11 October 2009

Hartley: Nine Months


Today you turned nine months old, which means you’ve officially spent as long on the outside as you have on the inside. I’m not sure if there’s any significance in that as such, but it’s sort of interesting, no?

I think the last time I wrote you, I said something silly about the fact that babies stop smiling at strangers once they realise the world is Satan’s playground and everyone in it self-serving demons who are only interested in their own survival and would use your head as their personal stepping stone if it meant they could leave their stamp on this whirling, meaningless mass of tarted-up dirt. Those might not have been my exact words, but the sentiment remains.

Your mummy has been going through a bit of a rough patch this past while, as our little family unit was playing tradsies with a variety of illnesses that violated one or more of us nearly every single day for three solid weeks. We were very lucky in the sense that none of these illnesses affected you too badly, and for the most part you were your boisterous, happy self. In another sense, we were unlucky for this same reason, if only because it wasn’t easy to convince you to stand in your walker in front of the telly while we took turns rotating from the bed to the sofa to the toilet until it was time to feed you and put you to bed.

Somewhere in the midst of this, a doctor told mummy she wasn’t allowed to be skinny anymore, because she hadn’t earned the right to wear size 6 jeans (which, in this country, is actually a size 8). No, mummy cheated the system by acquiring a thyroid disorder that turned her closet into a veritable storeroom of unwearable tents and, more significantly, messed around with her mood, which has been up and down and all around, but mainly buried down beneath a heavy duvet, which is where mummy wishes she was most of the time.

Anyway, that’s nothing for you to worry about. I’m working on feeling better, and meanwhile am painting over the big brown scribble I made all over poor, defenseless planet earth and its inhabitants. I’ll let you know how that goes.

And it turns out that your growing wariness of outsiders is a good thing. It makes perfect sense, now I think of it. How else would you know not to go crawling into the lap of a psychotic dictator or a diseased leper or your grandmother after she has said something rude about the way I walk, with my arms held stiffly down by my sides which, I should point out, is the strained and cautious walk of a person who has spent the bulk of her life beneath a cloud of cruel scrutiny, ruthlessly delivered by the woman who raised her? You wouldn’t, and so this is part of what you must teach yourself.

It’s been a little strange, though, to watch you go from open and beaming to guarded and vaguely fearful almost overnight. But both my baby newsletter and the health visitor say that you’ve worked out who the important adults in your life are, and although you might deign to smile at a table of pretty girls if you’re feeling secure in my company, for the most part you will wail like you’ve been stuck with a pin if someone looks at you wrong or, god forbid, tries to pick you up. This makes the baby gym class we signed up to on Wednesdays a little uncomfortable for both of us, but I’m sure you’ll get used to the lovely woman who encourages you to walk on the balancing beam soon enough.

Apart from the onset of shyness around strangers, you are steadily gaining confidence in yourself and in the world around you, conquering whatever obstacles you come up against and gumming happily on the rest. The other day we were deep in conversation when suddenly your father looked over and said “Hey, he’s standing up.” And so you were! You’d been trying to pull yourself up by holding onto the back of your walker since the last time we’d helped you to do that, and lo and behold, it turns out you no longer need a cheering section to get to your feet. I’ve also watched you pull yourself up by holding onto the seat of the sofa, but only because you spotted my iPhone and saw that it needed chewing.

I am no longer under the illusion that I’ve given birth to the only developmentally-challenged infant on earth who is destined to never grow to be any bigger than a bread loaf and will always impart his needs through screaming, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t surprise and delight me on a daily basis. You have to remember that until you came along, your mummy had only ever lived with cats. It takes approximately two weeks before a kitten outgrows that cute tiny kitty phase, after which it spends the next fifteen years knocking your picture frames off the mantelpiece in a misguided effort to get you to feed it. Babies, on the other hand, go from being inconsolable lumps of scream to actual humans with their own mobile phones, and the shift from one stage to the next is palpable.

The other day I was encouraging you to drink from a cup, and after you struggled to allow some water into your mouth before I pulled the glass away, you smacked your lips. Only that: you smacked your lips, except for me, it was the equivalent of a ten-year-old cat clearing its throat and then asking you to please pass the fish snacks, it was just that astounding. I have to keep reminding myself that you are not a one-dimensional animal or even a very clever one-dimensional animal – you’re a tiny person, and with every passing day you are shedding the mystery of mute infancy and becoming ever more sentient. It’s thrilling, and also a little sad, because I want to freeze you like this forever. You’re my little boo, but one day you’ll slam a door in my face because I won’t let you buy a Vespa with your postgraduate savings.

Even though you are still waking up many times in the night because you can’t get back to sleep unless you are pressed against me, your hand curled loosely around the collar of my shirt, your lips pursed and sucking the air, and even though I am exhausted and sometimes desperate for a bit of time alone, I know that I have to try and stay with you in these baby years, because I’m told it’s over far too quickly. I can’t imagine you being anything other than who you are right now – this beautiful, smiling chicken who pumps his little arms excitedly and nearly hyperventilates at the prospect of milk; who screeches with delight as someone chases him down the hall on his belly; who grins and lifts his arms with the anticipation of being picked up.

You were in Camden earlier, suffering your father’s five-comic-a-day habit so that I could get some writing done, and though you weren't gone for more than a few hours, I was already missing the way your eyes burn a hole into the back of my skull if I turn away from you for more than a few moments, and the sound you make when you want my attention, like a little Einstein discovering the theory of relativity over and over again: Ahhhhh!

I guess one day we will only have photos and videos and memories of this time, which we’ll share quietly with one another while you conquer the world in the privacy of your own bedroom. But right at this moment you are kneeling by your walker, cooing and pushing the buttons on your activity tray while daddy prepares a lovely Thanksgiving dinner for your Canadian mummy, and I’m going to file away this letter and come and join you now.

I love you, chicken.


Lass said...

I love the photo of him standing up - he looks so proud of himself!

I hope your thryoid issues calm down. I am going in to get mine checked next week - my mom and sister have had thyroid problems and I can no longer ignore the symptoms. Blah.

Amy said...

So lovely Jack and he is absolutely perfect.

PS: Dan calls me chicken. I've never heard of this strange term of endearment before - you two are weird.


pk said...

Postgraduate savings? Is this some new thing you are hoping will be invented in the next twenty years? You'll be paying for that Vespa.....love the way you love, and the fact that you are enjoying the writing of it:( oh I can tell: the way you elided to grandmother from diseased leper, for instance.)

Anonymous said...

He's very cute! (I came from the lass's page.)

Friday said...

Thanks very much! We think so too...

emmms said...

'It takes approximately two weeks before a kitten outgrows that cute tiny kitty phase, after which it spends the next fifteen years knocking your picture frames off the mantelpiece in a misguided effort to get you to feed it.'

This made me giggle.

Hartley, on the other hand, made my ovaries sigh.

Robin said...

This time DOES go by too fast. With every bit of newness comes a tiny bit of loss. I didn't know it was possible to be this happy and this sad all at once!

Gawd he's cute though. 9 months? This is the time when life really starts to get exciting.

Hope you're feeling better.