We’re a week into the kids’ summer holidays. I must admit I was a little apprehensive (and it has had its moments) but it has been truly lovely to spend some proper time with these guys. Julius is a cheerful little thing who’s happy to fit in as long as he gets lots of cuddles. He loves to look deeply into your eyes and coo and smile, but it’s difficult to photograph his smile as he distrusts phones and cameras… Antonia is her delightful, energetic, engaging self. She says she’d like to do summer holidays on her own soon. ‘What would you do if you had holidays on your own?’ I asked her. ‘Take a walk in the forest. Climb a tree.’ Felix spends most of his down time building lego. He made a ‘music shop’ this morning, complete with a piano. And last night he was dancing, very creatively, by himself for half an hour, to Rick Astley’s ‘Never gonna give you up’, which he specially requested Michael to put on. I took the photo above just after he’d finished, his face flushed and hair tousled with exertion… These little beings are ridiculously hard work and ridiculously amazing.
To be honest, one of the most challenging aspects of the past couple of months has been the energy expended in encouraging sibling harmony. There has been competitiveness, some teasing, and rather a lot of noise. So I thought I’d better write this down as evidence that it can be different. This evening was challenging because Julius was waking ten minutes after I put him down each time and demanding to be settled again. At one point all three of them were screaming while I hastily tried to hang out some washing. Felix had asked me to make him a paper plane and tie a string to it, and so Antonia wanted one too, and they both wanted theirs FIRST, and so it went on. But, after an ice-block procured by their father, a curious thing happened. I was preoccupied with Julius and Michael left them alone. Felix was digging around in the cupboards in the hallway to find his schoolbag, and also found his and Antonia’s pull along travelling cases. And they started to play a most marvellous game together, packing their bags, going to the airport, getting in the aeroplane, and visiting ‘Grandma’s house’. They bent the rules somewhat by pretending our car was the aeroplane, and the episode ended in tears when Antonia accidentally turned the radio on full volume and panicked, but all the same! There was no fighting, teasing or competition, just encouragement, connection and joint imagination. ‘Wait for me, Feli!’ I heard Antonia say at one point. ‘I am I am’, he assured her. And a few minutes later I heard, ‘I’m waiting for you, Feli!’
The camaraderie continued for the rest of the evening, as they decided together which book we should read (Tashi, one book they both love). They didn’t want to have a shower but I managed to steer them in there by saying – ‘you guys are getting along so well this evening, would you like to have a shower together?’ And they did. And they lay quietly to listen to Tashi, Antonia on the bottom of their new bunk bed, and Felix on the top, as I read and fed Julius to sleep for the umpteenth time. Felix kissed Julius and me goodnight, and as he left (to listen to Michael read Harry Potter before he went to sleep) I said – do you have a kiss for Antonia too? He hesitated, and tried to get away with blowing her a kiss, but I encouraged him a bit more and he planted a kiss on her leg.
I’m looking out at the red sunset over the fjord. I meant to go to bed early but suddenly it’s 11 already. Baby J will wake soon, I guess, you never know, and demand some milk. With his arrival it feels like so much is shifting. Sometimes I feel I’m floundering around with little to hold on to, but right now, looking out upon the water, it feels like our house is a big ship, travelling in the right direction, and I’m sailing.
My Mum is here and she is so amazing. It’s meant these past two and a half weeks have been so much smoother than they would have been without her. For the first ten days I did not feel up to much, and did not leave the house or get out of my pyjamas. And then suddenly I felt better, so I have been trialling things. Laundry. Cooking dinner. Picking the kids up from barnehage. I’ve only done that last one once, on Friday last week, and Mum was with me.
We’d just been grocery shopping with Julius. He seemed quite happy so I thought it would be ok, and was looking forward to introducing him to Antonia’s carers. But as soon as we arrived, he started fussing, so I had to take him out of the pram. I carried him into Antonia’s class, and all the little kids rushed to have a look at him, and her carer cooed – oh, she looks like Antonia! But he was crying and wanted milk, so we went out to the hallway, where I perched next to Antonia’s spot, breastfeeding. Meanwhile my Mum had rounded up Felix, who had been around the back outside. He was edgy and tired and wanted to leave immediately. Mum started gathering up some of Antonia’s stuff that I wanted to take home. Then Antonia needed the toilet, so I handed Julius, who started fussing again immediately, to Mum, and went with Antonia back inside. When we came out to the hallway again Felix was complaining loudly about us taking so long. He’d knocked over the neat pile of Antonia’s stuff that Mum had made on the ground. I found a bag to put it all in, and in my enthusiasm accidentally stuffed in another kid’s shoes. (They were the same design as Antonia’s previous pair, and her current pair had been left at home as she’d peed on them yesterday by mistake.) Finally we were ready to leave, and Felix started wailing about how he never got to sit next to Julius in the car, and it wasn’t fair, and I had to threaten to take away the ipad for the evening in order to get him in the car. He then started begging for sweeties, and instead I promised them both an iceblock for when we got home (it was hot). So, yeah. If Mum hadn’t been there to hold the squalling baby it would have been even less pretty.
Today we went the birthday party of a friend of Felix, the son of one of my closest friends. It was at a play-centre a forty minute drive away, and I was quite pleased with myself that I had managed to arrive (I thought) exactly on time. Michael reminded us to take the presents with us (I’d forgotten them when we went to a different kids’ party the week before, and had had to turn around to pick them up). But I had remembered the times wrong and we were AN HOUR LATE! It all turned out ok and Felix was in time for cake and my friends were understanding, but I felt so silly. For a moment I felt like bursting into tears but thankfully I didn’t.
So. Stormy waters now and then. But sailing.
