Moments

There is something about having a small baby that intensifies moments, and puts me in a contemplative mood. When the chaos pauses, and everyone is asleep…

It’s been hot here today. Quite hot. I still feel sticky now, and it’s 10pm, though the air over the fjord is cooling slightly. We didn’t make it to the beach, though we thought about it. I wasn’t sure about the ten minute (or 40 minute, if you factor in Antonia) walk with the baby hot and sticky against my skin in the wrap… We went to the shopping centre instead, all five of us, and got an ice cream from McDonalds. When we got home JJ and I had a nap together, and then we bumbled around outside with the others for the rest of the afternoon. For the past couple of days JJ has been quite unsettled late afternoon and early evening, and it is an interesting juggle keeping up with the other two and trying to keep him happy.

Things I want to remember:

Felix coasting around on Antonia’s blue tricycle (it used to be his), strumming his brand new white ukelele.

Antonia sitting down on the floor in the middle of the mall, telling me breezily – ‘I’ll just take my time.’

Felix’s beautiful wide green eyes when he tells me something very serious about Ninjago or Harry Potter.

Antonia’s squishy, sturdy little body as she hugs me tight as I carry her in from the car, or as she potters around the deck half naked, streaked in melted ice-block.

Julius’s serious, trusting little face as he looks up from my arms as I pace him around and he stops crying for a few minutes. The way the pace of his breath changes as he approaches sleep.

Babies make you think about mortality. I remember when Felix was born the thought of him or ANYONE dying was suddenly absolutely abhorrent. It felt like it should be impossible. I haven’t had that feeling in quite the same way ever again. And yet…

Everything is in bloom here right now. Recklessly, fully, absolutely. You can almost see the grass grow. It is all so lush. When I was doing my evening walks with Mum, before Julius was born, new flowers had opened every evening. The lupins appeared from nowhere, huge flocks of them. ‘It’s amazing’, I commented. ‘Yes,’ said Mum, ‘I suppose they don’t have much time so they need to get on with it.’ And she’s right. Summer and winter feel like different countries here.

I had a baby, another one. And right now my body feels – full, I guess, round and soft. (A lot less round than it was a month ago, but you know what I mean. I’m definitely a few kilos heavier than when I got pregnant.) But I had a baby. In a few years, I won’t be able to. For some reason this makes me feel a bit like the flowers, and the trees. There is summer, there is winter. There are beginnings, there are endings, there are beginnings…

I watch my family getting older. My parents, my grandparents, my children, myself. It is really very strange – ordinary, and beautiful, and sad, and right. Michael has been reading a book about the ways in which people a very long time ago thought about bodies of men and women. It is strange to think about how ideas and images and words survive from long ago, how they are preserved, or lost, or feed each other in long chains. And our bodies survive too – through birth and death, through renewal and decay. How we are linked with people a thousand, two thousand, three thousand years ago, not just through reading what they wrote or gazing upon or touching what they made, but in our cells, our very blood, our breath. It is really very strange.

Sunsets

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.

On our own

Solo parenting again this week while Michael is in the US and I have to say I think it’s getting easier. There are, admittedly, several moments every day that are ridiculously chaotic and I lose my calm, but still. They happen, they pass. Felix is constantly surprising me right now. He wants to do so many things, he wants to help. In my head I have a list in order of the things I need to do to get the two of them washed and in pyjamas and off to bed, and he comes to interrupt and ask to help. And because his ideas were not in my original plan, it’s so easy to say no when I need to say yes.

This evening I had Antonia in the bath when he came to ask me if he could put help me put the grocery shopping away. (The grocery shopping had been a story in itself – imagine two small children with a small trolley each, running wild.) After your bath I said, thinking to myself – argh but I wanted to put everything away fast, it’s going to be a pain. Cue tears. I just want to do it! I don’t want a bath! He wandered off back to the lounge room, very sorry for himself. (I can’t bathe them together as our ‘bath’ is a plastic tub which I place in the shower cubicle, and they don’t fit.)

And then I thought about it. And called him back, and asked him to watch Antonia while I untied the knots on the shopping bags. And I told him he could put everything that needs to go in the fridge away. And bless him, he did. And he took the shower gel into the bathroom and put that away too. He just asked for help with my conditioner because he couldn’t get it to stand up straight. He put nearly everything away all by himself and it makes such an incredible difference not to be sole agent of creating order.

On the weekend he even spontaneously tidied up a box of toys that his friend tipped out!

I asked him this evening if he was excited about going to our new house soon, and he said yes, I’m getting braver.

Dear Antonia is cuddly and snuggly and lovely and cheeky and utterly enthusiastic (especially about washing her hands, hugging Felix (‘Ge-gik’), wearing beads, putting on gumboots, going outside and anticipating ice cream ‘i-peem!’), but has a tendency to trip over her feet and burst into tears. This can be a little trying when I’m trying to get them out the door in the morning and I can’t find my hairbrush…

But really they are such good company. I think we need a quiet evening at home tomorrow as so far the week has been full of activity – swimming on Monday, dinner at a friend’s house yesterday, and grocery shopping this evening. As Felix keeps telling me, just four more sleeps.

