29 March 2009

A day in the life of us

The clocks joined hands and took a spectacular, hour-long leap in fast motion so that we could enjoy a few drops more of sunlight in our evenings. To make the most of it, this morning I fed, changed, kissed and cuddled the baby and then bundled him up in the pram for a quick, invigorating walk through Cherry Tree Wood. I took note of a missed photo opportunity at the slow opening snack bar and came home to shower and discuss these matters with Bruce, who has more technical experience than anyone I know.

Having worked up an appetite, the three of us headed out for lunch, Hartley taking his inside the privacy of my blouse and a feeding bib Robin posted to us last month (a simple but ingenious solution that other mothers always marvel over) while we ate our burgers and chips in plain sight of everyone.

Then it was an exploration of a new path that took us unexpectedly to Alexandra Park, where a blond girl in a pink dress demonstrated just what Bruce was talking about earlier, in a copse of birches, a lighting umbrella winched into a tripod at her side. The path did not take us to the farmers' market as we thought it might, though in the end we made our way back to the road, following it down and around until we found a trail of sign crumbs that lead us to our intended destination.

At the market, we bought apples and pears, carrots, small potatoes still caked with earth, sirloin for our dinner, Californian sourdough bread, eggs, fresh garlic sausages, brownies, a handmade Afghan throw and ceramic platter and a strong, sweet latte to enjoy on the way home. We slung the Afghan over Hartley, stashed the groceries in the basket beneath the pram and headed out to catch a bus that would take us back up the hill. On our way there, we passed actor John Sim, who Bruce had to point out because I still know very little about famous British tv stars, though I'm learning.

After supplementing our exotic finds with some basics from Sainsbury, we headed home again, where Hartley continued to nap, thus allowing Bruce to read the paper in peace, and me to put a few more finishing touches on the 'nursery,' with photographs and colourful, good-quality wrapping paper.

One short cat nap later and Hartley roused us in the customary fashion for his dinner, after which we assembled a secondhand play structure of rattles, lights, music and dangling bits for him to lie beneath and swat at (accidentally for now and with more purpose when he's older). He kicked and cooed and finally played himself out, so I scooped him up and took him off to bed, where I am still, typing this all out while Bruce plays Resident Evil in the next room so that we can have a record of one very fine day.

And the light still dribbles off the purpling tongue of the sky - a feat of Spring for which we have those impatient clocks to thank.

26 March 2009

This and that

It's a blustery, shitty day in London and I have cancelled plans with someone - partially because of this and also because I need to let her know that I am not her beck-and-call friend, that I do have boundaries even if she doesn't. I am all about the boundaries. Also, I think she may be somewhat crazy, so a little distance is probably for the best.

Bad weather aside, I've lately become obsessed with the idea of taking Hartley swimming. Even though young babies get cold quickly and can't handle much more than 10 minutes in the water, the preparation and clean-up that bookends the experience strikes me as a lovely way to pass some time. I must have been a water-wing in a past life or something, because I often have strong cravings for the smell of chlorine and the soggy atmosphere of a pool, even though I can't swim particularly well. But there are no classes nearby for mums and babies under six months and too many conflicting pieces of advice on when it's safe to introduce their young skin and systems to these elements and so I keep putting it off. I did buy him an incredibly cute little swimming costume though.

This month we are sorting out his passport in preparation for our first trip together, which we are taking at the end of May for our second year anniversary. We didn't really get to celebrate our first because I was suffering terrible morning sickness and anyway we had a house guest, so we want to do it up proper this year. We're still debating on where to go, because it needs to be baby-friendly and easy to get to without being too similar to what we'd be leaving behind. Prague, Belgium and the south of France have been tossed around as ideas, but we need to investigate these a bit more thoroughly. If any of you can think of a good holiday destination that fits the bill, I am open to suggestions.

A few weeks ago we took Hartley to get his BCG, which is this extreme injection for TB that first causes a sore and then turns into a small scar after three months. There hasn't been even a hint of inflammation at the injection site, however, and although I'd hoped this meant we'd gotten away with not having to experience this adverse reaction, my relief soon turned to suspicion, which a search on the internet confirmed: if swelling does not appear within 90 days, it means the inoculation might have 'failed', and hence we might have to go through that horrible experience all over again. So now I'm willing his sweet, chubby little baby wing to go all sore and red, which has caused a rather unpleasant disconnect.

Other than that, the three of us seem to be finally settling into a comfortable way of life. It's much too erratic still to call a routine, or even a pattern, but we've definitely got a handle now on what there is, at least for the time being. Never one to rest on our laurels, we are setting our sites on a distant goal that requires Bruce to learn to drive and me to take French lessons, though that's all I'll say for now.

