Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Holiday Milestones

The first milestone happened whilst James and I were speeding through the sea on a boat, and we didn't witness it until we arrived at the top of the steep hill that led to our villa, panting and sweating, and saw my mum motion to us to hush.

"Come on John," she said, from the middle of the pool, "swim, swim, swim," and we watched as he launched himself from the safety of the step out into the open water and made his way, armbands bobbing, legs pedalling frantically, teeth clenched, eyes frightened, into the safety of his Granny's waiting arms.

For a second, nobody spoke, and then with eyes wide  and smiles flooded with surprise we rushed forward to whoop and cheer and marvel at the fact that in the few short hours that we had been away, John had learnt how to swim.

The second, was one that I'd been half-expecting for the past couple of months ever since I made a momentous decision almost on a whim.

It was an ordinary bedtime on an ordinary day; I read John stories, we gave him his bath and I carried him upstairs. But instead of settling myself in bed for John's bedtime feed just as I have done every night since his birth, I simply plopped him in his cot, kissed him goodnight and then walked away as his angry, uncomprehending screams chased me down the stairs, condemning me with every step.

I sat down in the living room and felt guilt creep across my conscience and open into a wide, gaping chasm of regret.

I listened as his cries grew weary, his sobs became stifled and his indignation slowly collapsed into the quiet slump of sleep, and in the silence that followed I felt all the loneliness of loss.

That night, I lay awake in the semi-darkness of the room, watching his chest rise and fall in the cot beside me, listening to the soft sound of his breathing and willing him to wake. I longed to pull him onto my chest and feel the heavy certainty of his presence and I longed to comfort him in my arms and remember the rigidity of our bond.

And when he finally did wake I held him gratefully on my lap, savouring his sleepy need for me and delighting in this sacred ritual that's bound our bodies since the moment he was born.

For nearly two months I savoured these sleepy night-time feeds, knowing that their days were numbered and that soon a new phase would begin.

And then, quite suddenly, in the cool of an air-conditioned room in Greece, it was over. He awoke in the blackness of night and refused to feed. He tossed and turned amongst the tangled sheets of our bed and refused to be comforted. And after a frenzy of screaming and a prolonged struggle for peace he settled himself back to sleep in the quiet of his cot.

I lay there in the cool hum of the darkness feeling that same sense of loss begin to simmer in my heart, and knowing that something wonderful had passed.

And had it not been for the brightness of the sun and the warmth of the sea and the wonderful company of my family, I should probably have mourned the loss of this ritual for many days to come.

But thankfully I had other things to think about. Like the magnificence of the view, the eloquent nostalgia of my novel, the funny story my brother told that's still making me smile, and the astounding fact that my baby has learnt how to swim.

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