Saturday, January 27, 2007

One Night In A Pleasant Beachside Suburb...

Here’s something interesting I’ve just learned about our sleep deprivation.

Even though Tricky may wake us at odd hours (last night he woke at 3am and then 4.30am), in between those waking times C and I are obviously sleeping like the …ahem…dead.

And the reason I know this, is because last night at 1.30am a silver hatchback parked outside our front gate, maybe 20 metres from our open window, was firebombed, but we slept through it.

The tree outside our house was set ablaze, there was a police car, fire engine and ambulance on the scene within minutes and neighbours standing all over the footpath, but we slept through it.

Thick black smoke and the smell of burning car swirled through the neighbourhood, bats filled the sky and the moon shone blood red (ok I'm making that last bit up) BUT WE SLEPT RIGHT THROUGH THE WHOLE THING until around 3 when Tricky woke up crying (no doubt traumatized by the sirens or nearly asphyxiated by the fumes) and immediately woke me up too. I sat up, fought my way out of our mosquito net, and hung over his cot mumbling shhh, mama's here, go to sleep as I patted his bum. I do remember that it seemed to take a while before he settled. I thought briefly about getting a drink of water, checked the clock, fought my way back into the mosquito net and instantly fell asleep again.

By some little quirk of luck we had parked our car in the back yard overnight and drove off happily to the markets (as we like to do on a Saturday morning) without even a hint that anything odd had happened in our pleasant neighbourhood.

So it wasn’t until we drove home and parked on the road and saw the burnt out shell of the car, the scorched tree, the glass and debris all over the road and the ash all over everything that we thought…what the? Our next door neighbour gave us the grizzly details, including the fact that the petrol canister sitting on the backseat was a dead giveaway that it was deliberate.

The whole place smelled of burning car he said as we turned to look at the open window which seemingly blocked out all trace of noise or mayhem from our slumbering bodies.

How could you have slept through that? We didn’t bother knocking on your door because we thought you must have gone away.

We’ve been sleep training, I said with a shrug.

Later C and I mused on how weird it was that I leap up at the slightest cough from Tricky but remain snoring despite the CSI scene on our doorstep.

Did you hear anything? I asked C. Because I do seem to remember some bangs. Like car doors. Yeah, I remember some bangs, said C. Vaguely.

God, it must be the whole sleep deprivation thing, I said. That, and the bottle of wine we drank last night.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Solid Gold (6 Months)

Dear Tricky

You are actually nearly a week over 6 months now but due to bushfires cutting off the freeway between Newcastle and Sydney we have been trapped for a few days at your grandparents’ house without my laptop (or a spare pare of undies). Hence my tardiness. (But also, you know this monthly letter thing is a deadline of sorts and we know how good I am with those.)

Let me start by saying that you are the Master of The Bounce. When we hold you vertically you like to bounce and bounce and bounce. It’s very Riverdance on crack cocaine, all we’re missing are the lace up shoes and the twirling Celtic drums. And that little smoking pipe thing. The other night when your friend Toby came to visit, he of the dampened toes, we held you both up, face to face and then you started your insane jumping and he just stared, fascinated but also deeply disturbed. Then you had a bath together (which meant two babies in the bath and five adults hovering over the bath), which started well but ended in tears when you started to bounce in a horizontal position and kicked water into poor Toby’s eyes. He still loves you but I’m sure he’ll plot his own revenge.

You are now taller but since you are often horizontal we call that ‘longer’. Your dada told the Baby Capsule hire service that you were 70cm in length but he based that on lying you beside Mr Caterpillar who has a 60cm ruler on his plush purple body and stuffed caterpillars are not known to be truly reliable measuring devices.

However, we do know that you are exactly 7.12 kg (with clothes). Well done you. And also well done me because that was basically all my breast milk that went into those 7.12 kilos. I look at your chubby thighs with great pride and think “I made those”.

Of course all that will change now and I will no longer be able to claim credit for building you up because you are officially onto solids. How exciting! But also scary because now you have to start trying new things. Like yoghurt which you loved and avocado which you hated with a strong and bitter hate so fulsome, so all consuming that I was forced to stick a finger into your mouth to remove all vestiges of the loathsome snot green fruit/vegetable. Not only that, when I put you to my breast to wash away the evil taste you could still sense the nanomicrobes clinging to your tastebuds which in turn must have attached to my nipple and tainted it with the Evil Avocado and then suddenly my breast milk which has always been such a big hit with you and your chubby thighs was deemed similarly loathsome and rejected with much wailing and Screaming Tomato impressions. I had to go into the bathroom and wash my breasts before you would deign to even look at them and I felt a strong maternal urge to hunt down and destroy every single avocado in the world.

You have started sleeping on your tummy. I last tried to swaddle you around Christmas when your previously marvelous sleep routine went to shit. It was all that rolling that did it because in the dead of night you would roll onto your stomach and then howl at the strangeness of it and also because you couldn’t roll back. The sleep-on-tummy thing was a little bit freaky for your father and I and for several nights we would leap up and flash our mobile phones at your cot to check that you were still breathing. Even having mastered the art of rolling you were still waking and crying and we felt like screaming ourselves because after having slept for some time from 7.30 to 5am with nary a peep we were now back to the bad old days and nights of 2 hourly feeds.

But at 6 months, so Ms Babylove tells us, you are old enough to be “sleep-trained”. And so you were. It was a horrible first night with me lying in bed beside you in your cot, listening to you shout obscenities for a few hours on end but then it was over. One night it took. Suddenly you remembered all the good things about sleeping for ten hours, and so did we.

We still have an early morning feed at 5.30 in the morning, and for those I’m grateful. I’m tired and woolly headed and you’re all sleepy and floppy and as we sit in that half light I hold you and nurse you and love you with all my might. I have been remembering my own mother, and in my muddle headed state I wondered if I was having flashbacks of feeding as a baby myself, the smell of the milk and her softness and the heaviness of the dark and the feel of her cotton nightie against my face. She was thinner then and her hair was long and I think I wound it in my hands just as you wind my hair in your hands.

Thankyou for that.

It was hard at times but I loved nursing you, I loved that it was me that solely nourished you with my milk. And although I and my breasts are looking forward to time off, it’s a little sad to let it go. One morning, while I slept in, your dad took you for a walk along the breakwater at Nobby’s lighthouse and then to breakfast at a cafĂ© and when you got hungry he simply gave you the yoghurt off his bircher muesli. I was aghast when I finally rang to ask where you both were, primarily because I had bowling ball breasts that needed your attending to but also because your father told me you were happily asleep having eaten several teaspoons of yoghurt. It was the first time that you hadn’t needed me and it stung.

When I was infertile the most commonly used phrase was “just relax”. Now, it’s “enjoy this time”. Sometimes I think if I had a dollar for every time a kind well wisher smiled and whispered those three magic words I’d have enough money to hire a nanny so I could finish my deadlines and really enjoy this time. But mostly I hug you a little tighter because I realize it’s true. (Unlike the “just relax” comment which is complete bollocks).

You have been with us for six months. Six wonderful, miraculous, joyous months. Yesterday your father said he could not imagine a time without you. Neither can I. And I look forward to your growing and experiencing more of this incredible, beautiful, flawed and fragile world in the days to come.

Sans avocado, of course.

Your very own

Friday, January 12, 2007

This little Piggy

Toby(two weeks late) is officially five weeks younger than Tricky(three weeks early). His parents are very good friends with C and I, and indeed Toby’s dad P and I go way back to the traveling theatre company years.

Oh how I smile as I think of the jolly times we had in the funny old yellow van with the uncomfortable back seat. The miles we drove. The tiny towns we visited. The small Australian mammals we inadvertently ran over.

And the children. The dear sweet innocent uptilted faces, with wonder in their eyes and phlegm in their throats. How we sang and danced and clowned for them. How we laughed at their funny questions and dodged their disgusting spit balls.

Just recently, I was proudly describing Tricky’s rolling skills (“he goes this way and that”) when Toby’s mother interrupted to casually mention that Toby was chewing his toes.

Don’t you mean ‘playing with them’? I enquired. Because Tricky does that all the time, when he’s not rolling…

No no, chewing, she said, with slightly more emphasis than necessary.

Later, talking to P, I heard more about the toe-chewing phenomenon. P affirmed that Toby was addicted to the taste of his own little piggies. He reaches down, pops them in his mouth and then goes to town. Loves them. Adores them. Chews them hour after hour.

Oh, I said. How… cute.

Toes. Chewing? It sounded a quirky little habit but I knew what it meant.

Toby is agile. Toby is able to find small pink wriggly things. Toby is frugal – toes cost nothing. Toby is selective – his toes, no one else’s. Toby enjoys convenience – toes are always to be had. Toby likes variety – fingers and toes, that made twenty different digital flavours. Unlike say, Tricky, Toby’s toes would always be clean and fresh and faintly moist, his sock fluff constantly hoovered away and helpfully swallowed.

Was Tricky chewing his toes yet?

No, I said. But have I mentioned the rolling?

Later, as I was feeding Tricky I couldn’t help staring at his feet. Before I knew it I was gently bending his ankles towards his face, not to shove them in his mouth, just to let him know they were there if he felt he wanted a little something after lunch.

He was faintly interested but not really. That’s fine, I told him. No pressure. We’ll concentrate on that rolling business. Have you considered cartwheels?

With P being a boy and myself being a girl(oddly enough) one might think we never had to compete for roles in the many plays we performed together. One would be wrong, particularly when one considers the great range of sexless characters that are up for grabs in the theatre for young audiences market. Also, one might think that writing and acting for school kids is a doddle of a job and those employed to do so would enjoy endless jolly laughs and hilarious theatrical japes. Again, so so wrong. But the great thing about being human is that we have the capacity to forgive. Also, the capacity to get drunk together and blame it all on the director.

P and I have stayed great friends all these years later and I’m hopeful that our sons will be great friends too. And along with telling Tricky to be kind to actors, I will also explain that competition between friends is fine. The truth is, a little competition never did P and I any harm at all.

Frankly, it kept us on our toes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I Love the Night Life

All good things come to an end, even holidays with the family in Newcastle. I got to see my first movie since Tricky was born (unfortunately it was the loathsome Happy Feet), I got to picnic with old friends, I got to spend New Years Eve at a little house on Lake Macquarie and I got to eat out for the first time, sans bubba, at the posh harbourside restaurant my stepbrother P is a part owner in.

And so we’re back, back in the Big House, back at the laptop and back to the deadlines which seem to have created a permanent place for themselves somewhere between my brain cells and the corkboard on the wall in front of my desk.

I am in book mode which is exciting on one level and terrifying on most others, even though the editor gave me a little pep talk the other day.

C and I are currently doing a roster system, I have the baby in the morning and he takes him in the afternoon and hopefully we both get our work done. I have always aspired to being one of those organised regular writers. Sadly, judging by my performance throughout my entire conscious writing life, that’s never going to happen. I am always going to be the chick standing at the essay box scribbling in the bibliography at five minutes to five as the lecturer walks purposefully towards me down the corridor swinging the key. I like to think that, like olives, I perform best under pressure.

Tricky is getting bigger, at least we think he is, he seems to be heavier and he’s certainly outgrown a lot of his suits (including, sadly, a beautiful and extremely expensive one that C bought him a few months ago and I said had to be ‘put away for Christmas’). We won’t know for sure until we actually get him weighed and with our record that could be anytime up to his tenth birthday.

He has taken to rolling in a big way which is all very well until he rolls onto his tummy in the dead of night and wakes up, crying. Which brings me to last night and the night before which have been their own special little brands of hell. Having slept from 7.30 pm to 5am night after night he has now taken to waking two or three hourly and demanding food. And of course, since we share a room with him, those cries can be very persuasive. Yesterday I discussed “settling techniques” with my friend LL (her baby Toby was due a day after Tricky: Tricky came three weeks early and Toby came two weeks late so there’s now five weeks between them). We talked about the way some techniques seem to work and make you feel like a complete fucking genius and then suddenly nothing works and you have to start all over again.

Last night, the only thing that seemed to work was me dragging my boobs out and plugging him in.

I am officially tittywhipped.

Since he is almost six months (really? Six months? Good God.) we have tentatively started with solids which really means two small teaspoons of goop a day. For the first three days he had yoghurt which he seemed to love and then pumpkin which he seemed to hate and today banana which fell somewhere between the two.

Maybe it’s playing havoc with his system and keeping him up at night. Maybe solids is activating his testosterone levels and he’s practicing his bullying skills. Maybe I need to swaddle again, maybe he’s too hot, or too cold, or bitten by mosquitoes… Or maybe it’s just how it is this week and next week will be different and the week after that and the week after that…

If there is one thing I have learned, writing this blog, documenting this journey, it’s that things change, even when you think you’ve got a situation sussed. Whatever, all this lack of sleep is hard on the brain cells.