Thought I’d better do something about the lack of content here. I’m still only taking photos on my phone (something I plan to fix within the next month) but these are better than nothing. This morning Antonia totally bailed on the Easter egg hunt (she’s not into sweet things and couldn’t see the point) but Felix declared today to be one of the best days of his life. He woke up early and put two fleeces on and went for a solo ‘expedition’ with Whitby to the forest to check if Easter Bunny had been yet. She hadn’t. Luckily Easter Bunny managed to sneak out quietly before making waffles.
Easter starts early in Norway (it’s closer to a week than a weekend) and it’s been so lovely to have this time to potter around with the kids. It’s been filled with everything good: gardening, hiking, crafting, baking, reading, knitting, hanging out with friends, and wandering down to our little beach. With some cleaning and sorting thrown in as well. At times (especially Friday, when Antonia had a fever all day) there has been a bit too much screen time for the kids, but it’s always worth it when we manage to peel them away. Michael’s been making a real effort to take Felix hiking – he complains a bit but I think he’s getting better. We’ve been pushing Antonia a bit too, though if we make her walk anywhere it’s slow going as she likes to roll around on the ground every 20 metres or so…
It hasn’t been entirely without challenges but on the whole it’s been really nice, and exactly what we needed. We finally sold our old house on Tuesday, and we had a somewhat stressful few days of emptying our loft and basement before we handed over the keys. (We’ve thrown a lot of stuff away but are still not sure where to put everything, so will have to get rid of a bit more.) But it’s been so nice just to slow down and hang out with the kids and enjoy being here. I remember really enjoying staying in Norway for Easter two years ago, when Antonia was still a baby. We tend to try to get to Germany for Easter, but last year that was so gruelling that we’ve decided to take a break from that particular endeavour. It’s just not warm enough yet to make it easy to hang out there with the kids.
Also it is just so lovely to get the chance to cultivate a few of our own traditions. We’ve never spent Christmas in our own house with the children (in fact we’ve only ever spent Christmas in our own house once, when I was eight months pregnant with Felix). So it feels special to have this time just for ourselves, to have an egg hunt, to make the hot cross buns. You can’t buy them here and Easter just isn’t the same for me without them. Felix helped make them so they are quite rustic to look at but they were delicious. They have orange rind, apple pieces, sultanas, dried apricots and cranberries inside, and plenty of spices. We spent last Easter dreaming about this house and deciding to try to buy it – we had a look at it the day before we left for Germany, and bought it the day we returned. I looked out of the window this morning and saw a squirrel preening itself on a tree branch. It is good to be here.
Yesterday we walked down to the beach after dinner. The sun had come out. We had to pester Felix terribly to get him out of the house, but as soon as we got to the beach he saw that the little wooden landing was in the water again, and he clambered out to it straight away, deciding that it was a magical vehicle that could be a boat or a plane or a car. Antonia was more or less happy to go with his storyline (“you’re fishing in the air now, Antonia, not the water, we’re flying.” “Ok”). He navigated us to magic land and cloud land and beach land, fetching rocks to throw into the water to get the “bad guys”. And it was pretty perfect.
Late Saturday afternoon we all walked down to our little beach. Antonia needed some coaxing, but once we got there she was in her element. Straight away she sourced herself a long stick to go ‘fishing’ with, and sat poking the water for a long time, in between finding stones to throw in, and stones for me too. This was a welcome change from every other time we’ve been there, when I have been responsible for sourcing the stones. She even let me have a turn of her fishing rod. Felix, who had raced ahead, and sat pensively on a bench looking out over the water by the time we arrived, was disappointed that all the ice had melted. But he quickly decided that climbing up all the rocks would be worthwhile anyway, and scrambled around the place on his own for a while before convincing Michael to join the rock scaling adventure. We watched the yellow light on the water as the sun dipped behind the hills on the other side of the fjord.
Today we had a picnic in the little patch of forest right next to our house. Michael strung up two hammocks he had brought back from America, and lit a little twig stove to toast marshmallows. It was just. so. good. Like camping, or being on holiday, but only one minute from our garden. Antonia got a little stroppy around nap time (I don’t bother trying to get her down anymore, but sometimes you can see she needs it), but she redeemed herself later, finding a ‘salad’ for me of twigs and leaves. She insisted on going out again just before bed – she dresses herself in her snowsuit, boots and hat, and heads out the door. She instructed me on when to walk and when to follow, where to put the pinecones she found for me, and then sat down with a stick on her lap, pretended it was some kind of musical instrument, and sang ‘twinkle twinkle little star’. Then I had to do it too.
It’s light till half past six now. It feels like a different world.
Apart from this I cleaned and did laundry, which felt overwhelming and annoying at the beginning, but now I feel so much better. Felix helped by spontaneously tidying up the family room so I could vacuum. The house was in chaos from Michael being away for eight days, back for two, then away again for two (he got back on Friday night), and we were both exhausted and near the end of our tether. But it is better now. It was so good to be outside in the forest all together. There is some kind of grace in this place. It is good to be here.
It’s our last couple of days in Adelaide before we fly home to the cold again. Christmas was magical. The first couple of weeks here were a bit of a slog as I was on my own this year with the kids, my parents were working and we were battling jetlag, coughs, and then a fever for Antonia. But since Christmas it has been lovely – my parents have been on holidays and I’m in the swing of it now! The past week Felix has been having swimming lessons everyday as part of the vacswim programme. We’ve been going to a really sweet little outdoor pool. It’s so relaxing to have a splash then hang out on the grass eating paddle pops. Felix has learnt a lot and can now navigate deep water by himself (only just, but he is so confident and determined!). Antonia has watched the level one courses with fascination, and practises blowing bubbles and kicking her legs.
