Felix woke up this morning with his loud voice. I could hear it from my bedroom as he bossed my Mum around: ‘Gwanma!’ When Mum left for work he brought his loud voice into my bedroom, cheerfully waking Antonia and flopping on our bed.
‘I want to go to Marion Bridge!’ he announced. ‘Murray Bridge’, I said, ‘Why?’ (Knowing full well it was just because Mum was working there today.) ‘To go over the bridge,’ he said.
And the darlings are finally asleep and I should be too but it is too tempting to stay up and breathe. The success of my days is measured in smiles and cuddles and windswept playgrounds but sometimes I lift my head.
The tiny achievements of the small beings closest to me are endlessly fascinating to me. My heart skips a little to see Antonia edge closer and closer to crawling. The moments I want to remember are those when they are ‘in the groove’, doing their thing, curious, content. Antonia singing to us – ‘bababababa!’ Felix deciding to pick mint, basil and tomatoes for dinner, and finding appropriate bowls for them from the cupboard. He can do it unsupervised, knowing to leave the green ones to ripen.
Like I said, endlessly fascinating – to me and Mum and Dad and Michael, and hardly anyone else.
And of course there are the other moments which I don’t particularly want to remember at all.
And apart from that, here, there’s my family, and my old old friends, and parks and gorgeous sunshine, and I’ll be leaving it all soon and that’s ok. Somewhere in the air and the light here is the self I was twelve and fifteen and thirty years ago, and if I look sideways briefly I can almost see her. And somewhere, I guess, is the self I would have been if I never had left. I see her in playgrounds and in libraries and I wonder.
But an aeroplane and a white house and cold air and a tightly coiled spring await me, and I’m coming.
Felix licks the spoon, Antonia has to content herself with the unused juicer.
I took these pictures on Tuesday in my Grandma’s kitchen. We turned up unannounced early Tuesday morning, and Grandma declared delightedly – ‘well, that sorts out my morning for me! I’m not going to the gym after all.’ We played on the lawn for a while while Granddad worked in the garden, and Felix made a duplo train track outside. Antonia had a short nap. Felix flicked through one of Grandma’s fancy cook-books, and asked ‘can we make these?’ ‘They look a bit too complicated’, said Grandma, ‘but we could make muffins.’
Felix carefully mashed the bananas and measured out the chocolate chips. He was entranced by the special drawers Grandma has for flour and sugar, just as I had been as a child.
When Antonia woke up, Grandma gave her some cups and things to play with, just has she had for Felix, three years ago.
As the muffins cooked, the pair of them capered about on the floor for a bit. One of the worst things about living in Norway is being so far away from here, but right now, for another week, we are soaking it in.
Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children each week in 2015.
Happy birthday to my dearest four year old, who whoops with delight at his bright green ice cream cake, then blows each candle out gently, one by one, then insists that everyone tastes it, and checks that we can save a piece for Grandma. Who makes friends with ‘little guys’ in playgrounds and cafes in two seconds flat, but is nearly too scared to listen to a picture book about little chicks and a fox, and then listens anyway, his hands over his ears. We couldn’t have invented you. We love you so.
We had pretty much the perfect day on Felix’s birthday last Friday. I stayed up past midnight the night before re-building the trackmaster Thomas tracks he received for Christmas, as his most dearly held wish for his birthday was more ‘plastic trains’, and he would need to be able to try them out immediately. (This is a feat about 20 times as complicated as it sounds, but I can say that now I’m a pro.) He unwrapped his presents on the steps in the morning. ‘Plastic Charlie! . . . ‘Plastic Emily!’
Mum had most of the day off so we took him to the Royal Copenhagen ice cream shop in Brighton for a pancake and ice cream breakfast. ‘We should come here again’, he said, whilst polishing off substantial portions of his chocolate smeared crepe, strawberries and chocolate ice cream. He then made friends with a little girl and sat in the window seat with her pushing his little car back and forth.
It was then time for sandcastles, a swim and a wander on the jetty, before lunch and heading back home to play. My Grandparents came over for a simple dinner. Felix was absolutely adorable the entire time. He didn’t even kick up a fuss when he realised he had received his final present. After dinner we were all sitting downstairs and he said to my Grandparents: ‘Will you come to my birthday next year in Norway?’ My Granddad started to explain that it was a bit far away, but Grandma interrupted: ‘Peter, don’t say that. Of course.’
Felix, four this week, meeting a parrot at the zoo. When I showed him the photo he said – ‘so cute! It looks just like Klara!’ Did I ever tell you about Klara? Remind me to tell you about Klara.
Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children every week in 2015.
Today, my beautiful girl, you are six months old. This week you have cut your first two teeth. I’m unaccountably but predictably proud of you, and relieved that there was a reason behind a night three times as restless as usual. You’ve spent a lot of the past week chewing on your hands.
Your head is still so soft and smells so sweet. It gets plenty of kisses.
Over the past month you’ve tried lots of new food, most of which ends up all over you, your high chair and the floor, but you love to chew on it. Broccoli and cucumber, peach and plum, pumpkin and asparagus.
You’ve perfected scooting backwards along the floor and can even get up onto your knees but haven’t worked out how to go forward yet, meaning that you often end up under tables and chairs.