23 March 2009

Lining up the sitter

Spiritualized will perform their classic album Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space live in its entirety at the Royal Festival Hall, London on Monday 12th October 2009.

Tickets go on sale this Thursday 19th March from 10am.

This very special show will feature a choir, string and horn sections and special guests. It is 12 years since the release of this album set the summer of 1997 on fire. Receiving massive critical acclaim, it was hailed as an instant classic, winning NME's album of the year in 1997 (beating Radiohead's OK Computer), and reaching No.4 in the UK charts.

Very excited to attend! My laptop is kaput, so more updates once we find a good replacement (laptop wanted - must be compatible with one-armed breastfeeders...etc.).

21 March 2009

The good Saturday

Seven straight days of sun and you'll be home tomorrow.

18 March 2009

Today's accomplishments

One freshly bathed infant with clipped nails coming right up!

If nothing else, at least Bruce will know that he can leave town without fear of returning home to a talons-wielding dirt smudge.

The baby's pretty clean too.

17 March 2009

These old ghosts

Bruce will be on his way to catch his flight to Zambia, and as the bedroom grows incrementally dimmer, I have to consciously keep a rising sense of panic from taking over and making the evening far more unpleasant than it needs to be.

I enjoy my own company much more than I used to, but I have always struggled with being on my own for any real length of time (somewhat ironically, for many years this fear of being alone piggybacked a crippling agoraphobia, which made it nearly impossible to resolve). The familiar setting of home starts to take on a sinister quality and I begin to worry about security when I'm at my worst. At best I'm on autopilot, waiting out the isolation and not really able to concentrate on anything.

I keep having to remind myself that I'm the adult now, and that Hartley is relying on me not to fall into an obsessive stupor about it and lose control of the situation, so okay. Soon I will turn on some lights and the television, draw the curtains and double-check the locks and then it's business as usual until Bruce gets home on Sunday - Mother's Day in the UK.

I was going to take Hartley to the art cinema near East Finchley Station where they are holding a baby-friendly screening of Wendy and Lucy, and I still might do that, but he's been more difficult to settle today and lately all my little tricks have been failing miserably. I know there will likely be at least one other person there in an even worse predicament but I'm not sure that it's worth the effort of finding out.

I'm fairly certain I've got a friend coming to stay on Thursday, and Friday is my postnatal group which is set to spill over into lunch, but there are still some unsettling hours to get through tonight. Completely aside from my general dislike of incidental solitude, I really do hate to be apart from Bruce. I'm glad that Hartley loves (needs) to be held, in any case, as it's a comfort to me as well.

11 March 2009

Hartley: Two Months Old

I don't think it's any great coincidence that just as I'm finally gaining confidence as a mother, you're starting to become a happier, more settled baby.

A few weeks ago, after finishing our first squirmy, awkward feed-dance of the morning, and as I was changing your nappy, you came out with a sound I'd never heard before - a short, piercing but decidedly happy squawk. Then you smiled at me with your whole entire face, as though I was your long lost friend and not that insufferable woman who is always trying to make off with your bottomless, ever elusive snack beneath her top.

Since then, you have been utterly delighted to see me each morning and will happily spend five to ten minutes after your feed squawking and cooing at the wardrobe (I'm still not sure what it is you find so fascinating up there) and generally filling me in on your thoughts about this, which I pretend to understand while I plant a million kisses on your fat little cheeks and neck and belly and feet. Even though you lose this lucidity and transition back into that introverted, serious child you've always been, I know I have that window now, and that every day is an opportunity to widen it a little more.

Lately I've been bundling you into the carrier and taking you out for as many different errands and events as I can come up with, because even though you struggle to keep from losing your cool at home, out-of-doors and in mixed company you somehow transform into the easiest, most laid-back baby anyone has ever met. This week I took you to see your first movie - The Young Victoria - and though all the other babies startled and cried out and kicked up a fuss in their turn, you were as quiet as a mouse until the credits rolled, which quite frankly is mummy's least favourite part of a good film too.

For a grumpy baby, you are extremely portable, and while daddy is hard at work in town, you and I are frequenting cafes with friends, going on short and long walks in your carrier or your pram, visiting the shops and generally living the high life in London, which my maternity package and the kindness of your overseas grandparents have allowed us to do this year. Having you here has given me a reason to want to do all these things, and when we hit our stride, I can say in all honesty that you make even the dullest task seem fun and fulfilling.

