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If last week was the week when we first started to see the new newborn look fading, this was the week when we knew it for certain. They say there is a moment when babies start to ‘come into themselves’, when all the unscrumpling is finished, and this week we’re definitely unscrumpled.
And it’s not just that he’s stretching himself out more; those gorgeous soft little cheeks are round and plump and incredibly snugglable, with a suggestion of a little baby double chin on the way, and while his legs still seem incredibly long, they’re not quite so skinny as they first seemed.
Pip has always seemed quite an alert little baby, but even that is coming more to the fore; he’ll curl up in your arms quite contentedly just staring at your face or watching me make patterns in the sunlight with my fingers, just gazing back at the world with big eyes.
He’s over a pound more than his birthweight now, still tracking up the 91st centile, and still growing out of his clothes at a vast rate of knots. I haven’t quite had to go and buy the next size up in my favourites yet, fortunately they’re on the generous side, but it’s only a matter of time before I popper him into a fresh set of clothes and realise that I’ve trussed him up like a banana.
It’s been quite fun looking back over the girls’ baby books and seeing when they hit the same weight milestones; Kitty was three weeks before she hit his birth weight and Elma at five weeks was still a few ounces shy of Pip at three. It just makes them seem so dinky in comparison, and they weren’t exactly tiny babies.
I suspect there’s a very good chance that this boy of mine is going to be way way taller than his Mama, which probably means taller than H too, and we’re not exactly short, coming in at 6’0″ and 6’1″ respectively. We’ll get a rough guess at his six week check up when we see what centile he’s on for length but looking at this little man in his pram, or his Moses basket or just in my arms I’m going for at least tall enough to pat me on the head and call me ‘little Mummy’. I used to do that to my Mum and she was at least 5’8″ which I’m reliably informed is considered tall for a woman – just not in our family it’s not!
Last week I mentioned that was going to cut down on my dairy intake to see if that helped with Pip’s posseting; I’ve not always been as strict on the no dairy as I might have been – the notable lapses all involving birthday cake – but I have cut down a good deal and it seems to have helped, I don’t feel quite so permanently damp for one thing.
And as for the rest of us, and family life with our still blue eyed boy; well it’s wonderful, it’s hard, it’s full of laughter, there are moments when it feels like someone is always wailing, moments when you feel like you’re competing in a very bizarre version of the Generation Game (can you get lunch on the table including cutlery and drinks before the baby (a) wakes up (10 points) or (b) starts to clamour for his own lunch (5 points)), and moments when time seems to slow to a standstill and everything seems so perfect that you know all you can do is stop and drink it in before another squabble breaks out over whose turn it is to play on the scooter and life moves on.
In short it continues to be extraordinarily ordinary, and that in itself is a very wonderful thing.
The day before Kitty’s birthday I was running around like a headless chicken who frequently has to stop and nurse a baby while looking at the chaos surrounding her and mentally scrolling through the list of things still to be done before the morning that seems to have imprinted itself on her retinas whenever she closes her eyes.
Yes, that chicken. Fortunately we had ample help of the Uncle, Auntie and Grandpa variety and by the time Saturday turned into Sunday it was starting to feel like we might just make it.
Presents were wrapped and piled on the breakfast table, a f orest of helium balloons were tied to the back of Kitty’s chair and I’d made batter for a Mickey Mouse waffle breakfast, a triple layer Black Forest Victoria birthday cake tiled in giant chocolate buttons, and a lemon passion fruit sponge covered very inexpertly in fondant, pink and red letters and wafer butterflies that we took to church on Sunday morning to celebrate both Kitty and a dear church friend who shares her birthday.
If there was anything missing it was our birthday banner which I remember finding at the beginning of the summer and putting in a very safe place, and if anyone knows where that is, please do let me know. My only consolation is that perhaps she’s not quite tall enough to have been able to see it anyway.
It felt for all the world like trying to pull off Christmas, just without the mince pies.
In previous years Kitty has enjoyed her birthday, loved being the centre of attention, the sudden arrival of new toys, and even got over her deep suspicion of candles and cake that marked her first birthday celebrations, but this was I think the first year where she really got what a birthday was about, why we were celebrating, and most importantly, when.
It’s the first year that she’s actually asked “when is it my birthday?” and counted down the days. She’s been talking about cake for weeks, with varying requests for chocolate, strawberry and vanilla and has been very consistent about wanting to have her party at church (hence the second cake).
I’m always going to want to celebrate my children, to make a big fuss of them on their special day, what parent doesn’t, but this year it felt like the first birthday that would actually count.
