Monday, 23 March 2015

Scenes from a year

We all have nostalgic places don’t we? Places forever associated in your mind with a particular event. Perhaps there's that restaurant that whenever you walk past you remember a first date? Or the park where you flew a kite with your grandfather? Or the playground where your cousin bowled a cricket ball into your shin and you still have a dent in the bone? That last one's just me isn't it? I'm not talking about the kind of places and memories where every now and then it drifts back to you with an "Oh, yes, I remember now, isn't this where we ate those weird fishes?" I mean the kind of instantaneous association you have with a place where the moment you see it you're almost reliving the moment again.

It seems that the first year of LittleBear's life created rather a lot of those for me. And there are now places, almost entirely in and around the village we live in, that I cannot pass without being instantly transported to a different time and place…

Beside the war memorial

Where I walked one dark, cold December night. It was 9:30pm and the only way to get BabyBear (as he was then) to sleep was to take him for a walk or a drive. I'd opted for a walk in the pram, and he gazed upwards, fascinated by the changing light and dark of the street lights all the way round the village. Finally, under the trees around the war memorial, with no street lights, he fell asleep. I walked back and forth and back and forth under those trees until I was confident I could risk the street lit route home, where BigBear was just cooking our dinner.

Those traffic lights

The ones where in my bleary-eyed exhaustion I drove straight through the red light. And then pulled over in a layby to get out and let BigBear drive. We passed each other by the boot of the car and I sobbed in his arms at how useless I was that I couldn't even be trusted to drive us home safely. I double, triple, quadruple check those lights EVERY time I drive through them now.

A certain stretch of motorway

Where I fell asleep at the wheel. Only for a matter of a second or two. But the sensation of my head jerking upwards and realising I'd fallen asleep terrified me more than almost anything that has ever happened to me. The next exit was mine, but from that moment on the windows were open and I was pinching myself to keep checking I didn't nod off again. I drive that stretch every time I go to see BestFriend. And every time it flashes through my mind how close I came to crashing myself and BabyBear at 70mph.

A bench on the village green

Where I sat, BabyBear finally asleep in his pram, sobbing as I wondered how anyone else ever managed this. People passed, either not noticing or being too embarrassed to stop. A lovely old man did stop, not noticing I was crying and commented on what a bonny baby I had. I still feel a slight burn of shame and reddening of the cheeks as I pass that bench and wonder at my own complete and public meltdown.

An alcove in the fiction section of Waterstones

Where I rocked BabyBear's pushchair back and forth and back and forth, desperate that he not wake up. Desperate to find some small ounce of normality in our new life as parents. Desperate that BigBear have a chance to browse and choose some new books without me and BabyBear ruining his life, which at that point I was convinced we were doing. It was our first trip into "town" with BabyBear and I had absolutely no idea what I would do if he started his screaming routine. With the benefit of hindsight, I would have cuddled and/or fed him, and probably received sympathetic glances from large portions of the shop, but at the time I thought everyone would hate me and I'd be banished forever or something. Shopping for books by authors from E-H still makes me a bit anxious.

The art shop

Where BigBear and I went in another attempt at normality. BabyBear was behaving beautifully and BigBear suggested I treat myself to something from the art shop. I gazed longingly at the Paperblanks notebooks, at the tubes of gouache paint, at the calligraphy nibs and inks and then stood crying in the middle of the shop, informing BigBear "there's no point in buying anything. I'm never going to be able to do any art again". Melodramatic? Me? The art shop is quite close to where I work and I pop in and pick things up for this and that project quite often now. And feel a twinge of foolishness every time for my absurd declaration to a husband who was trying his best to make sure I did something nice for me in amongst the fog of caring for a newborn.

The bend in the path

Where BigBear had to stop as he reached the end of his ability to tolerate the bawling from BabyBear and I kept pushing the pram. As I rounded the corner BabyBear fell asleep. I looked back to just make out BigBear rooted to the spot. We cycle, walk, run, skip, hop and bounce down that path now. But every time it still makes me wonder how close we came to breaking BigBear.

In case you think the entirety of BabyBear's first year in the world was marked by doom and gloom, there are the happier spots. There are fewer of them, perhaps because the happy times are a more diffuse and nebulous affair than the moments of fear, desperation and anguish that burn into the soul. But they are there, somewhere...

Passing the building society

Where I bumped into a friend I'd just started to make at the Early Years Centre with her baby girl. I was disconsolate as my plan of going to the library had backfired when it turned out to be closed and I wasn't sure how BabyBear and I were going to fill an empty Tuesday morning. She said "why don't you come to baby group with us?" A baby group? What was this magic? For a pound they gave me a cup of tea, a biscuit, a big playmat with lots of toys, and a warm and loving welcome with other mothers and babies. I made actual, real friends there. People I invite to my house and everything. All because of a chance meeting outside the building society, and I think of that moment every time I pass it now.

The first swing on the right

Where BabyBear had his first go in a swing, and his face lit up as I pushed him. He still loves those swings, even though he's getting a bit big for them now. And even as I push my LittleBear in them I see my beautiful baby, little fists over the edge of the seat enjoying his first ride.

The bench just near that other bench

Where I caught a spur of the moment photograph on my phone of a big smile with two little teeth in, looking so snug, and so happy bundled up against the cold. I still have the photo on my phone and every time I see that spot I remember sitting on the bench with the pushchair facing me and taking that picture, knowing we could be happy together.

We're working on some new automatic memories now. There's a path that I now can't walk along without warming up to bellow "Stop!" as loud as my voice will allow as LittleBear has a habit of pelting down it on his scooter straight towards the main road. And there's the windmill that we climbed to the top of that he loved more than anything else we did for months. Give it another decade and I might think about sitting on that bench again.

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