Friday, 22 August 2014

ENTRY TWENTY TWO - HALCYON DAYS

The august sun climbs higher in the porcelain sky as we set off for our morning activities. It's another beautiful morning with only the occasional high white cloud marring the cerulean dome, though a chill hovers in the air like a warning. I note how low it hangs; although it is nearly nine the sun still has a long way to go till it reaches its peak, and its ascent seems more arduous. Perhaps it is tired from a long season of heat, for truly it has been a glorious summer. The sun has given generously of its life-giving rays, and we have basked in the long halcyon days of midsummer. Pale golden stalks of cut hay and wheat glisten across the land, testifying to a good harvest, while apples and pears ripen roundly, rosily, in the orchards. Everything around is green and glowing with mature growth, though scorched stretches of grass recall the long weeks of heat. Autumn looms long like a late afternoon shadow, but summer is still king; still has some tricks up its sleeve. 


Felix and I are in our heyday. Our love affair with Mother Nature and with each other is in full bloom, and every day is a path of discovery. His legs have lost a little of their chubbiness now that he is learning to walk, and with each passing day his steps become surer. Every morning as the late summer sun sails steadily upward we take off our shoes and walk on the dew-laden grass of the park. I notice how Felix lifts his heels away from the moist stems,
walking on tippy-toes, until his feet adjust to the cool carpet. It has become a daily ritual, this barefoot walking. As the sun beats down it illuminates the droplets suspended on the tiny green stems and the whole field glitters like Aladdin’s Cave. It is like walking on molten gold. In a matter of weeks walking barefoot will be impossible, like the haze of a dream barely remembered, but until then we will continue our pagan worship of the grassy god beneath our toes.  

With excitement I consider the coming months. I have always found the turn of the seasons exhilarating, that unmistakable shift in the energy of the earth that heralds a new season. It is for this reason that May is my favourite month. It stands a proud harbinger to summer, an angel at the gates of glory sounding its golden trumpet. May holds all the promise of summer while offering all the delights of spring. Blossom laden branches scent the days as they perceptibly lengthen and the sun begins its high summer arc. And yet it is a toss-up between May and September, the month that opens the door to autumn and ultimately winter and yet which still cocoons us in golden warmth and long days. We hope for an Indian summer, a welcome extension to our halcyon days, and yet we also wait with baited breath for hoar frost to replace the summer dew. For a carpet of diamonds to crunch upon in our welly clad feet. For mist and fog to weave their magic amongst the falling leaves. For autumn to rise from her summer slumber and gather her paintbrushes, dust off her palette and begin her magnificent transformation. At first just a delicate twinge of rose that colours the edge of a leaf, then catches like a wildfire and spreads scarlet across the trees in bold strokes. Gold and amber and copper and bronze streak through the green summer canopy. As the trees concentrate their strength deep inside their trunk-hearts and the leaves start to curl autumn seizes every brush and paints vivid orange on the burnished brown, splashes crimson and pillar-box and flame amongst the russet. 

A year ago I lay in the late-summer meadow, my belly stretched to capacity, offering myself and my unborn fruit to the heavens. I was full of apprehension and excitement. I feared the pain of childbirth, the swift plunge into the unknown. As I lay on the grass I wished to stretch this pleasant limbo as long as possible. I was in no hurry, unlike many I loved my late pregnancy, loved being heavily laden with fruit. I reveled in my womanliness, my fuller breasts, my high proud beach ball. Today, Felix is exactly eleven months old. I look at myself from the other side, across an ocean of change. I see a girl made a woman, made a mother, made whole. I am enraptured by Felix. He is so alive, more than anything I have ever known. He laughs, he points, he touches, he learns, he delights in his newfound knowledge, he strives forward. Spontaneously, without being taught, he has started offering sloppy kisses. Lips unpuckered he leans in, leaving a trail of saliva and a melted heart in his wake. He lavishes affection on everything; us, the cat, his toys. He is full of love, excitement, passion. He is what you can achieve in a year.

