On losing Two, and trying not to be sad about it

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Second birthday. The cheeks have it.

He is on the verge of being three. Hanging onto Two by his fingertips. You can see Three coming in those long skinny legs, the bony bottom in little underpants. Three is in his self-awareness, the jokes with a random punchline, the¬†sentences with multiple clauses. There are Threeish days he wants books with more words than pictures, and days he wants me to pull stories out of my head. I can smell it on the days he sleeps till 7.30 instead of 6am, and doesn’t want a nap because it’s obvious he doesn’t need one.

You’d think this would be good news. It is, it really is. Two has been a marvellous, multicoloured fire-storm. I have sensed for a long time that he and I are very similar, and I’ve butted heads with Two so often we have bruises. I can see the seeds of logic in Three. There’s the unremarkable everyday use of the toilet coming (!!!), and the point at which he can get himself a seventh glass of water. I can see, very VERY distantly on the horizon, a day in which he can put on his own socks.

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But oh, there is sweetness here I am not ready to give up. Two, with his chubby cheeks and flannel Thomas pyjamas. The process of watching him pull words from the air, awestruck with the discovery that things have names, and mispronounce them hilariously. Not ever again in his life will he forget how to say ‘porridge’. He won’t ever need my hand again to go down the stairs. That was Two’s thing, and Two has almost gone.

Three goes to nursery in September. We’re still waiting for the confirmation letter to arrive, but it should come any day.¬†He’ll be someone else’s for five mornings a week, and he is so excited to go. Me, I’ve spent these sunny weeks holding onto Two with both hands: picnics, day trips, library books, lots of mornings jumping off walls and poking things with sticks, as much time as I can wangle with him wedged on my lap. For these last few golden weeks he is all mine, all day, and this life I make for him is the only one he knows. It was never going to last, and it shouldn’t, either. But I will close my eyes and breathe in Two for every minute I still have him.

Three is coming, lovely boy, and just wait till you see what you’ll find there.

Three is coming.

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Slugs and snails: for Teddy

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You are one today, little boy. And what are little boys made of?

You are made of wrist rolls and chubby feet, big hands and big cheeks. Bounces and cowboy yells on a cot mattress at 6am.

Turbo-charged crawling. Clear blue eyes and wide beaming smiles, showing all six teeth, scrunching up your nose. A mess of corn-blonde dandelion hair falling into your face.

You are shouting and whooping in continual breathless streams. Delighted chucklesome laughter starting somewhere in your belly and spilling out past your cheeks. Unfortunately also that impatient foghorn bellow that takes up all our air space when you want some notice.

You are made of that look of intense concentration as you pick up cheerios with careful fingers from the floor, stuffing them into your mouth with your whole hand.

You are watchfulness, loyalty and deep, unquestioning attachment. You are ticklish between your shoulder blades.

You patch of sunlight on a stormy day; you streak of pure golden-haired grace.

You dream-maker, you heart-breaker -

wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.

(Happy birthday, Edward bear.)

Party for one

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I have decided that first birthday parties are the best of all possible parties. Really, they are.

First, the whole thing is basically a happy celebration of the two of you looking after a baby for a year. He grew some inches, he crawls and he’s eating food: you win everything, parents!

Second, the celebratee has no idea what’s going on, so there’s no pressure: no need to go all out with elaborate themes, bouncy castles or housefuls of sugar-hyped children if you don’t fancy it. You can make it exactly what feels comfortable, however big or small that is.

I have years of badly-made costumes and bouncy castle hire ahead of me, I know. But for now¬†I can get by, oh, very happily indeed, on a nice cake, a small crowd and a bit of bunting. I always end up messing around with the bunting some time after midnight the night before — but then, commemorating a year of baby with a night of no sleep has a certain poetic resonance. I have kept many a midnight watch with you, little bear. Let’s do it once more for the memories, eh? And the bunting.

