11 July 2009

Hartley: Six Months

Hello little you!

So, how does it feel to have lived half a year already? It must feel pretty good, because these days it’s not difficult to coax a smile out of you, and you’ve already learned to anticipate when something worth smiling for is about to come your way. I have only to touch the top button of my blouse or dress, for instance, before your arms and legs begin their mad cycling and pinwheeling, and you’re curled into position for a feed, slapping your thigh and hyperventilating with wild abandon, your eyes popping out of your head like you’ve just won the boob lottery and – lo and behold! – you have.

You’ve gone through so many changes these past few weeks that it would take me three Saturday mornings of you being out with Daddy in order to record everything, and that’s if I were able to discern some sort of continuity. These letters are some of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write because before you can put something into words, you must first suspend the dizzy, elemental churn of existence in order to peer inside and see what’s there. But every time I hit pause, the organic soup of the experience gains an inaccurate definition that defies description.

What is your mummy banging on about now, hmm? Let’s just start from the beginning, shall we? Any beginning will do.

This month I worked very hard at streamlining our lives in such a way as to eliminate any unnecessary noise that might obscure some of the things you’ve been trying to tell me. A week can seem quite long at the starting point when you’ve got so many hours in a day to fill, and up until recently, I’d been filling them with activities in the hopes that this would provide you with some structure. Rather than let your moods dictate events, as I should have been doing, I went about it the opposite way, sometimes to the detriment of your happiness.

It finally dawned on me that neither of us was benefiting from our strict, weekly lunches with the postnatal group. You’d had your hair pulled, nose tweaked, and head knocked far too often for my liking, and any concern I showed for you was met with derision from certain mummies who believed that I was only inhibiting your learning curve. I came away from these meetings with the impression that not only was I turning you into an oversensitive, socially inept, blubbering mess of a child, but if I didn’t get you to sleep in your cot right now, I’d be sharing a bed with you until you were old enough to grow a full set of sideburns and handlebar mustache. For your part, having to work your feeds and naps into these hours-long sessions made you miserable, and I think you dreaded Friday afternoons nearly as much as me. So one day I told everybody that we were going to stop coming, and that’s just what we did.

Since then, I’ve let you determine the shape of our day. Apart from an hour-long walk, which I’ve instigated for the good of us both, and usually around naptime, you pretty much take the lead from one hour to the next. Your daddy bought himself an iPhone, which gave us enough bargaining power to secure you a walker and a baby gym, both of which have accelerated your development in ways that have surprised all three of us.

One Saturday morning, your daddy took you out so that I could rest and then go out to a class that I take a few times a week. It was a very hot day, and when I got back, daddy was molded to the sofa and you were stripped down to your nappy, standing in your walker and clutching a bottle of water to your chest, watching television and stamping your little feet against the rug like a tiny happy ox. At this moment I had to concede that my helpless, anxious infant had somehow transformed himself into a strong, confident little boy.

We still spend many hours glued together, you and I, and sometimes when you see me leave the room you’ll cry like your heart is breaking because it seems like I might never come back. But there are also times when we’re going about our own business, happily coexisting and unconcerned about what the other is up to. At these times I’m usually eating a meal or tidying the flat while you watch Cbeebies in your walker whilst exercising your legs (stamp three times and then stretch onto your toes, stamp three times and stretch, &etc.) or play in your gym, where you pivot on your belly in order to reach your toys.

Oh yes – the pivoting. You used to hate being on your back, but you were never able to hold yourself up on your front for very long either. The walker provided some relief but this got old very quickly. One day I put you on your back under your gym in order to make the bed, and you started complaining right away so I had to be quick. Before I could make it back to you though, you’d stopped crying. I took that opportunity to hang up some clothes, and when I came back into the room, I saw exactly why you’d stopped crying: you were on your front!

I’d heard about this phenomenon of babies rolling onto their fronts but I never imagined that one day you would do this of your own accord. You hated being on your tummy so much that I always thought you’d be one of those babies that skipped the crawling stage altogether. The next time you rolled onto your front, me and your father were preoccupied with something on the television and so I missed it again. I needn’t have worried though – a few days later I watched you finish a feed, roll onto your front, do two massive farts and then fall asleep with your face buried in the mattress. You woke again a few minutes later, pushed yourself up and grinned at me like you’d just been awarded a gold medal for body surfing.