You’ve done lots of playing with your brother,
smiling at your Daddy,
and snuggling with me. We love you so. x
‘The colour of the sea should have astounded, but the boy was seldom astounded. . . Nevertheless, the colours had entered into him, printing a brilliant memory.’
Randolph Stow, The Merry-go-round in the Sea
Exploring: above and below.
Felix, despite being a bit nervous about heights, decided he needed to make it to the top of the complicated climbing structure in the playground. He did.
Antonia spends her days scooting along backwards. Here she was exploring my Dad’s workroom.
(edited: I changed my mind about which portraits to include this week!)
Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.
Felix: making echoes.
Antonia: Eyebrows raised, wriggling off the picnic rug onto the grass.
Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week.
We had an early birthday party for Felix today in our favourite local park. A perfect selection of grandparents, great-grandparents, aunties (one of Mum’s sisters and one of Dad’s), cousins and second cousins attended.
I was very proud of the four tier strawberry sponge cake I made and Felix helped to decorate but I managed to smudge the icing just before serving, and had to patch up Thomas’s face and wagons with berries.
Felix liked the jelly best anyway.
Michael heads back to Norway next week but I’ve decided to stay on with the kids for another month – I’m not ready to say goodbye to my family or the weather.
We organised the party in a bit of a rush over the past couple of days but we’d been talking about it since September when we booked our tickets. It was just so nice and I’m glad we had it early so Michael could come too.
Felix kept asking when we were going to have ‘the race’. The park has a cute little bike and scooter path and he expected all his second cousins to get on their scooters and have a race with him! At one point he said ‘we’re never going to have this race’. Luckily enough of them obliged by getting on their vehicles and scooting around. I think Felix was the only one really aware of the ‘race’, however. He won.
Writing an academic paper whilst on maternity leave with two children in tow is one of my more frustrating ventures. Antonia doesn’t take a bottle, so I can’t leave her for long periods. (Disclaimer – I haven’t tried. Expressing does not appeal.) She also refuses to go to sleep for the night before about 11pm, which apparently is just what I did as a baby. Today Mum said – let me look after the kids this morning, so you can write.
Once Antonia goes down for her first nap, I sit down to begin. Mum and Felix are planting in the garden. Then my lovely aunt Anne turns up on her bike, so they all decide to have a cup of tea. ‘You can go in my bedroom if you like’, says Mum. So I did, and try working there for a while, reading over the draft I printed last night. I make some progress but after half an hour or so grow frustrated with the distracting conversations drifting in from the deck, combined with the strains of ‘Memory’ growling in from next door (my parent’s neighbour, it seems, is an amateur opera singer). There is something a little bit lovely about it all, but it’s hard to think.
I decide to move back to my bedroom, to take my chances working beside a sleeping baby. I sit on the bed. There isn’t really enough light but I ignore it. Then it is time for Anne to leave so they all move around to the front of the house so I haven’t escaped the conversations after all. The neighbour has stopped singing now and comes out the front and Mum has a chat with him about the bins. Antonia wakes up. She’s lifting her head and smiling broadly as I type, twisting her head around to peer at the window and then back at me.
Baby cuddle. Antonia is soft and snuggly and oh so pleased.
Dad and Michael take Felix to the shops. He looks so cute crossing the road with them, his little blonde head only reaching Michael’s waist. Mum takes Antonia for a walk.
Tea and toast. Back to it.
A dog barks. Maybe I should change this blog post to the present tense.
I read over a bit more of the draft and make some notes.
They are all back. Felix bounds in to the bedroom and lands on top of me. His back is strong but his cheeks are soft and he is oh so pleased.
Felix: ‘Paddling his feet’ during a spontaneous beach trip this week. See below.
Antonia: It’s all about the sand.
This week I was brave enough to try out an SLR on manual setting for the very first time! Quite pleased.
Linking up with Jodi for the 52 project.
My cousin Sam got married a couple of weeks ago to his beloved Tracey. It was an outdoor wedding and reception on an uncharacteristically rainy day in January. But beautiful nonetheless. I was worried about how Felix would cope with the crowds, but I needn’t have been. The day before the wedding he had a blast helping the wedding party pot hundreds of little alyssums for the place markers, spooning in soil with a teaspoon.
And during the reception he had the time of his life dancing and chasing and racing with his ‘twin’ cousin Mala for hours on end. We got home around 10.30pm, and sat around the table drinking tea and milk before bed. ‘I had a lovely wedding’, said Felix.
Felix and the giant pink pretzel donut at the German cake shop in Hahndorf. Felix ate his very first donut a little over a month ago, after spotting one in the bakery at Carickalinga. He was almost self-combusting with joy. They eat donuts in America, he informed us, they come in boxes.
Antonia sat up by herself for minutes at a time this week, assisted by an admiring grandma. We have been looking back at Felix doing the exact same thing, though he was a month older.
Linking up with Jodi for 52 project.
And sometimes, when there is ten minutes free, I need to write. We have been here for lots of weeks now. The weather is sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold, and often perfect. There have been moments of frustration. Two months is a long time to stay with your family or your in-laws. But lately we seem to have hit a groove. The best days involve aunties and children for Felix to play with. Or parks and grandmas. Or all of the above.
