A baby at the beach….

It’s entirely possible that I have been baby-less for so long that I’ve blocked out the memories of taking any of them to the beach. This is the only explanation I can come up with as to why I have booked two separate seaside holidays this summer – either that or I just forgot I would have a baby. This happened often during the pregnancy. I found myself either forgetting it would somehow actually happen and a baby would emerge and then I’d have to do stuff with the baby and, you know, take his existence into consideration. Along with the possibility of forgetting either the difficulties of having a baby or having a baby altogether, I possibly had a distinctly rose tinted view of life with a baby. A bit like that one you have before your first baby, when you don’t realise that they are actually quite a lot of work. 

This weekend is a trial run for my two summer holidays – both of which are husband-less. Fortunately this weekend he was with us, and I feel like making a spreadsheet of all the many, many ways I may not cope that well without him on our two weeks in the summer. 

Our time at the beach went like this: 

I’m excited! Everyone’s excited! We’re at the seaside for the weekend, the sun is shining brightly in a distinctly unBritish fashion, and the buckets and spades have been bought. The baby will love the beach! How can he not? All that sand….and sea….and sand. Babies love that! Let’s go! 

I start getting together all the things that we’ll need. This takes approximately four hours. I’m interrupted continually by the older two screeching about how the other one won’t play the game they want/ has stepped on their toe/ isn’t obeying the pretend rules of their pretend game, and by the baby wanting food/ company/ sleep. (He doesn’t fall asleep by himself. He didn’t read that chapter in the baby manual) Foolishly and optimistically, I have allowed the husband to go for a run. ‘Of course you can go for a run,’ I had trilled cheerily. ‘I’ll just get everything ready for the beach.’ Thinking dark thoughts about the running, and my own stupid use of the word ‘just’, I achieve almost nothing. 

The husband returns, mediates and soothes. I have a cup of tea on the decking to recover – it being a little early for vodka – while looking sadly at the clouds that have gathered in the intervening period. 

We pack the car. This takes some time. It’s as full as it was when we drove down, with a weekend’s worth of crap that babies seem to accumulate. I worry briefly about how we will get it all onto the beach and push that thought aside. These are just details. 

We drive to the beach, trying not to look at the black clouds, and pay the equivalent of a second mortgage for parking. But that’s OK, because we’re working on holiday money, which everyone knows doesn’t count. 

Even with the marvellous invention of what the Americans call a ‘sand cart’, it takes three trips to get everything we need onto the sand. The older two, temporarily friends again with the appearance of some sand and sea, disappear into the sand dunes before we’ve left the car park and are no help whatsoever. Other holiday makers assume we have made this trip just for an oblivious sleeping baby and give us indulgent oh-you’ll-soon-learn-and-spend-your-holiday-in-the-pub type looks. 

The older two return and ask for an ice cream, seemingly oblivious to the fact that WE HAVE PROVIDED THEM WITH AN ENTIRE BEACH TO PLAY WITH. I foolishly make vague promises about later, which guarantees they will return approximately every three minutes to find out if it’s ‘later’ yet. 

The baby wakes up and, unsurprisingly, finding himself in the middle of gusting wind and bright sunshine, neither of which are particularly favourable conditions for a baby, screams. Dark memories of the older two’s first trips to the beach are starting to creep in over my consciousness, but I briskly banish them. We feed the baby, attempting to keep sand out of his eyes, mouth, and the bottle, and the sun off any uncovered patches of skin. This is equally as difficult as it sounds. He is not impressed. 

We set up the baby tent, bought at vast expense for just such an auspicious first-trip-to-the-beach occasion, and put him in it. The wind threatens to blow it and its precious cargo away. We frantically read the instructions and hurl sand into the side pockets while shouting at each other. A sizeable percentage of it blows into the tent and into his face. The older children appear and ask if it’s later yet. 

