Happy first birthday, Poppy

Cake is in the oven, baking. I have backup sponge cake in case of emergency. I’m nursing her to sleep then I’ll make chocolate popping candy spiders for treats, and whip a white chocolate ganache for the cake. Nothing is essential and if anything doesn’t get done, everything will be fine. Nothing needs to be perfect. I can’t quite believe I’m making my daughter’s first birthday cake! I’ve been waiting for this a long time. 🙂

Reflections on the past year:

When Poppy was about 6 months old, I baked peanut cookies. I was gifted a second hand Kenwood mixer for Christmas and I love it. I learned to bake using my Mum’s mixer and I feel very at home, delighted, familiar. Our baker comes out and hums happily around the kitchen, thinking of Grandma. Flour sprinkles into the floor like the lightest snow.
A few months ago was bin night. As we dragged out the bins Rose and I started pulling weeds from the front yard on impulse. It was dark and starry and the garden had been soaked so the earth was soft and wet. In about 20 minutes we filled our green compost bin. We had mud on our feet. Grasping nettles firmly in the dark, fingers fumbling around thorns. A dark joy rising, to be in the earth, in the night, hands in soil, the scent of roses.

Changing Poppy first thing in the morning. She wakes with a sleepy smile and stares into my eyes. Milk runs down my body and spatters like rain on the linoleum. Poppy is so alert and so focused on the world around her but in moments like these it’s just her and I alone and something wordless between us. I have to watch for them or they are easy to miss. It’s a kind of knowing, quiet and strong.

Sick with gastro. Wracked with pain and vomiting. Crying quietly so as not to wake my family. Poppy needs milk. I lie on my side too exhausted to weep and Rose brings Poppy to nurse. I have to hold both her hands or she is like a kitten and folds her sharp little nails deep into my breast, kneading. Her hair is fine and soft as down. I fall in and out of sleep. In my mind I am alone, unloved, unlovable. I have no tribe and no one is coming. The world is dark and cold and everything hurts. It passes.

Zoe has a new passion for escape. She jumps our 6 foot fences and escapes when frightened of fireworks. New Year’s Day I call everywhere and Rose visits the local pound looking for her. I’m a tangled mess of grief, guilt, fear, relief, and shame. She comes home herself, exhausted and sleeps for 2 days. She whines and wakes everyone up several times a night to investigate the back yard for possums. I sleep her in the laundry with access to the back. For one night she is content. The second night she gets into our neighbors yard and then panics and can’t get back into ours. She’s hysterical by the time I find out and go over to bring her home.

Zoe guards our home and barks at passers-by. Each time Poppy is startled she bites me when nursing. One nipple is bloody and mauled. It won’t heal until I get a cream to treat infection. I rest it for days and pump on that side. The air conditioner floods the bedroom. It rains on the nappies that were drying on the line. Poppy loves Zoe and plays with her tail. Zoe kicks Poppy in the face. It’s all too hard. I’m pinned between love, responsibility, and fear. Fear of judgement from others paralyzes me. I can’t find a way through. I spend the morning in bed crying. I’m rescued, family takes Zoe in and cares for her. 

I miss her every moment. My home is so peaceful. People walk past our house and Poppy nurses unaware. I go from 15 bites a day to 1 bite every 3 days. The guilt is like a tidal river that comes up and down. The stress eases away like floodwaters draining, leaving mud and debris and wide open blue skies.

A friend we haven’t seen often visits. I cook pancakes. We watch cute animal videos on YouTube. Poppy loves cats but bursts into tears at the video of a hedgehog taking a bath. Star plays the guitar in her room and my heart melts.

Rose has a tooth extraction. It’s a difficult procedure and there’s a lot of pain. Five days later she’s still hurting. At 4am she’s overwhelmed by it. I hold her. We can’t tell if it’s infected or just slow to heal. There’s only the ER open. We talk through options. I push for hospital but she’s demoralized and afraid. What if there’s nothing wrong and they are mean? Hospitals are not safe places for Rose. I stroke her hand. She falls asleep with an ice pack nested under her ear like a little red and white bird.

Rose is napping and I am cooking dinner. Star has cuddled Poppy to sleep. Frying chicken sets off the smoke alarm. I run out to it and clip our esky  (cool box) on the way, breaking my little toe. Rose races out of bed to help me. “Poor love!” she cries, “I’m so sorry I slept, I can do the rest of dinner.” I push her out of the kitchen, hopping. Snarl at her “Go away! I’m being nice to you! I’m cooking while you nap, don’t wreck it!” Rose wisely decides not to argue. Poppy sleeps through the whole thing.

Poppy shows the developmental signs she’s ready to start trying food. Strawberries, nectarines, and watermelon are big favorites. Banana and mashed potato not so much. As she gets older she discovers the pleasure of dropping food then stomping on it until it’s squished into her toes. She giggles madly.

I crave bed with a single-mindedness that’s embarrassing. The sheets are changed far too infrequently but I’m so tired by the end of the day I never care. Crawling under my blankets is a kind of bliss. My evenings are spent anchored by one nipple to a small person. I learn I can download books onto an app on my phone. If I turn down the screen brightness and add a blue light filter, it’s almost like reading a book but can be done one handed in the dark. I’m thrilled.

Poppy discovers she can squirt milk by suckling then coming off the breast and leaning on it with her hands. She shoots milk up her own nose and giggles. I spend half my life damp. She hates the breast pump with intensity. I pump milk for day care and she stands at my knee howling with despair that I insist on sharing her milk with this mechanical baby. If she can reach it she pulls the plug or runs away with the hose. 

Poppy gets older and doesn’t coo at me like a little dove anymore. But she does sometimes talk to me in soft little hoots like an owl. She lays beside me in bed, kneeding her sharp little toes into the soft skin of my belly. Her eyes are night sky blue and dusted with stars.

Rose takes Poppy on adventures to gardens or the zoo. She comes home full of joy and exhausted and falls asleep on the couch after dinner. Poppy hurls all her belongings over the loungeroom and sits in her toy box. 

I pick Poppy up from daycare. She runs towards me and we snuggle. My heart explodes. She touched a chicken today, I’m told. Or licked a fence. Or carefully piled dirt on a doll. I wish I could book myself into daycare. It’s been a long time since I touched a chicken. She cries for exactly 1 minute, then falls asleep on the drive home, every time. 

Birthday mornings are presents in the big bed. Rose wakes is all for the minute Poppy was born. Star tears a little corner on the gifts so Poppy can unwrap them herself. Poppy tears apart the wrapping with a huge smile. She gets duplo, a wooden toy, an octopus bath toy, a frog book, wooden whistle, small trampoline, and baby bike. Everyone decides 7am is too early and goes back to bed for more sleep. It’s a good day. 

Happy first year, little love. You are my bright and shining joy. 

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