Now we can’t stop you from rolling over, and we have to be very careful at naptime and bedtime because you don’t always tell us that you’re awake. Instead, we’ll come in and you’ll be in the push-up position in your boo bag (which is what we call your sleeping bag), nodding your head like a sea turtle and stuttering with the effort of it all. The other night you woke up crying, and no wonder – I came in and found you propped up on your hands and thighs, only half awake and facing the opposite direction from where you’d fallen asleep. It seems the impulse to be on your front is beyond even your own control at times.

In terms of your verbal skills, except for when you’re sleepy and patting at my face while droning ‘ahhhhh,’ there is nothing very gentle about your elocutions. One day you stood up straight in your walker, flung your arms over your head and made a strangled roaring noise in your throat like a monster rising from the depths of the sea, or like a zombie getting ready to eat someone’s face off. You did this because something on the television excited you, and when you heard my laughter, you grinned at me and did another massive roar.

Your daddy was away at a conference and I searched fruitlessly for our mini video recorder because I was sure this was something you’d never do again. But a week later, when the three of us had stopped to take a break from some shopping we were doing in town, all of Starbucks turned to see what on earth was going on, as you stood on your daddy’s legs and roared at the posters tacked to the bulletin board above your head.

You’re just as boisterous about your interactions with inanimate objects. There are no half measures with you, and if you can’t fit something into your mouth, you are busy trying to smash it to bits. If there’s nothing to smash to bits, you resort to slapping the floor, the book, the walker tray or whatever is within reach, because the physical world must be subjected to some type of impact by your hand at all times. Nothing and no one is safe, not even your daddy’s prized iPhone.

That’s not to say you’re not incredibly sweet, because you are the sweetest, most engaging little person I have ever met. You match me smile for smile, and that smile still erupts across your whole entire face. Your silly gummy grins are infectious, and you offer them indiscriminately when we’re out together, whether or not mummy wants to have an interaction with a flushed, giggling indie girl on the tube or a hard-bitten clubber shouting into her mobile phone and wearing last night’s dress. You seem to bring out the best in everyone, and I have yet to encounter the face that doesn’t smile back at you and mean it.

I am much more relaxed about things than I used to be, and this has given you a chance to relax and enjoy the process of learning too. We’ve had more fun together since I stopped worrying about doing what’s right for you, and instead just started doing it. It’s a good thing, because today we are heading into the uncharted territory of solid food and I want you to be able to approach this adventure with as much confidence and enthusiasm as it deserves.

A whole lot has happened in six months, though the time has gone by far too quickly, as they said it would. I’m so thankful to have another six months of getting to know you before I go back to work. I wish it were longer.

Happy half-birthday, my stompy little ox. I love you more than you can know.


Amy said...

Happy six months little Hartley!! Good for you for doing what you think is best for you both. Not that I have much experience in the area, but it seems like no two babies are alike and it's good that you are following your instincts on what to do. You are a wonderful mother and don't let anyone convince you they know what is better for your little boy then you do. We need to get together soon!! X

Anonymous said...

Aww...happy half-year to Hartley and his folks. He looks healthy and happy. And Amy is right - no one knows better what is good for him than you and Bruce. Listen politely (or not) to others' advice and then do what you know is right for your boy.

Jenn said...

Just popped by to see how you're doing. Hartley is a beauty. I forgot how much I love your writing. Are you still coming to visit in August?

Friday said...

Thank you! We're all coming down in August for 3 weeks - most of a week will be spent in your part of Canadaland, for a wedding actually. I hope we have the chance to hook up. Send me an email.

pk said...

You are probably one of the only half dozen (I'm guessing) gushy mums in England who can write like that: so carry on.You must be doing ok: that is the happiest baby I've seen since, well Frannie of course.....
Kate has a book with just such reflections about Finn, and it's still luminous,but of course if he had to actually read any of it right now he would run screaming to the nearest footy pitch!

Friday said...

I am a bit of a sap, aren't I? It seems babies - or one in particular - is the only subject I have no cynicism for. But so you mean I shouldn't compile these letters and read them aloud to his first love interest?

I'd really like to read Kate's writings on Finn - and I keep meaning to order her book. I should go and do that now while I'm thinking of it.