Monday, 27 June 2011

The hunt for the perfect cardigan

Josie writes a blog, called 'sleep is for the weak'. On it she has a writing workshop which I gingerly read and occasionally toy with entering posts to. My reticence is a remnant of the 6th form - all hanging at the back not feeling cool enough with my still too shiny DMs, my embarrassing Springsteen crush and my black tea (pretentious, moi?).

This week she's asked her readers to write about an item of clothing, and what it means to them. I am at a clothing impasse. I have a new chest of drawers to try and stem the flow of clothes which engulfs me. Having this new war chest has forced me to acknowledge that though I have a lot of clothes, this is mostly to do with hoarding and having no idea what I like, or what I like to look like, rather than having a passion for fashion or any particular style.

I met friends today and discussed my current frump slump. God I feel loathsome. No longer able to hide behind a proper newborn - what with him growing so beautifully and starting to have a personality - I am revealed in the occasional sun and I'm not sure what I am. I'm not the person I was when I was pregnant, I'm about to rejoin the world of work so I'm not a maternity leave mum any more, I'm older than I think I am, but I'm not that old. I (sort of) fit in the clothes I had before I had my children. But I'm not thatwoman any more either. I look at outfits and can't work out what or who she was, what I was going for, who those clothes would suit at all...

Part of my trouble is just the resources I have. Not money, but my body which really belongs to another century. The sort of women I'd like to look like or dress like (girl crushes like @laurenlaverne and Cate Blanchett), they have bodies from now and work them so beautifully - sophisticated, sexy, playful, classical. Mine is far too curvy and solid for their chic combination of high street and designer. Perhaps the last time I could have looked 'on trend' would have been pushing little tiny ships across a map of Europe in Churchill's secret underground bunker. I could definitely have worked the red lipstick, uniform and the suggestion of black market stockings vibe.

So as I rifle through my bags of clothes, the summer ones ready to be folded, and the newer ones I've accumulated over the last couple of months in preparation for hitting the streets and the office already in place, I just can't find an item that would work for a post. Mostly because I think the item of clothing that means most to me is in my head. It is a cardigan. The cardigan. The perfect cardigan I've been searching for my entire adult life, and which I'm beginning to think I'll only find neatly folded next to the perfect pair of boots as I arrive at the pearly gates.

I have a lot of cardigans. Boyfriends, Granddads, two buttons, all buttoned, no buttons. I have skinny fit, stripes, plain colour, silk, oversized, chunky knits, lacy cap sleeves. I've gone cardigan coat, buttoned jumper dress, I've done one disastrous bolero. I've bought from charity shops, designer labels (well, TK Maxx), high street, vintage. I've gone long, and short, and long again. I've even tried ponchos. The closest I've come to the perfect cardigan is a Scandinavian blue and white massive affair. More of a coat. I do love it. It fits into the latent festival spirit I wish I was more confidently part of. But it isn't quite right. Not least as my perfect cardigan would probably be black, and long-ish, and be thin enough to show its age (in a good way) but not have holes (like the nearly perfect cardigan I had when I was 17). Which is perhaps the heart of the matter, being 17, not clothes with holes.

You see, I'm beginning to wonder if when I was 17 might have been the last time I knew who I was. To be sure, I was filled with self-doubt, ready to quash my own ideas, uncertain of whether I believed in God, tribally political, angry and shouty. But hey, I had a pretty strong sense of what music I liked, what books were brilliant, how I wanted to change the world, and I wrote without the legacy of fear and self-loathing going to university gave me (ie I wrote about art and books and numbers and social theories with the passion and freedom of someone who'd never been laughed at in a tutorial). I liked poetry, I read the 'papers, I'd never been dumped, I'd never gone mental, I had so much to mess up ahead of me but only hopes and tapes of Suede and The Beatles. And I had no grey hair.

So maybe I can't find the right cardigan just because when I try one on the person who looks back in the dressing room isn't the person I'm secretly hoping to see - a girl with purple tights and a black velvet hat, long brown hair, a patterned dress and big boots and an old, slouchy, slimming, black cardigan (with a Winnie the Pooh badge on it) which could have been bought in Miss Selfridges or stolen from her Grandfather. Which leaves me with a dilemma. Do I put away a search for childish things, or dig out the mix tapes and see if there is any of her left which can be upcycled for the life and body I live with now?

