07/06/2022

MYour little girl is awake, so that’s a thing. It’s what parents and their good friends call “alert,” the faint compliment that forms the basis of every newborn parent’s identity. “She’s very attentive,” we say for nothing else. It has many wonderful qualities. She’s definitely super cute, and good… I’m sure I’ll come up with other things if I keep that up, leave it to me. But now she’s awake and not crying, so let’s pat us on the back because this is such a rare and joyful event.

Their sleep patterns are pretty reliable (which is a blessing) but they require us to maintain them at all times (which is not the case). This means my wife sleeps at 10pm and the baby sleeps on top of me while I watch choppy movies and snack on my face with one hand without moving for a few hours. Over the past six weeks, I’ve enjoyed this time we spent together; I lay the arrows on the couch, poking softly on my chest, motionless except for the brief spasms they caused when I removed the crumbs that fell from my mouth to the surface of her head like a test case in a book on perfect upbringing. This goes on until about 2am when he moves and takes her to change, feeds her to her mum and throws her to bed only to wake up at 6am with the little one and start the process over.

Unfortunately, having a very young child is not very exciting. In fact, doing so can be frustrating, exhilarating, brain melting, or life-affirming. However, it is irreversibly boring to describe the process that goes into keeping a young child alive. In this way, it is like writing. I have long realized that when my wife or friends ask me how “writing” is going, I am legally required to say “Very good, thanks” because even the most talented writer on earth lacks the communication ability required of everyone translating part of the writing process into anecdotal benefit. Every time I try, I get that agonizing glass expression I know from the times I’ve done it myself, when I’m stuck on the bus next to a stranger intending to tell me about the surgery telling whoever they’ve had a leg. My friends sweetly say, “Wow, you dropped the last paragraph completely and moved the middle to the top, in a great way.” I usually stop when they start fiddling with their wallets to keep themselves awake in case they’re looking for a cyanide pill.

Even the child looks bored. Inch by inch, her waking moments increased, but since she was not yet able to smile or laugh, her unyielding expression took on intense and scornful disdain. In polite society, it’s a mistake to admit how rude that is, so let’s praise her instead. It does not matter that she looks upon us with lukewarm disdain for an angry empress; She’s watching us, and that’s enough.

We monitor them too. In search of the flash of joy, the quiver of the mouth, the beginnings of the smile and the fulfillment we crave. Nothing yet, but we’re stalking. Calm, ready and wake up more than ever in our lives.

Did you hear that my mother died? By Séamas O’Reilly Available now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from the Guardian Library at £14.78

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