My baby daughter is awake, so that’s something. This is, you see, what parents and their kind friends refer to as being ‘alert’, the faint praise that forms the bedrock of every newborn parent’s suffering id. ‘She’s so alert,’ we say, for want of anything else. She has many admirable qualities. She’s extremely cute, certainly, and well… I’m sure other things will occur to me as I go on, leave it with me. But for now, she’s awake and not crying, so we’re patting ourselves on the back, since this is a rare and delightful occurrence.
Her sleeping patterns are broadly reliable (which is a blessing), but require us to be holding her at all times (which is not). This means my wife goes to bed at 10pm and the baby sleeps on me, while I watch schlocky movies and spoon light snacks into my face, with one hand, without moving for a few hours. Over the past six weeks, I’ve come to enjoy this time we have together; me lying stock still on the couch, her quietly purring on my chest, motionless save for the brief flinches caused by me wiping away crumbs which have, like a test case in a book on perfect parenting, fallen from my mouth and on to the top of her head. This lasts until about 2am, when she stirs and I bring her up for a change, hand her to her mum for a feed, and collapse into bed, only to wake up at six with the toddler and start the process again.
Her sleeping patterns are broadly reliable (which is a blessing) but require us to hold her at all times (which is not)
Having a very small baby is, I’m afraid, not very exciting. Actually doing it can be frustrating, euphoric, brain-melting or life-affirming. However, describing the process involved in keeping a small baby alive is irredeemably dull. In this way, it’s a lot like writing. I’ve long since realised that when my wife or my friends ask me how ‘the writing’ is going, I’m required by law to say ‘really well, thanks’ because even the most gifted writer on earth lacks the requisite communicative nous to translate any part of the writing process into anecdotal usefulness. Any time I’ve tried, I’ve received the pained, glazed expression I recognise from the times I’ve made it myself, when stuck beside a stranger on the bus intent on telling me about the operation they’ve just had on their leg. ‘Wow,’ my friends say, kindly, ‘so, you cut the end paragraph entirely and moved the middle to the beginning, fascinating.’ I usually stop when they start fiddling in their handbags to keep themselves awake, in case they’re scrambling to find a cyanide pill.
Even the baby seems bored. Inch by inch, her wakeful moments are increasing but, since she can’t yet smile or laugh, her implacable expression takes on a note of grave, watchful disdain. It is wrong, in polite society, to admit how off-putting this is, so instead we laud her for it. Never mind that she watches us with the listless contempt of a distempered empress; she’s watching us, and that’s enough.
We’re watching her, too. Looking for some flicker of joy, some quiver of the mouth, the beginnings of a smile and the validation we crave. Nothing yet, but we’re lying in wait. Poised, ready and more alert than we’ve ever been in our lives.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats