19 August 2010

Hartley: Eighteen and Nineteen Months

Hello my darling,

You know how they say with jet lag that you need one whole day to readjust for every hour of time difference? I’m not actually sure that this is true, but I’ve been thinking: for every month of your life beyond, say, seventeen, I contend that anyone wishing to document this period requires an additional three – not only because the developmental milestones begin to take on a half life, but because this acceleration necessarily occupies much of the documenter’s time. In other words, Chicken: you’re a handful.

I might have been tempted to allow myself to become totally consumed by the hourly theatre of our engagement, but then something happened to make me realise that getting these things down is essential, and that something was muh-mon.

Let me explain. You’ve been a very lucky baby in the sense that mummy has not, until very recently, come up with an adequate argument for weaning you. Not the tactful and tactless remarks about how it appears to others, not the time it takes nor the fear of co-dependency has managed to convince me to suddenly stop giving you milk in the way you’re accustomed to having it. Because this bond has stretched into speech, you are able to not only ask for it (duck) but also determine which side your next sip is coming from (muh-mon - an approximation of ‘other one’).

Yesterday, after a short discussion, your father and I decided that now would be a good time to wean you. I am still trying not to feel selfish in wanting to do this, as you so plainly love your milk, whereas other weaned babies were growing bored of it anyway. But it has to be done sometime, and we were prepared to drop the morning feed for a week to see how you got on. You adjusted so well that, by breakfast, your daddy got excited and figured we may as well drop the evening feed too.

The morning feed was daddy’s favourite one because you’ve always been a little comedian within that first hour of waking, and you’d intersperse your drink with many surprising antics, such as when you decided to start speaking in a whisper, or when you said nonsensical things using that scary redrum! voice we taught you to use when saying daddy. I guess you had to be there.

The nighttime feed has always been my personal favourite though, because you’re just as silly, but in a sleepy, sweet way, and there are few greater pleasures than gently lowering you into your cot as you yawn and sigh and giggle and sing to try and make me stay a few seconds longer. I very nearly let your father talk me into dropping the nighttime feed too, but in the end I had to insist on another week - partly due to my own discomfort, but mainly because I want to say good-bye to this lovely phase in our relationship. It is very hard, if not impossible, to say good-bye to something that is already gone, Hartley.

So that night I sat with you in my arms, in the wicker chair by the window, and when you were finished with one side of your feed, you sat up and said muh-mon. I couldn’t believe that it had only taken me a single day to forget this little Hartley-ism, which surely would have been lost had I gone ahead with the plan of full-out weaning. This is what I mean about it being important to get these things down in the moment. I think some people believe that if you forget something, it wasn’t useful or important enough to keep in mind to begin with. I happen to believe that human beings have very poor memories, even those who have good ones, so. Muh-mon. I promise I won’t forget.

So in the spirit of remembering, and perhaps doing what the Impressionists did best, I will try to employ a lighter stroke and more movement in this next, broader sketch of your life thus far.

You know zillions of words, and if you can’t easily pronounce something, you simply replace it with another word you like better. I am your best translator because I’m almost always a witness to these syntactical inventions, though sometimes even I struggle to work out what you’re saying. It took me a long while to figure out that when you say Ahmudam (like Ah, madame but less French), what you mean is: Mother, please follow me – I’ve something to show you. And when you say mudam and stab your index finger at the ground, it means you want me to settle in and watch you. If you see something you want, you often indicate your desire by saying I dedit (I’ll get it) rather delicately, which sometimes means that I should get it for you, and when you’re climbing backwards downstairs you say pat pat, knee knee (feet feet, knees knees), which is our climbing-down-the-stairs mantra.

