11 April 2010

Hartley: Fifteen Months

Hello Tiny Boo!

You’ve reached your fifteenth month of life and I do so wish you’d stay still for just a moment so that I can get my head round what and who you are. Life is like that generally for us, though, and I am coming to terms with the fact that I may never again have the presence of mind to collect these moments that mount, ebb and completely dissolve into the essential nutrients that help to fuel each and every day with you.

I would love nothing more than to sit down for a few hours and regularly take stock of all the ways in which you, me and your father continue to grow and change – as individuals and as a family - but the fact of the matter is, whenever I get a bit of time to myself now I am faced with three conflicting options: sleep/relax, clean/organise or read/write. That sounds more like six options, doesn’t it? But they seem less daunting when I pair them up like that, so let’s say three. And when you take into account the amount of dishes and splattered/crumbing foodstuff and toys and dirty nappies of which a day consists, there’s little doubt as to which option mummy is going to chose.

But these letters are so important to me because I don’t want to lose you, and sometimes it feels as though I’m losing you on a daily basis. You leave me breathless with the volume and scale of your development, and even though I can still remember those early days when you sometimes looked to me like a stern, miniature farmer squinting across the vastness of his wheat fields with an equal mixture of weariness and resolve, those memories are always in a state of being dismantled by the startling immediacy of today. I want to remember you just as you are, because even though I know I will love you at every stage of your growth, I know that I will miss the baby you are right at this very moment with all my heart. I also want to be able to share these aspects of you with you when you’re old enough to want to hear about them from me.

This month we were meant to be moving into a two-bedroom flat in the house you’d always known, in London. We were all set to go, and then illness struck for what seemed like the hundredth time - first me and then you and then your father - and life ground to a bit of a halt. It was during that halt that your auntie Kelly called and planted the seed of a solution that we’d heard before but never really listened to. One day you’ll learn that there are plans and ideals that exist in the imagination, and these rarely ever correspond to the organic experience of living. You need more imagination to overcome these invisible patterns of thought, which, come to think of it, has a name: ‘thinking outside the box.’

It wasn’t until I’d processed what auntie Kelly was proposing - not London, but a big house, more varied and accessible amenities, family and the chance at discovering a community and a support network for us all – that I realised how amiss we were in our ideals for what we’d always considered the perfect life. London was fine for two people with a predictable schedule and a certain number of guaranteed hours of free time per week – it was not fine for a new family that was struggling hourly to find its feet, and that needed a simple, easy foundation from which to begin and end each day. For over fourteen months, we’d been wrestling to fit ourselves inside an outdated mold of what we thought life should be like without ever stopping to consider what life was actually like. Once you know what your life is actually like, Hartley, the things you need to do in order to help that life along become apparent quite quickly.

So we put this idea into motion and, within three weeks, a conversation became a concrete plan and you, me and your father were moving to a town just outside of London, called Hitchin (which, incidentally, is where your father and I were married). We now live in a great big house with three bedrooms, three living rooms and a massive long garden for you to play in. More importantly, we live very close to your aunties, uncles, cousins and grandma, all of whom have helped us to settle in and have taken it in turn to bring you into the fold, giving you experiences that no two individuals, however much they love you, could have given you on their own.

While your father and I are enmeshed in the drama of acquiring and assembling the elements of a home, you’ve had to come to grips with learning an unfamiliar environment and the bare bones of a new routine on top of the learning you already do as a baby. This is probably why you’ve been a bit anxious lately, and why, up until a few days ago, you insisted on being carried everywhere, to the extent that if your feet touched the floor for even a few seconds you would scream and cry and head-butt the wall so that I would have to pick you straight back up again. You hadn’t yet committed the layout of the house to memory, much less established where I was likely to be if we weren’t in the same room, and so we suffered a short regression where I think both of us wished you could still fit into your front-facing carrier.

It is difficult to quantify the extent to which these circumstances have come to bear on all the new things you’ve been up to, but I think it’s safe to say that the different and bigger environment has launched you into areas of verbal and physical development heretofore unknown to us all. You don’t just mimic sounds anymore - you understand that words and action have meaning and consequence, and you’ve mastered these tools to the best of your abilities in order to communicate your needs.

Before, if you were full and wanted to get out of your high chair, you would chuck your food on the floor and cry. Now you fling your arms open and declare “Ah duh!” which means “All done!” - which means I’d better get you out of that chair quickly before you lose all faith in the notion that you’ve been understood and get really pissed off. You’ve also sussed somehow that shaking your head means ‘no’ and so if I ask “Do you want nana?” before you’re feeling hungry, you will say “Na?” and shake your head emphatically at me. Sometimes you will even pair this with “Ah duh!” to make your meaning extra clear.

You don’t really let me feed you anymore, and insist on using a fork or spoon in order to put what’s before you in your mouth, with varied success. You’re very good at yogurt, for instance, and not so good with grape halves, which you like to spear with a fork or scoop up with a large, flat spoon, though you will eventually resort to fingers if you’re hungrier than you are interested in studying for your Utensils 101 exam. However self-sufficient you’ve become at meal time, you still believe that there is no greater crime than the post-dinner face and hand wipe, and struggle against these as though undergoing the worst torture imaginable. It’s just a little moisture, darling, it wouldn’t kill you to sit through it.

Your walking has progressed to the extent that you are largely on your feet now, and about half the time you will resort to walking in that wide, shuffling way of yours in order to get from Point A to Point B. Point B, by the way, mainly consists of the cable box, which you turn off shortly after you shoot me a meaningful look and say “Na?” We must try very hard not to laugh at your antics, lest you stop taking us seriously, though you’ve perfected the art of comedy now, and with a well-timed expression could just about get away with putting ham slices on your father’s best comic books.

Your aptitude for demonstrating love and affection is boundless, and if you’re not coming at me with an enthusiastic, open-mouthed baby smile that gets closer and closer until it – “hum” – licks the tip of my nose, or puckering your lips into a fish mouth and releasing them with a tiny smack on my cheek (your auntie Cher taught you this), you’re squeezing my neck in a forceful hug and rub-patting my shoulder to let me know you’re glad I’m here with you.

I am ever so glad that you’re here with me too, little Boo. I have a very good feeling about this new beginning, and I hope that even as we’re busy throwing ourselves into things as we are currently – me, rushing to finish this off; you, screeching with laughter in the living room while daddy swings you around and sings along to his new Roxy Music album – we’ll find time now and again to catch our breath and just take in the vast landscape of our wondrous life, which you’ve shaped and inspired so much more than you can know.

Happy fifteenth month, Walkaconda. I love you extremely very much.

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