Category Archives: baby diaries

In which I am not a bronze god

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At some point along the way, I’ve turned into a person who can leave the house having forgotten to brush her teeth. And not just once, often. If it makes you feel any better, I’m never any less disgusted when I remember. It doesn’t make me feel much better, though.

Today was an accidental dirty-teeth day. which should have told me something. The weather is good at the moment – lovely, in fact; a generosity of sunshine and clear April skies – so I decided to drive down to Winchester: Tim was working just a few miles down the road, so I thought we could take some sandwiches and have a nice walk, then meet up with him after work.

I was halfway up a ramp in a multi-storey car  park, making an especially tight turn, when my power steering died. Let me tell you, until you’ve had to wrench a full car up a hill, back into reverse because you can’t turn fast enough, then forward again juuuust managing to miss the parked cars and all of this using only your own puny arms, you do not know the meaning of panic sweat. There were cars queuing behind me, Tim wasn’t answering his phone, I was blocking several people in, and both the boys were grumpy. And then my phone was about to die. Thankfully a beautiful hairy man helped me get the car into a space, for which good deed he has earned his place in Paradise. Then I got through to Tim, who came and wrestled my car out of the car park so the AA could come get it, leaving me his in return.

When I make grand, impulsive plans and they end up causing a lot of bother, I feel so foolish. Babies are a juggling act, a plate spinner of enormous proportions, and every time I feel like I’m getting the hang of it I get conked on the head. But if there were ever a city to heal a battered day, it’s Winchester in the sun. That cathedral is something else. There are so many lovely little alleyways and intriguing shops. Today there was a market, and we admired cheeses and gaping fish with great enthusiasm.

If you follow the path alongside the cathedral, under a series of archways, you eventually end up at a little square pond, where a great bearded bronze someone glowers over the proceedings (Jesus? Hercules?). It’s so quiet and forgotten-about back there, it feels like another world. Henry had just fallen over his own feet – a particular talent – so to distract him from crying I told him that the pond was magical. We picked two shiny brown leaves and dropped them into the water.

‘Now you have to make a wish’, I told him. ‘Let’s wish for… a milkshake’. (Priorities.)

He didn’t say anything, but looked down at his floating leaf, absorbed.

‘What will you wish for?’ I asked.

‘Stars’, he said.

We bought milkshakes from Shakeaway, later. Some wishes I can grant, but I am puny-armed and only human. If you ever happen to be in Winchester, and follow a little path behind the cathedral to find a square pond and a bronze god, do ask him how he’s getting on with Henry’s stars.

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Hey, if you have a spare clicking finger and a mild fondness for this blog, perhaps you wouldn’t mind voting for me in the MAD Blog Award finals? You can find me under Best Baby Blog. Voting closes soon! Thank you so much!

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Nine in, nine out

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My second pregnancy felt like the longest nine months I have ever slogged through. I thought that the award for Slowest Time Movement Ever had already been won by my sixth form media studies class on a Monday afternoon, during which the hands of the clock gave up their lives and fell off the wall out of boredom. But Teddy’s pregnancy, my giddy aunt. It didn’t half go on.

Perhaps it was that swirling boil of unknowable emotions: could I love him, was I ready to be a mother again, what would Henry think? Or perhaps it was the fact that I couldn’t sleep or sit down for longer than five minutes without my left bottom cheek catching fire. Yes, probably it was that.

Look, though – oh, look. He was worth every last second.

(PS, it’s his skinny three-month-old photo that startles me the most. His eyes, his nose, his mouth…but on a different face.)

(PPS, TINY HENRY ALERT, TOP LEFT. His nine months in-and-out post is here.)

Hey, if you have a spare clicking finger and a mild fondness for this blog, perhaps you wouldn’t mind voting for me in the MAD Blog Award finals? You can find me under Best Baby Blog. Voting closes soon! Thank you so much!

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The big mistake I made with potty training

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WARNING: much talk of bodily waste.

I would rather fall into a pile of cow manure than potty train a toddler.

I don’t know why I have such strong feelings about it. I daily do unspeakable things with sick and snot and exploding nappies, but none of it perturbs me like the potty. It’s just one of those overwhelming feelings that well up from deep within, and I must be true to myself. After a couple of abortive attempts, I took the late-as-possible approach with Henry, which chimed nicely with my own laziness. Potty train a child early, my friends assured me, and you’ll be in for weeks of wet-carpet horror. Train one late, and they’ll do it themselves within a couple of days.