Saturday, 25 June 2011

the toddler's trope

There's a figure of speech which has been dancing around, just behind my forehead, eluding me for months. I've seen it glimmering in reflections and groped about in the haze but not got it. I find as the sleeplessness of seven months begins to properly kick in, this happens a lot. I am turning into a sitcom mother - I gesticulate wildly as I try to jumpstart my brain when I need to recall that film, you know that film, with that man in it.

The figure of speech search was prompted by Spider-boy and his friends and the delicious way they describe stuff by using just a select part to represent the whole. Using that part, in fact, as a substitue for the whole but in a way that clearly is understandable to others. Like when you say 'the Green Berets' but mean US Army Special Forces. Spider-boy and his mates aren't always as lucky. Sometimes a frantic search ensues as we try to fathom his meaning, but it doesn't stop him cutting the world down to toddler size highlights and expecting me to be able to follow his train of thought too.

It isn't as well-known as metaphor or simile, in the figure of speech party it would certainly be drinking in the kitchen not making waves or throwing shapes on the dance floor, but it is useful. The answer, I realised in a Eureka! moment a few days ago, is synecdoche. And a lovely word it is too, expanding and stretching around in your brain as it propels you into saying it aloud.

Spider-boy, for example, talks about the dinosaur museum. If we take him to a gallery, he will home in on a single aspect, one he understands or likes, and talk vividly about a picture in those terms. He wouldn't talk about The Sunflowers to refer to the van Gogh exhibition but he might talk about it as the 'round clouds' or the 'beard man place'. He can spot an animal in a picture a mile off too, and that becomes the masterpiece's defining characteristic.

It is worse with books, films or episodes of TV shows. He used to ask for 'the elephants' (The Jungle Book) or 'the shark book' (Man On The Moon which features a hidden joke, unremarked on in the text, in which one of the rockets heading to Bob's workplace moon is fashioned like a Great White).

But what a wonderful trope it is. And so child-ish. I heard tell of an indignant and steadfast toddler demanding the film with the lady in the cake. She was referring, of course, to 101 Dalmations where there is a brief, unimportant to many, maybe to some not even memorable, few frames where a lady jumps out of a cake at a birthday party.

How marvellous. By cutting through the skin and juice, right to the core of our view of the world, it fleetingly exposes exactly who we are and how our brains work.

I love it for that, especially as I hear new speakers flexing their verbosity and 'explaining' the world all around. There's something very charming in its inadvertent poetry and its earnest and egocentric expectation that the speaker and listener share common experiences and reference points. It requires you to work together, and to find a way, quickly, to view things in a similar style. Somehow I think it brings out the toddler in all of us, the requirement for instantaneous communal understanding, because when synecdoche works, and we cut through the swathes of possible thoughts to the nub super-quick together, we share a mind-link reminiscent of the Freudian Motherbaby single entity.

Synecdoche: cutting the crap out of metaphors (and one of my new favourite words).

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Do you enjoy breastfeeding?

I've been asked this a lot. I find the whole subject of breastfeeding very hard, not least as it is so knotted up with so many heartfelt emotional issues. I know many women who carry feelings of guilt, worry, resentment about breastfeeding or being unable to do it as they might have hoped. Me? I feel quite 'meh' about the entire enterprise.

I had a relatively easy time, actually. I fed Spider-boy exclusively for months and months. I even managed to keep him exclusively breastfed on demand through insane expressing when I was back at work. With Newborn we're still going great guns, even though he is weaning fast.

Breastfeeding appealed, or rather suited me, partly because I am quite lazy (it was convenient) and partly, I suspect, because I am competitive. The competition was with myself, not other women. A complex dare to myself to get something right after Spider-boy's horrible entrance, and now , inevitably, I find my attitude to breastfeeding is lost in a muddled up sensation that for as long as possible I must do the same for his brother. I love all the benefits, and think that for lots of women there are many pitfalls and disappointments which could have been avoided with help and support and a bit of good fortune.

Like almost all parenting issues, from the expense of children's shoes to the guilt associated with uncontrolled or 'failure' births, we think our generation invented it. But my 90 year old Grandmother talks with real sadness (immediate and only just not raw) about not being able to feed her children in the 1950s.