Friday, 8 August 2014

ENTRY TWENTY ONE - FREEWHEELING



I don’t make a habit of reading back these entries. They are much like messages in bottles; once composed they are cast out into the fathomless ocean of the internet, free to be read wherever they wash up. My earnest words; my heartfelt attempts to communicate the enormity, the joy, and the struggles of motherhood, sally forth into the big blue yonder like a flock of eager seagulls. Now and then I scan the horizon for a reply, and when I spot one arriving from far overseas I am overcome with exhilaration. It seems that many aspects of the journey into parenthood are universal, and it is hugely gratifying to think that you are understood by people you will most likely never meet, that your words are treasured and your emotions echoed. That the fear and anxiety you feel is collective. I am buoyed by this commonality, it makes me braver, better, happier. 

Nonetheless while composing this entry I found myself re-reading some early entries, seeking to recall my emotions shortly post-birth when I was unable to ride my bike. The first few weeks of pushing the pram. Now that cycles with Felix are part and parcel of our daily routine it seems impossible that we were ever grounded but grounded we were. How I longed for the freedom and swiftness of cycling, how bogged down I felt by the buggy! A hare trapped in the trundling body of a tortoise. And yet in hindsight those early days - our October strolls in flaming autumn colour - were fundamental. Like a dry stone wall being built progress was slow, for this was a process that could not be rushed. Healing had to take place, and I had to adjust to my new sedate pace. No more rushing around hare-eyed on my bike, forever late, forever in a hurry to get somewhere, do something, pack more in. I learnt to love the pram and its measured, contemplative tempo, and with every passing day, week, month, the tiny being nestled inside it grew and with it my love. 


And now - at last - the time has come. Four wheels have become two as Felix and I ride again. The foetal Felix bobbed merrily in his womb as mummy rode for miles and miles, unhampered by her bulging belly. If anything as he grew inside me and my stomach became a fit-to-burst watermelon I felt the relief of riding as compared to walking. Heavy feet that felt flattened by the extra weight could still push pedals effortlessly; overladen joints relaxed and became supple again. My heart pounded and with it his, our blood flowed together as we cycled in perfect harmony, the ultimate tandem.

The moment I put Felix in his new bike seat and cycled away together is one I will always remember. Every wobble made my heart race with fear, every slight shift threatened to throw me off course, made me take a deep steadying breath and remember what precious cargo I carried. As we made our careful progress I glanced behind to see what he was doing; his mouth was hanging open, gaping in sheer amazement as the world flashed by us. In his eyes was all the wonder of the universe, the incomparable freshness of experiencing something for the very first time. My heart swelled with a love so profound it was painful, and my whole body felt lighter than air. As we cycled alongside the river on our way home the water shone blue as the midsummer sky. Small white sails flashed brightly in the distance. The verdant green of the willows and poplars reflected in the water as we rode past, the briny river water whispering of its journey to and from the sea. The adventure was only just beginning….

Thursday, 24 July 2014

ENTRY TWENTY - THE EARLY BIRD AND THE NIGHT OWL



Felix turned ten months this week, yet in official terms his age is still zero. It’s a funny thing that for the first year of life, when we go through the most rapid and remarkable development we will ever experience, our age is classed as nothing. Especially if you consider that by the time a baby is born it is already over nine months old. 

I mention this as I have recently been confounded by people making variations on the same remark, with the inherent expectation that I will agree. ‘Doesn’t it fly by?’ they remark while shaking their heads with a mournful air, ‘Seems like only yesterday that Felix was born’. ‘Yesterday?’ I think in bewilderment. ‘Are you mad?’ His short life has been so packed with change, with growth, with discovery, that I feel a hundred years have passed since he entered the world. From being born helpless, nearly blind, unable to control his limbs, to being a curious, laughing, standing, sentient tiny person in ten months seems miraculous to me, and a thousand markers stand testament to every change. The day he ate his first solid food. The day he first stood up. The first time he smiled, laughed, got a joke. His first swim. His first wave. Each new skill is like the tiny dot of colour in a pointillist painting, and one of the ultimate pleasures of parenting is to stand back every now and then and see the points connecting into a painting of infinite beauty and complexity.

