My son was born into stormy times, between two bereavements, at the end of a month of immense financial and social stress. His birth was attended by anxious ghosts from the past- a hovering family anxiety and the ghosts of the lost boys, uncles and great-uncles and my stillborn brothers. We were thrilled and ecstatic at his safe arrival, riding the wave of a high I had not previously known. But we were also inexperienced and grieving, in physical and emotional shock from his birth, drained by sleeplessness and massive bloodloss. In many ways Matei's arrival was a sundering of everything we thought we had known about children, about family, about ourselves and each other. It was a cataclysmic, life-changing event that shook us to the core and re-forged family bonds and made us all better people. But it was undeniably a time of anger and sadness, of anxiety and trauma and intense grief.
And making it through that made us feel powerful enough, optimistic enough to welcome another child. I remember in the heat-exhausted, interminable lead -up to Helena's birth getting my body used to broken nights, mentally squaring myself up for another marathon, rehearsing for the gruelling grind of sleeplessness and constant feeding. Stronger, wiser than before we felt ready for anything, except how easy she was.
A six month struggle with SPD was the only trouble Helena ever gave me. Having prepared myself for another 17 hour labour I was utterly shocked when she was born a mere 4.5 hours later. She didn't cry, just sneezed loudly to assure me that she was breathing and looked at us and we looked at her and experienced a kind of Hollywood falling-in-love, a deep and utter bliss I had never known.
I would joke later with my mother that the most joyous day of my life was not 4th August (her birthday) but the 5th, when I saw that we had snagged A Baby Who Slept and how ever since then, every week, every month of her life has been my favourite. Every time I would think "this is the best month yet. I cannot possibly feel happier, more in love than this; she cannot possibly be anymore adorable, anymore delightful than she is now" and then the next month would prove me wrong.
I have loved all the ages, all the stages of Helena and I have never been able to get over the luck of having a child that I could just enjoy without worry and heartache. I still can't believe it, and so I keep trying to keep my joy covert out of the old stories, old worries of joy that gets snatched away for no reason other than that you let go, that you relaxed, that you were enjoying it too much.
And oh, how I have enjoyed her. I loved the fat baby-ness of her. Her little round belly, her multiple chins, the fat rolls of her thighs and arms; her sparsely haired-head, her lovely eyes. And later as she grew I loved her gummy smiles and her indignant squawks, the mornings which belonged to only her and me. I loved the weight of her in the sling and her curious hands and her pudgy feet. I loved her lightning transition from glad-and-benevolent to angry-and-sleepy.
We called her Little Buddha for her wide smile, her luminous and benevolent nature. Unlike her brother she talked late - reluctant to give up her personal language (an intricate thing, with long strings of sounds and what sounded like rich anecdotes and its own syntax) in favour of a tongue the masses spoke - and preferred to communicate her Gladness-Or-Sadness on a range of subjects via respective vehicles of Wide Smiles and Collapsing Stricken on the floor, like the finale of Swan Lake.
And now she is almost 3, and if not quite trilingual then at least bilingual-and-a half. She has a good ear for tunes, for music of church liturgies(prone to intoning "let us pray" at random times) and nursery rhymes, of Slavic and Romantic Languages. Cuddly only when sleepy or ill, Helena prefers to communicate her affection with acts of generosity ("I am sharing with you because I love you") and protectiveness. She laughs easily and often, and rarely cries but when she does it is an activity that she treats seriously and will rebuff attempted interruptions or distractions with "I am crying and I am not finished yet".
She loves cats and dogs and mice and lizards and frogs. She is in thrall to her brother and thrilled to copy everything he does. She is cautious when confronted with The Unknown and fiendishly, massively brave when facing down any threat (real or imagined) to those she loves. She loves babies (whether plastic, animal or human) and if permitted to do so would spend an entire day nurturing and bossing them about.
She is 80% compliant and benevolent and 20% Fierce. She smiles sweetly and fights dirtily. She has dealt me a slap in a fit of pique and then seeing my shocked expression turned contrite and attempted to erase it from my face.
She loves Lego and painting and reading books upside down. She can unlock iPads and open up puzzles and cartoons on Netflix. She loves all accessories and the colour pink. She is charmed and charming, loved by humans and tolerated by puppies.
She is off having adventures without me at the moment, running around in Montenegro with her brother and the other City-Infants-Turned-Feral-Monkeys who gather there every summer. And while I go to work and come home, clean the house and weed the garden, as I love and enjoy this borrowed temporary London life of a single person all the same there is always a part of my heart hovering, biding its time to have them back.