As I have mentioned Antonia is not one for sleeping in the evenings and is fussing right now. This is why it is nearly impossible to finish a paper I am attempting to work on – as soon as I sit down at my computer I need to get up again. I will wait a minute now before rushing to her…
Yesterday Mum had a day off work and we took the kids up to the farm barn in Hahndorf. Felix loved the baby rabbits and the kangaroos. I loved the baby goats with their miniature triangular faces and tiny bumps of horns. Antonia loved hanging out with me.
Today we met my cousin Hannah and her husband and my Aunty Anne (Hannah’s Mum) in a cafe next to a park.
A cuddle, a little chat, a feed, back to sleep.
While I feed Antonia to sleep I read Alice Munro stories on my kindle. I can’t get enough. Sometimes they cut too close to the bone. There are a lot of mothers abandoning children and children abandoning their mothers in her stories. And a lot of very sad love stories – disappointment, missed connections, illusions. But so many beautiful moments too. And a clarity like cut glass. I love how all the moments and details and observations are skilfully, not hurriedly, laid over one another, and it is not until you read the final paragraph, even the final line, that you discover exactly the shape they were leading to. And if you go back and re-read the opening of the story (I haven’t done this much yet, being so hungry for the next one), you can appreciate how deliberately the whole story has been quietly building all along.
The stories are about people. About people loving in tangled and imperfect ways, and coming up for air.
And I have been overloading the blog with photos lately but I feel the need to. Last time we were here, a year ago, I did not touch the blog – I was ill and exhausted with morning sickness, very nervous that my pregnancy would not work out, and on top of that had about a hundred exams to mark, which took up all my free time. But I miss the photographic record. I have gone back and put a couple of retrospective posts in, and may do a couple more. It is so nice, just for ourselves, to be able to click on a year or a month and look back on it.
And this time is so special. Watching my children play together – Felix still three years old but not for long, Antonia still my baby. They make each other laugh. They kick around on the mat or my bed together. Felix is so protective. He’s learning about numbers and adding up. In the car yesterday he said to me and Mum – ‘we have four in our family. Mummy, Daddy, Felix and Antonia. We are the luckiest, to have so many people.’ And he shared with us his extensive knowledge about babies: ‘babies’, he told us authoritatively, ‘are normally very soft’.
So there will be more photos heading your way. We are perhaps staying away from our home a little too long, but I am glad that there are couple of weeks left – to eat fish and chips in the park, watch Felix ride his bike, visit the aunties and the grandmas and some of my old friends, and go to the museum or the pool or the beach. Some days are tiring and jarring as happens with children. But I am so grateful for these days to slow down and be together. To come up for air.
Darling Antonia is five months old. She’s just started saying dadadada and bla bla bla. She likes to squeak loudly and blows a very earnest raspberry. Sometimes she sounds like a pterodactyl or a creaky door. Sometimes it sounds just like she’s saying ‘hello’.
She can sit by herself for brief moments and can manage a high chair, though she wasn’t sure about the swing. She has curls. More every day.
We haven’t properly started solids yet but I guess it won’t be long – she is so curious when we eat – she reaches out and opens and closes her mouth like a fish. Yesterday evening when we were eating dinner she wouldn’t settle until I gave her a slab of mango to smear around her high chair tray, though I think she likes the peach she tasted a couple of days ago better.
She’s getting much more discerning about who holds her, preferring people she knows. Mum, Dad, Michael, Grandma, Granddad, Felix and I get the best smiles. She never tires of Felix’s antics. The funniest thing she has ever seen in her life is Felix’s Dusty aeroplane flying and crashing into the bed, making a crunching sound. They cackled for a good half an hour.
She knows her own name, and Felix’s, and mine. She still doesn’t like sleeping in the evening but will happily sleep in in the morning, which we are making the most of, given Felix’s newfound ability to entertain himself when he wakes up. She still opens her mouth wide and lunges at us to give us slobby kisses. Or try to eat us. Or something. And we love her so.
Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2015.
Felix: exuberance at the Art Gallery cafe.
Antonia: always happy in my arms.
All of us together at my cousin Sam’s gorgeous wedding yesterday. Felix had the time of his life racing and dancing with his ‘twin’ cousin Mala.
One of my very favourite things this trip has been seeing Felix interact with his second cousins and my friends’ children. He’s finally reached an age where they can scamper off on their own, chat for hours about who knows what, and sort out their own problems. This photo was taken on our second Christmas celebration a few days after Christmas.
A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2015.
I thought I would try to link up with Jodi for this portrait series this year. At the moment it’s easy because Michael is taking so many gorgeous photos of the pair of them during our Australia holiday – we’ll see how I manage to keep it up.
Felix, nearly four, Antonia, nearly 5 months. I love the pensive moments Michael’s caught here – you can almost see them thinking.
I want to wish a rich and lovely new year to all who still stop by to read here.
We had a BBQ in the park on New Year’s Day. It was a pretty perfect day for Felix, involving a babyccino with his grandparents in the morning, sausages and ice cream and his ‘twin’ second cousin to play with in the adventure playground at lunch time, and another BBQ in the evening with even more ‘little guys’ (the kids of my old uni friends), a paddling pool, backyard swings and plastic trains. In this photo my two are laughing and loving and trying to eat each other up.
