11 March 2010

Hartley: Fourteen Months

Hello little love,

This month you were sick and then I was sick and then your father was sick, which made me sick all over again, and so I passed it back to you and then we collectively decided to end it all. Let me explain:

We've been slogging it out in a dirty big city for all the wrong reasons, or reasons that no longer make sense in the context of this family. Do you know how many times over the past thirty days we've stolen into town on the underground to push your buggy through millions of tourists so that mummy can buy a new jumper that will probably end up encrusted with apple puree and then tossed into the bottom of the wardrobe where it will remain until we move out, for example? Go on, have a guess.

The part of our brain that was telling us that we could not move away from London because London is where the exceptional museums and photography galleries and music venues and restaurants live also failed to inform us that, actually, we don't often make use of these opportunities anymore. We're too busy trying to hold our heads up at eight o'clock once you've fallen asleep so that anybody who happens to glance in on us from outside will think we are still alive in here.

And on a particularly difficult evening, after I'd been sending distress signals out over the netwaves (ie - whinging on Facebook), your aunty Kelly called to say that she wanted to take you for the day sometime in the next week to give us a chance to recuperate. Although this didn't happen in the end (our mutant illness can leap over entire townships, it's that powerful), it took her less than an hour to convince me that it might be best for all of us if we moved out of London and closer to family. It took me less than a second to convince your father of that idea the following day, once he'd taken his antibiotic and managed to choke down some toast.

So that is what we are going to do. We cancelled the overpriced 2-bedroom flat we'd found for the end of the month and instead began looking for a house in a village situated just outside London, a half hour away by train. After five days of searching we found a house so magnificent, so far beyond our wildest dreams, that the skin on my arm is virtually blue from the pinching, and all I do now is plan out exactly how I will safely navigate us through the next few weeks so that we can enjoy at least one day in that heavenly place, where we will live like kings with no furniture. Hopefully we will live for more than a day though, and with a mattress.

Apart from the extra space (we have three of nearly everything, including three fireplaces! Who needs three fireplaces? Who cares! We have three of them!), I just know that this decision is going to vastly improve the quality of life for all of us, and especially you. The town is pretty, quiet and slow-paced, and you will be surrounded by even more people that love you, that love all of us. We no longer need to visit church halls and community centres where a hundred children trample one another to claim a few filthy toys, or travel long distances on public transport so that you can catch a tummy bug in someone else's playroom. You'll have a playroom of your own soon. Heck, we'll all have our own playroom, and our own bedroom even, if your father doesn't sort out his snoring.

You won't remember your time in London if we fall in love with our new surroundings and forget to return, but we will have so many photos, so many stories to tell you, and your mummy still remembers what she was wearing on her fifth birthday, so you can bet she'll fill you in on every last detail of this remarkable year and two months you’ve spent here with us.

While it’s fresh though, let me fill you in on your fourteenth month, which you celebrated by being an even lovelier baby than you were last month. You already know your own mind, and you are constantly asserting yourself in new and bigger ways. Now when you are about to do something you know you shouldn't, you give me a meaningful look, wag your finger at me and say NA! before dipping your head down to bite my nipple. There are few contrabands you enjoy more than a nipple bite. I'm just grateful you give me fair warning now before you indulge.

If we don’t give you what you want (usually for lack of understanding), or if the world doesn’t work in the way that you expect or hope, you get a pained expression, hold your breath and go all red and shaky, which sometimes culminates in a little head-to-floor action, but mostly it results in me trying not to smile, because I want you to know that I take you very seriously.

You've developed an acute sense of empathy, and you remember to feed me and your father an equal amount of blanket lint which you painstakingly harvest from one of our throws for this purpose. One day you were drinking milk when suddenly you sat up, pinched my nipple and held your thumb and forefinger to my lips in an act of generosity that you later repeated with your father. You've also pinched invisible food off your tongue in order to retroactively share your good fortune with us. I find this more endearing than disturbing, though I think your father might lean the other way.

You've appropriated the word 'nana' (once indicative of your desire for bananas) to express hunger, so that if your father is looking after you on Saturday morning while I try to sleep a bit longer, he knows exactly when you'd like your breakfast. You're still using 'deedee' as your primary signifier, though you like to point to various objects around the house to hear me call them by name so that you can repeat an approximation of what you’ve heard. So 'Timmy' becomes 'Tee' and 'Hello' becomes 'Ah Oh', the latter of which you use often and in the right context too. You know what a phone is for, and you love to place objects (sometimes a phone, sometimes not) next to your ear to see if anyone is on the other end. You have even lifted your hand to your head and enquired 'Ah Oh?' of your open palm, which is pretty cute, I have to say.

I think too that you must love me, and not only in the way that a person dependent on someone for food loves that someone. Once we were at the duck pond and you were sat next to your two closest baby friends, the three of you in highchairs all in a row, when suddenly you leaned your torso towards me and I leaned towards you and put my arms around you, expecting for you to resist the brief imprisonment of my affection, except you put your little arms as far around me as they would go and lay your head against my shoulder, and we stayed like that for a little while. It was lovely, and I think you were trying to tell me that you were happy.

In terms of surprises, you had two in store for us this month - one good and one terrifying. Let's get the scary one out of the way so that we can end this letter on a good note, yes?

A few evenings ago, you woke up soon after we'd put you in your cot, and as it was your father's turn to look in on you (let's be honest - between the hours of seven and ten, it's always your father's turn), I sent him in to see if he could soothe you back to sleep. Instead, he began calling for me in a voice I'd never heard before, and in a way that made my legs turn to rubber.

We met at the door to the bedroom, where you lay in your father's arms, your face covered in blood.

It took me a millisecond to work out that you had a nosebleed, and thank goodness I had chronic nosebleeds as a child or we might have called an ambulance. We did call the NHS direct line just to see if the bleed was linked to something more serious, but sometimes a nosebleed is just a nosebleed. And I will never say 'just' in relation to blood ever again, when it comes to you, because I'm still trying to scrape my blood pressure off the ceiling where it stuck when I heard your father call for me like that and I thought something unthinkable had happened to you. I’d really like to minimise those kinds of surprises, if at all possible.

The nice surprise took place last week, when I watched you let go of the armchair and take two small steps towards the coffee table, which you touched like it was 'home free' in a game of hide-and-seek. You've taken thirty such unaided, forward-moving steps since that day, in various configurations and for various reasons, and each time you do, I am as proud as I was the very first time I saw you walk. This event, this walking business, was surprising not only because you pulled it out of seemingly nowhere, but because of how natural it looked on you. Something you've never done before, and you already look like you've been doing it your whole life, which has amounted to fourteen wonderful months, to the day.

I'm sorry these letters don't hang together better, Anaconda. Your mummy still exists in a perpetual fog, though hopefully that will change soon, now that we've finally come to our senses and are moving somewhere with a proper support system in place. It's also the place your father and I were married. We didn't know then that one day in the near-future we'd be returning to that small, cobblestoned village with a tiny boo (you!) in tow.

Happy fourteenth month, darling. I love you more than I know how to say.