Ten Random Things I Love About Babies (Even when they disrupt my sleep and spit out my food).

Please don’t ask if my eleven-month old is sleeping through the night. I can’t really imagine what people do with eight hours in a row. Or six.

The introduction of solids has also had its frustrations. From age six to eight months, my little boy trialled a range of methods to avoid eating my carefully prepared purees, from the more subtle approaches such as ducking his head away or poking out food with his tongue, through to the desperately pitiful what-are-you-doing-to-me-Mummy-tears and the rather terrifying gagging, retching and vomiting up the (99% milk) contents of his belly. In fact, our normally cheerful little soul got so cluey about keeping his mouth sealed against substances other than milk, that he actually avoided smiling during mealtimes – quite a feat with his cheeky big sister making ridiculous faces inches away. 

Crawling hasn’t come easily, either. At eleven months, my baby is finally on the move, but in an incredibly ungainly style of dragging his left leg curled under him in a manner that has doctors shrieking about ultrasounds, blood tests and specialist appointments.

And yet. And yet I love this kid. And not just in that I love you ‘cause I’m your mum but I don’t really like you much right now kind of way. Nope, this is love, like and the whole bang lot. I understand the biological element: it’s the natural order of things for a mother to love, protect, nurture the child she has brought into the world. Certainly that helps to account for the fierce, sometimes almost overwhelming need to keep this boy safe from all harm. But to be honest, the depth of delight I have had in this baby from the start has taken me by surprise.

I recently watched Thomas Balmès beautiful documentary Babies, which follows four babies from four different countries during the first year of their lives. The film emphasises the universal qualities of babies – and whether from the Namibian desert or the Tokyo apartment – they all play, explore, laugh, express excitement, become frustrated, throw tantrums.

The film got me thinking about some of the things I’ve loved about my two babies during the first year of their lives. That utterly demanding, all-encompassing, nipple-cracking, ear assaulting, back-aching first year that wrings every last nurturing tendency from your bone-tired body and then beams a glaring-bright light on all your selfish inclinations. For there really is nothing like parenting a baby for illuminating your true, unadorned, warts-and-all self.

Tired, frazzled mums of babies say to each other ruefully, “It’s a good thing they’re cute!” It’s said at least partially in jest, but – like any adage – there’s more than a little truth in the statement. It was very clever of God to ensure that people in their most dependent and demanding phase of life are at their cutest. I mean, call me shallow, but I wonder how I would go dragging myself out of bed for the fifth time to kiss my infant’s shrivelled, whiskery, old-man face. It didn’t end so well for Benjamin Button. Yes, I love my son purely because he’s my son. But, let’s be honest, there are adorable things about babies that make it easier. My list is not particularly deep and meaningful and it’s certainly not exhaustive –it’s merely a few random thoughts about the sweet things babies do. The little things that enable you to laugh rather than cry when they wee all over face, clothes and mummy during a 2am nappy change.

1.       They see the world with fresh eyes.

We went for a walk one evening when my boy was a few weeks old, and Jeremy said, “I love it when a baby has not been long in this world, and walking under a tree is magical.” Living with a baby can feel relentless and repetitive for the grown-ups, but for the baby every patch of carpet is surprising and each glimpse in the mirror an exhilarating surprise.

My sure-fire trick to cheer up a grumpy baby is to lay him on the bed and gently drift a sheer scarf over his body and face. Utterly thrilled, my boy waves his arms and legs and squeals with excitement as the glistening, spangled substance floats and falls and softly skims his skin.

When I take the time to pause in my busy, rushed state of being a grown-up – when I stop and lie on the floor with my baby and see what he sees – it’s a pretty surprising and awesome world looking back at us.

2.       They are excited about life and not ashamed to show it.

An adult may show her excitement with a single smile, gasp or exclamation. Many a teenage boy has managed to distil his excitement down to a barely discernible widening of the pupils. In extreme and unusual circumstances such as watching a favourite sporting team at the Grand Final, two or even three simultaneous gestures may be employed: a fist pump, a foot stomp and a raucous yell, for example.