No contest. In a beautiful world of unicorns and rainbows, I would like our potty training experiences to be:

1. over and done with quickly and in one go. No farting about between pants and nappies for months, disinfecting puddles of wee at inconvenient moments;

2. as little effort as possible, given that, for Henry, it’s a lot to ask to go from peeing happily in pants without recrimination, to peeing in a box on purpose.

This is perhaps too optimistic. But I was hopeful (and happy to keep putting it off till I thought he was ready).

Then two things happened. The first was that the boys caught back-to-back cases of hand, foot and mouth – not too awful in itself, but requiring two full weeks indoors. The second was that we ordered new carpets for our stairs and bedroom, which arrive next week – meaning that now it didn’t matter much what happened to the floor, but in a week it definitely would. Give it another few months and we might be in a different house, where it would matter even more (and he’d be so unsettled it wouldn’t be right to try).

It seemed like all the stars aligned, and then spelled out the phrase LET HIM LEARN TO WEE. I capitulated.

Oh, it is holy hell. On day one I sat him on the potty every twenty minutes, and he still timed his four pees in the spaces between. One was on the bathroom floor. One straight into his sheepskin rug. Another on the piano, when he paused in the middle of a climbing expedition, lifted his leg and relaxed in all senses (what). Day two he seemed to spend mostly on the potty, but still sprayed his liquid waste hither and yon like a gleeful elephant in a water hole. By the time he consented to bring his A-game for Daddy on day three, I was thinking longingly of the cow manure. We’re now on day six, and while most of his pees are in the right place, I’ve discovered the truth known by mothers long past: a little boy stuck into playing would rather marinate his own legs than stop what he’s doing.

He has, incidentally, perfected the art of doing the solid stuff once a day during his nap, when he’s wearing Lightning McQueen pull-up nappies. I should be regretting this missed opportunity for learning, but I’m not.

After two days I wanted to pack it in entirely, but he’s old enough that stopping would be more confusing than helpful. And there’s my mistake, you see – there was the fatal flaw. I charged in for both of us, and now I can’t get out. You should never listen to carpet deliveries, or quarantine, or the nagging feeling that you’re putting it off unnecessarily, or even the helpful ‘oh, he’s not potty trained yet?’ comments swirling in the air around you, but only to your own instincts. You know your child the best. My instincts said ‘not till he’s almost three, you fool’. They’re saying it even more now, but it’s too late.

I am not potty training Teddy till he graduates.

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As a final thought: I have a very distinct memory of peeing my pants in my Reception class, and my horrid teacher giving me a whack on the head and sitting me in a corner. Days later we were singing in the hall and our little voices one by one became shrieks of surprise, as we were all doused by a creeping puddle from a poor sap called Richard. We ended up stood around the puddle in a circle of judgement, staring down at it in silence, while the teacher berated poor Richard in front of everyone (she really wasn’t very nice). But we were FOUR.

How long will this go on?!

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Teething, in a sentence

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when I hold out the full spoon you snatch it quickly and dislodge the food

like someone talking down a panicky gunman, finally getting hold of the weapon and knocking out all the bullets.

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This Is Where We Are: A letter to my children on Mother’s Day (3)

Dear Future Versions of Henry and Edward,

Today is my third Mothering Sunday, and you are two-and-a-half and nine months old, respectively. We are tucked up in bed again, this time because you have hand, foot and mouth virus. Before I had children I thought HFM, if I thought about it at all, was a disease for cows. Motherhood is not so much a learning curve as a learning ski jump, with no skis attached.

You first, Teds? You don’t often get to go first.

Henry and I call you ‘bear’ at home, and it suits you. You are a golden-haired, roly-poly, beaming little thing, and you remind me more of a bear cub than a baby. Your eyes are an untroubled, unclouded blue. Honestly, Teddy, I could go a hundred miles and not find another person as sweetly lovely as you. You are the sort of boy who sits in a two-inch bath clenching his fists and squealing, because nothing has ever been as good as this bath, ever. I can put you on the bed with a piece of paper, and twenty minutes later you’ll get a bit bored so I’ll need to mix it up a bit and show you an interestingly coloured sock. You’re that kind of lovely. You’re the sort of lovely that smiles so wide there’s not room on your face for the whole of it, because that’s the kind of smile you think everyone deserves.