On New Years Day last year we walked along the causeway to Granite Island and I ate a huge piece of chocolate cake. Antonia was just a tiny flicker within me. I was exhausted, queazy, nervous and relieved, and looking forward to the year ahead. And what a year it has been. Time for another.
The days are tiring and lovely but what remains constant is the near impossibility of a moment to oneself. The moments lap in and out like waves, like tides.
The children grow, one minute, one day at a time. They do things for the first time, or the last time, and they need me, despite disappearing for short periods into sleep or revery or delight in racing or dust or games on Grandma’s ipad.
Antonia is a calm and happy baby but not one for sleeping long stretches. Felix is clever and challenging and (mostly) delightful – he feels so intensely and wants to understand everything. He can’t keep still for a moment.
I’m enjoying being here and being able to share them with my family, who adore them. The weather is so gorgeous here, a lot of the time I feel that I never want to leave. And then I remember my little house, my own space, and know that at some point I will be ready to return.
The week before Christmas we stayed with my parents at a beach house and it was so special – Felix had a ball.
Walking along the edge of the surf, Antonia sleeping at my chest, Felix and Michael absorbed in their sand tunnels, I felt for a moment adrift in time – it could have been fifteen years ago, before I moved to Europe, before I’d met any of them. I walked away from Michael and Felix, along the beach. The waves hissed. Beaches are so timeless, sand water sky.
And then I turned and walked back, to my beautiful, difficult, exuberant boys, the daughter I as yet barely know snuggly strapped to my chest.
I’ve been really enjoying hanging out with the kids at my grandparents’ house. Mum says it’s strange to watch her grandson riding a bike along the same verandah she rode along as a child. It’s the same for me. So many childhood memories in this house and garden. And there I am, not a child any more but one of the mothers.
How many babies have been cuddled on this lawn?
How many barefoot races?
How many children have helped with Christmas baking?
At four months old you are such a charming, snuggly, happy thing. I love you so. You’ve been rolling onto your tummy for a few weeks ago but just yesterday you worked out how to extract the arm that was getting stuck underneath you. You love to smile at people put not if they paw you before you’ve got to know them.
You are so happy to snuggle with me in the ergo carrier and snooze peacefully there. You adore your brother and he adores you (though he threatened to pick you up with his toy crane).
You’re not so keen on sleeping without frequent reassurance but that’s ok. You were weighed and measured when you were three months, and you were 8.2 kilos and 66.5cm – significantly heavier than Felix was at that age. We still call you little pudding. You make me happy. I’m so glad that you’re around.
You’re pretty quiet but sometimes you sing to us and you laugh when you try to eat my nose.
Mum complained today that there were not enough photos. Antonia smiled at Mum on skype for the first time today. Up till now she’s only stared suspiciously at the computer, though she will smile at anyone who meets her eyes. It’s hard to find time to blog because my littlest darling is not a fan of early nights, and there are other things to do during the day.
But I love her. I love her. I feel so happy at the moment, although not much is happening aside from very simple acts of cuddling and feeding children and (when time permits) straightening up the house.
Antonia’s pretty happy too.
The days have been sifting past so fast. In only two weeks we leave for Australia. A week and a half ago my brother and his girlfriend came to visit for the weekend and it was lovely but I didn’t get a single photo. (I took one of Jon, Antonia and I on the last day but didn’t realise there was no memory card in the camera.) Then last weekend we flew to Berlin. Michael’s Mum came up to spend a couple of days with us and meet Antonia. We didn’t venture far from the grungy paradise of Prenzlaueberg – groovy cafes, delicious cakes and imaginative playgrounds populated by quirkily dressed youngsters, half of whom seemed to be called Felix. It was so lovely seeing Monica meet Antonia. She kept saying what a peaceful, happy child she is, and it is true. It nearly broke my heart when she cried saying goodbye, and Antonia kept shooting her gentle, knowing, pleased little smiles back at her.
Felix had a ball as well. ‘Why is it dark?’ he said one evening. ‘Well,’ I said, quoting The Tiger Who Came to Tea, ‘We’re going to go out in the dark, and all the streetlights will be lit, and all the cars will have their lights on, and we’ll go down the road to a cafe.’ He was quite delighted with this state of affairs, especially as it involved pizza with ham. The restaurant didn’t serve ice cream (essential after pizza for a Felix) so we picked one up from a supermarket on the way back and ate it as we strolled the streets.
Felix was most taken with a bicycle riding past with blinking lights. He discussed it for a long time with Michael, so on the way home Michael bought him two bike lights. When we got back to Norway he played with them patiently all afternoon as he waited for it to get dark, before insisting that Michael retrieve his bike from the basement and get it ready. After dinner I went out with him in the freezing night, Antonia bundled up in her pram, Felix most insistent on acting out his dream of riding his bike in the dark. When we made it to the footpath on the main road he declared, ‘lets go to a cafe!’ ‘We can’t’, I said, ‘there are no cafe’s up here, it’s too far.’ ‘I can cycle long’, he said. We rode back home and made chocolate pudding instead.
