When two became three..

H just turned 21. Yes, Mr N and I have a 21 year child (who’s no longer a child). It snowed the day she was born and Mr N missed it because she was a week early and he was in Freiburg. My friend K drove me to hospital, calm on the outside but a bit wobbly in, like me, until my friend H’s mum turned out to be the midwife on duty and then I didn’t care that he wasn’t there, because she was all I needed when the super scary force that is the primaeval urge to push took over. We named her first teddy bear Shirley in her honour, a present as big as her from Grandma and Grandad, who still shares her bed. At 12 hours old, Mr N made it, wild haired, blurry eyed and in awe of a tiny scrap with a twisted foot which untwisted itself after another day. “She’s very intelligent”, said Gran.  She was less than 24 hours old when we took her home in just a vest and some booties and wrapped in a towel because we’d forgotten to bring in an outfit. We lay her on the sofa and wondered what to do next. Neither of us had ever even held a baby before. At 48 hours old, she slept all day long. We didn’t know what to expect from a newborn, but this wasn’t it so we called out the midwife mid-afternoon in a panic. Glazed in brand new parenthood as we were, I still was able to hear her amused tone behind the soothing words that she was absolutely fine. We’d been on the brink of waking her up at least five times that day, but I doubt it took us many more days to learn to NEVER wake a sleeping baby. At two weeks old, I was due to take her into work to show her off, but had to postpone the trip because I couldn’t manage to get out of the house. She slept, she woke up, I fed her, she cried, she burped, she filled her nappy, I changed it, she fell asleep again, and on it went. I couldn’t work out how to fit in an outing, and as for all the paraphernalia that seemingly had to accompany us, well, it was all too much. What on earth was I fannying around at? By the time R, our third, was born, all preciousness had dissipated – we went out on day two with a spare nappy and a packet of wipes and he spent his baby years just fitting in. When she was ten weeks old, we went camping, just the three of us, to Bakewell, only an hour away in case we had to up sticks and head home in the middle of the night (why would we?!). Gran had knitted her a white woolly sleeping bag with a big hood and she snuggled between us in baby heaven. We (one of us, I forget which) lay her on the rear shelf of the car and then opened the boot so she rolled inwards and onto the back seat, still sleeping, and we couldn’t find her for a while. It was sometimes easy to forget we had her. At three months, we put her in her own bedroom, a tiny creature in a big white cage of a cot. I imagined she was a small furry animal who could see in the dark. When she was four months old, I took her to Canada with Gran (my mum) to see Great-Gran (my gran) who thought she was a boy but was mesmerised all the same. I sobbed the whole flight home, while she slept soundly, because I knew we’d never see her again. When she was five months old, I went back to work full-time and it broke my heart. They wouldn’t have me part-time so it was all or nothing. No-one told me to wean her off breast milk beforehand, so she refused to drink from a bottle and survived on baby rice and bananas and her poo turned abruptly from sweetly smelling piccalilli mush to stinky human shit while my boobs leaked in weepy empathy as I clock-watched the days away and raced home every night.  At eight months we went camping again to Loch Lomond and she gazed in wonder at the flicking fire and moonlit lake and the shadows on our faces. When she was one I left my job and we moved house. I was conflicted, aching to leave her lovely child minder and her little cocooned world of baby relationships that I’d fantasised she’d keep up with all her life, and it was raining and we knew nobody, but I was full of joy to have her to myself. She sucked her finger not a dummy and took it all in her wobbly stride. Her first proper word was ‘shoes’, which she pronounced precisely and over and over while jabbing her finger at every pair she could see. By 14 months she fully understood the power, and we the weariness, of repetition: “cuggle mummy” was her mantra as she trotted right behind me round the house, “again, again” was her chant as Mr N flung her up in the air or splashed her in the pool or swung her round and round. And we can both still quote  from the books we read and reread and rereread together at bedtime (the priceless, tatty books that are safe in a box in the loft). We laughed (what else could we do?) at her marvellous, outrageous rage and watched in astonishment as she flopped in a mini faint as the mighty breath she took in floored her before the roar of fury could let fly. We came to dread the significant silence before the storm. At 17 months we camped again, on a blustery beach on Islay and by a river in Glencoe, where she wore (every day in my memory) a natty red and white striped shorty romper suit (that F also wears, later on in my mind’s slideshow) and made piles of stones everywhere we went. When she was 18 months, she scribbled on the coffee table. “What is that?” I demanded in mock horror. “A cat”, she replied. At 20 months, her brother F was born. I felt somehow that we’d betrayed her – how could we love another baby as much as her (we did, and a third)? how could we ruin our cosy three-ness? – but she loved him from the start and forgot he was ever not there. So then we were four, and then we were five and now she’s just six years younger than I was when I had her.

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