Bedtime

Putting Antonia to bed tonight, she sang for an hour. Normally I feed her for ten to fifteen minutes, and she drops off. Tonight I fed her for half an hour, and she wasn’t showing any signs of stopping, so I stopped. And she sang. She sang a bye bye song, a Mamma song, a Da(dd)y song, a Yaya song, a lalalala song, and then she went back to the beginning, intermittently pausing to kiss my cheek, or pat some rhythms on her knees, or nibble my fingers, or press her cheek into mine. I wonder how long she could have continued. After an hour I said, Antonia, that’s enough, it’s sleepy time. And she tried to be quiet but the song kept coming so eventually I said, I’m going to put you in your bed and go downstairs. She seemed ok about it until I put her in there (I think she really doesn’t like the corner we’ve wedged the cot into – I’m hoping I might be able to get her to sleep there one day if we move it). Then she screamed, so I picked her up immediately. ‘Meh!’ she demanded. But I didn’t feel like it just then, so I said the meh is gone now, you drank it all up, it will come back later. And I lay next to her and sang her a song, and after ten minutes she finally fell asleep. I remembered just how exhausting it had been to get her to sleep when she was a baby. But it was a very nice song.

Weeknights II

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?
Me: No.
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.
Me: ???
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.

Weeknights

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.

 

Mothering. Friends.

I’ve been on my own with the kids for a little over a week – Michael gets back tomorrow. It’s gone fine, really, though I’m relieved it’s the weekend now and the whole pack lunch-boxes and get the kids to barnehage through the rain in time to get to work and teach thing is over for a while. It’s a bit of a drive out to barnehage and so much nicer when we can take it in turns. I was so tired by Thursday. Restoring the house to order every evening is somewhat gruelling, but I have done it religiously, as not doing it is so much worse. It’s so lovely coming down to a calm clean house every morning, even if it doesn’t stay that way long. It took a bit longer than usual this evening as I had invited a friend over for dinner. Adult conversation is snatched at the expense of toys spreading everywhere…

I’m so very grateful for my girlfriends. These are the friends of my small-children years, and these friendships are so different from that other period of intense friendships, university. Then, time was so stretchy – you could stay up all night, or decide to go camping at the drop of a hat, or talk for three hours in a coffee shop. Now we smile at each other in the playground, or hug briefly at the funfair, or juggle four small people between us as we drink a cup of coffee, or have early dinners at each other’s houses before bath time. It’s easiest to spend time together if our kids get on. And it’s something else we need from each other. When I was twenty, we were seeking the meaning of ourselves and everything, the future was empty blue and promising, we craved intimacy and enlightenment. Now it is good to have friends to share the very particular griefs of motherhood along with the obsessive joys and relentless work, none of which would have made much sense to me when I was twenty. Now I want… someone else with their feet on the ground, as mine are firmly these days. Someone who can meet my eyes through the swirl of activity and say ‘I see you, hang in there, I’m here too’.

Wednesdsay night

Ten past eight on Wednesday night, mist outside, the candle on the table from dinner still burning. Sleeping children upstairs. In a moment I will finish tidying the kitchen (Michael’s done most of it), have a shower, and read the end of the novel I am teaching tomorrow, making notes as I go. Any and all of that may be interrupted by dear Antonia, but I have already settled her once this evening, so she might sleep for a while. Antonia has been doing better at barnehage this week but she was so tired this evening I wish I had picked her up just a little earlier. Next time.

Our day started at 4 this morning when she wouldn’t go back to sleep. Thankfully we both squeezed in an hour’s nap between 6 and 7 before we had to leave.

My parents left on Monday and it was sad. A full day teaching sonnets on Tuesday cheered me up, and we are doing ok. I had a swim at lunchtime with a friend (I have a pool at work! And one of my best friends works in the exams office and can come swimming with me!), and now my shoulders are pleasantly sore. Oh, the laundry. I forgot about the laundry. Maybe I’ll fold a load of washing before I get to the novel… Maybe not.

Things Fall Apart. It is a quick read and powerful and I’ll never forget how much it moved me when I encountered it as one of the first texts I studied at Adelaide University. This time as I re-read it it touched me differently. As a mother of two children, the description of the loving sibling relationship between Nwoye and the doomed Ikemefuna just about undid me. I actually had to rush out of my office for a breath of different air.

This is my fourth week back at work and I am just about used to it. I’m teaching two literature classes and it’s busy but manageable. It could unravel fast if (when) the kids get sick. I’m sure I will stumble on through.

As I walked back to my car this afternoon it struck me – this is my job now, mine. And it was a nice nice thought.

Antonia took a couple of unassisted steps yesterday – she hardly noticed – she just wanted to get to the door to go outside. It was raining, so I didn’t open it. This evening I acquiesced and we had a little walk together up our driveway and onto the quiet road. She held my hands and stepped and stepped, occasionally getting down on hands and knees, drenching her jeans in the process, to investigate stones or weeds. She was just so excited when we encountered people walking by. ‘Ah! Ah!’ she called to make them look at her, and then she beamed. ‘So flink du er å gå!’ They all said.

I put her to bed a little early then made some promised custard for Felix which we ate together before we cleaned his teeth, and as he chatted away I thought – how lovely he is. How lucky am I.

Transitions

The sweetest, softest, cuddliest, funniest little girl is beginning barnehage next week. I’m excited about going back to work. But I don’t want to leave her. I don’t want her to cry. She’s going to cry.

I arrived to pick up Felix a bit early today and we played together in the playground with Antonia. Antonia climbed up onto the tray on the back of one of the tricycles, and stood there, holding on, so Felix jumped on and cycled her around, saying ‘look at my baby! It’s her first bike ride!’ It was the cutest thing ever. He cycled her around to the back of the barnehage and gave her a swing. Much higher than I would. She laughed and laughed. Yesterday I picked him up even earlier and they were still inside, so Felix showed Antonia one of the baby toys with little slides to roll balls down. She loves the barnehage. She’s going to be ok.

And today I met one of her new carers, and I already know the leader of her class because she had Felix for much of last year. So. I am cultivating calm. I want Antonia to know that I know she’s going to be alright there. I really wish the two of them were going to be together outside because it would be so nice for Antonia to see a familiar face, but from next week Felix will be in the big kids section and she’ll be in the baby section, which have separate buildings and playgrounds, so their paths will rarely cross.

Today was my last official day of maternity leave. Michael took Felix to barnehage in the morning. Antonia and I pottered around after breakfast. I folded half a load of washing before she demanded that I read books with her. So I read books with her. I trailed behind her as she climbed the stairs. We played in Felix’s room for a bit. I had a cup of tea and she squashed some strawberries. I fed her to sleep upstairs. My good friend dropped in on her last day of her holidays and we had a brief and lovely kid-free chat. Antonia woke up and cuddled with me for a good ten minutes, peeping cheekily over at my friend. I walked into town for an eye exam and Michael took Antonia to a cafe and a playground. I met them and gave her a feed in the park, looked for a new lunchbox for her but couldn’t decide, bought some broccoli for dinner and cucumber for her snacks, let her play in the playroom at the shopping centre for a bit, then went to pick up Felix. A simple day, a good day. There will be others.

Summer holidays (29/52)

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I’m not sure why traveling around the UK with the two of them is relatively easy, even fun, but staying at home for a week with them feels, at times, like sticking pins into my eyes. Well, I sort of know. The travel thing is exciting and novel and there’s always lots to do. Here we do stuff in the mornings and I spend the early afternoon trying to get Antonia to have her nap, and the late afternoon letting her have it, and Felix gets a bit overwrought despite trampolines and craft supplies. But today we had a very nice morning in the newly upgraded playground in town, and on Monday (when I took these photos) we enjoyed going out for a piece of cake at the bakery in the shopping centre.

Michael couldn’t understand why I found the above photo so amusing, but for me it sums up a lot of my days. Antonia: what have you go there, Mummy? Can I have it? Felix: Twirling about in his own little world, covered in cake crumbs, planning his next antic/question/project/point of discussion. The other day we ended up talking about what people looked like in the nineteenth century, because he wanted to know. (He doesn’t know about the nineteenth century, really, but he knows about ‘when there were steam trains’).

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Today Antonia got a huge bruise on her head from falling off Felix’s wicker chair, and Felix had a massive melt-down at dinner time, exactly as Michael walked in the door, because he couldn’t stick together the little sticks he was pretending were logs in exactly the way he intended. Good thing they are cute.

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Munchkins by the sea

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. rosso3

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.

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More love in the park

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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!

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We are in Germany at the moment and Oma and Opa have been soaking in their grandchildren.

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Back

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.

Over the bridge

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Felix woke up this morning with his loud voice. I could hear it from my bedroom as he bossed my Mum around: ‘Gwanma!’ When Mum left for work he brought his loud voice into my bedroom, cheerfully waking Antonia and flopping on our bed.

‘I want to go to Marion Bridge!’ he announced. ‘Murray Bridge’, I said, ‘Why?’ (Knowing full well it was just because Mum was working there today.) ‘To go over the bridge,’ he said.

And the darlings are finally asleep and I should be too but it is too tempting to stay up and breathe. The success of my days is measured in smiles and cuddles and windswept playgrounds but sometimes I lift my head.

The tiny achievements of the small beings closest to me are endlessly fascinating to me. My heart skips a little to see Antonia edge closer and closer to crawling. The moments I want to remember are those when they are ‘in the groove’, doing their thing, curious, content. Antonia singing to us – ‘bababababa!’ Felix deciding to pick mint, basil and tomatoes for dinner, and finding appropriate bowls for them from the cupboard. He can do it unsupervised, knowing to leave the green ones to ripen.

Like I said, endlessly fascinating – to me and Mum and Dad and Michael, and hardly anyone else.

And of course there are the other moments which I don’t particularly want to remember at all.

And apart from that, here, there’s my family, and my old old friends, and parks and gorgeous sunshine, and I’ll be leaving it all soon and that’s ok. Somewhere in the air and the light here is the self I was twelve and fifteen and thirty years ago, and if I look sideways briefly I can almost see her. And somewhere, I guess, is the self I would have been if I never had left. I see her in playgrounds and in libraries and I wonder.

But an aeroplane and a white house and cold air and a tightly coiled spring await me, and I’m coming.