He doesn’t seem to mind the sand still blowing over himand lies in the tent cooing happily at the patterns the sun is making on the inside. The other two are throwing themselves off sand dunes. All is calm. We sit back down in our chairs and congratulate ourselves. The worst is over. We love each other again. Now we will reap the rewards of our hard work and can scroll through Facebook and not talk to each other unimpeded by needy children. I take a picture of child 2 doing gymnastics in front of a sunlit sea and post it on Facebook with appropriate #soblissful type hashtag. To be fair, for those thirty seconds, it was.  

The baby starts to cry. I can’t blame him really. So far he’s had sand thrown over him, a rushed and wholly covered up feed, and almost been carried off by the wind in his little tent. I feel like crying too. We tell the other kids we’re going home. There’s hysteria over the lack of ice cream. 

We send them for ice cream and attempt to cram the baby tent back into its unfeasibly tiny bag. I understand precisely none of what seem to me to be overly complicated instructions. The tent refuses to collapse. The baby screams. We hiss at each other over his outraged head. The tent is no closer to collapsing. 

The husband, who is good at these things, finally manages to stuff it into the bag. I have no idea how I’m going to do this by myself in August. We trudge off the beach, trailed by children with ice creams dripping down their legs, carrying the eight million bags and the still-screaming baby. As soon as he is in the car seat and off the terribleness of the beach, he reverts to his smiling, charming self. 

We go home and sit on the decking in the sun. With vodka. The day takes on a much rosier hue. (Alcohol does that I’ve found) 

Say it after me, I say to myself – beaches and babies do not mix. Don’t let this be like birth – time needs to not dull this. Beaches. And. Babies. Do. Not. Mix. 

Cheers. 

In the afternoons….

Some days I’m tired. Some days I’ve been up in the night and had a stressful school run and he hasn’t slept enough, snatched as his naps often are in the car or the sling, sandwiched between two school runs, both of which begin after he’s got so tired he doesn’t know what to do with himself (except sleep; he doesn’t do that in the day unless persuaded and there’s no time for persuasion at 8am when neither of the others have their teeth cleaned or their shoes on.) Some days the hours disappear and I don’t know where they slid away to, swallowed by hours of feeding and trying to get him to sleep. Some days I’m irritable, snappy, and long for sleep or an hour in which I am not responsible for a tiny human being who can do nothing for himself. Some days I remember when I thought pregnancy was hard work and think now how ridiculous that was. Some days he’s grizzly, tired, irritable and I long for the night and a few hours of oblivion. 

But every afternoon I get into bed and lie him in the crook of my arm to get him to sleep for his afternoon nap. He gazes up at me, his blue eyes dark in the dim light, and his look is so trusting, so adoring, that I can feel my heart swell. Sometimes he’ll smile up at me because he can’t resist, even though he’s tired, and that smile of his, so perfect, so wondrous, so new, can bring tears to my eyes. And then he’ll gradually close his eyes and drift off to sleep (thanks to the white noise app that has changed our whole lives) and I lie here in the dim light of a curtained afternoon, trying to persuade myself to put him in his cot and sleep myself, but unable to tear myself away from the warmth of his small sleeping form. And I remember that one day soon I won’t have this. One day soon he’ll be crawling, walking, running away from me, and I will remember these afternoons, and the tiny perfection of him snuggled against me, and the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, and his small, fat hand flexed on my skin. And I will remember that in those moments in these afternoons, I had everything. 

As I watch the Manchester tribute concert….

I tucked the children into bed tonight and stood for a moment, looking down at each of them. Child 3 was sound asleep, and I leaned down and kissed him, gently, on his warm, soft skin. He didn’t stir, sunk in the depths of his baby sleep. Child 2, as is her usual delaying tactic, reached out her hand and asked to hold mine, ‘just for a minute, Mummy.’ Child 1 wanted to tell me many, many facts about some space probe or something he is reading about. Usually I can’t get away fast enough, especially since the birth of child 3, because I’m tired and we’re at the end of a long day in which I have already heard far too much about the space probe, and in which child 2 has already crawled all over me too many times. But tonight – tonight I waited, and I held my daughter’s hand and watched as her innocent, pure little face smoothed itself into sleep. And I waited and I listened to my son tell me all about this probe that he is so fascinated by, and I gazed at his face, lit up by his fascination for it, and I felt lucky. I felt so lucky. 

