IS IT Firstborn’s 21st this year? asked our librarian Steve the other day, producing, like a rabbit from a hat, an Examiner cutting headlined ‘A parent’s pleasures and pitfalls’ dated 31/01/1991.
He’d been researching something quite unrelated when he’d come across one of my old articles and thought I might enjoy a trip down memory lane.
“It is, indeed,” said I, accepting a copy of the feature I had written shortly after returning to work following maternity leave.
He wasn’t to know that re-reading past articles, particularly those relating to my family, is one of my secret guilty pleasures.
I am old enough to have discovered that the past is poorly remembered and most human beings have a way of editing out the bits they don’t like or embellishing those that they do. My articles have served as a sort of journal, reminding me not only of what I did but what I felt, without the filter of passing time.
The picture that accompanied the ‘Thursday’s Woman’ feature shows, as you can see here, a proudly smiling, much more dewy-faced and shorter-haired me holding a plump and sullen baby.
I’d had to wake him up from his morning nap for the photographer (something that no self-respecting mother ever does because naps are the only things that keep parents going) so he refused all entreaties to look pleasant.
As I now know, looking pleasant was never top of his agenda. He was the sort of baby who went stiff and grizzly as soon as we tried to force him into his snowsuit and buggie. Shopping trips were only possible if he was kept on the move. Stop to examine something on a counter and he’d arch his back, putting a considerable strain on the buggie seatbelt, and start to grumble with the sheer boredom of it all.
“He doesn’t want to be a baby,” my friend Sheila used to say as she bounced him up and down on her knee to keep him from wailing. “He’ll only be happy when he’s walking and talking.”
These words turned out to be prophetic indeed.
We visited Sheila a lot in those early days – her own two boys were teenagers and she enjoyed having a baby in the house even if it was one that required constant entertainment. She would pace the floor with him while we ate, allowing us to have our one meal of the week free from interruption and indigestion.
I tell Firstborn about these times because it’s now possible to laugh about them. We reminisce, the way survivors do, about the Sleepless Years of his infancy.
“I used to think I was going to die, I was so tired,” I say, wistfully. It is a common theme.
My mum says Firstborn turned ‘night into day.’ It was something she never tired of repeating, as if saying this somehow made things better.
If I look carefully at my eyes in the photograph I imagine that I can see the fatigue behind the smile.
But as our eldest grew and turned into the fine young man he is today (I may be a teeny bit biased) many things became clear. The reason for his restlessness and insomnia for one.
My son is one of the busiest people I know. If his body is still then his brain has to be fully engaged in something challenging. He was never cut out to be the sort of baby who lies peacefully gurgling in a cot.
If anyone was to ask me if I believe nurturing to be more influential than nature when it comes to character I would have to come down heavily on the side of nature.
When I look at him today, fiercely independent and happily pursuing his many interests, I often think about those days when we pondered what sort of a person he would become.
I can barely believe that this year he will be 21 because, to use a worn-out expression that is nevertheless true, it really does seem like five minutes since he posed reluctantly for this photograph with me.
And now I’m wondering what the next five minutes will bring.