When Marcin’s parents visited us a couple of weeks ago, they brought us a pumpkin- a great golden thing, bursting with seeds and significance. Pumpkins and capsicums- the palette of autumn. The light is sharpening and deepening, the days are shortening, there is a bite in the early morning air. This will be my third Polish winter, and finally I am starting to approach it like a Pole: with fear, bitterness, and a sense that I have been ripped off by the brevity of the summer. I think that last winter was so terrifying that the approach of another one makes me anxious.
Marcin will be 40 next week, and maybe I am appropriating his midlife crisis. Along with my autumnal melancholy I am feeling a niggling dissatisfaction with myself,a feeling that I should be reading more, thinking more interesting things, coming out of my cocoon of motherhood. But I still feel stretched thin; the rising tide of drudgery never really recedes, and my main preoccupation is still my children. I read for 5 minutes in the interstices of the day- before bed, or hooked up to my milking machine when-by some miracle- nobody is licking the power point or trying to climb the lamp or practicing their pincer grip on a forgotten peanut in a corner. Or screaming.
I feel constantly distracted and am convinced that I had better learn to concentrate and compartmentalise now, because it’s not going to get any easier.
Having failed to learn our lesson about travelling with infants, or perhaps just being incredibly stubborn about getting out and about no matter how much it hurts, we went away last weekend for the 3rd time in as many weeks. I approached this with a feeling of deep dread mingled with resignation, having just barely come to my senses after our return from Gryżyna.
Our friend Marek’s parents have a house in the village about 40 km from Warsaw. Apparently they themselves had invited us for no good reason, unless they thought it might inspire Marek to procreate (a strategy which could really only backfire). His father is undergoing treatment for leukemia and has back problems which have him in a wheelchair, thus increasing the pressure to keep Maja and Janek silent at night at all costs.
We had to use all our dark arts- night feeds, blackout curtains, sustained patting in the wee hours, and even so, on night 3 we were treated to a 90 minute tantrum at 3 am. In general, though, it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. Maybe we just know what to expect now, so it wasn’t such a shock to find that we were not going to be allowed our full quota of sleep.
And I love their house and the area. Set on sandy and unprepossessing soil, amidst cows and corn and not far from the sleepy Narew river, it’s a haven of darkness and silence (except in our room, 3am, night 3). In our flat in Warsaw, the constant background noise of traffic plays on my nerves, so I am soothed by a soundtrack of mooing and wind in the grass. I like the village stories- the cattle rustlers, the rogue dogs, the ex-con farmhands. I like the real milk (from the unrustled cows), the hazy morning light, the apple trees, the baked goods. It’s enough to make me wonder if I really am a city slicker.
We are back from a week-long ‘holiday’ in Gryżyna, from which I returned a broken woman. Apparently, Janek is not a born traveller, and screamed intermittently for the entire time, including at 4:30 in the morning. After a few days of this I woke up myself pre-emptively this time, and lay in the darkness, all tense, waiting for him to start wailing. Neither of them were keen on napping and required a walk in the forest to get to sleep and stay asleep most of the time during the day.
I now finally understand people who consider trips away to be a chaotic and inferior version of their life at home. The scaffolding of predictability which keeps me sane in Warsaw disappeared and I felt as mystified and frustrated as I had when they were newborns and I had absolutely no idea what they were howling about or how to make them stop. The stress was compounded by having to worry about disturbing other people, which doesn’t concern us much when we’re in our own flat. I really had no idea until now how unsafe and exposed you feel with a cranky infant in a public place.
I have never been much good at dealing with the unexpected, which is why I initially spent so many nights with my head under the quilt reading about baby routines on my Kindle. I like things I can predict, things I can count on. So unexpected waking times and unaccountable grumpy behaviour made for an incredibly draining week.
All this, however, did take place against a backdrop of real beauty, and it wasn’t rendered totally invisible by the obssession with making babies unconscious (though it may look that way in the photos). The blue-green lake, the deep, cool silence of the forest, the feeling of submersion in the water for which I have been longing for months. It probably was worth it, though I am never doing it again.
Cranky pants taking his first swim in the lake
A new trick and an old- sitting up and eating grass
we have a lot of these two-headed baby shots