgrown child’s comments to embarrass me these days – but perhaps the world of 15-year-olds hasn’t, that much. That bothers me. But it doesn’t surprise me.

Maybe that’s the saddest thing about getting older. When the surprises begin to fade into cynicism and innocence becomes a hard-eyed search for faults and cracks. It’s hard to be an optimist now. But not impossible… There’s so much still to look forward to – all the things I haven’t done yet. House renovations. Wedding anniversaries. More books to write and, hopefully – one day – publish. Family holidays. More babies, and guiding them through their own wilderness-angst years. Perhaps these are the sad, past-it ambitions of a handbag-organiser-admirer. I’ll take them any day. Cynicism hasn’t totally consumed me yet. After all, I’m only 30.

 

*Perhaps my new year’s resolution – or new decade’s resolution, if you will – should be to drop the whole “that’s the same as racism” response I came up with at 15 and launch into song instead…


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