Often people have remarked on how impressive my feeding Spider-boy was, both when I had post-natal depression and when I had a month of hospital admissions because my body had stubbornly refused to get rid of his placenta. They congratulate me, and are enthused. I still feel slightly blank. I kept feeding him, mostly because it never occurred to me to stop. Even when I had mastitis and other problems. I'm lucky, even when I was pretty ill - I couldn't lift him up when I was readmitted - I still found it instinctive to bumble on, breastfeeding was just a part of our lives like getting dressed or brushing my teeth. I'd do things like stroke his feet, tickle his toes, allow him to push against me as he scrambled at the tit without knowing why. And feed him every couple of hours because, well, that is how he ate and what he seemed to want.

More luckily, both my lads were instinctive too. As they were placed on my deflating belly, so perfect and incredible having transformed the labour room by the neat trick of being born and forever changing the universe with their presence, they both snortled onto my boobs, lifted them and adjusted their latch. Tinkering like aged mechanics, as if they had been breastfeeding for all time rather than just seen a nipple for the first time in their life, they both started up on their own terms within minutes of birth. I just let them move around, entranced as each son fiddled with his position and latch and then sucked like crazy until he stopped. Whether to drift into a drunken milky snooze, pull off and look around or resume reedy screaming.

After Spider-boy and I stopped feeding, at 14 months, and because he simply smiled, went to go in for a suck then grinned and clambered off me, I began to wonder how someone as anxious as me, could have been so laid back? For example, I never worried about whether he was getting enough milk. I just kept feeding when he was grumpy or hungry. I fed him when ever he cried or complained, and soon he had his own cues (like Newborn after him he lacked subtlety, their main cue for a feed is lifting my top and making to open my bra).

I never even felt they loved it, or enjoyed it themselves especially. Not for us the NCT catalogue, Madonna and child tableaux, all still baby sucking half asleep as mother looks wistfully down. They both adopted a different tack -indignation and fury when they weren't being fed, frenzy when being fed, always treating it like it was their last chance for food ever in the world. They both concentrate hard and go for quick massive feeds. They scratch and hit and grab and squeeze. They don't look all peaceful and sweet, they don't lie still on my lap - they buck and writhe and suck and suck and suck, barely stopping even to be sick!

And yet I am often asked if I like it, and people assume I love it. I don't like the sensation of breastfeeding much, and though I appreciate the weight loss (and occasionally consider a life of expressing twice a day to undermine my chocolate habit) and feel mildly content that I've fed them so long, I can't quite say I like it at all. I appreciate my luck and circumstance in feeding both of them. And from a distance I can even see I ploughed through tough moments (most recently, for example, Newborn's razor incisors slicing a bit off one of my nips. No, really). But the feeling is still neutral (ish).

I feel a bit invaded and wish I could wear dresses. I hate the complexity of showing my tits in public, especially as the only way to conquer that one is to just do it and people assume you are so brazen and self-confident that you don't care that you have no mystique left at all. I can't talk about my dislike of showing off other surrounding flesh, especially my crepe paper tummy, and I fucking despise breastfeeding bras having never found one which makes me look human, let alone womanly.

I am not even sure at all about the positive spin on being the ultimate final point of contact, the place where the buck rests, whenever they are upset. I can see why some enjoy that centre of the world position, always the last one to turn to, the woman with the magic, but I find I am cowed and occasionally resentful of the responsibility.

I sound so passive, in this post, and perhaps that is my real lucky strike, breastfeeding being something which I didn't find it too hard to work at; even though it was a bit like a chore it was something I seemed to be able to just do. Mostly though, I'm neutral. Happy to do it, pleased for the benefits (for them, for me, for society as it is so green and good in terms of public health), and aware many women I know were not lucky enough to have good role models or advice or a bit of early luck with their latch or sense of supply. But I am still struggling with whether I 'enjoy' it.

As I wrote this post though, Newborn demolishing a TV remote control, his brother trying to enjoy Mr Tumble I did think of something I liked about breastfeeding. Something which was palpable and gooey and the stuff my new mum days will always be touched by, and that's the view. The aerial view of my lads, their concentrating face and perfectly soft round heads. I love what I see when they are latched, squirming on my lap, snarling slightly and feeding like I may never offer it again. Perhaps they are greedy, or aware, deep down, of my ambivalence as they go into battle with my tits? But mainly, even in the frenzy, they are beautiful. Peachy featured, perfect and intense. And captured forever in time as their face from this over-boob vantage point has hardly changed from their firstborn moments when, all sticky and brand new they were handed to me and pushed through my flesh to find 'their' place.