Babies display excitement with their entire compact little bodies: eyes wide, mouths agape, arms flapping and (my favourite bit, mainly because it’s just something grown-ups don’t ever do) legs kicking up a frenzy. And the most beautiful thing of all is that a baby can slip into this leg-kicking flurry of exhilaration because you’re about to put him in the bath, or because the light switch is just so amazing, or because his big sister started dancing.

3.       They laugh.

I bring my baby home from hospital and I’m in awe. I feel optimistic that I’ll be able to cope with anything. But there’s a lot of crying and not a lot of sleeping. And then there’s reflux and screaming at every feed. It’s a tough job, and quite frankly I don’t feel like I’m getting a whole lot in return.

And then my baby laughs.

For some reason today that loud raspberry I’ve been blowing on his belly since day one just spoke to him on a whole new level. Yesterday he gazed back at me blankly, but today I am hilarious.  And that’s the real reason why that first awkward, unpractised, squawky laugh is the sweetest music to my ears: it is evidence of connection. No longer am I just boobs and a comforting smell, suddenly I’m interesting and entertaining. There’s something incredibly affirming about making my baby laugh. And before long, my baby is relishing the joyous physical experience of a hearty belly laugh.

4.       They seek out your face.

When my baby is being held by an enthusiastic but unfamiliar family friend, cuddled by a rambunctious big sister or poked and prodded by a doctor, his eyes scan the room searching me out. There’s caution in his eyes, the question of am I ok, Mum? Then his eyes rest on mine, reassured. As he grows up, my hope is that I may always be a place of rest for my child.

5.       Sometimes they fall asleep in your arms.

There’s a school of thought that insists you should never let a baby fall asleep in your arms, much less take him or her into bed with you. I understand that babies need to learn to settle themselves and I was very strict about this with my daughter. But second time round and a bit more relaxed, I’ve discovered what bliss it is to snuggle my boy as he falls asleep once in a while. To feel the resistance slip away from his little body, to see his eyes grow heavy, to watch sleep gather him up and smooth his chubby face.

6.       They dance to music.

A few months ago I put on some music, and – from his sitting position on the mat – my baby started bopping up and down to the beat. How do babies know to dance? From where do they get the knowledge that moving their bodies to music will bring them joy?

Every now and then, we feel the need to have a ten minute family dance party before bath-time. My little boy is always an enthusiastic participant: bopping away in his highchair, flashing wide baby-teeth grins as the rest of the family display for-our-kitchen-only dance moves.

7.       They can pull off bunny hats and tiger costumes without irony.

What is cuter than a little chubby baby, than a little chubby furry baby with bunny ears? And surely I’m not the only mum who dresses her baby in his cutest outfit after a particularly rough night?

8.       Sometimes only you can comfort them, and that’s pretty amazing.

It can be the most frustrating and lovely thing at once: that there are times when only his mama’s arms will do. He’s overtired or anxious or something is hurting, and he’s inconsolable. Call it a mother’s intuition, or call it trial and error – I sit him on my lap and pat his back until a bubble of gas bursts out his mouth, or I take him to the window and we look across the dark backyard to the bright streak of lights on the horizon, or I just lie with him against my chest until he quietens. There may no longer be a physical cord connecting my baby to me, but a thousand invisible threads still bind us together.

Sometimes it feels draining being The One – especially still breastfeeding my 11-month-old-don’t-ever-try-to-trick-me-with-that-plastic-teat-business-again baby. Sometimes I crave time to myself. Jeremy and I went on our first date in seven months a few weeks ago. It lasted all of an hour (but what a quality hour it was!) before we got a phonecall from my mum with our baby screaming in the background. Mum had been walking around the house with him howling for 40 minutes before she called us. Needless to say, we came home.