It’s been crazy hot the past couple of days but it’s toned down to pleasant today. Yesterday evening we spent half an hour (or more) pumping up a new paddling pool shaped like a shark. We had to use a bike pump and it took forever but the kids (especially Felix) insisted on helping and the process of putting it together was almost as engaging as the finished product.
Mum and Dad have taken the kids grocery shopping and I’m suppose to be doing the final edits to an article but gosh it is hard to concentrate on that right now. I will get it done somehow, it’s very close. We’re planning on going to Glenelg later, so Felix can have another go on these monstrous blow up waterslides, and Antonia can have a play in the playground.
We’ve caught up with friends, hung out with family, picked cherries, gone to the museum, the beach, the pool. I’m bracing myself for the transition back home – the cold, the jetlag, needing to leave the kids at barnehage (normally they don’t mind, but Antonia has made it very clear she prefers the current lifestyle), work, having to cook dinner… Best not to think about it too much.
We spent the morning on the deck today, puddling about on the swings, and pumping air into the paddling pool. Felix found a stretchy strap that had fallen off Mum’s bathers and announced he would use it to make a sling shot. After the early efforts were unsuccessful Dad cut him out a wooden one with holes, and Mum threaded the elastic through. He shot frozen peas and apricot stones off the deck. The peas didn’t work so well but Antonia ate up the ones he didn’t need.
Antonia wants to be a dinosaur. After some quiet reflection in the car the other day, she announced wistfully: ‘I don’t even talk like a dinosaur.’ I told her she could practice.
- Hiking in Ystehede.
- Drawing robots.
- Preparing a lentil shepherd’s pie.
- Eating it, with a glass of wine.
We went for a walk today on the other side of our little fjord (which is really an inlet from the main fjord). We had a picnic there last week with Michael’s parents, and Felix and Michael had managed to explore the hiking track a bit, but today was the first time Antonia and I went there. It is just so lovely there. We climbed up the hill through the forest and were able to look over the water to our house, and had a little picnic a bit further on. Antonia acquiesced to sitting in the ergo backpack if I galloped along like a horse now and then to cheer her up. We let her walk some of the way but she kept stopping to sample blueberries and the weather was rather threatening so we didn’t want to take hours. She was bitterly disappointed that I wouldn’t let her scramble over all the rocky beaches on the way back (it was raining lightly, and they were slippery). She managed to negotiate for an icecream once we got home to make up for it.
Once we got home the kids and I practiced drawing robots. It was a good thing to do with Felix as robots are quite doable and rather fun. ‘Too scary robots’ are a thing in our house now. We saw a man dressed up as a robot outside the science museum in London a few weeks ago, and Felix loved him but Antonia did not. She was in tears a day later when we accidentally sat next to a life size toy robot in the Victoria and Albert museum of childhood. Felix of course is delighted and has decided he loves robots. But Antonia is warming to them, and it was her idea to draw them today.
Then I made my pie in response to the slight hint of autumn in the air, and it was good. It was very good.
I made a list because various other parts of the day were scrappy and challenging, but these bits were so nice. I do that a lot, I think – collate the best bits to remember. Life is gradually returning to routine after the summer holidays – classes start in two weeks. I often think of writing here in the evening but end up tidying or sorting laundry instead.
Also Felix today asked me if rocks could be big enough to reach another galaxy. Well, I said, lots of rocks float around. No, he said, from here. No, I said, they can’t. What if you stacked them up? They’d fall over. But what if they were really flat ones?
We had pretty much the perfect evening. After dinner on our deck (mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, meatballs for the kids and yesterday’s pasta sauce – supplies are running low) Michael suggested we put the picnic rug down on the lawn and soak up the sun. So we did. And Felix ran and jumped off our big rock – watch me! Look at my new trick! And Antonia tried the same – watch me! My new trick! She couldn’t manage to jump off the rock (thankfully) but climbed up and slid down on her bum. And then we all ran races back and forth and the kids were stralende (glowing, radiant – not sure if this is the correct way to use it but for some reason this word seems perfect). Ah so so nice.
And tomorrow I’m off to Stockholm with my baby girl, for a conference, along with one of my favourite colleagues, and I’m going to meet my Mum there! Michael’s excited about a boy’s week at home (has never happened before). My conference paper has had great difficulty attracting my attention over the past couple of weeks (and still does), but it’s not till Friday, so all will be well. Happy. Happy. Happy. 11 pm and the sky is still pink. But yeah, better finish packing my bag.
The scene, 5pm: Felix happily copying numbers printed on a box, while I read a book to Antonia. You guys look happy, says Michael. I’m going upstairs for ten minutes.
Felix: Can I Watch?
Felix: But why? I haven’t Watched all day! I need to Watch!
Me: But I like to hang out with you and do things. It’s boring otherwise.
Felix: Can I paint my box?
Me (deep breath): ok.
I go to hunt for paints. I cut up plastic bags to put under the box so he won’t get paint all over the table. I find him a different top so he won’t ruin his nice white one. I find the paints. I find the paintbrushes. Antonia finds my old sunglasses and puts them on. Then she starts crying cos they fall off her nose.
Me: I’ll find you some other sunglasses, Antonia.
Felix: Not mine!!
He follows to make sure I don’t give his sunglasses to Antonia. I find Michael’s old sunglasses. She puts them on. She cries because they fall off her nose. I find a paper plate for Felix’s paint.
Me: What colour do you want?
Felix: What? (Antonia cries and cries.)
Me: What colour?
Felix: White. No. Blue.
I squirt out the blue paint and pick up Antonia, still screeching. He does one lack-luster brush of the box.
Felix: I don’t really want to paint.
I put his paper plate in the bin. I wash out the paintbrush.
Felix collapses on the sofa in tears.