Here's looking at you, kids.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Independence daze - Part II

The daze of title, is of course mine. It has been a week for striking out. And now I have to tell you something bad. Something very, very scampy indeed.

Did you read the brilliant My Naughty Little Sister books when you were little, secretly worshipping the nameless anti-heroine and her accomplice Bad Harry? Here's my question. Do you remember 'The Naughtiest Story of All'? Worse than cutting up the party frock material? Worse than spilling dirt to try out the vacuum cleaner? Worse than using her stove as a train?

Yes, the story where she bit Father Christmas. Spider-boy has done something far, far worse. We went to a Birthday party on Sunday at a friend's house. Her son is a brilliant and wonderful friend of Spider-boy's who makes his face light up and his heart leap as the pair of them pal up and take on the entire world. These are the lads who fought over who owned the word 'No', and once had a row which disintegrated into a fist fight over whether the Gruffalo is a monster, a bear or a dinosaur. They did this in the spirited way only real allies can and remain big mates.

At the party they, along with a crew of other 3/4 year-olds went upstairs. I've noticed this stage seems to be upon us - the kids squireling away to giggle on the landing, usually planning to sneak extra biscuits or jump on the parental bed. And they did, causing havoc and playing pirates and space monsters. They were regularly checked, believe me. An endless stream of parents trudging to keep an eye on them. But these are smart if not wise tiddlers, and hugely competitive about making their mark on the grown up world. Somehow, between adult spy trips they managed to get hold of a bottle of Medised. And drink it.

The details are scanty and I'm philosophical about it. Clever, adventurous 3/4 year olds, high on fairy cake icing and pineapple juice, I think they could get hold of most things they set their mind to. I think my house is fairly safe, but reckon it would take minutes to find a hazard somewhere that has disappeared for me in the veneer of everyday living. They are opportunistic in their search for fun and danger, and I am under no illusion that the bottle was carelessly left out open - they worked for their prize. And they did say the next day that it was very, very hard to get the lid off and they had to work together to push it down and get it off. Instinctively they went for a cut-throat defence 'it wasn't me it was him' although Spider-boy was loathed to do down his bravado and soon claimed he took the most.

We estimated how much was left, weighed them, spoke for over half an hour to (GOD BLESS THEM) NHS Direct who were helpful and sensible and of the view that unless one of them had pretty much drunk all of it there was no danger. After much talk we thought we probably wouldn't take him to A&E, until he collapsed like a teenage drunk and became a foggy, sleeping, machine on the floor. You see my son, like me is greedy. In his stupor I saw every 'one more for the road', every greedy swig, every extra drink I've had or Quality Street I've sneaked from the tin. For shame my guzzleguts tendencies were alive and well, and meant he had had more than his share. Enough to knock him out.

Luckily (again, GOD BLESS THEM ALL) the A&E staff were reassuring and after a few tests felt he was just not used to antihistamines so was sedated. He slept through his entire time there, not stirring to be weighed, measured, poked. Like thatkid in the Student Union, asleep on the couch till 6AM. We were told to let him sleep it off, and that he might be hungover in the morning. And not to let him drink medicine again.

I spent the evening torn, between wanting to run across North London in my socks to smother him in kisses and wanting to throw a bucket of ice water over him and watch him puke it up as I bollocked him for all my worth. I spent the night checking him and again, had to resist greeting his barely hungover morning face with a cascade of criticism. I settled for a final stern conversation after breakfast and a day of chores with me and his brother.

What a nightmare though, and a free pass from someone somewhere looking out for me and mine. I feel totally humiliated that I was thatwoman, the one whose little boy took an overdose at a party, a feeling intensified the next day when he entertained an IKEA queue including, in a stunning coincidence, the dad who found them swigging syrup, with his antics. Questions included 'Why didn't I die?' but soon moved to the ultimate threenage sucker punches firstly of 'I already talked to Daddy. I don't want to talk about it ANY more' and then 'I didn't know, I didn't know you aren't allowed to drink the medicine'. It was so loud three different women expressed sympathy and offered similar horror stories to make me feel less like the worst most negligent person on Earth.