Because two weeks ago some parents, who felt exactly as I do about their children, waved them goodbye as they walked away from them into a pop concert. They probably drove home, or watched them walk down the street, thinking fondly of what a good time they’d have. They had probably listened to them talk about the concert for months, years even, and had felt happiness that their children, the most precious objects on their earth, would soon be experiencing such excitement and joy. They probably watched them walk away, those children who were everything to them, and maybe they wanted, just for a moment, to run and grasp them back, to freeze these moments in the way you do as a parent – take the perfection of these creatures you made, each miraculous inch and each miraculous bone – to kiss their hair and hold their hands. Perhaps they didn’t want them to go – perhaps they felt sadness that they were growing up too fast – perhaps they saw in those moments the years ahead in which they moved gradually further away. But they let them go, those parents, and thought of the experience they would have and how they would see them later.

But they didn’t see them later. For those parents, their lives were destroyed in a single moment. I think of them all the time, those parents who are just like me, and they didn’t know. They didn’t think that they needed to snatch every moment with their children, to hold them more tightly when they said good night, to watch them sleep and imprint on their memories the slight curve of a cheek, the silkiness of some strands of hair, the shadows cast by a fan of dark eyelashes. They didn’t know that only a few hours later, that would be all they would have. That it would always be all that they would have, in this unimaginably bleak and awful new existence. 

It is too trite to say that my heart breaks for them. It is too trivial to say, as I sit here with all three of my beautiful children safely asleep upstairs, that I cannot imagine how they will go on, with just those memories. It is too superficial to cry tears for those people who dropped their children off at a concert or a train station and never imagined for a moment that their lives would, only a few hours later, be bleakly, horrifically, irretrievably changed. So instead I will stand by my children’s beds for those moments longer. I will hold my daughter’s hand for as long as she wants me to. I will listen to all those tedious details about the space probe and then give my son an extra kiss goodnight. And I will hold the baby those moments longer in the middle of the night, feeling unutterably fortunate, and think with fathomless dark horror and hopeless, futile tears, of those parents whose children never came home. 

The first month….

And so the first month of his life has been and gone, just like that. In the blink of an eye, he has emerged into the world and become a tiny, definitive person, with likes and dislikes and a personality and presence all of his own. As with the others, I can’t really remember a time when he wasn’t here, or a life in which he didn’t exist. 

It’s been a month of….. 

Getting to know him: the way he likes to sleep, curled into my side, his face turned trustingly into mine. The evenings that he’s spent wide awake and wide eyed, overwhelmed by his brand new world. The times he’s stopped crying, instantly, when I’ve picked him up, his soft head nestled beneath my chin. The moments when I’ve put him down and he’s turned towards the sound of his sister’s or brother’s voice, murmuring his baby sounds, watching them with what feels like wonder. The way that during the day, he likes to sleep on me, his little heart beating against mine. I sit watching him sleep, his cheek resting against my chest, and wonder how it is that a month ago he wasn’t here, and yet now he is everything. 

Siblings. My pride in their love of him has battled with an innate protectiveness and abject fear. They have little understanding of how they could hurt him and some days all I’ve seemed to say is ‘don’t do that!’ Some nights I’ve gone to bed and cried because I’ve felt like a terrible mother, torn continually between my love of the older two and a fierce, overwhelming need to be with him. Even when I’ve known they have their dad, that they’ve had fun and love and attention, there have been days when I haven’t been able to shake the paralysing guilt. Some days I’ve shouted and they haven’t had enough of me and when, after finally getting him to sleep, I’ve put him down and gone into their rooms and found them sound asleep too, their little innocent faces turned towards the door, waiting for a mummy who didn’t come. And some days we’ve gone out as a family and I’ve watched them walk with pride beside him and stroke his head and run to fetch everything we might need and my heart has swelled with their joy in him.

