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Eleven days in Montenegro

I am ill today. So much so that instead of performing ambitious acts of garden-weeding and laundry-folding, I am holed up in bed drinking tea and transcribing the paper journal I kept in Montenegro.

(It's long, so it's under the cut, but here's a preview:)

We're in the midst of potty training which has brought much of its own hilarity from Matei's insistence on peeing 'like a man' (standing up) to complex bouts of anatomical reasoning.
Me: Let's see if teddy bear wants to go pee on the potty.
Him: (examines bear, turns him back and front) Bear cannot pee. Doesn't have a penis.


Weds, 19th August

I am so impatient to see my child after 40 days of absence that I wake up wired at 3am and cannot go back to sleep. Therefore I arrive at the airport uncharacteristically early, and with all my possessions. This amount of organisation overwhelms me, and without needing to sprint through terminals I wonder around at a loss.

The plane journey is made even more exciting through there being 30 minutes between the arrival of first flight and the departure of the next, and by the time we land in Ljubljana I am so wired that it is all I can do to not shove people out of my way while disembarking and I sprint all the way through the airport in terror of missing my connecting flight. (It's a very small airport, but an impressive effort for a lazy asthmatic).

I make the flight, and it hops off and then before I've finished the carboard sandwich I've been given the small plane is descending and careening in an lively drunken manner and then we are in Podgorica and there is my luggage and the doors open and spit me out, and there in the glaring heat of the day is my mother and holding her hand is my son. For me, everything stops. I drop down to my knees in front of him. I can't get enough of him, this boy. I want to sweep him up and cover him with a thousand kisses, I want to drink him in with my eyes and my skin until I've filled up every day of separation. He's changed so much. He seems a head taller and ten years smarter since I left him.

When he sees me coming his eyes grow huge and he smiles in utter disbeliving joy and says 'Mama' and walks towards me with his outstretched arms and he touches my face and then it gets too much for him all this vanishing and reappearing and change and he rushes back to my mother and buries his face in her trouser leg. He stays clinging to her and looking at me, and it takes 15 minutes but I eventually win him over with Mr. Potatohead.

All this day our reunion is blissful. I can't stop looking at him and he doesn't want to let go of my hand. He keeps reaching up to touch my face and each 'Mama' is worth all the sleepless nights and social sacrifices endured in his name.

Thurs, 20th August

I cannot get over how much the child talks. it's like he is the lovechild of an intrepid explorer and a radio broadcaster - forever seeking to enlarge his knowledge of the known world (especially if it involves dirt and climbing) and keeping up a running commentary about his process.

While in mnay ways he is just as fearless and obsitnate as I remember (spurining any floatation aid with indignant cries of 'Matei alone!', wading with authority into packs of stray dogs) he still retains some inexplicable terrors (people in uniform, baths). As we're still in the honeymoon period of our reacquaintance, I have decided to find his stubborness charming.

The beach is more or less my babysitter, since the child can occupy himself for blessedly long periods of time and inevitably acquires a string of admirers while I soak up the sun and arbitrate over disputes.
His other inexplicable gift is the ability to recognise our car in the parking lot. He will pick it out even in the dark, even amongst other grey cars. I genuinely have no idea how but he will unerringly make his way to it and stand in front of it and say 'Car'.

If he can keep it up in Brent Cross in London the child will be worth his weight in gold.

Friday, 21st August

I felt my first earthquake today. I was in the bathroom when I suddenly had the curious sensation of being lifted and set down again, then lifted and set down. Like stepping onto a moving escalator or surfing a tiny wave. I probably wouldn't have thought much of it, my sense of balance being what it is - except the soapdish started rattling in the sink and the mirror started jumping on the wall.

Outside Matei was loading cypress cones into a yellow truck and unloading them again. He seemed oblivious to everything.
All the adults had a lively discussion concerning whether we should go inside or outside in the case of other tremors, and the likelihood of an imminent tsunami.

Saturday, 22nd August

Matei goes for a morning walk and picks flowers which he refuses to give to anyone but me. Whenever anyone requests a flower he shakes his head and says 'No. Mama'. When his gran pretends to cry he gives her the flowers to console her and then when she cheers up he takes them away again. These small acts of favour and loyalty are his love songs. Matei is the shepard, the defender. He wishes to uphold the laws and the structures of the world. Families should all stay where he can see them. Flowers belong to mothers. These things are absolute, non-negotiable.

I cannot believe he is mine, this glory, this child. He is so independent, so self-contained - he should have sprung into being fully formed.

We're in the midst of potty training which has brought much of its own hilarity from Matei's insistence on peeing 'like a man' (standing up) to complex bouts of anatomical reasoning.
Me: Let's see if teddy bear wants to go pee on the potty.
Him: (examines bear, turns him back and front) Bear cannot pee. Doesn't have a penis.

Sunday, 23rd August

Matei is visited by another blond, blue-eyed boywonder of the same age. The excitement of the moment is such that it causes him to skp a nap (rising from drowsiness to stand up in bed and declare very firmly 'Matei won't sleep'). He conks out in the swing but wakes while being transferred to bed and such is the adrenaline surge of his rage at no longer swinging that he boycotts daytime sleep altogether and by evening he is so ragged and wired with resisting exhaustion that I am facing a full-scale Bedtime Mutiny that takes 1.5 hours to crush and leaves me feeling like a Roman Gladiator left standing ragged and bloody, savouring the bittersweetness of triumph and the knowledge of having to fight again another day.

The victory is indeed short-lived, for two hours later there is my child walking through the house calling out for me and his grandmother and catching us red-handed in the middle of having a watermelon party. He clings to me the rest of the night and wakes at regular intervals to monitor my movements until I give up on socialising and watermelons. I think it's a draw in gladiatorial terms.

Monday, 24th August

Death. Doom. Illness.

I read. I rest. I drink enough tea to drown a horse. I am given flowers. Any attempt to escape my body's cage ends with me falling down.

I wake alternating between extreme heat and extreme cold and being so weak that I cannot walk across the room without becoming dizzy. By nightfall I am feeling better and the weakness has been replaced by an even more bizzarre symptom of persistent stabbing back pain between my shoulderblades when I breathe.

We find out there's been another earthquake last night, near Bar. It is becoming more and more difficult to convince my mother that the coastline is not in imminent danger of a tsunami.

Tuesday, 25th August

He has watched buses travelling on the highway. We have told him they are taking children to the beach. He loads a toy bus with stones and when the bus accidentally falls off the table and some pebbles roll out Matei cries out: "Oh no! Children fell!" and hurriedly restores them.

He is so busy, all the time. When he's on the beach he's never still - dashing into the sea to fill his watering can and dashing out to water sand, and rearrange some pebbles and pick up cigarette butts and clean my towel and wash his hat and dig holes and throw pebbles into the water and investigate other people's beach umbrellas and issue imperious commands to the sea and become foot-stampingly upset when the sea doesn't heed him and rushing back into the waves with his watering can and rushing out again to water sand. Repeating all this, again and again and again. It's pointless and soothing and very zen. Next to watering sand, his other favourite pursuit is picking up litter on the beach (and htis being Montenegro he isn't short of material) and putting it all into a pail. He is deeply committed and methodical and I have given up trying to prevent him from collecting cigarette butts.

Wednesday, 26th August

Matei is one of nature's shepards. He spends a great deal of time making sure that everyone significant is present and if not, investing much energy into rounding up the missing one. When I was in the sea longer and further away than he considered necessary he waded into the water up to his waist, stretching out his hand to me saying 'Mama, Out!'

It broke my heart, the sight of him. Of that little hand. That belief that he could pull me out, or sway the power of the waves.

Thursday, 27th August

Today was one of those days in which my son is antsy and restless and appears determined to do everything in his power to age me before my time. Having spent the morning being ignored or disobeyed, by the time the afternoon's trip to the beach rolled around I was becoming quite bored with having to pick up and lug a toddler whenever I didn't feel like pleading and negotiating for 15 minutes. Midway down the beach he dug himself in and refused to take another step, expressing a desire to chase swallows and try to dig through trash and having a foot-stamping tantrum of the very idea of walking towards our sun loungers. With the weight of the beachbag and towels and a ton of plastic toy crap digging into my already aggreived back, I threw a tantrum of my own. Picked him up under one arm like he was a rolled up newspaper and walked across the beach with him kicking and screaming and when he had kicked me one too many times I set him down and shouted "Either walk with me or I am walking away by myself." When he refused, I left him sitting there and walked away to dump our stuff with my mum (it wasn't far), then hid behind a beach umbrella.

He looked so lost, sitting there in the sand. So forlorn. Clutching handfuls of pebbles and looking around and calling out: 'Mama, mama'.

It broke my heart. It's easy to forget sometimes when faced with a dictatorial almost-two-year old whose needs and moods rule my day how small and vulnerable he is. That without my protection he is completely at the mercy of the world. And I could have kicked myself for that burst of impatience. I called out his name and he came towards me and I lifted him up in my arms and I said I'm sorry and he said Matei good and I wondered when I'll be able to remember this without sharp starbursts of regret.

Friday, 28th August

Today I clocked that the degeneration of Matei's behaviour, his restlessness, his crying fits, his clinginess can be attributed to the rising tension in the household re: my nearing departure. We think that just because we haven't told children something, just because he hasn't seen my suitcase that he doesn't know. But usually that's wrong. He might not know the specifics, but he knows that something is happening. No idea what the sadness is about, only that it's there. And he reacts to it the only way he knows how. He's not even two. He can build sandcastles and Lego towers but he doesn't understand where people vanish to and why and when they will reappear or what to do when you feel fear or regret.