You love cherry tomatoes (what?!), apple puree, your purple spider, bouncing on your chubby feet, being in water, anyone who will look at you twice, and your brother, who is the brightest thing in any room you’re in. You hate…well, actually, I can’t think of anything. Except maybe being ignored for too long, at which point you bellow so loudly the glass shatters in the photo frames. You eat well; you sleep well; you throw up like it’s an Olympic sport. When I pick you up and you huff contentedly into my hair, I squash my face against yours and look sideways. All I can see is cheeks.

Two babies has been an adjustment I can only think of in natural disaster metaphors: a tsunami, a tidal wave, an earthquake. But it hasn’t been a disaster at all, and that’s because of you. Do you know how rare it is to find someone who evokes in you utter, uncomplicated joy? That’s you, my darling. So bright I can’t look at you straight. You have the sort of light that people are drawn to, and I’m only grateful it landed on me first.

***

Henry, you quicksilver boy: you are skinny, sandy-haired and full of burning energy. Your eyes are blue with the most extraordinary rings of greeny-yellow: they remind me of those fire-veined pebbles you find on beaches, still wet from the sea. If I told you this you would fix me with that look you get, eyebrows raised, mouth quirked up on one side: that, good madam, is ridiculous. You love a good joke, and I’m often your best one.

You love books, sausage pie, the twenty-seven ‘waysing cars’ you have stashed everywhere, Finding Nemo, sprinting, sitting in patches of sunshine in your bath towel, and Daddy. You hate salad, being made to take off your towel and get dressed, sitting in the Tesco trolley, and being reminded that I am in charge. You are rapid-fire chatter, ingenuity, single-mindedness, throat-gurgling laughs. When I push you high on the swings, you close your eyes and tip your head back to the open skies. You invite me to dance during the closing credits of any film we watch, and I would never dream of turning you down. You are clever as heck. Let’s say that now while you’re too young to get it. Oh gosh, you really are.

We have a more complicated bond these days: you want things and push back when you can’t have them; I lose my temper over your stubbornness more often than I should. We are parenting now in earnest, and often I feel a terrible tearing mix of frustration and fear and pride and love. I suppose that’s how you become less of me and more of you, and there’s something wonderful in that. I love you fiercely for your wholeness and integrity. Regardless of who’s watching, you are always most perfectly yourself. I have this sense of you as a poised arrow: fearless, determined, ready on the string. I can’t fathom where that headlong rush forward will take you, but I can guess. So high, my love, so high I can only watch you: so blazingly, beautifully high.

With love and some hair-pulling (on all sides),

Your mother.

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Now it’s your turn! Want to write your own This Is Where We Are? Click below and add the URL for your post and see the others. The linky will be open for a week. I would love to read it!

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Outnumbered

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We were driving out to the woods on Saturday evening, and Tim switched on the radio. Cyndi Lauper came on, because this is Heart Radio, and they like their Saturday nights to start with a cheese board.

Tim whipped up the volume, and I yelled out of the window, picturing myself in sleeves as big as my head.

Whoooa GIRLS just wanna have fu-un

Whoooa GIRLS just wanna haaaaave fuuuuun!

Then I yelled, equally loudly, ‘I AM NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO DANCE TO THIS IN OUR HOUSE’.

Because, of course, I have boys.

Sometimes I think the girl-ache will eat me alive. Genetically speaking, we’re likely to have boys until we decide to stop having anyone. I have lingered in frilly-dress aisles and directed mournful glances at baby headbands and flowered vests. My well-thumbed, twenty-year-old copies of The Little White Horse and A Little Princess sit hopefully on my shelf, but are likely to be ignored in favour of Artemis Fowl and Lemony Snicket (just to be clear, I know boys can love A Little Princess too, and I think Lemony Snicket is a wordy genius. But, you know, statistics). And there are things that a mother can only have with a daughter. The vulnerability and prickly magnificence of being a woman is something that is precious to me. I would like to share it with someone who has my heart.

