Last Sunday, I wasn’t having a particularly great afternoon. The morning had started off pretty well, in all fairness. The weather was beautiful, a blissful, balmy 28 degrees, more tropical than typical UK weather. I’d gone to yoga for a particularly sweaty session and very much enjoyed it. The afternoon took a turn for the worst, however, when I learnt I’d been rejected for a job I’d been pretty confident I’d at least be elegible to be interviewed for. As usual when I feel inadequate, my thoughts inexplicably and uselessly turned to regulating my food intake and exercise levels. I felt uncomfortable – it was Father’s Day and we’d had a buffet lunch. I suddenly felt weak, out of control and greedy. I felt that I’d over indulged and old, restrictive thoughts started to swim menacingly, shark-like around the peripheries of my mental space. Altough I’d been lounging in the garden with my family, basking in the (rare) sunshine, I’m ashamed to say that I gave in to compensatory behaviours and sneaked off to excericse. My mother followed me and rumbled me in my attempts. I was embarrassed and annoyed with myself – as much as I feel I really have managed to forge a much healthier relationship with food on the whole, some aspects of my mentality surrounding my consumption and my body remain strange. Her calling me out on the ridiculousness of surreptitiously isolating myself in order to ‘burn off’ lunch when I should be enjoying relaxing family time made me realise how selfish I was being. It also made me realise how far I still have to go to feel ‘normal’ again in regards to my thoughts and behaviours. I let my insecurities get the better of me, yet again.
So I was feeling pretty subdued, on the whole. Tired. Tired of battling with myself day in, day out. Tired of job hunting. Tired of being afraid.
Things certainly got a hell of a lot brighter when my cousin casually informed me via text that she’d given birth, three weeks early, to her second child. A baby boy. She invited us to go and visit them in the maternity ward of the local hospital. We jumped in the car, eager and excited to do just that.
I saw him and thought immediately: he’s perfect. He has a dent in his ear at the moment (forceps – ouch). Perfect. He has a slight scratch. Still perfect. He’s healthy. Beautiful. I watched his chest rise and fall, watched his hands curl into into little fists. I traced the oval shape of his tiny fingernails. Perfect. So alive.Babies are the opposite of tired. They are so awake, so raw. They are painfully, stunningly, beautifully fresh. New. I sometimes wonder if that’s why they wail so piercingly. Why wouldn’t they? Everything is a first – every sight, every sound, a sensory overload. Baby L was patient as he was passed around like a beloved, tiny, precious parcel from one adoring, cooing relative to another. I held him in my arms and as he blinked those blue eyes open, peering into mine, the afternoon’s feeling of being irreversibly tired just melted away. He was placid and strikingly peaceful while we held him. He was so content, and holding him, a bundle of purity pernsonified and encased in a teeny babygrow, I felt content too. I looked at my cousin, who’d been so brave in what was, by all accounts, a pretty horrendous birthing experience. I watched her smile down at her first son, and got a reality check on what’s actually important in life. Love. Family.
Sunday was a day of gains, on the whole. I may have lost a job prospect. Lost some peace of mind, some perceived ‘progress.’ So what? Life is not linear. It has ups and down, and the day’s gains outweighed the losses. I gained a new member of my family. I looked down at him and saw the world through raw, fresh eyes. I gained perspective. I looked at him and felt love: I gained extra room in my heart, as corny as that sounds. A new person to love.
Last weekend we welcomed 7lbs of joy into our family and into the world. I hope baby L soaks up life. I hope he looks around at the simpering faces cooing down at him (I imagine we look simultaneously idiotic and fairly menacing), and that he is able to sense how much he is loved. I’ve only met him once, in the three days he has so far experienced. He has already made my life better. He has already made me appreciate life more. He has already made me less tired.
Life is precious. New life is the even more so. Here’s to living like the oversized babies that we all are – curious, soaking up new senses, surroundings, and experiences. Here’s to loving without limits. Here’s to family. Here’s to realising what the important things really are, and taking comfort in the fact that every day is a second chance; an opportunity to be born again.
