The shape of love:
Snapshot of Harry
at nine months

by Anne-marie Taplin

You wake about 6.30am, refreshed and smiling after a ten hours’ sleep; we can count on as many fingers these nights though, as ‘sleeping through’ is a recent phenomena that feels an impossible luxury, unimaginable a year ago to regard eight uninterrupted hours’ sleep as a godsend. I slip up the stairs and flick a light switch to illuminate the playroom outside your bedroom, for this is where you will explore once the tedium of changing and the joys of feeding are done.

You are standing up in your cot, a grin spread from ear to ear, filled with happiness at the sight of me, your mother. Or you are sitting, or on all fours, playing with the mosquito netting or your lone woollen (safe) teddy in the cot. These days it’s not recommended to have ‘distractions’ like toys crowding the sleep space, so yours is pristine and white, a flat sheet and the remnants of your bunny blanket wraps strewn in a pile, shed like a caterpillar’s cocoon.

We hug and kiss in rapturous greeting. “Hello, my beautiful boy,” I say, searching for the gossamer skin under your chin, filling my nostrils with your heavenly scent. It’s a smell I could never describe because though it’s part of me and part of you, it’s primal and unique.

We ‘check nappy’, a familiar routine now to us both, though once frightening and strange in its newness. You’re at the age where you’d rather roll and sit, so the process develops into a wresting match until the fresh nappy is stuck and your grow suit is popped into place again.

I prepare the nest of the spare bed, our feeding sanctuary where we cuddle and you suckle, enveloped in warmth. You giggle as I climb in, excited now that the smell of my milk is so close to your face and the treat is anticipated. I draw you close, tucked under one arm and stilling your kicking legs while your mouth searches for the nipple. Ah, it’s in and our faces dissolve into ecstasy; yours at the sweet pleasure of mother’s milk and mine at the beauty of your face, long lashes down and cheeks soft and smooth; or perhaps your eyes will hold mine, large and wondrous. I lie, deeply content at the feeling of you safely pressed against my body, flesh of my flesh, the boundaries a blur between us. Your fingers curl around my thumb.

Once you’re satiated I hold you close, unwilling to let you go, drawing in your sweet breath on my face but you’re all boundless energy and the thrill of a new day beckons. I lift you to the floor where you gracefully collapse into a fast crawl, heading for the doorway, or a corner of the room to demolish. I doze or close my eyes and think, cosy in blankets and listening to your babbling as you play. Soon I will rise and you’ll follow me into the study, to distract me while I hastily write to capture the idea or inspiration that has fleetingly overtaken me. You crawl around my feet, mesmerised by computer chords and power points, desperate to empty the waste paper basket; chewing paper and tearing urgently until the inevitability of your mother’s ‘no!’. It’s a word that is still a meaningless sound to your ears.

You tolerate my inattention for a short while, until the hunger in our stomaches forces us to the kitchen, where breakfast is prepared as you sit strapped in your high chair, watching. We eat together, your needs are attended to first and foremost, for the sight of your bowl filled with food causes you to cry or shriek, either in excitement or anxiety that it might be taken away again. You open your sweet pink mouth and flap your arms like a baby bird, gulping fruit or cereal until the bowl is all but licked clean. A finger of toast tempts you, and so the chewing and smearing begins, until the floor is littered with crumbs and chunks, later to be appreciated by the dog. He makes a beeline for your highchair now.

Stomachs filled, you retire to the playpen while I shower; sometimes I’ll hear your cries for my presence and rush, for the desperation in your voice fills me with a need for action.

Bath time has always been a favourite for you; now you’ve graduated from the yellow plastic baby bath to the laundry sink, a stop-gap until you’re big enough for the real bath. Filled with bubbles and warm water, the silver sink is home to your splashing and frolicking. You stand holding the edge, while I pour the water over your utterly perfect, small body, arms eagerly reaching for whatever is within grasp, giggles erupting and pleasure unselfconsciously enacted.

When the water is cooling I lift you, slippery and eel-like onto the towel, gently rubbing your face and hair dry. Often, the shock of leaving the water will cause tears of disappointment. To placate you, I massage baby lotion into your body, my hands travelling lovingly over your chest, arms, stomach and down the chubby legs to end at your tiny feet. I laugh while you writhe, a new ecstasy of touch overtaking us.

Once dressed, the urge for playing launches you onward. And so our day begins.


© Anne-marie Taplin

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem