Really related at last!

Esther has just landed another little job. It’s freelance this time, so she can parcel out the work to suit herself as long as it’s ready for the deadline, but she needed a couple of library days at the V&A to get started, and as I. has now finished nursery – she had to give a month’s notice, and hopefully they’ll be moving before it’s up – I agreed to step in.

One of the downsides of taking I. for a day has always been the question of naps. Not so much whether – it’s been a very long time since I’ve failed to get him to sleep within a few minutes of starting out – but how, which until now has always involved heroic amounts of walking. But now he just assumes he’ll go to sleep on the sofa-bed in Bruce’s study, cheerfully trotting off there clutching his bunny, the small car of the moment, and his favourite story. So this time I thought we’d see if I, as well as Esther, could get him to stationary sleep.

And it worked! He snuggled down happily, we read the story, then I rubbed his back for a little – and pow! Off he went, like a dream. And stayed there for two hours, until I began to wonder if he was actually still alive. Every time I peeped in, however, there was the unmistakable rise and fall of the breathing mammal. And meanwhile I got some writing done! And an hour’s piano practice! (Luckily I use an electric keyboard, whose sound can be turned down low.) An entire day, a thoroughly amused and slept baby – and still in the land of the living!

The second day was in fact only a half-day – we were to meet at the V&A after I. had awoken from his nap. He had got up at five, so was terminally tired, which paradoxically but inevitably meant it was harder to get him off to sleep. Still, I managed. A few minutes of moaning, and then the old back-rubbing did its trick.

I am possibly the least touchy-feely person in the universe, and this gentling into sleep was a first for me. Esther never needed any encouragement – I just put her into her bed, made sure the teddies were to hand, gave her a hug and left her to it. (‘Mummy comes and lies on top of me when I go to bed,’ I heard her tell a friend who came to stay.) So I hadn’t anticipated how moved I would feel as the boy snuggled into me and relaxed into sleep. What blind trust, and how warm and heavy he was, as he leant against me! It made me feel we were really related, and not just by blood.

After meeting up with Esther, we all repaired to a nearby park for a chat while he played and she ate her lunch. After a while he dragged Esther off in the direction of some parked cars that he wanted to investigate, so I left them to it, and got home around four thirty. And boy, was I knackered. By the time we’d had dinner, I was ready for bed. Even without the extra walking, even when it’s just one biddable little boy, childcare takes it out of you like nothing else. It’s unrelenting: you can never entirely relax. When I read, as occasionally happens these days, about fifty-year-olds giving birth, I can’t help wondering if they really know what they’re letting themselves in for.

They’ll find out.