Speaking of, I got this exceedingly simple idea from the marvellous You Are My Fave. I am drawn like a moth to a flame towards things that can be made using only a pair of scissors. If you are the sort of dunce that is intimidated by buying fabric [raises hand], then here’s a tip: go to Hobbycraft, and look for fat quarters. My mother-in-law, who sews, tells me this is A Thing, and not a joke. It’s actually a little selection of small pieces of fabric. Cut them up into strips, tie them on, and hey presto! I kind of want to leave this up all year.

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So much for bunting. For the cake, I made Nigella’s Autumnal Birthday Cake, from her How to be a Domestic Goddess. The title is not terribly self-explanatory, so let me tell you that it is maple syrup cake, with a meringue frosting. WHAT THE. My baking muscles are very rusty, and I started the thing at 11pm with a headache, but it still turned out alright. Because meringue frosting is the business. It keeps its swirly shape exactly, and sets with this slight crackle on top.¬†I left out the nuts and threw in edible glitter. Teddy was a fan, and so was his face.

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(PS, is this where I throw in extra-casually, as per mummy bloggers, that this was Teddy’s first taste of cake and oh my gosh he loved it? Um, no. It’s not true. I have a feeling that will never be true of any of my children.)

Apart from that, I bought straws, nautical napkins and ice cream pots from the supermarket, strung up some photos, and that was it. The punch was a carton of cranberry juice mixed with a bottle of cloudy lemonade, with frozen raspberries floating on the top.

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We ate cold meat and salad brought by our family, then had birthday cake, chocolate fondue, and jelly and ice cream for dessert. ¬†Note to self: find out how jelly moulds are supposed to work. Because right now you don’t know.

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We ate, opened presents and then went to the park. It was a sunny, gentle afternoon, and Mr Birthday had a great time. I have two more days till I have to really think about him outgrowing his babyhood, but for now this was a lovely way to ease us into it. And costumes can wait for another year.

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Small parks

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We drove back towards town and I told them we’d find a playground. Nursery visits are necessary things, but not much fun for either of them: look at all these children and new toys! Nah, just kidding, let’s go. We’ve been doing it all week, and we’ve still got some to go, and we’re tired.

I told them we’d find a playground, and thought again about certainties. This has been a bruising week, dear friends: the sort of week where I drink too much vanilla Coke and stay up far too late in internet trivialities, because getting my mind to settle in one place for sleep is too ambitious. We are on the springboard of some change. Change I can handle, but I can’t stand not knowing what type of change it will be. I think a lot about being a¬†thirty-year-old woman. I think a lot about being a person of faith and about what that means, about having boys and raising them well. I think about how I can possibly get a legal copy of Life on Mars now the unmentionables at Netflix have taken it away from me (WHY WHY WHY).¬†I would also like to know where we will live, where Henry will go to nursery and roughly what my life will look like in the near future. I keep thinking self-pitying things like ‘that doesn’t seem like too much to ask’, like people don’t spend their whole lives grappling with stuff like this and worse.

I thought again about certainties, because I cannot breathe for grey area, muddy waters, out-of-focus plans. So we drove down a leafy road that might-or-might-not be our new home turf, and I looked for a playground. I don’t know where the playgrounds are around here yet. I couldn’t find one.

Do children crave certainties too, with the same kind of need? Yes, I think so. But smaller ones. Henry’s favourite question at the moment is ‘Mama, what-a we do now?’ I give him a list of our next four actions, but only four. That’s as far ahead as he can make himself see. Teddy’s absolutes are smaller still: the presence of one of his three best people, and a good clear floor.

Some colourful bars flashed in my peripheral vision, and I pulled the car around. We couldn’t see it properly till we’d piled into the pushchair, crossed the road and opened a green gate set into the high hedge. But there it was, a playground. Squeaky clean and deserted, mostly hidden from the street. It was small but brightly coloured and thoughtfully planned. The grass was clean and warm. I let them roam happily around, unworried for once about broken glass or broken bones. And for half an hour we were enclosed and safe in a green space that¬†held, for the moment, everything we needed. I couldn’t see any further than the high hedge, and just now I didn’t want to. The restfulness and relief of it nearly knocked me over.

‘Survey large fields’, someone once told me. ‘Cultivate small ones’. Well, I don’t get out much in fields.

