- The way you are constantly pretending to be an animal- a stork, a baby chick, Uncle Hugo’s dog Cruz.
- You are finally starting to report what goes on at preschool. I love this development, even when it means hearing in great detail about who ate their soup and who didn’t (Marcinek never eats his and as a consequence he is going to be small and his teeth are going to fall out.)
- The way you gesticulate madly when you’re saying something that excites you, and your eyes go huge and googly and you giggle with pure amazement.
- The way you sleep like a log, muttering to yourself but deeply unconscious.
- How you ran up to Grandpa Joe at the airport and flung your arms around him and gave him the biggest hug in the world.
- You are starting to develop your social life and preferences at preschool- you apparently don’t like to play with boys with doodles, only with girls.
- You are still a great big dog lover and I still love watching you approach them.
- Your fascination with our workplaces, and how you say that preschool is your work. I worked hard today, Mummy, you tell me. What, eating soup? I ask . No! you say, as if I am the biggest fool on earth . Sleeping!
- You talk and think a lot about The Stralia- you know already that some part of your life is there.
- The way you ask insane and unanswerable questions and then goggle up at us through your glasses as though you have absolute faith that we know the answer.
Less nice things
- The fighting with Maja, and how you know you are just a bit bigger and you say to her through hysterical tears, I’m going to LIE on you.
- When you refuse to eat anything because you’re a baby chicken and they don’t have arms.
- Your selective muteness at the eye doctor.
- You weigh a ton and carrying you is no longer a joke.
- The way you scream when it’s time to wash your hair.
- The mess.
- Your food sensitivities.
- You won’t poo without company.
- You wet your pants pretty regularly.
- When you say you’re going to wash the dishes and you climb up to the sink and soak yourself and use gallons of water and when it’s all over one plate has been partially smeared at with a sponge.
We live on the edge of Morskie Oko Park, and rare is the day when we don’t spend at least half an hour there. We walk through it to and from pre-school- we air the kids there, even now. In summer we lived there, spending the day in the playground and only coming home to sleep
This is our first autumn in this flat, and although it’s the insalubrious month of November, I love the park at this time. After the golden blaze of October, the palette is primarily brown. There is a stillness there, a leaf- muffled silence. A milky-pale sky gleams through the bare trees. Despite the melancholy weather, it’s always full of ecstatic dogs who don’t share their owners objections to the season. It smells like dirt and water, and the ducks, exiled by the winter draining of their pond lower down, come up onto the escarpment to graze like a herd of little goats on whatever they can find.
Now that the sun sets at 4 pm, it gets dark when I’m bringing the kids home from preschool on Fridays. They disappear on their bikes amongst the trees in the dusk, and usually as we climb the hill towards Pałac Szustry, the lamps come on. The kids feel the same way as the dogs about the park- for them it’s a source of endless wonders. They stuff their pockets with chestnuts, chase pigeons, spend all their duck bread on a hideous rat the size of a chihuahua which lives in the reeds near the claypit and which they call ‘mousie’.
Living next to the park, I feel more like an aristocrat than a poor man, even though we live in 60 square metres next to the busiest road in Warsaw.
Janek and Maja are almost 32 months old, and they can talk. In two languages. Quite fluently, though sometimes with hilarious grammar. They can form the regular past tense in Polish and English, use some irregular past verbs in English (saw, found) ask grammatical questions (sometimes), tell stories. I am so proud of their English it’s ridiculous, taking full credit for it even though I know I also have my family’s regular visits to thank. They haven’t developed the speed of adult speech but they do have the elision in place, so I often hear them say, in their little bell- like voices, things like Mummy, I want to meet ‘im.
Conversations with them are frequently surreal. Janek wakes up from his nap in an embrace with the magnetic moose my sister brought him from Norway, and begins the following commentary.
Moose no say moo. Cows do a moo. I saw a cow, in the bushes. I’m a cow. MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
And now Maja joins in.
I’m not scared. I saw a cow, outside, on the big bikes. And there were fishes here. (This is all true. In May we went on a bike ride to a monastery in eastern Poland and indeed saw a cow in the bushes and some fishes). I saw a cow’s milk. On the belly button it was coming out. And it’s have to drink a milk.