We arrived at the woods and wandered in. The sun was going down, with the kind of light that clarifies. Henry was poking in a muddy puddle with a stick, flat cap pulled down low over his eyes. He passed me another stick without looking at me. ‘This one yours, Mummy’, he said.

I settled down to poking. It’s underrated, I think.

As the sun set, I took over Teddy’s back carrier so Henry could sit on Tim’s shoulders. The darkness came in behind and around us while Henry listened for owls, and I listened to Teds sigh and coo behind my head. He is so beautiful, this one, that some days all I can do is squeeze him.

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep’, I said to Henry. ‘What’s the next line?’ He looked at me and raised his eyebrows.

Oh yes, that was it. I raised my voice and my arms, because in the dark, with your wordy boy who understands you completely, and your tiny boy who adores you too much to care, you can do that sort of thing.

‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep -

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep’.

I looked over and he’d raised his skinny arms too. Teddy huffed again behind my head. I felt like I was made for this.

‘I heard an owl’, Henry said.

‘Me too’, I said.

We went home.

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Behind the sign

We’re walking back to the car in gentle sunshine, and I let go of your hand so you can swish through the leaf mould and fallen blossom at the edge of the path. You cannot resist a pile like this, I have discovered. It makes me think of concealed dog mess, but it makes you think of rustly sounds and secrets. This is what it is to grow up. I like turning the clock back with you, even if I don’t step in there myself.

‘Mummy, where are me?’

I turn around and you’re stock-still, pole-straight behind the street sign. ‘Where are me?’ is the call of our household at the minute. You will hide anywhere that will hold you, and many places that won’t. Your crinkled grammar makes me laugh every time.

I haven’t replied yet, so you ask again. ‘Hey mummy, where are me?’

I can see all of you except your head. You can never quite believe how big you are. My view of you is better, but no more complete. I can picture your face, grinning into the rusted back of the sign, waiting. You’ll stay there till I come.

It’s not the hiding you love, you see. It’s the being found.

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If you have a child and a blog, I have just the project for you

The other day, I wondered casually why there are no photos of me and both boys together.

This is why.

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(The hair-blinding. The escaping trousers. The determined ninja foot. Let’s get this cracker on the wall, sharpish.)

I’m going to need a better effort for our Mother’s Day photo this year, so watch this space. Ug.

In other news: if you’ve been hanging out here for a while, you may have noticed one of my dearest Mother’s Day traditions is writing a letter to my children about how it feels to be their mother. I hope they’ll want to read these in years to come – but they also mean a lot to me, as a record of where they are, where I am, where we are together.

This year I thought it might be nice to read other people’s, so I’m going to turn it into a linky. Which is, if you don’t know (I didn’t for ages) – a blog post with a form at the bottom for you to enter a post of your own. It appears as a little thumbnail at the bottom of my post, so anyone can find your blog from mine.

It can be funny, heartfelt, sad, exasperated – anything, as long as it’s true. I value women’s raw experience, here in this community. I don’t take it lightly, and I’d love to gather some together here. Perhaps we can make a day that can be upsetting or guilt-making for some more uplifting. The linky form will be open for a week, starting on UK Mother’s Day (30th March), so don’t worry if you don’t have time on the day itself. But I’d love you to join in! (I’m also frightened that it will sit alone and unbothered for the whole seven days, so if you’re undecided, well – here’s my best pretty-please face.)

It’s called This Is Where We Are: A Letter to my Children on Mother’s Day. My previous letters (here and here) are now called this too, because you can do this on the internet, and that is why blogs are better than journals for indecisive people.

I do love you, dear readers! I mean, I don’t want to get all weird or anything. It’s just, I suppose, that I’m very glad you’re here.

Fist-bumps from the woman with three kinds of snot in my hair today.

Rachel.

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Five ways to tell you’re in baby burnout…and what to do about it

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Sometimes Fridays are the best times to hold up your hands and say ‘dear readers, I confess: I have been an idiot’. We have just come back from a break in Stratford-Upon-Avon – two lovely days of back-to-back theatre and eating that I will be blogging about tomorrow – and now I can say for certain: I was deep in baby burnout, and should have done something about it sooner. 