‘Adventure in large playgrounds’, I would say back, nodding all sagely. ‘But keep your heart in small ones’.

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The bottle-thrower in my head

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The other day I was hayfevered up to the max, and found myself in a quandary.

Oh gosh, Thursday, I texted Tim in the morning. If we go out the pollen will kill me, and if we stay in the boys will.

I mean, what is a girl to do?

When I just had Henry, we’d spend some days indoors, and most of the rest between a few familiar places. Now neither of those things are an option. Henry’s old enough to get bored if we go to the same places too often, and bored toddler + demented crawler is the stuff of fearful legend. Especially if we don’t leave the house at all. Great Scott. You know in How to Train Your Dragon, where Hiccup is leafing through the village Dragon Book, and the Night Fury page is ominously empty? That’s what a description of an indoor day would look like in my journal. Just fingernail scratches, and screams.

So – and let’s continue with the movie theme for a minute if we may – you know that scene in films where some unhinged character screeches ‘get out, GET OOOOOOUT!’ And then throws their cigarette/jewellery box/whiskey bottle at the offending guest? That’s what my head does around 10am every day. Breakfast, lovely. Bath, great. Clothes, uh-oh, here comes the whiskey bottle yes here it comes GET OUT GET OUT GET OOOOOOOUT.

I scramble for supplies and we get the heck outta Dodge before another jewellery box crashes around our ears.

Henry calls our morning trips ‘adbentures’. There is nothing that makes you feel more like the Winner of Everything than helping two tiny energetic people have a nice time in an unfamiliar place, and¬†I really kind of love it. But there are two problems, going adbenturing.¬†One, you’re much more likely [read: certain] to get the pushchair stuck or run out of hands when there’s only one of you.¬†And two, I am absolutely awful at predicting the weather.

Here’s the week that was, and the weather-inappropriate things we wore.

Monday: playdate to Mapledurham lock and Purley Park. I dressed the boys in summer clothes, and we froze. Also, cattle grids and pushchairs are unmixy items.

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Tuesday: museum date in Reading Town Hall. Remembering the previous day, we all wore long sleeves. And boiled.

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Wednesday: investigation into the Roman walls at Silchester. I tried to be cautious, and we wore shorts with long sleeves. And boiled, and the path was VERY unsuitable for pushchairs, so I half-carried it for two miles. TEDDY IS NOT LIGHT, FYI.

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Thursday: Caversham park by the river. Ho ho, I thought, looking at the overcast sky. You don’t fool me. Short sleeves and shorts today. And we froze.

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Friday: Rhymetime and library, and it looked like rain. Long sleeves. You know what happened. *wipes sweat from everywhere, shakily stuffs chocolate in mouth*

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Still. New house this summer (we hope we hope) and nursery for Henry after that.¬†I slow down when we’re on the verge of something new, wondering how much I really want it. While we’re here waiting, on the verge, I can’t think of a better thing to do than¬†adbenture, on and on till we get to September and something entirely different.

‘I do like your belly, but not right now’: some things I said during Father’s Day photos

‘If you sit still and smile for daddy’s photographs, you can have some of daddy’s chocolate.

Do you need a shark for photographs? Ok, alright, hold your shark.

No, not in front of your face. I need to see your face, not your shark.’

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‘Teddy, can you sit back? Teddy. Teddy. Sit back, darling. Sit back sit back sit back. No, Henry, don’t you sit forward now. Both of you need to sit back.’

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‘Teds, not the curtains, please. Hen, it’s not funny. You want to sit over on that side? Oh, ok. No, don’t you play with the curtains either. Daddy doesn’t want to see you playing with curtains. I can’t take a photo of you playing with curtains.’

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‘LOOK AT MEEEEEE!’ *dances like an idiot. Henry, unresponsive, slowly puts shark on head*

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Teddy. Sit up. Come on, bear. Don’t sit on your brother, please.’

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‘Put your belly away! Yes, I do like your belly, but not right now. It’s a lovely belly. Put. It. Away. Thank you.’

