Ten Sweet and Somewhat Strange Things About my Son at Two

I’ve never been much good at keeping up baby books – they always seemed a bit too prescriptive. But something I have started doing and want to keep up is writing a post for my children at each of their birthdays- whether it’s a letter, an anecdote or a list. It’s about marking the occasion; recording where they’re at and what they treasure at a particular point in time.

So, on the eve of Elijah’s 2nd birthday, here it is… a handful of both lovely and a-teeny-bit-wacky things I want to “bottle” about my little boy:

1. Occasionally, during bedtime cuddles he likes to place a hand on either side of my chin and attempt to pull my head off. I never quite know whether to laugh hysterically or be seriously disturbed.

2. He calls motorbikes, “Gwungaga!”. Said with much gusto and a German accent. I have no idea where this came from.

3. His favourite activity in the whole world is to scoop sand out of our chiminea or dirt from pot plants to fill his toy trucks and diggers (yep, we’re finally caving and getting him a sandpit for his birthday). Painting with the toilet brush comes a close second.

4. He adores and worships his big sister. Thinks she’s hilarious and brilliant. Seeks her approval when he makes something. Seeks her laughter when he says something funny. Loves to hop into bed and cuddle her. Semi-regularly clocks her over the head with a toy car.

5. He calls Lily “Ging Ging”. I kind of hope it’s a long time before he learns to say her name.

6. He calls butterflies, “cuttacuttacutta” (said quickly with corresponding pinching motion to represent flapping wings). And ditto.

7. In the right mood, he will surprise me by independently creating quite tall and elaborate structures out of Duplo. In the wrong mood he pretty much just shrieks and cries in constant frustration because he can’t fit a block where he wants it to go.

8. He loves Maisy books. He loves Where is the Green Sheep. He loves anything about diggers/ cars/ planes/ cranes/ trains. He loves The Australian Women’s Weekly Kid’s Party Cakes.

9. He learnt a new joke last night, and in the toddler-esque spirit of things getting funnier the more you say them, has used it extensively since. It starts with me asking him something, for example, “Do you want your spoon?”                                                Elijah: “No. No…se. Nose.” End joke. Cue hysterical laughter.

10. My boy has a smile that floors me. Every time. He may have just unpacked my wallet all over the picnic rug or tipped the dog’s water bowl over his shoes – but he beams that cheeky, milk-teeth grin at me and I’m putty. I realise that I may have to develop some kind of armour to get through his childhood, parental authority intact.

Happy 2nd Birthday, Elijah Hamilton. May you always be as delighted and excited by life as you are at two. I love you deeper than a digger digs and higher than a crane can reach.

Elijah: doing what he does the best - getting dirty!

Elijah: doing what he does the best – getting dirty!

Spring Neglect

I’m told that as the mercury starts to climb, many people experience an irresistible urge to spring clean their homes. I fear I may suffer from the reverse malady: with the first properly warm days of the season, I feel an overwhelming compulsion to disregard all things domestic. You might call it spring neglect.

I remember the day this condition first took hold: for once we have completed our morning routines and exited the house in a relatively harmonious state – largely due to Lily’s elation at being allowed to wear shorts and a T-shirt to kindergarten for the first time in months. (It seems that when you are four-and-a-half, having bare arms and legs simultaneously is pretty much the pinnacle of human existence.) The result of Lily’s unusually cooperative spirit is that the three of us set off less-late than usual on our walk to kindy; backpack strung from the pram handles, and Elijah ooing and ahhing at the digger on our street. The air is warm and fragrant, and the blue sky glistens like a lacquered bowl.

We pause to chat with our elderly neighbour who is gardening in his front yard. He tells us stories about flying foxes hanging upside-down from our gum trees. Lily giggles hysterically at his little yappy dog, Miss Molly playing “peekaboo” under the fence. We walk on. We find an empty nest; a fat, fuzzy caterpillar; an orange and black butterfly. Each is a thing to exclaim over, study and wonder about.

We finally reach the kindergarten at the end of our street, less less-late now – but it seems pointless to worry about that (or anything, really) in this weather. The miracle of that perfectly warm air and feather-soft breeze against skin is enough to dispel all concerns and anxieties. Kissing my daughter goodbye at the gate, I notice that a wattle bush seems to have exploded into bloom overnight. You really couldn’t dream up a more over-the-top emblem of spring than wattle. There is something shrieky, almost brazen, about the way it heralds the new season: thousands of tiny yellow pom-poms huddled together like a crowd of downy ducklings. And that heady, honeyed scent makes me a little giddy.

