24 October 2010

Hartley: Twenty-One Months

Hello little wiener!

It’s your mummy here. You turned 21 months old on the 11th of October, which isn’t too long ago now. There seems to be a massive difference between this month and the last, and if I could be bothered to go back and read my terrible scribblings on the matter, I could possibly discern what those differences might entail. Alas, no. Re-reading things I’ve written is one of my least favourite pastimes, somewhere in the vicinity of trying to scour the remnants of sausage from a pan so badly scorched it is practically painted over with a slick new coat of charcoal. Somewhere down there.

Okay, so presently you are a tiny, adorable, highly-strung madman who breathes heavily through your mouth as you concentrate on clicking magnetic train cars together, sometimes snorting because of the pressure your bowed head is exerting on your nasal passages (I don’t know, I’m not a biophysicist [is there even such a thing?]), and then starts to hyperventilate when it all goes pear shaped and one of the cars detaches and then derails as you’re feeding it through a tunnel. I’m glad to see you take after me with your near-autistic approach to projects, and hope that you don’t become even more like me and abandon them altogether when you see that the potential for failure and limited enjoyment is not only possible but imminent. Until such time, I will be sitting right next to you, popping the caboose back in place before you turn around and notice, and probably making things worse somehow.

You are a funny little thing, and now you display habits I was either not around for or just not paying attention to (more likely) when you invented them, which makes them extra hilarious. Such as that noise you make when you are about to do something naughty - like make a play for my non-existent breast milk, or examine the contents from Under The Sink - that ‘Sssssss’ sound as you delve into the forbidden activity with impish delight. I’m not sure what the noise is meant to accomplish, but it’s almost placating enough that I’ll let you snake your hand into my top briefly, or pull out a foil wrapped tablet of laundry detergent from the cupboard before putting an end to your indiscretion.

You remember things from weeks ago and turn them into little songs: one afternoon I got fed up with bruising the soles of my bare feet on your many scattered miniature cars and began to whisk them off into their basket. You shouted NA NA NO! at me as I did this, and I said Tidy! We’re going to tidy your cars now! and you slapped my hand away from the basket and tipped out the contents, saying NA NA NO! until I laughed and gave up. Now, you’ll stop in your tracks suddenly, and out of nowhere do the I’m Not Going to Tidy Up song, which goes as follows:

Tidy…NnnA Na no.

Tidy…NnnA Na no.


It’s really quite catchy, and now I just get you to sing it whenever I remember, or you just sing it whenever you remember, and nothing will ever be tidy ever again. But oh how we laugh, you and I.

Or is it you and me?


I’m trying not to get too caught up in the particulars of each month, or I will scare myself off from doing these letters, and I really don’t want to stop doing them. My therapist says that I often discredit my achievements, and she’s probably right, but what I don’t want to do is to let my own negative core beliefs ruin my memories of what it was like to be your mother in these early years, and to not write them down to the best of my ability. What a shame that would be – to let all of this go because I was too wrapped up in my own issues to acknowledge the importance of what I’m trying to accomplish for us. I should just write the letters, at least until I can commemorate your existence in a more productive way, like making sure I stay on top of laundry so that you don’t have to wear the same pair of socks too many days in a row.

I might edit this down somewhat when you’re old enough to read.

Your bedtime routine is set in stone, with the bun-bun-bun and the squirrel and the neighbours and the stars and apple tree being the mainstay of what we say goodnight to each evening after you’ve been bathed and soft-bagged and we’re standing at the window. Though the other evening you stopped us after squirrel and turned our nightly adieu into an inventory of things you could recall of our garden: “Aaaand…rocks. Aaaand…slide. Aaaand…other house.”