I am, of course, tearfully thankful I am only that humiliated woman and not one less lucky. Which I hope explains the daze of the title which is all mine, not theirs. I write a lot about wanting to watch Spider-boy fly, to see how he operates in the world. With Spider-boy and Newborn I am fascinated by their desire to be themselves (and, indeed, Newborn's fear of it). But good and true though these instincts, to withdraw and celebrate them finding their way, I realise my children carry with them some bad instincts too. Bad instincts of mine, to show off and push things, to entertain others, to get wasted in the afternoon. That? I don't know how to be philosophical about.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Independence daze - Part I

So newborn is on the move. He's off, crawling like a pro. Properly, on all fours, moving forwards and backwards and to the side. My jersey-clad crab, edging round the lounge. That he's moving isn't a surprise. Not because I expect my children to be precocious, but because the blessed scamp has been crawling in his sleep for the last two weeks.

Or at least, he's been flipping over, raising to all fours and keening in his sleep. To accompany the keening and rocking with eyes screwed shut, his nose droning in a snorelike rasp he intermittently screams. I had thought this merely an extension of his tortured (and torturous) obsession with making sure I'm always half-awake to protect him from nocturnal predators. He did the same with sitting up. Manoeuvring over, fast asleep, then shrieking, still asleep, as he couldn't get back down.

What is a surprise to me is that this midnight, still-asleep anguish is replicated exactly when he's awake. That he really is desperately sad about moving. It is total and beyond heartbreaking. I'd hoped crawling would cheer him up and help him out of a current clingy phase. That having his own momentum would enable him to let go of me, a little, and stop getting so upset and snarky when I put him down. To explore, and maybe in time revel, in his own new autonomy. To find his feet, whilst finding his knees and elbows, But no. He's so distraught. He wails and cries and builds up to a pitch of furious fearful sobbing with every centimetre he edges along.

I'm trying to fathom it. His distress. Is he scared of the world? Frightened by the prospect of being under his own steam? I've been glib, a little, about our love affair coming to an end but maybe it is harder for him than for me, leaving it behind.

Food for thought, the problem of independence. And a comment on how what we see in something - the exciting milestone of crawling - may not be perceived in the same way by our children. What we read as an amazing new chapter, for Newborn, is perhaps the start of the longest goodbye. Maybe he thinks it is too early to be leaving babyhood so emphatically. Or maybe he's just scared of the playmat. Who knows?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Good News

Here's some good news. With background.

When I was 7 months pregnant with Spider-boy, a colleague and friend took me to the side. She had her first son in his pram and she wanted to give me a warning. She said that though lots of people would tell me that giving birth was the happiest day of their life, it was okay if on giving birth I didn't think that. Another of my wise consorts. As she prophesied, it was amazing, obviously. It is a momentous thing, mind-rocking and life-changing. But enjoying it? Liking it? Feeling positive about the entire experience? Feeling happy even? That is different. And I'm not sure I did. Drowned in exhaustion, yes. Fearful and strange, yes. Intoxicated by the beauty of my son, of course. Happy? Maybe a little, that labour was over.

In many ways, the happiest day of my life was the very first time I saw Spider-boy's face. We were in a scan room, a side room really, in a busy hospital. I was so nervous the sonographer had to warn me to calm down and Mr Thatwoman had to hold my foot. I somehow felt that there would be something 'else' in there. A puppy perhaps. An animal or growth. Not the baby I so wanted.

I was lucky that day, when she turned the screen towards us and he was there, just there, dancing in the black. A beautiful wriggling blob, arms and legs and that huge (albeit neck-less) face, his snub nose already partway there. All 12mm or so of him. I think my heart might have broken there and then, not with sadness but because it couldn't contain what was demanded of it.

That first scan shot was sublime. I sometimes feel his profile has hardly changed. I used it to announce my pregnancy and kept it on my fridge until he was old enough to smear it with his fat toddler fingers and impulsive narcissistic fascination with it.

Our first timer vanity over scans wasn't long-lived. At the 20 week scan when everyone else seemed to have an even bigger more beautiful 2001: A Space Odyssey shot, we saw a Death Eater looming from the deep. He looked so strange and scary, our only consolation was no-one can look good with a full frontal skull shot. But I was assured he must still be lovely and instinctively defensive when the sonographer described him as 'average'. No child of mine, I muttered to myself with feeling, would be described as 'average'. Pah.