Mothering a baby is such an intense physical experience: the weight of responsibility for this tangle of grabbing fists and sucking lips, soft round belly and tiny sharp teeth, kicking legs and milky spews and duckling-down hair. But I try to remember that it is just a time. My baby will never need me as much as he does today. Yes there are days when I crave a future place of unbroken sleep, non-maternity bras and mush-free dinners. But then he buries his face in my neck or goes cross-eyed and giggly as we press our foreheads together, and I want to halt the march of time, bottle his baby-essence, hold him and hold him.

9.       They join in family discussions in their own special language.

When he’s in a chatty mood my baby sounds something like this, “Dada dada dada da! Ah dadada?” When he’s really excited it’s more like, “Da! Da!” When he’s upset, it’s “Mama mama muuum!” I try not to take it personally. I just like that my baby has things to say.

10.   They don’t hold grudges.

 I love my baby more than life but the little knack he has of illuminating my faults can be very uncomfortable. Becoming a mother is far and away the most amazing, fulfilling thing I have done. But it is without a doubt also the most frustrating, and I marvel at the way in which something so small has the ability to push me to the edge of my capacity.

 Becoming a mum has brought out the best and the worst versions of myself. I had no idea what it would feel like to be on call every day and every night. I had no grasp of how challenging – and even frightening – the loss of control would be. I am ashamed at the things that have burst out of me in moments of extreme frustration.

 There have been countless exasperating, broken nights where I have growled all kinds of threats at a baby that won’t settle, and then been wracked with guilt that I’ve damaged him irrevocably. But morning comes and the moment he sees me, my baby boy is kicking his legs, cooing and giggling in delight.

 And I realise a wonderful, miraculous truth: through the grace of God, my little boy holds no grudges. He only ever sees my best version.

 

Catalogue Mother’s Day

It struck me today that there is Catalogue Mother’s Day and there is Real Mother’s Day. The mums in Catalogue Mother’s Day have slept eight-plus hours and woken with flawless makeup, softly curled hair and pyjamas that manage to speak maternal care and feminine desirability all at once. They smile with quiet serenity as angelic, doe-eyed children press brightly wrapped parcels into their hands, and hunky husbands whisper words of gratitude and promises of waffles and bubble baths.

Catalogue Mother’s Day is not to be confused with Real Mother’s Day. The Real Mother’s Day mum has been woken three-hourly throughout the previous night, and the dryness of her throat suggests those few hours of sleep may have been spent eating sand. She stumbles groggily from the bedroom: damp circles on the front of her shabby T-shirt, dark circles under her eyes and a head that feels like it is full of wool. Or maybe thick soup.

The Real Mother’s Day mum may well have a husband who is a pastor (and required to attend three church services, plus finish writing a sermon to preach in the evening) or perhaps in hospitality or another occupation that requires him to be elsewhere than at her beck and call for the day. Or she may be a single mum with no one on hand to remind the kids to put a raincheck on all tantrums, whining and explosive poos for the day.

Even for those with a loving partner on hand, Mother’s Day is not without its challenges. Dividing the day equitably between mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers and step-mothers can leave little opportunity for the Real Mother’s Day mum to enjoy an uninterrupted cup of tea, let alone breakfast in bed or a leisurely bath.

Mother’s Day is about celebrating what it means to be a mum. Today I was reminded that being a mum on 12th May – as on any other day – is about living out a long string of moments: bright, gorgeous moments that fill your heart, mundane moments that are quickly forgotten, challenging moments that seriously test your self-control.

Here are a few of my Real Mother’s Day moments for 2013:

  • A Sleep-in

Elijah had a cold, so I felt unprepared to deny him extra breastfeeds through the night. However when he woke squawking for attention at 6am, a mere two hours since the last feed, I decided in desperation to try cuddles in bed rather than another feed. I watched his little body relax as I laid him in the warm nest between us. His eyes latched onto my face and his mouth gaped with the purest joy. He tossed his head back and forth for a few minutes, settling in, babbling happily about his new situation. And every time he turned to me, I was offered that big gummy grin that miraculously smoothed away the frustration of hours of broken sleep.

