Tag Archives: growing up

The last feed

I remember the first feed like it was yesterday.

That tiny, alien creature, all purple and waxy white, placed upon my exhausted body as I lay on our bed at home, high on gas and air and the enormity of what I had just achieved. Holding my baby close, the baby that for the past nine months had lived inside me and for the past nine hours had pushed me to the limit, feeling the unfamiliar suckling at my breast.

I had hoped, before he was born, to feed him for a year. When I realised, as his weight began to plummet over his first few days on the outside, that things would not be as straightforward as I’d planned, I hoped that maybe we would make it to six months.

But tongue tie sorted, and after several weeks of learning from scratch how to carry out this most natural of functions, we sailed past that first milestone – and just kept on going.

He fed at least three hourly, night and day, for two years.

It was exhausting, but it felt so right. I was proud to have overcome those initial obstacles, to have figured out how to make breastfeeding work for both of us, to have mastered the art of feeding in the sling – to have written two novels with him nursing there.

I did wonder though, after that second year, whether he would ever stop.

That was my adjusted goal, in line with WHO recommendations: to “continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond”. And then as that new deadline approached I decided to let him lead the way as far as weaning was concerned.

I wasn’t expecting him to go quite so far “beyond”…

We had a few shaky moments, soon after he turned two. However gentle and respectful my parenting aspirations I really, really needed to get some sleep. But then just as I thought I might need to make the decision for us he decided he didn’t need to feed at night any more.

Daytime feeds continued, every three hours.

As we went into the fourth year, that eased off. It would be just twice a day, before his nap and at bedtime. And then just for his nap. And then sometimes not even for that. He would go a day or two or three and I would think perhaps we were done, and then he would ask again for booba and I did not say no.

I often asked him, in those last few months, if there was milk. It was hard to believe that my body could be so adaptable, keeping up a sporadic supply for as and when my boy decided he needed it. But he assured me that there was, and sometimes I still felt the letdown, the rush of oxytocin.

I miss that, a little, now that he has stopped.

I tried to remember to take photographs. It was easy in the early days (once I’d got over the initial insecurities), but my confidence dimmed again as he got older. Our society does not take kindly to the image of a preschooler on the breast, however much a nearly four year old is well within developmental norms to be not quite weaned.

Still, I captured a few. I am glad to have them now: those pictures of the (almost) last feed.

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The actual last feed passed unnoticed. I suspect it was a naptime, one afternoon when I snuggled beside him in his bed as he fought against the tiredness permeating his little body. Perhaps it was an afternoon when I dozed off, too: enjoying having my child close, the whirlwind of energy temporarily stilled.

It is a strange feeling, knowing that I won’t nurse my child again. I can already feel a levelling out in the relationships in our family: my husband has been so incredibly supportive of our sustained breastfeeding journey, and part of me is so happy that there is no longer that imbalance in our parental roles.

There is at the heart of it all, though, a sense of loss.

Something happened last night that brought it to the surface, made me realise that we are in the midst of a powerful transition.

Arthur’s cries startled me from sleep at about two in the morning. He very rarely wakes at night nowadays, and it is even rarer that he calls for me. But he was: shouting “Mama!” with increasing urgency. I leapt out of bed and down to his room, and found him kneeling on his new cabin bed peering into the almost darkness.

I searched out his eyes and held him close, his little body shaking. I asked if it had been a bad dream and he nodded, head still nestled in my neck. I wanted to ask what it had been about but I didn’t: I waited.

Moments later he pulled back and looked at me.

“I dreamt you died, mama. I dreamt you died.”

I lifted him out of the bed and we snuggled on his beanbag. His eyes wide open and breathing shallow as he rested his head against my chest, my hand gently stroking his hair and reassuring him that I was very much still there. Every now and then he would ask, “Why did you die, mama?” I didn’t know what to say, so I held him closer.

I felt my breasts fill with milk, but he did not ask to feed and I did not offer.

After a while of lying there I asked if he would like to come and sleep with us or whether he would prefer to go back into his own bed. He stood up and walked across the room, climbing the ladder up to his bed as I hovered close behind. He pulled the covers up to his chin and looked at me, smiling when I said he could come to us at any point if he felt scared.

