Monday, June 27, 2011

stay at home mum

We walk past the Italian restaurant at the end of our road and the waiter putting out tables, the nice one, waves us a friendly bonjour. I check the road and thank the driver who stops to let us across, steering the pram around the various parts of machinery that the guys working on the train extension have left strewn about.

As I approach the corner pub, the lady who is always either working or drinking there spots us, and comes over 'Eeeeelsie! Eeeeeelsie!' she calls. 'How are you today?' She meets Elsie's solid stare with a smile and remarks on her hair. Again. We move off and wish her a good day. She got a wave from Elsie yesterday, but my little girl doesn't seem to be in the mood today.

We pass the mini supermarket and I look out for the checkout girl but don't see her. Yesterday I left Elsie with Marek to pop in for some cold beers. The shop was full and the girl was stressed. When I said hello, she looked at me and asked where the little one was. 'but I want to see her!' she protested, when I said she was outside. I considered calling Marek to the door but glanced down the long queue and decided the checkout girl would probably survive without her dose of Elsie just this once. She, however, had other ideas. 'I'll be right back Madame' she said to the lady behind me in the queue and skipped outside to where Marek and Elsie were waiting. 'Oooooooooh' she cried, right into Elsie's face. 'You're so mignonne!' as her fingers squeezed and squashed her chubby cheeks. 'I abandoned the queue to see your little girl' she confided to Marek, before giving one last pinch to the highly surprised and slightly amused baby, and running back in.

We continue down the road that leads off the roundabout and as Elsie has started moaning, I decide we can make a little detour and head to the newly renovated garden around the spring statue. As I bring the pram to a halt under a tree, Elsie lets out a little trill of anticipation, and I unbuckle her and sit her on my lap on the bench. For a moment she sits there, looking around her and taking in the plants, trees, sunshine, waiters setting up for the lunch shift and pigeons pecking at the ground. She pulls herself up to standing with a wide grin and I help her get a grip on the back of the bench. She's staring off behind me and I turn to see the man pulling at the cherry tree branches and picking off the fruit. Cunning.

Soon a lady comes up and smiles at Elsie. 'A little boy?' she checks. I smile, and shake my head. 'A girl.' The lady looks put out. 'She looks like a boy. Beautiful eyes.' Elsie uses them to look at her warily, then after a second or two, flashes her a quick smile. 'It's hot for little ones.' the lady says, taking a look at what Elsie is wearing. 'I would put her in the bath this afternoon when it heats up. Play with her little boats and give her an early bath.' I try not to giggle. 'Yes, good idea.' I don't think the lady cares enough to hear about Elsie's eczema and the bathe once every two days advice we've constantly received. 'That's what I'd do anyway' she sniffs, and walks away. I thought it was only Poland where unsolicited advice was bandied about.

I strap Elsie back into the pram and we head off to get our shopping done before lunch.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Er, no.

She looked at me and smiled. 'I think you might want her to walk more than she wants to herself!'

My jaw dropped and I almost let go of the baby's hands. My little one had a look of gleeful concentration on her small face and was pulling me along, tugging at my fingers as her little legs trundled on, each foot taking one wobbly step at a time.

Let's think about that. Hmm. If I had a baby who would sit and play quietly with toys, wouldn't that be preferable? If I had a baby who could be put down with a book and left to turn those pages over and over, satisfied with her own company, wouldn't I just let her get on with it? If I had a baby who would take the cues from the time we turn her onto her tummy and follow her little push ups with attempts to move herself around, rather than turning onto her back and screaming, wouldn't I leave her to sort herself out on the floor? Do I like spending my time bent double, trying to stop Elsie ramming herself into sharp edges, trip over innumerable hazards and slide on slippery floors? Like hell I do.

The times that I've let her cry just a few more moments, in a vain attempt to show her she is her own person and can comfort herself; the times I've held myself back from rescuing her from a teary push-up, willed her to push herself along with her powerful legs; all those exercises and cheerful encouragement we've given her to stretch out and grab those toys that lie just a little out of reach... all these moments and more came flooding back as this woman looked at us and made her judgement.

