Antonia says

In the car, driving away from barnehage, Antonia says sadly, ‘I want to say goodbye to my friend Isak.’ Anticipating disconsolate screaming, I suggest, ‘If you say it really loudly, he might still hear you. ‘Goodbye Isak!!! … What Isak say?’ “Goodbye Antonia!’ ‘No. Isak say Har det bra.’ I laugh, impressed. ‘Yes, Isak says Har det bra, Antonia!’ ‘No! He says Har det bra Ahntoonia!’ (Pronouncing Antonia the Norwegian way.) ‘Yes,’ I smile, ‘yes he does.’

When Antonia says concentrate, it sounds like cons mine tate. For example: ‘I’m cleaning my cup. I want to cons mine tate.’ Or: ‘I’m reading! I’m consing mine tate!’

She is currently obsessed with the movie Inside Out, which the kids call In and Out. She’s started telling me fiercely: ‘Stop saying everything will be alright!’ (I’m assuming that’s a quote from the movie but I’m not quite sure.) Yesterday she found a little bag in her play house outside and pretended it was a school bag. She then spent ages and ages ‘going to school’ – wandering back and forth from the playhouse to the trees on the other side of the driveway, the bag hitched on her back. Later in the evening she declared loudly: ‘Stop the bus! I want to get off!’ She then came close to where I was sitting on the green armchair. ‘I came back,’ she said. ‘Hnnn hnnn hnnn I’m sad. I want my hockey team.’

Nearly Two

For more than a year, after Antonia’s bath, I would wrap her up in a towel and jiggle her up and down in front of the mirror. ‘Who’s my baby bundle, who’s my baby bundle?’ I would sing. ‘Antonia! Antonia! Anto-ni-a!’ And she would giggle and ask for more. Eventually she would ask for ‘baby bundle’ herself as I was drying her. And then, about a month ago, she started asking for ‘baby bundle’, and then interrupting with a cheeky ‘Nei!’ as soon as I started. ‘What?’ I asked her. ‘Where’s my baby bundle?’ ‘Gone’, she’d shrug. ‘All gone.’

My Mum was recently here for a month, and just before she left, so say, the 8th or 9th of July, as Antonia turned 23 months old, something shifted. It was palpable. Until that day she’d said yes to nearly everything, or, to be precise, ‘Yah’. She said ‘yah’ because she was a generally agreeable soul, and she’d also say it when she wasn’t sure what else to say. Sometimes it was bright and emphatic, sometimes a low drawl that always made us smile. But all of a sudden, she’s nearly two, and has discovered the delights of ‘no’.’Did you have fun in the barnehage’, we ask. ‘Nei!’ she chirrups. ‘Not!’

She’s discovered that she can scream really loudly for a long time, even in the middle of the night, if she’s not pleased about something. Long repressed memories of Felix at the same age have begun resurfacing.

She still mixes up her pronouns a bit but has started using the first person and speaking in sentences. She can say pretty much anything she likes and her pronunciation is getting clearer and clearer. Until recently, everything was ‘help-oo’, or ‘Mummy help-oo (you)’, but she’s started throwing in the odd ‘me’ or just leaving out the ‘you’ altogether. ‘Mummy help!’ When we read the page in The Tiger Who Came to Tea when they all put on their coats and go to a cafe, she says ‘I do that?’

She can count to ten and name quite a few colours. She can, and often does, sing Happy Birthday and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with gusto all the way through.

I have been *cough* attempting to wean her, or at least to reduce her feeds a little. It was going quite well, and for a while I wasn’t feeding her at night until – well, the aim was 5 but it quickly slid to 4.30, and then, well… But I had also completely cut down on feeds during the day, apart from just before her nap if we were home. And I stopped feeding her to sleep for her nap and just before bed, I’d give her a feed, read her a book, and sing her a song. Twinkle Twinkle was the song of choice. And it was working well…

But she still wakes frequently and screams so very loudly that after two or so I just don’t have it in me to resist. She’s totally taken advantage of my wavering and is now once again asking for it all day every day, sigh. I try to distract but I’m a bit of a pushover. On Friday I picked them up early from barnehage (bagabaga as she calls it), and as soon as we got home she demanded ‘meh’. I managed to distract her with a huge bowl of popcorn (one of her favourite foods) and some water. We all sat outside together eating our snack. She happily sat on her little red chair, munching away for quite some time. Then she stood up. ‘Done!’ She declared cheerfully, ‘meh-time!’, and strutted towards me, beaming.