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‘Teddeeeeee. Stop hitting your brother, please. TEDS. WATCH SOPHIE AND STOP HITTING YOUR BROTHER.’

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Winner winner chicken dinner. Sort of. Both boys are looking, and only one boy is slightly out of focus. Pee Ess, guys, this is why we’ve never had family portraits done.

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Cotton wool: on letting climbing kids climb and falling kids fall

 

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So much about my mothering life is different than I imagined.¬†I thought today that I am both¬†stricter and more easy-going than I thought I would be, as¬†I put¬†away¬†the boys’ clothes at lightning speed. Lightning because Teddy was upstairs, by himself, and his crawling is now turbo-charged. Lightning because we no longer have stair-gates anywhere. And because he hasn’t yet fallen down the stairs, and there’s a first time for everything, and the first time will be soon.

Here’s where I’m less strict than I imagined: I thought I’d wrap them in cotton wool, and I don’t.

‘He will fall off that log in a minute’, I think, watching Henry from my perch on the bench. ‘I should get him down’.

I don’t move. Sure enough, a couple of minutes later he loses his footing and whacks his knee on his way down. He is outraged, and comes to show me. I administer the proper medicine (magic blow, kiss to injured area) and he goes off again.¬†Henry’s legs have been a crossword puzzle of bruises since he could walk, just about.

I used to feel guilty about it. It used to feel like laziness. Perhaps you’re reading this, horrified. Let me offer some reassurances: I don’t let them anywhere near broken glass, I am as paranoid as it’s possible to be about road safety, I don’t take my eyes off them in water. But after meeting the imp on Henry’s¬†shoulder, telling him to climb and jump and sprint, you’ll love it,¬†I had to scrub off my sensitivity. It was either that or go insane. All Henry did, when he first learned to move, was climb higher than he should and fall off sooner than I wanted. The first few times, I sobbed along with him. After that, it stopped being such a big deal.

I read an article once about a playground in Wales deliberately constructed to be mildly dangerous – hills, piles of tyres, places to start little fires. The author talks about studies done a generation ago, where children found secret places to play and lived independent, imaginative lives away from their parents. Once print and electronic media made everyone hyper-aware of public danger, no one allowed their own children the same freedoms. The same authors went back to children now and tried to conduct the same studies, but found it was impossible. They were never left alone long enough to find places of their own.

I think the world now is not the world then, in many ways, and it pays to be vigilant. But one sentence in that article hit me so hard I can recite it: ‘In all my years as a parent, I’ve mostly met children who take it for granted that they are being watched‘.

And do I want to raise boys who never grapple with their own uncertainties or construct their own stories? Who wants a childhood without stories? I’ve got plenty from mine. I think it’s part of their development to know that falling happens, and sometimes bikes spin downhill faster than you can control.

So I let them scramble over trees and structures too big for them at the park. Teddy buzzes around on hands and knees, dangling himself over the edges of our bed and sofa. He sat on the grass today stuffing handfuls in his mouth, and I thought about googling ‘are daisies toxic?’ but decided against it. He’s just learned to climb stairs, and I’m trying hard to let him.

And I still sometimes feel guilty. But in my evolving, imperfect and Рalright Рa tad lazy Theory of Parenthood, I think a grazed knee goes a long way.

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His mother called him ‘WILD THING’

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What follows: your weekly note about toddlers.

I haven’t written about Henry much, lately. It’s not because he’s going through a bit of a capital-P Phase – though he is – and I only want to write about the good stuff. I¬†think¬†this clingy, angry thing he’s been trying on has its roots in insecurity and growing pains, and – I don’t know, I suppose I feel he needs his tender parts covered until he feels more like himself. So he’s been a supporting player here for a little while.

He’s still here, though, so I thought I’d write down a few toddlerisms for posterity.

This is the Henriest Henry face there ever was. If you were to bottle up the essence of Henry, this face would be on the sticker.

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His grammarisms are always the best part of my day.

‘Mummy, this da-longs to you, yes?’

‘Look, Mummy, I covered in licker!’ (He means ‘glitter’, and this is never a thing you want to hear when you can’t see him.)