Over Christmas, and the New Year, the newborn was poorly bad. He lost weight and faltered back into his newborn clothes. Never one to worry about weigh-ins or to develop growth chart anxiety even I was rocked by his plummet down the centiles when his nappies were all baggy again. He went from right bang on the middle to around 10% or something.

We've soldiered on, and agreed to not freak out. To the point where I put it out of my mind, and merely carried with me a slight sense that he was a bit scrawny. As he approached 6 months, I noticed people looked at me weirdly when I mentioned him being small. We saw the health visitor. She stripped and weighed him, and his belly rippled as he sat up on the scales, smiling intermittently between biting people.

She fiddled with her figures and exclaimed him to be back exactly on the 'line' he was born on, the 50th centile. Perfectly, wonderfully average. And thank the Lord for that.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

When God took a month off... and other clichés

I haven't published for a week. This isn't through lack of ideas, but because everything I've written has turned into a twisty, turny splurge. Not the kind that is ranty and fun to read, not a hurrah or a harumph with meaning, but empty black holes of rage and sadness; raggedy and vengeful and littered with gaps left where only clichés seem to fit. And, who wants to be a blogger in the grips of cliché, papering over cracks at the end of the day?

I mean, I don't believe in Him, but enveloped as I am through language and experience by His metaphorical presence, I feel like God has taken a sabbatical of late. Yet being this woman right now, on the sidelines of the mire, could be worse. Working out how to support is preferable to being in the scrum.

So many people who I love and hold dear have had the worst sort of mind numbing, stupid, bad or stressful news. I met up with an old friend herself at the end of a fortnight on tenterhooks, and told her a selection of what had happened. It felt like a tumbling mire of stories; all shitty and useless, with no punchline and only a few happy endings. I can't go into detail, because these are the real stories of friends of mine, the lives they are living not fodder for my self-reflection, but safe to say they span the soap operatic cannon of operations, losses, and difficult diagnoses, via lots of waits. Horrible limbo periods as we hope news will not be difficult or life altering.

I'm also reticent to give details as the very act of writing events and circumstances down seems to inevitably pull any scribe or storyteller towards creating a narrative. Some meta-story with answers and morals and reasons. I understand this pull towards story, but I think it can be dangerous. It provides the illusion of close comfort, whilst actually providing a safe distance. We cast the world into helpful thems and us-es, goodies and baddies, conquering heroes and heroic victims, cocooning the teller and listener safely away from those 'others' in peril.

At best, in an attempt to make people feel better we compare tales and offer false comparisons. My mum and I, when she had breast cancer, called it 'cancering on'. All well-meant paving slabs of good intentions, about against the odds survival and good news or treatment trials. For sure they offer the solidarity of knowing others have felt the same, but they can feel like a taunt when you are in the lonely, dizzy days after a rotten diagnosis and are trying to recalibrate your world view. When you've become one of those 'them' people, removed from the rest, from 'us'.

At worst it allows us to be accidentally seduced by worries about what is fair and what isn't, when fairness is irrelevant in the face of genuine troubles as what is deserved doesn't really matter a fig as you try to work out how the hell to process the unchanging calm of dawn when your head is upside down. The pull to contextualise and rationalise can even leave us tempted by that most insidious of bastard devices for self-delusion; karma.

The trouble is, by not wanting to carve meaning from the futile, I am back at the gaps where only clichés fit. I offer a friendly ear, an audience which is kind but not rubbernecking, accepting detail but not demanding it. I throw out good thoughts, offers of crossed limbs and digits, blow digital kisses, and give freely of my broad shoulders for tears and brief carrying of heavy loads. This teaches me nothing about cancer or other ridiculous life-fucks, of course. But by happy accident, it reminds me at least that there is a poetry in language. Poetry which extends even and perhaps, despite all our English teachers' admonishments, * especially * into clichés.

Those well-worn words which in their simple, common or garden lack of originality seem to say something quite profound to me. To hold in them a solidarity of the ages. As if these footballer summaries, said so many times we heap on the scorn and accuse them of being meaningless, have picked up something of the simple kindnesses and inarticulable empathy and love from the millions of speakers reduced each day to using them. In every 'if there's anything I can do', 'take each day at a time' and 'you are in our thoughts', the whispers and echoes of love seem to me to be resonating. And for me that is the magic of language, that maybe real love can exist in the banal phraseology of those who are, otherwise, lost for words.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Are you looking at me?

