I don’t write but not because I have nothing to write about. Not because I don’t think (about anything other than a baby’s physiological needs). I just don’t have time. Otherwise, I think about thousands of things. While satisfying a baby’s physiological needs, I think about million other things. Perhaps I shouldn’t. But I do.
However, to avoid turning into a large-mesh sieve for thoughts, today I’m going to do some writing.
Juley is teething and it’s hard for us. (Yes, this is not the motherly pronoun “us”, meaning “the baby”, it’s me and him.) Also, according to the Wonder Weeks app, he’s in a fussy period because he’s going through a new developmental stage and that’s confusing him. And it’s hard for us. For me and him.
I need to make two pizzas. I put the yeast aside to rise, make myself a coffee and sit on the floor to drink it and pay some attention to him. It’s hard. I can’t play with babies. And probably with children as a whole. I’ve never been able to. I am not myself when, taking a rattle, I ask him, “Juley, what’s that? See what it can do.” Nor am I myself when, diligently, I tell him, “See, this is how you build a tower. The biggest block goes first, then the smaller, the one that’s red…” I am not and he feels it. I guess that’s why he isn’t interested in toys. He’s interested in the things I use. Naturally. In fact, all I want is to let him do whatever he wants while I do my own stuff. And for him to not mind it. But he’s teething now. And is in a new developmental stage.
The yeast is ready so I leave the carpet. He starts crying. I soothe him with words from the kitchen but the crying increases. I explain that my hands are covered in dough and he needs to wait a little. He doesn’t care. He starts crying hysterically. I wash my hands and as soon as I pick him up he stops crying. I put him in the high chair so that he can watch me finish the dough. Then we dance to Hotline Bling, one of his favourite songs, I breastfeed him and put him back on the floor. He doesn’t start crying.
He does only after ten minutes…
The dough is ready and I put him in the high chair again so that he can watch me make the pizza. He finds it interesting and I find it much more pleasant to do my own things instead of sitting like an idiot, making his stupid toys rattle. He does pull at the tray from time to time but I transgress, diverting his attention with corn puffs and a bit of the mozzarella I am using for the pizza. I manage to make two pizzas and put them in the oven to bake.
Now I only need to figure out what to do with him while I heat the lunch. I don’t want him sitting in the high chair for too long because later he’ll have to eat in it and twenty minutes in one place is too optimistic an expectation on my part. I take his nappy off and let him roam the floor with a bare bottom. He can pee if he wants to, as long as he’s not crying.
Naturally, he doesn’t cry. He plays, with toys!, and doesn’t even pull at the cable of the speakers or get himself stuck under the armchairs. He’s so cool about all this that I have to interrupt him and take him to the kitchen to eat. (He has peed, but just a little.)
Today we, he and I, have arugula and corn cream soup for lunch. With soups I generally fill the little spoon and hand it to him but this time he won’t take it. Aha, he won’t be eating, I tell myself in resignation and turn to my own soup. So what, he’ll just drop the bowl and I’ll have to clean the floor and the chair. It’s not like I don’t do this thrice a day anyway. I stop paying attention to him and after awhile I am surprised to see he is eating his soup. Yes, scooping with the spoon is hard but he helps himself with his hands. And he actually eats something.
I wash him at the sink. He’s already tired and I wonder what to think up for him now in order to be able to clean the floor and the high chair. I don’t feel like letting him be with a bare bottom again but he can’t stay in the chair either because it has soup all over. I take him to the carpet and he already prepares himself to cry when he sees the cat. Great, I take the cat with my free hand and put both of them down on the floor. I don’t usually leave him with the cat unattended because he bites and scratches but now I decide I will and come what may. He will eventually have to realise the cat bites and scratches, right?
While picking up the remains of bread soaked in soup from the floor, I take a look at the living room. They are still playing. After a while Juley starts crying – I guess Weiss has scratched him – but quickly stops. Great. Just ten or twenty cases like this and he will learn.
I’m done. I take him to the bedroom, he cries hysterically, I breastfeed him to sleep and stay beside him to breastfeed him again when half an hour later he will wake up, hoping he’ll sleep some more. And because without me he only sleeps for about twenty minutes.
A typical day of ours. Of mine and his.
I guess some people pity me. Others think I’m crazy. And still others tell themselves, relieved, “Dear, it’s not just us. Me and my baby.”
Do you know that I’m not happy?
Yes, I always admit everything. I’m not happy. I’m grateful for having all my limbs and organs, for having heating and clean drinkable water, for having a family. For having given life… For the fact this life is now sleeping beside me, his little body rhythmically rising at every breathing in and his mouth moving in such a way as if he’s breastfeeding in his sleep. (In these moments I always sing to myself, “Sweet dreams are made of milk…”).
I’m not un-grateful. But I’m not happy either. And I constantly try to find the reason. The more I search, the more possible reasons come up. I’m far from my homeland? I have no God? I don’t do sports? I’m vegetarian? Why not, it might be all biochemistry…
Today I asked myself this question again. Why are we not happy? Juley and I. Why is he always grumpy and why am I always trying to do five things at once and then criticising myself for not having done even one of them well? Teeth and a developmental stage? Is that it? So 18 more teeth and 12 more months and everything will be okay?
Oh, wait. He’ll be a toddler then and he’ll throw tantrums at the smallest thing. And we won’t be happy again.
Then how about when he starts kindergarten? I’ll go to work… when he’s not sick… and I’ll have nice colleagues… or not… and after kindergarten he’ll be telling me about his day as we go down the street… or I’ll be coming home from work at eight o’clock and the only thing we’ll be able to tell each other will be “Goodnight”…
No, things won’t change. Yes, he will become more independent and I’ll be once more able to do various things like cooking without interruption, wearing buttonless dresses or going to the toilet alone. But will we be happy?
Not grateful, not in the euphoria of a particular moment, not joyous. Happy. Deeply happy which means simply happy. A kind of happiness that is natural as the air. A kind of life where the question “Are you happy?” is just as unnecessary as the question “Are you breathing?”
I think today I found the reason behind my unhappiness. Mine. I’m not sure about Juley. I don’t know about you. Tell me if you feel like it.
The reason is I don’t live naturally.
One of the nicest parenting books I’ve read so far is “The Continuum Concept” by Jean Lideloff. The title of the Bulgarian translation is, in English, “In search of the lost happiness.” Note how much it echoes my topic here.
I read this book in the hammock in Kara Dere, Juley sleeping on me, wrapped in the sling, and the September sun reaching its rays through the thin branches of the fragrant pine forest. It was the most perfect place for reading this book. The beach and the forest were almost empty. A bit later a Slovak family passed by. The woman’s breasts were bare and the two blondish sun-kissed kids were making something like nests from branches and grass taken from the ground. We talked in Czech and Slovak. Juley nursed and fell asleep on the breast while, wrapped in the conversation, I wasn’t paying him any attention.
Later I read in the book that the Indian babies spend the whole day in the sling, breastfeeding, observing, sleeping and waking when they please while their mothers work and communicate. Aha, so this is how you do it.
I finished the book on the long way back to the Czech Republic. The highway and the cars sweeping by weren’t really creating a good enough atmosphere but what else could I do in the back seat with Julian sleeping in my lap.
Yes, I know. It’s reckless. But he cried so hysterically in the car seat that Lukáš couldn’t drive calmly. Every time I picked him up he would stop, falling into a deep sleep.
That’s what the book said either. Babies sleep beside their mothers, in their arms or next to their bodies.
Their babies don’t lie strapped in car seats on over thousand-kilometre long trips. Yes, holidays are also unnatural. A simply happy person doesn’t have a natural need to travel. And our modern urge to travel is nothing more than an attempt to find our lost happiness. But instead we only get a short-lasting euphoria. And then we want more and more. Traveling is a drug, not a solution for simple happiness.
The solution is a community.
The book doesn’t say anything about the hard periods of teething and new developmental stages. Can’t Indian babies be fussy? I guess they can. And yet I feel that in a community based on principles natural to man babies are happier.
Babies like the things that we use much more than the toys specially designed for them. They’re pretty smart and know very well what is useful and what you offer only to divert their attention.
Babies take interest in the things that we do. Everyone would agree on that. They are much happier watching us make pizza than playing with their little cars alone on the floor.
Babies like to have bare bottoms. It feels light, it’s easier to crawl or sit and they don’t have to carry their toilet the way the snail carries its house.
Babies don’t have a natural tendency to refuse to eat or sleep. When the adult doesn’t place huge importance on when and how much they will eat or sleep they eat and rest as much as they need, without feeding and putting to bed turning into things both sides hate.
In a natural environment even cleaning after feeding mustn’t be such a burden. In fact, the Indians in the book never think of work as a burden. Besides, it’s easier to clean arugula and corn soup from a dirt floor or the ground than from lino or carpet.
Babies are naturally attracted by animals and, using the trial and error principle, learn how to treat them correctly.
Babies aren’t happy when they’re alone. They’re happy when surrounded by people, engulfed in their work. They don’t have a natural need of constant attention. They only need an adequate environment – fresh air, noise, coming not from the hair dryer but from singing, talking, cooking, yelling, snoring, wood chopping people, other babies and children and animals as well as space for movement.
And we all see this when our grown, walking child keeps chasing dogs or frogs or purposefully goes into the mud. And acts horribly until you take him outside. And wants to run and break stuff all the time because his DNA still has the following rule encoded: “This is a clearing. You can play in it. These are sticks and rocks, you can break the sticks and throw the rocks.” It’s just the way the child has been programmed; there being no clearing, he runs at home. There being no sticks, he breaks glasses.
Now. I know children are different. I know that some of you leave them alone and they play with their toys without complaining. That they sleep soundly from 8 to 8. That you’d been to the cinema or to a bar before your baby turned one. Damn, that you’re always well depilated. That when you go out with your baby you have the time and peace to actually look at yourself in the mirror. That, on top of all, you like what you see there.
Having chosen the “natural parenting”, it’s really easy for me to start envying other mothers for (seemingly) not having it as hard as I do. Or to look at them condescendingly – to take comfort in the fact that their kids will have a lower IQ because they’re not breastfed on demand or that “now it’s easy but in a few years they will see”. The bad thing is I do both things. Unconsciously. And when I become aware of it, I stop my thoughts and give myself an imaginary slap.
Because whose happiness is more important – the baby’s or the mother’s? Both of theirs, of course. But practicing natural parenting in an unnatural environment doesn’t provide (me with) this balance. That’s why, as I said in the beginning, I’m not happy.
What can I do, however, when this type of parenting just comes naturally to me? To forcedly change myself in order to fit? To do nothing, just hope I don’t get mad before Juley starts kindergarten (university?)? To keep it up but also try to find a (non virtual!!!) community?
Many times in my life have I reached the funny conclusion that I just haven’t evolved enough to fit the world today. That’s why I think animals are “better” than people. That’s why back at university I didn’t like Renaissance or Enlightenment literature which always revolved around some particular person but I adored the poetry of the romantisicts with their panteism and psychedelic experiences. That’s why I’m not touched by all these ideas about colonising Mars or the super technologies of the future. I will never forget a colouring book I had as a little girl – on one page there was a prehistoric woman with a broom who only had to sweep an apple core and a banana peel. On the next page the same fruit remains were on top of a huge mountain of trash under which the prehistoric woman stood desperately, broom in hand. I just… haven’t really fancied “progress” since early age.
People like me are generally not happy in life because they’re just cast in a different mould to the world.
Unless they find a community.
A little shallow slow-water arm for acquatic turtles in a river full of speeding trout.
This comparison didn’t come to me by accident. Recently, I was in Prague Zoo with my younger sister and our babies when I saw an aquatic turtle in the “Indonesian Jungle”. Its shell was keeping it afloat and it only waved its legs lazily, in complete harmony with everything that surrounded it. Too small to understand its environment wasn’t natural.
I wished I were it.
Visiting the zoo is just the highlight of our program. Otherwise, we just roam the shops, cafes and teahouses of Prague because traveling with babies in the cold Czech spring is just a different experience. We spend a great part of the day making them food and then cleaning after eating. At the end of the day our backs hurt from wearing babies in shops, streets and metro stations.
But it’s different. Much more different than when we’re alone. The babies keep each other occupied and, although they do complain, we don’t carry them that much and we help one another with cleaning, soothing and watching over them. Each evening we make tea and drink it from beautiful little cups. And I absolutely love it. Not so much for its taste as for the fact I am sharing it with somebody.
Apparently inspired by Raya, Juley, whom I’ve been trying to attract with a toy for months, spontaneously starts crawling and before they leave he’s already a pro. How beneficial to the development of a baby can be the presence of another!
Both of us are calm. I do as much work as always but it’s not hard because there’s someone else with me. I see why work is never unpleasant for the Indians – it’s just something you do with your friends. It’s also meaningful and has nothing to do with writing SEO content or other burdensome things I’ve done for money.
With another mother beside you taking care for children is easier. And with a whole community? With a community it’s what it’s supposed to be.
Because the saying goes: “It takes a village – and not an (exhausted) mother – to raise a child.
But don’t think community means utopia to me. Each human community is as strong as its weakest link. Therefore it’s imperfect (or sinful, if you believe in that). You remember “The Beach”, right?
But I don’t want perfection anyway. I never have.
The only thing I want is happiness.
The simple kind, which is like the air.
Which you needn’t talk about.
Photography: Czech kids, playing in the mud, 2017