I was thrilled when my cousin gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I was less overjoyed when I discovered that all of my name suggestions had been overridden, (and believe me, they were excellent – who wouldn’t name their child Prosecco?) but there you are. They went for the more conventional, but admittedly more classically beautiful, ‘Ava Sophie’. A year on from Ava’s arrival, a lot has changed. I am now unironically invested in the global adventures of an unflinchingly enthusiastic unicorn and a group of four plucky spherical beings dubbed the ‘Go Jetters’. I know the difference between a ‘Snuggle Muzzy’ and a ‘Dribble Cloth’ – spoiler – they’re both Muslin Squares. It’s been an education. Below I’ve listed something that I’ve learnt for every month that baby Ava has graced the world with her Go-Jetting attitude and her inspirational, magnificently unapologetic ‘if-you-don’t-like-it-chuck-it-on-the-floor’ mentality.
1) Babies change. Fast. I’m not kidding, you blink and they have an extra tuft of hair and a tooth coming through. Baby has gone from essentially just sleeping, crying, eating and pooing to giggling, smiling, chattering to herself in a language us mere mortals cannot yet interpret, crawling and toddling. And, you know, continuing to cry, eat and poo on a regular basis.
2) You need approximately ten eyes to monitor them successfully. Obviously this depends vastly on the baby, (it sounds obvious, but this was something I hadn’t really grasped – each baby has their own personality, much like their fully grown counterparts), but the one I know, you put her down and at once she’s speeding off like a small, determined, baby-shaped Ferrari. So what if she doesn’t quite have full control of her limbs yet? Minor problem, babe. Babies are intrepid explorers and any room will be their jungle. Baby Ava spots something, she wants to investigate, and she will scale any obstacle in her way to do so. Which brings me to my next point nicely.
3) Babies are clever. This also makes them super entertaining to watch. My family will happily set Baby crawling about on the floor and watch her like our own personal Television set. Certainly more gripping viewing than post-2010 ‘Hollyoaks.’
6) There’s a lot of weird sh*t you can take your baby to. I’m not kidding, this baby has a better social life than me. Some of it sounds awesome. Some of it sounds vaguely sinister. In order to avoid provoking offence, I’ll let you make up your own mind about which of the following falls into which category. Here are some of the events and phenomena I’ve been introduced to through observing the adventures of Baby Ava. These include: ‘Baby Raves,’ ‘Cake Smashes,’ ‘Sensory Stories,’ ‘Baby Yoga,’ ‘Baby Gym,’ and ‘Underwater Baby Photography.’ A packed diary seems to be the norm in the Under-1 social set.
5) The spectrum of emotions which babies can provoke are vast. The joy when you hear them giggle (incidentally, babies laughter is in my opinion the purest sound in the universe) is unequaled. When I manage to make baby smile rather than cry, I am filled with a warm glow of accomplishment. Babies love me, I think smugly. I’m practically Mary Poppins. I should probably pursue a career in childcare. That is, until the bottom lip starts to wobble and the wails start up, creeping in volume from plaintive whines to high-decibel, ear-drum shattering squawks. Other possible side effects of exposure to a child under 12 months for longer than a one hour period include: exhaustion, feelings of inadequacy, feelings of exhilaration, feelings of confusion and multiple other vacillating emotions. Possible queries you may have might include but not be limited to: ‘Where is the baby, exactly?’ ‘Was it me she was smiling at or the Rusk cookie I’m holding?’ ‘Does it smell funny in here?’
6) No matter how cool you think you are, you will transmute into a performing monkey in order to entertain a baby. You will lose all self-respect. You will not care. They will also entertain you in return. Snapchat is a blessing to immature aunts everywhere. Put the dog filter on your beloved offspring, parents. It’s funny and cute in equal measures, promise.
7) I learnt of the existence of the ‘voice.’ The ‘voice’ is cooey and I never thought that it or the approximation of any sound reminiscent of it would ever escape my lips non-sarcastically. ‘Who’s a gorgeous girl?’ I ask, grinning stupidly. ‘Who’s a gorgeous girl? Ava is!’ ‘Who’s sounding a little bit mentally deficient right now? Auntie Lorna is! That’s right!‘ And on it goes.
6) Every musical toy is annoying. Every single one. There are no exceptions. Baby Ava has a penguin creature I find especially infuriating. Conversely, 80% of the television output intended for toddlers and small children is oddly fascinating and I imagine would be vastly entertaining to watch drunk. I will save my observations upon the similarities between babies and drunks for a later date.
7) Babies have more carry-on luggage than Mariah Carey embarking upon a world tour. They go through clothes, fast. Mainly because they grow fast, also because they’re liable to attract any stain possible. I’ll leave it to your imagination what kind of stains a baby under 12-months may be likely to accumulate.