Sitting back in P’s restaurant, sipping wine and enjoying the whole sense of harbourside, red velvet, dry martini buzz of the place I suddenly spotted 80’s icon Lindy Chamberlain sitting at a table outside. Here was a mother once accused of killing her child in one of the most sensational cases of trial by media, many years later, enjoying a meal with friends.

My stepbrother P stopped by to see how the martinis were going down.
I saw Lindy Chamberlain, I told him surreptitiously.
Did you? he said. And what about Silverchair? They were sitting just over there.
I think it says something, that I could pick Lindy out of the crowd but totally failed to notice Newcastle’s most famous export.

Something about getting old, or priorities changing, or motherly mushbrain. I’d like to muse more on this but I’ve got deadlines you know and there’s only so many brain cells I can spare.

Friday, January 05, 2007

So This Is Christmas

Ah Christmas, season of love, peace and competitive card games using those weeny packs that one or two very lucky people manage to find in their Christmas crackers (everyone else having to make do with crappy plastic keyrings or tiny unusable pens or worst of all, miniature sticky tape dispensers.)

When the smoke from the crackers had cleared, I found one of the loathsome sticky tape dispensers amongst the debris. It was actually my sister T, sitting beside me, who got the pack of cards, but recently returning from France and putting herself on a gluten-free diet had left her in a weakened state.

Hey! I said brightly, waving the stickytape in front of her face in an enticing manner, can I swap you this?

Too feeble and wheat deprived to protest, the deed was quickly done and suddenly I was one of the lucky people, shuffling my cards with a pair of tweezers and challenging others to a robust game of whist.

But fascinating though it is, this is not really about lucky me and my cunningly cute little pack of micro-cards.

This is about my baby and his first ever Christmas and the great joy surrounding that milestone event.

This is about us being in Newcastle with my family, my dad and my step mum, C’s parents, my stepbrother, two of my three sisters, one fiancĂ© and one slightly less grumpy granddad. (And his catheter of course which now pops up at all our family events.)

This is about Tricky’s blue/brown/grey (pick your colour) eyes opening wide at the sight of the glittering, flashing Christmas tree, laden with shiny wrapped gifts and sparkling ribbon.

This is about Tricky’s little mouth dropping open at the sight of my dad in his hypnotically flashing Santa Claus hat (also, unusually, a shirt, in honour of C’s parents) and his grinning response to the smiles of all those aunts and grandparents and uncles and great grandparent (and catheter)

This is about his delightful pterodactyl like squeal in response to so much shiny shiny, jingly jingly, smiley smiley Christmas goodness.

His presents were legion, and generous, and exquisitely wrapped. They were a reminder of how eagerly this baby was awaited, in both C’s family and my own, of how many hopes and prayers went into his being.

They were all lovely but just one made me cry.

This year, my granddad finally went to live in a retirement village. There had been two falls and some lengthy hospital stays. He was no longer steady on his feet and needed a walker to get around. But it was the catheter more than anything else that did it, the constant reminder that he was vulnerable and needed help. Most years my granddad did his Christmas shopping at the local supermarket, choosing an array of biscuits which he would then wrap in newspaper as a little joke and put under the tree. In years gone by he supplemented these with jars of home made tomato relish and one memorable year several bottles of home made ‘Irish Cream’ which curdled before the New Year.

This year, there were no jars of relish, no tins of biscuits. Instead he gave everyone in the family an envelope containing some money.

Tricky got the same amount as everyone else but along with the money, was the following note:







There was something else in the envelope, wrapped in a piece of paper. I opened it reverently. Inside was a rather sticky looking candy cane.

His first lolly, my Grandad explained.

Half an hour earlier, Santa hat flashing away, Christmas music playing, tree lights shining, amidst the laughter and mayhem, my dad had begun to hand out the first of the gifts. He picked them randomly, calling out names and I played elf, passing them round the room.

When he called out my baby’s name, I paused, wanting to savour this moment.

Sitting in my sister K’s lap, he reached for his very first Christmas present. As we all watched with proud smiles and moist eyes, he patted the paper, he fondled the ribbon and then…he fell apart in a Screaming Tomato mess and had to be swaddled and put to bed.

So that was Tricky’s first Christmas.

There were some repeat performances; a few quiet cuddles, some turkey flavoured breast milk, a quick hand of whist, more pteradactyl squeals, but basically, that was it.

It was, as my granddad had hoped, a VERY JOLLY ONE indeed.