Now Antonia wants to paint.
We’ve had a couple of nice evenings this week. Nothing spectacular, but nice all the same. It’s dark by 5 o’clock. Felix has found a bit of a groove cutting things up and colouring them in. He showed me how his friend taught him to draw a snake. Last night we got the craft box out and he made a helicopter and a boat out of egg cartons and paddle-pop sticks. All the while Antonia bumbled around on the floor reading herself books and building towers. Felix asked when he could learn to knit, so I made him a tomboy knitting thing out of a toilet roll. Tonight the glue was dry so I taught him how to make the stitches, and he could do it! I’m so proud of him. He’s pretty pleased with the grey and blue snake he produced.
I’d been worried about how much screen time he was having, but for some reason it wasn’t difficult to reduce it this week, and it appears to have paid dividends. Probably he’s just in a good mood but I’ll take it!
I’ve been reading up on eco-criticism and writing a conference paper on my latest literary crush – Kathleen Jamie. I have so many ideas, though writing is, most of the time, a slow slow thing. But honestly, do yourself a favour and get a copy of Sightlines.
Antonia has settled again at the barnehage this week which is an enormous relief. They told me she’s really getting into the music.
Domestic life between the adults in the house has been pretty harmonious too. There’s lots of good stuff coming together at M’s work.
Felix is learning about planets and solar systems in the barnehage so there are lots of discussions about how the moon relates to the earth, and which planets we could travel to, and how long would it take to get to the sun, and are rockets really clean, and what button do you need to press, and what about the other solar systems. Antonia is enchanted with the moon. ‘Ball!’ she declares enthusiastically whenever she sees it.
Felix commandeered the camera while we were getting the house ready to eat plum cake with our friends this morning. The photos are exactly as he took them – I haven’t altered them at all. I think they are rather charming – screaming toddler and all. (She will not tolerate the vacuum cleaner.) You don’t normally get photos of this stuff. The plum cake was delicious – my first attempt at a german style cake, made with plums from my colleague’s garden.
Felix: a moment of calm between jumping, balancing, climbing, splashing.
Antonia: on the go as ever!
The sun has not stopped shining for the past two weeks and it has been so lovely. Every evening we’ve been out in the garden, capering about on the trampoline and rolling around in the baby tent (the little ones, at any rate). Today was my parents’ last day before they fly back to Australia, so we had a picnic in the sunshine and then they put up some blinds for me in my bedroom – a job that’s been waiting around for months. Yesterday Dad put up a gate at the bottom of our stairs which means Antonia now has freedom to crawl around the hallway and play with our shoes. Mum was with us all of last week while Dad visited some of his old haunts in Lancashire. It was so excellent to have her around – she picked up the kids from barnehage, giving Antonia half days which I’m sure were much appreciated, cooked, and sorted stuff out for us, like our sandpit and the cupboard under the stairs. It’s very sad to say goodbye but I feel so lucky to have them and to see so much of them. We’re already planning to visit in December, so it’s not goodbye for long.
Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children every week in 2015.
My beautiful baby turned one on Sunday. My adorable, affectionate, adventurous Antonia. Felix was there to open her presents and eat her cake. It brought back memories of Felix’s first birthday. (That party was a little quieter, because of the lack of four year olds tearing around.) But Antonia’s was as lovely as could be. Here’s a photo from the archives, exactly one year earlier, the day Antonia was born:
Felix was shy of her, to start with, but wanted to give her her bear.
A year. A year with these two beautiful creatures. Antonia has started daycare now and it is hard to be apart, especially from her perspective. When I pick her up we hug and hug and she relaxes quickly, then demands to go scoot around on the bikes outside. She loves to stand on the platform on the back of a tricycle while Felix rides it around.
As ever, she wakes frequently at night to feed, and I stroke her hair and breathe her in. In the morning, I wake to her smile, her earnest wet kisses, her soft soft cheeks.
Felix wants to know when she will turn proper 1, when she will start to talk. He was a little surprised that she didn’t seem much different from the day before.
More from the archives. When Antonia was tiny, all she wanted was to snuggle in close.
Dear sweet Antonia, at exactly one year old you adore your family and we adore you. You love to be outside and bounce and zoom around, and you love to be on our laps reading books. You have kisses for all of us. You can mmmmmm like a cow, buzz like a bee, meow like a cat, and rah like a lion. When you don’t want something (food, a person) you wave it away fervently. When you do want something you point with great insistence and say eh eh! When I pick you up from barnehage you sing quietly to yourself, ‘mamamamama’. I am so very glad you’re here. We love you. We love you. We love you so.
And more pictures from her party. xxx
Antonia: a girl after my own heart. She loves to climb up onto Felix’s little chair, select a book, then sit down and ‘read’.
Felix: Mum snapped this photo of him sailing his sea plane on our recent holiday on the Swedish coast.
It has been so lovely having my parents around. We stayed down on the Swedish coast for a few nights – a gorgeous place of rocky outcrops and boat-filled harbours. It was a perfect summer holiday. The weather has not been brilliant this summer, so I felt spoilt with two days of sunshine by the sea – playing in the garden behind the B&B, clambering on the rocks at the beach, eating ice cream, cake, fish and pizza at the wharf, mini golf, bouncy castles, and a beautiful watercolour museum.
In one week I go back to work and Antonia starts barnehage. Can you believe it? My parents are off on a trip through Europe for ten days, coming back for the weekend of Antonia’s birthday. So I have some time now to focus on the transition. There are a few things left to sort out – making sure Antonia has all the gear she needs – rain clothes, shoes (she’s never worn shoes!), lunch box, rain boots etc. Not to mention locating all of Felix’s stuff too. I am excited and a little apprehensive, and I hope my dear sweet cuddly Antonia will be ok. I have been mentally preparing for this moment all year, and it is so close now that there is no time for hesitation – merely a few deep breaths before we all plunge in.