Not all babies crawl. I didn't. I don't know what that means - which parts of my brain did not develop as they should because I didn't coordinate those particular muscles as others do. Perhaps crawling makes the connections in the brain that are necessary for NOT FREAKING OUT when 30 years later some stupid bint says you are forcing your daughter to do something she is not ready for.

Babies at this age are generally too young to walk. Agreed. But when this particular baby has sat and played for as long as she finds a particular toy interesting she has a little moan, reaches up and as soon as a hand is offered, she takes it, pulls herself up, and with a huge grin of pride, she steps out. She wobbles and she wavers. The helping hands are vital and on occasion they break her fall, but she is the driving force behind this movement. She wants to use her legs this way to explore and navigate. It has very little to do with what I want. Believe me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Making the world hers

Please remind me, if we ever do this whole baby thing again, that I thought Elsie was a miserable sod for most of the first eight months. Just so I'm prepared. Don't get me wrong, I love that little moaner to pieces, but she has always been, shall we say, insistent. Her personality has shone through pretty much from day one, and she has always made it clear when something is not to her liking. Loudly.

The midwives in the maternity ward were openly impressed by the noise that those little lungs powered in the first few days of Elsie's life. After hours of being thrust against closed bones by drug-induced contractions, she didn't have the smoothest entry into the world. Even so, her ability to go purple and apparently stop breathing out of pure rage, became notorious. I remember physically shaking and wondering what the hell I should try next, as she woke from a nap on one of those early days and snapped back into continuous heart-breaking cry mode. I always felt she was fighting against something - fighting sleep if she was tired; fighting the silence with her noise. Of course, those days did not last and we got to know (more or less) why she was crying... hunger, fatigue, being in one place for too long, someone looking at her not quite right... the list just seemed to go on and on.

As she grew and developed, things around her became more interesting, time was spent doing more than just eating and sleeping, and the light at the end of the tunnel started shining brightly. She still relied on us to play with her, never being one for sitting quietly and playing by herself, but sometimes we could get her to explore a new toy for ten minutes at a time. We were never quite sure how new situations would turn out and other babies' ready smiles tended to be met with intent stares. Elsie observed and analysed and only after considering all her options, would she grace someone not in the immediate family with a smile. That was not always a given either, and tiring from situations quickly, Elsie was always full of energy for and interest in the next thing.

Recently, I've seen this change. Fear of new people has evolved into genuine interest in other beings. Ambivalence when brought into contact with other babies has developed into open excitement at the contact and interaction these situations provide.

The first time she squealed at a dog, smiled at the supermarket checkout girl, laughed at a pigeon; the first time she 'ooh'ed at another child to provoke a reaction, my heart filled up and I could feel the smile on my face. Finally, I felt, she was experiencing the moment, interacting with her environment, accepting her place in the world.

Yesterday we went to a playgroup in a place we have never been before. As we entered and she took in all the activity and children and toys, Elsie was quickly straining to be out of my arms. I sat her in a group of little ones and watched as she grabbed a toy spanner, stuffed it in her mouth and beamed at those around her. Hell yeah, I thought as she let an older girl come up and 'feed' her from a toy baby bottle, not breaking her grin. My little girl has figured this out.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mummy fail

'Come on, let's go and see how she's doing...'

I nodded and followed him into the baby's room, quietly slipping through the door and peeking over into her cot. She was breathing calmly and steadily, her body turned to one side and her bedtime rabbit clasped tightly in one fist. Her long lashed eyes were tightly shut and in the darkness we could just make out her rounded cheeks, lips slightly parted, a look of pure innocence on her sleeping face.

Marek smiled and turned to leave, but I couldn't resist a closer look. As I stepped towards her, she suddenly sighed, started and turned towards me. I couldn't see if her eyes had opened but I quickly slipped out, hoping she'd settle back without properly waking.

My plan didn't work. I heard a wimper, a little cry and then what sounded like a thumb being sucked, a rabbit pulled in closer and muffled sounds of an upset baby moving around trying to find a comfortable position in which to go back to sleep. I felt awful and debated the merits of going in and comforting her against the risks of waking her up more and making the whole situation worse.

While I was considering the pros and cons, the baby made the decision for me. The soft sounds of tinkly nursery rhymes reached me through the door. She had decided to soothe herself back to sleep with the help of her musical mobile. Clever girl.