Here we are at the 9-month mark… and Master J is commemorating the milestone with the first real mobility of his life. He’s been getting around remarkably effectively thanks to rolling for many moons now, but this morning he got himself from the sunroom to the courtyard by forward propulsion alone. It’s a commando crawl to be sure, like he’s dragging himself along a low Viet Cong tunnel, but it’s a crawl. And now he’s celebrating with a nap in his cot, so it’s a bit of a blue-sky day here and the day has barely begun (that’ll happen when it starts at 5.30 am…).
I thought I’d mark the occasion by sharing with you a number of things I love about him and about motherhood. Yes, let’s get giddy. I thought a bit of gush was long overdue, so I’m afraid you’ll either have to indulge me or look away.
Clearly in no order of priority:
- Cuddles. Master J is a very cuddly little Pooh. Feeling that warm little body snuggling close to mine, a little arm reaching around behind me and a chubby little hand grabbing the back of my t-shirt, makes everything else fall away.
- The sound of his laugh. He is soooo cheeky, and he is a genuine giggle-pot. I’m sure they must all have giggle fits, but I just haven’t heard other babies his age laugh as loud and as long as Mr. Hysterics over here. He is also either very ticklish or very quick to grasp the game and humour me, because going in for the killer tickle is guaranteed to produce peal upon peal of that outrageously beautiful laugh. He almost purrs at the end, it’s his signature of satisfaction and pleasure, and it makes my heart soar.
- His smile. Still toothless, his is the perfect gummy grin, and watching his whole face light up when either Llew or I walks into the room always threatens to overwhelm me. Unbridled joy at our mere presence: it’s rare, fleeting, and not to be missed for a pure bolt of fine feeling.
- His skin. I know, I know, all babies have such soft lovely skin, but Master J’s attracts an exceptional degree of comment, even from within my own Mothers’ Group. The other mothers often reach out and stroke his face and murmur about his skin, and strangers remark on it on a near daily basis. It’s not especially olive or especially fair or especially pink, so I’m not sure what the secret is, other than its silky smoothness, but you’ll have to take my word for it: he has special skin.
- His facial expressions. Master J is a very curious cat, and I love watching his brow furrow in consternation and his eyes widen in surprise. He likes seeing what he can see, see, see, and has made something of an art form of studying the world as it appears over my shoulder. He always looks primed for a very pleasant surprise; whatever it is that’s happening over there, he’s well up for it. I can’t carry him anywhere for very long these days, but I’ll miss it when I can no longer carry him at all, because there’s something very proud and optimistic about the jaunty way he rests one arm along my shoulder and takes in the scene. But there’s something to be said for observing his independent investigations, too. This morning’s solo expedition to the courtyard brought him in line with his shadow, which he proceeded to merrily pound as it lay helplessly pinned beneath him. When I picked him up and he began studying our combined shadow falling on the wall behind me, I swivelled around and waved, and he was just about demented with delight over that little trick. Then, back on the pavers, a gust of wind scattered petals and leaves across the courtyard, and he barely knew where to look. He loves being outside, and why not? Clearly it’s where all the action is.
- His efforts to talk. I love his burbling noises, his rude raspberries, his protests, his shouts, his ‘Ma-ma-mas,’ and the staccato rifle fire of his concerted effort to mimic the sound of my laugh. I love that when I sing my own version of the alphabet song to him (I don’t sing ‘A, B, C, D,’ I sing ‘Ah-ah-ah, Ba-ba-ba, Ca-ca-ca, Da-da-da’), he is utterly transfixed, watching my mouth carefully for clues as to how best to expand his repertoire. I can’t wait for him to talk to me, and I love how desperately hard he already tries.
- His sociability. He has been looking other babies in the eye for a long time now, and he cracks into the widest, most winning grin whenever another little one is brought into his sight line. He’s just delighted to see them, and I also appreciate that he doesn’t instantly lean in for a bit of an eye gouge, as some of the babies do. There’s one in my MG who reminds me of animals in the wild as captured in countless documentaries. Without fail this baby – a few weeks older than Master J at most – spies my beautiful boy across the room, immediately rears up, crashes over and smacks him down faster than you’d credit. I catch myself already worrying about that distant playground – will he be able to stand up for himself? How do I best equip him for that battlefield? He always looks so bewildered it just about breaks my heart. How do you explain that there’s going to be plenty more where that came from while trying to preserve the sunniness of his disposition?
- His eyes. He has very dark, knowing, ancient eyes that are altogether mischievous. It’s a deadly combination whenever he launches a charm offensive. No one is safe.
- His appetite in all things. Enough said.