Writing now

Writing an academic paper whilst on maternity leave with two children in tow is one of my more frustrating ventures. Antonia doesn’t take a bottle, so I can’t leave her for long periods. (Disclaimer – I haven’t tried. Expressing does not appeal.) She also refuses to go to sleep for the night before about 11pm, which apparently is just what I did as a baby. Today Mum said – let me look after the kids this morning, so you can write.

Once Antonia goes down for her first nap, I sit down to begin. Mum and Felix are planting in the garden. Then my lovely aunt Anne turns up on her bike, so they all decide to have a cup of tea. ‘You can go in my bedroom if you like’, says Mum. So I did, and try working there for a while, reading over the draft I printed last night. I make some progress but after half an hour or so grow frustrated with the distracting conversations drifting in from the deck, combined with the strains of ‘Memory’ growling in from next door (my parent’s neighbour, it seems, is an amateur opera singer). There is something a little bit lovely about it all, but it’s hard to think.

I decide to move back to my bedroom, to take my chances working beside a sleeping baby. I sit on the bed. There isn’t really enough light but I ignore it. Then it is time for Anne to leave so they all move around to the front of the house so I haven’t escaped the conversations after all. The neighbour has stopped singing now and comes out the front and Mum has a chat with him about the bins. Antonia wakes up. She’s lifting her head and smiling broadly as I type, twisting her head around to peer at the window and then back at me.

Baby cuddle. Antonia is soft and snuggly and oh so pleased.

Dad and Michael take Felix to the shops. He looks so cute crossing the road with them, his little blonde head only reaching Michael’s waist. Mum takes Antonia for a walk.

Tea and toast. Back to it.

A dog barks. Maybe I should change this blog post to the present tense.

I read over a bit more of the draft and make some notes.

‘Mummeeeeeeeeeeeee!’

They are all back. Felix bounds in to the bedroom and lands on top of me. His back is strong but his cheeks are soft and he is oh so pleased.

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And sometimes, when there is ten minutes free, I need to write. We have been here for lots of weeks now. The weather is sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold, and often perfect. There have been moments of frustration. Two months is a long time to stay with your family or your in-laws. But lately we seem to have hit a groove. The best days involve aunties and children for Felix to play with. Or parks and grandmas. Or all of the above.

As I have mentioned Antonia is not one for sleeping in the evenings and is fussing right now. This is why it is nearly impossible to finish a paper I am attempting to work on – as soon as I sit down at my computer I need to get up again. I will wait a minute now before rushing to her…

Yesterday Mum had a day off work and we took the kids up to the farm barn in Hahndorf. Felix loved the baby rabbits and the kangaroos. I loved the baby goats with their miniature triangular faces and tiny bumps of horns. Antonia loved hanging out with me.

Today we met my cousin Hannah and her husband and my Aunty Anne (Hannah’s Mum) in a cafe next to a park.

Ok. Baby.

A cuddle, a little chat, a feed, back to sleep.

While I feed Antonia to sleep I read Alice Munro stories on my kindle. I can’t get enough. Sometimes they cut too close to the bone. There are a lot of mothers abandoning children and children abandoning their mothers in her stories. And a lot of very sad love stories – disappointment, missed connections, illusions. But so many beautiful moments too. And a clarity like cut glass. I love how all the moments and details and observations are skilfully, not hurriedly, laid over one another, and it is not until you read the final paragraph, even the final line, that you discover exactly the shape they were leading to. And if you go back and re-read the opening of the story (I haven’t done this much yet, being so hungry for the next one), you can appreciate how deliberately the whole story has been quietly building all along.

The stories are about people. About people loving in tangled and imperfect ways, and coming up for air.

And I have been overloading the blog with photos lately but I feel the need to. Last time we were here, a year ago, I did not touch the blog – I was ill and exhausted with morning sickness, very nervous that my pregnancy would not work out, and on top of that had about a hundred exams to mark, which took up all my free time. But I miss the photographic record. I have gone back and put a couple of retrospective posts in, and may do a couple more. It is so nice, just for ourselves, to be able to click on a year or a month and look back on it.

And this time is so special. Watching my children play together – Felix still three years old but not for long, Antonia still my baby. They make each other laugh. They kick around on the mat or my bed together. Felix is so protective. He’s learning about numbers and adding up. In the car yesterday he said to me and Mum – ‘we have four in our family. Mummy, Daddy, Felix and Antonia. We are the luckiest, to have so many people.’ And he shared with us his extensive knowledge about babies: ‘babies’, he told us authoritatively, ‘are normally very soft’.

So there will be more photos heading your way. We are perhaps staying away from our home a little too long, but I am glad that there are couple of weeks left – to eat fish and chips in the park, watch Felix ride his bike, visit the aunties and the grandmas and some of my old friends, and go to the museum or the pool or the beach. Some days are tiring and jarring as happens with children. But I am so grateful for these days to slow down and be together. To come up for air.

 

Waves

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The week before Christmas we stayed with my parents at a beach house and it was so special – Felix had a ball.

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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.

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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.

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Grandma and Granddad’s house

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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.

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How many babies have been cuddled on this lawn?

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How many barefoot races?

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How many children have helped with Christmas baking?

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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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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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Six weeks with my Mum

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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.

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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.

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My boy

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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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One day

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These photos were all taken on one very full day at the end of June. We started out bright and early – around 6 – with trains, coffee beans and blocks. Felix had seen a picture of a wooden train track and a wooden-block town in one of his picture books the night before, and as soon as he woke up he demanded we head downstairs and get to work.

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After that we made scones for breakfast.

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and Felix cuddled the baby.
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Then I took him on a trip to the University College, because he’s always asking to visit my work. I didn’t take any photos there but he met some of my colleagues, at his sandwiches in our lunch spot, did some photocopying and stapling and made a little book including some colouring-in pictures that one of my colleagues kindly printed out for him. Then we went home and he coloured them in.

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Afternoon snack time – I finished my baby blanket and Felix made a duplo train track, and bricked up one of his engines in a huge shed.

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He was so proud of himself!

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The digger had to come and rescue the engine.

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Then it was time to cook dinner. Felix made his own ‘chocolate and raspberry cake’ on the kitchen floor. And I bet he went jumping on the trampoline later. So many things…

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Four seasons in one day

Today when I went downstairs with Felix, I was tired. Michael is away again this week after being back for the weekend. Felix has been sick and on Sunday night and Monday morning we had to go to doctor three times in twelve hours. He seemed a bit better so I contemplated sending him to the barnehage so I could rest and read. He begged to stay home though, and to get a bun, so I agreed. He was so happy it made me happy too. We drove into town and he decided he wanted to sit in the stroller (a good move actually – it was so icy). We sat and ate our buns, and I drank my particularly good latte, and we were happy. Behind us was a mother with a newborn. Soon her friend arrived. Felix went to play with the toys. I went to play with him, and noticed her friend was heavily pregnant. Soon after that another woman with a newborn arrived. They seemed so happy. I could hear them nattering away about how their babies were sleeping and eating. All of a sudden, I couldn’t stop crying. Felix played. He looked at the babies, then found a baby doll in the cupboard. ‘Mummy hold this one’, he said.

After a while I told Felix it was time to go. We walked to the park but it was so icy we didn’t stay for long. The bright sun got in Felix’s eyes and the seagulls dipped and soared. We went to pharmacy in the shopping centre to replace some of Felix’s medication (we’d picked it up yesterday but it wasn’t in a toddler-friendly form). We went next door to Lindex and I bought Felix a cardigan with rainbow cuffs. By the time we got home I was feeling better. We took off our coats. ‘No winter’, Felix said, ‘No snow come down’. ‘It will be spring soon,’ I said, ‘and all the snow will melt’. Felix entertained himself beautifully while I did the dishes and heated some soup. I thought about the modules I will be responsible for teaching in the autumn, and had a good idea about a text to include. We ate our soup at the table. ‘Light on!’ he said. ‘Light on in the kitchen!’ ‘We don’t need the light on in the kitchen. But look – we have a candle! The candle means we can sit at the table together and enjoy each other’s company.’ Felix looked at the candle and then at me, and gave me the most beautiful smile in the world.

So tired

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Ugh. I am exhausted. Just two days away from the end of a busy busy fortnight. Last night instead of preparing my teaching I had to take Felix to the emergency doctor because of compromised breathing. Luckily after getting some medicine and inhalations he improved so much that I could take him home again, and he’s ok now. Here is a picture of my favourite coffee shop, where Felix and I spent a lovely quiet hour this morning. (I took the photos moments before the place started filling up with happy customers.)

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Toddler’s day out

On my day alone with Felix, we normally go out in the morning, but last Friday he was slightly feverish in the morning, and I was tired, so we went out after his nap instead. We parked at Michael’s work. ‘Dadda!’ he said. ‘He’ll be back tomorrow’, I said. We walked over the bridge over the road. ‘Brrrrm brrrrrm’, he said. We walked past our favourite cafe. ‘Da!’ he said, pointing at it desperately. ‘No, I said, we’re going to the library first today, then we’ll come back’. When we walked through the park he wanted to get out and run around. ‘Ne, ne!’ he said. (I think this might be a version of ned, Norwegian for down.) ‘Later’, I said, ‘after the library, it’s going to close soon.’ ‘Du, du!’ he said, pointing at the pigeons.

We made it to the library. I went to the counter to get myself a library card. I practiced my Norwegian and felt very proud of myself for understanding the librarian with no problems. ‘Ne ne!’ said Felix. He sat patiently for a while but after a while I let him out of the stroller, and the first thing he did was rummage through my bag to find a pouch of fruit smoothie. ‘No,’ I said, you can’t eat that here.’ We chose some books and left as it was nearly closing time. I wish I’d got a photo of him carrying his first ever library book out the door.

Then he saw the fountain. After I surreptitiously changed his diaper on the library lawn and ascertained that it would be difficult for him to climb into the fountain, I let him run around it. I didn’t factor in the wind gusting up, splashing in the water, and soaking his t-shirt. I changed him into his hoodie and went back to the park, where he climbed some stairs for a while and tried to get to an old cigarette packet. Then he played with another toddler for a bit. She dumped handfulls of dirt all over him as he sat on the wobbly horse.

