Since having Charlie I seem to have lost all rational conception of my age. On the one hand I indulge myself in the invidious fiction that I am a young Mum like so many of the other young Mums in this area. On the other, I get to see in full Technicolor™ the contrast between my wizened hide and Charlie’s pure, perfectly nourished, non-sun-damaged and toxin-free skin. He's got the sort of skin you can only normally get via air-brushing and as I am going to be spending the next 18 or so years within the sort of proximity guaranteed to generate comparisons, I am becoming fixated upon treatments designed to give me back my youth, or at least the appearance of it.
There seems to be a direct correlation between ageing and motherhood. The more time I spend with Charlie’s extreme youth, the older I seem to get. Perhaps this is something to do with the fact that much of the time I spend with Charlie is time in which I would otherwise be sleeping, exercising, relaxing or eating properly. Further, a serious percentage of this time he spends actively draining me of nutrients which, due to his endless need to be cleaned, changed, dried, fed and entertained, I have little time to replenish. Do I begrudge him this, the last of my looks? The end of my youth? The flexibility of my skin? No no no, why of course not - because I mainlined ‘Motherhood’ recently and this most pernicious of drugs makes me totally, utterly and completely in thrall and I can deny him nothing except denial itself. I tell you, if we could isolate this stuff the world would be a much nicer place - if staffed with wrinkling zombies.
This child can scream at me, pinch me, punch me, keep me up all night, wee on me, throw up all over my new silk robe, poo on the new bed-linen, shout all through important telephone calls, rip pages out of the book I’m reading and have hour-long ear-splitting hysterics for no reason and all I am capable of doing is patting him gently on the back and uttering the most cliched, bland and sickening phrases - 'There there shh little one everything's ok Mummy loves you'. 'Mummy loves you'??? 'Mummy loves you'??? I mean, yes I do, like anything - however I could be saying 'Mummy wants shoes' in the same tone of voice and he'd be just as happy. But I don't. I say 'Mummy loves you' and it seems So Much More True than I would have imagined prior to the onset of Motherhood. In fact, it may be safe to say that, despite a modest handful of varied and intensely-felt love affairs culminating in my marriage to the frog, I do not believe I actually knew the final meaning of the word ‘love’ until Charlie came along. It’s as though someone has attached a tow-rope to a point somewhere inside my rib-cage, handed the other end to Charlie and he just sits gently tugging on it 24 hours a day. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for the little spud and this is making getting him to sleep in his own room at night a very difficult matter.
It’s one thing for the books to tell you that it doesn’t hurt a baby to cry himself to sleep. It’s another thing entirely to listen to one’s baby get progressively hoarser and hoarser over an half hour period until the last time one goes in to show one’s treacherous face and let the baby know he’s not Crying Alone In The Void he emits a dry, whispery little ‘Whuhhhhhh…whuhhhh…whuhhhh…’ and finds himself scooped up into the desperate arms of his mother who is now a complete nervous wreck. The cameras pan back and a very smug and contented little baby is happily attached to a boob while his mother sits white-faced, ragged and tearful on the nursery sofa. After a short montage of baby being suckled, burped and cuddled, the cameras pan back yet again and baby is sleeping happily in his parent’s bed to the vast disgruntlement of his father who not only is relegated to the outside edge of the mattress but who is forced to listen as boobs which once were his alone are deployed else-where for the remainder of the night.
The problem is that Charlie is measuring the length and weight of an average 7-month-old child. As he is only 4.5 months, this is proving troublesome in terms of The Stuff. OK, so baby clothes are cheap and so what? No, the trouble is all the other Stuff which Charlie is now growing out of, to whit the Moses basket, (where-in he has slept exclusively for his entire life), the pram, and very soon, his car seat. While the car-seat and the pram have a few more months left in them, the basket sadly doesn’t. Charlie looks like a cuckoo in a wren’s nest and it is time for him to leave our room and strike out on his own.
I think it is actually harder on me. All he has to do is to have hysterics and lose his voice. I, on the other hand, have the tow-rope yanked so hard I think I may lose a lung and after he’s been catered to, pampered, calmed down, put down, gotten up, played with, fed again and put gently into his cot once finally asleep I then have to face The Night. The Entire Night, that is without being able to hold my breath and hear him snuffling away, without being able to reach a hand into the basket and have a soft little fist grab my finger until we both fall asleep and without, crucially, being able to simply reach into the basket and pick him out to feed him. Instead I am now lying in bed with my hand on the baby monitor looking at the lights that indicate his breathing and waiting for him to wake up. Once he's up, in a sort of deja-vu from three months ago I get out of bed and stumble to the nursery sofa to feed him and then try to settle him back to sleep again before falling into my own bed after breaking a toe on the way (eight to go, it's an excuse for new shoes).
Charlie is getting used to this. This does not mean he is accepting it, oh no, but he has realised that now, when he goes down in the cot, he isn't going to get plucked out and lain in his cosy basket. No, he's finally clicked that he's in the cot For Good, which means that rather than a perfunctory three minutes of lacklustre tears and then the gentle thump of baby head hitting mattress, we have the Performance. This involves a short introductory whinge followed by an aria of shouts, some pizzicato sobbing and the finale, a bel canto of moans and plaintive wails. This last successfully plucks on the old parental heartstrings and accomplishes the denouement, in which baby is plucked from his cot prison and whisked onto a boob or, equally to his satisfaction, to the livingroom where he risks permanent neck damage straining to watch CSI over the back of his bouncy chair. Meanwhile I pick up my hair from where it has fallen out and embark on some deep breathing exercises in an attempt to regain my sang froid.
It's sort of working and I'm sure in a few weeks it'll all be fine. D is happy at least, but I need some serious maintenance. Somebody please get me a facial.