You're growing so quickly now, a fact I am made all the more aware of by the zillions of photos we take of you that make this progression plain. You're not only filling out bodily, but in awareness and in character too. The stuttering anaconda in you is fading, and while I love the little man that you are becoming, I am also deeply saddened by the loss of that tiny baby you once were. A while back I was watching an illegal download of Benjamin Button, and at the 2 hour 14 minute mark a baby is born. That baby looked and sounded so much like you in your first week of life that I burst into tears and replayed that part over and over again so that I could re-experience your infancy. It's the biggest paradox of my life, to see you grow and watch you disappear all at the same time.

I think that when you have a child, you actually concede to loving and letting go of six or seven different children. I haven't the faintest clue what you'll be like at six months or a year, or five years or sixteen. I only know that you are beginning in the same way that I once began, and that my role now is to help you make these transformations, to keep marking them in our history book and to always love you more today than I did yesterday, which is how your father taught me to love.

Happy two months, darling.

Lullaby for a fussy baby

Remember that album I was telling you about earlier? Here's a song from it that Hartley and I particularly enjoy.

I danced him around the room for a while this morning and now he's sleeping like a baby - which is to say fitfully, and with many demands for a nipple or a winding. We do love our mornings.

09 March 2009

Plot relocated

Please believe me when I say that the hardest part about having a baby isn't the fatigue, losing your autonomy, having no time for yourself, putting your relationships and marriage on the back burner or being able to focus on nothing else in a 24-hour period except your baby, day after day, although these things are incredibly hard.

No - the really hard part is having to hear your heart's joy scream bloody murder all day long in a flat that looks like it has been leveled by the trampling feet of the four horses of the apocalypse because you are trying to reprogram him out of a bad sleeping habit that you yourself encouraged him to adopt in the first place.

I will say in our defense that it was the midwives and health visitors who made us feel like we were doing a good thing by letting our infant dictate his own routine, though as a certain baby guru wisely wrote: What does a baby know about good sleep practice? He's just a baby!

Is it better to try and break bad habits long after they have been formed in the service of getting through those first few weeks together? We'll never know, but after hours of feeling like we were torturing our first born and taking turns at fleeing to the bedroom for a good cry ourselves, I can definitely say that it might have been worth taking a stab at some sort of routine from the outset.

It didn't occur to either of us that we were jumping into things a little too quickly until I found myself wanting a cigarette for the first time in over two years and Bruce was ringing up his sister in desperation. She said that what we were doing was valiant but that we should abandon our efforts for the time being, at least until after Hartley's jabs (which I'm taking him to get done today and again on Friday) and Bruce's stressful work period (he's having to oversee visits and meanwhile tie up loose ends before his week-long trip to Zambia next Tuesday). Once things are a bit more stable, she's going to come down to help us get the flat organised and then hold my hand while I begin the traumatic process of training him to sleep on his own.

My mother-in-law is coming to stay with us for a few days, I think just to give me a bit of a break and also to offer support, as sometimes the side-effects of inoculations is fever and I've never treated a baby for fever much less heard of the prescribed medication.

Hartley turns two months old on Wednesday, and rather than things calming down, it feels like we've all taken two giant steps back. I think that's just how it is, though, and it's something I'm going to have to get used to. There are lovely new things happening too, don't get me wrong, but they're a bit buried beneath stress at the moment.

07 March 2009

New things

I can still remember how my sister's [various] house[s] smelled 20-some years ago - like breast milk and laundry detergent - and I wonder if mine smells similar to this now. I sure hope so.

The boys are fast asleep in the next room, and we are trying this new thing where I don't feed Hartley any sooner than three hours from his last feed. This means that for the first time in nearly one year, I've enjoyed a single unit of alcohol (a glass of red wine). Various sources claim that by the time I've metabolised this, my breast milk should be free and clear of any trace amounts, though I guess the worst that could happen is Hartley sleeps for longer than he should. In any case, Effy says that I am allowed one glass of wine per month. I ran past her the 2-hour, metabolising theory and she said ONE GLASS OF WINE PER MONTH so okay. One glass per month, I geddit.

Yesterday our postnatal instructor had to shoot off early and entrusted us with the securing of her mansion. Just pull the door to when you leave, she said, and I tried to look like I would definitely not go snooping through her four or five bedrooms once she'd left. I didn't, and then Effy invited two other stragglers to our afternoon lunch date, so now I have another couple of friends. I am trying not to overthink this, so will stop writing about it here-ish. In addition to lunch dates though, I'm adding a weekly trip to the cinema for an infant screening, plus swimming, to our growing repertoire of things we do whilst in this mother-son death grip of ours.