We went back the the cafe and I practiced my Norwegian some more, and ordered myself dinner to celebrate surviving a week on my own. Felix raced up the stairs, straight to the place where they normally kept the highchairs, but they’d moved them. I found him one, and he drank his fruit smoothy and didn’t deign to look at his sandwich or his grapes, then went down on the floor to play happily and quietly with the trains. Ah, I thought, bliss. One of those perfect moments. My food arrived and Felix wanted to come back up to the chair. I had hoped he would like some of my salmon burger, but he was horrified, and made sure that I (and the rest of the cafe) knew it. ‘Please, please, Felix’, I said, ‘I want to eat my dinner’. And then I realised he was incredulous that we didn’t have our normal cinnamon bun. I wanted to eat my salmon burger. So I went and bought him a bun.

As we walked back over the bridge I felt so tired I could barely move.

Photos I didn’t take

You know when you have a big rambly lawn, you think how nice it will be to lie on the lawn and watch your toddler potter around it happily, but then he never feels like it and is unaccountably grumpy for two evenings in a row despite the amazing weather… And then all of a sudden you are out in the sandbox together just before bath-time, and you’ve had a great day despite how clingy he was in the morning and despite the fact that most things you offer him to eat result in outraged tears. And when you’ve made him enough ducks from the little sand-mould, he crawls out of the sandbox and chases the cat all the way to the plum trees. And you lie down next to him and he heaps grass-blades into your hands and places them on the cat’s back. All the dandelions are lit up by the warm slanting sun and you when you put one behind your ear he wants to wear one too, then he tries to give it to the cat. You don’t race inside to find the camera because it is perfect, perfect, you could not ask for anything more.

The red balloon

Today Michael left for Berlin for a few days but before that we all went out for coffee in the morning and it was lovely. Then Felix and I walked through town and he pointed at all the balloons. There is a surprising number of balloons, tied to signs and strung up on the ceiling of the shopping centre, but you might not notice if you didn’t have a one year old pointing at them all. On the way back I bought him a little present in the bookshop and the shop assistant gave him a red balloon tied to a ribbon.

When we got home we chatted to my parents on skype over lunch. In the afternoon I went with a friend and her baby boy to visit one of her friends and her baby boy (eleven and nine months). It was lovely but a little noisy and Felix took a while to warm up. He doesn’t like too much noise, especially if it’s echoey. I can’t blame him. And then we came home again and Felix ate loads of dinner, had a bath and several breastfeeds, and I put him to bed. Now he’s snoozing cuddled up to Mermos in my bed, which is pretty cute but I’d better kick the cat out soon in case he causes more night-wakings than normal.

This evening I read my novel (I’ve finally got hooked on the Stieg Larsson trilogy and am onto the third book) and tidied up a bit. At 9.45 I looked out of one of the upstairs windows at the blossom trees in our garden, and it was just that point of dusk when the air looks like water and the trees could have been part of a coral reef.

And it was a good day but it rushed past far too quickly. I wish I could spend tomorrow with my beautiful boy instead of going to work. So I’m etching in my mind just how happy he was tugging his red balloon on its string, saying ‘ba! ba! ba!’

Moments

Tonight I am loving these long spring evenings. It is 9.15, and I have just made it up to my desk after tidying up a bit downstairs. The sun has set but it is still light. The sky lazily changes its pastel hues. The huge tree in our garden towers above me, bristling with new green needles. The magpies have fortified their nest near the top. If I stand up I can look down and see the swing hanging from its lowest branch, the sandbox, the white garden chair. This gives me a bit of a thrill. It is still a novelty, this new little family, this home.

Living with a small child intensifies your experience of time. In case you haven’t noticed (hah), I am prone to nostalgia and have an insatiable need for reflection – to stand back, to stand still, to breathe, to write, to record. But my small child makes my desire to reflect even stronger (while at the same time dramatically reducing the time available to do so). Right now, this is who we are: there are three of us, and one of us is one year and two months old. Next year, next month, this will be different. It is strange to look at older children and realize they were once tiny bumblers like our own.

The days and nights tumble into each other. Last night the boy kept us awake for hours, and when we had to get up at seven on a Saturday morning, it was with great reluctance. Felix is still not well and is high-maintenance – going quickly from cheeky laughter to tears and back again. He crawls away and then cries for me to come to him. He needs to sit on my lap. He is hungry but won’t eat that. He wants a sip of water but only one. In the back of the car, he does all his tricks for us: clasps his hands, claps them, makes a pointy diamond with his index fingers, laughs like crazy. Then complains.

After I put him to bed we flop onto the sofas. ‘It was a good day, all in all’, says Michael, and it was. We were together. A hundred tiny moments made it a good day. And something in me strains to catch them all, to pin them down, to somehow keep this day, this boy, this feeling. The light has mostly gone now from the sky and the tree is dark. I am here now and that is enough. But it doesn’t stop me trying.

One week in spring

Felix has had a fever all week. Time slows, is measured in pats and songs and cuddles and naps and walks and tears. We call Australia for five minute skype chats to break the tedium. Sometimes the little guy brightens up and is almost himself. Other times he sobs. He knows what he wants. ‘Nom!’ he says, demanding a breastfeed, and ‘no no!’ when he’s had enough, or if I try to offer him anything else. When he naps, instead of folding the washing, I nap too, or sit on the sofa, reserving my energy. Night times are the worst, he is so hot and I am frightened. He vomits all over the sheets, twice. Michael puts on load after load of washing. I stay with the boy. Time slows. I slow too. I am with my boy. Outside, it is May. We go into the garden for a picnic on the lawn. Felix is happy on my lap, distributing the pine cones.

