13 September 2009

Hartley: Seven and Eight Months

Hello Little You!

Well. It’s been quite some time since I’ve written to you here, and as usual, I’m at a loss as to where to even begin.

Some people might think me crazy for saying I have no time to write anymore, when I’m clearly active on one of the biggest time wasters to hit the internet thus far – Twitter. But one-hundred-and-forty characters is pretty much all the time you’re willing to give me, at least once I’ve done the essentials like bathed, eaten breakfast, had my coffee and maybe read a page or two of a book. I suppose if you tallied up all those one-liners, you’d have a decent block of time wherein one could feasibly write letters of adoration to her firstborn son, but that’s not how life works, at least not for us.

After I last wrote to you, the three of us flew to Canada to visit family, and it was there that you turned seven months old. I think we were all more than a little surprised by how well you adapted to the situation. A long-haul flight across the Atlantic with a seven-month-old baby is a harrowing idea for those of us with children (and those of us who fly with those of us with children), and I wasn’t sure how I was going to help you settle into nine hours of lap time, being that you’re not a lap baby by any stretch of the imagination, and being also that mummy is a very nervous flyer.

No matter how many statistics I hear, or glasses of wine I imbibe in-flight, nothing can convince me that flying is a perfectly safe way to travel. And mothers don’t follow you around with their tops undone, asking if you’re okay and making sure you don’t pull the stereo speakers off the table and onto your head because they have nothing better to do – no, we are programmed, PROGRAMMED to keep our babies out of danger. And so if any part of me, however irrational, believes that by getting on a plane I am somehow putting myself at risk, try and imagine how much bigger that fear becomes when I add you to the mix.

Regardless, we got on the plane, mummy forced herself to chill out, and we steeled ourselves for countless hours of you crying and us pacing the narrow aisles. But you know what? You were fine. No, you were better than fine: you were a brilliant little flyer. From the moment we got into the air, you transformed into a baby I’d never met before. Although you were confined to my lap for 95% of that flight, and even though you missed an entire night of sleep, you didn’t complain once. I spent most of those nine hours shrugging at strangers and saying “He’s not usually like this,” because I wanted them to know how very lucky we all were that you’d left your former shouty self at home.

Even when we disembarked and we buckled you into your car seat and subjected you to the most annoying drive of your life, because your grandparents can’t drive anywhere without getting lost or having an argument but usually both, you still managed a smile. When we got to the condo, I let your cousin Danielle take you upstairs in her arms, because I was practically blind with exhaustion and you seemed fine. And you were fine: all the way upstairs in the lift, all the way down the hall leading to the condo, and all the way into the living room, where Danielle finally lay you gently against a cushion on your grandparents’ sofa, you were fine. And then you completely lost your shit, because you had no idea where you were, hadn’t slept in over fifteen hours and had no clue who any of these people were. Pretty understandable, really.

But then your aunty Gabe offered to help me bathe you, and so you had your first bath outside the little plastic bath we’d been using at home. I dressed you in clean pajamas and your cousin fed you your peaches and banana in the plushest high chair we’d ever seen, while Aunty Gabe unpacked, folded and hung all our clothes for us. Then I did something that daddy still wishes to this very day I hadn’t done: I taught them the song I sing to you when I put you in your boo bag, and so the three of us surrounded you on that giant, marshmallowy bed and sang the boo bag song to you until your father left the room in shame.

I thought there was no way you’d concede to sleeping in a strange room, in a strange cot, which was a travel cot and so nothing like your cot back home, but after a few minutes of crying you settled into a deep sleep, which is something you did every night thereafter.

I don’t want to spend too much time on Canada because so much has happened since, but I will say that we flew back to the place your mummy was born, and it was a trip that made her very happy (she saw one of her dearest friends marry) and a bit sad too (it had been nearly three years since she’d returned, and home had lost its shine, which is something I’ll explain to you one day). At one point on the flight back to Vancouver, you let out a scream that continued to rise in pitch until everyone in the adjoining rows was staring at us. I thought that might have spelled the end of your flight tolerance, but it turned out you were only politely informing us that your foot had become trapped between the arm rest and the seat. Sorry!

In spite of the fact that we suffered two weeks of terrible jet lag, and you wouldn’t sleep in your cot - wouldn’t sleep at all - once we arrived home, I am so happy that we made that trip. It gave daddy and me a chance to catch our breath, but more importantly, the new environment, all those different experiences, and the loving, varied attention you received from family and friends brought you out of yourself, gave you confidence and turned you into the happiest baby you’ve ever been. A few days ago, you turned eight months old, and the three of us celebrated by taking you to an exhibition at The Serpentine before denying you chocolate ice cream at Harrods, though we gave you tastes of vanilla (we’re not that cruel).

The other morning, after very little sleep, I opened my eyes and caught sight of a small, strange face looking back at me. I must have brought you back into bed at some point, because there you were beside me in the push up position, breathing into my face and grinning at me like someone with very good news. It took me a few moments to recognise your sweet face, because I still remember when you were too little to meet me at face level of your own accord, and part of me hasn’t caught up to this other baby who can sit upright without support, handle and chew a variety of finger foods with his bottom two teeth, and laugh at all my jokes because he knows exactly what I mean. You are becoming less like a baby and more like a little boy every day. I remember when I thought that this would make me sad, that I would lose the tiny infant I first fell in love with, but I now realise that I am steadily gaining more and more of you, and that there’s nothing to be sad about at all.

I’m glad that you’re still so good at smiling, and I honestly believe that you could build bridges with those big silly grins of yours. The other day I took you into the dentist’s office, where I barely registered a sulky looking youth with long greasy hair and dark circles under eyes obscured by furrowed, pierced eyebrows. You, on the other hand, gave this boy your whole attention, disarming him with one of your charming grins and eliciting an unguarded smile from him as well. It wasn’t until I noticed this interaction that I realised that I’d made an unfair judgment about someone I didn’t know based on how he looked, which is something that you would never, ever do. I know it’s because you’re a baby, and babies haven’t been shaped by societal stereotyping, but it gives me a glimmer of hope nonetheless, because you continually remind me that nearly every single person on earth has the same good things inside them.

Sometimes when we’re out for a walk together, I look into the faces of people who seem bitter, depressed, lonely and generally unhappy, and I worry that some of them might have started out exactly like you: enthusiastic about what life has to offer, happy to experience this magic among so many others, and secure in the notion that people are inherently good, loving individuals who mean you no harm. I worry that one day you will grow too wise, see things - the world and its billions of inhabitants, some thriving and some always in the grip of terrible things - the way they really are, and that these two elements combined will break your heart. I can’t think of another way to explain so many unhappy faces in such a beautiful, thriving city, Hartley.

And although nothing I say and do could forever shield you from the sadness of being, I hope that you will always find ways to smile at strangers, that you’ll show compassion for people who aren’t as fortunate as you, and that you’ll strive to find the magic in living, even if life gets hard, because it’s there. I promise you, it’s there. You’re living proof of that.

I love you very much, darling.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful. You made me cry.

Lacking said...

Agreed with the last (the lass?) comment!

And unexpectedly kind of on topic, I found a weekly column on Salon.com that I thought you might enjoy (or not).


Keep the Hartley (and you) updates coming--you have several faithful readers that eagerly await them ;-). Take care.