Tag Archives: Attention

Find your place

And so it was that the pig found his place in the world of the farm.
And he was happy,
even in his dreams.

I am formulating a grand theory about toddlerhood. Are you ready? It is this: more than anything in the world, they need to know their place.

I don’t say it in a Victorian master-to-servant way, stamping my toddler down while twirling my diabolical moustache. What I mean is that knowing how you stand – in relation to other people and by yourself – can mean an awful lot. Henry is a child to his parents (he is loved, he will be taken care of, our decisions are final); he is an older brother (he has a friend, he has an ally, Teddy will follow where he leads); he is himself (some things in the house are his, he has his own strengths, we appreciate him as an individual).

I think I’ve expressed that rather badly, and it definitely won’t fit on a business card. I’ll try to refine it before I patent it, don’t worry.

I’ve been working on the last one particularly, lately. I noticed that I was grouping them together more – talking about ‘the boys’, and giving them both a joint, diluted version of my attention. And oh, my dears, being two with a tiny sibling is hard. It can be crappy to share your mother, especially with a kid that can’t even sit up yet. He needs to feel that there are times I only look at him. (Teddy will too, before too long. Best to start now.)

So I started with the songs. Teds has been rocked to sleep to the tuneless strains of ‘Moon River’ since he was tiny. I remembered that when I would pace with baby Henry in the dark, I would grope for song scraps to sing to him, and out would come, effortlessly, this:

if I had words
to make a day for you
I’d give you a morning
golden and true
I would make this day
last for all time
then give you a night
deep in moonshine

Which, as any self-respecting child of the eighties knows, is the song Farmer Hoggett sings to the pig in ‘Babe’. (If you happen to be born in the seventies instead, you may know it as a weird reggae-beat duet by Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keeley. Farmer Hoggett sings it better, as indeed ‘Babe’ does most things better, and that is the end of it.)

We resurrected it. It suits him, somehow. After their baths I rock Teddy to sleep with ‘Moon River’ (it almost never takes more than one verse. Boy likes to splash, and it’s hard work) while Henry waits in his towel. That’s Edward’s song. If Henry interrupts I tell him, gently, that this is Edward’s time. Then it’s his turn. I take him on my lap and he sings it with me while I rock him. It’s the first song he’s learned all the words to, and if I told you that his ‘gowden and TWOO’ line didn’t just about kill me every time, well, I would be telling you a lie.

Last week I found a £3 copy of ‘Babe’ at the supermarket. The look on his face – transported with absolute wonder – when Farmer Hoggett starts to sing was something to see.

‘Thass Herry’s song!’ he whispered, eyes wide. I squeezed him, and gave my moustache a victory twirl.

Now we’ve watched ‘Babe’ three times in the space of twelve hours, which is a bit much. Even for a child of the eighties.

And so it was that the pig found his place in the world of the farm.
And he was happy,
even in his dreams.


Postscript: I’ve also now moved his storytime to just before bed, when Teddy is asleep. It settles him better than… hmm, I’d like to say that it settles him better than any combination of dummy-and-bottle ever did, but the dummy-and-bottle combo was like baby crack [AND I MISS IT]. So, no. But aside from those things, it settles him extremely well.

Open your hands

We were five days into this two-baby experiment, and something felt off. Of course, it was unbearably hot, I hadn’t slept for longer than two hours all week, and I was hurting everywhere, so there was plenty of off to go around. But this was something else. Tim put Henry to bed and Henry got back up, which had been the usual state of affairs since Edward and the heat arrived together, so I fetched him a drink of water and put him back down again. It was dark in his room, and quiet. I sat by his bed while he drank with his legs in the air. I hadn’t seen this much of him in days. Once he saw I wasn’t moving, he smiled so big it looked like the birthday of his life was here at last, instead of just a sleep-deprived crazy woman with a baby permanently attached to her angry chest.

I started to cry. And I realised I missed him, and there was the off. He was confused and displaced, and I missed him. Now everything was different, and he knew it and didn’t know why. I couldn’t even give him a drink of water without crying like a lunatic.

Was I actually sad because I’d just given my boy a sibling? This is what five days of crazy will do to you. I love this tiny arrival like I grew another heart to accommodate him. He is the most laid-back and lovely of things, all furrowed forehead and delicate fingers. He has a pointy chin and an actual jawline, for which marvel we must thank his father’s genes, because what business do I have producing a child with a jawline? You have never seen anything like the look of resigned dismay on his miniature face when Henry tries to sit on him for the fourteenth time. I cannot imagine not having him here.

And yet, and yet. Henry and I have spent two years as two halves. Not all of our days in each other’s company have been good ones, but we are used to weekdays as a pair. Now he would never have all of me, ever again, and things would never be the same for him, or me. Brothers are wonderful, and it will be so unbelievably good in the end. But in that minute I looked straight into what we were losing, and I was afraid.

Well, I took him out for an hour the next morning, just the two of us. We bought a Thomas the Tank Engine magazine and read it over chocolate buttons on the front step. I worked out the art of feeding Edward with one arm and reading to Henry with the other. I remembered that there are bunk-beds and lego sets in their future, and a million jokes at my expense. Now we’re in the middle of a halfway normal week, I can see that it’s going to be fine. And in this strange, delirious, breathtaking month I am loving this day, this minute, as hard as I possibly can. Even the bits where Henry accidentally headbutts me in the face because he doesn’t want to go to bed without his shoes on (?), or that point where I’m ready to drop at night and Teddy wakes up, all ‘I AM REFRESHED AND HUNGRY AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW IT’.

Because everything is a phase. Everything will be over soon. And since I can’t spend my time wishing for the bits we left behind, this is what mothering means: love it all as hard as you possibly can. And then open your hands, and let it go.


I want to be a single-tasker

This story starts in McDonald’s.

(You guys, nearly all my stories start in McDonald’s these days. McDonald’s is where Life Happens, and don’t you forget it.)

Henry sat swinging his legs in the high chair next to me. He requested the kite song to supplement his fish fingers. Who can argue with that partnership? I turned away from my conversation to look at him, and bellowed ‘Let’s GO FLY A KITE! Up TO THE HIGHEST HEIGHT!’ There was vibrato and everything. I like to do that song justice, because Dick van Dyke deserves it. Henry’s eyes widened, his mouth opened, and he looked at me like he’d never seen anything so brilliantly wonderful.

Of all the things about motherhood I adore, that look is in the top five. I get it when I turn away from what I’m doing, look him square in the face and hand over all my attention for a moment.

I don’t think I get it enough. Attention is a hard thing to give, all at once.

I am busy, of course, and about to get busier. I’ve always got a list of seven or eight things on the go, and mentally reorder and reprioritise as I do them. Multitasking is more comfortable for me than single-tasking. I can’t wash up without listening to the radio, I never read without stopping to flick through my phone, and talking to Henry is something I do while doing other things: the laundry, a batch of editing, driving the car, washing my hair in the bath.

Which makes me think there must be power in doing just one thing at once. Not all the time, and not for everything. But for people, yes. They want you to turn towards them, look them square in the face and give over all your attention for a moment. I suppose the fact that giving over attention is so very difficult makes it the best kind of gift to receive.

So I want to practice one-personing this week. Just for a few minutes a day – a phoneless moment on the sofa with Tim, a quarter of an hour eating ice lollies on the windowsill with Henry, a few minutes’ writing in the quiet with me.  Where I put everything else away and hand over all of me, all at once. Want to do it too? I think it’ll be something to see.

(Not you, though, washing-up. Not you.)

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