Ah yes – your penchant for counting. You are a natural with numbers, and sometimes I don’t even think you realise you’re counting. Like you’ll sift through the contents of your car basket and slowly count up to ten as you separate them out, which isn’t the same as counting them, I admit, but I won’t come down on you too hard about this until you’re at least two. You’ve finally worked out which of your cars are blue, and now you’ll approach me with one in each hand and say “Two blue cars.” And you know that something is more than one when you say ‘other one,’ which sounds like ‘ah uhn.’ There is a large abacus in the park we took you to over the weekend, and your father and I watched while you pulled each bead away from the group as you counted to ten. It didn’t matter that sometimes you pulled off two at a time, or skipped out on reciting the number five or nine. We know you’re a maths genius at heart and that’s good enough for us.

Sometimes I get very stressed out and anxious about your wellbeing, though it’s usually over things that are unlikely or out of my control. The things I don’t worry about are things I worry that I should be worried about, in case not worrying about them makes me a bad parent. I wonder if I should worry if you have dyslexia, for instance, because you often reverse sounds for words you know, like ‘Ickbits.’ That’s what you call ‘Biscuits.’ Is that normal? Probably, but who has time to read up on this stuff? (Everyone but me; I’m failing you! Haha…) You can say ‘Trousers,’ sort of (you say ‘sousas’) but you still call ‘Jeans’ ‘Eeniss.’ I guess I will worry about this in earnest when you start nursery next year, and all the other children are at a Year-3 reading level while you’re still bashing your head against the floor to let people know you wanted juice instead of water.

That head-banging thing has to stop now, by the way. The low, warning growl you do is more than enough to let us know you’re displeased with the situation at hand, and escalating it to self-harm will not accomplish anything. I know you understand this and are probably just too upset in the moment to care about consequence (or lack thereof) but I’m hoping you get it through your head sometime soon. I’m not being literal when I say that.

Okay Chicken, I think that just about covers it for now. I really wanted to put across how you’ve grown into a little boy, even though the back of your head gets that nested look from sleeping on wet hair, which reminds me of when it looked like that all the time because you didn’t really have hair yet. I do so love you as a baby, and really mourn the passing of these months, even as I look forward to learning more and more about you as you continue to grow and figure yourself out.

Happy 21st month, my tiny boo. I love you so very much.

23 October 2010

Recollections on madness

Sometimes if I know that I have a short amount of time for writing, I'll try to amass some sentences to start me off for when I'm washed and dressed and sat in front of my screen. Then by the time I've finished my shower, all the words have rinsed straight off me, the last of them wicked away by the towel I use to dry myself off with, and I come out clean - clean of my sleepy disarray and clean of words.

Today I've decided that I'm going to sit and write something anyway. This morning my thoughts turned again to that short period of nearly ten years ago when I went mad. I don't like to talk about that openly with people, and it occurred to me this morning that even though mental illness is a prevalent thing in society - and something that is much better understood than it used to be - it's still a shameful thing for those of us who have ever suffered at its hand. Shameful because it does two things very well: its appearance subverts the parameters of what is socially acceptable and, more importantly, it reminds us of what we mistrust most about human nature (helping to relegate certain kinds of experience to the shadowy realm of taboo) – loss of control.

My intellect isn't nearly as good as it was ten years ago. Motherhood changes you physically, but nobody tells you how it reshapes your mind into a primal calculator, stripping it of all but the barest pragmatic functions. Streamlined and reactionary, it churns up the gravel of each real moment and interprets our best chances of survival. Before motherhood, before adulthood even, my mind was a furious thing, like a wasp trapped inside an overturned glass. When I went mad, that wasp began to consume itself. I was under attack, on a level so microscopic I didn't realise that I was the source.

Some pretty frightening things happened during that time, but a few interesting things happened too. I felt very powerful for a while. The night I spiralled out of control, for instance, I was convinced that I was a genius. To prove this to myself, I did what film and television depicted mad geniuses doing a few years later: I made spidery charts out of bits and pieces from my train of thought, connecting these up with arrows, isolating some in cloud bubbles, until I reached the epicentre of the storm. I can't remember what this chart revealed to me, but it shamed me to come across it once I was feeling a little better, and I threw it away. I made so many charts and diagrams, even from my hospital bed, where I was convinced that I was being lied to about what time of day it was. I was trying to prove this by diagramming the trajectory of the sun in relation to the direction I believed my window to be facing.

