Four and a half months

Yesterday, my little guy, you were nineteen weeks old. That’s a lot of weeks. The photo above was actually taken at seventeen weeks, but it is too sweet not to stick in here somewhere. You are changing and growing so fast, and I wanted to write some of it down.

Last Friday you perfected rolling over onto your tummy. You’ve been doing it for a week or two, but your arm always got stuck beneath you. You’ve worked out how to extract it now, and it is so sweet to see your pleasure in your new skill. You want to do it again and again, until you get tired and stuck. You haven’t quite worked out how to flip back the other way, although you’ve been giving it a good try.

Two weeks ago, when I first took you to storytime at the library, you were entranced by the baby girl sitting on her mother’s lap next to us. She liked you too, and you ended up holding hands. Very very cute.

One of your favourite things is to lie on your back looking up at a tree. You find them endlessly fascinating. Actually, you’re finding everything pretty fascinating right now: our noses, my hair, the gilt frame on the mirror in the hall, table-tops, plates, our food, the TV, your toys. You have been grasping at things for a while but for the past week or so I’ve noticed a new care and deliberation – you slow your little fingers down in order to get a good grip on your little owl. You still love your baths and you especially love it when we plant kisses on your naked belly as we’re getting you ready. It always makes you laugh.

You adore your father. He plays this little marching game with you, where you lie on the floor and he stands in front of you and marches and waves his arms around and you try to copy. It is your favourite thing in the world. Once you start, you do not want to stop. Woebetide the adult who tires of it before you do. If you are lying on the floor and your father walks past, you initiate the game with a grin and a wriggle.

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Choices

Reading Penni’s meditation on the choice to have – or not to have – children – I have been thinking about my own choices. As she points out, it’s a discussion that is somewhat fraught, because not everyone makes the same choices, and not everyone is given these choices to make, and the pain of this can be terrible.

I was never possessed with a burning desire for children but I always assumed I would have them one day. I remember realising in my early twenties that yes I did want a family of my own, but it wasn’t forthcoming at that time, so I quickly turned my focus back to other affairs, like stories about dragons, European cities, and medieval poems. As I progressed through my late twenties it remained clear to me that I wanted children at some point, and I remember discussing this with Michael, telling him that he needed to think about whether this relationship was really long term or not, because if it wasn’t, I needed to know.

My desire for children at this point was intellectual, deferred. I had never had much to do with them.

The other consideration, of course, was career. If you finish a PhD aged 30, you really need to factor in several years of post-doc work, if you’re lucky, most likely preceded by several years of patchy contract teaching, trying to write, research and publish at the same time, and if you are lucky enough to get a permanent position at the end of all this you need to be prepared to move to wherever in the world this might be on offer. Which would mean, if I did everything right and was lucky as well, I might get a permanent position in five or six years. But where would that be? And where would that leave us? I decided not to find out.

So there were a multitude of little choices. I chose to move to Norway. I chose to accept a job there that had nothing to do with my career prospects but would provide not only an income but paid parental leave. Just in case.

As I finished my PhD we both started thinking about it and wanting it more and more. Michael was very keen. And in the end it was pretty much a physical compulsion to stop taking the little pills. My body wanted babies. And my mind, and my heart, and my partner agreed. We expected it to take a while.

We got pregnant immediately. Shortly after this, it went spectacularly wrong, and we were faced with a much more difficult decision.

We conceived again quickly, but the four months between ending my first pregnancy and discovering my second were painful and strange. I hadn’t anticipated how vulnerable you suddenly become, when you decide to say yes, let’s do it, let’s see. Because it’s not really a decision to do or to make or to achieve something, it’s a decision to let life happen, to open yourselves up to transformation and change which may or may not come, and often not in the way you expect, or at the times you had planned.

