None of which are to do with the (admittedly fairly large) size of my baby’s ears… Read on to find out all the ways that my cardboard-eating dependents take after each other
I’ve been a bit quiet for a while. This baby we made is now nine months old – he’s existed on the outside for longer than he swam about on the inside – and he’s taking after his ‘big brother’ Chico. I used to roll my eyes at the twee suggestion of non-human siblings, but Chico was definitely a front-runner for Osian, in many ways. Plus I accidentally call the baby Chico quite frequently, which must often be the plight of the younger sibling.
Some of the 88* ways they have a similar effect on my life are fairly obvious: being covered in the abundant poo of another creature, the understanding that the poo is for some reason entirely my responsibility, and what’s more finding myself unexpectedly and forensically fascinated by its consistency and evidence of source materials – that’s one thing.
Then there’s the particular profound quality of mysterious silence that can only mean that either one of them has found some cardboard. A toilet roll, a newspaper, a cardboard box, a price tag. Pound for pound they’re probably fairly evenly matched when it comes to how swiftly they can disintegrate and digest a piece of packaging. It’s very bad for donkeys, and almost certainly not very good for babies but, easily distractible though they both are, neither forgets quickly that I have deprived them of cardboard. Neither forgives. Perhaps I should learn from this and have a chew myself. I might be missing out. Osh has yet to try Chico’s favourite – the bright yellow seashore Russian fag packet.
Prising stuff out from their mouths feels similarly treacherous – Chico’s teeth are a heavy vice; Osian’s more of a sharp staple. Both are very good at hiding spitty contraband morsels in there.
Both like apples and carrots.
Strangers like them both, and ask them questions that it’s not always clear I should answer: “Aren’t you lovely? Are you a boy? Where are you off to?” People often tried to feed Chico sweet things; less so with Osian, although a man in a café recently placed a £1 coin on his highchair tray, “for sweeties”. A sugar-high in either results in a whirlwind of mayhem.
Both regularly show an initial offhand disinterest in edible offerings, but also prick their ears up at the sound of cellophane; both eat with the full-throttle gusto of Viking kings. Both fart a lot.
I openly enjoy picking them blackberries, and secretly enjoy picking their noses.
Both cause me to take a long time getting going in the morning (or at least give me a good excuse). Both cause me to set out in complete disarray myself, but impeccably organised when it comes to their needs.
Both get quickly fed up when I faff, even if the faffing is seriously important and totally on their behalf. Neither really understands why we can’t just settle at the end of the day, instead of being troubled with the toothbrush (hoof pick), nappy (rain sheet), pyjamas (corral). Osh now cruises about the place – we need a baby corral. I’ve yet to check online but I’m guessing electric fencing isn’t the done thing.
I love them both most when they are sleeping. Chico waits more patiently for me to wake up, sidling quietly past the tent and back again, one eye on the zipped door. Osh howls, lurches, scratches, felts my hair, wipes snot across my face, climbs up the headboard and drums on the radiator, and hunts loudly for nipples. Chico is definitely preferable, pre-7am.
They both make me pre-empt danger wherever we go – I swiftly play out scenarios involving soft skulls and hard flagstones, distant bullocks, traffic, precipices, cables, cardboard, barbed wire, dogs, plastic bags, bodies of water… Both make me calibrate, dozens of times a day, how relaxed or stressed to be. Both cause Rhys and I to constantly compare notes, often wordlessly, on danger and response, and they polarise us – I get less nervous as Rhys gets more so. Rhys calls me Rabenmutter (German for raven mother – it’s not a compliment), while I quietly feel like it’s his turn to fret.
Both are good at stress-testing to destruction. Fencing, fastenings, stitching – there will be no fragile things left very soon.
Both come with access issues – one due at first to the wretched, debilitating caesarean, and then to the buggy, or increasing weight in the carrier, and soon to the terrible tedious trundling of a toddler fascinated by every blade of grass. The other is also tediously fascinated by every blade of grass, and won’t grow out of it. They may become the perfect walking companions.
Slow-going though it often is, both are delighted by adventure, interested in difference and change and freedom. But both are keen on routine too; they need certainties to hold on to. That’s how it must be if someone else has power over you – a bit of predictability has great calming power. On the flip-side, I have to avoid thinking too much about the responsibility because it scares the hell out of me. I never meant to be a leader of other creatures, and now I am liable for their health, temperature, hunger, thirst, inner workings and outer appearance, fat reserves, muscle tone, length of hooves/fingernails, general development, behaviour, conduct with others, sleep patterns, paraphernalia, strange rashes and mystery scratches.
Osh has brought four colds back from nursery in three weeks – we all have runny noses and occasional temperatures. Chico gave me lice. Nits are a definite in our future, when Osh has more hair to smuggle them home in. Aberystwyth’s pre-school community are passing around Hand, Foot and Mouth, although thankfully Osh’s suspected spot rubbed off – it was strawberry. Chico’s most recent bare patch seems to have been caused by overzealous birds looking for nest-lining. Both creatures will be appealing to worms.
Both boys have huge personalities and unmistakeable non-verbal communication. Both are also mysteries to me – I’ll never know how it is to be a donkey, and my life as Osian’s mother will be a never-ending bittersweet one-way stretching of the umbilical cord. “Though they are with me, they belong not to me. I can house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in a place of tomorrow that I cannot visit, not even in my dreams.**” I can only hazard clumsy guesses, try to understand, and pour in the unconditional compassion to fill the gaps.
I expected both to have natural, innate intelligence, and both do have lots, but it’s not reliable. Both do funny, silly things all the time. Both learn fast.
Both like testing themselves and radiate pride when they manage something new; both put lots of effort into rolling over.
Both show heart-melting delight in seeing me, sometimes, and so they should – I’ve certainly put in the time. Both sometimes don’t want to go without me. Osian crawls up to me and pulls himself up my leggings, Chico pretends to be looking at something else, and nibbles my clothing. Both rub themselves on me if they’ve got an itch. Both know where I am, even if they’re engaged in something else, and come charging out of the undergrowth in alarm when they realise they’ve lost sight of me. Both only require a very brief cuddle to be reassured, and wander off to the next thing.
Both instinctively reflect my mood – to calm them I have to calm myself. Nerves, cabin fever, watchfulness, the day’s highs and lows of energy, impending melt-downs – we all feed off each other. I have learned to see a mood coming in the distance, like clouds on the horizon or an area of high pressure. But both are also capable of sudden fearsome thunderstorms. I have a variety of emergency manoeuvres always ready.
Both are soothed by being sung to, and by movement; both understand motion as work, and fall in line. Both love the outdoors. Neither have any patience with my fidelity to laptops or mobile phones.
Both are slightly interested in the other – Chico has always been good with kids, and is understanding about having his hair pulled and his ears manhandled. He doesn’t seem alarmed by Osian’s sudden squawking – for some reason he’s not frightening like lambs and butterflies. Osian is just starting to get interested in Chico, but still prefers pigeons.
Both are demanding and exhausting and totally rewarding. Both remind me that spending time with them is the very most important thing of all, for ever, but also to try to hold on lightly. Both give me and Rhys something to talk about, and warm my heart when I stand at a distance and watch them together.
A friend recently told me that it takes a while to go from being parents of a baby to being a family. Certainly anyone who read the book knows it took 500 miles to go from being a donkey owner to being a team. From me-in-relation, to us.
It seems we’re becoming a funny little us.
* It really is 88 ways – I counted.