Today I have been tired. All week, I have been tired. An odd but familiar summer-lethargy seems to have momentarily settled on me. I get this way at this time of year, around my birthday. A very busy weekend last weekend seems to have sapped me too, and leaves me feeling like I could do with an energy boost.
Summer is a strange time for me. I like the light evenings, but am less than fond of the hot days. There’s a busyness, a violence to heat that is too much for me, whereas Autumn is quieter and more subtle. I never feel prepared for Summer, maybe because in Britain it always peaks earlier than I expect, and just as I start to come round to it, it leaves.
I’ve been making plans for my birthday weekend, determined not to find it depressing this year. I don’t know why I get depressed on my birthday (and New Year too) but I suspect it’s because I’d secretly like there to be huge parades in the street, balloons everywhere, extravagant parties etc., when in reality the older you get the less of a thing it really is. Yet I quite like the feeling of getting a year older, since my Capricorn moon feels more and more adjusted to the kind of age I am comfortable at.
So, I have been trying to arrange two days filled with small but nice activities that I can enjoy with those around me. Little things like – lying in, going to the cinema, reading in a café somewhere. And then the rest of the time just being with Ava and Howard.
I am looking forward to a lie in more than anything. I went to bed early last night, which I find hard to do even now when I am sometimes exhausted. But the extra hour was so good, and I woke up feeling better for it.
Of all the things that I miss about life B.A., sleeping is the biggest. I know it’s a thing impossible to understand unless you’ve ever really been sleep deprived (impossible because I have, thousands of times, had very little sleep, favouring the wee hours to be awake, and yet have never had so little and such disrupted sleep for so long) but I can never get over the difference I feel after a shitty night’s sleep than after a good one.
(Parenthood, more than any other thing, is like this – impossible to understand until you become one, even though this must sound exclusive. I read an interview with the ever-cool Maggie Gyllenhaal who said, ‘Oh, motherhood is all-consuming, I remember people saying, “Believe me, everything in your life is going to change…” And I thought, “Why? That’s such a bourgeois way of thinking.” And then you have a child and yes, everything changes. It affects the way we live, what we do and where we go – everything. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.’)
Without sleep, I am a murderous giant, ready to tear through whole towns killing all those who get in my way. I am a grumpy wife and an impatient mummy. I am a reclusive friend. I am angry at everyone and everything.
Of all the criticisms hurled at attachment parenting, the only one that really seems viable is that it has to be a far harder style of parenting for the parents than any other method of raising children. Because, as it suggests, you are attached to your little one 24/7. In my case this means Ava takes her naps at the breast, and sleeps throughout the night often feeding.
There is never any doubt in my head that this is the right way to have and be with your baby, but sometimes, just for the odd moment, I find myself jealous of those mums whose babies sleep in pushchairs and go down for naps somewhere other than on your breast. I find myself curious what it would be like to have a baby that wasn’t as ‘high need’.
And here’s the funny thing, really. I suspect that all babies are born high need, and if their needs are met, they remain high need, possibly even becoming more so. But if, like the majority of babies, their needs are shaped into what the parent thinks they should be, moulded around the parent’s will, then the baby learns quickly that its needs are not going to be met, and its clever pliable brain adjusts.
Ava is so good natured, so unbelievably happy and so innately curious about everything but I don’t know if she would be so happy if I tried to make her do things any other way than the way she wants to. If I insisted she sit in her pushchair when she clearly wants to be ‘slung’, if I insisted she go to bed at a set time every night even if she is wide awake and wants to play, if I refused her the breast when it wasn’t so convenient for me to feed her…after a while of torturous crying I would no doubt get my way, and she would learn that she is not going to get what she wants. What she needs.
And although I understand this kind of parenting, where it feels much more like you are in control (a lovely feeling, I am sure), I am certain that it is not the best thing for Ava.
So when, today, I read an interesting article about how to tell if your baby is truly gifted, I couldn’t help but wonder if the reason that most babies might not match the criteria is because most babies are not getting the chance to meet the criteria, as opposed to having some kind of genetic predisposition for being particularly gifted. And whereas any baby who is developmentally very ahead of the game may indeed be gifted, is it not more likely that all babies have an unbelievably infinite potential to exceed in a number of ways that mainstream child-rearing doesn’t encourage or even acknowledge?
There are some babies I am lucky to know that I would indeed consider gifted, and without exception they are proof that the pudding requires some very heavy-duty and very creative parenting, and I think that if ever proof was required that the more love, affection, time, creativity, space, freedom and thought you give to your baby, the more they develop, then they are it.
I couldn’t help but feel that wave of increasingly familiar parental pride when I considered the six signs of a gifted baby and the ways Ava exemplifies them. 1.Is your baby ahead of the game? 2.Does he have a very good memory? 3. Is he a good problem solver? 4. Does he make connections? 5. Is he perceptive 6. Does he have trouble sleeping?
I laughed at the last one, because Ava’s head never stays down for long if there is anything to catch her attention or feed her curiosity. The others made me think of the ways Ava (like many babies) demonstrates how she can do all of those things. But does that make her/them gifted? Compared to who and what?
Compared to the monthly emails I get from What to Expect, yes, she is ‘ahead of the game’. And yes, she seems to have a very good memory (she knows exactly where to look for my phone, where the clock/table/light/pram are, she remembers what different colours are, what different food pots are, what sounds are, where household items live).
I think she’s a good problem solver, too. She has incredible determination and focus when it comes to obtaining something, or finding something, or communicating something. Likewise, she understands enough signs now to use them in different ways (milk doesn’t just mean milk, it means food and comfort too) and seems able to twig on easily to turns of phrases, to facial expressions, to clothing etc, which makes me assume she is using learned knowledge in different ways.
And as for being perceptive, I find her unusually so. She studies my hair if I do it differently (when I got a fringe cut she stared at me oddly for a whole day). When I put up the ideas board in the dining room, the first time she saw it she wriggled wildly until I took her over so she could study it. She leans forward and struggles to get out of the pushchair or sling as soon as I get close to our house. And so on.
Which of course makes me think she’s …switched on. But all of these qualities, as remarkable as they are in their own right, seem to be qualities which are simply a sign of a child who is curious in her surroundings, who wants to explore and discover the world around them.
And if the child has a constant and secure base from which she can explore, then surely nothing at all dissuades her from mentally and physically exploring everything she comes into contact with.
I try to remember this when I feel tired sometimes – that I never doubt being with Ava all the time is worth it, for her and for me.
And Howard is great at and always willing to spend time with her, ‘Daddy-daughter’ time, when I need to escape into myself for an hour every now and again, when I want to sit and read somewhere and forget that I am covered in baby sick.
But for the most part, the everyday bliss of this beautiful baby is now the norm. And the bigger she gets, the more incredibly awesome everything she does is. Now she is at this stage of big-babyness where she is still, definitely, a baby, but is also becoming a little girl, a little person, with a whole range of looks that mean one thing or another, with a mischievous sense of humour and a seemingly endless curiosity. A baby who day dreams sometimes (what must be stored in her imagination already?)
And everyday (and sometimes several times a day) she seems to expand in some way. Today, as she was looking at all the items in the dining room I like to name, she started to point at them too, but with both hands. She raised her hand to wave several times. She clapped two objects together over and over again. She walked from one room to another with me holding her hands and her feet clunkily following one another.
All of those things were firsts. I got to see them and be a part of them. I get to see how happy she gets whenever she finds a new to communicate (sideways head is her new favourite) There’s a quiet kind of satisfaction about ending each day feeling tired (tired beyond tired, sometimes) because you have given more of yourself than you have ever given before and because you have seen how important this giving is.