For me this richly layered tapestry of development gives the impression that time has slowed down; every week offers at least one remarkable change, whilst a month is time enough for complete transformation. Felix sheds skins like a hyperactive snake, and I gaze in wonderment as this tiny being takes shape before my very eyes. What I find fascinating is that although as parents we teach our children and take great satisfaction from watching them learn, a more mysterious part of development is those changes that happen independently of any guidance, that appear spontaneously as their personality begins to crystalise. In the last couple of days Felix has formed a very strong attachment to an ancient dog-shaped pillow that I have had since childhood. Its fur is matted and its eyes are droopy with age, but he loves it nonetheless, and has taken to laying his head on it with an expression of adoration. Where this passion has come from I have no idea, but this battered old blue dog has well and truly stolen his heart.


Whilst on the subject of transformation, a profound change has materialised in Felix’s sleeping habits. At long last, and after months of disruption, Felix has started sleeping through the night. Halleluiah and Praise the Lord. I have been scared to write about it, or even mention it in case there was some kind of regression, but it seems to be holding. We are now in the third week of sleeping through and it is marvelous - although with certain drawbacks - for we have entered the dreaded 5am zone. Oh rude wake up call, I hear you roar. There have been a couple of 445 wake-ups when I have peered at the time with a sense of compete denial, but thankfully these have ceased and he seems to have stablised somewhere between five and six am. 

Old habits die hard however, and the night owls have had to undergo their own sleep training. Previously bedtime in our house has been around midnight, often later. This is no longer acceptable, and thus a process of adjustment is underway with bedtime slowly shifting back around the clock. The Mediterranean style nine pm dinners have gone, as have the eleven o’clock baths. Writing till one am, my most prized quiet time when the night is still and the mind can freely process and express the thoughts of the day has been banished, replaced with morning nap writing. While Felix sleeps peacefully, exhausted from a heavy morning of play and swings and sometimes an early bike ride – more on that next time – mummy writes. Or reads. Or just sits and gazes out of the window at the verdantly green lime tree. The scales have tipped one way and then another, finding their balance once again, and I am quietly discovering the delights of morning.

I rise with the sun just peeping over the roofs of the houses opposite, and the air is fresh and clean and lovely like a crisply laundered sheet. It has been hot recently, proper midsummer hot, and by nine the freshness of dawn has long evaporated. But in the early morning, just an hour or so past dawn, the air is redolent with the scent of promise. While the sun rises warms the earth, browning the grass and heating the sea and ripening the harvest, our son rises in his cot, his smile beaming out like the rays of that huge star overhead. Felix greets each new day like a lottery winner receiving a cheque for £1,000,000. His joy at simply being awake is startling. He scrambles to his feet, chubby hands gripping the bars of the cot, and begins his morning exercises of ‘up and down’. Gritty eyed we smile through the cobwebs of sleep at his face, aglow with happiness and radiant with wakefulness. ‘Hello world’ he bugles wordlessly from the cot’ ‘It’s a beautiful day and a beautiful world and I can’t wait to get out there and start enjoying myself’. And despite my die-hard late-night habits, I find myself in thrall to his morning zest and energy. The night owl has taken a bite of the early birds worm, and might even get a taste for it...

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

ENTRY NINETEEN - POOH STICKS

I stand poised on the bridge, stick in hand. Felix stands next to me, a burble of excitement on his lips, his twig held out like a samurai sword. 'One, two, three...GO!'. We throw our sticks into the rushing river and jostle to the other side of the bridge, eyes seeking them in the fast flowing water. 

This may as yet be a dream, but the time for pooh sticks is coming soon and I can't wait. With every passing day Felix is developing, growing, becoming stronger, more agile and more able. Last week he pulled himself up to standing for the first time, now every piece of furniture is a prop in his mission. He cruises round the edge of the cot with devilish insouciance, sturdy legs ever more certain beneath him. His perambulations have rendered much of our flat a death-trap, and I spend a lot of time foiling his attempts to smash his head on the sharp corner of a coffee table or drink from the cats bowl. Things are not helped by the fact that we are still living in our one bed flat, our myriad possessions swelled by the preposterous amount of gear and toys that babies seem to require. Every surface, shelf and corner is crammed with stuff, piles of which I move around in an ultimately futile attempt to make more space. Every day is an exercise in making each room multifunctional.