The end of the world is on its way. Newborn has worked out his favourite thing in all the world. Beating Sophie, his brother and I on the list is standing. Standing and stamping (whilst clinging to a grown up finger) and being able, all of a sudden, to pick things up, stuff them in his mouth and then hurl them across the floor. Sitting, only learned a few days ago, is officially passée in the face of possible movement too. All activity is now accompanied by a steady monologue of bites, clicks, grumpy raspberries, gurgles, grunts and screams.

I am so excited by this new him, but immediately nostalgic for what is drifting off. I love babies. I think they are so ace. I like them when they are teeny and birdlike and scrawny, curled up just after they've popped out. I like their reaching hands as they get a grip on the world, I like their round big heads, their changing eyes, their dribbly mouths and their itsy toes, even and especially when they are purple-tinged in cold weather.

I think they are fascinating even in their half-awake newborn daze. I don't even mind them when they cry. Bookblogger of the moment @meandmybigmouth once held Newborn for me at a party in my local bookshop (I did tell you they were cool). Newborn was hollering. Big Mouth happily held him anyway saying he didn't mind crying babies, after all, it is their only form of expression. I agree. It is pure, too, the expression. Another reason even tiny ones are awesome - they only give shit, they won't take it, and don't fanny around the point if they are annoyed or need something, regardless of the social situation.

Like humans, only smaller, they seize the day and punch it in its complacent face with new interpretations of the world all around and, failing that, with direct desires acted out in the hope someone will understand what they want, like and need. Good old babies. Lashing out with the compromised insistence of drunks and the subtlety of bad mimes.

But though I could wax and wane lyrical over the usual suspects - their look, their inquiry, the amazing connection they make when they laugh. And I am occasionally dizzied by the realisation that these are probably the best days of my life, days where despite any other stuff going on, regardless of my mental state and ability to realise it, I am beyond lucky and thoroughly bathed in blessings. Though all that is true today I am reminded me of a different reason: I love babies because am a total narcissist.

I loved Spider-boy because he had meteoric impact on my world. He shattered it but scrunched it back together while it was still loose dry powdered earth. He rebuilt planet me into a rock for him to stand on. I also loved him because he was super-cool, hilarious and showed me so many of the errors of my ways. I still feel enthralled by his force, even in its nastiest guises: spite, lying, temper. I marginally less inclined to like his whining, but even then, in the longest whingiest afternoons I know I'm not far from the privilege of a new look, or joke, or question about what animals eat lions.

With Newborn there is something else. Above is a picture of Newborn through '1977' instagram filter. Damn, there is so much more to be said about instagram and how perfectly the instantaneously processed copycat shot works to press my narcissistic buttons. For now, be assured, it creates a baby doppelgänger. Spider-boy was the image of his Father and my mother in law. Neither of my sons is more precious, of course, my heart extends around both of them, but I definitely get a kick of how Newborn looks like me.

It is a strange sensation, seeing yourself. Not least as sometimes it catches me at the most inopportune moments, those when perhaps I should be bored of my son or slightly resentful. Like when he yanks my hair or bites my shoulder, has a pre-cursor to a tantrum because he can't. quite. crawl. And this is greeted with lashing out at my face as it is ALL my fault.

I'm lucky, lucky, lucky as Lola though, the resemblance is in the nose and cheeks, and radiates from his face when he smiles. Especially when he smiles at me, whilst looking into my eyes. That's another thing that's great about babies, they share the love - an unwavering gaze accompanies their wide mouthed grins as they hold your attention to make sure you are clear, yes, they are smiling at you.

Today we've spent several very productive few minute bursts where I have clapped and tapped the the high chair (my wedding ring reverberating around the kitchen as if I have special powers over the universe). Both greeted with screams of delight. He thinks I am a fucking genius. His brain explodes and he pounds the table with ape-like excitement when I click my fingers and can't control himself when, bursting with the reciprocated joy, I belt out Size of a Cow because I'm so caught up in the moment I can't control myself either.

To be sure the moment lasts a while I have hidden the tea-towels.