Sand and sun

It’s been a busy week and both my boys were stricken with gastro for a couple of days but today the sun finally came back and both boys felt better so Michael built Felix a sand-pit.

It turned out pretty great.

I went inside to make some waffles and from the kitchen window I could see them playing in the sand-pit. At that moment I was so very grateful. After waffles the sun still shone and shone so we walked to the forest.

Last time Felix had been here he was about this big. Now, all of a sudden, there is a little boy holding my hand. And it was a very good day indeed.

A day in the woods

Every weekend, whatever the weather, Norwegians go into the forest, make little fires and cook their lunch. Last Sunday some of our friends invited us to join them, and it was a lot of fun. Remember these photos? It was so sweet to see the little guys together again a year later.

Just how do I get to that truck?

And after reading Blue MIlk’s post about photos of the invisible mother, I just have to include this photo too. It may look like the babbies are pretty self-sufficient in the above photos, but that is an illusion!

 Our friends cooked us pancakes.

After their lunch, the little guys slept in their prams while we ate more pancakes.

After that a couple of intrepid Norwegians changed into their running gear and went for a run (did I mention it was freezing?). Felix woke up and practiced his walking. All in all, a pretty perfect day.

2011: Love

To celebrate the five year anniversary of my blog, for five days I am reposting one of my favourite posts from each year.

In 2011, after weeks of waiting, Felix was born and changed everything. I will never forget the day of his birth. My grandparents visited, all the way from Australia. We stuck around in Norway just long enough to taste the first hint of spring, before disappearing to America for six months. We did some awesome trips, and I had a blast visiting a blog-friend in Seattle. Michael took some pretty great photos. We capped the year of with sunshine and family in Australia. But this is my favourite post of all.
                                                                                                    

September 2011: Love

Last week you turned seven months old. And I just love you so much. (Though sometimes I am ragged with tiredness and just want someone else to take you for an hour.) I feed you to sleep for most of your sleeps. And when you fall asleep, I just gaze at you, your lashes and your soft cheeks. You are so beautiful. Michael took these photos at a lake in Montana. Usually you are too distracted to feed when we are out anywhere, but this time you were hungry, and relaxed, and you fed for a long time, making sure I kept looking at you.

You can sit like a pro now. You are nowhere near crawling, but you have grown adept at sort of launching yourself from sitting towards the direction you would like to go. You are also very good at letting me know what you think about things. Tonight after your bath we read a book together, and you were having a fabulous time chewing and scratching and whacking it. Then I could see you were tired so I said ok, lets go to sleep now, and you smiled at me so sweetly. Then I started putting you in your sleeping bag and you cried with such bitter disappointment and rage, before snuggling in for your evening feed and drifting off to sleep.

At the moment you love to click you tongue, blow raspberries, and shake your head rapidly from side to side. I tried it, and it actually makes the world look quite funny – I wonder if you do it for the thrill of it, as well as to show us how clever you are. You love when I sing ‘open, shut them’ and ‘insy winsy spider’.

This morning we walked along the river, and stopped in the coffee shop before storytime at the library. This is pretty much routine, and a good one. Since you’ve gotten into eating solids you don’t need to feed as much when we’re out, but you seemed to want it. I realised you hadn’t had any since 5.30, and it was nearly 10, so we cuddled together in the corner of the sofa and you fed for a long time. I guess it felt special because normally when we’re out you have about two sips and then wriggle around to see if you’re missing anything. But walking over to the library, both of us satisfied with our morning drink, I just felt so happy.

Coffee break

I’ll be honest: sometimes when Michael whips out his camera and I’m not particularly in the mood, or I’m trying to eat my pizza, or I’m trying to keep Felix happy while worrying about whether we’ll make it home by nap-time, I don’t exactly jump with joy. But then he captures gems like these and I am so, so grateful.

I think I look tired in these photos (and we both need a haircut) but also relaxed, and confident, and in love. And that’s pretty much how it is.

A good day

Sorry about the text-heavy blog lately. If I had remembered to take my camera with me today I would have taken a photo of Felix in his pram, with his matching Norwegian hat and mittens and velvety black coat, beaming at me.

This week was my fourth week back at work, and the first week I managed to work a full four days (the other weeks Felix or I or both of us had been sick). Spending so much time away from him is tough, even though I work in the room next door to him. When I leave him the image I feel in my heart is that of a small tree being ripped out of the earth, its roots dangling. I am not sure which one of us is the tree. And then when I pick him up at the end of the day, I feel a constellation springing back into life within me – stars lighting up, as though someone re-connected the electricity.

(Mind you, at 9pm, and 11pm, and 1am and 3 and 4 and 5am I am not so pleased to hear from him.)

But today was our day together, and we spent the morning in town. Felix was his sparky, charming self for the first time in weeks – I think he has been feeling quite under the weather until now. He pointed excitedly at all the children we passed; he showed the shop attendants his mittens. When we went into the wool shop, he exclaimed ‘ba! ba!’, excited to be in a shop filled with balls.