Nevertheless, I am revelling in Felix's increasing mobility, and await the time for climbing trees and kicking balls with eagerness. Having Felix has made me realise just how much the child within me still thrives, and as he grows up and into childhood it is as if I can grow down and become a child again with him. I have found the bottle marked 'Drink Me' and shrunk so I can enter through the tiny door and back into the magical secret garden of childhood. The joy of motherhood is that simultaneously you have to become a real adult; forsaking selfish and stupid behaviour and keeping constantly vigilant and caring for your infant, and yet it also gives you a ticket to innocence. Already it has begun; playing hide-and-seek with Mr Squirrel, Felix's favourite soft toy, creating 'lamp mummy' to amuse him during mealtimes, creeping under lowhanging trees to undertake our 'jungle mission'. Every flower and leaf is a sensory delight; his tiny fingers reach out to feel their textures, button nose wrinking in surprise when I hold him closer to inhale the scent of a rose. Bark is particularly fascinating, its roughness both shocking and exciting, while rain seen through the eyes of a child is an exercise in wonder; the leaden downpour transformed into a thing of beauty and magic.  

Felix has now been out in the world for nine months, the same length of time he resided in the dark waters of my womb. From being a tiny collection of cells, multiplying and mutating and clinging to life, comes a fully formed and unique person. A baby who will become a boy who will become a man. A man who may pilot a spaceship to galaxies unknown, whose chance of living to 100 is more than one in three, who may unravel the mystery of consciousness. Having a child is like throwing a stick in the river of time, and watching them dance along the silver stream of life is the sweetest pleasure of all. 

“By the time it came to the edge of the Forest, the stream had grown up, so that it was almost a river, and, being grown-up, it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to do when it was younger, but moved more slowly. For it knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, “There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”  A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

ENTRY EIGHTEEN - WATER BABIES


“In fact, the fairies had turned him into a water-baby'. Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies.


I have long been infatuated with mermaids; those mysterious sea-sirens with tumbling tresses and bared breasts, fascinated by the juncture where smooth skin morphs into iridescent scales. As a little girl I proudly announced my intention to become a mermaid when I grew up, spending hours constructing fish tails to cover my boring old legs. Anything shimmery or with green or blue sequins was prized as ‘part of a mermaid tail’ and kept in a special box. I was at once enthralled and baffled by the bittersweet tale of the Little Mermaid, unable to understand why Ariel would ever leave the ocean for a man. I wanted to reverse the story and plunge once and for all into the embrace of the sea, where I could live in a coral garden with friendly fish as my companions. And now to my delight Poseidon has sent an enchantment from the depths of the ocean and turned Felix into a water baby. This should not come as much of a surprise; he had already swum in many
seas, rivers and pools while encased in the interior waters of my womb. The unborn Felix had floated happily in the warm turquoise bays of Rhodes. Been pummeled by the bracing Cornish surf. Jumped into the greeny-ochre rivers of Suffolk and swum the gunmetal grey sea at Brighton. Not to mention endured a thousand laps of my local pools and lidos. And now my baby has discovered swimming and taken to it like the proverbial duck. 


The transformation to water baby has been slow burning. Recently we fulfilled a longstanding dream and hired a former fisherman’s cottage in St Ives. Along with some old friends we spent several days on the beaches of this beautiful
peninsula; taking briny strolls, basking in the warm May sunshine, watching dogs bathing and barking on 'Dog Beach' and of course swimming and surfing in the cold blue waves. One day I spent hours on the beach with Felix, dipping his tiny toes in the shallows and running laughing from the breaking waves. His blue eyes widened as he took in the barreling surf that pounded the creamy sand, snuggling deeper into my lap as the sea-spray misted his face. Later the wind rocked him to a blissful sleep in his pram while we flew our kite high in the cornflower sky. The spell had been cast. 


On our return I started taking Felix to our local paddliong pool. Our first encounter was not a success; shocked by the chill of the sparkling water Felix screamed his disapproval, howling when I tried to dip him in. I tried another tack, hoisting him into the centre of the pool where a mosaic fountain splashes.
Immediately he started to tremble with excitement as he watched the other children splash amongst the spray. He gasped as the water covered his legs, then giggled and strained to get back in, chubby arms reaching for the jets that eluded his eager hands. Water is a mysterious element with qualities that even scientists fail to understand or explain, let alone a little boy who cannot fathom why the tickling jets he reaches for cannot be grasped. What makes my heart swell with pleasure is that his reaction to this is to laugh. I have never seen him laugh like he did at the pool; that is until we took him swimming in the sea last Sunday. 


