Saturday, April 9, 2011


I'm enjoying a babymoon, dreamily in love with a little one. I'm drinking in the smell of the back of her neck, the sound of her trilling, the softness of her thighs. It's not my own, alas. But this fortnight, a friend is recovering from radioactive iodine treatment, which means she cannot spend time with her little one; and while her partner is at work I am caring for their girl. What a gift!

Every morning she is dropped off and has a cuddle in my arms. We go for a walk, and she sleeps in the pram; she wakes and chugs down her bottle, smiling all the while. Tummy full, she lies on her back and grabs her feet; she examines her toes, or chews something interesting. Later, I strap her into the sling and we hang out the washing, dust the house, or pick beans and figs from the garden.

This little one chuckles at every tickle and blurt. Lying in a pram under a shady tree, she stretches her arms to the dancing leaves and sings with happiness. In the sling, her body nestles into mine and my heart skips a beat in sheer delight.

I watch her and remember how much I have learned.

I struggled to love and make time for my first. I was the first of my friends to have children; I hadn't held a baby until I my own. I didn't understand that she needed to be near all day; she couldn't be left for hours while I did Important Things. Worse, I had no emotional capacity to offer what she needed; I was so drained that the very idea of holding her often made me cry.

But she taught me well. Slowly, I learned to hold her; slowly I learned to stay in eyesight and wait until she slept before hanging out the washing. With my second and third, I learned these lessons more perfectly; and my capacity for love grew vastly.

Paradoxically, it is only now I have three kids of my own that I have the time and energy to add a fourth. When I heard that friends were struggling to find a carer for their child, I offered at once. There is plenty of room in our lives for a little one – and the rewards are so abundant, as I knew they would be, that I feel almost selfish in offering.

So I want to say thank you, my sweet sparrows, for teaching me so well, and for showering me with gifts:-

The gift of baby time: I have learned that there is always time enough. We can watch a baby kick her legs, we can sit for hours and croon and sing. We are surrounded by great oceans of time, and all that needs to be done will be done; there is no need to rush. My children taught me to slow down and fall into the infinite universe of a baby's eyes; they taught me to savour it.

The gift of generosity: I have learned that love breeds love. Not one of my girls has uttered a word against this baby who has borrowed their mother's attention; instead, they have adored her and speak of her as their sister. Again and again they show me that love is expansive, generous, infectious; love generates love.

The gift of cuddles: I have learned to love with my body as well as my words; now I'll hold a baby close against me for hours at a time. For the most part, this is love enough for a little one; and their loving body close against mine feeds me no end.

The other morning, a friend and I took a walk with the baby. He held her up to little trees and ran her fingers through soft leaves; he paused under dappled light and talked about shadows. We stopped for coffee, and other patrons dropped by to admire and make eyes at the little one; she is neither of ours, but we took full credit and glowed with pride.

These two weeks have become a joyful holiday, a delightful break from the norm. And once again I find myself taking lessons from a baby, who reminds me that we have time in abundance; that love abounds; that everything is fascinating; and that babies need nothing but the world.

PS Years ago I read Annie Dillard's stunning autobiography, An American Childhood, in which she wrote that her mother referred to her children as 'my sweet sparrows'. The phrase must have stuck somewhere deep, because lately, perhaps a decade later, I find myself blurting it out at groups of children; it so perfectly describes a group of little people hopping around my ankles, cheeping frantically, and stealing the crumbs from my plate.


  1. OH this post is a favorite - yes, yes, and yes :)

  2. Hi Mandy,
    Funnily enough I said to someone only a few weeks ago that while I felt like we had enough children of our own, I did miss having a baby around the house - and then this chance came up. So much fun. Hope you're savouring these fleeting months with your not-so-new little one!

  3. How Beautiful and special for you and your family. You have reminded me of a few things here that have been slipping away from me of late, thank you for the reminder.

  4. Hi DuckEggBlue, Gotta write it down, otherwise it will all slip away - it has been a shock this week to realise how much I had forgotten and my youngest is still only 2! Those baby months - when they're good - sometimes feel way too short.

  5. Hi Alison
    I wanted to thank you for this post. I've been reading your blog off and on for a few years. I live in Canada and was directed to your blog through inward/outward one time. I am at home with my 3 year old and my 5 month old. I'd been forgetting the beauty of this baby and putting too many expectations on me and her. After reading this I've been putting those expectations aside more and just being with her. Thanks for the reminder.
    Blessings on you and your family.


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