He closed his eyes and went to sleep and I went back to my own bed and lay there in the almost dark, thinking.

In his world, one where he has been nourished physically and emotionally at the breast for as long as he has been alive, I suppose a piece of his mama has died. I am still here, though, and I can still comfort him.

Things will just always be a little different from here on in.

Now you are four

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Dear Arthur,

You know, you have almost got me lost for words.

I have been looking forward to writing this post, to reflecting on the wonderful little person who you have become, but now that I am here I have absolutely no idea how to contain you on this page.

Four really is the most magical age.

Over the course of last year, you began to shed the things I associated with your babyhood: the night waking, the nappies, the breastfeeding. That last one you only called time on in December – I was beginning to wonder whether you ever would, but I am so glad I left it up to you to decide when to stop. We were both ready, I think.

We still have the sling, used sporadically now but invaluable for long walks and hectic crowds. I love still being able to carry you when you need it, but more often than not you are charging ahead, leading the way – and I love that, too.

You are so confident out in the world – within our little town especially, but it doesn’t take you long to get your bearings wherever we are. We’ve taken lots of trips this past year, and you really are the perfect traveller. Curious and engaged and full of energy. I’m looking forward to all the travelling we have to come – and to learning Spanish with you, I know it won’t be long until you overtake me!

I know how privileged I am to still be spending so much time with you. By rights we should be gearing up to you starting school now, but we’ve decided to hold back at least a while – and for that I am very grateful. You love your forest school – and hopefully we will find another that will take you when you are deemed too old for that particular adventure to continue. The forest certainly feels like a more appropriate venue for your learning than within the four walls of a conventional classroom.

The forest, and the beach, and the gymnasium, and the theatre. The town you love to walk or scoot or bike through and say hello to familiar faces as we pass, your friends that range from 6 months to 60 years.

And then there are the worlds that you create at home. I thought your imagination was spectacular this time last year, but it really has exploded once again. You are fascinated by Star Wars – though you have only read the books so far. When we finally watch the films I think they might just blow your mind.

You do still love watching movies, but it’s playing out the roles yourself that you have really revelled in over the past few months. Luke Skywalker. Peter Pan. Buzz Lightyear. Woody.

You put on the costumes – at least the closest we can find – and leap around reenacting scenes and creating new scenarios. Or you use your lego to create ever more advanced vehicles for your characters to inhabit, combining the mini figures to create original narratives which can play out for hours.

Your lego has become your favourite tool for building, though you are fascinated by the construction challenge of your new marble run too, and cannot wait to make something with your new tool kit. A doll’s house, you said, inspired by the one I used to play with many years ago that you discovered at my parents’ house this Christmas.

There is something so alluring about those miniature worlds, and I am excited about the prospect of (re)discovering them with you.

I get waves of anxiety sometimes, worrying that we are doing the wrong thing by following the road less travelled. But there is no escaping the fact that our education system is sick, and I think if we follow your lead then we cannot really go wrong, feeding your curiosity and helping you access the world of grown ups as and when you are ready to do so.

It’s amazing how, as you grow, all preconceptions I had about this parent – child relationship begin to fade away. You have so very much to teach me.

And I still have so very much to learn.

All my love for always,

Mummy xxx

 

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“A portrait of my child once a week, every week, in 2016”

This one (pictured here admiring himself in the mirror post-bath) has been more than a little bit challenging this past week.

He has been seeming super grumpy, which is totally unlike him – quick to get tearful and to lash out, and extra clingy at the same time. He had a cold that lingered for ages, but I’m sure there’s something else going on.

Tonight he started chewing on his hands, and told me that his teeth hurt at the back of his mouth, so maybe it’s his molars.

Or maybe he’s just levelling up again – it definitely feels that way as I watch him learn and play.

Or maybe it’s a bit of all three.

Whatever the reason, it’s been a real test of our parenting strategies, and our commitment to using gentle and respectful techniques to help him grow.

I think we’ve just about managed to hold our course…

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“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

We had a bit of an epic day of travelling last week, me and Arthur.