The thing is, I don't know what to do with any of these recollections. Sometimes I wish I could harvest the energy from these ancient, muscular delusions; rinse them of their toxicity and put them to good use. I can put them down here as an example of something that happened to a person you wouldn't glance at twice now, with her fingers wrapped around the handles of a push chair, making steady progress from one place of stability to the next. I can mount their heads above my mantelpiece as a reminder of why I no longer tap against the sides of the overturned glass; why I no longer capture venomous creatures, however small.

15 October 2010

Last looks

Turning the lights off on our living space, its objects so exhaustively sifted through life's fingers as to render even the simplest charged with a purposeful continuity.

14 October 2010


It was 12.00 AM and Hartley woke up crying. Earlier in the night, I lay awake worrying about him, and wished we were still bed-sharing so that I could put that worry to one side and fall asleep with him next to me. So when he woke up crying, I maybe didn’t try very hard to settle him in his own bed, and brought him back to ours. In the past, he would have used this opportunity to play and sing and keep us awake until we admitted defeat and returned him to his cot. In the wee hours of this morning, I said, "Okay, go to sleep now, baby," and he sighed and smacked his lips gently and stroked the contours of my face with the palm of his hand for a while. Then put his arm around my neck, curled his body into mine and fell asleep.

12 October 2010


I made it through my first job interview in almost four years, and for a while, the idea of being back in London every day, all day, and in control of my own thoughts and actions made everything feel a bit different. I headed to the duck pond where Bruce and Hartley were waiting for me, and as I passed two mothers strolling with their indeterminately-aged babies, I thought That's not going to be me anymore. It was thrilling.

11 October 2010

In pictures

The few out-of-doors hours, leading up to Canadian Thanksgiving dinner (click to enlarge).

10 October 2010


How can I explain?

08 October 2010

Red on white

Nothing seems real for me anymore. I'm not saying this in a dramatic or awe-struck sense; it's just that living in England feels similar to playing Monopoly at times. The currency appears bogus, the decisions I make no better or worse than any others, so long as I'm still playing. I turned a corner and saw a shock of red against a white stucco house, so I took its photo. A van made a U-turn at that exact moment, doubling back towards me, and I panicked and put away the camera. I half expected someone to ask me what I was doing, or try to confiscate my phone. You just never know these days. But nobody erased my shitty photograph of a stunning autumn ivy, and no other moment stood out particularly, so.

07 October 2010

In the sun

Outside the cafe that overlooks the church, where I ate warm tea cakes with butter and apricot jam, and sipped my cappuccino in the sun.

04 October 2010


I reached down and took Hartley's hand in mine, and this time he did not let go. He held my hand and I held his and we walked down cobbled lanes, past shops and straight through the town centre - a mother and her tiny boy, walking together, hand-in-hand.

03 October 2010


Some cross, boss-eyed girl shoved Hartley for touching a toy on a walker that her little brother was occupying. Then she feigned great concern for her brother, even though I could see that her real aim had been to push my son to the ground. That wasn't the best moment of my day. Not by a long shot. My best moment was the lights coming back on after three hours of thinking we'd damaged the wiring behind a wall where we'd hung a painting. That would have been terrible.

02 October 2010


An epiphany: He. Is. Not. The. Boss.

And we wouldn't be doing him any favours if we allowed him to believe this. Such was my revelation at the halfway mark during a full day of shopping with my sister-in-law. She has been an unexpected reserve of strength for me during some pivotal moments in the UK, including the birth of my son. I feel very lucky to be a part of this family, who have all done so much for me over the past few years.

01 October 2010


Well this certainly didn't suck.