Fear. Giving birth makes you raw, vulnerable, helpless. Some days I’ve felt flayed just from having him alive in a world that could so easily hurt him. I’ve seen the worst of images flicker in my mind, seen his pushchair disappear beneath the wheels of a passing car, dreamed that he’d slid from my hands into the bath, imagined him unmoving in his cot. I’ve taken his temperature a hundred times. Ive watched his chest rise and fall. I’ve woken in the night and counted his breaths. This, the greatest of loves, is accompanied by the sharpest and darkest of fears. 

Mostly, though, it’s been a month of love. Just like the others, I couldn’t imagine how I would feel until he was here, this little creature with the soft hair and the tiny wrinkled hands and the round cheeks. I couldn’t remember how he would so quickly become everything,that the three of them would make up a world that I feel fortunate to inhabit every single day. 

 And it’s been a month of the purest of joy. When he gazed up at me this morning, his eyes seeming to fix on mine, his arms thrown above his head and his mouth stretched in a hesitant, wondrous smile, I wanted time to stop, just for a minute so I could have it for always: frozen on that moment, that joy, that love. 

Mornings in the brave new world of maternity leave….

5-6am- wake up and feed the baby. Have a little stress about the time he’s feeding, because whatever time he feeds, it’s inconvenient for the school run and his next feed. Put him on my chest when he’s finished and lie there with him knowing i really should  go back to sleep and I’ll regret this later, but cannot bring myself to move his warm little body back to his bed. Optimistically plan how I’ll move shortly, be extra organised this morning, and have packed lunches and breakfast done by 6am. 

6.30am – realise I’ve spent much too long admiring the baby and his little breaths, mourning how these tiny newborn days go by too fast, and feeling unreasonable grief that he’s already grown out of his first babygros. Put him in cot. Hold breath, waiting. He doesn’t stir so creep, ninja like, from the room, still holding my breath in case it wakes him. He’s silent and I pull the door to, congratulating myself on a job well done. Meet child 1 outside the door, who cheerfully shouts ‘Morning Mummy!’ Get the baby back to sleep. 

6.45am – wake child 2. Persuade her that no, she cannot stay in bed all day no matter how warm and cosy and much nicer than outside it is. Point out the clothes laid out on her chair, which she will then ignore for the next 45 minutes. Find child 1 reading his book. Suggest he could get dressed before reading. This is greeted with a vague agreement which is designed purely to shut me up about any dressing that needs to be done and make me go away so he can ignore his clothes and read more. Go downstairs, safe in the knowledge that they are both awake if not actually doing anything productive. Filled with a misplaced sense of satisfaction that the morning routine has begun, wash bottles, attempt to find time for breakfast, do packed lunches, get their bags ready, occasionally shout up the stairs for status updates on the dressing, (‘I’m on my pants now Mummy’ from child 1. Ominously, no sound from child 2) and get in the shower. 

7.15am- return upstairs and find child 1 reading his book in his pants. Only his pants. Take deep breath. Think dark thoughts about maternity leave. Resolve that this morning, there will be no shouting. Tell him we’ll be late for school. Child 1 displays no sign of being bothered about this at all, probably because, thanks to my abject horror of being late, it has never happened in all the time he’s been going to school. Find child 2 still in bed. She’s awake, but her pile of clothes remains forlornly untouched on her chair. Take more deep breaths. Threaten the removal of television this evening. While this doesn’t disturb her hugely – the evening is much too far away for real concern at this time – she does at least get out of bed. 

7.25am – physically tear child 1’s book out of his hands. Stand over him while he gets dressed. 

7.30am – make breakfast. Naturally, they want entirely different things. Agree to this for expediency’s sake while muttering more dark thoughts about spoiled children and the house not being a hotel, etc. 

7.35am – referee five arguments and a physical fight while they grudgingly eat their separate bloody breakfasts together. Have a little stress about how the baby hasn’t woken up yet and will now definitely want his feed in the middle of the school run. 

7.40am – consider own breakfast again. Realise I don’t have time.  Eat a chocolate biscuit. I’ve only just given birth, after all. No one will expect me to be thin until at least Christmas. 