Walking back home with Elijah, I feel absurdly happy. I know it may seem a bit pathetic to complain about Adelaide’s relatively mild winters. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that winter has stuck around far too long this year. I’m tired of dripping, grubby skies smeared with clouds. I’m tired of that closeted, cotton-wool-brain feeling of being stuck inside with kids. I’m tired of round upon round of sickness: of aches and shakes and flus and fevers, of scratchy throats and endless coughing, of burning foreheads and broken nights. I’m tired of wiping gluey trails of snot from faces, hands, jackets. I’m tired of feeling tired. This beautiful, warm day seems like a symbolic end to all that – a sturdy lid slammed on winter.

In winter the mess is forever in your face: the half-curled socks slinking across bedroom floors like renegade snails; the grit of toast crumbs embedded in couches; the jumbled piles of texta drawings, bank statements and letters that need to be dealt with; the peril of matchbox cars underfoot. There’s really nothing for it but to clean, yet any parent can tell you that cleaning with small children in the house is about as effective and as painless as trimming your eyelashes with a butter knife in a dark room.

Yes, I love the (rare) settled feeling of a clean and tidy house, with everything in its place. But sometimes I wonder if I might be a little too focused in my pursuit of an unattainable goal. With small children, something has to “give”. To be honest, the days I finally get on top of the mountains of washing and clutter are usually the days I lack patience with my kids, the days when my, “not nows” make me sound like a broken record. Life is busy and messy and maybe it’s time to accept that there could well be years when the state of my house will drive me nuts. Of course there will always be occasions when I have to Get Stuff Done, and insist that the kids play on their own. But sometimes neglecting a household chore can mean nurturing a small person, and that’s a choice I want to make more often than not.

This spring morning I stand in my kitchen with the sunlight lapping the tiles at my feet and watch the shining day unfold outside. And it’s a funny mix of energy and apathy that I feel- a hum of excitement at what the day might bring, combined with a distinct lack of interest in attacking the mess around me. It’s a whole lot easier not to feel irritated by the detritus of crumbs and socks and toys in springtime. Today I can shut the door on the chaos and sit on the decking with my little boy while he “cooks” dirt and leaves in plastic saucepans and runs matchbox cars over the bricks. And later I can eat jammy pikelets with my children in a ramshackle cubby on the grass, and draw chalk giraffes on the pavement.

This spring day is for living. I’ll clean when it’s winter.

There's nothing quite like the taste of dirt on a spring day!

There’s nothing quite like the taste of dirt on a spring day!

A Toddler’s Ten Step Guide to Life

  1. Dirt is a glorious thing. All of its qualities make me happy: the way it feels between my fingers and my teeth, the clouds that form as I throw it in the air, the way it tumbles onto my arms and legs and settles into the creases of my clothes. Breathtaking.
  2. When you say, “don’t do that,” I hear, “you’d better do that really fast, cause this opportunity might not come round again for a while.” Hence the quite remarkable speed with which I emptied my drink bottle onto my pasty today. The three seconds it took you to get from around the kitchen bench to my highchair was long enough for flakes of pastry to be floating! It was an impressive record, plus I had the satisfaction of ticking another life experience off my bucket list. (Making lunch float: check.)
  3. Nudity is hilarious. So are running people.
  4. If you want to blow my nose without me kicking up a fuss, you’re going to have to show me the boogers. Seriously, wouldn’t you want to know what cool stuff your nose has made today? I’m always surprised and impressed by the ever-changing kaleidoscope of colours and textures you pull out of there. Just show me the boogers, people, and I might even help by blowing a few more out for you.
  5. Every tunnel, without exception has or has had a train inside. This includes: tunnels at the playground, mouse-holes in picture books, toilet rolls and tube-shaped pasta. I find these objects quite thrilling due to their association with something I hold so incredibly dear. You can acknowledge the connection and get excited with me or you can try and tell me there is no train. Either way, there will be tooting!
  6. I need to experience all condiments on the dinner table ASAP. That mysterious bottle and bowl just out of my reach hold some kind of intriguing treasure which will, no doubt, enliven my palette and enrich my dining experience. I’m becoming familiar with the way these things work: bowls often hold material for sprinkling and bottles contain sauces for dipping stuff in. Either way, it’s going to be super fun and I really do need it on my plate now! I will scream and point while I wait for the transfer to take place.
  7. A container of water is for putting things in. Always. Some of my favourite combinations have been: Humphrey Bear in the dog’s water bowl, pizza in my cup and socks in the bath. The phone in the toilet was a thing of beauty. I could tell by the excitement in your voice that you thought so too.
  8. If you leave a marker pen lying within my grasp, I will creatively embellish the nearest clean surface. (Unless that surface is paper, of course. Duh!) Typically I gravitate towards white, particularly if the white is also shiny (hello tiles!). Sometimes, however, I do like to try out unusual surfaces (my truck was cool) or contrasting colours (the green looked rather nice on Daddy’s new orange footstool).
  9. As I can only say a few names, I find it helpful to use the one name to refer to people who are similar. So, for example, every smiling boy I encounter is called “Ben”, because that’s my cousin. And when I see a friendly-looking man, I call him “Dad”. Of course, strictly speaking, my dad doesn’t have a turban and or a long white beard like the “dad” at the library today, but the general vibe is similar.
  10. I like to wake up and call for you just a little while after you’ve gone to bed. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this special timing? My heart melts when you stumble all sleepy-eyed and messy-haired into my room, looking a little lost. I wrap my arms around you and hold you tight, thinking how safe and contented you must feel to have a lovely cuddle with me before going back to sleep. But don’t worry, sweet Mummy, I’m just next door and I’ll be sure to check on you a few more times throughout the night. You’re welcome.                                                                            Water is for putting things in

