Blog


6
May 15

Are babies human?

I feel increasingly caddish on my weekly visits to Esther.  Here am I, leading the life of Riley, all the pleasures of family life and none of the pain.  Esther’s job, on the other hand, is compulsory and fulltime.  If she needs to escape, whether to preserve her sanity or dip back into the world of work,  it’s up to her, as mother, to make the arrangements.  In that sense being a granny’s more like being a father, at liberty to dip in and, more importantly, out again, all fully sanctioned by society.  It’s true that it takes me two hours to get from ours to theirs, and another two hours back:  a ten-hour day, if you count in the round trip.  But as I leave Esther with I. newly post-meltdown and B. hovering on the line between sleeping and waking (i.e., howling), I still feel like a heel.  When Esther was a baby, people used often to tell me how much I’d miss her when she went to school.  Speed the day, I’d retort:  in my view, babies were the punishment we had to endure in order to arrive at children. My interlocutors looked horrified, though I can’t believe I’m the only person who ever thought this. (For the record, I was right, they were wrong.  She was a charming baby, but I did not for a single moment do anything other than rejoice when she went to school.)  Acquaintance with B., and memories of I. in his chrysalis stage, have done nothing to change my mind.  ‘It isn’t as though I’m doing this for short-term pleasure,’ Esther pointed out, as the relentlessly wakeful B. reattached herself to a nipple.  How true, I thought.  How very true.

Friends ask me how B. is, but frankly at this stage there isn’t much to say.  She’s progressed, just about, from being an internal organ, but is still little more than a growing machine.  However, human characteristics are faintly visible on the horizon.  She is beginning to focus:  when I held her, she looked, intently and unmistakably, into my eyes.  And she can straighten her legs, which makes her look a little less like a baby monkey.  Next, smiles.  Oddly, although we all know her features bear absolutely no resemblance to what will eventually emerge, she does, from time to time, look unmistakably like the philosopher.  Esther thinks it’s a matter of expression:  they both look severe, even when that isn’t how they feel.  She pointed it out to the philosopher the other day.  There!  That’s how you look!  Now do you realise?  It’s very odd, because B. can’t really be said to have expressions.  Rather, she has modes:  asleep, visibly wondering where the next meal is, or scarlet and screaming, with the vibrating tongue detail that brings it all back.  Yet there’s definitely something …

 


28
Apr 15

Weaponising the swoon

This week saw the end of the philosopher’s paternity leave.  He and I. have been doing a lot of male bonding.  They find they enjoy listening to music together.  The philosopher is a keen guitarist:  perhaps I. will follow in his strings.

Esther, staring down an endless vista of coping unaided with two tiny children, was understandably apprehensive, though she brightened up when I pointed out that the prospect wasn’t quite as unrelieved as she painted it.  After all, I. goes to nursery two days a week, and on Saturday and Sunday the philosopher, too, is theoretically at home, even if in practice he’s often otherwise engaged, which only leaves three totally solo days, on one of which I’ll  probably drop round.

Esther gratefully accepted my proposal of a visit for the first of her lonely Mondays, and in the event Bruce accompanied me.  He hadn’t yet viewed young B., an omission that shocked her other set of grandparents, though not Esther or me.  Tiny babies really aren’t his thing.  At this point they’re either sleeping, feeding or yelling, none of which is much of a social event to anyone except the concerned parent.  Young B., a noticeably more relaxed customer than her brother at that age, does sometimes spend longish periods of time silently awake in her bouncy chair, viewing her kaleidoscopic new world through bright, beady little eyes.  But the only person she actually interacts with is her mother.  I picked her up, and was quite shocked by her feathery weightlessness: it’s impossible to believe so insubstantial a creature will actually end up a woman.

When we arrived B. was asleep and I. was upstairs playing.  He stayed there for quite some time, audible as running footsteps overhead, and descending only when lured by the prospect of a snack.  Esther says he’s perfectly happy to occupy himself while B.’s asleep – it’s just when she’s awake and feeding, i.e. monopolising his mother, that he demands she play with him.  Bruce, having viewed the baby, seized the opportunity to abandon the mother-daughter nativity scene and play with a more interesting prospect.  I. and he did a couple of jigsaws, then went upstairs and read a story, something Bruce, an ace reader, has much been looking forward to.  On the train to Esther’s, he was mourning I.’s imperviousness to his storytelling offers, but I suspect they’ll be taken up with increasing eagerness.

I., though he is beginning to accept the inevitability of B., had three meltdowns during our visit. They’re rather different from those he used to throw a year ago.  No longer does he go purple in the face and scream (though he would, if Esther didn’t nip things in the bud).  Rather, he sinks swooning to the ground, head in knees, rather like a ballerina doing the dying swan, and refuses to budge.

Esther points out that these three-year-old tantrums are different in substance, as well as style from the two-year-old ones. The earlier ones were about bewilderment, howls of protest and alarm when the world, and his place in it, seemed suddenly too much to take in.  Now, though, they’re about asserting himself in the face of authority.  He first of all decides he’s going to have a tantrum, then waits a for suitable scenario to present itself:  ideally, an inevitability that will be insisted on, and that both parties know will certainly take place. I seem to remember that Esther’s, at this age, were mainly about getting dressed:  but anything was good for a fight.  I. refused to go for his post-lunch nap, wouldn’t put his shoes on before going out for a walk, and insisted that the precise point at which he should get off his scooter before taking Esther’s hand and walking across a road was two yards further on – and crucially, at a point he chose. The trick is to give in gracefully on some insubstantial point.  Face is saved:  life may then progress.

Oh, well.  I know how he feels.  I, too, often find it hard to accept other people’s view of how events should progress.  In the intervening years, however, I’ve learned to hide my chagrin.  Sometimes.

Is this what they mean by growing up?