It is time to speak of Otter.
Now around five months old, she is like a squidgy ball of chubby deliciousness, with smiley eyes and a dribbly mouth.
She’s moved through the various stages of sleepy new born fragileness, the relentless cluster feeder, the curved ball in the sling, graduating to the cot from the crib, and the buggy chair from the pram. Now her body extends across my legs when she feeds, she rests her head on my shoulder and sucks my face, frantically searching for her thumb.
Her legs have exploded into that chubbiness of the mature baby, (the sumo-wrestler look), complete with all the cracks and the crevices. Her screw-on hands open and close while she looks at them in wonder. When she catches sight of me across the room her face breaks into a beaming smile. She seems to find it funny when I yawn. I’ll open my eyes to her squealing in delight. Yes, it’s so amusing how tired you are making mummy.
The tiredness. Is. Relentless. I knew what the deal was going to be from Mole and Hedgehog if course, but now we are living it all again. The days and nights all roll into one. Sometimes I think ‘I’ll try to get ahead with the housework’, and force myself to keep going. But this always ends in exhausted grumpiness and tears or ending up flaked on the sofa like a beached whale. Mr M&H comes home from work to find me in this position nearly every day. I’ve come to realise that housework is like a hamster wheel. It never ends, it just goes round and round. So there’s no point in trying to get ahead with it. I may as well enjoy myself and be as low maintenance as possible.
Now that Mole is five, I’ve decided that this is the age when she can start helping out around the house. Tidying the toys, drying the dishes, laying the table, that sort of thing. She’s up for this most of the time, if we frame it right for her. Hedgehog is not so easily persuaded. We get a flat “No”, before she scampers off to hide behind the curtains. She’s still only four, so she can escape this time. I’m in two minds whether to introduce pocket money in exchange for doing jobs yet. Should I have to bribe my children to get them to clean up after themselves?. No, pocket money can wait until she’s 10. Along with the mobile phone, the pierced ears and walking to school on her own.
But back to Otter. Otter does not make much mess yet. Only of the explosive pooh variety, which I am already armed for and don’t mind. I quite like the mustard appearance and the yeasty smell on be honest. And breastfeeding is not messy.
We feed together everywhere. The school playground, the churchyard, the allotment, the garden, in bed, in the car at the supermarket, at a picnic bench, on the front steps, on a hillside, at the pub, in a changing room, by the pool side, in a café, at the playground. It slows life down, and forces me to take rest stops, but I like that. I also like that she controls how long the rest stops are. It could be 10 minutes, or it could be 40, there’s no way of telling. I just read a book with my free hand, or take a snooze, and wait for her to finish.
As I write this she sits in her bouncy vibrating chair, furiously reaching for the dangly objects on the mobile in front of her. I notice a strawberry smudge on her bum from where she was playing with strawberries earlier at the table, and must have sat on one.
I’ve been dreading the moment when we introduce solids, mainly because I know how messy it’s going to be. Images of Hedgehog catapulting globs of tomato at the wall with her spoon still come back to haunt me. We even considered getting a dog, just so we wouldn’t have to pick up all the floor debris. But the highchair is out now, its main purpose for now being for somewhere in the kitchen to put her, so that she can keep me in sight while I’m doing stuff. If she can see me then she’s happy. She follows me with her eyes and grins at me, and flops backwards in the chair that is still too big for her.
On the food front, so far she’s had finger foods to play with, which I can’t tell how much she likes. She seems more interested in chewing the plate right now. I’m in no rush to start spooning her blended up stuff anyway, it can wait.
The nights are broken into chunks, with toilet trips, breastfeeds, banana snacks and water drinks in between. I am like a night lurcher, stalking the landing, pacing back and forth between Otter’s needs and my own. She spends the first half of the night in her cot, then sometime around four am, she comes in with us, and only goes back to sleep when she’s tanked up and drunk on milk. In the morning there is a little sweat mark in the bed with a salt rim, where she’s been sandwiched under the duvet.
The school runs are turning into a procession with four of us. This morning for example. Mole and Hedgehog wheel their buggies at the front, stopping every few seconds to stare at a worm or a woodlouse, while I bring up the rear with Otter. We march in unison, Mole declaring “Hedgehog, come ON you can’t STOP”. The base of my buggy is stocked with enough food, school bags, nappies and changes of clothes for an expedition to Machu Picchu. Sometimes there is one far ahead on the scooter, and one sulky one dragging their feet behind. As such times I feel the need to get a megaphone, or a lasso, or a sheepdog perhaps, to round them up safely.
My glimmers of solo time are slowly and surely returning. Getting my nature fix at the allotment, going for a run, reading a book, baking a cake, sitting in the car during Mole’s ballet class, having a coffee and calling a friend. It is peaceful, golden time.
Oh, and chocolate. Always be sure to have plenty of chocolate.