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This is a big deal for him.

He doesn’t like to paint, or make collages, or do anything that means getting his hands dirty. The other children in the class are painting things for him (seriously. Future mob boss?).

I worry a little about where he fits, and what his teachers see in him.

I do not know always whether I am encouraging him to try new things, or squeezing him in a mould that’s not made for him, so that one or both of us will look better.

I am trying to let him be. I keep thinking: no boxes, no boxes, no boxes. No boxes allowed around here.

Today, he made a leaf picture (he’s still picking off the glue from his fingers).

School jumpers

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He loves it.

He came out on his first morning, beaming.

‘How did you do?’ I asked.

‘QUITE WEEEELL!’ he shouted back, arms in a victory V.

I see we are raising a classic British child, who uses ‘not bad’ to mean ‘really good’ and ‘quite well’ to mean ‘verily, mother, I have had the best morning of my life so far’.

We are not quite getting to grips with a new routine where half our day is gone with the school run and the other half is taken up by staggered naps. Teddy and my work are getting particularly short-changed. I am also quite terrifyingly awkward at the school gates, as anticipated. But we’re getting there, and we’ll get there better once we’re five minutes’ walk away instead of twenty minutes’ drive (in just a couple of weeks!).

I miss him. I am only just beginning to realise how much of our days will revolve around school from now on. I have lost a time when we invented everything around him, and I’m allowing myself a bit of space to mourn for it. But other things are on the horizon too: library books, history videos, bonkers German nouns, residential trips, PE, maths, piano lessons, friends. Bad days, good days, non-uniform days. I can’t wait to see what he makes of them.

If Les Miserables was performed by my one-year-old

The struggle is real. 

Look Down Teddy

Look down and see
the sweepings of the street
and eat them
they are ambrosia
whatever your mother says

Valjean Arrested Teddy

Tell Her Reverence your story
let us see if she’s impressed
you were splashing in the toilet
you have faeces on your vest

Factory Teddy

At the end of the day you’ll eat nothing for dinner
tomatoes are rank little globules of pus
and you’ll put them on the floor
and the inside of your nostrils
that’s as far as you’re willing to go
where are the cheerios

Who Am I Teddy

Who am I
that other baby in the mirror isn’t your favourite
is he

Do You Hear the People Sing Teddy

DO YOU HEAR THE BABY SING
BELLOWING LOUDER THAN BIG BEN
IT IS THE PROTEST OF A BABY
WHO WILL NOT WEAR SOCKS AGAIN

CLOTHES ARE TOOLS OF THE OPPRESSOR
CLOTHES ARE SATAN’S TOILET ROLL
YOU MUST WEAR ONLY YOUR SELF-RESPECT
AND A CEREAL BOWL

***

A cure for the Monday blues

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When you release a fourteen-month-old into the wild after a morning of Septemberish errands, he cannot believe his luck, and for the next hour he’ll be like OH MY WORD LOLS EVERYWHERE, EVERYWHERE I LOOK.

Then after lunch you’ll give him a spare grape, and he’ll laugh appreciatively, all CLASSIC, YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN. Grapes are hysterical.

Once his brother is in bed he’ll want to get in there too, so you’ll pass him your phone for distraction. He likes the photo on your home screen, and every time the screen goes black he’ll pick up your hand, carefully, carefully, and move it over to the button for you to make it light up again. ONLY YOU KNOW THE ANCIENT SECRET OF THE ON SWITCH, he’ll think, and laughs, because you are the best of all humans on this earth.

At some point he’ll stand on your internal organs to better reach the telephone. ‘Teddeeeeee…’ you’ll say, warningly, and he’ll turn around to flash his six teeth in your direction. Then, while holding eye contact, he’ll push the router off the table casually, his eyebrows all YES I DID, WANT TO SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT? NO? RIGHT THEN.

What I’m saying, I think, is that fourteen-month-olds are pretty great, and if you can get hold of one, you should.

