This week has been spent packing up the house. Writing job applications. Looking at nurseries. Oh, and caring for a four month old! Suffice to say, it’s been hectic. I manage to snatch time whilst Whoopsy sleeps to apply for jobs for when he’s six months old. But to manage to get everything done, I’ve had to turn packing and cleaning the house into a baby-friendly game. “Oh, look at mummy emptying the cupboard. Let’s see what’s inside.. Flour… Sugar… something in a jar that looks like it might be alive..” “Mummy is going to hide under the sofa now as she tries to get the fluff balls.. PEEKABOO“. Fortunately, since his brain is the equivalent of a marshmallow, he delights in these new games.
You might wonder why I’m packing up the house. No, we’re not moving. We’re going nomadic for two months! *Someone* (me) thought it would be a great idea to make the most of maternity leave and go on some adventures with baba. Everyone told us, travel whilst he’s small.. it’s the easiest time! I feel like I’ve been lied to because I just packed his suitcase and it’s twice the size of mine. We had planned on heading Stateside for two months, since T gets a lot of work from American companies. But plans changed and now we’re sort of at a loose end, wondering how on earth we’re going to fill (and afford) two months of wandering round aimlessly! Our first stop is South Norwood (Top Ten Exotic Locations 2018). We’re considering buying in the area so we thought it would be a great opportunity to get to know the neighbourhood and start eyeing up the best streets to live. Stop two is looking likely to be Croatia for Whoopsy’s first beach holiday. After South Norwood, we’ll need a week by the sea just to wash the grime off us.
This blog post is called cotton wool because it’s what I wish I could wrap Whoopsy up in. And me actually – it sounds pretty snug and warm. There are moments where it becomes clear the extent to which you adore your child. A friend recently wrote that she left her young son at nursery and he said ‘I love you’ as he walked away. She said that she was so emotional that she almost pulled him back again and took him home. Two days ago I did some foot painting with Whoopsy. It took two of us to get one successful print for his granddad’s birthday – one to dip him in acrylic and one to connect his kicking feet with a piece of canvas. In retrospect there needed to be a third person to be pouring the gin and tonics to soften the experience. As we were using my baby as a human stamp, the bath was running in the background ready to throw him in.
Baths are his favourite thing in the world. Not his favourite thing. HIS FAVOURITE THING. He normally runs out of smiles at about 3pm after being rather chirpy in the morning. It’s a slow decline from the crack of dawn, when he hands smiles out like they’re free, to the evening where he has two facial expressions: ‘I entirely disagree with your stance, which I might suggest is BULLSHIT’ and ‘Step away from me’. However stick the boy in a bath and the warm water washes away his frosty nature to unearth rather a sweet child.
I haven’t allowed anyone other than Tom and I to bath him. I don’t think I’m an overly anxious as a mother (well, I am, but I hide it well) but there’s something about water that makes me slightly more nervous than other methods of accidental death. Perhaps it has something to do with my parents leaving me alone on a Greek beach when I was just a tiny little person. A huge wave swept me away and a Greek man had to run into the sea and pull me out. Only as he returned me to my parents, coughing and spluttering, did they notice I wasn’t sitting with them.
After turning my baby into a human canvas, we undressed him for the bath (Note to self: usually better to remove trousers prior to dipping legs in acrylic paint) and slid him into his bath seat. His little face lit up and his four limbs started acting out the YMCA. I was kneeling on the floor, running soap bubbles into his scalp and designing him a little baby mohican when his Godmother, standing behind me, asked me a question. I turned my head towards her to answer. It took three seconds for me to respond and turn back to Whoopsy. By that time, he was under the water, his face staring up at me in fear as his mouth tried to gasp for air. I snatched him out, and he began to howl. Howling is good. Howling means they’re still alive. I kept apologising to him again and again. “Stupid mummy wasn’t watching” “Stupid mummy let you go” “Bad mummy won’t do it again“. After that, every time I put Whoopsy near the bath, I would start to panic. I could see his face again, staring up at me from under the water. My thoughts kept going to what would have happened if I’d turned back in six seconds, instead of three. My instinct was keep him out of the bath and away from water. Mentally, I cancelled the baby swimming classes that I had intended to take him to.
When the fear started to die down, I realised that I couldn’t stop bathing Whoopsy. For one thing, he bloody stinks after a couple of dry days. For another, bath time is his favourite thing in the world and it would be cruel to deny him that. I realised that I have to accept the risks that accompany living a full life. Not just today. But when he’s twelve and wants to cycle to school. Or when he’s fifteen and wants to smoke his first joint. And I doubt the fear stops when he becomes an adult. I imagine he’ll disappear off to university as a strapping eighteen year old and I’ll worry more than ever about the excessive alcohol he’s going to consume and whether he’ll bang his head on a university ski tour and become a vegetable.
The truth is, I’m never going to stop being scared. I won’t ever be able to be one of those parents who encourages their children to be adrenaline junkies and thrill seekers. This tiny baby will always be just that – my little boy for whom I worry. But I can’t teach Whoopsy to grow up being scared of the world. That was my experience of childhood – terrified of my own shadow – and it made for such an unhappy experience as I shied away from anything outside of my comfort zone. Instead I have to get into the bath with Whoopsy – metaphorically and literally – and show him how fun the bubbles are and how to make water fountains from my hands.