We were out for dinner with some friends this evening, and, as is usual in the evenings or when he gets tired, I was standing holding the baby, endlessly swaying (which I now also do even when I don’t have a baby) and waiting for him to go to sleep. ‘I don’t think I could do that again,’ my friend said, watching me sway from her comfortable position of being the parent to two seven year olds who were sitting with our older two, talking like grown ups, being wholly un-needy, and doing some colouring. By ‘that’ I knew she didn’t just mean the standing up and swaying while everyone else had nothing more to worry about than their pizza and their drinks. She meant all of ‘that’ with a baby – the walking the floor in the evenings instead of lying on the sofa watching the telly, the waking up in the night to feed instead of knowing you’ll sleep the whole night through, the trying to persuade a baby back to sleep in the early mornings instead of a lie in while your older children get their own breakfast, the reading of Where’s bloody Spot on a weekend afternoon instead of reading a nice new Lisa Jewell with a cup of tea. And I know exactly how she feels, because when I was baby-less, I also used to look with faint horror at those newer parents, who were rocking, walking, entertaining, pacifying, chasing, comforting, holding, instead of sitting in solitary splendour and watching their children order their own dinner. We had reached a stage where the children were pretty independent – and at heart perhaps I’m pretty lazy, because I loved that. I loved turning over in the morning and going back to sleep. I loved not having to do up car seat belts. I loved not having to force little limbs into clothing, and not having to change nappies or get a high chair or persuade the baby to stay in a high chair or follow them around the house while they relentlessly try to thrown themselves down the stairs. I loved all of it.
But now he’s here, here’s the thing. I didn’t love any of it as much I love him. It was nice, all that independence and me-time and Friday nights on the vodka and Saturday mornings at gymnastics reading my book and meals out where all I had to do was decide what food I wanted – but it didn’t, not even a tiny bit, compare to having him. Nothing compares to having him.
I didn’t know I would feel this way. I didn’t know that a third child could creep up on you and steal your heart as completely, as wholly, as overwhelmingly, as the others. I didn’t know that just as each of them changed me, shaped me, transformed me, he would too. I am obsessed by him, by the wondrous perfection of his innocent, brand new smile, by the softness of his perfectly round head tucked beneath my chin, by his tiny, finely shaped fat little hands. I am besotted by the way his face lights up with his huge, gummy grin when he sees me. I am captivated by how he hangs on to me grimly while he his in the sling, as though his ineffectual little finger hold could anchor him. I could cry just looking at him sometimes, this little boy who is so ordinary to the outside world and so dazzling to us. I lie in bed with him in the evenings, tucked into the crook of my arm while I wait for him to fall asleep, and my heart swells thinking how lucky I am to have this brand new tiny little human, with his soft skin and his pursed mouth and his little bald head. I live my days sparkling in the brightness of his existence, this little gift that I did not expect.
And all ‘that’ is nothing beside this – the wonder of a new little being who has, like his sister and brother before him, taken my heart in his hands and made it new.