It didn’t take you long to work out that if you come to me with your hands atop your head in a gesture of alarm and shout OHHH NOOOO, I will follow you back to the living room where you’ve tipped your bowl of cereal onto the floor because you were finished your breakfast and didn’t know what to do with the remnants. One time you went very silent, and I came in and saw that you’d poured an entire bottle of water onto the coffee table and were trying to mop it up with a wet wipe. You looked up from your work and said OHHH NOOOO as though we were both the victims of a terrible misfortune, perhaps some natural disaster, like a flood that only hit certain parts of England – specifically our coffee table. In these instances, I say Oh no! right along with you and quickly help you clean up your mess. I’m not sure if I’m meant to be telling you that you’ve done wrong, but I figure there’s plenty of time for the naughty corner or whatever.

Your father has already taught you the merits of the naughty corner. If you colour on the telly, for instance, he will say in his best gruff voice: HARTLEY. DO YOU WANT TO GO TO THE NAUGHTY CORNER? And you grin and say Yeah. And then you toddle off to park yourself at the designated seat of naughtiness (the front entrance), and wait with great anticipation for him to appear so that you can scream and giggle. It’s a lovely game that completely undermines the purpose of a naughty corner, and we may have to think up some other way of discouraging bad behaviour in the future, when presumably we’ve worked out the difference between ‘bad’ and ‘normal for this age.’ Possibly when you’re sixteen and you set fire to someone’s garage, we will ask you if the garage deserved it. Was it at least empty? And then maybe delete a few apps off your phone.

What else, what else? All dogs are Pippin (Puh-Pun) because for you that shaggy mop from Come Outside is the only non-threatening beast on four legs, and I don’t want you to spend your adolescence cowering from the distant sound of amicable barking. Every time we encounter a dog, be it extradiegetic or in person, I say, “Look! A Pippin!” and you say Puh-Pun, and then moan in abject horror as I try to get you as far and fast away from that doggy vibe as possible. I guess it’s a work in progress.

You can say your own name, in a sense. You point at your throat when you say it, which is how we realised you were indicating yourself in the first place, and you leave out all but a few vowels, so that the end result is something like: ah-aye. You aren’t pronouncing it wrong – you just say it with an English accent, which I guess makes sense, seeing as you’re part English. You could be honouring your Canadian heritage for all I know, in which case you are actually saying ah-eh? We’ll never know, because one day you’ll go off to nursery and your only influence on speech will be a roomful of limeys, and that’s what you’ll best remember. Memory gets better with age, even as parts of it worsen (I’ve no idea if that’s true, but thought this might be another good place to impart wisdom).

Oh and you can run. You can run and you can clomp around slowly in my shoes and you can hit other children over the head with a toy train... Can we skip that last bit actually? Okay good. Your physical confidence is sometimes greater than your agility, though you nearly always manage to stay upright, calculating obstacles and adjusting for them at the last moment. It’s only when you’re tired that you start falling all over the place, though I’ve become very good at anticipating nap time, which we’ve finally pushed to the afternoon, where it belongs. This leaves ample time for play groups and the soft play area in the morning, where my only concern involves you flapping your little chicken wings at somebody who maybe holds a toy you’d quite like – flapping them very close to their face and heads, some might even say making contact in a less-than-gentle fashion...*trails off into a strangled cough*.

So you see: you are coming into your own. A true toddler bursting forth and causing real things to happen in the world: sometimes tears, but far more often smiles and laughter and awe and so much love. I want to bite your little chin because it sticks out when you grin and that invites me to pinch it, which in turn tickles you and so you laugh. I hope you will always laugh easily. It’s a skill that people tend to lose over time. That is actually true.

Okay my little chick. OH. One more thing: you know the melody and lyrics to “Twinkle Twinkle” and you sing it all the time. You also know “Old MacDonald”, “Horsy, Horsy” and a wealth of children’s television programme material that would probably impress no one but your future psychiatrist. And you hold out your hand when there’s a bit of sand or food on it and say Oh, dirty like a posh little Englishman. And just this afternoon, as you negotiated a perilous part of the garden walk, you shot out your arm and yelled hand! So I put my hand out too and you gripped my finger with your five little cold ones and off we went.

See what happens when I leave these letters too long?

