11 December 2009

Hartley: Eleven Months

Each time I approach this letter, I see a vaster space ahead of me, as though I must flesh you out from the beginning, and I find that I am set further back than I was one month ago. You are not the sum of last month’s parts plus a few extras – you are like the chrysalis in your favourite story book, except you are in the constant process of evolving into something even more beautiful than the time before.

You are in your eleventh month now, and I can’t believe that it’s been almost an entire year since you began. I still remember our first few days together in hospital – you were so quiet, and the midwives would pause in their rotations to comment on how unusually pretty you were for a boy, or how you seemed already wise. I used to think these were just the things that people said to new mothers, but to this day we are approached by all sorts of strangers (a cultural anomaly in this country) who tell me what an unequivocally lovely, good-natured and happy baby you seem.

At the risk of seeming biased, you are still the only baby I know who shows an obvious aptitude for relating to other human beings, and across a wide scope at that. This is something you couldn’t possibly have learned from me, as I instinctively, if imperceptibly, withdraw from most social situations, deeming myself too awkward to navigate even the simplest exchange. You, on the other hand, will look straight into someone’s face and smile beatifically while reciting all the (non-)words in your roster in an attempt to make contact.

You adore babies of all sizes, and will reach for their faces or knees with your chubby arm outstretched, though these other children never share your enthusiasm, and often turn on their heel to bid you a rude farewell. This doesn’t faze you, though. In a room full of toddlers, you race around on your hands and knees, running full tilt at one child and then another in an attempt to join in, even if you don’t always understand the purpose of the assembly. This fills me with love and admiration, but also fear, as the last thing I want is for you to reach out to someone only to experience the sting of rejection. This is where I have to be careful to keep my own issues separate from what I teach you about the world.

You have mastered the art of imitation now, and will do things on command if you feel like it, such as ‘fish’ (where you pop your mouth silently open and closed like a fish gasping for air, except sometimes you put a sound behind it and it becomes ‘ba ba ba ba’) or ‘clap clap clap’ (which you did of your own accord one day, without any prompting from anyone). You will also twist your lips in imitation of me (a trick Daddy can’t even do) and burble your bottom lip with your finger, which I encourage you to do often, as it’s such a sweet and silly thing. You hit all the different buttons on our record player to keep things fresh, and when you find a new song, you do a bendy-knee dance and grin at me over your shoulder to make sure I am watching you.

Your little gum line on the top, which I used to tickle you just to get a glimpse of, is now broken by the shiny white buds of teeth – four new ones in all. At first I thought it was just the one, but three others were only a day behind, and now when you smile I’m not sure what it is I see - a baby hippo sometimes, and sometimes just these teeth, which are yours, and which I’m still getting used to. You sometimes grind these together, but it’s not a worry for now. You did something else that used to worry me – knock your own head against the wall or the floor, or any other hard surface – until I realised you were just experimenting with sensation. You’ve mostly abandoned this habit, I’m happy to say.

But these teeth! You often bite my nipples now, dragging them across your teeth and laughing at my reactions, however discouraging I think they might be. At these times I have to stop feeding you, and if it’s night time, I’ll ask Daddy to help me get you off to sleep some other way. I intend to feed you until you are at least a year old, and secretly I was hoping to feed you beyond this deadline, but you will have to stop this painful habit or Daddy may not grant us our extension (your Daddy believes that with weaning will come magical nights of unbroken sleep, bless).

You’ve mostly overcome your fear of strangers, though occasionally you’ll decide that a friendly face seems sinister after all, and then no amount of soothing and raisins will abate your red-faced wailing. The most benign image can morph into a sudden threat, and the baby channel embodies a veritable minefield of such triggers. You used to love those smiley faced shapes that jump from a high shelf and do a silly song and dance, but now every time you see them, you scream and flag me down for help. I don’t ever belittle your fears, and cuddle you for as long as you like, though I will try to help you conquer the ones that are unavoidable (like when you see me wash dishes; I know, it scares me too).

Aside from these small setbacks, you are still fearless in your exploration of the world, and can now clamber up onto the sofa if you see something worth your reach, holding onto anything and everything in your bid to remain upright and mobile. You follow a schedule of your own devising when you play with your things, and have even discovered a shortcut in making your pop-up toys pop-up (rather than fiddling with buttons and switches you simply bash it against the floor until the trap doors fling open at once). We live in a tight space for a family of three, but you know precisely how much weight you can put on any given piece of furniture, whether it slips or rolls, and how much force it takes to pull over a plastic container of giant blocks. You do these things well because I’ve given you the time and space to learn, which is difficult for a natural hoverer like me.

This is why I never take credit for the way you’ve turned out. Your joyful disposition, your affability towards others and your unquenchable thirst for new experiences are just a part of who you are, and who you’ve always been. We’ve all been extraordinarily lucky in that you were born to a set of parents who recognised this potential in you and wanted nothing more than to help you unlock it, simply by loving you and waiting patiently for you to one day discover these traits yourself. You are a marvelous baby, and I feel so lucky, so disbelievingly grateful, that you are mine.

There is so much more to tell, and a big change is on the horizon – one that will alter all our lives forever. But it’s still a ways off, and I want this letter, and every letter that follows, to celebrate you, and you alone. I love you with all my heart, Chicken. That will never, ever change.

Happy eleventh month, baby.


Anonymous said...

Oh, you made me cry. Hartley is a lucky, lucky boy.

Ariel said...

You made me cry, too. I can't believe how much Hartley is beginning to look like a toddler! He has grown up so much since I saw him in August! Such a sweet, sweet boy! Don't ever stop with these beautiful letters, so unique to Hartley and your own experience but also so evocative of motherhood and its challenges and triumphs.