And now we are a family and our lives are changed and we are changed. We are only at the very beginning, and we are feeling our way forwards. We are learning how to balance our needs and our desires with the very pressing needs and desires of our little one. Michael reckons we should have got started five years earlier. I don’t. I relished the freedom and confidence and geographical, social and intellectual exploration of my late twenties. But right now I am entranced, challenged, and utterly in love with this little being we brought into the world. (And of course still exploring the world and relationships and ideas, but in different ways.) It is a marvelous adventure.

Sunday, June 19

There are a lot of signs around at the moment informing me that this Sunday is father’s day. ‘Dad wants a recliner’, they say, ‘Dad wants boots’. ‘Buy Dad a nook for father’s day’. All week the supermarkets have sported ‘Dad’ themed cakes and cupcakes, including one luridly iced one resembling a BBQ grill. I am happy to say none of these have made an appearance in this house, although I know Michael misses his recliner.

Today is also the day, seven years ago, when Michael and I caught a train from York to Leeds together, and came back holding hands. This was a very good thing indeed.

Seven years, and many adventures (and countries) later, we are three, not two. We’ve learnt to paraglide, visited each other’s homelands, weathered some storms, and learnt how to soothe an overtired baby. I love both my guys dearly. Michael is doing a superb job of this fatherhood business. Felix is always so happy to see him when he comes home from work, and no one can make him laugh quite like Michael can. Here’s to another seven years, my love. x

Bluegrass

I feel I was a bit harsh on poor old Idaho Falls in the last post. We’ve been here a month now, and wandering around the Downtown/Greenbelt areas today, I felt myself becoming fond of the place. I stumbled across a bluegrass festival on the river. It was awesome.

Sitting on the lawn listening to the music reminded me of the happiest weekends of my adolescence – our annual pilgrimage to the Port Fairy Folk Festival. (The Port Fairy Folk Festival was like an alternative universe – the smell of incense, the gypsy clothing, the heavenly music. I used to dream of running away with my penny-whistle to join a folk band, and I would spend days choosing the dangly beaded earrings I would buy each year.) Felix liked it too.

Well, ok, he was smiling at me there. But he didn’t mind hanging out on the grass and listening to music for an hour or so.

We also did a long walk along the river and saw ducklings,

the Mormon temple,

and the last vestiges of spring. The day was cloudy but warm, and only a little windy. I am getting used to the wind, anyway.

Historic Downtown

We went for a walk downtown last night and Michael captured the spirit of the place.

Yep.

Well, it wasn’t all that bad. There’s a bridal hire shop:

A historic eagle (the town was originally known as Eagle Rock):

A few back streets:

And a jewelers trying to cash in on the cupcake trend:

Well, that was our initial impression. As with many American towns, the centre of activity has been displaced by shopping malls. But the walking path along the river is gorgeous. And we also discovered a very nice bakery (not the best coffee but amazing cookies), a couple of great restaurants, and a handful of interesting shops, once you find the right street.

Brown and grey

There really are a lot of parking spaces around here. Also, whoever designed the decor for our sunless apartment was not having a good day when they decided on brown on brown. All the furniture is heavy dark wood. The carpet is beige. The bedspreads are brown. The bed itself has a huge wooden end to it which has caused me several nasty bruises, all on top of each other (admittedly, not for a while, I must be getting used to it). The apartment is decorated with faux plants, including an entire little tree in the bedroom, which we didn’t even notice for the first couple of weeks. I miss my sunny kitchen.

Luckily the weather is getting nicer around here and we have decided that as an antidote to brown we will spend as much time outside as possible. I see many walks, parks and picnics in our future. We went to a lovely BBQ last night and I spent most of the day making a cake to take along. “The world’s best cake”, to be precise. It lives up to its name.

A day at the river

Finally we had beautiful weather – and not too much wind – all day! I tried exploring the ‘Historic Downtown’ district of Idaho Falls, but didn’t find much apart from decrepit buildings and attorney offices. And a very impressive public library, but it turns out that you have to pay $64 a year for a library card. What is this strange country, that charges for public libraries? So I ended up at the river, which was perfectly lovely. I walked past a Mormon temple:

and a water tower:

but the sweetest thing I saw was this little guy:

Felix was quite impressed with the pinecone:

He’s really got the hang of grabbing onto things and stuffing them into his mouth the past couple of days, but I didn’t want him eating the pinecone  just yet. After all that activity Felix had a long sleep in his pram while I read a book beneath the trees. Bliss.