7.45am – remove evening television from both children. Try not to scream like a banshee about the fact that they are ONLY EVER NICE TO EACH OTHER DIRECTLY BEFORE BEDTIME. Fail. 

7.50am – choose between waking the baby for a feed that doesn’t fit in with his three hourly pattern in any way, drying my hair, and putting on make up. Ignore the screeching from the other room. I’ve already taken away the television. I have no way forward from here. Leave them to it and hope there is no actual bloodshed. 

7.55am – think longingly of work and how at this time I could be peacefully replying to emails with a cup of tea. 

8am- panic that we should be leaving. Shout instructions about teeth and shoes into the abyss of the children’s general unbotheredness. Remove second book of the morning from child 1. Remember that I had every intention of listening to child 2 read this morning. Continue to feed the baby (with wet hair) and reassure myself that, you know, she can read now. Whole novels. Surely the hideousness of reading every morning can now be despatched, even though it did make me feel like a really good mother. There’s another child now. I have the hell of Biff, Chip and that bloody Kipper to do all over again in a few years. Child 2, still without her shoes or coat on, comes to remind me that we haven’t read. 

8.05am – makeupless, and still with wet hair, stuff all three children plus bags and lunches into the car. Perform complicated manoeuvres involving moving the baby several times from car seat to sling in order to complete two drop offs. Remain patient when children, whose only job is to bring their own book bags and water bottles, leave them several times in the hallway and the car. 

9am – drive merrily away from child 1’s school, the baby asleep in the back, singing along full pelt to some Time Tunnel 90s classic that reminds me of my university years. A day of sitting on the sofa with the baby asleep on me, watching a few reruns of 16 and Pregnant awaits.

 I love maternity leave. After 9am. 

 

The moments that matter…. 

Child 3 is more than two weeks old now. He was born in the earliest hours of a Wednesday morning, arriving into the world, like his sister, with considerable speed and efficiency. Despite my fears over his size, amplified by helpful comments from medical professionals such as ‘he’s a big chap- he’ll be a rugby player’, he was born easily (although not without a huge amount of pain – I had managed to forget how awful it is, and I never, ever want to do it again) and without difficulty. He has begun his time in the world just as he arrived, quietly and without any great fuss, settling quickly into a life where his needs come alongside an older sister and brother, and where he spends a great deal of time being transferred from car seat to sling to pram on school runs and trips to gymnastics. When people have asked me how it’s going, I’ve said ‘fine; it’s completely fine.’ They often look doubtful, but it really is. So far. He’s a good baby, and although he wakes every three hours for a feed, he also settles immediately back to sleep after each one. The endless midnight hours of walking the bedroom floor that I remember so clearly with his sister are thankfully, conspicuously, absent. 

I have, naturally, social media obsessed creature that I am, documented his first two weeks on Facebook. I have tried not to post endless pictures – although I am so besotted by him that I have no real judgement- but I’m certain there are many of my Facebook friends who happily scroll on by his little face, possibly thinking ‘give it a rest.’ Which is, of course, completely fine – I do the same with pictures of people’s dinners, and selfies taken through an Instagram filter. But a chance comment about Facebook today made me think about what we post, and what sort of impression our social media pages give. 

Glancing back over the last two weeks, I know I’ve captured, largely, the love and obsession I have with this, my third and last baby, and his precious, fledgling relationship with his lovely siblings. I have captured moments in which I can’t believe I could love anything this much, moments in which my love of him overwhelms all else, moments in which I look into his little dark eyes and the perfection of him threatens to crush my heart. I have captured this, him, now, his perfection and sweetness and purity and vulnerability, and I have captured my wonder of him: this most glittering and profound of loves. 