17 months

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Antonia has spent the entirety of her seventeenth month in Australia. She’s walking faster since we arrived and now has so many words:

Mama, Da-ee (used to be Dad-dee, but she’s condensed it), Mam-ma (grandma), Poppa, Nanna, ba (ball), ba (bath) train, block, car, bubble, book, ear, eye, no (nose), toes, cup, no and nei, bleier (nappy in Norwgian), nana (banana), tato (potato), ba bye (bye bye), bear, oosh (shoe), door, up, hot, hat, more, cracker, baby, juice, shut, tea, bus, beads, sausage

Little two word phrases: hot day (she drawls, and grins), hot chip, hot tea, bye bye Nanna, more book, my Da-ee

And her favourite invented word: alloo (water)

(and meh, of course, for breastmilk)

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She has absolutely adored being here and seeing her grandparents every day. Swings are one of her favourite things – persuading her to get down from one is usually quite a noisy affair. She’s very adept at the little plastic bike Felix used to ride around on. She is cuddly and determined and hilarious. She decides who gets a kiss and who is allowed to kiss her. She loves hats. ‘at! at!’ she says. She is quite entranced with little lego men and loves to put helmets (hats) on them. She can build really high wooden block towers (eight blocks high) and stick duplo together. She loves the sea. On New Years Eve she couldn’t get enough of whirling around in the waves – it was quite hard to keep hold of her. She especially loves my Mum and gives her the best snuggles. She is still quite partial to a mouthful of sand.

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She loves animals, especially dogs.  ‘Wuff wuff!’, she declares excitedly, whenever she sees one, and prepares to go and pat it. At Christmas time we stayed with my cousin and his family, and they had their dog Churros with them, so ‘Churros’ became the fifth name Antonia learnt to say. She adored meeting some kangaroos, which she thought were ‘wuff wuff’s too. She frequently demands that I draw dogs, which is new for me as I tend to draw cats for children, but it’s kind of fun.

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She likes to be upside down.

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She likes to be close to me.

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She thinks Felix is the funniest person in the world and she tries to cheer him up with kisses or gifts of water bottles when he is upset. (He takes good care of her too.) They egg each other on mercilessly, resulting in some very noisy car rides. She is brave and bold and affectionate and insistent and we think she is phenomenal. We love her so.

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Thirteen months

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Darling Antonia, you will be fourteen months before I know it, but I just want to say, I am enjoying my little one and a bit year old so very much.

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You are affectionate, energetic, funny, and always ready to explore. You love to go outside, and will point at the window and say ‘ooooh!’, walk up to the door and slap your hand on it, or find your shoes and sit down and try to put them on, begging me to help. You’re quite good at walking on your own now, but still prefer a helping hand, and go much faster if we’re trailing along beside you.

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You still love books. We read you many books, every day. Your favourite thing is to read a few pages with me and then a few pages with Michael. A familiar sight is you sidling round the kitchen door, ‘Brown Bear’ in your hands. ‘Eh, eh?’ you say. You adore songs, too. They other night I sang you ‘star light, star bright’, just before I put you to bed, and your eyes went all sparkly, you smiled a secret smile, and you started opening and shutting your hands to be a twinkling star. They must have been singing ‘twinkle twinkle’ in barnehage with you, so we have been doing it together now, and you just adore it, and can do most of the actions already. You make your twinkling hands when you see a picture of a star, too.

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You adore necklaces. I often see you with my little camera hanging from your neck, or our baby monitor, or, pretty much anything you can find.

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You are a lot happier in barnehage now but it was good to give you a few days off this week to recover from various ailments and just hang out a bit. You have twelve teeth now, as all four molars have cut through. The photos in this post contain almost all my favourite clothes for you right now – the green and purple tunics that my Mum knitted for you, your leggings with woodland creatures on, and your colourful Norwegian cardigan. You wear these in rotation with your grey overalls – will have to make sure I get a picture of them soon, too.

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You’re not keen on fruit, porridge, or bread but you love vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, peas, zucchini, mushrooms (you adore mushrooms!), potatoes, and, more recently, carrots and sweetcorn. So far you haven’t warmed to sweet potato at all. You like fish, and your favourite food is dairy – plain yoghurt, cow’s milk, cream, cheese. At home I only give you cow’s milk if you see Felix having some and demand it. You still drink plenty of breastmilk, which you call ‘merh’, especially at night. Your least favourite thing (to put it mildly) is having your teeth brushed, but you forgive me afterwards every time.

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You’ve just started trying out a few more words – your latest is ‘toe!’, whilst holding your toes in glee. You say ‘look’, and a version of ‘hello’, and almost mama and dada – you definitely connect us with those sounds, but don’t quite use them in conversation yet. You understand an awful lot – if I mention trampolines, for example, you say ‘wow-wow-wow’, and expect to be taken outside to bounce immediately. This morning you were quite clingy and demanding an endless feed, and eventually I explained – ‘you’re not going to barnehage today, you’re staying with me all day, you can go and play now’, and you did.