To be completely honest the little guy has been a bit of a challenge lately, rather too quick to demand, and screech, and ignore. Some of our attempts for force compliance have failed miserably. My old trick of counting to five, giving him a chance to avoid some threat, has all but stopped working. He was home with us today though and it went a bit better – I tried harder to emphasise the positives, and say ‘of course you’re going to get out of the car now cos I can’t wait to tell Father Christmas how well you’ve listened to me today’. And I even managed to intervene a little in his terrible tendency to whine and to ask the same question over and over again, loudly…
Antonia is a dear little thing and is currently suffering her worst ever cold. This morning she caught Michael’s eye and told him very seriously all about it, before smiling cheerfuly and drifting off to sleep.
We talked for months about Antonia being born at the end of summer and she was – the weekend she was born signalled a shift in the weather, and suddenly it was autumn. The summer had belonged to Felix – weeks of visiting the beach every day, elaborate craft projects and eating cherries in the garden. Because this is Antonia’s autumn I am loving even the mist and the rain.
I remember Felix’s first autumn, complete with an extravagant American halloween and an adorable pumpkin costume. And I remember my first autumn in Halden, wandering along the river, taking photos of the fiery leaves, finishing my phd, dreaming of what my life might hold. I walk the same paths now with my beloved girl, and feel so different, so rooted. My hands are cold but my heart is oh so warm.
Felix singing Twinkle Twinkle to Antonia one morning. He loves her but I find myself saying frequently – ‘she’s sleeping, don’t touch her, crash into her, or put things on top of her.’
We’ve been home alone this week as Michael is in America. It has its moments. Actually it is all moments – noisy, calm, sweet, rushed, funny, headachy, whiny, cuddly, snuffly, bouncy… The trick is not to worry too much about which moments are coming next. And if there is a quiet moment to relax into it. Like this one – Antonia entranced by the dryer.
It has been rainy and the light on the wet leaves made me think of this poem by Clive James.
With an increase of unsupervised time in the house, strange things are happening. I find the coffee plunger in the fridge. Felix puts the shopping away and his ham ends up in the freezer. He pulls all the measuring cups out of the kitchen cupboard and washes them in the bathroom sink. The scrubbing brush goes missing. I find my boots on the draining board.
I stuck them both in the bath yesterday. Once Antonia was dry and dressed I raced upstairs to fetch Felix’s pyjamas. Returning, I found he’d squirted her all over with a plastic syringe. Daddy did it, he said.
I bought Antonia some bright red stockings, and together with a dress from my aunt, a cardigan made by my Nanna, and a bib from Mum, they just make me so happy.
Right now Antonia is having a long morning nap (the first long nap for a few days) and I’ve persuaded Felix to watch Thomas the Tank Engine so I can write. Folding the washing can wait.
Antonia is two months now. These photos are a couple of weeks old but I just have to share them. She’s just discovered her hands. She stares at them and wriggles them and bats her toys. She’s learnt to pinch hold of fabric, which she does constantly. She even managed to grab hold of a wooden ring yesterday, so very slowly. Her concentration is priceless. She loves to talk and she loves to snuggle. After I put Felix to bed, I pick her up and breathe her in, and the feel of her soft warm head against my lips and my cheek is the most peaceful thing in the world.
Michael is away this week and after a rainy morning I decided to take the kids to Fredrikstad for the afternoon. The morning had involved more train tracks and wooden blocks – on Saturday Felix and I made the walls of York, and airport and a ‘battery powered’ wooden aeroplane. On Sunday, at Felix’s request, we made a tank station, a shop, a brocolli machine, an asparagus machine and a bread machine, taking full advantage of Antonia’s long morning nap. I was a bit nervous about what could go wrong taking the two of them to Fredrikstad alone, especially as prams are not allowed in the train museum or our favourite cafe. But I’m so glad we went – it was one of those outings when everything works. Felix was happy to have a reasonably short visit to the musuem – ‘I’m bored now Mummy, I want to get something to eat’. (In the past it’s been so painful to prise him out of that place.) And we scored the table with the sofa in the cafe – resulting in possibly my favourite photo ever of the two of them. I didn’t notice the advice on the cushion at the time, but it sums up the day well: ‘do what you love’. After the cafe Felix wanted to find the little bridge with the stones. Eventually I worked out he wanted to go to the little pier we had found last time, to throw stones in the river. This suited me, as we got to walk along the gorgeous earth walls above the moat. (The old town of Fredrikstad has a moat shaped like a star.) In the backpack he has everything short of the kitchen sink, really – a china tea set and his mini pots and pans. It was quite heavy but he carried it all the way.
I took the two little ones on a walk to feed the ducks and look at the beaver homes on Sunday afternoon. My ambition of taking a photo of the three of us feeding the ducks was quickly abandoned in favour of making sure Felix didn’t fall in the water, scaring away two bold ducks on Felix’s behalf, rescuing the bread-bag, and scooping Antonia off to find a bench for a feed. But we had a nice walk.
Above, Felix is grumpy that I am taking photos instead of retrieving the huge stick he threw into the water. Needless to say, I rescued the stick. After a feed and a short nap in the pram, Antonia looked up at all the trees with her quiet, shiny eyes.