Oh darling, I’m so sorry I didn’t mark your 18th month, which you spent in Canada with your Grandma (“GG Bijou” we called her, so we wouldn’t confuse you with your grandma here) (Don’t ask me, she chose it) and grandpa. That was such a big one. But I promise I will try to make more time to get these memories down for us from now on, even if they only serve to sustain my vision of you as a baby, which I think you’ll always be, in my heart.

Happy eighteenth and nineteenth month, Chicken. I love you very, very much.

03 August 2010

An excerpt of a story I will never write - not about babies

Here’s the last assignment I did for my writing class, which ended in July. I’m posting it here because originally we were supposed to turn it into a story, or even a novel. We were meant to do this on our own time, but as you know, I can’t accomplish anything unless there is a toddler standing directly over me with an empty bowl of fruit and screaming BUBBIES; and then I might refill that bowl with berries, if there’s any in the fridge to be had.

And since this excerpt will most likely only gather space dust in my virtual documents folder on our PC, I thought I’d give it a slightly less dusty home on this here disused blog. Enjoy, time-travelers and future occupants of planet Earth!

Assignment #8 - Untitled

Doug kisses Bonnie on his way out the door, and she slaps his backside and makes her usual quip about his pajamas. They are rather like pajamas, these hospital-issued garbs all staff are required to wear, and Doug often wonders why, as one who occupies a role in the perpetual staunching of physiological turmoil, they are not kitted out in costumes better suited to the gory drama of life-in-crisis - like maybe chain mail, or grease paint and camouflage.

His daydream about being stationed on the roof of Ward B and peering through the scope of a sniper rifle as he picks off the degenerative diseases and gangrenous limbs of patients who stumble towards the double doors of A&E is quickly suffused by the sight of Jenny, who is actually standing outside the double doors of A&E and delicately puffing on a Pall Mall menthol, extra-light. He swings his Volvo into a reserved spot in the emptying staff lot and checks his mirror to see if she’s noticed him pull in, but she’s already blowing her last, minted stream of smoke skyward and disappearing into the refrigerated jaws of the hospital.

Doug is by no means a one-trick custodian. He has polished, buffed and waxed every square inch of available floor space in this sterile house of horrors, and knows that there is no more glory in a vicious slash of arterial matter than in the bleak trickle of urine that escapes an abandoned catheter. His is not to question this erratic release of human detritus, but to simply pass over it with his humming, undulating brushes, leaving in their wake a smooth, uniform gloss. In the six years he has spent polishing floors, Doug has learned that the great equalizer is nothing more or less than the ground you walk on. Heaven or hell, as long as you keep your eyes planted squarely on your feet, you could be anywhere at all.

This evening, Doug’s anywhere happens to be back in Ward B with the schizos and depressives, the suicidally watched and, more sadly, the lifeless dummies they rotate in and out of the electroconvulsive therapy unit on level zero. These are the messes Doug prefers least, as the stains are not of human making, but the sweet, sticky remnants of melted Popsicle, juice spilled by a shaking hand on level zero or sometimes the sputtered tail-end of an antidepressant in liquid form. Bodies are by nature permeable, inwardly sodden and therefore subject to leaks; it’s when the fluids cease to make the return journey home that you know you’re in for a spot of bother, and that is a reminder Doug does not especially cherish.

Besides, he would much prefer to glance up every now and again to see Jenny striding purposefully through A&E inside her floating pajamas, the tail-end of her stethoscope switching against the place where her navel would be, were he to look beneath the pale pink shirt she wore tucked into her drawstring scrub bottoms. He likes the way she runs her fingers through her white-blonde hair, twisting it with surgical precision into a no-nonsense knot at the nape of her neck, her elbows askew and palely freckled. Her skin gives the impression of having been freshly scrubbed and expertly dried, though he supposes she does this often enough anyway, given her line of work. Doug finds it heartening to know that however harried the glistening, patchy floors of Saint Mary’s hospital might become, Jenny will always remain uniquely, wholesomely untainted.