It’s somewhere between 8 and 9pm. For the second time in half an hour I unlatch my baby. His head lolls back, limbs flopping towards the ground. I carefully lower him to the bed. One. Two. Three… He grunts, kicks his legs out, rolls over and is crawling before his eyes are open. He’s like a fricking zombie that just keeps coming back from the dead. He shrieks to himself as he races from one end of the cot to the other. Wonderful. I sigh. He grins at me. Apparently it’s playtime. I sit back and don’t engage with him. IT IS TIME TO SLEEP!!! He cackles to himself and clambers towards me purposefully. He grabs a fistful of my top and raises it, giggling as he plays peekaboo with my stomach. His old hangout that he likes to prod and pinch. When he realises I’m not falling for his tricks he changes tactic and plants his slobbery mouth on my stomach. He proceeds to blow some impressive raspberries until he judges correctly that the shaking implies I’m laughing at him. He looks up, delighted with himself. This, is my one-year-old. My not-quite-a-baby-anymore. Stubborn and persistent, loving and hilarious in equal measures.
His birth was the last thing that we had planned for in the past year. The twelve months between then and now have been utterly different to what I expected. New country, new house (apartment), new language, new everything. Our lives have been turned upside-down and here we are, celebrating his first birthday in Canada instead of Ireland. I’m excited at the new life we can offer both of our children here, but a small part of me also mourns that lost first year I thought we would have together. Not that the one I expected was necessarily better, just that it was composed of different experiences. The reality has been a whirlwind that has swept us along until we find ourselves here. Looking at a sturdy baby side-stepping around the furniture and speeding off to see the interesting things his older brother might be up to, then demanding to participate in them. Each day he looks a little less like the chubby newborn we welcomed into our family both a few short months and a lifetime ago. His transformation into his own unique personality is slowly progressing, moulded by what’s happening around him. Who knows what effect our daily interactions are having on the pathways forming in his mind.
I fear this child is going to test us in ways we can’t yet imagine. He’s incredibly strong. He’s fearless to the point of recklessness whereas his older brother was more cautious and wary. He tries to launch himself out of arms or off steps with no care for the height he may fall. He likes to throw himself at my legs from behind. An awkward rugby tackle catching me unawares as I try to make dinner. I’ve learnt to watch carefully when I handle anything potentially dangerous and dash past when he’s distracted by some other fascinating item he has found. His favourite foods are chicken, mince, toast and peanut butter… and any green vegetables. He loves bananas, but discards all other fruit with disdain. He flings food to the floor then returns later to examine the ground for snack options that might have been missed in the clean-up.
Occasionally I find my two boys engrossed in some semblance of cooperative play and run to finish a task while contented laughs and squeals echo from their play area. All too soon an angry wail signals that his older brother has done something to offend. Quickly followed by the ominous thump-crawl as he races in to tell tales with his sad little face. His brother protests his innocence a little too strongly. He loves his brother, even when his adulation isn’t well-received. Even when his toys are robbed and he’s shut out of games. He wakes in the morning looking for cuddles and smiles before he’s ready to start the day. Then he’s off to giggle with his older brother and dig in a toy box with the excitement of an archaeologist uncovering long-forgotten treasures.
He stretches further than he should be able to reach and grasps at whatever is the most dangerous object in his vicinity. “No”, I tell him. He hates that word. Scrunches up his face and stubbornly ignores me. He pokes at whatever it is and looks at me oh so smugly – “See, I can get it!”. He becomes utterly enraged if someone leaves the room without him, or walks in without instantly coming to pay their respects to him. He stares at strangers intently then breaks into an irresistible grin guaranteed to bring them over for a chat. He squeals in delight when he gets what he wants, snorts like a little pig when he laughs, and howls in rage at the slightest indication that he’s not going to be allowed something he now desperately wants. He’s mad, he’s difficult. He’s adventurous, he’s awesome. I hope his spark won’t dull over the years to come, but anticipate fierce battles as he starts to try and exert his will on the world around him and discovers that he isn’t actually at its centre.
For now it’s too hot to be dealing with his overtired antics. I go and put on my shoes, fetch the sling. He bounces excitedly at the sight of it with enthusiasm usually reserved for food. He snuggles into place while I fasten the buckles and smiles contentedly as I head outside for a bit of fresh air for us both. Unlike our bog-standard housing estate in Ireland, the street outside is buzzing with life in the early night. During the day construction vehicles take over the road, but in the evening the pedestrians reclaim it and the restaurants and bars spill out onto the sidewalk. We pass takeaways, grocery shops, classy restaurants, and somewhat seedy looking businesses all huddled in below the apartments where the residents of the area live. I wander up the road past fencing and diggers abandoned at the side of gaping holes in the ground. Ends of pipes jut out of broken concrete. I turn at the freshly painted graffiti humming lullabies as my troublemaker snuggles closer, closes his eyes and sighs in content. We meander back past the open-air piano where some stranger may be letting melodies loose into the cool breeze.
My almost-baby dozes in his favourite place to be. We return to the apartment and I bring him back to his bed. He tosses and turns and kicks on his sheepskin liner before cosying up to it. His limbs grow longer and more powerful by the week it seems. One year old. I watch his long lashes flutter as he dreams his way towards impending toddlerhood. Sleep peacefully little one. You’ve only just begun.