27 February 2009

I wish these things could name themselves

Heaven knows he's miserable now

For the time being I have a snoring baby in a front-facing carrier, and although we’re indoors and still in our outdoors clothes, I thought I’d let him wake up on his own while I pottered about online.

This morning I fed him and changed him and got him ready for our very first postnatal class, which took place in a massive house about twenty minutes on foot from where we live. I thought I’d be freaked out at having to spend time at a posh woman’s house with posh mums, but it wasn’t like that at all. Everyone was very friendly and we all had so much to say that the class ran over by about a half hour.

I decided right away that even though she seemed a bit shy, I wanted to make friends with Morag because who wouldn’t want a friend named Morag? But after my positive first group experience, and topping this with an impromptu lunch with one of the other mums at a local cafe, I got to thinking: why stop there? I think I could probably befriend everyone in the class, so long as they had an hour to spare and a bus pass.

Gosh, when did I get so brave? It’s really out of necessity though. My new friend Effy said that by three months there’s no question about whether or not you should leave the house, as by then your baby needs so much stimulation and so little sleep that it will be impossible to entertain him at home all day on your own. So I guess it’s a good thing I’m finally starting to join in with this little community of first-time mothers.

All the things I used to be judge-y about and think were really lame are actually . . . well, probably really lame. But this is the world I belong to now, and if you don’t embrace it and get on with things, then you will have to be that cool, cynical person all by yourself in your lonely little flat with nobody to laugh about it with.

I am becoming very adept at these five minute posts. Sorry, but it’s quantity over quality until someone else is equipped to settle this screaming kid of mine. Bye!

23 February 2009

Stealth update

Our boy turned six weeks old on Sunday. Supposedly this is about the time he will start to settle, if not in himself then at least into a routine. We shall see.

This weekend was brilliant, against all odds (I was sick and sleep deprived). We became really brave and took Hartley to an exhibit at the Photographers' Gallery in their new location off Oxford Street, which necessitated a trip on the underground and of course many stops along the way so mummy could buy soap and try on clothes and get caught up in all the fabulously expensive baby gear most stores have on offer (we conceded and bought him a wee American Apparel hoodie in navy, which he’ll be able to fit for the next ten minutes, and a few more sensible items at H&M).

In retrospect, the trip was a bit overly ambitious maybe, and we were like the walking dead by the time we got back to Muswell Hill (Hartley in disarray being carried in Daddy’s arms, scrap the baby carrier and warm layers, let’s just get home already), but at least I finally got to experience the joy of public breastfeeding, which we did over lunch, in a private change room at the department store and on the bus ride home. It wasn’t too mortifying, and the loud sucking noises caused an amusing stir among certain nosy onlookers.

And somehow, after a Sunday diet of pain au chocolat and chocolate and cheese puffs and more chocolate and pasta and chocolate sponge, I managed to drop another .5 lbs. I’m already nearly back to my pre-pregnancy weight with nary a stretch mark to be seen, so in truth, this childbirth experience was not without its mercies. I say this, but I’m still unable to put down my infant for more than ten minutes without paying a terrible price. Hence: hello and goodbye.

20 February 2009

A real boy

Bruce is currently out on his first independent excursion with our son, which means that for the first time in six weeks I have the place all to myself. They’re only going down to the comic shop, so in lieu of inviting scads of local teenagers on Facebook to come over and trash the place, I’ve opted for the simpler pleasures of writing and sipping a hot cup of coffee. I’m sure there are other, better activities I could be engaged in that require both hands and the absence of screaming (showering, cleaning, sleeping, eating a messy curry) but I’m a creature of habit, so.

The day before last, Bruce took some banked time off work and we went out to have Hartley’s hearing tested (passed!) and also to register his birth. Lately we’ve been taking him out for entire afternoons, and so long as he is in his front-facing baby carrier, we’re able to board busses, browse the shops along the high streets, sit down to lunch and return home with nary a peep out of him.

He picked the registrar’s office in Islington (the furthest he’s been from home, in other words) to spark a debate about our little agreement, however, and Bruce and I regarded our screaming bundle in mute astonishment as he exercised his little lungs in the chilly air and passersby scanned our faces for telltale signs of a deviant or neglectful parent.

I always imagined that when my kid lost his shit in public, my Super Mummy persona would emerge and I would intuitively jump into action, which I was mostly right about, except the actions mainly involved grinning and shrugging and digging around impotently in the change bag for some magical hush potion, none of which solved the problem. Luckily he managed to calm himself down by the time we reached the bus stop, but it will be a dark day in North London when it’s for real and I am alone with him on some form of packed public transport during rush hour. Because he can really belt it out when he puts his mind to it.

Look at me here, an adult alone and in possession of two or more sex toys, a television and a cupboard full of hot drinks and what am I doing? Writing about the baby. It really is an all-consuming role, though, this parenting thing, and some days I wake up and wonder if I will ever again be able to eat breakfast and take a shower in the same morning, or watch an entire episode of Big Love without turning to Bruce and giving him the Is that the baby? look or, hell, go out for an afternoon or evening on my own.

But by then he’s already squirming and grunting and indicating that I should feed him or pick him up or change him already for heaven’s sake and I don’t have long to ponder these things. Though I finally understand what it was my mother was trying to protect me from all those livelong teenaged years. How on earth do teenage mums and single parents do this? Don’t answer that, I’m just being silly. I’ve come down with the flu again, which will add another challenge to the week ahead, as though I needed one.

Bruce just called to say that he was minutes from home, so I guess that’s time. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to write here again, though I suppose half the fun of having a blog is finding the time to write in it, yes?

18 February 2009

Bruce bet me 50 quid this wouldn't work

What shall I spend it on?