It was the funeral of the father of one of my oldest friends up in Stourbridge, and I really wanted to be there. It meant a crack of dawn start and eight hours on peak hour trains to get there and back from Devon, but fortunately this little man took it all in his stride.

He is such good company, and so curious about the world. I just can’t believe how grown up he’s getting.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Now you are three

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Dear Arthur,

So now you are three.

How did that happen?

I remember when you were tiny, in those first magical, mystical days, I used to stare at you through the fog of sleep deprivation and try to imagine what you would be like when you were this age. How you would look, how you would sound, what you would do.

I never could have imagined you.

The way you draw in your breath and clap your hands in glee when something exciting happens: from the suggestion of a train ride to your first sight of snow to me making it home from an evening meeting in time to kiss you goodnight. You are excited by life, and I love that.

I love how you quickly make your way to the dance floor when a song you like comes on, throw your hands in the air and shake your booty with a huge smile on your face. I love that the dance floor is whatever you decide it is in that moment, from a clearing in your toys in the lounge to the rug in your bedroom to a select few tiles in the kitchen marked out by something only you can see.

Your imagination is spectacular. Inspired by story books and movies you create all sorts of people and scenarios to take you through your day. Wherever we are you can conjure up your own entertainment – and as your vocabulary increases you can share it with others too, making up stories for us just like we do for you.

And what a vocabulary. There was a moment recently, when you were once again telling me the story of The Polar Express, when you described the train arriving outside the window with its ‘hissing steam and screeching brakes’. Several times a day I am astounded by the words that have found a home inside your head.

You absorb everything around you, and if I stop and pause for a moment I can watch you do it. Almost hear the cogs in your brain turning as you focus in on new little details you haven’t noticed before. You ask about things of course – ‘why?’ is an increasingly common refrain, and I always try to answer you the best I can, even if the level of understanding you are seeking is beyond me.

You don’t just rely on other people for answers though. You are fascinated by how the world works, and are constantly experimenting, trying it all out. Sometimes your methods are a little frustrating – the throwing, the tasting, the taking things apart. But I know why you’re doing it, so it’s ok.

Don’t ever stop exploring, my little bear. Don’t ever stop seeking out the truth and trying to make sense of the world, even when it seems completely unintelligible. Especially then.

There is so much about your emerging personality that I hope you hold on to as you grow.

I hope you will continue to try to understand your emotions, and those of other people. When you look up at me with your big blue eyes and say ‘I’m sad’, and together we try to work out why, a part of my heart aches for my inability to protect you from the darker feelings that will inevitably engulf you from time to time. But I’m glad you want to talk about it. Know that I will always be here when you are sad or angry or afraid: my love does not need you always to be happy.

Though of course when you are my heart sings. Your laughter is, hands down, the best sound I have ever heard. I think you like it too. If there’s a lull in conversation you’ve started saying “Let’s laugh! Will you laugh with me?” It is impossible not to agree, and usually I’m giggling before I’ve even had time to answer.

You bring so much joy to my world.

There is nothing sweeter than hearing you say, “Can I give you a toy, mama?”

You say it when we’re in the midst of playing, when I’m distracted by my work, when we’re talking about something you’ve done that’s made me cross. And when I say yes, which I try to always do, you go and pick out one of your favourite cars or creatures or maybe even a train and carefully hand it over with a smile.

I think what you’re saying is “I love you, mama.”

And I love you too. Very much.

All my love for always, Mummy xxx

Levelling up

Arthur has been nothing if not a whirlwind the past few weeks. A fizzing ball of energy, constantly teetering on the very fine line between abject delight and total despair. It’s been utterly exhausting, and more than a little bit wonderful. More than anything though it’s been the starkest reminder yet that our little boy is growing up.

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At first we put it down to the disarray that summer has brought to our routine. We’re not ones for keeping our lives in especially well-defined boxes, but over the past month or so our days have been a long way from ordinary. From falling asleep in fields under the stars to waking in unfamiliar rooms, from house guests to plane rides to throwing stones in the sea long after bedtime, summer has shaken us all up more than a little.

But, whilst that might all have something to do with it, it is clear now that our boy is morphing into a(nother) new creature. He is becoming more himself, staking out his independence, reaching for the next branch of the tree and grasping it tight with both of his strong, perfectly formed hands. He is levelling up.

I can hear it in his language. His words are becoming better and more numerous every day. He thinks, now, before he says something, the search for the most precise way to express what is on his mind etched on his face.

He remembers whole songs, whole stories, recounts them to himself or us with undisguised glee at what his mind is capable of.

His imagination too is growing like a weed. From it sprout the shoots of new stories, the ones he whispers to his toys and wakes up babbling to the night. Hidden in its leaves is fear, too. The sense that things might be hiding in the darkness, that the world is bigger than he ever thought possible.

Despite this, he is navigating that world with more confidence than ever. Suddenly he seems to have a new control over his body – the ability to run and jump and roll with terrifying assurance. He loves to balance, a metaphor perhaps for the instability of his new existence. He loves to dance, too – letting the rhythm infuse his bones and connect him to the music.

When he was tiny, we were guided through these developmental growth spurts by The Wonder Weeks. Sometimes what we read was scarily accurate, other times it could not have been wider from the mark, but it gave us a touchstone, a way to navigate through. Now, though, we are stumbling blind over this new terrain, constantly surprised by what our little man is capable of.

For him, I suppose, it was ever thus.

I cannot imagine how strange it must be to suddenly find yourself in possession of all of these superpowers. The rate at which he has hurtled through his thirty-one months on this planet so far is not unusual, but it is no less extraordinary for that.

And so I will allow him his tantrums, his clinginess and his night-waking. I will cherish his need to be clamped to my breast more often than I really find comfortable, his almost impossible desire to have both myself and Leigh at no further than arms reach at all times, his inability to choose between the myriad of options that lie before him at any given moment.

Time is never going to slow down to give us space to make sense of it all, so it is my job to keep up. And to remember that the one thing we can rely on is that time will pass, my baby will grow, and one day these days will be nothing but memories.

Best make them good ones.

 

Independence

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There is no denying it: my little baby is growing up.

Since he turned two ten days ago, it is almost as though a switch has been flicked. He wants his own space, to do things at his own pace, in his own way and his own time.

It’s almost left me feeling lonely this week. Leigh has had a crazy week, having to stay up in Exeter for two consecutive nights because of shift patterns and deadlines. Arthur has generally been great company, but he’s been utterly determined to eat alone, sitting at his little blue table on his little blue chair.

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He clearly loves the autonomy of it, taking advantage of it at times to get up and wander around. I’ve watched him from my seat on the big table, missing my dinner companion in his highchair.

He has been testing his freedoms at bedtime too. We took the side off his cot a week or so ago, once it was obvious that he was perfectly capable of climbing out.

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After the first couple of nights where he was still exhausted from his New Year sickness, passing out quite happily and staying asleep whilst he rolled onto the floor, I invested in a Sleepyhead Grand – kind of like a pregnancy cushion for toddlers which cocoons him safely on his bed.

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He loves it – his ‘new cosy bed’ he calls it. As soon as bedtime is mentioned he’ll make for the stairs, keen to get up to his room. But then once we’re there he’ll take full advantage of the fact that he is no longer trapped by the bars on his cot, climbing in and out never mind how exhausted he is – or we are for that matter.

It felt endless the nights I was on my own with him. I have even more respect now than I did before for the parents I know who are doing this solo. It’s almost 10.30pm now, and I can hear him chatting away to Leigh as I type this. I know he’s tired, and he normally would have been asleep for ages by now, but the novelty is clearly still too much for him to handle.

I’m trying to encourage his independence – to give him the freedom he needs to test these things out. It’s hard when he pushes boundaries in a way I’m not comfortable with, but I don’t want to knock him down, to damage the trust I’ve been carefully building up over the last two years.

I have a feeling we’re entering a whole new zone of unchartered parenting territory. For the first time in ages I’ve been scouring Amazon for parenting books, looking for advice on how to continue the attachment approach that has worked so well for us up till now into toddlerdom and all the fresh challenges it brings with it.

It’s exciting, and just a little bit scary. But Arthur seems to be facing this new phase with confidence and relish. And ultimately that is of course what matters most.

 

My Word of the Week this week is Independence, linking up with Jocelyn at The Reading Residence