Happy(ish) Mother’s Day!

In the lead-up to Mother’s Day, I found myself both transfixed and irritated by a particular advertisement on Facebook. It wasn’t obscene or crude or exploitative, it was just, well… a bit ridiculous. Clad in a gold negligee with glossy blonde curls cascading over her slender shoulders, the “mother” rises like a mermaid from a pastel sea of roses, pastries, handbags and parcels piled across the bed. A glittery pink eye mask is pushed up her porcelain forehead, and gosh she looks well-rested.

I know advertisements are meant to tap into fantasies, but I couldn’t help thinking this one had gone too far. Perhaps it’s just my own stage of life, but I feel like fantasy for a lot of mums would be waking in a bed sans children after the stars have set. And here is the problem: after enduring weeks and weeks of a glistening, pink media assault, it’s inevitable that many mums will feel dissatisfied with their messy, noisy, slightly tatty Mother’s Day reality.

Last Mother’s Day I remember being sleep-deprived after feeding a baby through the night, and feeling a bit sorry for myself that my husband was working all day and I couldn’t whip out my “it’s Mother’s Day” card to excuse myself from of any of those menial mum-jobs: changing nappies, fixing meals, bathing kids, never-ending bedtime-rituals. I wrote about the sense of disillusionment that my Mother’s Day was far from the “catalogue version” I had been promised.

But this year I’ve been thinking of a dear friend who has just celebrated her first Mother’s Day as a mum and her first Mother’s Day without her own mum – having lost her suddenly a month before the birth of her first baby. It’s caused me to reflect on all those women who are grieving the loss of a mother or a child or who – whether through fertility issues or just the twists and turns of life – have never been granted the child they so desperately wanted.

Yesterday two very different crowded spaces – my Facebook newsfeed and the cemetery near our house – both conveyed a common story of loss and sorrow. For many, Mother’s Day brings a churning restlessness of the heart, a yearning ache akin to homesickness for an alternate version of life with no missing pieces. Thinking of these women (and men) has shaken things into perspective, and enabled me to shrug off the ludicrous fantasy that the media trots out each May.

Late last year I attended a friend’s birthday dinner with a group of girls I mostly didn’t know. As the night progressed and the food and wine flowed, a chequered assortment of life-stories emerged (as they always do at a successful girl’s night). It turned out that a birthday was only one of several events worth celebrating that night. From a group of six women in their mid-thirties, one was pregnant with her fifth child, another with her first through IVF, one had brought along her first baby daughter, one had an adoptive son and was hoping to adopt a second, one was late because she had to settle a three-year-old and breastfeed a ten-month-old before coming (that was me), and one (the birthday girl) had gleefully left two pre-schoolers at home with their dad.

It struck me: what a wide diversity of journeys to motherhood were represented by our small table alone. What thorny, winding, lonely paths many women walk to become mothers. And what travel-wounds some must sustain along the way; what bruises to the heart, what crushing blows of disappointment, what bone-aching weariness. I can only imagine, because I’m one of the lucky ones. My two beautiful children came easily: a sunny, babbling toddler who kisses everyone and hurts himself way too often, and a mostly sweet, sometimes spiky four-year-old girl with an incredible imagination, and a gift for making up songs.

For those whose Mother’s Day was marked by sorrow, I hope that you found some measure of comfort: a soft place to fall, a quiet corner where you could speak your grief. May the God who knows all things guard your heart and mind with a peace which exceeds anything we can understand. I am grateful to those friends brave enough to show me their travel-wounds, to share a little of their pain. On a day when most of the hearts on display are flawlessly fashioned from soft and whimsical fabrics, it can’t be easy to reveal one that is broken and bloodied. We need to see those hearts on Mother’s Day. We need to honour the tales of desperate loss as much as those of joy and triumph. Some of us need to remember the richness of our blessings lest we take for granted all that we hold in our arms. What we don’t need are more unattainable, airbrushed goddesses swimming through oceans of gifts – because that isn’t anybody’s truth.