‘I not very well, I have a tummy-head’.

‘Look how smart I are!’ (Drying his hair with a hairdryer.)

(To Siri, on the iPad): ‘HELLO. HELLO. I NEED TO SPEAK TO TIMOTHY’.

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The other day, mid-toilet break, he told me to close the door ‘uzzerwise someone see me in my wee house’. He likes the idea of things having their own houses. This is actually the least embarrassing thing he’s said loudly in a public toilet. Others in the top five include [looking under the cubicle wall]: ‘I can see someone! LADY, I CAN SEE YOUR SHOES’, and, of course, various encouragements to his own anatomy and mine, which we will not reproduce here.

He’s experimenting with ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ at the minute – who knows where he got them from – and finds this so terribly noteworthy that he delivers them both in double forte. It’s like a trombone blast at the end of every sentence: ‘I got you a cheese-apple, DAAAAAD. Coming, DAAAAD’. (What is a cheese-apple?)

He narrates to himself when he’s feeling fancy. ‘I going this way, said Henry. Let’s open the door, said Henry’. I could make the fact that he’s apparently the star player in his own life into some metaphor or other, but let’s just comment instead that he’s still well on track for drama school.

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A little while ago he got very passionate about the alphabet, and learned half the letters. Now – hello, two-year-old – he’s gone off it and will only identify P and K, for which he still has a sentimental attachment.

Winnie the Pooh. Oh my twelve-times-a-day. The other day I caught him with his hand in our jar of honey, and that clean-up is not nearly so pleasant in real life, FYI.

I am still waiting for the switch that says ‘ohhhh, THAT’S where my solid waste should go’. Since I can’t stop him soiling his pants every day, I decided to stop minding. It’s working pretty well.

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He has cleared every plate, three times a day, for four days in a row. Miracle. On the other hand, he also spent his past four nights learning how to climb into Teddy’s cot, necking half a bottle of gripe water – cue frantic medical Googling – and coating Teds head to foot in Sudocreme. Which is to say, he’s growing.

He almost doesn’t fit into my lap now. ¬†But he still wants to, and his face still looks like he’s won the lottery when I turn up unexpectedly. So two-and-three-quarters, you’re welcome to stick around for a while yet.

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Living arrows: how we laugh

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls.
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from your children as living arrows are sent forth
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And he bends you with his might that his arrows may go swift and far.
For your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even he loves the arrow that flies, so loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran

Hello, friends.

I am a tiny bit overwhelmed by life, the universe and everything at the moment, so just something short today. There’s a weekly project on I Heart Snapping blog called Living Arrows, all about photos that capture a moment in the life of a child. The title comes from the passage by Kahlil Gibran above. I love the thought that our children are part of us but separate too: that we’ll send them forward into days we’ll never see, that all we can do is steady their forward leap, and watch their paths with our mouths open.

Today the boys had simultaneous nappy explosions after their afternoon naps. I don’t know what they’ve eaten, but in Teddy’s case I’m willing to bet it came from the floor. I showered them both off and plopped them down into sunshine on Henry’s bed.

Sometimes, and that minute was one of them, they are just delighted with themselves and each other, with the twosomeness of the two of them. Henry pulls out his repertoire of faces; Teddy laughs; Henry laughs harder. I can see down the years like a tunnel, and imagine them gangly-limbed and cracking each other up at my expense, light on their faces, potty training miles behind them and bigger, brighter, more sanitary milestones ahead.

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A list of things my baby is louder than, according to Science*

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1. city traffic

2. trombone

3. rubbish truck

4. subway train

5. the sound I made when my nail cracked on a drawer this morning

6. jackhammer

7. farm tractor

8. jet take-off at 100 metres

9. the apple hitting Newton’s head

10. power lawn mower

11. motorbike

12. vacuum cleaner

13. all birds known by ornithologists

14. freight train at 15 metres

15. newspaper press

16. being slapped by a wet fish

17. car wash

18. any noise made by a human

19. helicopter at 100 feet

20. your 5am despair

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*according to the decibel recorder I downloaded from the app store this morning. Kid has some brass lungs.