But here are some more glimpses of our trip.
Felix: asleep with his mouse and his London bus.
Antonia: swinging with my brother. Antonia is discerning with new people but she loved Jon immediately.
I spent this week in London with the kids while Michael was in America. We stayed in a hostel near Hyde Park and visited my brother and his girlfriend, went to six different playgrounds, five museums, and went on the underground, a London bus, taxis, an a boat on the Thames. And walked and walked and walked.
We’ve been staying in a holiday apartment in Kassel, but spending a couple of hours every day with Michael’s folks. They’ve loved having us around for so long. We took these pictures in a restaurant known as the Waffle Queen, which serves the most remarkable array of waffles. They took me here the first spring I was in Kassel, ten years ago. Michael says he doesn’t remember it, but I have been itching to get back every trip since. I had a lebkuchen (christmas gingerbread) waffle with chocolate icecream and sour cherries. It did not disappoint.
Felix: leaning on huge stone ball he discovered in front of a palace in a park in Kassel, Germany.
Antonia: I just love this photo. She was completely blissed out, humming quietly to herself – hhhhhhhhnnnnnnn – and gazing at her Daddy as we explored Luxembourg. Just so happy and relaxed. This weekend, for the first time, she waved and said bye bye.
We are one week in to a three week stint away from home. We are spending most of it in Kassel, with Michael’s parents, but we just returned from a weekend in Luxembourg, staying with my cousin Richard and his family. Richard moved to London from Australia almost exactly the same time I moved to the UK, about 12 years ago. I remember wandering some London markets with him before I started my masters in York. He visited me in York many times and I stayed with him in London frequently – Stansted airport was my main route out of the country and I made full use of the mattress on his floor. We would go out for an indian meal and then stay up late discussing life, love, and everything. We both met our partners in the UK and now he’s based in Luxembourg and I’m in Norway. Last night we had a BBQ on his balcony and our boys capered around playing hide and seek and ghostbusters as we sipped red wine and Antonia chewed on asparagus. ‘It must have been a bit like this for our parents when we were small’, he said, and it was a funny thought. And a nice one. Watching our sons walking along, holding hands, is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen.
It’s the tail-end of a long weekend here and I’m pleased to report that we did something fun outside every day. On Friday we went to an outdoor kids day in the forest with some friends, and Felix got to shoot an airgun. (With some help from me and careful supervision from the experts.) There were other activities as well, mostly aimed at slightly older kids. It was a little stressful as we weren’t sure how it all worked and to be honest we have a preference for quiet trips to the forest, but I’m glad we went, and I’d be game to go again next year. We took the camera but didn’t have the right card in it, so no photos.
Yesterday I took the kids to the harbour in the morning (see previous post), and today we went with some German friends to a beach in Sweden. I had tried to meet them there nearly two years ago and got lost on the way, so this time I made sure we followed them.
Felix had a wonderful time hopping on the rocks, peering at the shrimp that our friends caught in the net, and trying to build a dam in a little stream.
It was also a good weekend for baking: waffles, scones, pancakes and ANZAC biscuits, as well as a delicious vegetarian shepherd’s pie, and Michael mowed the lawn.
We tend to fall into a rut and just do the same old things, so I’m glad with a little encouragement from our friends we tried out a couple of different things. I also managed to play with Felix a couple of times – this doesn’t sound like much but too often I get to the end of a day which has been punctuated by repeated requests to play with him, and find that I have not. So during Antonia’s first nap this morning instead of saying immediately ‘no I can’t – I need to do this first…’, I said ‘ok’, when he told me we would play with the digger and the truck. He drove the tiny digger around on the mini truck, and it was my job to dig the holes. ‘What are you going to dig, Mummy?’ ‘A foundation for the new town hall,’ I said, remembering Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, which Mum has read to Felix lots of times. So we dug lots of foundations and used the magnet shapes to build buildings on top of them, and it was lovely.
I felt a bit flat and aimless at the beginning of last week, but I managed to turn it around, making sure I spent time with friends and their children. On Thursday I took Antonia to an ‘open’ barnehage – a place with kindergarten facilities but you can’t leave kids there – you have to stay and play with them. She was badly in need of some new stimulation and she had a ball – I’ll definitely go again this week. Everyone keeps saying to enjoy this time before I go back to work, so I have decided that I will. And it is so nice on a Sunday evening to have the memories of the silvery light on the water and the little balls of seaweed, and the clear air all around.
This week I bought myself some baggy terracotta coloured pants, and wearing them I feel a little as though I am channeling my Mum, as she was about 30 years ago, when she was young(er), when she had small children. I’m sure she had pants a bit like them. She’s told me many times that the happiest years of her life were those when her children were little. I don’t feel she’s dismissing other times in her life when she says this, but little children are so grounding, you need to be so present with them, it is special. And uncomplicated in a way, although certainly challenging.
Mum always says she loved being 30; she felt when she turned 30 she had it all sorted out. Of course, she adds, shortly after that it all came crumbling down. But I admire the way she sorts it out after all, again and again. (Mostly by realising it doesn’t need to be all sorted out, I think, but loving and trusting and being present anyway.)
Anyway, I was walking into town the other day, feeling a bit like my Mum and trying to remember what she was like when she was my age, and younger than my age – she was only 25 when I was born, but I was 35 when Antonia was born. I remember her wearing autumnal colours and knitting herself a jumper with llamas on it, and talking to me from the kitchen as I drew at the table. And she would buy huge blocks of real clay for us to make things with. And all the time she was piecing together the beginnings of a new career, having decided not to go back to teaching history in high schools.