11 February 2009

Hartley: One Month

I can’t believe that it’s been a whole month since the three of us began this terrifying, wonderful journey.

If you’d told me back in December that, within a few short days of meeting the little human whose gestation caused me months of sickness and pain, I would discover a new and intense kind of love that would have me jump out the emergency exit of a plane at 60,000 feet without a parachute if I thought that it would save him from harm, I might have been a bit dubious.

But here we are, high above the earth without the customary safety features, and I finally understand that nobody is born with a maternal instinct, or perhaps all women are, but it is not something you can teach a person or prepare for yourself because it will not kick in until it has something (someone) to kick in for. And I’m holding on for dear life, except this time it’s not my own – it’s his, and I would fashion him a parachute from my own skin if we suddenly went plummeting towards the earth and there was no other way to save him.

Quite often as he’s falling asleep, he will throw his arms out stiffly and bring them trembling back to his body with a whimper, as though he is falling from a great height. I try not to visualise a thousand perils, an infinity of ways the earth could take him from us. I try to harden my heart, because it is much too soft now, almost liquid, and while it takes the impression of every hiccup, every sigh, every discontented chuckle and near-smile, it also traps the debris of imagined catastrophe, of extradimensional grief.

Fear and joy are two sides of the same heart, though, and he has brought us so much joy. He is the inventor of ‘rooty tooty’ and the Anaconda song (sung to ‘I Want Candy’); his soiled nappies and pouty-lipped wailing the cause for celebration and laughter; his wonderment fodder for our own renewed perception of the world, which has never seemed so incandescent, so furiously moving, so mutable and transient.

Our arms have found new ways of holding, of handling and doing - our bodies the very means of transport, of shelter and sustenance. From ourselves this incredible thing has emerged, and into him we continue to pour our entire selves, because he is here and we love him and can do nothing else.

Parenthood does not get worse before it gets better – it’s worse the moment you take off, and then over time, somehow, it does, mercifully, get better.

It has been one month since I first held your warm, solid, shivering body against mine and saw your strange, beautiful face through a fog of fear and exhaustion, Hartley (my darling, my insatiable anaconda), and you’ve grown more beautiful each and every day since. I love you very much.

08 February 2009


Hartley turned 4 weeks old today, and we are so proud of our little mite: for sleeping through a 3-hour-long shopping trip on Saturday - one that included three bus rides (and two quick jogs to catch said buses), a stop for lunch and several stuffy shops, including a spontaneous trek along the Broadway for coffee, jewelry and a much-needed bag of Percy Pigs.

I also managed to take him out for the first time on my own this afternoon, though I had plenty of assistance from Amy, who helped me dress him in his awful new winter clothes that he hates, got him buckled into the baby bjorn, saved me from perilous sidewalk slush and pot-holes, and generally settled us in for a brunch at the noisiest, kid-friendly restaurant this side of North London. Bless him, he didn't make a single peep, even though a much older baby one table over kept shrieking at irregular intervals, and seemingly for his own amusement.

This week, he has learned how to spend periods of time awake and content, and will either focus on elements of his environment, like our faces or his cot mobile, or listen intently to music we play him (Cat Power was an instant favourite). And although it's rare at this age, I swear that sometimes when he meets my gaze, he breaks out into a full-on, non-gas-induced baby smile. He was holding his own head up and sucking his tiny thumb at one week though, so I wouldn't be surprised.

It's a cliche to be sure, though I can't help but think that he is the most beautiful baby I have ever laid eyes on. Thank goodness for that, because he still does his fair share of screaming when he's not building his public reputation as a complete angel.

05 February 2009

First in a series of one-finger-typed posts

Taking care of a fussy infant is seriously hard work - taking care of a fussy infant when you have a flu is seriously much harder though.

Some of you from the old journal may recall the harrowing tale of my brief stint as assistant to the tyrannical producer of a Hollywood film. I've been reminded of this undistinguished period the last few days simply because it dawned on me that the needs of my newborn son are only slightly more discernible than those belonging to that Worst Ever Employer, and his mood vastly less predictable. And if you ever find yourself comparing your child to the man who once threw a gold-plated pen at your head suddenly and without warning then you have my sympathies and I won't try and talk you down, as that ledge you're currently teetering on probably feels a lot more secure than the nursery you likely just fled from moments ago.

Yesterday, I finally managed to eat my lunch at four, scarfing it down within the precious few minutes between feeding him and when he noticed my nipple was no longer in his mouth, which, let me tell you, is cause for great hysterics in these parts. Sometimes he will fall asleep mid-feed and come unlatched and I can sneak off to relieve my aching bladder or refill my water bottle. If I take any longer than two minutes though, from the bedroom will emanate the most outraged squawk - one that directly translates as: HEY! YOU WITH THE CRACKED, SHREDDED NIPPLES! GET YOUR ASS BACK IN HERE, I WASN'T FINISHED WITH THOSE!

Because he is only small, he often forgets that actually, yes, he was finished feeding and so I have to latch him back on as you can't really argue with that kind of logic - the kind of logic that shatters glass and wakes the dead and temporarily deafens the neighbourhood dogs if you let it continue building its argument for too long.

As I've explained to people who have never given birth to such an inconsolable creature as Hartley, caring for him is a little like holding your finger on the trigger of a live grenade that you are not allowed to throw (though the council of Haringey might be a bit more lax about these things)- no matter how exhausted you are, no matter how much your arms ache from all the rocking and holding and winding and carrying, you can't for a second let go of that trigger or the consequences will be devastating.

And the only way to diffuse that bomb for a even short while is to plug it with breast tissue until it stops fussing and falls asleep. Even then, you must lie very still and try not to breathe too loudly, like so...