Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Singing lessons (and biting)

He's been ill again, Boy2. Since last week. Though I wouldn't want you to think he hasn't been cared for, cleaned, cuddled, Calpol-ed and, when appropriate, seen by medical professionals, I was kind of in denial.

I kept an initial low profile for a few reasons. Firstly, because it isn't fair to go into too much detail about his health or define him as sickly which I'm afraid even mentioning another illness will do. Secondly, our family experiences with him in hospital have pretty much scraped away all my reserves and confidence as a mother for the moment. And thirdly because I've a new four-headed approach to the mornings where I wake up and he's anywhere between not-quite-right, and oh-shit-it-could-all-go-wrong-again.

I approach those mornings with a cocktail of bravura (sick? call this sick? pah, no ambulance no need to panic, he's breathing isn't he? well then: NOT SICK), superstitious optimism (not again, if we don't say he's ill, he won't be, if I smile and find a reason for everything he won't be sick again), wild-eyed panic about 'real' life (he CAN'T BE ILL AGAIN because everything really will collapse this time) and benign negligence (it can't be the nano norro-virus, no-one else is ill).

It took him three days, where we were lucky enough to cash in favours and fiddle around with timetables and take care of him without missing work, before he rammed his point home. He gave me his puking winter virus, circumnavigating my matronly faith in hot soapy water and expensive bio-gel, by projectile puking it in to my mouth.

Well done Newborn, point made: proof of the pudding is, I found, seeing it leave your body and then having to breastfeed whilst kneeling over the toilet bowl. Nicely done, refusing Dioralyte (it is fucking disgusting) and formula (who wouldn't if they could have beleaguered boob on tap?) and reducing me to my bed armed, next to him, with only a bowl, some baby wipes and a Blackberry to keep us entertained.

I never realised what beauty was until this morning. Beauty is lying in bed with someone whose face enchants through the floating dust, in a darkened bedroom which smells suspiciously of sick, but is crucially (the face that is) pinkening up and smiling after being pale for 48 hours. Beauty is the sunshine glancing off a too-skinny baby's sharpened cheekbones and an unexpected giggle on a Tuesday morning when you are in bed for the second day and have too much to do to be laid out. How I wish I could have captured his face, his sweaty sticky hair, his slightly sunken eyes, his mirth regardless somehow to keep forever.

This isn't the first time an illness of his has offered me respite: joyful stolen hours with this second son of mine on a day when we both should have been somewhere else. But between retching we had so much fun. We've played a game of show and tell.

I discovered he now knows all the actions to 'Wind The Bobbin Up'. And he's learnt that my extra special 'elephant sneezed - aaaahchoo' action when singing 'I went to the Animal Fair', is the funniest thing that any mummy has ever done at any point in the history of the world ever.

Seeing him sing, I almost shed more tears for all the days I miss. For every day I've not sat with him on my knee mothering him and keeping a note of what he gets better at day by day. The blur of the bigger family has barely the time for such intricacies. But I couldn't get emotional, because he picked that moment, my momentary stocktake to bite me. At first, I felt this a symbolic gift. He's shocking me out of useless regret I thought. But alas no, it was a different lesson from fate: beware of the hype of benevolent neglect.

Six days of puking takes its toll. After sinking his teeth into my arm, he rolled out of bed and and backwards bum-wriggled downstairs. Another lesson: if he's hungry enough, he will either a) bite me or b) walk to the kitchen, pull an Ella's squeezie out of the corner cupboard and throw it on to his high chair with feeling.

He's pretty direct, my second son. I can't wait for him to start talking.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Fine Art of Parenting: breastfeeding and Leonardo

The week before Christmas an old friend of mine got me and Thathusband in to the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery. A rare proper grown-up night out, with drinks and canap├ęs and time to read the descriptions by the paintings, for once, ha ha, to see the writing on the wall.

And, obviously, they aren't half bad. Some of them are famous enough to make you feel like some weird kind of faker in their presence; others are immense and seem to glow in the dark almost, to strange you out in their familiarity, otherness, modernity and agedness.

There are lots of sketches and there's something in their peculiar fragility and what they reveal about the obsessive attempt to capture first reality and then perfection. The emphasis on dimension and symmetry, the again and again and again-ness of the hunt for the look of a hand, an ear, an ermine, a back, a muscular calf, a child's face - all scrawled in red or blue or black. The search for authenticity is fascinating.

There are some wonderful pieces, perhaps the big guns being the two versions of The Virgin Of The Rocks. But relieved as I was to get to gen up and take my time I found myself pulled, as ever, to seeing the exhibition through the filter of my new self and the tiny world I now inhabit since having children, and probably since I last had a leisurely walk through a gallery with my husband and without a changing bag.

For a thousand reasons, I'm still breastfeeding newborn. Mainly, I guess, because whenever I try to stop he can sense my ambivalence and either cluster-feeds like a newborn to bank his supply, or goes nuts at night bringing my paper-thin grasp on my mind and my happiness shuddering to a sleepless halt.

Maybe that is why I was drawn to a series of sketches and a painting: The Madonna Litta and in particular the idea of authenticity and what that means. Now, I'm told by better art critics than I that, though long attributed, many think this wasn't painted by Leonardo but by one of his followers (or at least finished off).