She will still do anything in the world for me, without it seeming an imposition. She’s happy to mend my clothes, listen without judgement, come for late night walks with me, chat on skype whenever the fancy takes me, play endlessly with Felix, change Antonia’s diapers, travel across the world to be with me when my babies are born. All this and work full time and be similarly grounding and reflective for our whole extended family, the children and young adults she counsels, the psychologists and social workers she manages and mentors, and pretty much anyone else who needs her. Even Antonia adores her, beaming already as soon as I turn on skype.
Her best friend, her sister, her parents and my dad are all having (or have had) dinner with her, so my birthday wish for Mum is a walk in the sun, nowhere special to be, no problems to solve for anyone, a moment to breathe, like the one I had on Wednesday, walking into town in the shiny spring sunshine, daydreaming in my terracotta pants.
Sending you so much love from all of us – we can’t wait to see you in July. xxx
We normally go away for Easter, and so, for that matter, do most of our friends. This time, we all stayed put, and it has been so nice. I’ve made hot cross buns (twice), done Easter crafts with Felix, lit candles, chilled out with the family, dressed Antonia up like a little bunny, and taken the kids on a walk to look for beavers. And today we went around to our friend’s house for an Easter egg hunt – four little boys careering round the garden collecting their sweets were a sight to behold. Happy Easter!
Thinking of my cousin Hannah and her husband Lochie today, and the loss, too sad for words, of their daughter Chelsea Anne, who died mere days before she was meant to be born, for no good reason. As I go to bed in Norway, a new day starts in Australia, and it is her funeral. We wish it did not have to be. We wish we could all wake up into any other world.
I just love this photo Michael snapped of the three of us. Felix is showing me a triangular stone. We went back there today and he found a stone shaped like the tail of a plane. He insisted I actually look at it instead of just saying ‘hmmmm, that’s great’, and it really was!
We are in Germany at the moment and Oma and Opa have been soaking in their grandchildren.
It feels a little cheeky, having entirely skipped the winter, but I am marvelling at spring all the same. The bulbs in the park in town are piercing through the earth, nothing can stop them.
The buds of baby pine cones on our tree are barely visible, but they are there.
Felix picked handfuls of the old pinecones yesterday as we picnicked in the garden.
It was the first time we’ve got out there this year. Antonia slept.
Whitby came to join the party.
Felix was so pleased when Antonia woke up again, wearing his old red coat. I thought of all our other springs in this place. Baby Felix peering up at blossoms. Toddler Felix helping build the sandbox. Or playing with the pinecones. Three year old Felix cycling round the deck, thinking about the baby inside me, telling me he missed me before he was born. And now there is another spring, a new one, and I am glad.
I need to write some of this down before it fades. The flight back went very well, despite some anxiety about boarding passes in Kuala Lumpur airport. The kids slept well and played well and were generally agreeable, and did not get sick which was appreciated. I got some motion sickness tablets for Felix and who knows if he needs them or not but every other long haul flight over the past two years has ended in vomit, so I’ll definitely be packing them from now on. Felix was a little bored sitting around on the plane but he entertained himself admirably. I didn’t even have an ipad for him. He was absolutely gorgeous in the airports, insisting on walking himself and pulling his little suitcase, but quite happily going as fast as I asked him to in order to find our gate. In Doha airport by the time they announced boarding for families with small children and business class passengers, everyone else had already started queuing, so I decided to barge past them all. ‘Excuse me!’ I said. Felix piped up gleefully: ‘Coming through! We have a baby and a little guy, coming through!’
We were all so happy to see Michael again. We arrived at 7.30 in the morning and Felix did not stop talking all day, not even napping in the car on the way back to Halden, until he crashed into bed at 6pm. Antonia chuckled and wriggled whenever Michael looked at her, and when we went to our favourite cafe in the afternoon, was only interested in tasting Michael’s bun, not mine.
Driving into Halden felt so strange. Michael said it had felt strange to him to – in your mind are still all the roads and paths and light and routines of the place you have left, and you have to let them go and replace them with those of this place, but you are reluctant at first, you try to hold on. Norway has obliged by making it as easy as possible for me with a week of cold sunshine and frosted grass. Yesterday morning I looked out of the window and there were four young deer stepping carefully across our lawn.
Our friends are eager to see us. We feel welcomed. Felix has slotted back into barnehage life without a hiccup. I haven’t quite got enough winter things for Antonia to wear, but we are getting by. The days are light-filled. It was very clever of me to skip February.
When I walked in the door to our little house I thought – how is it possible to live in a house so small? It is perfectly possible, of course, and very lovely even, as long as you stay on top of all the cleaning and putting stuff away, so I have been attacking those things with gusto, making the small changes to our living space needed for a nearly seven month old baby instead of a three month one. An extra box of toys on the shelf instead of the box of changes of clothes we had down here before. The difference in Antonia and in the shape of our family after a space of three months is significant. She sits at the table with us now in her highchair. We need four glasses for water at dinner, so I pulled out a jug for water for us all, and it felt special. Antonia loves to drink water from a glass – she flaps her arms out wide with excitement, then grips the top of the glass and takes a couple of sips before blowing raspberries in it. Soon the novelty of all this will collapse into the every day, but I hope some of the specialness can stay.
Felix: trying to blow bubbles outside my Grandma’s house. The bubbles weren’t working too well by now but I love his patient concentration and the way the light reflects up at him from the sunny pavement.
Antonia: cheeky smiles in the park. Bonus photos below. Tomorrow we hop on a plane (well, three planes) back to the cold.
Linking with Jodi for a portrait of my children once a week in 2015.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Leading up to Antonia’s birth, Felix would ask me most mornings, ‘is the baby coming today?’ ‘I don’t think so’, I would reply, despondently. ‘We will see,’ he would reply, ‘we just have to wait and see.’
