This column was originally published in Practical Parenting Magazine, October 2012.
Last week I found myself looking at my baby Pudding and realising that while I had been busy elsewhere, she’d shape-shifted from a little baby into a crawling, babbling, feisty toddler. You’d think it would be hard to miss such a big change. She’s with me every minute of the day, after all. I'm constantly feeding or cleaning or changing or entertaining or settling her.
But she’s my third child. There’s just no time for the kind of intimate monitoring that I did with my first and even my second baby. These days, there are two big kids to get to school and soccer and swimming lessons. Washing must be hung, shopping put away and dinner cooked. I need coffee. Screaming sibling battles must be negotiated while the lunch is packed. The phone rings. Somebody wets their pants. Oh my god. I need more coffee. Are those head lice? Or rice bubbles? The pace is brisk, and one task trips on the heels of the last.
Sweet small Pudding, eleven months old, crawls at my feet as I cook, fold laundry and help with homework. I carry her around when she gets demanding, and the rest of the time she makes her own fun with old biscuits and blocks and dust bunnies. She is adorable and she is adored, but her schedules have to fit in with the rest of the gang.
Last Thursday I found myself driving loops of the neighbourhood for forty five minutes while Pudding refused to go to sleep in the back seat. I had a complex morning of errands and shopping to get through, and all my plans required the baby to sleep in the car first. The problem was that Pudding’s plans involved chewing her socks and throwing her dummy on the floor and shouting ‘Bah!’
I had a lot of time to think as I drove in circles, mentally crossing items off my to-do list as the minutes ticked by. Frustrated, I kept glancing back at my chubby, cheeky baby in the backseat. Why wouldn't she sleep? Why? Hang on, I finally thought. Didn’t this happen yesterday?
The next day, I didn’t bother with a morning sleep. I took Pudding and three-year-old T-Bone to music class at the library instead, where we had the most wonderful time. T-Bone danced and sang while Pudding crawled around the room, banged tambourines and shouted joyfully. I watched them both with that familiar bittersweet pang that my husband Keith and I call ‘anticipatory nostalgia’ –that sensation you feel when a childhood moment is so sweet and heart-warming that you know you will always remember it.
Pudding did her thing and I just watched. I wasn't cooking or writing a list or disciplining a sibling. I wasn't distracting her with a wooden spoon or placating her with a handful of sultanas. I wasn't with her while my head was in four other places at once. I was just there, and so was she, and instead of thinking about my next task, I thought about Pudding. She’s really social, I realised. She’s not anxious at all about this crazy crowd. And man, doesn't she love the music? I gave silent thanks for that little sleep rebellion. It forced me to stop and look, and notice that a child was beginning to emerge from the baby I had grown used to. I’d hate to have missed such a beautiful moment.