Paging all parents of small children: life is not supposed to be, does not have to be, sheer self-sacrificing nuttiness. It’s not supposed to be grim or miserable, and you’re not supposed to lose all sense of yourself. If that’s true for you – as it has been, lately, for me – then the pressure of looking after small people is beginning to get to you. And that’s alright, because you’re not superhuman, and your resources are finite. Watch yourself for the signs of baby burnout and you can make a diagnosis quicker than Web MD, prescribe yourself something appropriate, and get back to enjoying your children.

(PS, this also applies, of course, to burnout in general. There are more things than eight-month-olds that wear a body out…though not many that produce as much projectile vomit.)

Here, then, are the top five signs of baby burnout I keep a weather eye on:

‘I can’t move. No, honestly’

Tiredness is par for the course with littles. Exhaustion, too, some days. But in the past month I’ve felt something different: being thoroughly and physically drained of energy much of the time. It didn’t matter how many lie-ins Tim arranged for me to have. Mid-morning I would get shaky and weak, as though I hadn’t had a large breakfast, and then mid-afternoon it would come back. My consumption of sugary and fatty food has sky-rocketed as a result, which has reinforced the feeling of grossness, and on and on we went into a place of sadness and doughnuts. Blah. You too, perhaps? Onto the next thing, then.

‘he’s doing it because he hates me’

I’ve become aware, lately, of this irrational conviction that anything annoying Henry does is done deliberately because he knows I don’t like it. ‘WHY is he being pointlessly destructive when he knows it gets me cross?’ I would rage to myself. ‘He’s not getting dressed on purpose. He means something by it’. Um, no, crazy lady, he doesn’t. Or rather, the only thing he means by it is HELLO MOTHER, I’M TWO AND I HAVE NO SOCIAL CUES. If you’re assigning Richard III motives to your toddler’s random mess, then tick this box and move on to the next point.

‘I can’t be me right now’

I always know I need to make a change when I can’t read. An inability to pursue your normal hobbies or interests, in however limited a fashion, is a big burnout sign. For weeks I’ve started and restarted the same books and got no further than the second page. Even when the boys were quiet, or asleep. Even when they were out. And I struggled to get through a film, or to read the news, and the outings I’ve planned – usually the highlight of our days – have been distinctly lacking in inspiration. I will say to myself what I’ve always said on this blog: you use all of yourself to mother with, including your own passions and enthusiasms. If you can no longer find them, tick this box and carry on.

‘ouch’

This is a slightly weird one, but I’ve found it’s true for me: I become clumsy when I’ve used up all my resources. My spatial awareness fizzles to nothing. So I bang myself more on furniture, end up with bruises on my arms and legs and little cuts on my hands from cooking. If you’re wearing more than one plaster at the moment (I’m wearing two, both patterned with monkeys because I could only find Henry’s box), then maybe this applies to you too.

And finally -

‘will you get out of my emotional space, please’

Oh, the thing about small children – lovely and awful in equal measure – is that they’re never out of your head. From the minute they’re awake, you revolve over them constantly.

Is it breakfast time? Is he ok in the bath? Will he get his clothes on today? Oh dear, must be time for his nap. Has he eaten enough today? What needs to happen to get both of them into the car? How much can I carry down the stairs at once? Should I have spent more time reading to him? What’s he crying for now? Can I fix it? 

When they’re asleep, I’m trying to cram in as much as possible and listening, listening for the first wake-up cry. When they’re awake, even if they’re not sat on me physically, they’re sat in my emotional space. This is normal, but over the past month, it started to feel like I was being slowly suffocated.

***

I had all of these boxes ticked with angry red marker. And if that’s the case, well, I need to get on and do something about it. I am the captain of my soul, etc. Here are a few things that help me get back on an even keel. Perhaps they might work for you too:

one, take a mini-break from your little loves. I know this can be difficult – if you have babies breastfeeding on demand, for example – but if at all possible, this is the best remedy. A full day is good, overnight is better. A couple of days is better still. You make enough space in your head to miss and appreciate them, and reset your perspective for when they come back.

two, get a babysitter and take a book or magazine to a coffee shop for an hour. It takes you right out of your own head, plus you get to eat a muffin without having it slobbered on first. Or go to the cinema (if you need to, you can choose a shorter film so you can get back to feed). Getting engrossed in someone else’s story means you can happily return to your own once it’s done.

three, if you really can’t leave them at all, wait till their naptime, go to another room, put music on as loud as you can get away with, and lie down on the floor with your eyes closed. Try to think about nothing but the music and your own breathing. Which leads me on to -

four, before they wake up or during naptime, try some meditation. You might feel stupid if it’s your first time, but it helps. I rather liked this little primer cartoon for beginners.

five, this one’s difficult, but it’s one of the best quick fixes I’ve found: find a patch of sun, and sit in it with your eyes closed. Warmth and light do miraculous things to your mind and body. Try and sit in it when no one is going to sit on you.

