I have never really understood why anyone would want their babies to stay as babies. Right now it is 3:36am and I am feeding my baby. I knew my baby needed feeding because he cried at me. This cry woke me up, got me out of bed, continued as I fumbled around changing a nappy half asleep, continued as I washed my hands, found a cloth, carried him downstairs to the chair where I feed him and escalated to a full power scream for the few seconds before he got fed. I am happy to serve his royal babyness, but right now, I would rather be asleep.
Babies scream at you. It is your job to figure out why and do something about it. It is everyone else’s job (even strangers in cafes) to tell you what they think it might be, not by talking to you, but by addressing your baby,
“Oh dear! What’s the matter with this little sweetheart? Are those teethy pegs being naughty? Do your teethy pegs hurt? Or do you need feeding? Yes, you’re hungry aren’t you? Do you want your milk now right now? Do you? Do you want it right now?”
Then they might address me,
“I think that’s a hungry cry. . . . Yes! Yes it is isn’t it, little lovely? Are you hungry?”
It’s nice of people to talk to my baby. I am pleasant to them. They are often lovely people. It does make you feel though, as if the world is saying, you are just not getting the message, are you? Your baby needs something, can’t you hear him? This old lady knows what he needs. Don’t you know? Can’t you read him?
I have decided to admit, that on baby number two, six months in, I still have no idea sometimes what my baby wants. I go through the checklist, food, nappy, comfort, entertainment, tiredness, teething pain etc. I try to address each issue in turn, trying to work out what is wrong and remedy the problem. Sometimes it just seems that nothing works. This can reduce the most capable woman in any other situation to feeling pretty pathetic on becoming a mum. Babies are cute but spending your day (and night) answering to a wordless cry and not always knowing what to do about it can be tough.
I never wanted Audrey to stay as a baby. Every stage of her development was celebrated by me. Partly because I was proud of her but I also because I wanted her to stop being such a baby. I had bags of love and compassion for her but I wanted her to be able to tell me what was wrong. I loved cuddling and holding her but I wanted her to get up and walk to where she wanted to go. I never understood when people would mourn their child growing up.
But something changed for me recently. It started the summer I was pregnant with Arthur. Suddenly Audrey was quite a bit taller, stronger, and even skinnier than ever before. Her elbows became more pointy, her knees more knobbly and I started having to buy her clothes aged 4-5 (she is only three), shortly followed a few months later by clothes aged 5-6. Her speech, vocabulary and attitude went up to a whole new level;
“I wanna snack.” Changed to,
“Mummy, I’m a little bit hungry. Can you give me some options as to what I can have for a snack?”
I am not exaggerating.
I would ask Audrey a question and instead of answering ‘yes’ she would say, ‘I expect so’ or ‘that would be nice’. I am making it sound like she was an angel at that time. Not true. She was still naughty and angry about things a lot of the time. It is just the way she would talk that shocked me. My nan was talking to Audrey about blossom saying,
‘Can you see those pretty little flowers in the trees? Aren’t they lovely? Lots of tiny little flowers all together!”
“Are you trying to tell me about the blossom?” She replied, quite kindly, but also as if my Nan did not know the name for it.
I talked with her about the new baby coming and we read books together about having a little sibling. We went to midwife appointments together and she used the Doppler to listen to Arthur’s heartbeat.
“Do you really think you can cope with two children though Mum?” She would ask me on the way home.
Then there was preschool. The government are happy to pay for 15 hours of childcare a week in a lovely little class of her peers. I would be a fool not to take it, right?
So why did I burst into tears when I got home the first morning I got back from dropping her off? Why did the house feel so horribly empty? Why was I trying so hard not to cry every day that first week as I dropped her off?
I put it down to hormones at the time. I was about 39 weeks pregnant but looking back I know it was a bit more than that. As naughty as she is, she is my Audrey and apart from the necessary action of going to work I was not used to spending 15 hours a week separated from her.
My baby had changed from a toddler into a girl. A strong, tall girl. An independent, stubborn, fantastic and clever girl. Even though I am proud of her for every way she continues to grow and become more independent there is another part of me that is grieving what she is leaving behind.
I read or heard somewhere that the parent and child relationship is the only relationship where its sucess is about growing further apart. Every other relationship in our lives is about coming together but as a mother you start out as one, only to separate, your child growing further and further away from you.
Maybe this is not quite accurate. There are ways in which you may feel closer and can communicate more as your children grow, developing a friendship, as well as a parent child relationship. Every stage of development in children offers more opportunities to play, talk and enjoy more of the world together and yet, sitting right here in my armchair, in the quiet house, with the rain and the dark outside and my baby fed to sleep on my lap, I now understand how precious this time is.
We do not get to keep them. They are only this close for a while. It is a great and a difficult privilege.
I have never been into babies. I never played with dollies as I girl. My brother and I would take them apart and use the heads to play cricket. Their smiley little faces whizzing through the air made us laugh until we cried.
But babies are the opposite to dollies. Their chubby little faces and rosy cheeks are not frozen in time. They are racing out into the world. They are growing, growing, growing. So fast you can almost see it. So fast they are turning into children, their babyness gone forever. They are rolling, crawling, toddling, walking, running and scooting, while we struggle on behind, wipes in hand, instagramming the best bits as we go and trying not to feel sad about those tiny little babies they left behind. Those babies that slept in our arms. Those babies who screamed at us in the early hours. Those chubby little fingers and toes and warm little faces wiping snot and drool on our shoulders.
I get it now, this baby thing and I’m going to be grateful for each of these moments.
Even if they are at four in the morning.