All I can say is, time flies when you’re having babies. I look at photos from a couple of months ago and hardly recognize the little fellow. Let’s face it, most newborn babies wouldn’t win a beauty contest. A gurning contest, maybe... and I’m sure I’m not the first to have been startled by an uncanny resemblance between offspring and father-in-law, right down to the bald pate and wrinkled brow.
(Of course my particular father-in-law is, thankfully, a handsome chap -- not to mention a well-known theatrical ham, excuse me, I mean a seasoned trouper of genius with a penchant for the exaggerated grimace, which only enhances the resemblance).
There's an exquisite randomness about a new baby, too: their little hands forever casting spells or brushing off invisible spider webs, their ever-shifting faces, trying out all the possible facial expressions in the world in the course of a few minutes (see above). And their famous insouciance about clocks and calendars.
Wait a couple of months, though, and they get a bit more organized -- now there’s your classic Baby, the sort they smear with cream cheese and raspberry jam to play a newborn on TV. Double chins, rubber-band wrists, and legs like I haven’t seen since I attended an early morning practice at the Azumazekibeya a dozen years ago. Add in some gurgling good cheer and an increasingly regular schedule, and life is rather fun.
This week, at four and a bit months old, the baby is finding his voice. I’ve been writing down his first words, which so far include “gargle,” “narwhale,” the occasional “oh really?” and lots of mention of some chick called Lurlene. I love all these liquid consonants and saucy uvular fricatives, especially after the abrasive honks and gasps and creaks of the early months, when you’re never quite sure if you’re sharing a bed with a baby, a rusty door, or a peacock.
Luckily, in addition to his day jobs as superhero, sportsman, and rockstar, Busybro is a simultaneous interpreter. That’s how I know that most of the time the baby is saying “Oh big brother, you are so [incredibly approbatory adjective here]!”
The baby is also finding his feet, which in the end are just one more thing to suck on. I officially have, and I say this with affection, the world’s suckiest baby. He can inhale a dummy from across the room. I was such a fundamentalist about those things the first time round, helped in my fervour by a baby that wanted nothing to do with them. But this guy sucks like a hoover. Fingers and thumbs (ours, his own and his brother's filthy ones fresh from the sandpit), both fists at once, and oh yes, the places where my nipples used to be. Fangs for the mammary.
So we have a rotating supply of silicone substitutes. What to call them? Here they’re called pacifiers – isn’t there a missile by that name? -- I don’t like the word, and anyway it makes me want to say Shihad instead. Canadians apparently call it a soother, which is rather nice. Busybro does get a lot of mileage out of reporting that his brother has spat the dummy, but wins the call-a-spade-a-fucking-shovel award by generally referring to it as “the sucky thing.”
How is he handling big brotherhood? Initially, very well indeed, although Huckle the cat would disagree (poor moggy has been demoted another notch on the familial totem pole). He is always keen to help out and will dash across the room to fetch a burp cloth with a cry of “Super Big Brother to the RESCUE!” Catch anyone glancing admiringly at the baby, and he will fly from the farthest reaches of the playground to conspicuously smother His Precious Baby with violent kisses. So far, touch wood, things are hunky-dory in Bro’town. I can highly recommend the four year age gap.
I think it’s a lot to do with feeling like a very big boy. Big brother is quite self-analytical these days, given to explaining himself with the handy phrase “Well, that’s just part of my personality.” The other day he told me “Some kids are really just like grown-ups, except for the different height thing.” This was shortly after he’d gone inside to prepare a picnic lunch for us, which included a bowl of blueberries, some buttered toast (carefully extracted from the toaster with, dear God, two stainless steel butter knives), and a deliciously curdled glass of chocolate milk and lime juice (it tasted like yak milk).
We’ve taken him to see the school he’ll be going to in September, where he confided to the teacher “I’m a science-technology-liker nature guy. That’s just my feeling about the world.” He added that he was glad to see that the classroom has computers, because he wants to look things up on Google and share all the information with the other kids.
What did we do before Google, by the way? I can’t remember what it felt like to not have an instant answer to a question. Busybro will never know it was any different. Last week he was being BatCat on the jungle gym, in his turquoise and lavender silk cape, and announced urgently that someone needed rescuing. I asked who. “I can’t tell you, “ he shouted as he flapped away to the rescue. “I have to run. Just look it up on my website.”
He’s also a sports-liking guy, or as he puts it, “a sportie.” I don’t know how two scholarly couch potatoes happened to produce the next Ronaldinho (must be some seriously recessive genes), but I am getting used to my new role as -- gaaaaaaaargh -- soccer mum.
Yes, Busybro has joined the local youth soccer league. Soccer practice is adorable: a wild bunch of four to six year olds bumbling round the field, each with their own ball, and all of them in thrall to the tall Glaswegian coach with the Bay City Roller hairdo. “Yes, yew, jimmy! Hands off the ball, lad!”
Of course, my boy prefers to make his own rules. At home we play South American base-soccer. Each team has one player, and the teams are called things like The Waterfall Team, the Spooky Team, the Non-Spooky Team, the Dinosaur Team, the non-Dinosaur (Human) Team. As far as I can make out, the object is to defend your base (all your base are belong to Busybro!). But no matter how complex the rules, they tend to boil down to: “I WIN!” and the corollary, “You LOSE!”
Sportiemanship will be our next topic, obviously. Also, acquiring the equipment for all the other sports he fancies himself an expert at, like water-skating and soft-boarding (your guess is as good as mine). We’ve already done some swimming lessons, which were a smashing success: Alex the swimming coach “walks on water,” I was told. Pressed further, this turned out to mean simply that he doesn’t have to hold onto the side of the very deep pool. But truthfully Alex is kind of god-like, and there are worse ways to spend a Saturday morning than watching well-put-together young men in swimming trunks being kind to small children. Mmmm.
In non-sporting news, I am allowed to tell you that, under the influence of stories about the legendary Finn Brothers and the Topp Twins, Busybro and his little brother have formed a band. The first album won’t be out for some time (Busybro only knows one chord on the ukulele and the percussion section is just mastering the maracas) but the name to watch for is – no, not Pacifier – wait for it... The Love Band. Because they are only going to sing songs that people looooove.
He’s onto it, style-wise. When the leader of the Love Band took his ukulele off to daycare to give the kids a taste of his Dunedin strum, he switched from his soccer shirt to the souvenir shirt his auntie brought him from the SXSW festival in Austin. Why? Shrug. “I just wanna feel more rockstar.”
Sounds like a heavenly pop hit in the making, eh?
And now a jolly good question from a reader. Writes Carolyn:
My partner and I are two New Zealanders living and breeding in Australia, and are beginning to wonder how we're going to avoid raising, well, an Australian. Do you make a special effort with Busybro to give him a sense of connection to NZ? Does he have a concept of "nationality" or "where he's from"?
I’ll reveal my secret brainwashing techniques in my next post, but if you’re a New Zealander nesting overseas, send me your own thoughts on this. Do you let your little godwits and sooty shearwaters know that they have a home and a culture elsewhere? If so, how? Conversely, if you're in New Zealand but hail from somewhere else, how do you keep the home flag flying while raising happy little vegemites? Do tell.
PS if you haven't already, check out Marianne Elliot's illuminating letters from Afghanistan.