  • Breakfast in Bed

“Here’s your breakfast in bed, Mummy!” Lily announced, setting a pink slipper on the coffee table with a flourish. Inside were two plastic sausages, a plastic tomato and something that came from the inside of a tap (“your candle”). Ok, so strictly speaking it was the afternoon, and I was reclining on the couch rather than the bed. But who’s going to split hairs? Besides, I really hate crumbs in bed, and there were definitely none this time.

  • A Shower of Gifts

Even when you’re pretty sure daddy and daughter were making the card while you were making your coffee, a homemade card is impossible for any mummy to resist. Mine was replete with sparkly stickers, coloured texta and a message that read, Dear Mummy, I love mummies! I think you’re lovely beautiful. Happy Mother’s Day! Love from Lily and Elijah! I was also presented with a whole box of baklava – my favourite sweet – from a Mediterranean patisserie that’s recently opened just around the corner. We’re talking eight flaky, honeyed morsels of goodness. Mmmm!

  • Time to Yourself

After an hour spent fighting sleep at church, and despite my earnest efforts of noise and distraction, Elijah fell asleep in the five-minute car ride home. But then, as a special Mother’s Day gift, he actually allowed himself to be successfully transferred to his cot where he slept soundly for a further hour and a half. And while Lily busied herself feeding Bunny and Pink Bear a soup made from toast crusts, water and stickers, I ignored the piles of laundry waiting to be folded and sat in semi-peace with the newspaper, a second coffee and said sweet treat (As Lily declared recently, “I wish I was the Mummy of you, cause then I could have lots of food as I wanted”. Can’t argue with that).

  • Family Lunch

This year, Jeremy’s sister and her family are over from Papua New Guinea, and we have been enjoying regular family Sunday lunches. Of course, all the planning, shopping, cooking and washing up inevitably falls on the shoulders of the women in the family. However, for Mother’s Day, my sister-in-law had the inspired idea that the dads should organise lunch. So we ended up with chicken, hot chips and salad served on paper plates and eaten on picnic rugs on the lounge-room floor. This was followed up with homemade cookies and Mexican hot chocolate in the backyard. Then while the boys cleaned up, Elijah slept in the pram and Lily hunted dinosaur-ants with her girl cousins, I sat and chatted with Jeremy’s sister. Lovely. For once, Sunday lunch was actually a relaxed experience for the women of the family.

  • A Special Concert

I know I’m biased, but I love Lily’s songs. I love it when she stands tall and straight against the wall and proudly busts out a tune she’s just made up. I’ll admit that today’s song, about five of her soft toys that were jammed on the couch, was not the most inspired: “There’s no more space, there’s no more space, there’s no more space!” But when I worked in a line about “kissing your face,” Lily rewarded me with a gleeful laugh and an encouraging, “I love your songs, Mum!” It was a nice mummy/ daughter duet.

  • Dinner and a Movie

Sundays are my I don’t care night when it comes to dinner. They are always busy, Jeremy is at church for the evening and often (as was the case on Mother’s Day) the afternoon too. Our Mother’s Day dinner was “Easy Mac” from a box watching Brambly Hedge. Not great, but I was exhausted, Elijah overtired and fussy, and we all needed the comfort of quick carbs and cute mice.

  • A Bubble Bath Before Bed

On this, my third Mother’s Day, it was good to ponder how much I cherish my two children: my funny, imaginative, sometimes exasperating little girl and my chubby-cheeked, sunny baby boy. There are moments when I look at them and am caught off guard with a flood of wonder and amazement that I get to be their mum. They are a blessing and I thank God for the gift of them in my life.

