Chapter Twenty-One: Turn

This weekend we reintroduced forgotten concepts, like jumpers and socks and closed-toe shoes. The thousandth season of X Factor started, which means it’s basically a speedy downhill sleigh-ride to Christmas, and there was a slight nip in the air. All of it gave me the sweet and salty sense of seasons turning, a mixture of nostalgia and optimism and uncertainty.

This summer’s transition to autumn is more bittersweet than usual for me, because this autumn there will be huge changes. Like, turn and face the strain Changes. I’ve been floating preserved in the slightly surreal time-out-of-time that is maternity leave for ten months now (preserved is perhaps the wrong metaphor, given how rapidly this two-kids business has aged me *pulls out another grey hair*), but pretty soon I’ll be back to work. A prospect I can’t really grasp right now so will put in a little box marked ‘la la la I’m not listening’ down here in the sand next to my head.

Leila, meanwhile, is due to start nursery school full time in around three weeks. Which, well. She was only just born the other day, wasn’t she? I feel confident that this is the right thing for her (perhaps her doleful bellows of ‘I’m bored! I want some friends to play with! Not you and Asher! Real friends!’ gave me a clue). But still! Where did this long-leggedy, long-haired girl, who draws angels and cats and whales’ tails rising from the sea, come from? This girl who walks around narrating her imaginary life out loud (‘the prime minister was having a very busy day, she had so much to do’). I know, I KNOW that this is how all parents feel, that their kids grow up mind-boggling quickly. Soon I’ll be urging people earnestly to ‘enjoy every minute’, I’m sure. But it’s a great conundrum of having children, that the two hours before bedtime can last for ten years, and yet in the space of a second, your child goes from a baby who can’t make basic consonant sounds, to telling you that they’re not picking their nose, their finger is next to their nose, so you can’t tell them off.

At least Asher is still a big, dribbly, cuddly, toothless little one, the very essence of Baby. But he is changing too, woah-so-fast. His repertoire of skills may be pretty limited to slithering on his stomach, wobbling round the edge of his cot, clapping, waving and being unbearably cute. But the very beginnings of language are starting to take form (G came in late from work while I was giving Asher his bedtime feed, and kissed his head. Asher looked up at me as G left and said, smiling, ‘dada’), and today he slithered hastily to his highchair when he saw dinner being served, and fixed us with an urgent and expectant stare. Soon he’ll be walking, and going to childcare some of the time, and sleeping through the night! Did you hear that, Asher? Sleeping through the night!. Before we know it, we’ll be wondering whether we can still call him a baby. Oh my heart.

We’ve had, all things considered, a great summer. That’s We, the British Public, what with all the beautiful sunshine; and also we, me and my family. Sure, there have been some extremely knackering and challenging moments- in fact, there probably hasn’t been a day without them. But to be able to spend a large chunk of my mat leave with the kids in such glorious weather has been amazing, especially as it came about just before Leila starts her school life. Hard moments feel less so when they’re bathed in sunshine, and great moments feel fantastic. We’ve had some times. Asher indulged a love of icecream that verges on sinister; Leila finally stopped insisting on wearing a tutu every day and embraced shorts. We had a lovely family holiday and I finally learned that going away with children doesn’t have to be stressful.

And soon we’ll embark on the next stage. Despite none of the changes being bad ones per se, I am me, so I’m partially wracked with a gnawing anxiety. But then, with kids, things are always changing, with or without major life transitions. You’re always leaving something behind, and starting something new, and you’re never quite sure if or how the new thing is going to work out.

Far beneath the constant change, there’s an ever-present tug somewhere inside my heart, that’s sweet and sad at the same time. I think I can sort of name it now. It’s the same feeling I get as the seasons change, only magnified hundreds of times. Leaves turn, and feet grow out of shoes, and the temperature drops, and words form. The world turns russet and gold, and little girls put on grey pinafores and red jumpers, and days get shorter, and kids get longer. There’s nothing you can do to slow any of it, and you can’t wait to see what’s next, but at the same time you still want to stay in this season, right now, for just a little longer.

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Chapter Sixteen: Hello Darkness My Old Friend

So remember when I was all ‘oh I’ll just go with the flow wrt sleep, and so what if Asher doesn’t sleep, he’s a baby etc’? Well that was when Asher did sleep. That was before his sleep went tits up (often literally) and I was so tired I was on the floor (often literally), and if anyone told me how good their baby was at sleeping I would blast them with the hot furious breath of a thousand cups of life-saving, sanity-saving tea.

Back then I referred to the ‘S word’ on this blog, and that word was ‘sleep’. Shortly afterwards, the S word became ‘shit’, as in, ‘shit, my baby is one of those non-sleeping ones’.

I had forgotten how sleep deprivation can feel like actual torture; or maybe it wasn’t so bad last time; or maybe it wasn’t so bad when I didn’t have another child to look after when morning finally rolled around. In any case, one thing I’ve learned is that just as children, and being a parent, can change in a second and then change again, so do my views on children and being a parent. And suddenly, my beautiful little happy baby was kicking my ass brutally, night after night, and my laissez-faire attitude to sleep went the same way as my fresh complexion and my ability to construct a sentence.

And that, dear reader (because there’s probably only one left by now), is why I haven’t posted for a long time. The baby was trying to finish me, and I didn’t have the resources to do anything but look after the kids- just about- and google ‘four months old terrible sleeper’.

But here I am! The baby has been dispatched into his own cot in his own room, has started to eat some real food, and OH JOYOUS DAY has started to sleep better again (for now, touch wood).

So here I am again, emerging from the tunnel- I hope, I pray [ed note: since drafting this post, Asher has been stricken with chickenpox, so I’m back in the tunnel for now- there’s nothing like your baby hanging grimly off your hair to stop you putting him in his cot, to make you feel sorry for him…]. There will be posts about stuff, stuff that happened so long ago it might be a bit awkward. But hey , I’ve got to start somewhere.

Meantime I will be practising my one man band act, complete with crashing cymbals and kazoo, ready for Asher’s teenage years when he really loves sleep, to remind him what he did to me when he was this chobbly-faced little chap:

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