We stopped for a coffee in my favourite child-friendly cafe. He ate a fair portion of my cinnamon bun, and then played happily, first with a toy microwave and then with some tiny wooden cars. ‘Brrrrm, brrrrrm’, he said as he pushed them across the floor. Watching him, I was so happy I cried. When I drove him back up the hill, he sang ‘Mama mama mama’ all the way.

And then we all got sick(er)

Being unwell with a baby is a bit like going on a long-haul flight with a baby. It was horrible even without the baby, but with the baby it just becomes exponentially more difficult and arduous, and yes, there really is no way off the plane, and no one to pass the baby to. (Save for each other, for small reprieves.) Only being sick is worse because you have no indication of when you will arrive.

We are starting to wonder if we will ever be well again. We all have colds. Felix keeps getting knocked about by successive bouts of fever. And to cap it all off I contracted a seriously painful and unpleasant ear infection last weekend.

Today while I waited till I could take Felix to the doctor (I was scared he’d caught the infection from me) I put some music on and rocked him in the ergo and he slept fitfully. And I thought – it is ok. I am here with my child. It is ok.

The week you turned one

You fed yourself porridge, spoonful by heaped spoonful.

The sun shone on our little house and we were happy inside it.

The tracks I made pulling you on a little sled around the tree stayed there all week.

You watched schnappi with your father.

You patted the cat, and chased him around the house, and squealed with glee every time you saw him. (Sorry that Mermos just looks like a black blob – it’s really hard to get a picture of him. It’s even harder to get a picture of Felix and Whitby together because every time Whitby hears Felix make a sound, he’s out of there.)

You slept in your pram.

You walked up and down our living room, clutching your new walker. You stood by yourself with your hands in the air and a grin on your face. You had your first full days in barnehage, which just about broke my heart. You really liked it until you were smitten with a nasty cold. You held up your lion blanky and whispered ‘raaa!’ You pointed to the sheep in you books and said ‘baa!’ You pointed out the doors, and exclaiming ‘door!’ everywhere you went. The image of you crawling up to a new doorway and peering around the corner is one I never want to forget. You looked very sweet in your new winter wardrobe. (And yes, that’s the green jumper I knitted. I am so pleased with it.) You woke me up many times, every night. But I adore you.

One Year

things don’t recur precisely, on the sacred earth: they rhyme

Les Murray, ‘The Idyll Wheel’

There was snow today, but not as much as last year. It was cold, but not as cold. The sky that filled the bare trees was pink as the sun rose and orange as it set.

This day last year, I baked brownies, I waited, I walked through the snow, I visited friends, I waited, I went to bed. I would not have long to wait.

Today, I baked an orange and blueberry cake, I made a lentil shepherds pie to eat for dinner today and tomorrow, for I return to work tomorrow, I knitted, I finished writing a paper, I walked through the snow, a friend visited me, I tucked my very nearly one year old son into bed.

Returning to Norway this past week has felt like the right thing to do. It has been strange, overlaying last year with this year. Being suddenly back here, at just this time, I feel the memories in my body. My body feels narrow and strong, because last year it was stretched and heavy. Small things bring moments back – walking along the cobbled main street, bending over to blow-dry my hair (something only a Norwegian winter can induce me to do), the warm, woody smell of our bedroom.

Things do not recur precisely. But a world with a Felix in it is a better world indeed.

Can’t stop knitting

Now that I have a knitting guru on hand I’ve finally started to knit Felix a cardigan! Mum helped me cast it on last week and Michael managed to catch the moment on camera.

I’ve been hard at it ever since. In fact, the only reason this post is finally being completed is that I’ve made another small mistake and I have to wait for Mum to get home to fix it before I can continue. (Before I leave I’m going to have to do a couple of sampler squares to practice picking up dropped stitches…)

I love these photos so much.

Sing me to sleep

One night a few weeks ago, Felix couldn’t sleep. After some distress (on both our parts), I worked out he must have a tummy-ache, so I gave him some panadol, nursed him to calm him down, and then lay next to him and told him a story.

Once upon a time, I said, there was a boy who lived in a stone fortress on a hill by the sea. From the fortress he could see the ships coming and going in the harbour, but they never stopped for long. In the winter the hill was glittery-cold, in spring and summer it was tangled purple and green, but in autumn, when the setting sun hit the fortress’s cobblestones, they seemed to form a golden path to somewhere he had never been. In the forest behind the hill there lived a hare with long feet and long ears, a deer with a white tail, and a wolf as grey and quiet as mist.

He looked up at me with clear and serious eyes through the darkness. ‘Bah’, he said quietly, ‘bah bah, blah blah!’ He smiled. Then he flopped his arms towards me, closed his eyes, and fell asleep.

***

A couple of nights ago, he woke in great distress after only sleeping for an hour. The only way to calm him was to get him up and play with him for a while in the bright lounge room. Then I nursed him in the bedroom for a while but he was still upset, so I sang ‘twinkle twinkle little star’. Then I thought I would continue with my story, but that made him cry too, so I went back to the song. I sang it over and over. He clutched a little white teddy bear, stroking its fur and staring at me. He looked like a little boy, not a baby. He looked sad and brave and alone, like he was trying with all his might to be strong. His fingers tugged at the red ribbon around the bear’s neck. And my heart ached to think of all that lies before him, everything he’ll have to find the answer to all on his own. And then he poked out his tongue and stuck his finger up my nose.