- His perfect Master-J-ness. We didn’t know that it was him, that he was the little friend who was coming to join us, and yet he’s so absolutely himself, and so utterly impossible to imagine any other way that those days of not knowing it was him are hard to recall. It’s just that he makes so much sense of it, this state of being himself, that now it seems obvious – of course! Yes! You! Now we understand. It had to be him. It was always going to be him. We love him. We love him so much.
Let’s try a bullet point post just to get one away…
- Master J is turning 9 months old in two days. When I weighed him at the chemist last week, he came in at 10.4 kilos (fully clothed). When he was born he weighed just 2.83 kilos. My little man is growing up so fast it squeezes my heart until I’m breathless to think of it.
- Like his parents, he loves his food. So far just about anything goes, and I’m spending inordinate amounts of time steaming vegetables, poaching chicken, stewing fruit and so on so that he has a varied, healthy and pleasant introduction to the wonderful world of food. Happily, he seems to have overcome his lactose intolerance; not only may I now eat dairy again, but Master J absolutely loves yoghurt, and both cottage cheese and ricotta often feature in his lunch. He tried a slice of parmesan this afternoon and also found that to his liking. He still has no teeth, mind you, but he gums the good stuff like a demon.
- We’ve had to retire the swinger; I’m paying for our dependency on it now too, with attempts to reintroduce Master J to daytime cot use proving traumatic. There have been tears. His and mine. In fact, he rejected me for the first time in his life after an unsuccessful attempt to get him to take a nap on Saturday. He only calmed down when I handed him to Llew. Twice, just so as to really spell it out to me. I honestly think it’s because I was the one putting him in the cot, and he didn’t appreciate it. Of course I burst into tears and ran into the bathroom to bawl. And when he finally fell asleep later in the day from sheer exhaustion? Did he wake happy and rested? Oh no. No, he refused to look at me, let alone smile at me. In fact, the whole ordeal produced such a marked change in his demeanour toward me that I am still questioning the wisdom of continuing with these fraught attempts to get him to nap in the cot during the day. Is it really worth all the angst for a couple of brief siestas? I seriously doubt it. The truth is, I’d really rather just give him a cuddle and let him fall asleep in my arms. Thus far I’ve resisted the temptation to return to cuddle snoozes (previously the back-up plan when the swinger failed), because they unfortunately top the list of “sleep aids” I’m supposed to be eliminating so that Master J can learn to self-settle, but it hasn’t been easy and my resolve is hanging in the balance. After all, it’s hard to believe a nice long cuddle is ever a bad thing. On the other hand, if he learns to sleep in his cot during the day, I might actually get some writing done. And wouldn’t that be nice?
- Separation anxiety has been in full swing at Spew H.Q., the experience of which has been exhausting and disruptive. Our previously awesome night sleeper has been waking at all hours, and until I incurred his displeasure with my cot betrayal, Master J was not responding well to my leaving his sight for even a moment. A few weeks back, just having his grandma walk into the room was enough to set him off on a heartbreaking crying jag – he seemed to know what it meant: that I’d be leaving. We’re hopefully in slightly better shape now, although whether or not that’ll remain the case is anyone’s guess. We’re taking every night as it comes at the moment. Still, the signs are good. Unfamiliar people were really freaking him out about a month ago, and he’s back to dispensing smiles to and accepting hugs from strangers. Atta boy.
- Spew H.Q. needs a new name since – touch wood – Master J has been off his reflux medication for nearly two whole weeks.
- I’ve been thinking of pulling apart my manuscript and turning it into a writing guide analysing why it fails to function as a novel ought, and then publishing it online as an e-book. The thing is, I could write volumes about the process and about why this MS, despite years of dedicated effort, still doesn’t work. I just think there may be more value in a frank examination of its shortcomings than in continuing to try fixing it. I suspect – much as it pains me – that it’s broken at its core. Why would anyone want to read about the mechanical reasons why my MS malfunctioned? Well, I hope some of the writing has some merit, and it seems a waste for none of it to ever see the light of day, but more than that, I like reading about writing, so that makes me think that other writers probably like it too. Plus I’ve come to realise thanks to the Varuna gig that I also like writing about writing, and I think there is something potentially funny and instructive about dissecting my MS. This would all be with a view to hopefully helping other aspirants avoid and/or address some of the same pitfalls… what do you think? Is that something you think might work as an e-book?
It’s immeasurably cheering to be starting a blog post.
Hold that thought…
Ah, at last. I wrote that one and only line back on the 8th of August, and it’s taken until now to get back to it. But finally, here I am. There you are. Blimey, sorry, it’s been nearly a month since I last posted, a fact that makes me feel very queer and not a little emotional. Writing has always been so wonderfully therapeutic for me that I fear I’m cracking up now I’m having trouble doing any. Well, writing that isn’t freelance writing. Writing like blog writing, diary writing, letter writing and creative writing. Unpaid writing, the writing that is writing for the sheer love of writing. That’s the sort of writing that’s been squeezed out of the picture since I became a mother nearly 9 months ago.