In the spirit of not feeding Hartley every time he grizzles, we embarked on another first, taking Robin's suggestion of a shared warm bath. That ate up approximately ten minutes of potential crying time, which in unfed infant years constitutes about two decades. That also means that Hartley has been asleep without me nearby for an entire lifetime, which means I must be relaxed by now.

Okay, Bruce is awake and hungry, so Here Lies This Post:

Post, I hardly knew ye (19:57 - 20:11)

Love is...

... sleeping on a wet patch of infant puke so that he doesn't have to.

05 March 2009

Music should be heard and not seen

The babe and I have resolved my gentle agoraphobia and we’re out and about almost every day now, Hartley strapped to me in a front-facing carrier, fulfilling social obligations like tea with a friend, a check up at the health visitor’s or our meet-up with the postnatal group.

At some point it dawned on me that I am really no different from anyone else– i.e. not especially brilliant, but nor am I lacking fundamental qualities that would make me any less adept at handling new situations among strangers, baby or no (it only took me 32 years).

And so I am ploughing ahead with my resolve to join play groups and swimming lessons (for Hartley), and the pram-pushing group and infant-friendly film screenings at the local cinema (for me, mainly). I plan to approach these intimidating scenarios in the same manner that I’ve become accustomed to, which is with the confidence to at least show up and if something doesn’t work out, to not push myself to do it again. If I end up looking foolish somehow (which isn't likely, as we're all too busy focusing on ourselves to worry about what someone else is doing, unless we are very petty, which I suppose some of us can be at times), well, it's not the end of the world.

Who knew that it would take having a baby for me to finally grow up myself?

Bruce has taken him to the comic book store and once again I’m faced with the same dilemma as last time, which is that one hour isn’t quite enough time for a stress case like me to unwind properly. I usually end up wasting about twenty minutes contemplating various projects I could embark on before embarking on about four or five, poorly (like so), and then standing in place to scarf down a handful of Easter chocolates before putting in a load of laundry without actually starting the washing machine, tidying half the flat half-heartedly, putting the memory card from our camera into the computer without looking at the photos, making a cup of coffee I don’t really want and then watching ten minutes of an hour long programme while I force myself to drink that cup of coffee.

Next I plan to lie in bed and familiarise myself with the first sentence of a new baby book meant to help me decipher what went wrong with our son’s sleep, namely that he won’t do it unless he is on top of me or in bed pressed up against my belly. I will read that first sentence over and over again until Bruce comes home and then realise that what I really wanted was a long, hot bath. Ah well.

02 March 2009

Daddy's Home Movie

We'll be sending this along for Hartley's 'show and tell' one day (requires sound).

01 March 2009

One turntable and no microphone

Back in my final year of University, shortly before I started the Friday Films blog, I took a class on creative writing to top up my nearly completed English Honours degree. The only thing I managed to write of any substance or import that semester was, as it turned out, a poem I’d knocked-off in about twenty minutes and which I’d thrown in with my week’s portfolio as an afterthought. I called it ‘How Dark Was This Night’ – a half-hearted tribute title to a film I’d never actually seen but which shared a similar theme, or so I imagined.

So when Bruce announced the recent release of a compilation album of original songs called Dark Was The Night - one that includes not one or most of but nearly all of my current favourite artists - I experienced a kind of full-circle serendipity that is probably best described with a single Latin expression I’ve no time to search for (Bruce is holding a growingly impatient Hartley in the next room), perhaps vainus familiarus or something similar. It’s like someone looked inside your head and made a compilation, he said, and I couldn’t have put it any better myself. The digital download format (the proceeds of which go to an AIDS charity called Red Hot) contains thirty six tracks, but we also plan to buy its trimmed back vinyl counterpart, it’s just that good.

If you’re wondering why the triple-vinyl acquisition, we’ve recently decided to purchase a B&O Bang and Olufsen sound system and have found one in pretty good knick that’s also being sold with its original speakers. I’m not an arrogant prick so I won’t even intimate that music sounds better on vinyl, always has done, because that is obviously a load of rubbish. But there’s something satisfying in the thoughtful interaction, and even mild effort, that record playing requires, and anyway we’re having a lot of fun compiling our wish lists and ransacking eBay in our attempts to find them.

You thought you could get away without having to read about my offspring but you would be WRONG. He’s seven weeks old today, and to celebrate (no, I lied – we were just very hungry and nobody wanted to cook) we took him out for brunch, where he sat sleeping on my lap like a good little sleeping thing while I tried not to drip hot porridge onto his head. We're updating Flickr with images of our little poser donning and sometimes rejecting the gifts that many of you so thoughtfully sent over the last few months, so get ready to click that badge in the right hand column. Or not, as you wish.