No sooner was our third child born but I turned to look at my husband. “We have to get better at this,” I said. “We still haven’t got the breathing down pat. We need to practise more before the next one.”
The midwife looked at me as if I were crazy. Hubby, to his everlasting credit, smiled and kissed me before very gently lifting our newborn son out of my arms to hold him close.
When baby number four announced his imminent arrival, we had practised. A lot. Didn’t really help much as the whole thing progressed in a totally different way than last time round. No time to think about breathing techniques when the baby made it very clear it wanted out. Now.
I guess the point here is that there are some things one cannot prepare for. Childbirth is one of them—in the sense that once things start to happen, our bodies take over. There is no “mind over matter” involved when a baby makes its entry into the world. It is very much “instinct over everything else and I’ll kill anyone who wipes my face with a damp cloth again”.
As to our children, each and every one of them is a miracle. Yes, I know I am privileged. I live in relative affluence and our children were much desired babies. Okay, so we couldn’t quite agree on how many babies. I wanted more than four—I could have gone as high as six—but when I raised the subject of baby number five hubby gave me a look of such desperation I realised there would be no more little feet pitter-pattering over our floors.
So we ended up with four miracles. One girl, three boys. All different. What worked on one did not work on the others. Where the eldest would obediently pick up her toys before dinner, her brother looked at the Duplo spread all over his floor, looked at me, and shook his head.
“You do it,” he suggested with an encouraging smile.
“Me? It’s not me who has spread it all out.”
“No,” said my three-year-old, “but it’s not me who has a problem with it being all over the place.”
“Huh.” I gave him a stern look. “Either you put it all back or I’m going to have to throw it all away.” Stupid, stupid me! As a parent one must NEVER make an empty threat.
Son gave me an interested look. “You would? Throw it all away?”
“Yes. And that would be a pity, wouldn’t it?”
He shrugged. “I can always play with something else.”
“Pick it up and come down to dinner.”
He gave me an angelic smile. “No.” Eldest son was born a charmer. He still is a charmer, adept at winding his besotted mother round his little finger. At that moment, what I wanted to do was grin and give him a kiss, but that wasn’t on the table. Nope: I was imparting a lesson.
Some lesson. He looked expectantly at me. I fixed him with a stern look. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll get the garbage bags.”
I was sort of hoping the black garbage backs would make him reconsider. Not a chance. My little brat stood to the side and watched as I picked up all his Duplo. Afterwards, I dragged it all down to the basement. He hurried down the stairs to eat his dinner, as happy as a lamb gambolling in summer meadows. Come to think of it, eldest son at the age of three was very much like a gambolling lamb—tireless and bubbly and soft and cuddly.
Very different from his brother was son number two. Life was never easy for this silent child. Leaving aside the fact that his older brother enthusiastically managed to push him down stairs, shoot him in the eye with a twig he was using as arrow, hit him full in the face with a ball while playing football, this child of ours spent a lot of time thinking. Like really thinking—about the truly difficult stuff. Which is why, at the age of four, he shook me awake in the predawn.
“Mamma, Mamma, how will we know when the universe stops expanding and starts contracting?” Okay, so I’m not at my best at five a.m. And quite frankly, I’ve never considered this expanding contracting stuff. I gave my son a bleary look. To judge from the intent look on his face, he’d already spent considerable night-time thinking about the ever-changing universe.
“Why don’t you ask your dad?” I suggested, high-fiving myself when our son padded over to the other side of the question to repeat the question to his equally ignorant father.
These days, it’s us asking him about stuff like that. His entire family listen in awe when second son expounds on everything from wormholes to genetic algorithms to why Marx was not exactly the worker’s best friend. Me, I have still not worked out how we will know once the universe starts contracting—or if this will make much of a difference to life as we know it.
Mind you, it wasn’t only second son having deep thoughts about the universe. Our daughter once came rushing into the kitchen and fixed me with an anguished look.
“The sun will burn out soon!”
“Not that soon,” I said without lifting my gaze from the risotto I was stirring.
“In a billion years,” she bawled. “We will all freeze to death!” I lifted the risotto to the side. After all, existential issues are more important than dinner.
“Honey,” I said, “We will die much, much sooner than that.” Which really didn’t help…
People always say that the youngest child is the spoiled child. Our youngest would heartily disagree. He had three older siblings to keep up with, which is why he still wolfs down his food. After all, he never knew if he’d be able to eat fast enough to get a second helping. Actually, I, as his loving mother, always kept back food so that everyone could have that second helping. Youngest son clearly had little faith in my distribution skills. What youngest son has, is determination. In spades. Comes with the territory when you’re always playing catch-up with your older siblings.
Our eldest was born redhaired and was probably the most beautiful baby in the world. She was absolutely perfect—a miracle. Second son was born huge and blue with the umbilical cord round his neck. He was probably the most beautiful baby in the world, absolutely perfect—a miracle. Third son was born bald. He was probably the most beautiful baby in the world. To be honest, he was absolutely perfect—a miracle. Some years later our fourth son was born with a shock of black hair (caused a lot of amused comments seeing as both hubby and I are very blond). Seriously, he was probably the most beautiful baby in the world. Rosy and huge, he was absolutely perfect—a miracle.
Thing with babies is that they come out in a rush of pain and bloody fluids and the moment you see them you forgive them the hours and hours of labour, the recent conviction that any moment now you’d burst apart like a ripe melon. Wrinkled and red, the newborn child lies in its mother’s arms, and those wide, dark eyes are mirrors into eternity. In that moment, a mother loses her heart. The child she is cradling is holding her beating heart in its hands—and it will never let it go.
I am blessed with four children. They are no longer helpless babies, I am no longer the axis of their worlds. They are out there, building lives of their own. One day soon, they will have their own babies. One day, they too will know that the greatest love of all is that a parent feels for their child. And until the day I die, I will love my beautiful, beautiful babies, my four little miracles. No matter where they go, what they do, they carry my heart with them. Always. Jag älskar er, mina underbara gullungar.
And in case you’re wondering, I never did throw away all that Duplo. Instead, it reappeared a few days later. Eldest son looked at the neatly filled bins, looked at me – and grinned.