I know she won’t remember her first birthday except in photos, and I’ve always thought that first birthday parties are as much for the parents to celebrate their joy in their baby as it is for the slightly bemused one year old presented with a slice of cake and a lot of other people touching their toys. Her second and third birthdays were lovely, but again, I suspect the memories will be prompted not organic, but this year, this could be the first of the birthdays that she really remembers for herself.
And I think that’s why I wanted it to be even more special and perfect and wonderful, to justify her excitement and her understanding and to live up to all of her expectations of what a birthday should be, and for all the right reasons.
I think we did it. I really hope we did it. I know she loved her breakfast, sat in balloon festooned splendour at the head of the table eating waffles and maple syrup and handfuls of blueberries and raspberries; she was all shy smiles standing at the front of church while we sang Happy Birthday; and when her birthday cake came through the door covered in candles you couldn’t have found a smilier four year old.
And I think that for the first time she understood a little more that each of her presents had been chosen and given by the people that love her most; she seemed to really take time over each one, and they’ve all been opened and explored and played with, and taken to bed/nursery/the butchers, each a mark of deep appreciation.
We tried to make it about saying ‘yes’ wherever we could, including handing over a gigantic slice of birthday cake and trusting that she’d only eat a normal size portion (a gamble that fortunately paid off); about spending time with family; and about slowing down and just enjoying being in the moment.
Definitely a birthday to remember.
I’m trying to decide whether I should be worried about Elma’s choice of favourite bedtime books. Not only does she have a new favourite (possibly because no one’s quite sure where she’s hidden her previous favourite), but I’m beginning to see a bit of a theme. Yes, move over “Slinky-linky”, mischievous nocturnal filcher of slippers and sausages, there’s a new kid in town. He’s a baddie and a beast and his name, at least according to Elma, is “iway rad”.
He takes what he wants and eats what he takes, until his poor fellow travellers along the highway grow rather thin being constantly held up by the Highway Rat and forced to hand over their supper, even while the rat sneers at their meagre rations.
I’m beginning to think that there might be something a bit more than meets the eye to this carefully themed study. Should we be worried that she’s masterminding a little nocturnal mischief? Although perhaps given that the redeeming feature of both stories is that our eponymous anti-heroes are both rather inept theives; Slinky Malinki meets his comeuppance at the hands of a bottle of glue, a half knitted jersey and an alarm clock, and all it takes to rid the highway of its rat is the cunning of a friendly duck and the Rat’s own greed, maybe Elma’s preparing for a lifetime of law enforcement?
Or of course it could just be that The Highway Rat, like Slinky Malinki before it, is a really good read.
There are more than a few Julia Donaldson stories that you feel have taken their inspiration from fairy tales, fables or a little classic poetry and this is one of the more obvious examples, with a patter and form heavily based on Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman. It’s that rhythm that makes it such a pleasure to read, it carries you along with the repetition of “riding…riding..riding…riding along the highway”, though happily the story itself is a lot cheerier than Noyes’ original self-sacrificing Landlord’s daughter Bess and her grief-stricken highwayman; even the horrid Rat gets a happyish sort of ending, landing a job in a cake shop, sweeping the crumbs and snacking on the leftover cake.
I think Elma loves it for the repetition throughout the poem; she’ll snuggle in happily to Mummy or Daddy or Grandpa or whoever she can persuade to read it, and listen contentedly, one thumb tucked into her cheek. But reading it with Kitty on the other hand is much more interactive, and can be so funny; whenever we get to the bit where the Highway Rat tells the other animals that their leaves or nuts are his she’ll frown straight back at us, “no it’s not, it belongs to the squirrel! That’s not very nice!”. I’m not sure whether she expects a different result from a different reading or a different reader, but I love that she wants everyone to play fair.
She loves Axel Scheffler’s illustrations too; spotting the owl from the Gruffalo and familiar supporting characters from Julia Donaldson’s other stories in the pictures, especially when the animals share out all the food which the Highway Rat had taken off them, celebrating with feasting and dancing all night long.
As with anyone who is quite as prolific as Julia Donaldson there are always going to be stories that don’t engage as much as there are some that become firm favourites, and I think I can safely say that The Highway Rat is on the favourites list. I’m also rather looking forward to the day when one of my children gets assigned The Highwayman as English homework, and starts to wonder why it all sounds a little bit familiar!
Last week Vickie’s family acquired a brand new Oliver Jeffers story; they’ve had it a day and already love it, which is a recommendation if ever I heard one! And if you have a favourite, or just something fun your little ones have enjoyed reading lately please do join us. The linky is always open for the whole week so there’s plenty of time. And so, without further ado, it’s over to you to tell me what we should be reading!