Here is a glimpse of Antonia’s uncomplicated joy. Maybe joy is always uncomplicated. Antonia is a sweet and gentle little thing, and just lights up whenever I talk to her. She loves to tell us things, too, and looks intently at us as though we know exactly what she’s saying. And maybe we do.
Life with my two children is simple and complicated and involves constantly letting go of the complicated bits. Pausing when Antonia smiles. Trying to stop rushing Felix through his morning routine (difficult when a tired baby feels like a time-bomb). Finding a rhythm between motion and stillness. Keeping order. Letting go of order. Listening to Felix’s yells of frustration. Forgetting Felix’s yells of frustration. Smiling as he counts loudly to nine, in mis-matched pyjamas (blue and white stars and rainbow stripes), his hands over his eyes, before racing upstairs to find Michael, who has been instructed to hide under a blanket.
Michael took these gorgeous photos one weekend while Mum worked in the garden. Felix had helped her for a while, and then discovered this broom handle and the need to tear around the lawn with it, racing and whooping. A Felix at three and a half is a lovely thing, if challenging at times. He is reflective and feels things very deeply, and never forgets anything. He knows how to make magic with language.
He likes the baby. He likes to bounce. He likes ‘sweet stuff’. (As I do. We are working on it.) He loves to cook. I had to rush out of the kitchen to settle Antonia back to sleep the other day, and when I returned he’d located his (not so sharp) knife and chopped up a carrot. He likes you to play with him.
He likes building things – a couple of days before Mum left he built the most amazing extenstive airport out of duplo blocks, spread over two duplo plates, complete with a control tower and a luggage belt. He loves the craft cupboard I put together in the summer before Antonia arrived. He’s an ace negotiator. The afternoon Mum left, I was madly tidying whilst Antonia slept. Felix looked at me. ‘How many things,’ he said, ‘how many things do I need to put away before I can paint?’ ‘Ummmm’ I said. But he continued to tidy up all his toys so thoroughly that I couldn’t refuse him, and he spent the next hour very carefuly covering sheets of paper in one colour each. Later, he tried to build a huge duplo bridge and it kept falling down. ‘It’s a bit unpleasant building this bridge’, he said.
He gives us so many hugs and kisses. He doesn’t love his ‘bear’ as much any more – he still likes him, but doesn’t notice if he’s not in his bed. He has a lot of other ‘friends’ to cuddle, and his beloved ‘echidna pillow’. Only two months ago he was asking us why grown-ups don’t have bears, and assuring us that he would still have his bear when he was a grown-up.
He is beginning to play more with his friends – he’s just at the cusp of a new stage. He comes home from barnehage now and tells us about a ‘shop’ he runs in the playground, where his friends come and buy toys from him. Recently we went to playground with his best friend and his mother, and it was not his day and everything went wrong and they just argued and fought and couldn’t agree who’s turn it was to drive the boat. But there were some funny moments. ‘Come up here on the deck,’ I said to Felix, ‘we need to be on the look-out for animals!’ ‘I see some fish!’ He said. ‘What kind of fish?’ ‘Blue fish!’ ‘I see some yellow fish!’ said his friend. ‘Nooooooo’, screamed Felix, ‘there are no yellow fish, they are blue fish!’
We spent a long time deliberating over Antonia’s names. I thought I would call my daughter Lucia, but Michael went off it. Then he returned from a trip to Germany and told me – ‘I’ve got it. Antonia.’ I paused. I thought of Willa Cather’s beautiful novel, My Antonia. I thought, I could have an Antonia of my own. I looked up the meaning of the name. Antonia means ‘priceless one’, which is exactly right. I had waitied so long for her. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I like it, but what would you put with it?’
I wanted a name that meant light, or the sky. I very deeply wanted this, I don’t know why.
After trawling through name sites, I found Celeste. Antonia Celeste. Michael wasn’t sure. It’s not a common name here or in Germany.
We tossed up using family names, but none of them felt right. ‘We could give her two middle names’, said Michael. I didn’t want to, but he really did.
We decided not to use family names, and just find names that we liked. I didn’t like any that Michael suggested: Teresia, Juno, Viktoria, Augusta, Octavia. ‘We can’t name our baby after our car,’ I said. ‘ I was thinking more along the lines of Austrian empress’, he said. She would have Michael’s surname. ‘The middle name has to mean something to me,’ I said.
In the end I gave him a list. One of these, I said: Celeste, Lucy, Elinor. Mostly, I wanted Celeste.
Not Celeste, said Michael. Unless we have two. Elinor Celeste.
I wasn’t sure. We stopped talking about it. It was quite stressful. I didn’t want to argue.
We didn’t raise it again until she was a day old. I cuddled Antonia on the nursing chair by the window in the hospital. Michael lay on the bed beside us. We looked at Antonia and stroked her little hands.
‘What shall we use as a middle name?’ said Michael.
I drew a deep breath. ‘I really want to call her Celeste’, I said.
‘What was the other name I liked?’ asked Michael.
‘Viktoria? Teresia? I don’t like them.’
‘No, the the other one.’
‘Yes. We can call her Antonia Elinor Celeste.’
I looked down at the tiny warm being curled on my chest. I loved her. I loved Michael. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Okay. She can have all the names. Antonia Elinor Celeste.’