When she finally came he was sleeping. Mum told him when he woke up. Apparently he was a little upset at first that we had gone to the hospital but he soon collected himself and declared: ‘I have to make a present for Mummy. The baby has lots of presents but Mummy needs one too.’ And he made me a beautiful card.
He was very anxious to come and see us, and much too excited to eat, so he squeezed himself into a little stroller our friends lent us, and Mum walked him down to the train station. On the train journey to see ‘our baby’, he said to Mum ‘we will love the baby, won’t we.’ This is a quote from a book he has about a new baby coming, but just so sweet.
When he met Antonia, he was quite nervous to begin with and much too shy to touch her. But he soon gathered up the courage to show her his new train track and lend her her bear. (‘The baby’s bear’ was a gift from Mum to Antonia, but it has been entirely appropriated by Felix, who sleeps with it and his bear every night.)
We’ve had a few more mood swings and a bit more whining from him, but on the whole he has coped with the new addition amazingly well. He loves to kiss her, stroke her, and play with her feet. A couple of nights after we arrived home he declared: ‘I like it when Mummy and Daddy have a baby.’ And one morning he saidcheekily: ‘I like my Mum. I like my Dad. I like my Gram. I like my babe.’ Last night I read Felix his bedtime stories while Antonia sat on my lap and looked at the pictures – Antonia’s first book, and the very first time I had read a book to both my children at once. Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport (Felix’s choice). Then I fed Antonia as I watched Felix fall asleep and felt so very happy.
Warning: Long post. And, in Michael’s words, ‘men might not want to read it’ (a couple of gory details not left out). But when he got to the end he said he liked it very much. Here’s a link to Felix’s birth story.
In the months leading up to the birth of my daughter, I walked. For most of the summer, the days were oppressively hot, but the evenings were long and light. Every night, once Felix had gone to sleep, I walked roads and paths and winding loops. Neighbours I had never spoken to greeted me from their gardens and tracked my progress. ‘Not long now,’ they would say. I walked past lawns and trampolines and inflatable pools. Once I saw a tiny deer. Once I walked to the forest, but it was the sky I wanted the most – the sweeps of pink and orange cloud, the watery blue, sunsets that would last an hour. And the moon, which grew and thinned and grew again. I remember looking up at a perfect full moon and thinking – maybe by the next time it’s full, she will be here.
The best place to look at the sky was walking by the wheat field. There is a lovely undulating wheat field not far from our house that catches all the colours of the sun. I found a little path along its far edge so I could look at it for longer.
As with Felix, I had to wait and wait for Antonia to come. I got to 40 weeks. I got to 41 weeks. Nothing. My midwife booked me in for an overdue ‘control’ at the hospital.
At the overdue appointment they gave me a CTG and an ultrasound to check heart rate, the placenta and umbilical cord, the amniotic fluid and the size and position of the baby. Everything was perfect. The doctor estimated the baby would be between 3.8 and 3.9kg. She examined me internally and found I was already 3cm dilated, giving me a prolonged poke while she was at it. It might be uncomfortable, she said, but it would be nice if we can get this to start on its own. Afterwards I felt crampy and washed out. She booked me in for an induction on Tuesday, when I would be 42 weeks, but said she expected I wouldn’t need it.
Mum was with me. I felt quite weak after the appointment so I let her drive, and we went across to the old town for lunch and apple cake. I had a couple of stray contractions accompanied by back pain. I did not think it would be long. When we got back home I fell into bed and had a much needed two hour nap.
Early that evening, utterly appropriately, we went across to my friend Margrethe’s house for brownies. It was her son’s first birthday. We had visited them for brownies and waffles the night before Felix was born, and the day before she had gone into labour with her daughter, we had been out for chocolate cake together. (This time I had tried to pre-empt things by inviting them over for brownies the night before my due date, to no avail.) We sat on their deck in the sun and it was lovely. Linnea rode her scooter, Felix snuggled with us as he was tired, and the birthday boy crawled proudly around the deck, pulling himself to his feet on their umbrella. I walked back home.
As I read Felix his bedtime stories around eight o’clock that night, I felt the beginnings of more regular contractions. I was glad. I snuggled him on my lap as I read, and lay opposite him as he cuddled up in bed. ‘Mummy loves you so so very much’, I told him. I watched my beautiful boy fall asleep, thinking of the hundreds of times I had done this over the past three years. My baby, my firstborn, my little boy. I lay for half an hour after he fell asleep, feeling the quiet waves of contractions and watching him breathe.
Downstairs I drank a glass of milk and ate some cherries. ‘Is the babbie coming tonight?’ asked Michael. ‘No,’ I lied. I didn’t feel like saying anything yet.
I went for a walk with Mum, as we did every night. We walked towards the wheat field. ‘Shall we try this little path through the trees?’ asked Mum. ‘No,’ I said, ‘I want to go past the field.’ We walked past the field and I looked at the light in the wheat. I looked at the huge moon, just one day from being full. I looked at the tiny orange and white berries on the trees. I sometimes had to alter my pace a little when the contractions came, but Mum didn’t notice. In my head, I counted through them. They would get stronger and dip away again when I reached 26 or so. I guessed they were coming every three to four minutes.
When we got back Michael was watching the end of a Dr Who Christmas special on TV, so I sat on the fit ball and joined him. When it finished I told them. ‘I think the babby’s coming tonight.’ ‘What – when do we have to leave?’ ‘A couple of hours, I think.’ It was ten o’clock. Michael raced off upstairs to finish something he had to write for work. Later he said it normally would have taken a whole day but he did it in half an hour.
I rocked around on the fit ball and wrote some messages to friends on facebook. Mum timed the contractions for a little while and they were coming every 3-5 minutes. They were still quite manageable but I remember thinking at the start of some of them – ‘I really don’t want to do this.’ Don’t be silly, I told myself, you need to stay positive. I had a shower. It was nearly 11 at this point and I was feeling a bit tired so decided to try to lie down for a while. I also wanted to make sure Michael got some rest as he’d been at work all day and I was anticipating we’d be up all night. We lay in bed and stroked our black cat Mermos. The space between contractions lengthened slightly but their intensity didn’t. After a while they started feeling a little too sharp for my liking, so I got up. ‘I’m going downstairs to call the hospital’, I said.
I paced around while on the telephone and they told me it was up to me whether I wanted to come in yet or not. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’m coming.’
They were relatively strong and frequent now, I felt I had to brace myself against a doorway and flex my legs to manage them. I wrote a note for Felix and got out a chocolate egg for him. Mum packed us some cheese sandwiches and a hot water bottle. I felt so much more lucid, alert, and nervous than I had during Felix’s birth. I must have been doing a good job projecting calm because Michael didn’t realize for a while that we had to leave now, but soon enough, just after midnight, we were off.
At this point I was panicking slightly about how I would manage the 45 minute drive. But I turned the classical radio station on and that calmed me a lot. I found if I slapped my thighs hard in time to the music through the contractions, I could manage quite well. I listened to the sound it made. If the pain got worse, I slapped louder. I was grateful that I had read Juju Sundin’s Birth Skills in the lead-up to labour, as she talks about the efficacy of techniques like this – anything to distract your brain from the heart of the pain. I think sitting in the car also slowed the rate of the contractions, which helped a bit. ‘Tell me if I should be driving faster,’ said Michael. ‘No,’ I said, ‘there’s no hurry. I’ll probably be in a bit of pain, but there’s no danger.’ I explained about my weird tapping/slapping pain-management technique.
All the same, I was glad when we arrived. I staggered out of the car. Being upright again increased the pace and intensity of the contractions. It was hard to relax between them because I had the most terrible heartburn. I braced myself against the hospital walls and sign-posts during the contractions, and paced about quickly between them, as Michael got the parking ticket. 12.52am. I vomited into the hospital garden. Once I had collected myself a little, we went inside.
Huffing and panting through the corridors, we eventually found the right spot (the normal birthing wards were closed for the summer). I could barely speak to the midwives. They ushered us into a tiny room and our midwife fussed around for a while trying to attach the heart-beat monitor. I insisted on standing while she did it. The baby’s heartbeat was all good, so she made me climb up on the bed for a moment to check my dilation. 6cm already! I hopped down again immediately. I thought – I don’t want to do this. I can’t take hours of this. This time I just want an epidural and to lie quietly on the bed and relax. Of course I didn’t have time to say any of this, because the contractions kept coming and coming. Just do it, Mel, I told myself, don’t be scared, meet the contractions head on. There wasn’t time to think. During contractions I bent over, clutched the little side table, swayed my hips and groaned loudly. The noise helped a lot. The sounds I made were very, very low, I could feel the vibrations. In the short breaks between contractions I perched on the edge of the little bed, panting, clutching my legs just above my knees.
Last time the contractions had felt like a twisting, snarling dragon; this time they felt like a quick-rising sea of pain. I groaned and sang at them. I made different shapes with my mouth and listened to the different tones it made. I spared half a thought for poor Michael having to listen to it all but put it out of my head. I needed to focus. When the pain worsened I bellowed louder and louder. Not screaming, roaring. Michael said they would have been able to hear me on the other side of the river. And all of a sudden the sounds I was making changed slightly and I found my legs wide apart and something pressing down between them.
The midwife looked up from the computer screen on the other side of the bed. You need to climb up on the bed now, she said. Michael helped me up. I did not like being on the bed at all. I felt panicky. I need to check you, she said. I need to do a poo! I yelled. She needs to do a poo! said Michael. It’s the baby, she said.
Suddenly there were about four midwives crowding around the end of the bed. They fussed around trying to get my legs in the right position. Eventually we ascertained they wanted me to hook my hands under my knees and hold them up that way. This wasn’t particularly comfortable. I tried to rest one of my legs on Michael.
Don’t push! They said. Are you joking? I thought. Don’t push, said Michael. Ok, I thought. I remembered the book I had read. If they tell you not to push, you need to pant, lots of short little breaths. I panted loudly. I didn’t push but my body pushed a little on its own, I couldn’t stop it. This was new to me, it hadn’t happened at all with Felix. That’s great, they said, fantastic. Breathe normally!!! They told me once the contraction had finished. As in Felix’s birth, it was getting a little difficult to tell when I was having a contraction.
Eventually they said, ok, when the next contraction comes, then you can push. A big baby wedged inside your birth canal is uncomfortable. I don’t like this! I thought. But I thought – I need to work as hard and as cleverly as I can so that this is over as quickly as possible. I clenched a wet face-cloth with my teeth. I held my breath and pushed, three times per contraction. Is everything ok? Michael asked the midwives. Yes, they said, everything is perfect. This was reassuring, as it all felt very strange and very quiet. Only a few contractions later, she was coming out. Wait, they said, wait… ok, push. I felt a large, lumpy thing sliding through. She was out. She was quiet for a few long seconds, and then I heard her grizzling, and then she was flopping on my belly and I held my child.
I was stunned. 1.47am. It had been less than half an hour since I was 6cm dilated. Less than an hour since we drove into the hospital car park. And I felt – fine. At Felix’s birth I had been so dazed and exhausted, but now I just felt normal. But here was our baby! Better than an epidural – it was already over. Michael kissed me.