8) Every mother’s baby supplies bag is a bit like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. Except instead of lamps and coat-racks, they have 24 different bibs and stuff like sensory lasers. Or something. Probably nappies and formula, too. I don’t know, I’m just the childless observer over-here. A simple trip to the park is like packing for an Arctic expedition. And God forbid you forget something, because it will invariably turn out to be vital and you will have maneuver that deceptively hefty Mother Care pram back up the hill and head for home ASAP.
9) Number nine brings me to a more serious point and something that I never quite grasped the implications of before – there’s a hell of a lot of pressure on mums to be permanently perfect and unflappable. You must either be the archetypal, Fairy-Liquid-Advert-of-the-1950s stay-at-home mother or successfully enroll your offspring into an extortionate nursery that rears its own chickens and serves organic pureed artichoke and caviar. There seems to be an assumption among some of the ranks of MumsNet.com that should you deviate from either of these options, you are a Terrible Mother™. This is, obviously, insane. I was baffled. I thought that babies just needed milk, attention and, I don’t know, a bit of room to crawl about. It appears to be more complex than that. I am infinitely impressed by mothers. If you’re reading this and you have a child and are struggling under the inhuman pressure placed upon you to be ‘perfect’, just know that, unqualified as I am, I feel that you’re really great and you’re doing brilliantly. Keep muddling on. I get the impression that half of parenthood is trial and error. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s good enough.
10) There is no love in the world like a mother’s love. I kind of knew this already – my own mother still generously loves her overgrown and still vaguely incompetent baby (me) even though I am no longer cute and bald. (Yes, bald. I wore a lot of hats. I worked them, though). She loves me when I’m funny and happy and I’ve done something well and I’m a little bit proud. She still resolutely loves me when I am really annoying and anxious and overly-sensitive and grumpy and have done something a bit thick. So yeah, I was already aware that a mother’s love is something infinitely special. But the sheer magnitude of the maternal capability to love her child without limits or conditions was something that watching my cousin cradle a new-born baby Ava really reinforced to me. I watched her smile down upon a part of herself made flesh and knew that she was born to be a mother. I watch in awe as she seems instinctively to know what her wants, and is able to comfort her when nothing and no-one else can. She will protect that child like a lioness protects its cub. She will be overprotective and magnificent, like 90% of parents out there. Ava is one lucky baby. So am I.
11) Babies will fill a gap in your family you never knew existed. Even though the logistic difficulties of staging a seating plan for Christmas Dinner may suggest otherwise, the rewards of the presence of an extra tiny human outweigh the difficulties. You will kind of forget what your family looked like before the bundle of joy filled that baby-shaped hole. They make what already felt complete somehow more perfect.
12) You will love them unconditionally. To you, they are perfect. In fact, I am a purist, and would go as far as to say that I believe that all babies are perfect. Even the ones that are kind of ugly. My goddaughter is the cutest baby ever to have graced the Earth with her presence which is why, I assume, her favourite hobbies include looking in the mirror and getting her (usually sticky) fingers all over my Iphone and attempting to take selfies. Incidentally, if you’d like to hear a more complex theory as to why babies enjoy looking in the mirror, google Lacan’s ‘Mirror Stage.’ Not if you’ve got kids though. If you do, you’re probably too busy reading ‘That’s Not My Fluffy Cat,’ or something similar. I’d argue that by the fifth reading, that’s an equally grueling experience, if less intellectually stimulating.
So, all in all, I feel like I’ve already learnt a hell of a lot from watching Baby Ava’s first foray into this crazy little thing called life. I feel like I’m doing passably okay in my Auntie duties so far. I bought a fluffy rabbit teddy. I instigated the purchase of a Fleetwood Mac Lullaby CD, which I feel was really my most significant contribution to date. I truly mean it when I say that watching her grow has already been incredibly rewarding – not only that, but watching my cousin transmute from mate to mum (and a fantastic one at that), has been both unnerving and a gift in equal measures. I love to watch my own mum and dad play with her, seeing the joy in everyone that comes into contact with a baby that is purity personified. It seems that tiny humans bring out the best in most of us, and I can only say that I’m sure as Ava passes the landmark of her first year, I’m certain that the next twelve months will be as equally filled to the seams with love, joy, ups, downs, surprises, and change for all of us. ‘The Wheels On The Bus’ will probably be playing in the background.