You must be puzzling out so much language right now, as you hear 95% Norwegian in barnehage, English from Felix and me, and German from Michael. This evening we were looking at stars in your bedtime book, and you were so excited when I said the Norwegian word for star, stjerne. Ah, it is sweet that you like stars already, my Antonia Elinor Celeste.

You love to wave and beam at people, and you’re so pleased to see us every morning. Dear, soft, strong, cuddly-koala Antonia, we love you so.

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Antonia turns 1 (32/52)

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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:

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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.

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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.

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And more pictures from her party. xxx

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Ten months, Eleven

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Dear child, you are so soft. You are all softness. Your hair, your cheeks, your skin. Especially after your bath. Last night when you wouldn’t sleep I stroked and stroked you and you didn’t mind. And neither did I. You give the best, best hugs. When we said goodbye to my cousins in Edinburgh, you leant over from my arms and snuggled your face into each of their chests.

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Today you are eleven months old. As soon as you were ten months, you seemed so much older. You mastered waving. You learnt to clap, and clap you did – for me, for your brother, for anyone who smiled at you, and above all for yourself, every time you did something clever and new, such as climbing up Felix’s wicker chair and pulling out all the books from the shelf. Just this past week you have started passing us things and waiting for us to give them back.

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You love to read and sing about ducks. We have a book that goes along with the song ‘Five little ducks’ and you are so good at it now, I sing: ‘and mother duck said’, and you pipe up: ‘goh! goh! goh!’, which is a pretty good attempt at a quack. You have since decided that all animals say ‘goh goh goh’, and you are very pleased to pick up a duplo animal, wave it in the air and make your animal sound.

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You adore our cat Whitby. You try to kiss him every time he comes close to you. We have a book with a picture of a cat with a furry tummy, and you kiss that, too. You have just started ‘reading’ books instead of merely eating them, and you have an impressive amount of concentration. The other day I found you on Felix’s chair turning the pages of a book, babbling, and pointing at the pictures.

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Even more than your cat, you love your people. You greet Felix and Michael every morning with a very pleased smile. When grandma calls us on skype, you wriggle your arms and legs and beam with joy. In the coffee shop the other day Michael called us on skype (I had the computer out cos our internet at home was broken) and you were amazed, you couldn’t stop laughing.

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You are brave, and fast, and intrepid. If there are stairs, you must climb them. If there are chairs, you must climb them. If there are stones, you must eat them. If there is a table, you reach up on tippy toes, holding on, to look over it. You can stand on your own for brief seconds. You cruise around clutching the furniture. On the trampoline, you bounce yourself on your knees, saying awah awah awah. If Felix jumps next to you and topples you over you laugh and laugh and get up again.

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If you are hungry or tired, you climb on top of me and rest your head on my chest. Breastmilk is still your primary form of sustenance. You often eat a good dinner, but apart from that, snack on cucumbers and me.

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On Sunday afternoon we all sat out in the garden, happy to be home and together. It was hot. We remembered Felix lying under the very same trees, only a few months old. I wonder if we would remember that, said Michael, if we hadn’t taken the photos. All the same, I didn’t get out the camera. It was good to just be. You were wearing a navy blue cotton dress covered in white flowers and you sat on the picnic rug for ages, totally engrossed in placing wooden rings and duplo people in and out of a box. Felix wanted us to bounce on trampoline but we persuaded him to blow bubbles instead, and so, for a few moments, we were totally content, watching the colours of the bubbles, trying to catch them. Then you were hungry, so you rested your head on me and I obliged. ‘Nom nom!’ you said affirmingly, before getting down to business.

You are so lovely. We adore you.

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Nine Months

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You have learnt to wave and say bye bye. This sounds like a simple thing. It is not, it is not. On Sunday night, I ducked inside from Richard and Polina’s dinner table to fetch a glass of water. When I came back, Polina and her mother told me – ‘she said goodbye when you left’. ‘What?’ I said, astounded. Shortly after that, I picked you up to take you upstairs to bed. I held you on my hip and you looked at everyone, grinning broadly. ‘Bye bye’, they all said. And you waved. You lifted one of your arms, and you waved at them. ‘Ba – bye’, you said hesitantly. And grinned some more.

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You waved at your Oma and Opa today, too, when we left. I gave you plenty of time. You smiled and smiled. And then lifted one arm and waved, and my heart flipped over.

You are so very pleased and proud to be learning this social convention. It feels like entering a whole new world. You have to think about it, hard, and you seem a little amazed yourself.

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You love to giggle and bounce – I wake every morning to the round and cheerful face of a gambolling baby who dive-bombs my face to plant huge kisses, and then tries to climb on top of me. If you wake in the night and there is not a nipple in your mouth within seconds you give a cry of such desolation – you would think we had abandoned you in a mouldering cave. But you are easily soothed. You are squidgy and soft and never stop exploring. As your Oma says, you have new curls every day. I sing to you: ‘I love you ba-aby, and if it’s quite alright I need you ba-aby’. Felix consoles you in the car if you every get upset: ‘Anti-Banti it’s not so bad.’ Your father calls you Anti-Banti and Bubble Delicious. Dear, dear baby. We love you so.

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Eight months

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I’ve written this post in my head so many times, but I’d better get something down before my dear munchkin is nine months! This month, dear girl, you have been on the move. You mastered crawling (and cut your two top teeth) the week we got back from Germany, so just before you turned eight months. And you have picked up speed ever since. You love doors, swinging them back and forth and then crawling through the doorway, especially the door between the hallway and the lounge. Right next to it is our wood oven, which is also very popular (we’re not lighting it at the moment) and you’ve even managed to open it a couple of times.

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When you’ve had enough exploring you always crawl back to me, cling on to my legs, saying mmmmm mmmmmm mmmmm. When I pick you up you hug me tight, pulling my face towards you and sucking my cheek, or burying your head in my chest. It’s pretty fantastic.

It just about makes up for our (very) fragmented nights, when you need me so.

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At exactly eight months, you weighed 11.65kg, and were 75.5cm.

You have just now, and eight and a half months, started actually swallowing a bit more food. Broccoli and strawberries are still popular, you’re getting good at eating fish, and you’re quite partial to a hot chip. (Not the best idea I know, better start avoiding that…) Plain yoghurt is one of your favourite things ever, and you also love cheese. When we all sit down to eat, you say quietly ‘nom nom nom!’ and it is truly adorable.

You and your brother are quite a team.

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The last couple of days it’s been warm enough to play outside in the afternoon and evening and you have loved it – you giggle your head off if we bounce you on the trampoline, and you love to cruise the grass, sampling grass and twigs, looking for baby pinecones (which I promptly confiscate).

I feel so ridiculously lucky. I love you so.

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Seven months

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Being seven months old with a big, adoring, bouncy brother is quite an experience. This evening Antonia laughed and laughed at Felix’s game of throwing a balloon to Michael and me, and then trying to catch it himself. This morning when she started complaining in her highchair while I was getting Felix’s lunchbox ready, Felix found a board book about a snowman and ‘read’ it to her to keep her happy.

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I’ve been enjoying kicking around the house with her once again. At seven months Antonia loves to chat, loves to smile at strangers, loves to wriggle around, give slobby kisses, snatch glasses, do downward dogs and get up on her hands and knees, but she still hasn’t figured out crawling forwards. In the car, she still sings herself to sleep. She’s been enjoying talking to my Mum on skype – now she starts smiling already the moment I log in.

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She is our cheeky gorgeous babe and we love her so.

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Six months

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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.

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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.

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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.

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You’ve done lots of playing with your brother,

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smiling at your Daddy,

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and snuggling with me. We love you so. x

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Five months

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Four months

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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.

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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).

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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.

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You’re pretty quiet but sometimes you sing to us and you laugh when you try to eat my nose.

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12 Weeks

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Antonia will be 12 weeks tomorrow. She is cuddly and snuggly and loves her milk, her brother, her daddy and me. Haven’t had her weighed recently but she’s definitely heavier than Felix was at this point – like a little pudding. A very sweet one.

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We all adore her.

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Beautiful Antonia

antonia 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.  antonia2 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. antonia3

Smiles

photos 006Here 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.

photos 005Life 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.

photos 013Watching Felix fall asleep as Antonia edges towards sleep herself, draped on my chest, sucking contentedly.

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Names

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.

pregnancy-birth-34We 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.’

‘Elinor.’

‘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.

Baby, again

Antonia-day5-1The 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.

10671407_709543925800904_2566291290407506977_nTo 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…

Saturday-30It’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…

antonia-1-26I 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.

10646706_706468239441806_7298739228512698418_nShe 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.

photo 1(1)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.

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The birth of Antonia Elinor Celeste

pregnancy-birth-9Warning: 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.

pregnancy-birth-4At 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.

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pregnancy-birth-29I 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.

antonia-1-1After what felt like far too long they finally let us transfer to the recovery room. Antonia curled up on my chest and I held my daughter for hours as the sun came up on her very first day.

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