Portrait of the Baby at Nine Months

A few weeks after the baby was born, my mother called and advised me to start keeping a diary for him.

“Just a line or so every day,” she said. “They change so quickly and you’ll want to remember the smaller moments from these days.”

I could see that it was a good idea, but at the time I felt I was already living life line by line, from nap to nap, breastfeed to breastfeed. I often counted down the minutes to when the baby would fall asleep again or when Tom would come home from work.

I would sometimes pull out my old red diary (kept haphazardly since 2012) and scribble a few things down, but in the evenings, when the baby slept and we had more than forty-five minutes to ourselves, we were usually so brain dead all we wanted to do was watch TV. And not even anything new. Our days with the baby brought enough new things, each with questions that necessitated hours of Googling. By seven PM all we could muster was energy for the familiar faces of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer or to revisit and hopefully fall asleep to cosy mysteries we’d already seen solved by Inspector Morse and Detective Poirot.

The baby’s not so old yet that I regret not taking my mother’s advice. What I failed to do in writing I’m confident I captured in hundreds of photographs and videos. I doubt I could ever forget those early weeks with him. People say I will forget. After all, tired parents like us go on to have a second and sometimes, third baby. Maybe the minutiae of his pooping, feeding and napping will fade away, but those highs and lows of early, first-time motherhood I think (I hope) I’ll remember forever.

After six months things got somewhat easier and, thanks to Coronavirus, much more home-bound than we’d anticipated. Time sped up. May cooled to June. Two blinks and a very wet Sydney winter later, it’s nearly September. In two weeks, Artie will be ten months.

He is now old enough, at least in this household, to attend daycare. We had originally planned to send him after one year, but I entirely – and I mean entirely – overestimated my ability to stay at home with him. For those who happily stay at home with your kids, I salute you. But it’s not for me. At least not seven days a week. Around Artie’s six months I began craving some time to myself that did not involve fretting that his naps were too long or short.

As a result of my tirelessly harassing via email the kind but stern Cantonese lady who runs the neighborhood daycare with a long waitlist, next Monday, Artie will enroll there three days a week.

I revisited my mother’s advice a few days ago when I received the daycare’s enrollment package. Among the materials was an “About Your Child” survey for parents to fill out. And among the questions: “What are your child’s likes and dislikes?” and “What are your child’s strengths and weaknesses?” The form left me momentarily stumped.

I sat pen in hand, and turned to look at Artie. He was making his usual rounds in the living room: First pulling out from his woven toy basket all the cheap plastic teething toys I bought him on Amazon, taking one bite of each before dropping them on the rug, and then going to the little side-table where we keep a stack of books that make him smile (Where is the Green Sheep? Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? The Bizzy Bear series, and Dear Zoo) and knocking said stack to the floor, and then pounding on the dehumidifier (aka “Mr. Thirsty”) before heading to Tom’s record player to pound on that until one of us says no or “transports” him, as we call it in the spirit of Australia, to another part of the house.

Who is this little person crawling about the house?

My mother was right. Despite those slow early months he has changed more swiftly than I would have thought possible for a person to change in less than a year. After the baby goes to bed, Tom and I often wonder aloud what his little personality will be like. I’m of course always thinking ahead to a teenaged Artie, a young adult Artie, whereas Tom wonders what things he’ll find interesting as a toddler with a few words under his tongue. Regardless of who he’ll become, he’s showing us who he is.

The baby has his own, strange sense of humor – having stuffed animals thrown very close to his face really makes him giddy, for instance. And to hear his hearty, belly-jiggling laugh, all you need to do is rush at him on your hands and knees and nuzzle his tummy.

Lately, he’s discovered our bookshelves, at least the bottom two within his reach. He’s taken a specific interest in Tom’s brightly colored Mars Trilogy books. He likes to pull them out, wrinkle and sodden the pages a bit, and then throw them to the floor, much to his father’s dismay.

The baby has a hearty appetite. He likes pork and chive dumplings, ravioli, lamb, curry, salami, roast pork, steak, Vegemite on toast – which he has every morning – and blueberries, cheese, and yogurt, the last three of which he can eat until he’s blue in the face. “He’s a baby of taste,” says Tom.

He whines and grabs your legs when you take too long to prepare his meals, which makes you take even longer, and has a thing for following us into the bathroom and putting his mouth directly over the drain on the floor, unless we close the door before he can get in, in which case he pounds relentlessly on the door so you can’t pee or poop or brush your teeth in peace.

He doesn’t like to have his nose wiped, or diaper changed, or to be dressed or undressed. Despite our mostly successful practice of elimination communication for the first six and a half months of his life, around seven months he realized he likes to shit his pants after all and all our hard work went literally down the toilet.

“He’s a disgusting beast,” says Tom.

He does like baths, but unfortunately for him, in this household, one cannot simply be clean but naked.

He’s loud as hell. He can play for a good while on his own, but narrates his play the entire time with loud chirps and woops and eehs, which cease only when he’s doing something he shouldn’t be doing, like chewing on a power cord or ripping a hole in his screen door (we plan to blame this on a wayward, low-flying bird when explaining to the landlord). He’s also very strong – a dense little package, more muscle than rolls, a fast crawler, a confident stander, a determined walker. He likes to beat things like doors and tabletops with the flat of his palm, and can move some of our lighter furniture around like chairs and side tables. He has lately started to pick things up and throw them, including a glass tupperware dish that smashed into a gazillion pieces, much to his amazement.

He is impatient. Whether this is particular to him or to all babies or to the way we are raising him (very un-French) remains to be seen. But he pounds his hand on the table for more food and moans and howls if he’s hungry and wants to be fed immediately.

And like all babies, he has a soft spot for his parents. His favorite, most contented place seems to be either in his father’s lap, disrupting Zoom meetings, or in either of our arms, where he suddenly turns from a screeching carpet-bound baby into a smug and serene little despot, surveying land he calls home.

All in all, he’s a happy baby, a fun baby. Sometimes he’s a bad baby. And we will tell him, “You’re a baaaad baby,” but always with a smile on our faces. Because we actually think he’s a pretty good baby.

I didn’t write as much on the form – there wasn’t enough space – but I jotted down a few of the above. After all, they took the time to ask. And I wrote the rest here for me, for Tom, and someday, for the baby, to remember him in this particular place and time.

Please share your thoughts. No really, please.

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