 

Nevertheless, when bath-time comes, I am always grateful that they are well on the way to being tucked up in bed! This evening seemed to be a particularly fraught battle to get them into the bath, with Elijah wanting to be held and Lily wanting to do everything in “three-year-old-time”. Then, once in the bath, Lily started having an emotional melt-down because the bubbles were popping too fast (ever heard of First World problems, kiddo?), and I could feel myself gearing up to deliver a sharp reprimand. But just as I was about to speak, I looked down and saw that Elijah still had his socks on in the bath! The next moment, Lily and I were both hooting uncontrollably with laughter, while Elijah looked on, bemused. It was a good way to end the day.

So there you have it: my Real Mother’s Day in a nutshell. It’s pretty far from the glossy catalogue version, but given the choice, I know which one I’d pick every time.

What were your Real Mother’s Day moments?

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Phases of the Baby

Since becoming a parent, I’ve found myself talking a lot about phases. He’s in a phase where he’s hungry all the time. She’s in a really clingy phase. He’s in a grizzly, unsettled phase. I‘ve noticed that other parents do it too. I think that part of the reason they use this term is to convince themselves that the challenging behaviour their baby or child is currently displaying (and every age features some kind of challenging behaviour, right?) will soon cease. It’s not a rigid habit and it’s not a personality trait, it’s just a phase. This too shall pass.

I wonder if on a subconscious level, voicing the nonchalant statement, it’s just a phase helps parents reassure themselves that they haven’t completely lost control. They’re saying, things might look and sound chaotic right now, but I know what I’m doing. As the parent of any young child will attest, daily reality has a way of changing rapidly. Maintaining even the mere illusion of serenity can be a challenge. In truth, the parent could be flailing desperately to keep her head above water and at a loss to explain why what worked perfectly yesterday doesn’t work at all today – like the poor tadpole who spent weeks merrily flitting around underwater, only to grow lungs overnight and suddenly find itself frantic for a ledge to sit on.

I spent the first four or so months of Elijah’s life quietly congratulating myself for having such a placid baby. Once a night he would gently alert me to his desire for a feed with soft little grunts and snuffles. Then, milk-drunk he would contentedly settle back to sleep. Now my little boy has hit six months and entered a phase where he’s waking a lot at night, anxious for a cuddle and a feed. This has coincided with a noisy phase, in which he’s keen to explore his vocal capabilities at all hours of the night. This month he’s learnt to say, “dada”, and he’s also learnt to shriek like a banshee.

Of course, the logical conclusion is that he’s hungry. He is however, decidedly nonplussed about the idea of solids: whatever thoughtfully prepared puree I poke in with a spoon, he immediately pokes back out with his tongue and a ribbon of bubbly spit. I’m going through the motions because it’s what I’m meant to do, but so far it seems like rather a pointless and baffling endeavour to us both.

Another topic parents like to talk about is how tired they are – which is really quite boring. So all I’ll say is that in truth I’m feeling worn out and a little defeated by this phase. Will it come to an end on its own, or do I need to take drastic action to help my baby transition to a new phase? I’m floundering about, looking for some respite from the relentlessness of broken sleep and a demanding baby.

Then last night, in the middle of a particularly long and frustrating week: a moment as sweet as it was ordinary. I’m singing to Elijah as I undress him for his bath (my own variation of “The National Association of ‘W’ Lovers” from Sesame Street). As I chorus, “Uh, uh, uh, uh,” he erupts into riotous fits of giggles. Mouth a wide, gummy “O”, chubby arms windmilling excitedly in the air. I scoop him up and cradle him in my arms: my nude, squishy, divine little baby boy. “Uh, uh, uh, uh,” I sing again, and he actually throws his head back, squealing with mirth. His bright eyes hold mine, utterly delighted with what I am doing.

And all at once, I’m the frog that’s found its ledge. My heart is full and gosh I feel SO good about myself. We’re looking and laughing at each other with pure joy and adoration. And I’m thinking, let this never pass.Image