On a glorious cloudless day we set off to Brighton to meet friends, converging on the stony beach like pilgrims at a holy site. It was a perfect beach day, warm and windless, and the sea lay calm and azure and inviting. I wasted no time in slathering Felix and myself in sunscreen and donning our swimsuits, and then the three of us, daddy mummy and baby headed down to the shore.
Tentative at first we took turns dipping his legs into the surf. He gazed out transfixed as tiny white capped waves wobbled towards him, gasping as the chilly water met his sun-warmed skin. Slowly but surely we dunked him deeper and deeper until a larger wave caught daddy by surprise and soaked them both. ‘Hahaha’ he giggled, blinking his eyes in surprise as the seawater stung them for the first time, but there were no tears. I cradled him in my arms, letting the sea-swell gently rock us. He looked out to the horizon, blue eyes reflecting blue sea, a smile playing on his lips. 

"I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living." Anaïs Nin.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

ENTRY SEVENTEEN - TWILIGHT ZONE


In the words of Sheryl Crow 'No one said it would be easy, but no one said it'd be this hard'. At times in the last few weeks, I have felt I'm swimming against an eternal tide, one that has taken on the force and brutality of a tsunami.

Felix has entered a twilight zone of sleep, and it's scarier than any horror flick. Mr Sandman has gone MIA, and with it my sanity. One night a fortnight ago I counted ten wake ups before the grey light of dawn crept around the sides of our improvised blackout. We have tried everything; more milk, more food, earlier bedtime, later bedtime, even a certain amount of controlled crying, though in a one bedroom place this quickly becomes a nightmare. I have spent several nights on the sofa and read all manner of articles regarding sleep regression, but the timing of his fuck up - between 6 and 7 months - does not correspond with the 8 month regression many seem to experience. 

Naturally, as ever with this kind of thing, the worst period corresponded with me accepting a role as Gallery Manager of Dadbrook Gallery. Suddenly I had a job to do. Broken nights and zombie days were followed by evenings on the computer; writing emails, hammering social media, contacting artists. Although over the moon about my new role, I fast discovered that consistent sleep deprivation can temper any amount of excitement. The saving grace was that daddy had a fortnight off work. We fell into a pattern; I did the graveyard shift whilst he rose with Felix and the sun.

*** 

As it has been a full four weeks since I last posted a lot has happened. Felix is about to enter his eight month and his sleep has improved. No miracle cure, but a permanent and strictly enforced change to his routine. After much tweaking we have come up with a dinner/bath/bedtime routine that seems to deliver results, although as prone to fluctuation and sudden spikes and crashes as the bloody stock market. In essence, in order to get him to sleep from roughly 7pm to 7am, albeit with at least one night feed - the twelve hour uninterrupted sleep remains a mirage - he needs to have a lot of food in his system. Thus mummy stuffs him with a generous portion of mush dinner (sometimes homemade, sometimes shop bought, I love thee Hipp Organic) followed by a whole mashed banana. Yep, a whole one. Turns out Felix has an infinite capacity for ingesting banana on top of his regular dinner, and perhaps unsurprisingly this seems to keep him full for several hours. This treat is followed by a lovely relaxing bathtime with daddy. A plethora of floating pals descend on the tub to shrieks of joy, the favourite being a wind-up green frog whose limbs are chewed with enthusiasm. Mr Blue, a cornflower rubber ducky, comes a close second, and a small but satisfyingly chewy starfish is also favoured. We also have a wall mounted frog whose legs dance and bow tie spins when water is poured in, and a floating rainbow Xylophone. As you do. 