One thousand and ninety two

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Dear Henry,

Today you are three. Today has been a good day.

It’s getting harder to write about you properly, because describing you is becoming a challenge. The sweeping generalisations we hold up to babies – he’s loud; he’s busy; he’s a good sleeper – are poor greyscale things when held up to the patterned light of a three-year-old. You are multi-layered and contradictory, full of depths that surface and take us by surprise. You are increasingly a person. This is something we will both have to get used to.

Let’s just write you into this page a little. You talk. And talk and talk. You don’t say ‘I fell down’, you say ‘gosh, that was a tumble’. You don’t say ‘it’s dark’, you say ‘look, Mummy, outside it is dark and werry gloomy’. We laugh at you and with you a lot. Following your thought processes is like trying to catch a spark in blackness. It is difficult, but oh, it illuminates such lovely things.

You are passionate and emotional, as I think all toddlers must be, and we are learning to navigate this together. Not always very well. You love dinosaurs, books, trains, racing cars, Winnie the Pooh (a bit left-field, that one). You still run everywhere and only from the waist down. You whizz so fast on your little balance bike that I have to sprint alongside you with the pushchair, watching your hair stand on end. You can say seven wordless things just by raising your eyebrows. As of this morning, you do not own a single pair of trousers that fit.

I think now that all of my children will be special to me in their own way, and nothing will ever take away from the miraculous firstness of you. You were the moment I heard a jagged newborn cry through my own exhaustion and pain. The point at which everything in my head and heart changed all at once was marked, indelibly, by you.

I watched you open-mouthed, astounded, that first long night. I still do. I think I probably always will.

Today we have ridden trains, conducted serious experiments in the Science Museum, eaten chips in Covent Garden. Today we bought you pick-and-mix, and every time Teddy pulled on your sleeve for a foam banana, you very quietly and kindly passed one over to him. Today has been a good day. I hope you’ll remember some of it.

May three be good to you, little boy.

You are good to us.

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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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What’s the magic (sibling) number?

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I’m back! And I’m catching up as quickly as possible, which is to say, not very quickly at all, despite my many multicoloured to-do lists.

In some ways it’s been a rough landing. Toddler-plus-newborn felt pretty damn hair-raising, but toddler-plus-determined-climbing-biter is black belt martial arts. ‘I’d forgotten how much of my day is fending off chaos with karate-chopping hands’, I meant to text to Tim, but didn’t, because I didn’t get a minute to sit down. (I said it to him while wrestling pyjamas onto Teddy during the three minutes he was home, instead.)

And yet, and yet. The way these two interact at the moment is a joyous thing. They communicate somewhere outside speech, in a dialect of face-patting, cheerio-stealing, laughing and crawling up and down stairs, shoulders bumping together. Every day they get more like brothers. ‘Two boyths in the bath!’ Henry crows in the mornings. ‘Two boyths doin’ crawling! Two boyths in the washing machine!’

I ran in quick for that one. No harm done.

I had a really good week away. Today I sorted out my photos from my brother’s wedding, and it was the photo at the top that made me realise why: sibling time is easy time. Your jokes are always funny, your dance moves are always appreciated; your oldest self comes back out to play and you remember why you liked her.

It was this photo too that convinced me I’m not yet done with babies. We would be lost without our boys, Sarah and I. They have spent a lifetime infuriating us, teasing us, accepting us – we’d be infinitely poorer without all that. Four was a great number: we could divide into pairs if we wanted, but altogether we were like the kids putting our rings together to call up Captain Planet: varied and multi-faceted and unstoppable. No one gets you like your siblings, and the more you have, the sweeter it is.

And my own boys – who knows who might be waiting to join their conspiratorial gang of two? I’m game to find out.*

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*not yet, though.

What’s your ideal number of siblings? What made you decide to stop or carry on? Has your experience with your own family made you want the same, or sent you screaming in the opposite direction? It’s different for everyone, so spill the beans below.