By Clare Miller
So, my baby William has just turned 18 months. The early baby days of breastfeeding, bouncers and sterilizing bottles are well behind us, although at the time it felt like they would last forever. William is now officially a toddler, he no longer has the baby ‘look’ but instead a little boy is emerging. One who can say a handful of words; who can walk, climb and dance a little jig when excited. Of late he has gleefully initiated games of hide-and-seek, and giggles when William’s Dad and I pretend not to be able to find him. It is a joy to behold the development of a personality, which I only glimpsed in earlier months.
As William is my first child everything has been a steep learning curve. It is a cliché to say nothing prepares you for having a baby but it is true. Nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming sense of responsibility for a tiny person, whose every need is dependent on you. The relentlessness of it all. The broken nights’ sleep night after night and its cumulative effect on your mental and physical health. I still pinch myself now that I actually have a son; the surrealness of it has never left me. But when he rushes over to hug my legs or does a kiss noise in my face the joy of living in the moment with a child who has learned to reciprocate his affection is immense.
This month we took our first big family holiday since William was born. Apart from a couple of weekend breaks close to home, we had yet to attempt a long break away from home. William’s Dad and I drove down to visit family in Cornwall from our home in the North East. A long drive that I dread at the best of times, but to tackle the journey with a toddler and with the prospect of staying in a non-baby-proofed house, miles from the nearest hospital and with a travel cot that William had never slept in before had meant I had worried for weeks about the trip. I think at this juncture I should mention that, although not the most neurotic mother, I certainly have more than my fair share of anxieties. As usual, the worry was unjustified. We had a lovely family holiday.
Well, ok, we had a break from the norm. William was stimulated by new surroundings; by seagulls and seaweed, by boats and buoys. William’s Dad and I were exhausted. It is no real break anymore with a toddler in tow. First off, packing up the car was like packing up our house. Toys, books, nappies, more nappies, wipes, more wipes, bath stuff, William’s clothes, more of William’s clothes, far too many of William’s clothes. We earnestly ticked off everything on William’s list (with a couple of small bags thrown in for Mum and Dad).
We had a cunning plan. If we got up at 5am on the day of the mammoth road trip and silently transferred the sleeping William from his cot to his car seat we would have a calm start to the journey as he slept on for a few hours. No chance. William was wide awake in the bright morning sunlight, fascinated by what was happening, staring out of the window as fields of ‘moos’ sped by. Uh oh. This meant a very whingey toddler within the hour. Tired, hungry and most probably with a stinky nappy. Yes, the tantrums have started. But not the tantrums I’ve heard about – the flinging around, wailing, inconsolable tantrums (maybe these are to come) but a definite marked change from a screaming baby to a screaming toddler. Although both noises have an equal ability to tear a metal shard through my very being, I feel I can handle the toddler scream. I can almost reason with William. It stops as suddenly as it starts. There is hope.
Reins are a great invention. Fantastic for securing a danger-seeking toddler in the massive car park at Ferrybridge services and ensuring he doesn’t run off within its bustling interior. We have taken a break for breakfast. We manage to get him changed (not soiled this time), William eats some yoghurt. He has lately been asserting his independent eating skills. After months of coaxing him to take baby mush from a spoon, he now assertively grabs the spoon and yoghurt pot and commences to eat, and not too messily. The mess comes when he’s tired and grouchy, at this point he throws the food on the floor, always a give-away that it’s time for teddy bye-byes.
Talking of sleep, William’s Dad and I have been suffering from broken nights for week after week. William, contrary to all baby books I have read, has continued to wake through the night demanding bottles of milk. The books have instructed me that once my baby is weaned he no longer needs milk through the night. William was always a guzzler of milk, and I breast-fed for four months exclusively and exhaustingly. After six months came formula and weaning. Now, twelve months later, he still needs at least one bottle of milk to get to sleep and then at least one through the night. This feels like a failure, especially when I hear from nursery that day after day he is refusing lunch. It’s a Catch-22. Well-meaning family members have lectured us about turning off our baby monitor, or indeed throwing it away altogether. Let him cry it out. Don’t let him expect milk. It will rot his teeth. I have heard it all.
We arrive at our destination after eight and a half hours of (mostly) legal driving speeds. My Grandma was so happy to meet William for the first time it felt like the effort had all been worth it. The sun was out, William was smiling. He was taking in the fresh sea air and new sights and sounds of the village. We all got an ice cream. It felt good to be away. Later on we unpacked the car. The piles and piles of luggage we had brought with us found their way into the cupboards and wardrobes of our temporary home away from home. We hadn’t forgotten anything, or so we thought. Where was the baby monitor? My safety crutch through the night, my reassurance that William was ok and I could hear him if he needed me. It was back at our house, 400 miles away.
We all slept well that night.