This year my Mother’s Day was lovely. There was no sleep-in, I missed my mum who lives overseas, and I had to do all the dinner and bedtime routines myself after my husband went back to work. My little boy put a tooth through his lip and kissed at least one girl he probably shouldn’t have in the playground. There was the odd tantrum, sibling fight and quite a bit of screaming when we got lost and lunch was delayed on our scenic drive through the hills. But there were homemade cards and a gorgeous locket, a cheese-platter in the hills, a playground and a toasted sandwich for dinner that my husband cut into a swan at my request. I thumbed my nose at the glossy-haired goddess in the advertisement and revelled in the glory of my sticky, stinky, messy, slightly tatty, beautiful family. I am blessed beyond measure.

Mother's Day pic

Mother’s Guilt

Ah, Mother’s Guilt. It can hound your heart: fierce and persistent. I’ve had a bad case for about three-and-a-half years now. Of course, the thing about being a mother is that there’s always plenty of stuff going on to distract from a case of Mother’s Guilt. Like Mother’s Guilt about something else, for example. But in those rare silent spaces of the day, the shriek of guilt echoes still. And it says: “Why haven’t you taken her swimming lessons?”

Because here in Australia, it’s what parents do. We are a nation in love with water – which is not surprising given our environment. This summer we sweated through 12 days over 40°C (104°F). There was a day in January where my city held the dubious honour of officially being the hottest city on Earth (46°C/ 115°F). Our national anthem proclaims our home to be “girt by sea”: we are a big hot island enfolded in the most enticing sapphire. Our kids grow up with nappies full of sand and eyes smarting from salt-water. They visit Friends With Pools, ride on inflatable mattresses, play Marco Polo and smell of chlorine and sunscreen and summertime. Swimming lessons are a significant part of this lifestyle. You may have a naturally-birthed, exclusively breastfed, cloth-nappy-wearing, sleeping-through-the-night six-month-old, but if she’s not enrolled in baby swimming lessons, you’re only so-so as a mum. And yes, congratulations dear friend, for helping your baby achieve proficiency at Butterfly by his first birthday.

Although she tends to be cautious at first, given a little time to adjust, Lily adores jumping waves with Daddy at the beach or bouncing through the swimming pool in Mummy’s arms. It’s not as if we have completely denied her and her brother the joys of water. But somehow we just never seemed to get around to those pesky swimming lessons.

Last week I finally – years too late and definitely not in the best season – made an attempt to appease my Mother’s Guilt, and enrolled both kids in swimming lessons. Lily had her first yesterday afternoon. All day she was bouncing off the walls, exclaiming how she couldn’t wait. In fact, her uncharacteristically eager compliance to all my instructions – bathers on, hair up, track pants over the top, showering before her lesson, new goggles on – actually made us early for our lesson.

There was a moment where I was almost lulled into thinking this whole swimming lesson caper was going to be straight-forward. I say almost because being mum to my precious Lily for four years has taught me that new experiences are never easy for her (which may help to explain my reluctance to dive into swimming lessons, if you’ll excuse the pun). Dancing lessons, Sunday School, occasional care, childcare, kindergarten – all looked marvellous to her from a distance, but became tear-soaked affairs the day they shifted into reality.

Sure enough, when the moment came to step into the pool, Lily burst into tears, “I thought I wanted to have swimming lessons, but I don’t!” she cried plaintively. “I’ve changed my mind!” The instructor ended up having to carry her, thrashing and howling into the pool. I watched (as well as I could whilst struggling to prevent my toddler from hurling all manner of items including himself into the water) as she manoeuvred my daughter’s reluctant little frame into a range of positions: belly, back, star float, belly with kick-board, back with kick-board. A bench-load of attentive parents were treated to an earful of wails and whimpers, climaxing in the blood-curdling protest: “I don’t want to get my hair wet!” And my heart twisted and crashed inside my chest as Lily’s face registered a gamut of emotions: distress, anxiety, concentration, fleeting pops of joy and pride.

Towards the end of the lesson, while the other little girl in the class ducked and dived and wet her hair like a mermaid, Lily – the picture of misery – huddled on the pool steps with teeth chattering, tears streaking her face, pink goggles askew and bather pants half-way down her bottom. Honestly, I wanted to cry myself. While there had been a few positive moments, it had been a pretty agonising half-hour on the whole. And as for the Mother’s Guilt: if anything, seeing my little girl struggle out there had made it roar all the louder. But then, what’s motherhood without an ample dollop of guilt?

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