Post bath it's time for night milk. As advised by the community midwife, a weaning baby needs food not milk to keep them full, especially a chunky beast like Felix who is officially on three meals a day (four if you count park snacks like apples and rusks) However they still need their full complement of milk, so once enveloped in his sleeping bag a bottle of milk is guzzled. And then it's anyone’s guess. Tonight he went down like a dream, drunk on milk and out like a light. Other nights we have had half an hour of frenzied screaming and cot gymnastics, for Felix has well and truly mastered rolling and crawling. Fabulous for daytime, not so good at night, when the last thing you want to see is a baby up on all fours and rocking furiously back and forth.
His preferred sleeping position is now on his front, bum in the air, face planted in the mattress. After 7 months of sleeping on his back, it is very disconcerting to see your baby upended in bed like a crashed plane, but I'm getting used to it. The only problem is that to get to sleep on his front takes a while of aforementioned rocking and crawling, until fatigue sets in or a last drink of milk pushes him over the edge. Babies; just as you get used to one thing they are on to the next. The rate of development is truly terrifying, a rollercoaster ride with no safety bars and no idea what’s ahead. And, despite having had to interrupt writing the end of this entry twice, I never want to get off.



Tuesday, 22 April 2014

ENTRY SIXTEEN - SEEN AND NOT HEARD

I am officially a mother. I know this because what I crave, almost above all else, is peace and quiet. Time alone to spend however I wish, frittered away reading or writing or simply being, is in very short supply.


Every day is a battle to find an hour or so in which to do something that pleases only me. Sometime it is writing this journal. Finishing a book which has been languishing on the bedside table. Going for a swim. Oh Holy Land of Pool, how I worship thee! I sit in the sauna, toasting myself till I am red in the face and dry as parchment, relishing the quiet and seclusion of the tiny, wooden walled cell. Once baked I enter the cool calm of the water, its turquoise embrace enveloping me willingly, and I swim my thirty lengths or so with the Zen like detachment of a monk. Never has the repetitive, essentially mindless activity of swimming been such a balm to my soul, and woe betide the chatty bather who tries to engage me in idle gossip. I offer them only a withering look and mutter something unintelligible and vaguely unfriendly till they leave me alone. 

***


Spring is currently in its most beautiful phase, to my mind at least. Seemingly overnight the trees have lost their winter pallor and their bleak branches become covered in a riot of blossom. In Japan, cherry blossom symbolises clouds, and is a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life. The country is known for its annual cherry blossom festival Hanami, which has its roots in the 5th Century. I wonder why we do not celebrate this delightful time, for we are truly blessed when it comes to blossom trees. First come the shell pink flowers of the Yoshino cherry, delicately fragranced and as pretty as pair of ballet shoes. The blackthorn is next up, producing a frothing mass of white blossom, while the pale pink blooms of the winter-flowering cherry can open anytime from November through to March in mild weather. Apples trees follow suit, normally from late April onwards, offering blushing pink buds which burst open to reveal pure white flowers. But possibly my favourite, and in its prime right now, are the mulberry pink blossoms which my hasty internet research
cannot identify. Is it the early flowering red peach, the atomic red flowering nectarine, or one of the many varieties of crab apple? In my ignorance, and based solely on the fact that its fruit are of a similar shade, I have always thought of it as the blossom of the mulberry tree. In any case, its intense pink blooms catch my eye everywhere; in gardens, hanging over paths and glowing beacon-like in parkland. The colour hovers somewhere between fuchsia and purple and brings to mind the deep pink of the Church of England. It is magnificent, and when I see a tree dressed in such regal mulberry robes I feel happy simply to be alive.



Recently the grassy knoll under my favourite tree has become a place of profound beauty. Always a lovely spot to sit, the blossom has transformed it into a cathedral of loveliness that would shame an angel. The recent mild weather has made my walks with Felix ever more pleasurable, and one day when I entered what I think of as my very own secret garden my heart leapt to see it draped in a delicate gown of white. It has become ever more beautiful, until last week I arrived to find that a lively breeze had begun to loosen the flowers from the branches. I stood under the snowy umbrella as silken petals floated down upon me and Felix, entranced by the sheer loveliness of it. In the dappled shade of the blossom-tree, on a bright spring day with blue sky and high scudding clouds, I lay on a blanket and let the sun warm my pale winter skin. Blossom drifted gently on the fresh breeze and settled on the pram in which Felix peacefully, mercifully, slept. I let my body relax and felt the frantic activity of motherhood seep out of every pore, while I surrendered myself to the silent contemplation of beauty.