There are many moments that I have not captured. There are the moments when heart-stopping, horrifying worry threatens to overwhelm me- the minutes and hours when I’ve been convinced that something’s wrong with him that I can’t fix – that he’s too quiet, or too sleepy, or not hungry enough, or not awake enough. There’s been many moments of irrational, electrifying fear, where I’ve become obsessed with his temperature, or the amount of milk he’s taken. There was the moment that I came back into the room after going out to the kitchen for a minute and found his seven year old brother walking towards the door with him. ‘I’m just taking him upstairs for you Mummy,’ he said brightly, and – after taking him from him and talking to him about how he can’t lift him, how easily broken he would be, how vulnerable he is- I cried for half an hour about what could have happened. I haven’t captured the moments when he has refused to go to sleep in the evenings, over stimulated and over-tired by all the activity of our house in the afternoons and early evenings; when I have had to walk the floor with him and listen to him cry helplessly against my chest. I haven’t captured those moments when I’ve been so tired I snapped at the other children, or the ones when I thought I simply didn’t have the energy to read them a bedtime story and after they’d gone to bed I felt a failure as a mother. I haven’t captured the moment that child 1 cried on the third day and said he felt a bit left out, or the way child 2 has curled up on my lap, even though she’s really too big now, and cried over nothing, defeated by her exhaustion from a school day in which so much is demanded of her. I haven’t captured the moments where I couldn’t get him to latch on no matter how hard I tried, and where we both cried with frustration, or the many, many hours I’ve spent expressing to try to mitigate it. 

And maybe I should have captured those moments. Maybe when I’ve been guilty of showing our new lives as a family of five through a glossy Facebook filter. Maybe when I look back on it I’ll wonder if it was a true reflection of these first weeks. But, you see, in the end, those moments above recede into complete insignificance when I think of the last two weeks. Because, while they were hard and emotional and upsetting, they were also unimportant beside the true and important moments of the first two weeks of child 3’s life. Those moments were ones in which I held him close against me, his tiny body warm against mine, his little face heart-swelling in its perfection, and thought I could never know greater love or greater joy than this. They were the ones that mattered. They are the ones I’ll never recapture. They are the ones that I hope I can always remember – that when life moves on and I go back to work and we become buried in those every day, busy, mundane hours and days and months – that will still glow, jewel-like. In a year’s time, or two or three, these are the moments I want to remember: a tiny head tucked into my neck, the softness of his brand-new skin, the sound of his breath in the darkness, the way his little hand clutches at my top, his dark eyes that stare searchingly into mine, and the way my heart swells each time, lifted by a love without end. 

These are the moments that matter. 

To my third child….

And here you are, my littlest one. You have been in the world now for less than twenty four hours – this time yesterday I had not yet met you. I had no idea what you looked like (a mirror image of your brother, as it turns out) what you weighed (9lb 3oz but you still seem tiny to me) and no sense of who you are as a little person (very, very quiet on day 1) And now it couldn’t seem any more odd that yesterday I didn’t know you. Because today you are too precious, too definite a person, too important, to remember a time when you were not here. 

Your birth, strangely difficult as I found it, has now receded into insignificance. This time last night I couldn’t see how I would survive it – that I would live always locked in a battle of searing pain, contractions that I knew you were bringing you closer but couldn’t welcome, and the horror of the pain that was still to come. Today, I remember only that it brought you to me. It seems far distant now. 

Today brought your first meeting with your brother and sister. I will always remember the awe on their faces as they tiptoed to the crib and peered in, searching for the brother they have anticipated and talked of for so long, realising that here, now, finally, you had become a real entity to them. I will always treasure the real, bright love in your sister’s eyes as she held you for the first time, bursting with pride. I will never forget the way your brother stroked your tiny hand with his finger, struck silent by its softness and fragility. 

I sit here now with you snuggled close into my neck. I can feel your tiny, huffing breaths on my skin, feel a small, helpless hand flung against my chest. All this time as I’ve carried you it’s been this – you and me, our hearts beating silently together and apart, part of each other. But this isn’t separation, my little one – this is the beginning of a story of the greatest of loves. I have no idea who you will be, but the pages are blank and full of promise and possibilities. I held you against me all day today and thought of this beginning, and of your new life in your brand new world, and it begins with this: the clearest, brightest joy, and the purest of loves.