Antonia, priceless one. I like ‘Antonia’ because of its meaning, its sound and its look on the page – perfectly balanced and framed with ‘a’s. It has the same number of letters as Melanie, and an ‘n’ and an ‘i’ in the same place. I like that it’s a Latin name, like Felix – it seems appropriate for a child of mixed Eurepean ancestry. Michael thinks it would look good on a scientific journal paper. It is a pretty name, and a strong name. I like its reference to the beautiful book, with all its descriptions of light, and rippling fields of grass.
Elinor is the Scandinavian spelling of Eleanor. The spelling is also used in England – Jane Austen uses ‘Elinor’ in Sense and Sensibility, which I had been reading in the final weeks of my pregnancy. I’ve always liked the sound of Elinor, and it reminds me of ‘Elanor’, from the Lord of the Rings – a small, star shaped flower beloved of the elves. Sam Gamgee names his daugher Elanor at the end of the novel. (That book was my alternative universe during my teenage years.) People often think Eleanor is related to Helen, which means blazing or bright, and would tie in with my ‘light’ theme, but it actually means ‘unknown’, ‘other’, or ‘foreign’. Antonia is deeply familiar to me, not foreign at all, but the meaning is perhaps not entirely inappropriate for a child of parents of two different nationalities, born in a third country. It is also a beloved name in Norway, which is nice.
Celeste – heavenly, celestial. I wanted a name that meant the sky, or light, and this means both. I’ve spent a lot of my life looking up at the sky, reading it, dreaming it, writing it, and some beautiful moments of my life sailing through it. I think of Dante’s Paradiso, the Psalms, and Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline: ‘the sky is the garden of Tourmaline’. And we are made of stars – all the elements we are formed from were forged there. When I told my Mum one of Antonia’s names was Celeste, she knew immediately, and said ‘that’s really for you, isn’t it’.
Antonia Elinor Celeste is a big name for a tiny being. She is earthy, not celestial, although her face is round like the moon. She is familiar, not foreign. She is undoubtably priceless. A lot of the time she gets ‘Teeny Tiny Toni’, or Puff Puff, or Pudding. Or even, from Michael, Brussel Sprout. But these are her baby names, and she will not be a baby for long. Names are gifts and dreams, and she can take or leave them as she chooses, and as those around her choose. But she came to us, and through us, and we have named her with love and with joy.
We took this on Saturday at an autumn festival in town. Six weeks as a family of four, and one week successfully balancing the needs of two children all by ourselves. Michael’s also very pleased with this one – two cheeky monkeys. The pair of them have exactly the same sense of humour involving nonsense and wordplay – I can’t keep up.
The main reason the blog has been quiet lately is technical difficulties – my computer died and I can’t find my camera charger (and the camera is a bit worse for wear anyway). I’ve got hold of one of Michael’s cameras but it’s not as versatile as I’d like and I have no way of getting the images onto the computer I’m using. And the time and energy required to solve these problems are not forthcoming at the moment. But I must try.
I’m typing with Antonia sleeping on my chest – her favourite spot of an evening. She quite insists upon it. She is so lovely. Calm and cuddly and her head smells nice. I put her in the bath with Felix this evening – helping him to hold her head above the water – and it was adorable. She was weighed yesterday at her six week check and she’s already 5.8 kilos and 60cm! When she was born they told me she was 50cm but I’m certain that was a mistake and she was more like 54.
To begin with, the night wake ups were way more brutal than I remembered. I hadn’t been particularly worried about them, especially was I was waking several times a night anyway towards the end of the pregnancy, but there is a bit difference between your own body waking you and a complaining baby waking you. For the first few foggy weeks I thought every time – ‘what? Really?’ Now I have acclimatized a little and adjusted my mindset and it’s not so bad. She needs cuddling all evening (but will happily snooze on your chest as you lie on the sofa), goes down for the night between 10 and 11.30, and generally wakes around three or four and again at five or six, but these days will usually snooze off again pretty easily. Felix has even been pretty kind with his wake-ups and I often don’t have to start the day properly before 7.30. Argh sorry this is so boring, must remember to skip the details…
It’s hard not to constantly compare the two experiences – Felix’s babyhood and Antonia’s. There’s not the same seismic identity shift as when you become a mother for the first time. But there is something.It’s more gradual, in a way, but your identity does alter. Being a mother of two is different from being a mother of one – it’s more of a juggle, and more repsonsibility. And Antonia is herself, is different to Felix, so my relationshiop with her is different, and affects me differently. Oh, these observations seem dreadfully bland, but I am trying…
I love… her breath, her weight on my chest, her sticky cheek on my skin. I call her ‘Puff Puff’ because of her quick puffing breaths. Sometimes she reminds me so much of a baby Felix – especially when she pulls off after a feed, utterly sated, whinying slightly, her little chin scrunched, her cheeks puffed out. A lot of the time she looks exactly like me – like baby photos of me – which is also curious and delightful. She was a very serious newborn – I’ll never forget the baffled, deadpan expression on her face one night when, only a few days old, she drank far too much milk and after an uncomfortable half hour projected the lot of it half way across our bed. But now she smiles sometimes, and coos, and looks earnestly into my eyes, and tries very hard to poke her tongue out at Michael, and is generally very agreeable. Felix can’t stop kissing her. She’s going to have a very good immune system.
She was whining in her little chair this morning as I raced upstairs to collect Felix’s ventolin puffer, but when I got down again she was quietly sucking his finger! He’s seen us do that to calm her down, and thought he’d try it. (He’s also insisted on sucking my finger too – when I was chatting to the nurse at her check up yesterday she was attached to my little finger and he was attached to my thumb!)
I’ve had a ridiculous amount of fun buying and dressing her up in ‘girl clothes’, but it’s also adorable to see her in striped pyjamas inherited from her brother.
And I feel I must be writing countless inane platitudes here, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re falling in love. I feel ridiculously proud of her – of her chubby thighs and the curls in her hair and her soft soft cheeks. When she smiled at me for the first time I felt this incredible warm relief in the pit of my stomach – ‘you’re there’, I thought, ‘you see me’. I hadn’t even realised I’d been waiting for it. And the bigger she gets the more present she is, and I am so very glad she’s here.
Mum left yesterday. It is always sad to say goodbye. Felix says, paraphrasing one of his favourite books: ‘we are sad when the dawn comes and we have to part. But we can meet again.’ The book, which is about the friendship of a duck and a mushroom creature who lives deep within the earth, goes on to point out that even when we are far apart, sometimes just thinking of each other makes us happy. Thinking about my Mum makes me happy.
We had the most gorgeous six and a bit weeks together. Two weeks before Antonia was born of long evening walks, playing with Felix, visiting Stromstad and Fredriskstad, and frequenting of coffee shops. And then an whole month following Antonia’s birth, involving baby cuddles, more playing with Felix, picnics in the forest and by lakes, adventures at the fortress, clothes shopping for us and the children (how much fun it is to buy baby girl clothes!), returning to Stromstad and Fredrikstad with our babe, and many, many more coffee shops. Mum also helped with cooking. washing, waking up early with Felix nearly every day, and completely sorted out some very messy patches of our garden, taking away a dead bush, planting trees, shrubs, and spreading pine bark.
A second baby does not enable the same quiet cocooning that I experienced with my first. Everyone told me a second baby is easier, and this is true and not true – yes I already knew how to look after a newborn, but looking after a newborn AND and an exhuberant, curious three year old at the same time is a new adventure. Adding to the excitement, Felix had not one but four medical emergencies during Antonia’s first month home! Two asthma incidents requiring ventolin inhalations at the emergency department in the middle of the night, one tick bite behind his ear which got infected and neede two weeks of strong antibiotics, and to top it all off, a pea getting stuck up his nose. The whole family (apart from Antonia and me, thankfully) also had terrible colds for the first two weeks of Antonia’s life, so energy levels suffered. The lowest point was two days after we returned from my hospital, just as my milk was coming in. I was exhausted, in pain (those who told me breastfeeding wouldn’t hurt a second time were wrong indeed), Mum and Michael were sick and Felix was coughing up a storm and getting more and more distressed. I sat on the toilet sobbing, while Michael took care of Felix. Mum asked if I was ok. ‘No!’ I said. ‘Everyone’s sick. I’m going to get sick, and Antonia’s going to get sick, and I’m going to get mastitis.’ ‘It will be ok,’ said Mum, ‘just remember it’s your hormones talking.’ I had a shower, and felt better. Antonia and I didn’t get sick, I didn’t get mastitis, and the cold going around was just a cold (despite Felix’s asthma), not some lethal virus which could hurt my baby.
Two nights before Mum’s departure Felix’s asthma saga reoccured (he gets it every time he has a cold). Michael was away for the week. We had two trips to the emergency department over night (first Mum, then me), then at 9 in the morning Felix was still in terrible form so I took him to his normal doctor who sent us on to the hospital. Luckily he stabilized on the way over, but we still spent the day there, having tests done and getting another inhalation for him. I was so, so pleased Mum was with me. As Felix sat in his bath after we got home that evening, he said – ‘but we didn’t have an adventure!’ ‘Oh’, said Mum and I, ‘I think we did.’
But the rest of the time was truly lovely. It was wonderful having Mum with us during the first weeks of Antonia’s life. Four weeks is long enough for a little personality to emerge. Rare smiles and long serious stares and little ‘hnnnnn hnnnn’s. Long enough for a baby to grow round and soft. Antonia squeaks with delight as she lies on her change mat and looks across at the picture of the baby on the pack of diapers. Over the past week, she has been genuinely pleased every time she sees my Mum – she smiles, and looks intently, purses her little lips, and coos.
In less than three months we’ll be in Australia for an extended holiday, so Felix is right when he says ‘we can meet again’. But I’ll always remember this special, special time of Mum being with us as we became a family of four. A time, after all, of quietness, love and adventures. As Mum’s stay drew to a close, we found ourselves consciously repeating things we’d done before, to close out the circle. On Tuesday, on Antonia’s one month birthday, we went back to the very same cafe in Gamlebyen where we had eaten lunch the day of my overdue control, just hours before Antonia’s birth. And yesterday, we took Felix back to the cafe in the harbour where we had taken Mum the day she had arrived, and then we all walked her across to the train station together. I cried. I feel so very looked after.