(This part mystifies me a bit. )
My other favourite thing is to hear them sing songs. After a while I realise that ‘the bear climbed up the hill’, which I had initially attributed to their authorship, is actually the better known children’s hit The bear went over the mountain. Maja sings Ba Ba Black Sheep with the following text:
Baa baa black sheep/ Any any wool? /Yes-a, yes-a three bags full/ One for the Masai (we met one in Dubai airport on our way to Australia, so she knows this word)/ one for the day/ one for the little boy who lives down the lane.
I am so time-rich that I am even contemplating the purchase (or theft) of a special notebook which I will carry with me at all times to record these gems.
Janek and Maja have just turned 2. The night before they were born, I was watching Skyfall with Marcin in Złoty Tarasy and intentionally avoiding meditating on what awaited me. 24 hours later, I was off my head on morphine and a mother of 2. This system (no baby one day, baby the next) never fails to amaze me.
And they’re still here, 2 years later, changed beyond all recognition. The fact of them stretches out to colour a time before they ever existed- sometimes when I think about the cycling trip we made to Poland, I catch myself wondering where they were- what did we do with them while we were sleeping in an Iranian caravanserai or crossing a pass in Tajikistan? The things they have learnt in these 2 years stun me- I don’t know if they will ever have another time in their life where they come to grips with so many new skills.
It seems clear to me that I love them more now than I did then. The fact that I just let somebody else take care of them on their first night on earth now horrifies me, to the point where I would like to have another baby just to redeem myself. When I think about the 10 days we spent in hospital together after their birth, my memory is full of horror-film special effects- the dressing gowns, the groans and wails, the night walking, the fear and confusion in the air. The icicles dangling in the yellow lamplight. And so forth. The sight of newborns, with their veiled, sleepy eyes and creaky wails, fills me with a complicated mix of tenderness and fear.
In these two years, I have spent plenty of time feeling either judged or self-righteous. Who knew that parenting was such a competition? Maybe it’s because there’s so much at stake that the thought that you’re doing it all wrong is unbearable. There’s a small, sneaky satisfaction that I can’t deny in seeing someone else lose patience with their child, or palm them off with an electronic device to get a bit of peace and quiet. If I had any plans to become a better person, I would start by trying to eliminate this Schadenfreude.
My blog is falling by the wayside because I have become obsessed with teaching. If I am not doing it I’m planning it or thinking about it. I am clearly not very talented or I wouldn’t need to spend so much time on it all, but I am fascinated by trying to find the tricks and magic formulas which make things go well in the classroom. I have never had a job that absorbed me like this- it’s simultaneously exhausting and exciting.
Part of the excitement is just the onset of the school year after a long, slow summer. Part of it is that I did the extension to CELTA for teaching kids at the beginning of September, and now I have my own classes of 10-year olds to contend with, with their ever-shifting social alliances and wild enthusiasm for giving answers and their very involved parents. It’s a different universe to the classrooms I have inhabited until now, with their jaded accountants and teenagers who will do anything to fly under the radar.
For the first time I have to impose a system of rewards- initially I thought, with my almost 40 year old system of priorities, that nobody would do anything to get a star next to their name, but it turns out I was wrong. I try to remember being 10 myself and suddenly recall my desperate contortions at Friday aerobics, trying to get the free drink from the school canteen that was given to hard triers. It’s a trip back in time for me, and a foreshadowing of what is to come with my own children. The time is fast approaching when I will stop worrying about their eating and sleeping and start to worry about their social life and education, a far more complex set of problems.
This is what my mother used to tell us when our constant competitive childhood ranking (his is better, his is bigger, she got more!) was getting her goat. It sounds like a piece of wisdom inherited from her own mother, and possibly used for the same purpose.
I make them anyway. It’s a constant source of amazement to me, how different my children are. I could touch each of their bodies with one finger and know whose it was- Janek’s dense wombat-flesh, Maja’s springy little muscles. I watch their different kinds of bravery- Maja, who hides behind my leg and wards off strangers with a murderous scowl, has no qualms about sliding headfirst down the slippery-dip. Janek is devoid of any fear whatsoever of unknown humans, and goes about the playground stretching out his arms to other people’s Babcias, saying try!try! (this is what they say when they want to do something and need help).
Their absolute and irrefutable difference has saved me endless mothering guilt, in particular over Janek’s eczema, which I would otherwise think was my fault. It’s one of the biggest advantages of twins- seeing the way they turn out to be themselves, regardless.