Here is a Fridayish thought for your Friday – you will be a better parent, a better person, when you are in proper balance yourself. And you can be. But here’s the thing, this piece of grace I try to bear in mind on my worst days: your babies aren’t wondering when you’ll get your act together. All they see is you, bracketing their days with love, putting order into their universe. In their eyes, you could boost them up to the stars if you wanted.

In a way, of course, you will.

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You guys! MAD Blog Award nominations close today at midnight! If you like what I do here, I’d be ever so grateful if you’d nominate us by clicking below. Perhaps Best Writer or Best Baby Blog? Thank you!

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My children are more than a high school movie

Buffy, season 1. Where miniskirts ruled the world.

Buffy, season 1. Where miniskirts ruled the world, and the vice-presidents were sass and eye shadow.

I thought the other day that Henry and Teds had the potential to be superstars in the high school movie genre. If there’s a higher pinnacle of ambition for your children, I’d like to hear about it. And why? They’d be dead easy to cast.

Henry, loveable nerd.

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Long, stringy frame in a button-down shirt and jersey. Slightly highly-strung, with a headful of obscure details gleaned from the books he reads obsessively. He likes to perch. He prefers to explain things in twenty words when two-and-a-half would do.

Teddy, easy-going slacker.

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Blonde-haired, blue eyed, wrestler’s physique. When he blows, he really blows – but most of the time you’ll find him eating large meals, laughing at someone else’s jokes, accidentally standing on people, keeping his heart of gold resolutely on display.

I’ve spent a lot of time, since the boys were born, making note of their characters. I love their differences: Henry has always been fierce and funny, Teddy sweet and observant. It’s amazing how much personality babies cram into their tiny bodies, isn’t it? They come out bellowing with it.

And it’s fine to notice, because I believe we don’t make or mould our babies, but discover them, and help them to discover themselves: gently amplifying their strengths, taking compassionate stock of their weaknesses. Who knows them better than me, after all? I’ve hovered over their cribs, supervised their mealtimes, gathered them up into my lap after a fall. We go way back to the clammy-soft skin and desperate heaving of tiny ribs as they were passed to me for the first time: bawling, enraged, blazing with life. Everything I know about them is logged away, and I am desperately organising it into some magnificent mental database that will tell me exactly what to do at all times.

The problem is that no sooner do I triumphantly find and label a characteristic, they change it. It gets me into trouble. ‘Oh, Henry is great with people’, I say. ‘He’s not shy’. Except sometimes he is. He’ll stick his head under the sofa rather than look directly at someone new – if he hasn’t seen them before, or for a while, or if he feels like it. So basically, he’s shy except when he’s not, and he’s brave except when he’s not, and Teddy is quiet except when he’s shouting his head off, which is, hello, a lot of the time.

My instinct is to pin them down, and theirs is to reinvent. They are shy and loud and headstrong and watchful and fearless and terrified and thoughtfully kind and thoughtlessly mean. What do I know about them? Only what’s true in this minute.

One more thing. I come from a family where we knew, and often talked about, what our defining quality was. Four siblings, respectively The Brains, The Sporting Genius, The Funny One and The Looker. We mostly decided this for ourselves, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pinpointing what you’re good at. But over time it became set in stone. The fear of being Not Clever Enough is still the ugly root of a lot of my anxieties.

I don’t want that for them. There’s a lot of good to be done in this world, and I’d like them to get on with it without worrying about whether they’re allowed. I am breathless with possibility for them. Their horizon is just about anything they can imagine for themselves, and I am ready – and hoping – to be surprised.

In short, dear boys: sometimes you’re the nerd, and sometimes you’re the vampire slayer. But most of the time – brilliantly, heartbreakingly, and all at once – you’re every marvellous thing in between.

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