A new emotion

Watching some predictably dreadful American TV last night – now, I do want to share my US experiences but I want to be careful about engaging in American-bashing – North America is hardly a single entity and while most of the TV we’ve seen so far has been horrendous, some American TV – The Wire, for example – is some of the most amazing stuff I’ve ever seen… Where was I. Yes. Watching some predictably awful TV last night, a real life couple were encouraged to write letters to their dead son, expressing their grief to help them avoid drowning their pain in corn starch. They both read out their letters.

‘Everything they just said were cliches’, Michael said.

‘Yes’, I said, ‘it’s hard for people who aren’t used to writing to avoid cliches. They just write what they think is expected of them. There are quite simple workshop exercises you can do with them to snap them out of it.’ Not that I can think of any specific examples right at the moment, but I remember going to several writing workshops that succeeded in doing just that. I think long list-like poems are particularly good at it.

Anyway, I realised I was guilty of exactly that when in my last post I tried to describe what it feels like to watch my son roll over for the first time. ‘I’m so proud of him’. ‘He gives me so much joy’. These are true, but… I was thinking about it, and it really is a new emotion I feel when I watch my child learn, practice and master new skills. Or emotions, to be precise. Wonder is one. How this little creature, who four months ago couldn’t even smile on purpose, has after much persistence flipped over onto his belly. There’s this sort of happy joyful excitement as I cheer him on. I feel a warm ball of light in my chest. And it is a different, particular experience because he is my own child. Working in the kindergarten I’ve been amazed and delighted by the progress of the little ones, almost to the same extent. It is different not only because he is my own, but because with each new skill he acquires he becomes somehow less my own, and more his own person. Our relationship shifts. The little creature who could say ‘agoo’ but not ‘ahwaaaaaaha, googoo brshhhh!’ has in some sense gone. At the same time, his new skills give me ways of getting to know him better. So each new skill is a gain and a loss, and that is exactly how I want it to be.

Sixteen weeks

You’ve certainly had a big week, little guy. Yesterday we tried you out in your new hiking backpack at Mesa falls – you’re only just big enough, but you were ok for a short walk, and you liked looking around.

This week you’ve discovered so many new sounds to make – and you speak to us in indecipherable baby sentences, complete with intonation. You’re particularly impressed with a sort of squeak you’ve learnt to make. With much concentrated effort, you’ve also learnt to grab hold of your toes, and even to roll over onto your belly! You are very serious about these accomplishments, and practice them assiduously. You make us laugh and you laugh right back at us. We are flabbergasted at your new skills. I know it’s the same for parents everywhere, and not particularly exciting for anyone else to hear about, but you truly give us so much joy.

You’re not so keen on sleeping for long stretches over night any more, however. Michael says: ‘It will get better. Don’t worry, I had a great sleep last night.’ ‘Oh’, I said, ‘I’m glad to hear it.’

Kennecott copper mine

The last few times we were in Salt Lake City, we said to ourselves – we really should go have a look at that copper mine. But we didn’t do it till last weekend. It was a good time to go, with the snow powdering the upper terraces. When they had the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, all the medals were made with metal from the mine.

I started writing this last night when Felix woke up (after sleeping all of ten minutes) and decided he wanted to cry for three hours (with short bursts of being consoled by me). Eventually I took him for a walk in the cold, windy night (it’s so windy here!), and this distracted him enough that he went to sleep when we came home. While we were out I stopped for a hot chocolate at the cupcake shop. It was so sweet that I could only drink half of it. Today, at the Barnes and Noble, I overheard someone ordering a chocolate coconut cappuccino.

Anyway, here are a couple more pictures of the mine. I love how the huge trucks look like matchbox toys. Michael has been away at a conference all week and boy am I ready for him to come home tonight.