I am just managing to keep up the monthly feature for Varuna, and it is that piece of work that’s singlehandedly keeping me from the brink, so I mean to continue as long as they’ll have me. It’s the regular freelance deadline that manages to straddle both spheres, being both professional writing and something that I love to do. This month’s is on e-publishing and for anyone who’s interested, you can read it here.
I’m writing this post courtesy of my newly negotiated arrangement with Llew. I am officially clawing back some set ‘Me Time’ every Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately the inaugural ‘Me Time’ this past Wednesday was a total non-event, since Master J was having some major settling issues and frankly he needed his mother. It wouldn’t have been fair to leave Llew to deal with it, nor fair to Master J while he was in so much anguish, and I wouldn’t have been able to do anything but worry myself sick even if I had managed to get out the door. Not that leaving is even necessarily part of the plan. I’d be quite happy to sit in bed reading a book or writing a letter on my night off, it’s just that when Master J is hysterical in the next room, it’s not possible to do anything other than gnaw at my bottom lip and time to the second how long it’s been since the last time I ran in to comfort him.
It’s taken me a good long while to insist on this arrangement – longer than it should have given I’ve always known I need time alone. I guess I kept thinking it would happen of its own accord, or that Llew would magically intuit my needs (someone just knocked at the door and my heart PLUNGED – and this from a girl who has always loved the impromptu visit… what’s happened to me?! Thankfully it was just a lady collecting Census forms – happy day!) and cater to them. I didn’t want to have to ask, much less demand regulatory changes to our household, but that’s exactly what it’s come down to because there was no naturally evolving ‘Me Time’ in the offing. Once I lost A, the lady from the corner store, well, that was pretty much it. Llew’s parents are great with helping out when I get a freelance job, and offering occasional date nights, but they have their own lives to lead, and time out for me to do nothing – or at least nothing official or income generating – is a much harder sell. So I finally said to Llew, “Me Time is going to have to come from Us Time, otherwise there’s No Time.”
He and Master J left about a half hour ago, and if you exclude the 30-minute run I had this morning (Llew takes an hour – an imbalance that neatly highlights my overall mismanagement of self-interest and my acute failure to claim anything like equal time for myself), I am blissfully alone for the first time in over a fortnight.
Part of me just wants to go to sleep.
I hate that so much of this experience is flashing past me and I can’t snatch back at will a few amusing memories to share with you now I’ve finally got the chance. Because it is so full of mishap and madness, and Master J is a miniature laugh riot, but the truth is I mostly just feel tired and blank. When I think of Christopher Hitchens’s now notorious piece for Vanity Fair, Why Women Aren’t Funny, I imagine he really meant mothers, because there is something about motherhood that – despite the deeply comedic set-up – threatens to overwhelm even the sturdiest good humour. Exhaustion is a real party pooper, for a start, but it’s more than that.
Motherhood compromises a woman’s autonomy. This phenomenon of the split self simply doesn’t happen to men, so some mothers inevitably begin to nurse a cold nugget of resentment at their divided core. Worrying at this little stone ritualises the loss of selfhood while constantly implicating the other parent, who – ignorant of the potential malignancy of this pulsing ember – continues dancing off to golf (or wherever) encased in a warm glow of well-being. And sometimes it is precisely this happy ignorance that is so enraging.
How could you not know? Can’t you see? Can’t you hear what I’m saying to you? Are you deaf, dumb and blind? How can you fail to realise what’s happening to me, what this is like for me? Why hasn’t it happened to you too? Fuck you!
Conflict is a great ingredient in humour, a frequent onstage guest during any decent comedy hour – and motherhood is nothing if not a study in the conflicted self – but sometimes it’s hard to be hilarious when you’re angry, sad, frustrated, anxious, scared, hungry, tired and bored out of your fucking skull. I love my beautiful boys, my husband and my child, and I am not complaining about what I know is a privileged life – I’m so, so, so lucky, and I count my blessings each and every day – but even so there are days when I struggle. I find myself thinking about other women a lot these days – specifically women in less fortunate circumstances than my own. I have support, I have a roof over my head, I have love and friendship, and I enjoy enormous freedoms that are routinely denied to many mothers around the world… so how are they doing? And in infuriatingly typical ‘mother’ fashion, I tend to hang my head in shame and conclude, “No doubt so much better than me.”
Oh, a small postscript: I’m now officially a Twit: DianaMJenkins. Although I haven’t managed to come to grips with how it all works, learning to use Twitter is my latest tech challenge. Let me know if you’re out there somewhere too.