I resolve to be very patient and kind and understanding, and for most of the day whenever I feel the urge to shout at him I scoop him up in my arms instead and stroke his hair and ask him tenderly why he did naughty things. He never has an answer of course, but his bristliness dimishes and we are not locked in a standoff anymore.

We go to the beach, and when we park the car and unload it I hold his hand and explain to him for the nth time why he must not run around in the parking lot because there are other cars and they could hit him and it would hurt very very much and that it's very very dangerous. I manage to lure him away from suicidal ideation and onto the beach but I can tell he is scheming something, and while I'm filling a bucket with sand he suddenly looks at me and looks at the car (and the road beyond it) and then he breaks into a run. I sprint after the (ridiculously fast) form of the naked boy and catch him at the top of the beach. I repeat my earlier lecture and he looks at me and grins impudently and rips his hand out of my grasp and runs. At breakneck speed straight across the car park. Straight towards the road. Into the pathways of buses.

I age about 10 years in 10 seconds and hurl myself after him, catch him inches before the road. Smack him twice, as hard as I can on his bare bottom.
He stops. He bursts into copious tears. All the people around me are looking at us but I don't care.
I scoop him up into my arms and carry the sobbing child back towards my mother and our belongings.
I explain gently to him that his bottom hurts because he did something very very dangerous and that his bottom will hurt again if he tries a similarly dangerous stunt. And I ask: "Do you understand?" and he says "Yes" and clings to my neck and we sit down on our sun lounger and I hold this wailing boy and I stroke his back and I rock him very gently until the sobbing stops.

He knows he's done a major fuckup and for the rest of the day he is on his best behaviour as a means of saying he's sorry.

Saturday, 29th August

We go to Kumbor to visit friends-with-a-baby in their house on the sea. It's a beautiful sunny day and Matei sleeps most of the way. He wakes when I leave to buy ferry tickets and when I come back he has wriggled out of his car seat and he's clinging to my neck in a sleepy and dazed way. I carry him onto the ferry. He wears my hat to protect against the glare of the sun. We watch the water receeding and he clings to me tightly, tightly and I think of leaving tomorrow and I cling back.

In Kumbor Matei divides his time between seizing the toys of a 10 month old, and exploring his surroundings in as hair-raising manner as possible. In a fit of exuberance he throws his dummy into the sea and tells me : 'Bring it Mama' but I'm having none of that so we stand on the low wall and watch the waves taking the dummy away.
"You threw it away, "I tell him, "which means you didn't want it. And now it belongs to the sea." We watch the dummy floating away, bobbing on the water. He calls out to it, mournfully:
"Dummy! Dummy! Come back!" and we watch it dissappearing with the waves.

The ten month old extracts his vengeance by demolishing Matei's Lego towers and Matei casts himself down and weeps inconsolably : "The towers... felll...." like it's his own personal September 11th and is only persuaded out of tragedy by the prospect of cheese and playing football with me. I hover in a cloud of anxiety as the living barrier between Matei and his plan to cast himself headfirst off concrete and onto the rocks and the sea and to distract him from this I keep throwing him a ball as far from the edge as I can and he keeps throwing back to me and I throw it back and he runs to get it doggedly and this is the best game we've ever played because it makes him more tired than me and the ten month old is watching Matei like he's the best show on TV. Afterwards there is much playing in the pool and pretending to swim and shrieking with hilarity and the sun shines on water and I'm happy and it's a good good day.

Sunday, 30th August

It rains. We pick flowers. We feed dogs. We pick figs. We open our hands and turn up our faces to the sky.
Rain I tell him and I trace out the pattern of the drops on his forearm. Tap tap tap tap tap

We laugh. We play. We shelter in the vine leaves.
I am not ready to go.

Mama is going today, I tell him. She's going to work. I love you. Be good

He throws a weepy tantrum before naptime and I pick him up and I hold him and before I pack, before I surrender him to the care of other people I just hold him like that and I say Hug me and he does and we stay just like that and the moment feels infinite but it's not infinite and everything ends too soon and I kiss him and I let go and I tell him the thing I most long to be told:
Everything is going to be all right.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
land_girl
Sep. 7th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
This is so sad, and so lovely.

I couldn't do it - by which I mean I couldn't be without my children that long, not that I think it is wrong - I think it is very special that he gets to spend time with the rest of his family. But Rosie went away recently for 12 days and I thought my heart would break - and she is 17!!
trinity_gal
Sep. 14th, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC)
It broke my heart. It's easy to forget sometimes when faced with a dictatorial almost-two-year old whose needs and moods rule my day how small and vulnerable he is. That without my protection he is completely at the mercy of the world. And I could have kicked myself for that burst of impatience. I called out his name and he came towards me and I lifted him up in my arms and I said I'm sorry and he said Matei good and I wondered when I'll be able to remember this without sharp starbursts of regret.

Aww. Every day. Kept me going in those bloody newborn days and probably won't end there..........

What scary hair-rising incident with buses. Joy of toddler years to come..

Can't believe I read this entry word for word breathing life and I usually avoid long entries :)

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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